Friday, July 30, 2010

Teaching Science with Foldables

Elementary Edition
Middle/High School Edition
Big Book of Science Middle - High SchoolBig Book of Science - Elementary K-6
I'm not sure when I first learned about foldables, but I'm sure glad I did.

Basically, foldables are a whole series of different ways to organize information - there are tables, booklets of all types, 3D structures, and more. 

A few of my favorite things about foldables...'s good for kids to learn a variety of ways to organize information. turns boring note-taking into something more interesting.
...they are a great addition to a portfolio or interactive notebook

Dinah Zike's books are great!  They are organized in two ways...
...First, each type of foldable contains several examples of topics for which you might use that foldable.

...Then, each science topic has a list of foldables you might use to organize the information in that topic. 
It's hard to read, but that's a whole list of ways you might use foldables when studying plate tectonics!

As a science teacher, I like the Zike's books related specifically to science (it makes it that much easier for me!), but it would be easy to adapt these basic organizing techniques to any subject area.  In fact, Zike has written books on math and social studies foldables.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Inertia: Sugar Cubes in a Flask

This is a fun inertia activity for your students to try. 

The set-up:
A flask (or bottle) set on the table.
The inner ring from an embroidery hoop* balanced on the opening of the flask.
Sugar cubes, in a stack, on the hoop, so they are directly over the opening of the flask. 

The objective:
Knock the ring out of the way, so the sugar cubes fall directly into the flask. 

Some of your students will really get the hang of this and be able to get a sizable stack of sugar cubes to fall into the flask. 

You can also stand a dry erase marker on top of the hoop and try to get it to fall in. 

Wood Embroidery Hoop - 8 Inch
*Embroidery hoops can be found in craft stores (AC Moore, Michael's, JoAnn Fabrics, etc.).  They consist of an inner ring, which is a perfect circle, and an outer ring, which has a screw closure to tighten it.  Most of them are made of wood.  You can sometimes find plastic ones or if you're at a thrift store/yard sale you might find some metal ones.  For this activity, you can only use the inner ring.  I haven't found anything that requires only the outer ring yet - still looking! 

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Is It Living?: Glue Critters

Duco Cement - Duco Cement
This is a fun demonstration, but it does require some slight of hand, so you'll want to practice a bit before your big performance. 

Set a Petri dish (or another transparent container) filled with water on an overhead projector. 

Place a tube of Duco cement in a brown paper bag. 

Tell the students you're going to release a critter into the Petri dish.  Carefully, squeeze a few small drips of glue into the dish.  Make it look like you're pouring something out of the bag - don't let them see the tube of glue.  Play it up!

After a bit, add some pencil shavings to the dish - the critter will "eat" them. 

What happens if you add a drop of soapy water or dip a bar of soap into the water?

And then for the big question: are the critters alive?  What evidence do you have?  How can you explain it? 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Volcanoes: Create Volcano Folklore

There is a lot of folklore and legends surrounding volcanoes.  Why wouldn't there be?  Huge, firey mountains start spewing forth, seemingly on a whim...

Share some of the stories with your students - they're usually quite short.  I haven't found a good collection of volcano folklore in one place, but you can google 'volcano folklore' or the specific volcano you're interested in, such as 'Mt. St. Helens folklore' or 'Mauna Loa folklore'. 

Of course, make sure you read through the stories before sharing them with your students, to make sure they're appropriate for your group!

After sharing a few stories, have your students try their hand at writing their own folklore.  Perhaps you'll want to provide them with a picture (or multiple pictures) of a volcano to inspire their stories, or maybe you'll just let them have at it with their own imaginations. 

Hill of Fire (I Can Read Book 3)
You may also want to share the story, Hill of Fire  with your students.  It's based on the true story of the formation of a Mexican volcano in the middle of a corn field.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Metric System: Magic Number Lab

This activity provides students with a first-hand opportunity to experience one of the benefits of the metric system.

Stop watch

Have your partner time how long it takes you to do all four problems in one column.
Time your partner doing the same four problems.
Complete the remaining columns in the same way.
Come to the front table and check each other’s papers after you’ve both finished all four columns.

The Problems:
Column 1: 13x5

Column 2: 13x12

Column 3:

Column 4: 13x10

For each column, record the time (in seconds) it took to complete the column and the number of problems you solved incorrectly.

Discussion questions:
Which number could you multiply by the fastest?
With which number did you make the fewest mistakes?
Explain what this activity had to do with the metric system.

