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! 🙂
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:
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.
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!
Ready for another food model? I love using anything edible to demonstrate science concepts whenever I can, and this week seemed to be full of food activities! Recently, in my 7th grade class, we have been studying the integumentary system. This includes the layers of the skin as well as the “stuff” inside.
We had discussed the different parts of the integumentary system in a previous lesson. Students used a diagram to label each layer and write down the function and purpose.
I did throw in one little demo that shows how oil affects our skin. The oil glands secrete oil that helps provide a barrier for our skin. First, I had students use an eyedropper to place a drop of water on their skin. We noted how the water stuck together. Then I took a cotton ball and swabbed their other hand with rubbing alcohol before putting on another drop of water. This time, the water droplet ran right off — it did not stay stuck together. The rubbing alcohol had taken some of the oil of the skin and in doing so, the skin was not as water resistant!
My students did like that demo, but obviously the food part was a bigger hit! I originally found this activity here at My Mundane & Miraculous Life and couldn’t resist trying it.
Here are the materials needed to make the jello skin model:
4 packs of Jello (I think orange works best so you can see the inside)
Fruit Roll Up or Fruit by the Foot or another type of fruit leather
Twizzler Pull n’ Peel
Make the jello but use the “Jiggler” recipe. (I think it uses less water and makes a firmer Jello. If you aren’t using Jell-O brand, you can find a jiggler recipe here)
Let the jello set for a few minutes (until it isn’t super hot) and pour the marshmallows on top. Then let it set for at least 3 hours or overnight.
Cut the jello in pieces and place the pieces on a plate upside down so the marshmallow layer is on the bottom. Each student gets a piece.
Have the Twizzler Pull ‘N’ Peel and cut into sections and the Fruit Roll Up unwrapped and ready to give to each student
As a class, we discussed what two layers of the integumentary system the model represented so far (marshmallows= fatty tissue or hypodermis and the jello = dermis)
Students then received a piece of Fruit by the Foot (but other materials would also work) to put over their jello. This represented the epidermis.
Students received pieces of Twizzler Pull N’ Peel. Some pieces were used as hairs. Students had to poke holes in their epidermis and stick the pieces in. Other pieces could be rolled up and stuck inside the dermis layer to represent sweat glands. I used plain red Pull ‘N Peel, but it would be neat to try multi-colored (I’m pretty sure that exists…) and each color could represent something else in the skin: hair, sweat glands, nerve receptors, etc.
I’ve heard of also using things like chocolate chips to represent moles on the skin surface. Creative!
The best part is, after students have completed their model, they can eat it! Delicious!
It’s spring here, but the weather hasn’t figured that out yet. Our spring break was filled with rain, clouds and cold winds. Not super nice weather, but hopefully the sunshine plans to break out soon. The outside temperatures has made me want warmth and coziness. This means soup or chili for dinner!
Everyone needs a warm, hearty, delicious and EASY chili in their lives. The kind that you just throw together in 5 minutes and then cook all day in the slow cooker. The kind that if you don’t have the exact ingredients or precise measurements, it will still turn out amazing. This is that chili. This is also that kind of meal that you can deliver to a mom who has been up all night with their newborn. Or someone that has just had a surgery and doesn’t have energy to cook. It can be heated, reheated and frozen beautifully. It can be eaten as a soup, or a dip or poured over chips like nachos. Versatile dishes like this make moms like me happy!
I’m not sure where this chili got its name. The white bean and chicken part I understand, but the Grand Rapids? I’m pretty sure this idea did not originate in Grand Rapids, Michigan–someone in the world had probably made it before. My mom passed this recipe on to me, and she got it from someone else. It’s possible that someone lived in Grand Rapids. Or maybe people in Grand Rapids love to eat it. I mean, I lived in GR for awhile and in the winter (and spring and fall) months, the constant cloud cover, snow or drizzle, require many nights of warm chili.
