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Observations from 10/6/09

elovejoy's picture

Observations from 10/6/09

Emily Lovejoy


Today I visited a participant from the summer institutes' classroom for 1st and 2nd graders.  Recently, the class has been studying matter.  Teacher B described this unit as more of a guided discovery than an inquiry lesson.  Before my observations, the class had classified objects into groups of either "solids" or "liquids."  They also came up with properties of solids: "hold their shape, don't form a puddle."  They then chose an example of a solid and put it in a clear bag to post on the bulletin board.  The solids that the students found were: a straw, crackers, chalk, styrofoam, metal, a sponge, a marshmellow, and a candle.  They defined the properties of liquids as: "don't hold their shape, form(s) a puddle, take the shape of their container, can splatter."  Some of their items that they selected as liquids included grape juice, orange juice, and hand sanitizer.


During today's observations, the Teacher B started class by giving them objects and having the students classify them as either a liquid or solid by using hand signals.  Some of their comments about the solids were:

  • "it's hard; it's made out of metal"
  • "it can't move"
  • "it can't splatter"
  • "it holds its shape; it doesn't make a puzzle"
  • "it is a soft solid because you can crumble it"
  • "it is dusty and hard to break"
  • "crumbs are pieces of a solid"
  • "you can't have crumbs of a liquid"

Some of their comments about the liquids presented to them were:

  • "it can splatter"
  • "it can move around"
  • "it forms the shape of the cup"
  • "when you pour it out it puddles"

The students also discussed how some liquids can become solid, and how some solids can become liquids.  One student also stated, "you can squish some solids and they go back to their original shape."  After refreshing their brains about the properties of solids and liquids, the students were given 4 trickier items to try and classify: sand, toothpaste, shaving cream, and "glook" (a substance made by the teacher that used glue as one of the ingredients).  The students were instructed to circle liquid, solid, or not sure on their worksheet and explain their reasoning.  This was a great activity to get the students to practice working in groups.  Everyone didn't have to agree on the classification, but it created a learning environment in which it was important to discuss everyone's opinions. 


  • glook:
    • Many groups looked at the properties of the glook by breaking it into pieces, watching it drip, and watching how it changed shape. 
    • This tricky substance stumped most of the students.  In most cases, students would choose either liquid or solid, but with this substance, the majority of students chose "not sure."
    • Students were not told what ingredients were used to make the glook, which made it harder for them to decide how to categorize it.
  • sand:
    • Most students knew right away that sand was a solid.
    • But, many were confused about the fact that the sand in the cup did not hold its shape and could be molded in different ways and could take the shape of the container.
  •  toothpaste:
    • Students stated that the toothpaste would hold its own shape when it wasn't touched, but would move when wiggled or touched with an object.
    • Most students chose either solid or liquid, but there was no clear consensus in the class over which answer was more popular.
  • shaving cream:
    • Most children had played with shaving cream before.
    • The students seemed very interested in the way it smelled.
    • Like toothpaste, the shaving cream could hold its own shape unless moved or touched by another object.
    • Students observed that it could splatter.
    • The majority of the children chose that shaving cream was a liquid.
  • general observations:
    • A lot of students used the spoons provided to mush the toothpaste and shaving cream to investigate how they would change when pressure was applied to them, and if they would return to their original shape after a certain amount of time. 
    • The students used all of their senses (except taste) when trying to categorize the tricky substances. 
    • The glook differed from group to group.  Some of the samples were more liquidy than others and dripped easily.  Others could break cleaner.  Some students called it a "soft solid."
    • Some students did not finish their worksheet before the end of the time period, and so while others were having quiet time, they were finishing their worksheets independently.  The students worked much better when they were not with the samples and were working independently. They were more efficient.  But, they were not able to use their classmates to help them sound out words, or hear other opinions and reasonings about why a substance fit into a specific category.
    • The activity promoted ideas and conversation.  The goal of the lesson was not to have the students to "get the right answer," but to explore working in teams and learning to cooperate with others.