This is the Welcome Symbol of our stairwell ocean. He/she is an octopus made by children, stuffing shredded paper into stockings and gluing buttons on the tentacles to represent suckers (Wiki Answers says they are called that. I'm not making it up!). I suggested that, as younger children are starting in a week, we may have to give the octopus a smiley face, to make sure they aren't put off preschool permanently.
Seriously, though, the ocean in the stairwell is painstakingly designed and executed by creative teachers and eager children. The children take full ownership, calling it "Our Ocean". I shiver with delight when I hear this.
Since I do teach integrating the arts with curriculum, and emphasize project learning, this is a terrific example for me to document. What is at the top of the ocean? At the bottom? In the middle? What are these zones called? The stairwell answers and illustrates them answers. Our incredibly creative teacher, Carrie, made the adult signs for explaining to parents what we all have been teaching. There are various zones of depth that have differing amounts of light, and the sea life of each zone is adapted to that light. I do not intend to explain that here, but would rather show pictures and comment on the cross-curricular opportunities afforded by teaching this way. To have children just barely four and children turning five and a half participate in a project where each child has a creative role and can explain their own understanding of the learning appropriate to their developmental level is what we call "best practice" in the business. I call it amazing.
Invented or developmental spelling is a literacy element in the project. Children sounded out the zone beside the adult explanations of each zone.
The most colorful and elaborate part of this exhibit is the coral at the top of the stairs. Children painted the coral and cut out sections. They helped tape the pieces up with teacher guidance. Fish and other sea life were added to show how they lived among the coral, which itself is alive.
The deep water has unusual sea life, not often shown in children's storybooks so it is helpful to portray it.
Jellyfish, made with coffee filters and either yarn or paper curls, were very popular with the children. They enjoyed both making and helping to hang them.
At the bottom of two flights of stairs lay the "trenches" where the life that can live with little light resides. Here we have an example of that life, an explanation, and a child's attempt to write the name of the zone. Accuracy isn't the point. The attempt to express meaning through letters and pictures is a hallmark of early and developmentally appropriate literacy practice.
I could go on, but I hope I've made my points. As I wrote in my first post about this project, children in the fifth grade are learning this material. And they are doing most excellent reading and writing, listening and discussing, I'm sure. When our children arrive at the fifth grade, they will have had this grounding experience of having been immersed in the life of the sea, a virtual world in the stairwell of their school. During the years between now and then we hope they will retain their keen love of participating in their own planning of projects, and that they will own their own learning. This is what we as educators want for our children. This is what makes a "life-long learner".