Science in the Kindergarten- The Walkie Talkie Tower

Guest Blogger Mauren Campbell, kindergarten teacher, worked with the beginnings of a project on light and heat, which later came into the studio. Here is her account of the origins of the walkie Talkie tower project:

During our morning work in the Kindergarten classroom, we are often bathed in sunlight, thanks to our beautiful eastward-facing windows. One morning, as a child sat at the observational drawing table sketching his own face…

“Look! Look!” we soon heard, as he aimed the mirror up and around, bouncing spots of light all over the room. He had found such joy in the understanding of reflection that other children soon joined him. 

 Later, during our project circle, we asked if anyone would like to continue the exploration that this group had started, and soon a group of boys was tramping around the school’s campus shining light onto trees, fences and street signs. We noticed that some surfaces and materials were more reflective than others, and we thought hard about why. 

“When it shined it was shining on the window then it went on the wall because it bounced off.”

The boys weren’t just interested in reflecting light, however. They wanted to melt things. 
They would train the mirror’s reflection and then wait for a few seconds, staring hard. A few boys were even convinced they were melting things. 
Max H.: Let’s melt the car! We’re gonna melt this car.
(all boys point their mirrors at a car across the street)
Max H: It’s melting!

That afternoon we were able to trace the source of this mirror-melting fascination. Our co-teacher Mary had mentioned to Max H. that there was a skyscraper in London—nicknamed the Walkie Talkie Tower—which had mirrored windows that were really melting things on London streets below! The boys were fascinated. 

We looked up pictures. 

Built and drew our own Walkie Talkie Towers…  
“The car’s getting melted because the sun is reflecting onto the car.”

And discussed building our own Walkie Talkie Tower model.  
What is a ‘model’? 
Children study a model of their school building. 

One day, while the boys created plans for their models, they helped each other think about the realities of using their models to melt objects:
Max P: (showing his folded paper model) It’s the Walkie Talkie Tower. I need to put something on here to reflect. 

Max H: We need to test the weather. If it’s cold it won’t work. 

Dante: Yes it will. 

Teacher: Why do you say that Dante? 

Dante: Because when it’s cold it’s sunny. 

Teacher: So the sun can be shining when it’s cold outside? 

Ethan: I’m thinking I might need a mirror to see what I can reflect on and I’ll ask my mom for any mirror she had and I’ll get some ice and try to melt it and then I’ll ask my mom to buy some ice at the store and I can bring it to school and try to melt ice. 

Teacher: It sounds like you are wanting to do an experiment. What’s your hypothesis? 

Ethan: I think it will melt the ice and make water. 

Ethan’s idea sparked interest in the rest of the group and they soon asked for ice. In an effort to slow the work down and help the children think more deeply about the experience, we asked for a hypothesis from each child. 
Ethan: The water is gonna be warm. 

Max P: It’s gonna be a little bit cold because would ice melt if it’s just getting reflected? 

Robbie: The ice is gonna be melted.

Max Hanger: It’s gonna disappear and then it’s gonna turn into hot water. 

Dante: The ice and cars will already be melted by that time. 

But to the boys’ surprise, once the cube of ice was in the mirror’s reflection, it took many many minutes. Some group members, after observing intently for a few moments, stood up and walked away. Others proclaimed “This is boring.” 

Had they expected something instantaneous? 

We tried the experiment several more times, each time with an intention to make the ice melt faster. 

A child discovered that he could capture the reflection of the sun as the only light source on the ice cube, by placing the mirror and ice cube behind the shade of a bush. Interested in only the effect of the mirror’s reflection, this child had discovered a way to eliminate other variables.
Some used two mirrors in an effort to speed up the ice’s melt time.

We wondered if the ice would melt quickly if it was placed in direct sunlight as well as in a mirror’s reflection

We were also interested in how long it would take an ice cube to melt in the sun without any mirror at all. 

After several tests, in which the fastest ice cube melt was ten minutes, the conversation began to change from “How can we use the mirror to melt things?” to “How can we make the ice melt in the smallest amount of time?”

Ethan: It’s more hot in the summer. 

Robbie: We should do this plan in the summer. 

Dante: If we were in a spaceship and we flew all the way to the sun, and we dropped the ice on top of the sun and then it would be less than one second. 

As a teaching team, we decided to guide the boys back toward their original intention. We presented them with the challenge to build a model Walkie Talkie Tower. After testing and exploring the affordances of mirrors for a few weeks, they were still intrigued by the real Walkie Talkie Tower’s ability to melt and scorch. Could they make that happen? 

 next: Building the Walkie Talkie Tower


  1. I love love love this! I heard many reports from E while this project was going on, he was so excited to talk about it. Thanks for sharing.


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