I'm a big fan of using models to demonstrate science concepts. When students can visually see a concept, it makes it significantly easier to understand. For example- if you ask students about the components of the atmosphere, they tend to think oxygen is the most abundant. Here is an easy way to show them which gas is the most abundant in a very visual way!
Legos can be used in a lot of different ways to demonstrate science concepts. You may be thinking that Legos are expensive, but that's only if you buy Lego brand or special kits. They sell off-brand Legos at Dollar Tree, and you can also find used Legos at children's stores. (You can also bug your friends with older kids to donate their old sets to your class).
Once you have a collection of Legos to use, divvy them up into containers. Again, hit up the dollar store. Purchase enough Tupperware containers to have one kit per group (I tend to break my class into 8 groups, so I have 8 kits). Dollar tree also sells the flat Lego baseplate you can build on. I hot glued them onto the top of the Tupperware so students can build directly on the container and hopefully pieces don't get lost. They also stack easily in the cupboard this way.
Alright, so you have your kits built and ready to go. Now what?
Here are some ways you can use Legos to model science concepts:
1. ELEMENTS, COMPOUNDS, MIXTURES: What is the difference between elements, compounds, and mixtures? Have students model the difference between the three.
2. CHEMICAL REACTIONS: Teaching chemical reactions? Use different colored Legos to represent different elements. For example, blue is oxygen, white is hydrogen, etc. Have students build molecules and show a chemical reaction. Are the number of atoms on the product side of the reaction the same as the number of atoms on the reactant side?
3. MIT CHEMICAL REACTIONS: MIT has created Lego chemical reaction activities that use different colored bricks for different atoms. Check out their website that has activities for photosynthesis, atmosphere, ocean acidification, and chemical reactions. These lessons are AWESOME, but the only drawback is they use very specific pieces.
4. PRECIPITATION TOWERS: This NASA website uses Legos to model weather data. (Note: This specific lesson is for younger grades, but could be modified for middle school).
5. STOP MOTION MITOSIS: Provide students some lego "chromosomes" and have them create a stop motion video showing the process of mitosis. The more pictures the better! To turn the pictures into an animated video or gif, try apps like iMovie, stop motion studio, or videoshop.
6. AGE STRUCTURE DIAGRAMS: Provide students with population data and have them create a scaled age structure diagram out of Legos.
7. TROPHIC PYRAMIDS: Provide students with a food chain, and have them create a pyramid of numbers and a pyramid of energy or biomass for that particular food chain. A great way to visualize the different types of pyramids!
8. LIQUIFACTION: How do soils affect the stability of buildings during earthquakes? In this activity, students build a tower out of Legos and test the stability on different types of soil. Maybe you have some budding structural engineers in your class!
9. PLANET SIZE AND SCALE: Provide students with data on the size of the planets in our solar system. Have them create a scaled model of the planets- a great way to sneak in some dimensional analysis!
10. DNA REPLICATION: Check out this blog post from Science with Mrs. Lau on how she uses legos to model DNA replication!
11. K&P ENERGY: If you have wheels and axles in your Lego tub, have students build Lego cars and measure the amount of kinetic and potential energy they have as they roll down ramps.
I hope your students have fun building!
If you have some spare time before Christmas break and want to do something fun, first off- congrats! I always seem to be squeezing everything in before finals and barely have time to review much less throw in some fun activities.
One fun thing you can do with your students is create science-themed holiday ornaments. Even if you have students that don't celebrate Christmas and have a tree at home, they can still make a keepsake (although it would be polite to check with them first and make sure that is something they are comfortable with).
Here are some inexpensive ideas:
COFFEE FILTER CHROMATOGRAPHY: If you teach chemistry and cover chromatography (or biology and discuss pigments during photosynthesis) this is a fun one. Have students get a piece of filter paper, add some marker ink, and do paper chromatography. Lay the filter paper out to dry. The next day have students come in, grab some scissors, and turn them into snowflakes. Super easy and super fun.
SILVER ORNAMENTS: If you teach chemistry, here are directions on how to make a genuine silver ornament.
DNA MODELS: If you are learning genetics around the holidays, have students create a model of DNA with pipe cleaners and pony beads to hang on their tree.
BIRD SEED PINECONES: This one isn't for your indoor Christmas tree, but is perfect for birds outside! If you live around conifer trees, go pick up some free pinecones off the ground. Tie a piece of string to the top so you can hang it later. Roll the pinecone in peanut butter, and then roll it through some bird seed. Hang it outside around campus and let the birds enjoy.
