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An Engineer Changes His Mind

boy with science project

About this video

This clip shows part of a study group meeting of four preschoolers (Sylvie, Kaya, Simon, and Noah) and their teacher, Becca, at University Primary School in Champaign, Illinois. Along with another mixed-age classroom, this class has been investigating ways to turn the school playground into an outdoor learning area.

Prior to the meeting, the study group experimented with a commercially made marble run to find out about how objects move on ramps and slides (inclines). The children focused on ways to slow a marble’s movement from the top to the bottom of the marble run. Then they drew individual plans (which they call “designs”) for ramps and slides to go with a water feature that was being planned for the outdoor learning area. Finally, they built models based on their designs using items from the school’s supply of recycled materials.

The children have come to this meeting expecting to take turns describing their models and how they think the models will work while Becca holds their drawings. The drawings serve several functions. They make it possible for the children to express complex ideas, much as a book illustration does. The drawings also represent the children’s planning, their predictions about what will happen in real life. These plans also help the children (and the teacher) remember their ideas.

This clip begins immediately after Becca has held Noah’s (4 years, 7 months) drawing up for the group to refer to, asking him to explain how his model of a water slide will work. He had initially called his design “The Spinner.” Noah begins by telling where the water will “start” in his structure, pointing to or touching the parts of his model as he talks about them. As Noah talks, Becca sometimes interjects, restating what Noah has said to make sure that she has heard him correctly. She also asks some clarifying questions, such as “Where do you dump it out?” and “Does that help it slow down a little bit…?”

At one point, Simon (4 years, 5 months) moves without speaking from where he has been sitting and looks at Noah’s model, seeming to listen intently to what Noah and Becca are saying.

Becca draws Noah’s attention to the part of his model that inspired him to name it “The Spinner”—a wheel taped to the top. She wants him to clarify its purpose, so she asks, “If this was really working, would this be spinning?”

Noah has changed his mind about the role of the wheel, however. He now says that it will stay still. Becca refers to his earlier plan and asks if he changed his idea after he built the model. He confirms that he has, and she asks him to explain why he changed his idea. Noah seems to be looking for the right words, and finally says, “I don’t want to do that.”

Becca restates what Noah says and then offers another possible explanation that expands on his statements: that the model turned out to be “a little bit different than you thought.” Noah seems to accept her interpretation of his reasoning.



Noah: (Indicating each step by pointing or touching the part he is talking about.) This is, this, you just have to put water, scoop out water in this and put in here—

Becca: Scoop out the water and put it in there—

Noah: —and put in here and put in the roller coaster thing and put in the cup and it goes all the way through here and you, you dump it out.

Becca: You dump it out. Where do you dump it out?

Noah: Right here, it—right here. On the bottom.

Becca: All the little holes—does that help slow it down a little bit so it’s like a rain?

Noah: Yeah.

Becca: That’s a good idea. (Points to part of the model.) If this was really working, would this be spinning? Would the wheel be spinning? Or is it going to stay still?

Noah: It stays still.

Becca: Stays still? Because on your drawing you said it starts in the wheel and then fills up the cup, goes down through the box over to the basement, and then squirts out the squirter part. Do you still think that’s how it would work, or do you think, did you change your idea once you built it?

Noah: I changed my idea.

Becca: You changed your idea. And why did you change your idea?

Noah: ‘Cause I want to use this, and I want to change it. And it’s, and I’m, I don’t want to do that.

Becca: You don’t want to do that any more. Well, that’s okay because once you started to build it you saw that it was a little bit different than you thought, right?

Noah: Mmhm.

Becca: Right!

Benchmarks and How They Were Met

BenchmarksHow They Were Met
Language Arts
1.A.ECb: Respond appropriately to questions from others.
Noah answered a variety of questions from the teacher.
Language Arts
1.C.ECa: Describe familiar people, places, things, and events and, with teacher assistance, provide additional detail.
Noah described how the water should move through his model and gave additional details as the teacher prompted him.
Language Arts
5.C.ECa: Participate in group projects or units of study designed to learn about a topic of interest.
Noah designed and made his model as part of the class investigation of how to create an outdoor learning area.
11.A.ECb: Develop and use models to represent their ideas, observations, and explanations through approaches such as drawing, building, or modeling with clay.
The conversation between Noah and his teacher centered on the plan he drew and the three-dimensional model he made of a water slide.
The Arts
25.A.ECd: Visual Arts: Investigate and participate in activities using visual arts materials.
Noah used a marker to draw his plan on paper. He constructed his model using found materials and conventional art materials.
Social/emotional Development
30.A.ECb: Use appropriate communication skills when expressing needs, wants, and feelings.
Noah used words and gestures to explain how his model would work. When his teacher pointed out that he had changed some of his ideas about the model, Noah seemed to think about what she was asking. He then used three closely related but slightly different ways of explaining why he changed his idea.

Note: This video clip was made possible by STARnet Regions I & III with funding from the Illinois State Board of Education.

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Preschool Program

Intended audience(s):
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
Reviewed: 2017