Are you teaching a new science class for the first time? Are you overwhelmed with what lab supplies you will need and how to spend (or save) your budget?
I've taught biology for many years, and compiled a list of 20 must-have items to get you started. Some materials can be found at the dollar store, while others will need to be ordered from a science supplier and will eat up some of your budget. If you have any questions be sure to drop me a comment!
I've also teamed up with some other stellar science teachers and included lists for earth science, chemistry, physics, and anatomy. Check them out below!
2 liter bottles are one of the most versatile lab supplies you can get your hands on. There are SO MANY ways to use them! While I'm a soda drinker, I prefer cans, so I ask students to bring them in if they have any at home. Here is a (growing) list of experiments that all use 2L bottles. If you have more ideas to share, please leave me a comment!
1. Lava Lamp: Build your own lava lamp! Fill a bottle 1/3 of the way full with water and a couple drops of food coloring. Fill another third of the bottle with vegetable oil. Drop in an alka seltzer tablet and enjoy the show!
2. Density Column: Teaching density? See how many different layers you can create inside the 2L bottle. Some great liquid options are water, karo syrup, vegetable oil, rubbing alcohol, and soap.
3. Cloud in a bottle: Check out this video clip on how you can create a cloud in a bottle.
4. Tornado Machine: There are two ways to do this- first you can purchase a tornado tube connector (I got the pictured connector from Steve Spangler Science), connect two bottles together, and give it a swirl. Another option is to use one bottle. Fill it with water, a small amount of vinegar, and a drop or two of soap. Give it a small shake, swirl it around, and watch a soapy vortex form inside.
5. Climate Demo: Why are the high and low temperatuers in coastal cities close together while inland cities see much greater temperature fluctuations throughout the day? Answer: It's a lot harder to change the temperature of water than it is to change the temperature of air. Get two 2L bottles and fill one with water while leaving the second bottle empty. Place a thermometer into the opening and secure it with a rubber stopper (or play-doh if you don't have a stopper). Shine a heat lamp on both bottles and compare the temperature changes.
6. Rocket: Build a water bottle rocket! Here are directions from NASA.
7. Balloon in a bottle: Does air have volume (does it take up space?) Have students try and blow up a balloon in a bottle. Bet they can't! (You can poke a hole in the bottom or add a straw to show how if air can exit, the balloon will expand).
8. Instant Ice: Can you turn a bottle of liquid water into frozen ice within seconds? Wach how here! (Note: I've never tried this with a 2L size but know it works well with smaller bottles).
9. Soil Erosion: Show students the impact of plants and sediment type on erosion. Bottle 1 contains soil and plants, bottle 2 contains woodchips, and bottle 3 contains soil. Add water and compare the amount that filters through and clarity. (Photo credit @Inspirelifelonglearning).
10. Atmosphere Model: What is the most abundant gas in the atmosphere? How much oxygen is actually up there? Grab a 2L bottle and some foam beads from the dollar store and build a model.
11. Mentos + Coke: This is always a student favorite. Put some mentos into a 2L bottle of coke and watch for the geyser! I found this screw-on contraption in Target dollar spot. Tip: Using diet soda has easier cleanup- no sticky sugar residue!
12. Composting: Build a micro-composter in a bottle! Pepsi has a free lesson plan here.
13. Lung Model: Build a model of a lung and show students how the diaphragm helps lungs expand and contract. You can find directions here.
14. Kinetic Theory: How can we show students hot air molecules move faster than cold air molecules? Get a bottle (smaller actually works better here) and place a balloon over the opening. Next, get 2 bowls of water. Fill one bowl with ice water and the second bowl with hot water. Place the bottom of the bottle in the bowl of cold water and watch the balloon.... do nothing. Now place it in the bowl of hot water and watch the balloon expand. As the air inside the balloon gets warmed it moves faster, expands, and pushes on the balloon.
15. Cartesian Diver: Get a 2L bottle and fill it with water. Place an eyedropper inside the bottle that is 1/4 of the way full and screw on the lid. (Don't have an eyedropper? Use a ketchup packet instead. You want the ketchup packet to float, but just barely). Squeeze the bottle and watch the eyedropper sink. As you increase the pressure on the bottle you'll see water go up into the eyedropper, making it sink.
16. Eco Column: Build a three chamber eco-column with multiple bottles. This website has multiple blog posts on how to assemble them and troubleshooting tips. (Photo credit @lonniesplanet)
17. Funnel: Even after you've finished using a bottle for one of the experiments listed above, cut off the top and save it for a lab that requires a funnel!
Any other uses you know of? Drop me a comment!
Earth's oceans are a carbon sink, which is a place where carbon is stored long term. Oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It reacts with seawater, creating carbonic acid, which in turn lowers the pH of the ocean. This phenomena is known as ocean acidification. It will only get worse as we release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Oceans currently have a pH of around 8.1, but it is projected to lower to 7.7 by the year 2100.
What is the impact of ocean acidification on marine life?
Research is still being conducted on this, but there are a few things we know for sure. First, organisms that rely on carbonate to build their shells and exoskeletons will have less available. These organisms include coral, mollusks, sea urchins, starfish, and zooplankton to name a few. If they struggle to build shells, they are more likely to be eaten by predators and it can create a trophic cascade up the food chain. Other impacts could include lowering the blood pH of fish, changes in reproductive ability of marine life, and impeding with organisms ability to send chemical signals.
Ocean Acidification Lab
An easy way to show students the impact of ocean acidification on marine life is by soaking seashells in ocean water with various pH levels.
For this lab you will need (per group): 3 cups or beakers, 3 seashells, water, salt, vinegar, an electronic scale, and pH paper. Seashells can be purchased at craft stores, and I've even found them at the dollar store in the craft aisle.
Start by mixing up simulated ocean water (3.5% saltwater solution). Students will put ocean water in the first beaker, 75mL of ocean water and 25mL of vinegar in the second beaker, and 50mL ocean water and 50mL of vinegar in the third beaker. Next, have students take the mass of the seashells over the course of 3 days and calculate the percent change in mass. They will see the vinegar eat away at the seashell and a large reduction in mass. You can also have them measure the pH of the liquids over 3 days and see how it changes as carbonate is released (enter discussion on buffers!)
Following the activity you can discuss ways students can lower their carbon footprint so we can slow the rate of acidification in the future. If you are interested in a powerpoint lesson on ocean acidification and a lab write up for this activity, you can find it HERE.
The law of conservation of mass states that mass in a closed system will not change before and after a chemical reaction. Mass isn't created or destroyed, it just moves places. Seems simple enough, but this law can be difficult to demonstrate. It seems nearly impossible to get PERFECT data every time. And when the measurements are off by two hundredths of a gram, students are often yelling "Ah-Ha! Lavoisier was wrong!" (Sigh.....) BUT, it can lead to good discussions on where any change in mass could have come from.
Start with reviewing the difference between physical and chemical changes. (Chemical changes include: gas, color change, precipitate, temperature change, or light). Get some play doh and roll it into a ball. Place it on the scale and ask students if they think the mass will change if you change the shape of the play doh. You could also use legos or anything else you have handy.
Once they've seen that physical changes don't cause a mass change, move on to chemical changes.
Here are some labs you can use for different grade levels to teach the law of conservation of mass.
Grades 5-6: GLOW STICKS
In this experiment students compare the mass of a glow stick before and after it has been cracked and activated. You should get relatively good data for this lab, but as you can see in the picture the mass decreased by a hundredth of a gram. Glow sticks can be found on amazon, at the dollar store, or you can stock up on them after Halloween when they go on clearance.
Grades 7-8: ALKA SELTZER BAG
In this experiment, students compare the mass of water and alka seltzer in a Ziploc bag before and after it reacts. I'll admit this is a tough one to get great data because the bag is porous and some gas will escape during the reaction. However, it's best to use a bag instead of a sealed container because with a sealed container the lid can pop off from the pressure. I've found thicker name brand bags work better than store brand, so don't skimp to save a few bucks.
One thing you can do after the alka seltzer and water reacts is to let students open the bag, release the gas, and re-weigh (see the last picture on the right). They will see a decrease in mass and learn that gases (in this case, carbon dioxide) have mass. If you'd like to check out the lab worksheet, click here.
Grades 9+: STEEL WOOL
In part 1 of this experiment, students compare the mass of steel wool before and after pulling it apart. Since it is only a shape change and not a chemical change, it's relatively easy to get perfect data as long as they pull it apart over the scale (small fragments will fall off).
In part 2, students burn steel wool and compare the burned mass to the initial mass. (Bunsen burners will give you better data than using matches or candles). What is interesting about this experiment is that the steel wool actually GAINS mass after burning. This is because as it burns it combines with oxygen in the air to form iron oxide. The addition of the oxygen atoms causes an increase in mass. It's a great experiment to get students thinking about chemical reactions and where this additional mass could have come from. If you'd like to check out the lab worksheet, click here.
