Monday, February 28, 2011

Graphing: Candy Data

This is a pretty classic activity for students learning to graph (but older students who are reviewing graphing enjoy it too)...

Each student needs a snack-size pack of candy that comes in multiple colors: M&Ms, Skittles, Smarties, etc.

Sort the candy by color, then graph - bar graph, pictograph, pie chart or all of the above.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Website: Middle School Science Yahoo Group

Consider joining the Middle School Science Yahoo Group.  It's a very active discussion group founded by Liz LaRosa of  From the group description:
Need a place to bounce ideas around or have questions that need to be answered? This is the place where science teachers can communicate with each other and exchange ideas or give that much needed support. If you are a 6th, 7th, or 8th grade science teacher, this is the place for you. Join our new community where people will understand you when you start talking about Newton's Laws, atomic mass, or golgi apparatus!
It's really an enjoyable group to follow.  You can read the messages on the website, get daily emails containing the whole day's messages sent to you, or get the individual messages sent to your email.  In order to reply to messages or ask questions of your own, you'll need to have a Yahoo id/email.  If you just want to read the messages on the site, you don't need to - it's a public group. 

Technically, I've been a member of this group for a long time, but admittedly, for most of that time I never even opened the emails, they just accumulated in my inbox.  Recently I've become a regular reader of the email digests and have already scored several great ideas.  So, I'm kicking myself for everything I've missed out on because it sat in my email forever until it was deleted because my inbox was too full.  Oh well... I can always search the archives. 

There are also Yahoo groups for high school science, elementary school science (FYI: the Science Matters group was not founded by myself, nor do I have anything to do with running or moderating it), and lots of homeschooling topics.

This post is part of:
Favorite Resource This Week

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Momentum in a Collision

Students use simple materials - rulers and marbles - to explore the conservation of momentum. 

Each pair of students will need 2 rulers - make sure the rulers are of the variety that have a groove down the middle.

Students set up a simple ramp by placing one end of one ruler on a textbook.  The second ruler is placed at the end of the ramp ruler, taking care to line up the center grooves.  You can use a small piece of tape to keep the rulers in place.

A marble is placed where the two rulers meet.  A second marble, the same size as the first, is held near the top of the ramp.  The marble on the ramp is released and students observe what happens to both the first marble and the second marble.

Students record how far each marble traveled after the collision (this may necessitate some additional rulers or meter sticks). 

This first round may require several trials, to find the optimum spot for releasing the marble.  After that spot is determined, the marble should always be released from that same spot. 

After getting a feel for what happens with 2 marbles of the same size, the experimentation begins.

If you have larger and smaller marbles available, students can try various combinations of the marbles:
--a regular marble hitting a large marble
--a large marble hitting a regular marble
--a small marble hitting a regular marble
--a regular marble hitting a small marble
--a large marble hitting a small marble
--a small marble hitting a large marble

If all your marbles are of the same size, use multiple marbles:
--one marble hitting two marbles
--two marbles hitting one marble

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Microscopes: Onion Skin Lab

One variety of plant cells…

Cut some onion into small pieces and separate each layer. Each layer of the onion contains a thin layer of cells that can easily (usually!) be peeled off the rest of the onion. Place the layer of cells onto a clean slide, make sure not to fold the onion skin over on itself. Place a drop of iodine on top of the onion skin and then a cover slip. View under the microscope. You will note regular, rectangular shape of the plant cells, the cell wall and the nucleus.

One question to ask your students…. They are plant cells, why are there no chloroplasts? [Think about where onions grow…]

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Layers of the Earth: Another Model

This model of the Layers of the Earth comes from M. Poarch of  I've tried and tried to link to the original instructions, but am getting error messages, so I will recreate the instructions for you.  If I later find the link to be working, I'll edit this to add that information.

You'll need blue, brown, yellow and black construction paper, as well as scissors, rulers and glue.  If you have compasses (the kind for drawing circles), and your students are suitably able to use them, they would make everything a bit easier.

Cut out a blue 22 cm circle, labeled "6 - 40 miles" to represent the crust.

Cut out a brown 18 cm circle, labeled "1800 miles" to represent the mantle.

Cut out a yellow 15 cm circle, labeled "1375 miles" to represent the outer core.

Cut out a black 7 cm circle, labeled "1750 miles" to represent the inner core.

These numbers are what was included in the original instructions.  As you work on it, you will notice a glaring problem with the numbers...

You can work to fix the numbers, or you can wait to see if your students notice the problem - it's a good launching point for a variety of discussions. 

I like to have the students evaluate the pros and cons of this type of model, as well as compare it to the pros and cons of the Layers of the Earth bookmarks made previously.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Does Clay Float?

Ask your students if they think clay will float or sink in water. 

Take a lump of clay and drop it into a beaker of water.  It sinks.

Give each student a similarly sized lump of clay and challenge the students to come up with a shape that will allow the clay to float.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Balancing Equations: Class Survey

Make a classroom set of Balanced/Unbalanced placards - the word "Balanced" on one side and "Unbalanced" on the other side.  I printed the words in two different colors (you could print them in black on different colored paper) and slid the papers into plastic page protectors. 

Each student gets a placard.  You write a chemical equation on the board (or project it) and students need to determine if the equation is balanced or not.  On the count of 3, students hold up the appropriate side of their placard. 

By using two different colors, you can quickly survey the results.  A few rounds of this game and can tell you who understands what a balanced equation looks like and who's struggling.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Body Systems: Digestive System: Kinesthetic Model

 I love, love, love this activity from Bobbin Cave, part of the Access Excellence Fellows Collection.
Your students will actually act out the process of digestion - the props are so great and it's so much fun. 
First you'll need to make your food particle:
Place several M&Ms (or other brightly colored candy) in several small plastic bags (zip-top are preferable).

The bags of candy get placed in brown paper bags along with wadded up newspaper.

The paper bags, along with additional wadded up newspaper are placed in a large, thin plastic bag (you want something that rips open easily.
You'll need to gather some additional supplies:
--Large sponges
--Spray bottles filled with water - label half as "Saliva" and half as "Pancreatic Juices"
--Trash can

Use masking tape to make two parallel lines on the floor, 3 or 4 feet apart.

Have students line up, half on each line, facing each other. 

The path between them is the digestive tract.  They will all work together, using peristalsis, to push the food particle down the tract, as well as doing their individual jobs. 

Assign each student a job, based on his/her position along the tract. 
The first two students (the first student in each line) are molars.  Then saliva, pancreas, small intestine, blood, large intestine, and rectum. 
Double up on jobs as necessary to provide everyone with a role.  Explain what each student is responsible for doing in this activity:
  • Molars: rip up food; the students will rip open the plastic bag when the get it
  • Saliva: begins chemical digestion of food: the students will spray the bags and newspapers with their bottle
  • Pancreas: continues chemical digestion of food; the students will spray the bags and newspapers with their bottles
  • Small intestine: absorbs the nutrients and passes them to the blood; the students will search through the food particle to find the nutrients and hand the bags of nutrients to the blood
  • Blood: distributes nutrients throughout the body; the students will pass out the nutrients to all the students (save this to do after all the digesting is complete)
  • Large intestine: absorbs excess water; the students will use the sponges to soak up the water on the floor
  • Rectum: removes waste: the students will place the remains of the food particle in the trash can
 I truly think this is a fantastic activity and is so useful in helping students learn the roles of the organs in the digestive system.  It takes a little bit of prep work (but not too bad) and if done properly, it cleans itself up! 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Call for Ideas

I'm working on a series of posts relating books and science activities for coming weeks and months.

While I've been gathering titles for a while now, I'd love to get your input to extend my list.

I'm largely looking for titles of good quality picture books that have some theme or aspect that could be tied into a science lesson.  (For this project, I'm not looking for books that are overt in their science message, for example the Magic School Bus books.)

Please send me your titles, either as a comment on this post, or you can email adventures{dot}in{dot}science{at}gmail{dot}com with your thoughts.

If you have a science lesson in mind to go with the book, feel free to include that (if you're willing).

If you don't have a precise lesson in mind, but have a general idea of what could be done with your title, feel free to include that.

If you don't have any idea of what could be done with your book but just have a general feeling that the book lends itself to the possibility of a science lesson, pass it along.  I'm happy to try to match up books with activities.

At this point, I'm largely focused on picture books, but if you have some young adult novels in mind, you're welcome to pass them along and I'll work my way through them as well. 

I'm looking forward to hearing your suggestions and encountering some new books!

Spiced Up

Here's a way to create a visual reminder of what soap does to water's surface tension.

Fill a shallow pan with water. 

Sprinkle the water's surface with a variety of herbs and spices (don't use anything with salt).

Cut a piece of paper to fit in the pan.  Lay the paper on the water's surface.

Pick up the paper and lay flat to dry.

Now, sprinkle the water's surface with herbs and spices once again.

Cut another piece of paper to fit in the pan.  Before you lay the paper on the water, add a squirt of dish detergent to the water. 

Lay the paper on the water.  Pick it up and lay flat to dry.

What differences do you notice between the two trials?  Why did the soap cause such a difference?

The soap reduces water's surface tension.  The herbs and spices, which are normally held on top of the water by the surface tension, now fall into the water.  As a result, the paper, which only touches the surface of the water, doesn't collect very much.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Body Systems: Cardiovascular System: Heart Diagram Roundup

All last week I shared some heart themed science activities.  In case you missed them, they were:
Beat Your Heart
Race Your Heart
Heart Squeeze
Heart Mambo
Heart Mold

And for today, I'll leave you with some printable heart diagrams.  Happy Valentine's Day!

You can find a plethora of heart diagrams on the Internet.  Here are several different ones - some with spots to label, some plain, and some in color.  To get the full-size image, click on the word link. 

From TeacherVision:

The Science Museum of Minnesota: (they also have some interesting animations here)

From edHelper (with labels here):

From Wikipedia:

Friday, February 11, 2011

Body Systems: Cardiovascular System: Heart Mold

It's probably too late to use this idea for this year, but it's always okay to start planning for next year. 

Educational Innovations (more on them coming up in the near future) makes this heart mold to be used in constructing a gelatin heart.  It includes instructions for making a hear the same size, shape, mass and color as an adult human heart. 

A little disturbing, a lot cool!

PS If you like this sort of thing, they also make a brain mold...

PPS Amazon sells a similar heart mold and brain mold.  They are less expensive, but I'm not sure how the size compares and I don't believe they include the instructions for getting the proper mass and color.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Body Systems: Cardiovascular System: Heart Mambo

You'll need to do a bit of prep work on this one, but it's a great learning tool, especially for your kinesthetic learners.

This activity originally comes from Janet Guadino and was shared at the 2007 Maitland Simmons Life Science Institute.

You'll need to make a series of signs for the floor. Use as many 'parts' as is appropriate for your students.  I've chose not to include the valves, but they are included in the list, parenthetically.

Blue Signs (written in blue or on blue paper)
Right Atrium
Right Ventricle
(Tricuspid A.V. Valve)
(Pulmonary Semilunar Valve)
Pulmonary Trunk Artery
Vena Cava
Arrow (x12)

Red Signs (Written in red or on red paper)
Pulmonary Vein
Left Atrium
Left Ventricle
(Aortic Semilunar Valve) 
(Bicuspid/Mitral A.V. Valve)
Arrow (x9)

Red and Blue Signs

Neutral Colored

Arrange the cards on the floor as shown below (this is a condensed view, so they'll fit in one picture; you'll obviously want them spread apart so the path can be walked along):

In case you can't make it out from those shadowy pictures, the order of the signs is...

Pulmonary Vein
Left Atrium
Left Ventricle
Vena Cava
Right Atrium
Right Ventricle
Pulmonary Artery
And back to the lungs

Have the students form a conga line behind you and lead them through the heart.  As you're traveling, chant "We're goin' through the heart, yeah!" Feel free to add some conga motions as well.  Pause at each location and call out where you're at/what you're doing. 

To close out the activity, have students place the following steps in order.  There is no right or wrong step to begin with, as it's a cycle, it's the order in which they appear that matters.  (I've written them in order for you, but you'd obviously mix them up before handing them to your students):

1 - Oxygen poor blood flows from the body into the right atrium

2 - The blood flows from the right atrium to the right ventricle

3 - The right ventricle pumps blood into the arteries that lead to the lungs

4 - In the lungs the blood picks up the oxygen and leaves carbon dioxide

5 - Oxygen rich blood leaves the lungs and enters the left atrium

6 - Blood flows from the left atrium into the left ventricle

7 - oxygen rich blood leaves the left ventricle and enters the aorta

8 - The aorta carries the oxygen rich blood to the rest of the body

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Body Systems: Cardiovascular System: Heart Squeeze

Get an idea how much force it takes to squeeze blood out of the heart....

The force needed to squeeze a tennis ball is similar to the force needed to squeeze blood out of the heart.

Gather enough tennis balls so you have one ball for every two students (if you can get one for every student, they activity will proceed a bit faster, as you won't have to repeat every step).  Ideally, you'll find someone who plays tennis and can get you as many dead balls as you could want - your phys. ed. teacher might be able to help you find someone.

If you have the time, and feel inspired, you can draw a heart on the balls, but it's by no means necessary.

Ask students to squeeze the ball as many times as they think the heart muscle squeezes in 15 seconds (they need to give the ball a good, solid squeeze).  Their partner can time them, or you (the teacher) can call out the time for the whole class.  Each student should record their squeezes.

Allow the partner students to repeat this step.

Now the students will squeeze the ball each time the teacher counts.  Call out one beat per second.  Go for a full minute if your students can handle it. 

Repeat for the other students.

Gather students feedback about squeezing the ball at the pace.  Their hands will be rather tired.

Now tell them that pace was for a person at rest, but no one stays that still when they are awake.

Go for another full minute, this time calling out beats faster than one per second.  You're aiming for about 80 counts in one minute. 

Repeat for the other students. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Body Systems: Cardiovascular System: Race Your Heart

 Can you move water as quickly as your heart can move blood? 

After this activity, you'll have a deeper appreciation for the work your heart does, every minute of every day for your entire life.

The heart pumps out 2 oz. (1/4 cup) of blood per contraction.  Cut some small paper/plastic cups down to hold 2 oz of water.  (Dixie cups hold 3 oz. - fill one with 1/4 cup of water, mark the water line and cut).

Place two containers/tubs next to each other, on top of towels or newspapers.  Fill one container 3/4 full of water.  

(This would be a good candidate for an outside activity, but in my part of the world, February is not the time to go outside and play in the water, so just be prepared with newspapers, towels and maybe a mop, just in case).

Practice using the cut-down cup to transfer water from one container to the second.  After you've practiced, return all the water to the original container.

When your partner/the teacher says to begin, use the cup to transfer water from one container to the second as quickly as you can.  Count the number of cup-fulls you transfer.  Your partner/the teacher will tell you to stop after one minute.

How many transfers did you make?  Did you come close to 80?  That's how many times your heart moved 2 oz. of blood during that minute. 

Try again and try to go even faster this time.  See if you can come close to matching your heart.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Body Systems: Cardiovascular System: Beat Your Heart

How much work does your heart really do?  The numbers are quite staggering... figure them out for yourself.

Part I: How many heartbeats in your lifetime?
Determine your pulse: count the number of beats in 15 seconds.

Multiply by 4 to get the number of beats her minute.  (Average is between 70 and 90).

Now, use that number to determine how many times your heart will beat, assuming an average lifespan of 78 years.

Part II: How Much Blood?
1/4 cup (2 oz.) of blood is pumped per contraction.  Using the number of beats per minute you calculated above, determine how much blood is pumped in one minute.  (Average is 20 cups = 5 quarts).

How many quarts of blood are pumped in a day?

How many gallons are pumped in a day?

Remember: 4 cups = 1 quart; 4 quarts = 1 gallon

Part III: How Much Does Your Blood Weigh?
About 10% of your weight is blood.

How many pounds of blood are in your body?

A Theme Week: Valentine's Day

I'm going to try my hand at a theme week...

Next week is Valentine's Day, a rather minor holiday in the grand scheme of things, but it tends to involve hearts, lots of hearts.

Just for fun, each day this week I'm going to share a science activity related to the heart (and by extension, the cardiovascular system).  I hope you'll find something you can use in this week leading up to Valentine's Day or next Monday, on the big day itself.  Many of the activities are very simple and require little set-up.

So, without further delay, here comes the first heart activity....
(And I promise to return to typing in black - I was momentarily overcome with Valentine's spirit).

Friday, February 4, 2011

Website: Educational Innovations

Educational Innovations has a great catalog of science toys, supplies, novelties and activities.  It reminds me a bit of Steve Spangler Science.  (That said, I don't know which company came first, or even, which one I knew or first.  Nor do I know how they feel about one another.  I like them both.  'Nuf said.)

I've purchased from them in person, while at the New Jersey Science Convention. 

I'm particularly fond of some of the fun items that add some whimsy to my classroom:
The Einstein Action Figure

 Some of the products that have a greater educational purpose include:

The Mirage


And of course, there are the basics, like lenses, magnets, spring scales, etc.

There's a whole lot there - you'll want to spend some time exploring.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chromatography: Which is Which?

 Pictured above are 2 M&Ms and 2 Reese's Pieces.  Can you tell which are which?

Do you think the brown dye used to coat them is identical?  It certainly looks like it, but you can use science to determine the difference. 

We'll be using chromatography again, separating the dyes found in each candy coating. 

To begin, cut your filter paper/coffee filter into two strips, about an inch wide.  Label one with an M (for M&Ms) and the other with an R (for Reese's Pieces).

Dip part of a brown M&M into water.  Use the wet portion to draw a line on the appropriate filter paper, about an inch from the bottom.  You'll want to go over the line several times, to make it as dark as possible.

Repeat the above steps with a brown Reese's Pieces and the other piece of filter paper. 

Set up your filter papers so the very end is in water (make sure the line is above the water level).  I used pencils to suspend my filter papers in tall drinking glasses.

Wait and watch.  After sufficient time has passed for the water to move a few inches up the paper (could be as long as half an hour depending upon the paper you use), remove the papers from the water and lay them flat to dry. 

Place the filter paper on a sheet of white paper for the best viewing and observe the differences between the two candies:

The colors are so faint, it is difficult to capture them in a photograph. 

Reese's Pieces


The Reese's Pieces is largely red with a faint blue line. 

The M&M shows a lot of orange, a little red, and a very faint line of green.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Adaptations: Bird Beaks - Version 1

Over the years, I have encountered several different variations of this activities.  I think they all have merits, so look for me to share a few other versions in coming weeks.

This first version is the simplest, and the most appropriate for younger students.

Create a bucket of "bird food".  Into this bucket, dump all kinds of things - try to include a wide variety of shapes sizes and textures.  Some things you might want to include:
  • Sand
  • Oats
  • Rice
  • Marshmallows
  • Gummy Worms
  • Cereal
  • Pasta
  • Coconut
  • Small candies

Then provide each student with a beak tool.  Look around your house for ideas:
  • Tongs
  • Chopsticks
  • Eye droppers
  • Forks
  • Pliers
  • Tweezers
  • Toothpicks
  • Clothespins
Let the students go at the bucket of food with their respective beaks.  They should try to gather as much food as they can. 
After a set amount of time has passed, spend some time looking around to see which beaks were able to pick up which foods. 

Ask your students why the eye dropper beak wasn't able to pick up the oatmeal, and why the tongs weren't able to pick up the sand.

There are several nice worksheets out there to use as a follow-up to this activity.  You can find two here and here

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Weather: How Much Water is in Snow?

If you're finding yourself with an abundance of snow.... ahem.... perhaps you'll want to perform some investigations. 

The amount of water snow contains can very greatly, depending upon the snow. 

Gather a set amount of snow... I collected approximately 500 ml of snow.

Allow the snow to melt - if you'll be allowing it to sit for an extended time, you may wish to cover it to minimize the amount lost to evaporation. 

My 500 ml of snow yielded slightly less than 50 ml of water.  This was a very dry, powdery snow. 

If you live in a place that gets snow throughout the winter, you might want to repeat this activity with each snowfall and see how they vary in water content.

You may also want to measure the pH of the snow water.