Tuesday 9 July 2019

Science class with a difference - Grade 4, Chapter 1

Unit 1 Chapter 1
Sun, wind, clouds and rain

Section 1
This year the class is much bigger than the ones I’ve taught earlier. Almost 20 students. So, discussion and class management become much more real issues. I hope that the quality of the class doesn’t decline. The  ground rules – Speak after raising your hand, listen to each other, don’t carry on side conversations were set at the beginning of the class.

I asked the children “What is the weather in Chennai like?” Some said its summer, winter, spring and autumn.  They have confused weather with season, but I left the distinction for a later discussion, when the idea will become clearer. We focussed on their classification of 4 seasons. I asked them “When is it hot?” We counted the “hot” months – when they feel really hot and sweaty – April, May, June, July, August.  Some said September was cool –their assumption may be based more on the American books they read rather than noticing actual local weather.  I asked them how they had felt during the Haj activity last year (held at the end of August) – and they said “HOT!” So we realised that September had also been hot. And was a part of summer rather than autumn. S mentioned that leaves fall in autumn. I asked them when do the mango trees shed leaves here. They had noticed that the mango tree shed leaves in March/ April – when the weather was turning hot.

Coming to October, they remembered that rains had come. F said rains ended in December. They all remembered how cold they felt in December. Interestingly, they didn’t remember January as cold till I asked them. Even February was cold. I asked if they wore sweaters during the cold weather. They laughed. This was a good point to clarify that Chennai has what’s called a warm winter. Then we went onto March. March was hot – we had Open Day and they had all sweated. So, we concluded that Chennai has 3 kinds of weather – hot, monsoon/ rainy and cold (relatively)

Next, I asked a different child to read out each stanza of the poem and posed questions that were asked. M said he noticed the weather each day when he was in his Ur (native place). He would go out and check. A lot of kids had noticed that the weather changes through the day – it starts off as hot and then becomes cool. AI mentioned that he had noticed that the wind during the night is cool, but during the day is hot. We discussed what the weather would be like during the upcoming Eid vacation. Someone said “Cold” but everyone laughed. “It will be hot!”. I asked about when school would reopen after vacation next year. That memory is still fresh in their minds – “It will be hot!”
We discussed what all they see in the sky. I specified they should mention things related to weather – so aeroplanes were out. They all talked about clouds, sun, stars, moon etc. One child said “Breeze”. I asked if he could see the breeze in the sky? Unfortunately, the discussion got pulled in a different direction, otherwise this would have been a great point of discussion.

We went onto the chapter. Chennai is currently reeling under a severe drought. However, most children living on the ECR, still have water in the bore wells and haven’t faced the difficulties the rest of the city is facing. However, they’ve noticed pictures of the dry Chembarambakkam Lake in the newspapers.  One child mentioned how they get tanker water. Everyone including little children, is conscious of any forecast of rain. One child mentioned how the monsoon will start on July 9th.  I clarified to them how the South West Monsoon has come to Mumbai and we are going to get rains as a fall out of that. Our monsoon only comes in October – November.

We read the haiku poems. Some children guessed it was Japanese. But they didn’t show much interest in exploring it further.

Next, I asked the children to go downstairs, observe what the weather was like and note it in the workbook.  It was a beautiful day for observation. Sunny, but cloudy. White clouds with dark ones. Wispy and thick clouds. Breezy in bits with sudden strong gusts. They were really excited in seeing a big black rain bearing cloud come suddenly. “Rain, its raining!” But it actually wasn’t even drizzling.  I’ve noticed that children like to write answers in absolutes – and their perception of reality was coloured by that. So, when they saw a black cloud, they felt it was raining. In writing their observations, some children argued it was cloudy, some said sunny. Some said they were feeling hot. Others said, its cloudy so it’s cold. This was another point for a longer discussion – but by now the kids were fading out/hungry for lunch so engaging them was not possible.  We read out the story and they added some description, but weren’t very creative. I decided this was a good point to close the class.
In preparation for the upcoming class, I bought a room thermometer. Unfortunately, only a digital one was available – with alarms, times, humidity etc.  I felt the extra information sometimes distracts children from the I order 2 “regular” thermometers with only the temperature measure from Amazon. 

Day 2

Today we discussed how to fill out the weather chart in their workbook.  We talked about the importance of making the observation at the same time every day.  I told them they needed to record how hot/cold, breezy/ still, cloudy/ clear parameters. They needed a lot of clarification on exactly where to fill what information. I think children get overly anxious to do the “right” thing, make no “mistake”, that they suspend their own judgement, relying entirely on the teacher to tell them what to do. This must be addressed in future classes.

We went onto Section 3. We discussed how some children had felt hot during the previous class, while others (seeing the cloud cover) had said it was cold. I asked them if there’s an objective way to assess if it is hot or cold. They said we could use a thermometer.

I asked if they had seen a thermometer earlier. Someone said, “My mom uses one when I have fever.” I asked them “How high has your fever gone when you were sick?” Some said “1000”, others said “1020”. I asked them why we couldn’t use a “fever” thermometer to measure room temperature through the day. AI said “The fever thermometer has a sensor. It needs to be clasped under the tongue or under the arm to measure temperature. It can’t just measure room temperature”.  I also mentioned how the fever temperature variation is very miniscule and needs finer measurement. But a room temperature measures greater variation.  I’m not sure they got the point. I’ll have to demo it.  They are going to record the temperature across the day from Monday once the regular thermometers arrive.
 I showed the digital thermometer to the children. They were quite excited. Some recognised the percentage sign in the humidity indicator. As I had thought, they were quite taken in by the varied information displayed.  They knew the unit of measurement – it wasn’t apples or shoes as I suggested humorously but Celsius.

After the class, I messaged the parents on Whatsapp that the children had to record the weather in their workbooks over the upcoming weekend. I asked the parents to simply help the children set an alarm for the 2 times of the day that we were recording the weather – morning 9am and afternoon 2pm.  The children could also record at night around 8 if they wished.  Parents were specifically told not to dictate answers but to let the children do their work independently. Similarly, the class teachers were also told to remind the children to record the weather daily for a month at 9am and 2pm. 

We moved onto doing the exercise where Apu had recorded the temperature across the day.  I asked the children to read the instructions and fill the graphs. I wanted to see if they could work it out. Most children did struggle – but the struggle was useful as it forced them to engage with the task rather than relying on the teacher to orally explain. The good thing was that eventually they all (with few exceptions) figured it out – no mean achievement.
The children were told to continue with 4B at home – recording the daily maximum temperature.  A lot of children do not get the newspaper at home. But most parents have Accuweather on their phone – which also provides a nice line graph with the hourly temperature. The children were asked to record the daily maximum using the Accuweather.  Another Whatsapp message was sent to the parents asking them to help the children, and reminding them not to let the children Google the information without their supervision.

Day 3

Today we just reviewed how they filled out the weather chart. Some children were on the ball, but others had done it intermittently.  A regular reminder and check will help ensure that children fill out the chart. The session also helped them clarify any questions – do I fill it out twice etc.

Day 4

Our thermometers arrived today! I showed the group the thermometer. I asked them what it measured. S said “Weather!”. Then he thought about it and said “Temperature”.  I asked the children what the thermometer reminded them of. Samara said “a body thermometer” – the old mercury style one, not the digital one.  Acknowledging her response as a good observation, I also asked them if it reminded them of a scale – with cm on one side and inches on the other. This one has Fahrenheit on one side and Celsius on the other.  I asked them “Can we record the temperature on one as a Fahrenheit and on the other as Celsius.?” Most children were inclined to disagree. However, Samara again popped up – “Yes, but it will be confusing.” That was a good leap in logic by her. I told them that we are going to be recording the temperature daily at 2pm in the workbook.  We again discussed why we need to record at the same time daily. 

I then divided them up into batches to explain how the thermometer is actually to be read.  Other batches were given the responsibility of reading Section 4a and doing the experiment (watching a dry leaf blow).

I showed the thermometer to the children who were with me. First, I read the Celsius side – starting from 40, 30, 20, 10, 0! I asked how come the numbers are decreasing as they go up the scale. Abdurrahman said “It’s measuring the cold.” They don’t know negative numbers yet, but intuitively understood the concept. I marked a “-“ in front of those numbers. Then we proceeded up the scale. I asked them what is the dash halfway between 30 and 40. Most children correctly guessed it was 35. Then we saw the red line stopped at the mark below that – so the temperature was 34oC.
Then the fun began. We moved to the Fahrenheit side of the scale. This was given in gaps of 20. Once we crossed 80, I asked them what the dash between 80-100 represented. Most replied “85”. So I counted up – 86, 87, 88, 89, 100! They were puzzled but realised their guess was wrong. Shayan worked it out – Its “90!”  Then they observed that the red line had crossed 90. I asked them what the mark above 90 represented. “91”! Again, I counted up – “91, 92, 93, 94, 100! How can that be? Is something wrong?” They quickly caught on – each mark represented a difference of 2o!  They recorded the temperature in their workbooks. Then they raced out to record the weather and conduct the leaf experiment.

Once the children gathered together again after the crushed leaf experiment (some didn’t return – they were happily playing in the playground), we discussed their observations. Asira said she had trouble crushing the leaf to tiny bits which would fly in the wind. It took her 2 rounds to do so. She said she stood with her arm outstretched with the leaf bits in her hand. “The wind came from the South and blew it away!”. Nora found the breeze from the East blew her leaf bits away and while Rumaysa said it was the breeze from the West.  I asked if they knew the directions (Frankly I was surprised). They said they all pray to the West, and its opposite side was East. There was slight confusion in the North and South, but most children knew which was which. I guess they’ve done this in Montessori.

The children were reminded to record the weather daily in their weather chart. Now they also have to record the temperature at 2:00pm. And go home and record the daily maximum temperature. 

After the class as most kids dashed off, a few came up to me with questions – “Why is it not hot under trees?” “What makes clouds?” “How does the air form?”  I was delighted and immediately encouraged them to note the questions down in their workbook in the Ask A Question section. Two kids obviously discussed what they were going to ask, possibly one copied from the other – probably a response to my delight at the fact that they actually had questions!

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