Friday, October 29, 2010

Boat Races

Cut out a boat shape from an index card or piece of thin cardboard.

Cut a small notch out of the back of the boat.

Float the boat in a tub of water.  What happens?  Not much!

Now, place a small sliver of soap in the notch and watch.  What happens?  The boat moves across the tub!

Without soap, the water pulls on the boat from all directions, resulting in little to no movement.  When the soap is added, it reduces the pull of the water at the back of the boat.  The pull at the front of the boat remains  strong and you see movement. 

Students can experiment with boat shape to find the fastest (and straightest) racer!

Because the soap reduces the water's surface tension, the water in the tub will need to be dumped out and replaced often.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Solubility Fireworks

Fill a tall bottle most of the way with water.

Place about a tablespoon of cooking oil in a cup.  Add a few drops of different colors of food coloring and stir them into the oil as best you can. (Limit yourself to one or two colors of food coloring - I used a bunch and it just ended up looking black - not what I was going for!)

Pour the oil onto the water in the bottle and observe.

There are a few lessons to be gleaned from this fun demonstration:
--Oil is less dense than water (i.e. it floats on the water)
--Food coloring is a polar substance, oil is non-polar (food coloring doesn't dissolve in the oil)
--Food coloring and water are both polar substances (food coloring dissolves in the water)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Organism Organization

Cells make tissues.
Tissues make organs.
Organs make organ systems.
Organ systems make organisms.

Get your students up and moving, while helping them understand the organization of organisms. 

Prepare the following 2 of each of the following signs (Notice I didn't do much to prepare these - printed them out and stapled them to a piece of construction paper, just for a little added weight - this was a last-minute idea that was quickly assembled after lunch one day).

Blood Cell  I
Blood Cell II
Heart Cell I
Heart Cell II
Brain Cell I
Brain Cell II
Nerve Cell I
Nerve Cell II
Stomach Cell I
Stomach Cell II
Intestine Cell I
Intestine Cell II

Hand each student a sign.  They are each a cell, wandering around the classroom on their own. 

Cells make tissues, so have them find their matching cell, in order to make a tissue.  You now have pairs of students walking around together.

Tissues make organs.  Have all the heart tissues combine, all the stomach tissues combine etc.  You now have organs, a.k.a. groups of four students.

Organs combine to make organ systems.  The heart and blood make the circulatory system.  The brain and nerves make the nervous system.  The stomach and intestine make the digestive system. 

And finally, organ systems combine to make an organism.  At this point all the students (cells) come to gether to create one organism. 

If you wanted to have a little more fun, you could turn it into a game of Simon Says and call out the different levels of organization (i.e. cell, tissue, organ, organ system, organism) and students would have to quickly assemble into the appropriate grouping. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sun Says...

This is a great activity to do out on the ball field, if you have the opportunity.  If not, it works perfectly well in the classroom, though you may have to move a few desks around.

The students form a large circle - they are the planets.
You stand in the middle of the circle of the students - you are the sun.

You, as the sun, call out directions to the planets, your students.  There are three different directions, you can all them out in any order you please, as many times as you please.

The directions are:
--"Rotate" - the students spin around in one place
--"Revolve" - the students walk around the sun in their large circle
--"Rotate and Revolve" - the students do both of the above tasks at the same time.

It's a great way to help students learn and understand the difference between rotating and revolving.  It's simple enough for 3rd grade students and fun enough for middle school students (who always love a reason to be out of their seats). 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Yay and Yuck Poster

This is a way to introduce your students to a new chapter/unit, or the whole textbook/curriculum at the beginning of the year.

Provide students with a sheet of paper, which they will divide into two columns - one is the Yay column and the other is the Yuck column.

The students then look through the chapter/unit/book.  They will sketch pictures of things they're excited about (Yay) and things they're dreading (Yuck) on their paper. 

It's a nice way to give the students an overview of the upcoming material as well as get some insight as to how they feel about what's coming.

Idea from the 2007 Maitland Simmons Life Science Institute.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Book: Spectacular Science

Spectacular Science: A Book of Poems

Spectacular Science: A Book of Poemsis another great collection of poems for the science classroom.  This is a collection of poems by a variety of poets, the most well-known (to me) being Carl Sandburg.

