Intentional Teaching on a Large Scale

We are going to continue our discussion on intentional teaching today. Yesterday I talked about the importance of intentional teaching and that it is brought in at Free Choice time. Free Choice doesn't mean that there are no teacher directed activities going on, it just means that the teacher directed activities are one of several choices that can be made.

The month of October, I spent my days doing the same science experiment in every classroom to show the teachers how to have intentional teaching in their classrooms. It was only ONE way of bringing this concept to the classroom.

I planned one lesson. The materials I needed were:
baking soda
liquid water colors OR food coloring- you'll need 3 colors
one tray (I quickly changed this to two trays, but start out with just one, the second tray comes in much later in the project)
8 paper cups (dixie cups proved too flimsy, get the next size up; or if you have some reusable cups or small containers you use for projects, use those)
6 to 8 eye droppers OR pipettes (the more you have the better, but AT LEAST 6)
1 piece of plain white paper
a stack of dictation paper (this is the paper with the top half blank for children to draw and the bottom half has lines for writing)
2 sets of crayons (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, black, brown)
2 sets of colored pencils (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, black, brown) Make sure these are sharpened

When setting up the project (which, although it will take you about 15 minutes to read this, actually only takes about 5 minutes to set up) take the white paper and make a chart using 3 columns and 7 rows. In the top row, label the last two columns: vinegar, H2O

In the first column, label the rows 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

(Sorry, I have no pictures right now, but when I get some I will upload so you can see)

Take 6 of the paper cups and mark the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 on them. If you are using reusable containers, use masking tape or something else.

In those cups, randomly fill 3 with water and 3 with vinegar then using the 3 colors, randomly color those three waters and three vinegars...make sure that there is one color of each (so, one blue water and one blue vinegar, one red water and one red vinegar, etc...)

Put one pipette or eye dropper in each cup.

When I set the project at the table (which is typically while the children are at circle because, at least in our program, circle typically precedes free choice time), I put most of the supplies under the table within easy reach of me; or, if there was a shelf behind me, I was able to place the items there. Just make sure that the materials are out of the way within easy access of you. You don't want the children to get distracted by what you are GOING to do and be able to focus on what you ARE DOING right at that moment.

So, set aside the stack of dictation papers, crayons, pencils, vinegar, colored cups, the chart you've made, and one of the colors (it doesn't matter which one, the other colors can be put away because you won't need them anymore. The only thing ON the table at this point should be an empty tray, a box of baking soda, and two empty cups (not marked with anything).

When the children CHOOSE to come to the table (and if it's introduced at circle as one of the choice, there will be plenty that choose to come) have them sit around the table. More children than chairs are often times interested. That's fine! Just because there are 8 chairs doesn't mean another chair can't be added! Seriously, let them bring more chairs or even stand around!

Show them the box of baking soda and ask if they have ever seen this before. Some will say yes, but when you ask them where they can't tell you. I talk to them about maybe seeing this in the kitchen at home. Maybe when mom is making cookies or something.

Then, dump a bunch (and by a bunch I mean HALF THE BOX) on the tray. Then feel it and show them how it's powdery and soft. Then slowly pass the tray around to give everyone an opportunity to feel it. If you show them first, most likely they will keep it mild and just touching to feel. Make sure everyone has a chance to touch it.

Bring the tray back in front of you. Tell them that you are going to explore with putting some water on the baking soda and see what happens. Give one of the empty cups to one of the children and ask him/her to go fill it with water. What I found interesting was that in the 29 classrooms I did this in, not a single child over filled the cup. Most only filled it half full. This is one of those tasks that you have to TRUST the children in a task that we would usually do ourselves because we are afraid they "might spill". It's just water. Even if they DO spill, it wipes right up; and the majority of the time they will surprise you.

Okay, now, pick up one of the eye droppers or pipettes. I like the pipettes best because then we get to learn a new word. I hold it up and ask the children if they know what this is called. Most of the time they do now. I explain, "This is an eye dropper. But, since we are experimenting today and pretending to be scientists, another word for this is pipette. Can you say that?"

See, we've now added LANGUAGE to our SCIENCE project. It is really that simple!

Then I ask, "Does anyone know how to use these? What do I have to do first?"

Have you ever noticed that some of them really don't know how to use these? They will put them in the cup, but they don't squeeze and let go to make them work properly. This is the opportunity to STIMULATE their KNOWLEDGE and SHOW THEM how it works. It's almost mean of us to not SHOW children how to accomplish tasks and make them learn these things on their own. But it's something that I see so often because, "I don't want to interrupt their learning process."

Okay, then I go through the steps of using the pipette. "First, I squeeze it, then I put it in the water, then I let go." I make a big show of doing this then make a big show of what happened, "Did you see that water shoot right up the tube? Let's see that again. First I squeeze, then I put it in the water, then I let go. Did you see it? Then to get the water out, what do I need to do?" When someone says squeeze it, then I do that right into the cup.

Now we are ready for the next step. I say, "Okay, how about we put some water on the baking soda. What do you think is going to happen?" Many of them sit around and just stare at me. So, we try it. Nothing happens.

Then I try it again. "What happens?" Wait for some answers then move on.

Take out your bottle of vinegar. Ask them if they know what this is. ALMOST EVERY CHILD will say WATER!!!! This is when I hand it to a child and say, "Smell that, is that water?" They quickly shake their head when they find out that it's NOT water. Then we pass it around so EVERYONE can smell the vinegar. I explain that it's vinegar. It LOOKS like water, but it's not.
It's important that all the children get a chance to smell the vinegar because they will have to have the smell knowledge later in the activity; of course, if they refuse, don't force them.

Now pour some vinegar into the other empty cup. Put the bottle of vinegar off to the side. Take another pipette and ask, "How do I use this?" This reinforces for the children what they are supposed to do when they use a pipette. As they tell you, go through the motions.

Once you have vinegar in the pipette, ask, what do you think will happen when I put this on the baking soda. Again, they won't have a clue, but you are sparking their minds and getting those wheels turning.

Put some on the baking soda and watch and listen to the wonder! "Hm, what happened?" Wait for some answers. Common responses, "It made bubbles; It's like soda"

Then, do it again. Then, say, "Wow, what happens when I put water on?" Then do it again. Take a minute flipping between water and vinegar and talking about what happens each time. In the end, the understanding needs to be: "Water does nothing, vinegar makes bubbles"

Once you are confident that the majority of the children understand this (by the way, some of the children who started out in this activity will have left by this point, that's okay; this is free choice and it's more than they are ready for) then wonder out loud, "I wonder if I change the color if the same thing will happen." Take your food coloring or liquid water color and add a drop to each the water and the vinegar.

"What do you think will happen if I put RED water on the baking soda?" Then try it out. Many of them are surprised that there is still no reaction.

"What do you think will happen if I put RED vinegar on the baking soda?" Some will be unsure.

Again, make sure that you repeat this process several times until the majority of them understand that vinegar will ALWAYS react and that the water will NEVER react. Typically, this doesn't take long if you are constantly talking with them through the process.

Once everyone has this understanding, pull out the chart and a pencil. Tell them that you have some cups of liquid (yes, use the word liquid) that some are vinegar and some are water and you don't know which ones but they are going to help you figure it out. Explain that you are going to take a cup (and take out cup number 1) and everyone is going to get a chance to smell it and look at it and decide what they THINK is inside.

"Then, when you tell me what you think, I am going to put a mark on this chart so we can see how many think it's water, and how many think it's vinegar. See, this is the column for vinegar and this column, it says H2O on it, that's another way to say water. Can you say that? H2O. What's that mean? Water."

Throughout the rest of this process. Whenever a child says water, repeat, "What's another way to say water? H2O" This will reinforce this concept.

Okay, once you've explained, they still aren't going to be sure of what's happening until you begin. So, take cup number one, pass it to the first child, and ask, "What do you think is in this cup?" Let them smell and tell you what they think, then make a show about putting a line in that square. (Oh, word of warning, take out the pipette before passing the cup around because the one thing they really want to be doing is squeezing and squirting with that in their face.

Now, once you pass the cup around the table, stop and count together how many think it's water and how many think it's vinegar (you will be surprised at the answers). Then ask, "how will we know? What will happen if it's vinegar?"

Then, ask one child to test it. When it bubbles (did I forget to tell you that the best practice to keep them hooked is to make the first cup vinegar?) ask them, "So, what's that mean? What's in the cup?"

Take out the second cup and pass you CHART to one child and ask, "Do you want to be my record keeper?" Give them the pencil and explain, "When someone says water, put a mark here; when someone says vinegar, put a mark here." Then, start passing around cup 2. Make sure that you point to the place you want the child to make a mark on the paper at first; some pick up on it faster than other, but give them a chance.

Then, count the number of guesses. Then, pick another child to test. BEFORE allowing the test, ask again, "What will happen if it's vinegar? What will happen if it's water?" Then, let the child test it.

Continue this process, choosing a different record keeper and a different tester each time. Six cups seems to be the perfect amount to test. Any more and I have found children get board; any less and not all the children have a concrete understanding.

Once all the testing has been completed, put the cups aside and leave the tray and the chart on the table. Pull out the dictation paper and explain, "We've been doing an experiment and the one thing that scientists always do after and experiment is to document their findings. So, I need you to document what we have done here today. On the top of the paper here (and point to the picture area) I need you to draw a picture about what happened in our experiment. Then, when you're done drawing your picture, let me know and I will help you write the words to what happened. I have crayons and pencils from you to choose from so you can document. You can choose either one."

Then, pass out one paper for each child and put the crayons and pencils in the middle of the table for them. Let them talk about what they are drawing. Then, as they finish up, ask, "Are you ready for me to write your words?"

When one says yes, take his/her paper and ask, "What happened in our experiment?" Depending on the children' development and their experiences with YOU writing THEIR words, you'll get different responses. The most popular? "Water, vinegar, water, vinegar, water, vinegar, bubbles."

Write whatever they want you to write. I then give their paper back and tell them, "Don't forget to write your name so we know who's it is." No, I DO NOT write their name for them, even after they wrote their name. It really doesn't matter; what matters is that they attempted to write their name.

Then, once everyone is done with their documentation, take out all the cups and put them around the table, put out another tray and empty the other half of the box, and let them explore on their own.

They have now been taught how to use the materials. They may need reminders to keep it low so that it doesn't splash in someone's eyes, but they are pretty good about it. The most fun part of this is when someone (and it inevitably happens) takes some of the flooded liquid mix in the tray and puts it into their cup of vinegar. It bubbles. Sometimes it bubbles over. It's okay. It's part of the process. But they have learned something new: vinegar onto the baking soda makes bubbles....bubbles INTO the vinegar also makes bubbles.

To allow children to revisit the experiment, put out another tray of baking soda with some cups of vinegar and water and eye droppers onto the science table. This will allow them to revisit it. Again, they now know how to use the materials and will do so properly if you taught them properly. Take their dictation sheets and make a book of the experiment so that they can revisit what happened.

If there seems to be an ongoing interest, find out how other liquids react. What would happen if you put milk on it? How about apple juice? apple cider? This is a great activity that can extend for a very long time.

The thing about it is, you didn't just put it in the science center with no explanation. They now have the language and the knowledge behind what is happening. You have now stimulated their learning process and enriched their free choice experiences. This type of Intentional Teaching is very important in the preschool classroom. It's teaching to the children's interest and adding to their knowledge.

Tomorrow, we will talk about taking Intentional Teaching to the areas of the classroom, specifically the block area.

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