Eileene Bunting and Julie Myers
Middletown School

Water is such a basic, common element that it might be a little surprising to think of constructing an entire hands-on science unit to investigate it. But, we have found water to be a fascinating material and topic for children, when they are asked to both play around with it and purposefully consider its qualities. And, it may be that water's everyday quality and availability make it an all the more valuable topic for young children, helping them learn that fun and inquiry are always close at hand.

Through our unit, we hope that children learn some of the basic qualities of water: it is wet and clear, you can mix things with it, and some objects float upon it while others sink. More importantly, we want to give the children opportunities to work with some processes of scientific inquiry: predicting, comparing and contrasting, practicing the exact recording of information, working together. Our unit particularly emphasizes the skills of working in groups, (even in classroom clean-up!), which we have found to be a challenge at times, but believe contributes to our greater classroom goals.

There are two basic ways of working in our unit: guided experimentation and free exploration. While the children might learn more science content about water in guided experimentation, in free exploration they are able to build upon these ideas, modify them, and follow their curiosities by playing with the materials. One of our favorite activities was where students were given many different objects and had to predict whether they would sink or float. The objects varied in many ways; some, for instance, were the same size, but had different weights. After this experiment, we found that the children engaged in extended explorations of sinking and floating on their own during the free exploration time.

We have tried to write our unit as useful and as straightforward as possible. We have also tried to integrate our explorations of water with extensions to math, art, and language arts. In piloting this unit, we have returned to it on different occasions during an entire semester. We have felt the need to shape our unit as something ongoing, and have been pleased with how the students continue to learn more and more, with little input from us. However, we also think it would be possible to do a smaller mini-unit with these materials during a period of four to six weeks. If you would like further information on our unit, please e-mail Eileene or Julie. We would also be interested in hearing your response to our unit, and your ideas for helping children to become fascinated with wonderful water!

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