Children’s theories about ice

It’s been really cold here in Northern Town: freeze your eyelashes together cold.

We’re a pretty hardy bunch but even we have our limits and we were stuck inside for a few days while the wind blew itself out and the temperature came up a few degrees.

What to do, what to do?  What do you do inside with 35 children when it’s -35˚C outside?

We decided to play with ice!

Our amazing ECE led the children in filling balloons with coloured water and braved the weather to place them outside.

two rows of coloured balloons, filled with water, sitting in the snow
water… meet your new friend cold.

We waited…

Today during our outdoor inquiry time we ripped open the ballons and found that the water had frozen beautifully and that it had produced an interesting effect.  All of the colour had migrated to the bottom of the balloon and rows of air bubbles were visible within the orb of ice.

a sphere of ice, blue towards the bottom, clear on the top, bubbles throughout.  the top of the sphere is flat

When I showed the children this photo on the Smartboard, I told them that I wondered (je me demande…) why all of the colour had gone to the bottom of the balloon.  What did they think?

MN:  Because the water’s lighter than the food colouring so the food colouring is at the bottom and the water’s at the top

PB: The water froze so it was turned into ice so you cut the balloon so you can see the ice and the bubbles are inside

UN: If you drop it it will crack open and you can’t get a new one.

CF: The gravity was pushing it down – the blue – because of the the bubbles.

MP:  The water is pushing it down (the food colouring)

At this point in the conversation there was some back and forth about the bubbles so I asked: What are the bubbles trying to do?

LT: They’re trying to get out

Another child disagreed.

TN: The bubbles are trying to stay in place in the water

LT replied: No, the bubbles are trying to get out to make a puddle

UF: I think the bubbles are trying to escape the ice because there’s a little hole at the top

BU: Maybe they’re trying to swim up and get on someone’s head and have a ride

BW:  I think the ice is growing and the bubbles don’t want to pop.

AQ: The food colouring wants to get out of the balloon from the bottom – it wants to dig through the ice.

UN: I think the ice is growing and the bubbles are going to break the ice and when the ice is broken they want to run away and go back to their home.

I find their thinking fascinating.  It opens up a window into their minds and gives us precious information about how they’re making sense of the world and how we might help them to develop their thinking.

Some of them are drawn to creating a narrative using the bubbles, water, and food colouring as characters.  Others are interested in the science of the process and are trying to figure out how it works.  Others still are using what they already know about the world (gravity, weight) to create a hypothesis.  Another group of children is more interested in how they are personally affected.

XC, for instance, said: “If you drop it, it might break” – she has a point!

There will most definitely be more cold weather ahead – let’s see where else the ice can take us!

Ice Fishing and Footprints

I think I need to rename this blog… maybe it should be called “teaching on the verge… outside” because it seems that this year, especially, so much of what I’m noticing is happening outside.  I think that this has a lot to do with the greenbelt strip we have at the edge of our playground which offers so many more possibilities for learning than a traditional playground ever could.

We recently had a day of heavy rain which melted all of our snow.  This was followed by a drop in temperatures and a good dump of snow.  The snow stuck to the ice which had formed on all of the branches, creating a beautiful effect that puts every branch into stark relief against the blue sky.  The denuded trees looked sparkly and crisp and the evergreens were heavy with layers of snow and ice.  FI asked if the trees had grown; everything looked fuller and more substantial.  According to the calendar it’s still fall… maybe we need a new calendar!

snow covered trees seen from below

It is like walking into a winter wonderland.

snow covered branch, sun and clouds

LH was very interested in the way her feet crunched through the snow and the frozen slush underneath, leaving very defined footprints.  She took me to see a large footprint that she thought belonged to a monster.

footprint in snow

Then she created a footprint of her own which she told me came from a big dog.

a child-created footprint in the snow.

LH has an amazing imagination so this discussion of footprints quickly swerved in a different direction as a group of students came to tell us about the chipmunk they had just seen.  In response, LH said: “At my grandma’s I saw 18 chipmunks, 18 dancing chipmunks, and they did cartwheels and skated on the ice.”  She then decided that she should camouflage herself, like animals do.

child hiding in/camouflaged by cedar trees

As LH was hiding in the branches, I noticed two boys playing on the ice in a nearby ditch. I was concerned because the ice had weakened during the rain so I went over to show them that it wasn’t safe to stand on.  I cracked a hole in the ice with my boots and the children moved back on to the bank.  They were undeterred, however, and changed their game.  Now, they were ice fishers!  They found sticks and vines on the ground and began using them as fishing rods.  One of the boys, BH, often engages in fishing-play.  He rallied the others to fish through the hole in the ice.  He told them: “You have to be quiet so the fish don’t get scared.”  LH joined them and told us: “I ate fish last night and it was real: I put ketchup on it.” Clearly, only the realest fish needs ketchup!

children pretending to ice fish

We are the ice police.

We have had ice before today; thin sheets on shallow puddles.  Today was the first day that we had real ice.  The kind you have to stomp on to get it to break, the kind that beckons you out to the middle of foot-deep puddle/ponds to see how many jumps it will take to break through.  This was serious ice.

