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Amanda Peñaloza-Banks

Stone… Rock… Earth…. Can a second grader understand the monumental processes of change that have shaped this planet for billions of years? One of the Next Generation Science Standard units (NGSS) contains a Disciplinary Core Idea (DCI) about this concept.

But with no text books and limited resources available to aid the learning process, how does a teacher and an artist go about teaching such an overarching idea? We began by inviting the children to ask questions. After finding a few tantalizing images of volcanoes and mountains, the children compiled about ten animated questions including, how are volcanoes created? and how long does it take for mountains to grow?

This immediately achieved a major NGSS target, to engage in the Scientific and Engineering Practices (SEPs); the first of which is to ask questions. In our CoTA session, we continued to ask questions and wonder about answers. We looked at images of the natural world (oceans, canyons, etc.) and wondered how they had got there and what they might turn into in a million years time. In groups, the children were encouraged to wonder freely (maybe lightning squashed the mountain into a plateau…) and to express their ideas in physicalized movements and body shaping. We shared our group work and our wonderings with one another, encouraging a culture of acceptance; all guesses were valid and all questions worth considering.

In class, the students engaged in the SEP of researching and analyzing to find some real answers to their questions. They returned to our next CoTA session with a more defined understanding of erosion processes. Looking at our images of canyons and mountains, they could now more clearly define how they got there (or how they would one day not be there), by thinking about how wind, water and other agents of change had, or would one day, erode them away. We allowed our bodies to respond in kind to sound effects of wind, rain and ocean waves. We then regrouped to embody particular images, this time creating movements that described real scientific processes rather than imagined ones.

The class had learned how a mountain or volcano was eroded over time, but they had not found out how it got there in the first place. So they continued with their questions and research. In following CoTA sessions the children expressed with their bodies how mountains slowly form and how volcanoes erupt and grow repeatedly over time. And, with a little help from some colored fabrics, they physically embodied how plate tectonics make whole continents move past one another, away from one another and towards one another, with oceans forming and shrinking in the process.

Our project is now moving towards its culmination. With text, physicalized movements, and a few props, we are aiming to fulfill more SEPs by constructing explanations, communicating information and becoming a moving model that describes some of the processes that continually shape this planet. For me, the joy of working on a NGSS project like this one, lies in the permission it gives to ask questions.

NGSS asks that we act like scientists by asking questions first, before searching for answers. After all, science would not exist if scientists did not ask questions. Artists also often begin the artistic process with wondering or questioning, and art would have little to offer without that sense of wonder. There is a natural affinity between science and art in the act of questioning, maybe because it is a fundamental human trait, one which is important for our education system to cultivate. Because it is not just science and art that require us to ask questions; being a world citizen on Earth today requires that we heed Einsteins advice: The important thing is not to stop questioning.

The NGSS are referred to as three dimensional learning. DCIs make up the content dimension of the learning; i.e. what are we learning about? SEPs constitute the process dimension of learning; i.e. how are we going to learn this content using methods that scientists use in the real world? Cross-Cutting Concepts –CCCs – put things in perspective by offering an organizational and relational dimension; i.e. how do different content areas relate to one another and how do they share similar themes?