A Fish-Friend Inquiry

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.

About tasha cowdy

PYP coordinator; Reggio inspired early childhood teacher; Workshop leader; Using technology to flatten classrooms; Involving parents in children's learning; Switzerland
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A Fish-Friend Inquiry

  1. Danmagie says:

    Sounds like a fun learning experience for everyone. Thank you for sharing! If I could ask a bit more, is this part of a current unit of inquiry or are you carving the time out of your day somehow, or…? How do you plan/document/assess such relevant learning? Thanks again. Dan


  2. Tasha Cowdy says:

    Hi Dan!
    This was not part of a unit of inquiry. I make it a priority to set “ free inquiry” time aside each week so that the children can pursue their own interests. As long as I feel that the learning is deep and rich, I don’t worry too much if it doesn’t fit in with our units of inquiry. However, I find that often the children make connections between an inquiry that has arisen out of a child’s interest and one of our units of inquiry, particularly at a conceptual level. For example, as this inquiry unfolded, it occurred to me that it might over-lap with a unit of inquiry into ‘Sharing the Planet: An inquiry into the rights and responsibilities in the struggle to share finite resources with other living things.’ We are looking at how we use space in our immediate environment. The key concepts are causation and responsibility and related concepts are cooperation, roles, fairness, relationships, communication, consumption, distribution. The fish-friend inquiry may address some of these related concepts; or it may not -it depends on how the inquiry unfolds. I try to resist the temptation to channel it in one direction or another to make it fit my agenda or a particular unit of inquiry.

    The fish-friend inquiry, like the many other spontaneous inquiries that drive our program, was not planned. It arose out of an individual child’s interest. We document the inquiries by recording what the children say and do using a mixture of snap-shot observations, video recordings and narrative observations. It is often hard to predict which individual inquiries will develop and lead to deeper, collaborative inquiries so we document anything that looks like it has potential to develop. Every now and then we get it wrong. Our assessment is based on our individual and group discussions with the children about their work, and on our discussions with the children, parents and each other (teachers in the team) about our observations.

    Hope this helps to clarify a bit!


  3. Pingback: This what answered my wondering… | Life and Learning

  4. Pingback: This answered my wondering… | Life and Learning

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s