Friday, April 29, 2011

Website: Awesome Science Teacher Resources

I recently stumbled upon Awesome Science Teacher Resources and I have to say, Nancy Clark is an awesome science teacher! 

Several of the activities are things I have come across at various times in my constant quest to find exciting ways to convey science concepts, but many are new to me (which thrills me to no end - as much as I'm excited to find a single great activity, nothing is better than finding a whole collection of really great activities). 

I'm looking forward to working my way through her lists of activities (sorted by topic) and I'm sure you'll be hearing more about them from me! 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Inertia: Penny Passengers

Place a penny on top of a small toy car.

Roll the car so it runs into a thin book or piece of corrugated cardboard.

Observe the car and the penny.  What can you learn from this activity about the importance of seat belts?

What difference does a seat belt make?  Try again, using a small piece of tape to hold the penny on the car.   

Do different coins respond differently?  Dimes are lighter than pennies, quarters are heavier.

You need to push the car very gently, or you'll observe a different form of inertia - the car will move out from underneath the penny and the penny will drop to the table. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Classification: Doodads and Gismos

A selection of everyday objects have been given silly names and your students need to use a dichotomous key to determine which name belongs with which object. 

The objects you'll need are (and you don't even need all of them, use the ones you already have around):
  • Snap wooden clothespin
  • Sharpened pencil
  • Unsharpened pencil
  • Wire coat hanger
  • Metal fork
  • Metal knife
  • Metal spoon
  • Bolt
  • Nickel
  • Penny
  • Small paperclip
  • Jumbo paperclip
  • Paper fastener
  • White shirt button
  • White paper plate
  • White piece of chalk
  • Whilte plastic fork
  • White plastic knife
  • White plastic spoon
  • White candle
  • White soap
You can access the complete dichotomous key here

There are a couple of ways you can use this activity:
~Provide each group of students with a set of objects and have each student identify the name of every object (or a specified number of objects).
~Provide each student with one object and have them each identify the name of that one object.  This works well as a quick assessment tool.

There are a few things I really like about this particular activity:
~There's some similarities between the objects (lots of utensils, lots of white objects, etc.), which means students need to work through the key carefully.
~The dichotomous key includes extra names, which means students really have to work their way through the key for each object; they can't rely on the process of elimination.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Weather: Molecules in the Atmosphere

This activity helps students visualize that the molecules in the atmosphere become thinner as one moves to higher and higher layers of the atmosphere.  It also reinforces the fact that nitrogen is the most common gas in the atmosphere, followed by oxygen.

Each student will need four paper plates, 3 colors of construction paper, scissors, glue and a marker.  You'll also need a hole punch and string.

Each paper plate represents one layer of the atmosphere.  Label the plates - troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere and thermosphere.

Choose one color of paper to represent nitrogen, another color to represent oxygen and the third color to represent other gases.

Cut out the appropriate number of pieces of paper of each color - see numbers below.  The size of the pieces will be determined by the size of plate you decide to use.

Glue the appropriate pieces of paper to each plate.

Use a hole punch to make a hole at the top and bottom of each plate.  String the plates together in the correct order, with an additional string at the top from which to hang the mobile.

Molecules needed for each layer:

19 nitrogen
5 oxygen
1 other gases

11 nitrogen
3 oxygen
1 other gases

6 nitrogen
1 oxygen
0 other gases

2 nitrogen
0 oxygen
0 other gases

For a total of:
38 nitrogen
9 oxygen
2 other gases

Monday, April 25, 2011

Observation: Sounds in a Quiet Room

So often, when speak of observation skills, we focus only on sight and neglect the remaining 4 senses.  Put your students ears to work with this exercise. 

Students will sit quietly for 5 minutes, just listening and writing down the sounds they hear.  It's amazing how much noise there is, even when things are quiet!

Any students who make intentional noises will have their grade docked accordingly. 

This is also a great activity to do outside on a nice spring (or fall) day.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Professional Development: Project WILD

The goal of Project WILD is to help teachers and youth leaders prepare students to develop problem-solving skills in exploring responsible human actions toward wildlife and the environment.

Project WILD operates in a manner similar to Project WET.  Teachers and other youth leaders (scouts, 4-H, etc.) can attend a 3 hour workshop, usually for low or no cost.  (New York offers the programs for free).  If you have enough people at your school interested, you can likely get someone to come there and present the program to you.   

As part of the program, you'll receive a copy of the Project WILD curriculum guide, which includes many ready-to-use activities to help your students learn about human-wildlife-environment interactions. The curriculum guide is only available to program participants, which, in my book, is reason enough to sign up - it's that fantastic! 

During your workshop, you'll get to try several of the activities found in the curriculum guide.  The activities focus on wildlife habitats, interdependence, biodiversity, cultural and geographical perspectives, human impact and wildlife management. 

To find workshops near you, you'll need to find Sponsoring Agency/Organization for your state (it's often something like the Department of Natural Resources or Department of Environmental Conservation).  When you get to the correct state department, you'll be looking for something along the lines of "education" or "training".  In my experience, it's not too hard to find the information.  If nothing else, you can always do a Google search for "(name of state) Project WILD".

Project WILD has several additional versions of the program available: Flying WILD, Aquatic WILD and Growing up WILD (early childhood).  There's certainly a lot of opportunities to explore and take advantage of.  

It's a fun day, and you'll come away with some great resources.  And if you need professional development credits, it's hard to come up with an easier or more enjoyable way to earn them!  I highly recommend you look into it, if you haven't already!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Earth Day: The Lorax

The Lorax is a great story to share with your students around Earth Day (or any other time, for that matter).
The Lorax (Classic Seuss)

There is a video available, but I'm partial to reading to my students (and they seem to enjoy it as well). 
Dr. Seuss - The Lorax/Pontoffel Pock & His Magic Piano

Following the telling of the tale (or the watching of the DVD), have your students consider the following:

  • What does a "Thneed" represent?
  • List some "Thneeds" in our society today.
  • Who does the "Once-ler" represent?
  • How was the "Once-ler" irresponsible?
  • What could the "Once-ler" have done to protect the natural resources while still manufacturing "Thneeds"?
  • Did the "Once-ler" feel that he was part of the Truffula Land?  Explain.
  • Can we separate ourselves from our natural environment?  Why or why not?
  • The "Once-ler" excuses himself with "Well if I didn't do it, then someone else would."*  Is this a valid excuse?  Why or why not?
  • Who does the "Lorax" represent?
*In the video version (at least in an older version, it looks like there's a newer edition, which I haven't seen, so I don't know if it's word-for-word the same or not). 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Earth Day: Picture THIS: Taking Human Impact Seriously

Grass scraped away by winter snowplowing. 
 I love this idea, presented in the March 2010 NSTA Science Scope Journal. 

In it, students are challenged to take 20 pictures that document human impact on their local community.

The pictures are assembled and captions are added, to create the finished product.  I imagine the finished product could be digital (PowerPoint, website, etc.) or a hard copy. 

At first thought, it seems like this should be easy enough - human impact abounds.  But, at least for me, the real challenge is determining how to use photography to document that impact.  And it takes some thought and creativity to come up with 20 quality photos that meet the challenge. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Plate Tectonics: Paper Fault Models

If your students learn about faulting, you may want to make yourself a set of these models that illustrate the different types of faults (there are 7 different models available).

The US Geologic Society and the National Park Service collaborated to create these easy-to-assemble models.  They are simply printed out, then cut out and folded accordingly.  There are illustrated instructions to help you with the folding and gluing, but I found it to be pretty self-explanatory.

These models are very simple, but they do add a third dimension your fault instruction.

Monday, April 18, 2011

What's Inside?

Here's another "black box" experiment to help your students understand what it means to be a scientist. 

Insert a small object into a ball of play dough or clay.  Make sure the object is surrounded completely.  Some ideas for objects to use: small screw, nut, button, marble, coin, pencil-top eraser.

Provide students with the play dough ball and an unfolded paperclip. 

The student uses the paperclip as a probe.  He can stick the probe into the play dough ball, without wiggling it around, 10 times.  The student then draws a picture of what he thinks the object looks like and hypothesize what the object is.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Website: cK-12 Flexbooks is a website that contains free digital textbooks for science and math courses.  You can use the textbooks as is, or you can customize the books to your liking, incorporating text and pictures from various sources into one book.  The resultant book can be used as an ebook, or it can be made into a pdf document, which could be printed or shared as you would any pdf file.  The books are all open source, so you shouldn't run into copyright issues.  You can read more about the policies in the Frequently Asked Questions

In full disclosure, I have not spent a lot of time playing with the flexbooks, as I don't currently have need for a textbook.  But, I thought it a worthy resource to pass along for teachers looking to supplement their current texts and parents looking for resources for their students, especially in an economic climate where new textbooks may drop a step or to on the priority list. 

If you create your own flexbook (or have already done so), I'd love to hear about your experience and how valuable a tool you found this to be.  

Favorite Resource This Week

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Inertia: Penny In a Cup

If you found getting a penny to balance on your finger to be a bit too challenging, this might be more your speed. 

Place an index card on top of an empty cup.  Set a penny in the middle of the index card.

Flick the card out....

...and the penny falls into the cup (the cup is a much larger target than your finger!)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Food Chain to Food Pyramid

Turn a food chain into a food pyramid.  You'll want to use a food chain that has 3 levels of consumers in it. 

The food chain I used when making this example was:
Sun --> Seeds --> Mouse --> Weasel --> Fox

Begin with a square piece of paper.  Fold the paper along the diagonals and add lines as seen in the drawing below:

In the middle lined section, fill in the following (beginning at the botton/largest spot):
  • Producers
  • Primary Consumer
  • Secondary Consumer
  • Tertiary Consumer
On an ajoining side, fill in the corresponding organism (seeds, mouse, weasel, fox).

The other lined section can be used to represent another food chain.

When all sections have been filled in, cut along one of the diagonals (adjacent to the blank section) until you reach the center point. 

Then fold the pyramid, tucking the blank side underneath, so a pyramid is formed. 

This visual representation helps students remember that it takes a lot of producers to feed one primary consumer, many primary consumers to feed one secondary consumer, and so on. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Earthquakes: Make a Seismograph

Fairly simple to make, a little difficult to explain!  It's a bit of a crude model, but it does give your students an idea of how seismographs work.

Empty cereal box.
Paper tape (for a calculator)
Small paper cup
Pennies (other other material for weight)
Sharp knife
Hole punch

How To Assemble:
Cut out most of the large sides.  Leave about an inch border on the right, left, and top.  Leave about two inches (or more) on the bottom.

Cut a slit in the bottom border, on each side of the box, wide enough for paper tape to pass through.

Punch a hole in the top border on each side. 

Punch a hole on each side of a small cup.

Cut a small x in the bottom of the cup.

Poke a pen through the bottom of the cup (a felt tip works best).

Use string to suspend the cup from the box.

Add some pennies to the cup for weight.  (You could also use rice or dried beans, but they create a much larger mess if spilled!)

Thread the paper tape through the slits.

Adjust the pen so that it writes on the paper.
To Use:
Set the seismograph on the table.  Have one person gently shake the table, to simulate an earthquake.  While the quake is going on, have another person slowly pull the paper tape through the seismograph. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Air Pressure: Suction Cup Drink Holder

Education Innovations sells these neat rings that work like a suction cup to hold your drink. 

You slide a can or bottle into the ring, set it on a smooth, flat surface and it sticks! 

While not terribly expensive, it's simple enough to make your own version.  You'll need a flexible, stretchy material.  I've found that the plastic jar grippers, sometimes given away by companies, work well.

The original Lil' Suctioner has a radius of just over 2 inches.  While I wouldn't go smaller than that, it certainly wouldn't hurt if yours was bigger. 

Cut about a one inch hole in the center of your material. 

Slip the material over a can or bottle and test it out for yourself. 

By the way, the Lil' Suctioner includes some air pressure facts, including the weight of the atmosphere pushing down on it (~221 lbs).  But, there's no reason you can't figure it out for your own drink holder.  If it's a circle, measure the radius; if it's a rectangle, measure the length of the sides.  Make all measurements in inches. 

Calculate the area of your material (for a circle: pi x radius x radius; for a rectangle: side x side) and multiply that area by 14.7 psi (pounds per square inch).  That will give you the number of pounds of the atmosphere pushing down on your drink holder, of in other words, the pounds of force you'll have to exert to lift up your drink.

Friday, April 8, 2011


I recently learned of a new (brand new to me, fairly new in general, I think) website filled with science (and math) activities:

Currently, most of the activities on the site come from the collections of various hands-on science museums (The Exploratorium, Science Museum of Minnesota, Lawrence Hall of Science, etc.). 

I particularly like that you can create your own lists of activities - create one list of everything that looks interesting or create several lists and sort activities by topic, grade level, priority, etc.  Possibly even better than that, is the ability to search other people's lists.  I tend to find the most exciting ideas by looking at what other people have deemed worthy to add to their lists. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Speed/Velocity: Which Goes the Fastest?

Here's a fun way to practice speed calculations. 

Gather a bunch of self-propelled vehicles.  They can be wind-up or ones you have to pull back and release.

Use masking tape to make a starting line and a finish line 1 meter apart.

Wind up (or pull back) the vehicle and place it at the starting line.

Let go and start a stopwatch.  Time how long it takes for the vehicle to reach the finish line.  Record the time and determine the speed the vehicle travelled. 

The obvious unit to use in this activity is m/s, but you may want to challenge some of your students to covert it to other units: m/h, cm/s, etc. Or, really test them by having them convert to miles/hour!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Genetics: Easter Egg Genetics

Students use plastic eggs to practice their Punnet square-solving-skills. 

Each egg color has been assigned a genotype:
  • Blue - BB
  • Green - Bb
  • Yellow - bb
(This example uses incomplete dominance - i.e. Bb appears green, not blue, as it would in a straight dominant/recessive situation). 

The eggs have been mixed and matched to create various genetic crosses.  For example, a blue half matched with a green half would represent BB x Bb. 

Students use a Punnet square to solve the cross, and then open the egg to check their work. 

Teacher Notes:
This activity has nothing to do with Easter, but the eggs are only available at that time of year.  Check your local grocery store, big-box store, drugstore, etc. at the end of the month for eggs on clearance.  Get them now, and you'll have them for whenever you want to do the activity.

The original activity, Easter Egg Genetics, is part of the Access Excellence Activities-To-Go Collection.  If you visit the original, you'll find a guide for filling all of the various egg combination, which will save you a few minutes of precious time. has a student worksheet to accompany the activity (and she also includes the egg-filling guide with her teacher notes), which can be found here

You can fill the eggs with appropriately colored candy, which is a lot of fun if you are giving each student one (or maybe 2) eggs as a quick assessment.  If you want each student to work their way through more eggs (and you don't want the hassle of refilling the eggs), use appropriately colored objects - counting chips, pieces of construction paper, centimeter cubes, etc.  The students can replace the objects after they check their work and you're all set for next time.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Energy: Nuclear Fission Demonstrations

While we're on the topic of explaining nuclear energy, you can find some recorded nuclear fission demonstrations on YouTube. I know many schools have blocked YouTube, but I hope it's still useful to some of you.  

My favorite video comes from Touchstone Energy.  While not recorded for scientific purposes, the sheer size of the demonstration is impressive.  You'll have to ignore the sales pitch, but it's non-offensive and pretty short. 

And, just for fun, here's another commercial video along the same lines. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Energy: Understanding Nuclear Energy

I may be a bit late in getting this to you, but hopefully it's useful to someone out there....

In light of recent events in Japan, or just in the course or your curriculum, you may be looking for ways to help your students understand nuclear energy. 

I just stumbled across this publication, Nuclear Experiments You Can Do, from the Charles Edison Fund..

The pdf file includes simple models/demonstrations for splitting an atom and chain reactions, as well as more
advanced demonstrations related to nuclear energy and radioactivity.

I wanted to pass this your way as quickly as possible, since it is a timely topic.  As a result, I haven't looked through the other experiments available, but they could very well be worth taking a look at.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Website: Middle School Science Yahoo Group UPDATE

A month or so ago, I told you about the Middle School Science Yahoo Group and since that time I've discovered another fabulous aspect of the group, which I had completely missed previously. 

If you've take some time to look at the group, you've realized that you can read the messages people post without being a member. 

But, you'll also notice there are some things reserved for Members Only.  One of those things is access to the Files. 

When you join the group, you'll magically gain access to those Files, and some other things as well. 

And once you're in, you'll find folders and folders willed with lessons, activities, templates and more that others have created and uploaded to share with anyone in the group. 

If you've been on the fence about whether to join or not, I highly recommend you do, both to access such a knowledgeable, supportive online community and the materials they're willing to share.  And maybe you've even got something you're willing to share with the group in return!