“Thermonator: The Matter Maker” online app for kindergarten science

Can children as young as kindergarten understand what makes a solid become a liquid, or a gas? Can they comprehend the dynamics of particle motion? Our Sensing Science through Modeling Matter project believes they can, with the help of playful, animated stories and an online app that is now available in the App Store.

Sensing Science is being piloted in four kindergarten classrooms in Indiana and Massachusetts using a model-based inquiry framework to explore the ability of young children to learn about physical science concepts of matter and its changes. In collaboration with FableVision, an award-winning company that develops creative educational tools, Sensing Science has already designed two interactive animated stories for students.  The Land of Bump is a story about dancing dots that teaches children about heat transfer and how temperature affects particles. The Flying Zippies are circus acrobats who change states as the ambient air under the Big Top becomes hotter.

A new iPad app whimsically called “Thermonator: The Matter Maker” is designed to help young children ages 6-8 understand how states of matter change by allowing them to control the speed, attraction, bounce, and gravity of particles on either side of a divider. As children change these variables, they predict, test, and revise ideas about how the particles are interacting.

“The idea is to let children express ideas and become more reflective about what it is that makes a solid become a liquid or a gas, and what properties define these states,” explains Nathan Kimball, a curriculum developer on the project.

Young children change variables in the “Thermonator: The Matter Maker” and watch what happens to the colored particles. The app helps children develop early ideas about scientific experimentation and about states of matter.

“With the Thermonator, children can actually animate graphics to make events that could be incorrect, and thereby cause the children to rethink their assumptions as they look again at their representations,” explains George Forman, Co-PI on the project.

FableVision co-created the Thermonator, which is now available in the App Store for iOS devices.  It is also an entrant in the prestigious EdTech Awards 2019, sponsored by the EdTech Digest, an annual award that recognizes technological innovations in education.

Research on the ability of children as young as kindergarten to build a conceptual understanding of matter and its changes is limited. Sensing Science is providing critical data about early childhood learning capabilities and the potential of young children to understand complex science concepts. An early excitement for science also may spark a passion for STEM in later grades.