Sunday, May 18, 2014

Building Historical Empathy: Finding the Stories in Hi-"story" and Historical Artifacts

A.C.:  Would the Titanic still be famous if it didn’t crash and sink?

Observation is an essential research skill.  We began our Titanic research by looking at and reading books on the subject, but getting the children to narrow their attention to focus on smaller parts of the Titanic's story would help them connect to it in a deeper way.  Aside from the event itself, what could we learn about the people on board?  The role of story in the creation of history connects us to the past in a personal way, and using photographic documents and artifacts allow us to develop historical empathy.  What was it like to live in the past?  What did it look like?  Starting with the familiar -  people and the objects of an ordinary life, photographs and documents that reflect that life and its transformation into historical artifacts - allows us to really feel history and care more about it.  What makes a watch just a watch?  How does it become more important when it is tied to an historical event?

When allowed to develop their own ideas and theories through observation and discussion, children begin to own their research - they experience that their research is important and worthwhile.  Consistently reiterating to them that they are researchers and that they are historians builds this identity as they work.  
Many of the girls in our class now call themselves "Doctor" or "Professor"
when signing their names to their work
What is history?
I:  Time that happened before the present. 
Why do we care about it?
E.S.:  We care about it because it was an important story.  Like the Titanic was important because it was a sad story, people died.
I:  Many parts of history are close to us, we care about it.
N.B.:  People think about history to predict.  They can think about what happened.  They could create an exhibit.  So people can learn and know what it was like in the past. 
M:  People do history, found out more, and connect to other parts of history they already know, then they make more and more connections until it all makes sense.
R:  History can’t be stuff that is made up.  Because it it’s made up, it didn’t actually happen.  If you say that it did and it didn’t, that is lying.  That story isn’t history.
I:  History is like a path for the past.  It’s like the path to people, so that people know about it.  It connects us.

Why are photographs important?  How do they connect us to history?
E.S.:  It shows a story behind it.
A.C.:  It shows us pictures of history.  How they took it is almost history.
W:  There is no such thing as too much information, the more you get, it’s all the better.  The more you get, the better you get at learning and your brain is just getting stronger.   
I:  You might have an object you want to observe, it might be something that is part of your subject but it might not.  You have to figure out if it’s true. You have to take what you already know and build from there.  You use what you know to figure out what you don’t know.

photos of people tell part of the story
What do you see?
What do you notice?
What do you think are the stories of the people in these pictures?
What were some of the people on the Titanic like?  What were their lives like?

E.S.:  She maybe wants to look fancy because someone is taking a picture of her.  I don’t know if the picture was taken on the Titanic.
M:  It looks like a portrait because it looks like she’s posing. 
J:  I think it is a first class person.  
What do you notice about the background?
J:  Maybe in a dark room?
M:  Maybe the wall was black?
A.L:  Back then the cameras took black and white pictures.
C:  In the olden days they only had black in white instead of color.
When did people start taking photographs?
R:  During the Civil War.  I also saw a picture of a person that was fighting in the Civil War.
Before photography, did the world look black and white?
T:  The way the camera worked back then is that it didn’t have color.  
M:  When I look at black and white pictures I really wonder what color it is.

The Astors 

J:  Looks like an apartment.
R:  I think that man is the captain but not in uniform.
I:  I think it’s not the main captain but one of the other ones.
L:  I think that can’t be the captain because he’s not on the Titanic.  This isn’t on the ship. 
I:  It  might be the grand staircase.  Maybe?
L:  But it’s outside.
G:  Outside?  Why would there be windows?  I’d say this is on the Titanic.
P:  I know it can’t be on the Titanic because that looks like a doorbell.
P:  That looks like concrete.  And the grand staircase on the boat was marble or something (she was paying attention to the materials and thinking about what might make sense).
T:  Those [the banisters] look different.  The ones on the grand staircase [on the Titanic] were fancier and curly at the bottom.

a room tells a story
Using our observational skills to tease out the
details of a room - what do we see?
What is the purpose or function of the room
and its contents?
What is an "educated guess?"
How can educated guesses help us 
figure out the visual clues?

artifacts tell a story 

G:  What is an artifact? 
E.K.:  A thing that you’ve already discovered. 
I:  An object, and I think it’s better to see what it looks like because you can get close up and you can see it.  

