Saturday, April 26, 2014

Discovering Discovery Bins

In the past two years, through my involvement with Manitoba Education's Early Childhood Unit, I have been incredibly fortunate to meet a lot of wonderful kindergarten teachers. I have learned something from all of them, but Connie Lowe is a new friend who has had a real impact on my classroom practice. Learn more about what happens in her kindergarten classroom by reading her blog, Adventures in Kindergarten. I'd heard her talk about the discovery bins she uses in her kindergarten classroom, and one night over supper I quizzed her about them. She explained the concept and directed me to her Pinterest page which was full of great ideas. I returned home, excited to try discovery bins in my classroom the following week!

Discovery bins, as their name suggests, encourage discovery, exploration, and investigation. They feature a variety of materials, and the teacher may include an example of how the materials might be used. Discovery bins can promote fine motor development, creative expression, and literacy/numeracy skills. The activities are open-ended, and there is no right or wrong way to interact with the materials. We spend the first 30 minutes (more or less, depending on student engagement) of the day exploring our discovery bins. It is such a pleasant way to start the day--the students are so eager to work with the materials that they rush to do their morning jobs and head straight for the tables!

Here are some of our discovery bins so far...
First day of pattern discovery bins included a variety of materials as well as examples of patterns. Later in the week, I provided strips of paper and students were encouraged to describe their patterns using letters, numbers, symbols, etc. The old keys I included were absolutely fascinating to the students. They loved examining them and had a lot of questions about where they came from. When I told them they were found in the drawer of a captain's desk from an old naval ship in Scotland, they were even more interested!
 Paint samples, foam board, paper trimmers, and glue were provided for students, and led to many engaging sessions as they created their own mosaics.
 Egg carton ten frames, cubes, and paper to print number sentences showed me how capable my students were of creating and representing equations. I was shocked! Later in the week, I added dice and spinners to generate numbers for equations.
Sometimes discovery bins can be just TOO exciting and engaging...exploring buoyancy led to altercations over boats and marbles, and the students were overexcited for the rest of the morning. Lesson learned!
Exploring magnetism was a great topic for discovery bins. Later in the week, I added small plastic bottles and containers with iron filings inside. Some students decided to sort the materials based on whether or not they were magnetic.
Geoboards, elastics, and pictures of shapes were a fine motor activity as well as an opportunity to explore shapes. Later in the week, I added dot paper so students could draw pictures of the shapes they created. These discovery bins were a good example of how students access discovery bins at every level--some students were completely engrossed stretching elastics around the pegs and never created any shapes. It was great fine motor development at the very least!

So what do I do while my students are engaged with discovery bins?
  • I circulate around the room and observe.
  • I ask questions to encourage students to investigate further, become more involved with the materials, and hopefully challenge them to take their learning to the next level.
  • I make assessment notes in students' Evernote folders
  • I take photographs of what students have created and post them to our classroom Facebook page, Twitter account, and Instagram
  • I encourage students to use their iPads to photograph their work. We are just learning how to make photo collages on our iPads and use Instagram, so that is an exciting new way to share what we are doing with discovery bins.
I encourage all kindergarten teachers to expand their classroom practice with this student-led and highly engaging approach--my students and I look forward to discovery bins every morning, and they have been a great addition to our kindergarten program!

A year later--read my student teacher's post on how discovery learning has evolved in our kindergarten program!

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