Introduction to Living Things: Classification

My 7th grade science class is beginning our life science unit. During this unit we will study characteristics of living things, cells, the human body and much more! One of the first concepts that we covered was classification.

My curriculum instructed me to cover the history of classification, from Aristotle to Carl Linneaus to more recent 6 or more kingdom philosophies. Although I find this information interesting, starting off a lesson with a lecture about dead people does not fascinate my students. But why not make them the scientists first?

Materials

Anything you can find in the classroom! Just make sure you have the same items for each group.

The goal for this activity was for students to begin thinking about how we can organize different objects. I gathered a bunch of random materials from my classroom: pipe cleaners, clothespins, toothpicks and anything else I could find! Each group received a basket with the same materials as the other groups.

   

Procedure

 I told the class to work with their group and organize the materials given. The groups got right to work. Some students asked me questions, like “What is this 

made of?” I decided NOT to give answers right away. I wanted students to look and use reasoning skills. There were debates about where to put the straw, a

nd disagreements about the clothespin. Surprisingly, the students took this task very seriously. What I thought would take them 3 minutes, took closer to 10!

Once groups were satisfied with their groupings, we discussed as a class what the main factors were when deciding which group to put the items in. The material that makes up the object was picked several times. Others classified items by their shape. One group finally decided that they should organize their items according to the object’s purpose. We discussed how all the groups had slightly different methods of classifying, but they all worked… mostly.

Next, I challenged the students to make DIFFERENT groupings – something that had not been used yet. Some split the items by comparing “high mass” and “low mass”. Another group chose color as a separating factor. As I glanced around the room, other items tempted me to see what the groups would do! However, time, as always, stopped me. 

Doing this activity was a perfect lead into discussing some of the scientists that did just that! Students were now intrigued by these men, because they had just experienced similar confusion, frustration, and thrill of trying to “organize” many different items.

This was another one of my favorite kinds of activities – seemingly simple, but becomes a great springboard for students’ ideas and connects them to the lesson!

Christmas Bulletin Board Round Up

Tis the season to change up the bulletin boards! The first week of December means transforming classrooms for the Christmas season. Teachers at my school were hanging lights, putting up little Christmas trees and displaying shiny stars from the ceilings. Everything looks so festive!

There are lots of ideas floating around for bulletin boards this holiday season. Beautifully decorated, elaborate boards look awesome… but also take hours to put up. I don’t have the time to spend on these, especially when in 3 weeks, they will come right down again!

I like the more practical holiday bulletin boards. Ones that are quick and easy to put up, but still look nicely put together and bring a smile. Here is my Christmas bulletin board round up!

Presents – For God So Loved the World

This board is simple, but truly celebrates the meaning of Christmas. Pieces of wrapping paper and some ribbon can make elegant looking gifts. Adding the John 3:16 verse “For God So Loved the World” emphasizes the gift God gave us at Christmas

Fireplace with Stockings

I have done something similar to this board in the past. Using red bulletin board paper, I created a brick background, then cut construction paper to make the fireplace and flames. You can purchase mini stockings to “hang” by the fire as well. If my class was not too large, I would put small treats in these stockings leading up to Christmas break. The board looked great, and students loved the special Christmas surprises!

 

Snowman Planets are Out of this World!

This is a fun one that combines science with the season. You could even change the wording to “Hope your winter is out of this world” and make this board last all through the winter months. The planets might take a little bit of effort for that realistic look, but it was just too cute to not include!

Chemis-tree

After seeing this idea on AdventuresinIStem, I knew I could make it my own!This is the board that I actually put up this year. I had a smaller bulletin board to fill and not much time to come up with something. Since our academic theme this year is science, I had to do it! You can print off element cards and copy them in green. I used these here and they worked perfectly! Simply staple them in the shape of your tree! The gold element square cleverly copied in yellow and cut in the shape of a star tops it off. O Chemis-tree, how lovely are your elements!

Hope these ideas inspire you to make your own festive Christmas board!

Calculating Speed Activity

Need to practice calculating speed in your classroom? How about using toys?

My students had recently learned the formula for calculating speed. We had completed several practice problems and I knew my students could do the math on paper. However, finding and comparing speeds in real life is much more fun! I thought about using marbles and rolling them down ramps, but that has been done – not very exciting. After another quick online search, I got the idea to calculate the speeds of different toys that could move by themselves. Loved it!

