Tag Archives: questioning

Navel contemplation

In a recent post But Why? I wrote about the importance of curiosity, imagination, and creativity. I included all three in a flash fiction story that included an imaginary friend.

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a navel story. It can include a belly-button, feature an omphalos (geological or cultural), or extend to navel-gazing (used in meditation or to describe excessive self-contemplation). Go where this oddity leads you.

I thought I’d try for all three again.

Navel contemplation

Billy watched Mother bathe Baby.

“What’s that?”

“The last bit of his umbilical cord. Soon it will fall off, and he’ll have a belly button, just like you.”

Billy lifted his shirt to inspect.

“What’s billy cor?”

“Umbilical cord – it’s where Baby was joined to me before he was born. Everyone has one.”

“Everyone?”

“Everyone with a mother.”

“So, Silas don’t have belly button.”

“Silas would have a belly button. Everyone has.”

“But Silas don’t have a mum.”

“Oh. But he would have had a mum. When he was born.”

“Nope. Not born. I made him up.”

What do you think? Did or do friends, born of imagination, have mothers if we choose to not give them one? Does the answer to this question impact the existence of belly buttons in imaginary friends?

At the conclusion of the previous story, I suggested that “Perhaps there are some things for which we may never know the answers; for example, Can imaginary friends die?”

I thank you for your responses, especially one questioning whether I have ever killed an imaginary character in a story. Something for me to ponder. I don’t think I have. Would I do that?

In her post, Charli also writes about dying, or what happens afterwards anyway, especially with cremation and “wildcat scattering”. I often, occasionally, sometimes, contemplate what may happen to my body when I’m finished with it, or it’s finished with me, whichever comes first. Or is it the same thing?

I would like an environmentally friendly disposal of my remains and hope that, by the time action needs to be taken, there are many such options available. At the moment, there seem to be few, so I was interested to listen to this TED talk. I thought you might enjoy it too.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

A cheap shot?

Michelle demonstrates through her article what she states in her final paragraph as the benefit of involving children in philosophical enquiry. She says, “We get children thinking critically, rigorously and sceptically, so that they’re less likely to succumb to ill-founded beliefs or be duped by self-deception, spin or rhetoric. We help children develop their reasoning, so that they become more adept at building logical arguments and rationally defending their views. We encourage children to question the assumptions underlying different points of view, enabling them to challenge dogmatic beliefs. And we cultivate deep and deliberative thinking – often neglected in traditional schooling, which tends to focus more on getting ‘the quick right answer’ – so that children have a chance to explore the nuances of complex ideas.”
Who could disagree with that?

The Philosophy Club

The New Yorker has disappointed me again, this time by its recent coverage of a series of children’s philosophy workshops at the Brooklyn Public Library.

Rebecca Mead’s article, ‘When Kids Philosophize’, reports on the Tilt Kids Festival’s philosophy workshops – billed on the Festival website as an opportunity for children, aged 6 – 12, to “explore some of life’s biggest questions” and “engage in deep conversations about … key themes in philosophy” with acclaimed philosopher Simon Critchley and some graduate student guests.

On the face of it, ‘When Kids Philosophize’ offers a light-hearted glimpse of what went on during three of the short workshops. But the article’s mild humour has the unfortunate effect of trivialising the important the task of engaging children in philosophical discussions.

I personally found little to smile about in the volley of random questions, irrelevant observations, unsubstantiated claims and juvenile distractions that were…

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But why?

Just like scientists, children are curious, constantly asking questions, wanting to know why or how. Parents and teachers don’t always know the answers. In fact, there may not even be an answer – yet. The need to know is strong and “just because” won’t do. Coupled with creativity, thinking up new ideas and possibilities, curiosity has taken us beyond the imagination of myths and legends to knowing and understanding.

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills has challenged writers to “In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a creation myth. You can write your own, use one in a story or create tension (or comparability) between science and culture on the topic of creation.” As usual, she tells us to “Go where the prompt leads.”

Every culture has its own creation stories, told from the beginning of time when humans first walked the earth. Through stories, people attempted to explain their own existence and that of everything observable.

With only the skies for night-time entertainment, people found stories in the stars. As Duane W. Hamacher says in Kindred skies: ancient Greeks and Aboriginal Australians saw constellations in common in the Conversation, What we don’t yet know is why different cultures have such similar views about constellations. Does it relate to particular ways we humans perceive the world around us? Is it due to our similar origins? Or is it something else? The quest for answers continues.

