A place to share ideas about play in a Prep classroom

Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

The Little Mouse,The Red Ripe Strawberry and the BIG Hungry Bear

In Prep we read lots of stories. Every week I choose a story to really explore indepth with the children, focussing on current literacy and oral language outcomes. This week’s book is one of my all time favourites. Written and illustrated by Don and Audrey Wood, The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear presents us with lots of opportunities to explore some interesting text concepts and challenge our comprehension skills as we search for answers to questions that may be found “in the book” or “in my head”. Concepts we are currently learning in our QAR program.










To extend this learning a little further I have placed a strawberry plant, some facts about strawberries, 2 magnifying glasses and the book on a low table in book area.













Today was probably our fourth reading of the book , and afterwards we looked at and discussed the strawberry plant, matching illustrations to plant observations. The children were very interested in how the flower transforms into a strawberry and as our plant is in various stages of fruiting, they were able to explore this process first hand. They were able to observe the yellow flower centres













and what happens as the petals fall off the flowers and the centre grows and changes colour to become a strawberry.










Reading our Strawberry Fact poster 










and hanging strawberry shapes which, thanks to the wind today, entwined themselves just like on a real vine.













We discovered that strawberries are the only fruit with their seeds on the outside. Naturally we had to use the magnifying glasses and the digital microscope to investigate this fact and sure enough we could see the seeds quite clearly.










It was a bit too tricky to count the seeds but our fact sheet told us there are usually approx. 200 seeds on each strawberry. Perhaps we’ll try counting them again tomorrow.

This wonderful book also provides lots of opportunities to pose questions to challenge our thinking and problem solving skills including –

  • If you were the mouse how would you pick the strawberry?
  • How would you disguise the strawberry?
  • What would you do to protect the strawberry?
  • What would you do if the big hungry bear found the strawberry?  (This question could lead to lots of philosophical discussions about sharing .)

All of which we will explore using a variety of mediums as the week progresses. Other planned experiences include-

  • cutting trawberries in half and investigating the inner part of the fruit, along with lots of tasting.
  • using observation skills to draw and record the shape of the leaves, the various stages of fruiting and the runners with their roots and shoots.
  • planting the runners to propogate more plants

We will also be watching the story’s Youtube video with text , stopping on the pages with questions and problem solving where we will find the answers to the questions ie. “In the Book” or “In my head.” This story is a great text for finding answers to  “in my Head” questions due to the narrator being the person reading the story. A different perspective for a children’s book. Love it!!


Our Tinkering Table

Throughout the year I have been fascinated to observe the intensity of thought that some of my preppies have put into their block constructions. One child in particular, carefully selects and considers the placement of each and every block he uses. His constructions and their exploration of balance, shape and complexity are astonishing.










Late last term he brought in some metal nuts, bolts and springs he had collected from the site where a bus had been repaired after breaking down. He asked if he could look at them on the light box and experimented with putting them together in interesting shapes and patterns. It was only whilst discussing these loose parts with him, and listening to his thinking about where they might have belonged on the bus, that I realised he was interested in, not just how things were constructed but also how they could be deconstructed and so our Tinkering Table was born!

I had seen a post on the wonderful blog Irresistable Ideas for Play Based about just such a table and immediately looked for a place in the classroom to add our own version of it. For now we are using the water trough because it stops the different parts and paraphernalia from falling to the floor but with summer fast approaching I will soon need to find an alternative.  

Our sound for the week was /v/ and so it seemed appropriate that the first object we should deconstruct was a vacuum cleaner. We added a set of screw drivers and waited to see what would happen.













At first the children explored the vacuum cleaner as a whole, opening and closing all the different compartments. They were excited to discover the cord could still be pulled out and retracted. An action they repeated over and over again. I was interested to observe that it was only after I posed the question “I wonder how that works?” that some of the children, including the child who had collected the nuts and bolts from the bus, chose to begin using the screw drivers and try to open it up.










