IB PYP UOI Class Introduction (5-year-old) Vol.2 - Preschool at CGK International School
Last time, Sky class (5 year olds) completed the International Baccalaureate (IB) unit of enquiry (UOI), 'Where We are in Place and Time'. Through a variety of activities, the children learnt 'What kind of community do I belong to', 'Each of us has a role to play' and 'By taking responsibility for our roles, we are helping someone else'. Based on these experiences, the children will further deepen their learning in the next unit of enquiry (UOI).
Now, the next unit of inquiry (UOI) that Sky children tackle after developing teamwork is,
”How the World Works”.
The central idea, which is the theme we want the children to experience throughout this unit, is,
”We use the scientific process to understand our world”.
Looking at this Central Idea alone, many people may have a difficult impression. But Sky teachers don't just want to teach children the joy of experimentation or how the world works through this unit. When we start a Unit of Inquiry (UOI) or a Central Idea, we are planning with the future in mind: 'What skills do we want the children to have acquired at the end of this unit?’ However, this planning is also very different from the teachers deciding on all the activities from the beginning and the children walking on the rails. We are flexible and work with the children on a daily basis to create the content of the activities in this Unit of Inquiry (UOI) by observing the children's reactions to what they are interested in. This is what the International Baccalaureate IB curriculum is all about.
Background to the choice of this theme (what skills do you want children to acquire)
- Children do not just leave questions as they are, saying "Oh well", but they pursue everything.
- They learn that there are different ways to solve questions.
- To broaden their knowledge by using the interview skills acquired in the previous unit of inquiry (UOI) and by interacting with a variety of people.
- Further new questions arise in the process of solving questions. The experience makes you realize that there are still many things in the world that you don't know.
- Realize how much fun it is to solve questions on your own.
The following four months are spent following the Central Idea of "We use the scientific process to understand our world". The following are some of the activities and skills that the children have acquired over the four months of the project in both English and Japanese, in line with the Central Idea of "We use the scientific process to understand our world".
Edison was Dr Light Bulb!
This happened one day in Sky class. I saw the children using a lot of origami and drawing paper during free time. It would be fine if they were using origami and drawing paper with a firm purpose, but if they were going to draw, I thought I would encourage them to use the free books that we all own. Then, in the Japanese time afterwards, we all thought about the concept of 'SDGs' and 'what we can do'. One of the questions which children asked was: 'Is it not only paper, but also electricity? Is it an SDG if the teachers always turn off the lights when we go to the park?". From there, everyone's interest in Sky turned to electricity.
"How long do you think it would take for the lights to go out if they were on all the time?"
"Maybe a week? Or maybe a year? But I've never seen anyone change the lights."
"I'm sure the teacher changes them on her day off."
"I wonder how the electricity works in the first place."
"I wonder who built it first."
As we watched the smiling conversations, we were originally talking about the SDGs, but before we knew it, the children's conversations naturally led to questions such as 'How does electricity work' and 'Who invented electricity'.
So as we looked into it with the children, we came across the name of that famous Edison. The children were very interested in the name Edison! I've heard that name before!' The children were curious: "We have electricity now because Edison made the light bulb" and "But how did Edison make the light bulb when nobody knew anything about it at first?"
Then they read Edison's biography and learnt that Edison had actually made hundreds or thousands of failures before perfecting the light bulb. From there, the children asked, "Is Edison trying to tell us that it's important not to give up when you make mistakes?" and "Is it good that he experimented a lot and knew he was a failure?" Then Edison knows a lot about light bulbs, so he is a light bulb shaker! They were sharing their thoughts with each other. Here in the Sky class, the term '00 hakase' was created by everyone for the first time.
"I know a lot about Pokémon, so I'm a Pokémon hakase!"
"I love insects, so I'm an insect hakase!"
"I love books, but I can also sing many songs, so what kind of hakase should I be..."
The children naturally started to talk more about the unit of inquiry (UOI), starting from the idea that 'wasting paper is a waste of time'.
How does a doctor find out what he doesn't know?
