Boats activities in Curtis’s class

Student writing for the boats unit

Student writing for the boats unit

In Nell Curtis’s class, activities became generative. A trip the harbor was fine as far as it went. Children observed and learned a lot. But what became powerful was the way they turned that experience into more through drawing, writing, model building, reading, discussing, and asking questions. The inquiry cycle came alive, not as a set of steps to follow, but as a schematic of the life of the classroom. You can get a flavor of the unit from just one page of Curtis’s book (left).

Children enjoyed the collaborative projects and took pride in their constructions. But these were only temporary ends. Their more significant function was to open the door to further inquiry.


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A nice example of this generativity comes at the end of Curtis’s book. A third grade boy decides to make a model of a Roman temple. He realizes he needs to read more about the early Roman period. Then he says “you can’t understand Roman history without reading Greek history.”

On the last day of school, the same boy says:

Just think what all of us would have missed if we hadn’t happened to make ships! Miss Curtis, what would you have done?

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