The best thing about this recipe, is that there isn’t really a right or wrong. You can put more or less of any of the ingredients–it isn’t an exact science. So I listed the ingredients below, but they can easily be adjusted to your liking.
4-6 chicken breasts cooked and cubed or shredded (You can cook up the chicken yourself, or use a couple of cans of chicken. I’ve also used leftovers from a rotisserie chicken and it worked great!)
1 large jar of salsa (16oz)
1 jar of northern white beans UNDRAINED (or 2-3 cans)
8 oz shredded cheese (I usually use cheddar or Colby Jack because we often have those already, but Monterey Jack is also delicious!)
Dump everything in the crockpot
Cook on low for 4-6 hours. Longer is better.
This chili can be topped with more cheese, cilantro, sour cream, more salsa…whatever you like! We love eating it with tortilla chips. Leftovers freeze beautifully too! I typically make large batches and freeze some for a quick meal another time.
Although I’m ready for summer temps to come soon, having a few cool days and enjoying this chili isn’t too bad either!
We finally made it to spring break! It always feels like an accomplishment to make it to spring break, doesn’t it? I mean, those winter months are tough. At school indoor recesses for cold, rainy, windy or who knows what kind of weather make you bonkers. The kids can’t play outside quite as much. It’s dark and dreary. Kids get very antsy too! My middle schoolers were either at each other’s throats or couldn’t keep their hands off of each other. I don’t know which is worse! Everyone just needs some space for a few days.
But now, spring break! I wish I could say I spent most of the week relaxing in the sun at some tropical beach location. Nope. Not when that would require a 12 hour plus drive (or way more with two young kids in the car) or paying for expensive air fare. So instead, we drove north 5 hours (which took more like 7 because of said two kids) and visited family in Michigan for a nice weekend before spending most of the week at home.
Staying home for the week is not a bad thing in my mind. There are always things to catch up on (like laundry… except whenever I do catch up, an hour later there is more to be done! How does that even happen?!). But spring break isn’t for more work. It is to take a break, even if you can’t lay on a beach. Instead of trying to catch up on everything, have a “stay-cation”. Do at least something different for your break.
When you have kids, especially toddlers and babies, “break” is rarely in your vocabulary. A break means going to the bathroom by yourself or sneaking chocolate from the pantry without your son spying you and insisting on getting some too. (Have you seen this video? So true!) Or maybe if you are really lucky, getting your husband to watch the kids for a couple hours while you go to Target.
Since I can stay home this week, I truly enjoy spending time with the kiddos doing normal things before the end of the year chaos ensues at school. I don’t mind not having as many breaks. But making a few interesting and different trips here and there make the stay-cation more fun and help create memories for a long time! Naps and feeding times can cause complications with scheduling, so I’ve made a list of five places you can visit with your littles that are easy, can be quick, are fun AND affordable!
Five Places to Visit With Toddlers Without Leaving Your Town
Library story times and events
Check your local library for their schedules. Most have programs available for children of all ages. We regularly attend an evening story time for toddlers at ours, but I know there are all sorts activities going on throughout the week. There may be special activities just for spring break!
Get ice cream at the local shop
For it to really be spring break, at least one ice cream trip is in order. Make it special by going to a place that you may not visit that frequently. We love the build your own fro-yo places. With all those topping options, everybody gets what they like!
Visit a fire stations, police stations, etc.
Our family has not done this yet, but we would like to. Our boy loves fire trucks, so making a visit to a station would be a blast. Check your city’s website for more information and how to schedule possible tours.
Go to a pet store
This one may seem a little odd, but our kids love it! Our son often asks to go to the “Fish Store”. He loves watching birds dart around, mice run on their wheels, and spot all the variety of fish. We don’t own any animals at our house (and don’t plan to) but it’s fun to just look!
Check out a new park or playground
We encourage playing outside as much as possible (when whether permits) so trips to the park occur often in warmer weather. Take a drive to find a park the kids have never been on before and watch them explore! Our mall even has a play area inside. I’ve taken the kids there on crummy weather days. Because we don’t go there often, even the tiny slides are a big hit!
A stay-cation does not need to be boring or mean you have to stay home all week. Find something new to do that the whole family will enjoy, without even leaving your town! Slow down, relax, and take pictures. And when the kids are napping, find that spot on the floor where the sun is shining. Lay there for a few minutes, basking in the warmth, and pretend you can hear the waves rolling in.
A trash can, paper, and review questions are the only things you need to make “Trashketball” work!
It’s March Madness season. Anyone else get into this time of year? I love filling out my bracket in the hopes of predicting the most correct, and then quickly become disappointed when my teams lose. But that is the greatness of the tournament!
Both teachers and students get very into the games here at our Indiana school. Our PE teacher randomly assigns each class to a few teams in the tournament. If that time wins the whole thing, the class gets to do a special activity of their choosing. The teachers are in a pool where the winner gets a gift card (or maybe even their recess duties covered for a week!) I let the my middle school students fill out one and the top 5 or so overall get to have ice cream sundaes after lunch one day. It definitely makes watching the tournament a fun experience!
Teachers have also been incorporating basketball into their curriculum as well. A 5th grade teacher did an inquiry lab on how the angle of the backboard affects your shot percentage. Another teacher in the lower grades has a bulletin board set up in the hallway about Indiana basketball history. What a fun way to connect students to content!
Because spring break was fast approaching, I needed some review games. Often I will use Kahoot (which kids love!) but I was inspired by some crazy basketball games over the weekend to do something different. Trashketball was a game from my own middle school memories and I was super excited to bring it back to my classroom!
All you need to do this review game is the following:
A set of questions that can be answered in a few words (or numbers)
A bunch of slips of paper
I used this for my math class, so I copied down a bunch of problems that I could project on the screen. Students had calculators and scratch paper to help them.
To set up the game:
Prepare questions to give to students. The best way to do this is to have questions ready to display somewhere that all students can see at once.
Cut up paper into small squares. Have a lot of paper ready (you can always use the extras for next time!)
Place a trash can (I use a smaller can) in the middle of the room, and students place their desks or chairs in a circle around the can. It is up to you how far students are from the can. Farther away makes the game a little more challenging! Make sure students sit equal distance from the can and no one has a huge advantage.
Here is how to play the game:
Students see a problem on the screen and have time to figure out the answer (depending on the question, I gave them between 30 seconds and 1 minute) and write their answer on a slip of paper with their name on it.
Once the time was up, I would tell the students, “Shoot!”During this time, students would crumple up their slips of paper into mini “basketballs” and shoot their answers into the can.
Students may NOT stand up or move around during this time. I told them their “bums” needed to stay in the seats!
I gave 30 seconds for students to “shoot” their answers. There are two ways to do this:
Students can shoot as many slips of paper with their answers on it as they can in that 30 seconds
Students can shoot up to a certain amount (like 3) in a round.
When shooting time is over, the teacher grabs the can and looks through all the papers that actually made it in. Any correct answer receives one point. Incorrect answers get zero points.
Students keep track of their own points and whoever has the most at the end wins!
There are other versions of this game out on Pinterest. Here is a link to another version that sounds great too! Mrs. E Teaches Math has great ideas, so be sure to check out the rest of the blog.
Students loved the game and already have requested to play it again! It was fun, engaging, and helped students review how to do their math problems! It does create a little craziness in the classroom, but hey, it’s March Madness!
Here is the Digestive System Mini Lessons – Part 2 post! There are three more simulations for parts of the digestive system. If you missed the first post on this, be sure to check it out by clicking here.
This activity demonstrates how your teeth help in the digestive process. Students receive a sugar cube as well as a small cup of granulated sugar. They fill two cups with equal amounts of warm water, placing the sugar cube in one cup and the granulated sugar in the other. Students stir each cup and watch how the sugar dissolves. The granulated sugar dissolves much more quickly than the cube, just like your teeth break up food into smaller pieces so it is easier to break down the food later.
