Sunday, November 25, 2018

Stranger Labs

I wanted to capitalize on my students' love for the Netflix series "Stranger Things'.  So I binge watched the series over Christmas Break, and then designed this fun lab for my 8th grade, to introduce this quarter's units: Electricity, and Chemistry. (see my lab stations here)

For Station 1: Polywog Slime:  we made slime with polyvinyl alcohol. Students had to identify physical or chemical change. (chemical, new substance formed. We will learn the chemical formulas for this reaction this quarter)

Station 2: 
Will from the Upside Down

In the series, Will communicates with his mother from the other dimension by making lights turn on and off. When she realizes this is what is happening she puts christmas lights all over the house, and turns a wall of her living room into an alphabet of lights, in case he has a message. He does. 

To set this up, I cut up an old set of Christmas lights, inserting one bulb per ABC letter. I left out the letters R U and N. All of the other letters were not connected to anything, they were just for effect.

Then I wired one bulb at each of the 3 letters R, U, and N to have the ends sticking out at the bottom of the board. I also put some unconnected wires sticking out. The students were to figure out how to use the batteries to make the word RUN light up.  

They have not yet done electricity, and will have to figure out that a circuit is necessary. They will also try using two batteries and will figure out that a series circuit will make the bulbs brighter. We will review this result during our electricity unit.

Station 3: Eleven's Eggos.

OK I needed an excuse to eat Eggos, Eleven's favorite food in the series. I came up with using my infrared thermometer to take temperatures of the waffles before and after toasting. Waffles were frozen, so the students were surprised at how large the temperature change was. 

Station 4: Demogorgonzola

Students followed a recipe from Stranger Fillings cookbook, (amazon link here) to make a Demogorgon - out of puff pastry, a Fig for a head, and gorgonzola cheese. 

We baked them while we cleaned up the lab, and they got to eat them at the end of class.

All in all I think it was a success!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Too Many Acronyms

I just got back from an awesome conference, NCEA in Cincinatti. There were so many great sessions. I teach middle school science, so I attended many STEM related sessions. In several of them, the presenter started out describing what STEM stands for (Science Technology Engineering Math) and then adding Art (STEAM) and finally because this was a Catholic Educators Conference, Religion (STREAM). In one session they further split the 'E' into Engineering/ELA.

The purpose it seems to me, of focusing our attention on STEM is to try to infuse Engineering Design Thinking  integrating the use of mathematics and technology to solve a problem. A STEM lesson is just a lesson that requires students to use what they know of Science, Math, Technlology and apply it to an Engineering type problem. It is interdisciplinary by nature. In the United States, we have fallen behind much of the rest of the developing world in our students' grasp of Science and Math.
This was partly because of how compartmentalized we have made each subject, especially in the elementary and middle grades. Science is only done in science class, Math only during math, etc. Connecting the disciplines and using them together shows their real world significance to kids, and increases their proficiency. Engineering and Design thinking should not wait until high school to be introduced to kids. 1st graders are natural engineers, and learn about the world around them through these challenges.

I think the explosion of the buzzword STEM caused some not involved directly in Science and Math to feel left out. Hence Art teachers wanting to change the acronym to STEAM and now Catholic schools wanting to make it STREAM. Public schools also adding an R for Reading. Everyone wants in on the supposed funding flooding in to be used in STEM areas. However we need to be very careful in doing this. If we are watering down our lessons by forcing Art or Religion (or English Language Arts, or Social Studies, or PE, etc) then we are getting LESS of what STEM was meant to achieve.

Elementary teachers said they have stayed away from STEM because they thought they had to find the perfect lesson that had a Science part, Technology part, Engineering part, and Math part to it. Imagine their horror now that they are being told they have to also add an Art and Religion part to their lesson. They throw up their hands and say 'its too hard, I'll stick to the (boring old) textbook lessons'.

I am not anti-Art. I just think Art is already present in creating an engineering design - you don't need to take the results of a science experiment and smear them on paper to make a picture to come up with STEAM. (This is actually a suggestion I got from a STEAM lesson plan)

I think we always need to revert back to our purpose - if we are trying to end up with kids that are literate in Science and Engineering, then we need to get our teachers to understand the goal.  One great suggestion I heard at the conference for increasing our students understanding of STEM subjects: Teach the metric system in elementary school. When you measure, use meters and cm, grams and liters. This small step would give us a leg up.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Pinochle Party Flashcards

I stumbled across something quite by accident today. I actually had 7th graders begging me for more time to do flash cards. For Cell Organelle vocab words.

I have had a hard time getting them to study any vocabulary words. They write down what I tell them, and don't study, and then do poorly on the quiz, shrug their shoulders and say 'Oh well. I guess I'm just not good at this'. So I have been on a quest for ways to prove to them that studying DOES matter. We have talked about how to study, and what to do with flash cards. They usually lose them between my room and their locker.

So today, I started out like this. First, a story from my life: 

When I was a kid (in the 1800's, it seems) I lived on a ranch, very rural, I went to a one room school, rode horses every day, etc.  The community when I was a kid would get together for big square dances, and sometimes Pinochle parties. Pinochle is a card game, where two players play against two other players to score points. At a pinochle party (usually called a "card party" where I come from) Several couples would compete as follows:

Tables were numbered, 1 2 3 4 up to however many you needed to accommodate the players.

Table 1 is the head table.  After each round, the pair that won would move up to the next table, and the losing pair stays. At the head table, the winner stays, and the losing pair moves to the highest number. So if you played at table 3 and won the round, you would move to table 2. If you won again you moved to table 1. If you won again you would stay put at the head table. The goal is really to be at the head table at the end of the night.

So- I divided my room up into "tables" and numbered them. Each student had a batch of flashcards that we made in class yesterday. Two students per table, ask each other the entire stack of flashcards. After all cards are gone, tally up the number correct - winner moves up.  In case of tie, the pair does rock paper scissors for a quick sudden death match. We played for about 20 minutes, with every student actively engaged, and at the end of the 20 minutes, I was ready to move on. The whole class begged me to keep playing. With vocabulary flash cards. Hmmmm.   I GUESS we could go one more round.....

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Science Fair Quest

Every year at this time, I am exhausted by pushing 50+ students up a hill trying to get a good Science Fair project out of them. I may have stumbled upon a brilliant solution to this problem. I hate to judge prematurely, but so far I have them racing up the hill without me having to push. My secret?

I gamified the Science Fair.

I teach Middle School Science, one class of 6th, 7th and 8th grade science. The Science Fair is a mandatory major project for 3rd Quarter, and I try to ensure procrastination is not an option by breaking the process down into manageable steps.

Step 1: select a topic- a question you will test, or a problem for which you will engineer a solution
Step 2: preliminary research - determine your research questions, and research topics
Step 3: write a Thesis Statement
Step4: find 3 credible sources - make source cards (MLA format)
Step 5: take notes from your sources on note cards (minimum 3 note cards per source)
Step 6: organize note cards into an outline
Step 7: use your outline to write your research paper

etc., etc,  

Most of the time I think all students hear when I explain this is wah wah wah.

So instead of going on and on explaining, I broke each step down into a challenge. Each challenge completed advances the student toward a higher level.

The levels: 

All students start out as a Lab Rat:

Each time they complete a challenge they earn a sticker (badge) on their scoresheet. 5 stickers = move up a level. I bought about a million cool science-related stickers, from planets to animals, to robots, even cupcakes and frosted doughnuts. These are my badges. I opted to do tangible badges this year, if I am feeling adventurous I may go to a digital badge next year.

The levels are: Lab Rat, Lab Assistant, Novice Scientist, Intermediate Scientist, Mad Scientist and the top level - Nobel Laureate.

(see my levels and icons here: LEVELS)

They got a scoresheet for RESEARCH (with the above steps as challenges)

AND I made a scoresheet of Special Missions:  mini lessons they complete on Google Classroom or task cards in the room. They get to choose but must complete at least 3. I usually do a mini intro to the whole class, and then present the mission as an optional assignment they can complete on their own.

On the Special Mission Scoresheet I included 2 special rewards: Early Bird and Hard Worker. They may be earned multiple times. Early bird is for completing the required steps on the Research scoresheet and turning in BEFORE the due date. Only some of the steps are eligible, such as Thesis statement an Outline. In order to get the Early Bird badge they need to do an acceptable job on the assignment, (all requirements complete) AND turn it in one day before the due date. 

For the Hard Worker: I watch the class to see who stays on task and makes good progress each work period. I select one or maybe two students at the end of each period to get this reward. This has been a great motivator to get students to WORK.

ITEMS:  The other genius part that makes this work is Items. When a student gets to advance a level they move their name up the ladder, and then they get to draw a card for a special item. I searched Pinterest for free to cheap classroom rewards, and named them after pieces of science equipment. I copied these onto super bright card stock. The first students that moved up got to show a silly video to the class, choose music for work time, and draw a message on the white board. They took their task seriously, and really put some thought into it.
These random rewards have really motivated my class. I even added a homework pass, test question hint, and a free dress day. 

See my items here:   ITEMS .    It is a Google Slides presentation, with one item per slide. I print it 9 slides to a page, and then copy on super bright card stock.

Now, after designing these challenges, I realized at 5 stickers per level I only really had enough for students completing ALL challenges to get to Intermediate Scientist. So.... I created yet another score sheet: Extra Expeditions. At first it was completely blank. I explained this was new, and if they had suggestions we could add expeditions that could earn badges. The students loved coming up with suggestions.  I made a Leader Board to hang in my room, as a visual reminder of progress through the levels.

At our school all students are a member of 4 "choirs" (Like houses in Harry Potter, but we are a Catholic School, so our houses are named after Archangels, and we call them "Choirs" - not the singing kind, but Choirs of Angels). On the leaderboard I had already put all students names on Level 1: Lab Rat. Each name was written on a piece of card stock the color of their choir. I thought it would be a fun graph of each color (choir) as they rose up through the ranks.

The first Extra Expedition we came up with was "Choir Challenge" - The first choir to have every member complete a level would get an extra badge. Choirs are cross grade levels, so to earn this one all of the 6th, 7th and 8th graders in your choir had to advance. St. Gabriel (blue) was the first choir to complete this one, so every member of Gabriel earned an extra badge.

As we have gone along, I have added a few more - I awarded badges to the best Lab Table during our slime lab, and I have added two more mini lessons to be completed for points.

For the next round, after the research is complete, I have added an EXPERIMENT or ENGINEERING project scoresheet, for earning badges as the  steps to completing the project are reached. I should now theoretically have enough points available to reach Mad Scientist, and some students that are very diligent and earn several early bird or hard worker badges should be able to make it to the top level. I have no idea what the reward will be for any students that get that far. (Stay tuned....)

If you are interested in doing this with your class, here are my scorecards. Feel free to tweak the challenges to make sense for your class.  They are all black and white as I like to copy them onto bright colored paper.


So far I have been AMAZED by the results. Students are staying after school to complete challenges, get their parts to the research paper done, and so far almost all students have opted to do ALL of the special missions - not just 3. I am having the best time - students WORK hard, and care about their research - so much more than in past years. So far (outline stage right now) I am seeing the best work that I remember from all of the grades.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Scientific Method Camp

My first classroom transformation of the year was Camp QHEADC (say 'Q' . HEAD . aCa). This was a review of the scientific method for my 7th and 8th graders, but new to the 6th graders. The night before I moved and stacked all of the desks on the side of the room, making a large open space. I left 3 desks for use by the 3 teams I had in each group.