As with stories told of the stars, there are some threads common to many creation myths, including stories of the first man and woman, stories explaining the existence of the animals and why they behave the way they do. I have read quite a few stories of floods, which I guess is understandable as these events occur worldwide.

What I love about the creation myths is that they testify to the innate curiosity and creativity of humans; the need to know and the sense of wonder combined with imagination and storytelling.

It is important to keep this sense of wonder and curiosity alive in children, and adults, also. Just a few days ago, as reported by Ray Norris in the Conversation, Exoplanet discovery by an amateur astronomer shows the power of citizen science. He says this discovery will help us understand the formation of our own Earth. It’s also a step towards establishing whether we are alone in the universe, or whether there are other planets populated by other civilisations.”

I think of questions asked by my granddaughter; for example, “Who came first, the mother or the baby?”, “If there’s gravity, why don’t the clouds fall down?”  or “Where does the sky begin?”

It is interesting now in this age of technology, almost everything we want to know is just a tap of a few keys or buttons away.

The other day I visited a nature reserve with my two grandchildren. (We went especially to see three baby bilbies which had recently emerged from their mother’s pouch, but saw other things too.)

We were looking at some black swans, which are native to Western Australia. GD informed me that white swans are not native to Australia. When I admitted that I’d never thought about that, she said, “Look it up. Look it up now. You’ve got your phone in your hand. Just look it up.” She was insistent and I did as told. She was right, of course.

How different this experience is from that of the first humans. Young children expect to be given answers based upon science or collective knowledge, not stories. But we still do not have answers to everything.  As Duane W. Hamacher says, “The quest for answers continues.”

In response to Charli’s challenge, I have not written a creation story. However, I have included the same ingredients that contributed to their creation: wondering, questioning, and imagination.

Unanswered questions

“What are you doing?”

“Pulling out weeds.”

“Why?”

“So the carrots have more room.”

“Why?”

“So they can grow big and juicy.”

“Why?”

“So they are good to eat for our dinner.”

“Why?”

“To keep us healthy?”

“I want to be healthy.”

“It’s good to be healthy.”

“I don’t want to die.”

“You won’t die. Not for a long time.”

“How do you know?”

Silence. How does anyone know?

“Silas died.”

“Who?”

“Silas.”

“Who is Silas?”

“Was. Silas was my friend.”

“I don’t remember Silas.”

“He was my imaginary friend.”

“Oh. How did he die?”

“I killed him.”

“Why?”

 

Perhaps there are some things for which we may never know the answers; for example, Can imaginary friends die?

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

 

Why school this way?

 

reading

Any material being read, or listened to, will connect with individuals differently, depending on their prior knowledge and interests. An idea might spark curiosity in one, that another would dismiss as inconsequential. Sometimes a reader will pick at a thread that hadn’t been intentionally placed for further investigation. Oftentimes, authors don’t get to benefit from readers’ feedback, and may not be inspired to conduct further research for themselves.

But bloggers do!

Or bloggers with wonderful readers who participate in discussions and share their ideas! I am always grateful to you my readers for your encouragement to keep on learning. You are constantly challenging my assumptions, offering alternate views, and inspiring me to seek more information. I love it.

The-best-questions-are

While I emphasize the importance of maintaining a sense of wonder, and of encouraging children to ask questions, I’m not always good at asking those questions myself. I learned that lesson well;  so am appreciative when others stimulate questions.

During this past week there have been a couple of robust conversations here: one about audiobooks and cheating; and another about common curricula. The conversations branched into fields as different as science fiction and history. Thank you to those who joined in.

In This too will pass I mentioned that each state in Australia had its own set of curricula. This places an extra burden on children changing schools, particularly interstate. The mention of our new National Curriculum made Charli Mills curious about how US education evolved. She assumed it was fairly uniform across the states, with the school year developed around farming so that children could help out in the fields.

old school room

I thought that our Western systems of schooling had originated with industrialisation. However, Charli responded saying that industrialisation had had little influence on education in the West (of the States). So of course I was compelled to check my assumptions!

