Friday, April 24, 2009
What is so oily about oil?
On Monday, the first day after Spring break, Zoe walked up to me, having been in the classroom for less than ten minutes, and said, "I had an idea on Saturday and waited until today to ask you about it," she said.
"What is your idea?" I answered.
"Oil and water don't mix, I know that. But what's in oil that makes it not mix with water?" she asked.
"How do you think you can answer that?" I replied.
"I want to get out the oil and water tray and try to figure it out," she said.
A half an hour later, she and Meaghan were busy testing a variety of substances to see if oil would mix with them. They asked for small bowls so often that eventually I gave them permission to go where almost no one goes but me - my storage cabinets. They were very respectful and carefully took what they needed. They did this the first time, the second time and the third time.
I could not help but think of Maria Montessori's story regarding her assistants' reports of children breaking into cabinets to get to the materials. In actuality, they loved the work so much that they simply could not wait to re-experience using them, day after day. Maria Montessori wrote extensively about this in-built desire to do challenging and purposeful work.
An adult coming into my classroom might think that Zoe and Meaghan were also "breaking in" or more likely touching what was not theirs to touch. But, they had been given permission and they simply wanted to find the materials that they needed to accomplish their work.
The amount of writing that they were doing was also impressive. They stated their question : Why does oil mix with things like food but not water?
Then listed the various combinations that they were testing to see if they would mix together:
1.oil and water
2. oil and flour
3. oil and food coloring
4. oil and sugar
5. oil and alka seltzer
6. oil and hands (they got a lot of oil on their hands)
7. oil and vinegar
They decided that if they could pour off the oil (photo below)
or if they could remove it from the surface (photo below) then the oil did not mix with the other substance.
Just before the end of the morning, the two girls came to me and said, "Oil and water don't mix. Okay, but water freezes. If we freeze a bowl of oil and water will the oil freeze too? And, can we freeze all of our bowls with the other things like oil and sugar to see if they freeze?"
I looked at two girls who had spent almost three hours writing and testing various combinations to find the answers to their questions regarding oil and its ability to mix with a least 7 separate substances.
"You can freeze samples of your work but not large bowls as I don't have enough room in the staff freezer. A sample of each should give you your answers," I said while a four year old tugged on my sleeve anxious to report that another four year old had told her that she was not her friend anymore.
"What is a sample," Zoe asked.
"It's like when they take a sample of your blood for a test at the doctor's," I answered while the four year old looked at me with fresh tears running down her face.
"Yeah, they can only take a sample of your blood for tests because if they take all of your blood you die," Meaghan interjected with a matter of fact tone.
I excused myself so as to redirect the weeping four year old. By the time the other children were lining up for the playground, Zoe and Meaghan had prepared several small dishes to be placed in the freezer.
When they arrived the next morning they were anxious to see the results. I suggested that they first make a list of what they had put into the freezer so that they could note what samples froze and what did not. They went right to work:
Above: They got out the sight (puzzle) words to help them with their spelling.
Above: I placed the tray of samples that had been in the freezer overnight on their table.
Below: They examined the samples and found that the oil separated from all the substances and did not completely freeze:
Below: The girls examine their samples.
Then they wrote a description that matched most of the samples that had been kept in the freezer overnight:
Its not lick wid like wotr
Its not solid like a rock
its a thic lick wid like jam
It is not liquid like water
It is not solid like a rock
It is a thick liquid like jam
Their work has inspired me to make cards for the classroom similar to the Land, Air, Water and Fire cards, only these will be Liquid, Solid, Gas.