It is of note that the teachers provided much less visual documentation for this exploration which reflects the relative paucity of the experience for the children.
From the teacher’s point of view, this exploration was more challenging for a variety of reasons.
- They lacked familiarity and were not initially comfortable with the topic, the technology, and the materials.
- It took some time to locate, buy and prepare the materials. For example, they used nail polish to paint the long leg of the LED lights in order to make it easier for the children to identify the + and - poles of the light (Polarity counts in a circuit!). They had to print and plasticise the booklets.
- The end of the school year was not the right time for starting this exploration. They were wrapping up many other on-going projects and felt they could not do justice, time-wise, to this one.
- It was a prescriptive exploration. They could not see how it could be made open-ended or how they could follow through with something broader to engage the children in a real trial and error problem-solving situation that would capture their attention.
From the children's point of view:
They were not spontaneously drawn to the materials partly because of their lack of prior experience with it. In this, it is quite the opposite of their experience with building in a variety of contexts and with a great variety of materials.
Motor skills and abilities were not as much a factor as the level of reasoning skills. The behaviour of electricity can’t be seen directly as one can see a ball rolling down a ramp. It needs to be inferred. Perhaps this abstractness created problems for several children.
The exploration context was constrained and prescriptive. It was not led by a desire to make something that they imagined but rather by a proposed sequence of mini-familiarization activities. The focus, therefore, ended up being on the learning curve rather than on a creative making process.
The step by step discovery process, i.e. following instructions to build a series of more and more complex circuits, is not in and of itself something that should be shunned. It’s one way for the children to learn basic skills and gain some insight. As well, following visual instructions and reading plans is an important aspect of literacy development in general. The challenge for the teachers is how to put that learning in a context that provides occasions to use it to invent new and interesting “stuff”!
The teachers had experience with past projects in their classes which provided examples of ways to approach that question. They have experience with “Take-apart” centers: a place where they provide real tools and a variety of materials to take apart. This might be followed by a sorting activity, after which they might build something new and creative with the miscellaneous parts. This year, Natalie provided electric and electronic things. They uncovered wires, circuits, batteries, and plugs, and they marveled.
The take-apart centre
Now, rethinking about this, she could see how inserting a Squishy Circuit exploration into the mix would allow them to add a live electric component to their creations: add a doorbell buzzer to the house they built or light up the window of their recycled spaceship, for example. It would certainly be challenging, but so was their marble run building experience. By providing ample time for building and problem solving and by keeping the Squishy Circuits in the creative mix as long as needed, their experience could be new and exciting.