5 Tips for Teaching the Metric System

Metric Tips pinSchool is back in full swing after a much needed and amazing summer with my family.  I always start the year off with some fundamental science skills the students need to know so we can apply them to the content during the year.  One of those skills is making accurate measurements with the metric system.

I remember as a student the teachers told us that soon we would all be using the metric system and the “Standard” system of inches, feet, yards, etc would be a thing of the past… I am still waiting for this.  This year I totally revamped my metric unit and learned so much about making it easier to teach and easier for the students to retain.    Here are 5 tips I learned about teaching the metric system.

Tip #1:  Make it Accessible to Your Students 

Determine what your students are cognitively ready for.  What is their math background?  Have they learned about decimals?  If you are teaching younger students, you can have them round off their measurements to the nearest whole number (centimeter).   I teach 6th graders and while they have been introduced to decimals, they don’t have a solid background working with them.  This year, I had them do all their measuring to the nearest tenth of a cm (or millimeter) but this year I scaled down the amount of time we spent on conversions.  We focused on mastering the conversions between mm to cm/ cm to mm since these were the ones we would be using in class.

Tip #2  Make it Useful

Why are they learning the metric system in your class?  How will they be using it?  In my science class students only use metric measurements since that is how scientists communicate their data.  So learning about the metric system is useful because they will be using it all year in their labs.  I also focused our time on metric measurements we will be using in class.  I introduced them to all the metric prefixes, but in class we really worked with centimeters, meters, millimeters, g, and mL since these were the ones we would be using.

Tip #3 Know What is Being Taught at the Grade Above and Below You

Knowing what the students have been introduced to gives you a great starting point.  You can reinforce and build on what was already taught.  Also, knowing what is going to be taught in upper grades will allow you to focus you time on what will be useful in your class and accessible to your students.  If you don’t communicate with teachers in the lower grades, a pretest is a great way to know what their incoming knowledge is.  Many of my students come into 6th grade knowing how to measure to the nearest cm, but don’t know how to measure to the nearest mm or tenth of a cm.  In 7th grade at my school, they spend a lot of time working on metric conversions so I do a brief introduction in 6th grade.

Tip #4 Make it Hands On

Give students a chance to use as many measuring tools as you have.  Worksheets are great for independent practice, but using the tools like a ruler, graduated cylinder, and triple beam balance provides a much more memorable experience for the students and a provide their own set of problem solving challenges.

Tip #5  Make it fun

Once the students have learned the basics of measuring, do something fun and engaging with it.  You could do a scavenger hunt, measure their own body parts, etc.  I have my students do a gummy bear lab that reinforces what they have learned and then they do a metric measurement escape room to review it all.

Here are links to some of the activities I use in my classroom.

 

 

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Windmill STEM Challenge

My 6th graders have been getting pretty wild as the end of the year approaches so I needed to do something this last week of school to keep them engaged and to save my sanity.  We just wrapped up climate and climate change so I wanted to do something in that content area so we made windmills as they learned about alternative energy resources.

They had so much fun!!  I had so much fun!! The activity makes the process very student directed, I just had to set up the materials,  manage the timing, and then circulate to help with problem solving.

I wanted the students to focus on the rotor blades (the spinning part of the windmill) so I created bases they could attach them to.

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I set up a testing area in the back of the classroom:

file-2They had to measure how long it took to wind up the binder clips.

The students did an amazing job staying focused, sharing the testing area, and getting their work done.   Here are a few of their amazing creations!

After testing how quickly they could lift the binder clips, I added a cup with washers to see how much they could lift.   Our record was 140 grams.

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It was such a fun way to keep the kids actively engaged on the last few days of school!  Get the full lesson here at my TPT store!

Bothe Grist Mill – Napa Valley STEM Adventure

A couple weeks ago, my family decided to take a day trip up to the Napa Valley to do some hiking and have a family adventure.  We parked at the Bothe-Napa Valley park and hiked down the history trail past an old pioneer cemetery and ended up at the historic Bale Grist Mill.  I have driven by this many times along highway 29, and have been intrigued, but never have stopped. file-2

This was our day.  We paid our admission and waited for the next tour.  Just the visitors center area was so cool!  I love learning more about California history and pioneer days.  The tour exceeded my expectations.  The tour guide (and all the people working there) were all in historic costume.  He spent about 20 minutes outside by the waterwheel explaining the history of the mill and the Bale family (the owners of the mill) and then he explained how the water wheel and mill worked.   We then went inside and they started up the water wheel and showed us all the gears and machinery that went into it.

Some interesting facts I learned – the teeth of the gears are made of wood to prevent the build up of static electricity.  Flour dust is extremely flammable and a spark from static could cause a massive explosion.  The mill had equipment that not only mill the grain,  but it also had grain elevators and equipment to separate the grain from the chaff and to separate the flour by type.

When we got home, my kids were so inspired by our visit, that they wanted to build a working water wheel.  We looked into our craft stash and found everything we needed:  6 Dixie cups, small styrofoam plates, skewers, and straws.

The kids played with this for over an hour.  My 7 year old got out the Lincoln logs and build a mill to go with the water wheel (all while dressed as a pioneer wearing the bonnet we got at the gift shop). My 6 year old son felt like we need to actually mill some grain so he got to work grinding bird seed into flour between two flat rocks.  He is pretty much satisfied when he can bash anything with rocks.

I have made the activity into a STEM/History lesson in my TpT store.  Check it out!

Earned Activity: Elephant’s Toothpaste

Whew!  I has been a while since I have posted.  We had an amazing spring break and Easter and I am trying to get back into the swing of things at work.  As the year begins to wind down I find I need to extra fun activities to keep the kids (and me) engaged in class.

I have students earn “minutes” each day towards an earned activity.  It is an extra activity that ties in with the current curriculum (or sometimes just for fun).  It is always a FUN activity that the student’s look forward to and motivates them to behave in class.

Once students have earned enough minutes, we set aside time in the day to do the activity.  This week we did Elephant’s toothpaste.  I picked up the ingredients: Yeast, 6% hydrogen peroxide, soap, and empty water bottles.  I got the hydrogen peroxide at Sally’s beauty supply and I am a sucker for a deal so I bought a gallon (it was only $2 more than the half gallon)

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There is something so magical about this reaction – steaming coils of foam erupting from the water bottle!  It never gets old!

I have it written up for different grade levels in my TPT store. Check them out:  K-2 focuses on the scientific method, 3-5 focuses on physical and chemical changes, and 6-8 focuses on chemical reactions.

Water Cycle STEM models – NGSS Lesson

I had such a satisfying teaching yesterday!! I revamped one of my NGSS lessons that I tried out last year that focused on the standard:

MS-ESS2-4. Develop a model to describe the cycling of water through Earth’s systems driven by energy from the sun and the force of gravity.

My students designed and build working models of the water cycle using the engineering design process and they had SO. MUCH. FUN.  I was not looking forward to it – it was Monday after daylight savings time, and I was tired and unmotivated, I wasn’t really in the mood to start an involved project, but I sucked it up and decided to stick with my plan.  And…it was actually super easy to set up and took about 5 min!  I put the following materials out for my students:

aluminum foil, plastic wrap, plastic cups, rubber bands, plastic shoe boxes, hot water, ice, and heat lamps – I just set them out on a large table that was easy for the students to get to it.

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I introduced the project to the students and had them start off planning in their groups.  Right away most groups had some great ideas.  A few groups needed a little direction by prompting them with some questions like – “How could you cause evaporation, would you need to add heat or cooling?”  We had also done this condensation activity previously so I referred to that and asked how they could expand on it.  Once students made a plan, they got to help themselves to materials and start building.  And once they got started, they could see immediate progress or problems with their design so they worked on improving and redesigning.  The conversations between the students showed they were really understanding what made each process in the water cycle work.  I had one boy excitedly tell me “we got condensation on our plastic wrap!  It started as small  droplets and those joined to make bigger droplets until they got so big they fell like rain.  It was just like a cloud!”  I was such a proud teacher when he told me this!   At one point in the day the principal and one administrator happened to walk by my open door and pop in and they kids did a great job explaining what they were building and how they worked.  Way to make me look good 🙂

Each class cleaned up materials beautifully so I was ready to go for the next period, and they did amazing jobs on their written part – making a plan and drawing the models.  I was exhausted by the end of the day but so happy  with  how it went.

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Teaching Heat Transfer – Middle School NGSS

I have been having so much fun teaching heat transfer to my 6th graders!  I am really mixing it up this year since we are transitioning to NGSS standards.  There are so many fun and easy hands on activities to help the kids understand the concepts.  I have been finding that deep level understanding is a challenge for many of my students and this is leading to misconceptions.