A Google search brought me to this document Industrialization and Public Education: Social Cohesion and Social Stratification which does seem to verify a relationship between industrialisation and schooling. (But one of the most interesting things to me is the cost of a chapter, and of the entire book this first page comes from. Have a look!)

money bag

I also found an abstract of Chapter 2 Long-Term Trends in Schooling: The Rise and Decline (?) of Public Education in the United States, from another book, that seems to support Charli’s understanding of the homogeneity of education in the United States. I haven’t read it yet, but it could be informative.

I couldn’t let the topic of schooling and industrialisation go without sharing a talk by one of my favourite educators Sir Ken Robinson. This is a shorter animated version of a longer talk, which I’ve also included if you are interested in listening to the original.

This is the animated abridged version:

This is the original:

Now, I have to wonder, in light of the discussion about cheating mentioned earlier, would watching the shortened version qualify as having watched the talk, or would it be considered cheating?

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

It’s a steal

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about theft; of family pets, of the apples from her garden, of property, and even of good name through myths and false accusations.

I didn’t have to think for long to come up with three fairy tales that deal with the issue of theft. Why three? Because three is the fairy tale number. I’m sure most of you will be familiar with these two traditional fairy tales: Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and Jack and the Beanstalk. Some will not be familiar with Joan Aiken’s more modern (1968) fairy tale A Necklace of Raindrops.

girl and bear

If you were to search online for teaching resources to support use of Goldilocks and the Three Bears in an early childhood classroom, you would have much from which to choose. Many of the available resources are worksheets and printables with few requiring children to think beyond the surface level of the story.

The same is true for Jack and the Beanstalk. A search for supporting teaching resources also brings up a plethora of worksheets and printables for colouring, cut and paste and writing activities.

While it’s no secret that I am not a fan of worksheets, activities such as those may have a place if they are used to stimulate language development through retell and role play, support beginning readers and writers in a meaningful context and develop basic mathematical concepts. Children might also be involved in activities associated with the story such as making porridge or growing beans.

However children can be encouraged to think more deeply through discussion of the motives and feelings of the characters and the morality of their actions. After all, both Goldilocks and Jack were guilty of break and enter and theft; Jack repeatedly so. Jack didn’t follow his mother’s instructions and was “conned” by the man with the beans. Goldilocks was also guilty of vandalism.

A strategy for encouraging thinking:

Ask children to:

  • retell story events
  • tell about the character and character traits
  • make a judgement about  the character’s actions: Was what Goldilocks did good or bad? Was what Jack did good or bad? (Note: It is best for children to make and record this judgement independently of others before sharing their thoughts. The method of recording would be dependent upon the age and ability of the children. They could, for example, write the word “good” or “bad” in a book; or colour a picture of the character e.g. green for good, red for bad.)

Tally and/or graph children’s responses.

Invite individuals to explain the thinking behind the decision. A lively discussion may ensue, particularly if there are mixed responses. It would be of interest to note which children maintain their position, which waiver and which change their opinion.

Other questions can also be asked, and children can be encouraged to ask questions of their own, for example:

Questions re Goldi and Jack

Hopefully the events of these stories will be just as fanciful to the children as the settings. Most children will not have records of breaking and entering, and any incidences of petty pilfering or even vandalism will have occurred as part of their learning about property and ownership. Some appropriation of another’s toys or breakages in frustration or misuse are common and nothing to cause concern about future morality.

a necklace of raindrops

While the setting of A Necklace of Raindrops is equally fanciful with the personification of the North Wind, talking animals and a magic necklace, the situation, involving schoolyard jealousy and theft, may be more familiar. You will find few teaching resources to support it in an online search.

book 3

Here is a brief synopsis:

A man frees the North Wind from a tree.

The North Wind gives the man a necklace of raindrops with magical powers for his baby girl, Laura.

Each year a new raindrop with new powers is added.

Laura must not remove the necklace.

At school Meg is jealous of Laura’s necklace. She tells the teacher who insists Laura remove the necklace.

Meg steals the necklace.

The animals help Laura get the necklace back.

The North Wind punishes Meg.

(Note: My few words have not done justice to Joan Aiken’s beautiful story. If you can, please read the full version.)

The story is rich with opportunities for discussion with children, including:

Envy and jealousy — feelings familiar to many children who may have taken, borrowed or used something that didn’t belong to them. They may have squabbled about ownership or use of an item or had someone take something of theirs. Learning a sense of ownership as well as sharing is important in early childhood.

Telling the teacher — sometimes called “dobbing” in Australia. When is it important, when doesn’t it matter? What were Meg’s motivations?

