Science

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!

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!

Morse Code Device

Electricity is such a fun topic to cover in my classroom. Although it is not technically part of my standards in 8th grade, I still cover circuits and how they work. My students love developing different types of circuits, trying to get the bulbs to light in different ways. I know electricity is included in other grade level standards, so this could easily be used or adapted for another grade level too. I have actually heard of 3rd graders doing a similar task.

The problem I use for this activity is as follows:

A toy company wants you to design a new product. The company wants a communication device that is similar to a telegraph. The device will use light instead of sound as a signal. The device will use light instead of sound as a signal. Kids will use the device to communicate in Morse code.

I like including device being a toy for kids. This creates a new way of thinking about the device. We discuss what kids would need – something safe, easy to use, and of course, fun! We also discuss why this would light up and not make noise 🙂 I usually need to stress that this will just be a prototype of the electronic part of the toy though, and will not be the final product. Later, as an add on, sometimes I have the students make flyers for their toy and they can model any additional features. For example, one group had “plans” to make their electric circuit a part of a toy car. When kids would use the Morse code device, they would design the headlights of the car to turn on and off. Rather than actually creating the car (since we didn’t have the tools to do so) the students could make their flyer displaying image of their “final product”.

I allowed each group of students to use the following materials in their design:

  • Battery (in a holder if you have it)
  • Light bulb (in holder)
  • Wire
  • Clothespin
  • 2 craft sticks
  • Toothpick
  • Paper clip
  • Rubber band
  • Piece of cardboard (students could cut or alter this in any way
  • Aluminum foil
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Morse code chart (mine came from my original curriculum, but you can find a similar printable online, like this one)

The first challenge was for the group to create a functional circuit that could easily be turned on and off. Some groups had t
heir circuits set up so that when you pressed the button, the light would turn off. Although they could write in Morse code, this didn’t really work for the toy. Most parents want the toy OFF when no one is using it.

There are always a few good designs that work really well, and others that we believe would be more difficult for kids to use. This activity really starts up great conversations about working for a client. In this case, the client would be a toy company — you are building it for a child. Therefore, the students had to think about their designs in a way that would work for a kid.   

Testing

After the circuits had been put together, students tested out their Morse Code toys by writing down simple messages in Morse Code. I tried to encourage one or two word messages and students quickly understood why! It took awhile for them to translate their messages to Morse Code! One person from the group then used the device to “light” the message while their partner(s) wrote down the Morse code they were seeing. Then, the partner(s) translated the Morse Code back into English, and compared their answers! Most groups were close in translation, with only a letter or two off, so I consider that a success!

Maybe next year, I will take it to the next level and have students actually include a “toy” component to their electric circuits!

Newton’s Balloon Rocket Cars

What is it about balloons? It doesn’t matter how old the kid is, you bring out a balloon, just the regular kind that you fill with your own CO2 ,  and the is an excitement in the air. My two-year old loves hitting balloons in the air, trying to keep it up as long as possible. The 7th grade students see a pack of balloons on my counter, and immediately are wanting to know if they will get to blow one up!

Good thing this time the answer was yes!

We have been wrapping up our study on Newton’s Laws. I wanted an activity that would require students to use their knowledge of all three laws in their design. A balloon rocket car fit perfectly. I based my design after what I saw here at kidzworld.com, however there are many variations to this activity using other materials!

Goals of the design:

  • Students were to design and create a “rocket car” that used the balloon to thrust the car forward.
  • Students needed to calculate the momentum of their car, and therefore find the velocity.
  • They measured the distance the car went and the time it took to go that distance.

Here are the materials that you need:

  • Styrofoam
  • Cardboard
  • Straight straws
  • Flexible straws
  • Wooden skewers
  • Bottle caps with a hole in them (used as wheels. You can easily make a hole by hammering a nail lightly through the center of the cap. I also had wooden wheels on hand, so I let the students choose which they wanted to use.)
  • Balloons
  • Tape
  • Scissors

Though the basic design of the car was going to be the same, there were several smaller choices students could make that would affect how well the car worked. For example, they could pick either cardboard or styrofoam to be the base of the car. Either wooden wheels or bottle caps could be used for the wheels. The wheels were attached by the skewers and/or straws underneath the base of the car. On top, a bendy straw was attached. At one end, students needed to secure the balloon. The other end was left open so someone from the group could blow the balloon up and be ready to race!

