Water Wheel Play - Where to Pour

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As you view this video, find what problems the two girls confront as they pour water on a wheel. Also notice any place where either girl is surprised by what happens or disappointed by what does not happen. In this way you will find the educational value of play, even two minutes of play. Once you have looked for problems, surprises, and disappointments, consider what questions you might have asked these girls or what changes you might make in the physical environment that would extend their exploration. We offer our answers below, but you will certainly have others.

The vanes of the wheel are made of cups. The open cups invite the children to pour water directly into one cup, as Georgia does at first. The best angle to do so seems to be at the very apex of the wheel, but releasing water there, instead of at a tangent on the right side or left side, makes it hard to predict which way the wheel will spin. At first the wheel turns counter clockwise, but as the water continues to pour it catches the back of a cup and the wheel reverses direction. Georgia looks at the teacher as if to ask, “What’s going on here?” (00:10)

Runtime 2 minutes 18 seconds Georgia gives the cup to Peyton, who has to walk ten feet or so to the sink to fill the cup. As you will see later, the girls confront the problem of getting more water to the wheel in a single trip. Peyton looks for another cup, maybe to have one of her own, but later to have one that holds more water. At first she selects a smaller cup (00:43), but at least it has a handle. After testing out the small cup (01:15), she gets a bottle (01:31) with more capacity. We can surmise that she is not simply trying to be more productive, but rather she is trying to make the spinning effect last longer by having more water in her container. Relevant to this idea, notice how she shields her cup as she walks in order to maximize the amount of water she has available for the pouring (00:28).

Peyton dumps all of the water, slightly to the right of the apex. The wheel spins vigorously, and Peyton laughs with pleasure (00:36). She does not notice that the wheel reverses its direction. There must be something off center or imbalanced about the wheel to cause this reversal. Had she noticed the reversal would she know enough about physics to see the reversal as something that needs to be explained? Inert objects simply do not reverse direction for no reason.

The teacher asks Georgia, “Can you tell me how that works?” (00:55). Georgia replies, “You pour water on it, and then it will spin.” The teacher asks Georgia to show how it works. A follow up question could be, “Which way will it turn?” This more specific question might cause Georgia to put a theory into words, a theory about how to control the direction of the spin.

The teacher says, “I wonder why the water makes it spin” (01:11). This comment is difficult to address. Asking a question that encourages the child to predict something observable often works better. A slightly older child may have said, “The more water you pour the faster (or longer) it spins.”

Siri enters the play space, and the teacher suggests that Siri consult Georgia and Peyton about how the water wheel works. These moments when one child desires to enter the play that others have already begun often need this sort of bridging by the teacher. Siri asks if she needs a cup. The shelf is accessible and contains many items from which to choose.

Georgia takes more water to the wheel, but before pouring it she turns to the teacher and says, “The tape gets wet” (01:56). Perhaps she thinks wetting the tape is an undesirable consequence, like getting your clothes wet if you are not wearing a smock. Her comment also causes us to wonder how she is framing her actions. Is she spinning the wheel or wetting the wheel? Given the conspicuous effect of spinning, she most likely is thinking, “spin.” Therefore it is interesting that she can alternate her frame of spinning and wetting.

This time Georgia notices how the wheel spins clockwise and then reverses its direction. One cannot see too much surprise (01:59) in her face, but she does use her finger to continue the counter clockwise movement. This action could mean, “I would like to study this counter clock wise movement by making it happen again.” Children often seek a way to make an interesting event happen again in order to learn something about it. It then behooves us to ask, “What was interesting in this case?” Did Georgia have an intuitive reaction that the spin was an unexplained reversal?

Peyton comes over with her big bottle, eager to try it out. “Wait,” she tells Georgia (02:04). Does Peyton want the wheel to be stationary at first so that she can see the full effect of her new water supply? If the wheel is in motion, she cannot isolate the effect of her extra water. Even at a young age, children know something about the isolation of variables.

But Georgia is more interested in her new strategy of spinning the wheel with her finger. She asks Peyton to pour water while the wheel is still turning (02:09). Does she notice how the water flies off of the wheel when it is spinning fast? Thus defines the nature of play and how it contributes to learning. A spontaneous effect (the reversed rotation) leads the child to control that effect (use the finger), which in turn, leads to new effects (water flying out of the cups) that the child seeks to study and regulate. All of this happened in slightly more than two minutes. Imagine a whole day filled with play! Imagine further, quality questions that can help the child reflect on the experience and physical extensions, such as a set of 12-ounce cups placed in a line along on a long table that spans the distance from sink to water basin.

Runtime: 2 minutes 18 seconds