There is something about ice that just begs children (and adults, I confess) to break it – such a satisfying crunch and the interplay between the solid layer on top that conceals the liquid beneath.  It leaves you wanting more and more.  Being the committed inquiry-based, child-led teacher that I am, all of this ice leaves me in a pickle.  I can’t let them walk out into the middle of the puddle/pond because I know that eventually they will break through and find themselves knee-deep in cold, icy water.  But, at the same time, I don’t want to entirely deprive them of the ice-breaking pleasure that they so crave.

Arg! What to do?

So we become the ice police.  We chase them away from the deeper spots and we let them go to town on the shallow puddles and ditches.  Sometimes, when I’m watching them, I stomp down with my own heel… just to hear the crunch.

child breaking ice with a stick

Wilderness Minor

Schoolyards aren’t often the best place to go exploring.  Most of the excitement has been tamed out of them in the interest of safety.  They are mowed, and raked, the equipment inspected and rules established.  They are fun but they aren’t known for adventure.  That’s why we take community walks, so that we can have those exciting experiences of not always knowing what’s around the corner.  We can’t always leave the property, however, as community walks require extra adults.

Fortunately, there are often corners of wilderness left standing around the edges of the schoolyard, small areas where small people can feel like they are stepping into a great unknown, where the mowers don’t go and where the goldenrod grows higher than your head.

It all started because of our fascination with ice.

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The puddles in the schoolyard have been icing over as the temperature dips below freezing each night.

The children have been fascinated by the sheets of thin ice that are floating on the surface each morning and take delight in smashing it, feeling it, and in spite of our best efforts, tasting it.

Once they’ve exhausted the supply of ice near the school, they go in search of more ice, in the smaller puddles in the field.

This quest lead them to the back of the field where the grass grows long and there is a patch of brush that probably resembles what the landscape looked like 50 years ago, before our school was built.  The ground is squishy and soft and in places there is a lot of standing water.  The children were undeterred and plunged into the brush.  BU said: “This is a great adventure.”

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No Golfing Allowed - in case you wanted to sneak in a round during recess.
No Golfing Allowed – in case you wanted to sneak in a round during recess.

We found frost on one side of the field and noticed that there wasn’t frost on the other side.  We wondered why.

KN thought it was because it had snowed on one side but not on the other.  AQ noticed that there was only frost where the sun wasn’t shining and she inferred that the frost had already melted on the sunny side of the field.

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FN found grass and plants frozen into the ice.

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We have also been having conversations about why some ice is clear and other ice is white, we have observed ice melting, and we have also tried painting with ice!

Bring on the cold!

Where does inquiry come from?

This week I came outside and was immediately drawn to what “N” was doing.  I could hear him before I could see him.  He had discovered that if he took a chunk of ice and hit it hard against the metal pole, that not only would it make a sound but that the sound would sustain for several seconds afterwards.  He has a quizzical look on his face as he tried it again and again.  I’m translating our conversation from French so I apologize for any awkwardness in the phrasing.

“N”: bing…

ECE: It continues (the sound) for a long time.

“N” and friends “I” and “B”: bing, bing, bing, bing.

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ECE: It’s like church bells.

Me: How long will it last, “N”, if you hit it and leave it alone?  Can you count?

“I” leans against the pole and “N” hits it again.

Me: Oh, but is it different when “I” doesn’t lean against the pole?

We went through a few trials of “N” hitting the pole and “I” touching it before we got one when the sound dispersed on its own.  I wondered if “I” was interested in the feeling of the vibration.

Me: 1 – 2 – 3….

“N”: Four… four seconds!

At this point, “B” and “I” join in again hitting the pole with their own chunks of ice.  Bing, bing, bing…

Me: Do you think the sound will be shorter when “B” is touching it?  Why would the sound be shorter when someone touches the pole?

“N”: Because it’s not hard.

Me: Because it’s not hard if someone is touching it? If someone touches the pole and the sound it shorter – why is that?

“N”: (with that quizzical look) Because the ice is harder.

Me: The ice is harder?

ECE: Look “I” – touch the pole, put your hand here.

“N” (speaking to “I” and taking his hand to place it on the pole): You do like this (hand on the pole), I do like this (hitting the pole).

Bing, bing, bing…

Me: Does the sound last longer when no one is touching it?

“N”: 1 – 2… two.

Me: Just two when someone’s touching?  And why is that? Why doesn’t the sound last as long when someone’s touching it?

“N”: bing, bing, bing

ECE (placing her hand on the pole and moving in closer to “N”): What happens to the sound when “I” touches the pole? Why doesn’t it last as long?

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“N”: The hands stop the sound from moving.

Me: The hands stop the sound from moving… wow.

ECE: Wow…

This was an amazing moment.  We knew that “N” could get there, that if he had enough time to puzzle it out he could come up with a hypothesis that fit with his observations, both auditory and tactile.  His initial hypotheses that the ice and the pole became harder didn’t seem to satisfy him any more than they satisfied us.  We’ve had many opportunities for sound-making outside with found-sound instruments attached to our fence (pots, pans, metal and wood pieces, etc…) but this is the first time I’ve observed that experimentation leading to meaty inquiry questions.

Where will we go with this?  We’re going to show this video to the whole class this week and present them with more opportunities to play with sounds and vibrations.  While we usually teach our own music in the classroom with singing and small rhythm instruments, I think that this new thread will prompt us to visit the music room so that the students can experience bigger and more vibratory instruments.   I can’t wait!  Bring on the noise!