Honesty — Was it okay for Meg to tell her father that she had found the necklace on the road? Why did she tell him that? What would he have done if she told him the truth?

Finders keepers” — Is it ever okay to keep something you find? When might it be okay to do so?

Following the rules – The teacher insisted that Laura remove the necklace. What could Laura have done or said? What else could the teacher have done? Was it fair for Meg to tell the teacher?

Stealing the necklace — Was Meg good or bad to take the necklace? Why?

Why did the magic not work for Meg?

Was the North Wind’s punishment of Meg appropriate? (He blew the roof off her house so she got wet.)

Thinking of these issues familiar to many in the schoolyard and playground made me think of Marnie who has experienced some similar situations. In this episode a boy dobs on Marnie for having a unicorn at school. Toys weren’t allowed, but this boy knew it meant Marnie was troubled again and needed the teacher’s help. A teacher is also called upon in this episode when Marnie has locked herself in the toilet and won’t come out. In both those instances the children were dobbing for good reason.

In this episode Marnie is purposefully tripped and falls into a puddle losing hold of her “security” unicorn, and in this longer episode we find that, later that day, the same boy took her paint brush, and stashed it out of reach on a high shelf. He hadn’t taken it because he wanted it, as Meg had taken the necklace. He had taken it simply to torment, be mean and bully.

Children, like Brucie, who tease, torment and bully are often themselves victims of similar behaviour. They feel powerless, lacking control in their own lives, and probably lowest in the pecking order at home. Targeting someone more vulnerable provides an opportunity to find a sense of power; for a while at least.

So that’s where I’m headed for my response to Charli’s challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a thief or a theft. 

Motives

The morning started badly; nothing unusual in that. He’d been woken in the night by shouting, slamming doors, and screeching car tyres. Nothing unusual there either.

There was no milk to moisten his cereal, only a slap to the head for daring to ask. He grabbed his bag and disappeared before she used him as an ashtray, again.

Looking for a fight, he couldn’t believe she was just sitting there clutching her stupid unicorn. He snatched it; danced a jig to her wails, then threw it onto the roof.

“I’m telling,” said a witness.

“Who cares?” was his response.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

Noticing and Wondering: Kicking off and supporting enquiry

I have written previous posts about the importance of nurturing the ability to wonder in young children and in ourselves, for example here, here and here. It is always a delight, then, to come across a post that expresses ideas similar to, but extending, my own.
This post by Aaron Eden on Edunautics, Exploring a World of Learning questions whether there could be any skills more important than noticing and wondering. He says that in school students are generally told to think and wonder about what someone else (the teacher, the curriculum writer, the policy maker) thinks is important.
Eden argues for the importance of learning to learn; of learning to identify what is important and of understanding how to learn it. He promotes developing an environment of questioning and suggests ways of extending students’ learning through participation in genuine inquiry based upon their own wondering and questioning. His suggestions help make the process more explicit, and therefore possible, for teachers to implement.

Thank you
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Edunautics

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jpovey/ Wonderment

Noticing and Wondering

(Special thanks to colleague Sara Soulier who helped me workshop this at a recent conference)

Could there be any more important skills than the skills to notice and to wonder?

The normal paradigm in school is to train students that what other people notice and wonder about is more important than their own observation and enquiry. Example: “Students, today we are studying American history from the industrial revolution to the present. Here is the syllabus of important topics, and when and how we will engage with them.”

The assumption is that what’s important here is the information and lessons we can learn from this period in history. Those are important things to know. But what about the ability to determine what is important and how to learn it? I would argue that is the more important “lesson” to be learned.

It’s possible to learn information without gaining the…

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Revisiting The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Recently, in a post introducing the idea of S.M.A.G. (Society of Mutual Admiration and Gratitude), I reflected upon my blogging journey and the gradual growth of readership and development of a S.M.A.G. over time. With this reflection came the realisation that many have missed earlier posts. That realisation, along with a comment by Sarah Brentyn, prompted me to share a few of my favourites.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

The first posts I will revisit are from a series about using Eric Carle’s picture book The Very Hungry Caterpillar for educational purposes in an early childhood setting.

The series of four posts;

  • explores benefits of reading picture books to children
  • questions the place of factual information in fictional texts, and
  • suggests the importance of teaching critical literacy from a young age.

