Walter was excited to add his name to the agenda as soon as he arrived at school on Monday. Jessie, Walter’s mum, came to give me some background information so that I could support Walter as he explained his idea in English. At our morning meeting, Walter told us that “fish need friend”. Walter was worried that the fish was lonely. The other children nodded enthusiastically and Nia said she agreed with Walter. Walter gave a great smile, clearly delighted that he had managed to communicate his idea effectively in a second language, and that the idea had been well received by his peers.
A lively discussion started. Phebe suggested that we could all be the fish’s friends. “But we don’t talk fish language” said Nikhil. Rika suggested we make paper fish. “But the paper will melt!” exclaimed Trenton. “And paper don’t talk” added Daan. For the next ten minutes the children discussed ideas and shared thoughts. I took a back seat as the children listened to each other, agreeing or disagreeing with and building on other children’s comments. Almost all of the children contributed. I recorded the children’s ideas. Together we read through the ideas to make sure that I had included all the details. I left the chart paper on the whiteboard for the children to come and revisit over the week.
That afternoon, during free inquiry time, several of the children chose to make paper fish. Walter tested his fish in the tank. He experimented with floating his fish on the top and sinking his fish to the bottom. Next he put his fish on a wooden stick so that he could move it round. When he took the paper fish out of the tank, the paper disintegrated. “No good!” he said. He went and added his name to the agenda for our next meeting. As we reflected on the inquiries at the end of the session, I told the children I had been documenting their learning story. Olivia suggested I post it on the blog. I asked what the title might be (we have been talking a lot about titles recently). Trenton said “A fish-friend inquiry”, the others agreed and the fish-friend inquiry was born.
When Walter’s agenda item next came up, Walter communicated that he wanted to revisit the fish discussion. Together we had a look at the “experiment fish tank” where the children have been testing their paper fish friends. The children commented that the water was dirty from the coloured paper. “And the fish are a soggy mess!” exclaimed Hal.
On several occasions in previous meetings Daan had suggested getting a real fish. Up until now the other children have been engrossed in exploring possibilities with paper fish and his ideas have fallen on deaf ears. Today however, his suggestion met with approval. Olivia’s Uncle Simon in Newcastle, England, has fish. Perhaps he could give us one? But how will the fish get to Yokohama? And what if the fish is too big for the tank? Ms Czubak has fish. We could ask her. But what if her fish and our fish fight? We could buy a fish but we need money. We could make money, but we don’t have metal. We could use paper but some children think the people in the shop won’t accept our home-made paper money.
In the end the children agreed that Hal and Olivia should write a letter to Ms Pender asking for money. After a brief discussion about whether to send the letter via email or “snail mail”, Hal and Olivia decided to send their letter by email. Ms Pender replied there would be some money for fish, but she needed know how much the fish will cost. This generated enormous discussion. “Well, that depends on what kind we get.” said Olivia. “But how can we know what kind will be best?” asked Daan. After some debate the children came up with some criteria for a suitable fish:
- not too big
- not too small
- a friendly fish that likes other fish and doesn’t fight
- a fish that doesn’t scare our fish
We discussed how to proceed with our research. Together we came up with a list of sources where we could find information. Over the next days, the children worked in self-selected groups groups, using different sources to research what kind of fish we should get. At the end of each session, we met back together on the carpet to share our findings and consider the next steps.
As I reflect on the inquiry so far and wonder about where it will flow next, I delight in the way the fish friend inquiry has unfolded: Walter has found his place in the group. He has crossed the language barrier and is seen by the other children as a valuable contributing member of our class. The inquiry has crossed many disciplines. The children have written letters, created posters and composed tweets to inquire and persuade. They have used multiple sources to conduct research, carried out experiments, drawn conclusions, debated and negotiated ideas. They have puzzled over complex calculations to see how much money we will need. Importantly, the inquiry has arisen and developed from the children’s interests and passions. The children are high on personal connection and emotional investment. I am reminded once again of the power of allowing children to drive their own personal and collaborative learning.