How a Project Unfolds: Exploring Electricity

Clay Modelling - An Everyday Story

Working with Clay and Natural Materials - An Everyday StoryI am not quite sure how it started, like with most of Jack’s (4.5 yrs) interests, I seem to miss the initial wonderings, those first few questions that start to unfold during his play, but he has been interested in houses and architecture for a little while now.

Jack’s investigation of houses has seen us explore design and architecture, he’s created countless cardboard models of houses, made playdough representations, created mixed media art,Β built with blocks and filled sketch books with increasingly detailed drawings.

Inspired by their size, he shifted focus to skyscrapers, being particularly intrigued by the symmetry of the windows and the different architectural features. Sketch books in hand, we took trips around Canberra looking at some of our most interesting buildings.

This then led us to explore world landmarks; starting with the Burj Al Arab in Dubai (from a drawing session using this graphic) and moving around the globe, learning about different countries and types of buildings as we went.

Jack then doubled-back to houses, as he often does, and so we have arrived here, today, exploring electricity. Not how it works but rather how it travels to people’s houses; an interesting bend in this long-standing investigation.
Working with Air Dry Clay and Clay Tools - An Everyday Story Materials for Clay Modelling - An Everyday Story Cutting Wire - An Everyday Story Working with Clay - An Everyday Story Working with clay 2 - An Everyday StoryWith air-dry clay, modelling tools, some wire, and a mix of beautiful and inviting materials, Jack and Sarah created. First manipulating, then making representations.

And as he created he talked; talked through his questions, explained each piece as his power lines took shape and considered carefully how each piece would be placed. Jack tested different ways to bring the piece together, each time sitting back in his chair, concentration tongue out, before moving forward again to continue working.
Creating models with clay - An Everyday Story Clay Modelling - An Everyday StoryCreating clay and wire models - An Everyday StoryTwo power lines were added and then a third. He stopped, a perplexed look on his face,

I think it’s done…but…I need to have another look.”Β 

Jack stood up from his chair, walked to the back of our yard and looked up at the power pole.

It has four cables Mummy!” “And another black one hanging!”Β 

He called back to me.Β He added a fourth power line and a piece of twine.

“There. That’s good.”

Working with twine - An Everyday StoryExploring electricity with clay modelling - An Everyday StoryWhile his power lines dried Jack drew. We talked about how electricity makes its way to our homes, starting at the Power Plant, moving along the pylons to the transformers, down to underground cables and along power lines to our homes.

Sketching - An Everyday Story Making learning visible - An Everyday Story Making Learning Visible through drawing - An Everyday Story Making learning visible - How electricity travels - An Everyday StoryI can see many many more of these drawings filling the pages of his sketchbook over the coming days and weeks.

I have prepared, anticipated where Jack might take this next. I think he will want to make some more models, probably with different materials… and possibly be interested in taking a walk down to the substation down the road. But these are just anticipations, I’ll have to wait and see what he wants to do.


22 Replies to “How a Project Unfolds: Exploring Electricity”

  1. This is so wonderful Kate! Beautiful work!

    1. Thanks Jess πŸ™‚ He’s really getting into it. I picked up a little robot alarm clock today from the Australian Geographic shop (I thought of Finny when I saw it πŸ™‚ ) You make the circuit to make the digital clock work. Jack is going to love it. I’m not sure I’ll be able to wait until his birthday in March….

  2. What a beautiful way of learning following his own interests. Thanks for sharing.

  3. What a fabulous investigation! It’s almost as if you can see how his mind is working with his clay sculpture and drawings!

  4. Gosh, Jack is so astute. I love his attention to detail. I admire that.
    Wondering how electricity gets to houses is a common question isn’t it, and one that I think is actually quite difficult to explain. This is a great investigation

    1. It is quite difficult to explain – I didn’t really have a very good understanding of electricity before we started looking into it more. Thankfully we have some pretty great books that help explain it better. I love Jack’s attention to detail too. He is really focussed when the topic is something that interests him.

  5. I love it! Such an amazing mind… the course from architecture to the electricity question reminded me of one of the stories in Holt’s How Children Learn, where he described a mixed age class from a small town school that investigated the question how clothes are made and that brought them to so many wide ranged studies in all sorts of fields. One question, how do you bring the related information (in this case about the power plant and so on) to him? Are you reading it together, or you explain it to him?

    1. I really it too. When you have no agenda or no predetermined end point you can go in so many wonderful directions.

      When we are working together I make notes, usually just in my head, sometimes on paper about different things Jack is asking about. In this case, we have a couple of science reference books which we flicked through together to see if there was a section on electricity, which there was. It really helps to be open to follow their lead. That way, when he asks a question, we can work together to find the answer, maybe in a book or a youtube video. Then Jack will usually want to make something of his own, in this case the power lines. We have most of the art materials we need on hand so we can make a plan to make something the following day.

  6. I love your reflections on Jack’s learning, Kate, so thoughtful. We have two little people with concentrating tongues here πŸ˜‰

  7. I have a four year old boy fascinated by plumbing and pipes, I wonder if Jack will move in that direction. Any ideas for modeling activities without an expensive trip to Bunnings?

    1. Hmmm good question… do you have a tip shop or recycle shop near your place? They might have some old taps and pipes and things to explore and use to construct with. Our tip shop has lots of old plumbing odds and ends which you could fill a bucket with for just a few dollars.

      What is it about plumbing that fascinates your little boy? Is it how the plumbing works or maybe where the water goes? A trip to a sewage treatment plant could be interesting or maybe even a plant nursery that specialises in water features. The sales person might be able to show him how the pumps work. I wonder how much a simple water feature pump costs at Bunnings…. that could be interesting…creating your own circular system….

  8. I love this. Is it strange that I get emotional following his investigations? Cameron’s projects are only in the teeny blossoming stage. Lots of questions, but very few dig-your-heels-in-and-explore projects. Love this, so much.

    1. Awww not at all! I get the same way when I read some of the things older kids are exploring; the depths of their investigations, and thinking about when we are at that stage. Makes me all kinds of happy too πŸ™‚

      What kinds of questions is Cameron asking at the moment? Is there something which seems to keep coming up? This could be a good place to start an investigation.

  9. I just loved all of those images. It shows Jacks planning and wonder and WOW his powerlines were AMAZING! Such and awesome investigation!

    1. Thanks Penny. He is so very proud of his powerlines. They took a LOT of effort and deep breaths to work out how to create them just as he imagined but he persevered and was really happy with how they finally came together.

  10. Play and science- you’ve hit the nail on the head.

  11. That’s such a great activity, I love Jacks drawings!

  12. As I read this Kate, I’m so thankful that you didn’t send him to school. And thank you so much for posting these explorations. πŸ™‚

  13. Wow what a fabulous post. I love when children go about taking their learning and play somewhere you’d never expect.

  14. Wow, what a wonderful investigation to witness! I love how Jack uses his creativity to explore and make connections.

  15. The following activities are fantastic opportunities for children to work on cognitive, motor, social and language skills, all which are vital to development.

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