They aren't quite as whimsical or humorous as those found in Science Verse, but still enjoyable.  And a good way to introduce a topic of study.  They also might help you reach a student more interested in literature than science.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Static Electricity: Bending Water

This is one of the coolest demonstrations I've seen in a while... 

Rub a balloon along your hair about a dozen times. (You'll know it's enough if the hair on your arm stands up when you bring the balloon near it).

Turn on the faucet so you have a very small stream of water.

Hold the balloon near the water (but don't touch the water with the balloon).

Your hair charged the balloon with negative charges.  These attracted the positive charges in the water, causing the water to move.

The picture doesn't do it justice - you really need to try this one yourself!

You could also use a rubber comb instead of a balloon.  But, I found that the balloon worked even in really humid weather, and the comb didn't.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mutation Game

Place a plate of candy or beads in the center of the room.

Each team of students has a nest (a paper cup or plate).  Each team also has a means of picking up their food - forks or spoons.  But, each team also has a mutation - missing fork tongs, bent handles, extra large or small size, etc.  You may wish to leave one team un-mutated, for the sake of comparison.

During the course of the game, students on each team take turns making trips to the food supply to bring food back to the nest.  The goal is to get as much food back to the nest as possible before time runs out.  Any food that falls to the ground is out and can no longer be used.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Journey on the Rock Cycle

If you've checked out the Science Spot (and once again, let me stress that if you haven't, you really should), you may have come across an activity called Riding the Rock Cycle. 

It's pretty self-explanatory...
Using the provided sheets, you make the dice for each station.  Students begin at one station, roll the die and follow the directions, which will lead them to another station (or they might have to stay put).  The students use the details of their "trip" to create a comic strip

But, here's a brilliant idea my mom thought of....
Made in USA Lowercase Alphabet BlocksWhen she made the dice, instead of just having hollow, paper cubes, which are easily crushed and require care to store, she used wooden blocks for the center.   

It takes a little work to figure out the right size to make your copies of the dice.  But, once you have it figured out and make the dice by wrapping the paper around the blocks, they'll last a lot longer and you won't have to make new ones every couple of years.  

Monday, October 18, 2010

Safety: Contact Lenses

As you've read through various lists of safety rules, you've no doubt encountered rules about wearing contacts in the laboratory, perhaps that rule is even on the safety contract you provide to your students.  Do they know why it's there?  Do you know why it's there?

Here's a simple demonstration to show your students.  It's very similar to the Capillary Action in Action demonstration used when studying water and adhesion.

On an overhead transparency, draw a picture of an eye (draw it big, so it takes up the whole sheet).  Then out of a second transparency, cut out a circle that's about the same size as the iris - that's your contact lens.

On demonstration day, place your giant eye on the overhead projector.  Then place the contract over the eye.  Place a few drops of colored water (or pure food coloring, though it goes further if you dilute it) at the edge of the contact and watch what happens.

The water is pulled under the transparency, through capillary action and adhesion.

This very same thing happens if a person wearing contacts gets something splashed in their eye - the substance will get "pulled" under the contact, potentially causing greater harm and more pain. 

So remember, wear those goggles!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Book: Super Science Concoctions

Super Science Concoctions: 50 Mysterious Mixtures for Fabulous Fun (Williamson Kids Can! Series)Super Science Concoctions: 50 Mysterious Mixtures For Fabulous Fun (Williamson Kids Can! Series)
Super Science Concoctions: 50 Mysterious Mixtures for Fabulous Fun is a great collection of science activities and demonstrations. 

I picked up this book at the library one day, at random, to see what it had to offer.  I have to admit that I was quite impressed with the collection.  Several activities were familiar to me, but there were a lot of new ones. And I like the way in which the familiar ones were presented. 

If you include all the follow-up activities, there are well more than 50 things to do in this book.  In addition, it's really about more than mixtures (that part of the title had lowered my expectations).  It's largely about liquids, covering topics of solutions, phase changes, chemical changes, density, viscosity, surfact tension, polymers, etc. 

Each activity includes a section, "The Principle of the Thing", which does a really nice job of explaining the science behind the experiment in kid-friendly terms. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Inertia: The Tale of Two Cups

Here's the set-up:
You have two identical-looking cups, each sitting on an identical pieces of paper. 

You apply Newton's first law or motion (an object at rest will stay at rest, an object in motion will stay in motion, unless acted on by an outside force) to remove the pieces of paper, leaving the cups in the same location.

...when you go to do it, one stays nicely in place while the paper is pulled out from under it.  The other cup doesn't cooperate so nicely.  It slides around with the paper.  In fact, it almost seems impossible to remove the paper from under the cup without lifting up the cup.

Why?  What happened to Sir Isaac Newton's law?

Inside one of the cups, you've placed a weight (anything massive will do - marbles, pennies, etc.).  Objects with more mass have more inertia - they're more resistant to changes in motion.  So, the cup with the weight in it has more mass, therefore it has more inertia and is more resistant to moving with the paper (i.e. it has an easier time staying where it is when the paper is removed). 

The styrofoam cup with nothing inside of it has very little mass and therefore very little inertia.  As a result, it is very difficult to remove the paper from underneath the cup. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mitosis Line Up

Find a set of sketches that illustrates mitosis in as much or as little detail as you'd like.

Cut apart the images and glue each one on an index card (I actually used half an index card for each). 

Have students place the cards in order. 

To allow students to self-check, number the back of the cards. 

I really try to focus on the process of mitosis and the order in which things happen.  We talk about the names for each of the phases, but it's most important to me that my students know what needs to happen first, second, etc. 

Students can  have head-to-head races to see who can put their cards in order first. 

Students can also play a game in which they need to be the first one to collect all six cards and put them in the proper order.  Two students will need two sets of cards to play.  Shuffle the two sets together.  The first student draws the top card and places it in front of him.  The second student follows suit.  The first student then draws another card.  He then has to decide whether it goes before or after the first card he drew.  If he draws a card he already has, it goes to the bottom of the stack and it's the second player's turn.  If a player decides that he's placed the cards in the wong order, he can use a turn to move one card (he does not draw a card during that turn). 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Modeling the Water Cycle

You'll find many variations of this activity, some more sophisticated than others, throughout the Internet and in numerous books.  This one is very basic - it's simple to set up and can be effective in helping students visualize the processes occurring throughout the water cycle.

You'll need a glass jar with a metal lid.

Fill the jar with about an inch of hot tap water (the hotter it is, the faster you'll see something happening). 

Flip the lid upside down and set it on top of the jar.

Fill the lid with ice cubes.

Wait, watch and observe.

The hot water will evaporate.  As it rises, it will cool.  The cooled vapor will condense into drops, which will accumulate on the underside of the lid and eventually drop.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sewer Bugs: Observation, Inference and Density

This demonstration is often used to catch students' attention.  You can use it as such, or turn it into an observation activity for your students.

In the classic set-up: 
Before your students arrive, you'll pour some Mountain Dew into a glass (another light colored soda would work as well, but there's just something about that neon yellow color of Mountain Dew... ) and add a handful of raisins.

The raisins should start traveling up and down in the soda.

When the students arrive, you show them your sewer bugs, making up a story about how you acquired them and so on.  At the end of the story, you drink the bugs (remember, you know it's just soda and raisins) - disgusting your students and forever imprinting yourself on their brains!

As a student activity: 
Provide your students with the supplies.  Let them set it up and observe carefully to see if they can determine how the "bugs" are traveling.

The explanation: 
Raisins have lots of nice bumps and creases to which the carbon dioxide bubbles (found in the soda) can adhere.  The carbon dioxide bubbles decrease the density of the raisin, allowing it to rise to the surface.  When the raisin reaches the surface of the soda, the bubbles pop.  The density of the raisin increases and it drops.  Carbon dioxide bubbles once again adhere to the raisin and the cycle continues.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Capillary Action in Action

You'll Need:
Food Coloring
Overhead transparency* (You can use one that's been printed on that you no longer need, as I did)
Small, shallow dish (or a jar lid works)

Cut the transparency in half.  Stack the two pieces on top of each other, roll them into a tube and paperclip at each end.

Place some water in the shallow dish.  Add several drops of food color (don't use yellow for this demonstration, you need something darker to show up).

Stand the tube you made in the dish of liquid and watch what happens.  You may want to roll up a piece of plain white paper and slip it inside your tube to improve visibility.

As you watch, you'll see the colored water creep up the tube.  You're seeing evidence of adhesion - water's desire to stick to things other than itself.  So much so that it overcomes gravity to keep working its way up the tube. 
Didn't photograph real well, but the color did make it all the way up the tube. 

*Does my knowledge and use of transparencies make me old?  I feel like all the new teachers out there are laughing at me and my out-dated ways.  That no one uses an overhead any more, they all project things using their computers and SmartBoards.  Regardless, don't get rid of your overhead projectors, there are cool science demonstrations you can do with an overhead that you can't do with your fancy computers!  :)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Electricity: Light a Lightbulb

Once your students understand the basic idea of a circuit, see if they can get a lightbulb to light.

Each student/pair/group will need a lightbulb (small ones work well), a D battery, and some wires with the ends stripped off (wires will aligator clips on the end work well if you have them).

Unless students have done this before, it will likely take them some time to figure it out. 

The trick is this...
Look closely to the filament in the lightbulb.  One end of it is attached to the bottom of the lightbulb and the other end is attached to the side of the lightbulb. 

So, in order to make a complete circuit, a wire needs to go from the battery to the side.  Then another wire needs to go from the bottom of the lightbulb back to the battery. 

It can be tough to hold everything in place, but once you get everything lined up, it works! 

After students have figured it out, usually through trial and error, I draw a giant lightbulb on the board and illustrate the circuit.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Turn Your Students Into a Protein

This one takes a little prep work the first time 'round.  But after that, you're set forever.  It's a great way to include a little kinesthetic activity into the study of DNA.

First, the prep work: 
On a long strip of paper* write out a string of DNA bases (actually, you're making the mRNA).  You want to make sure your letters are evenly spaced - I actually marked the paper.

Keep a codon chart handy - make sure you begin with a start codon and don't come to a stop codon immediately.  And, don't make the mistake of using T instead of U, as someone did...

Now you need to make a ribosome through which your strip of paper can fit.  I made mine out of fun foam.  It has magnets on the back, so it sticks to the white board.  Cut the window in the ribosome, so that you can see 3 bases at a time (hence the reason for evenly spacing your letters).  Use this picture to guide you:

Now you need to make the amino acids.  Once again I used fun foam.  I wrote the amino acid on the foam, punched holes in it and strung string through the holes so the students could wear them. 

For the activity: 
Draw a huge circle on the board - a cell.  Sketch in a nucleus and stick your ribosome in the middle as well. 

Show your students the mRNA (your paper strip) moving from the nucleus to the ribosome.

Feed the mRNA into the ribosome.

Have your students translate the first 3 mRNA bases into an amino acid.

Have a student put the appropriate amino acid placard on and stand in front of the room.

Move the mRNA to the next three bases.  Determine the amino acid.  Have another student put on the appropriate placard, then stand next to the first student and hold his/her hand.

Proceed this way until you come to a stop codon, or until you've made your point.

Your students will have a better feel for how a ribosome translates mRNA, how proteins are formed, and understand that proteins are long chains of amino acids. 

* I got a few sentence strips from an elementary teacher in my building - they're the perfect size and shape for this, I didn't have to cut them, and they have lines marked on them!

I learned this from a fellow teacher at a NJ Science Teachers Association Convention several years ago.  I don't know who that teacher is - but if you're out there, please let me know - I'd like to give you credit.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Earth: Apple Activity

Consider the Earth as an apple.

With a knife, slice the apple into quarters.

Set aside three of the quarters - these represent the oceans.

You have one quarter remaining - this represents the total land area.

Slice the remaining quarter in half.

Set aside one of those pieces - this represents the land that's inhospitable to people: polar areas, deserts, swamps, very high/rocky mountains.

You have 1/8 of the apple/Earth left - this represents the land area where people live.

Slice this piece into four sections.

Set aside three of those sections - they represent  the areas that are too rocky, too wet, too cold, too steep or with too poor of soil to grow food.  It also contains cities, suburbs, highways, schools, parks, factories, parking lots and other places where people live but don't grow food.

You have 1/32 left of the apple/Earth.  Carefully peel this small piece. 

This tiny bit of peel represents the surface of the Earth's crust, the soil upon which all people depend.  It is less than 5 feet deep and represents the total portion of the Earth suitable for producing food.

Presented by Audrey H. Brainard (Hands-On-Science) during the 200 Maitland Simmons Life Science Institute.