I love teaching science because it is all around us in our everyday lives and it can explain the phenomena we encounter daily. For example, yesterday my family went for a hike. That in itself brought up many different science topics – the vultures were riding thermals and gliding through the sky, the cows were chewing their cud- a symbiosis and anatomy lesson), adaptations of the ground squirrels, etc, but then we found a rope swing! The kids loved it!
As they were swinging, it was so interesting to see them figure out physics principles by trial and error. During their experimenting, they found that the higher they started their swing, the farther out they went. They also manipulated their bodies to turn during themselves during the swing. It was such a perfect natural experiment for force and motion. Even though we didn’t have conversations about the science behind it, they now have some real life experience to connect for forces, motion, and pendulums. Totally ties in with NGSS – 3rd grade. I totally want to go back now to make up an experiment and collect some data and maybe follow up with this lesson at home. My daughter is in second grade right now and they don’t do much experimenting at her school so it would be perfect to do it at home.
Finally, it is winter break! I am so excited to stay at home and play with my kiddos. Yesterday we had so much fun doing our own STEM project. I set up a bunch of materials and asked them to make a sled that will slide quickly down a ramp. My daughter LOVES creative challenges like this. She is 7 and does not abide by the philosophy,”less is more” she is of the mindset, “more is more”. She started off with a simple flat sled, but over time it became an RV type sled with a kitchen, bedrooms, and even a toilet. Then she added a sail so it could also go in the water.
My son is 5 and he can easily be frustrated when things don’t go as expected and with STEM projects, that seems to happen a lot. It was great working with him because he was able to test it on the ramp (The coffee table with 2 legs up on the couch) and then evaluate it and make improvements. At first it was really hard for me because I wanted to give him advice and do parts for him so he would be successful, but as I let him work, I saw that he could figure it out on his own. They worked and played with their sleds all morning. We walked down to the elementary school to try them on the slides, but unfortunately the gates were locked. I had mine set up as a discovery building challenge, but I extended it to do in my classroom to focus on physics of motion, speed, and friction. You can find it in my TPT store!
The finished products!
Have you noticed that middle school students get obsessed with the weirdest things?? This year at my school it is the water bottle flipping phenomenon. Trying to flip a water bottle and get it to land without falling over. They do it CONSTANTLY. They never seem to choose quiet activities to obsess over. The sound of those water bottles crinkling and landing is one of the most annoying sounds ever.
We have one more week of school until the winter break – for me it is actually just 3 more days. I just finished a unit and I didn’t want to start something new right before the break so I decided to use the time to reinforce some of the science practices. I haven’t had the students design their own investigation yet and thought this would be a good time. So I decided to create a lab based on the water bottle flip. My students were going to determine the volume of water to add to the water bottle so it has the highest flipping success rate. The students worked to design and test their experiment. They were given some guidelines and then they were free to test. It was a lot of fun. The kids loved it!! After performing the tests, the students used math to analyze their data – converting from fractions to decimals and then to percents, graphing their data, and sharing their data. Later in the week they are going to plan an independent investigation looking at additional variables that might affect water bottle flipping like the size of the bottle, the type of water bottle, the brand of the water bottle, etc.
It was super easy to get all the materials. I went through the recycle bins around campus and got lots of water bottles and I had rulers and beakers. The bottles got pretty beat up after each class. They seemed thinner than I remembered, but that is probably good since they are using less plastic, but the denting around the bottom may have affected our results. I definitely needed new bottles for each class. I want to look into using gatorade bottles since they are much sturdier, but I am not sure how they flip. I spent about a half an hour with my own kids sitting on the floor flipping water bottles to practice before the lab. If you haven’t ever tried it, it is pretty addictive and it feels awesome when one lands.
My kids and I have really been enjoying our Christmas STEM time. Our most recent activity was making erupting fizzy snow. It was super easy, all the ingredients were from the dollar store, and the kids could not get enough of it. We made it in a large mixing bowl and then separated it into two pans for each kid. C loved making hers into snowballs. S was more into making his snow erupt and fizz with the vinegar. I couldn’t resist and got into it too.
The month of December always makes me motivated to do more crafts and activities with my kids. Maybe it is all the cute ideas on Pinterest that we must get done, or maybe it is because it gets dark and we are stuck inside. Whatever the reason, I have noticed it has happened for the past few years. Today I started looking into ideas for the kiddos (and who are we kidding, and for me!) On pinterest I found a recipe for marshmallow playdough. Who knew you could make playdough out of marshmallows?!? I decided to step it up a notch and make it more Christmasy so we made two types – candy cane and chocolate.
The recipe is very easy. For the candy cane dough we added:
- 6 big marshmallows
- 2 t coconut oil
- 3 (or more) T corn starch
- 1 crushed candy cane
Put it all in a small bowl. Then you put it in the microwave for 30 seconds until the marshmallows puff up and melt.
Then you mix it all up. I started at first with a spoon and then knead by hand adding more corn starch if it was too sticky. At first it just smelled like coconut, but after a bit of playing with it, there was a slight hint of peppermint. If I had had some peppermint extract, I would have added a little bit. The kids loved it! It was very soft at first, but firmed up as it cooled but the texture was great – soft and a bit stretchy. They had so much fun rolling it out and tasting it too.
We made a second batch and replaced one of corn starch with cocoa powder. It smelled amazing, but it was not as stretchy as the candy cane one. They still rolled it out and used cookie cutters to make it into gingerbread shapes.
To add to our Christmasy theme, we went for a neighborhood walk after dinner to look at Christmas lights at my son’s request. Then a Christmas movie, a Christmas book, and now off to bed. Gotta go rest up for more crafts tomorrow.