Once they got started, the children demonstrated great persistence and concentration as they used the screw drivers and there was lots of celebrating when the first screw was finally undone. One down……… many, many more to go!










Mathematical understandings were enhanced as the children matched the size and type of screw driver required to the screws, learning during the process, the difference between flat headed and phillips head screws.










As one part was opened up another problem would arise, as the children worked together to think through what needed to be undone next. They discovered that there was a system to deconstruction, just as there is a method to construction.













The children have also discovered that deconstruction is not a quick process but when another part have been released from the screws holding it together, they are another step closer to finding out how it all works.










After 2 weeks of hard work the children have finally gotten through to the section of the vacuum that contains the motor and we are all really looking forward to this next stage of deconstruction.

Who would have thought that a simple everyday vacuum cleaner, a machine that can be found in almost every home would become such a long term and interesting project? Certainly not me….. but from now on I think that, just as construction with blocks and other materials is an everyday activity in our classroom, so too will be deconstruction at our very own Tinkering Table.


V is for Vortex

Our sound for this week is /v/ and our Did You Know……… Interesting Fact for the week is about vortices.










Every Monday morning we discuss our Did You Know……. fact and I usually show a video about the subject as well on the Interactive Whiteboard. This weeks video was from SincScience#08 and is called The Beauty of the Vortex. In the video the children are shown how a vortex is created using a spinning motion. The children used their prior knowledge to relate this back to how water goes down a plug hole and when they heard the water gurgling began to use the Jolly Phonics action for the sound /g/, which is also a spinning action. They made comments such as “it’s like a tornedo” and “I can see a whirlpool”. They were fascinated by the images taken by a camera as it moved up and down inside the vortex and we discussed why there was no water on the camera lens even though it was in water.

I love the way science engages children in thinking, problem solving and oral language  and can be related back to their everyday lives. Here is the link to  the YouTube video –  http://youtu.be/GkbMJSeI25Q.

The video clearly shows how a votex is created by a spinning motion and we explored this further using our ribbons.













The children experimented with spinning and twirling the ribbons quickly and slowly and how the speed effects the spiral shape and effect.










The rainbow pattern of the ribbons created  similar images to the ones seen in the vortex video.










During Play Time  several bottles of coloured water, joined at the neck with a connector, were available for the children to shake and spin to create a vortex inside a bottle.













This activitiy was also a great opportunity to use their upper body and hand muscles as the children shook the bottles.






They were very interested in the waterfall effect created in the lower bottle.













The children also tried looking down the inner part of the vortex just like in the video and even though this was unsuccessful, the conversations about why, were thought provoking and required lots of thinking and problem solving.













Some children recorded their observations of the vortex.










Their interest in spirals and concentric circles was further explored and exhanced as they created and used them in other areas of the classroom including the overhead projector.











Concentric circles……











Loose parts.




















and drawing.










This drawing was also provoked through our exploration of the abstract work of Kandinsky, whose art was displayed and observed in the classroom and on the IWB.










I’ll write about this in another post.

From phonics to……. science to…….. loose parts to……. art……… it’s all part of the learning in a Prep classroom.

The Gentle Sound of Colour

Whilst investigating colour and light I placed some glass bottles filled with coloured water near one of our large bright windows. These bottles caught the children’s eye and invited them to explore the way the light shines through them and the effect of different coloured bottles being put together to reveal a new colour through the light.











Whilst playing with the bottles the children enjoyed the sound they made when knocked together. The next day I placed some glass jars with coloured water near another window along with a small silver fork.











The children seemed to be drawn to these as well and enjoyed making their own music, exploring and experimenting with the different sounds and ways to tap the jars with the fork.

In another area of the room they were provided with more glass jars and jugs of coloured water which they poured and filled and emptied to varying levels observing the differences in sounds and tones. They explored this simple music making experience for a long time and when they moved on and began to play and explore new ideas and interests I chose to leave the original bottles and jars in the classroom.











Even now, after several weeks have passed and the classroom is busy and loud, I often hear the gentle tinkling sounds of the coloured water and look over to see a child enjoying the process of making music.

Time for Mastery

Over the last few weeks, one of the children in my class has been totally engrossed in using pippettes. Her interest was piqued when we were experimenting with milk, paint and detergent to create a Storm in a Saucer. Initially she had difficulty using the pippettes and needed lots of help.  After several days we ran out of milk and as  her interest was still very strong, I put out paper towels and water paint to give her further opportunities for practice and exploration. Each day she would sit for long periods of time dropping paint onto the paper, and with every day that passed she developed more and more control over the pippettes until  she was able to drop the paint skillfully wherever she wanted it on the paper.












As I observed her persistence and total engagement with the process, I was reminded of just how important it is to give children opportunities to practise and master skills.














Life at school can be very busy and in our haste to provide our children with lots of different learning opportunities and experiences I sometimes wonder if, in some respects, we are teaching children to become a jack of all trades and master of none. If I had stopped putting out the pippettes after the first experiment, would my young preppie have been disadvantaged in terms of fine motor development? Probably not. There are plenty of other opportunities for developing fine motor skills in our classroom. Would she have continued to explore colour? Probably, because this is a strong interest in our classroom at the moment and there are, again, lots of  opportunities for colour exploration and experimentation. Would she have gained a deep understanding of the science involved in using pippettes and the skill of controlling this tool, not just for art but for other learning areas as well? Probably not. Without this deep understanding would she be able to apply the knowledge she has gained, to create patterns and other imaginative representations? Probably not. Would her self esteem and personal learning skills have been enhanced without the opportunity to persist in using the pippettes? Probably not.

As a teacher I need to consider the bigger picture. By giving her time and plenty of opportunity to practice, this young child has learnt so much more that the original learning intention of the first experiment. She has mastered a useful tool, she has gained deep understandings about the science of pippettes through experimentation, trial and error, thinking and problem solving and is able to apply this knowledge to other situations. Her self esteem has been enhanced as she progressed from squirting the entire amount of paint out in 1 squeeze to being able to carefully control where and how much paint is dropped out. I loved watching her engagement in the process, her complete focus and intense concentration and whilst she would leave the activity to do other things she would continue to return and explore and experiment. She was setting her own challenges using her interests and thinking and problem solving whilst persisting to build her skill base. Something that I strive for when facilitating a child negotiated, play based curriculum.

Storm in a Saucer

Active Learning Processes is one of the five Learning Areas in our Early Years curriculum and over the last few weeks, we have been very involved in investigating colour. These investigations to date, have included the light box, lots of experimentation with materials and of course paint. In Small Groups this week the children’s thinking was challenged as they were invited to experiment with milk, food dye and detergent. When presented with these ingredients the children discussed what they thought they could do  and predict what might happen. Naturally, after all the colour mixing they have done, the children suggested they could drip the food dyes into the  milk and make new colours by mixing them together but if that was the case, why did they have green paint? Green is not a primary colour! It took some investigation to discover that the “green paint”  was in fact detergent. It was thicker and had a smell! It was harder to suck up into the pippette.  







The children began to drip the 3 primary colours into the milk expecting them to make new colours just like with the paint but they quickly discovered that the food colours did not mix together in the milk.































WOW! Look what is happening.

















The children found it interesting to observe the speed of the reaction and the way the food dye moved and “swirled” to make the new colours.








After their initial experiment the children documented the reactions using crayons.















After this the children continued to experiment and hypothesise about why the ingredients reacted the way they did. They found the process fascinating and fun.











“It’s like a tornedo in the milk.”      “Look at it moving”     “It’s still going.”

The children repeated the process over and over again until the milk was lots of strange and interesting colours.












The children still haven’t quite worked out the reason why the ingredients react the way they do but they are certainly enjoying the active discovery process. I’m sure they’ll get there in the end perhaps with a little help and some strategic questioning to scaffold some higher order thinking but for now it’s the wonder in the process.