Google+ bakers and astronauts: On Teaching "Content"

07 July 2012

On Teaching "Content"

In my new role as an educator outside of a traditional classroom setting, I am teaching children about gardening and nutrition.  This is the first time I have had a focus in my teaching, and it is a learning experience for me to think about the "stuff" that I need to deliver to kids.

I'm not struggling with the idea that teachers do deliver content.  But in my experience, I have planned environments and exploratory experiences for children and then observed and supported as they interact with prompts and people.  Even with preschool "content", like phonemic awareness and numeracy skills, children gain that knowledge over time with exposure to great stories, well planned free play environments, and teachers finding the moments to make those connections.  Content in this setting has been known to include worksheets and posters.

A day like Thursday, at our summer camp, found me sharing baby turkeys with the children and answering questions about them.  I'm thinking about how I feel about this shift.  It is an important part of what I will be doing for the coming year.

I've made lesson plans, and I have followed them.  Before now, my lesson plans were about the materials and how they might be presented and what I as a teacher might focus my language on.  Jumping into this work in the garden, I find that I need to convey specific information rather than focus on exploration.  For example, while looking at eggs that turkeys hatched from, children have questions about everything possible.  The way that the planning has been in the past does not necessarily allow for long periods of exploration, and with something this "scientific, there are lots of facts and we want the kids to gain some understanding of that.

There is a lot of value in children holding baby turkeys.  They have curiosities, and I'm happy to share my understandings and knowledge.  I suppose what I am more used to is children with more open ended materials, and me using my language and resources to support those explorations.  When I have a big poster in front of a group of kids that shows the different parts of a worm's body and we're talking about what worms do for the earth, things don't feel so open ended.

Something for me to remember is that I am still helping children learn.  I'm also not trying to meet any standards or benchmarks with this content.  And just because this is the way that teaching has happened in this garden in the past does not mean that it needs to be static.  I was brought on because I am a competent teacher.  I might still need to teach about worms, seeds, plant parts, and baby animals, but I think that a shift can be made to include more exploration and scientific thinking on the children's parts, rather than me delivering knowledge.

It is not my role to make the curriculum, but I can help with best practices.  I believe in the power of play and exploration, and I imagine that this older crowd might not always get those experiences in their classroom.  Its time to plan for more exploration and experimentation.


  1. Anonymous8.7.12

    Not sure if you'd like comments or not but I was a naturalist for many years leading outside explorations with kids ( I still do a few programs) but there are many ways to have some more open-ended play type explorations.... while still conveying info. I might put out the prompts (animals, plants...) but I always asked many open-ended questions so the kids had a chance to try and figure things out on their own while observing the animal, plant.... I told them we were going to use our toolbox of senses - smell, sight, touch... to become scientists. I'm sure you've figured this out by now but a few examples with worms - I would put the worms out for the kids to look at with magnifying glasses in trays of soil. I would ask open-ended ?'s like; what do you notice about the worms body? How is it moving? What do you think it eats in the soil? How? I would also do a few experiments with the worms: do you think it will stay out in the sunny spot or crawl in this dark spot and why? Then we'd put the worm out in the open with a dark spot set up (black construction paper works) and see what happened. We'd go out and look for worm poop, pretend to be worms and rip up leaves to make soil and set up a wormery for the kids to put scraps of veggies in, to watch it be composted down in to soil. This works if the kids come back to see it again. I would always have certain things set up in my mind but would definitely let the kids take me on the exploration depending on what they were focusing on with the animal.... It sounds like an interesting job that you now have. I always enjoy reading your thoughts about education. Have fun with the kids. It's an amazing thing to introduce children to the outdoors and watch their curiosity blossom!

  2. Thanks so much for your thoughts! I definitely agree with the exploration aspects, and I have been trying my best to bend the lessons that direction. This program has really been relying on worksheets and lessons planned by other sources to convey content, I am hoping that I can show them how the children can learn just as much through observation, interaction, and conversation.

    I love your worm ideas - I'm sure we'll be using a few of those!


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