Photo above: The Hertford Bridge in Oxford, England. Used by Permission. © Tom Ley 01302 782837

Monday, October 5, 2009

When I work with teachers, it always comes up. It's sort of like the proverbial elephant in the room-science is expensive and I don't have time to get materials.
Research from the National Research Council articulates that new understandings are constructed upon on a foundation of existing understandings and experiences. Without experiences, children are less likely to remember science or math content for very long.
So, if research shows children learn best through experiences, why is it some teachers choose not to do hands-on science. Is it really that expensive or hard to put together? No, not if you believe in the power of hands-on instruction with regard to student learning. Science does not have to be about glass test tubes and beakers. All you need is about 5$ per lesson and many of the materials can be found at stores located right around the corner.

Here is a quick and simple example to articulate my point. My daughter had been studying matter and while she could rattle off the definitions with ease, I wanted to see if she could use what she knew to explain whether or not a substance was a liquid or a solid or both. The materials for the activity were corn starch, water, a bowl, and a spoon. Before we started, I put some corn starch in the bowl and asked her to describe it using words. Next, she began to add the water very slowly while stirring. Eventually the corn starch became like thick gravy.
Gak, oobleck, or whatever you might know it as, is really cool to play with. If you get the consistency of water to corn starch right, you create a substance that seems like a solid, but then moves like a liquid. I think my daughter's face says it all! We had a blast playing with our matter and watching it go from a solid to a liquid. Could she explain whether she thought the substance was a solid or liquid, yes! Was she able to describe the physical properties using words associated with size, shape, and texture? Yes! More importantly, she remembers that experience and is now comparing things to the Gak. Now I know all you science buffs out there will say it is a non-Newtonian fluid and you would be right-but try to explaining that to a 3rd grader!
Long story short: Science doesn't have to be hard or expensive! But the time spent doing science is worth it!

National Research Council. (2005) How students learn: Science in the classroom. National Academy Press: Washington D.C.

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