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Early childhood education has been my life for over 30 years. I have taught all age groups from infants to 5-year-olds. I was a director for five years in the 1980s, but I returned to the classroom 22 years ago. My passion is watching the ways children explore and discover their world. In the classroom, everything starts with the reciprocal relationships between adults and children and between the children themselves. With that in mind, I plan and set up activities. But that is just the beginning. What actually happens is a flow that includes my efforts to invite, respond and support children's interface with those activities and with others in the room. Oh yeh, and along the way, the children change the activities to suit their own inventiveness and creativity. Now the processes become reciprocal with the children doing the inviting, responding and supporting. Young children are the best learners and teachers. I am truly fortunate to be a part of their journey.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The art of scientific inquiry

Last week I wrote about new additions to the channel board apparatus.  I added a gutter sponge, a piece of tree bark and a tube connected to a funnel that emptied into the channel with the DriCore squares.
I was disappointed with how the sponge and bark channels worked out.  Basically, the water would flow under those two elements with little effect.  The tube, on the other hand, was the most salient element for the children.  There seemed to be no end to the how the children experimented with the water coming out of the tube.  Let me give you some examples.

In the first example, the children found a bottle with a narrow neck that they pushed up the tube to block the flow of water out of the tube.  They then tried to figure out if they could pour enough water into the tube to make the bottle fall out.  The bottle filled up and water did squirt out the sides, but it did not fall the first time.  You can't see it in the video, but two children then poured water into the tube almost simultaneously.  The water squirted out the sides of the bottle with more force and then pushed the bottle out of the tube to their great delight.

Tube hydraulics from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

At the end of the video, one of the children summed up the experiment when he said: "See, it flushes out."

In the next video, the children changed their research slightly.   They found a different bottle with a wider mouth so it fit over the tube instead of inside the tube.  Two children poured water into the tube and then came around to watch to see if the bottle fell.  They watched intently, but it didn't fall.  The bottle filled up and water spilled out the top of the bottle, but it still didn't fall.  They kept trying and finally coordinated their efforts to pour enough water fast enough so the bottle was launched down the channel.

Tube hydraulics 2 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

This video was spliced because it took a long time for the children to get this bottle to move.  Constantly adjusting the variables of how and when to pour the water and their persistence paid off to their great satisfaction.

Besides experimenting with plugging the tube, they also experimented with how to change the flow of water coming out of the tube.  To that end, they inserted a blue funnel into the tube.  At the start of the video, one child handed another child a pot of water to pour down the tube.  After he did that, he positioned himself at the mouth of the funnel to get the best view of the flow of water out of the tube into the funnel.  Another child joined him and, head-against-head, they watched as the water poured out of the tube into the funnel.

Changing the flow from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

To tell you the truth, I am not sure what was more exciting, seeing the water flow out of the tube into the funnel or watching that flow head-against-head?  There can certainly be a palpable joy to joint scientific endeavors.

These same children took that same funnel and turned it around to see how that would change the flow of water coming out of the tube.   With the mouth of the funnel over the tube, the child with the pot went to the end of the table to pour water down the tube.  Two of the children got up close and personal to the end of the funnel to get a good view of how the water flows coming out of the funnel.  The water gushed out and the two jumped back.

Flow experimenting 2 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Because the narrow end of the funnel constricts the water flow, it gushed out with more force.   That startled them enough to jump back in joy and delight and for one of them to exclaim: "That surprised us!" 

There were countless other experiments with the water coming out of the the tube.  With all that exploration, did the children know they were doing research into physics with such things as the force of fluids under pressure or how changing the aperture of the hole affects water flow?  Certainly not, but on an unconscious level, they are building a body logic that lays the foundation for later inquiry into and understanding of hydraulics.  Not only that, these experiments create a social and emotional bound for art of scientific inquiry. 

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