Connections and Curriculum in the Stars

March 20, 2011 at 11:18 am Leave a comment

posted by Alisa Algava ‘08, leader of a small Hudson Valley progressive school

“Somebody has to go polish the stars,
They’re looking a little bit dull.
Somebody has to go polish the stars,
For the eagles and starlings and gulls
Have all been complaining they’re tarnished and worn,
They say they want new ones we cannot afford.
So please get your rags
And your polishing jars,
Somebody has to go polish the stars.”
~Shel Silverstein (A Light in the Attic)

On Friday morning I took off my shoes along with the Downstairs kids (our 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds) and their teachers and crawled through a dark tunnel into an inflated dome that filled the library in the Carriage House at my school.  Everyone found a comfy spot and then Brad, starman and teacher extraordinaire, turned off the lights as he turned on the stars.  This was the fifth time this week our kids visited StarLab.  But it was only my first time.  And what an experience it was.

During the 45 minutes we spent together inside that indoor planetarium, our 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds asked questions and shared the depth of their knowledge.  And they completely blew me away.  “Brad, this is Caleb.  I saw Betelguese yesterday night.”  “Brad, it’s Sadie.  Where is the sea serpent?”  Brad asked the name of the constellation known as the hunter.  “Orion!” they all called out.  “It’s Joshi, you see Betelguese, it’s red, and find Orion the hunter.”  “Brad, this is Asa.  From Draco the Dragon, I saw another dragon.”

Why do we do StarLab?  It is one of those spiral curricula in which kids experience the same structure (and even much of the same content and skills) year after year, but are asked to delve deeper and deeper as they get older.  They get the opportunity to do this every day for an entire week – it’s about gaining confidence and skills through daily practice and routine.  It’s about gaining a comfort and even mastery with the vocabulary and the language and also with the concepts of where we are in the universe (in developmentally-appropriate ways, of course).  Our kids can actually identify constellations.  I learned to do that at the age of 18 and it’s a powerful experience.

While in some ways this may seem like we’re taking a week out of the “regularly scheduled program,” in reality, this is a core component of our kids’ experience at our school.  It is yet another way for our children to think about who we are in the world.  What do teachers do in order to help our students get the most out of this experience?  We support their learning outside of StarLab by making connections to space, stars, planets, myths, and anything else we can think of.  Are there books to read?  Art projects to engage in?  Writing to do?  Stories to tell?  Constellation maps to study?  Of course.

Our Downstairs kids learned and read poems about stars (including the one about polishing the stars that they read to Brad!).  Some of our Emperor Penguins (8-, 9-, and 10- year-olds) learned Native American tales about the planets and the stars and then became storytellers as they told them to all the groups inside StarLab.  The Authors (5-, 6-, and 7-year-olds) learned that our Sun is a star, planets orbit the Sun, there are different kinds of stars, stars are huge, huge, huge, and different stars are different distances from Earth.  All of our kids heard myths and thought about what makes a story a story and about how people name the stars in cultures all around the world.  Equally as important, everyone in our school shared an experience this week that brought us together.  Kids from age 3 to age 18 now have a common language and understanding about stars and constellations and stories.  The stars are powerful and we are connected to each other in powerful ways.

Alisa Algava graduated from Bank Street’s Leadership for Educational Change program in 2008. For the past 15 years, she has taught and learned in public, private, and charter schools in NY, NJ, and RI. She has posted on the Alumni Blog about her experiences leading and learning in a small progressive school. Alisa loves learning. She loves moderating The Alumni Blog. And she really loves her nephew.

Entry filed under: community, constructivism, curriculum, early childhood, integrated curricula, science.

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