Nor and Bec reading

I will provide a brief overview of each post. I would be delighted to have you  follow the links to read the posts in full.

Searching for meaning in a picture book — Part A

In this post I explained that sharing picture books with children has many benefits, including:

At home:

  • It can help strengthen the parent-child bond, becoming a special time of togetherness and of sharing stories and ideas.
  • It has a very positive effect upon their learning, helping them develop language, knowledge of print and books, and exposes them to new ideas and concepts.

8-12-2013 7-38-33 PM

In early childhood classrooms, The Very Hungry Caterpillar provides opportunities for work in many subject areas including:

  • Literature appreciation
  • Reading
  • Maths
  • Visual arts, and
  • Philosophical inquiry, but not Science (as I will explain later)

 

Searching for purpose in a picture book – Part B

In this post I discuss some purposes for using picture books and raise some questions about their content.

A sampling of purposes:

  • encourages a love of reading and books
  • develops vocabulary and knowledge of language
  • provides a link between the language of home and the language used in the wider community and in education
  • supports beginning readers
  • inspires imagination
  • provides opportunities to discuss feelings, emotions, ideas, responses
  • develops feelings of empathy, identification, recognition, hope
  • instils an appreciation of art

spiderswirl2

Some questions:

Do fictional picture books have a role, and do picture book authors have a responsibility, in imparting factual information in their books?

Does it matter:

  • that, although lions don’t live in jungles, they are often referred to as “King of the jungle” and appears in that setting in many stories?
  • if animals that don’t co-exist, for example penguins and polar bears, appear in stories together?
  • if the portrayal of animals in stories is not anatomically correct, for example spiders shown with legs joined to their abdomens rather than cephalothoraxes?

Do errors such as these influence children’s understanding of the world?

How should adults handle the misinformation when sharing books with children?

 

Searching for truth in a picture book – Part C

In this post I refer specifically to inaccuracies in The Very Hungry Caterpillar and the pervasiveness of the misconceptions, if not totally attributable to the book, then at least in part. I suggest how acknowledging the inaccuracy can help develop critical literacy.

In his book Eric Carle writes that

“He (the caterpillar) built a small house, called a cocoon, around himself. He stayed inside for more than two weeks. Then he nibbled a hole in the cocoon, pushed his way out and . . . he was a beautiful butterfly!”

Monarch butterfly

However, as this (hopefully correct) information from the Australian Museum shows, butterflies do not spin cocoons around themselves. Moths do. Some butterflies and skippers do form a silken shelter, but not a cocoon as in Carle’s picture book.

Unfortunately many articles found in an internet search share the same misinformation. I wonder how many adults grew up believing what Carle shared through his picture books. Even teachers have been surprised to learn that butterfly caterpillars do not spin cocoons.

In the original post I share some lovely videos related to butterfly and moth metamorphosis. It is worth taking a peek at them.

Does it matter if children (and adults) think that butterflies hatch out of cocoons? Eric Carle didn’t seem to think so. Do you?

Finding power in a picture book – the main event

In this post I argue that The Very Hungry Caterpillar has no place in a science lesson because of the misinformation contained therein: caterpillars do not eat many different foods and butterflies do not come out of cocoons.

ryanlerch_thinkingboy_outline

The greatest value of the book is as a tool for teaching critical literacy; for teaching children that just because something is in print, doesn’t make it true. It is also important to realise that misinformation is not restricted to picture books, and that they need to question all sources of information for the author’s credentials and purpose in writing.

I suggest that teachers and parents:

  • point out inaccuracies and inconsistencies
  • encourage children to evaluate what they are reading and hearing against what they already know
  • support children to verify the source of the information and to check it against other more authoritative/reliable sources
  • help children to recognise that every author has a purpose and to identify that purpose
  • invite children to ask questions about what they are reading and to interrogate the content
  • encourage them to question, question, question.

Eric Carle says “If we can accept giants tied down by dwarfs, genies in bottles, and knights who attack windmills, why can’t a caterpillar (sic) come out of a cocoon?”

 

What do you think? Do picture book authors have a responsibility to be accurate? Is a butterfly coming out of a cocoon in the same realm as giants tied down by dwarfs? Would we accept a child hatching out of an egg? What parts of a story should be based in reality and which parts can be imagined?

 “Why can’t a butterfly come out of a cocoon?” asks Eric.

Well, Eric, they just don’t.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any of issues I have raised in these posts.