- Can someone draw a picture of what that might look like?
- How would you say in words what those numbers mean?
- What would that look like? Can you show us the motion by walking it?
- I noticed you used a symbol to express your idea. Can you translate what it means?
Words. When you hear (or read) the words used to explain a sinking and floating egg, this might give you a partial understanding of buoyancy. For example, “The egg’s weight is equal to the buoyant force of the salt water so it floats. However, the egg’s weight is greater than the buoyant force of the fresh water, so it sinks.”
Actions. Linking these words to an event, an experiment, a role play, or real-world phenomena offers a different understanding of buoyant forces. For example, if you take a minute to remember a time you went swimming or a time you observed what happened when a hard-boiled egg was put in fresh water and salt water, then you will have a tangible observation and physical sensation related to understanding the effects of buoyant force.
Images. There are many visual ways to represent science ideas and relationships, such as using illustrations, graphs, Venn diagram, tables, and flow charts. With the egg example, a continuum arrow can be used to show the relationship between more dense and less dense substances. This reinforces the concept that less dense things (hard boiled eggs) float in more dense fluids (salt water).
Symbols. Equations, arrows, letter abbreviations, and other symbols are sometimes thought of as short hand for expressing scientific relationships and concepts. While that may be true, communicating with symbols contributes to our making sense of the science. For example, the following equation helps us clarify that the weight of an egg is a force, just as the upward push of the water is a force (i.e., buoyant force). Similarly, both the equation and the arrows help us know when these forces are balanced and equal (the egg rises, or floats) or when these forces are not in balance (the egg sinks).
When communicating science ideas to others, ask yourself which other language of science — words, actions, images, and symbols — might help make the explanation more complete, accurate, and precise. For example, can you use a drawing to show something about the particles of salt water, water, and the egg that is hard to understand in words? When supporting science learning using these four languages of science, remember that each conveys a different aspect of the science concept. It’s important to encourage all learners (adults and children alike) to express their thinking in each of these ways. You can help learners deepen and cement their understandings by asking them to revisit ideas from various angles. For example: