Predict, Observe, Explain

Here, it is, the complete way to turn anything into a simple experiment.

The basis of all experiments is the question:

What happens if I … ?

You can turn anything into an experiment by asking this and changing something.  For a bit more of a scaffold, use

Predict, Observe, Explain

Predict:

This is a guess of what will happen, of the form “If …, then …”  Obviously you can’t do this cold.  To be able to guess what might happen you have to have experience of similar situations.  That’s why I’ve waited a while before writing this piece – you need to be comfortable getting your kids to observe and ask questions and do things before you can ask them to predict.  But there are some things that even little kids can start to predict:

  • If I bang this, then it will make a loud noise.
  • If I bang harder, then it will be louder.
  • If I knock this off the table, then it will fall on the floor.
  • If I bang in the bath, then it will splash.

Older kids should be able to make more complicated predictions:

  • If I run faster, then I will get there quicker and be hot and out of breath.
  • If I use two magnets together, then they will stick to each other.

Don’t forget when you are making predictions to think about all the things that might happen, so something might fall, and bounce, and make a noise, and break.

Observe:

We’ve had lots of practice with this one!  Use all five senses, sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell.  It might be fun to record your observations as well:

  • Write them in a journal.
  • Glue them in, if it’s a photo or something like chromatography.
  • Draw pictures of them.
  • Make a model, especially if it is something to do with earth.
  • Make a collage.
  • Use the computer, especially if you have video or sound.
  • Do a role-play.
  • Sewing and embroidery

Explain:

Now there’s the trick!  This is one I would expect parents to have to step in on, because it is where most of the learning is going to happen for little kids. Let them have a go, but they’re not going to be ready to do it on their own until they know a lot more about how the world fits together.

It’s also a judgement call how much they’re ready for – I wouldn’t explain that things make a noise because they create sound waves that move air molecules that hit your ear drums!  Rather I might say that there are different sorts of energy and the movement energy of their banging changed into sound energy.  That explanation is a good one because it leads straight to another question: What other sorts of things around here make sound energy?  Vacuuming and Musical Instruments are just two examples, there are also cars, animals and running water.  So that’s a very rich explanation because it leads to lots more things to do.

Most of the time, I would continue with encouraging them to try things and then try something a little bit different.  But every now and then it’s fun to do something as a planned activity, and Predict, Observe, Explain is a good framework to use.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Annie June 23, 2010 at 6:19 am

I find it can be really powerful to let the kids come up with their own explanation, and we discuss that a bit, and then I’ll give my own explanation, usually I start with ‘I think it might be because….’ and then we discuss my explanation and its really fascinating to see which bits of it they take on board, and which bits of their own they hang on to. I don’t worry about the fact that they’ve got it ‘wrong’ cos I know they will continue to develop their understanding of what’s going on as they continue to experiment (and find that their original explanation doesn’t quite work) and also I know that if they don’t understand what I’m telling them they won’t change their minds about how they think it works anyway. Its a really great way to see exactly where their understanding is at and can suggest to me what kind of experimenting we need to do next to continue to develop their understanding.

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Deb June 23, 2010 at 9:06 am

Exactly. I sometimes feel like a mean Mummy because I’m always asking “what do you think?” But continuous repetition and experience helps them modify their own world view.

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Annie September 3, 2010 at 9:14 pm

I also find the ‘what do you think?’ question brings an end to the endless ‘why?’ questioning of a 2 or 3yo – I realised that they really are trying to make sense of the world, and I’ll answer them for as long as I can do so patiently, then I ask what they think and they normally come up with something – then we can work on it form there

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