Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Where Does Information Come From? Part I

Constructivist classrooms are places where questions become living things - ideas are planted and they change and grow with rich and respectful input and feedback.  The interwoven push-pull nature of imagination and observation seen in earlier works have turned into serious metacognitive queries - thinking about thinking:
How do we know what we know?
What is information?
What tools do we use to create and share knowledge?

During our student-led conferences in February, the children had to explain their project work to their parents. It was a challenge for many to go back and think about where their work came from and to remember the part they played in their collaborative investigations, and so together we reviewed how we arrived at our present state of investigative research.

Who was responsible for generating the knowledge 
that we use during project time?
D.B.:  All of us?
N:  It's sort of like from the day you were born, you start to figure things out and you say, "If this happens, then this will happen."  Sometimes your parents tell you something or you read something in a book and you forget where you learned it, but you still know it.
O.F.:  All of our projects have had a little bit of living in it.  Sunflowers, decomposition...because sunflowers are decomposing and it has a little bit of living, and then worms because they are living.  
D.B.:  [Thinks about how his ideas have evolved during investigative research]: Now would you believe my thinking about probes is really different now then when I first started?  I didn't think my opinions could change, but my ideas are so different now.
K:  I can't believe that we started by little worm groups and then it went into three groups and each group learned more and more.  There were a bunch of groups that share what they learn and then they go to their tables and [learn more].
T:  [They were] duplicated ideas that all sprouted into little ideas.
L.M.:  Maybe there's a duplicator inside of your brain that duplicates thoughts.

Are thoughts alive?
D.B.:  No, but they are a part of you.
K:  It's not like one person doing their own thing.  It's like a bunch of people who make one big thought.  
We started with one idea [the sunflower seed] and look [with hands, shows something growing and expanding]
O.P.:  A seed got planted and two branches came up with different ideas!
And did that idea split into other ideas?
All:  Yes!
How is a thought or an idea like a seed?
O.P.:  A seed can grow and a thought grows.

Why do you think there are more than one heart in a worm?
T: Well, Nolan said there were. 

How do you know worms have nine hearts?
K: Right now a lot of first graders think there are nine hearts and so I kind of think that. 

How do you know worms have six hearts and not five?
L: My brother read it in a book.

How do you know what you know?
T: Books!
O.F: Computers. 
T: But you can't trust everything that's on computers. Books have to be published. 

Books and computers can be tools to share knowledge, but what tools were used before electricity and computers?
What is a tool?
T:  A tool is something that you can use to do something.  Like a writing tool can be a pencil.
E:  There are different kinds of tools.  There are reading and writing tools.
L.M.:  There’s even a tool that can pass knowledge.  It’s your voice. 
T:  A voice is a tool to help you share ideas, and you can use it to ask for things.
O.P.:  Your hands are tools and your body is a tool. 
T:  They can help you build.
L.A.:  Hands are a tool in that you can use sign language with your hands.
S:  Your eyes can be a tool. 
O.F.:  To see is a tool.  People can see for other people who are blind.  You can also use your eyes to write, to do math, and play.
B:  I think that dancing is a tool.  You can use costume and dancing to share stories.  Dancing can show you that.  Back in the Sunflower group, we shared a story by dancing.  You use your head to think about what you’re going to do. 
T: I know the biggest tool in dance:  movement.
S:  Your movement can show what you’re thinking.  Art can show what you’re thinking and it can be signs.  Signs share knowledge and your idea tree grows.
I:  People need to protect themselves, so they used signs – like the Egyptian hieroglyphics. 
N: If you travel back in time even farther, books had mostly pictures.  Far back, they didn’t have a way to communicate so pictures became words which became languages.
F:  [Shows a picture of cave painting]:  It’s a picture drawn in a cave.  They might have carved it too.  They might be telling a story.
K:  I think before books were made they carved pictures to show stories.
R's picture: different ways to communicate information
What tools did you see in common? 
T:  They all involve hands.  You need hands to work tools. 
O:  Eyes. 
D.B.:  [sees the connection to creating knowledge with your body as a tool]: If you don’t learn things as a kid, where do the brilliant ideas you have as an adult come from?
N:  The most important tools are the mind and the body - the mind to think and the body to function.  

