“How does this work?” Hands-on science explorations

We’ve entered into a busy few weeks at work and home, which translate into less time to prepare “formal” lessons for L. That’s ok, though, because she’s in a really nice period of engaging in open-ended inquiry with interesting things!

She’s been pulling out and exploring this music box from Educational Innovations – you can put the pins in yourself and create songs. That’s been a big go-to.

We’ve also given her some new materials to explore. We’ve had a broken clock for… two years? You know, it’s been on the wall but not actually keeping time? Clearly I’m the only one with such an artifact in my house… =)

Anyway, it’s a good thing I didn’t throw it away (see! I had a plan!) because the other day, I asked L to put on her safety goggles, gave her a flat head screwdriver and butter knife, and asked her to take it apart.

She definitely looked at me like I was nuts! I explained that it was broken and our choices now were either to just throw it away or see how it worked. She decided that exploration was the way to go!

Clock, meet your end

Clock, meet your end

She began reluctantly at first. She was still worried about breaking it – even though it was already broken! I explained to her that when she was done exploring it, it would be in about 15 different pieces, AND THAT WOULD BE OK! Having gotten the permission she needed, she proceeded like a medical examiner with an interesting case…

First, disassembling the plastic cover, hands, and motor

First, disassembling the plastic cover, hands, and motor

Then, all the parts were taken apart

Then, all the parts were taken apart

She was very interested in the copper wire and tiny gears. We talked a little bit about them.

We then moved into Snap Circuits. We have a kit on loan (as we decide whether or not to purchase one for Christmas). We pulled it out and talked our way through the first two builds in the project book: Batteries in Series (two LED lights) and Ticking Screeched (a simple speaker).

Experimenting with Snap Circuits

Experimenting with Snap Circuits

While working on the first project, we got to experience what happens if you put the LEDs in the wrong direction (the circuit won’t complete). This was a nice opportunity to talk about energy as a wave. During the second build, we followed the book’s lead and substituted in different capacitors. L noticed that the larger the capacitor, the smaller the sound. We talked about the role of a capacitor in restricting the energy flow. We noticed just as we were finishing up that there’s a light-reactive element to this build. We’re going to have to build it again to experiment more with that element! We’re also ready to explore our World’s Simplest Motor!

Finally, we worked on an art project. Art projects aren’t really my forte. I struggle with how much of what I find out there seems to have a predetermined final product. I know that I feel bad when my final product doesn’t look like it’s “supposed to”, so I shy away from them. We do a lot of markers/colored pencils/crayons and blank paper, but that’s kind of where my push ends.

In any case, I decided to make fizzy art with her. See! An art project! (Ok, it’s science. I know)…

I asked L to put food coloring and vinegar into small containers while I covered the surface of a cookie sheet (with sides) in a thick layer of baking soda.

prepping the project

prepping the project

I then explained to that she could use an eyedropper (fine motor skills!) to drop the solution onto the baking soda.

Wow!

Fizzing!

Colors!

So cool!

In process

In process

She pretty quickly found out that you could drop two colors at once, or even a second color on top of a previously-fizzed spot, and create new colors

Making new colors

Making new colors

About 45 minutes later, the sheet was covered in brownish-black liquid. We got a chance to revisit the idea that black is all the colors. As we were cleaning up, she asked to do it again. That evening, we repeated the entire thing with my husband. Good times!

What I loved about all of these experiences were the grins that flashed across her face. She was probably learning. But she was definitely having fun! My goal right now is to keep her invested in the idea that learning is fun, so for us both, these experiences were absolute successes.

Simple experiments

We’re getting ready to launch into a science unit on the sun (which will be adapted from How the Sun Makes Our Day: An Earth and Space Science Unit). She’s pretty interested in the solar system right now (watching lots of They Might Be Giants, practicing rotating around the “sun” [flashlight] with a globe, playing with her model of the solar system, etc) as well as weather and nature in general, so it seems like a good fit.

I don’t generally like canned curricula, but I’m excited about this one because it seems to a) contain a lot more content than many curricula I find commercially available, and b) focus on scientific processes and her role as a scientist. I worry that we focus on “cute” activities to the exclusion of kids’ involvement with predicting, manipulating, and explaining…

Anyway, to scaffold what’s coming up, we did a quick experiment to review the process of science. We decided to do the classic drops-on-a-penny experiment. We began with our predictions (L’s was 1, mine was 5). We then took turns carefully dropping pennies onto the fronts of our pennies twice (so, four trials) and the backs of our pennies once (two more trials).

Between trials

Between trials

We didn’t do the math, but I was pleased to see that L decided that the rule was “a penny can hold about 30 drops of water.” We then talked about recording what we did. L narrated the process to me (We wanted to see how many drops of water a penny could hold. We used a dropper and carefully dropped one at a time on the pennies. A penny can hold about 30 drops of water). I gave her the choice of doing her writing or her illustration first, and she chose illustration.

(from left to right) view of the penny with water from the front, views from the top including the dropper)

(from left to right) view of the penny with water from the front, views from the top including the dropper)

We worked a lot of perspective (what does the penny look like from the top? How can we show the half-circle of water on the top?). We also stopped to watch a video explaining the concept of surface tension.

She was getting pretty tired by the time we were ready to write, so I decided to focus on her capturing her most important ideas rather than focus on mechanics, spelling, or handwriting. I simply wanted her to experience recording her work. When she was finished, I asked if I could write down her words with the spelling the way other people have learned so that she could share her work with others (We have spoken a lot about how you can write words however you’d like, but if you don’t spell them the way other people know them, they won’t know what you mean – and there are times she sticks to her invented spellings and other times she asks for conventional spellings.). She agreed, so I transcribed her words at the bottom.

All considered, it was a fun experience for us – we are going to the Cincinnati Museum Center tomorrow for her to trade in points for a (drumroll, please…) dinosaur bone! For real!! Post to follow…