BORAX ORNAMENTS: This experiment is easy and fool-proof, which is why it's often done during elementary school. Have students bend a pipe cleaner into the shape of their choice- a heart, snowflake, snowman, etc. Then give them a beaker and fill it with around 250 mL warm water and roughly 3T borax. Stir the water until the borax is completely dissolved. Tie one end of a string to the pipe cleaner and the other end to a pencil. Lay the pencil across the top of the beaker so the ornament is hanging in the solution. Within 24 hours students will come back to find beautiful crystals on their pipe cleaner.
SHRINKY DINK ORNAMENTS: While you can buy shrinky dink plastic, it's free if you collect it through the year. Any plastic with a #6 on it will shrink up when baked (often found on take-out containers). Provide students a piece of plastic and some sharpie markers. Allow them to add their design (you can have requirements that it needs to be cell themed, ecology themed, etc.) and cut them out. Use a hole puncher to add a place for string to be inserted later for hanging. Place them on a piece of parchment paper and bake them in the oven at 350 degrees for 2-3 minutes. (Note: If you see them start to curl up, don't panic. They will uncurl). Once they have flattened out and shrunk to about 1/3 their original size, remove them from the oven.
ATOMIC MODELS: A fellow science teacher on Facebook, Heidi Rushing, shared these atomic models she had her students make and they turned out amazing! Provide students with a clear ornament and assign them an element (or you can allow them to choose). Use pony beads to represent protons, neutrons, and electrons. Have students figure out the number of sub-atomic particles for the given element and place them in the correct location. Electron beads can be slid onto pipe cleaners representing the different orbitals.
SALT DOH: You can easily make salt doh using flour, salt, and water. (You can find a recipe here). Again, you can choose to assign a theme or just let them get creative. Once hardened, provide students with glitter or paint to decorate them, and a ribbon for hanging.
I hope you have fun celebrating the holiday season with your students! If you are looking for more non-ornament holiday ideas, check this blog post.
Whenever I play review games before a test, I always have some sort of prize students can win. There is a LOT more buy in when there is a prize at stake, even if it's only worth a few cents! Here are a list of prize ideas your students will love that won't break the bank. (Note: some links are Amazon affiliate links).
1. CANDY. My go-to prize is a jolly rancher. I can buy a large bag at the grocery store for around $8 that lasts quite a long time. You'd be surprised the lengths students will go to in order to win a jolly rancher! Dum-Dums and Lifesaver mints are also very affordable options.
2. SCHOOL SUPPLIES. I stock up on mechanical pencils during back-to-school season when they are really cheap. Students also love colorful pens and fun shaped erasers.
3. HOMEWORK PASS. I'm not a teacher that assigns much homework, but if you do, consider giving out homework passes. Dollar stores tend to carry stacks of homework passes you can fill in.
4. STICKERS. These science-themed vinyl stickers are super fun! Students can stick them on water bottles and notebooks.
5. CHOOSE YOUR SEAT. I'm a little type-A, so I always use seating charts. Yes, even for high school. But you could use a free-seat-day as a reward. I tell students they can sit wherever, but I get to veto if they end up talking to their friends instead of working.
6. PINS. At my school students are required to wear an ID, and most wear it attached to a lanyard. Pins are a fun way to dress up their lanyard. Here are some science pins they could win as a prize!
7. BRAIN TEASERS. Metal puzzle brain teasers are something students really enjoy playing with. I've also seen them at the dollar store, along with some other fun puzzles and games that won't break the bank.
8. COUPONS. Try hitting up your local Circle K or gas station and ask if they have any coupons they could donate. Circle K has given me "polar pop" coupons I could use as student rewards.
What other items do you like to give out as rewards? Drop me a comment!
While I'm not a fan of making students memorize anything on the periodic table, the more familiar they are with it the easier it is for them to use. Do I expect them to know the atomic number of carbon is 6? No, but it's helpful if they know the general location of carbon so it's easy to look up.
Playing periodic table bingo is a fun way to review the elements. I was recently at Dollar Tree and found this bingo cage with 60 balls, cards, and chips for a buck! The balls are numbered on one side, but I grabbed a sharpie and wrote the atomic symbols on the back (for general science you can usually stop at 36 on the periodic table). Break off the balls, place them in the cage, and get ready to have some fun!
Students are given a bingo card that has the names of 24 elements. As you give the cage a spin and remove a ball, you call out the chemical symbol. Students then cover the matching name on their bingo card. (For example, you call out "Na" and students cover sodium). I allow them to have their periodic table out for reference- remember I don't expect them to memorize, just become more familiar with the table.
