September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

But What Is “Good”?! Learning and Using Observational Skills by Studying Water Taste

Posted: Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

by Joanne Michael

The beginning of the year is a fantastic time to get to know how skilled your students’ observations are when working on an experiment. While there are a number of brain teasers and visual slight-of-hands that can accomplish this, I like to do a lab that I call “Which Water is Water?” to quickly assess their skill set. From doing this, I have an immediate data set of which students are skilled at noticing subtle differences between two or more items, which students can describe something with detail, and which students are good at sitting back and allowing others to do the dirty work. Best of all the students LOVE this lab; they ask me mid-year if they can do it again! I normally do this with my 5th grade classes, but it can be done with any grade level. With the current drought occurring within California, it is also a fantastic time to discuss water sources and conservation.

Collect as many different types of water as you can. I normally get distilled water, tap water (from the drinking fountain at school), filtered water (either bring a Brita®/pur® pitcher from home and filter the school water, or pour some into a bottle from home), and bottled water. For added challenge, select multiple brands of bottled water! Sparkling water can work as well, but as there are obvious bubbles, it makes that one pretty easy to distinguish. Pour each into a large (at least 12 ounce) new clear plastic cup, and write a letter on the outside with a marker to help distinguish the waters from each other. In my science lab, I have the students sit in tables of 4, so each table has a cup with an A, B, C, or D on the outside when they walk in. Each table also has 4 Dixie® cups (or similar), and an empty bowl.

I begin the lesson by reviewing the water cycle, which we discussed in previous years, and where a lot of our water is collected and used around southern California. I also go through the definitions of the various types of water, to make everything as clear as possible. The students then select a type of water, and pour it amongst the four cups. Before tasting, they must smell the water – does it have a scent? They then take a tiny sip, and allow the water to move around their tongue to get as many different “flavors” as possible.

From there, they write observational details about their water. I do not allow them to write “opinion details” – what tastes gross to one person may be absolutely delicious to another, and so that isn’t a scientific observation. Does it taste soapy? Like dirt? Does it have an aftertaste? Taste sweet? Does the flavor absolutely disappear? They write down all observations. I encourage the students to take tiny sips, so that they can do multiple tastings if they need to do so. They can have a group discussion if they would like, but they are to write down their own observations. If the student does not like the taste at all, they can dump the rest of their sample in the bowl; likewise, if they really enjoy it, they can pour more from their big cup. After they have tasted all of the samples, they try to identify which water is which – which sample is the distilled water? The bottled water?

When the class is finished, we take a quick poll as to what they think each sample was, and show the answers. The students are normally surprised at the results – most often, they assume the bottled water is the distilled water, because distilled water is “pure” water – of COURSE it would taste the best! We then discuss the importance of different types of water, keeping our drinking water clean, how to conserve water, etc. Within the span of 45 minutes, I now know which students are skilled at minute observations, which students are leaders within a group, the general skill level at scientific adjectives, and if there are any students that need additional help in fine motor skills. The students are thrilled – they spend an hour drinking water, and not getting in trouble for consuming something in science lab! It sets the stage for the rest of the year for the students as well – they see the expectations in the science lab, and know that we will work hard but have a lot of fun in the process!

Modifications: I do this lab with my 5th grade students, but could very easily be done with any grade level. For added difficulty, only use different brands of bottled water, and try to have the students identify the different brands.

This idea originally came from One Water.

ABBREVIATED LESSON PLAN:

Grade Level: 5th

Science Area: Earth science

Science Standards Reference (1998 version): 5.3.d: Students know that the amount of fresh water located in rivers, lakes, underground sources, and glaciers is limited and that it’s availability can be extended by recycling and decreasing the use of water.

5.3.e: Students know the origin of the water used by their local communities.

Other Subject Area Standards Reinforced: “Going Green”

Title of the Lab: Water is Water

Time Required: Set-up – 10 minutes; Duration- 1 hour

Goal of the Lab (student outcomes): students will use their senses to try to taste the difference between different types of water, and to understand the various processes involved in obtaining the different types of water.

Description/Abstract: Students will taste four different types of water: tap, filtered, sparkling, and distilled. After learning about the process used for each type of water, they will write down which one they think is which, based solely on the taste. Afterwards, the teacher will reveal the answers and lead a discussion as to why they all taste so different.

Materials Needed: (per group of 4)
4 small disposable cups (Dixie® cups work perfectly)
4 larger new cups, labeled A, B, C, D, with the various waters inside
1 small bowl

Procedure:

1) Tell students to pour a little bit of water from cup A into each of the 4 small cups. Do a proper observation of sample A including smell, look, and taste. Write observations on data sheet.  Pour out the rest of water (if they wish) into the bowl in the middle of the table.

2) Repeat for samples B, C, D. The samples may be similar. Have the students do their best to find differences between them all. Offer up suggestions, “Is it fizzy?” “Does it leave an aftertaste?”

3) When all samples have been tested, reveal answers. How many students mixed up the tap water and the bottled water? Why does the distilled water taste so strange? That’s the only one that is actually “pure” water! Show where the various waters came from on a map of California.

Assessment method: Water Worksheet

Joanne Michael is the K-5 science specialist at Meadows Elementary in Manhattan Beach, CA, and CSTA Intermediate Director.

Written by Joanne Michael

Joanne Michael

Joanne Michael is a K-5 Science Specialist for Manhattan Beach Unified and is a CSTA member.

2 Responses

  1. This is a great lab! I have done a similar lab with distilled vs tap and students are always surprised to find that pure water tastes funny. To be rigorous do a triangle test where two cups are the same and one is different. If tasters can consistently identify the one that is different it means the difference is real.

  2. I second Pete’s opinion about this lab. My version is done when students learn about the needs of living things (in what used to be 7th grade life science)! I really like including one natural mineral water; students are always astounded to learn it isn’t artificially created by a company. I also add an extension where students determine the amount of water they drink in one year and then calculate the supply cost. Another eye opener for them…many think the water coming out of their tap at home is “free.”

Leave a Reply

LATEST POST

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Cal

This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.