By Hazel Stark
What state of matter does ice belong in? This question was the first challenge these 3rd and 4th-grade students had during their Maine Outdoor School program at D.W. Merritt School in early May 2017. “Liquid!” was the quickest guess, but then they got thinking and exchanged some skeptical looks. They placed a solid block of ice outside for later investigation, then headed out to the field to learn more about water’s important role. This article is the second part of a three-part series on our programs at D.W. Merritt--learn about the Pre-K through 2nd-graders' experiences with life cycles here and the 5th and 6th graders' rock explorations here!
The concept of the water cycle can be challenging to grasp, so we started by singing (with hand movements) the Water Cycle Song (you can listen to a version of it here). Students were then able to give examples of the different states of matter water can be in: liquid, solid, or gas. Diving into condensation, they observed clouds by looking through paper frames that illustrated the names and types of clouds they might be seeing so they could match reality to pictures and words. But they wondered, how do clouds really form? Their jaws dropped in amazement when they saw the Maine Outdoor School educator make a cloud in a bottle and they immediately understood the important ingredients for making a cloud: humidity, particulates, and a pressure change.
While these students would have been more than content making clouds for the rest of the day, there were other mysteries to unfold. Students grappled with understanding how the different states of water actually influence living things. They took to the woods in search of life while keeping a running tally of how many living things they saw in very wet areas vs. very dry areas, concluding that surface water accumulated from precipitation supports the most life near their school. Returning to the classroom, they stopped to see whether that block of ice they’d placed outdoors had changed. Indeed it had: some of the ice had melted, suspending a now smaller ice cube in a container of liquid water. They hypothesized about the proportions of liquid vs. solid water in the container in order to practice their recently acquired skills in assessing percentages. Through song, experiments, and exploration, these 8-10 year-olds learned how water changes and supports life, right there in their schoolyard.