Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Focused Exploration: Exploring Water

Focused Exploration

  • Focused Exploration focuses on a specific task or challenge.

  • Science Talks are used to share experiences and ideas, and to introduce a challenge.

  • Exploration becomes more teacher-focused and more teacher-directed, while still validating students' ideas and theories.

Transitioning from Open Exploration to Focused Exploration

During Open Exploration you introduced materials for students to explore water, and offered them ample time to have undirected play with those materials. As you spend this time observing the students, you will begin to notice a few changes.

  • Some or all of your students will have gained confidence and familiarity with exploring water with their tools.

  • Some or all of your students may have specific questions about water exploration that reveal their engagement. Why did the water flow go fast and then slow down? How do I get my boat to float?

  • Some or all of your students will start to explore new uses for the water tools on their own.

Begin the transition when you notice these deliberate changes in your students' play. Notice what your students are interested in and let their interests guide your Focused Exploration. For example:

  • If your students are becoming interested in pouring or moving water from here to there, begin Focused Exploration with a Water Flow Challenge.

  • If your students are becoming interested in dropping objects in the water or using toy boats, begin Focused Exploration with a Sink and Float Challenge.

  • If your students are becoming interested in looking at tiny drops of water, or water repelling from or being absorbed by objects, begin with a Drops Challenge.

 

Challenge 1: Sink or Float

Pull together a few everyday objects for students to experiment with in a small container of water or a water table. Will the object sink or float? Make predictions! 

For a detailed guideline of a Sink or Float Challenge, refer to our Sink or Float Challenge Classroom Resource.

Materials

  • Container of water or water table

  • Various objects — apple, penny, cork, etc.

  • Chart paper or a way to document sinking and floating

Science Talk Ideas

  • Sit around a water table and ask students to predict if an apple will sink or float, then a penny. Try other objects and have predictions. 

  • Chart the outcome on a piece of paper. 

This resource is a chart that can be used during a Sink or Float Focused Exploration Challenge. 

Challenge 2: Bubbles

Observing bubbles in the water goes hand-in-hand with exploration of water flow. Bubbles can be introduced before or after Water Flow, depending on what your students seem most interested in at the time. Once you introduce and look more purposefully at one concept, it will be simple to move into the other. 

Materials

  • Plastic tubing with y-connectors

  • Funnels

  • Measuring cups

  • Turkey basters

  • Plastic cups or water bottles

Where do bubbles come from? What do they look like?

What are they made out of? 

  • Place a cup upside down in water and push it all the way to the bottom. What happens? How can you make bubbles with the tube? Squeeze bottle? Turkey baster?

  • Use tubes to move water. Do you notice a bubble? What do you notice about the bubbles you see in the tubes? 

Science Talk Ideas

  • Sit during circle time with tubes, y-connectors, funnels, and cups. Ask students what they know about these materials. What can they do with them? Can they use them to make the water move? Do they see bubbles?

  • Offer students an opportunity to formulate ideas about where bubbles come from. Discuss how air forms bubbles — even though we cannot see the air. 

  • Transition into Water Flow, if you haven't already.

Challenge 3: Water Flow

Students are challenged to make water flow from one bucket to another.

Water is so different from other things — let's explore how water moves and observe some basic properties of water.

Materials

  • Plastic tubing with y-connectors

  • Funnels

  • Measuring cups

  • Turkey basters

  • Plastic cups or water bottles with holes 

How does water move? How can we move water from one container to another container?

Explore cups or bottles with holes – fill them up and observe what happens. What would happen if you covered a hole? Released it?

Explore moving water through tubes. Do you notice any air bubbles? What are ways that you can make the water move? Can you make it move fast? Slow?

Science Talk Ideas

Discuss what the students noticed, either as a whole class or in small groups. Give them opportunities to describe the water and the way it moved.

Now challenge students to move the water intentionally. How can they make water move upwards? Will the water move if there are not any bubbles? 

Transition into Bubbles, if you haven't already

Challenge 4: Drops

Explore water’s properties through a focused exploration of drops. This is a great activity to try all together during circle time. 

Materials

 

  • Eye-dropper

  • Paper towel

  • Construction paper

  • Wax paper

  • Aluminum foil

  • Any other materials that are appropriate

How will water drops act on different materials? Make predictions!

How do you think the drops will look? How do you think drops will move? How do you think drops will behave on different surfaces?

Science Talk Ideas

  • Have students use descriptive words to share how the water drops appear. Chart the descriptions on a piece of paper

  • Predict what will happen to the drops on the different materials.

 

More Science Talk Ideas

  • Have students sketch or take a photo of their friends exploring water and share with the group.

  • Discuss with them what their greatest challenge was when they were exploring the water.

  • Ask them how they would change what they did with the water next time. Why? 

  • Go on neighborhood walkabouts — perhaps you'll see puddles, fountains, even drinking fountains.

  • Share books, pictures, photographs, or posters of water.

  • Invite visiting experts. Invite family or other staff from your building who work in plumbing, engineering or other water related fields to talk to students about water.

  • Create or share two- and three-dimensional representations of water.

A Teacher's Role

  • Give students ample opportunities to explore ask questions.

  • Offer them guidance throughout the inquiry process. Perhaps they have questions but have trouble articulating their questions. Help them observe what they are doing, and work together with other students.

  • Encourage students to try ideas again and again, especially students who become frustrated. "Back to the drawing board!" becomes positive.

  • Continue to offer students small challenges to deepen their inquiry. You may offer "What if" questions such as "What if we took water out of the measuring cup with the turkey baster?" "What if" scenarios are an excellent way to open the door for students to reflect and explore.

Remember the Science Goals

Vocabulary

Sink
Float
Drops
Sticky
Flow
Eye-dropper
Turkey Baster