I occassionally find time to sit and simply listen to a child articulate their scientific findings to me. That happened during the last week of school.
This particular child has a rather soft voice when she speaks in the classroom so listening to her sometimes sounds as if your are simply listening to her speak softly to herself. This is especially true when she is captivated by a work. Thinking back on it now, I remember asking myself whether I was eavesdropping on a private conversation. Yet, I know what my role was then and now. I am the chronicler of her discoveries. I am her scribe.
The first time I saw the look of astonishment on her face was months ago. She was doing work with magnets. As the lesson had instructed, she taped a string tied to a paper clip to her table. Then she took a large magnet and drew the paper clip up high with it. The moment of astonishment came when the paper clip hovered just below the magnet. The magnet held the clip up off the table but was not touching it.
Perhaps I wasn't the only one in the room that saw the beauty of this young girl's face when she had performed magnetic magic. Another student requested to paint her portrait not long after. I saw these two girls from across the room and snapped a picture for my own keeping.
And then, months later, this same young girl, who was mesmerized by the power of a magnet, took out the "Oil and Water Don't Mix" tray. Upon her request, I added some food coloring to the water to highlight the oil on the surface.
"See the bubbles, Miss Dyer. Some of them are so small," she said as she leaned forward to look at them.
"Are they really bubbles or more like circles of oil?" I asked.
The young girl lifted a q-tip and touched one of the bubbles.
"Real bubbles pop when you touch them. This bubble didn't so its just a circle. Its not a bubble," she decided.
I acknowledge her statement and then just sat quietly and waited and watched. It wasn't long before she was telling me more about her observations.
"Do you see, Miss Dyer, how the water is at the bottom and the oil is at the top. That is because the water sinks and the oil floats. That is like our "Sink and Float" work," she said, making another declaration of discovery.
"What would happen if you put a crab in the water. Would it get covered with oil? And would it sink or float if it was?" I asked.
"I put the crab in, but the bottom is so dark that it is hard to see anything. How can I know if it sinks or floats if I can't find it? If something falls to the bottom of the ocean you can't see it," she said as she attempted to scoop up the crab.
"Here it is. Look, it has oil all over it. I don't think crabs like having oil on their bodies," she stated.
"When people spill oil in the ocean from their boats the oil covers the fish and all of the other living things. They are trying to come up with ways to clean the oil off of them without hurting them. Some people volunteer to do work like that," I said in an equally soft voice.
"You have to be very gentle. You shouldn't hurt animals," she said as she carefully wiped the crab clean and then placed it on a small cloth, one of many I have made for the classroom.
"There is one more thing, Miss Dyer. Let me show you," she said as she began touching the small circles of oil with the spoon. "When one of the circles of oil touches another they join and make one big circle. That is like math. Two small things make one big thing. That is what I really like about this work. It makes me think of math."
The longer she stayed with the work the more "discoveries" she made and the more focused on the work she became. I wish I could sit with all my students, one on one, for longer and longer periods of time. Its just not possible. Yet, I treasure the times I able to.