N.B. and L. record their theories about their artifacts

 C. and T. wonder: How could paper survive so long in the water?

E.K. and R. examining their artifact's details and sharing ideas
 R. tells the story of the watch's descent into the water - not quite 105 miles down, but it did fall a long way

Titanic Research:  Studying Artifact Photographs/ Observational Study Drawings

Once everyone had studied their artifact, created their theory, and then worked on an observational drawing of their artifact, we invited the children to conduct a silent gallery walk.  They were asked to quietly observe the photograph of the artifact and the accompanying renderings to see if the artists had captured essential details.  Afterwards we discussed the importance of really studying an object, turning it over in your mind, and thinking about it through drawing it as a way to build connection and knowledge.  Photographs and artifacts are a kind of "truth-telling" that are helping us to piece together the story as historical detectives.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

"Search is Part of the Word:" Historical Research: Exploring the Titanic

At the close of our dome work, we re-opened project time to the children and asked them to consider what research projects they might want to investigate next.  The topics were pretty broad at first, but we were able to discern several strands – the Titanic, the rainforest, and ancient Egypt (pyramids and mummies in particular).  To help guide their queries, we asked them what they thought information is and then what research was…

T:  [Information] is things that you learn, like people tell you something and that’s information for you. 
M:  Well, if you want to do a project you can get more stuff to think about, that’s information.
E.K.:  Information is something you don’t know and then you get to know. 
C:  Like someone tells you something that you don’t know, and then you learn it.

So it involves not knowing and then knowing… Is it simply created when someone tells you something?

C:  Or from books, you get information from reading them, the person who wrote it has it.  It’s just what you think.
A.L.:  When you make a discovery you get more information.

When you write a research paper, you can look at Wikipedia but you have to find other resources.

Why are there so many books?

I:  Because each one is a little different. 
E.S.:  New ideas can be explored in other books.

Why would there be more than one book about a topic?

M:  Because more than only one person in the world is interested in that topic.

So different people might be researching the same thing.  What is research?  "Search" is part of the word...

T:  Finding something out.   When we were doing the project about plants, we were doing research.
If I don’t read through the books, am I actually “searching”? [Everyone answers "no"]  How would you conduct research?

A.C.:  You could visit places.
C:  You could search it on Google or on the computer, but it might not always be right.
T:  Sometimes Wikipedia lies.

Why is important to check your facts?

M:  Maybe because it would be bad because people would read the book and believe the lie and they wouldn’t know the truth behind it.  That would be dis-encouraging [sic].  And it could ruin your career as a researcher!
W: You could use an iPad.  There’s this place that tells you about the Titanic.
N.S.:  We could make a time machine!
A.C.:  Books. 
C:  But books aren’t always right. 

Other research tools discussed were trips to museums and libraries, reading magazines, interviewing people, first hands accounts, and movies, particularly documentaries.  We invited the children to start with what they knew and then pose questions for themselves that they could answer via book research.  We began our new venture by selecting books on the three topics they were interested in and setting the books out at three different tables in the classroom.  

The children were encouraged to flip through the books, look at the pictures, and read through some of the text.  Quite a few flitted from table to table to see where their curiosity might find deeper purchase.  Stephanie and I sat back and observed, listening to the children’s conversations.  We saw children change their minds about what research they might want to pursue.  As conversation percolated and ideas were exchanged, we noticed that a number of children began to change their minds, and eventually, the children whittled down their possible research topics to Titanic and ancient Egypt.  Next, we gave the children “fact sheets” to record three interesting facts about the topics they wanted to investigate.

After a few rounds of fact-finding, we began to take a closer look at the fact sheets the children wrote.  We weren’t really sure if they were understanding the project or getting their heads around what it means to record factual information for their research.  We were hearing some interesting conversations as they flipped through and studied the books, but their writing didn’t really capture their thinking.  However, when we came to a whole group discussion, Stephanie and I were blown away with how much information they had actually processed.  We proceeded to have some of the most engaged conversations of the year.  In each follow up research discussion, every hand was raised.  The children’s minds were on fire! 
My hand could hardly keep up with recording the children's ideas
What did you notice as we started our research?

T:  People changed what they wanted to study.

Why did that happen?

E.S:  I looked through the books about the rainforest and wasn’t really finding what I wanted so I moved to the Titanic.
A.C.:  Since my mom is really grossed out by ancient Egypt, I know she won’t really read me those books, so I can study the Titanic at home and Egypt here at school. [A.C. later showed great flexibility in jumping into the larger group's Titanic work]

Is research just looking at one book and then closing it?  What does research look like?

W:  Learning stuff.  I know what happened.  I know where it hit, I know what it hit, and I know how it sank. 

So you have read a lot of information, which is how you found out. Does that mean you know everything about it now?

W: I’m not interested in anything more about the Titanic.  I’m interested in some more stuff but I don’t know how to explain it and how to write it down.

