Friday, January 20, 2012

What does that do?

Looking into the mouth of a big Tilapia fish at Cecilia's farm (Flood Garden 2)
It is amazing to observe young children discover how stuff works. You can almost see giant cartoon question marks bouncing off their heads.  It is even cooler to watch them talk to each other to try to figure things out.  They throw out crazy questions, come up with hilarious theories, they question those theories, giggle, argue....Then, one of them gets brave enough to touch, or smell or taste and then to the others' amusement or horror, half of their theories are quickly thrown out and replace by facts.  Then, through a series of dares, they begin take stuff apart, ask more questions, make more theories, laugh....and test stuff to see if it will break. Through play, their questions are slowly answered by the proof they see in front of them. If they are not satisfied, they question someone they perceive might have a better answer.  So by the time you get the proverbial "why?" question, chances are that child has done some "research" of her own, because your answer will seem to always be followed by more questions.

If this scene took place in a science lab and the kids were adults, we would be observing  a team of scientists doing their thing.  In a real research lab, scientist set out to learn more.  However, the conventional classroom seems to have become a stage to show off how much the teacher already knows..... hhhmmmm.....

So how do we create an environment that re-creates the learning opportunities of a research lab but is grounded on the realities that comes with engaging rambunctious primary school students??

In Arusha, most people do not have access to science laboratories not to mention workable labs in schools.  However, we are surrounded by the world's best lab. Using the outdoors as the ultimate classroom is super exciting way to provide an affordable school laboratory.  However, it is a bit scary because we have to begin from scratch.

We plan to experiment using learning stations in and around the flood garden.  The teachers will provide a brief introduction to the students.  But instead of choreographing the learning process as in the traditional model, the teachers will leave prepared clues for the the students to discover on their own.  The students will be able to supplement the classroom lessons at the learning stations in small groups or on their own. It will be interesting hear their observations and classroom discussions with their teachers.

We are totally stealing ideas from Maria Montessori and others ed visionaries.  We cannot afford all the cool comforting organic Montessori learning tools but we can adapt their best ideas and use our resources more effectively.

We are also lucky to only have 100 children in our care so that we can really control this prototype and collect data in a reasonable way.

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