For parents who are homeschooling their kids in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and are looking for things to teach their kids, here’s a way to teach even younger kids (grade 3 and up) the principles of the very first scientific law that could be expressed in a mathematical formula: Boyle’s Law – a physics concept. I’d like to share eight different ways you could teach this to your home-students, based on Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.
Gardner’s model says that everyone has eight intelligences, but at different levels of development: Word Smart, Number/Logic Smart, Picture Smart, Body Smart, Music Smart, People Smart, Self Smart, and Nature Smart. I’m going to give you a different strategy to teach Boyle’s Law for each of these intelligences:
- Word Smart: For this intelligence I’ll give you the verbal definition: ”For a fixed mass and temperature of gas, the pressure is inversely proportional to the volume.’‘ Now, I don’t expect your kids to ”get” Boyle’s law through this definition alone. So here are some other ways:
- Number/Logic Smart: Boyle’s law can be expressed through numbers and logic in this way: P x V = K, where P = pressure, V = volume, and K = a constant. If the pressure was 2 ATM (no, not Automatic Teller Machine! ATM means ”atmosphere” and is a measure of pressure), and the volume was 4 cm (cm means ”cubic centimeters” a measurement of volume), that would make 2 x 4 = 8. Now Boyle’s law says a fixed mass and temperature of gas. That is represented by our constant. If the pressure was 8 ATM and we know the constant is 8, what would the volume be? (you’re right if you said 1 cm). So this law expresses the idea that as the pressure goes up, the volume goes down, (proportionately) and vice versa.
- Picture Smart: For this strategy, all you need is a toy balloon. Fill up the balloon half-way with air. Tell your kids that this represents air in a chamber. Then grasp the balloon higher up toward the bulge. Now there is less volume. Ask your kids, has the pressure gone up or down (it’s gone up). Then grasp the balloon close to the part that you blow through (without letting any air out). The volume has gone up, what’s happened to the pressure (it’s gone down). [For another Picture Smart strategy, see above graphic depiction].
- Body Smart: You can do a more physical version of the above strategy, by putting some air into your mouth, so your cheeks are a little bit rubbery. This, now, becomes air in a chamber. Put all the air over into one side of your mouth (and don’t let out or swallow the air – since Boyle’s law says a fixed mass of gas). The volume has gone down, what’s happened to the pressure? (it’s gone up) Then put the air back into both sides of your mouth so there’s more volume. What’s happened to the pressure (it’s gone down). An inversely proportional relationship.
- Music Smart: For this one, you can teach your kids a kind of a mnemonic rhyme, which they’re free to turn into a chant, or rap, or whatever. Here goes: ”When the volume goes down/The pressure goes up/The blood starts to boil/And a scream erupts/”I need more space/or I’m going to frown/The volume goes up/And the pressure goes down.”
- People Smart: You need a small group of people for this one, so make sure you just do this with family members who are free of the coronavirus (or other contagions). Get together in a cluster in the center of an open space delimited by two squares (created using masking tape) of about 10 feet on each side for the larger square and 7 feet for the smaller square inside of the larger one. You all are now molecules of gas in a chamber. Boyle’s law says a ”fixed mass” so you can’t leave the larger space you’ve marked out. Boyle’s law also says a ”fixed temperature.” Temperature is motion of molecules, so you need to start moving randomly and all at the same rate within the larger square (you can bounce off the sides of the larger square but not go to the other side). Now, everybody move into the smaller square, still moving at the same rate. Your volume has gone down, what’s happened to the pressure? (it’s gone up). Go back into the larger square. The volume’s gone up, and the pressure, as you can experience it as a group, has gone down.
- Self Smart: Whenever you teach using ”self-smart” you want to take whatever you’re teaching/learning, and related it directly to the personal feelings, memories, or associations of the learner. There’s a simple formula you can use with a wide number of potential learning goals: ”Think of a time in your life when you ____” and fill in the blank with whatever you happen to be learning at the time. Now we’re learning about pressure and volume, so I’d like you to ”think of a time in your life” when you were under a lot of pressure. Maybe being homebound during this pandemic qualifies for pressure. Ask yourself (or the learner) do you feel like you have a lot of space during this time of lots of pressure (the best answer: no). Now ”think of a time in your life” when you were under very little pressure (and if you can’t think of a time, just fantasize!). Can you see that during this time of little pressure, you had lots of psychological space? That’s the psychological Boyle’s law – the Boyle’s Law of your life.
- Nature Smart: As it turns out, Boyle’s law is important in safely exploring the depths of the ocean. If one is scuba diving, here’s something that you NEVER want to do: go down deep, take a deep breath from your oxygen tank, hold your breath, and go up. Now think about it in terms of Boyle’s law. What happens when you go down deep? (the water pressure increases). Then you hold your breath, which expands the volume in your lungs (volume goes up). Now you start to go up, and what happens to the water pressure (it goes down). According to Boyle’s law, if the pressure goes down, the volume goes up, right? But you’ve already expanded the volume in your lungs as far as it will go. So what’s going to happen? You don’t actually explode, but the air continues to expand and goes into the blood stream, where bubbles of air (called air embolisms) can reach your brain and kill you. So knowing Boyle’s law is a matter of life or death in surviving in the ocean! (ask your kids: do fish have some way of dealing with this issue?).
So there are eight different strategies you can use to teach Boyle’s law and turn your kids into little budding physicists. You’re best off to start with the Body Smart and Picture Smart strategies, and do the Word Smart and Number Smart strategies last (or refer to them after each of the other strategies). The fact that you’re connecting Boyle’s law to different intelligences (which reside in different areas of the brain), means that this concept is going to ”stick” – which is not what happens when some concept is just given through words or numbers and logic (the traditional school method). And you can use this method of connecting a learning goal to words, numbers/logic, pictures, the body, music, social interaction, self reflection, and nature, with many other ideas, laws, skills, and concepts in science, math, literature, history, and other areas besides. Have fun!
For more information on using the eight intelligences to develop learning strategies for just about any topic or subject, see my best-selling book Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, 4th Edition (over half a million copies in print in all editions).
This page was brought to you by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. and www.institute4learning.com.
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