Even someone who is an expert has more to learn. Researchers are not satisfied to stop with what they already know.  They go beyond to seek out new information.  That is how we learn more.

We talked about how you need to look at many different books to collect research.

M:  I had I think three more questions…

P:  Why was it such a big ship?
N.S.:  Because it’s a cruise ship.  Cruise ships always fit tons and tons of people to make it fun.
R:  They don’t want it to be like on a plane where it’s boring for hours and hours.
W:  It was the biggest ship built. 
G:  Two football fields [long]. 
J:  It was sailing from England to America. 
A.L.:  To New York City. 

L:  For fun?
I:  For rich people for fun.  For poor people to find a new home.  Because they might get more money having a home in America instead of England.

E.K.:  It split in half and it sunk to the bottom.  More people died than survived.  [I also read] that somebody told the people that the Titanic could not sink. 
I:  It sunk in the Atlantic Ocean.
W:  An iceberg hit the edge of a storage room then got stronger and stronger.  Some people made it.  Some people drowned.
N.S.:  Some people froze to death in the water.  There were sparks in the storage room, it sunk, and water got in.  When water touches fire there might be sparks.  What else could have caused the sparks?  What is that (points to people in upside down lifeboats).  Lifeboats can sink.  People in the water froze.  For people to survive they have to swim really really fast.
W:  Life boats were way smaller.
P:  Here’s what it looks like (a lifeboat).
I:  If 5 rooms are filled it’s okay, it will still float, but if 7 filled with water, it will sink. 

T:  Did the Titanic split in half?  It says its an “unsinkable” ship.  Yeah right!

R:  The reason people thought the boat was unsinkable was because the storage rooms got filled up with water quickly.
I:  The compartments were called “watertight” and because a tight steel door would block the water so the water couldn’t flood the rest of the ship.
R:  They didn’t seal in time because it hit the front side of the ship.  Also the ship sunk in two hours.

Why did the Cunard Line tell people the Titanic was unsinkable?

W:  So they (passengers) wouldn’t get scared.
C:   All ships are not unsinkable, it was made of metal and metal can break.  If people believed that, they shouldn’t.  You have a chance of dying.  Nothing is ever unsinkable. 

Is anything in the world unbreakable?

W:  Titanium?  Titanium wouldn’t break because of an iceberg.
 E.K.:  Titanium?  Titanic? 
 P:  Maybe because it [the word "Titanic"] goes with titanium and they are saying that the ship is unsinkable…so maybe because titanium is so strong…
 E.S.:  Maybe because that would make people think it was like titanium and wouldn’t sink.
T:  I know why they thought it was unsinkable, because it had two bottoms.  One of them was like that and then there was another one below. Double protected.
I:  It wasn’t that protected if it had a second bottom so it might only be like one part of it protected without the second bottom.  
N.S.:  I also read a book about the doors that said it was watertight and that water couldn’t get in, so I’m confused.
L:   There were only 16 lifeboats.

Do you think there were enough lifeboats for people?

E.S.:  I know why they only had 16 because they said it was unsinkable so they only got only 16 boats because.  They also should have put more people in each boat.  

I remarked that during our fact-finding project time, I saw Peyton and Roman making an interesting connection:

P:  We were trying to see where the Titanic crashed.  In some book…
R:  In some book, I thought there was a little box and one said Atlantic Ocean so I thought that one half broke off in the Atlantic Ocean and the other half somewhere else.  We went to the map and Stephanie showed us the Atlantic Ocean and then we saw that wasn’t possible. 

Why was that important to connect what you were reading to the map?

P:  Then we figured out that the Atlantic Ocean is much longer and bigger.
R:  [The Titanic] started from England.  It stopped in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  It was headed to New York.  (They are thinking about the path that it travelled…) 
A.C.:  Looking at the map, it looked like the Titanic sunk near Canada.
P:  The ships got there at day.  The rescue boats came at day and took them [the survivors] to Canada. Maybe if the Titanic didn’t sink they might have stopped at Canada to get gas or something.
R:  They didn’t use gas.  There were people at the bottom, and they were lighting coal.
G:  They used coal.
R:  When the ship was sinking, the captain ordered the person who was doing the ship thing to send out S.O.S. and they recorded it with a black box.   The only ship nearby had there …I think it was engines off?   (A.C. – it was their radio).  Yeah that was it.  They shot a rocket and the nearby ship thought they were having fun and they were having a party.
E.S.:  They thought they were partying so one ship didn’t go because they thought it was just a party but they were really sinking. 
 N.S.:  They shot a flare.  
J:  One of the big boats [the rescue boat] was called the Carpathian.  And this other one, the Canadian, it didn’t hear the signal because it was night. 
I:  It [the rescue ship] also did not see the sparks.
J:  They thought the Titanic was happy, celebrating.

