Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Space: Constellation Stories

If you spend any time studying space, there's probably a good chance you at least touch upon constellations and the legends and myths they are the subjects of. 

A great way to incorporate some more writing into your science curriculum is to have your students "discover" their own constellations and then write a story/legend/myth about that constellation.

There are a number of ways you can go about constellation creation. 

Version 1:
Provide each student with a blank star map.  I've got an old copy that I can photocopy, but truth be told, I'm having a hard time finding a blank star map (without the constellations already drawn in) to print.  But, if you can find a blank star map, this way is a lot of fun because, at least in theory, the students should be able to find their own constellation in the night sky.

The students "connect the dots" to form some sort of image from the stars. 

Version 2:
Each student is provided with a piece of paper and a specified number of star stickers.  The students place the stickers on the paper as they desire.  They then draw in the lines to complete the picture.

Version 3:
The teacher places star stickers on a piece of paper, as the student had done in version 2, but without drawing in any lines.  The paper is then photocopied, so each student is given the same arrangement of stars.  The students then draw in lines to create they image the want from the given stars.  It's kind of fun to see the different pictures students come up with from the same set of stars.

Regardless of how the constellation is created, the students then write a story about the constellation. 

A nice idea is to photocopy the finished stories and constellation pictures and bind the whole class's work into a book.  It's easy enough to create a single copy for the classroom.  If you have the time and resources available, you might even consider making a copy of the book for each student in the class.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Air Pressure: Plungers!

Cobra Products 304 4-Inch Force Cup Plunger with Wood HandleOn a large scale:
Get your hands on two plungers - new and clean would be preferable (I've actually seen small ones, perfect for this demonstration, at a dollar store)! 

Match up the edges and push the plungers together.

Now try to get them apart.  Not an easy task! 

You pushed all the air out of the middle, so there's nothing pushing them apart.  Only lots of air on the outside pushing them together.

In the end, if you have a good seal, you'll need to force some air in to break the seal, but splitting the plungers apart.

On a smaller scale:
You can have your students perform this activity themselves using suction cups (the kind you sometimes use to hang things in your windows).  The physics is exactly the same, just smaller!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Website: NASA Educator Materials

NASA has a nice selection of educator materials available online.  The guides are available in pdf format - individual activities can be printed, or a whole guide. 

I have not made it through the hundreds of activities, but I can say that I've found several great ideas in the Rockets Education Guide - specifically several ideas related to Newton's Laws.  Among other things, it includes directions for making your own Hero Engine and Newton Car.  Newton Cars are high on my list of projects, and when I get one made, I'll be sharing my experience.

Of course, NASA is also a great source of images, history and more.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Inertia: Catch a Quarter

Place your hand by your ear and raise your elbow so your forearm is parallel with the floor.

Place a quarter on your elbow.

Quickly move your elbow down and attempt to catch the quarter in the same movement. 

Due to inertia, the quarter wants to remain in the same place, rather than move with your arm.  If you move quickly enough, you can catch the quarter before gravity pulls it out of your reach.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Classiciation: Silly Science

If the Doodads and Gismos classification activity is a bit too much for your students, you might want to start them with this Silly Science dichotomous key from The Science Spot. 

It uses equally common objects, but not quite as many and the key itself is simpler than the other version. 

The objects used are:
  • Sharpened pencil
  • Unsharpened pencil
  • White marble
  • Colored marble
  • White Chalk
  • Wooden Splint
  • Die
  • Eraser
  • Small paperclip
  • Large paperclip

I had plenty of these objects around my classroom, so I was able to create bags of objects that I could store and reuse each year.  A little work the first year, but from then on you just need to pull out the box the day you need it and away you go.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Moon: Impact Craters

Do some hands-on exploring to learn about the ways in which craters are formed.

Prep Work:
Fill a tub or box (a dishpan or shoebox work well) with an inch or so of flour.  If desired, you can sprinkle a layer of cinnamon, paprika or cocoa on top of the flour.  Doing so may increase the visibility of the craters.  Ideally, plan for one tub/box for every 2 students.  If you find yourself needing to put more than 4 at one tub, I'd recommend splitting the class so half do the activity while the others work on something else and then swapping. 

You may wish to cover the table you'll be working on with newspapers.  It might be wise to keep a damp cloth nearby as well, for wiping up any small flour spills.

Gather several different sizes of marbles. 

Drop a marble straight down into the flour.  Drop a different sized marble from the same height and observe the craters they made.  Pay attention to the rims and any of crater radiating away from the center.  Note any differences between the two craters. 