Friday, July 23, 2010

CD: Here Comes Science

Here Comes Science

I think I'm in love with Here Comes Science, by They Might be Giants.  Catchy tunes with good science - perfect for the classroom. The whole CD is great, but my favorite tracks are:

* The Bloodmobile
*What is a Shooting sStar
*Speed and Velocity (if I ever make my way back to a science classroom, I will play this song every day during our study of motion)

Thank you Jim, Heather and cousins for letting us borrow your disc - we now have to go purchase our own because I must have a copy!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Convection: Spirals over a Lightbulb

For this demonstration, you'll need a functioning lamp, shade optional.
You'll also need to cut a spiral out of construction paper and add a string so you can hold on to it.

FYI: This spiral was WAY too long (or my arm is way too short....) - I cut about half of it (the spiral, not my arm) off. 

First, hold the spiral above the lightbulb with the lightbulb off. The spiral will pretty much just hang there (it might spin around at first, if your string was twisted, but once it's settled, it should stay put).

Then turn on the lightbulb and hold the spiral above it again.  This time, the spiral will spin, and continue to spin. (I realize the picture below is useless, as you can't see it move, but it is, I promise). 

The lightbulb is heating the air above it (a by-product of converting electrical energy to light energy).  The warm air rises and cooler air sinks - a convection currect.  This moving air spins the spiral 'round and 'round.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Animals: Insect Pre-test

So very simple, but effective. Gives you an idea of what your students already know.

Ask your students to “Draw an insect”.

That’s it!

Did they get 6 legs? 3 body parts? Antennae? Wings?

Try it again after your study of insects. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Half-Life: The Penny Model

If you're introducing your students to the concept of half-life, things are probably seem a bit fuzzy for them.  Let them get some hands-on experience and see if things don't come a bit easier.

A quick review for anyone who may not have done this in awhile...
...half-life is the amount of time needed for half of the atoms in a sampleof a radioactive isotope (one form of an element) to deacy, or reach a stable state.  Some isotopes have half-lives that are a matter of seconds - they decay and become stable rapidly.  Other isotopes have half-lives that are thousands of years. 

Now, on with the show!

Start with 100 pennies.  Put them all in a cup, place your hand on the top and shake.  Dump the pennies out onto the table.  Remove all of the pennies with heads up (or tails, it doesn't matter, just pick one and stick with it).  Count and record the remaining pennies.  You have just completed one half-life.  Repeat until you are down to one or no pennies. 

Have students graph their data.  It's always good to practice graphing, and it helps some students visualize what's happening (and the graph for half-life will always take the same shape - the numbers and units on the axes may change, but the shape of the curve is always the same).

Now you can pose some questions to your students....
If someone walked by and saw that you had 7 pennies remaining, could they determine how many half-lives (shakes) you had completed?  How? 

And then take it into the real-world application of carbon dating....
Imagine that while digging in your yard, you uncover what appears to be a very old bone.  Through the help of a scientist at the lab, you're able to learn that the bone contains 12 pug (picomicrograms) of carbon-14 and that it contained 100 pug of carbon-14 when it was buried.  Carbon-14 has a half-life of 5730 years.  How old is the bone. 

I did come across one criticism of this activity online, and I thought it was worth mentioning.  This person suggested that you needed to replace the "decayed" pennies with something else, because they decay, they don't disappear.  I thought it was a valid point, and in thinking about it was a little surprised that I've never seen that mentioned as a part of the activity. 

TRANSPARENT COUNTERS 250-PKI'm thinking the small counting chips that you might have for games of bingo would be great - a similar size but definitely different from pennies would work great.  Kernals of popcorn would also be an inexpensive item to use.  Let me know if you think of something else. 

If your students have been super good (or it's immediately following Halloween and you have a plethora of left-over candy), you could also complete this activity using M&Ms or Skittles. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Word Chain

Have students create a word chain for any topic they are studying. A word chain is simply a list of words related to the topic, but each word must begin with the last letter of the previous word.

An example for minerals:
Quartz – Zinc – Corundum – Malachite –

See who can make the longest chain in your class!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Science Classroom: Lab Strikes

Looking for a way to 'inspire' your students to clean up after themselves, during lab time and otherwise?

Try using lab strikes.

Each of your classes is a team, competing against each of the other classes that comes in your room. 

At the end of each class period, you walk around the room and take note of anything that's out of place: a piece of lab equipment not put away, a marker left on the table, a scrap of paper on the floor, etc.

Each one of those offenses is marked down as one strike.  I keep a big poster of lab strikes hanging in the front of the room so everyone can see them.  The poster is laminated, so I can mark on it, and then erase them and use the same poster over again. 

At the end of the designated time (I use the end of the marking period, but you can shorten that if necessary), the class with the fewest lab strikes wins. 

In order to keep the students focused and wanting to win, you want to make sure the prize is something valued by your students.  It could be a homework pass.  My students were particularly fond of homemade brownies.  You have to be the judge of your students' desires and what you're willing to do. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Action/Reaction: Car on Marbles

Here's a little activity/demonstration that shows that when a car drives, it pushes on the ground and the ground pushes on it. 

