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Are there fairies at the bottom of the bottle? STEM at St Andrew’s School for Girls Preschool

| March 23, 2020 | 0 Comments

BY LEE MILNER

Science provides the opportunity for children to exercise their natural curiosity and learn about the world around them with a sense of wonder and discovery.

It encourages communication through questions and answers, as well as critical thinking, as children try to analyse, predict and explain a science-related activity that relates to the world around them. St Andrew’s Preschool (part of St Andrew’s School for Girls in Bedfordview, Johannesburg) has introduced science to the preschoolers via an introduction to Albert Einstein and the simple safety rules for experimenting in the classroom. Several basic experiments have been conducted in the different classes, appropriate to the age groups. The desire and confidence to ask questions is the key to any learning experience. Thus, we encourage this form of thinking, and challenge the children to offer answers of their own to those open-ended questions. The children learn how to collaborate, and problem solve as they adopt the role of ‘Little Einsteins’.

Infants and toddlers

Ainissa Ramirez, a science ‘evangelist’, is quoted as saying, ‘Creativity is the secret sauce to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.’1 In our infant and toddler classes, we use exploration as a way of exposing our young learners to the wonders of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Some of the activities that we have used as introductions to science include:

• waterplay, such as pouring and measuring using differentsized containers

• colour mixing using crepe paper and cellophane, and mixing colours using droppers to squeeze two different colours out and seeing how they mix, as well as free painting with two primary colours to make secondary colours

• dropper painting using vinegar, food colouring and bicarbonate of soda

• baking mini pizzas by measuring, adding and mixing the ingredients in little bags, then flattening the base, adding the topping and baking in the oven for the correct amount of time

• cutting and mixing fruit into fruit salads

• seeing how plants absorb water, using daisies in foodcoloured water.

Three-year-olds

Our aim in the classes for three-year-olds is to keep our STEM activities age appropriate, and as simple as possible for the children to understand and to experience the concepts in a concrete manner. An example of this was a recent experiment with evaporation. The children were guided in an initial discussion, where we talked about what would happen if water was spilt and we did not wipe it up. The consensus was that it would ‘dry up’. The children were then able to experience this for themselves. They were each given a paintbrush and water, and had a lot of fun painting the corridor with water in the sun and seeing what would happen. The word ‘evaporation’ was introduced, and before long, the children were describing how the water disappeared or ‘evaporated’. Another experiment was how to change water into ice. The children agreed that the best idea would be to put it in the freezer, which we did overnight. The next day, the children were able to see what had happened to the water and play with the ice blocks that had formed. This led to a further discussion while they were playing, as the ice then started to melt again in their hands. They concluded that water needed to be made very cold to make ice and warmed up again to turn it back to water. The three-year-old group also investigated the concept of absorption. The class discussed how plants drink water, even if they do not have a mouth and tummy like humans do. They suggested that plants ‘drink’ water with their roots. To test their theory, the children mixed food colouring with water and placed white flowers in the coloured water. We asked the children what we might see happen if the plants were to ‘drink’ the coloured water. They responded that the flowers might change colour. The following day, we checked on the flowers and the petals had indeed changed to the colour of the food colouring they were in. The word ‘absorption’ was then introduced. Our aim at this level is to try and teach the basics of STEM in a simple and practical way, while the children are having lots of fun.

Four-year-olds

A similar approach of simplicity and fun is implemented in the four-year-old age group, where each child is able to participate in the experiments. Each child started the experiment by mixing sand and water together in an effort to create a mud mixture. This mixture was then moulded into pyramid-like structures by the children. We proceeded to make an opening at the top of our pyramid by piercing into the structure with our fingers. Once the children successfully pierced a hole into their structures and made an opening for the ‘volcano’, they could move on to the next exciting step. They now had to pour a spoonful of bicarbonate of soda into the opening of the volcano. Once the bicarb had made its way into the structure, the children had to mix white vinegar and red food colouring in a beaker on the side. Pouring the vinegar and food colouring mixture into the volcano opening reacted with the bicarbonate of soda, which resulted in an eruption mimicking that of a volcano. Instant fun!

Five-year-olds

In the five-year-old age group, foundational skills and experiences are consolidated and expanded by experimentation, the aim being for the children to think for themselves and ‘guestimate’. The children are encouraged to use their problemsolving skills to predict what the outcome of an experiment might be, and to figure out why experiments have worked or not. Our little Einsteins got dressed in lab coats and goggles, and a group discussion followed about the apparatus that would be used. All the children were given an opportunity to smell the vinegar, as well as taste and touch the bicarbonate of soda. The children were asked to guess what might happen during the process. The balloon experiment uses bicarbonate of soda, vinegar, a balloon and a cooldrink bottle to show the children how to blow up a balloon without using their mouths. The experiment worked well, as it was simple to set up and went relatively quickly, which meant that the children’s attention was held during the whole experiment. Our little Einsteins were asked to pour the vinegar into the bottle, and then fill the balloon with the bicarbonate of soda using a funnel. Once the balloon was attached to the bottle, the bicarbonate of soda was tipped into the vinegar and the balloon blew up. When asked why the balloon blew up, the children shared different scenarios. For example, perhaps there were fairies in the bottle that blew the balloon up. They then asked if we could try again. The balloon did not blow up. The children decided that it was because the fairies were tired. After the creative sharing of possibilities, they discovered the chemical reaction between the vinegar and bicarbonate of soda created air to fill the balloon (and not fairies!). Our aim is to base our children’s learning activities in play as they gain meaningful experiences and valuable skills through STEM activities. This helps to equip them with the 21st century skills that will be needed for them to be successful going forward in our ever-changing and uncertain world.

Lee Milner is head of St Andrew’s Preschool.

Reference:

  1. See: https://www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/stemming-slow-progress-inscience-tech-requires-encouragement-2019-02-11

Category: Autumn 2020

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