Friday, February 14, 2014

Exploring Knowledge Creatively

During our preparations for Valentine's Day, we have also begun our class project for the semester with some very basic discussion of tornadoes.  The boys are fascinated, and when I was finally able to get out our tornado tube they dropped everything and worked with it for an entire afternoon. This was some of the most authentic learning I have seen in months, and at that moment I knew that we had found that coveted project topic

They have a pretty good understanding of the basics, seeing as we get some pretty bad storms in the summer months, and most of my students were affected in some way by a small EF1 tornado that touched down here last November, even if it was just the inconvenience of having to go to the basement, although some lost power for a number of days.

So we started out with a simple question. What does a tornado look like? They have seen pictures, it can be hard to grasp what a tornado truly looks like when you've only seen one in a picture.  That said, I hope that they never actually see a tornado, I have, and it has completely changed my understanding of the sheer power of a large storm system. but their answers to the question were insightful. They noted that they were "gray because the clouds are gray" and that tornadoes have "all kinds of stuff in them because they suck it all up."  They also knew that tornadoes "spin around really fast" and that "they have hail." They were able to name the shape of a tornado, noting that it was a "vortex" (we learned that word from a parent while experimenting with the tornado tube), and that they "look like an ice cream cone, without the ice cream."

With this understanding, we began to consider the materials that we could use to make a picture of a tornado.  The boys requested "anything gray" which we then narrowed down to gray paper for the backgrounds (because of all the clouds), gray and black markers and pens, gray, black, and white paint (the white for hail and lightning of course), paintbrushes, string, glue, and glitter for "all the stuff that gets sucked up."

I set out all of the materials on one table, so that the boys could work at another, but they quickly moved most of the items to the table that they were working at, covering the table in paint, glitter, and glue. Their creative processes fascinated me.  I had printed out some photos of tornadoes that they could reference if they wanted, but only X chose to, and he attempted to copy the photo exactly.  After finishing this picture he chose to create another, from his own imagination, both were equally amazing representations.  B started his picture with big, swirling circles, as if he was looking at the tornado from above. He made sure to add pipe cleaners, which represented the big telephone poles that got knocked over (because this is what happened near his house when the last tornado blew through).  G has always been most interested in the hail that goes along with the tornadoes, again because this is what he remembers from the big storms that we had last summer, so his picture has huge white dots all over it. Here are some photos of their work:

I was really impressed with their artwork, and the fact that you could instantly tell what they were creating.  One of the things that stood out to me was that they were far more focused on the formation of the tornado and the clouds than any of the other details.  I had put out a number of collage materials, thinking that they might want to create houses on the ground, or in the clouds, but they didn't use any of it.

Our next step is to visit the library to look for some books on tornadoes. I'm especially excited about this step because the location of our new school actually allows us to walk to the library! I'll let you know how it goes!

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