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!
Forensics is a topic students LOVE to learn about, so even if you don't teach an entire course on it, throwing in a few lessons at the end of the semester is always fun. There are a ton of labs you can do ranging from blood spatter, fingerprinting, analyzing hair and fibers and impression evidence. There are a bunch of free lab downloads at The Science Spot's website (especially great for middle school grades).
Last year I wanted to add entomology to my forensics unit. I could have ordered maggots online, but if your school is anything like mine, you place an order and cross your fingers it arrives within the next 4 months. Since I didn't plan ahead that well, I needed them within the next week.
If you want to get your own maggots growing, it's not difficult to do. All you need are the right environmental conditions. Flies like to lay their eggs in dark warm places (like inside of a decomposing body....). The easiest way to replicate these conditions is to buy a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store, eat some chicken for dinner, and save the carcass. Check out the video below with more details and how you can use them with your students.
When we learned about entomology I had students read this article I wrote up on Body Farms. If you aren't familiar with body farms, they are outdoor research labs where donated bodies are left do decompose in different scenarios and conditions. Scientists use this information to help determine estimated times of death. It's a little gross, but fascinating.
Have any questions I didn't answer in the video? Leave them in the comments and I'll get back to you!
Students often struggle to understand what aquifers are and how they work. Since they are located underground we can't see them, so it can be hard to visualize in our minds what they look like.
In this quick video you can see how I built a model of an aquifer. So many light bulbs went off after this activity! Check it out:
Interested in some lesson ideas to teach the water cycle? Check out this blog post!
Are you a podcast lover? Once I find one I like, I get hooked (cough, cough... Serial). You may have students who have never listened to a podcast before, and given the opportunity would really enjoy them! Especially for your kiddos who love to learn but don't love to read.
HOW YOU CAN USE PODCASTS IN THE CLASSROOM
Not sure how you would use podcasts with students? Here are a few ideas:
1. Write out questions that go along with the podcast episode and assign it for homework. This is great listening skill practice (especially for ELL students!)
2. Assigning a podcast episode that has tougher to digest content? Listen to the podcast together as a class and pause it periodically to do small group or whole class discussions.
3. Have them listen to a podcast at home and hold an in-class Socratic seminar or philosophical chairs.
4. After listening, have students create a one-pager or infographic based on what they learned.
5. You could even have students create their own podcast! Have them pick a science related topic, conduct authentic research, and record!
LIST OF SCIENCE PODCASTS:
Listed in no particular order. (Note: I have not listened to all of these podcasts, and encourage you to preview any podcast episodes you assign to students).
1. TUMBLE: This podcast tells stories of scientific discoveries with the help of scientist.
2. 60 SECOND SCIENCE: Have a few minutes left at the end of class? Check out this podcast from Scientific American.
3. SKEPTOID: This podcast takes popular myths and reveals the true science and history behind them.
4. BIG BIOLOGY: This podcast is "scientists talking to scientists" about biology topics. I would recommend this podcast to older students, as some of the topics are more complex.
5. BRAINS ON: If you teach younger students they might enjoy Brains On, where kids find answers to fascinating questions about our world.
6. NATURE: The journal Nature also has a podcast.
7. SCIENCE MAGAZINE: Comes out with weekly podcast episodes.
8. 30 ANIMALS THAT MADE US SMARTER: Put out by the BBC.
9. THE WILD: Explores how nature survives and thrives along side (and often despite) humans.
10. SCIENCE VS: This podcast takes on fads and trends to find out what's fact, what's not, and what's somewhere in between.
11. OVERHEARD: This Nat Geo podcast dives into "one of the curiously delightful conversations we've overheard at National Geographic's headquarters."
12. UNDISCOVERED: Is a podcast about the left turns, missteps, and lucky breaks that make science happen.
13. THE BIG FIB: Each week, a kid interviews two experts in a particular topic, one of which is a genuine credentialed expert, and the other is a liar. Students learn to weigh evidence and trust their gut!
Getting to use microscopes is the highlight of the school year for many biology students. They love to learn how to use them and explore the microscopic world. But purchasing a class set of microscopes can be pricey. Also, as many schools are currently doing distance learning, microscopes aren't an option. Here are a list of some alternatives you can try so students can still check out the microscopic world:
1. HAVE HALF YOUR STUDENTS ON SCOPES
If you can't get a full classroom set of microscopes, start with building up half a class set. When you are first teaching students how to use microscopes it can be TIRING. There is one of you and 30 of them all with their hands up asking for help. Only having half of your students on scopes greatly eases the tension. Try having half of your students on microscopes one day while the rest of the class is working on a different assignment and switch the next day. I much prefer this method over having students work in pairs because what ends up happening is one student hogs the microscope the whole time and the other student doesn't get to learn how to effectively use it. (Here are some microscope worksheets you could have students work on while it's not their turn at the scope).
