Thursday, February 17, 2011

A important lesson from Ooblick (and how to make it)

I am almost ashamed to say it; I have never used Ooblick in my classroom before! I know, I know, everyone and their neighbor has used Ooblick in preschool but I never have.  Terrible.  Maybe it is because all of the descriptions I have red of it have been non discrpt and somewhat blasé to say the least.

(the yellow color is from food coloring)
The Basics
If you have not used it before, do not underestimate the awesomeness of this substance.  Ooblick is part corn starch and part water a good batch is comprised of about equal parts corn starch and water but it can vary.  The batch above needed  You will read here, and virtually everywhere else, Ooblick (sometimes spelled Oobleck) is a non- Newtonian fluid;  This means that it exhibits characteristics of both a solid and a liquid.  When there is pressure applied to Ooblick from any angle it acts as a solid, but when there is little or no pressure applied it acts like a liquid.  When using your fingers or a spoon to scrape the bottom it feels like playdough (sort of) but there is no trail left behind your spoon or fingers, no indent made, because the portions of the liquid that pressure is not being applied to move freely just like water.  It feels, with your hand submerged, as though you could grab a clump of it and shape it into a ball, but as soon as you pull it out it runs through your fingers! Children find this fascinating and I am not ashamed to say that I did as well; I perhaps enjoyed it just a tiny bit more than they did.

What can be learned from Ooblick
Let me warn you that the next part is wordy and lengthy, but I beg you to stick with me so that perhaps this rant will be useful to you:
This project was really an eye opener to me about the importance of having EXPERIENCES FOR CHILDREN TO ATTACH WORDS TO (a premise that I was first made to understand completely by Bev Bos).  Now,  am I doing this to teach children who are four years of age to walk around talking to other adults about "non- newtonian fluids?" No. Although, I am not loathe to the idea of throwing that word out to them, still, I do not expect them to pick it up.  BUT, more importantly I am CONVINCED that having this experience will be valuable to them down the road.  When I took chemistry in high school, (which seems like ages ago although it has not yet been a decade),  I remember learning about Non- Newtonian fluids and in theory I suppose I knew what they were, I knew by description what they were and I even knew to give the examples of quick sand and something called Ooblick that I had never touched.  By experience I somewhat knew what quick sand was like; I grew up on a farm so I knew that in the spring when I stepped "mud," (which on farms consists of water, dirt, cow manure, pieces of cow feed, and other odds and ends that the cows have stomped together),  that was very wet and ankle deep (sometimes deeper),  my boot would often get stuck in a "vacuum" which could be quite difficult to navigate.  I also knew that when shoveling this substance that it fell off the shovel easily.  However, I never played in it (for obvious reasons) and hence never took time to examine or ponder these qualities or associate them with the term "non newtonian."   I never understood until the other day (THE OTHER DAY WHEN I PLAYED WITH OOBLICK!) the complete meaning of a non newtonian fluid;  I understood more characteristics of non- newtonian substance and had an expanded understanding of the meaning of viscosity (I will spare you definitions in interest of relevance) and finally was able to equate non-newtonian substances with a colloidal suspension (something I should have been able to do by simple memorizing, but neglected to memorize...).  However, experience would have saved me memorization and ultimately how much do we retain that we simply memorize anyway?
This brings hope to people like myself and I am sure other teachers who are looking a research on brain development and saying to themselves "and if I didn't get enough of this kind of experience as a child, will I ever be reconciled to the missing piece?" In this instance, yes, it is not too late! However, we, generally are looking to give our children a "head start," and what better way to do this than to lay a foundation for future learning.
Have you ever seen the shows where they have to transfer the weight of an entire house so that they can create a strong foundation because the original one was ill built and is crumbling?  How much easier would it have been to built a strong foundation in the first place?
This is one activity and one example.  It is only one, and yet that is something.  President Obama, in his State of the Union address, recently called and expressed concern over the need for a better education system to yield brilliant scientists, mathematicians, and engineers to better serve our nation and society; This is where it starts, in Early Childhood Programs;  It starts by giving children EXPERIENCES that are real to them and that set a foundation for their learning NOT by teaching them to learn and memorize things that they have no real understanding or experience with, but lasting experiences.  

And besides all of this, it's fun!

Some pointers for using Ooblick in your class
1.  Don't cover it, if you are keeping it.  Just leave it open and add more water in the morning.  If you cover it, then it will mold (Lisa Murphy, Ooey Gooey Handbook)
2.  This makes some children's hands very dry- I had a little bit of baby oil on hand that we usually use for sensory play that I gave them on their hands to rub around to help moisturize them.  I had parents bring in lotion for little hands that dried out after the first day, and gave gloves to kids whose hands were severely effected by it.
3.  I plan to need at least 5 cups of corn starch for this project.


  1. I remember playing with this stuff years and years ago, though I didn't have a name for it. We just called it liquid cornstarch. You never forget the sensation -- both firm in your fist and able to melt away as soon as you open your fingers. Nice job!

  2. Thank you for sharing this information.
    It will really helpful to solve my confusion

    Process $ Chemical Engineering