At the beginning of our Reduce, Reuse, Recycle study, the ECE students did "The Explanation Game" with the above photo of a landfill. I wanted to determine the students background knowledge about garbage. This was the first activity of our RRR study and I found that the students had only very basic familiarity with the garbage, where it comes from and what happens to it. The children recognized that this was garbage and a garbage truck. They notices some elements of the trash; "I see trash," "I see clothes," "I see bags," "I see a table." When trying to explain what they saw, I asked many questions to prompt their thinking. The children explained that the trash came from garbage cans. There was some vague knowledge of the trash getting "burnted" or going to a "shredder." My hope was that the children would come up with theories or guesses about how the garbage got to the landfill, and/or what would happen to it next.
After doing the explanation game, I was able to go back to my UbD essential questions and plan experiences and investigations that would build the students background knowledge. The themes (essential questions) we would explore during the course of the study include:
- · What do people throw away?
- · Where does trash go?
- · How do trash and garbage affect our community
- · How can we reuse junk?
- · How can we create less trash?
At the end of our Reduce, Reuse, Recycle study, I brought out the picture that we used at beginning of the study. My intent was to do the Explanation Game a second time to assess the growth of students' understanding of reducing, reusing, and recycling. I had left our initial explanation hanging on the board and we referred to the picture often throughout the study so the children were familiar with it. My intent through the study was to help my students see connections and let them take the reins of their learning.
The second visit to the explanation game started out in a similar way as the first time. However, I was pleased so see that the students began noticing details in the picture that they hadn't picked up the first time they looked at the picture. Below is the transcript of the children's responses to the picture. The text in red is my 3 year-old class and the blue is my 4 year-old class. In italics are my prompts.
What we see/notice
A garbage truck—Miranda, Xzayvior
I see the garbage truck—Joe
I see a broken chair—Miranda
Garbage and a garbage truck—Trinity
A box of garbage—Sunshine
Garbage truck, a beach, birds, and trash—Liam
What we think
The garbage is stinky—Ellie
It smells stinky because it’s garbage, but paper doesn’t stink—Will
It is at the land fill—Will
All of it’s no trash, some is food –Will
Recycle some stuff—Nhandi
Reuse some stuff, there might be toys we can play with—Sutton
You can make a robot out of that big box—Ford
The trash is going to blow away because the garbage truck is leaving—Joe
The trash gets picked up and floats away in the ocean—Nhandi
They dump it on a boat—Kamilah
The recycle stuff gets pushed inside and goes to a cube and then turns into new stuff—Kamilah
The hopper squeezes the trash out--Joe
--What do you think about the chair?
They should fix the chair—Sunshine
They should paint the chair—Ellie
--What do you think about the garbage truck?
The garbage in the truck goes really tiny and it goes on an elevator—Miranda
It goes crushed—Liam
It goes on a belt—Ellie
The big wheels—Xzayvior
The back of the truck closes—Miranda
He is dumping trash—Nhandi
If I was trash, I’d want to go on the stairs [the belt]—Sunshine
I’d want to go on the belt—Miranda
What we see/notice
I see chairs in there—Brenyn
Paper, I notice that paper is in the picture—Aaliyah
I see a boat—Lucy
I see a bag—Lucas
I think it’s a kite—Gabi
I wonder what that sign is—Lucy
A lot of plastic bags—Lucy
I see a chair—Anthony
I see a banana peel—Anthony
I’m thinking worms—Brenyn
What We Think
The compost is good food for your plants—Wyatt
It’s a landfill where a lot of trash goes and they cover it up with dirt and it becomes a playground—Lili
Some of this stuff can be recycled—Taylor
That food can go into the compost and turn into dirt—Alex
Not so fast. It takes time—Lili
You can teracycle—Alex
It’s like reusing—Taylor
They can turn those clothes into capes and play super hero—Wyatt
They could give that table to someone—Lili
--What do you think about the chair?
I think it broke—Anthony
I think it got there in a garbage truck—Anthony
I think ‘em said “our chair broke, we want to throw it away”—Anthony
They should have given the chair away—Gabi
Maybe they didn’t have any people in their neighborhood—Lucy (Lucy had told us earlier about her family putting a table in the alley so someone else could take it)
Maybe they have no friends and are shy of talking to people and maybe they don’t know how to fix it—Brenyn
--What about the paper you see?
I don’t think they should throw it away they should put it in the recycle bin—Gabi
Or turn it over and use the other side—Lucy
--What about the plastic?
They didn’t know plastic bags go in the recycling bin—Anthony
--What about the banana peel?
Put it in a bucket and make it mushy and then put it in another bucket and put worms in it, but not earthworms, another kind of worms, and they eat and poop and make it into dirt—Gabi
--What about the garbage truck?
I see this [the hydraulic pump on the door], I think it’s a trigger that makes it open—Anthony
When it closes, it crushes the trash—Lucy
The back thing helps the trash get compacted—Rory
The students were able to make connections to our leaning, by explaining that various items in the landfill could have been recycled or reused or composted. The students were also able to talk about the "life cycle of trash."
This experience has convince me that the explanation game is a great way to introduce a study and then assess the students' learning at the end of a study. After completing our Reduce, Reuse, Recycle study, we embarked on our Building Study. We started the study with the explanation game looking at a picture of the city of Shanghai. I look forward to bringing out the picture again to see how the students' thinking has grown.