I honestly cannot remember where I first learned about using Wonder Boxes in the classroom to stimulate my students' curiosity about the world. I just know that I've used them for over ten years now, in multiage classrooms of 1/2/3, 3/4 and 1/2. First, I'll explain what they are, and then I'll describe how I've used them.
A Wonder Box is a collection of books and artifacts that are related to a topic. In the picture at the top of this post, you can see my Wonder Box about skeletons. There are three non-fiction books about skeletons, some x-rays that I was lucky enough to have donated from our local hospital and vet clinic and a couple of Halloween toys.
In the next picture you will see items and books related to sign language. There is a how-to book, a biography of Helen Keller and a book that includes Braille (The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin - one of my favourites!). The artifacts include cards that teach Braille and a chart about signing the alphabet. The polar bear wonder box includes two non-fiction books about the bears, a non-fiction book about global warming, several photographs from the zoo, a couple of newspaper clippings about polar bear rescues and three stuffed animals.
Teachers often ask me where I get the artifacts for the boxes. The truth is, I just keep an eye out now, and I often find things at a dollar store, around the house, or outside that can be used. Oh yes, and I kept a lot of my own kid's old toys!
I have used Wonder Boxes during science or social studies (or Theme, or Exploration, as I've called them in the past) as centres. I have also used them as Literacy Centres. The students, in groups of 2 or 3, go through the stuff in the box. They tend to gravitate towards the artifacts first, and then the books. Then they take a Wonder Card.
Once the students have their question, they try to find the answer. They may have to make an inference if their exact question is not answered, and I have also allowed older students to go to the internet if they can't find their answer in the box. They must cite the source of their answer at the bottom of the card.
I make about 5 or 6 Wonder Boxes a month, introducing one box at a time and over lapping them, so there are always two choices. The students have quite a collection of cards built up after a few weeks. Some of the students like a topic so much that they may write up to 5 wonder cards just for one Wonder Box! I provide a container for them to keep their cards in. I've used recipe boxes, sandwich keepers... anything that is close to the size of the card. I usually create a new card each year depending on the size and shape of their container. The link on this post is for a copy of cards that fit sandwich keepers perfectly, and they were only $1 at Dollarama!
It does take a while to get students to write good (essential) questions. One way to get them to recognize essential questions is by following a website called Wonderopolis, which is also available as an iOS app. This site asks a question a day, such as: "Why are barns red?", "What is a general store?" and "How do you make a burrito?" Then you can click through photos, videos and text to find out the answer. It's great to do this as a whole class activity.
As an extension, later in the year, I like to have students create "Investigations." I wrote about this in a previous blog: click here. Students often turn to their wonder cards to get ideas for what to turn into an investigation. I have also requested that students create their own Wonder Box as a research project in the spring. They totally know how to do this, as they've been using Wonder Boxes all year! We set criteria together, like how many books, artifacts, etc must be included. Students write at least 5 facts about their topic on index cards, and they present their Wonder Boxes to our visitors that day (usually parents and other classes). They also enjoy decorating their boxes! Shoeboxes, cereal boxes and coffee cans and our go-to containers.
Travelling Curriculum Support Teacher