This car went the farthest. The group cut pieces out of the side to eliminate extra mass.

I allowed students three trials. Some had cars that moved fast, but not far. Others moved slow and steady and still others moved at all. If I had one more day to do this activity, I would have allowed them to change one thing about their designs to see if they could make their cars go farther or faster.

After their testing, recording and calculating of velocity and momentum, we discussed how Newton’s laws were involved.

Newton’s 1st Law

An object in motion stays in motion unless an unbalanced force acts upon it. Students understood this through the slowing down of the car from the friction. They also stated that if the car had more mass, that meant there was more inertia which made it harder for the balloon car to start moving.

Newton’s 2nd Law

F=ma. A more massive car would be harder to accelerate with the same force. Students figured out that more massive balloon rockets required much more balloon air power to get going. To increase acceleration, those balloons needed to be blown pretty big!

Newton’s 3rd Law

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The application of this law was fairly obvious to the students. They immediately realized that the force of the air coming out of the balloon from behind would push the balloon rocket forward with an equal amount of force!

The students love comparing their balloon rocket cars and would have loved a race! Maybe next time I can turn this into a Newton’s Laws tournament!

Slowest Parachute Design

In 7th grade, we started right away with physics concepts. These are some of my favorite areas of science! I love teaching Newton’s laws, investigating forces and computing the simple math equations that come with! My students however, don’t always seem quite as eager!

While discussing friction one day, I decided a design lab was needed to boost their interest level and understanding. Students knew friction slowed things down, but some were having a little trouble thinking about why friction is also helpful! Someone replied with a comment about parachutes, and instantly I had my idea.

After class, I frantically searched every drawer of my classroom for a little bag of these:

I had collected them at a 4th of July parade this summer, just in case I had a brilliant idea.

With just a quick search online, I found several activities that related to what I was thinking: A Slowest Parachute Contest. Teachengineering.org had this lesson plan already created! It was simple to put together, used simple materials and taught the concepts I needed it to. Winning! Although I did make a new, slightly adapted worksheet, I followed this lesson pretty closely!

This took my class two class periods, although both classes were shortened because of other activities going on that week. You could most likely complete it in about an hour if needed. The first day, students were given the challenge and the supplies.

Supplies included:

  • One army man
  • A Plastic Bag
  • Newspaper
  • Construction Paper
  • Tissues
  • String
  • Tape

Day 1

  1. Students were put into groups of three, and each group had to decide which material they wanted as their parachute.
  2. Next, students cut their material into a circle. I was not specific on the size of the circle on purpose. Part of the lab is to see if the area has an affect on the parachute’s performance. Some students used a compass to help draw their circles, which was a great idea. They also put a small hole in the middle of the circle of their parachutes, after some discussion over whether this was actually a good idea or not (it is…and after discussing, most agreed).
  3. Before attaching the parachute, students needed to calculate the area of their circle. Yay for the math connection! We used the formula r2 . Students needed to be reminded to measure in cm so we all had the same units! At the end, we compared our surface area to the times of the parachute drops.

    Cutting out a circle
  4. Students could then tape or tie their army man to their parachutes using string. It was interesting to see the various ways students did this-some army men ended up falling upside down!

Day 2 – Testing!

At the beginning of our second day, we had about 5 minutes to make last minute adjustments to their parachutes. Then, student groups sent one “dropper” at a time to drop their army man while I timed the drop.

Each group was given three drops. There were a few “do-overs” when the parachutes hit a desk or chair on the way down. The times were then averaged. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures of this, since I was using my phone to time the parachutes!

