Students in Sara Lev and Alli Newell’s Whale Pod returned for the New Year eager to further explore to a hot topic introduced before the break—the White House. Some of the important questions these kindergartners and 1st graders had: How many rooms does the White House have? Exactly how big is it? Does it have everything that the President needs to do his job? Do the doors have any peepholes for the President to look out of?
The work that inspired these, and even more student questions reflects the Wildwood Life Skill of Curiosity, and this week Sara and Alli’s students are also practicing the related Life Skill of Problem Solving as they seek ways to satisfy their curiosity.
Seated with the class on the rug, Sara shares photos and stories she gathered during a private tour of the White House’s West Wing that she took over winter break. The social studies discussion broadens when Whale Pod students Bowden E. and Max A., who also both recently visited the White House, shared their experiences with the class.
Curiosity about the White House grew directly from the Whale Pod’s year-long social studies theme of Homes and Habitats and was enhanced by the 2012 presidential campaign and election. “The kids were really inspired by the 5th grade’s school-wide mock election in November,” Sara tells me. “We began talking with the kids about the White House and Alli and I could tell that they were interested in learning more.” Sara says the curiosity about the residence makes sense since, “The White House is one of the most famous homes in the world, so there is a genuine connection to our social studies theme.”
One expression of the Whale Pod’s deep interest is a replica of the White House they built with wooden blocks back in the fall. It’s an artifact that today sits in a key space on the floor at the far end of the classroom. Max A., the project’s original architect, tells me what inspired him to begin, and his peers to join, building their version of the White House. “We borrowed a model that the 5th graders had of the White House and I just started building it with the blocks one day during Explorations,” he says. “Then my other friends started to help me and add on to it.” He points out the East and West Wings and the North Face, complete with its triangular pediment. “We came in early after morning drop-off to finish it.”
Back in the discussion, Sara guides students as they discover how to connect all of their questions to future learning. “So,” she asks, “how can we find answers to our questions about the White House?”
“We can read non-fiction books about the White House,” offers Bryce C., while Holden M. suggests that the class consult the Internet. “We could write down our questions and send them to the White House,” offers Isaiah W. After students share other ideas, Nita K. suggests that the class could send their questions to President Obama, who could come visit the Whale Pod to answer them in person. “Or,” Nita continues, “We can all go on a field trip.” “To the White House?” Sara asks. Maybe not, Nita concedes, but then Sara suggests a trip to the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, to help the students find some answers; the students are very excited by the prospect.
The Whale Pod’s study of the White House offers all of us in the Wildwood community of teachers and learners valuable insights into young children’s thinking and problem solving. Some of it might seem fanciful to us adults, but it fosters the deep learning we seek at Wildwood everyday.
~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning