September 5, 2013

Sagan, Seltzer and Synesthesia!

2nd grader Cameron's film canister volcano

The late great Carl Sagan co-created the PBS series Cosmos, the Emmy-winning show that became the most watched series in public television history. He was an astronomer, an educator and an author, as well as a TV presenter. Sagan was known as the world's greatest popularizer of science, reaching millions of people through newspapers, magazines and television broadcasts. In short, he knew his stuff.

When asked about the nature of science, Sagan said, Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.”

It is Sagan’s kind of scientists that we are all about at Friends’ School.

If you had found yourself strolling along the bike path near our school this week, you would have come across a group of 2nd graders, and their teachers, messing with soda and Mentos.  You know the exercise. It’s the same one you and I did as kids. Fun, exciting, surprising, messy, dare I say, volcanic!

Tyler and Becky’s class had been working back in the classroom hypothesizing about which brand of soda would produce the tallest eruption.  They had learned about variables, how it’s important to keep all factors constant but one. They had their science notebooks at the ready, all set to record their data and prove their hypotheses right or wrong.

For Tyler Voorhees, who taught science full-time at Bixby School last year following his Teacher Preparation year at Friends’, science projects are a dynamic way to engage his students while teaching them to think like scientists.  He loves to witness his students’ innate curiosity, their powers of
2nd grader Stephanie showing off her powers of observation
observation, and their eagerness to discover, to experiment, and to learn. 

He’s teaching them about chemical reactions (by the way it’s the numerous small pores on the surface of the Mentos that catalyze the release of carbon dioxide from the soda, resulting in the rapid expulsion of copious quantities of foam), but he’s also teaching them to wonder and to question.

His class tried similar experiments with Alka Seltzer, water and film canisters (remember those?!).  After the experiments, his students wanted to know if it would work the same with different amounts of water, with different liquids, with different temperatures. One boy found out the fun way the importance of his safety goggles!

Carl Sagan
The second graders are not alone.  In 5th grade, students have been experimenting with motion, air pressure and discovering Bernoulli’s principle. They’ve also been ‘egg-sperimenting’ with the strength and design of egg shells. In 4th grade, students are getting ready to discover the causes and results of erosion. In 3rd grade, students have been exploring color & light in a wonderful integrated unit that helps the kids make the connection between light and music, learning about the artist Kandinsky who had synesthesia - a harmless condition that allows a person to appreciate sounds, colors or words with two or more senses simultaneously. The 3rd graders have been using prisms, looking at the color spectrum and the color wheel, and making connections between science, music and art.

Over the course of our students’ time here at Friends’ they will be exposed to a full range of knowledge in physical science, earth science, and life science. 

More importantly, as Carl Sagan indicated, we’re teaching science as a way of thinking.  This will set children up for a lifetime of wondering, asking, hypothesizing, experimenting, analyzing, drawing conclusions, and communicating results. Great skills, not just for science, but for life.

(Oh, and if you were wondering, Diet Pepsi beat out six other soda brands for the title of tallest eruption. Seltzer water was a bust. A video of the 2nd grade experiments is showing on the 2nd grade web page and will be on our elementary TV monitor soon.)

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