Place a handful of marbles on a cookie sheet. 

Place a piece of cardboard (box board or corrugated, either works) on top of the marbles.

Then you need self-propelled toy car or truck.  Wind up the vehicle and hold the wheels (so it doesn't go yet).  Place the car on the cardboard and let go.

The car will move forward and the cardboard will move backward. 

The ground (cardboard) pushes on the car, and pushes it forward.  The car pushes on the ground (cardboard), and pushes it backward. 

In the real world, we aren't able to see the car pushing on the ground, because the ground is part of the Earth and is SO much more massive than the car that it doesn't move. 

This activity is good for demonstrating the usually invisible forces at work when a vehicle moves.  You could use it as a demonstration or as one station in a series of 3rd law activities.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Genetics: Penny Flip

Use this activity to make the Punnett Square percentages come to life.

For this example, I'm using two heterozygous parents: Rr x Rr. 

Each student/pair of students will need two pennies - one for each parent. 

Use a small piece of masking tape to write the genotype on the pennies - one letter of the genotype goes on each side of the penny.

Then start flipping your pennies and tallying the results.  One student could flip both pennies, or if working in pairs, have each student flip one. 

They should be able to get a lot of flips in very quickly and amass a good set of data.  It's amazing how close they'll come to the 25% - 50% - 25% results.  It's even more striking when you combine the whole class data. 
I actually did it and that's how it worked out - I didn't make up the data! 

For students who are still struggling, have them use the pennies to do other crosses:
RR x rr
rr x rr
and so on

I find that this activity helps students begin to understand what offspring are possible from given parents.  It also helps drive home the point that each parent contributes one gene to the offspring.

You could just have them use heads and tails, but marking the genotypes makes it much clearer (especially for struggling students, for whom this activity is the most beneficial).

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tracking Hurricanes

Have your students track hurricanes in the same manner the pros do. 

Then head to the Unisys Weather: Hurricane Data site.  Click on a year and then scroll down the page to find tracking data for each individual storm.  The data can be copied and pasted into a Word document, or printed from the site. 

Assign each student a different storm to track.  Plot each storm, using different colors to represent the category at that location. 

Here's an example of what the data looks like (the formatting is a little better on the site).

Date: 07-12 SEP 2009

 Hurricane-3 FRED

1 12.50 -24.50 09/07/21Z 30 1005 TROPICAL DEPRESSION
2 11.80 -26.30 09/08/03Z 35 1004 TROPICAL STORM
3 11.80 -27.30 09/08/09Z 45 1000 TROPICAL STORM
4 11.90 -28.60 09/08/15Z 55 994 TROPICAL STORM
5 12.10 -29.80 09/08/21Z 60 990 TROPICAL STORM
6 12.60 -30.60 09/09/03Z 65 987 HURRICANE-1
7 13.20 -31.70 09/09/09Z 90 970 HURRICANE-2
8 13.90 -32.40 09/09/15Z 105 958 HURRICANE-3
9 14.80 -33.30 09/09/21Z 100 960 HURRICANE-3
10 15.30 -33.70 09/10/03Z 90 965 HURRICANE-2
11 15.90 -34.60 09/10/09Z 90 970 HURRICANE-2
12 16.80 -35.10 09/10/15Z 85 974 HURRICANE-2
13 17.30 -35.10 09/10/21Z 80 975 HURRICANE-1
14 17.40 -35.10 09/11/03Z 75 980 HURRICANE-1
15 17.70 -35.10 09/11/09Z 75 980 HURRICANE-1
16 18.00 -35.00 09/11/15Z 70 983 HURRICANE-1
17 18.10 -34.60 09/11/21Z 60 987 TROPICAL STORM
18 18.00 -33.60 09/12/03Z 50 998 TROPICAL STORM
19 17.80 -33.60 09/12/09Z 40 1002 TROPICAL STORM
20 17.50 -33.70 09/12/15Z 35 1002 TROPICAL STORM
21 17.70 -33.70 09/12/21Z 30 1005 TROPICAL DEPRESSION

And the plot would resemble this:

Monday, July 12, 2010

Air Pressure: Candle in a Jar

Use a chunk of clay to hold a candle in the bottom of a glass jar (or other container, as seen above).

Pour about an inch or 2 of water into the jar.

Light the candle and place another glass jar (smaller than the first, so it fits inside) upside down over the candle.

What happens:
The fire is extinguished and the water rises.

The candle burns up the oxygen. Once the oxygen molecules have been consumed, the remaining air takes up less space, so the air outside of the jar pushes the water up.

Some tips:
1 - Make sure you don't set the inverted jar down on the bottom of the larger jar, hold it off the bottom - it will create a seal and the water won't rise!

