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Constructing Meaning

Through Authentic Inquiry
by Allen Kushinsky
We all watched Sebastian (“Seb”) climb the
step ladder. When he made it to the top, he
touched the ceiling with one hand, and made
history with the other. Sebastian – 6-year-old
designer and engineer of the “Rockstar Jet
Tower” – was ready to place the final wooden
block to conclude the construction of the
school’s tallest wood-block building ever erected
at Magic Years.
The tower stood eight feet tall from the floor, but
it was still a few inches away from the ceiling.
Teachers and students alike stood
still, nervously - yet hopefully - routing
Seb on as he slowly stretched his
r i ght hand t owar d t he wobbl y
structure, and planted the final block
in its place at the very top. The tower
ominously swayed back and forth,
and I t hi nk we al l col l ect i vel y
wondered whether or not it would hold
up. However, the tower still was
managing to stay up. There was no
more room to place another block, but
something had to be done because
the tower was still disconnected from
the ceiling. I was curious to see how
Seb would resolve this issue.

“What is he going to do?” a child asked worriedly.
“What if the tower falls?” another child whispered with controlled excitement, as if
even a loud noise might be enough to make the tower come crashing down.
“No it won’t fall! He’s going to do it,” someone else responded.
But I could see that Seb was not too worried; during the formative stages of the
tower’s construction, he hypothesized that once the last block would be placed
on top, a different object would have to be carefully inserted between the top
block and the ceiling to compress the tower. Only after the compression of the
tower between the floor and the ceiling would the tower become stable, he
reasoned. Well, we were all about to find out if he was right.
“But it’s still unstable!” Bay exclaimed. “Look, it’s still moving back and forth.
Meanwhile Seb was already concocting his next moves. What happened next
would lead us to a momentous discovery of an important law in physics – the law
of Compression.
“Allen,” Sebastian said with resolve. “Can you
give me 4 canvas pieces?” (Canvas pieces are
thin perforated sheets of plastic used for arts
and crafts).
I did as he asked. The classroom fell dead-
silent. With a steady arm, Seb slipped all four
canvas sheets into the thin space between the
ceiling and the top-most block.
“He did it!” the children cried! “He did it!”
I knew that Sebastian was proud of himself, but I also wanted to understand how
he constructed meaning through his learning, how he discovered and deepened
his knowledge of two important concepts:
1. Function - the understanding that everything has a purpose that can be
investigated.
2. Connection - the understanding that an action or process is connected to other
things.
I decided to interview Seb to investigate his conceptual understandings.
The Interview:
Allen: Tell me about the tower that you built up to the ceiling.
Seb: It’s called The Rockstar Jet.
Allen: Why did you give it that name?
Seb: Because it’s very high, and jet’s fly high like the tower. And “Rockstar”
because Rockstar means ‘cool,’ and the building looks cool.
Allen: How did you to start building this tower?
Seb: I put the high block first because that way it would be stable.
Allen: Why did you decide that putting the big block first would make it stable?
Seb: It’s the foundation for making any building stable.
Allen: Tell me more about how you built the tower.
Seb: We knew that stacking blocks wasn’t good because it would make it
unstable. And we used blocks, like we put one block on this side, then the other
block on the other side so it was the same on all sides. But we did just a little
stacking all the way at the top.
Allen: Why do you think the building isn’t falling over? It’s so high now.
Seb: It doesn’t fall because up there at the very top, it sticks really tight. We put a
little bit of canvas on the very top to make the tower stick. The ceiling pushes the
blocks down and blocks on the floor are pushed up. [Concept in physics called
the Law of Compression)
Allen: What else did you learn from this experience?
Seb: I learned how to make a stable tower by not doing any stacking.
Allen: You had to climb the ladder to place the final block. Had you ever been on
a ladder before?
Seb: No it was my first time.
Allen: How did it feel?
Seb: It felt very high. When I went up, I could touch the ceiling. It felt I was really
high.
Allen: Were there any challenges that you faced?
Seb: It was difficult because I was scared to fall. But I built the highest building I
ever done.

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