Month: April 2017

Foil and Pipe Cleaners – Get Creative!

What do you do when you find out last minute that your guest teacher can’t come teach your STEM class? Look to Pinterest, obviously. I found out last minute I had to teach a class and only had about 20 minutes to come up with and prepare an activity for that period. Luckily, all you Pinterest people and your great ideas came to the rescue. I found a great last minute activity here and immediately knew I had to do this. I planned, prepped and prepared for the class in less than 10 minutes! Win!

This activity is pretty open ended, which I loved for my students. I had the materials available in my classroom too, so all I had to do was pull them out, and I was ready to go!

Simple Materials:

  • 1 Large sheet of foil per group
  • Several pipe cleaners per group (I gave them up to 7, but you can choose the amount!)
  • Scissors, glue sticks (I allowed students to use these, but you don’t have to!)

Task:

Make the best creation you can with the materials given to you

Putting it all together:

Students immediately began asking if there were any other requirements or tasks. I told them, they needed to think about what being the “best” meant. Does that mean having a really useful purpose? Or maybe just the coolest looking piece? Or maybe something that would be super fun to play with. They didn’t have to use all the materials, but couldn’t use any additional materials in their creation, besides scissors and glue.

At first, students didn’t know what to think, but once I paired them up and they started discussing with their partners, I heard ideas flying.

I gave students a few minutes to plan, then handed out materials. Groups had 15 minutes to create something with their pipe cleaners and foil. Walking around, listening to their ideas, I was astonished at their creativity! Most ideas were very different from each other as well, which I loved.

Once the 15 minutes of work time was up, student groups had one minute to share why they thought their design was the best… give a sort of promo for their product. This really helped some groups demo their designs, or make a funny comment that helped the rest of the class see more of the group’s creativity and thought that went into their product.

After all the presentations, I handed students a slip of paper and told them to write down their #1 and #2 choice on which was “best” and they could NOT vote for their own.

Results:

In our class, a dinosaur hat for a child received the most votes, which a recreation of a scene from Star Wars received second place (a type of glider was close behind in third!).

I was extremely pleased with the way the activity turned out and would definitely do this again with a different class. I did it with middle school kids, but I could see any grade level enjoying it.

Let the creative juices flow!

CupBrookies: The Ultimate Treat Mash-up!

I often bake treats to bring into work. Sometimes it is for the teachers – we take snacks very seriously as a staff. Every week, someone is assigned to bring in a treat to share! Other times, I bake treats for the kiddos in my classroom. We have parties, I love food demonstrations and lessons, but sometimes, the students earn their treat. My math classes receive rewards for turning in continuous homework. You can see my post about how that works here.

Recently, one of my classes won a treat day. I asked the students what they would like me to bring in for their reward. Earlier in the year, I had made them “Brookies” which combine chocolate chip cookies and brownies into something rich and delicious. So this time, some students called out “More brookies!” Others shouted “Cupcakes!” We took a vote. The class was split. Since we were at a stalemate, I told the students I would check the ingredients I had at home, and that would ultimately determine the final decision.


Looking in my pantry, I saw I had plenty of cupcake liners, as well as a brownie mix. Why not bake brownies in cupcake liners? This would mean brownie lovers would be happy, and it would mean no cutting and serving brownies (which I always make a total mess of!). I figured I could top the brownies with a type of frosting… and what better flavor to add to this mix than cookie dough! I searched Pinterest, and to my surprise, there were several cookie dough frosting recipes! Win!

Brownie Recipe  

I typically use a box mix because it is super fast and follow the directions for “more cake like brownies”. This usually means adding an egg to the original recipe. However, you can use whatever brownie recipe you choose!    

Rather than putting the brownies in a pan, grab a muffin tin and prepare the cupcake liners inside. Scoop the brownie batter into the cupcake liners. I fill them about half way, making sure to leave extra room for more frosting. After all, these are brownies, not cupcakes, so they are not meant to bake all the way to the top of the liner! While the brownies are baking, make the frosting.

