How do you adopt a baby? How did words get started? What is the hottest planet? 3 x what number = 23?
These and other questions preoccupy the minds of our Grade 2 students, and have had their place this year on the Grade 2 Wonder Wall. Not all of the questions have obvious answers, even to an adult. You might think that Mercury is the hottest planet, being closest to the sun, but actually Venus, second closest, has the highest temperature overall. If you are wondering why that is, you are becoming caught up in the twists and turns of discovery that guide the minds of the students, and of scientists, artists, and poets, of all those engaged in a creative way with the world we inhabit.
As the keeper of the Grade 2 Wonder Wall, Jeannie Bayer knows that there is an art to tailoring the search for answers to the age and developmental stage of her students. There are questions, and there are questions. Upon finding out that there is no whole number answer to how many times 3 can be multiplied into 23, her students reach for the horizon of their mathematical imagination, anticipating the role of fractions and remainders in an active way, out of their own curiosity. Then, when the new concepts are presented, these satisfy an intellectual desire for mastery of their world. “We encourage everyone to be part of our learning community,” she says. “Helping them find the answers is important, and what’s even more important is giving questions, and curiosity, a place of honor in the learning process.”
The Wonder Wall is related to a device used in the Responsive Classroom approach to classroom management known as the parking lot, which invites students to “park,” or make visible, their questions, ideas, words of encouragement, and suggestions for improvement. The teacher’s role is to recognize and respond to what the students express, and thereby to foster a feeling of community. “Questions arise from what’s going on in the children’s lives, and from what we are studying,” says Mrs. Bayer, adding that the timing and process involved in finding answers is important. “We don’t want them to lose interest by answering them too quickly,” she says, noting that letting questions languish is risky, as well.
Sometimes, having the teacher pose questions is a provocative way to start a unit of study, and the “aha” moment comes as the students become familiar with the new content. Questions and their answers also feature in other parts of daily routines, such as the Morning Meeting. Throughout, the Wonder Wall offers the students a home for their inquisitiveness, and a tangible expression of their teacher’s receptivity toward each student’s unique interests and experiences. “I want them to know that this is a safe place to ask questions,” says Mrs. Bayer, reflecting on the importance of questioning in the development of critical thinking.
By the way, if you do not have a Grade 2 student nearby to offer an explanation about the relative temperatures of Mercury and Venus, here is the answer: Temperatures on Venus, the hottest planet, reach 870 degrees Fahrenheit, because of its carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere that functions as an intense version of the greenhouse gas phenomenon.
Thank you to Ingrid Willenz-Isaacs for this post.