Sky and his friends recently learned that Edison made countless mistakes before inventing the light bulb. The children were interested in 'I want to be a hakase of something too!' So, under the theme of 'How do Hakase investigate what they don't know?', we held an activity to learn the skills needed to conduct experiments and investigations in a fun way.
The children connected small blocks that they were familiar with in everyday play and measured the length of their chosen toy in the classroom by "how many pieces". The children experienced length measurement in a playful way, saying things like, "It's longer/shorter than I thought it would be."
Using a balance, children compared the weights of two toys and recorded them in a drawing. The children who finished the game quickly also found out what was the heaviest and lightest of the items they compared. In another game using the balance, children enjoyed an activity where they used 5g and 20g weights to find toys of the same weight.
In order to be aware of the five senses that we always use without thinking, we discussed why the senses 'sight/hearing/touch/taste/smell' that Hakase use when conducting experiments are necessary. In the course of the discussion, the children focused on parts of the body that they do not usually move consciously, such as expanding their nostrils and moving their ears. The children were particularly interested in 'taste', asking questions such as "Do you feel sweet or sour from different foods? Or is it something you feel in your mouth?" one friend asked. It was a very good question and we all decided to find out.
■Fruit tasting experiment
The children's interest led to a shopping trip to the supermarket for a tasting experiment. Having purchased the fruits and vegetables they wanted to experiment with, Sky tried them, being aware of the tastes in different places in his mouth. Then, she said, "Oh! When I put the food on the tongue, the taste gets stronger... I feel...?" One of the friends noticed. It was a moment when the children's own inquisitive minds led to new discoveries about the role of the tongue.
■Making experimental predictions
One day I asked everyone in Sky a question.
"What do you think would happen if you put alcohol sanitising solution in a plastic bottle with a little water in it?"
When I asked this question, Sky's imaginative friends came up with a variety of ideas.
"Maybe the water turns into carbonic acid?"
"Maybe clouds will form..."
"Maybe the water changes colour?"
After each person had drawn a picture of their experimental prediction, they had to answer the question.
The result was... the water was a little squishy and clouds formed inside. Some friends were happy that their predictions were right on target, while others were disappointed that they were wrong.
However, I tell them that it is not important that the result of the experiment is correct/incorrect, but that it is important to "let your imagination grow and have many different ideas without fear of failure".
The children then say, "Oh! It's just like Edison! Edison made a lot of mistakes before the light bulb was created, which is why we have evolved to the point where we can now use electricity freely!" The children seemed to be interpreting the concept of 'the process is more important than the result' in their own way, as it was connected to the history story they had casually told before.
In addition to the plastic bottle experiment, the children also experienced various other experiments, such as 'How many drops of water can be stored on a 10 yen coin', 'Does the toy I chose float in water or not? In the process, Sky experienced the difficulty of making predictions, but at the same time the excitement of learning about the unknown.
What kind of doctor would you be?
Sky and his friends have been preparing to become shakas. Now it was their turn to experiment and investigate the questions they all had!
Here, however, the Sky teachers wondered how they could ensure that each Sky child's research was in line with their interests. We thought that lumping all the children into a single topic and asking them, "Now, let's solve this question!" is not an appropriate approach as educators. That would crush each child's curiosity and inquisitiveness.
As we have already mentioned in the previous sentence, we do not want to teach children the joys of experimentation and science through this Unit of Inquiry (UOI). Experiments and investigations are tools for solving questions. When a question arises in children, we want them to develop 'problem-solving skills' to try to understand things on their own, rather than just sitting and waiting for an answer and letting the question remain unanswered. For this reason, we needed to get the children to think of more interesting questions themselves, rather than having the teacher set the theme.
So, first of all, in order to find out what kind of fields each Sky-san is interested in, we gave the children picture cards and asked them to sort out whether the pictures on the cards were 'living things' or 'non-living things'.
Although this was an activity for each group, here the children did not make the decision on their own, but rather they themselves asked their teammates, "Is this a creature/is this not a creature? /Is this a living thing or not? The children were seen participating enthusiastically in the activity while discussing with their teammates, "This is a living thing, isn't it?
The next step is for each team to discuss what common characteristics the creatures have and why they came to that decision.
