Science Fair

Every year, our school has a different academic theme. Every 4-5 years, it is science’s turn. And this was the year. This also means this is the year I am in charge of many extra activities for our students to participate in. This past week, our school held a science fair. This was an evening open house event for parents to come and see the different projects students have been working on (some since September!)

Putting together a night like this was not easy, but overall, I would say it was worth it. Both students and families enjoyed seeing the different projects and taking part in different STEM activities.

Here are some ideas that helped make our science fair a success this year:

Start planning early!

We began having meetings in October to plan for an event taking place at the end of February. My committee consisted of 3 other teachers and myself, which is not large by any means. However, 6 weeks before the event occurred, we had ideas for all activities, an outline for the night and each person knew which items they would be responsible for. We did end up making a few changes in the days before, but this were not a big deal since everyone knew their responsibilities.

Inform teachers of expectations

We made informational packets for each grade level teacher to inform them of guidelines for student projects. Obviously, the guidelines for 1st grade looked very different from the 8th grade. Our goal was for students to learn at their own level. Some classroom teachers allowed their younger students to simply research a science topic and write it, displaying what they learned on small posters. Other teachers in the middle grades walked through the scientific process by doing a whole class experiment. Students were responsible for collecting their data during the school day, then they did their write ups and posters in class with teacher supervision. Middle school students were responsible for coming up with their own experiments. Although I walked them through each step throughout the year, most of the work was done by themselves. They displayed their work on trifold display boards. Differentiating the projects in this way made sure students were learning at their level! Students also were very proud of their final projects

Include activities for the family

From the very beginning, we promoted our fair as a family event. We encouraged families to come together to see the student experiments! Creating simple stations for students and families to “do science” together helped! We decided three activities were enough to provide variety, but still not overwhelming for us to plan and staff.

  1. Snowman Paper Challenge – using 2 pieces of plain paper and a small amount of tape, families had to create the tallest snowman, making sure it still had the shape of a snowman
  2. Density Exploration – We had three different liquids in beakers with a variety of different small objects. Participants predicted if they thought the objects would sink or float and then tested it out!
  3. Oobleck! – This station was by far the biggest hit. Participants could mix up their own batch of the mind -boggling non-newtonian fluid and play around with it. Parents and students alike had fun with this one!
Announce Winners!

During the day, our middle school projects were judged by volunteers associated with the school. These judges all had science backgrounds and used a rubric to score the different projects. At the end of the night, we announced the winners to the families! Students won a ribbon as a prize and I also gave them a “100 Grand” (since no prize money was involved). Even though the prizes were not huge, the build up to who the winners might be was very exciting for both students and families!

There are just a few basic tips that helped our science fair night be a success!

Music to My Ears

This is an activity I almost didn’t do with my class. I found this great resource for sound and pitch on PBS Design Squad and liked it, but wasn’t sure if I woudl do it. One of my classes this year has been somewhat of a challenge for me. They struggle with socializing. Although that is not anything new for middle school, this class seems to be the extreme. We’re working on it, but it makes me a little hesitant at times to try new activities when a lot of instructions may have to be given.

String Thing Game

I found this cool inquiry activity online and knew it was perfect for investigating pitch. But did I really want the students to work together on the Chromebooks to see what kind of noise they could make? It was a Friday after a pretty crazy week and to be honest, I did not have any other activity prepped, so this was it. And it was amazing! The student pairs worked quietly, stayed on task and LOVED doing it. Of course there was noise in the classroom – it is a sound game – but it was that awesome hum of productiveness. It was music to my ears!

String Thing Game, created by PBS Design Squad, has students explore how changing the length, tightness and type of string creates different pitches. Students can manipulate the features and to create different sounds and pitches. First, I had students just explore. How could they make a sound lower? What happened to make a sound higher? There are also demo songs where students can see all the different strings. Once they played on it for several minutes, I gave them the worksheet that the site created which asks specific questions on how different sounds are made. Finally, students attempted to make a song or tune online.

I originally had planned to only do this for 10 to 15 minutes, but when I observed how well the students were doing, I let them continue working until the end of the class! I even had students come up to me the following Monday to say they had played it at home. Win!

Build an Instrument

On Monday, I had students work in the same groups to create their own musical instruments and Build a Band, using their knowledge from the game. Cardboard boxes, rubber bands and wooden dowels were the only materials needed. I challenged them to create a song using four “strings”. Some groups immediately knew the song they were singing and could adjust the bands accordingly. Others decided to put the bands down, and then try to come up with a song. Although rubber bands are a little tricky to keep “in tune” because they can stretch or become looser, most students recognized how to adjust the pitch. I’m not saying that all the songs were perfect, but when the groups “performed” their songs, most students could figure out what tune was being played.

The class had so much fun with this activity – they could be social and musical at the same time. Yet they were still learning! Thanks PBS Design Squad! I’ll definitely be looking to them for more lessons in the future.

