Sunday, February 17, 2013

"The First Grade Manual of Public Opinion Polls"

"The 1st grade manual of public opinion polls"

During recent discussions in the first grade about the anatomy of earthworms, we overheard differing opinions about the number of hearts in a worm.  
D: Worms have five hearts. 

N: Worms have six hearts, not five. 

K: Right now a lot of first graders think there are nine hearts and so I kind of think that. 

T: I think it has four hearts because it's got to have one on each side [of its stomach]. 

As the class began to discuss where and how each heart should fit into their worm representations, disagreements surfaced. It seemed that the children in one group could not move forward with their representations since they all disagreed about the number of hearts. Group meetings devolved into arguments about how many hearts to create, and where to put them.

Since the first grade had been studying data collection in our math unit, we asked this group: "Would it be helpful to know for sure how many hearts other people think are in a worm?" Perhaps, we thought, this might help the group reach a conclusion. 

The children eagerly began to put together individual survey questions, and after surveying their fellow first graders, made the rounds to each lower school classroom in order to survey every student.
N. and K. wrote down their survey questions.

Do you think a worm has five or four hearts?

A confused second grader helped N. realize that he needed to change his phrasing so that other students could understand what he was asking. When we later showed this picture to the group, D. exclaimed, "She didn't know what he was saying!"

How many hearts do you think are in a worm?

Do you think a worm has an odd number of hearts or an even number of hearts?

The children copy class lists so that they can be sure to mark the answer of every student
in each grade. They were adamant that each recorded answer should correspond to a name.
Do you think a worm has five or nine hearts?
D. found the answers difficult to record since many students
 responded: "Neither of those numbers."

K. was excited about the project but needed teacher support to conduct her survey. Many of the older children noticed her discomfort and showed patience and kindness.
Back in the classroom, the children counted and organized their data, often double-checking each others' work. 

After having conducted their surveys and represented the data which they had collected, the group was no closer to agreeing on the number of hearts in a worm as we had thought they might be. In fact, they now had more possibilities to consider--many Kindergarteners thought that there was only one heart in a worm; while Third, Fourth and Fifth graders mostly seemed to think that the creatures only had two hearts. 

But perhaps the point of the survey was not to find out the "truth" or "reality" about worm hearts. Perhaps it was a chance for the children to fulfill that ever-present questions in the human brain: What do other people think?
Because doesn't knowing what someone is thinking bring you one step closer to knowing them as a person? 

As it seemed, this group of children was less interested in coming to understand worm anatomy as they were in getting to know those around them, and in building connections within their community. After the survey was complete, we asked T. if he would like to do some research on worm hearts and report back to each class with his findings. He declined, saying "I just wanted to know what other people thought."

-Posted by Mauren Campbell

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