Do you have any other ways you demonstrate the law of conservation of mass with students? Leave me a comment!
It doesn't matter what age you are, glow in the dark experiments are a blast!
Did you know that tonic water glows under a black light? It has a chemical in it called "quinine" that causes it to glow. You can substitute out tonic water for regular tap water in some of your go-to experiments to make them glow! Here are a few of my favorites:
Ooblek is super fun to make when learning states of matter. Is it a solid? Is it a liquid? (It's a colloid). To make ooblek, you normally mix 1 part water to 2 parts cornstarch. Sub out tap water for tonic water and now you have a glowing non-Newtonian fluid. Around Halloween we call them "ghost guts!"
When teaching cell membranes, many teachers do the classic rubber egg experiment. In this lab, you begin by dissolving the shell of an egg with vinegar (change out the vinegar on day 2 and continue to let it sit about 2 more days). Once your shell is dissolved you are left with the membrane of the egg sans shell. You can take it a step further and soak your rubberized egg in different liquids such as corn syrup and see what happens. This simulates osmosis and how cells swell in hypotonic solutions and shrink in hypertonic solutions.
To make your rubber egg glow, use a 50-50 mixture of vinegar and tonic water. (You could even be sneaky and add tonic water to a random few beakers from the class and freak them out by telling them they must have gotten radioactive eggs).
DIY LAVA LAMP
Want to make your own lava lamp? Fill a container with 50% tonic water and 50% vegetable oil. Turn off the lights, add your black light, drop in an alka selzer tablet, and enjoy the show! This can be done to reinforce density (layers) and chemical reactions (CO2 bubbles).
Looking for more spook-tacular Halloween science ideas? Check out this blog post!
Writing out CLEAR and DESCRIPTIVE scientific procedures is hard for students. It takes practice! Many teachers start off with a fun activity like how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Students will likely forget some important steps! This Youtube version made me smile:
Anywho, it's important for students to be given opportunities to practice writing experimental procedures and not just be given what we call "cookbook labs" where everything is provided for them.
Here are some ways you can practice:
1. I created a set of 20 unique writing prompts that provide students experimental questions. I like that they not only get to practice writing procedures, but also get critical thinking practice- HOW could they test and set up an experiment to answer the question? It can be helpful to work through an example as a class and then set them loose.
(If you are interested in other writing prompt sets, check out this post).
2. I came across this cool flextangle template and immediately thought "Students will love this! But how do I connect it to my curriculum?"
I think it would be fun to put students in pairs, and chop the paper in half- give one student the foldable template and the other student the directions. Have the student with the directions explain how to cut and fold the flextangle and see if they can do it successfully. After a while, you can show them the video of how the flextangle should work and see how they did. While students won't actually be writing procedures, they will be explaining procedures, which is still great practice.
3. Have a favorite demo you love? Sneak in some writing practice! Show students the demo and tell them to watch what you do very carefully. After the demo, have them write out what you did step by step. You can do the demo a second time if they need to see it again to catch all the steps. After the demo, have a few students read their procedures out loud and see how well they did.
4. In this free activity from Amy Brown Science, students build a unique structure and write out the procedures on how they built it. Then they swap instructions with another student and see if they can replicate the structure.
What other ways do you have students practice writing procedures? Leave me a comment!
Want a new way to review the scientific method and variables at the beginning of the school year? Try having students conduct a consumer science experiment! In this lab students will chose two products that they use in their everyday life and design an experiment to test it's effectiveness.
What's great about this experiment is:
Possible experiments could include:
Prior to "setting students loose" with the task, I would remind them to only choose ONE variable, and review what a controlled experiment is. For example, if they choose to test paper towel absorbency, they need to make sure the two paper towels are the same size. Also discuss the need for multiple trials to get accurate data.
You have a few options for students to submit their work:
Inevitably you will have students that changed more than one variable, didn't have a control, made measuring errors, etc. You can always give them feedback and request the repeat the experiment with needed improvements. This is a great learning opportunity for them, and they will understand that the nature of science is to always go back to the drawing board and improve on prior experiments.
Have any other consumer science labs you love to do with students? Leave them in the comments and I'll add them to the list!
WHAT IS CITIZEN SCIENCE?
Citizen science is when the public participates in scientific research. Every-day citizens share and contribute data with the goal of increasing scientific knowledge. You do not have to be a trained scientist in order to participate.
WHY YOU SHOULD TRY IT
Citizen science is great to do with students because:
Ready to try it out? Here is a list of websites and project ideas to get you started.
