make sense of processes in other domains. The foundation built in Ms. Faulkner’s classroom will be critical for their success in subsequent years.
What specific classroom activities and forms of instruction supported the students’ conceptual reorganization? First, it’s important to note that Ms. Faulkner began the unit by recognizing and honoring students’ everyday knowledge in order to transform and build on it. She convinced her students that air is matter and takes up space, not by telling them but by letting them observe the empty glass being pushed into the water while not letting any water in. They could not see the air, but they could see its force on the water.
They could also see that air is compressible or, as they described it, “squishable.” They saw that the water entered the glass a little bit—evidence that the water was forcing the air into a smaller space. They couldn’t see molecules, but the idea of air pressure allowed them to make sense of the idea of air getting squished into a smaller space.
In their situation stations, the students experienced multiple demonstrations and activities that helped them explore—and revisit in new forms—some of the ways in which air and water act. These experiences provided them with specific and shared experiences to integrate, think with, and generalize from.
The demonstrations were designed to enable the students to recognize evidence that air presses up, down, and sideways and has fluid-like properties. They experienced the phenomenon of differential pressure in a gravitational field—the deeper down, the more pressure—in a column of air or water. These demonstrations also provided students with opportunities to work with and clarify their ideas. Working in small groups gave everyone time to try out their own ideas and hear the ideas of their teammates. This helped them prepare a presentation about their particular demonstration to share with the rest of the class. Work at the stations gave the students time to manipulate the materials, think about their counterintuitive outcomes, and prepare to present their ideas to others. Time for thinking, doing, and talking is essential for understanding complex ideas, especially ideas that require a transformation in one’s everyday thinking.
Of course, the capabilities of young children along each of the four strands are also limited in important ways. They have only limited understanding of different materials, of physical quantities such as weight or volume, and of how to