I recently interviewed Churchill Alternative School teacher Shauna Pollock, 2013 winner the Prime Minister's Teaching Award for Excellence, and wrote an article about her for our local paper, The Kitchissippi Times.
As usually happens when I'm covering local events, I had my mini-assistant with me, 7-month-old Nisha. During the interview, Nisha crawled around the classroom floor, played with our shoes and tried to eat some books.
I mentioned that I had wanted to involve Nisha in the Roots of Empathy program, which has babies visiting school classrooms several times over the course of a year. Ever looking for new ways to engage and teach her students, Shauna suggested Nisha come back to visit this classroom. A couple days later, Shauna and I used Google Drive to draft a 'science experiment' the kids could do with little Miss N.
Nisha is just at the cusp of understanding object permanence - a fancy way of saying that she'll understand that even if she can't see something, it still exists. Shauna and I created an experiment with which students could test if she has reached this cognitive milestone.
When we came to Class 209, Shauna had the lesson plan projected on the big screen at the front of the room. She asked the kids if they thought baby Nisha is able to form memories. They were invited to write out their hypothesis on their lab sheets.
We explained the idea of object permanence and the experiment we had designed. Students would show Nisha a toy, then cover it with a cloth. Observe how she responds. Does she seem confused? Does she try to look for the toy? Will she lift up the cloth?
Students recorded their observations of how she responded - which was generally to look away and almost never to reach for the cloth or search for the hidden toy.
The funniest part of the experiment happened almost accidentally. Nisha had not napped well that morning and after about half an hour, she was getting fussy and restless. She started crawling around the floor, trying to grab students' papers. I suggested we cover up something she was crawling toward and see what happened.
So when Nisha began crawling toward some blocks on the floor, a student quickly threw the cloth over them. Without a pause, Nisha kept crawling right on over. She didn't even notice that what she'd been after had disappeared.
"I had no idea she would be this oblivious!" laughed Shauna.
The class has invited us back in the new year so we can retest for object permanence and see how Nisha's cognitive development is progressing. We'd like to try another experiment then too.
Here is a lovely blog entry written by one of Shauna's students.