In this series of conversations,  four- and five-year-olds consider the nature and source of ice.

At the beginning of our first conversation, some children posed the theory that ice is frozen water, but others seemed to doubt. It appeared that, to them, to believe that ice is frozen water would contradict their theory that snow is frozen water. In fact, LM articulated that snow and ice cannot both be frozen water. Perhaps ice just falls from the sky, one said. Or perhaps snow, if there’s enough of it, becomes ice. When AM declared that ice is water,  others did not believe her at first. But then the children came to the question from another direction, considering experiences in which they saw water within ice. And then they were able to consider the transformation from water to ice within the bird bath, which supported AM’s theory.

When it came to considering how water turns to ice, the children remained at the cause and effect level in their reasoning and relied on the invisibility of night to explain why we don’t see the transformation.  Since the forecast was that the temperature would be in the single digits the next day, I knew that there would be ice to experience, and I wondered if the children would go deeper into the “how” of freezing, or if wind and cold would remain a satisfactory explanation for them.

Conversation #1
Our first conversation came on the heels of an impassioned dialogue some of the children had about the movie, “Frozen.” Apparently, there were impressive threats of melting and of an eternal freeze in the movie, ideas that, judging by the enthusiasm and volume of the children’s conversation, really captured their imaginations. When we gathered for meeting,  I reminded the children of their conversation and invited them to talk about what the word “frozen” means.

What is “frozen?”
EB: Ice.
Teacher: What do you know about ice?
EB: It melts when the sun comes out.
J: Cold is like ice and snow. And hot is like really hot. But ice is colder than snow, because snow is just frozen water.
Teacher: You are saying that ice is colder than snow, and snow is frozen water. Is ice frozen something?
EK: No.
J: Ice is just frozen.
LM: Frozen ice cubes.
MM: They carve little pieces of ice.
Teacher: What’s ice made out of?
A few voices: Water.
Teacher: Ice is water?
H: No. It’s freezed water. When it rains, at first it’s water, but then the water frozes up, and that’s ice cubes, ’cause in the big ice storm I saw little ice cubes coming down from the sky onto my little car.
LM: That means it’s icing instead of snowing.
Teacher: So you said that ice comes from the sky, too?
Children: No! Yes!
Teacher: EK, where do you think ice comes from?
EK: A cold, cold place.
MF: The North Pole.
J: Antarctica.
LM: I’m thinking that snow comes, and then when more snow (comes) it kind of grows, and it comes to ice.
Teacher: Snow turns into ice? When would it turn into ice?
LM: When it stops, and then you wait for a long time and then it snows again.
MM: Snow is more squishier and ice is harder to crush.
MF: I crushed ice before at the forest. With a stick.
AM: Water can turn into ice. Water makes ice.
Teacher: Water makes ice? Not snow?
LM: No. Because if snow is water, why is ice water?
Teacher: Are you asking how can they both be water? (Yes)
MM: Snow is not water. Ice is not water. Because that’s not the same color.
Child: Because snow is white AND ice is white.
H: Ice is a tiny bit blue.
MF: And it’s a little shiny.
AM: I saw a pool that was all frozen up. So ice comes from a pool that’s frozen.
Teacher: MF, when you saw ice in the forest…
MF: There was water inside.
Teacher: Is there always water inside of ice?
Children: Yes! No!
LM: Because only where it used to be water there’s water under it. Not where the snow is. Dirt is under it.
MM: No, Because when we went to Massachusetts we crushed ice, and there was water coming under, and we wanted to make it a river, cause there was water under the ice.
J: Snow falls into the water, and then it comes ice. Snow and ice make ice.
Crowd: No!
MF: I think it just takes a long time. There was lots of ice , and I took a stick and crushed it, but one  was very hard I crushed a little bit of the hard one. Yeah, and my mom got a stick, and she put it in the water, and it was a little icy, and…I got to throw rocks in it. There were splashes.
Teacher: So was it ice by then or was it water?
MF: Water.
H: I know that water turns into ice, because some days the bird water is water, but the other days it’s ice when it gets really cold.
Teacher: Are you talking about our bird bath in the front yard? (Yes) Well, then, do you agree with AM that ice is water?
Several voices: Yes.
H: Because first it’s water on some days when it’s not too cold, but it is a little cold. But then when it is really, really cold, all the water will turn into ice, and we get to go feel it.
Teacher: Well, guess what? Tonight it’s going to get very, very cold.
LT: So tomorrow will there be ice?

