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Observations and Interpretations-- Oct 5 2009

Brie Stark's picture
Observations & Interpretations

Week of October 5, 2009; Brielle Stark

Project: Bubbleology II



  • the subjects were to design and complete their own project with bubbles to investigate a question they wanted to answer
  • some subjects were very engaged with the overall concept of Bubbleology thus far, while others were not.  This is an interesting paradigm and one that I am very interested in concerning inquiry in education.  It obviously cannot be avoided in some cases--I desired to know why some felt uninvolved.  Evidently, the teacher did as well and posed these questions to the students:
    • On a scale of 1-10, some were very engaged (an 8) and others less interested (a 3).
    • Why was this?  Asked the subjects.  Those who were interested described why:
      • Making and blowing bubbles
      • Finding out information, "making the bubble stronger"
      • Had ideas for different kinds of bubbles; figured out how to measure things like height
      • "cool science topic," fun
      • Liked exploring variable interactions
      • Interesting how "some things affected other things"
    • Those who were less interested described:
      • "we've done more interesting things in the past" (example, studying birds and taking nature heights)
      • The math and blowing bubbles was boring; hope that discovering answers to our own questions will be more interesting
      • It was very "step by step," directional and systematic
      • Not as fun
  • The teacher gave the subjects a choice of three detergents to use; subjects could also use other materials that they desired and could make bubbles on whatever surface they wanted
  • The subjects were broken into partners and had 20 minutes to devise their own questions and procedures [the day before I arrived].  I did not directly observe this part.
    • some took this time to make charts and other data collection tools in their notebooks

The experiments

  • Groups had many diverse ideas about what to test for in their experiments.  Groups said in conversation with each other:
    1. Use 5 drops of each different detergent to see which makes the biggest bubble
    2. Thicker contents make bubbles last longer
      • They tested glue vs. dawn soap
    3. Which detergent makes the tallest bubble?
    4. Which soap makes the bubble last the longest using 6 drops each?
      • Group wasn't sure why they had chosen the number 6, when asked
    5. How do we make the biggest bubble we can?
      • They used the pre-made solution of 1/2 gallon of water and 1 cup of soap, poured it on the swept floor and blew a bubble that was 57cm in diameter
    6. Which detergent makes the longest lasting bubble?
    7. Which bubble is the strongest/lasts the longest when we vary the drops and poke the bubbles with a straw?
    8. One group wasn't sure what they wanted to test, they just knew they wanted to find the biggest bubble somehow.
  • Several groups didn't use a clock, they counted out the seconds; one group insisted on finding a clock to make measurements.  I thought this was a very interesting view of differing personalities and perhaps understanding of accuracy.
  • The teacher asked the students to see if they could predict when the bubble would pop by the color of the bubble
    • One group thought that when dark blue got to the top of the bubble, the bubble would pop
      • [note: I discovered in a summer institute this summer that more often than not, when the bubble becomes relatively color-less, it is about to pop.  This group's guess that the dark blue at the top indicated the bubble was going to pop was very close to what mine had been (during the institute) before I realized it was about loss of color.]
  • A group found that dawn produced the biggest bubbles (diameter wise).  Why was this?  Some hypotheses heard from groups:
    1. Maybe the color of the dawn (blue) made it stronger than Joy or Wegman's (which were yellow) because it has different chemicals.
      1. Later, the same subject approached me and seemed to have made a more concrete solution that he/she wished to share.  Their conclusion was along the line of stating that Wegmans, a lighter yellow color, was the weakest.  Joy was more of a mix between light yellow and blue (the color of dawn).  Since they knew Dawn was the strongest, perhaps the colors indicated that chemicals were stronger in Joy and Dawn.
    2. The dawn is stronger... Joy makes lots of little bubbles, dawn makes a big one.
  • The subjects tended to change their hypotheses after they made some observations; this seemed to coordinate with Grobstein's loop of inquiry instead of the concrete scientific method, which indeed shows an interesting fostering of inquiry (a circling of ideas rather than a focus on one specific one).
  • One group thought that adding more water/making the solution thicker in the plate would make more and larger bubbles

Extraneous notes:

  • The teacher wrote on a whiteboard before class that day, "write what you learned in the first 4 weeks of school;" students answered in ways that I wouldn't have expected from my own experiences in this classroom however many years ago.  I was very intrigued by the answers and I'll elaborate more in my interpretation section.  Written on the board was:
    • Give peace a chance
    • Make new friends
    • Perfect my writing skills
    • Use exponents
    • Work together combining thoughts to make better ideas
    • Be ready for middle school

