This morning, like I do every morning one of my early morning activities is to preview the Wonder at Wonderopolis.org.  This morning’s Wonder was, What is a Smokejumper? As the Wonder popped up on my computer I thought, “I have never heard of a Smokejumper.”  I did what I always tell my students to do, look at the picture for clues.  The picture showed an obvious fire and it appeared mountains.  My interest was certainly piqued.  I then clicked on “read more”.  There I found out what a Smokejumper is.

Later after I arrived at school, I posted the Wonder up on the board for the students to write in the “wonder” journals about the Wonder like they do every morning.  The first student in the room saw the Wonder and immediately responded, “I know what that is.”  He obviously had lots of background knowledge about Smokejumpers as he shared what he knew with me.

When we were going over the Wonder as a class, I asked how many students had heard of a Smokejumper.  Only a few hands went up.  After reading through the Wonder we discussed why we don’t have background knowledge.  We discussed that we lack knowledge because we don’t live in an area of the country where they are required.  The one boy who shared all the information with me earlier in the morning, shared that he learned about them from reading about Smokejumpers in a magazine about fire safety.  During our discussion, we also reviewed how we could use the picture and clues to help determine what a Smokejumper might be.  Another student pointed out there was a clue in the word Smokejumper that helped us too.

I found myself reflecting several times today about the interactions I had this morning with my students.  How often as a teacher do I take for granted that students might not have the background knowledge needed to understand a new concept, topic or text?  Furthermore, I enjoyed having the opportunity to use Wonderopolis for authentic learning for my students’ and myself.

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