I introduced heat transfer with an activity about thermal insulators and conductors (but I didn’t use introduce those words) where students feel and record observations of 3 different materials – wood, styrofoam, and metal (these materials had all been sitting at a constant room temperature).  The metal felt colder than the other two materials, but then, when the measured their temperatures, they were all the same temperature.  This led to some confusion – a great discrepant event.  Many students were stymied and even came to me saying their thermometers didn’t work.  I love baffling my students.  In the final part of the activity, the students put ice on the 3 materials and predicted which would melt the most and then tested the prediction.  It was interesting how many students chose styrofoam because it “felt warmer” even though it was the same temperature as the others.  The rest of the class thought they would all melt the same amount since they were all the same temperature – once again, they were amazed to see that the one on the metal melted the most.  This activity was a great use of discrepant events and phenomena that we could refer to for the rest of our study of heat transfer.

 

The second day we did some notes on heat transfer – using a demonstration to get students thinking about what is going on with the movement of particles and drew heat transfer diagrams showing the direction of thermal energy transfer.  We also reviewed radiation, conduction, and convection.

On the third day I wanted to check their understanding of the concepts so I used this Page Keeley Probe – The mitten problem.  I made a graph of the students results and then we had a great debate in class about which idea was correct.  During this students did a great job using the idea of heat conductor and insulator, but it was clear there were still some misconceptions. Many students thought the mitten thermometer would be warmer since “mittens keep your hands warm” and failed to realize there was no heat source.  Other students had the idea that the “cold would get out of the mitten” even though we had spent time focusing on cold being lower energy, they still thought cold was something that can move.

We did another activity with metal washers to see how the number of hot washers put in cold water affected the temperature of the water.  It was really easy to see that more washers had more thermal energy to transfer to the water.

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Finally, the students completed a STEM challenge to design and build an insulated container to keep an ice cube cold.  They got to choose fro ma variety of materials to build their container and then they calculated the %remaining.  It was really interesting to see what materials the groups chose.  A could groups chose to line their container with aluminum foil and they ended up having less remaining than the control (an ice cube without insulation).  When I asked them after why they thought they got these results they realized that foil was a thermal conductor and was not the best choice for their project.

 

Bay Area Hiking with Kids: Coastal Redwood Ecology

We finally have had a short break in the rain, but another storm is heading our way on Thursday.  My family and I have been taking advantage of these breaks by going on hikes around the Bay Area.  It has been amazing and lush with all the rain.

A couple weeks ago we did a Mt. Diablo Waterfall hike with some of our friends.  I had no idea there were even waterfalls on Mt. Diablo.  They were no Vernal Falls, but they were pretty spectacular and a great 6 mile hike that everyone enjoyed included all 4 kids – ages 5,7,9,11.

Last weekend we went on a newt hike in Briones Park.  We went last year with a naturalist for Sean’s 5th b-day.  Last year there was so much rain and lots of crying (it was cold, wet, and miserable).  This year we were better prepared and we weren’t disappointed.  The newts are out at this time of year for mating season.  The females journey to the ponds where the males are waiting.

Yesterday we went to Redwood Park in Oakland to do a ladybug hike.  Thousands of ladybugs congregate there for the winter time.  It is really awesome as you can see from the picture.  Unfortunately this year, there were downed trees in the way and they closed the trail, but we had fun anyway and found other wildlife – newts, millipedes, etc.file5Redwood Forest Nature Cards.jpg

Being out hiking with my kids reminds me of when I worked as a naturalist at an outdoor ecology school in Maine.  I feel so lucky to give my own kids experiences outside in nature and I totally geek out a little bit about all the science around us.   To get them more involved in nature, I created a set of question cards for our hike.  It is a set of 16 cards for all ages to learn more about the redwood forest ecosystem.   Great thing is, you can have it too.  Yes, a freebie for you.  Now get outside and enjoy the coastal redwoods.

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TpT $10 Valentine’s Giftcard Giveaway

tpt-giftcardLooking for ideas and inspiration for this Valentine’s Day?  I’m so excited to have added this new resource to my TpT page.  I am always adding to my STEM collection.  This one is so easy to prep and fun for the students – candy gets them every time.  All you need is paper and masking tape (cardstock makes it a little easier for the little ones).  Then then design and build a scoop to get as many conversation hearts as they can.  Add in a graphing activity to bring in some math and you are all set – easy peasy valentine’s day activity.

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Get this and other activities with this $10 Tpt gift card.    To Enter: Click on the Rafflecopter link and add a comment through rafflecopter – What is your favorite valentine’s day classroom activity or tradition?