Because I happen to have an almost three year old boy in the house, I knew I could come up with several self-propelled toys. After talking my son into letting me borrow a few toys for the day, he helped me grab the following:

  • Thomas the Train
  • Percy the Train
  • A Shark Airplane
  • A Big Red Car
  • A Little Red Car
  • I also had this lovely wind up toy already in my classroom, which I tell the students is me in my bumper car!

Some of these toys were pull back, others had buttons to turn them on and off. Both worked well!

The other materials needed were:
  • Metersticks
  • Stopwatches
  • Optional tape for start and stop lines
Procedure

First, I placed students in groups of three or four. Each group would get one toy to test at a time and we would rotate the toys. I made sure that each group tested at least 4 toys total.

Once a group received their toy, they had to decided if they wanted to measure the toy for a certain distance, or just until it stopped. Students then timed their toys and measured the distance the toy traveled for that time. With this data, they calculated the speeds of each toy.

Once students had completed four toys, we came back together as a group and compared the speeds. Groups shared their slowest toys. Since not everyone tested every toy, we then compared the actual speeds of each to determine which one was truly the slowest. The bumper car wind up toy definitely took its time! Although there were a few different ideas on which was the fastest toy, most concluded that the Big Red Car won! A few had the Little Red Car at higher speeds. Some believed this was because it was pulled back extra far for these tests!

The fastest toy!

Students had a great time testing each of the toys! And I had a great time watching them comparing the speeds and doing the calculations correctly!

Quick Momentum Demos

I’ve got a couple quick demos that are great for demonstrating momentum in the classroom. These take very little time to set up, but can still be very effective in showing how momentum is conserved throughout a system!

The conservation of momentum states that the total momentum before a collision occurs is equal to the total momentum after the collision, as long as no outside forces are interfering. In the classroom, we discussed how this applies to car crashes and similar events. However, I did not want my students to actually be crashing cars in order to understand these concepts! So these are two simple activities students can perform on their own in order to grasp the concept further!

Here is what you need:

  • Ruler (should be a solid wood or plastic one. Super thin rulers will not work well).
  • A Dime
  • A Quarter
  • 2 meter sticks
  • 5 marbles

Coins and Ruler

To set up these demonstration, you need to place the ruler on a flat surface with the dime placed right at the edge of the ruler. Place the quarter at the other end of the ruler, however, slide it back and “shoot” it toward the ruler so it hits the end with force. The momentum should cause the dime at the opposite end to move away from the ruler. The more force used with the quarter, the farther the dime will go!

Next, have students try it the opposite way. If you place the quarter on the edge and try to slide the dime into the ruler, the quarter may move, but not very far. Why? Because the quarter is more massive and will not travel as far of a distance. Newton’s 2nd law explains this through the equation force = mass x acceleration.

 

If you want to take it a step even further, you can have students calculate the mass of each coin and the distance they travel. Their ratios should be equal!

Newton’s Meter stick Cradle

The next demonstration uses the meter sticks and the marbles. Placing the two meter sticks side by side on a flat surface, you can create a small space opening as a “track” for the marbles. Start with resting two marbles next to each other on this track. Roll a third marble towards the two, and watch what happens! When the marbles hit, the collision causes the outside marble to roll away. If you place three marbles on the track and roll two towards them, two of the originally resting marbles will roll away. This is very similar to watching a Newton’s Cradle in action. Students can experiment with rolling different numbers of marbles and watching what happens. The total momentum will always be conserved – how every many marbles are rolled, that is how many of the resting marbles will begin moving! Newton’s 3rd law states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Students will see that clearly here!

These two quick and easy demos should take no time to set up and students still love them! Quick, easy, but still great at explaining the concept of momentum!

Pumpkin Party

   A couple of weeks ago, my little baby girl turned one year old. How did that happen so fast? I feel like I was just snuggling her in the hospital, and all of a sudden I had a birthday party to plan!

Baby girl’s birthday is at the end of October, so I decided a pumpkin theme would be perfect (and easy)! Apparently many others think so too because there were so many ideas online that it was hard to narrow down what I wanted for our party. We don’t have a huge budget for party planning, so my goal is to keep things simple and fun and do as much as I can on my own.

Invitations

One of the first things needed is the invitation. I’m usually all about making cards or creating a digital version by myself. This year, I knew if I wanted anybody to actually get an invitation, I had to buy them! Fortunately, there were so many online options that I just had to pick one! I ordered these from SugarPink Designs on Etsy. They personalized it and I just had to print. I loved how they turned out! My order even came with little personalized toppers for the cupcakes. Super cute!

Decorations

Decorations turned out to be pretty easy as well. I bought a few large pumpkins that I planned to carve with the kids after the party, as well as several small ones to place at tables. My  parents had grown a few in their garden and graciously brought those as well. Pink and orange seemed to jump out as appropriate color for a girl’s pumpkin party. I also included white and green for accents and contrast.

Activities

I like to have at least one activity for the kids to participate in. When my son turned one, he had a ball themed party with a mini ball pit! We decided to include this again since it was a hit with the extra little ones. For the slightly older kids, I included a pumpkin painting table. I bought many small pumpkins and a guest could pick one and choose to paint it and take it home! Even adults participated in this, which was fun to see! For the biggest kids (adults) we used a pumpkin trivia that I found here.  I probably should have checked out the answers before handing it out though, because we found a few incorrect answers! Be careful for those fact-checkers that will get you!

Food

The most important part of hosting a good party (in my opinion) is making sure there is food available! We did a little chili bar with two types of chili – beef chili and Grand Rapids White Bean Chicken Chili and had all the fixins to put on top.

We also served the following:

For dessert, we had a smash cake that I had decorated (I was a little rushed for time with this one, so the icing did not turn out as I had planned. My daughter did not seem to mind though!)

I also made:

Overall, the party was a success. As I was cleaning up afterwards, I thought, “This is truly a lot of work for a one year old that won’t remember anything about it!” But honestly, they party is not just celebrating her life. It is celebrating the family and friends who have helped raise our little girl and will continue to stand by us in the years to come!

Percent Change Race!

 I am always looking for math activities that take minimal prep time yet still are engaging and useful for my students. Recently, my 7th grade math students studied percent change. After a day of learning how to set up these types of problems and do the math, I wanted something more exciting to get students to understand more meaning behind the numbers. Luckily, I stumbled upon this from Hands on Math and instantly knew it would be perfect! Students would “race” themselves to see the percent change difference between running on two feet and running on one foot.

The day I planned to do this activity with my students, it was cold and drizzling on and off outside. I asked my students if they were still interested, and they all said “YES!” So, we ventured out into the chilly, wet world and raced ourselves!

I partnered up the students and gave each pair a stopwatch. The school’s drive through area was the perfect place to race because we already had large

Our racing lane

orange cones set up (we don’t have buses so this is where students get dropped off and picked up).  I simply showed students where our start line and end line were (about 40-50 meters apart) and then had students start racing! One person stood at the finish line and timed their partner. The first runner ran on two feet and recorded the time it took to do so. This would be the “original” time. Then, they went back and tried to run/hop on one foot. This time would be the changed time. After a student was done with both races, the partners switched.

We did not have even numbers in class, so I ended up being partnered with one of the students. I will say, I was pretty quick on the two feet race, but terribly at racing on one foot. I was probably the slowest person! However, the neat thing about this activity is students didn’t get very self conscious, because they were not really racing each other. The only other person that knew their time was their partner. There was a little bit of competition between partners, but overall, students really were competitive against themselves!

After we had all raced, we went inside to calculate the percent of change. We briefly discussed whether we had a percent increase or decrease of time. Every person’s time got slower (took more time) and so we agreed that everyone had a percent increase. Next, students had to compare their percent of change. Some students had times that were not too far from each other, and so their percent of change was lower than others. I am proud to say that my percent increase was the largest of the entire class – I had 189% increase in times! I need to work on my one leg running skills…

All you need for this activity is:

  • Worksheet to record times
  • Stopwatch
  • Something to mark start and finish lines

Instructions:

  1. Mark out a starting line and a finish line
  2. Have on student from each partner pair ready at the finish line. Their partner is at the start.
  3. Students time how long it takes their partners to run the distance on two feet and record the time.
  4. They repeat this, except the runner now must “run” (hop) the same course on one foot.
  5. The runner and the timer switch places and repeat steps 3 and 4
  6. Partners record all times then work together to calculate the percent change between the races.
  7. Compare and discuss the percent of change they find!

