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
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.
Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.
For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.
The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Marian Murphy-Shaw
If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see www.explorit.org. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Joseph Calmer
Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”
I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. Learn More…