Pursuing Rainbows


One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

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7 Responses

  1. Vikram Bath says:

    This sounds like a good introductory exercise for a Testing and Discovery class.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:


      I tend to frame my science curriculum as more about inquiry skills than content. There is some basic scientific knowledge that a 5-year-old should have, but I think it more important they learn how to ask questions, pursue answers, test hypotheses, evaluate results, make predictions, revisit predictions, incorporate new data, etc. Basically, I try to teach them the scientific method AND encourage them to understand it as not just a way of doing science (I rarely even use the word science) but of interacting with the world.

      Unfortunately, our formal science program (taught by specialist teachers) thinks otherwise. There is a lot of rote memorization and regurgitation. A lot of watching Magic Schoolbus videos. I’m considering pulling my kids from the program because I think it wastes a valuable hour of their week.Report

      • Vikram Bath in reply to Kazzy says:

        There is some basic scientific knowledge that a 5-year-old should have

        Is there really?

        Seriously, if you were to obliterate all the scientific knowledge of all the 5-year-olds, would that have a significant impact on what they actually end up learning by the time they are adults? And if so, is that knowledge gap likely to make for worse scientists out of those who choose to go that path?

        One approach is to teach everyone everything and then one day when they are 25 and in the second half of their PhD programs tell them it is OK to try something out. Or you can establish a habit of asking questions and answering them with experiments from the very beginning. I have to admit that I don’t have any empirical evidence as to which approach is actually better, but a good number of Nobel prize winners seem to suggest the latter even though they succeeded in systems that practice the former.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Well, what any student at any age “should have” is a fairly messy idea. Ultimately, it is context specific. No, I don’t know if there is some absolute set of scientific knowledge a 5-year-old should have. Though I might express some concern if they didn’t generalize a certain body of knowledge based on experience by that point. This concern would be routed in more general cognitive development. E.g., if they experienced water on a regular basis but still couldn’t tell you its basic properties, there is probably something going on there. Though that isn’t necessarily related to science.

        So, no, I don’t think there are things that are absolutely necessary. Rather, there are some things that they can more or less conceptually understand and imparting those at 4 or 5 allows other things to happen at 6 and 7 and 8, etc. There are also developmental processes that are happening at this time that make certain things more accessible and thus interesting to them. Four- and five-year-olds can begin to understand that things change over time in a way they couldn’t previously. Now, this can be explored through a variety of content areas: they can observe the cycle of a tree over the course of the year, from changing colors to shedding leaves to budding to full bloom. They can also do it by caring for a pet acquired while still a baby. They can work in a garden. They can take part in composting. It is less important that they learn the precise cycle of a tree or exactly how composting works but rather that they come to understand the way in which the world changes over time, with some of these changes being cyclical and some of these changes being linear.

        Ultimately, “what” we want children to learn is ultimately context specific. Reading isn’t all that important to the few humans still living in hunter-gatherer societies. Certainly not important enough to begin teaching it around 5 or 6. But try telling a wealthy Manhattanite that their independent school-educated 6-year-old isn’t going to get reading instruction because they don’t “need” it and see how far that gets you.

        I am a progressive educator at heart. And not progressive in the wishy-washy way that term has come to be used. I am a pretty hardcore believer in Dewey’s work on experiential education with a healthy dose of Vygotskian social-construvisim in there as well.Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to Kazzy says:

        Basically, I try to teach them the scientific method AND encourage them to understand it as not just a way of doing science (I rarely even use the word science) but of interacting with the world.

        First, lots of applause for you and the kids! Second, I myself struggle to draw a line between science and engineering. I would tend to put the kids’ efforts here into the category of engineering — they’ve figured out how to make rainbow play dough, but they don’t know why the second method works where the first one didn’t. That’s okay, the methodologies are similar, at least when you’re doing engineering work at your personal leading edge. Certainly there are times when the engineers have been well out ahead of the scientists. Eg, Roman engineers knew that cement made with a certain volcanic ash would set underwater, and trial-and-error experiments taught them the proper proportions for ingredients. But it was most of two millennia before chemists could explain why the cement set and those were the right proportions.

        I’m curious about how the rainbow play dough will change over time as the colored bits get smaller and smaller. Will it eventually turn brown? Let us know how that works out, please.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        I’ll confess to not even attempting to draw a line between science and engineering. If anything, I would have thought that engineering was a subset of science, but what do I know?

        The why question is an important one. It is one I ask of my students constantly. “Why do you think that happened?” “Why do you think that?” “Why?” I probably drive them crazy with it. But I think it an important question to ask. Even if they know the what or the how of something, asking why still matters.

        As for the play dough, constant working of the play dough saw its rainbow tie-dyed natured slowly morph into a dullish purple/gray. Not nearly as vibrant as the original brown, interestingly enough. The kids still loved it and called in rainbow until they decided that all the rainbow just went away. That was enough for them.Report

  2. Miss Mary says:

    I feel like I’ve heard you tell the rainbow play dough story before. It’s killing me.Report