The Olympics are Coming!


The 2018 Winter Olympics are just around the corner. I feel like the games sprung up on me pretty quickly this time around. Didn’t we just have the summer games? But that’s ok, because I do enjoy watching the different events, especially the more unique ones! I mean, where else would you get to watch curling? Or the Biathlon?? Super cool.

Maybe this week you will be doing things in your classroom that relate to the games. You really can tie them into any subject area! 

Science and STEM

I plan to try at least one STEM activity I found some good ideas here from a TpT site that I may try. During the 2014 Olympics, NBC posted many videos about the physics of the events. Show some of these to your students as introductions to your lesson to get them pumped up about certain events and the science behind them!


You can take some of the information and create math problems. A great resource to use for that is here  from For example, did you know that 3,000 athletes will be competing in the games. There are 15 “disciplines”, or types of these events. In total, there will be 102 events!  

Just a few math ideas:

  • Find out how many medals are expected to be given out (If each event gives a gold, silver and bronze medal)
  • Calculate the percentage of gold medals the US wins (or total medals) as the games play out
  • Keep track of all the different countries that medal
  • Find how heavy those medals are and simulate it with other materials in your classroom
Social Studies or Economics

Why not make Olympic connections in your social studies or economics class? The history of the games is a great place to start. Assign mini research projects on the various countries competing. Students also may enjoy calculating the cost of traveling to PyeongChang for a “visit”.


For some writing projects, ask students what event would they most enjoy competing in for these Olympics? Maybe you can watch some of the highlights of the opening ceremonies on youtube later and students reflect on which parts they found intriguing or confusing, etc.

For more ideas as we go through these games, you can follow my Pinterest board here

Enjoy the games and Go USA!

Sort It Out

 Last week I had the privilege of presenting a session at a STEM education conference here in Indiana.  Now, whenever I go to a conference, I enjoy doing hands-on activities. And I don’t like sitting through sales-pitches. You know the ones that show you a bunch of awesome ideas, only to find out that to actually do any of those activities, you need to purchase the kits that cost thousands of dollars each? Instant downer since there is a 1% chance my school will ever be able to afford it. So I created a session where I shared a few STEM/Engineering Design activities that could be used in many different classrooms, on a very low budget, any time of the year.

I’m not sure I should say this, but I was shocked at the number of people that wanted to attend my session. We filled up the large conference room! I would like to believe this was because my session description was so intriguing. Or maybe it is because most teachers want quick, easy ideas that are still awesome. However, it probably did help that right next store the conference was giving out snacks during the break and I was the closest session…

Sort It Out Activity

One of the activities I shared was Sort It Out. This is a great way introduction to engineering design for your students. I have tried it with as young as 3rd graders and as old as adults! It can be easily adapted or changed to fit the needs of your classroom.

The original idea for this came from . This link will take you to the activity that has a the full lesson plan pdf, student worksheets, and a powerpoint! Background research about how coins are made and sorted is included which can be a great extension.

Although all of these are very helpful resources, I often like to make my own worksheets that are less wordy and allow more space for students to work. When I originally did this lesson for 3rd graders, I had to adapt it quite a bit. Here is the Sort it Out pdf worksheet that I have used in the past!

The idea behind this is that there are a bunch of coins that got mixed up and a device needs to be created in order to sort these coins. 

Here is the prompt I use:

Mrs. O’s coins are all mixed up! She needs them separated easily in order to use the coins for different things in class. Can you help design a sorting mechanism that will make the job easier?

The materials I use for this are:

  • Cups
  • Construction Paper
  • Toilet Paper tubes
  • Cardboard
  • Foam board
  • Plates
  • String
  • Felt
  • Tape
  • Scissors

Again, these materials can be flexible – use what you have! For example, sometimes I use plates, sometimes I don’t. I don’t always have all these materials on hand, so I simply switch it up. It keeps kids creative!

Students first plan out their ideas individually and sketch everything out. Then, students are 

placed into groups and come up with one team design. If you are doing this in younger grade levels, it can be helpful to plan out roles for each group member. For example, one person might be the “Materials Director” and the one in charge of getting materials and recording what is used. Another might be the “Time Manager” or the “Spokesperson” for the group. This way, each member knows how to contribute to the group’s project.

Students then design and build their device! Obviously, you can limit the amount of time they have to work on each part. When coin sorting devices are ready to test, simply give each group a handful of coins and ask them to demonstrate!

Adaptations and Extensions

  • Only use quarters and dimes – using the largest and smallest coins may help younger students out. By using all four coins, you can challenge your students!
  • Time how long it takes for the device to sort a certain number of coins. Whose can sort a certain amount of coins the fastest?
  • Connect this to math by discussing diameter, circumference, or mass

The adults at the conference loved this idea. I even had some good devices created during the session, like this one! The point is to make it your own for your class and get those coins sorted!