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Grade 4 Students Learn That Great Science Comes from Great Questions

Grade 4 Students Learn That Great Science Comes from Great Questions
Tanya Olander

The nearly two-meter long model is filled with brown earth. At one end, a green tube juts out, ready to deliver a deluge of water across the landmass before it. What will happen next? That’s up to our Grade 4 students to predict!

During their Super Unit, “Viable Vietnam,” Grade 4 students have focused on understanding how the sustainability of culture is connected to the environment. Using Google Earth to research landforms, the students have explored the Mekong, tracking it from beginning to end in efforts to understand how wind and water impact society and cultures. 

Students place their "villages" after studying the landmass in front of them.

Surveying the model of the landmass, Kiera and her Grade 4 classmates place green figurines representing their “villages” in what they hope will be the safest spots. ES Instructional Coach for STEM, Ms. Kattina Fox rests her hand on the water spout, asking the group what they think will happen next. “What are some predictions of what will happen once we turn on the water?”

Instructional Coach for STEM, Kattina Fox, reiterates a student's reflections as another student works on a sketch of the Stream Lab model.

Noting that the dirt slopes off at the end of the model, the students discuss whose village could be in jeopardy of the ensuing flood. Ms. Fox slowly turns the spout. At first, just a trickle of water comes out. Then, as the stream becomes heavier, the water bends and curves along the “villages,” creating patterns and small pools in the brown earth. 

A student watches apprehensively as the water begins to pool around her village.

As the students watch the basin fill with water, they make note of the changes they observe. “I see the water is going around a village, it’s forming a delta..with branches!”, exclaims one student. Ms. Fox nods, encouraging the students to dig deeper. “Does anyone remember the name for the “branches?” she asks. “Distributaries!”, the students call out eagerly.

Students study how the steady stream of water affects the landmass and their villages.

Ms. Fox removes a clamp, increasing the strength of the water. The earth can no longer support the structures, and the water washes away a number of the villages. “What is this model helping us see?” she asks the students, who are instructed to turn to a neighbor and discuss more in-depth, reflecting on what might have prevented the villages from floating away.

Teaching Assistant, James Tang, listens as a student describes what is happening. Describing what they see and learning how to ask questions is an integral part of the lesson for students.

Today, anyone can find the answer to almost anything with a quick internet search. “But,” shares Grade 4 teacher, David Ross, “we're trying to help kids be aware that the internet is just one way to research. Conducting another, more in-depth experiment, doing some field research, or asking an expert are also effective ways to acquire information.”

“Great science comes from great questions,” adds Ms. Fox. And with that, the lesson is over, but the learning never stops. .

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