With each bit of information, you are really starting to flesh out the story. 

J. discovered that it set sail on the very date we were having this discussion 102 years ago, on April 10th.   
R:  I think the flag should be at half-mast.  I think in Connecticut when a building fell down and a lot of people died, then they flew the flag at half-mast.

Each day that we discussed the children's ideas, it became obvious that while it was a good exercise to try to get them to record new information on paper, what they were able to absorb and retain far exceeded what we had asked them to record in writing.  These project conversations were incredibly dynamic.  Each child was eager to fill in the puzzle pieces as the information began to flow and take on real form.  Even when we told them it was lunchtime the children wanted to continue the discussion, and many actually continued to chat about what they had learned at length as they ate with their friends.   While we decided that both Egypt and Titanic were very worthy topics to explore, the group began to coalesce around more fully exploring the history of the Titanic together.  Even N.B., who was initially resistant to switching gears to immerse herself in the work of the group, later exclaimed that she was really finding the Titanic work exciting and interesting.  
Mad Prof. M. shared her "fun fact" about icebergs with us 
during our research discussion circle - which truly helped the children figure out
how the Titanic misjudged their dangerous course

In the spirit of full disclosure, it can be harrowing trying to start new project work, especially when you are really unsure of where the children will take it, but the children always remind us and demonstrate to us that there is so much possibility and opportunity in this type of learning.  We need to trust their instincts and let their interests guide their project work, and as instructors, we need to tease out the learning, channel their intellectual and creative energy, and help them to see the connections.  Two years into my journey as a Sabot educator/researcher, I am learning to trust the disequilibrium more and more, and am consistently rewarded by the unexpected places that the children take us.  
Titanic ahoy!  

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Affordances of Clay: Dome Model Making by Students and Parents

Documentation of the children's dome work to date, including watercolor renderings and sketches
Utilizing clay as a building material offered our architects yet another design challenge.  The weight of the dome continued to be problematic.  It was also difficult to figure out how to help the dome retain its shape.  Clay would offer us another medium for figuring out our engineering problems on a small scale.  At first the children were invited to work individually on their clay domes, and encouraged to use the body of design knowledge that they were developing.  The children talked as they worked, sharing ideas and strategies and thinking through new ones as their hands and minds shaped the clay.   

Will columns alone do the job of holding up a dome?

Three basic models emerged:
Domes supported by columns
Domes supported by walls
Beehive shaped domes with oculi
Why are plans and model making important? 
E.S. :  Because if you've got [a plan] in your head, you might want to add on, but you might forget a lot of the tiny parts.  You might need to draw it out first so you can share it with other people.  You can't just talk to 300 people at once to share your idea [thinks of the number of workers it took to help Pippo complete work on the dome].  

L:  Because if you start [a project], you might forget what you were going to do.  You go back and look at your plan.  

E.K.:  You might want to start small [scale] and grow bigger.
I:  You have to think about how heavy materials are.
T:  It shouldn't be top heavy.
A.L.:  The bottom [of the dome] has to be heavier.  
Thinking of Pippo's dome:  M:  A really big problem would be if you didn't have a plan at all, and the whole thing toppled over while people are in the church.
E.S.:  You'd have to take another sixteen years to build it.  

What problems were your trying to solve in the models you made?
E.K.:  To make it steady enough.  Make sure that the columns supported the dome.
L.:  How to support he dome.
T:  If you made an oculus and you put a floor under the oculus, there would be no point in putting in an oculus [i.e., it might support the dome, an oculus helps to let in light].  

The next round of model making in clay was a little different - we next asked the children to work with a partner and use their collective knowledge and experience to make a plan together.  When they worked individually, we allowed the children to use as much clay as they wanted to - now we challenged them to use a limited amount of clay, to be mindful that building resources would be limited on any architectural project. We remembered that the one architect in the design competition had proposed building the Duomo out of wood, but that if his plan were followed, they would have to cut down a significant portion of Italy's forests. Once their plans were developed, the children got to work:

N.S. figures out a combined approach – columns to help reinforce the walls to support the weight of a dome

His partner, A.C.:  When we did our second dome, we worked together and came up with a brilliant idea to use a column and a wall.  I did the wall, and N.S. did the columns.  He did the drum and I did the dome.

Meanwhile, R. thinks about Pippo's dome - eight roof sections to make an octagonal dome, and his partner E.K. works on incorporating an arch on their building to help support it.