Can't find the bingo cage at your local dollar store? They are also available to purchase on Amazon (affiliate link), or you can buy ping pong balls instead (which are a little easier to pick up) and pull them out of a plastic tub.
Bored of teaching the carbon, nitrogen, water, or rock cycles? Spice things up by having students take a ride through each of the cycles with these interactive games!
In these games, students will roll a die at stations throughout the cycles and pick up paper tokens along the way. For example- in the rock cycle game, the stations include: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic. In the water cycle game, stations include: clouds, plants, oceans, animals, groundwater, soil, lakes, rivers, and glaciers.
To set up the game you will need to print out station cubes and fold them (cardstock works best and will extend the life of your cubes). You will also need to print and cut station tokens and place them in cups around the room.
Assign students a random station to begin at. They will start each round by picking up a paper token and placing it in their cup. Then they will roll the die and see where it tells them to go next. I let my students go at their own pace and tell them once they have 15 tokens in their cup to head back to their seats. Then they tally up where they have been and start answering the questions on their lab paper.
Students really love these games and often ask to play again the next day. I also love that it solidifies how things move through the cycles and you can even discuss where things are stored throughout the cycle. For example- in the water cycle, water molecules can be frozen in glaciers for hundreds of thousands of years. Or in the carbon cycle, carbon can be stored in fossil fuels for millions of years. If students get stuck at a station over and over it's good to discuss why.
Want to check them out for yourself? Click on the images below!
Do you love college basketball? I grew up in Tucson, AZ and UofA basketball was all we watched in March. It is really fun to incorporate some sort of science themed tournament in your classroom during March. Here are some ideas to get you started!
MARCH MAMMAL MADNESS
This lesson is taking over science classrooms by storm! What is March mammal madness? "It is an annual tournament of simulated combat competition between mammals. Scientific literature is cited to substantiate likely outcomes as a probabilistic function of the two species' attributes within the battle environment. Attributes considered in calculating battle outcome include temperament, weaponry, armor, body mass, running speed, fight style, physiology, and motivation." They update the bracket every year, so be sure to go download the new one.
FAMOUS SCIENTIST TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS
In this lesson created by Surviving Social Studies, students fill out a NCAA style bracket using famous scientists. Students have to prepare a persuasive speech on which scientist made the greatest impact, and winners advance onto further rounds. Check it out here!
FLINN SCIENTIFIC BRACKETS
Flinn Scientific has quite a few bracket options on their website for free. If you teach biology, be sure to check out this sweet 16 cell biology tournament.
If you teach chemistry, you can check out this sweet 16 periodic table tournament or a sweet 16 chemistry of gases tournament.
Not wanting to take up multiple days of class for brackets? You can also check out these cool posters from Chevron dealing with the science and math behind basketball. They are especially great for physics teachers.
Valentine's day is almost here! One fun activity to try is an oh-so-romantic-science-themed speed dating lesson. I've tried it with my students multiple times and they really enjoyed it. I even hung up red twinkle lights and put candy conversation hearts and flowers out on the tables (gotta set the stage to engage!) Here are a few options you can try based on your curriculum:
Since I teach genetics in the spring, this punnett square speed dating lesson is always perfect timing. Students are given a monster card where they can see their genotypes and phenotypes. They go on dates with other monsters and fill out punnett squares on each date. There are both mendelian and non-mendelian versions included.
If you teach chemistry, this element speed dating activity is a sure hit. Students are assigned an element, fill out a dating profile, go on dates with other elements, and figure out what type of bond they would make. You can download the lesson here.
If you are teaching ecology, here is a symbiosis themed speed dating lesson. Each student is assigned an organism card, and they go on dates with 5 other students in the classroom. They need to meet each other, discuss their traits, and decide if the relationship would be mutualistic, commensalistic, parasitic, competitive, or predatory.
In this GMO speed dating lesson, students are assigned an organism and go on dates with other organisms, looking for genes that they could potentially share. It's a great way to get students thinking about gene editing and lead to discussions on ethics of CRISPR technology. You can download the lesson plan here. Note: I have done this lesson before and would recommend it for upper biology/AP students.
If you happen to be teaching cells around Valentine's day, you can have students do this organelle speed dating activity. Each student is assigned an organelle and they need to identify relationships they might have with other organelles. It is a great way to reinforce cellular processes!
I came across a version of speed dating for biomes that many AP environmental science teachers use. I wasn't able to find a reliable link, but if you try googling "biome speed dating lesson plan" I'm sure you will find a few versions floating around for free.
In this forms and transfer of energy speed dating activity, students are assigned an energy card. They will go on speed dates with 5 other students and have to come up with objects that transfer energy between the two types. For example, chemical energy (in a battery) could be transferred to a light energy (bulb) in a flashlight. This version is great for middle school students.
