Sixth graders are innately curious about the world around them. However, sometimes channeling that curiosity and energy is a bit difficult. To channel that energy and provide support for conceptual learning, exploration activities are a great context to introduce concepts. The activity below is an exploration my pre-service teachers and I conducted with 6th graders.
We started the lesson by asking kids, “How can we change a piece of paper?” Students typically suggest folding, tearing, crumpling, getting it wet, or burning the paper. When they say both crumpling and folding, we ask the students to consider how those two changes are similar. If students don’t say one of the four (folding, tearing, wetting, burning) we were prepared to ask a question to introduce the idea. For example, we might ask, “How could we change the number of pieces of paper we have?” to push kids toward tearing.
As students suggest these four, we wrote them across the top of the board. Then, we give students their task. We draw a table using the four changes (folding, tearing, wetting, burning) as the first item in each column. Then, we say to students, “we are going to try to find other changes that are similar to these different kinds of changes”. After noting the task we show students their available materials:
- Baking soda
- Food Coloring
- paper cups
Before letting students jump into their exploration, we ask some safety questions such as: “Why should we use as little material as we can to investigate potential changes?” After some brief safety discussion we turn students loose to investigate changes. Of course, while students are investigating we keep moving around the groups to ensure they remain focused on the conceptual thinking we are after. That is, we often have to prompt students by asking, “How does the change you’ve observed relate to the changes in the paper?”
At the end of the lesson we ask students to share their observations as a class and why they think various observations align with various changes in the paper. From here, in subsequent lessons, we can discuss how some changes are reversible and others are not and what evidence we use to determine the differences among changes.
If there is some possible downtime at the end of class, or to extend the lesson, we ask some questions related to the nature of science. For example, we might ask:
- In what way is your exploration like what scientists do?
- How did your activity require creativity? Why do scientists have to use creativity?
- You tried to fit your observations into categories, why do you think scientists try to organize things into categories?
- The observations of the paper changes may have affected your thinking about the new changes you observed. How do you think scientists’ past experiences affect their work?
We had a great time with this activity. I’m sure you will to!