Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Acid Rain and Baby Birds

Vinegar is a weak acid.  It's much stronger than acid rain, but it can be used to show the effects of acid rain over time.

One effect acid rain has is on baby birds.

Soak an egg in vinegar during the course of the school day, or overnight.

You will find that the shell dissolves in the vinegar.

While acid rain is not strong enough nor does it act over a long enough time to completely destroy the shell, it does weaken it.  This allows pollutants to potentially enter the egg, as well as reducing the baby bird's protection.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Measurement: Volume Practice

Do your students need some practice measuring volume?  Here are some simple ideas to get them up and actively measuring and calculating.

Idea 1:

Raid your children's block shelf.  All different shapes of solids with a length, width, and height that can be measured.  If you don't have children with blocks, see if you can borrow some or check yard sales or thrift stores.  Your blocks don't have to come from one set - variety is good!

Label each block with a letter (use masking tape if you don't want to mark on the block itself).  Calculate the volume of each and create a key.

Idea 2:

Collect empty boxes of a variety of shapes and sizes.  Label each box with a letter.  Calculate the volume of each and create a key.

Idea 3:

Raid your recycling and gather a variety of bottles and jars.  Have your students find the volume of water each jar holds.  (Remove the labels for the jars and bottles, or at least remove the portion that states the volume, if applicable.  Don't worry, stubborn labels will come off with enough student use). 

Again, label each jar with a letter.  Determine the volume of each and create a key.

Save your blocks, boxes and jars and next year you'll be ready to go, with the key and everything.  Just pull it out and have your students get to work!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Book: Science Verse

Science Verse (Golden Duck Awards. Picture Book (Awards))

Science Verse  is a fantastic book from Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith (who also did Math Curse). 

It begins....
On Wednesday in science class, Mr. Newton says, "You know, if you listen closely enough, you can hear the poetry of science in everything."  I listen closely.  On Thursday, I start hearing the poetry.  In fact, I start hearing everything as a science poem.  Mr. Newton has zapped me with a curse of SCIENCE VERSE.

And then come the poems.  Wonderful! 

All of the poems are originial, but many are based on famous works, such as Casey at the Bat, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening, Paul Revere's Ride, and so on.  Others are based on well-known childhood rhymes: I'm a Little Teapot, Jack Be Nimble, etc. 

Lane's illustrations are as entertaining as the poems.  They're so much fun to look at.  

The book comes with a CD of Jon and Lane reading the poems.  It's equally fantastic, and helps you pick up the rhythm of the poems - there were a few verses whose "tune" I didn't pick up on until hearing it read aloud.  The end of the CD also includes some additional poems that didn't make the "cut" - a little added fun!

Consider adding this book to your classroom or home library.  You'll want to share individual poems with your students and also leave the book out for students to explore on their own.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Convection: Shavings in Boiling Water

Fill a larger beaker with water.  Empty your pencil sharpener into the water.  Give it a stir to mix in the pencil shavings (some of them will still float - that's okay).

Place the beaker on a hot plate and turn it on.  The beaker needs to remain on the heat source throughout the entire demonstration.

As the water gets hot, the pencil shavings will make the normally invisible convection currents visible.

The water at the bottom of the beaker is heated.  It then moves to the top of the beaker and the cold water sinks to the bottom of the beaker.  This water is then heated and moves to the top and cooler water sinks to the bottom.  This continues on and on, first heating all of the water, and then maintaining a consistent temperature.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Insect Haiku

Wild About Books
If you aren't familiar with Wild About Books, you should be - it's a fun read and a favorite in our house.  But, beyond that, you can incorporate it into your study of insects.

After the animals have learned to love to read books, they begin to write their own.  And, the insects begin writing haikus (and the scorpion gives each a stinging review).  Four of these haikus are included in the story.  Share them with your students and then have them try writing their own haiku that includes some facts they've learned about insects. 

Maybe they could even write their finished poem on a piece of paper cut into the shape of their chosen insect for a cute display.  

In case you've forgotten, a haiku has three non-rhyming lines.  The first contains 5 syllables, the second 7 syllables, and the third 5 syllables.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Moon vs. Earth: Volume Comparison

Here's a hands-on way for your students to learn about the size difference between the Earth and moon.

Each group of students (2-4 works well for this) will need three cans of play-doh (full-size cans).  They can be the same color or different, it doesn't matter, but play-doh from the different cans will get mixed together.

The group begins by dividing the play-doh into 51 lumps/balls; that's 17 from each can.  These do not need to be exactly the same size, and they do not need to be rolled into perfect balls.  You will have some students who want to be very exact about it and it will frustrate them a bit (myself included); try to keep them moving so this doesn't become an all day activity.

After each group has their 51 lumps of play-doh, they will need to decide how to lump them back together so that they have two balls - one representing the Earth and the other the moon.

For example, they could smush 20 lumps together to make the moon and the other 31 together to make the Earth.  Or 11 lumps to make the moon and 40 to make the Earth.

They need to work as a group to come up with some sort of consensus about how to divide their lumps.  Once a consensus has been reached (some discussion will probably need to take place), they can go ahead and smush the play-doh together to create the Earth and moon.

Upon completion of this, time should be taken to go around the room and have each group share their Earth and moon and the number of lumps of play-doh found in each.

Then it's time for the big reveal... Using this model, the moon should be made of 1 lump of play-doh and the Earth made of 50 lumps of play-doh.  The moon is approximately 1/50 of the Earth's volume.

If you wish to continue... the distance between the Earth and the moon is approximately 30 times the Earth's diameter.  So, measure you Earth lump, multiply the number by 30 and move the moon that far away from the Earth.  

Now, if you start thinking about how small the Earth is in comparison to the Sun, you get a feel for how tiny our moon is within the solar system.... but that's a discussion for another day...

Presented by Dr. Christine Anne Royce (Shippensburg University) at the 2007 New Jersey Science Convention.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Measurement: Metric Estimation Game

You could play this game for a whole class period, but it’s also a great time filler – you can play a round or two in the minute while you’re waiting for the bell to ring after finishing the day’s lesson.

Depending upon what you’re currently studying and/or how advanced your students are, you can have them estimate length, mass, and/or volume.

Pick an object at random and have students its length, mass, or volume. Students write down their estimation on a scrap piece of paper (you can collect these if you’d like, but I usually don’t, we just compete for bragging rights). You then determine the actual length/mass/volume.

The more you play, the better your students will get at estimating measurements.

If your students need more of a challenge, you could change up the units you want them to answer in… height of the table in mm, for example.

You can find a similar game here. She uses it as a team event – sounds like fun!

Friday, August 20, 2010

How I Organize....

Or maybe it should be "How I Attempt to Organize".  I don't know if anyone is interested, but I thought I'd share what works for me. 

Every teacher organizes their papers in a different way: some use file folders, some keep their files on the computer and access them from there when needed, some don't keep papers and try to recreate the wheel every year...

I use binders.  Every unit has a binder (some of them have more than one).  The papers I use for that unit are hole punched and go into that binder.  It includes: worksheets and labs, overhead transparencies, the notes I present to students, and even some new activities that I want to try in the future. 

The colors of the binders themselves are meaningless - I use whatever is available when I need to start a new binder.  But, the labels on the binders are color-coded: red for 6th grade earth science, green for 7th grade life science, and blue for 8th grade physical science.  This also matches the colors of the covers of the textbooks I was using, and I tried to keep this color system going when possible - it made sense to me. 

I keep the papers roughly in the order in which I use them.  In the back, I have a section of new activities - things I've come across, but haven't worked into my classroom yet. 

When I sit down to plan my next unit, I pull out the appropriate binder and go through it.  I can have my unit roughed out in pretty short order.  I also pull out the pages that need photocopying. 

It works pretty well.  At least until it's time to put the papers back away... I kind of fall apart on that end, but I likely would no matter what system I use.  I usually have a large stack of papers waiting to be filed back into the appropriate spot. 

But, it works for me.  Probably not for everyone.  But, if you're looking to revamp your own system, it's an idea to consider.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Chromatography: The Basics

Did you know the black ink is usually made of a mixture of several different colored inks?  You can use a process called chromatography to separate the mixture. 

Here's the basics...
Cut a piece of filter paper (or a piece of coffee filter, or a piece of paper towel) about an inch wide.

Place a dot of ink about an inch from the bottom.

Place a small amount of water (less than an inch) in a cup.  Place the filter paper into the water, so that the paper below the dot is the only part in the water.

The water will travel up the filter paper.  As it travels, it will carry some of the ink with it.  The ink that is made of larger molecules will not travel very far.  The smaller molecules will travel farther up the paper, resulting in separation. 

Now, here's how I use it in my classroom...
I usually make a sign with a silly threat on it.  Something along the lines of, "8th graders small funny."  Mature, right?  It's enough to get the students attention and I tell them that we're going to figure out who wrote it.

I then go through a story.  Something like... "Mr. Krup always has a black Sharpie.  And I saw Dr. Smith with a black Crayola marker yesterday.  Etc."  I use names of teachers in the school - people who are my friends and are good sports.

The students each get a piece of the threat that contains some ink, so they can use it for chromatography. 

Then, they take a wider strip of filter paper and make a mark with each of the 'suspect' markers.

Then they complete the same process as above with this paper, placing the end in water and letting the water wick up the paper. 

At the end, you compare the chromatography results of the evidence and your four suspect markers.  One of the four markers will match the evidence and you'll have your culprit.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Starches in Plants

We previously tested a variety of food products for starch and hopefully you reached the conclusion that starch is found in food that is derived from plants.

Unfortunately, it can be hard to test for starch in a lot of plants because of their natural pigments.

Here’s one technique:

Soak a piece of spinach in rubbing alcohol overnight.  You can speed up this process by heating the rubbing alcohol.  Just be careful - alcohol is flammable. 

Pat dry. (Don’t rinse it).

Test with a drop of iodine. Remember black indicates the presence of starch.

Presented at the 2003 New Jersey Science Convention.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Phases of the Moon: Oreo Cookies

Use Oreo cookies (Double Stuff work best for this exercise)  to model the phases of the moon. 

Split the cookies open and scrape off the appropriate amount of cream filling, so you're left with the desired "picture" of the moon.

You could use a whole bunch of these and create the whole cycle.  Use some frosting to "glue" the cookies to a plate in the appropriate order.

Or, you could use it as a quick, fun assessment - give each student one cookie and have them pick one of the moon phases out of a hat.  They then need to use the cookie to illustrate the phase they selected.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Air Pressure and Bernoulli: Cardboard Tubes

Place two cardboard tubes (make sure they're nice and round) on a table, an inch or two apart from each other.

Use a straw to blow through the gap between the tubes.

The tubes roll together! You pushed the air molecules from the middle out of the way, allowing the air on the other side of the tubes to push them toward the middle.

Friday, August 13, 2010

TOPS Learning Systems

TOPS Scale the Universe #44 - Activity Sheet Series
TOPS learning systems has a series of 48 workbooks for all variety of math and science topics.  Their premise is to have kids doing hands-on science and math activities using simple materials. 

I have a copy* of Scale the Universe (#44) and I really enjoy all of the printable, ready-to-use pages.  I can attest to the use of very simple, common materials.  There's some fun stuff in there. 

Even if you're not interested in purchasing the books, I would recommend checking out the website.  There is a free sample lab available for each of the book titles - that's 48 FREE LABS!  Look through the available labs and see if there's anything there you might use in your classroom!

*I was given my copy free, while attending a workshop. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Chemistry: What’s a Molecule?

Hold up a piece of paper.

Rip it. Is it still paper?

Rip it. Is it still paper?

Repeat, over and over.

Is there any time it won’t still be paper? Just before that point, you’ve reached a molecule.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Body Systems: Digestive System: Model Peristalsis

A 3rd grader's esophagus is about the size of a straw. 

Crumple up a small piece of paper and place it in one end of the straw (a clear straw is best for this).

Model peristalsis by squeezing the straw to push the paper all the way down the straw.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mining: Cupcake Core Samples

Following one of the mining activities, begin a discussion about of the cost of mining… it’s too expensive to just dig a hole in the ground in hopes of finding gold… how could a mine operator determine what’s in there before going through the expense of digging…

Prep Work:
Prepare cupcakes – one for each student. You’ll want to get the foil cupcake “papers” – you don’t want the students to see through the paper.

Begin with a white cake mix. Mix the batter according to the directions. Before placing the batter into cupcake papers, divide the batter into several different bowls. Color the batter in each bowl a different color. Make the cupcakes by placing spoonfuls of at least 2 colors of batter into the cupcake paper. After baking, frost the cupcakes.

Layers of clay
Apple Corer
Straws, cut in half
Plastic knives

Brainstorm ideas for finding out what’s under the earth’s surface without digging.

Demonstrate core sampling with layers of clay and the apple corer.

Each student will get a cupcake and a straw to do some core sampling.

Students use the straws to “drill” in three spots across the middle of the cupcake (the holes need to be made in a line across the cupcake, not a triangle). After the sample’s been drilled, gently blow the sample out of the straw.

Students draw their observations of each sample. (By the way, I've never had the core samples fall apart as badly as they did this time - the cupcakes didn't sit for as long as they usually do and I think that made the difference).

After taking and recording three samples, students make a hypothesis about what the cross-section of the cupcake looks like.

Students use a plastic knife to cut through the cupcake (through the 3 holes) to view the cross-section.

Students draw their observations before eating the evidence.


Compare evidence with hypothesis.
Thoughts on the lab.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Measurement Homework

This could be completed in the classroom or as a homework assignment.

Find an object in or around your house that is approximately each of the following measurements long. After measuring the object, write the name of the object next to the measurement it’s closest to in length and record the exact measurement of the object (remember to measure to the tenths place!).

Target Measurement Object Actual Measurement
1 cm
2 cm
3 cm

You could also have students guess which measurement their object will be closest to before measuring.

If you have students who might not have a centimeter ruler at home (or at least claim that they don’t), you can print off paper rulers here.

Check their accuracy after photocopying, just to make sure. Mine have worked out well in the past.

Friday, August 6, 2010

How Does That Work: Frustration Bottles

There are so many things you can talk about with this demonstration: solubility, density, immiscibility, etc.  It also makes a good How Does That Work demonstration. 

In short:
You have three bottles, each made of two layers, but in one bottle the layers are reversed.  The bottles are filled with water (on the bottom) and baby oil (on the top).  In two of the bottles, the water is colored with water soluble food dye (which will color water but not oil).  In the third bottle, the oil is colored with liquid candle dye (which will color oil, but not water).

In long:
You'll need:
3 (500mL) water bottles
750 mL baby oil
750 mL water
food coloring

Fill 2 of the bottles with 250 mL of water.  Fill the remaining bottle with 250 mL of baby oil.

Use the candle dye to color the baby oil (do this before coloring the water - the water and food coloring are much more forgiving and easier to dispose of should you need to start over).

Use the food coloring to color the water, attempting to match the oil color as best you can.  Keep track of what you used and repeat with the second water bottle.

Into the bottle with the oil, add 250 mL of water.

Into the two bottles with water, add 250 mL of baby oil to each.  Cap.  (You may wish to run some glue along the cap so they are more resistant to being opened).

Leave the bottles on your front table/desk and let the students explore.  They'll try to turn the "wrong" one upside down.  They may try to shake them and then watch them separate.

Should lead to some good discussions!

You can keep these forever - put them in a safe spot until you need them the next time!

How Does That Work is a series of products and demonstrations that you can present to your students and challenge them to explain the science of how they work. Make sure you decide ahead of time what you'll accept as a valid explanation - can it be printed straight off the internet, written in the student's own words, or does the student need to be able to explain it to you conversationally? What will a valid explanation earn the student - a prize, extra credit, a feeling of goodness?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Rate of Solution: Sugar Cubes

I did this with 4th grade students who were learning about solutions. It's simple, but they have a good time and learn a little something in the process!

For each pair of students, you'll need:
-4 Sugar Cubes

For the whole class:
-Hot Water
-Room Temperature Water
-A means of crushing sugar cubes

Provide each pair of students with a cup (clear is better - it's hard to see a white sugar cube in a white cup) of room temperature water.

Have them drop a whole sugar cube into the water and time how long it takes for the cube to dissolve (no stirring).

This is their baseline measurement. They'll now test several variables, one at a time.

With a fresh cup of room temperature water, drop in a whole sugar cube and time how long it takes for it to dissolve when you STIR it.

With another fresh cup of room temperature water, drop in a CRUSHED sugar cube and time how long it takes to dissolve (no stirring).

Get a cup of HOT WATER, drop in a whole sugar cube and time how long it takes to dissolve (no stirring).

There are several ways to conclude this experiment. Try one or more...
1 - Have students create bar graphs of the data:
-Room Temperature water vs. hot water
-Stirring vs. not
-Crushed cube vs. whole cube

2 - After students have analyzed their data, have them race to see who can dissolve their sugar cube the fastest. They've got three choices to make: hot or room temperature water, will they stir or not, and will they use a crushed cube or a whole cube.

3 - Along the same lines as #2, have a contest where students try to prevent a sugar cube from dissolving for as long as possible.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Microscopes: Index Card Slides

Early in your study of microscopes, before students start preparing their own slides, have them create index card slides - it's easy, and they work under a microscope.

Cut an index card in half, length-wise.

Punch a hole in the center of the card.

Place a piece of tape over the hole. 

Use the sticky part of the tape to pick up something (dust, fabric fuzz, pepper, etc.).

Place a second piece of tape over the hole, on the other side of the card, enclosing the captured material.

Label the slide.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Minerals: Introductory Activities

It worked out, one year, that I had to be away from school on the first day of my mineral unit.  I wanted to get started on minerals, and not fill the day with unrelated fluff, so I came up with these activities, which were simple for a sub to implement, but still related to the topic at hand.

Know/Want to Know
This is a pretty classic activity, in which students record the things they already know about the topic and they things they'd like to learn during the course of the unit.  This can be used for any topic, science or non-science.  Maybe not the most exciting, but a good starting point. 

Mineral/Rock ABCs
I challenged my students to find a mineral or rock that starts with each letter of the alphabet.  I left a bunch of books around that they could use.  It got them looking at pictures of minerals and at least a little familiar with the names of some of them.

Mineral/Rock Scavenger Hunt
I challenged the students to spend some time looking around the classroom and to list as many things as they could find that were made of/from rocks and minerals.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Air Pressure: Balloon in a Flask

Put a small amount of water in the bottom of a flask.

Place the flask over a burner or on a hot plate until the water begins to boil.

Turn off the heat and stretch a balloon over the flask opening.

Allow the flask to cool.  You can speed this up by placing the whole flask in ice water. 

The balloon is pushed into the flask.

When the water is heated, the molecules speed up and many of the escape the flask.  The balloon, placed over the opening, prevents the air molecules from re-entering the flask as it cools.  In addition, there are lots of air molecules on the outside of the flask and balloon, and they no longer meet much resistance, so they push the balloon into the flask.

If you're at home, and don't have a flask or a burner, try this:
Use your tea kettle (or other pan) to heat some water until it begins to boil.  Quickly pour the water into a bottle (you could use plastic since you're nto heating the bottle) - use a funnel - and cap the bottle with a balloon.  Then, proceed as above, cooling the bottle.