From Abstract to Hands-On
May 29, 2019
As a younger, fifth grade science teacher (not too long ago), I made a lot of mistakes that I wish I could go back and redo. When speaking to a parent about our North Carolina fifth grade weather standards recently, some of these past mistakes came back to me.
I assumed that all kids had been to the beach.
Why don’t they get it? It’s not that hard to understand.
I mean, if you’ve been to the beach (like everyone?), then you’d just know that the higher pressure mass of cooler, denser, sinking air known as a sea breeze naturally blows from the ocean to the beach to replace the lower pressure mass of warmer, less dense, rising air during the daytime. And vice versa for a land breeze at nighttime. It’s that easy.
I assumed that others cared about sea breezes and land breezes.
And that matters big time because others’ perspectives matter big time. You have to know your people.
In fact, many kids have never been to the beach, so they can’t access prior knowledge to transfer to new learning.
I didn’t lay any foundation to support, scaffold, or extend potential, prior knowledge. In fact, I didn’t even conduct a beach trip survey–I just assumed!
What’s truly alarming is just how complex and abstract weather is to teach and learn as an adult. I invested an entire summer just doing research to strengthen my background knowledge. There’s a lot out there.
Yet–The North Carolina Science Essential Standards expectation is for eleven-year-olds to master these phenomena by the end of fifth grade!
So, as an educator, what can you do? How can you create learning by doing opportunities that are inexpensive, efficient, effective, multi-purposeful, and easily reproducible?
Here are three opportunities to try:
Role-Play and live in the context in which you’re learning. Create a virtual field trip.
Kids will recall Sea Breeze Day, when they brought in beach towels, laid on the floor, and felt the gentle sea breeze (fan) on their face, only to be drowned out by beach music, the chewing of pineapple, and the drinking of bottled water.
It’s not enough to read about convection currents. We’re going to feel them on our faces, just like the summer-vacationing people feel sea breezes on their faces during the day.
Create, manipulate, and analyze models. These are a lot of fun, and having actual, hands-on the physical, learning materials is a great example of how the offline experience blew away the online competition, this time.
Here’s how I made one of these weather models:
I used 1×2 pieces of wood, wood screws, and eyelet screws to position a circle of plastic tubing (Lowe’s). Then, I set that inside a large Sterlite container (Target) and covered half of the bottom in Play Sand (Lowe’s). I added Animal Tube animals (craft stores) and seashells from my own beach excursions. The total cost was about $25.00.
Then, kids added Sun and Moon pictures for the time of day; H and L labels for air pressure; and arrows for the direction of convection currents. They loved manipulating the classroom fan as the breeze, depending on the time of day. This model was begging for manipulation and a whirlwind of possibilities.
Advantages of learning with models like these?
- This sea breeze/land breeze model doubles as a water cycle, fronts, and cloud elevation model, so far.
- Have one group set up Discovery Education‘s Spotlight on Strategies: Three Truths and a Lie for another group to solve.
- Integrate storytelling on Seesaw at school.
- Integrate convection current examples into weather reports from home or vacations on Flipgrid.
- Upload pictures of kids working with the model to GSuite for detailed analyses in Google Drawings, Slides, Docs, or Classroom.
It’s not enough to watch a video about convection currents. We’re going to put our hands on them and make them do what we want them to do for the sake of our learning.
If possible, invite students 1-15 to wear low pressure, warm colors like red, orange, and yellow. Invite students 16-30 to wear high pressure, cool colors like blue, green, or purple. This is your Convection Current Day.
Act. It. Out. At the very least, role-play is powerful and memorable.
- Size: How big or small will these convection current air molecules be?
- Altitude: Are some molecules higher or lower than others? Why?
- Density: Are some molecules more tightly packed together or spread out? How?
- Change: Will they change size, altitude, and density throughout the cycle? When?
This is another reason #WhyIBlog. Reflecting on mistakes like these directly impacts my practice. I’m reminded all over again about how we need to experience abstract concepts to learn them well, to add meaning, and to construct unique memories–and not just read about them out of textbooks or watch them in a video.
The bottom line is not that these models or ideas are so amazing.
The bottom line is that learning abstract phenomena without hands-on opportunities is really challenging for lifelong learners of all ages. But just maybe, providing hands-on experiences like these can make learning all the more tangible, meaningful, memorable, and fun for kids.
Fifth grade science #nced-ucators who teach sea breezes can't assume that every kid has been to the beach. That's why we have "Sea Breeze Day," so that every child can access prior knowledge and meaning constructed from this experience to apply later. #sci5E13 #sci5E11 #wakesclt
— Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) April 10, 2019
Most adults can't explain these convection currents. Many Ss may not be able to experience sea/land breezes or mountain/valley breezes in real life. We poured sand in containers to make inexpensive, #handsonlearning models. #sci5E11 #sci5P31 #sci5E13 https://t.co/Um5lJ3Qk3c
— Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) March 8, 2018
— Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) March 22, 2017
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— Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) March 28, 2017
— Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) March 10, 2017
— Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) April 27, 2015
— Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) April 10, 2015
— Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) April 8, 2015
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— Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) April 11, 2014
1-Teachers Demonstrate Leadership, 2-Teachers Establish a Respectful Environment for a Diverse Population of Students, 3-Teachers Know the Content They Teach, 4-Teachers Facilitate Learning for Their Students, 5-Teachers Reflect on Their Practice, 6-Teachers Contribute to the Academic Success of Students