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doesn’t have much time to do things because her mom is always working, I decided to begin my science-related questions in terms of daily life associations rather than talking about zoo or museum visits. Unlike a child growing up in a suburban or rural area, it became apparent that Mia does not have much opportunity to be outside and to explore her natural world. I realized that Mia was not able to participate in any overtly science-based activities this summer and that my childhood days spent exploring the woods behind my house are simply not possibilities in Mia’s urban environment. This reality reminded me of Michaels, Shouse, and Schweingruber’s plea to empower our students, especially those who are minorities and disadvantaged not only because they are underrepresented in scientific fields but also because with an outlook of inquiry children can learn to participate in their world (2008: 3). Knowing that her family has come from Mexico I inquired about the weather in Mexico and how it is different than Philadelphia’s weather. Although she surprised me by saying that her grandparents in Mexico lived near a “volcan” (but it never exploded) she did not know much else about the environment of Mexico. After telling her that about a trip I took where I saw a volcano she was very interested and asked if animals live at volcanoes. I quickly realized from our discussion was that Mia is actually very interested in all kinds of animals and it seems that most of her information comes from television. This finding is perhaps
not surprising when she reported that her mom has to work every night and that she is not allowed out of her house by herself. However, she did mention what the weather in Philadelphia meant in terms of her life; if it was sunny she got to go to the river ( a word she needed help with) which she likes because “there are no crocodiles, but there are fish but that’s ok because they don’t eat people.” Just when I was wondering how she knew about crocodiles she started telling me about a show she saw where a girl was attacked by a crocodile and it ate her leg and she died. She also cited a video she saw on TV where there was a boat in the ocean (another word she needed help with: “What’s the water called at the beach?”) and the driver was looking for sharks in Australia. It seems that her status as an ELL as well as the majority of her animal and geography information coming from TV shows has left Mia interested in animals, especially dangerous ones but it has also left her with gaps in understanding such as where these particular animals can be found and why. After the prior conversation I decided to use a National Geographic picture book called The Rain Forest in order to try and capitalize on Mia’s animal interests. She told me “ I wish I could go to a farm and see chickens;” but by reading the book she realized that she would not find chickens in the rain forest. I asked her if she had ever seen any of the animals from the book outside in her life. After a bit of discussion she said “chickens don’t live in the rain forest they don’t belong there.” Mia seemed to be very excited by the book; on each page she excitedly pointed out the animals that she could name and asked about ones that looked unfamiliar to her, she noted the bright green colors as well as the real pictures shown in the book. Just
as she seemed unfamiliar with words such as river and ocean, we discussed the meaning of tropical which she thought meant hot and sunny and I tried to also explain the ‘rainy’ part of the rain forest and we talked about sweating and wetness and humidity. Defining and classifying these terms support the SAPA pyramid and will aid in Mia’s literacy especially as an ELL. When Mia came across the word litter I told her it meant throwing trash on the ground. She looked incredulous; “Oh, then you’re not a good citizen, my mom and dad and me are good citizens, we pick up people’s trash.” Mia then showed me that she was aware of her surroundings; doing a sort of neighborhood environmental ethnography as she went to the window and we looked for trash outside together that should be picked up and thrown away.
Sink and Float
When Mia saw the tub of water I had prepared for her she said “Oh, we’re doing flat or sink?” I asked her if she meant “float” and she flashed her embarrassed smile and said “oh yeah, float.” She went on to explain that the previous week they did a sink and float experiment on one of the days that I was not there. I worried that this activity would be redundant as well as an unnatural assessment of her thinking around these topics. Here are the objects I used: I chose a 1g plastic cube because I knew it would sink but because of it’s size and weight I thought that Mia would think it would float. I used a plastic water bottle cap that floats to give Mia and opportunity to decide how she would place the cap in the water. I included a popsicle stick and a clothespin because both are made of wood and I wanted to see if
Mia would predict the same result of both of them. The piece of glass and marble I included I knew would both sink, and I wanted to see if Mia thought that the weight of these objects would affect whether they sink or float. I chose a paper clip because although it is a very light item, I knew it would sink and was curious if it being metal or if it’s light weight would determine Mia’s prediction. In order to have a clay-like item I included Silly Puddy that I knew would sink but that I thought Mia would find ambiguous because of it’s malleable state. I chose a small paper cup that I knew would float with the hopes that Mia would play with the cup and see if she could get it to react in certain ways. Lastly, I included a piece of foil as a wildcard item because of my sink and floats I did at home I was curious to see how Mia would shape the foil and how she would place it in the tub of water because I knew that this would affect if the foil floated or sank. Keeping in mind that she had participated in a similar trial the previous week, I was surprised when I observed Mia interacting with the materials. Although she experimented with the water bottle cap, the clothespin, and the paper cup by pushing them to the bottom, filling the cap and cup with water as well as seeing if the clothespin reacted differently than the popsicle stick, for every other item Mia just dropped them in appearing to not give much thought to how she placed the item in the tub. Another trend that I noticed while guiding Mia through this activity was that she was unfamiliar with the items and could not correctly name the material of the items except for the plastic cap and paper cup. Because she mostly did not know what the items were made of, the material never played a role in her explanations of her predictions and of her understandings of the result of each trial.
Rather than material, Mia mostly sited the size of the object as the reason for her predictions. There were a few comments that stood out to me during the activity: First, when working with the plastic cap Mia held it upside down and said, “It looks like a boat so I think it will float.” This comment shows a connection Mia as made between a boat, that she knows stays above water, and a similar shape that the cap represents. Had we had more time I think that this comment would be a wonderful jumping off point to have a more advanced conversation about why boats do not sink. Later, I had Mia test the popsicle stick followed immediately by the clothespin to see if she would note that they are made of the same material and would thus act similarly when placed into water. Although she predicted that they both would float, when I told her that the clothespin was also made of wood she said, “just because they are made out of the same thing doesn’t mean it will float.” She could not think of an example for me but her comment seemed to show that either she wasn’t going to be tricked into thinking a certain way just based on the material and that perhaps she also thinks that the material doesn’t necessarily matter. Mia was most surprised about the piece of glass; she predicted it would float because it was medium sized; but when it sank she let out a gasp and when I asked her to explain why she thought it sank she said because it is medium-sized and hard. Although Mia tended to explain her predictions and results by the size of the item, there are several contradictions within the experiment that seems to show that Mia does not have a grasp on the characteristics that affect an item’s capacity of sinking or floating. Weight, even when prompted never came up during the activity, and Mia relied on size, hardness, and even smell (stick and clothespin) to determine
what the object was and if it would float or sink. Mia’s behavior during these science activities was engaged and excited however because she seems to lack opportunity for exploration of her natural world she consequently seems to lack familiarity with the characteristics relevant to sinking and floating as well as exposure to materials that I used. As a teacher I would try to harness Mia’s overall excitement and curiosity when trying new things to try to expand her language acquisition to include vocabulary that allows Mia to learn how to classify objects and characteristics and make subsequent predictions. For Mia, I would propose a physical science unit of study based on measuring in terms of weight; learning how to feel for different weights as well as learning how to use balance scales to determine actual weights in order to aid Mia’s ability to observe. Based on Mia’s interest in animals, particularly those she is not able to see in her everyday life, I would propose a study of animals she can see in her neighborhood such as pigeons, squirrels, perhaps other birds, and bugs, as well as a visit to the zoo to explore the animals that do not live in her neighborhood and to figure out what areas these animals naturally inhabit and why.
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