- Eat to live
- Make sounds from their mouths
- Have a place to live
- Have a brain
- Gives birth to children
- Have feet
These were only some of the opinions expressed by the children, and we heard many more that overflowed. One of the most striking was "Are eggs and trees living things?" The question was.
"Trees are living things because they grow and want water and sun!"
"Yes, but trees don't walk and they don't have brains."
"But snakes don't have legs, but they are living things, aren't they?"
Sky enjoyed this discussion, which was like a riddle with an answer that was both obvious and difficult to figure out. Each team had a different way of thinking, but when I saw how some of the children were able to express their own opinions, while at the same time acknowledging the values of their friends without rejecting their opinions outright, I felt that it was a very nice, international atmosphere.
And from this day of thinking about 'creatures' and 'not creatures', Sky started to ask me many questions. Looking back, it seems that the children have had moments of doubt in the past, but there has not been much space for them to communicate or discuss them with anyone. From that time onwards, whenever Sky had a question about something, they would say, "Teacher, I just thought of a 'why story'!" and they began to tell us what they thought of every day.
Sky’s tree of knowledge
"Why do catsharks feel like sand to the touch?"
"Why are horses so heavy but fast when they run?"
"Why do rainbows form when there is sun and rain?"
"Why did people used to wear kimonos but now they wear clothes?"
"Why is the steering wheel of a car in Japan different from that in America?"
Through their own observations and experiences, Sky was full of many 'why stories'. We were able to learn about each person's interests and questions here, but there are so many things that even adults don't understand unless they research them properly.
As an aside, "You're a teacher, why don't you know the answer?" I was once genuinely asked by children. At that time, I said, "The teacher knows a lot about all the Sky's. That's why she's Dr Sky. But there are a lot of things about everyone's 'why stories' that even the teacher doesn't understand. So now, can you all be doctors and tell us what you've found out?" When I told them, "Oh, I see..." They were easily convinced.
A wonderful idea was born out of this casual conversation with the children. One of the Sky boys asked, "Why are there four seasons in Japan?" From there, the Sky class started to focus on the shapes of the trees and the colours of the leaves when they went outside to play.
"It's summer this time of year, so the trees have green, healthy leaves on them."
"Some trees have flowers on them as well as leaves."
"Do you think the green leaves will grow into flowers?"
"This is another new 'why story'!"
These children's conversations gave me a new idea. I'll tell the children about it after we return to the classroom.
"We talked about trees, leaves and flowers in the park today, didn't we? I thought of an idea, how about we all make a big tree in Sky's room? Everyone should write the 'why story' they came up with on a leaf and stick it on the tree. If everyone solves the 'why' story and becomes a doctor, we'll put a flower on it. What do you think?"
Of course, I had no intention of telling them about this idea and forcing it through if the children's response was not very encouraging. However, the children were unexpectedly very supportive. They said, "That's good! I want to be a hake and make flowers bloom!" Sky immediately started drawing a large tree trunk. Sky and her friends named the tree "Sky-san's Hakase Tree"
At first, "Sky-san's Hakase Tree" consisted only of a large tree trunk and branches. In no time at all, the lonely tree was covered with 'why leaves'.
However, a new obstacle is encountered here. While only the leaves are increasing in number, flowers are not blooming on the 'Hakase tree'.
So we asked the children, "How do you think the 'Hakase tree' can make flowers bloom?" They replied,
"I'll look in the Neo-illustrated book or on YouTube!"
"Ask an adult."
"I'll look at the news."
The children were not quite sure what to think.
One girl said, "I am 'why' about dolphins, so if I go to an aquarium and listen to a story, I might be able to become a hakase.
Then everyone's face lit up. 'My 'why' is about animals, so I want to go to the zoo!' 'Where would I go to find out the solution to my 'why'?'
Thus, Sky and the girls' curiosity and inquisitiveness led them to decide to go on an 'extracurricular research' project called an excursion.
Time to go to extracurricular research!
The Sky class decided to undertake extra-curricular research projects at a science museum, an aquarium and a zoo due to the children's interests, and the Sky friends seemed to understand better than anyone that they were not just going on a field trip for fun, but as part of their research.