After each group had completed their drops, we had a discussion. It seemed to us that a larger parachute did help, but it was not necessarily the most important thing. Also, it seemed like the plastic bag material worked the best, but newspaper also worked well. I’m sure if we did this again, those results may vary.

Overall, the lab did seem to help students understand friction, especially air resistance. This activity was such an easy one to add last minute. Students were engaged, asking good questions about their designs and most importantly, gaining understanding of friction!

Saving Sam – A Great First Day Activity

 School started over a week ago for me! I’m just feeling like I’m back into the swing of things. It always takes a little while to get back into the habit of packing my lunch, organizing my lessons and getting my teacher voice back. Those first few days are hard on the vocal cords!

Because those first days of school require SO many instructions and procedures, it can be hard to really get into learning. However, the learning is what we want for our students! Maybe you all make the rules of how to line up for PE super exciting, and going through the weekly schedule extra suspenseful for your students. I, however, tire of those things quickly. But what can you do to shake things up a little?

My students must Save Sam! Saving Sam is a great first (or second or third) day activity for students from upper elementary through high school. I found this activity online (through Pinterest of course) a few years ago and LOVE using it to break up those “instruction” days.

Saving Sam

I’m not sure where I originally saw this activity, but there are many different places on the web that you can find it now. Here is the adapted version that I use in my classroom:

Materials

  • Gummy worm
  • Clear, plastic cup
  • Gummy LifeSaver
  • 2 Paper clips

Instructions

Student are paired up. Once they receive their materials, they must set up Sam as shown below:

The cup is upside down with the gummy Lifesaver underneath. “Sam” is on top of the cup. The students use the paper clips to help Sam!

 

The goal of this activity is for students to get the “life preserver” out from under the “boat” and onto Sam. Now, when I say onto Sam, I don’t mean just resting on top. Every time I do this, students immediately think they just have to get the lifesaver out from under the cup. Nope. Get it ON the worm. Students might think it isn’t possible, but it is! It just takes a little extra work! Any time someone touches any part with their hands, that group must begin again. If Sam or the life preserver hit the floor or desk, they also must start over.

End Results

Success!

After about 10 minutes, some students are successful, and some are not. Some groups tried the same thing over and over, while others continually changed their approach That’s ok! I actually don’t care if they truly “Save Sam” or not. The point of this activity is to learn to work together in order to solve a problem. In my classroom, I often challenge students to come up with a solution to an activity on their own. Often times, their original idea may not work and they must adapt and try something else. Also, there is no one right way to complete the task! Students can be successful using a variety of methods and learn to think differently about the scenario.

Saving Sam fits perfectly into my mini lesson of how we will be doing science in my classroom for the year! It can be used as a first day (or week) activity in order to bring up those points I mentioned. You can also use it anytime throughout the year to work on problem solving skills in a fun way. 

 

Solar Eclipse of 2017 – It’s a big deal!

So if you haven’t already heard (which hopefully you have) there will be a huge event happening on Monday, August 21. A solar eclipse of this extent does not happen very often. And when it does occur, it is rare that we can actually see it from the US!

This solar eclipse will be a total solar eclipse for many areas of the United States. This means, that for a 70 mile wide path from Oregon down through South Carolina, people will be able to experience the total solar eclipse. North and south of that path will experience a partial solar eclipse. Depending how close or far away you are from that path, you will experience more or less of the eclipse! You can check out a map here to see the exact path.

What is a solar eclipse?

An eclipse occurs when the sun, earth and moon all align in a specific way. During a solar eclipse, the moon “blocks” the sun from the Earth. In other words, the moon is creating a shadow on a small part of the earth’s surface.

Image Credit: NASA 2017 Total Solar Eclipse Event Page. Image not to scale.

 

Because of the size differences, the moon only casts a shadow on a small part of earth’s surface. For this shadow to be directly in your path is pretty incredible and a once in a lifetime experience!

Image credit: Wikipedia.org

So what should you do?

