Tag Archives: science

Failure Can Lead to Success

Some of the best learning can happen when things don’t work as expected.

This year when we took out our hand pump to introduce it to the children, teachers couldn’t get the pump to work. We tried priming, read the manual multiple times, but could not see why the pump didn’t work. After all, there aren’t many moving parts to break on a manual pump like this.

When we read some advice about how to take the pump apart to see if anything was blocking the inner works, we decided to include the children in the effort.

When children tried the pump and realized there was a problem, many were eager to help solve the problem. This was especially true when they saw a toolbox nearby. After studying the screws together, the children agreed on which two screws we should try to remove first. They helped choose the bit (“there is an “x” shape on the screw – look for a screwdriver end that will fit in an “x”) and together we removed the screws. Then we tried to move the works, but they were still completely stuck.

What could we do? Teachers got lots of advice from the children:
• You have to push on it harder
• Put something that’s thin in there to push it apart
• Pull the rod part down

After many trials (and after just about giving up) there was a pop and the moving parts released. We moved the works up and down – and the children thought the problem was solved.

The teacher mentioned that sometimes things get stuck in the pump – there are wood chips nearby, sand and stones on the playground. Could something have gotten inside the pump?

Children went to work investigating every part. They found that there was a screen on one side filtering out debris – nothing blocking there. They looked down into the water and saw a muddy ring. Could that be sand? Could it move into the pump and block the water? How could we reach it? The search was on for sticks and toys that might be long enough to reach in. Some fit, many were too wide or too short. Whatever we did, the rings remained. The conclusion reached was that those rings could not cause the problem, because we couldn’t get at them.

One child thought we should turn the pump upside down so we tried that (though it was tricky to handle all that water). Others thought just try the pump again. Still no luck.

By this time, children had been engaged in problem solving for quite a while, and many were ready to give up. Not everyone though! The teacher left the children on their own to help elsewhere on the playground and a few children kept working the pump, trying to prime it, pouring in water in any opening they could find.

And the pump started to work! We never figured out why it was blocked and what made it start working again, but now, about a week later, if the water is slow, we see a group of engaged problem solvers rearranging pieces, pouring water, and getting things moving again – no adults needed.

A hand pump like this offers terrific opportunities to think about water flow, pipe systems, and how to work together to solve a problem. Children generate questions (how can we get the water to go up through here? Why doesn’t the water go all the way through to the last opening?) and offer solutions based on their experience (If the water starts higher then it flows faster all the way through. If you want water to go through the last opening you have to block the openings that come first. When you pump faster more water comes out.). Just trying out an idea requires teamwork since it’s much easier to pump if someone else is there to stabilize the pump and help direct the water.

Many adults think that children this age have short attention spans and are easily discouraged. That’s not the case when there is a strong interest in the materials, activities and resulting problems to solve at hand! When we offer children the kinds of materials that lead to deep investigations, we see persistence and engagement. A simple hand pump like this one – too big to work alone – offers endless opportunities for children to explore their world, think together about how things work and explore the properties of natural materials (like water) in their environment.

Beginning Investigations of Ice

With this frigid weather we’ve been having lately, it seemed like a good time to introduce the chickadee children to an investigation of ice.

It’s easy to underestimate the powerful learning that can happen when children are encouraged to wonder more deeply about the properties of something in their everyday experience. All the children have had previous experience with ice and cold. What would they wonder about if we put out a few ice blocks? Would they notice the crystals and bubbles that formed as the ice hardened? Would they notice changes in the ice blocks over time as the ice melted, and would they have the language to describe those changes? Would they be interested in sliding the ice across the galvanized steel tabletop tray we offered, and would they notice the water droplets, and then puddles, that formed paths as the ice moved across the tray?

For most children, their first investigation at the ice table was a tentative one. “What’s this?” “It’s ice!” “It’s cold!” Fingertips touched, pulled away quickly and then touched again. When a teacher suggested rubbing hands and fingers together to keep warm, a game of touching ice and then rubbing hands together, giggling, quickly developed.

A few children returned to the table multiple times through the day, and then through the week. Some brought magnifiers to see crystals more closely. One child noticed that when he tried to push the ice it was stuck to the tray at first. When it melted a bit it was easy to slide. He came to the table often, trying to push the pieces of ice faster and faster across the tray as the ice melted.

As the children noticed the ice melting, many asked, “What happened to the ice?” In these moments teachers repeat the question rather than answering it. It’s the process of exploration and wondering that leads children to their own discoveries, and having an answer is often less important than that process. What did happen to the ice? Children said, “The ice is disappearing!” A few children clarified for others that the ice was melting (they had the word) but many did not. Instead, noticing the disappearing ice, children put their fingers first on the ice, and then on the deepening puddles of water next to the ice. What’s going on here?

It was a surprise to teachers that the most intriguing question that children investigated this week came from one child’s interest in warming the ice. “The ice is too cold – how can we warm it?” Teachers simply said, “I wonder”. She decided that putting a paper towel on the ice should warm it (after all, going under a blanket warms us doesn’t it?) This began a weeklong investigation involving many children as they placed paper towels on ice, found that some got wet, others stuck to the ice, and none really warmed it up. What’s going on here?

