Posts Tagged ‘science teaching’

“How do you sink an orange?”, and other floating and sinking conundrums…

If you follow us on Twitter, you may have been racking your brains over our recent science pub quiz question, “How do you sink an orange?” Read on…

FloatingOrangeStep2

FLOATING AND SINKING

‘Floating and Sinking’; that well-known chestnut of primary science experimentation. I suspect this is one experiment that many teachers dread, for fear of flooded classrooms, sodden literacy books and angry parents demanding to know why little Tarquin has come home with a soggy jumper. To be fair, this is wholly understandable- it takes more than a faint heart to give 30+ children carte blanche with tanks full of water!

However, it really is worth avoiding the concomitant temptation to make floating and sinking experiments entirely teacher-led. In my experience, trusting the children (and telling them that you are trusting them), along with clear ground rules, really do pay off, and if you make the experiment interesting and pacy enough, most children shouldn’t need to resort to splashing.

EQUIPMENT TO USE

if you can find one, a fishtank is good to use at the front of the class, for ease of viewing through the clear sides (chat to the caretaker, most schools seem to have the relics of a failed aquarium somewhere). However, the disadvantage is that they are very heavy and awkward to move when full of water. A cheaper, easier and still effective container is a basic clear plastic box, the kind that staffrooms/store cupboards are full of. (I temporarily emptied out some Spanish resources to pinch the boxes for an afternoon). It’s good to get as many as you can of these, my personal preference is to have 4 or 5 groups with a ‘tank’ each. This means they can all see, all get chance to have a go, and hopefully stay more engaged.

If you’re really not sure about having several tables running the experiment at once, this could be a one-group-at-a-time activity . Many KS1 classrooms have a water tray, KS2 classrooms could even try to pinch one of these for a lesson.

When it comes to choosing objects for conducting the experiment with, it’s good to try and deviate from the obvious examples. Yes, you want some easily predictable ones in there, but try and maintain interest (and stretch the more able), by bringing in some more unexpected objects, that might not react as they expect… you could even pick a silly object like a pineapple, a toy or somesuch – maybe not the most scientific on the surface, but it keeps the experiment fun, keeps the kids talking and you’d be surprised how these things can actually spark off scientific conversations

Try..

1) A paper clip

2) a heavy rubber ball, about the size of an orange.

3) an orange

4) a biro

The ball and the orange are an interesting pair. If you pick a dense enough ball, it should sink, while the orange will float. This is due to the orange’s air-filled, pitted skin, but it’s good not to explain this; If anything, leave it open for talk partner time, or a possible extension to the investigation…

EXTENDING THE INVESTIGATION 1 – PLASTICINE BOATS

Plasticine is a great material to use for floating and sinking, and to introduce surface area/density. A small, dense ball of plasticine sinks, but a boat or raft shape will float; as an extension, let the kids investigate the different shapes – what will they have to do to make it float? Why does it work?

EXTENDING THE INVESTIGATION 2  – SINKING AN ORANGE

So, we’re left with our orange conundrum. Next, take a single segment of orange and ask the children if they think it will float or sink. As it is smaller, and part of the same fruit, most will predict that it too will float. Drop it in, and watch the perplexed faces as it sinks! Get the children talking about what the differences might be, and why a smaller object sinks when the bigger one floats. A next step is to give the children an orange in each tank and ask them to make it sink. They will see that even holding it under water doesn’t make it sink for long, as each time it bobs back up. They should hit on the idea of peeling it and segmenting it. Can they work out what the most important thing they did was? You could demonstrate how the peel works by putting a ball in a rubber ring – it’s essentially the same effect.

As a further extension, you could even give each group a whole, peeled orange and see if they can get it to float again. we did this immediately after the plasticine boats experiment at a science club, and it was really interesting to see them synthesise their knowledge. Some children tried to place it on a boat or raft, some tried to spread the surface area by segmenting it and then placing it on a raft, while others tried to make a plasticine ‘peel’ for the orange. All of the ideas were valid, even if they didn’t work, and all the kids were having great’ science talk’, a key facet of the new curriculum.

SUMMING UP

So, in conclusion, I guess my main point here is “don’t be afraid to experiment and risk a few splashes”! Deviating slightly from the standard, safe options into more child-led learning will give some great results. Now, which other fruits can I try to sink? Next on the list is a kumquat…

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PRIMARY SCIENTISTS?

“Scientist”… a word weighed down by connotations of lab coats, goggles, Albert Einstein and Doc from ‘Back to the Future’. But let’s have a look at what it actually means. Over to you, Google…

sci·en·tist

/ˈsīəntist/

Noun

A person who is studying or has expert knowledge of one or more of the natural or physical sciences

We always focus on that middle part, the expert knowledge. That’s just one part of being a scientist. Let’s skip that bit, and see how the definition reads now:

sci·en·tist

/ˈsīəntist/

A person who is studying of one or more of the natural or physical sciences.

Think of it that way, and all school children are, if given the opportunity, scientists. By extension, any adult who shares in their learning and questioning of the primary curriculum with them is a scientist as well.  Chances are, if you’re reading this, that’s you.

Investigating magnets, looking at different kinds of animal, pond dipping, comparing rocks;  if you’re looking at it and questioning it – ‘working scientifically’, in the words of the new curriculum – you are a scientist.

“Whoa there!” we hear you say. “So maybe I don’t have to be an expert to be a scientist, but as a primary teacher, I’m expected to be an expert on EVERYTHING!”

Well, yes, quite. The new draft curriculum is incredibly heavy on subject knowledge. Year 1 children identifying Willow and Horse Chestnut trees. Year 3 children picking out sedimentary from igneous rocks. Year 4s giving examples of speciation. There’s a heck of a lot of knowledge for kids (and teachers) to get their heads around. Recently, I attended a course run by a former headteacher and lead Ofsted inspector. She said that “subject knowledge is one of the biggest obstacles to outstanding science lessons”.

Despite all this, we really do feel that if you have the inspiration and the curiosity, there are plenty of opportunities to pick up the subject knowledge. And that’s where the Primary Scientists blog comes in. Already, on the internet, this subject knowledge is floating around, waiting to be snapped up; there are so many great resources out there from specialist organisations. Often though, you need to do a bit of digging for them, and frequently these resources aren’t accompanied by any really creative ideas to aid their use. At Primary Scientists, we aim to make it all a bit more digestible and inspiring. We want to highlight what is useful and engaging. We will compile some of the best resources, and share our own ideas and experiences of actually using them in the classroom. We’ll add our own humble voices to the reams of subject knowledge, along with our own stories, thoughts, resources and photos. Anything on this site will be free to use. All we ask is that you share us with your friends and colleagues, and maybe give us the odd re-tweet.

Speaking personally, we are scientists with degrees and conservation experience. As primary teachers, we are scientists too. Our aim is to blend both of these aspects to bring subject knowledge and curiosity to your classroom via useful ideas, resources, lesson plans and tidbits of information. Most of all, we want to pass on our excitement for the sciences and sharing them with children.

Us. You. The children we all teach. Together, we are Primary Scientists.

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