Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sink and Float Put to the Test

Almost every classroom I have ever been in or visited has had the work Sink and Float out for use. If you were to walk into my room today you would easily be able to find it.

It is a very basic science material. The tray ususally contains a bowl, a pitcher, a sponge, a pair of tongs, a container holding about a dozen small, familiar objects that either sink or float and the lables: sink, float. The child uses an apron and a placemat with the work. She removes all of the items from the tray, returns the tray to the shelf and then pours a pitcherfull of water into the bowl. Next, using the tongs, they place one of the items into the water and judge whether or not it sinks or floats. Using the tongs, they remove the item and place it under the correct label. They then continue on with the remaining objects.

It is a wonderful early work. However, it can very quickly become a splash and play exercise. Mis-use is very common with this material. Sleeves often become soaked. I am planning on making the vinyl sleeve covers that were displayed on the blog Montessori by Hand last year to reduce the requests from children to change their clothes after doing work that involves water.

Because of the misuse and because so often Sink and Float and its companion work, Magnetic / Non-Magnetic are the only science materials on the shelves year after year children become bored with the work. Last Spring, Cristina and I brain stormed on some extensions for this work. Our list included 1) Filling a lidded jar with water so as to roll it across a printed page as one uses a magnifying glass. 2) Cutting a nickle sized hole in a small piece of paper, placing a strip of tape completely over the cut out hole and placing the taped hole over an object that could be magnified like a leaf or newsprint. Then, using an eyedropper - drop a large droplet of water on to the tape covered hole and seeing through the droplet a magnified image of the leaf or print. We did not imagine building small ships and testing materials for its anchor. The results being qualified by whether or not the anchor sunk or floated to the surface.

This week I put out some Christopher Columbus hand-outs for the children to illustrate. Shortly after I placed them, I was walking across the room with an empty tissue box headed for the garbage. I spotted Dylan on the way and heard myself spontaneously say, "Do you think you could make a boat like one of Christopher Columbus' from this?" His answered in an instant, "Yeah!" Then Meaghan asked, "Do you have anything I could use to make a boat too?" I looked in my closet and answered,"I only have two egg cartons." "Those will do," she answered. I went to the staff lounge and returned with a handful of coffee stir sticks and Dunkin Donut straws. On the way to their table, I grabbed tape and white paper for sails. After I dropped off the materials, I sat down and presented substration with the small number rods to another student.

It wasn't until the next morning, when I saw Dylan walking across the room with a large bin we use for snack plates - but now empty -, did I return my attention to this work. Then, when I saw him walking again across the room with a large pitcher of water, I stood up from the lesson I was giving and said, "Please let me know what you are doing. Describe or explain it to me." That was when Meaghan looked at me very seriously and said, "Miss Dyer, we need to know if it sinks or floats."

I walked over to catch sight of a small, snipped bundle of straws with string tightly wrapped around it. One end of the string was taped to the back of one of the boats. I also noted that the boats had become just that - boats. They had independently crafted small sailing vessels. Each had a name. Dylan's was named "Sailor" and Meaghan's was "One Dozen." She had cut the label off the box and taped it to one of the taller masts. In each of the egg cups she had made small items represented passengers - one dozen passengers. I looked at them, I heard my heart beating and said, "Go ahead." The next thing I heard was water pouring from the pitcher into the large blue bin. "It sounds like a waterfall," Meaghan said. "Think about the word - water is falling," I interjected. "Oh yeah," was her answer as she re-taped her bundle of straws.

When Dylan placed his straw anchor in the water he did so in front of a small crowd which included the head of my school. It floated to the surface and so did Meaghan's. They cut the straw anchors loose.

Next, they took small beach stones that I had on a shelf and carefully wrapped yarn and tape around them. Again, they taped the free end of the yarn to the back of their boats - each boat now had a stone anchor. Next, they placed their boats, one at a time, into the bin of water. This time the anchor sunk to the bottom securing their boats in place.

After they pulled their ships from the water they began making adjustments. They strengthened the anchor rope by changing it from tape/yarn to pipe cleaners. They prepared their vessels for their next outing.

Below are the boats "docked" and waiting to be taken home on Friday.

The head of our school asked them to describe, define what an anchor was. "It holds the boat still. It keeps it in one place," was their correct answer.

After several minutes, I thought to myself, "Okay, that was great but now it needs to come to a conclusion. I need to help them know and accept that the work is done." I walked over to them as they fiddled with their anchors and asked them, "Did you find your answer regarding whether it would sink or float?" "Yes, the straws did not work. We needed to use something much heavier," Meaghan answered. "Okay, then the work is done. Now it is time to put everything away and to write about your work and your discoveries. Scientist always record the results of their investigations," I said. And that was it. They picked up everything, carefully secured their boats and moved on to snack. It came to a conclusion before their focus was lost and the possibility of an enormous spill grew. They told me today that they are getting together at Meaghan's house to test their boats in her family's hot tub.

I have begun planning Practical Life work that echoes this work and resonates life near a major sea-side city, Boston. I have decided to introduce Sailor Knots to the Practical Life area placing it next to the dressing frames. I will update all of you on its success.


Anonymous said...
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Ayelet said...

That is just the coolest thing! Thanks for your help with the work (I'm here from the Yahho group) :)

Deb Chitwood said...

I love your sink and float descriptions, photos and extensions! How great that the children developed their own extension. I featured your photo and post at