When young learners in Kathie Johnson’s kindergarten class gaze into the night sky, they see the moon as more than a glowing orb. Our interstellar neighbor, they know, is a quarter of the size of the earth. They also understand that the moon is a bit farther away than grandma’s house, though it looks much closer. And as for its composition? It’s not cheese but rather a combination of rocks and lava formations that give the moon its signature façade.
Studying the moon wasn’t initially part of Johnson’s lesson plan for the fall semester, but following her students’ lead, she leaned into their curiosity about the 2023 supermoon and created an immersive project to suit. “We call it ‘wonderings,’” she says of students expressing interest in niche topics. “What are children wondering? If a teacher can key into that, the ‘moon’ is only the limit.”
The moon project began with collaboration and research. While children in kindergarten are adept at asking questions, their ability to find answers on their own can sometimes be thwarted by a lack of effective research tools. To help, Johnson and her class scoured books, online resources, and more to uncover what the moon is and our relationship to it. They learned about its phases (and replicated them by carving the cream in Oreos), its size (and how the earth-moon proportion is equal to that of a tennis ball and marble), and its orbit.
Once the scientific facts were established, the class took on an ambitious albeit impressive project: building a model moon base. Crafted from plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, and aluminum foil, the base reflects a sophisticated understanding of man’s lunar exploration. An elongated telescope sits atop an even larger solarium, which rests next to a water storage tank. A housing complex, rover station—with a red-striped rover—and rocket round out the base, which occupies an entire learning table in the classroom’s front corner.
The unit culminated in a presentation for the class’s second grade book buddies and parents. At her students’ request, Johnson organized this “celebration of learning,” which saw the class walking audience members through 10 facts about the moon as they counted down to blast off.
Project-based learning like this, Johnson says, keep students engaged while letting them direct their own learning. “Research and collaboration are great skills for 5- and 6-year-olds,” she notes. “Children at this age are so interested in everything. It can be a challenge for a teacher to guide young learners, especially students who are in the pre-reading phase of learning, but media and books can be found that support research and learning. Children can use this style of learning to the best advantage when the motivation comes from them.”
A teacher for more than 45 years, Johnson sees projects like the moon unit opening doors for students to explore other passions as they grow. While the facts learned today may stick, it’s the spiritual lessons imbued along the way that make the biggest impact. “In the world we live in today, children need to be empowered not only with academics to thrive but with the teachings that come from the Word of God. At CHCA, I get to do both!” she says. “There is no other job on earth that can give the joy of watching a child learn and those ‘light bulbs’ turn on. What I do today in this classroom has a future.” Find out more about CHCA's Kindergarten program at www.chca-oh.org/Kindergarten.
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