We went to the pumpkin patch today. It was so adorable that I could hardly stand it.
But of course, my teacher self could not let it be. I insisted that we incorporate some of our lessons on place value and estimation into this wonderful field trip, intended to celebrate the beautiful fall season.
We arrived back at the classroom, ready to crack open our pumpkins. My co-teacher started carving out the tops, while I prepped our anchor chart for estimation, and within minutes we had the kids gathered around us, ready to build upon our knowledge of estimation. We started the day before, with a lesson involving candy jars, asking the kids to estimate which candy jar had the most pieces of candy. The only trick was that all the candy jars were different sizes and that all of the candy jars contained different types of candy. While this may seem like a rather benign task, it allowed for curiosity, critical thinking, and the evaluation of classmates’ predictions, based on the relative sizes and volumes of the candy pieces as well as the jars.
In order to add another layer of relevance to our pumpkin field trip, we did a similar activity today. Students picked their own pumpkins, brought them back to the classroom, and before opening them up, they were required to make an estimate.
Just how many seeds did they think a pumpkin could contain?
They listed their estimates on their plates, and began getting messy! While we would have loved to get my hands dirty with the kids, my co-teacher and I decided to take a different approach to this experience today. Instead of getting our hands dirty, and instead of learning along with the kids, we decided to observe, document, and learn from the kids.
While students were getting their hands dirty and pulling out gobs and gobs of goo and seeds, we asked questions and challenged their thinking, forcing them to reevaluate their estimates as they saw just how many seeds were inside.
“I originally thought there were only three hundred seeds inside!” one student said.
“I estimated 29, but then I saw seeds under seeds. Now I think it’s different,” another noted.
Through this careful process of questioning and documentation, students were able to voice their own change in thinking, as opposed to being corrected by a teacher. Our role, then? We simply asked questions, wrote down their thoughts, and documented the learning process that occurred throughout this fun activity!
“Paul, can I put my information up on the board now?” one of our students asked, referring to the number of seeds she found in her pumpkin.
“Sure thing! I’d love that!” I replied. “Maybe you can find a good way to organize it!”
Before I knew it, I looked around the room, and our students were constantly evaluating, reevaluating, proving, and disproving their estimates, organizing and displaying data, and very independently and seamlessly applying many of our outcomes from the past few weeks.
Too often, we feel that learning has to come from the teacher, and too often, we feel that we are the sole providers of knowledge and instruction, when a lot of the time, the kids can do a lot of this work for themselves. Sometimes, the impact we can make simply by listening, questioning, and documenting is beyond humbling.
Not only is it more fun for us… but it’s better for the students, too!