Have fun running!

DIY Costume for Teachers

  Looking for a last minute Halloween costume? I’ve got a great one that came to me last minute that is perfect for any teacher.

Every year at our school, we do a “spirit week”.  Students dress according to a different theme everyday. The class that goes all out and has the most participation and “spirit” wins the “Spirit Sword” (which is a little plastic sword with some ribbon on it. For some reason the kids fight like crazy for it!) Anyway, this year some of the themes included Crazy Hair Day, Patriotic Day and Character Day. For Character Day, students (and teachers) were encouraged to dress up like a character from their favorite movie, tv show or book.

My first thought was to dress up as Belle from Beauty and the Beast. I’ve always wanted to dress up like her, and it is one of my favorite movies. However, finding a big fluffy yellow dress last minute is not an easy thing. I thought about it a little more, and then went to Pinterest.

There were lots of ideas – storybook characters like Grouchy Ladybug, the Rainbow Fish and the Hungry Caterpillar were adorable. All cute, but not for me. There were ideas for being crayons, rock, paper, scissors, or even emojis. And then I saw it: Ms Frizzle! Not only did I grow up watching, The Magic School Bus, I happened to have a stuffed Lizz in my classroom. It was meant to be!

The dress is the most important part of being Ms Frizzle. I happened to have a blue dress that would work perfectly for a costume. I didn’t have a collared shirt to go underneath, so I wore a white, loose-sleeved one that worked well.  So if you want to be Ms. Frizzle, your dress MUST show whatever science subject you are studying! My 6th grade class is studying the planets so obviously I choose to wear Ms. Frizzle’s classic solar system outfit!

I used felt to cut out several stars, some suns, planets and crescent moons. Then I taped them all over my dress, making sure to add little stars to my earrings and planets to the tips of my shoes. I even braided my hair the night before so when I woke up it would have the “frizz” I needed! The finishing touch was

my sidekick Lizz!

Materials I used:

  • Knee length or tea-length dress
  • Tape
  • Felt cut into the shapes you need! The Solar System theme is easy, but you could customize your dress to whatever science subject you are studying! If you need inspiration, check out Monsters and Molecules blog where all “Dresses of the Frizz” are displayed! Amazing!
  • Toy Lizz!

I put this costume together in less than an hour (and that includes the many interruptions from my children!). Even though Magic School Bus is no longer on tv, the kids still knew who I was! Apparently it’s on Netflix… The costume was a big hit! Now if only I had a magic bus that could transport my students to cool places…

 

Solar Ovens

   Even though it is October, we have still had some pretty warm days here in Indiana. Not all of them have been sunny, but I’m still enjoying the warmer temperatures. More play time outside, sandals are still ok, and I can still easily take my class outside to do another science activity!

My 7th grade students were studying heat and energy. Specifically, we studied the ways heat transferred – radiation, conduction and convection. Obviously I wanted to incorporate food, and what better way to teach these concepts than to use ovens – solar ovens!

There are many ways to create a solar oven. I use leftover apple pie boxes from our school fundraiser, but most use pizza boxes or something similar. A few other simple supplies is all you need, besides whatever you plan to cook of course.

Here is a rundown of the science terms and why these boxes work:

Radiation – This is energy that travels as waves. This energy comes from the sun and drives the whole heating process of the oven.

Conduction – The radiant energy heats up the bottom of the box (black paper), and in turn, the black paper heats the air in the box.

Convection – The warm air rises up to the top of the box, pushing cooler air down in the process. The cooler air then gets heated from the bottom of the box, and since the box is closed, this cycle continually keeps the warm air inside.

You can find several youtube videos that explain the science behind solar ovens, as well as how to set them up. I’ve used these two videos in my classroom:

  1. This video by the SciGuys not only explains how to set up an oven, but also explains why they work! It fit perfectly into what I was trying to teach the students about these concepts.
  2. The other video is by Howcast and it shows a step by step tutorial of how to put the solar ovens together. I love showing my students this at the start, then replaying it one step at a time.

Materials:

  • Pizza box (or similar)
  • Tin foil
  • Plastic wrap
  • Black paper
  • Tape
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • Straw (Optional to prop box open)
  • Food to heat! I use smore fixings – the chocolate melts great in these ovens! The marshmallow doesn’t toast, but it does get soft.