Purchasing prepared slides can also break the bank. Check out this blog post on how to make your own!
2. VIRTUAL MICROSCOPE LABS
There are a couple virtual microscope labs available online you can have students check out. These are great for distance learning (or the half of the class that isn't currently on the microscope!)
- My favorite is from BioNetwork. It doesn't run on flash and has a variety of slides students can view.
- These labs from Univ of Delaware and NMSU are both great but run on flash, so be sure to check the sites on student devices before assigning.
Foldscopes are paper microscopes that magnify up to 140x (pretty impressive!) While I haven't used them personally, I've heard great reviews from others. You can get 10 assembled foldscopes for $60 which is half the price of one compound microscope! Since they are lightweight and electricity-free you can have students take them outside and explore on-the-go.
4. PHONE APPS
One of the best features of a smart phone is the incredible cameras they come with. There are magnifying apps you can download that will allow students to zoom in with their camera to see small objects. A decent one to check out is called BigMagnify.
5. HAND LENSES AND POCKET MICROSCOPES
Don't underestimate the power of a hand lens or pocket microscope! You can purchase decent pocket microscopes on Amazon for $10-$20 each. You obviously won't get the same clarity as a compound microscope, but they are good if you are budget-strapped and need an alternative. When I first started teaching I only had a handful of compound microscopes, so I set up stations around the room that had different types of microscopes with different magnifications. Students could play around with magnifying glasses, pocket microscopes, stereoscopes, and a compound microscope and compare the magnification of each.
uHandy pocket microscope is also a great alternative- the lenses clip right on to phones or iPads. Check out this blog post to read more about the product.
I hope one of those options works for you and your students have fun exploring!
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!
As teachers we want our students to increase their reading comprehension skills. I've found that most of my students don't mind reading when you give them an interesting piece of text. If you assign textbook reading the moans will follow (and honestly, as adults we don't love to read textbooks so why do we expect our students to enjoy it?)
Instead, try and find an interesting topic or scientific phenomena that goes along with the concept you are learning about. For example, as a biology teacher one topic I teach is the biogeochemical cycles. My students would NOT enjoy reading about the carbon cycle out of a textbook. So instead I gave them an article to read about Lake Nyos, a lake that formed in a volcanic crater that was slowly releasing dissolved carbon dioxide into the water. To introduce the lesson, I show them a video clip of the villagers and livestock living around the lake who don't wake up one morning. By the end of the video students were hooked- what happened to these people?! They were absolutely ready to read the article and discuss carbon.
Here are a list of websites you can peruse to look for free, engaging articles for your students:
1. NEWSELA: Newsela articles are free. You can pay to set up classes and assign articles through their site, but completely not necessary.
2. SCIENCE NEWS FOR STUDENTS
3. SCIENCE JOURNAL FOR KIDS: Primary literature can be hard to comprehend, but this site makes the articles understandable for students.
4. GOOGLE SCHOLAR: Want students to read primary literature? Most of the time it costs money for articles, but Google Scholar provides free journal articles.
5. COMMON LIT: Lessons and articles are free after you create an account.
6. READ WORKS
7. TWEEN TRIBUNE: Student-geared articles published by the Smithsonian.
8. NATURAL INQUIRER: On this site you can not only download articles but also order magazine copies for your classroom.
Do you have a topic that your students consider boring? Need help coming up with related phenomena? Leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to help!
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 all would love a picture-perfect-pinterest-designed classroom. But if you start adding up the cost of new posters, paint, flexible seating... you will break the bank. I remember as a first year teacher I felt like I had to spend a fortune on posters to fill up wall space (and I did...). But it IS POSSIBLE to decorate your classroom on a small budget. Here are some ideas!
1. FIND FREE POSTERS ONLINE
There are a TON of awesome graphics and posters online made especially for teachers. Some sites will even mail them to you for free! But if not, you will need to print them yourself. Check with your school library and see if they have a poster machine. You might be able to send them a PDF and they can enlarge and print it for you! Check out this blog post that has a MEGA list of free science posters.
2. MAKE YOUR OWN POSTERS
Have a creative side? Try making your own posters! I have a bulletin board in my classroom that says "We are learning about..." and I like to change out the posters with each unit. I design a powerpoint slide for each unit and have the library print and laminate them for me. (You can also have them printed at an office supply store, but expect to pay over $10). If you want to make multiple images you can hang a bunch of regular sized pages and not worry about printing anything poster size.
3. CHECK THE DOLLAR STORE
Most of the time the dollar store carries more elementary-themed decor, but you'd be surprised at the number of science posters and decor I've found over the years! I've had the best luck at Dollar Tree. I've picked up periodic table posters, water cycle posters, and science themed borders. Be sure to check often because their inventory changes regularly.
4. TRY USING WRAPPING PAPER
Have a large space you want to cover but are stumped with what to do? Try finding a science-themed wrapping paper! This idea is from Ashley Bible- she covered one wall in her English classroom with bookshelf wrapping paper. She found it on Spoonflower.com- be sure to wait for a sale to save even more.
