Yearlong Classroom Wonder

Oct 23, 2016

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Jennifer McDonough

This summer I presented with Georgia Heard, author and educator extraordinaire. We were presenting on the importance of wonder and inquiry in the classroom to a group of educators at the International Literacy Conference in Boston. As she talked about inquiry she shared that there are two different types on inquiry study.

It can be quick and frequent, like having kids put wonders on a wonder wall and then answering them with resources such as Wonderopolis. By, hosting Wonder Wednesdays where kids take turns being Lead Wonderers getting to ask a question and facilitate the conversations with their friends.

She then went on to talk about the other kind of inquiry that can last for a long period of time so that it brings more depth questions. This is like writing and publishing a book, or it can look like what happened to Lin-Manuel Miranda after he read, Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. He was hooked and spent six years, researching and developing his hit show, Hamiliton. He is quoted in Rolling Stone as saying, “It took me six years to write this show. You can only do that if you are in love with your subject.”

I love that idea. Those of us who teach young children see this all the time. Six-year-old Ryan who knows any fact you could ever want to know about dinosaurs, Griffon who can tell you line by line every Star Wars movie ever filmed and which character said what. Or Lindy who is so obsessed with horses, she would spend every waking minute in the barn if she was allowed. We want to honor this kind of loyalty to a topic, the intrinsic motivation it takes to become an expert in something, yet school seems to be no place for passions. Those have to be kept for home.

I have been using the power of inquiry and wonder in my classroom for years, but what I realized after listening to Georgia is that the majority of wonder was the ‘quick burst and over’ kind. My kids would pick a wonder to write about for a research book, or study an insect and share what they learned or participate in Wonder Wednesdays and google an answer after some pondering time. We just weren’t able to get much in the way of depth, in the way the Lin-Manuel was able to “fall in love with the subject.” I wanted kids who have never experienced this to know what it feels like.

As I get to know my students this year, I am realizing that I have a group of ocean experts in my midst. Kids that do nothing but fish in their spare time, who spend the weekends on boats or at the beach who know so much about the ocean we are so lucky to live so close to and can talk about the living things that call the ocean home without skipping a beat. We already have buy in with the experts that know so much already and the rest of the kids have so much to learn they are already hooked and want to know more.

Knowing this, we have decided to start a yearlong community of wonder around the ocean. We are going to share what we already know with each other, bring in experts to teach us more, read all we can on Wonderopolis and in picture books and write what we learn to share with others. My kids decided they want to be Ocean Ambassadors and share what they learn to help make them aware of why we need to treat the ocean with respect and gratitude. We are so excited to begin this adventure and I will keep you posted!

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