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21 Princes Street, Kensington, Whangarei, New Zealand

Phone: 09 437 2742

Email: mairtown@nka.org.nz

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Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Nurturing a sense of wonder about spiders

Last week, one of our children Sadie, brought a spider in from home, to share with her friends at kindergarten. It was quite a large spider that Sadie held in a plastic container and told me, ‘It was on my daddy’s jersey and it was creeping little like that (showing the actions with her hands) and it’s a wolf spider and there it was on the roof and then it climbed back in side. It climbed though the cat flap’.

This spider, combined with Sadie’s infectious interest, immediately drew a crowd of children, all wanting to see and to know more. Sadie told them, ‘He eats praying mantis’s and cockroaches – we need to find some food now’.

With this comment all the children went in search of some food, and almost immediately we came across a praying mantis. This caused a great deal of discussion. Sadie was keen to feed it to her spider, but many children thought this wasn’t the right thing to do. Sienna told me, ‘Don’t put it in there Christine, don’t do it!’

Although we entered into some lengthy discussions about food chains, in the end it was a unanimous decision not to feed the spider the praying mantis, which meant we went looking for another bug. Soon we found a small red amphipod under the carpentry shed and fed this to the spider.

For the next half an hour we all watched avidly – would the spider eat the bug or not? The spider certainly looked interested and tried to catch it between its legs but apart from that nothing much else was happening. As we watched we began to discuss whether or not the spider could smell or see the bug. Sadie thought for a long while whilst watching and told the group, ‘I think they look with their eyes’.

Unfortunately, whilst engaged in our morning whānau time, we returned to discover the spider had died. Sad as this was, it had its advantages, meaning we could now carefully examine it under the microscope, which in turn subsequently led to days and days of investigation, inquiry and discovery relating to spiders.

Inquiry based leaning is a tool that we use a great deal at Mairtown due to the continued success we notice this style of learning has at extending children’s interests, fostering problem-solving and in-depth creative thinking and of course allowing the children to pose their own questions and direct their investigating.

Inquiry-based Learning is a dynamic and emergent process that builds on students’ natural curiosity about the world in which they live. As its name suggests, Inquiry places students’ questions and ideas, rather than solely those of the teacher, at
the centre of the learning experience. Students’ questions drive the learning process forward (University of Toronto)

As the children’s teacher, what I love about this style of teaching and learning is that it is deep, you can’t help but notice how absorbed and fascinated the children, when leading their own investigations, become. This is not learning that is one off, happening over just one day – this is in-depth, active, and involved. It’s concerned with the children noticing, questioning, negotiating their ideas, sharing their thoughts and being prepared to feel challenged at times when they may need to change their opinions or ideas in the light of a new discovery.

One can think about Inquiry-based Learning as a continuum that moves from closed to open. The more teacher-directed the learning, the more closed the inquiry. The more student-directed the learning, the more open the inquiry (University of Toronto)

Here is some of our learning and what we thought about spiders at the very beginning:
Spiders are black
They eat worms, flies, cockroaches and praying mantises
They spin webs
They have two eyes and eight legs

 For young children the most effective learning happens when they have repeated opportunities to use materials and resources to develop understandings of new concepts and ideas (EYLP, 2012)

Through our inquiries of spider hunting (we found some lovely specimens in the whare and shed!), examining these under the microscope and magnifying lens, observational drawing, watching some short online documentaries, the use of some wonderful books and plenty of opportunities to re-visit our spider investigations we discovered:

Spiders come in all shapes and colours and can be patterned.
Most spiders have eight eyes
Spiders have two parts to their body; one of these parts is called an abdomen
There is one species of spider that lives in and under water
Some spiders can bite (this led to lots of discussions, drawing and book searching about white tail spiders which most of the children were very familiar with)
The spinnerets are on the abdomen and this is how a spider spins its web
Spiders have lots of different names
There are jumping spiders
Spider’s webs come in different shapes and sizes and some spiders can spin a web that is like a tunnel

Misconceptions we became aware of:
The biggest misconception we discovered was that although many of us (including me) thought Sadie’s spider would eat the praying mantis, our research told us this is more likely to be the other way round (the praying mantis would eat the spider).

We also discovered (by using the microscope) just how very hairy spiders are - especially the legs. Many of the children transferred this new knowledge onto their drawings below.

This has been a wonderful journey.  I know that as the teacher leading this work with the children and though their questions, their desire to learn about spider facts and their innate need to complete observational drawings of spiders from the many books I sourced from our local library – I have, with the children, had my curiosity fostered, nurtured and I too learnt alongside my ‘spider fans’ a lot of new facts about these very interesting creatures.

Here are some examples of the children’s observational drawings – all based on some of our interesting New Zealand spiders.

Peter's Tunnelweb spider (with the spiders web next to it)

Sadie's spider from home

Taika's spider

By fostering a culture of inquiry, teachers help students become more discerning observers and thinkers. Critical-thinking skills deepen and become habitual. Curiosity is cultivated and preserved – and for good reason. As David Orr (2004) cautions, “the sense of wonder 
is fragile; once crushed, it rarely blossoms again” (Natural curiosity a resource for teachers, p. 24). 

Isaac's Therididae

Matteo's Water spider

Toby's silver-tailed spider

Reese's (left) and Sam's (above) White-tailed spiders

Sienna's horizontal orbweb spider

Emma's native forest orbweb

Noho ora mai,


Unknown said...

Good to see kids involved in activities.Keep up the momentum,Keep updating,
Preschool In Bangalore

Melissa said...

Fantastic work with the kids as always!

LisaJ said...

Hi, I love your blog, it's very inspirational!
Can you please tell me what sort of microscope you use with the children?
Thank you

Mairtown Kindergarten said...

Hi Lisa, Thanks for your lovely comments. We use the digital blue microscope which connects to the computer.