Directions

  1. Pair students up to make the boxes using the directions from the video
  2. Prepare whatever food item you would like them to heat. Even though students share a box, I prepare enough for each student to have their own smore.
  3. Find a spot outside in the sun and have students place their food inside their ovens. Make sure the ovens are allowing the sun to shine inside the boxes!
  4. Wait 15-20 minutes (I usually have a reading activity for students to do while they wait!)
  5. Enjoy the treats! (Napkins are also especially helpful here… smores are ooey, gooey!

Students absolutely love cooking in their solar ovens. Most want to bring the ovens home to see what else they can heat up!

Homemade Applesauce

  I feel like the apple craze hit me a little later than usual this year. Maybe because the weather has been pretty warm and it hasn’t felt like fall. Anyway, this past week the need for apples and apple treats hit hard. This week also happened to be the week our school transforms the gym into an apple pie factory. We make over 7,000 pies in 2 days and then sell them to raise money for the school. It’s our biggest and best smelling fundraiser, with the sweet smell of apples, cinnamon and sugar filling the halls.

Enter homemade applesauce. I cook it in the Crockpot, and it makes the whole house smell like heaven.

Ingredients:

  • 10 apples  (I typically use a variety of kinds including Empire, Gala, McIntosh, and Fuji)
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ sugar  (If you like sweet applesauce, or are using tart apples, you can add up to a cup)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Splash of lemon juice
  • Other optional ingredients include: honey, nutmeg, allspice

Directions:

  1. Core and peel the apples. The nice thing about this sauce is that you don’t have to peel everything perfectly. If a little bit of the peel is left on an apple here and there, it’s fine!
  2. Chop the apples into smaller pieces and dump them into the crockpot.
  3. Add the water, sugar, and any other ingredients to taste.
  4. Cook on low for about 4 hours, stirring and mashing the apples occasionally.
  5. I like my sauce on the chunky side, so once the apples are soft, I mash as much as I can with a wooden spoon, but leave some chunks. If you like your applesauce smoother, you can use a blender to puree it further.

This applesauce is awesome warm, however it can be stored in the refrigerator for several days, or put into the freezer and last a few months. Mine never lasts that long, especially now that my son has a new found love 

of this special He wanted to eat the entire batch!

So grab some apples, let the sweet apple aromas fill your kitchen and enjoy!

Moon Phase Madness

There was something in the air this past week. Did you feel it? Kids were super restless and even naughty. Teachers were on edge. Nothing seemed to go as planned. Did you also know it was a full moon at the end of last week? Yup. Does that explain things?

Why is it that kids seem to get a little crazy when the full moon appears? Scientists (like the ones here from Weather.com) say that this is a myth. Although studies have shown kids do get less sleep during a full moon, this is only about 1% of their sleep and should not account for much difference in behavior. Yet, ask any classroom teacher, and I think they would disagree…right? I hope this isn’t just me. I know I would gladly invite those scientists to my classroom during a full moon week and allow them to teach for “research” purposes. Good luck.

Last week my class also studied the moon phases. How perfect. So in light of the Moon, here are some great resources to teach with!

My favorite: The Moon Song (Rock Version)

This youtube video is my all time favorite. The cheesy music, the monotone rap/singing, the repetitive words… all perfect reasons to show a class of middle school students. Though there are many songs that describe the moon phases, this one tops them all. It sticks in their heads forever, which is exactly the purpose when you want them to memorize the moon phases! Thank you songsofhigherlearning!

Oreo Phases

I have never done this in my own classroom, but I know of other teachers who successfully taught the phases with Oreos at my school. It seems like a great idea! “Kids, lick off the frosting to the correct Moon phases!” You may get a few that “accidentally” mess up, but students would be engaged for sure. Sciencebob.com has an explanation here with a pdf to help.

oreo_moon_phases

Birthday Moon Phases

This is an activity that I have done in my classroom. It’s from Mysciencesite.com. Students figure out what phase the moon will be in on their next birthday, plus the days before and after. Listed are a few websites that can direct students on how to figure this out. It’s a good way to help practice the different phases as well.

For the Toddlers

This last one is for the littles. I found this idea at A Dab of Glue Will Do and love it. My son is obsessed with seeing the Moon and I know he would love to make his own! With just foil and paint, kids can make the Moon to look semi-realistic!