2 clear cups
Surface Area Matters – How the Villi Help the Small Intestines
Villi help absorb as many nutrients as possible. To demonstrate this, students take four cups of water and fill each with the same amount. For the first cup, students take one sheet of paper towel, fold it several times, and dip into one of the cups to absorb the water. Then students take a graduated cylinder and measure whatever water is left in the cup that the towel didn’t absorb. Students repeat this using two paper towels folded together, three paper towels, and four paper towels. The four paper towels folded together should absorb the most water, leaving the least amount behind in the cup. Often, I follow up on this by asking, “What would happen if there weren’t as many villi to absorb nutrients?” Students agree that some nutrients may be missed! This always reminds me of the Chocolate Factory clip from I Love Lucy – without enough villi, the intestines would be like Ethel and Lucy and miss a lot of good stuff!
Paper towel (9 sheets)
Let the Juices Flow!
Using orange juice, students see first hand how the acids in our stomachs help break down foods. Bread is torn into small pieces and placed into ziploc bags. Then they pour some orange juice into the bag. Make sure the bags are sealed (otherwise it gets messy!) and squish the bread around. The bread looks gross, but starts to dissolve before your eyes! Students carefully pour the liquid out, leaving behind the solid “waste”, which is then disposed of in the garbage can! This activity simulates several parts of the digestive system, but especially highlights the large intestines’ job.
Orange juice (or another type of fruit juice)
Waste container or sink to empty juice into
I do have short worksheets for all of these activities. Students fill them out to help instruct and guide them throughout the lesson. Please comment or email if you would like to have them!
While students participate in their activities, I like to walk around and ask questions, clarify instructions or just listen to how students explain things to each other. It is awesome to see students making the connections and teaching each other!
Please use these ideas in your own classroom, either in groups like I did, or even as full class demonstrations! Have fun digesting!
Studying the human body creates excitement in my 7th grade classroom. One of the best systems to study (in my opinion) is the digestive system. I mean, we get to talk about food and taste and eating. Students enjoy the system too, because this means I will probably bring in some sort of snack to help us learn about the system in real time!
Really, we could spend weeks talking about one system in the body. However, in my class, we only have 2-3 days before we must move on. I love doing hands on activities with my students, and found several digestive simulations that I wanted to try. The simulations only take a few minutes each, so I decided to divide them up among the students.
Each group focused on one particular area of the digestive system and performed the activity as instructed. Activity sheets were filled out, and each group became responsible for understanding how their activity connected to the digestive system.
Once all the groups completed the tasks, they had to share their findings with the rest of the class. Students gave mini presentations sharing what they did, what happened, and how it relates to the digestive system.
I described two of the mini lessons below, and will post three more soon!
Digestive System Length
Students use yarn to show the length of our digestive systems. I used 4 different colors so each color could be used to represent a different organ in the system. Students measured, cut, and tied the pieces together. At the end, they could see just how long our digestive tract really is!
Yarn (4 colors if available)
Use this chart for lengths:
Length in Centimeters
Students like this activity because it actually involves eating. Each person in the group receives two crackers. One cracker is chewed up really quickly and swallowed. Students state that their mouths get a little dry because not much saliva was used. Next, the second cracker is placed in each of their mouths. Students allow the cracker to sit for at least a minute without chewing (allowing the saliva to do all the work). The cracker does dissolve eventually and will taste sweet in the process. The crackers demonstrate how chemical digestion works in our bodies. The chemicals in our saliva start breaking down the crackers into the sugars needed.
Crackers (at least 2 for each member of the group)
Does anyone have one of those new coloring books that are totally cool? Filled with awesome designs, these books encourage you to just sit and color. In fact, studies suggest that coloring helps relieve stress and improve relaxation. I would agree. I like to sit and color while sitting on the couch or watching tv. Which is why I came up with this lesson for my students!
