Putting the pieces together

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, February 19, 2009

There was something wrong with the puzzle.

A few students in Mindy Webb’s preschool class at Nansemond Suffolk Academy were working on a puzzle during their independent playtime, and when they looked at their finished creation, something was just not right.

The students, who had just finished studying the ocean and the octopus, had completed an “Under the Sea” puzzle. In the bottom corner of the puzzle, there was a creature that looked strikingly like a squid, but also an octopus.

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“Some of them thought it was a squid. Some of them thought it was an octopus. Some of them thought a squid was an octopus,” Webb said. The students wanted to know what this underwater dweller was, so they asked Webb for help. Webb took them to the computer to look up the differences between a squid and an octopus.

“A squid has 10 legs and an octopus has 8 legs,” said 5-year-old Lily Bivins.

“And squids have triangle heads,” classmate Parker Carlin added.

So the small group of students went back to the puzzle to further investigate.

Sure enough, the animal had a triangle head signifying it was a squid, but there was a problem.

“A squid has 10 legs, but it only had eight,” Carlin said. “We only saw eight when we counted.”

Before long, the entire class was intrigued by the puzzle.

“Everybody wanted to know what it was,” Webb said. As she looked at the puzzle again, Webb saw that there was a contact number on one of the pieces. Webb took the entire class down to the office, called the number and asked if it would be all right if she was on speaker phone for the students to ask about the puzzle.

“She was giggling,” Webb said. “She was very nice about it.”

Carlin stepped forward, and asked the question of the day: Squid or octopus?

“She said it was squid, but we didn’t see the hidden legs,” Carlin said.

“She assured us it was a squid and that the legs we didn’t see were hidden,” Webb said. “But we don’t all believe her. We think they just made a mistake.”

Nevertheless, the puzzle ended up serving as a great learning tool for the students. The woman on the phone even told the class some extra information about squid. For example, a squid’s “legs,” or tentacles, are different lengths, while the tentacles of an octopus are all the same length.

“It kind of created another lesson,” Webb said. “It really was their questions and their curiosities that guided the lesson, and that’s where learning is more meaningful. It helps them take responsibility for their own learning. We’re preparing them for kindergarten, and we want them to have that strong foundation to learn and for it to come from their own curiosity.”