To help them clarify their thinking about whether or not knowledge comes from within or from outside sources, the children were invited to create representations to show their theories about how information is generated and how it is shared.  O.F.'s theory seemed generally accepted:  the first person to have lived noticed everything in the world and then passed this information down human to human until the present age of technology: 

O.F.'s picture:  So this is the first guy who was born and he saw a tree.  And then one more guy came alive and he saw a bush and then more people found out more things until technology and books were made.  And movies.  And then more people came and got put into technology, books, and movies.  The person who put it on the computer learned it from a lot of other stuff. At the tippy, tippy, tippy top is like the first person who discovered it...I learned stuff from my mom who learned stuff from other people who learned stuff from other people and other people and other people until the first person that was alive.

This conceptualization was shared with a group alongside N's picture (at the top of this post), which incorporated the earlier metaphor of ideas as living and growing entities: N:  These are trees - they're ideas spreading. Sometimes ideas spread and wrap around each other.  They support the others by giving evidence and proof to become taller.  The empty space is people not having ideas - watching tv and reading books.

These two works posited a dichotomous understanding:  one in which human agency originally created information which later became disseminated using technology (with technology and books being the go-tos for knowledge), and one in which human agency in and of itself is the primary source for independent and collaborative idea generation.  The works then became a springboard for more discussion:

N:  TV and books give ideas but don’t generate any ideas.
S:  Some shows give you ideas, like How It’s Made.
L.M., N, O.P.:  Or NOVA!  A science show!
N: Sometimes they generate ideas, sometimes they don’t.
L.M.:  Fiction books don’t give you ideas, but non-fiction books do.
N:  Sometimes fiction gives you ideas.  The Lightning Thief made me think about Greek myths.  Fiction helps you think of things you haven’t thought of before, like Harry Potter books.
S:  Fiction gives you ideas for made-up stories. Non-fiction gives you ideas about real stories.  [Looks at N’s picture]: In the picture, I see ideas growing.
L.M.:  It looks like it’s an Idea Tree.
N: It’s like the Giving Tree.
L.M.: It gives ideas.
E:  Where do the ideas come from?
N:  I drew ideas at the bottom [of the picture]:  the circle represents the head thinking and the arch represents the head.
S:  Feeding your brain is like feeding it ideas.
O.P.: Maybe your head is the tree and your hair is the branches. 
N:  There’s no end to the tree.  These trees can grow inside your mind.  I see it happening…it erupts out of your head and you share it.  Then it sprouts in other people’s heads.
O.P.:  Thoughts are like seeds.
N: Invisible seeds.  TV does the thinking for you, but sometimes TV/books can be a way to erupt your thoughts and share them throughout the world.  An artist who designed the TV show – his head might be erupting.
O.F.: It’s like when I have an idea, the idea goes out of my mouth [shows paper clips connecting in a chain].
N:  Just like when the paper clips link, ideas can link to other ideas.
E:  Ideas come from books and even museums.  They do come from TV.  When we’re focused, we have our own ideas.
S:  [N’s picture]reminds me of [the glass work of artist] Dale Chihuly.  I think Mr. Chihuly had to really think a really big idea before making a design.  Each time you make something, it gives you more ideas, inching up like an inchworm, and it doesn’t stop when you share it.  It “poofs” away to someone else’s head.  The idea can go around the world.  Some ideas are so good that they have to be shared with everyone. 
N: I did think of Chihuly when I made this!
Are ideas like glass?  Can they break?
E/S/O.F.: Yes! 
S:  And if someone says your idea isn’t good, it can fall down like a stone.  It can turn to stone. 
N: I disagree.  It is like glass.  It can melt and reform. 
L.M.:  Glass can harden again.  [Remembers the glass blower who came to visit us].

L.A.'s Tree of Thoughts/ Tree of Wisdom


  1. Holy Cow....I can't do justice to these comments or the depth which with the children are thinking and processing but I can sincerely thank you for the glimpse inside the classroom-truly remarkable work and reflection! I know this takes a huge amount of time and effort and as a parent/educator I can't thank you enough.

  2. Ditto what Kara said! I can't get over how articulate and deep-thinking these kids are. Thank you so much for this!