Structuring School Opportunities

Transformation Experiences

Transformation Experiences present visible change; first something is one way, then it is different. Here is science for preschoolers presented as a provocation for participation in abstract language.

Marion Blank had a profound influence on me with her book, Teaching Learning in Preschool, where she dr-marion-blankdistinguished between four Levels of Abstraction in the language we use in exchanges with young children. Some talk matches what children are attending to (I. Matching Perception) which should be in the life of many two-year olds; some talk references details and concepts about perception (II. Selective Analysis of Perception) which should be in the life of most three-year-olds; some talk kind of tricks one into thinking a different way about perception (III. Reordering Perception) which should be in the life of most four-year-olds; finally some talk is related to the child’s perceptual experience but exists only in language (IV. Reasoning about Perception) which should be in the life of most five-year-olds. I administered her Preschool Language Assessment Instrument to many children and used it as a pre-post test when I was an assistant teacher in Head Start. I verified in my own action research that the small group time experiences here moved socio-economic disadvantaged four-year-olds up 1.7 levels of abstraction in seven months. If you want to learn more, you can check out the Levels of Abstraction page.

The Natural Progression Activities on the last page challenge the children with Level III Reordering Perception. By engaging children in a brief science demonstration, Transformation Experiences routinely present challenges to children at Level IV Reasoning About Perception, after providing them with the necessary vocabulary. Although these activities are usually intriguing for three-year-olds, they are designed to challenge the language skills of four- and five-year-olds, especially those who have not participated in Level IV reasoning exchanges at home.

Convention for Leading Transformation Experiences

Name each item you have without questioning them; simply give the names away. The children need the vocabulary in order to talk about the changes they will be seeing. This is not a quiz time; “What is this?” is irrelevant, as you can see in the example below.

Ask tutorial questions of two kinds at every stage of the activity. Tutorial questions are ones you know the answer to but are designed to provoke thought. Good in group times, deadly in free times.

Prediction questions (Level IV)
What will happen when…?
What will it look like?
Description questions (Level II)
What do you see?
What happened?


This video begins after the children, who are five years old, have broken eggs, touched them, and talked about them, which you’ll recognize would be a Natural Progression Activity. After all, what does one naturally do with a carton of eggs?

At this point her Natural Progression changes into a Transformation Activity — storing the raw eggs in vinegar overnight, which dissolves the calcium in the shells. As you can see nobody is wrong or right, for their answers do not matter. Watching and talking through the transformation is the experience.


I demonstrate the protocol to my students using two bottles and a tornado tube connector.
Btornadoeginning with one bottle of water, “I have a clear bottle with water and these vials of food coloring. Red. Blue. Green. Yellow.”foodcoloring
“I am going to put a few drops of yellow food coloring into the water. What will happen? What will you see?” (children talk)
Then I add food color. “What do you see happening now?”

“Now I am going to shake it up. What will happen? What will it look like?”
(children talk) Then I shake it up. “What do you see happening now?”

“I am going to put a few drops of blue food coloring into the water. What will happen? What will you see?” (children talk)
Then I add the blue. “What happened? What do you see?”

“Now I am going to shake it up. What will happen? What will it look like?”
(children talk) Then I shake it up. “What do you see happening now?”

“Now I screw on this connector. It’s called a tornado tube. Then I screw on this empty bottle on top. What will happen when I turn it upside down? What will you see?”

Then I turn over the connected bottles. Usually a few drops fall from the full bottle into the bottle below, then it stops when the pressure balances. “What happened?” (children talk)

“What will happen if I spin the top bottle around and around? What will you see?” (children talk)

End of experience. “That was pretty cool wasn’t it?”


Here are a few ideas to get you started: mix gelatin; add water to dry ice, add salt to ice and touch it with a cotton string; melt ice; combine oil, water, molasses, and food color in a tall glass container; vinegar and baking soda; add raisins to carbonated water; in a shallow glass tray add cream, then drops of food color, then a bit of detergent; small electric fan and things that move differently in the wind; suspend a ping pong ball in the wind of a hair dryer; store steel wool in vinegar; on a rainy day use a turkey baster to collect water from a puddle and then filter it with coffee filters. I have always recommended to teachers to visit a bookstore and look through science books for preschoolers to find ideas.

That is all there is to it. No big deal. I hope you all get to try doing a transformation experience once a week for a school year. If you do, you’ll see how children begin to offer theories and ideas in other settings: they know how to play the game most privileged children have played all their lives.

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