Cookie dough frosting

I found the recipe of this frosting at If You Give A Blonde A Kitchen which is a great site full of other awesome recipes. I haven’t tried the cupcake recipe with the frosting, but I’m sure that would be fantastic as well!

Frosting

  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • Mini chocolate chips or Chocolate shavings

Directions

  • In a large mixing bowl, whip the butter (it’s much easier with a stand mixer or electric hand mixer) until fluffy, about 5 minutes. I find that sometimes I need to stop the mixer to scrape the butter down to make sure all the butter is being whipped!
  • On low speed, add the brown sugar and powdered sugar and combine completely, then add the flour.
  • Turn the mixer to medium speed and add the vanilla and salt and until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Add the milk a little at a time until it is frosting consistency. I found that you may not need to use all the milk.
  • Stir in some of the chocolate chips or shavings. (I usually do not have mini chocolate chips and the regular ones are too big for this frosting. So what I usually do is take regular chocolate chips and chop them up into smaller pieces! A little rustic, but that is ok!)
  • Use a spatula to put the frosting in a pastry bag (or if you are not fancy, like me, use a regular Ziploc bag).
  • I typically chill the frosting in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so before frosting, until the brownies have cooled completely.
  • Frost each brownie. It helps to have the little extra liner so you can really load up on the frosting.Sprinkle the top with mini chocolate chips or shavings.
  • These can be stored in an airtight container for a few days, but I actually like to keep them in the fridge to make sure the frosting stays the right consistency. My students actually said they are better cold too!

I actually did not have a name for these little wonders at first, but after serving them to my students, came up with the mash up name. One stated that the desserts were like brookies, but better – Cupcake Brookies – and the name “CupBrookies” came to be.

So the next time you can’t decide between cookies, brownies or cupcakes, don’t! Bake up a batch of these and everyone wins!

 

Teddy Graham Natural Selection – A “Beary” Fun Science Activity

    In one week, I did at least 5 different activities involving food or candy. No wonder I’m not any closer to my pre-baby weight! However, out of all the delicious demos this week, the Teddy Graham Natural Selection takes the cake… or the cracker?

I originally found the idea for this activity when I was student teaching and trying to come up with a creative way to teach adaptations and natural selection to a bunch of 7th grade students.I found a lesson here that I absolutely LOVED and adapted it for my younger crew. My cooperating teacher at the time thought the lesson went wonderfully and told me she planned to use it in future years. I have used it every year since.

The lesson addresses concepts of adaptations, natural selection or “survival of the fittest.” In sixth grade, we spend time discussing adaptations and how they help organisms survive, so that is when the Teddy Grahams make an appearance.

Teddy Graham Natural Selection

Have you ever noticed that there are two shapes of Teddy Grahams? One type keeps its hands up high and the other down low. Two shapes represent our two
adaptations!

Materials needed:
  • Teddy Grahams – You need about 20-25 for each student. For my class of 24 students, this took about 2 boxes
  • Cups – One for Each Student
  • Lab Activity Sheet (Email or comment if interested in receiving this!)
Directions:
  1. Describe to students the situation, which goes something like this:
  2. You are bear eating monsters, but they only like certain bears. There are two kinds of bears that live in the forest — Happy bears and Sad bears. Happy bears love to frolic in the woods, eat sweet honey and dance to the music of the trees. Because of this, happy bears taste sweet and delicious. They also are easy to catch! Sad bears tend to keep to themselves, feed on roots and bugs, and sneak around quietly. They are much harder to track down, and leave a bitter taste in your mouth that you do not enjoy! Hence, your diet consists of happy bears only. Every year, new bears are born in the forest.

  3. Students predict what will happen to each bear population over time.
  4. Next, students start by blindly taking out 5 bears from your cup
  5. They record how many happy and how many sad bears are there out of the 5 on their activity sheet
  6. Students then may eat the happy bears!
  7. For every sad bear left in their pile, they may pull out a new bear. For example, if three sad bears were left, they blindly pull out three new bears, making the total 6 bears.
  8. Again, students record the happy and sad, eat the happy, and for every sad bear left, a new bear is taken from the cup. Note that these new bears can be happy or sad bears – whatever happens to be pulled out.
  9. Depending on the amount of happy bears in each “generation”, students may go through this process between 3 and 6 times before their bears run out!

