Science

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”!

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.

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!

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!