Inspiration strikes in unexpected places and a simple beginning can lead us down an unpredictable path. Being able to appreciate the journey down that path involves letting go of expectations, a little nudging in the right places, and a willingness to diverge from one road and merge with another. This is true in life and it is true in a classroom. Inspiration struck this week at the Farmers’ Market, where buckets of giant dahlias tempted me into a bright yellow blossom the size of my outstretched hand. Inspiration grew at the super market when I heaved a gigantic pumpkin into our cart and my husband dryly asked, “Didn’t they have a bigger one?” Inspiration became concrete when I combined these two things with an impressive sugar pine cone that was brought back to me when relatives visited California last year.
We started this week with some objects on a table and the theme, “Things That are Big.” I had the vague intention that I wanted to begin an exploration of trees as part of our “New Plants” science unit. I’ve learned though, that a circuitous path can be a gateway to conversation, and that a broad idea, like “Things That Are Big,” can take us on a journey with more chances for mystery and collaboration, more stops along the way, and a chance to create connections between seemingly unconnected aspects of our world.
In the beginning we brainstormed things that are big and things that are little. We had a surprise visit from a preying mantis, and we came up with more colorful words for “big.” We read a tall tale about Paul Bunyan, and collected variations of this story from our school library.
One person and one block at a time, we created a habitat for the largest creatures to ever walk our planet. We imagined that a powerful potion was created that brought dinosaurs back to life, and we needed a place for them to live. Then we added dinosaurs!
We quickly realized that we needed a watering hole and a spot for food and sturdier walls. So, we rebuilt, but this time, 23 kids rearranged and redistributed and rose to my challenge to “make it work” all together and all at the same time.
Controlled chaos ensued, but a better habitat resulted, complete with a nursery for the baby dinosaurs.
These kids know a lot about dinosaurs, and were completely engaged in read alouds and discussions devoted to these creatures of long ago.
We went for a walk around our school grounds, on the hunt for “things that are big.” A few boys cracked themselves up pointing out, “big fat squirrels,” but other than a huge moving truck driving by and the sun in the sky, the trees (most notably the pines) around our school were by far the biggest thing around. Inspiration and intention converge!
A second nature walk helped us determine, to our expert eyes, the biggest tree on our school grounds.
We could have just begun by talking about trees. But then we would have missed Paul Bunyan and Ankylosaurus, Bernard Most and that giant dahlia. Now we can continue our tree exploration, with our own Biggest Tree leading us down the path.