Discussion with the teacher after class:

  • The previous bubbleology experiments had been very structured.  The first experience with bubbleology concerned measuring values (learning about accuracy, how to measure, etc).  The second experiment contained the experiment to a plate (learning more about measuring in a specific environment, exploring new variables, etc).  In general, these two experiments were to set up a strong basis to explore further and helped create a concrete sense of measurement (helped them decide to measure height as a variable, for example.)
    • Recognize if idea/expectation doesn't occur
    • Designated the # of bubbles
    • They learned to think about, "What do we do if expectation doesn't happen?"
      • Process matters (other scientists must reproduce the experiment)
      • Controlling variables (how to control, what to control)
  • No surface tension has been mentioned by name yet, even though the older subjects had experience with it last year.  Teacher doesn't want to stress the name just yet for several reasons (and I agree):
    • the first 6 weeks of school should have structure so subjects begin to feel safe
    • subjects feel safe to experiment and form new ideas with no negative values imposed
    • they learned partnerships
    • they build ideas off of each other and learn importance of collaboration
  • The next unit these above listed qualities are important because the subjects must trust sharing their perception to others.
  • If "playing," the subjects have proof rather than just being "told" a fact -- they had hands on experience with the bubbles and deduced things that were reinforced by the teacher's comments, which made for a learning experience that I feel could be very beneficial to applying what they learned to other situations.
  • Subjects write & reflect the day after about the experiment (about surprises, want to know more?, discussion)
    • science notebooks to write about thinking: to get depper/build better connections
      • to collect data
      • to understand themes in their writing (ex. color from above); like an independent study of themselves


An article in the NY Times recently, this article discussed the importance of play.  If the data they collected while playing with the bubbles hadn't matched their preconceived notions, would the subjects have really internalized the information the teacher was giving them?  I think that it's necessary that the subjects have that time to 'play' and discover things for themselves.  While play time cannot be endless and a line must be drawn where topics are explained, the children must have time to further explore their ideas.  Without exploring their ideas, I can't possibly imagine how they would want to explore that topic further -- where would their interest come from if they had simply been dictated something and never experienced it?  Last week's session discussed interest a lot.  The teacher had said that interest was an integral part of education.  I firmly believe that it is, too.  Without fostering a sense of interest and intrigue in a topic, it's very difficult to keep getting deeper into the topic because the subjects will often just listen to what is being told and not internalize larger concepts.  Without having a chance to explore on their own, or giving them time to explore,

The observation that I made that the subjects kept changing their hypotheses to match their observations really intrigued me.  That is something that is almost banished from most research repertoires in college.  You make a hypothesis and test it to prove if it's right or wrong, then make another formal hypothesis, do test, etc.  The cycle continues.  In this classroom, the subjects weren't making formal hypotheses -- they were simply taking what they had observed and forming their hypotheses to fit.  I think that this is a very interesting idea and one that is particularly useful in discovering at a young age.  I find it especially difficult to think of hypotheses to test because I feel restricted in only trying to prove or disprove it, never to understand it deeper until another 'formal hypothesis' is created.  I felt that the way the subjects were going about their experiments was a much better way at really getting deep into the subject and exploring all directions, since there were very little boundaries.

It is also interesting how set one group was on the precision of measurements versus other groups who weren't so inclined to care about the accuracy of their experiment or measurements.  One group needed a clock and a specific number of drops of detergent while another group kept adding things to their method (like shaking the plate to make the bubble pop) as well as just measuring things by the eye.  While the teacher encouraged accurate measurements, it was still interesting for me to see how the desire to 'play' sometimes overpowered the desire to find distinct measurements or distinct conclusions.  I wonder if this instinct changes over time, or if we become better at making a conscious choice that accuracy probably is a more satisfactory thing to aim for.

I was also very interested in the white board question of "what you felt you learned in the last 4 weeks" because they were not all the expected answers (ex. concrete concepts like 'math,' which I would've expected).  The subjects wrote their answers in their own hand on the white board.  I specifically liked "to work together combining thoughts to make better ideas" because that was the goal that the teacher had had in mind when she talked about the overall concepts of building a process and not stressing the content.  I also liked it because it stresses the 'bigger picture.'  Dewey once wrote that "preparation is treacherous," and I took this to mean that simple preparation by way of arithmetic, writing and reading is treacherous for preparing the child for the real world; I agree.  The subjects in this class are not prone to that usual education and are not just prepared in a treacherous fashion; they are able to apply their knowledge and what they learned in class to a broader context, specifically the world and their future.



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