Then, let the true experimentation begin... there are so many different variables that can be explored.  Write down what you try and note how the resulting crater is both the same and different from the other craters you've seen thus far. 

Drop the marbles from different heights.

Drop the marbles (same size) from the same height, but give one of the marbles an extra push. 

"Throw" the marble into the flour at an angle. 

Use a non-spherical object to make a crater. 

When finished, draw some conclusions about crater shapes and sizes and the objects that formed them.  Summarize your conclusions in a paragraph. 

You can find lots of people's versions of this activity by searching "impact crater activity" or something along those lines.  If you desire, you can readily locate ready-to-use worksheets and formal lab sheets. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Make Your Own Play Doh

If you've been following this blog for awhile, you know there are several different activities in which Play Doh is a featured supply.  If you're beginning to find it expensive or inconvenient to have Play Doh on hand when you need it, you can make your own. 

It's so simple and quick, you can do it in the morning before you go to school!

You'll need:
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons cream of tarter*
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • food coloring

*cream of tarter is found in the spice section of the grocery store.  Without it, your Play Doh will not set up properly - it will remain a gloppy mess. 

In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the flour, salt and cream of tarter.

If desired, add the food coloring to the water.  This is the less-messy way to color the play-doh, but your batch will all be one color.  If you want to split it into multiple colors, you can wait and knead in the coloring at the end.

Place the pan over medium heat and stir in the (colored) water and oil.

Stir the mixture constantly.  When the mixture forms a ball around your spoon, remove it from the heat. 

Remove the play-doh from the pan and knead it slightly.  This is the point at which you could divide it and add coloring to each portion. 

When you're finished, you'll have a nice sized lump of play-doh.  It's probably equivalent to about 3 of the large containers of Play-Doh.  (That's a guess, it might actually be more than that). 

Here are some of the things you can do with your newly-made Play Doh:
Mixing Colors: The Play Doh Version
What's Inside?
Mapping: Make a Topographic Map
Moon vs. Earth: Volume Comparison
Plate Tectonics: A Look Inside Folds and Faults

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Plan for Summer

(The pictures have nothing to do with this post.  Just something pretty to look at while you read.)

Thank you to everyone who provided feedback regarding the summer.

I'm delighted that there is so much interest and that many of you plan to continue to follow the blog regularly. 

I'm going to try to continue to provide you with new content on a regular basis, but also cut back a little to give myself a little break this summer.  I'm aiming for 3 posts per week, but I'm hoping for some help to reach that goal (more on that in a moment).  Here's my plan....

My regular pattern of posting daily will go through June 3.  By the way, it's impossible to decide on a date for such things - I know people who finished school around May 13 and others who won't finish until June 24.  That's quite a range, my friends!  So, I'm shooting for the middle!

I'm going to use the summer to share some fun science activities that don't fit quite so neatly into specific content areas.  Many of these are projects my friend and colleague and I used in our summer science camps.  If you're a parent reading this, many of the projects will be great things to try out with your kids at home this summer.  If you're a teacher, you may find ways to incorporate them into your curriculum, or you may consider running your own summer science camp next year.  (I'll also let you know more about how we ran the show). 

I'm also going to give you some updates on previous posts.  There are several instances where I've since learned/discovered better ways to do things and I just haven't had a chance to share them yet, so we'll try to get some of those tasks done.

I may throw out some ideas for some swaps and trades and see if anyone is interested.  I'm hopeful that the time away from school will give people more time to consider taking part in such things. 

And finally - I hope you're still reading - as mentioned previously, I'm hoping to find some people who are interested in writing some guest posts.  You need not have any blogging experience (you'll just send me your words, in email, in a Word document, etc. and I'll put them into the blog.  You can include pictures if you wish, or not if you don't have any or it's not applicable.  I'll also make any appropriate links you may want or need. 

You can write about anything related to science and science education you'd like: a lesson that works well for you, a favorite website or other resource, a great professional development opportunity, a favorite product/tool, an object for "What Is That?" or something for "How Does That Work?" 

You can write anonymously or you can use this as an opportunity to drive people to your own website or blog (or somewhere in between). 

I hope you'll consider submitting something - I'd love to learn a few new tricks!  To ask a question or volunteer, send an email to adventures.in.science@gmail.com, or leave a comment, but make sure you include your email address so I can get back to you.

And if that doesn't provide enough content for you, you can always check out the archives!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mixtures: Home Mixture Separation

Mix up some salt, poppy seeds, iron filings and sand, in about equal proportions. 

Give each student a small sample of the mixture and challenge them to take the mixture home and separate the components. 

The students need to return the separated components, as well as a description of the steps they followed in the separation. 

The original version of this lab requires a parent signature for credit.  It also has students rate how successful they were in separating and recovering each component (on a scale of 1-10) and asks them what they might do differently if given the same problem to solve.

It's a nice way to remind students that science does not have to occur in the lab and it does not necessarily require fancy equipment.  It's also a chance to involve parents and for students to actually show their parents what they've been learning in class. 

If you have students for whom it may truly be a problem to complete the activity at home, I would allow them to schedule a time to work on the activity in the classroom. 

One story.... I once had a student who claimed to have dissolved the salt in water and later boiled off the water to leave the salt.  The only problem was, the salt sample he handed in looked like salt straight from the shaker.  When you reclaim the salt through this procedure, it doesn't look like salt that comes straight from the canister, instead it's kind of flaky and a little powdery.  Busted!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Hands-On Food Web

Take the food web off the page and make a 3-D version.

Cut strips of paper.  Label each strip with one organism found on the food web.

Begin assembling the strips of paper together in a chain - looping together the organisms that are in direct relationships with one another.

Then start adding in the other organisms found in the food web, looping them in the appropriate places. 

The finished product isn't a whole lot to look at, but this activity is really about the process. 

After the food web is finished, you could rip out one of the links and talk about what would happen if that part of the food web was no longer available (a favorite standardized test question).   

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Solar System Beads

In this activity, students create a scale model of the distances between planets and get a feel for just how much space there is in space.  (Note: planet size is not to scale in this activity, just the distance - there is no scale in which you could both fit it in the classroom and still be able to see the planets). 

Even if you don't have the time or resources to have students make the models, I might recommend that you make one for demonstration purposes.

This activity is based on an activity, from COSI, and I found it by way of HowToSmile.org.  You can find other, similar activities, by searching "solar system bead distance."

For each model, you'll need about 5 meters of string or yarn and 11 pony beads* (one to represent each planet (Pluto was included in this model), one for the sun and one for the asteroid belt).  You'll also need rulers or meter sticks available. 

First you need to determine how far each planet is from the sun.  Here are the distances in astronomical units (AU).  1 AU = the distance between the Earth and the sun, about 150 million kilometers.
Mercury: 0.4 AU
Venus: 0.7 AU
Earth: 1.0 AU
Mars: 1.5 AU
Asteroid belt: 2.8 AU
Jupiter: 5.0 AU
Saturn: 10.0 AU
Uranus: 19.0 AU
Neptune: 30.0 AU
Pluto: 39.0 AU
For this model, we'll use a scale of 1 AU = 10 cm.  Students need to convert the above distances to cm.  (The original activity includes a nice table, with a space to put the scaled values.)

Now you're ready to create.

Slide the sun bead on the string and tie it in place, near one end of the string.

Now measure 4 cm (scaled distance for Mercury) and slide on the bead for Mercury.  Tie the bead in place, being careful to maintain the correct distance (you may want to find a partner to help make sure everything stays in the correct place). 

For Venus, you'll need to measure 7 cm from the sun (be careful, the distances above are from the sun to each planet, not the distances between planets).  Slide the bead on and tie in place.

Continue in the same manner until all the beads have been added and secured. 

 You'll quickly notice that the first four planets are quite close to one another:

But as you move further out in space, the planets become spaced further and further apart. 

Sorry to make you follow the wavy lines, but there's no way to get a picture of the whole thing spread out!

If you want to take the conversation a bit further... travelling at the speed of light (300,000 km/s), it would take 8 minutes to travel from the sun to the Earth.  How long would it take to travel from the Earth to each of the other planets?  At the same speed, it would take 4.3 years to reach the next nearest star (Alpha Centauri).  How far away is that star?

*I used the bead colors recommended in the original version, but I would have no problem allowing students to select their own colors.  I particularly like the idea of allowing students to choose what they deem an appropriate color after you've shared a bit of information about each planet - if the student makes a connection between the color they've chosen and a fact about the planet, it's likely to make the experience and the finished model all the more meaningful. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Got Something to Share?

I'm hoping some of my wonderful readers will be interested in writing some guest posts for the summer.  You need not have any blogging experience (you'll just send me your words, in email, in a Word document, etc. and I'll put them into the blog).  You can include pictures if you wish, or not if you don't have any or it's not applicable.  I'll also make any appropriate links you may want or need. 

Any topics related to science or science education are fair game: a lesson that works well for you, a favorite website or other resource, a great professional development opportunity, classroom/lab management or organizational tips, a favorite product/tool, an object for "What Is That?" or something for "How Does That Work?" 

You can write anonymously, with your own by-line or you can use this as an opportunity to drive people to your own website or blog.
You can do your writing now, or whenever is convenient, and I'll make sure it's posted to the blog at the appropriate time. 

Please consider writing a short guest post - I know I have lots to learn from everyone out there!  Email me at adventures.in.science@gmail.com or leave a comment (make sure you leave your email address so I can get back to you).

Air Pressure and Bernoulli: Rising Paper

This simple activity is a great introduction to Bernoulli. 

Cut strips of paper, about 1 cm wide.

Hold a single strip up to your lip. 

What do you think will happen if you blow across the paper?  How will the paper move? 

Many students will think that blowing across the paper will push it down.  In fact, just the opposite happens:

By blowing, you push the air molecules above the paper out of the way, so the air molecules located below the paper are unbalanced and push the paper up. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

End of School: Movie Time

When all else fails, you can always use a movie to fill a few class periods. 

As you already know, there are countless videos that can be connected to science curriculum.  Some featuring hard core science, others popular theater-run movies with science content.  And while not a substitute for hands-on learning and thinking, they do provide a nice way to change things up every so often. 

If/when you go with a movie, I highly recommend you check out Movie Sheets.  There you will find worksheets to accompany movies, created and uploaded by other science teachers. 

The films are sorted by science topic, which is useful if you're unsure what to show but want something to fit your curriculum. 

But, if you have a move-in-hand that you want to show, you can search for that title as well. 

Many films have more than one worksheet available, so you can choose the one that best suits your needs.  Or, you can choose the best part of each worksheet and create your own. 

The best part of the Movie Sheets database is that the list of movies runs the gamut: NOVA videos, Bill Nye videos, the Eyewitness video series, animated features and Hollywood action flicks.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

End of School: Tips for Surviving Science

This activity doesn't have the same excitement factor as the previous activities, instead the students need to be a bit reflective. 

At the end of the year, I sometimes ask my 7th grade students to write a letter to next year's 7th grade students.  The idea being to give the incoming students tips for succeeding in science class - what to watch out for, what to look forward to, etc. 

When I'm assembling the beginning-of-the-year materials, I'll add a section of tips from the previous class amongst class procedures and grade breakdowns. 

I really enjoy reading what the students write and it can provide great insight as to how the students perceive the class as a whole and what they most enjoyed throughout the year (you know you've got a winner when they write about something you did months ago).

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

End of School: Playing with Polymers

Tracy from The Science Spot has come through once again with a fantastic unit, Playing with Polymers, in which students make four different polymers - Gloop, Boogers, Goobers, and Super Slime.

Tracy does this as part of curriculum, as part of a study on petrochemicals.  I did it at the end of the school year, and the one drawback to doing it then is that this activity does require quite a few supplies and pieces of equipment.  But, the students LOVE it - I'll take the mess if I can have engaged students right up until school's out! 

And, Tracy does make it fairly painless for the teacher; she includes lists of materials (in quantities for 100 students), recipes, set-up instructions and so on.  If you keep the materials well-organized and labeled, things will go smoothly.  And your students will love you!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

End of School: By Golly, By Gum

I didn't have any on hand for this picture, but you'll want to make sure you include a super-sugary gum in your testing (Bubblicious, Hubba Bubba, etc.)
By Golly, By Gum is one of the free sample activities from AIMS

Students find the mass of a pack of gum, before and after chewing.  Most of gum's mass comes from sugar, which dissolves during the chewing process, so after chewing for a bit, the mass will decrease significantly and students can calculate a ratio.  Students can then compare different brands/varieties of gum looking at both the ingredients and the mass ratio. 

My students were so excited by the novelty of being allowed to chew gum in class that they very willingly carried out the measurements and calculations, despite the impending vacation (if I remember correctly, I used it before Christmas vacation, but the mindset is the same). 

In a similar vein, Tracy, from The Science Spot, has a Bubble Gum Physics activity in which students calculate the speed with which they can chomp gum.  You could easily tie this in with By Golly, By Gum and have your students calculate their speed while doing the chewing necessary for the mass measurements.

Monday, May 9, 2011

End of School: Surivivor Science

This week, I'm going to deviate a bit from my normal science activities and share some ideas for filling in that last week or two of school.  You know, those weeks when you're still responsible for educating your students, but they are so far done with being educated. 

ETA: As I'm putting together this series of posts, I've been looking up the original sources for some of my favorite end-of-the-school-year science activities and I'm noticing a common theme: The Science Spot.  I didn't set out to highlight everything Tracy's done - I just wanted to share things that have worked for me.  That so many of them come from the same spot is a testament to Tracy's great ideas and her willingness to share freely with everyone.  If you haven't already, please go explore The Science Spot

The first series of activities I want to share with you is Survivor Science, from The Science Spot

I found this to be a wonderful collection of activities that keep my students reviewing science concepts, and a brilliant theme that inspires competition and thus motivates the students to participate. 

There are very few supplies needed - perfect, as no one wants to be getting out all kinds of things while they're trying to pack up their classroom for the summer. 

I found that it could be very flexible, which was of great importance to me.  The last week or two of school were marked with crazy schedules, such that I rarely saw every class every day.  I scheduled the Survivor Science challenges in my plan book and then whichever classes I saw on a given day completed that day's challenge.  The other classes missed out on that challenge, but had their chances with other challenges.  All of my classes were participating, but I didn't have to worry about which class was on which challenge.  They weren't competing amongst classes, just amongst the teams within their own class, so it made no difference if one class had completed more challenges than another.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Summer's Coming....

Sooner for some of you, later for others of you.  But, even if you've still got a good 6 weeks of school left, I know thoughts of long summer days are starting to dance around your brain, even if it does still feel like winter....

Along those lines, I've been debating how to approach the blog throughout the summer.  Last summer I continued posting 5 days per week, but am considering changing things up for a bit this summer. 

If you read this blog on the actual website, you'll notice a new poll on the left side bar.  I'm seeking some input about your anticipated summer readership.  Do you think you'll:
  • Read the blog faithfully every day.
  • Check in and catch up on the blog ~once a week.
  • Ignore the blog all summer but catch up on everything come August.
  • Ignore the blog all summer.
 If you read the blog in a reader, or get it via email, I'd appreciate your taking a moment to visit the website and casting your vote. 

And next week, look for some ideas to engage your students during that last week or so of school.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Acid/Base Chemistry: The Cabbage Caper

Still have some red cabbage juice indicator in the freezer?  Pull it out for this fantastic investigative lesson, utilizing knowledge of acid/base indicators. 

The story begins....

Click here for the full story, with all the suspect information. 

When you've read the full story, you'll learn that each of the suspects was using a particular solution.  The students test each of those solutions with red cabbage juice and with turmeric (found in the spice section of the grocery store) to determine which solution, and therefore which suspect, was responsible for the green and orange stains and the murder of Mr. Worthington. 

The suspects' solutions:
  • Water
  • Salt Water
  • Battery Acid (you can use any kind of weak acid)
  • Lemon Juice
  • Vinegar
  • Lye (baking soda dissolved in water will serve the purposes of the lab)
  • Ammonia Water (you could use window cleaner)
If you have spot plates, students could set up their tests in one of those - put each suspect's solution in two wells, then add a few drops of cabbage juice to one of those wells and a few grains of turmeric to the other.  If not, use test tubes or small beakers, just make sure to wash them well between each test (you wouldn't want an innocent person to be accused of murder!). 

To conclude the lab, have students summarize the tests they performed and the results of their tests in a statement for the court.

One more note, the color change in turmeric is subtle - it remains yellow in an acid but turns orange in a base.
Today, homicide division has asked you, a reputable chemist, to personally accompany Detectives Sippowicz and Martinex on a murder case. Mr. Robert Worthington, a prominent citizen of our fine community, has been murdered.

On the way to the Worthington mansion, you learn that Mr. Worthington was stabbed, in his own kitchen, with his own carving knife. The maid, according to the police report, had found the cook standing over the body. The police officer on the scene had, therefore, arrested the cook on suspicion of murder. The cook, being a good friend of Sippowicz, had immediately called him, seeking his help. Sippowicz claims that the cook could not have done it since Mr. Worthington paid his cook more than any other employer in the city. His death will mean a substantial reduction in the cook’s salary, he claims. Besides, she is a very gentle person. She would never even raise a hand to kill a fly.

When you arrive on the scene, Mr. Worthington is still lying on the kitchen floor with the carving knife still protruding from his chest. As you examine the knife, you notice a STRANGE GREEN STAIN on the handle. Nearby are some ODD ORANGE STAINS. These are unusual because they are not blood stains. Fingerprints are covered up by the stains, making them unavailable for evidence. As Martinez questions the cook, you and Sippowicz set out to question the rest of the staff. One hour later, you, Martinez and Sippowicz meet to discuss the suspects.