Month: May 2017

School’s Out!

Happy Memorial Day Everyone!

School’s out! We had our last day of school on Friday, and this is our first official day off.

So let the summer begin!

Ignore all the things left undone in your classroom. Don’t think about the ever lengthening list of things you must do before the next school year begins. No worrying about new standards, new procedures, new student right now.

Enjoy this.

Another year has wrapped up. You have taught those students for 180 days (give or take if your school isn’t as strict about that as ours!). You have poured into each learner. Invested time, money and extra hours into the lessons. You most likely have graded hundreds of assignments and papers, written many difficult parent emails, and had some tough conversations with staff, students and parents.

Rest now.

I know there are classes to take, licenses to renew and certifications to update. Seminars and conferences already are speckled throughout your June and July calendar. You will go above and beyond to challenge yourself to be a better teacher next year.

Take a break.

Summer is that time to recharge, renew and relax. And you should do that. Spend extra time with your family, especially those kiddos. Take a step back from your classroom. Don’t check your school email for a week (or more!). The next time you are on Pinterest, avoid looking for pins on first day of school activities.

The first days of summer are always the sweetest. Drink them in.

In a blink, the first day of school will be upon us again. A new group of students will need your time, your attention and your love. But that day is not today.

School’s out!

Happy Summer!

Rock or Mineral… Candy Style!

Rocks and minerals are not my favorite topics to teach in middle school. However, it seems like every year, students are enthralled with this subject area! Maybe it is the way certain rocks shine or the texture of some minerals. They constantly want to touch, look and compare my rock and mineral samples.

Doing labs for this unit is a must. Almost everyday, I have students comparing and identifying different minerals and rocks. However, students were having difficulty knowing whether their sample was a rock or a mineral.

As a class, we discussed the requirements of a mineral:

  1. Naturally formed solid from inorganic material
  2. The chemical composition does not vary
  3. 3D structure

And we discussed how rocks are different:

  1. Made up of one or more minerals
  2. Naturally formed solid from inorganic OR organic material
  3. The chemical composition CAN vary
  4. Structure can vary – not necessarily 3D

Yet, these rules were still a little vague and unclear to the students. So I found a way to practice applying the rules with… candy of course!

I did find the original idea online, but I now cannot find the source or website.

The basic idea of the lab is to give students several different samples of candy. Students must analyze each type by looking at the outside, and possibly even taking a small bite to see the inside! Then they decide whether the candy sample is more rock-like or mineral-like. They must provide a clear reason why they chose what they did from one of the requirements of rocks and minerals we had previously discussed.

I’ve listed some of the candies that I have used in the past and what most students have said they were. The great thing about this is that sometimes students have very good arguments for one side or another. A few times, I have thought one sample would for sure be a rock, but students gave an equally valid reason for it qualifying as a mineral! I try then to make the candy samples very clear cut as to not cause more confusion!

Candy Sample Ideas:

  • Bite-sized Snickers (Rock because it has several “minerals” or ingredients inside)
  • Marshmallows (Mineral because it has a set chemical composition.)
  • Hershey Kiss (Mineral because it has a “3D Kiss” shape and a set chemical composition)
  • Crispy M&M – I like to use crispy or pretzel rather than peanut because of possible allergies. Some classrooms are not allowed to have any nuts whatsoever! (Rock because it is made up of different “minerals” and can vary in composition)
  • Kit Kat Bar (or piece) – This is one that could go either way, but I like the reasons behind it. Some students say a rock because it has several “minerals” inside. Others say mineral, since it has a set chemical composition and layering (and since we talk about mineral fracture, it makes sense!)
  • Jelly Bean (Mineral because it has a set chemical composition)

You can really use any types of candy or snacks you might have around. Kids love it!

We ended the lab with students looking at actual samples and they had to determine whether each sample was a rock or a mineral. I picked rocks and minerals that followed the rules so as not to trick or confuse the students, and they aced it!

I think it is safe to say that this activity “rocked”!

Food Web Diagrams

  This is a lesson that, I admit, turned into something way better than I had planned. I needed a time filler activity but I also wanted students to put the concepts we had been discussing into practice. After a quick Pinterest search (obviously) on food webs and food chain activities. I stumbled ond this post from STEMmom.org. There are awesome ideas with free cards available to do sorting and organizing activities for several grade levels. I  saw terms like primary consumer, secondary consumer etc. and I immediately knew I wanted to use them! Though the post had several great ideas, I decided to take this cards and have students make their own food webs. I grabbed sheets of bulletin board paper to lay out the cards. Rather than drawing arrows, I thought using string might be fun too!

Materials.
  • 1 set of these cards per group
  • Large pieces of paper or poster board (I used sheets of bulletin board paper)
  • String/Yarn

I gave each group one set of cards and told them to make a food web with the pictures, string and labels. I didn’t really know exactly how the students would do this (and that was part of the greatness of it!) but they even better than I expected!

Immediately groups got to work cutting out the pictures, arranging them on their papers and labeling the different categories of organisms. Without any additional prompting from me, students were having in depth conversations about where to put the plants. Some questioned what they should do with the decomposers. They debated with each other how to tie in the picture of the sun when it was the source of all the energy, but not really part of the food web. As I was walking around, I hardly had to do anything but listen to their conversations and encourage them to do what they thought was best. They students were using the terms and applying our food web concepts and even self correcting among themselves! A teacher’s dream.

They ended up getting so wrapped up in the activity, this 15 minute filler turned into almost a whole class period. But it was so worth it! Because students could arrange and rearrange the different organisms, I could see they were truly understanding how food webs worked.

Once all the webs were completed, we did a “gallery walk”. Each group spent 1-2 minutes looking at each web. It was interesting to see how each web turned out differently, yet they were still correct in their thinking processes. I overheard one group say “This is the best poster. It’s messy like ours!” That particular poster and strings connecting here, there, and everywhere!

