Saturday, October 18, 2008

Second-Grade Geologists

Geology is all the rage in my classroom these days. There is little that gets the kids more excited than rocks. Who knew? They are finding rocks at recess, at home, and on the sidewalk, and bringing them in. I bring out a new mineral (yesterday it was sulfur, all yellow and bright) and there are gasps of delight. Next week it will be mica, which has always been a favorite of mine.

Yesterday Julio and Ramon came up to me excitedly with rocks in their hands.

"Look what I found at the Nature Center," Julio said. (They go to the before-school program at an Audubon Society Nature Center down the road.) "And it's in the book!" He ran to get one of our rocks and minerals field guides and came back with it open to the pumice page. The rock he had found wasn't pumice, but it did kind of look like it.

Ramon's rock was yellow, rounded, and smooth. We oohed and aahed over it as well.

"I think this one is translucent," Julio said. "But I'm not sure."

"Well, why don't you go test it?" I asked, pointing to our geology table which has all the tools you need to test minerals for streak color, luster, transparency, and hardness. He skipped off to grab a flashlight.

A few minutes later he returned.

"It's opaque," he said. "And dull. And only the nail can scratch it." He had done all the mineral tests.

"So is it a harder rock, or a softer rock?" I asked.

"A hard one," he answered.

Ramon was meanwhile scratching his smooth, yellow rock with the nail and trying the streak test on it. Later, I watched Lucy work on a mineral test assessment. She is a student with a number of serious learning disabilities, and she works harder than almost anyone I know. She worked with a gypsum sample, talking quietly to herself. "It's kind of glassy," she mused, "because of the sparkles. But kind of dull too. I think I'll put down glassy." She circled "glassy" on her recording sheet. At recess, Lucy had approached me with a rock she had found, and had started to go through the mineral tests on her own, holding it up to the sun to check for translucence, and scratching at it with her fingernail to test the hardness.

I am as surprised as anyone else at my students' passion, excitement, and engagement with this curriculum. I mean, I knew rocks were cool, but they don't do the things animals or even plants do. They are pretty still and unchanging (at least to our eyes). Who would have known that after 4 weeks of mineral tests, the kids would still be this excited? And that they would have internalized the vocabulary and concepts so deeply?

I like to think that they walk around their city looking at things with new eyes. Last year, they started to hear and see birds as they went about their days. This year, it's rocks, and soon they will start cataloging what a neighborhood contains (things such as stores, green spaces, transportation, public art, and infrastructure). In starting to plan our neighborhood inventory walks, I have begun looking at things differently as I think about what a neighborhood contains. I notice the trash cans, the mail boxes, the phone booths, and I think about each store I walk by. Is it a shop or a service or a restaurant? How will the kids categorize it? And there you have it, the purpose of education: looking at the world with new eyes.


  1. I'm totally behind on reading blogs recently, so I've only just caught this.

    I love reading about your scientists. It's so real, so natural, and totally inspiring.

    I need a teaching partner to help me really dig into the first grade science standards (that we're required to teach) and figure out how to make it amazing.

    I have a guest room -- you up for it?? ♥

  2. Ooh, I would love it! Sounds like a lot of fun -- teacher collaboration at its best.