Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Earthquakes: When was the last earthquake?

Originally posted on February 9, 2010

Ask your students to guess when the last earthquake occurred. You can have them write their answers on paper or have a discussion. Log on to the US Geologic Society to find out the answer. Many students will be surprised to learn that the most recent earthquake likely occurred in the last few hours – numerous low-magnitude earthquakes occur every day - in this country and worldwide.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Body Systems: Nervous System: The Importance of Cerebrospinal Fluid

Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is the liquid that surrounds your brain and prevents your brain from smashing in to your skull. 

Here's a simple little demonstration that shows just how crucial that fluid is.

You'll need a small container (with a tight-fitting lid), 2 eggs and some water.

Throughout the demonstration, the egg yolk will represent your brain and the container will represent your skull.

Crack one egg into the container and put the lid on. 

Agitate the container - you can just shake it, or you can have a student run a few laps around the room with it for it.

Open the container and observe - scrambled brains!

Clean out the container and crack the second egg into the container. 

This time, before putting on the lid, fill the remaining space in the container with water. 

Agitate the container once again.

Open the container and observe - the egg yolk remains intact.  (The egg what froths up a little bit, making it difficult to see at first, but the whole yolk is there).

The water cushions the egg yolk, just as the CSF cushions your brain. 

Great visual explanation!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Inference Cups

Originally posted on February 8, 2010

Create inference cups by placing an object in a styrofoam cup. Cut 4 slits partway down the sides of the cup. Fold two opposing sides down, and then the other two sides down on top of those. Seal with packaging tape. Label all the cups with one object in them "A", all cups with the second object in them "B", etc.

The students' goal is to infer the shape of the object in the cup based on the observations they make by moving/shaking/rotating the cup. They can then hypothesize what the object is.

Objects used in making the cups:
*Penny (disk)
*Marble (sphere)
*Die (cube)
*Nut (hexagon)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Favorite Websites:

Originally posted on February 5, 2010

If I could pick only one website in the whole worldwide web to use as a science resource, this is it!!! Tracy Trimpe as created and assembled the most fantastic collection of science activities I've encountered. If you're anything like me, after perusing the site, you'll find yourself reinvigorated and excited to head back into your classroom armed with a brand new repertoire of science activities. And all the paperwork is ready for you to print out and go.

You'll find me highlighting several of the Sciencespot activities in their own individual posts, and sharing my experiences with them. But, don't let that stop you from heading over there RIGHT NOW! (And make sure your printer is fully stocked with paper and ink - once you start, you'll be printing out activities left and right!)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Projectile Motion/Gravity: Ruler and Penny

Originally posted on February 4, 2010

To demonstrate that gravity pulls objects to the ground at the same speed, regardless of the path they take…

Place a ruler flat on the demonstration table, with about 2 inches hanging over the edge of the table. Place a penny on the table next to the ruler (between the edge of the table and the ruler).

Instruct students to listen for the pennies hitting the ground. Quickly flick the ruler, so that you are pushing the penny off the table at the same time you are “pulling” the ruler out from under the penny sitting on it. The penny that was on the ruler will fall straight to the ground (due to inertia, 1st law of motion), while the penny that was on the table will travel along a path of projectile motion.

If executed properly, the pennies will hit the ground at the same time. You will no doubt have to repeat this demonstration several times; first, because students take that long to determine that they are in fact landing at the same time and second, because it’s a bit mind-boggling to students (and teachers).

Do as I say, not as I photograph...
1 - Don't perform this demonstration with little people sitting on the floor where pennies may land!
2 - Don't perform this demonstration in a carpeted area of the room, you won't hear the pennies land!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Solar System: Pictorial Comparison

Originally posted on February 2, 2010

I LOVE these pictures. I first learned of them a few years ago and promptly printed and laminated a set for my classroom. I was reminded of them recently when I received them as an email attachment.

I think the art is beautiful and I can just stare at them-my mind spinning, trying to comprehend the size of the universe, all the while.

I don't know the source for these pictures. If someone out there does, please let me know and I will gladly add it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

How Many PIeces if Pasta in the Jar

Originally posted on February 1, 2010

Provide each group of students with two jars - one filled with tiny pasta and a second that's empty, as well as a variety of measuring tools: balances, rulers, graduated cylinders, etc. The group is to use the allotted time to determine the number of pieces of pasta in the jar.

I have used this at the beginning of the year and when forming new lab groups - a chance for the team to work together to find a solution. A good opportunity to observe students and their ways of thinking.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Summer Science Camp: How-To Guide Part III

During the past two days, you considered several factors in preparation for planning your science camp and making an official proposal. 

Once your proposal is in place and approved, there's more work to do.  You've decided on a length of time to meet for each day of camp, but now you need to structure that time to best suit you and your campers. 

As mentioned previously, we opted for a 2 hour camp.  We broke each camp session into 3 activities - two 30 minute activities, one 45 minute activity, and one 15 minute snack.  You could do two 45 minute activities and one 30 minute one.  You could do four 30 minute activities.  The possibilities are endless.  Consider the activities you want to present and the amount of time you anticipate each one taking.  You'll no doubt have to adjust the schedule as you go along, but it's good to have a plan to begin with. 

It's helpful to organize your activities so that the very messy ones are followed by less messy ones.  In fact, the best follow-up to a messy activity is to get the kids outside for a game.  Your co-leader or student volunteer can remain in the room to finish any clean-up or get ready for the next activity while the kids are out of the way.

You'll probably want to do your most preparation-intense activity first thing in the camp session, so you can do all your set up before student arrive, instead of trying to do it while students are working on other activities.

Also, make sure you think about the structure of the overall week.  I never planned activities that had to be completed outside for the last day of camp - if it rains on that final day, you won't have a chance to reschedule the activity.  For example - the rocket launch was usually scheduled for Thursday (with Friday available as a rain date).  That meant that rocket construction needed to be completed by Wednesday.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Summer Science Camp: How-to Guide Part II

Yesterday I had you start thinking about planning your summer science camp.  Here are a few more points to consider when making your science camp proposal.

While you may not have all the details ironed out, you'll need to have a basic idea of what the kids will be doing to include in the proposal. 

Our administration required that we NOT include any activity that would be done in the classroom as part of the science curriculum.  The camp was supposed to be an extra-curricular activity, which supplemented the science instruction, not a chance for students to "get ahead" of their classmates. 

You'll want to clear the activity list with the administration, especially if you're doing things like rocketry and other things which may be cause for concern. 

Determining the cost is always tricky and the amount you can charge is going to vary greatly from one place to another.  It's worth doing some research to find what other camps/programs in the area are charging, to give you a starting point. 

Begin by adding up the costs associated with the activities you selected and divide them amongst the number of children you anticipate attending. 

Then you'll need to decide how much to charge for your teaching services.  One way to approach this is to consider the going rate for babysitting in your location.  NO, I am not saying that you are simply providing a baby-sitting service, but it will give you some idea of what parents are willing to pay per hour to have their children taken care of. 

Will you have any additional help that you'll need to pay?  I always had one of my 7th or 8th grade students come to help for the week.  It was largely a volunteer position, but we always paid them a little something at the end.  It wasn't anything we budgeted for, just an appreciation of our thanks - and you will be truly thankful for that person by the end of the week. 

You may also need to consider insurance costs - that's something you'll need to speak with your administration about.  In our situation, the home & school association (PTA-type group) took care of the insurance for the summer programs, but collected 10% of the program's fees to help cover the cost.

Hopefully when you add those numbers together, you'll come to reasonable cost per student.  If the number seems too high, you may need to cut out some of the more expensive activities.  Or you may need to insist on a minimal enrollment number (to cut down the cost per student on some of the activities). 

You need to decide what you're willing to do.  Yes, running a camp is the chance to earn some extra money, but you won't make anything if no one is willing/able to pay the fee.  And, you're going to have to work to earn that money.  I think it's best to look at is as something you want to do because it will be fun for you, and the income as a bonus.  And if it's not going to be fun for you, you should probably find something else to do for the summer. 

