The Private Eye - looking closely and thinking by analogy with jeweler's loupes and inquiry method for hands-on interdisciplinary science, art, writing, math, and more

First Graders Find Scientific, Writerly, and Artistic Thinking Exhilarating!

Chris Boyer teaches 1st grade at Jackson Elementary School in Hillsboro, Oregon.

In July 2012 she took a four day graduate level course focusing on using The Private Eye Program through Portland State University and the Portland Metro STEM Center in collaboration with The Private Eye Project. In April 2013 she shared a few reflections and images from her first year of using The Private Eye.

Right at the beginning of the year we started using The Private Eye — and kept on going. ... I see this as integrated constantly across the curriculum. I’m sharing this process with other adults/teachers and seeing how it spreads! It’s a powerful thinking process for all of us.

 As we [our first grade class] begin to use non-fiction to research — wondering and using analogies are a powerful way to get past just copying facts; it personalizes what pulls their curiosity.

As for the impact of The Private Eye course on my instructional practices: the process changed me first — defining a way of seeing life that I sort of unconsciously knew but also needed a language for — to more clearly see the connections everywhere in life. Because of the change in me I was able to allow my children to make those analogies themselves. It is such a global view and I believe that nothing will be the same for me or for my students.

(For more... Read “An Amazing Moment”) at the end of this page.
Fingerprints Big and Bigger, in Watercolor
For these fingerprints the kids did lots of louping and drawing and we talked about analogies several times. I discovered that if we loupe-look for a little while, come to our carpet and write together some of their ideas, and then have them go back for a second look, they see so much more.  The kids did have experience with watercolors, so that helped.  

We practiced drawing with pens and used your "pretend like you meant to do it" if you make a mistake. That helped a lot I think.  Plus first graders are fairly fearless in their approach to art.
"First graders
are fairly fearless
in their approach to art."
                                                               The leaf reminds me of...

"We investigated plants, leaves, stems."

"One student could even hold a loupe in his eye socket!"

Nifty Nutrition:  A Close-up Look at What’s Healthy

Close up looking
"I was amazed at the minds of these 6 and 7 year olds."

An Amazing Moment
We’d been using The Private Eye in my first grade class from the beginning of the school year. If you know The Private Eye, you know that students and teacher are on the lookout for how one thing is like another, and whether the similarity could shed an aha! into why something is the way it is. At least that is the purpose of using The Private Eye. But how far could first graders go in this kind of thinking? In early April an amazing moment occurred.
On our last half-day before report card prep this year, my first grade students and I were watching the Scholastic News video about seeds before we started to read the magazine. These videos always last about three minutes so we watch it through once and then return to watch it again, stopping it to talk about what we are seeing and what catches our interest.
That day, before I could even move to replay it, they said, “Can we watch it again?” “Can we say when to stop it?” To my delight they were taking over the process.
At our first stop we froze on the diagram of the plant with its roots, stem, and leaves. One child said that it reminded him of the water cycle (which we had previously studied) because it moved water from the roots up the stem and out to the leaves. Our next stop on a similar picture got the comment that it remind her of the food chain (we have been studying the penguin’s food web) because all the different parts gave things to the other parts and they were all connected that way. Another child pointed out that she really liked how you could tell where the seed used to be and how the roots went one way and the stem the other.
The next child wanted us to stop at the picture of the leaf absorbing the rays of the sun and he said that it reminded him of a solar panel. They both absorb the sun and use that energy for something else. Then he added: “I wonder if people thought about the leaf when they invented the solar panel?”
Another said, “Oh! I know all about that! The leaves give off oxygen which people need and people give off carbon dioxide, which the plants need, and it’s a circle.”
Under his breath, another student murmured, “Symbiotic.”
Needless to say, I was amazed at the minds of these 6 and 7 year olds. Not only are they absorbing information and understanding it an astonishing rate; they are able to understand more complex concepts because of the analogies they are making. The work we had been doing all year to make analogies using The Private Eye — to tell us what ELSE something reminds us of — has now given us a language for the depth of thinking that each student already has ready and waiting inside those incredible young brains. Thinking in analogies has become a habit of mind.

                                                                    -- Chris Boyer

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