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"Exploring Animal Camouflage"• Babies By-The-Park Pte Ltd

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What is an integrated approach to teaching and learning?


One of the iTeach principles in the NEL Framework, an integrated approach to learning highlights the importance of planning learning experiences for children as a whole and in meaningful contexts, based on themes, stories or projects that are built on children’s interest and level of understanding. In this activity, the teachers at Preschool By-The-Park (Shelford) adopted an integrated approach to learning to facilitate children’s learning by helping them to make connections between their interests/experiences and new learning. In implementing an integrated approach to teaching and learning, the learning environment was also leveraged to help children make meaningful connections between their prior experiences and new learning. 

Background of the activity

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The K2 children explored the topic of animal camouflage, which came about when children were shown a picture of the rainforest and noticed how some animals used camouflage to hide themselves. They started to look out for more animals that could be hidden in the picture. A series of follow-up activities was conducted to encourage exploration and deepen children’s understanding in this topic. 

Objectives: 
Through this activity, children were given opportunities to:
  • Find out more about animal camouflage and their habitats 
  • Apply their understanding of camouflage by creating a collage of animal camouflage 

Making connections between children’s interests and new learning


The children were exploring the theme of conservation and sustainability, and were shown pictures of the rainforest. The pictures were thereafter put up on the classroom display boards for the children to revisit at their own time. Two of the children were examining the pictures more closely, and  spotted a tiny green frog camouflaged against a leaf in one of them, which sparked their interest further.

Jing Yi and Isabel spotted a green frog hidden in the corner of a rainforest picture. This was the conversation that happened between the two children:  
 
Jing Yi: It’s so tiny. Like a marshmallow. 
Isabel: Maybe it’s bigger because the picture is so small. 
Jing Yi: I think no one can find it. We are the first to see the frog. 
Isabel: Ya. It’s the same colour as the leaf. A bit green, a bit blue like Teacher Krithee’s favourite colour.     

Lincoln walked over and noticed the girls pointing at the picture and asked them what they were doing. After looking at the frog, Lincoln said “This is the hidden object game like I play on my daddy’s phone. Must find many things. You see, behind the leaves, there’s another animal. I think it’s a cheetah or leopard.”

Children’s discussion about the camouflaged frog

Observing that the children had a newly found interest in this area on “camouflage”, the teachers intentionally built on the children’s interest and prior knowledge by suggesting the class could perform a simple Internet search for the term, "hidden animals". This ignited the children’s curiosity further and resulted in many guesses amongst themselves as to why animals wanted to remain hidden. Some children guessed that animals needed to stay out of sight from predators. 

To extend the children’s thinking, the teachers asked questions such as "Do the animals stay hidden all the time?", "What if they cannot find a place to hide?". These questions got the children thinking further and sustained their interest to find out more.  They were prompted with more questions such as, "Why do you think the animals are similar in colour to their surroundings?" and "Why do they need to hide?". Together with the teachers, the children used simple non-fiction books borrowed from the library to look for answers to the questions. For example, here are some of the answers that the children got from the books.

Lincoln: Animals need to hide because there are bigger animals that will eat them up. 
 Emily: They need to hide because their homes are far away.

After viewing many animals in their natural habitats and learning more about camouflage, the children documented their thoughts in their class journal. The class journal was kept at the entrance of the classroom for children and parents to write in and refer to as they progressed in their learning.

The children were next led into doing a craft through which they had to create their ideal habitat for an animal to be camouflaged in. When asked what materials they would like to use, the children generated ideas through brainstorming and discussion and they decided to use old magazines and scrap paper in line with our theme on sustainability. They matched different parts of the magazine by colour and also decided to use different patterns such as circles and lines/stripes to create a collage of animal camouflage.

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Children created collages of animal camouflage to demonstrate what they have learnt.

Making connections between prior and new learning through the learning environment


On a daily basis, the centre leverages the environment as the third teacher to support teaching and  learning. As such, the classroom walls are used as interactive spaces for the children to further their learning, or to reinforce what has been taught by the teacher. A common practice in the centre is to make use of the learning environment to document children’s learning. To do so, the displays in the centre are structured according to “I See, I Think, I Wonder, I Create”, to show the journey of children’s learning in the topic.
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Documenting the children’s learning in the learning environment to help them make meaningful connections in their learning.

 

“I See, I Think, I Wonder, I Create” provides a useful framing for teachers  and children to consider what to display in the classroom and how to organize the classroom environment to support children in making meaningful connections in their learning. The teachers would add on to the display board as each theme or topic progresses, and often encouraged children to refer to the display board for their past experiences, so as to help them construct knowledge as they reflect on and make connections between their learning experiences. As the children revisited what they saw and what they thought, they often had new wonderments which could lead to extended learning and the creation of something new.

In this case, as the children revisited what they had learnt about animal camouflage, it invited them to think, “Do only animals have camouflage?”. This then sparked new interest in finding out more about other forms of camouflage, which inspired the teachers to invite a parent to share with the children his experiences with camouflage as a soldier. This allowed the children to deepen their understanding about camouflage as they saw how camouflage was used in a different situation. 

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A daddy showed us how camouflage is used in the army.

Conclusion

This activity shows how children’s deep learning was facilitated by helping them to make meaningful connections between their interests and what they were learning, which in turn, enhanced their participation and engagement in the classroom. Making use of the learning environment to document children’s learning in a meaningful manner through “I See, I Think, I Wonder, I Create” adds to the richness of the children’s learning experiences. As children and teachers make reference to the meaningful classroom display, it encourages teachers and children to revisit and reflect on their learning experiences that promote meaningful connections to be made between children’s previous learning, new learning and even extended learning.

Contributed by: 

 Jamie Bong 

 Sambantham Krithee Zhenlan 

 Babies By-the-Park Pte Ltd