We are working through our geometry unit right now in both my seventh and eighth grade classes. Lots of angles, triangles and other polygons going on! I wanted to do something a little different than just a regular worksheet and take a break from our normal routine of class. I was browsing Pinterest (what else is new) and saw a picture of a whole bunch of shapes in different colors; shapes that could be used as artwork on walls. Immediately,an idea popped into my head! Math + art = awesome!
My seventh graders had just learned to classify triangles by their angles and sides. I decided to take triangles, and have students make them into cool designs while still practicing their classifying skills!
Only a pencil, ruler, paper and colors were necessary for this activity.
Students drew lines across the page using their pencils and made several triangles. I warned students to not draw TOO many triangles because that might make way too much work for them later.
Next, students identified triangles on their page as scalene, isosceles or equilateral. They traced each type in a different color of their choosing, being sure to put their color choices on a key.
Finally, students shaded in each triangle according to the angles. Obtuse, acute and right triangles each received their own color. Colors used should also be recorded on the key.
The class loved the project. After I gave instructions, the class was quiet for several minutes, not because I told them to be, but because they were so focused on their triangles! Designs turned out really neat. I’m thinking a new bulletin board display is coming…!
Who doesn’t like a roller coaster? Let me rephrase that… what middle schooler doesn’t like roller coasters? And if they don’t like riding them, I’m pretty sure they would still like the idea of building one!
This is one of my favorite activities of the year. It incorporates concepts of kinetic and potential energy, which is a big standard to cover in sixth grade, while engaging and challenging the students.
I definitely cannot take credit for coming up with this lesson. It was developed through the SLED program. (Science Learning Through Engineering Design) This program, funded by a grant through the NSTF, was a partnership between the SLED program directors and teachers of grades 3-6. Because the program was developed at Purdue University, many local school districts and teachers were able to be a part of developing these lessons. The focus was to increase science learning through engineering design. I worked with the SLED program and its amazing directors for several years and through it, added a bunch of awesome engineering-based projects that align perfectly to Indiana science standards. (Here is more info if you want it!)
Before the Activity
Before starting the roller coasters, my students have learned/reviewed kinetic and potential energy. We do a lab where students “play” with wind up toys, mini circuits, bouncy balls and more, and trace how the energy is transferred in each situation.
I also LOVE showing them this video. It gets stuck in your head, so watch out! But then again, it will get stuck in students’ heads, which is fantastic!
I follow the SLED lesson plan, which you can find here.
Designing the Roller Coasters
To introduce the activity to the students, we begin with the challenge: Indiana Beach wants to build a new roller coaster with a lot of loops, but wants to be as economical as possible. Can they help? Instantly, students are engaged. Indiana Beach? Roller Coasters? Hooked. However, we discuss several concepts before designing.
What’s the challenge? (To build a roller coaster with loops)
What is the goal? (The most loop diameter for a limited coast)
Who are we working for? (Indiana Beach)
What are somethings that might limit us? (Space, materials, TIME!)
What concepts in science have we been learning about that will help us here? (Kinetic and Potential energy!!!)
Materials used to build the coasters:
Insulated pipe tubing. I use 3 ft sections cut in half. These make the “track” for our coaster. You can find them at any hardware store (Lowe’s, Home Depot) or online. You will have to cut them in half.
Tacks (longer tacks work better)
Large pieces of cardboard to secure the coasters on(think refrigerator, tv, large sporting equipment, etc. I had a connection to someone that worked in a bike shop and got several large boxes from him!
The tubing and cardboard can be reused, so you will not need to get all new supplies every year!
Once we review the materials and the goal, students get a few minutes to plan and sketch their designs individually. Next, I put them in groups of 3 (if necessary I make a group of two. Four students seems to be too many in this activity…) and together, they come up with ONE plan that they want to use for their roller coaster.
