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Science Investigations Become Interdisciplinary Learning Experiences

PRES students watch scientific reaction

A state-required science investigation became an interdisciplinary adventure under the guidance of fifth-grade teacher Amy Coughlin and Elementary Coordinator Erica Volpe at Pound Ridge Elementary School.

Fifth-grade students are required to complete three investigations before taking New York State’s Elementary-Level Science Test in the spring. Designed to prepare students for the test, these hands-on experiments also provide them with authentic lab experience.

Recently, PRES fifth graders investigated matter after finishing their unit on the subject — and Coughlin and Volpe wove math and literacy into the experience.

Pairs of students began by pouring 50 milliliters of water into a Ziploc bag. They observed the properties of the water and took notes. Next, they placed an antacid tablet onto a Petri dish, observing that as well. Some groups had whole tablets while others had one broken into quarters or smaller pieces.

“It has a faint smell,” one student noticed.

“It has little letters on it,” another said.

Once the observations were made, it was time to get to the meat of the experiment. With one student holding a stopwatch, their partner put the antacid into the bag of water and both students watched the reaction. The stopwatch was stopped once the antacid disappeared.

“What happened to the tablet?” Coughlin asked. “What’s a scientific word we learned?”

“It dissolved!” a student called out.

Next, students began taking notes on what they observed happening to the water, the tablet and the bag as the antacid dissolved.

 “The tablet started to fizzle and disappear,” one student said to his partner.

“There were bubbles in the water,” another said.

“Did anything happen to the bag?” asked Volpe as she walked from group to group.

“It got more air in it!”

Another student noted that the water started to froth up and get cloudy.

“What vocabulary word can we use to describe water like that?” Coughlin asked. The class settled on the word “opaque.”

They then talked about what exactly happened during the experiment.

“What happened to the tablet?” Volpe asked.

“It totally disappeared,” a student answered.

“What did we learn?” Coughlin asked. “Did it really disappear?”

“No!” the student responded. They discussed how the molecules of the tablet were still there and that the addition of the tablet turned the liquid into a gas.

After discussing observations, it was time to compare data. Each group shared how long it took for their tablet to dissolve, which was noted in a chart that was broken down to show how many pieces of antacid a group had. They then calculated the average times for a whole tablet, a tablet broken into quarters and a tablet broken into smaller pieces to break down.

“See, this connects with decimals, just like we’re doing in math,” Coughlin said, as students rounded times to the nearest hundredths.

Through gentle nudges and questions that challenged students to think a step deeper, Coughlin and Volpe encouraged students to use their critical thinking skills, to think independently while working collaboratively, and to make connections across disciplines.

PRES students work on lab