Higher and higher the stack went. It was getting so high, I was not sure I would be able to reach up to put any more books on the pile!
As all of this was unfolding in Ms. Bussey’s Kindergarten classroom, I was trying to figure out what went wrong. Just 5 minutes ago I was in Ms. Williams’ 1st grade classroom and the egg broke at 32 books. Why was it different this time?
Finally at 55 books, we made the choice to stop before the leaning tower of reading books came toppling down! Of course our failure to crack the egg did not matter to those kindergarten students. They were simply amazed at the wonder of science and the fact our egg, that tiny little white oval egg, was holding up all of those books!
Getting students to do authentic science is not hard. It just means stepping out of your comfort zone and doing something different. Stacking books on an egg might seem like a weird activity to do, but it is a really simply way to (1) engage students in the process of doing science and (2) integrate skills across the curriculum without even knowing it!
Modeling the Process of Science
In the egg activity, students began by making observations of a raw egg based off what they saw with their eyes. Students generated words that described the egg’s shape, size, color, and the texture. Hmmm, this sounds like a language arts activity doesn’t it!
Next, they were given the question “How many books will an egg hold while it is sitting on its side?” One by one, each student got up and took turns adding a book on top of a pan that was resting on the egg and three other supports. Higher and higher the pile climbed until book number 32 was placed on the stack! Crack! The egg failed.
Results: the egg resting on its side held 31 books before it cracked at 32.
Inquiry is a Natural Process
Inquiry. What does it really mean? Simply put, inquiry is just the process of finding an answer to a question through observations and/or experiences. Learning to inquire comes from fostering curiosity. When students are curious, they naturally ask questions. Asking questions can lead to research! And eventually, scientifically oriented research!
Designing an Experiment
Next, we worked together to design an experiment. To do this we used the 4 question strategy. As I explained to the students, what we just did was an activity (putting books on an egg) that allowed us to learn something new and gave use the opportunity to make observations. We learned that an egg, resting on a clay base on top of a table, could hold up to 31 books before breaking. In order to do an experiment, we had to change something about our setup to see if it would make a difference.
Using the materials from our first activity, we brainstormed how we could change those materials in such a way that might affect the egg breaking. Even after only 4 weeks in school, these 1st graders were masters at brainstorming. They generated ideas like changing the position of the book as it was placed on the pan; changing the position of the egg from resting on its side to standing straight up, and many more!
Together we agreed to not use clay to support the egg during the experiment. During our first activity, one of the students made the observation that maybe the clay was actually supporting the egg. Hmmmm, this was pretty cool! So we went with this idea. Would not using any clay at all make a difference in how many books the egg held before it broke?
In both classrooms, students used numbers to count how many books an egg would hold. As the kindergarteners counted, the teacher looked over at me and said “this is perfect, we are reviewing our numbers and counting. You know, practicing counting is better when they have a purpose for doing it!” Integration should not be a force fit. If the standards say children need to learn how to count to 50 or 100, then why shouldn’t they count actual objects?
Outcome of our Experiment in 1st Grade and Kindergarten?
Remember now, with the clay base under the egg, it was able to hold 31 books! So one by one, those 1st grade students came up and stacked the books. 9. That was the magic number this time. We made it to 8 books and when the 9th book was added-crack!! The kids went wild!! What did we learn? In the words of a wise 1st grader-“Dr. Flannagan, that clay was making it easier for that egg to hold those books!”
In Kindergarten, the students got to 13 books before breaking when the 14th books was placed on the stack.
Of course the difference between the classrooms intrigued me. Was it the cart? Did the rubber mat along with the clay base really provide that much support that an egg was able to hold up to 55 books without showing the slightest bit of strain? And why were we able to get to 13 books when the clay base was taken away? So many questions; so little time!!!
Sadly, I don’t think Ms. Williams is going to get anything done the rest of the week. As I left the Ms. Bussey’s Kindergarten classroom, I just had to go back to the first grade to share the unusual results we got. This of course just got them thinking and asking more questions! So while Ms. Williams may have to adjust her plans, I can’t wait to hear all about the experiments her students conduct! Big shout out to both Ms. Williams and Ms. Bussey at Fairfield Elementary School in Virginia Beach for allowing me to come and do science with their students!
If you would like to teach this lesson to your students, simple click here to purchase a copy of the lesson! I would love to hear about the experiments your students design!
It is said the eyes are the windows to the soul. If this is true, then science runs in the blood of students in Ms. Williams and Ms. Bussey’s class in Fairfield Elementary School in Virginia Beach. Not only were their students excited and engaged, but they were thinking scientifically!