Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Open Exploration

Where to Begin

 

When starting anything new in your classroom, it is important to introduce the topic slowly and allow time for your young children to play and become familiar with new materials. Engaging your students is the first step in "Open Exploration". 

Open Exploration is a time to introduce new materials in the classroom and allow students the time to have undirected play. As the teacher, your role is to create an engaging environment to keep their interest and to observe what students are discovering through their play. Check out this resource for more information about Play and Inquiry.

Keys to Open Exploration

  • Creating a carefully planned environment

  • Supporting children's individual interests

  • Using conversation to draw out learning

  • Noticing how children are observing and learning from each other 

Flow of Open Exploration

 

 

Introduce students to the science subject.

Start with a classroom Science Talk during circle time. 

  • Talk about prior experiences. What do your students know about the topic? 

  • Introduce materials. Has anyone seen these materials before? What could we do with these materials? 

  • Offer opportunities to explore the science concept during center time/choice time. This is a time for undirected play. 

  • You can spend up to a week introducing students to the science subject. 

Observe your students during their undirected play

What are your students doing with the materials? What area they discovering? Ask them thought-provoking questions without disturbing their play. Use questions suchs as:

  • What are you working on?

  • What would happen if we tried this?

  • Can you show me or your friends how you did that?

Ongoing exploration and reflection.

You can spend up to 2-3 weeks doing Open Exploration.    

  • Continue to introduce new materials or props to support their learning

  • Acknowledge children's play; observe their play and interact with the students. Ask them open-ended questions about what they are doing and discovering. What are their challenges?

  • Encourage reluctant explorers. Find ways to get children involved. Remember that each child will have different interests

Exploring at the students' pace

Like in other areas of your curriculum, you may notice that some of your students will master the use of materials sooner than others. This is expected and entirely normal! Try to:

  • Interact in small groups or one-on-one with students

  • Give short Science Talks in small groups

  • Encourage students that have mastered materials to play with other students

  • Allow all students the opportunity to share their discoveries with their peers

Eventually all of your students will become familiar with using the materials. At this point, you may be ready to move on to a Focused Exploration challenge as an entire class.