Inquiry Based Learning

The story of how modeling a lump of clay led to volcanoes, dinosaurs and conservation

Education is not the filling of a pailbut the lighting of a fire.– William Butler Yeats
Parents or visitors who visit Innova Early Years Center (EYC), are surprised by the open-style warm learning environment, amazing children’s works, and engaged learners. People may wonder how learning occurs in a child centered inquiry play based learning environment. How are knowledge, conceptual understanding and skills acquired?Lets take a look at a recent child centered inquiry that started off with a lmp of clay and took children into a journey of deep and complex learning.
The origin of the story – A Volcano

Shortly after the new school year started, some clay was introduced to children and Ivy started modeling with it –exploring its feel and texture.

Having heard something about volcanoes she shared with her teacher that she had made a volcano. Inspired by this, teachers introduced some household  products – including baking powder and vinegar and some children joined in to experiment what happens when they are mixed. A volcanic eruption was created and all the children couldn’t wait to explore more.

It was time to turn the volcano into an island and with plants and animals and surrounded by sea. A boy with keen interest in dinosaurs and a recent trip to the Blue Zoo led to their own Jurassic Park like environment full of discussions, explorations and creativity.

One day the volcano erupted, and the hot and thick ‘magma’ poured out of the crater, and the peaceful and beautiful environment began to change. After seeing the eruption of the volcano, our kind hearted Ivy was particularly worried that the dinosaurs would be hurt, so she moved them to a safe zone. Her classmate Dino, who has a keen interest and lots of knowledge about dinosaurs, explained to everyone that the dinosaurs became extinct just because of such a reason. Wonder, explore, create, connect – the childrens’ interest had been sparked and already had acquired deep learning in language, history and natural science – intense focus and deep learning.

The development – An Island

The volcanic eruption caused the change of the environment, the dinosaurs became extinct, and the children were very sad. In order to transfer this negative sentimental emotion, teachers went on to tell the story of the volcano. The eruption of the volcano is not necessarily a bad thing, because it makes a new environment. So the story of an island came into being. This is a small island in Australia. Long long time ago, this small island was made by a volcanic eruption. The magma of volcanic eruption flowed down to the foot of the mountain, and cooled down. From the smoke came ash that many plants started to grow in.

Interest shifted to the sea and animals living in it particularly sharks, jelly fish and turtles. Our director John McBryde visited the class and shared his first hand experiences of climbing volcanoes and seeing eruptions. Everyone clamoured onto a green screen set to experience a virtual eruption. He also shared his story about turtles from when he lived on a small tropical island and seeing turtles laying their eggs. He shared some pictures of the local islanders who lived there and pictures of them dancing. Next everyone was up learning and signing a traditional island dance. Through this sharing the children come into contact with another culture that is different from their own.

The Climax – About turtles

A teacher shared a video about turtles laying eggs and eating plastic bags in the sea which they thought were jelly fish. The children wondered what would happen if they ate a plastic bag and put some bags into an aquarium and quickly realized how easy it is for a turtle to mistake a plastic bag for a jelly fish and how dangerous they are to them.

The children wondered what they could do and decided it was time to let other people know about this problem and to think of an alternative to using plastic bags each time they went shopping.

The children designed a cloth bag and drew pictures of turtles to print on it. Their teacher produced a set of bags and parents bought the shopping bags with their strong ‘conservation’ message.  (United Nations Sustainable Goal 13 – Life beneath the Sea).  Learning empathy, responsibility and taking action.

The end thoughts

The volcano is still standing in the middle of the class classroom, and continues to remind children about their inquiry and continues to excite new conversations. The learning that has taken place has been based on “experience”, is because the learning here is more of a process of a “experience”: in a context of with children guiding the questions and constructing their own knowledge, from each other, discussions, books and videos and classroom guests.

Big concepts have been explored – the geology of a volcano, chemistry, biological diversity, dinosaurs, extinction, pollution, conservation, indigenous peoples, culture.

During the process, teachers play the role of a guide and provocateur. Respecting childrens’ curiosity, questions and creativity, teachers facilitated an exciting and engaging learning environment to excite their inquiry and enrich their learning. This type of learning has a far-reaching impact on young children with lifelong benefit.

Innova EYC incorporates a Reggio Emilla inspired approach to early years education. This approach believes that education should develop children’s creativity so that children can form a perfect personality. Its creator Loris Malaguzzi has written a famous book “One hundred languages of children ” which describes children as having……

‘one hundred languages,

one hundred hands,

one hundred thoughts,

one hundred ways of thinking, games and talk’

Innova Early Years Centre encourages this diversity of expression and learning to support children and their optimal development.