As with any inquiry, new materials were placed in a learning space for the children to explore freely. When new materials are offered, there is time given for the children to ‘Mess About’, and for the teacher to observe HOW the children use these materials. Initial observations were that some children used them to act out adult roles, such as baking cakes and serving food. Others created symmetrical designs, either alone or with a partner.
One child requested a magnet, revealing prior knowledge of magnetic and non magnetic materials. Another used the magnet to explore materials, and discovered for herself that some materials could be picked up by the magnet, and others could not. She also learned by herself that some magnets attract, and others repel. “It’s like magic!” The materials provided a gateway into her own scientific discoveries.
Most versions of inquiry learning see a continuing cycle or spiral of inquiry (Bruner, 1965), one version of which is shown here. This is a model for how people engage in inquiry. Some such models emphasize immersion in something prior to more focused investigation; this is what Hawkins (1965) calls “Messing About”, and is what the children experienced in their initial explorations.
These metal materials provide an entry point to many curriculum connections, and expectations. Social/emotional and imagination are developed through role play; mathematical understandings strengthened in the area of geometry as different shapes of metal are recognised, and scientific skills applied, as children observe, predict, test and collect data around the ideas of magnetic and non magnetic objects. Bringing in literacy will be the next step intentional step.
The children will now be asked to use the materials with a specific purpose in mind, through the question:
“How can you use metal to create a story?”