It was amazingly sunny and warm here in Juneau, Alaska today. I think it got up to 68. It was ideal weather for part of today's science projects as the sun's bright rays filtered through the colored water that we prepared.
When I present Science for Seniors there is often more than one activity prepared and completed. When we did volcanoes last week, that was a single activity but it was divided into two components, both done on the same day. One was the construction of the volcano and its illustration and the other was actually mixing together the ingredients to make the "lava" flow. The first was done during our daily morning "coffee and chat." The second was done after snack during the time designated for science. Today I presented 4 small activities that moved from one to the other. The last being a sort of "grand finale."
After lunch, staff moved the tables so that two of them were placed next to each other so that eight participants could sit together. I invited all of the seniors to come to the tables for science. I had already positioned place-mats on the table. After everyone sat down, I spoke briefly about things that mix and things that don't. I placed empty bottles that had been recycled from our kitchen in front of each individual. I then poured water in each. Next I added yellow food coloring to each of the jars.
I let the color seep into the water and then added blue to make green. This was a repeat of an activity that I had done a week ago. However, the previous lesson was not remembered by any of today's
participants even though they had all done it.
I walked around the table and repeated verbally that yellow and blue make green. I asked them to shake their jars and to note that they could no longer see the yellow or the blue. I stated, "Some things mix together and once they have you can not separate them." Everyone shook their heads acknowledging that to be true.
I then walked around the two tables and added oil to the green water in the jars. I asked as I poured if the oil was mixing or not. Several of the seniors spoke up and said that the oil was not mixing with the colored water. They then noted that the oil had settled on the top of the water and was remaining separate from it. I asked if the oil had turned green like the colored water and all answer no. One of the participants held up her jar and said, "See Susan, the oil is yellow like it always is."
After a few minutes of observing the oil floating on top of the water, I collected all of the jars and placed them on a third table out of the way.
Next I handed out pie tins. I did not have enough for everyone so I gave a couple of the seniors glass baking trays. I reviewed everything that we had already done. I said that some things mix and some things do not. One of the seniors declared, "Oil and water don't mix." I then added that some things are repealed by others, that they move away from a substance or an ingredient and that that movement may be visible.
I poured enough milk into each pie tin and baking trays to cover the bottom. Several seniors started laughing and asked, "Is this our snack?" They had a good laugh on me!
When all had been given milk, I pulled out a pepper shaker. I heard one of the participants blurt out, "What is she doing now?" I walked around and put a dash of pepper into each tin and tray. Before I added the last ingredient, I stood at the top of one of the tables and stated, "Science is like magic. The pepper is floating on the taut surface of the milk. I am going to do something to break that surface and each of you will be surprise to see what the pepper does." The room became completely quiet.
I quasi-dramatically revealed the next ingredient - dish soap. "What?!" was one of the senior's comments. I poured some on the lid of one of the jars and placed the tip of a flexible straw into the soap. I handed the straw to the person seated closest to me on the right and asked that she carefully drop the soap from the straw into the middle of the pepper. I then handed straws to the others and provided them with dish soap also.
I have to comment here that this act reminded me so much of when we have Montessori students pour water from a pitcher and ask them to wait until the last drop. This is what each senior did, sort of. They held the straw over the pepper and then said out loud, "Just wait, its coming." A moment would pass and then a drop of soap would fall from the straw.
When the soap hit the pepper it scattered moving away from the center to the periphery of the tin or pan. Several seniors let their jaws drop! It was so visually cool! This was the third activity of the four I had planned.
After a few moments of looking at the pepper and studying its reaction to the soap, I cleared everything away. I quickly washed the tins and the pans in a nearby sink. I asked what we had first done this afternoon. Several spoke up and recalled the color mixing of yellow and blue in the water filled jars. I agreed with their answer and then stated that we were now going to return to using the food coloring. I explained that the activity was going to be very similar to the pepper and milk one, but that the food coloring was going to replace the pepper. I then leaned across the table and told everyone that this was going to be the "grand finale" of today's Science for Seniors. I said that they should each get ready to be wonderfully surprised. They were!
Again I placed the pie tins and the dishes in front of each participant. Again I poured milk into them. Next, I had each of the seniors squeeze food coloring, three different colors, onto the milk. Again the room was silent.
I handed out the straws and passed around the lid filled with dish soap. "Wow! Wow! That's amazing! I never imagined that! Wow! It keeps changing! I love it! Wow!" That was the collective response from all of the participants for about five minutes.
I was so glad that it worked! We made a color wheel with milk. Whew!!! All of the science projects were a success and the positive reaction was so affirming!
One participant sat for a good while after all of the others had gotten up and where beginning to prepare to go home for the evening. I drew close to her. She kept looking into her pie tin and saying, "Look Susan, it keeps changing. Did you see that? Look there! Its' amazing! Look, there its changing again." She sat for another five minutes repeating all of the above over and over again. Then she looked at me and said, "It's like God's hand is in there creating all of that, like the universe is being made and we get to watch."
"Let us give the [individual] a vision of the whole universe... for all things are part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity."
----Maria Montessori- To Educate the Human Potential
After another minute, she looked at me and said, "All these things you show us Susan, it's like your stimulating our brains." I have to admit that I had to work really hard not to have tears well up in my eyes - really hard.
(ps. In the above quote, I replaced the word child with the word individual)