ICS Early Years Center Blog

Inter-Community School Zurich, Switzerland

June 28, 2015
by Rebecca Smith
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The Atelier of Light: Exploring Relationships between People and Spaces

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The Early Years classes have been exploring the relationship between spaces and how people use them as part of our unit, Where We Are in Time and Place. Throughout this inquiry, the children had many opportunities to build understandings about how people use different spaces as well as our responsibility in sharing spaces with others. We chose to focus on the context of  different atelier/ studio spaces offered in a free flow environment. These spaces were open to all of the early years children who were asked to make a choice about where they wished to spend time at the beginning of each morning.

In the Atelier of Light, the children were offered time and space to carry out their own research into various aspects of the phenomenon ‘light’. The space was designed for interactive inquiry and for individual and group experimentation. The environment was organised around light sources, Light boxes, OHP (Overhead Projector), LED strings of lights and technological tools such as Visualiser cameras and an Interactive Whiteboard, which were paired with a variety of tools and materials. The invitations were presented in visually pleasing ways and an atmosphere of intrigue and beauty was ever present. The inviting workspaces created the drive for exploration and construction of hypotheses and theories.

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We observed and documented how the children operated in the spaces, how they responded to changes in the environment and how newly introduced articles altered, changed or enhanced their play and research. An example of changes to the physical environment, was an increase in the number of light boxes from one to three. While the children were always captivated when attempting to build taller structures, we found that with the addition of the bigger work space the children’s structures evolved from being built on a single box to become bigger and elaborate designs that covered across more than one box. Adding the LED strings of light were a popular addition to The Atelier of Light. The children’s explorations transferred from working with the materials and light on flat surfaces (light boxes and OHP) to exploring light with their whole bodies. Aaron made a discovery about the light from the LED strings, “It goes through your fingers,” Aaron. “Does it go through my head? Can you look?” asked Tuur. A new question which required further research was formed.

Exchange and comparison of viewpoints was valued in this space. Sometimes children chose to research alone, and later shared thinking with peers and teachers. Sometimes they reported back in a whole class meeting, enabling the children to investigate the concept of light and the role of space and environment from different point of views. Again, we noticed the children responding to the changes to the environment. The addition of a second overhead projector, placed next to the first one, encouraged children to work in parallel or join together to create collaborative designs across the two work surfaces. The environment encouraged the children to discuss their thinking, plans and processes. Additionally, the thinking created in this space embraced imagination, promoted narrative as a form of interpretation and explanation, and offered interaction with scientific forms. The children were invited to make connections to this unit’s central idea about ways we use space in the context of the Atelier of Light. It became clear that children built understandings about ways to make artistic and scientific discoveries in this space through the lens of light.

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By adding the Visualiser Camera to the space the children were able to see themselves at work in the learning environment in real time. This offered the children an interesting way to reflect and assess how they operated and learnt in the space. Some reflections about changes made to the learning environment of The Atelier of Light;

“It looks much cooler like that (with the new setup.) (He turns the lights on and off at the light table) I like just the LED lights on.” Aaron

“I want to go in this classroom because there’s light. Light table.  That is why. I like that it is dark.” Owen

After spending the morning sessions in The Light Atelier Daisy asked, “Miss Smith, can I have snack in your room? I like the light boxes. I like the light when they shine.” 

Izumi explained, “I like that I can see the different lights and different colours. We make decorations (by hanging the CDs) on strings. If you put it (a CD) next to the light it turns to shine rainbow-y (colours).”  

“I like to play with light. Then (I) make something beautiful with the blocks on the light table. When it is dark, I can see much better the light,” shared Eléonore. 

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‘The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences.’

Loris Malaguzzi

Photos by Rebecca Smith

Text a collaboration by Andrea Mills and Rebecca

June 1, 2015
by Andrea Mills
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Empowering Students as Researchers

EY1 enjoys a weekly collaboration with some students in Grade 7. Sometimes the older students read books to the younger children. Other times, the students collaborate on learning experiences including construction, clay and gardening. They have also helped us to maintain our outdoor spaces with community service work like sweeping and cleaning.

As one might imagine, there are many benefits to mixed age groups. The older students often embrace a leadership role and the Early Years children enjoy the special relationships that exists with those who, though not adults, possess some literacy and other skills that they often seek out from teachers and other adults in classroom life. This weekly contact also builds a caring community with a sense of connection beyond grade levels.

gr 7 light 2Grade 7 and Early Years students collaboratively exploring color, texture, shape and design

As an IB school, we are consistently asking students to be inquirers and researchers. We value child-initiated questions and encourage students to embrace a sense of curiosity about the world. We teachers are always seeking ways to hone our own research skills in the context of student learning. In early childhood, this often means challenging ourselves to be attentive listeners, keen observers and competent analysers. Children have become accustomed to educators, clipboard in hand, recording the dialogue, facial expressions and social interactions that happen during play and other learning experiences. Children learn best and make sense of the world in contexts that make sense to them.  Naturally, documentation of play narratives is an important part of our research into what and how our students are building understandings.

As part of our collaboration, we proposed that the Grade 7 students might join us as researchers in documentation. On this particular morning, the class was spending time in the Atelier of Light, exploring the color blue through light, texture and shape. Armed with the research tools of notebook, pencil and a commitment to observing and listening, the older children eagerly agreed to spend a morning recording their observations the EY1 children.

Gr7 light

Notes taken by Grade 7 student: 

Castle, pirate ship. Akivia likes knights and castles etc. Jake likes pirates. Bottle caps = stars. Paper = sky/water. Paper and bottle caps = shooting star. A house. Rocket ship. They are building a castle and they add some details to the castle. Some of the kids are putting shiny things on the light surface.

The students took their role seriously and carefully took down notes and observations about the children’s play and encounters with materials. We noted that some students naturally took on the role of documenter while others supported the children’s work. We were impressed with the commitment the older students demonstrated to finding out about the play narratives and explorations. Their observations included details about materials children chose, ways they used resources as well as interpretations of theories.

This collaboration is an example of one way we actively seek to build a culture of research in our learning community. As the teachers and older students inquired about and documented the younger children’s theories, the EY1 children learn that their ideas are taken seriously. Play is the powerful work of childhood and our message is that theories are worth revisiting and expanding. We found the younger students were particularly motivated to articulate about their learning during this collaboration, possibly because they found the Grade 7 students’ interest very motivating.

The social context of learning has a profound impact on the way children construct understandings. In our school community we are committed to creating an environment where relationships are central to learning. By empowering the grade seven students to take an active research role in the Early Years class, they embraced a shared sense of ownership of the important play/work that happens in the classroom.

Photographs: Rebecca Smith

Text: Andrea Mills

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