How does water turn into ice?
One child, then another and another: Overnight!
H: No, when it gets really, really cold, then the water will get frozen. And frozen water is ice.
Teacher: But how? When you go outside and it’s really, really cold, do you turn into ice?
Children: No!
LM: Because we’re different from water.
H: Cause we’re not liquid.
LM: Cause we don’t melt, and water does. We don’t turn hard, and water does.
Teacher: I know, but how?
MF: I think it’s going to turn into ice after a long time.
Teacher: We all agree that water turns into ice now, right? But I’m asking how does that happen?
LM: The wind is what makes it ice. The wind blows at night, it makes it ice. Cause you know how it’s really cold at night? The wind blows at night. It’s really cold, so the water turns into ice.
MM: The wind blows it.
MF: We don’t see the wind, so we don’t know.
MM: ‘Cause wind is white.
J: All the places. Think about all the places that are frozen right now.
MM: The water comes, and then the snow comes, and then the wind comes, and it all turns [it] into ice.
Teacher: So it has to snow tonight for there to be ice tomorrow?
EB: Maybe the wind turns it into ice.
AM: I don’t think so. Water really does turn to ice. My mom told me.

The next day, we brought some ice inside from the outdoor classroom…a shovel full of ice in which sand was embedded, a slab of ice from the slide in which a leaf was embedded, and a small potted plant suspended in a cup full of ice. The children did go deeper in their thinking, ultimately co-constructing a theory in which foreign matter in water “comes together” to make water hard when it freezes. Here is an excerpt from that conversation.

Conversation #2

How do objects get stuck in the ice?
MF: The leaf is stuck into it! It fell in the ice, and it melted in it.
H: No. It’s because it got frozed into it. Because when something is on the water, and the water frozes, then the thing that dropped on the water froze into the ice.
LT: I think the leaf came from a tree, and it fell on the slide, and then it froze.
Teacher: Do you think it fell into water or into ice?
LT: Fell into water and then turned into ice.
LM: I think it fell from the sky, and the ice was already there, and more ice fell.
H: But big chucks of it don’t fall from the sky. Only little pieces.
MC: I agree with Harper, that the leaf fell in the water, and then it turned into ice.
LT: Ice doesn’t fall from the sky.
AM: Actually, water was down on the slide. Then a leaf fell from a tree above it. Then it froze.

About the shovelful of ice:
Child: There’s sand in it!
HG: It’s the same thing as the leaf. Except just sand fell into it.
LT: I think sand fell from the rock and then it landed there, in water, and it froze.
EB: Maybe sand was in the shovel, and then water came in it, and then it froze.
J: I think that the sand got in the pump. And then the shovel scooped it out.
LM: I think that sand was just in the sandbox, and there was a big hole, and then when the water fell, the water got under the sand, and then it turned into ice.
T: Oh! That’s a different theory than you had before, isn’t it?
LW: I think that, you know like when trees are cut down they fall? Maybe that happens when the wind is blowing, the leaves fall off onto the ground, and some people pick them up and pick up ice, and put water under it so it sticks, and then they rub it so it sticks…you know like when you rub a balloon on your hair?
T: So you think it’s static electricity that made the leaf stick into the ice? (Yes) So you think somebody made this happen? (Yes)

The children noticed that the ice on the tray was melting. I asked what was making it melt. “The light!” they said, and “the warm house.” J pointed out that we were close to the radiator, and that was what made the ice melt. “Yeah, because hot stuff will make it melt, and all the sand will be free,” added H.

How does water freeze into ice?
I read the children some of their theories from the day before: that the wind is white and blows, and when the snow and wind combine they make ice. Right away AM disagreed with that theory.

AM: Some water is there and it freezes up.
H: Frozen water is ice. Ice is hard. But the water gets hard when it freezes.
Teacher: How does this liquid water change to be this hard ice?”
C: Things are in the water, and then when it’s really cold and windy they come together, and it makes ice. And then water comes in, too, and it makes more ice.
Teacher: You’re saying whatever is in the water comes together because it’s cold, and that makes it hard? (Yes)
H: Something goes into the water, and that makes it freeze.

Harper's theory is on the left. Harper has things coming from the outside to make the ice. She says she is not agreeing with Campbell. "So when the sand goes in to the water and the water turns into ice, then the sand has no way to get out." She has no theory about how the ice was formed, though.
Some of the children draw their theories of what happens to water to make it transform into ice. J says, ” I think that there’s tiny bits of snow, and it falls into the water. It comes together and then it makes ice.”

 Building on the foreign-body theory, the children co-constructed this new theory:
H: Different kind of ices have different things in them.
EK: The rain gets into water, and people put rocks in it, and it makes ice.
LT: I think that how it freezes, it has a little bit of grass and a little bit of seeds and a little bit of snow. They get frozen.
LW: I think when the ground gets really cold, when you hold up stuff they get really cold when your hands are icy, and then when you put it down, stuff gets very very heavy, and it falls down into ice.
Teacher: Are you saying that if something really cold gets into the water that will turn the water into ice? (Yes) What happens to the cold? Does it stay in the thing that you’re holding, or does it move?
LW: It gets hot, and then it’s somewhere, and then it melts.
AM: I think there’s water coming from the sky into a bowl. Then it freezes up.
Teacher: How? What makes it turn hard?
AM: Well, grass.

After our conversation we put the ice in the studio for the children to explore further.