Groundhog Day & a Mini-Light/Shadow Inquiry!

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 Learning About Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is a holiday that many young children have heard about but don’t quite understand. I was able to easily integrate this holiday and learning into our current Winter & Polar Inquiry due to the hibernation aspect, making it relevant to the children and not completely out of context from their focus of study. The image below shows some snapshots of video clips the children viewed, stories we read and the kinds of questions we explored in order to get a better idea of what really happens with groundhogs this time of year.

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First, we learned about the tradition of Groundhog Day but then we learned that groundhogs don’t really intend to look for their shadows when they emerge from their burrows in February. Actually, they don’t care about their shadows at all! They really only come out to keep tabs on the location of nearby female groundhog’s burrows so that when spring comes, they know exactly where to go. In a way, they can give us an inclination about whether spring is close by or not because of course, if the groundhog chooses to go back into his burrow, it is clearly not warm enough for him to leave hibernation. However, this is true for many animals.

If you’d like to check out the videos we watched, you can view this one by How Stuff Works here. We also watched a Wild Kratts episode called, Wake Up Call and you can view it on YouTube here.

Below, you can see some of our demonstrations of learning after viewing these videos and reading some groundhog books.

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On the left, Class B was involved in some prediction exercises. On the right, Class A made a list of what they learned about groundhogs (I couldn’t believe how much they retained!)

Many of the children chose to draw pictures to express all they learned about groundhogs and hibernation. Below you can see some of the children at work at the art table. The picture of the groundhog in the photo below was added to our Winter & Polar inquiry board because of how much time, effort and thought was put into it by one student named, Rosie. Her dedication to completing this was exemplary and we like to honour these things as often as we can. One boy, Chase, gave the most amazing explanation for why he believes groundhogs hibernate. We scribed his words for him and added it to the picture of the groundhog for our inquiry board. Together, these pieces represent the deep thought that all of the children had in regards to groundhogs and their adaptations to the cold.
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 An Experiment & Exploration on Light & Shadows

In the spirit of Groundhog Day, we also did a few light and shadow experiments. I used a flashlight, block and backdrop to demonstrate the making of shadows. Children predicted where the shadow would be when I shined the light from different angles. They realized that it’s always opposite the light source and began to wonder why this was. Through rich discussion and more experimentation, the children began to see that the block was blocking the light and that’s why the shadow was being created.

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After the solid block was tested, we also tried a transparent measuring cup (shadow contained the numbers and print from the measuring cub) and a coloured translucent cup (shadow was tinted). We noted the differences – like the differences in strength/clarity of the shadows – and talked about opaque vs. transparent.

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We filled out this chart about shadows before we did the experiment (What do you know about shadows? What do you wonder about shadows?) and after the experiment (What did you learn about shadows?). Note how squished the writing is in the “Learn” section – the children had SO much to say! The left 3 photos show some children testing out the new learning for themselves after the demonstration. They were so motivated!

To extend the learning, I offered a Light/Shadow centre in the cubby room for those who wanted to explore further. Many children loved trying it out. There were many different flashlights, mirror blocks, other props and best of all – dark space for full effect! One boy, Russell, especially enjoyed building different structures, manipulating them to change their shadows. He tried different flashlights (white toned and orange toned lights) and from different angles. His excitement and enthusiasm was contagious and many friends came to see what new findings he had come across. This centre remained popular for weeks after this and we continually added to our understanding of light and shadows through experimentation and discussions with the children who were engaging in play at this centre.

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Top left: Two boys notice how the lights react when they overlap one another. Bottom Left: These children show me how the light becomes dimmed but still visible when it shines through clothing. We talked about opaque vs. translucent. Right: This boy shows me the shadow a marble makes when the flashlight is placed behind it.

The fun with light continued at the light table. Children explored the effects on objects when the light source came from below. Beautiful designs were also created!
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Overall, I would say this was a great mini-inquiry that got the children practicing the steps of inquiry-based learning and scientific experimentation. They asked questions and sought answers as scientists do. My aim is – and most often is the same – to teach kids how to think about things deeply, to not simply accept surface answers and to be driven to learn more about the ‘whys’ behind facts and phenomena. I think the quote by Einstein that I began this post with sums it up nicely. It reminds us about the importance of training the mind to think as opposed to just absorbing facts. Through our Groundhog Day activities (which lasted for days and weeks past the holiday), children learned the real reason groundhogs may emerge from their burrows, that groundhogs don’t really care about their shadows and they explored how shadows are formed and affected by light. My hope is that this learning stays with them and that they can build upon it in future inquiries and experiments. This mini-inquiry also enhanced the children’s understanding of light in darkness during the cold, dark winter season. Our Winter & Polar Inquiry continued during our light and shadow explorations and I have much to show you. Stay tuned for my next post where the thinking, wondering and discovering continues!