Beginning Water Inquiries

Welcome to the Investigating Water Blog, home to all things regarding our water inquiry. Inquiry based learning takes a big question and converts it into a problem for students to solve. Our ‘big question’ – where does water go? – is one that many classrooms have engaged with over the past few months. In this initial blog post, our investigating water team focuses on the beginnings of water studies in five classrooms.

These posts showcase how teachers guide students in building scientific knowledge in active and engaging ways. We hope to encourage dialogue across classrooms, to invigorate ideas and to keep improving our conversations about water. Through collaboration, each classroom can advance their understanding of how water works and how ideas work.


Katy Butler’s first grade class at Jackson Street School opened their study of water through multiple avenues. While reading water-related books such as Thomas Locker’s Water Dance, students became interested in the question of where water goes. The quest for an answer resulted in the experiment pictured above, where students watched Ms. Butler pour water on a number of surfaces in various locations. Differences between predictions and observations, as well as individual experiments, provoked questions. When water was poured on a yellow carpet, for example, students wondered whether the water droplets changed color to match the surface below.


At the Smith College Campus School, Robbie Murphy launched her second grade class’ investigation using the lens of a natural scientist.  The book Henry Works by D. B. Johnson, which tells the tale of a bear modeled after Henry Thoreau, provided an opportunity to discuss the value of making observations. The story opens on a “misty, muzzling morning,” prompting a later discussion about where rain comes from. Students created a series of beginning ideas, among them the intriguing concept that “water has a life cycle”.

On the pine trees it gets stuck on the needles and on the other trees, it gets

stuck on the leaves and fills it up like a cup. Then, when the sun comes out, it evaporates??

Jan Szymaszek started a conversation about water with her third graders at the Campus School after being caught in the rain at recess.  Jan noted that students were “really engaged” in the discussion about water flow on the sloping school grounds.  Sharing observations about where water collected, they began to ask questions about where water goes when it is no longer visible. Does it go into the reservoir? The sewers? Does it become drinking water or does it go where the toilet water goes? Jan plans to take students out during a hard rain and refine the framing question, observing “where does the water go when it is raining?”.

IMG_6956Kathie Bredin set out to discover her fourth grade students’ ideas about water with an eye to sustaining inquiry over time. The inquiry began in her classroom at Jackson Street School with a discussion about water, a resource that was all around them, but often went unnoticed.  The inclusion of “(right now)” in the title gives an expectation for a continuous building on student ideas.

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Renee Bachman, a third grade teacher at Leeds Elementary School, decided to take her students outside one rainy day and observe water. While sloshing through massive puddles and watching water pouring into storm drains, students determined that water went towards the “lower ground”. Renee also took her students outside after the downpour. As they were discussing evaporation, students wondered if oil went through the water cycle, and, if so, if it was converted into water. We look forward to hearing more student thoughts on the role of oil, a topic brought forward by both Renee’s and Kathie’s students.

As teachers begin classroom inquiries, our team is struck by the multiple points of entry for inspiring students’ imaginations and encouraging their questions about “where does water go?” Many teachers choose to use literature to incite creative questions about water and nature, while other openings involve experimentation and outdoor observation. We notice that teachers pay careful attention to questions about water that seem to catalyze students’ curiosity. For example, Kathie and Renee use video to document their students’ observation of oil slicks on the pavement and their questions about how oil behaves differently than water. We hope to track these student inquiries over the year to learn how their questions and ideas develop.

Our blog will update frequently, showcasing new aspects of water inquiries across schools and putting teachers in dialogue with each other. To engage in this learning community, we encourage you to offer commentary, share what’s going on in your water inquiries, pose questions, and let us know how we can be a resource for you and your students.

We’re eager to hear about how you investigate snow on the school grounds!

In the meantime, happy holidays from the water team.


 Ally, Carol and Hannah


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