Posted by: jwhiff | October 21, 2016

Digging a Hole: The Story of a 2-Month Inquiry on Clay

Sometimes, you just can’t plan the awesome stuff. I didn’t have a burning desire for an inquiry project to kick off the year. Nor did I have any idea (even a vague one) that I would start the year teaching (and learning) about Earth Science, but sometimes these things just fall into your lap. 

On the second day of school, an assorted grouping of children from grade 1 to grade 5 were working with me in our fairy garden.  They were attempting to dig a lake for the fairies and fill it with water. The problem: the water wouldn’t stay in the hole. I remembered having this very issue when I was a child. It was a problem I tinkered away on in my back yard for a significant amount of time. I figured if I enjoyed this problem, then so would my students.

So, once I was assigned my class, I started science outside digging holes and filling them with water. The holes weren’t very large (the volume of a large yogurt container…approx. 1.5 litres). We dug them on the edge of the playground (where twisted ankles were less likely) and timed how long they took to empty.

Boring? Weirdly, no. The holes all took any where from 2 mins to 30 minutes to drain. The kids were puzzled! Why did some holes drain much more slowly than others? 

After predictions, discussions and hypotheses, we tried again. This time, they spread out more, looking for ground they thought would drain even more slowly. One group’s hole took over an hour to drain! It drew a huge crowd of kids loudly counting off the seconds. They continued to monitor it after school. 

Of course, we needed to investigate this spot more. After a bit more digging, what did they find?? Clay!

Every student ended up with a small chunk to mold and dry. Would this clay be strong? How does it compare with natural clay sold in the store? 

I bought some so we could explore the similarities and differences. Every student was given a small ball to play around with. Would this clay be stronger than the playground clay? 

After letting both sets of clay dry, we compared the strength of each sample, by tapping, pinching and dropping it (and recording observations all the while, of course). 

Store clay seemed stronger, but wasn’t as strong as they thought. One student thought we should test how they compared after being submerged in water. Which type would be stronger then?

The result of this experiment and the conclusion of our inquiry will be revealed in my next post!

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