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Having a blast: 3rd graders explore reactions

“This activity asks students to try and determine what solid and liquid combination is best for creating an explosion that can launch a film cannister,” says Primary School Science Teacher Andy.

Like a rocket?
“More like a projectile.”

Did the students enjoy it?
”They had a blast. No pun intended. I like to teach through inquiry because it is our primary means of engaging students in learning. So I try give them opportunities to inquire as much as possible. Phase 1 of the activity has students making observations and drawing conclusions to determine which powder/liquid combination produces a reaction. From these observations, I then ask students to identify the items they want to explore more. Students then have the opportunity to design a research question and procedure to help guide them in Phase 2 when they continue the inquiry. It is this exposure to multiple means of inquiry that forms the foundation of how we are going to learn together this year.”

Can you explain these types of inquiry?
“The different types of inquiry have to do with the role of the students and the role of the teacher. In a structured inquiry, the teacher sets the outcome and the procedure for the students, like ‘Mix these liquids with these solids and see which results you get’. With the guided inquiry, the question is still formulated by the teacher, but the procedure is designed by the students. When we were experimenting with the film canisters, the question is ‘Which powder-liquid combination creates the biggest explosion?’. They were asking me ‘How much do we need to add?’, and I said, ‘I don’t know, that’s part of the exploration’. When they ask those questions, it becomes open inquiry: ‘If I add more powder, but use the same amount of liquid, does it explode more or does it reach a saturation point?’. The more the students ask the questions and design the procedure, the more open the inquiry gets.”

How does that help them learn?
“One of the misconceptions is that if you have fun, no learning takes place. But in reality, having fun enhances the learning because they are more engaged. I try to create a positive experience, where they are having fun, feeling successful and are challenged, where they don’t know everything, but we’re in this together. That’s really important for me, that we support these thinking skills and social learning opportunities. It supports our over-all goal of creating these future citizens.”

Because the jobs of the future don’t exist yet?
“That discussion kind of bothers me. It’s not the job market of the future we’re educating kids for. We’re educating kids for the society of the future. Jobs are part of society. If they’re prepared to be citizens of the future, then they’ll be prepared for the jobs of the future. Our school values are compassion, integrity, creativity, inclusion and growth. And if they walk away from education with those dispositions, they’ll be successful.”

Andy has been at Copenhagen International School for 10 years. As an IBPYP Workshop Leader, he has led workshops and presented at IB schools and conferences across Europe since 2011.