Saturday, July 31, 2010

"We're Trying To Do Experiments..."

I mentioned yesterday that we were unable to erupt our new volcano on Tuesday as planned because we'd gone through our entire gallon of vinegar doing other things. Specifically, it had been used as one of the 3 liquids we'd employed to make mixtures, formulas and concoctions.

Mixing random things together is one of those activities that is always a hit and this was no exception. Our chemists had relatively free access to several white powders: baking soda, flour, corn starch, Ivory Snow (a type of detergent that is only soap), and salt, as well as the liquids of water, vegetable oil and vinegar. I say "relatively free access" because I've learned that entirely free access to these types of materials inevitably leads to the group think idea of just dumping everything together in a big pile and that's that. Years ago a parent donated a massive quantity of small, disposable sample cups, so I'd asked my daughter Josephine, who was working the station, to ration the supplies by providing them in these little cups.

She was very busy for the better part of an hour, keeping those little cups full.

In fact, the workbench was so slammed for most of the morning that Joshua's mom Heidi had to pitch in.

It didn't take them long to figure out that the baking soda-vinegar combination produced the most dramatic results, hence the massive usage of vinegar.

This was going on simultaneously and adjacent to our rainbow room project (a phenomenon that prompted Thomas to say, "Teacher Tom, this is the best school ever!") which involved using squirt bottles of liquid water color to decorate coffee filter sea weed. It wasn't long before those paint bottles had migrated over to the workbench adding a fourth liquid to our experiments.

And while I hadn't anticipated the paint finding its way into the mix, I had intentionally set up our sensory table, full of water, nearby with the idea that our small bowl experiments would ultimately need a larger field of play, not to mention serving as a quick, informal wash up opportunity. And that's where it went.

There were a few water toys in the sensory table and the children, on their own, decided that one half of our divided table would be for experiments and the other for toys. Nice! Of course, soon the experimenting began to include the toys as well.

Now as this was happening alongside the rainbow room, I was wondering why the forest house, on which I'd worked so hard the day before, was standing unused. Duh. It doesn't take much reflection to figure it out now. Still, at one point I spotted children playing in there . . .

Yay! They were discovering it . . .

When I got closer I saw that they were engrossed in an old tire. Josephine (the 5-year-old, not the teenager) said, "Teacher Tom, can you move all these branches out of the way. We're trying to do experiments in the tire and we have to keep ducking."

The forest house would just have to wait until tomorrow. At least I'd been right about the sensory table!

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Friday, July 30, 2010

The Volcano Erupts And Our Marble Paintings Go Super Dooper

The children in our most recent and just completed 3-week summer session identified the problem: "We need a new volcano," and spent their time making one. In my last post on the topic, I detailed how we worked through the process until we got to the stage that looked the way I thought it should look . . .

Masking tape frame around a 2-liter soda bottle.

A first, very thick, layer of paper mache.

A second layer of paper mache for strength.


More paint and the addition of salt. Perfect, right?

. . . but the children had other ideas. They had wanted to add trees, snow and more boulders, for instance. Boulders in particular. There was quite a bit of discussion among the children about "boulders" throughout the entire process, a few of them seemingly enamored with the way this powerful word sounded in their mouths. Some of them even made paper mache boulders that are visible, if you look carefully. I honestly can't recall where the idea came from, but someone remembered that we had some red lava rocks in Little World. What could be better than real lava boulders? So we broke out the glue guns and gave our purple mountain some boulders.

After this, I asked several times about the snow and trees, but they were done. It was time to erupt the new volcano, so we took it outside and with much fanfare . . . Oops, our plans were thwarted by a lack of baking soda. Rats! That dearth corrected, the following day we returned to the outdoor classroom bearing our volcano only to discover that we'd used up almost an entire gallon of white vinegar at the construction/tinkering station earlier in the day. Rats! We were running out of time before the session was over. This time Teacher Tom hoarded materials, making sure we had everything we needed. We funneled in some baking soda, added dish soap, gave it a good squirt of red liquid water color, then added a healthy dose of vinegar and boom, we had our pink lava eruption. Yay!

In fact, we erupted it several times. Thomas, one of our primary advocates of boulders, was particularly excited by the fact that the eruption caused some of the lava rocks to lose their grip and avalanche to the bottom of the slope. "Just like a real volcano! That's what happens on a real volcano!" In the future, it seems, we will always need to first re-attach some lava rocks so that they can realistically tumble back down. Cool.