At the science museum (Toshiba Science Museum), where they first went, they watched petals flutter and shatter during a liquid nitrogen show, and experienced how static electricity made their hair stand on end, and came up with new questions.
The three groups acted separately here, but the teacher did not guide them. The children systematically made their way around each area, using the teamwork they had developed in the previous unit of enquiry (UOI), 'Where We Are in Place and Time'.
The next stop was the aquarium (Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise). Seeing the sea creatures up close, which was the theme of their 'Why', the children asked questions such as: 'They are bigger than I thought! Which one of you is bigger than me?" and "Which one of you is bigger than me? Some of them even asked questions to the zookeeper in order to become a hakase!
It must have taken a lot of courage, but when the visit to the aquarium was over, they were all smiles with a sense of achievement.
The final research project took place at the zoo (Yokohama Zoo Zoorasia). The children were able to look around the zoo from a different perspective to the zoo they usually visit with their families and friends.
"I think they have hard claws on their legs because they live where the rocks are so craggy."
"Leopards are small and light, so they run fast, don't they?"
In this way, we saw many children making 'guesses' like Hakase, rather than simply commenting on how 'fun', 'cute' or 'moving' they were.
At last, everyone at Sky is a Doctor of Knowledge!
The unit of enquiry (UOI) 'How the World Works' is now coming to a close. Through this unit, I feel that Sky children have naturally developed an attitude of 'questioning' and 'critical thinking' rather than 'just accepting things'.
Here, Sky and her colleagues take on a new challenge. This is to have them think about the answers to their 'why' questions with their families. Normally, CGK does not assign homework to children. Children learn a lot through everyday life, through play and through loving contact with their families. We do not normally give homework because we want the children to spend as much time as possible in this wonderful time.
This time, however, we dared to give the children homework after explaining it to the families beforehand.
<Purpose of homework>
- Children have difficulty reading books and illustrated books on their own, even if they want to solve 'why' questions on their own.
- It is not possible for each child to have time to carefully use the internet or other media in class activities.
- Emphasis should be placed on the concept that it is not important whether the answer found is right or wrong, but the process of how the question was solved.
- The questions and ideas that the children came up with on their own were so wonderful that we wanted their families to feel it too.
- Before going on to primary school, we also thought it was a good opportunity for the children to feel what it is like to do homework at school.
Now, Sky and her family have finished their homework.
"My mum and I went to the library to look it up!"
"I did a lot of research on the internet."
"I went to the farm on my day off to see the horses!"
I was impressed by the way each one of them confidently told us how they solved their questions before they told us the answers to the 'why' questions.
Seeing this, I was delighted to realise that the children were developing the 'problem-solving' skills that the Sky teachers wanted them to learn through this unit of enquiry (UOI).
Of course, the answers to the homework assignments that everyone worked on were just as good as those of the adults!
Finally, Sky and the children put together a poster of what each of them had researched.
They drew their own original posters full of individuality, with the answers to the 'why' questions and the details of their features in text and drawings.
Above all, everyone's willingness to solve 'why' led to many flowers blooming on Sky's Hakase tree, which was lonely at first with only a tree trunk! When the children saw this colourful Hakase tree, they had a confident look on their faces, full of a sense of achievement.
The children were initially convinced that they knew everything because they were teachers and because they were adults. However, through this unit of inquiry (UOI), the children learned through their teachers and their families that 'questions arise even as adults'. Instead of just passively waiting, they can acquire knowledge and learn more about the sparkling world by investigating what they are interested in.
Now that Sky has successfully become a hakase, she has only just started, and just as Sky's hakase tree has many leaves and flowers are gradually blooming and changing color, we hope that each and every one of Sky's interests and questions will continue to grow and expand.
In the next unit of inquiry (UOI): “How We Express Ourselves”, we will continue to work with the children to develop the content of the activities. What will be next for Hakase? Stay tuned for the next article!
Maya - Preschool Teacher (Japan)
Preschool homeroom teacher for 5-year-old class at CGK International School.
Major in Asian Studies at American University in Japan. 3 years experience at an international preschool in Yokohama (experienced homeroom teacher for 2-5 year olds, and head teacher duties).