After there are no more bears in the cup, students calculate percentages for each generation. To do this, they take the number of happy bears and divide by the total number of bears for THAT round. They repeat this with the sad bears. Finally, students make a double line graph, recording the percentages for each bear. All of this is included on the activity sheet.

Once everyone has eaten the happy bears, we discuss which bears had the adaptation that helped them survive. Students understand that even though both were bears, the sad bears’ behavior helped them to survive. In fact, you could take it a step further and discuss what might happen to them as bear eating monsters if the happy bears died out. Would the bear eating monsters that can handle bitter tastes (and could eat the sad bears) be better equipped to survive?

By the end of the lesson, I always get one or two students asking me if the sad bears really taste bad… too funny! Your class will never look at Teddy Grahams the same way again! Have a “beary” fun time with this one!

Blind Tasting – How Senses Affect Taste

Recently, I needed a quick activity to do with my elective class that would take only one period. I’ve been on a food trend recently, so I thought why not use some of the materials I had leftover and test the students’ abilities to taste foods… without using some of their senses!

At the start of the class, we discussed how what we taste and how we think about flavors is often affected first by sight and smell. Does the look of something affect the taste? Also, how closely connected are smell and taste? My students were pretty confident that they knew their foods and could identify anything I gave them. I accepted that challenge! 🙂

Activity One

I had two activities ready for the day. For the first, I scrounged around my house and school, coming up with random samples of things students could eat.

This list included:
  • Cereal
  • Butterscotch chips
  • Marshmallows
  • Gummi Bears
  • Goldfish
  • Cracker
  • Apple sauces
  • Pieces of cheese stick

And more… (afterwards I thought I could have also included a kind of baby food, since I have a few types of those around the house!)

I had students work with a partner. One student put on the blindfold, and his or her partner gave them a food sample in a cup, and students could eat the food right out of the cup. This way, touching the texture would not be a factor. Before eating, I made everyone plug their nose, then eat. The blindfolded students had their partners write down what they thought the food was. Once we had done several foods, the partners switched who was wearing the blindfold, and I brought out new foods for them to try.

Most students did pretty well and were fairly accurate with their guesses. The cheese stick tricked up some, and the butterscotch chips were a hard flavor to guess.

Activity Two

For the second part of the activity, we focused on identifying flavors. I showed students a bag of Skittles.  I told them I would be giving them each a Skittle while they were blindfolded. However, I wouldn’t tell them the flavor. Without seeing it AND with their noses plugged, they found out quickly that figuring which flavor of Skittle they were eating was not easy! Out of the 5 flavors they tried, most students could only identify one or two correctly. Several even asked if I gave them the same flavor twice!

Students had a blast. Their reactions to the tastings were hilarious. We were all happy after eating our snacks, and came away with the realization that we like being able to see and smell our food!

Jello Skin Model

 Ready for another food model? I love using anything edible to demonstrate science concepts whenever I can, and this week seemed to be full of food activities! Recently, in my 7th grade class, we have been studying the integumentary system. This includes the layers of the skin as well as the “stuff” inside.

We had discussed the different parts of the integumentary system in a previous lesson. Students used a diagram to label each layer and write down the function and purpose.

I did throw in one little demo that shows how oil affects our skin. The oil glands secrete oil that helps provide a barrier for our skin. First, I had students use an eyedropper to place a drop of water on their skin. We noted how the water stuck together. Then I took a cotton ball and swabbed their other hand with rubbing alcohol before putting on another drop of water. This time, the water droplet ran right off — it did not stay stuck together. The rubbing alcohol had taken some of the oil of the skin and in doing so, the skin was not as water resistant!

My students did like that demo, but obviously the food part was a bigger hit! I originally found this activity here at My Mundane & Miraculous Life and couldn’t resist trying it. 