As we stood watching the kids, one of the fathers, Terry, and I discussed the future of volcanos in the preschool. Terry already has 3 kids enrolled in the school for next year and his wife is currently expecting twins. He and I will be working together at the Woodland Park Cooperative Preschool for a long time. I mentioned that I thought we ought to get into the routine of making a new volcano each year instead of waiting 8 years in between like we did this time. We discussed how we could display such a volcanic mountain range and how incredible it would be to get them all erupting at once.

In another update, I'd mentioned that we were going to add some warm colors on top of our super sized marble paintings. Although they were beautiful, the children wanted to top off what had turned out to be some rather dark canvasses with warm colors.

Specifically, we had decided to roll balls around in yellow and orange paint for "just 20 minutes." So that's what we did. As it turns out, they knew exactly what they were doing.

These paintings have now been declared "finished" and are now just waiting two weeks before some wall space opens up at a local coffee house. The parents have decided we'll put price tags on them and see if we can use them for a little fundraising. I'm just saying, I'd hang them on my wall, especially if doing so came with a tax write-off.

And while the volcano and paintings are finished, I wasn't quite done with the whole super sized marble painting concept, so yesterday we tried a version of super dooper sized marble painting.

The only space large enough for this is our "gym." And instead of rolling the balls/marbles around, we took off our shoes and kicked balls across the paper to one another.

Oh, it was messy.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Making A Forest House

Too often people treat the word "teach" as a synonym for "instruct." They are two entirely different things. The best days as a teacher are the ones where I forget all about instructing and instead think of myself the world's laziest games master. All I have to do is set things up the right way and I get paid to sit back and watch the show.

I mentioned that I've recently pruned some low-hanging branches from the three large cedars in my yard. While I've made various interesting, beautiful, and entertaining objects with the larger branches, I still have many of the fragrant, lush evergreen branch tips on my hands. These I took to school by way of giving the sandpit a temporary make-over.

I started, however, with some bare sticks, lashing them together with twine.

This is kick-butt lashing technique if I do say so myself . . .

I've been eager to try building something on the playground using this technique (which I probably learned during my brief stint in Boy Scouts) ever since my friend Jenny posted this on her blog Let The Children Play. (I'm sure the equipment manufacturer about which she writes didn't lash their things together, but I would like their product even more if they did!)

I built a triangular frame which I attached to our triple-trunked magnolia and festooned it with a cedar branch.

After building the frame, I'd had plenty of experience with the slow process of traditional lashing, so resorted to the new and improved modern day version, which employs discarded bicycle tire inner tubes.

The knot kind of obscures the lashing, but I used the same
over-and-around technique. The power of inner tubes
is that you only need to wrap the sticks once for a secure hold.

I always keep a few expired bicycle tire inner tubes around -- they are endlessly useful.

Since I'd removed the water walls due to lack of recent interest, our homemade ladder was available to serve as a roof upon which to arrange more cedar branches.

I then re-purposed our pulley-zip line rope and hung more cedar branches from it.

It was at this point that I starting thinking of it as a "forest house."

As you can see I also used some of the large chunks of
wood from my recent score.

I thought this little doorway was a bit flimsy, but as you will
later see, it took a lot of weight.

It smells so good inside there.

It was really shaping up, as I tweaked and shifted . . .

I even pulled out one of our manufacturing patterns.

. . . and in the end decided to remove the water pump for a few days, which I do periodically to give the children who don't like to get wet a chance to play in the sand pit without worry.

I did all of this on Monday in anticipation of our class on Tuesday. Granted, we had a lot going on in other parts of the classroom, but I really only saw a couple kids check out this latest piece of interactive art during the day. Oh, come on! Before I left for home, disappointed, I inspected the fort I'd begun for them and found this:

My flimsy doorway had been made into a window with this remarkable construction. It looks almost like some beaver dams I've seen. It seemed like the work of Orlando.

I guess that's what it took because Wednesday, yesterday, was another story.

Before I knew what was happening, the flimsy doorway was entirely sealed off with a collection of scrap wood, sand tools, and even ribbons of coffee filter seaweed ripped from the rainbow room. Soon the spray bottles full of liquid water color found their way into the act.

The children found they needed to use our step ladder to get the job done.

I looooove this picture!

I've often been at the center of "coaching" kids through projects like this, but yesterday I was just an observer, occasional making descriptive statements about what I saw or holding the ladder steady, but little else. It was all about them.

The children even called for "more belts" and I happily obliged.

Charlie L.'s mom Shelly had brought in several freshly cut bamboo poles from her yard. Those got used as well . . .

As did many other interesting objects . . .

Finally, most of the seaweed from our rainbow room was
harvested to decorate the forest house. By now that flimsy
doorway has earned the right to not be called flimsy.

When I arrive at school this morning, this is what I'll find:

I promised I'd leave it like this "for a while." Music to a lazy games master's ears.

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