1. CitizenScience.gov is a government website that has a TON of project ideas and is a great place to start. You can collect data that will be used by NOAA, USGS, National Science Foundation, and even NASA.
2. The Great Backyard Bird Count is a website run by the Audubon that encourages students to get outside and start birding. They are looking for regional data where people can upload pictures and species of birds they see in their neighborhoods. Time to dust off those binoculars!
3. National Geographic has a list of citizen science projects, ranging from wildlife observation, measuring night sky brightness (light pollution), butterfly census, listening for frog and toad calls, and more.
4. SciStarter.org is a website put together by Arizona State University and the National Science Foundation. You can search for projects near you or online only.
5. Project Green Challenge is a website that gives students environmentally-themed challenges. You can register your school and enter to win prizes!
6. Zooniverse is "people powered research." This website has a ton of ongoing projects that also venture into other content areas outside of the natural sciences.
7. inaturalist Do you ever take pictures of insects and cool species in your yard or neighborhood? inaturalist is a website (and phone app) that allows you to upload pictures of your findings and share/discuss with fellow naturalists.
8. Captain Planet Project Hero is a PBL driven website where students can help threatened species and ecosystems in their area.
9. The GLOBE Program is looking for people to contribute data for cloud types, mosquito habitats, and land cover observations.
10. Project Budburst was created by Chicago Botanical Garden. Their goal is to uncover the stories of plants and animals affected by human impacts on the environment.
11. Gorongosa Webcams If you've ever used curriculum from Biointeractive, you know it's pretty stellar. In this lesson students study webcams from Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique and do animal identification.
12. Pollinator Live is a website that includes links to a bunch of citizen science projects centered around attracting and monitoring pollinators in your area. Teach students the importance of pollinators!
13. A Bioblitz event is where students identify as many species as possible in a specific area over a short period of time.
Looking for low stress and low prep ideas as we navigate distance learning? Here are 5 ideas you can use with your secondary science students:
1. CLICK HERE to check out virtual field trips your students can explore!
2. CLICK HERE to see a full list of science related movies, TV shows, and documentaries.
3. Check out American Chemical Society's blog post on kitchen chemistry ideas!
4. Have students create a photo journal!
5. Have students build something out of recycled materials. Ideas could include a rube goldberg contraption, a parachute, or a solar cooker.
Hope those tips help you through this tough time!
It can be frustrating when students are absent on lab days. You spend a lot of time setting up and often spend money out of your own pocket for supplies. If you are doing labs often or teach multiple preps, dealing with student absences just gets harder to juggle. By the time the student comes back and asks "what did I miss?" I've often torn down the lab or passed the supplies onto another teacher in my department and don't have them available. Instead of scrambling to re-set up the lab every time, here are a few alternative options:
1. DO THE LAB MAKE-UP ON THEIR OWN TIME
If the lab isn't super labor intensive and students can read through the procedures on their own to figure out what to do, I have them come in and make up the lab on their own time. Luckily my school has an advisory period built into the school day where students can travel to get caught up on their classes. If you don't have this luxury, they could come in during lunch or after school.
2. SUBSTITUTE THE WET LAB FOR A VIRTUAL LAB
There are a bunch of virtual labs out on the internet that you could substitute for the wet lab. Phet or Glencoe are great options to check out.
3. COPY THE LAB DATA FROM A PEER AND ANSWER THE ANALYSIS QUESTIONS
This option is my go-to for labs that take multiple days. If students missed the first day of experimental design or data collection, they can come back in, join a lab group, and finish the lab. If it was a one day lab, you can have a "master copy" of data that absent students can copy down and analyze before answering the post lab analysis questions.
4. DO AN ALTERNATIVE ASSIGNMENT ON THE SAME TOPIC
If you can't find a virtual lab on the same topic, try and find an article or worksheet on the same topic and use that assignment to replace the lab grade. Newsela is a great place to find free non-fiction articles. Don't forget to look for freebies on TpT! (type in the topic you are looking for and filter by grade and cost).
5. EXCUSE THE ASSIGNMENT
I would like to begin with a disclaimer that this is NOT something I do regularly. I think students need to somehow show proficiency on a standard, not just get it excused. However, if a student tells you they were absent for a week because they were in the hospital or had a true family emergency that you can verify, sometimes they just need to be cut a break. Realize they will have missing assignments from 6 other classes on top of yours, pick which assignments you think are vital for mastering the standard, and excuse the rest.
The moral of the story: Don't lose your sanity trying to have every absent student do make up labs.