Sunday, May 08, 2011

Sciencing activity: color blending

While I was in college one of my elem. ed. classes was on how to teach science. Having gotten that far in the world of education, we college students thought we had a pretty good idea of what science was and how it should be taught. Then we showed up for Prof. Jonas Cox's constructivist science class. He drove us completely crazy. He put out toothpicks and marshmallows and told us, "See what you can discover." He made us come up with our own rules for how things worked (scientifically) and basically turned all our ideas about teaching science upside-down. It was a pretty stressful class! But as time went on, and especially in the years since those college days, I have come to appreciate Prof. Cox and this class more and more. He so strongly emphasized letting students learn by doing, and then showed us what that looks like by making us do it! I've taken a lot from his teaching strategies over the years and when we began to talk about homeschooling I knew that I wanted to use the Sciencing tasks as a foundational piece of any science learning we would do. This book (pictured below) has a lengthy introduction explaining the how and why of the tasks included in the rest of the book. Then the rest of the book is just one fascinating task after another for students to do that will help them construct scientific concepts. It's pretty stressful to use with a large group, since everyone is supposed to be learning at their own pace and you as teacher have to kind of keep them all all different directions! But with a small group it can be really fun. They still end up all going in different directions. But they are all learning! I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to get out of the "textbook" style of teaching science; or at least to supplement it with some excellent tasks that help students to build scientific concepts on their own, rather than simply reading about them and doing a follow-up worksheet.

The task that we were doing this day was learning about colors and what happens when you blend them together. Basically the protocol is that you provide the three primary colors to the kids, some kind of dropper (I used basting things that you would use in the kitchen), and a bunch of cups. Then they begin to experiment. I have a series of questions and suggestions that I can present to them as I see what they are experimenting with. But they are driving the activity. I did quite a bit of prep work and thinking to make sure that this would be a pretty mess-free activity and we still went through several huge towels, an almost entire roll of paper towels, and dripped around the kitchen. But it wasn't as bad as it could have been! The cookie sheet definitely helped.

The boys quickly learned that if they mixed all the colors together, it would make black. So they spent a lot of time just doing this over and over again in varying concentrations. They reacted with hilarity and thought it was a new discovery each time.

Some of the suggestions I made where things like, "What happens if you mix these two together...or these two? Can you make it darker? etc." After a while we added oil to see what would happen. The results were not at all what I expected, so I learned something new too.
O Boy could have spent all day doing this. Eventually he started stacking the cups (with oily colored water in them) to add even more excitement to the activity.

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