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!
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!
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!
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!
Physics is really exciting to teach because there are so many fun labs you can do. After teaching students about speed, velocity, and acceleration I wanted to do a STEM lab to follow up the unit. I decided to have students build a parachute out of a plastic grocery store bag and gave them a goal of keeping it in the air as long as possible. It was not only fun for them but the materials were super inexpensive! I supplied string and tape, and they had to supply the bag and any other materials they wanted to add. You are welcome to set size or material restrictions but I chose not to. I gave them one class period to build (if they didn't finish they had to finish at home) and we tested the following day. When testing the parachutes I tied a GI Joe to the bottom to add some mass but you are welcome to use whatever you have handy (metal washers work great too).
Our school is 2 stories so the students dropped their parachutes from the 2nd story. When they went to drop the parachutes they had 1 rule: No throwing the parachute up in the air. They had to hold their hands straight out horizontal and drop straight down.
Each group got to drop their parachute 2 times. They had to calculate the speed of the drop (distance / time) and acceleration (Vf - Vi) / t. Overall they had a blast and I had some silly prizes for the winner of each class period. If you would like to check out the lab worksheet I used CLICK HERE. Have fun!
Virtual labs are a great tool to try if you have computer access. I love them because:
I've compiled a list of websites that have virtual labs. I'll try my best to make sure all the links are up and working (non-flash), but if any are out of date please let me know!
Enjoy! If you know of other sites, please share in the comments!
I love when I find a new website or online activity I want my students to try. Our students are growing up in a technology reliant generation, and as teachers we need to tap into their interests and strengths. But every time I go to the computer lab, it seems like some kids whiz through the activity I want them to complete, and other students are constantly calling me over for help and don't finish by the time the bell rings. The students that finish early inevitably end up on facebook or youtube as soon as your back is turned.
Lately there is a big push for STEM in the classroom. Data has projected that STEM related jobs will increase to 9 million by the year 2022 (www.bls.gov). As teachers we need to not just teach science, but let students truly experience it first hand.
Every year when I teach cells, students do a good job memorizing what the organelles do but have a hard time understanding how the organelles actually work together. I wanted my students to really visualize cell processes and how the cell functions as a whole. I came across a website from MIT that allowed students to create animated videos. I decided I was going to have my students create a video for a specific cellular process. This project can be scary for many students that aren't tech-saavy (although most students are better with technology than we are!) To ease their minds, I let students work in pairs- one student could do a lot of the research and the other student could do more of the video building. Next I came up with a list of 15 different cellular processes (endocytosis, mitosis, DNA replication, etc.) that they could pick from. I have class sizes around 30 students so each group had a different topic for their video. This project could be used for any topic, not just cells!
Here are a few tips that will make the project run smoother:
1. Before you assign the project, play around with the website yourself. It was also helpful for me to watch youtube tutorials (like the one HERE) as I was learning. If you are familiar with the website then it is easier for you to help students when they hit road blocks... which they will.
2. Students will need to create a login for their video. I told students to use their school ID number as their login and their school password. Many students have multiple usernames for their emails and social media accounts, so I didn't want them to forget their login. Also, when students shared their videos with me I could see whose video it was based on their ID number.
3. Before students begin, have them map out what they want their video to look like. I gave them a storyboard timeline worksheet (see image 2 below) and made them draw out their cellular process and write captions. I had to check and approve their worksheet before they could begin working on the video. It was a good way to check in with them and give them feedback to ensure they weren't missing anything.
4. Allow students to look around at videos that are already made. On the scratch homepage you can search for videos that other people have shared. If you find a video you like, you can click See Inside (see image 3 below) and see how they actually built the video. I made it clear that students could only look there for ideas, but couldn't copy what other people made.
5. It will take time, and get ready for the whining. If I had a dollar for every time I heard "can't we just make a powerpoint instead?" I would be going to a steakhouse for dinner tonight courtesy of my students. One student even said "Come on Mrs, we've been making powerpoints since we came out of the womb!" That is exactly why I didn't let them make a powerpoint. In the end (I gave them a week), they came up with some awesome videos. The great thing about this site is they don't have to be at school to work on it, just anywhere with an internet connection. If they don't finish in the assigned class time, they can work on it at home.
6. Chances are you will have a group or two that just can't figure out the website and how to make things move and work. As a last resort for these groups, I showed them how to make it "powerpoint-like." When you click on the "backdrops" tab, you can create multiple backdrops, which is essentially like powerpoint slides (see image 4 below). Then all they have to do is add a script that when the space bar is clicked, it moves to the next backdrop.
7. When students are finished, they need to click SHARE before the video goes live (see image 5 below). Once they clicked share, I had them copy and paste the URL into an email and send it to me for grading. I made it clear to students that the majority of their grade would be based on the video content, not the animations. For example, if the mitosis group had awesome visuals but forgot to tell me about what mitosis is, why cells divide, and which cells undergo mitosis then they wouldn't get a great grade. That lowered the stress level for students who struggled with the animations.
Even though both teacher and student felt frustration at times, I'm so glad I had my students create these videos. Below is a sample from one of my students. Enjoy!