If you’ve ever wondered what kindergartners wonder about, look no further than Liberty Early Childhood School teacher Christa MacFarlane’s “Wonder Workshop.” A growing list catalogs her students’ biggest curiosities and then challenges parents and community members to visit their classroom and share their expertise.
Little by little, the class has been chipping away at their list, becoming experts themselves in such topics as how instruments and magnets work, how smelly markers are made, how to play chess and fish, and even how grass grows.
“When you target their interest, their engagement goes up and that is when learning happens,” reflected MacFarlane, who combines personalized and real world learning approaches to produce a project that gives her students “agency in what and how they learn and even who they learn from.”
The project emerged from a goal setting conversation she had with her class very early in the school year. After expressing her excitement for all the reading, writing and math they would learn in kindergarten, she turned the table on her kids, asking them what they want to learn this year.
“Lots of them repeat the same goals I have stated, but it just takes one, one students who boldly says, ‘I want to learn how my heart works,’ and the rest is history,” said MacMarlane, who followed up that class discussion with smaller group discussions to collect “I wonder” questions.
“After everyone has had a chance to spill their ideas, I make the confession that I don't have all the answers and that we will need to ask for help,” said MacFarlane, personally modeling one of her primary goals for the project - “that it is okay not to know everything as long as you are brave enough to ask for help.”
MacFarlane’s “confession” triggered a whole new phase of the project: how to recruit the subject experts. While their ideas spanned everything from writing letters and making posters to personally calling family members and sharing their padlet, they collectively landed on a class-created commercial after discovering a green screen in their school’s Innovation Hub. That discovery sparked yet another curiosity.
Kindergartners Alyssa Cruz Guzman and Oliver Cherry have loved the frequent visitors, which have included mostly parents, but also special guests like the current and past principals. “I love it because we learn things our brains don’t know,” Oliver said. “It feeds our brains,” added Alyssa, who is especially excited about her parents’ upcoming visits to teach her classmates about science and speaking Spanish.
MacFarlane has appreciated parents’ willingness to step in and answer the challenge, noting that their partnership during Covid paired with an extended time without the ability to visit school seems to have left parents wanting to be involved in their child’s learning even more.
“These kids are so proud of their expert family members when they visit,” MacFarlane said. “ It not only excites them but also builds relationships amongst their classmates as we get to know one another's family.”
An unexpected, yet welcome, “domino effect” of the project has been how it’s spilled into other parts of their school day. For example, she cites the fish tales in Writer’s Workshop that followed a grandfather’s visit to teach students how to fish. She had several requests for a magnet station during Play Workshop after a student’s mother enlightened the class about the invisible force field around magnets. A sibling’s visit about chess led to several books on that topic during the class’s “how to” writing unit. MacFarlane even shared that a reluctant reader was inspired to read about hedgehogs after their visitor on grass growing gifted the class a plant named “Hedgie the Chia Pet.”
“My biggest hope is that these kids leave kindergarten craving new information and having a love for coming to school,” MacFarlane said. “ It's about taking a group of kids that are fresh to school and giving them opportunities to practice being available for new content. I want them to know how important it is to ask questions and that there are experts everywhere.”
View the class’s list of wonders and sign up for an area of expertise - or something that you can research and present to the class.
- Personalized Learning
- Real World Learning