5. REPURPOSE STUDENT WORK
Hanging student work on the walls is completely free! You could have students make one-pagers, infographics, or hang up paper models. Every year when my students learn about DNA I string together their paper models and hang them across the room.
6. LOOK ON TPT
There are a ton of posters and banners on TpT! I have a bunch of posters listed in my store, including this Twitter Science Bulletin Board which is free!
Most of US schools are preparing to go back virtually in a couple weeks. Going virtual in the spring was definitely a transition, but since we already knew our students and had existing relationships with them, it wasn't as hard to call home and stay on top of them with assignments and grades.
But STARTING the school year virtually without those existing relationships will be a different ball game. You will need to take some time the first week to really reach out and try and get to know your students, which won't be as easy to do through a computer screen. Here are some tips you can try the first week:
1. CREATE A WELCOME VIDEO.
The first thing I would do is post a welcome / about me video on the homepage of your virtual classroom (Canvas, Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, etc). Could you just post a message you typed out? Sure. But having students see your face and hear your voice is so much more valuable.
Find a fun way to introduce yourself. Since you are at home you have a unique opportunity to introduce yourself in a way you haven't before. Show them your pets! Show them your favorite hobby you like to do at home. Get creative!
2. LEARN THEIR NAMES.
Learning student names and pronouncing them correctly is one of the first things I worry about during back-to-school season. When you have a new group of students online, you may be tempted to skip over this step. I wouldn't! I would ask students to send me a 5-10 second video of them introducing themselves and pronouncing their names. Make it the first grade in the grade book so as long as they do it, they start off with an A.
3. HAVE STUDENTS FILL OUT A QUESTIONNAIRE.
Normally during the first week of school I send home a questionnaire that I have students fill out. It asks fun questions like their favorite hobbies and movies, and more pertinent questions like do they have any problems hearing the teacher or seeing the board. I think during COVID a questionnaire is even more important. Kids may be struggling with not having enough food at home, parent unemployment, lack of internet, having to care for siblings, etc. The quicker we can address these issues and relay that information to school support staff the better.
4. TAKE TIME TO REACH OUT TO EACH STUDENT INDIVIDUALLY.
A personal message goes a LONG way. We all know what it's like to get a card in the mail or a text message from a friend letting them know they were thinking of us. We should do the same for our students.
If you can make a quick phone call home to each student, awesome! Now, if you are a secondary teacher I know you are thinking "but I have 150 students, I don't have the time for that." You could instead send each student a message through your virtual learning platform. Heck, you could even copy and paste the same message over and over but change out the name. But taking the time to let students know you want to get to know them, answer any questions, listen to their concerns, and even check in on their home welfare situation is really important.
5. SET UP RELIABLE OFFICE HOURS WHERE THEY CAN CHECK IN WITH YOU.
Everything in life lately feels up in the air. Is it safe to go to stores? When can we go back to school? Are Mom and Dad's jobs safe? Being a stable figure in their life is something students need. Setting up reliable office hours each week where they KNOW they can reach you is something they will appreciate. Yes, they can still send you messages at midnight, but if they want to speak to you face to face, office hours are great. Provide a reocurring Google Meet or Teams meeting link where students can click to join a meeting and chat with you. It doesn't have to be every day, for example you can say they can chat every Wednesday from 10-noon or whatever works with your schedule.
6. TRY BREAKOUT GROUPS WHERE THEY CAN MEET WITH YOU AND THEIR PEERS.
Some students won't feel comfortable meeting with you one-on-one and that's okay. Try providing them a more comfortable place to chat with you and their peers. Breakout groups are one way you can do that.
Within your online learning platform, you can set up small groups where students can collaborate on assignments and chat with each other. If you use Google Classroom, you can set up Google Meet links. In Microsoft Teams, I would recommend creating different channels within each class. (I'm not familiar with Canvas so I can't help you with this one... sorry!) Have students join and collaborate on assignments or even eat lunch together virtually (they are really going to miss socializing with their friends!) As the teacher you can pop in to each group meeting, say hi, and provide help if needed.
7. MOST IMPORTANTLY- REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT.
After the first week or two it may be tempting to back off the relationship building, get comfortable posting assignments and sitting in bed at night to grade after you get the kids tucked in. I would caution against this for a few reasons. First, we all know relationships are VITAL to student success. Students work hard for teachers they know and trust. Second, school will resume eventually. When you meet them in person you don't want it to feel like the first day of school all over again. If they already know you and know your expectations, you should be able to transition back to school a lot easier.
The 2020 school year is a going to be a learning curve for us all. What are you nervous about? What do you need help with? Lets chat! Feel free to leave a comment or head to my Facebook or Instagram pages where I have a great following of secondary science teachers who love to engage in these conversations!