UKEdMag: Incorporating The Nature of Science… By @ibpossum

...into your classroom

The United Kingdom and New Zealand Curriculum documents place a high importance on the Nature of Science, relating to the processes and methods used in Science.

However, with the time restraints within education, it is sometimes too easy to get caught in a trap of focussing on content rather than competencies and skills. So how and when can you make it fit into your teaching and learning program?

This article was originally printed in the October 2015 edition of UKEdMagazine

Click here to freely read the full version online, or click here to purchase the printed edition in the UKEd.Market

My attempts to incorporate the Nature of Science into my classroom have also been based around loosely adapting the features of makerED, and allowing students the time to have a ‘play’. Exploring the nature of Science in your classroom doesn’t have to take long. Leaving an hour of two per topic for exploration time can give students a taste while still introducing or revising ideas for their assessments.

Recently I have used dry ice in my classroom to allow students time to play and process the ideas we have been studying as part of our Chemistry topic. A kilo or two of dry ice is a relatively safe and inexpensive way to allow students to explore and experiment, while still leading to meaningful learning.

Try providing your students with some dry ice, safety gear (dry ice should be handled with care using gloves or tongs in a well ventilated area), and a plastic container of water and some latex gloves or balloons and let them play.

Dry ice sublimes – pop a piece or two of dry ice in a rubber glove or balloon and watch it expand over time. Students can try more or less pieces, or what happens if you put some water in? What differences can you detect from a balloon filled from breathing? What about other gases?

This simple activity is great for discussing state changes and properties of solids, liquids and gases. Depending on your students observation skills, they might notice the latex or rubber might get condensation of the side, which can be linked to other examples of condensation and state changes. Or use it to discuss energy changes, as the water freezing on the outside helps to increase the temperature inside the balloon. Here in Otago, New Zealand, we link this to the spraying of water to cherry blossoms to protect them from frosts – as the water freezes it releases energy into the petals and ‘warms them up’.

Dry ice in water – will bubble and release water vapour. The steaming cauldron look is always a winner. Does it work best with cold or hot water? More or less pellets? This is a wonderful lesson on sometime less is best, as too much dry ice just freezes the water.

Students can explore further by adding washing up liquid to the water. Which type is best? How do you get the biggest bubbles? Does adding hot water change the bubbles? What happens when the bubbles are popped? These are all little ‘mini experiments’ that the students will often ask to do, and they were delighted when they were given free rein to have a go. The bubbles look cloudy and grey form the water vapour condensing inside, which can be linked back to having ‘steamy breathe’ on a frosty morning, as the gases exhaled are colourless, but the water vapour becomes visible in the cold air.

Dry ice will acidify water – As part of my acids and bases unit, I spend a portion of time on ocean acidification due to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide and the impact this has on aquatic life with carbonate shells and exoskeletons. When universal indicator is added to the water with dry ice in it, you can see the water slowly becomes more acidic, even if the water starts of with a basic pH. I encourage my students to design a fair test to determine the impact of acid on sea shells collected from the local beach, which we can revisit over a period of 2-3 weeks.

Other dry ice ideas:

  • put some pellets in a container and let them sublime for a few minutes. Then pour the colourless gas over a candle and watch it go out. Or make a slurry with some methanol or ethanol, and try freezing a flower. This is great for seniors to review freezing, melting and boiling points.
  • Other ideas for playing/tinkering that I have tried include making electronic circuits, making electric motors. All you need is a battery, a strong magnet and a piece of copper wire.
  • Modelling muscles by making functional limbs with cardboard and string or building a thermos flask (it leaked!!). My next project is to make a Lord Kelvin machine, as seen in the recent ‘Hunger Games’ district voice propo – bit.ly/uked15oct22.
  • Other options to incorporate more nature of Science activities include getting involved in a Citizens Science project, connecting with Scientists via skype for class room or social media like twitter (#scistuchat is awesome). Science outreach and self directed projects like crest or Science fair can also be a winner if managed correctly.

So don’t let the content get you down. Making the time to allow your students to explore will be repaid by renewed enthusiasm, fun and the learning conversations it brings.


Rachel teaches Science and Chemistry at Taieri College, Aotearoa New Zealand. She has a passion for student centred learning approaches, integrating technology and blowing things up. Rachel cofounded #scichatNZ and is a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert. Connect via Twitter – @ibpossum or read her educational musings at ibpossum.wordpress.com.

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