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What Might You Invent? Inventor Garrett Morgan Inspires the Rivers Class

March 9, 2022 | Kristen Jordan

In the Rivers Class, we focused on Inventor Garrett Morgan as we concluded our Black History Month study of amazing individuals who contributed so much to our society.  The children learned about many of Garrett Morgan’s inventions: The zig-zag stitch on the sewing machine, a gas mask that was used by many fire stations and in battle, and a three way traffic light (a precursor to our current day traffic lights.)  Garrett Morgan saw problems, like cars and horse carriages colliding, and he wanted to come up with solutions to those problems.  In one of our important discussions about Garrett Morgan, the children heard that people stopped buying his gas masks because he was Black, and that he created his own country club because Black people were not allowed in country clubs.  It was hard for them to imagine that people with brown skin would not be allowed to go somewhere since they go to school with children who have brown skin.  It was a really powerful conversation about how things have changed and gotten a lot better over time. 

During our study, children had the chance to explore with some materials that are used for many inventions or machines–simple gears, nuts, bolts, and washers. They also created inventions using magnetic blocks.

Then children constructed many city buildings using our unit blocks and thought about how vehicles and people might move around in the space. 

After hearing about the traffic issues that were happening during Garrett Morgan’s time; concerns that prompted him to create a signal, the children considered what keeps our city streets safe.  We observed nearby streets and noticed many of the signs, lights and other symbols such as yellow and white lines, crosswalks, street signs, etc.  Children observed how traffic and pedestrians moved and work together in the city, with the signals, signs, and marks to help them know what to do. 

Then children thought about how the neighborhood they had built in blocks needed signs and lights to keep traffic and pedestrians moving safely.  They added crosswalks, lights and signs to help it be a safe place for everyone.  And then they played! 

As the children learned more about Garrett Morgan, and how he tried to solve problems, we prompted them to think about problems that they sometimes have, and how they might create an invention to solve that problem.  They expressed concerns such as losing a baby sister who crawls away, or falling off beds or in bathtubs or down stairs.  Then, they designed inventions that could solve these problems and expressed them in both paint and drawings. 

One problem that came up in conversation was how some children had experienced another child being unkind (not in our classroom but in other settings).   We had many conversations in which the children were struggling over the idea of what kind of invention they could create to help other children learn kindness and how to treat others.  Eventually, Eva suggested puppets!  

So we role-played, using puppets, to help children think about how a puppet might be able to teach another child how to be a good, kind friend (and thereby, learning themselves how to deal with challenging situations with others). Each child designed their own puppet, drew it or painted it, and decided what words the puppet could say to help guide another child in learning social skills!  They suggested things like “Let’s play!”,  “Make sure you say please and thank you!”, and “Please use a nice voice.” 

We continue to role play and discuss what to do when there is a struggle of some sort between children.  The children’s “invention” of puppets that can be used to make a difference in their relationships and interactions emerged from learning about someone in history who also helped to make the world a better place.  Sometimes (often!) conversations with children lead you to surprising and wonderful results!  

Kristen Jordan

Teacher, Rivers Class

Kristen Jordan began helping at Mustard Seed School in 2006, after her daughter had been a student in the preschool. She substituted for many years in all grades; in 2011, she returned to the classroom and has been a teacher in The Nest ever since.

Prior to the birth of her daughter Clara, in 2002, Ms. Jordan worked in Brooklyn as a first grade teacher with the New York City Public Schools. During this time, her school collaborated with the Brooklyn Museum, and this work helped Ms. Jordan develop a real interest in the parallels between the process of making art and the process of writing in the classroom. She thoroughly enjoys teaching both art and literacy to preschoolers.

Ms Jordan’s background includes work with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. While at Teachers College, she trained with esteemed educator and author Lucy Calkins. Early in her teaching career, Ms. Jordan did not think that she wanted to teach very young children but her view has changed! She now really enjoys and takes great interest in young children and their development.

Ms. Jordan enjoys reading, working out, hiking, cooking, and spending time with her daughter and family. Although she has lived on the East Coast for a very long time, as a native of Oregon, she really loves the mountains!

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