Dr. Gereboff's Head Notes
Is Toothpaste a Solid or a Liquid?
Our second graders grappled with this question last week. They approached it by first observing toothpaste that was squeezed into a jar. Then they observed it when water was added to it, and again after shaking the jar. They depicted what they observed in their science journals. Finally, they held group discussions about the question. The discussion followed a protocol that required the students to state their conclusion using several points of evidence.
This lesson is part of the new science units that have been created throughout the school under the direction of our science coaches from Stanford, courtesy of the California PETALS (Partnership in Excellence in Teaching and Learning Science) grant that we received this year. Our teachers have participated in over 44 hours of professional development since late August and each general studies teacher has received one-on-one coaching by the Stanford professor assigned to our school. The rather rapid transformation of our science program is remarkable, and has been acknowledged by our coaches with the suggestion that our teachers should present their model lessons at a national education conference.
So, what’s the answer? I queried a few of our second graders. One said, “I believe that toothpaste is a solid because it is thicker than water and it doesn’t move like water.” Another one said, “I think it is a liquid because it is strong like a piece of wood and it stays in the same shape when squeezed out.” Both are terrific answers. They clearly understand the properties of a liquid and a solid, and they gave credible answers to the question. Soon they will discover that the question of classification is not always simple, and that substances like toothpaste are classified as neither a liquid nor a solid but as something else that most adults don’t know.
This is powerful learning that corresponds to our school philosophy – learners need to discover or uncover truths or patterns. Our youngest children, who don’t yet have fully developed writing skills, eagerly grab their science journals to record pictorially their observations of one phenomena or another. Children as young as five years old develop and share evidence to support their claims. This is the most engaging and most enduring way to learn, and yet, most of our teachers had not fully integrated this philosophy into their science units until this year.
As we approach the season of Thanksgiving, I am so thankful for the opportunities that the PETAL grant has afforded us and I am grateful for a teaching staff that so eagerly and thoroughly have embraced this initiative.
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