Thanks STEMmom.org for the cards and inspiration! This quick time filler activity turned into something I will definitely do again in future years!

Dissection Week!

This week was a big one for Mrs. O’s science classes. We had experiments and tons of science-y stuff going on in every corner. This made for many happy students and one tired teacher, but an overall productive and successful week.

Owl Pellets

Every year, my 6th grade class dissects owl pellets. This activity occurs after several lessons on adaptations, ecosystems and food chains. We talk specifically about owls and their adaptations and then I introduce the owl pellet. I always have to clear up some misconceptions: owl pellets are not poop! This great video shows that first hand. What a cute baby owl… until… the pellet is released! It gets them every time! 

The students spend time separating the fur from the bones, then sorting the bones that they find, and finally placing them and gluing
them on black paper. At first, students are completely grossed out by the pellet and are mortified that I won’t let them use gloves. After a few minutes of seeing what cool bones are inside though, most students are totally into the activity! They can’t wait to see if they have a mouse, a shrew or even a bird skeleton within their pellets.

Frog Dissection

In addition to teeny bones sitting all over my counters, this week was frog dissection week. This is one of the highlights of the year for my 7th grade students. We spend months studying cells and the human body, and our frog dissection is the grand finale to the unit!

The students look like little surgeons!

We spend a few classes preparing by briefly learning about frogs and their adaptations and reviewing some of the body systems. I have a coloring diagram of the frogs that students use to help them identify the parts of the frog ahead of time. We discuss the process and the tools, and then the frog day arrives!

It takes two class periods to do justice to the frog. I have the students look at the outside parts including the legs, toes, and special eyelids. Students check out the muscle layer, then open up the abdominal cavity to see the organs inside. It is so fun to see how excited they get when they are able to identify some of the organs. I see dots connecting when they observe the different system present in the frog and how similar they are to the human body!

To be honest, these activities take a lot of prep work and several classes. It isn’t easy. But these are the kinds of activities that students will remember for years to come. These are the lessons that bring science to life and teach more than I could in two weeks of taking notes. The students will discover first hand how the world works and will be inspired by God’s awesome creation. The looks of excitement (and horror) on their faces when they start opening up their pellet or cutting through the frog’s skin make those preps worth it.

You can order both the owl pellets and the frogs online. I order mine through Carolina Biological and always seem to get quality products for a decent price. And no, they did not pay me to say that, although that would be nice!

It was a busy week, but it was one full of learning and excitement for science.

Bubblicious Bubbles: An Inquiry Activity

The weather outside has been absolutely beautiful here the last few days. Trees are blooming with flowers, the sun has been shining brightly, and temperatures sit comfortably in the 70s. Playing outside in the grass, riding tricycles and going for walks are currently parts of our evening routine. It makes me anxious for summer break to come soon!

One of my son’s current obsessions is bubbles. He seems to always want to blow bubbles (and do it himself which means he is a sticky mess by the end). But I love them too. There’s just something about the colorful spheres, floating and bobbing through the air that make you happy! After watching my son one afternoon, I remembered an activity that I had done several years ago that I wanted to bring back and do with my students!

Apparently, middle schoolers absolutely love bubbles too. As soon as they saw bubble wands on my side counter, they were getting excited! “Are we going to get to blow bubbles?” Will we be outside today?” “Can we make bubbles this class period?” etc.

I wanted the kids to not only blow bubbles, but to investigate a little further on what makes a good bubble. In this case, we needed to figure out what types of solutions made the longest lasting bubbles.

Making bubble solution is relatively easy. It takes 3 ingredients: water, dish soap, and gylcerin (which you can find in first aid sections at stores or order online). I recently heard that light corn syrup can also be used in place of glycerin. I had never tried that before, so I decided to this year, and have the students test it for me!

Bubbles Recipe

  • ½  cup water
  • 1 tablespoon dish soap
  • ½ tablespoon glycerin (or corn syrup)

Other materials needed:

  • Beakers or cups
  • Canisters (optional)
  • Bubble wands (I had collected a few from empty bubble containers over the years)
  • Stopwatch

Student were placed into groups of two and three, and first decided which bubble solutions that they would like to test and compare. They could either choose to use two different types of soap in their recipes, or compare using glycerin with corn syrup. I had about 4 different dish soaps available that were a variety of brands and
colors (and scents!). If they choose to compare the corn syrup and glycerin bubble solutions, they had to choose one type of soap to use for both mixtures. We emphasized how we only wanted to change ONE variable to make sure we had fair tests!

Next, they followed the recipe to mix up their own bubble solutions, making sure to change that one thing for each recipe. Students put their solution
s into canisters (with lids!) to easily take their solutions outside. If it wasn’t clear which solution was which from the color, students labeled the canisters.

Once outside, a few sample bubbles were blown, just to make sure they could actually blow the bubbles! Then, they started timing. Students blew a bubble, and timed how long it lasted before popping. They did at least three bubbles with each solution, then found the average.

They were having a great time chasing their bubbles around the soccer field!

Results

Once data was   collected, they worked in their groups and analyzed their results. During our discussion, we found that the glycerin seemed to work better than the corn syrup. They hypothesized this was because the corn syrup made the bubbles slightly more dense. Students also found that certain soaps did work better than others, but weren’t sure why this might be.

Overall, the bubbles were a success. Students played outside, but were still learning and investigating! I feel like I could take this activity and go even further with doing more tests, graphing more results and having students make their perfect bubble solution!

Feel free to use this idea in your own classroom, or just make your own bubble solution at home with the kids. I do have a worksheet that I made up to go along with the activity, so leave a comment below if you would like it!