Learning with Meaning: Exploring the Love of Learning


When I was in fifth grade, my very progressive teacher Mrs. Moegling had an activity waiting on our classroom tables when we came in from lunch one day. On trays in the middle of the table were little cups with different liquids and powders. Our objective was to explore each substance and try to guess what they were by experimenting with them. Some of the liquids were colored, some were clear or foggy. Some of the powders had strong smells and other others were odorless, though they were all nearly identical.

Somewhere in our experimentation, my partner and I got distracted from our original task because we had accidentally made an amber liquid that made anything you poor into dissolve very quickly or bleach away the color when the two combined. I strongly remember being amazed when I poured bright green food coloring into the concoction and then watched it disappear almost instantly into the mixture. Suddenly, everyone in the class stopped what they were doing to see what was happening with our potion.

Kids in Science

Students discovering information for the first time.

From there, students started making logical guesses. “Was there bleach in one of those cups?” Mrs. Moegling said that there was nothing as toxic as bleach in any of the cups and she admitted that she herself had no idea what was going on. We were told that one of the liquids was detergent, but that didn’t really explain the phenomena. Still to this day, twenty-three years later, I wonder if Donny and I had stumbled upon Oxi-Clean before it ever hit late night television, but I guess I’ll never know. The best part is, it doesn’t really matter. The important element about that experience is that I still wonder about what happened every now and then over two decades later.

Kids learn science

Allowing Kids to explore on their own.

The reason that experience sits with me still to this day is because it was the last time that I thought like a scientist until I started teaching. My experience was echoed in 2008 on NPR Morning Addition when I heard about an MIT student who recalled discovering centrifugal force as a five year old while playing with an Easter basket and jump rope. She explained how she was astonished to see the basket swing upside down, but the eggs didn’t fall out. She then goes on to say she excitedly got her farther to show him her discovery only to see him look unimpressed and label the phenomena centrifugal force. At that moment, she was crushed.

So much about our world is “known” these days, but that doesn’t mean we need to take the discovery out of teaching and learning. My goal this year is to supply my students with materials and then respectfully remove myself so that they might make their own discoveries. I can teach my students what centrifugal force is and demonstrate it, and chances are they’ll retain the information. However, if I give them a bucket full of ping pong balls and a rope, there’s a chance they will discovery for themselves and have the chance to explore force like Newton did before them. To teach this way is as simple as leaving some objects out for exploration and allowing myself to be awed by the natural world through my student’s young eyes.


Learn it BioAnnie Graham and Brandon Kendall are convinced that education can be fun, exciting, and meaningful. Brandon has been a teacher in Missoula for the better part of a decade. Annie is a proud parent of six children and a home school teacher. Check out their blog for fun (and educational) adventures around Missoula. Visit their Learning With Meaning website for ideas on dynamic and project based learning at home and in the classroom.