Everything seems to be turning into engineering in our house these days: Lego engineering, paper engineering (pop-up books, scenes and sets for their stop motion mini-movies), and water engineering. This water contraption has been a favorite for a long while and one that has never lost its appeal. Why not? Because children can play and explore and challenge their learning every time they use this nifty “device.” It is playful, engaging, but most importantly, it repeatedly invites children to be curious! Water is a “never-ending” topic so we will be back with it here and there. Stay tuned!
∞ Look inside this post for more detailed pictures of what you see in the video! ∞
I have been using this water contraption for as long as I can remember (this goes back twenty years!). I was first introduced to it when I worked as a Mixed Age Group teacher at a Lab School in the US. A group of graduate students introduced it to the children and, as they collected their data, I was amazed at how the kids engaged in really deep discussions and wondered about how water moved, traveled, and filled containers.
After the students left, we spent about six months (the rest of the academic year) tweaking, moving, adding, and rearranging the contraption to answer questions, study possibilities, and have plenty of fun with this! The interest in reading peaked for some children and ‘doing’ math for others. Children came up with names for the “thing” that took up good part of our room – no complaints here! They ranged from “the water machine” to “the space water device.” They had to explain how it worked to each other. Parents gravitated towards it when they dropped their kids off and I made sure to include it in our science parties!
But what’s so amazing about this? Playing with water? The contraption? The chance to change the course of their study and practice creativity? Testing their ideas with others? Learning to work well with the group? Using new vocabulary? Learning how to use math in context? All of the above!! Children discover and learn about the most amazing things with this contraption. They ask really deep questions and do what it takes to answer them. Generous amounts of time give them plenty of opportunities to engage in deep inquiries with it. Oh, and the wonderful learning that happens as a result of trial-and-error! There are hidden learning secrets in water : )
Next steps included but were not limited to:
- Charting how long it took them to make water fall from the top of the contraption to the bottom, how many cups to fill a funnel when holding the end closed, or simply comparing how many cups of water they had at the beginning and at the end of each study;
- Race beads through the tubes (that was a lot of fun!);
- Ways to make water go up (including blowing in the tubes as you saw in the video; this started some discussions about pump bottles);
- Ways to recycle the water at the end of the activity;
- Document their learning with drawings;
- Publish “water engineering” books to take home at the end of the year. These “Water Engineering Books” included a comprehensible collection of drawings and pictures of their “contraption action” inventions. Some parents even sent us pictures of their own versions during the summer break!
- More than I can remember!
A few years ago, I came across Peggy Ashbrook’s work on science in the early years. She is currently a preschool science teacher who published an article titled, “Water Works” in Science and Children published by NSTA. Her Early Years Blog at NSTA has offered countless resources for families. She published a popular book called Science Is Simple and has also contributed to a newsletter at First Hand Learning.
In her newsletter contribution, Peggy Ashbrook offers several samples of a science notebook. She recommends that children start a collection of observational drawings and written observations of their experiences. These dictations are recorded by family members of young children and involve two important starting points: “I notice…” and “I wonder…”
The observational drawings help children pay close attention to their contraptions and understand the concepts behind their engineering, but wondering offers continuity in their inquiries. Wondering makes these experiences richer! Several times, after they have drawn their models, they get involved in discussions like these: “See? This didn’t work before!”, while pointing at detailed drawings of a contraption in the “Water Engineering Book.”
Give it a try! I can guarantee that you will be immersed in this as well! How are you and your children going to use your water contraption?
Set-Up for Episode #24:
- Anything that you can use to weave plastic tubes, and secure water traveling objects (i.e.: grid shelves, plastic baskets that have holes all around them, or closet shelves (see pictures below)
- Shelf end caps – can’t stress this enough if you decide to use them. The tips are very, very sharp and can badly hurt little hands (see pictures below)
- Plastic tubes
- Home made funnels (see video)
- Loose plastic tube to siphon the water – drop us a note if you want a video of how to make this work
- Water Pump (used soap bottles work really well)
- Turkey basters – great for fine motor
- PVC tubes from your local hardware store
- Cups of various sizes
- Sponges – they are especially handy if you don’t have cups available.
- “Zip Ties”, or “Cable Ties” (they can be easily found in your local hardware store)
- Large bottle caps (from laundry detergent bottles, for example)
- Table if your child prefers to stand up
- Large plastic tub to keep the water and contraption together
- Water (we use warm water in the winter)
- Food coloring
- Measuring cups
- Measuring spoons
- Recycled containers that you have attach to the contraption to make things more interesting for children
- Safety set-up: especially if you use this indoors: an old rag, towel, or something that absorbs inevitable spills. Children can easily slip when they move around the table/contraption.
Yes, storage can be challenging. Our contraptions live in our garage. If you don’t have this type of space available, try your neighbor’s, the top of a cabinet (that’s where I stored mine when I was in the classroom), or use two shelves instead of three (in the triangle type) and fold it at the end to minimize your quest for storage. Once, I used velcro strips instead of zip/cable ties in one end and stretched it out to hang on a hook behind my classroom door. Not ideal, but it worked!
If getting wet is an issue, use plastic garbage bags, cut holes for neck and arms and make them available by reusing them every time your child wants to be a water engineer.
Yogurt containers make great strainers.
These two fruit baskets make a great water contraption!
A good mix between homemade and adapted use of toys that we have in the house.
These holes were enough to start a discussion about how showers work!
Children found intricate ways to create new challenges.
Another set-up for the water…
Homemade funnels work really well!
The kids found creative solutions to keep the water moving with the flexible PVC pipe.
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What a fun (and colorful!) way to engage kids in science!
We all agree, Jon!
Thank you for the comments. More to come,
I forgot to mention that my college students reacted with the same excitement and learning that the elementary school kids did!