Each team gets a large cardboard piece which is propped up along the wall around my classroom. This is their roller coaster canvas. They may receive up to 5 pieces of “track” and unlimited amount of duct tape, string and tacks (although all come at a price!). Students typically need about 30 to 35 minutes to design and build their coasters (or really, that is all the time I can give them!). For the coaster, we use a marble. I do allow students to test their coasters as they go so they can make slight adjustments as needed.
While students are building:
I usually walk around during construction, asking questions such as:
Why did you need to make your second loop smaller than your first?
Why are you starting the marble so high?
I see that this loop isn’t working. What do you think the problem is?
Encourage students to think about kinetic and potential energy when responding!
Once time is up, student groups calculate their coaster’s final cost, measure the total loop diameter on the coaster, and calculate a team score. Team scores are the cost divided by the total loop diameter. Lower scores mean the coasters are more cost efficient or have a high loop diameter, which were the goals!
Finally, groups present and test their coasters in front of the class. We take a “roller coaster tour” and walk around the room. Students share their designs, their cost and their team score. Then the moment of truth… will the marble actually make it through the entire track!? I do give students several attempts, but usually there are a few groups that are unsuccessful, and that is ok! At each coaster, students put sticky notes on where they believe the most potential energy and the most kinetic energy are located–super helpful in reminding students about these concepts!
Overall, this lesson takes me about three class periods. However, it solidifies students’ understanding on kinetic and potential energy. And it is fun! They will be talking about their coasters for weeks to come!
I believe that in any classroom, working as a team is important. However, dealing with others can be a challenge, no matter what the age! I like to incorporate activities throughout the year that focus on team building, but are also fun tasks for the students. These are just two of examples that are great for any grade level, any subject, or maybe even as a professional development exercise!
Students are put into groups of 3 or 4 and given a marker with 3 or 4 strings attached
Each student may only hold the end of one string, and may not touch any other part of the string or the marker
Working together, students must draw a picture, write a word, etc.
When I did this activity, I first had students write letters, like ABC or CAT. They could talk and instruct each other on how and where to move the marker.
After the initial round, I asked the student groups to draw a picture of a cat. I drew a cat picture on the board and told the groups they should do their best to copy that picture. Right before they began, I said “You may not talk!”
Many protested initially, but when I said go, it was silent. Students were forced to communicate without words and make the best cat drawing they could.
It was hilarious watching some of the groups attempt the cat. A few looked like my 2 year old drew them (or worse), but some groups were surprisingly successful! With each round we did, groups improved on their communicating and improved on their drawings!
The next activity is a simple one that uses straws and tape and that’s it! The goal is to use the materials to build the tallest straw tower possible in a short amount of time.
Students are put into groups of 2 or 3
Each group received 10 straws and about 30 inches of tape.
2-3 minutes of planning time given.
About 10 minutes of building time given.
Before students were allowed to even TOUCH the supplies, I told them they had two minutes to talk with their partners and come up with a plan. They could sketch things out, strategize and share ideas.
Once the two minutes were up, I told students I hoped they were wise in how they spend their planning time because now they could NOT talk for the rest of the activity. I gave students 10 minutes to build their towers. And it HAD to be silent
It was very amusing watching students use other methods to communicate (and I did not allow any writing of messages either!) Hand motions, pointing and lots of head shaking were seen.
Some students had great plans that worked well. Others found their original plans did not work and that trying to form a new plan without talking was very difficult!
After the timer went off, students could no longer touch their towers. I came around and measured each tower with a meter stick to see who won the challenge! (By the way, I LOVE using online-stop-watch. When the timer goes off, it always makes everyone in the room jump!)
We had a good class discussion afterwards about what was difficult and what worked well. Students agreed that making sure you had a plan ahead of time worked well. Communication is huge! If they couldn’t communicate, it made the task much more difficult to complete. We need to share our ideas, listen, and watch. If we can communicate more effectively, we can get a lot further!
These activities were very helpful in setting up how my students need to work together and communicate with each other. You can use these just for team building or class communication. And they can be done in middle school, high school, or even upper elementary grades!