1. Get Glasses

You will need to have special certified glasses that filter out the sun’s harmful rays. Looking at the sun directly is very dangerous and can cause eye damage. This is NOT a good thing. The glasses help protect your eyes from the sun’s harmful rays. However, I think the glasses are selling out fast, at least in my town! I had to go to two several stores to find enough for my class. They sell glasses at Walmart, Lowe’s, Toys ‘R Us and possibly a few other places.

2. Check when the eclipse will happen near you

For us, the entire eclipse will take place between 12:56 pm and 3:46 pm. The closest to totality we will see happens at 2:22 pm. My plan is to take my science classes outside from 1:45-2:45.

3. Watch the weather

My big fear right now is that it will be storming or super cloudy on eclipse day. This would be sad, but fortunately, NASA will be offering live streaming of the event somewhere sunny! You can catch the live streaming here

4. Enjoy the show!

If you are lucky enough to be in the path of totality, soak it in! What an amazing sight. And if you’re not (like me) it will still be quite a show. It’s awesome to me how everything can line up just so. To me, it demonstrates our Creator’s creativity and power.

 

Monday, August 21 – Catch the Eclipse!

Tech Tools to Use in the Classroom

Even though school is out, I have been busy attending conferences and prepping to present at one myself! The first conference I attended was an eLearning conference for our school district. This is the second time I’ve attended this conference. Both times, I’ve left with about 5 million ideas but an overwhelming sense of knowing there is no way I can implement them all!

After going through my notes, my goal is to take two or three of the ideas I found and try them this coming year. If I can do more, great! However, I would rather do a few things well then just try to cram everything in at once.

Here are the tech tools that made the top of my list! And I must mention that they are all free! I will definitely be trying these out once school starts again. Feel free to do the same!

Desmos and Desmos classroom 

I actually had previously stumbled upon this website during the semester and loved it. After hearing more about it at the conference, I know I will utilize it more in my math classes! Lessons are already prepared on the site and include a variety of topics. Students are able to work at their own pace through the lesson answering questions and completing tasks. Questions require students to think and respond with sentences as well, so you can see their thought process as well. Teachers are able to monitor each student’s progress as well! I loved the fact that I could see who was struggling or not staying on task right from my computer! Whether a student needs extra practice or enrichment, Desmos can help!

Sample question for inequalities lesson

Quizlet Live  

Maybe you, like me, had already heard of Quizlet. I’ve had students use this app for a few years as an option to study their vocabulary words in science class. Students type in words and definitions, then can play review games such as matching, guess the word, etc. I’ve noticed that those students that have used Quizlet typically end up performing better on any vocabulary assessments.

The people at Quizlet really amped it up for Quizlet Live and made it a whole classroom experience!  Students are randomly placed in groups and given an animal name. Why an animal? I have no idea, but being a Siberian Tiger or a Bald Eagle makes it that much more exciting! Each student must have a device within the group. The groups then must work together to find correct terms for the given definition. Since different terms are listed on different group member’s devices, everyone must participate in order for the group to finish first. What a great way to increase vocabulary proficiency!

Quizziz

This game is very similar to Kahoot  (which I have used many times and love!). The difference though, is that students can go at their own pace and do the questions by themselves. You do not need to project one question at a time on the screen. The students still can compete against each other and see their scores (which is what they love about Kahoot). You can use the quizzes that are already on the site, or you can make your own. Adapt the quiz for whatever subject you need and use it for review, pretesting or just for fun!

Start screen for Quizziz

Commonsense.org   

Students truly need to understand how to become responsible digital citizens. How do we teach this? First of all, make sure we as educators are being good role models. Sometimes we assume students know how to be responsible in this area simply because they know how to work the apps and tools. Commonsense.org has developed several lessons for the classroom that hit on many areas of digital citizenship for all grade levels including strategic searching, cyberbullying, and copyright issues. The lessons include videos and activity ideas that you can download as pdf files. There is even a “Digital Compass game where students choose what to do in a scenario and see the consequences of that choice. I have used bits and pieces of this in the past, but think I should do more with my middle schoolers.

 

So take a look! Maybe one of these will become your favorite tech tools this coming year too!

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”!