How do you teach inquiry to young children? In our preschool, children started with an everyday, familiar food item – apples.
4's teacher Alicia Klein talks about how an apple study laid the foundation for learning about the process of inquiry.
"As an introduction to inquiry-based classroom projects, we started a small unit on apples to model the process. To start, we gathered together to generate a list of what we know about apples. Sample responses included: 'They have seeds in it;' 'There’s juice in it;' 'It’s a fruit;' 'We can eat it;' 'You can make apple pie, apple cake, or applesauce.' 'It has a stem, which is how it hangs on the tree.'
Next, we read the books That Apple is Mine retold and illustrated by Katya Arnold, and Where is the Apple Pie? by Valeri Gorbache. Then we examined the physical shape of apples. We cut open two apples, one vertically and the other horizontally. While the seeds were visible in both, we were amazed to find a star in the one cut horizontally! We then used these apple halves to create prints with red, yellow and green paint.
We also created our very first observational drawing. Observational drawing is a tool in the process of scientific exploration. This was presented to the children as an opportunity to draw what they see. They were able to choose from four different types of apples: red (Macoun), yellow (Ginger Gold), green (Granny Smith), and multicolor (Envy). The artists studied the apples from all directions and got a good feel for the shape. Then they were given a pencil and asked to draw the outline. After the outline was done, they used colored pencils and crayons to fill in the colors that they observed. This process was done one at a time and the children felt great pride in their work.
The children also organized an apple taste test. The same four varieties of apples were presented and the question was asked: Are all apples the same? Everyone tasted a slice of each of the four apples, sharing comments about how they looked, how they smelled and how they tasted. After tasting all four apples, each child was asked to pick their favorite. We will now generate a graph based on the results. Finally, two students led apple cooking projects: apple juice and applesauce. We used a juicer and took turns pushing apple pieces inside and observing as the juice came pouring out of the spout. Then, the 'chefs' helped cut apples into small pieces to be cooked into applesauce. We sampled it along with apple butter on a baguette for a special snack. It was a huge hit, with many children asking for refills.
As we continue to practice inquiry-based learning, our goal is to trigger students' curiosity and empower them to lead their learning. Today, we met and asked each other what else we want to know. Children continued to form questions such as, 'I want to learn how to make apple pie,' or 'How do apples grow on trees?' In the end, the inquiry process left them hungry to learn more!"