Tomorrow we'll spend some time thinking about how to schedule your time, once your proposal has been approved.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Summer Science Camp: How-To Guide

Last summer, I shared a number of acitivites that my friend/colleague/co-teacher and I used when running our summer science camps. 

In addition to the activities we used, I want to share a bit of our planning process with you and guide you through some decisions you'll need to make if you decide to run your own camp. 

And while summer seems so very far away, now is the time to start planning your camp, if you hope to run one this summer. 
Depending upon the dynamics of your school and your relationship with your administration, you'll know the best way to approach the situation.  We had spoken informally with the administration, so we knew there was interest and support, before we put together our "official" program proposal. 

We put together and submitted our proposals in January/February, so it's time to get going now
Things to consider before preparing your proposal:

We invited students entering grades 2 - 5.  We taught in a small school, so we felt we needed a several-grade range to gather enough students.  In a larger population, you could narrow that range.

You'll need to consider your population.  In some places, large numbers of students go to camp for several weeks.  Other places you want to make sure to avoid county fair time.

Sometimes you can take what seems like an obstacle and make it work for you.  The phys. ed. teacher at our school always ran a sports camp for a week right after school got out and it was hugely popular.  The first year we ran our camp, we made sure to pick a date that didn't conflict with his camp.  But the second year, we decided to try to piggy-back off his success - his camp ran in the morning and we ran ours in the afternoon.  We allowed time for a lunch break between the two and got permission for the kids to eat lunch at the school as long as they were with us.  We had quite a few students who participated in both programs that week. 

In the end, you'll have to pick something that works for you - there will be people who can't attend no matter which week you pick. 

We decided to run our camp for 2 hours each day, which was plenty for our age group.  And we went for the afternoon - the first year it was just what we decided, the second year it was because of the aforementioned sports camp.  Again, keep in mind your population.  If swimming lessons are held in the afternoon locally, plan for the morning. 

I'll have additional factors for you to consider in your planning tomorrow.

Monday, February 6, 2012


As you've probably noticed, real-life has gotten in the way of blog-life lately. 

So, I've been devising a plan to keep this blog at least somewhat active until I can strike a new balance between real-life and blog-life. 

First, for the rest of this week, I'm going to share a series of posts on summer science camps - sort of a how-to guide to help you set up your own.  I've had these in draft form for a long time and meant to get them posted weeks ago, but it didn't happen.  But, I'm going to get them up this week.

Then, I'm going to re-post some of my old posts from two years ago.  There are a LOT more readers now than there were then, and I suspect that not everyone has had time to read their way through the archives.  And even the people who have been reading since the beginning may enjoy being reminded of some of those early ideas that may have since slipped their mind. 

As I have opportunities to photograph and write-up new activities and highlight new resources, I will certainly do so. 

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy some regular content once again, even if it's not "new".

Photosynthesis: The Big Green Mixing Bowl

Originally posted on February 3, 2010

A demonstration to magnify the process of photosynthesis.

You’ll need:
A large green mixing bowl
A flashlight
2 zip-top bags
1 labeled “O2”
1 labeled “CO2”
Water (in a cup)
Large spoon

Before class begins, inflate each of the bags (blow them up and quickly seal them). Place the bag of O2 and the sugar inside the green mixing bowl. Don’t let the students see the inside of the bowl.

For the demonstration:
Photosynthesis takes place in the chloroplasts, represented by the large green bowl. Ask for volunteers to name the “ingredients” needed for photosynthesis: CO2 and water. As the reactants are named, add each to the mixing bowl (I pour the water in and empty the contents of the CO2 bag into the bowl). Photosynthesis also requires the presence of light, so shine the flashlight into the bowl while you give it a stir. Ask for volunteers to name the products made during photosynthesis: O2 and sugar. As each of the products are named, pull them out of the mixing bowl.