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By Eric Sean Weld   Date: 4/15/09 Bookmark and Share

A Close-Up View of Children Learning

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A Campus School kindergartener gets a close-up view of leaves.

For most, it was their first time viewing objects through a microscope. But for a couple savvy Smith College Campus School kindergarteners, looking through a microscope at the Botanic Garden was familiar territory.

More than two dozen kindergarteners partnered with Smith students recently to view leaves at amplified distance through the Botanic Garden’s classroom microscopes as a joint unit between the elementary school and a course, EDC 231, Foundations and Issues in Early Childhood Education, taught by Susan Etheredge, associate professor of education and child study and director of first-year seminars.

The youngsters, who have been studying leaves and fauna in the classroom, observed the up-close contours of assorted leaves from Botanic Garden plants with guidance from their Smith partners.

As half the kindergarten class peered through microscopes in one classroom, the other half smelled, touched and discussed flowers left over from the Botanic Garden’s Bulb Show in another.

In the lab, Gabrielle Immerman, a laboratory instructor in biological sciences at the Lyman Conservatory, instructed the kids to look for leaf colors and patterns through the microscopes, and to observe the leaves’ scent glands and describe the hairs on pubescent leaves.

“This one looks like half of an octopus,” remarked one kindergartener while viewing the scent glands on a broad red leaf. “It looks like it has thousands of mini-clams on it.” He shared his observations with Anna Whistler ’11. Whistler, as others in Etheredge’s class, recorded her younger partner’s comments to discuss later in the classroom.

“This one looks like it’s made out of pollen,” said another kindergartener, peering wide-eyed through the microscope lenses. “I think it’s like wet fur. There’s a lot of little things that make up the leaves.”

Rebekah Duperry ’12, a student in Etheredge’s course, was impressed with her charges’ absorption of information. “They’re just like sponges,” she said. “It’s amazing watching them learn.”

Duperry, a neuroscience major with particular interest in children’s brain development, said she gained insight through the Botanic Garden event about how children gather information and process it.

“We give the children ideas to work with, but we’re not just giving them information,” she said. “We allow them to self-guide their discovery.”

Etheredge incorporated the unit in her course for the first time this year with the support of a Botanic Garden Curricular Enhancement grant. “I always like to have a lab component in this course, especially something focusing on the natural world,” she said. “This activity is not just about the children, but it’s also a chance for Smith students to learn about the Botanic Garden.”

Pairing her students with the kindergarteners in the lab provides an opportunity to see in practice the theories she discusses in the classroom, Etheredge said, about how children think and make sense of the world.

“This gives my students a chance to follow closely, observe closely, the children’s thinking during the lab experience,” she said. “What better way for my students to learn than by being partners with children in the learning process?”



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