TIP: You may have some students that are shy and don't want to talk much on their dates. One issue I had arise during this activity was students were just trading cards, copying down the information, and not talking to each other. I made a rule that students were NOT allowed to show each other their cards, and had to ask their dates specific questions. It went much smoother after that.
I hope your students have a blast with one of these activities! If you are looking for some valentine ideas other than speed dating, check out this blog post.
We live in the world of technology and instant streaming. It's amazing that we can see and talk to people on the other side of the world with almost no delay. I recently came across a couple of live streaming websites where your students can observe nature and wildlife from locations around the world. Many of our students may never have the opportunity to see the great barrier reef or go on an African safari- but that doesn't mean they can't enjoy looking at the animals from afar! I've created a list of a few websites where students can observe live streaming from some pretty cool places:
1. Deep Sea Exploration: Head over to http://nautiluslive.org/ to see real time deep sea exploration! Students can even type in questions and organizers are willing to skype with your classroom!
2. Explore.org: Out of all the websites, explore.org is probably my favorite. You can click on tons of animals and it will take you to a live streaming location. Sometimes you won't see much, but that is the nature of it being live. It will recommend which animals are most active and has highlights you won't want to miss.
3. National Park Service: This website has links to some webcams within some of the US National Parks. (Many of these are also available on explore.org, so you may just want to start there).
4. Zoos: Many zoos such as The Houston Zoo, the Woodland Park Zoo, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium have webcams within their exhibits for you to view. You can even take a turn controlling the webcams at the Houston Zoo!.
5. The ISS: Teach astronomy or have some future astronauts in your class? Have them observe a live stream of astronauts living on the ISS!
Ideas of how to use these websites:
1. If you are teaching a lesson on making observations, have students observe the animals, write down behaviors they see and make inferences about their lifestyle or habitat.
2. Are your students quietly working on an assignment? Many teachers play background music. I personally struggle with this, because I'm one of those people that has to have it quiet in order to focus. Instead of playing music, try putting up a webcam on the screen. It allows students to take small mental breaks to observe the animals, and is also gives the early finishers something to do instead of pulling out their phones. It's a great classroom management tool.
3. If you are teaching about conservation or sustainability, put up a webcam and discuss why animal conservation is important and the ethical implications of zoos.
4. Don't have the money to take your students on a field trip? Use these sites as a "virtual field trip." They can see a national park from your classroom!
I hope you enjoy these sites! I've wasted my prep hour a few too many times by sitting and watching animals! Enjoy!
Ordering class sets of prepared slides can be pricey. Want a fun and free way to make your own? All you need are some slides, clear tape, and some animal hair samples. Put a few pieces of hair on a slide and carefully cover it with clear tape. A couple tips:
(Below: Left image is human hair, Right image is cat hair)
Another way to get some unusual hair samples is by checking with your local game and fish department. In Arizona our Game and Fish department has skull and pelt boxes that they loan to schools for free. I had borrowed the skull box for my ecology unit and had my students compare skulls of different animals. While I had the box, I also plucked a hair or two off the pelts and made prepared slides. It was fun to look at mountain lion, bear, and coyote hair in addition to the everyday pets.
Have you made prepared slides for specimens other than hair? I'd love to hear about it! Leave it in the comments!
(Want to save this blog post for later? Click here to repin!)
Cladograms are my favorite part of the classification and taxonomy unit. They are relatively simple for students to grasp and are great for visual learners. While they can be easy to read, sometimes students struggle once you ask them to make their own.
Enter: the ultimate teacher engagement tool. Candy.
In this activity, students will be given a ziplock baggie with 4 types of candy inside. On the front of the worksheet students will be given the traits to analyze and then are asked to complete the cladogram. On the back of the worksheet students need to use the same candies but analyze them using different traits. Once they finish their cladograms they are free to eat!
TIP: As I've used this activity over the past few years, I've found students sometimes struggle with the back side of the worksheet where they have to make their own cladogram. One line of questioning that really helps them organize their thoughts is this:
"What is a trait all 4 candies have in common? What is a trait only 3 of them have in common? What is a trait that 2 of those 3 remaining candies have in common? What is a trait that only 1 of the remaining candies has?" Once they think of it that way it is much easier to fill out the chart and complete the cladogram.
I've made this lab worksheet completely editable so you are free to change the candy types based on what you can find on sale at the store. Don't feel forced to use the candies I have listed! Keep in mind, if you change the candy types you will likely have to change the traits students are looking for on the front side of the worksheet.