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Observations and Interpretations

Brie Stark's picture
Observations & Interpretations

Brie Stark, Praxis III Independent Research

September 16, 2009: Initial Observations

Note: today was my first time visiting the Praxis location, a nearby school, and the first time meeting the participants of the study, as well as the teacher [in the setting of the Praxis; I had previously known the teacher from a summer institute].


Project:  Oobleck

  • Oobleck is a fantastic science substance made with corn starch and water.  Oobleck is a non-newtonian fluid. That is, it acts like a liquid when being poured, but like a solid when a force is acting on it.  The day before I arrived, the subjects made observations about Oobleck.


  • In the Oobleck experiment, the children worked in groups of three (which paired both 5th and 6th graders).  There job was to make an exploratory expedition to a planet made of Oobleck using a ship that they created.
  • In that group, they chose between three roles: the technical writer, the imagineer and the artist.  The technical writer's job was to explain, in two paragraphs, the way the ship would land and take off and what type of fuel the ship would use.  The imagineer's duty was to write two paragraphs creating a story line of what would be found in planet Oobleck when the ship landed.  The artist's role was to draw the ship and create the structure.


  • I found that the children knew about some intrinsic properties of science:
    • A larger surface area was needed for a ship to land on Oobleck so that the weight was dispersed and couldn't sink
    • Using solar power for fuel was a useful idea because of the close proximity to the sun
  • In conversation with one another, a lot of the children thought about more complex ideas, such as:
    • Could there be life on Oobleck because of the properties of the material?  Who could live there, specifically?  What could they look like?
      • One group thought that they would be like a large ball (think membraneous, even like a cell membrane), so that they could roll and move across the ground without sinking.
      • Another group thought that the creatures on Oobleck would have larger feet (again, the surface area).
    • The groups wanted to write more, but the teacher said to use 'great words' to give a vivid image rather than writing more -- emphasizing quality over quantity.
      • The children used the dictionary by choice.
      • They also used their peers to read and reread their drafts; they had no inhibitions about having another individual read and correct/help them with their work.
    • One group, when describing the properties of Oobleck, thought about the laws of physics.  They put down that they thought "oobleck defied the laws of physics," but then wrote a sidenote that stated, "what are the exact laws of physics?"  They didn't entirely understand the concepts of the laws, but they knew that the properties of Oobleck were unique enough to make them think they defied several key concepts.
  • The imagineers had entirely different ideas for their stories.
    • One group wanted to fix a problem/see if Oobleck had life and took an exploratory stance.
    • One group seemed to be engaging in a very heroic mission to discover new worlds.
    • Another group, when they landed, were attacked by Oobleck aliens.
  • The collaboration of the members of the group was extremely good.  All of the children were engaged in their task and with each other.
    • They talked a lot not only with the teacher (when asking a question) but also to their peers.  They seemed to trust the opinions of their peers just as much as the opinion of the teacher.
      • The teacher requires each subject to do a project over the summer about an interest that they have.  They must then teach this interest to the class.  She states that she believes this allows the subjects to trust each other's opinions and stresses the fact that they can learn from each other just as much as they can learn from her.  I think that this idea is very beneficial, not only for learning about teaching and trusting one another, but about learning how to devise a presentation that others can be engaged in.
    • There was some competitiveness  between the artists, a quality I would've expected to see.  I think that the interest in this project was so high that there was a desire to have the best drawing.
    • Rough drafts, as said before, were enthusiastically peer edited.
    • The subjects were very attentive to the loose guidelines set on the board (examples being 'title on poster,' 'two paragraph limit,' and 'time due')
      • The teacher's purpose was not to create guidelines that led to a specific conclusion.  The children definitely understood this and went in entirely different directions, as many of my observations have shown.  They simply adhered to the simple guidelines and then used their own exploratory processes to find out the rest.
    • There didn't seem to be a prejudice in working with younger subjects (as 6th graders and 5th graders are in the same class at Lansdowne).


  • Teacher has known some participants for up to 3 years and others just a few years. 
  • The class forged and signed a charter at the beginning of the school year which stated their desire to learn.


The environment between the subjects and the teacher is not the same that I have seen before, even in a college-level class.  There is no inhibition between the subjects interaction with the teacher and with other subjects, in that they're not afraid to question each other or be questioned (a quality I wish were more prevalent in a college or even higher level education setting).  They volunteer answers readily and often are ready to defend their answers.  When I observed Oobleck, I went around observing what each team was completing.  Each team member was genuinely eager to show exactly what their job was, how their space ship worked, what the planet was like, etc.  They also asked and questioned their group members' projects in order to make each members' project as good as it could be.  The interest that Oobleck generated was very obvious within the subjects and it could be seen through their creative interpretations of the project.  Oobleck had been given to the subjects the day before I arrived, and they got to engage with the substance for an entire class period.  The only things that the teacher put as goals was to explore the substance.  This was a genuinely open inquiry experience which seemed to stem a lot of interest from the subjects.  I  wonder if it was the open quality (whereas they didn't have any specifics they had to look for and could explore things they found individually interesting) or just the content (the interesting-ness of Oobleck) that got them so curious and engaged with their project and their team.  I hope to see in the future if any one of these seems more prominent than the other in creating engagement.


Disclaimer: I have no previous affiliation with the workings of the school, and my writings reflect my own observation of events that occur and are not suggesting concrete fact.  If you have questions, please email me at