R:  This was easier than last time because I didn't build the dome right on top of the structure. You built the structure separately.  

C. is thinking about how to keep the curve of the dome – maybe shape the clay into a bowl?  His partner gets the columns ready to support it once it's ready.

T:  C. was making the dome and not [using the method of] scratching to attach.  
So I reminded him.  Our dome was top heavy.  
I. and P. met with little success at first – it was hard to keep the dome curved.  For their second attempt, they tried a novel approach:  what if we use a bowl and cover the bottom of it with clay and let it dry and then add it to the walls?  

Unfortunately, as the clay began to dry, their dome cracked.
I.:  P. and me didn't even get to put it on and it still wasn't curved.  

Others met with difficulties as well:
M:  The walls were too thin.  
W:  Yeah, that's what happened to us.  If you only have columns, they might get weaker and crack, but when you have a wall...
I:  ...there's more structure.  

Was it easier or harder to create a dome when your resources were limited?
T:  It was harder with the limited amount, but easier because we just got to work together and we got to get our own thoughts and put them in together.
M: It was easier the second time because it gives you a better view.  I liked the second round better.  
A.C.: It was actually easier with limited [materials] because we had a partner and we split [the clay] in two.
W:  It was easier  because I decided to make this one a little bit smaller than my first one.  Then we actually had some left over.  

As it turns out, Sabot's spring Teacher-Parent Dialogue Night came fast on the heels of our clay building work, and so the question was posed to the children:  should we ask the parents to try the work that you have been doing in clay?  The answer was a resounding yes, and so we asked the children to reflect their understanding by creating blueprint plans and written instructions (complete with building advice) for the adults who might attend.

What will be important to put in your blueprint?  
T:  It's a plan and then you follow it with directions for building.  So you have to have directions too.  

The children thought about the lessons they had learned in all four rounds of model making - Wikki Stix, plasticene and straws, and clay - individually and as partners - and formulated their plans for the adults.  In their instructions, the children shared with the parents what was hard, what worked well, and what didn't.

Making clay domes is hard work! 

J's dad's hexagonal dome
A.C.'s mom's clay dome creation
R's mother's innovative dome design

W's mom's welcoming clay temple
L. and E.S.'s dad's dome, complete with welcome mat   
L. and E.S.'s mother's second attempt at dome building 

T's father's miniature dome, complete with cactus
(per T's original proposed plan)
Left and right:  E. and G.K.'s father and mother's dome work

The next day in class, the children got to take a look at the adults' creations.  
Many of the children were surprised to hear that many of the adults 
faced the same frustrations and challenges that they had.
Just as the students do with their own work, 
they provided feedback to the parents:   

Gallery Walk:  Did the adults follow the children's plans and advice?  The adults' models were paired with the children's instructions.  Looking with a critical eye...

Excerpts from Letters to Our Parent Architects/Engineers:

I really like your work, Mom and Dad.  Mom, I like your wall. Dad, I like your wall.  Mom, I like that you did not give up.  Dad, I like your oculus.  Love, G.

Dear Dad, I love your dome.  I LOVE the cactus!  It is AWESOME!  The oculus is a perfect size.  Love, T.

Dear Appa, you did a great job following my instructions.  I think it is cool that you made a window.  I also think the shape is cool...also the oculus.  I think you worked very hard!!! Love, J.

Dear Mom:  Thank you for making [a dome].  It's so beautiful.  You did a great job. P.S. I like how you had the columns instead of the walls like the one I made.  E.S.

Dear Mom: I liked the gargoyle.  Your dome is good too.  Your dome curves more than mine.  Your columns are sturdier.  From R.

Dear Jason:  I think the cactus is very, very, very, very funny!! [Your dome] sort of reminds me of the Pantheon!  It's amazing.  I'm so stunned!!!  From I.  

And from M:  Dear Self:  I am writing to myself about several parents and I decided to talk about E. and L.'s parents.  First, their dad Tom:  Tom's dome had four sides that he attached together.  And the doormat has the word "welcome" on it. And apparently L. says that he (Tom) forgot a lot of stuff on her blueprint.  He has an arch/doorway for the entrance.  He has columns inside of a wall (not saying that's bad or anything)...

The parents' work allowed them the opportunity to experience the challenges we as a class took on in our dome project.   Sometimes it is hard to know the work of the class without experiencing it for yourself.  What may have looked like a child's lump of clay begins to reveal itself as a learning process full of careful deliberation and experimentation.  Creative risk is something we strive to cultivate and encourage, and embracing mishaps and "failures" are part and parcel of the process.