1st, 2nd Graders Learn What ‘Matters’

States of Matter

In classrooms all over the country, educators are continually working to see what matters the most. Well, if your iLEAD Agua Dulce’s Sue Ellen Quan, what matters the most in science is matter. That’s right, Quan recently had her 1st and 2nd graders pursue the study of scientific matter in a project called “Matter All Around Me.”

Learners learned about the different forms of matter – liquid, air, gas – while working to address the driving question: How do the three states of matter affect my life? Quan, who did this project two years ago, wanted her learners to have an engaging, hands-on science experience where they could see science alive in their daily lives.

“My purpose in this project was to have them really become active learners versus passive learners,” said Quan. “We remember these experiences more because we are physically engaged and involved in each and every process.”

While addressing a series of essential questions, Quan had her learners embark on a series of hands-on experiments and labs. They made ice cream, froze water and watched many examples of various matter changing from one state to another.

According to Quan, all of this sustained inquiry was led by the learners themselves. Learners chose their favorite experiment that they had done and then shared that entire process with their parents as part of the Presentation of Learning. In small groups, learners listed the experiment’s steps while then sharing their observations and conclusions.

“They shared their hypothesis and what they thought would happen,” said Quan. ““Learners were able to explain and articulate to others something that is very complex in a real, visible way.”

The learners, said Quan, really seemed to connect with the labs and experiments in a personal, engaging way while realizing that learning and new knowledge often comes from what doesn’t work.

“Learners said it’s ok that something didn’t work because we can try it again and see what we could do differently,” said Quan. “I love that they came up with this idea of learning by failure on their own. That’s how we discover something new.”

Quan said that she and the learners accessed many resources, while also getting support from iLEAD’s Maker Team. She said that digital resources such as Mystery Science were invaluable.

Throughout this project, the learners were engaged in many cross–curricular endeavors. Quan said that they did several English Language Arts activities including informative writing, a Cafe approach to Bartholomew and the Oobleck from Dr. Seuss and their own version of Balloons Over Broadway.

Additionally, she said the learners used math focused on recognizing 2D and 3D shapes, enjoyed a guest speaker from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and dove deep into Non-Newtonian Fluids.

Quan said she would encourage fellow facilitators to do projects that they have done before. She said as facilitators we improve our workflows and processes, while the learners are experiencing the project for the first time.

“A project is a living thing,” said Quan. “The learners are different each time and they will guide the project in new and different directions.”

Quan was thrilled with both the learner and parent feedback.

“The learners enjoyed it and so did I because it was so hands-on and demonstrable,” she said. “Parents at the Presentation Of Learning were really impressed with the writing process.”

Others connected to this project as well. They were equally impressed with both the learners’ level of involvement and Quan’s expert facilitation.

“Sue Ellen did a super job of engaging and challenging each and every learner,” said Angie Nastovska, iLEAD’s Director of Innovation and Humanities. “This is a perfect example of a low threshold, high ceiling project.”

Quan was enthused about her learners’ high level of engagement and commitment to the work.

“We met each learner where they were and could see how things worked in real time,” she said. “I loved seeing the reactions on their faces.”

Quan has many more unique projects and learning adventures planned for her learners this school year. After spring break, she will for the third time launch the Community Project. This asks “How can we build a community of our own based on the community in which we live?” Quan said the learners will collaborate with many community experts and partners while learning social science and English Language arts.

“When my learners are engaged, then I’m engaged,” said Quan. “We learn in real time together while connecting with our community and the world.”


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