Fifth and Sixth Grade Embark on A "Wonder-full" Assignment

Your mission is to wonder.

The fifth and sixth grade Science Summer assignment started with those five words. Middle School Science teacher Kimberly Schwab set forth this challenge to her students over the summer break, encouraging them to wonder about what they encounter in the natural world, leaving what to wonder about and how to document their wonderings up to the students. 

Providing a little inspiration for wondering, Ms. Schwab gave the students an article about marine biologist, conservationist, and writer Rachel Carson, who emphasized the importance of a person’s faculty for wonder, especially in correlation to science and studying the world around us. Carson noted, “For most of us, knowledge of our world comes largely through sight, yet we look about with such unseeing eyes that we are partially blind. One way to open your eyes to unnoticed beauty is to ask yourself, ‘What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?’” 

So, what did the fifth and sixth graders wonder about? The better question may be “What didn’t they wonder about?” Their “wonderings” were diverse, numerous, and, well, wonderful. They ranged from wondering about the science of how birds fly to the expansion of the universe, from what society would look like if certain elements of technology hadn’t been invented to how jellyfish swim, breed, and live without a brain. One “wondering” centered on our fellow New York City inhabitants: pigeons. Another pondered the importance of the word “Why?”. Another about the significance of a cat’s purring.

The topics of the wonderings were interesting and varied, but the ways the students documented and shared their wonderings were even more multifarious. Some spoke about them during classroom time, others wrote them down, one came in poem form. Fifth grader Veronique J. kept a journal with her wonderings that covered such topics as the Northern Lights, the possibility of extraterrestrial life, human extinction, and so many more.

Many used a specific medium of art to represent their wondering – there was a diagram of a fallen tree, a watercolor of Deer Isle, Maine, a doodle about time, and a diorama of a zoo exhibit. Fifth grader Hudson P. used his movie-making skills to create a video, asking over and over again “I wonder…”, exploring thoughts about dinosaurs, white versus red phosphorus, the origins of moon craters, and more. He ends his video, asking the viewer “What do you wonder?” (Check out his video here!) 

To share his wondering, fifth grader Amadeus B. composed an original track of music. Inspired by the time he spent in Denmark by the ocean, his music takes the listener on a journey through the mystery that is the ocean. He used different instruments to represent what you may encounter on a dive into the ocean (steel drums are mollusks, bongos are turtles, electric guitar are sharks, and so on). Using Garage Band, he laid in each track, combining them all into one really groovy wondering. Listen to it here and read all about his original song here!

As Speyer’s fifth and sixth graders shared their wonderings -- whether through a piece of art, a writing exercise, or some other form -- even more wonders came up during the classroom discussions led by Ms. Schwab. This assignment echoes the words of Rachel Carson: “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder…he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” 

We can’t wait to see what they will continue to wonder in the months to come!