It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Erin Pruckno and Dana Brightful in the Wallaby classroom. While this class of three year olds were exploring the galleries they noticed their children being hesitant of some of the darker spaces and talking about being afraid of different things. This, combined with Halloween quickly approaching, inspired Erin and Dana to take on the topic of monsters. I joined their class for a lesson on Frankenstein. Below you will find a reflection from Erin and Dana and images from a lesson Erin led.


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Teacher Feature

What were your topics of exploration? Why did you choose them? Where did they come from?

This fall we focused on exploring monsters! The decision to learn about monsters came from many different places. For one, our students were playing many imaginative monster games together on the playground and in the classroom. It was also October, so it seemed a fun way to embrace the Halloween season! However, one of the most meaningful reasons we chose this unit was because we had noticed that some of our students had expressed ideas of being scared during different experiences. We push our children everyday going into museums–spaces that can be dark, crowded, or noisy– so we wanted to help them develop the social-emotional skills they need to address the fears they might feel at school or at home. Conquering our monsters was a great way to introduce those concepts and push our imaginations!

Why and how did you choose the visit?

We have approached this unit by learning about different monsters in ways that have meaningful connections for 3- and 4-year-olds and make things that are scary or monster-like approachable. I chose visiting Nick Cave’s sound suit because I felt there would be great parallels between his technique (compiling all sorts of cast-off odds-and-ends in a sculptural suit) and the story of Frankenstein, a monster also made of many different pieces put together. It’s also a very eye-catching piece, with sequins and sparkles guaranteed to draw a preschooler’s attention!

What were your learning objectives? (What did you want your children to take away from the lesson?)

In this lesson, I was continuing with our unit’s theme of trying to make what was unapproachable—scary monsters—into the approachable. By taking a monster and breaking it down into smaller pieces, I hoped it gave them opportunity to realize there is less to be afraid of than they realized, as well as pushing their imaginations to think about how objects can be used in new and different ways. Finally, I hoped they gained a sense of how it takes many parts to make a whole.

What was most successful about your lesson? How did the lesson reach your objectives to expand the topic?

In guiding their looking and letting the students describe to the group what they saw, I was happy to hear how drawn my class was to the piece, as I had hoped, helping us reach our objective of making things more approachable. While the suit may seem daunting or scary at first, close looking showed them that it was made of beads and a bunny, not so scary of things!

During the activity, the students collaged the different pictures, describing what the object was on the monster’s body. For example, a watch became a mouth, or pencils were eyebrows. Listening to these conversations showed me they also understood the concept of using different parts to make a new whole.

What was successful in terms of your preparation and logistics?

I think it was a lesson that was easy to prepare and plan. The key parts for me were an engaging story about Frankenstein, many prepped cut-out pictures of objects, and a template for making the monster and adding the objects. I had planned ahead to assemble our monsters in two small groups. Our class works well in smaller groups instead of a large circle, so I had prepped materials so we were ready to work in two groups. Thinking one step ahead like that made a big difference in the lesson’s execution and helps us stay focused on the task. As we work on developing our students’ attention spans, we try techniques for keeping them engaged such as making sure there is a hands-on component, working in smaller groups, and keeping lessons short and sweet!

What could you have done differently to better achieve your objectives and expand the topic? What was challenging regarding logistics?

I had really hoped to use our class tablet to share a video of the artist making his sound suit out of different objects, but we had technical problems with accessing it. I think it would have made a nice addition to further draw the connection to many parts making a whole. Working in a museum environment also means you have to be careful about what materials you bring in, so I didn’t feel comfortable with my students using drawing materials on the monster template as I had hoped. Instead, those will be fun to use later in an extension activity back in the classroom!

Here are a few images from their unit on Frankenstein:

DSCN4015For their Frankenstein lesson, Erin took the group straight to the Hirshhorn Museum to see Nice Cave’s Soundsuit.  She decided to use this object because the artist used many different objects to make one sculpture similar to how Frankenstein was also pieced together.

DSCN4029The Soundsuit  is very bright and colorful, which makes it visually enticing to all audiences. The children were especially mesmerized and very excited to describe what they saw! Erin listened to the comments and explained how the artist used different objects to piece together the suit similar to how Frankenstein was created. She then read the class Frank the Monster That Wanted to Dance by Keith Graves which is a wonderful story that makes Frankenstein seem very approachable. 

DSCN4045 DSCN4065 DSCN4070Then it was time to create their own monster! Erin had pre-drawn an outline of a person and divided it in half. The class was split into two groups and given images of house hold items to collage their monster! Erin concluded by putting the two halves together and having the groups describe the different items they used to create their monster.

Erin and Dana continued to explore real and pretend monsters for a few more weeks. Check out our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for more ideas from their unit on monsters! See you in two weeks with our next Teacher Feature!

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