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

Walking Water Rainbow Experiment

I had so much fun with this experiment the other day!  You really need to try it – it just blew me away! I saw it on Pinterest and I was intrigued and wanted to do this with my kids – C is 7, S is 5.  I stopped by the dollar store and got paper towels and plastic cups and I was ready to go (I already had food coloring and liquid water colors).  I tried it out while they were both in school so to make sure it would work – things don’t always seem to turn out as expected when doing Pinterest projects.

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It is such an easy experiment to set up – set up 7 plastic cups in a row (or you can do 6 in a circle – but I found it harder for the kids to make observations when they were in a circle). Fill the first cup with red water, followed by an empty cup, yellow water, empty cup, blue water, empty cup, and finally a red water cup.  Fold paper towels lengthwise into fourths so they are long skinny strips.  Fold the skinny strips in half to make a V shape. Then connect the cups with paper towels placing the end of the paper towel strips into adjacent cups (red cup to empty cup; empty cup to yellow cup, etc). There are instant changes – the colored water starts traveling up the paper towel pretty quickly.

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I was amazed – my kids were amazed. My son (5) immediately made the prediction the colored water was going to go into the empty cups and mix.  It was a great activity for little ones to introduce science practices – observations and predictions, and introduce or review color mixing.  As I did the experiment, I realized that there was complicated science going on behind the scenes and realized this would be a great experiment for older kids to learn about the water molecule and its properties: adhesion, cohesion, and capillary action.  So I made it into a lab I could use in my classroom and adapted it to be used at lower elementary, upper elementary, and middle school.   We let the experiment sit on our counter for 3 days to see the changes.

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I set up the experiment with food coloring and liquid water colors to see what worked the best.  Both worked well, but I had new liquid water colors so I ended up using those with my kids.  You don’t need a lot of color, the color on the paper towels becomes darker over time. I way overdid the color in the pic above (bottom right). The colors were too dark to see the colors mix in the cups.

Once we were done experimenting, we used the liquid water colors to make a resist painting.  The kids drew on their paper with white crayon and then painted over it.  The area with crayon did not absorb the color.  It tied in with the experiment and was a fun way to use the leftovers.  We sprinkled some salt on the paintings too since that it always fun to see the changes with sale.

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Rates of Weathering Lab

Don’t you just love it when your lesson goes well!  Whenever I do a lab with my sixth graders, I set is up as best I can – plan everything down to the smallest detail, but there is an element of randomness that cannot be controlled.  So once I get them started,  I always cross my fingers and hope for the best.  Many times I am scribbling down notes for small tweaks to improve it for the next time, but not today!!  Today went off without a hitch.  My students were motivated, they were focused, they got their experimenting done in a timely manner, and they drew accurate conclusions.  (Just a sidenote  – I remember early on in my teaching I asked my students to “draw conclusions” and the look of confusion on their faces – one brave child asked me, “How are we supposed to draw that?!?”)

Today’s lab modeled chemical weathering in the classroom – find it here!  We looked at how climate affects the rate of weathering.  We used alka-seltzer tablets to represent rock and the students worked in lab groups to create their own procedure to test our testable question:

“How does the temperature of water affect how fast an alka-seltzer tablet dissolves?”

The students had to create a procedure that included 4 different tests to test a different temperature.  They were given the following materials:  Hot water, room temperature water, and ice)  Here is one group’s procedure:

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Some groups needed a little guidance creating a 4th test.  They all could figure out testing in hot water, room temperature water, and ice water, but then some got stuck.  I reminded them that temperature is like a number line so they could mix different amounts of the supplies to get different temperatures.  This was enough to get most groups going.  A few groups needed an even stronger hint so I would ask them if they thought they could make warm water.  Once all groups had their procedures made they were all very self directed since they created their procedures they knew exactly what to do.  It was beautiful.  I gave them 20 minutes to test to keep them focused.

 

We had new digital thermometers that the kids loved.   They measure to the nearest 1/10th of a degree and you can choose Celsius or Fahrenheit.  We got them for a future lab where we need precise measurement but since they came early we got to try them out.

After testing, the students worked on their conclusions.  The conclusion related our lab results to the effect of climate on the rate of weathering.  They read a short passage and then wrote a C-E-R conclusion.  Some students needed a little help getting started so I provided sentence starters on the ELMO.file3

It was a fun day of teaching.