This article describes a first year inquiry into how a community interacts. It illustrates an approach for teaching something abstract to young learners.
Having worked with young children for all my teaching career, it has been a challenge to find a way for my students to understand some of the central ideas and related concepts included in the transdisciplinary themes we have been inquiring into. This has led me to find creative and different ways to introduce and work on central ideas each year. This year was no exception!
The central idea we were inquiring into was related to the ways a community gives you a sense of belonging. It was something very difficult and abstract for my first graders to grasp, so I came up with the idea of creating a fictitious community that lived in our classroom, which enabled me to introduce various terms and situations which would otherwise be too complicated for my students to comprehend.
We started by unpacking the central idea; having the students identify the words they are a bit familiar with and, in groups, be able to discuss and come up with a hypothesis of what it really means. Next, I introduced our fictitious community: The Littles. The Littles brought with them various problems: the first being the conflict they faced as a group of people who lived together but had no rules to follow—they would constantly fight and this resulted in a difficult environment for them to continue with their daily tasks.
When the students were introduced to this problem, they were asked to help The Littles live in peace and unity, so after a long brainstorming session and discussion among all the students, they came up with the idea that they needed rules to follow. The students divided into groups and presented a set of 10 rules each which were to be followed by The Littles.
This brought forth another issue: how would they be certain The Littles would follow the rules of their community? After more discussion and brainstorming, the students figured out they needed specific people that could reinforce them in the community; hence, they came up with different roles the community should have. They also figured out that The Littles needed a way to purchase things to fulfill their needs like food and water (they came up with this on their own after they realized that there were no shopping malls or supermarkets) so they applied what they learned in social studies about trade and decided to create currency for The Littles to use.
After learning about communications systems, one student shared research around cellular phones and how they worked. The students then developed ways for the citizens to communicate with each other, solving yet another problem.
These learning experiences have been very enriching; they engaged the students to designs different ways of solving conflict as a community, helped them understand in a practical way how a community interacts and they were able to compare The Littles to how their own community works.
As for the initial goal for this whole new approach, I was successful in getting my students to understand the key concepts, related concepts and, of course, the central idea.
Even though this learning experience was at the beginning of the school year, parents are contacting me saying that their children are pointing out different things they learned throughout this inquiry process, especially regarding following rules, the reason why we should follow them and how this whole process makes us part of our community!
María Julia Ortega has been teaching in the Saint Andrew’s School (a PYP candidate school) in Bolivia for more than eight years, both as a preschool and first grade homeroom teacher. Passionate about teaching, she enjoys looking for different and creative ways for children to learn and inspire her students.