1. Inquiry-based learning

For solids we can ask: ‘Where does this come from?’ Or: ‘What are its properties?’ And: ‘Can it be changed?’ (This often involves much more active learning than simply listening and hoping to remember. And if we don’t know – or can’t find out yet – there is always the possibility that one day, we will be thrilled to come across the missing information.)

Some solid substances are found naturally; others are manufactured. For example sand is a natural material and glass is a manufactured material. In fact, glass is manufactured from sand. Do you know what the actual process involves? Try to find out, and you are doing inquiry-based science.

Similarly, wood is a natural material obtained from trees, and paper is made from wood. Certain wasps chew wood into pulp to process it into ‘paper’ that they use to build the cells of their nest. People have discovered how to do the same thing. You could extend your inquiry and experiment with making your own paper from pulped wood.

Good starting points for this approach are informal discussions where pupils share ideas, raise questions and develop threads of inquiry that interest them. Case Study 1 shows how one teacher encouraged inquiry in her pupils. In Activity 1, you take this further with a class display and accompanying books made by your pupils.

Case Study 1: A game – ‘I wonder where this came from…?’

Whenever Jessica in Kampala, Uganda, had a little spare time in the school day, she played ‘the wondering game’ with her class (or the children left behind while others went to choir practice). One pupil would have a turn to pick up something – anything – and ask, ‘I wonder where this came from?’ Then everyone would put their heads together and share what they knew and thought, agreeing and disagreeing and building ideas as they talked. It was very informal. But it always amazed Jessica that pupils would come back some days later with more information from home or having noticed something in a book or magazine.

The wondering game seemed to act like a key, opening the door to pupils’ curiosity. She wondered if there was a way to make this part of formal science lessons.

Activity 1: Zigzag information books

Interesting materials gathered by pupils can be displayed in a classroom ‘science museum’. Agreed facts for each material are written on cards to support the display, just like in a real museum. The display grows throughout the term.

When you have enough different materials, ask pairs of pupils to make little information books to add to the display (see Resource 1: Making a zigzag book).

Make sure that you give your pupils time and help to write drafts and plan the layout of the books they make, so that they can be really proud of their work. This also gives you a chance to ensure that the scientific information is accurate. Try to encourage titles like: The story of glass; How cement is made; From trees to books; Where does salt come from? How to make your own glue.

Older pupils could make the books for younger pupils to read.

What differences did you notice between the first drafts and the finished books? Did you ask pupils to comment on each other’s books?

Section 2: Exploring solids

2. Group work to investigate solids