Academic journal article Science and Children

WHEN IS MELTING NOT REALLY MELTING? Building Explanations through Exploration Using an Engaging Toy

Academic journal article Science and Children

WHEN IS MELTING NOT REALLY MELTING? Building Explanations through Exploration Using an Engaging Toy

Article excerpt

A group of second graders are gathered around a white puddle on the table. The remains of a snowman stick out: broomstick arms, a hat, a carrot for the nose. "It melted!" one of them exclaimed. "It didn't melt," says another, "It was pushed down by its hat!" These students aren't looking at the remains of a real snowman. In fact, they are snug and warm in their classroom, investigating a fascinating phenomenon, a model snowman that is very different indeed from the real thing.

This 5E cycle of lessons takes students through a fun and thorough study of Silly Putty's properties, progressing from an initial observation of a "melting snowman" toy in the Engage phase to making and "marketing" their own homemade putty in the Evaluate phase. Along the way, students use evidence to construct their own explanations for the discrepant events presented by non-Newtonian fluids, through a careful progression from the Explore phase to the Explain phase. For this lesson, you will need one container of Silly Putty for each pair of students and a "melting snowman" toy (available at many retailers, such as Amazon). In addition, each student will need safety goggles and non-latex gloves, and the teacher will use a hammer during the Explore phase.


We begin the unit by opening a container of Silly Putty and showing it to the class: "Today, we'll make a list of all the properties of Silly Putty we can observe." Students may need guidance distinguishing between observations and inferences. Emphasize that we are only able to list a property if it is something that can be taken in with our senses.

To scaffold this concept, we define a property as something that can begin with "It is... " or "It can... ." For example, "It is beige," is an obvious property of Silly Putty. "It can stretch," is another. Record responses on an anchor chart labeled "Physical Properties, observed with our five senses."

We tell the class that another property of Silly Putty is that it can be molded into different shapes. Open a "melting snowman" toy, careful not to show the box it came in. This toy is made of a white putty, which is very similar to Silly Putty, and comes with all the materials needed to make a miniature "snowman," such as googly eyes, buttons, and little broomstick arms (Figure 1). Students are always captivated seeing this charismatic little snowman take shape. Once it is built, put it aside in a place that is easily observed by the class.

As you continue the discussion of properties, expect to be interrupted when students see something happening to the snowman. It is noticeably starting to droop and its googly eyes are now worriedly pointing up at the ceiling. The class jumps out of their seats, and everyone wants to see this unexpected change.

After the excitement dies down, ask the class, "What is happening to the snowman?" and begin another anchor chart. Some students might say "It is melting," while others share, "It is being pushed down by the air," and "The hat and buttons pushed it down." List all responses, without judgment, and attribute each comment with the name of the speaker.

This will be the first of many opportunities for students to build their argumentation skills while meeting the expectations of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for speaking and writing with evidence-based statements. The skills of collaborative conversation are emphasized strongly within CCSS, asking students, for example, to "ask and answer questions about what a speaker says in order to clarify comprehension" and to "recall information from experiences... to answer a question" (NGAC and CCSSO 2010). These listening, speaking, and writing skills are emphasized in these lessons just as much as mastering content knowledge about solids and liquids.


In the Explore phase, students make their own inventory of Silly Putty's properties, begun before the "interruption" presented by the changing snowman. …

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