Thursday, February 3, 2011

Testing the Absorbency of Paper Towels and the Sham-wowTM!

Part Two – Using the Smarter Science Framework to Design and Conduct the Inquiry

(Posting 17)

If you read my previous blog posting you know that I spent a considerable amount of time laying the ground work for today’s inquiry. The students I teach in this class are teenagers yet they all have high needs and a multitude of exceptionalities which results in them working well below grade level.

Today, when the students came to class I greeted them at the door, as usual. On my desk I had the same three items as yesterday – a roll of brown paper towels, a roll of white paper towels and an orange Sham-wowTM , however, there was no spilled water on the front counter. Taped up on the front board I had the set of four Smarter Science posters that are recommended for use at the elementary level.

We quickly recapped yesterday’s lesson wherein we had observed spilled water and discussed which type of towel would clean it up the best.

“What happened to the spill, Miss?”

“Which towel did you use to clean it up?”

Imagine the students surprise when I told them that I did not clean it up! Instead I left it there when I went home yesterday and when I came back today it was gone.

“The custodian must have cleaned it up” quickly became the class consensus. I asked if anyone had any other ideas of where it might have gone. Sadly, they didn’t so it was up to me to suggest that it might have evaporated. This led to a lengthy discussion about evaporation. The example that most students seemed to be able to relate to was puddles disappearing when the sun comes out. Although they all came around to accepting that evaporation is real there remained a great deal of uncertainty about how long the process would take.

“Let‘s talk about the observations we made today and yesterday” I said as I drew the students’ attention to the first poster at the front of the room. Step One, collectively we came up with three observations:

  • Miss spilled water yesterday.
  • Miss has towels that could clean up the spill.
  • Where did the spilled water go?

“Looking at these three observations, what does it make you wonder?” (Still step one of the Smarter Science framework.)

  • Was it really water?
  • Why did she spill it?
  • How much water did she spill?
  • Who cleaned it up?
  • Which towel works better?

Although the students had deviated from the intention of the “WONDER” box I did not correct them since they were completely engaged, on track and offering excellent questions. (The “wonder” box is intended to be used for the students to speculate as to the answers they posed in the “observe” box.)

Moving on to step 2(a) of the Smarter Science framework, on the second poster, we worked together as a class to brainstorm the answer to “What could we measure or observe about the spilled water?” We recorded our ideas on pink sticky notes.

  • How much water was spilled? (initial volume)
  • How long does it take to clean up? (time)
  • How much water gets soaked up by the towels? (final volume)
  • How big is each type of towel? (size)

These questions lead us directly to step 2(b): “What could we change or vary about the object or the event that may affect what we could measure or observe?” These items were listed on yellow sticky notes.

· Amount of time spent cleaning up

· Blotting or rubbing with the towel

· Size of the towel

· Type of towel

· Amount of water spilled

All of the ideas listed above came directly from the students. A different group of students may come up with a completely different list. That does not mean one list is better than the other. As long as they stay on task any list is correct. The students need to receive continuous positive verbal feedback and reassurance that there is no such thing as a stupid idea in science class. In fact, some of the best discoveries in science have come from what others considered “stupid ideas”. One of my own personal favourites that I use to describe this phenomenon is that of Galileo Galilei, but I digress.

Moving onto poster three, step 3(a) we had to decide what we would change. This choice was limited by the yellow sticky notes we had placed in the box for step 2(b). It was decided that our changed variable would be the type of towel used. This decision was prompted by reminding the students that what we wanted to test, today, was which type of towel was the most absorbent. Consequently, the yellow sticky note reading “type of towel” was placed on the “changed variable box” of step 3 (a).

Our next decision was how we would measure of observe the result. This process was starting to go over the heads of some of the students plus their attention was starting to lag but when I told them that this was really a multiple choice question and all they had to do was choose one of the pink sticky notes from step 2(a) for us to put there they perked back up. The choices we had previously recorded on pick sticky notes in step 2(a) were:

  • How much water was spilled? (initial volume)
  • How long does it take to clean up? (time)
  • How much water gets soaked up by the towels? (final volume)
  • How big is each type of towel? (size)

We voted to determine that the quantity we would measure would be time and we would use the second hand on the classroom clock to measure it. So the pink sticky note that read “How long does it take to clean up? (Time)” was moved to the appropriate box on poster three.

Step 3(b) on poster three asks “What will we not change?” so the remaining yellow sticky notes were moved here.

Moving on to poster four all we had to do was move the pink and yellow sticky note from poster three, step 3 (a) onto step 4. Therefore it read, “If we change the type of towel what will happen to how long it takes to clean up (time)?”

Eureka! We have successfully initiated and planned a controlled experiment! But . . .we are out of time.

The students are told that tomorrow they will start by making their predictions and then we will be able to get on to the actual experiment!

“Yay! Another day with no work! We love science!”

See the next blog posting : Testing the Absorbency of Paper Towels and the Sham-wowTM!

Part Three – Using the Smarter Science Framework to Perform, Record, Analyze and Interpret the Inquiry (Posting 18)

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