2 - Colored water may make it easier to see the water level rise - as you can see above, regular, colorless water is difficult to see (it was in person too, not just in the picture).

Friday, July 9, 2010

Favorite Website: The Science House

The Science House is a program by NC State University, to help K-12 teachers with hands-on math and science learning. 

You could spend a lot of time exploring the whole site (and I recommend that you do), but I'll point you in the direction of a few of my favorites...

I'd head to the investigate page first, as it'll take you to lists of inquiry activities you can do with your students. 

I've spent the most time in the Countertop Chemistry section, in fact, that's how I first came across The Science House.  I have found this Commercial Equivalent of Chemicals to be handy. 

Spend some time exploring and see what you can bring to your classroom!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Chemical Changes: Pennies, Salt & Vinegar

Dissolve some salt in a small amount of vinegar.

Hold one penny half way in the solution.  When you pull it out, you'll see this...
The part that was submerged in the solution is shiny copper.  The portion that remained out of the solution remains dull with copper oxide tarnish (dark brown and/or green).

Now put 20 pennies in the solution and let them sit for about 5 minutes.

Remove the pennies and...
Rinse 10 of the pennies off and let them dry.
Just let the other 10 pennies dry.

Rinsed pennies are on the left.

Now wait an hour or so....

(Rinsed pennies are now on top)

So, What Happened?
The vinegar/salt solution removed the copper oxide from the pennies, leaving a clean copper surface on each penny.

Over time, all of the pennies will become tarnished with copper oxide once again, as the copper reacts with oxygen in the air.

The vinegar/salt solution that remains on the pennies that were not rinsed speeds up the oxidation process, so in an hour you're left with pennies that look like this:

Presented at the 2003 New Jersey Science Convention.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cell Building Blocks: Testing Food for Fat

Gather a variety of food items (fruits, veggies, crackers, chips, cheese, bread, lunchmeat, condiments, etc.).

Spread open a brown paper bag on your work surface. Rub a small amount of each food item on the bag and label the spot with the type of food. After you have completed all of the food items, look for transparent spots – this is evidence of fat. Beware of spots that are just wet – they will dry out, transparent spots due to fat will not. You may want to rub a small amount of oil (a known fat) onto brown paper bag as a source for comparison.

Have students record data and look for patterns in the items that contain fat and those that don’t (think plants vs. animals).

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Natural Resources: The Geologists' Dilemma

You'll need four different types of driend beans for this activity.  I used:
 - black beans for coal (not pictured abbove)
 - kidney beans for oil
 - navy beans/black eyed peas for natural gas
 - lentils/peas for nuclear energy

You'll need about 100 pieces of coal, 74 units of oil, 20 units of natural gas and 6 units of nuclear energy.

Hide the beans throughout the classroom.  I tell students they won't need to open drawers or doors to find the beans, but they may have to look behind objects that are sitting out. 

Divide your class into four teams of geologists - each team will search for their own type of energy.

After showing the students what each type of energy looks like, send them into the field for one minute to find their respective energy. 

After the minute is over, have them come together as a team and count the energy they collected and record the data on the board. 

Then send them out for a second round of searching.  Count and record.  Then have a third round.  Count and record. 

Then discuss...
...which energy was easier to collect?  Why?
...which energy was difficult to collect?  Why?
...what can you deduce about the cost of each form of energy?
...what parallels can you draw between this activity and the harvesting of natural resources in real life? 

This activity came from the Women in Mining website, however it appears that it is no longer featured on their list of activities.  But, while searching for non-existent link, I came across this activity, of the same name.  If you're not afraid of a little mess in your classroom, I think this would be fantastic to try.  I love the solar energy analogy - there's an abundant amount of it, but it's tricky (and rather expensive) to harvest.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Measurement: Cubic Cm to mL

I don't remember how it came up, but one year I was talking with my students about cubic centimeters and how one cubic centimeter is the same as one milliliter.  It's not a concept my students use a lot, but a good one for them to start grasping.  Here's an activity to help them understand: 

Have students determine the volume of a centimeter cube* by measuring its length, width, and height and multiplying.  If done accurately, each of the dimensions should measure 1 cm, which gives a volume of 1 cm3.

Then have them determine the volume by water displacement.  If done accurately, it should have a volume of 1 mL.

There you have it - the same object has a volume of 1 cm3 and 1 mL - they are equivalent units.

*Ask the math and elementary teachers you know - they may have some centimeter cubes you can borrow (or even have) - you only need a few. 

You can then take it a step further... break out some other small blocks (this is a little hard... they have to be small enough to fit in a graduated cylinder).  Have students measure those in cm to determine volume.  Then have them determine volume by water displacement.