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Properties of objects and materials

By Mary Bigelow

Posted on 2008-01-12

Science and Children cover, January 2008Inquiry is not as dependent on equipment and technology as it is on the willingness of the teacher to model the process and to move from being a sage on the stage to be a guide on the side (or better yet – a partner in the process). What I find really interesting month after month in this journal is that the inquiry activities in the articles were actually conducted in real classrooms with real students — from young children exploring mixtures and elasticity to upper elementary students using satellite data to study local wetlands. The authors of these articles aren’t afraid of noting any unforeseen difficulties and the improvements they would make to the activity. On a practical note, I also liked how some of the articles list the related standards and have full-page resources (lesson outlines, student handouts) that could be used right away or saved for future lessons.
As you’re reading the articles, log into SciLinks and do a keyword search on “properties” or “matter” for websites that are related to this topic.
Two of these articles should be read together: “Button Basics” and “Science 101: Why Do We Classify Things in Science.” The first article describes an engaging classroom activity in classifying objects. When I did activities such as these with my students, I found the most interesting part was not the final chart or diagram but the conversations the students had during the process, the rationale they used in their classification schemes, and how they responded when another group used a different classification scheme for the same objects. The author of the Science 101 article notes that classification is not just an end in itself, but rather a process that is a means to an end – understanding concepts better. For example, in the “Case of the Missing Music” article, students don’t just classify fingerprints; they match the properties of fingerprints to solve a mystery. If you’re interested in other forensic activities, log into SciLinks and do a keyword search on “forensics”.
I hope that the readers of NSTA journals consider the Elementary-Middle School–High School classification as a fluid one! NSTA members have online access to all of the journals, and a quick browsing of the annotated table of contents can lead to ideas that can be adapted to other grade levels. For example, in this issue of S&C, the article “Mighty Molecule Models,” although used in fifth grade, could certainly be appropriate for secondary students, especially those who haven’t had much background in atoms and molecules. Regardless of the grade level, I think it’s important to keep guiding the students toward an understanding of what the models represent, as the authors of this article describe.
I could identify with the editor’s comment that some students were not familiar with the word “property” as it’s used in science. Sometimes we take this fundamental vocabulary for granted, thinking that the students understand how words such as “properties” and “theory” are used in science. I learned two new interpretations of words from this issue.

  • In the article “Attracting Student Wonderings,” these wonderings (a term I had not seen in this context before) could be called guiding or essential questions – and they were formulated by first-graders!
  • When I saw the title “Formative Assessment Probes – my first thought was that of electronic instruments. But the probes described here are processes to determine how students make connections between concepts, in this case the concepts of matter and rocks. The full-page probes can be downloaded, too.
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