Here are the materials needed to make the jello skin model:

  • 4 packs of Jello (I think orange works best so you can see the inside)
  • Mini Marshmallows
  • Fruit Roll Up or Fruit by the Foot or another type of fruit leather
  • Twizzler Pull n’ Peel

Directions:

I forgot to take a “before” picture of the whole pan. This is a little section left of just the jello and marshmallows!
  1. Make the jello but use the “Jiggler” recipe. (I think it uses less water and makes a firmer Jello. If you aren’t using Jell-O brand, you can find a jiggler recipe here)
  2. Let the jello set for a few minutes (until it isn’t super hot) and pour the marshmallows on top. Then let it set for at least 3 hours or overnight.
  3. Cut the jello in pieces and place the pieces on a plate upside down so the marshmallow layer is on the bottom. Each student gets a piece.
  4. Have the Twizzler Pull ‘N’ Peel and  cut into sections and the Fruit Roll Up unwrapped and ready to give to each student

As a class, we discussed what two layers of the integumentary system the model represented so far (marshmallows= fatty tissue or hypodermis and the jello = dermis)

Students then received a piece of Fruit by the Foot (but other materials would also work) to put over their jello. This represented the epidermis.

Students received pieces of Twizzler Pull N’ Peel. Some pieces were used as hairs. Students had to poke holes in their epidermis and stick the pieces in. Other pieces could be rolled up and stuck inside the dermis layer to represent sweat glands. I used plain red Pull ‘N Peel, but it would be neat to try multi-colored (I’m pretty sure that exists…) and each color could represent something else in the skin: hair, sweat glands, nerve receptors, etc.

I’ve heard of also using things like chocolate chips to represent moles on the skin surface. Creative!

The best part is, after students have completed their model, they can eat it! Delicious!

Grand Rapids White Bean Chicken Chili

It’s spring here, but the weather hasn’t figured that out yet. Our spring break was filled with rain, clouds and cold winds. Not super nice weather, but hopefully the sunshine plans to break out soon. The outside temperatures has made me want warmth and coziness. This means soup or chili for dinner!

Everyone needs a warm, hearty, delicious and EASY chili in their lives. The kind that you just throw together in 5 minutes and then cook all day in the slow cooker. The kind that if you don’t have the exact ingredients or precise measurements, it will still turn out amazing. This is that chili. This is also that kind of meal that you can deliver to a mom who has been up all night with their newborn. Or someone that has just had a surgery and doesn’t have energy to cook. It can be heated, reheated and frozen beautifully. It can be eaten as a soup, or a dip or poured over chips like nachos. Versatile dishes like this make moms like me happy!

I’m not sure where this chili got its name. The white bean and chicken part I understand, but the Grand Rapids? I’m pretty sure this idea did not originate in Grand Rapids, Michigan–someone in the world had probably made it before. My mom passed this recipe on to me, and she got it from someone else. It’s possible that someone lived in Grand Rapids. Or maybe people in Grand Rapids love to eat it. I mean, I lived in GR for awhile and in the winter (and spring and fall) months, the constant cloud cover, snow or drizzle, require many nights of warm chili.

The best thing about this recipe, is that there isn’t really a right or wrong. You can put more or less of any of the ingredients–it isn’t an exact science. So I listed the ingredients below, but they can easily be adjusted to your liking.

I used two different brands of the beans because that is what we had!

Ingredients:

4-6 chicken breasts cooked and cubed or shredded (You can cook up the chicken yourself, or use a couple of cans of chicken. I’ve also used leftovers from a rotisserie chicken and it worked great!)

1 large jar of salsa (16oz)

1 jar of northern white beans UNDRAINED (or 2-3 cans)

8 oz shredded cheese (I usually use cheddar or Colby Jack because we often have those already, but Monterey Jack is also delicious!)

If you use this in your crock pot, clean up is even easier!

 

Directions:

Dump everything in the crockpot

Cook on low for 4-6 hours. Longer is better.

That’s it!

This chili can be topped with more cheese, cilantro, sour cream, more salsa…whatever you like! We love eating it with tortilla chips. Leftovers freeze beautifully too! I typically make large batches and freeze some for a quick meal another time.

Although I’m ready for summer temps to come soon, having a few cool days and enjoying this chili isn’t too bad either!