Sebastian (age 5) asked me today, "Daddy, do whales eat bears?" I thought it was an interesting question, and a good opportunity for me to practice building conceptual change. So I failed right out of the gate by not asking him why he thought whales might eat grizzly bears. But then I quickly redeemed myself with the following line of questioning:
Me: Where do grizzly bears live?This was fantastic. I asked what he thought, and he didn't know. It turns out I didn't really know, either (my guess was "some humans"), so I asked my good friend Google. Then Sebastian and I read this website together:
Sebastian: Grizzly bears live in caves.
Me: Right; where do whales live?
Sebastian: They live under the ocean.
Me: So can whales eat grizzly bears?
Me: Why not?
Sebastian: Because they don't live in the same place.
Sebastian: Then what does eat bears?
Here's a screenshot, so you can follow along:
Here was our line of questioning:
After the first paragraph:
Me: So what eats bears?I actually think this was the right sequence. Going back to look for evidence is a good place to start, and I'm starting to see, as a teacher, that there is a huge connection between the practice of looking for text evidence to support an assertion and the idea of conceptual change: We're looking to confirm or refute what we believe, and the way to do it is to look at real evidence.
Sebastian: Bears eat other bears.
Me: Wow! That's messed up. What else might eat some bears?
Sebastian: [points to the newt from the unrelated picture to the right] This?
Me: Let's go back to the text to find out.
Sebastian: Oh, bears.
Me: Read the first sentence for me again. [He reads it.]
Sebastian: Oh, so tigers eat bears sometimes.
Me: You're right. Do they eat all kinds of bears?
Sebastian: No; they only eat little bears.
So Sebastian reads me the second paragraph, and we dig into which types of bears are most dangerous to other bears. We have a short conversation about grizzly bears, Sebastian assures me he is not afraid of grizzly bears because he knows Tae Kwon Do, and I remind him that he actually should be afraid of grizzly bears because they are dangerous and will eat you:
Me: If a grizzly bear and a black bear are in the same place, which one might eat the other?
Sebastian: The grizzly bear might eat the black bear.
Sebastian: That's because grizzly bears are bigger and stronger.
Me: And if, instead of a black bear, a grizzly bear is standing next to you, what might happen?
Sebastian: The grizzly bear might eat me.
Bingo. I don't want my kid going all Tim Treadwell just because he is a yellow belt in Tae Kwon Do. Notice also that we've covered a bunch of topics in some surface-level depth that we will continue to build on in lots of future conversations: Asia, the fact that there are many types of bears, the vague idea that you can't be eaten by something that is far, far away from you, and some sort of a reciprocal relationship between A-eats-B and B-is-eaten-by-A.
Then, in an homage to the great Joseph Yrigollen and Kyle of realultimatepower.net fame, I wrap it all up with a meta-lesson on Key Points: