Friday, September 30, 2011

Professional Development: Mickelson ExxonMobil Teacher Academy

If you know a great 3rd - 5th grade math and science teacher, encourage them to apply for the Phil Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy for the summer of 2012.  Or nominate them yourself!

While I have not had the honor of attending, I've heard wonderful things about it.  The programming is done by the National Science Teachers Association (definitely a great organization) and Math Solutions (which I'm not familiar with, but it was founded by Marilyn Burns, who has some phenomenal ideas for teaching math, so I'm guessing it's a stand-out organization as well). 

It's an all-expense paid (including travel) week at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, NJ (an excellent facility), with lots of opportunities for learning and socializing with other like-minded teachers. 

I believe there are generally a very large number of applicants for the 100 available spots, but there's not much to lose by trying (the application is short and pretty simple) and there's potentially a whole lot to gain! 

P.S. Application deadline is October 31!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Light: Refraction: Flip an Arrow

This is a great way to kick off your study of refraction and lenses.

Provide students with a cylinder of water (without lines, words, etc. on it - check your recycling bin for empty glass bottles) and an index card with an arrow printed on it. 

Have the students observe the arrow, looking through the cylinder of water.  What happens as the move the arrow away from the water? 

How about when the move the arrow closer to the water. 

The cylinder of water is acting as a lens.  When the arrow is close to the lens, it is magnified, but pointing in the original direction.  As the arrow is moved away from the lens, it flips. 

Provide students with plenty of time to play with these simple objects, allowing them to make as many observations as possible.  Some ideas to try out:
  • watching the arrow through the water while the rotate the paper
  • holding the arrow vertically instead of horizontally
  • observing other shapes or letters through the lens
Once students have gained some hands-on experience with this simple lens, head back to the desks to work on explaining what was witnessed with words and diagrams. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Importance of Brushing Your Teeth - Part I

We've previously looked at the importance of brushing teeth to remove stains that certain foods may leave on the teeth.  This week and next we'll examine the importance of brushing teeth as a preventative measure.

The fluorine in toothpaste binds with calcium in your teeth to form calcium fluoride, which strengthens your teeth.

For this experiment, you'll want to make sure you use a fluoride toothpaste.  You'll see it listed in the active ingredients as sodium fluoride.

To represent our teeth, you'll be using an egg, as the shell is made of calcium, as are our teeth.

Coat one egg with toothpaste - all over.  Allow the egg to sit overnight with the toothpaste on it. 

The next day, wash the toothpaste off the egg.  Then place that egg in a cup/beaker of vinegar.  Place a second, untreated egg in a second cup/beaker of vinegar. 

The vinegar is an acid, as are many of the foods we consume, including, but not limited to fruit, tomatoes, and soda.

Observe the eggs over the course of the next 24 hours. 

You will notice that the cup with the untreated egg develops a foamy white substance on the top of the vinegar in a fairly short amount of time.  That foam is made of dissolved calcium - the shell is dissolving.  The treated egg does not produce nearly so much.

After 24 hours you'll notice that the untreated egg has completely lost its shell - you're left with a squishy egg.  The treated egg has a small amount of shell left.  It's on the squishy side - the fluoride doesn't completely protect it.  That's one of the reasons why you need to continue to brush your teeth - to constantly provide more fluoride and to help wash away the acid currently in the mouth.  It's also important to note that even with regular brushing, eating a diet high in acidic foods will, over time, wear on your teeth.  And lots of acidic foods without brushing your teeth is a recipe for ruining your teeth.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Water Cycle: The Incredible Journey

This is adapted from the ProjectWET curriculum guide.  I've seen this adaptation in several different locations, so I don't know whom to officially credit.  Regardless, it's a great activity and I hope you and your students enjoy it!

If I ask you to describe the water cycle, what comes to mind? 

I'll bet your picturing the image from your textbook: the clouds raining over the mountain, the water moving down the mountain into the ocean/lake, the water evaporating from the ocean/lake to form clouds.  Maybe there's a tree in there somewhere, releasing water into the air as well.  You know... this one....

That's the easiest way to explain the water cycle, right? 

But, you're all smart people; you realize the water cycle is more than a simple circle.  There are any number of different paths that water can take. 

How do you get your students to understand that? 

The ProjectWET folks created The Incredible Journey, in which students travel between 9 different stations: clouds, oceans, rivers, lakes, plants, animals, soil, glaciers and ground water.

Each station is set up with an identifying sign (it could just be a large sign with the word on it, it could be a painting representing that station, or it could a collage of pictures representing that area), a large die (see instructions below) and a tub of pony beads (one color per station).

The original version of the activity has students write down where they travel, but to make things more fun and memorable, the adaptation has students use the beads to create a keychain/bracelet to document their travels as a water drop.

Each student begins with a pipe cleaner (loop over one end so the beads don't slide off) at a station of their choosing.

The student picks up bead from that station and slides it onto the pipe cleaner. 

The student then roles the die and travels to the station the die directed them to.  At the new station, the student picks up a bead and adds it to the pipe cleaner and roles the die.

If the student roles a "Stay" he or she remains at the same station, picking up another bead representing that station and roles the die again.  It is possible to remain at the same station for a number of roles, which would be represented by several of the same color beads in a row. 

After the students have had the chance to visit ~24 stations, bring the group back together and talk about what happened.  Use the strings of beads to question the students about where they began, where they went next, etc.  Ask the students how they would have gotten from one place to another. 

For instance, my journey began as a drop of water in an animal.  From there I traveled to the ground.  How would I have gone from being in an animal to the ground?  Well, the animal probably urinated; other answers could include slobber/drool, sweat, etc. 

How would I have gone from the clouds to the ocean? Rain (or another form of precipitation). 

A nice way to close the activity is to have students write about their journey - a first-person narrative of their travels and how they moved from one location to another. 

The Dice:
To make the dice:
Use square boxes to make the dice, label the sides (see below), and cover with packing tape (just to make them last longer). 


Cover wooden blocks with masking tape and label the sides (see below).

For each station, label the sides as follows (make sure you mark your dice as to which station each belongs to):

Ground water
Clouds x2

Clouds x4
Stay x2

Ground Water

Ocean x2

Clouds x2
Stay x4

Ground Water
Stay x2

Soil x2
Clouds x3

Lake x2
Stay x3

Ground Water
Stay x3

Monday, September 26, 2011

Write It, Do It

Write It, Do It is a Science Olympiad event, but it can easily be adapted for use in your classroom. 

The idea is to get kids to practice writing clear technical directions. 

As a competition event, students work as a team - one member is the writer and the other is the do-er. 

The writer is given an object made of Legos, K'nex, Tinker Toys, craft supplies, etc.  The writer then has to write a set of instructions explaining how to build that object. 

The do-er is then given those instructions, along with a set of the materials needed to construct the object. 

The goal is to have a finished object that most closely resembles the original object. 

Science Olympiad has a thorough list of rules that govern the event - no drawings, all abbreviations must be defined, etc.  But, in your classroom, you can set your own rules.  For me, the goal is to get the kids to write accurately and provide clear directions. 

Start simple and work up to more complex objects throughout the year, as your students technical writing skills improve. 

If you plan to do this activity throughout the year, seek out a variety of different materials with which to build - it will make things more interesting and challenging if it isn't always the same.  Yard sales and thrift stores are great places to pick up building toys on the cheap - and you can sometimes find some older toys that your students don't know, adding to the challenge!  Just make sure you have at least 2 of each part - one for the object, one for the building materials. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Conservation of Energy: Your Own Astroblaster

Fascinations AstroBlaster
You may have seen one of these toys around... A stick with 5 bouncy balls staked on top of one another.  You drop it on the ground and the top ball goes flying sky-high.

You can do your own demonstration, on a larger scale with balls you probably have scattered around your house (or that you could borrow from the phys. ed. teacher).

I'm using a squishy mini-soccer ball stacked on a basketball.  They're both a little flat, and only bounce up to about my waist when I drop them from chin height.

But, if I stack them on top of each other and drop them, the soccer ball goes flying off, reaching an altitude many times higher than when dropped by itself.  The basketball doesn't bounce back much at all.  Just a little, and then it rolls away. 

The soccer ball went much higher than that - my camera timing skills aren't perfect!

This is a demonstration of conservation of energy and momentum.  Nearly all of the energy the basketball had is transferred to the soccer ball - allowing the soccer ball to fly off with more energy than it started with and the basketball, left with almost nothing, just rolls away.

You can have lots of fun experimenting with different balls - golf balls, ping pong balls, super balls, playground balls, etc.  What do you think would happen with 3 balls?  Give it a try!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Eating without Teeth

Gather several green leaves (look for ones that have fallen to the ground).  Place them in a resealable bag and seal. 
Hold the bag between you hands and rub the bag between your hands 25 times.  Observe the leaves.

Now add several small rocks the bag. 

Rub the bag together 25 more times.  Observe the leaves.

You'll find that the leaves without rocks did not change much at all.  However, the leaves in the bag with the rocks were crushed.

Rocks found near the rib bones of some dinosaur skeleton suggest that those dinosaurs swallowed rocks to aid in the digestion of food in dinosaurs who lacked grinding teeth.  Modern chickens swallow gravel to grind food inside their gizzard.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Teaching the Constellation Stories

These are the props I used this summer, when doing constellation programs at some local libraries. 

We did a quick review of what a constellation is and then I started to "quiz" them.

First, I showed them a picture of some stars and they had to decide what picture they might see in those stars.

Then I showed them those same stars with the "dots connected," and asked them again what picture they might imagine from that shape.

And finally, I showed them a picture that had the stars and lines drawn in. 

At that point I shared some of the stories associated with each of the constellations.  We incorporated as many different culture's variations on the myths and legends as I could find, which helped the children understand that the people making up the stories were using images and themes that were part of their everyday life.

We also discussed the great use of imagination in some of the constellations.  It was a good reminder that we were talking about groups of people for whom this was a form of evening entertainment - there weren't televisions or computers or iPods available.  There weren't even books readily available to some of these groups of people. 

Here's another set:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Find the Center of Gravity

This activity makes me happy because it reminds me of the one activity I distinctly remember from high school physics with Mr. Eide, master of the pun.  We used large pieces of Styrofoam and a soldering iron (I think) to make the holes.  This version is safe to do with young students and the materials are easier to come by.

Before hand...
You'll need to make a plumb line (or several). 
Cut a length of string, about 12 inches.  Tie a metal washer to the end (or a fishing sinker or anything else that's heavy and can easily be tied to the end of a string).
 Tie the other end of the string around a pushpin.

The activity...
Cut one side of a manila folder into an irregular shape

Punch five holes (randomly spaced) at the edge of the shape.

Stick the pushpin (with the plumb line attached) through one of the holes and hang it on a bulletin board.  The shape and the string should both swing freely.

When everything has stopped moving, use a pen to draw a line on the paper along the string.

Move the pushpin to another hole and repeat. 

Continue until you've used each of the 5 holes. 

Take the shape down.  The five lines intersect in one point.  If you place your finger under that point, the shape will balance perfectly.  You've located the center of gravity for your shape!

And, if you move your finger, even a small amount, from that spot, the shape will tumble to one side or the other!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Professional Development: FREE Graduate Credits

Yes, you read that correctly - graduate credits for FREE!  I am so excited to share this program with you. 

The American Meteorological Society offers three DataStreme courses:

This is a nation-wide program for K-12 teachers.  The courses are sponsored by AMS, NOAA, NASA and NWS.  When accepted as a participant, your books and graduate credits are completely funded.  The credits are granted by the College at Brockport SUNY. 

The courses are largely conducted on-line using real-time data.  You will need to travel to a class-site 3 or 4 times per course, to meet with the instructors and other students. 

I'll be taking the Earth's Climate System course in the spring and will keep you posted on my progress.  I don't have any first-hand experience with the courses yet, but here's my understanding of how things work:

First, you'll need to find your Local Implementation Team (LIT).  To do so, visit the course page for the course you're interested in and look for a link that mentions finding your LIT - most of them are sorted by state.  (The site also provides a contact for people for whom there is no LIT available - it looks to me like you might still be able to take advantage of the program). 

Then, contact the LIT to learn when there are openings available.  The courses are run in both the spring and fall. 

Fill out and submit your application. 

If you're having trouble navigating the sites or identifying your LIT, please send me a message and I'll be happy to try to help you.  It's a phenomenal opportunity to earn graduate credits.  I don't know if it's the same all over, but the one instructor I met (and thus learned of this program) is always eager to find more participants (I'm under the impression she's responsible for filling the classes), so please share the information with friends and colleagues. 

And maybe I'll see some of my local readers in Albany next spring?!?!?!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Periodic Table: Sticker Atoms

Each year, aAfter my students had learned about atomic structure and were beginning their periodic table investigation, they each chose an element to research a bit.  Every year I varied the product they produced a bit - variations on the element models and an element block (watch for more information on that one coming soon). 

One year, in addition to making their block, I had them create a sticker picture of their element. 

Each student was given a piece of black paper, blue dot stickers for protons, green dot stickers for neutrons, tiny smiley face stickers for electrons and a white colored pencil. 

Making the picture was not particularly challenging - though some interesting questions did arise about electron orbitals for students who were doing transition metals. 

The reason for making the picture wasn't in the interest of challenging the students, but instead to create a giant periodic table.  I laminated each of the individual pictures and then assembled them using clear packing tape. 

This periodic table does a nice job of showing the enlarging nuclei and increasing electron orbitals.  And by taking part in making the table, the students were much more invested in the process and obtained greater understanding of how their element fit in the periodic table.

I had three classes of students and each student had to choose a unique element.  Each class was informed of the parameters during class time and element choosing "opened" at the end of the school day - so each student had equal opportunity to have the first choice.

In addition, I had a few students who helped make pictures for some of the elements that weren't chosen, so we had a more complete periodic table - at least for the first several periods. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Body Systems: Nervous System: FREE Brain Mold

Looking for a fun prop for your Central Nervous System lecture?  Or a little Halloween fun? 

Jell-O/Kraft Foods is giving away free brain molds (you pay $2.95 for shipping). 

As previously mentioned, Education Innovations sells a brain mold with instructions for making a gelatin model the same size and mass as a human brain. 

I don't know how the free mold compares in size - I doubt it has the accuracy of the Educational Innovations model, but it's free!  It could certainly be useful for pointing out the parts of the brain in a basic anatomy lesson.  And, assuming you can find a bike helmet in which it fits appropriately, you could use it for a lesson in bike safety and the importance of helmets.  (Drop one gelatin brain without a helmet and another in a helmet and compare the damage).

I've ordered a free one and will do some experimenting with it once it arrives.  I'll keep you posted.  In the meantime, go here to get yours. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Which Way Does a River Flow?

Downhill, of course! 

But, in every classroom there are students convinced that all rivers flow south.  Blame it on wall maps that hang vertically and our knowledge of gravity.  Blame it on the directionality of our largest river.  Blame it on ignorance.  But then do something to correct the misconception.

Each group will need:
-A sheet of freezer paper
-A pan or tub in which the paper fits
-Water-based markers: Blue, Brown, Purple, Black
-Spray Bottle filled with water

To begin, each group will create a unique landscape by crumpling up the piece of freezer paper.  The paper is then opened part-way to reveal mountains, valleys, crevices, etc. 

Place the paper in the pan, making sure all of the paper is contained in the pan.

Use the brown marker to mark the ridges and high points of the landscape.

Use the blue marker to mark the low spots, where the students think the water will collect.

Students then need to decide where they think the best place to build roads would be.  They then draw in the roads using the black marker. 

Each student should choose a site for a house and draw that in with the purple marker.  They may also wish to draw in other municipal buildings. 

Finally, add a compass rose to the upper right hand corner.

Now you're ready for it to rain....
Using the spray bottle, mist water all over the landscape and watch what happens to the water - where it flows, where it collects, etc. 

How did the roads fare?  How about the houses? 

Did all the water flow in the same direction?  Which way did it go?