Thursday, March 7, 2019

When writing gets scientific

The big question we all share is, "Using the catapults we construct, will a ping-pong ball or a cotton ball go farther?"  After a couple days of design and construction, the second graders I am working with this quarter are ready for an exciting day of launching stuff from their catapults.  We had spent the first few days of the unit learning about science writing with much emphasis on procedures.  The procedures section is like a how-to and should be precise and explicit.  As it turns out, some thought that was optional.  When the classroom teacher unveiled the ping-pong balls and giant bag of cotton balls, some scientific thinking went out the window.

If you are a person who thinks noisy classrooms are not learning, you should have been standing beside me today.  It was fabulous.  The conversations were high levels of thinking and to me high levels of humor.  More than once I cracked up and wished to be recording each partnerships experiment.  It was more than entertaining. 

Over all, this image kept coming to mind:

Some very scientific talk I heard included:

"What if we tried it like this?"

"Ok, we have to launch from the same spot each time."

"Since we are measuring distance, and our tape isn't long enough, what else can we use?"

"I wonder how far a chip would go.  Too bad I didn't save one from my snack."

"This is not matching my hypothesis, but it is so fun!"

"If this is what scientists do all day, then I want to be a scientist!"

With this kind of wonder and enthusiasm, how could I not be proud and amazed at all they were saying to each other.  The partnerships were taking turns and collaborating in many ways.  They were sharing ideas, materials, and tools.

One girl, who elected to work on her own, had the plastic spoon mounted on a binder clip with tape and rubber bands.  It looked, to me, like it had the potential to launch a ping-pong ball across the room.  As she set the ping-pong ball on the spoon, she noticed that the catapult was pointed at her.  The look on her face said, "This is going to hurt," as she wrinkled her nose and pulled her eyebrows in tight together.  Then, just as quickly, she relaxed her face and pivoted the catapult so it would launch the ping-pong ball away from her.  Maybe you had to be there, but I laughed out loud from my little observation station.

Some not-so-scientific talk I heard today:

"Maybe we'll just call it 6."

"That one doesn't count.  Let's just start over.  I think this ping-pong ball can really fly!"

"Well, the tape won't stretch that far!  Just add two!"

"I heard them say their ping-pong ball went 122 inches.  I think we can get ours to go further, just stand over there."

"Mrs. Culbertson, we found this catapult in the trash, and we're going to us it because it will make a better platform for our catapult."  To which I replied, "Uh, ok.  Thanks for recycling, I guess."


  1. This reminds me of our physics' labs. I remember one with a flying disc in the hallway. We were juniors and seniors, but I am sure some of the conversation was the same =)

  2. I love to listen to conversations like these while my students are brainstorming, problem solving, and experimenting. I learn so much about their skills development as well as who they are and how they handle challenge.

  3. I so appreciate all the snippets you shared with us -- in fact, I'd say they are ALL scientific, because it sounds like you're creating scientists AND writers. Something our world truly needs!


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