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Learning Circle Preschool Celebrates Food Day Friday October 24, 2014

Parents of young children are invited to join us at Learning Circle Preschool, 3 Blue Hill River Road, Canton MA, for activities planned as part of Food Day, the nationwide movement for more healthy, affordable, and sustainable food. Parents will be able to participate in activities with their children, see the school, and talk with staff and parents at the school.

Celebrating Food Day gives us an occasion to highlight what our children practice throughout the year as a part of the school’s dedication to exposing students to sustainable living, nutrition, and the sciences.

We’ll plant garlic and dig in our garden beds, investigate and draw a wide variety of seasonal vegetables, create art projects like vegetable printing and marble painting, and walk together to neighboring Brookwood Farm.
Young children learn through hands on experiences. Planting foods, watching the plants grow, eating foods from their gardens or from a local farm like Brookwood, connects children directly to real foods. It opens them to new food choices and leads to healthier attitudes about food.

For parents unable to attend the Food Day Festival and Open House on October 24, the school offers opportunities to visit its facilities individually. The visits, held during school hours, give parents and children a chance to meet with director Katrina Selawsky, to talk about each family’s specific needs, and to see the classrooms while children are in session.

Please call the Director, Katrina Selawsky at 781-828-4800 for more information or to arrange a tour of the facility. Parents may also contact the school by email (info@learningcirclepreschool.org) or visit the school’s website at www.learningcirclepreschool.org.

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When is a leaf an egg?

When three-year-old children investigate together, we teachers model a process of looking, collecting information, and testing ideas. This is a scientific approach, but because the children are three, a form of magical thinking can override their direct observations.

The children had been thinking together about leaves, fall colors, and the shapes and sizes of leaves.

I brought in a large hosta leaf from my garden that I thought would make some beautiful crayon rubbings.

At meeting, I brought crayons and the leaf, sandwiched between two pieces of paper on a clipboard so that the children could see only a shadow of its shape. I told them that I brought something for them to investigate together.

I held up the covered leaf and asked them if they had ideas about what I brought. As I held it up, I rubbed the leaf shape with my hand.

Children were engaged and curious, but at first no one had an idea to share. They agreed they saw a shadow and one child suggested there was a mystery.

Then a child said, “It’s an egg!” I replied, “You see an egg,” and agreed that the oval shape we saw in the shadow looked like the shape of an egg. I then used the opportunity to talk about flat vs. three-dimensional shapes, following up on previous conversations and interests among the children.

I suggested that the eggs I had seen could be held and looked at from all sides – that they fit in your hand. I pretended I had an egg in my hand and showed them it’s pretend shape. I pointed out again that what we were looking at was flat, and I rubbed the paper, asking if the children agreed it was flat like the paper – that we could see a flat shape that couldn’t be held like an egg.

Yes, they agreed, it was a flat chicken egg.

As children took turns feeling the leaf shape under the paper, talking about the veins they felt, all agreed that under the paper was a chicken egg.

We began to take turns rubbing a crayon over the paper, with beautiful patterns of veins revealed along with the outer edge of the leaf. One child pointed out that “It looks like a tree!” and we talked together about the central vein and all the other veins moving out from it to other parts of the leaf. We talked about how the veins move nutrition and water to all the parts of the leaf as it grows. We looked at our own veins on our bodies and compared them to the veins on the leaf. This continued until we had a beautiful rubbing of a complete, fully veined hosta leaf.

It was time to remove the paper and reveal the original leaf. We did so, and children were delighted to see what they called “a chicken egg with veins”.

If I’d originally replied to the first child, “No, this is not an egg. It’s a leaf with an oval shape,” I do not doubt that child would have immediately accepted my explanation. But because I neither confirmed nor rejected her statement, our conversation was able to continue with more direct observations and attempts at explanation, bringing in the thoughts of all the children, with each observation considered and valued.

In this case, as in all science with young children, the facts are less important than the process of investigation – direct observation, forming a hypothesis or theory, collaborating with others, evaluation, and thoughtful conclusion built on previous experiences. If we join the children “where they are” in their thinking and development, we can invite them to join us as they develop habits of learning that will last a lifetime.

Corn Harvest Comes to School

When a parent brought in some fresh corn and a dried stalk, some terrific curriculum opportunities were taken in the Nuthatch Class.

Children explored the corn stalk at meeting, laying it out on the carpet first to see it’s length (how many pieces of corn would it take to be as long as this corn stalk?), and then holding it up to discover that the stalk reached the ceiling!

Children husked fresh corn, and had a taste of raw kernels (delicious!) for snack.

After this investigation, children and teachers worked together to think about how to make their own stalk. What could be better as a classroom growth chart?

Everyone began the work that would take many days. Children used brayers on bubble wrap to print their own corn kernels. They twisted paper bags into a corn stalk as tall as the natural one and found a spot in the classroom to display them side-by-side. They used brayers and green paint on large paper to create just the right shade for the leaves they would cut out together. They wrapped their corncobs in paper husks. Then everything was ready for the construction of the classroom corn stalk!

Now that the stalk is in place, teachers will help children measure themselves and mark their height periodically.

When classroom projects emerge from family resources and child interests, teachers can offer children opportunities to investigate, observe, document, create, taste, measure, revisit knowledge and past experiences, graph, write and learn in an integrated and engaging shared experience!

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