Incidental Inquiry – finding something dead and taking it to class.

As the times that the busses arrive vary between 8 and 8:30 we make sure that there is always a mini-lesson happening as the kids arrive for them to join into. As many of my children are multi-lingual I see this as a great time to build vocabulary, have some thinking skill games and build a team environment. Things like Tony Ryan’s Thinkers Keys are a good example and large Where’s Wally/Waldo scavenger hunts on the IWB are tré popular.

Master Mantis


Today was something different, as just as I was to get in the morning Taxi I saw an enormous Preying Mantis on the ground, legs in the air and well and truly dead. Now, as I am living in China, love Kung Fu Panda and Master Mantis of the Furious Five is my favourite animated character of the last 10 years I knew that this was too good an opportunity to let pass. To the disgust of the many adults I scooped up the fallen hero and took him to school.

The students walked into class (they are all 6 years old) and reeled back in disgust or zoomed in with curiosity. Is it dead? What is it? Will it attack? Will it bite? where did you find it? Was it in the class? How did you get it to…

So we sat in a circle around the Preying Mantis and began to talk (It was easier as there was a power cut). Parts were named, zoomed in on with a magnifying glass, precise language was developed.  We took photos, sketched and drew diagrams on wipe boards. We labeled the diagrams, translated the words into Chinese and Korean and soon all were using gentle hands to feel the pincers on the feet grip onto our skin or gaze through the Transparent wings.

Questions were asked, anatomy of an insect was defined, compared and labeled and the learning was unmeasurable and I feel will be one of those lasting primary memories… “I remember the day when my teacher with a beard, I can’t remember his name, brought in that huge Praying Mantis and we got to touch it”.

Then it began to twitch a little… we placed a stop-motion camera on the twitching part for 2 hours and yes it did move, but no other part did. Is there something still alive in the insect trying to get out? Has it been paralyzed by spray or poison and is still alive? Is it just drying and decomposing? Unfortunately these questions were not answered as it was home time on a Friday, so they may stay unanswered, but the development of curiosity has been phenomenal and well worth the time and effort.  I think that is the first true mini inquiry that I have done since my time with Kath Murdoch and after seeing the power of the experience I know that it will not be the last.

A chance discovery.
The first tentative touches.
Magnified for better detail.
Time Lapse – Sorry the file would not upload to youtube ;(
Sketches & Diagrams
Táng Láng in Chinese.
Samagi in Korean.

5 thoughts on “Incidental Inquiry – finding something dead and taking it to class.

  1. It must be the year of the preying mantis! I have witnessed 3 inquiries about this creature this year!! Luke – loved reading this. I wonder if your kids were able to find the answer to their questions? How did they find out more? If you document the narrative of this inquiry and the phases of investigation you went through (as a book/wall chart/digital story) , you will be able to refer to it again when the next inquiry comes along and your students will learn a little more about the process. And you are right – they will remember this. And your name I suspect 🙂 .

    1. Hello there Kath,
      It must be the year of the Mantis 😉 . We were without power so had lost our ability to Google or Youtube, but it was so amazing to see the students compiling all the snippets of what they know into one central knowledge base. I am thinking of starting a scrapbook to record the journey and discovery and one of the students wanted to keep the Preying Mantis like they do at a museum, so we may have to learn how to preserve insects 😉
      I appreciate you encouragement and further scaffolding.
      Many thanks

  2. Hi Luke

    This sounded like a fantastic learning time for all of you. The kids must have had a blast! I bet the kids will start bringing in other “findings” from their walks into class. You’ve opened the floodgates so be prepared! I bet every child will be spending the weekend carefully studying anything on the ground he/she is walking on and possibly bringing it in on Monday!

    This is a much better story than when a giant cockroach flew into my classroom in Hong Kong. It was the size of my hand. The entire Y5 class went screaming to one side of the classroom. I went with them but I was trying to show a brave face. Then, the cockroach started approaching us and the entire class went screaming to the other side. 😉

    Anyway, your approach was much better. I’ll see if I can rise to the occasion the next time it happens to me. 🙂


    ps. I was in a workshop that used the “Explain Everything” app on the ipad with a magnetic lens (for magnifying purposes) attached to the ipad’s camera lens. We took photos of insects and then annotated the pictures with the app. I don’t know if your school has iPads. I found a link to a picture of the magnetic lens. It’s not the same one I used in the workshop, but you can see the general idea:

    1. Hey there Vivian,
      Such a cool idea… I will check out Tabao for a lens and give it a go. I hope they do not bring in anything too extreme and nothing alive (snakes and such).
      Off to look for iPad addons 😉

  3. You would probably be able to find it somewhere in China for much cheaper. The problem is where?

    Any snake with any intelligence would keep far away from humans as the fall season approaches, in China. Snake soup, anyone?

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