Experiments help students explore water's properties

February 8, 2011

By ELIZA WINSTON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Virginia Museum of Natural History officials visited Martinsville Middle School last week to help students learn about water molecules through hands-on experiments.

“The Exciting Life of Water” was presented to eight sixth-grade science classes on Thursday and Friday. It was funded through a $150 grant from the Martinsville Public Schools Endowment awarded to teachers Beverly Cecil and Sandra Hazlewood.

VMNH educator Tamara Poles began one activity by telling students that water “molecules really stick together” through the process of cohesion, which is the tendency of water molecules to attract one another.

Although people might think of water as moving freely and changing shape often, water droplets actually tend to keep their shapes because of bonding molecules, Poles said.

To demonstrate that concept, she gave each student a penny, a cup filled with water and a straw. The students were told to use the straws to let drops of water fall onto the surface of each penny.

Because of cohesion, the droplets formed dome shapes on top of the pennies, said Poles. She told students to count the number of drops that stayed on each penny’s surface.

Mondarius Richardson said the activity made it “more fun” to learn about science. He and classmate Antonio Ramon watched in anticipation as fellow classmate Darius Spencer managed to get 26 droplets onto the surface of a single penny.

“The bigger the coin is, the more it will hold because it bonds,” explained Mondarius.

Poles agreed. She said a quarter would hold even more drops of water than a penny because it is larger, and the water molecules would have more room to spread out as they bonded.

The school’s co-principal praised the project.

"The kids really enjoyed it today,” said Co-Principal Zeb Talley. “It’s a great partnership with the museum. I hope this encourages our kids to start spending more leisure time at museums, because there’s so much SOL (Standards of Learning) knowledge there. They’re having fun and learning at the same time.”

Before the water droplet experiment, students participated in an activity that demonstrated water cycles in which they learned that a water molecule can travel to different locations.

For example, a water molecule might be in a cloud and travel to the soil through precipitation. Later, that same molecule might be absorbed from the soil into a nearby river or lake, Poles explained.

Students will learn more about water through a second $150 grant that will enable them to participate in another museum program, “We’re All in a Watershed,” an interactive activity to help students understand watersheds and the importance of protecting water resources, said city schools spokesperson Kim Barto.

Those grants were among 14 awarded this school year by the MCPS Endowment, which gives grants to Martinsville teachers to fund innovative, hands-on learning projects that would not otherwise be possible under tight school budgets, said Barto. Since the fund was started in 2007, more than $9,000 has been awarded, she added.

The endowment is a component fund of the Martinsville Area Community Foundation and it is supported by tax-deductible donations and fundraisers, Barto said.


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