Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Perspective Taking Table

I have to say a HUGE thank you to Mark Bachle for making my dream of the perspective taking table come true! I have a feeling it’s going to go down in daycare history as the coolest toy ever. Mark is also working on some other parts to transform our 15.00 train table into about ten different things including a much bigger light table. I am SO grateful to him for all the time, energy and craftsmanship he put into creating this project. Best of all, most of the materials Mark used were recycled or repurposed in some way. I’m super excited to see what we can imagine with this beautiful piece of furniture. 

The perspective taking table

The perspective taking table is an idea I started kicking around about a year ago after taking a photography class at the local camera shop. It's simply a Plexiglas table top that allows the children to see things from varying perspectives depending on how they move around as they work. The interest in combining movement withbuilding and an added visual dimension was sparked by an activity our instructor encouraged us to try. He challenged us to consider changing our perspective simply by moving our feet, bending our knees and considering the subject from a variety of different angles. He went on to discuss how the simple act of adjusting our vantage point while shooting the same object could yield dramatically different photos. I was struck by how simple and profound it all was. Then I kicked myself for not figuring that out on my own. Here I was shooting all my photos for the last twenty years from the same perspective; head on, subject right smack dab in the center of the frame. Mostly I would get the same shot with a different face - it was all very boring. Every so often I would get something fantastic (shot from a different perspective no doubt) but I lacked the presence of mind to consider what it was that made the photo special. 

Learning to change my perspective while shooting opened my whole world up, both literally and figuratively. It gave me a pause button to freeze action from alternate perspectives. Eventually I applied this concept to my observations of the children and I made a conscious effort to change my position often while shooting their work. The end result was that I saw all sorts of things I had missed during the “hands on” part of working with the children because I was too busy interacting with them. My new shooting style became a great tool for me to see all of the things I missed while facilitating our lessons. As I reviewed photos of the children at work I noticed areas of interest hidden in plain view; children experimenting with things in ways I hadn’t noticed before or they added materials to our projects that changed the direction of their work. Those observations became the building blocks of our subsequent projects.

This simple shift in thinking got me to wondering how I could expand the children’s thinking by encouraging them to consider “perspective” as the springboard for innovative thinking. I wondered how much more they would see by examining their work from unusual vantage points. Would their designs and structures become more complex if they could see them from beneath? Would their understanding of light, shadow, movement and three dimensional shapes evolve? How much longer would they experiment with building materials if they had the added visual interest of a novel building surface? After some thinking and experimenting with Plexiglas our perspective taking table was born.    

The lovely thing about changing perspectives is that it facilitates cognitive flexibility and creative thinking. These are not skills that are specifically targeted in early childhood or even later on in school aged children but I believe that shaping those patterns of thinking could profoundly change the lens through which children see the world. Our perspective taking table allows the children to examine their structures with the added dimensions of height, distance and depth from various angles. It also allows light to filter through the walls of their structures illuminating the perimeter and casting colorful shadows in various directions. I have to imagine all that beauty could convince just about anyone to fall in love with math, science and geometry!

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