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Behind the Practice: Planning the K-2 Labs with Kady Taylor

In this "Behind the Practice" video, educators hear Kady Taylor talk about Labs: understanding the purpose of allowing primary students to learn through play and discovery, how Kady "makes it her own" using the teacher's guide and incorporating music, movement, and creative use of materials, the heart of the practice as trust and tools for discovery, responsive teaching by re-grounding students in the purpose of the labs, using ongoing assessment with anecdotal notes, and why this practice allows both teachers and students to "figure things out." Educators should watch this video after watching the Implementing the K-2 Labs video.


- My name is Kady Taylor. I teach first grade at Kuumba Academy Charter School in Wilmington, Delaware. After five years of teaching first grade, I’ve always believed that kids should be in a developmentally safe place, a developmentally appropriate place, and Labs is just that. It lets them learn through play. It lets them follow a routine, which is what primary learners need. Right now, we’re exploring different types of birds, and how their body parts help them survive. Why is this beak so important for crushing a seed? Giving them that hands-on experience really helps to just deepen their understanding. It’s so much better than just reading it in a book, writing about it, and moving on. Now they get to do it, and feel it, and know it.

- A macaw.

- A macaw, that’s right. That’s a really good question. What do think would happen if this bucket was filled with water?

- Are we allowed to fill it with water?

- Do you think we should try to?

- Yeah.

- I had not planned to pull out water. Something in my gut was just like, teachable moment. Run. Go. They’re asking a relevant question, and they’re curious, and they want to know. Give them the tools to find out, and they did. She started scooping that water, and she was like, “It works.” That’s where you kind of learn, as a teacher, what your practice is really about. In that moment, that’s what that practice was really about, giving them the tools they needed to discover that piece of learning. I think the other part of Labs is trust. I trust them with materials, and they trust me, like Jayana trusted me today. If I’m gonna ask her to do something, she’s gonna let me learn this. Using the different stages of Labs is so important. So, when we launch, they’re exposed to one Lab at a time, as a whole class. And, we go over what the goal is, what the materials are, why we’re doing this work. I think as you build up their self-esteem in that Lab, their knowledge of the Lab, the purpose of the Lab, you also move through a gradual release of the ownership of the Lab. The teacher’s guide has been really great. The first thing I did was I just sat and I read it. I needed to understand how Labs were supposed to move, the materials that I would need, and then ultimately what is the goal of each individual Lab, and what is the progression. After reading it, then I go back and I find the purpose of each Lab. Then I go back again, and I figure out which pieces are inherently already living within me. Right? Singing to my kids is something that brings joy. Transitioning between three different stations is something that I really needed to flush out. So, that’s where I went back to the teacher’s guide to look for any advice or input. Primary learners learn through routine. They learn through song and exploration. So, the fact that they can sing this book is not only an engagement technique, but they’re also remembering what makes a bird a bird. Any time I can pull in music or chanting, we do a lot of oral response in here. It gives them a chance to let noise out, but it also helps keep them in this rhythm and this pattern of moving. In the Explorer Lab, they’re really supposed to be testing that with pennies. So, I made a modification, and I just used cubes. For other materials, I’ve relied on the other staff members in the building. I’ve gotten a lot of free lab materials from using Donors Choose. So, I just think being creative is the best way to kind of navigate all the materials. So, earlier today, I had to pull them back and kind of reground them in what are we doing and why are we doing this. I have a shout out.

- [Children] Shout out.

- Ziamere and Kason made the most beautiful sculptures of their expert birds. They really paid attention to their research. They knew the goal of their lab. Bringing them back to this level of there is a purpose, what am I doing, can really help bring up those high expectations. When I’m looking at my students’ progress in Labs, it’s mostly anecdotal noting. What are misconceptions that are still existing as they move through these Labs? What are character traits that are really strong today? And then, I use those notes the next day. For instance, today in Labs, there’s still this underlying misconception about hollow bird bones. They were super excited because they could fill the paper towel tube. What are you testing with your bones? You’re testing how--

- How strong it is.

- How strong it is.

- I’m testing how strong it is by putting cubes in there, and feeling which side is hard.

- But, birds can’t fill their hollow bones. So, there’s this weird gap of knowledge that I somehow now need to address, which is fine, but I wouldn’t know that unless I was really paying attention and writing down the things that I notice. Can birds fill their bones, though?

- No.

- So, should we fill our bones?

- No.

- Ah, okay. So, let’s try to test it when it’s still hollow. Labs matter to my kids because it gives them a chance to kind of figure out who they are. I kind of like breathe easy, and I just think learning is messy. Dirt is messy. Labs are messy, but you need this mess. So, the shift in my practice has really been from what does Miss Taylor want to what do my kids deserve. I think my practice needed that. You know, you hit the five year, and you’re like, “I’m tired. I’m really tired.” But now, I’m kind of like, “I’m so excited. What are my kids gonna do today? What are we gonna build? What are we gonna make? What are we gonna learn and wonder?” So, Labs has really helped me bring passion back and joy into the room.

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