I chose to explore discrepant events because I was surprised, given my background in science, that I hadn’t heard that term before. In this blog post, I want to share with you my discovery of discrepant events and their use in inquiry.
A discrepant event is an unexpected or surprising result, particularly in a scientific experiment. As the Science World website explains:
“Discrepant events can be a fun way to either introduce a new concept in science or test your students’ understanding. They are also powerful tools to develop inquiry skills.” (Science World, 2016)
So how are discrepant events used in inquiry? First, I needed to try the experiment myself.
Question 1a: What did you do and what were your conclusions?
I chose the Bernoulli Candle Experiment from the Science World Resources page. In this experiment, air is blown through a straw along one side of a candle flame to demonstrate the effect of air pressure on the movement and shape of the flame.
The following video shows my first experimentation with the candle. The experiment description said to “blow really hard” (Science World) and I wondered if I would blow too hard and extinguish the flame. At the very least, I expected it to dance or smoke, like candle flames do when you play with them.
Before you watch the video, think about what you expect to happen. How will the flame move? Will it change shape? What else will happen?
I read the experiment description before trying this so I knew the flame would bend towards the straw, but it was still surprising to watch it happen in real life! What the experiment description didn’t explain is what would happen in other situations. So I had to try changing the variables.
The next video shows me trying the same experiment, first with different speeds of air, then with two straws, then a larger straw, then finally with two candles. I also wanted to try a different size or shape of flame, but I only own one set of candles.
Before you watch the video, what do you think will happen? What would you try that I didn’t?
Ok, so now that I had performed the experiment, it was time to think about why this discrepant event happened. Blowing air with the straw creates an area of lower pressure. The flame moves toward the straw because, like all fluids, it travels from an area of higher pressure to an area of lower pressure. While the flame bending wasn’t what I expected at the beginning, it is exactly what science would predict to happen!
Question 1b: How is the activity that you undertook inquiry-based learning, or, how was inquiry-based learning incorporated?
With the experiment done, I still didn’t feel satisfied – I wanted to know if the Bernoulli effect had anything to do with how airplanes and helicopters fly. So I did some research, meaning the experiment led me to participate in a brief inquiry. I know this is inquiry because I engaged in:
- creating my own significant question,
- organizing and synthesizing information from multiple sources,
- making connections to previous knowledge, and
- sharing my results publicly. (Fontichiaro p. 49 and 51, Stripling p. 50)
I won’t go into the details of what I learned about the Bernoulli effect and flight because it’s not relevant to this post, except to say that it there is a connection. It’s much more complicated than what happened with the flame though (and not about a difference in air speed as many people think). If you want to learn more about flight or try different experiments that demonstrate the Bernoulli Principle, check out these links:
- NASA. “Principles of Flight: Bernoulli’s Principle (Grades K-4).” Muesums in a Box Series, https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/bernoulli_principle_k-4.pdf.
- “Bernoulli’s Principle.” SKYbrary, July 29, 2017, https://www.skybrary.aero/index.php/Bernoulli%27s_Principle
- Allain, Rhett. “There’s No One Way to Explain Flight.” Wired.com, February 22, 2018, https://www.wired.com/story/theres-no-one-way-to-explain-how-flying-works/
- “Flight Lesson Plans: Introduction to Flight.” Science Kids, http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/lessonplans/flight/flightintroduction.html
What I will say is that I was just as surprised at where this experiment led me as I was at the experiment itself. What a quick and simple experiment to demonstrate the power of discrepant events to begin a personal inquiry!
Question 1c: Discuss your “Invitation to Inquiry” experience. How could the school library learning commons be inserted into this kind of activity?
I attended a Pro-D session earlier this year where I learned about the use of provocations to prompt writing and inquiry. Provocations like this experiment can be used to “grab attention and engage learners” (Science World, 2016). While this engagement is an excellent way to motivate students, it doesn’t in and of itself cause inquiry. The teacher needs to prompt students to think deeper about what they are observing.
If I had been asked to come up with an inquiry question before performing the experiment, I probably would have only thought of a few ways to play with the flame, or may have looked up some experiments to do with the Bernoulli Principle and developed a simple question based on what I read. It was through the time I took to experiment with the candle, then think about what has happening overnight, that I developed the deeper questions that led me to flight.
“Adults get up from their seats, get a drink of water, chat with colleagues, work on a different project, and mull things over at the gym.” (Fontichiaro, p. 51).
Fontichiaro reminds us that people make sense of new ideas when given thinking time, not sitting in a noisy classroom (p. 51). The use of the experiment and the time afterwards I took to reflect gave me that time to observe, think, and begin to make sense of what I had seen. Once I had time to make sense of the experiment, I watched the video again and came up with much deeper questions. In short, it made me wonder! This cycle of asking questions, finding answers, and then those answers leading to asking more questions is imperative to inquiry (Wiggins).
In the classroom or the school library learning commons, I can see how this type of experiment would be used as a provocation or invitation to inquiry. Rather than telling students they will be doing an inquiry on a particular subject, I can use a provocation to lead students to naturally wonder about the topic. Letting students watch a demonstration and/or play with the materials, write down any observations or questions, then have some thinking time will lead to deeper and more significant inquiry questions.
When people want to find answers to their own questions, they are more motivated and engaged in the learning process. Learning becomes an exploration rather than work, and that’s certainly what happened with me in this assignment!
Question 2: List and comment on three personal learning objectives that you have for this course.
Learning Objective #1: Concrete ideas for setting up an inquiry project.
I feel that I have a good understanding of what inquiry is and how it enhances student learning, engagement, and motivation; however, I don’t really know how to set up an inquiry project on my own. My first learning objective is to find concrete ideas and examples of inquiry projects so I feel ready to try this in my classroom. This experience gave me some ideas for how to provoke students into developing deeper questions.
Learning Objective #2: Differentiating projects and assessment.
I teach a wide variety of students from K-4 and with a range of reading levels, abilities, cultures, and other factors. If I can develop broader projects that multiple grades (or even all students) can participate in, I will have more time to focus on my students and their learning process. My second learning objective is to learn how to differentiate inquiry projects and assessment in effective ways.
Learning Objective #3: Curating resources.
Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the number of resources available, especially when I start looking for resources at differentiated level and for multiple grades. I want to provide my students with the variety of resources they need to learn without making them feel as overwhelmed as I do. My third learning objective is to learn how to select and curate resources in a more efficient manner.
Fontichiaro, K. “What’s inquiry? Well, I know it when I see it.” School Library Monthly, 2015, 31(4): 49-51.
Science World. “Bernoulli Candle Experiment.” Science World at Telus World of Science, https://www.scienceworld.ca/resource/candle-wind/.
Science World. “Discrepant Events and Inquiry-Based Learning.” Science World at Telus World of Science, April 17, 2016, https://www.scienceworld.ca/discrepant-events-and-inquiry-based-learning/.
Sheehan, Shan. “Fire.” Flickr, October 19, 2010, https://www.flickr.com/photos/47217301@N06/5174626201/.
Stripling, B. K. “Inquiry: Inquiring minds want to know.” School Library Media Activities Monthly, 2008, 25(1): 50-52.
Wiggins, G. (1989). “The futility of trying to teach everything of importance.” Educational Leadership, 47(3): 54-59.