I then moved in my 'campfire' - a rock ring made of stuffed paper lunchbags, hot glued together and spray painted gray and black. I assembled this on a black piece of cardboard, which made it easy to move. Sister Judy donated some actual firewood pieces she was unable to use this year when camping, because fire danger was too high. I bought some halloween blinking orange mini lights, battery powerered, and ran them around the wood. I was going to add tissue paper flames, but didn't get around to it.

I took some large brown paper (contractors paper roll from Home Depot) and painter's dropcloth leftover from painting in the school this past summer, and created a waterfall, for some more ambiance:

I hung printed and laminated signs: 'Caution, Waterfall', 'No Overnight Camping', Camping --> , and hung a sign on my door that said 'Campground Full'.

When kids came to my room, I had them sit cross legged around the campfire (the chair is for me) and explained that they were going to camp.

BOOT CAMP!  Stand up and start marching! We ran through my rendition of 'Scientific Method Sound off'  With me saying the first lines, and kids repeating after me. Here is one verse to give you an idea, the whole thing is available here.

I don't know but I've been told  (I don't know but I've been told)
The Scientific Method is good as gold (The Scientific Method is good as gold) 
Use it for experiments (Use it for experiments)
Your results will then make sense (Your results will then make sense)
Sound Off! (One Two!)
Sound Off! (Three Four!)
The steps of the Scientific Method (In Order!)
The chorus is a rhyme of sorts with the scientific method: Question - Hypothesis - Experiment - Analyze data - Draw conclusions - Communicate results  or QHEADC. We all say the chorus together.

After the whole song, where they say the chorus with the steps 3 times, then I would point at certain kids and they had to say the next step, or 5 pushups!

OK boot camp was over. Back to camping camp.

I divided the class into 3 or 4 teams: Bighorns, Marmots, Moose, or Owls.  We are going Snipe hunting. (According to Wikipedia: "snipe hunt is a type of practical joke, in existence in North America as early as the 1840s, in which an unsuspecting newcomer is duped into trying to catch a non-existent animal called a snipe. While snipe are an actual family of birds, the snipe hunt is a quest for an imaginary creature whose description varies.") I had made up 4 different science experiments, and listed the 6 steps of the scientific method for each. I then copied each onto a different color of cardstock, and cut so there were 6 cards of each color, which I hid around the room. 

Each team went hunting  for their color card only, trying to find all 6. When they found them, they went back to their desk (base camp) and worked together to put them in order, identifying the steps that were the Question, Hypothesis, Experiment, Analyze data, Draw conclusions (was the hypothesis correct?) and Communicate Results (always 'Present your results at the Science Fair')

My Snipe hunt cards are available here.

Then I broke out my Ukulele. Which I have only had for one week, but thanks to youtube I was able to learn enough chords to play 'If you're happy and you know it clap your hands" not well, but then again they aren't the best singers either, so it worked out.

The song we sang is called the Variables song. One verse:
The independent variable's the one we change (clap clap)
The independent variable's the one we change (clap clap)
Dependent one's we measure
Get it wrong you'll feel displeasure 
The independent variable's the one we change (clap clap)
The song lyrics are included with Sound Off, above.
(One caution: in the 2nd verse, It says "The independent variable goes on the x-axis" which is too many syllables for the song - unless you clap clap on the word "axis") 
Next we went back to our base camps, and groups looked at their snipe experiment, and identified their independent variable, dependent variable, and each person in the group had to name one controlled variable.

Now that they understood variables, it was time for Scientific Method Jenga:

I bought sets of multicolored Jenga, so I set up the Scenarios to go with the colors of my games. You may need to adjust if yours are different color. Basically there are 6 scenarios, which are more science experiments.

They roll a die with the 6 colors and if they get yellow, they must first identify the Independent Variable for this scenario. If group members agree, they may then move one yellow block. Red is Dependent variable, Blue, Purple, Green or Pink are all controlled variables: They must name a different one than someone else, but they should come up with lots of controlled variables (not necessarily explicitly listed in the scenario) We continued to play until class was over, keeping track of how many moves they had before the tower toppled, then re-stacking and going again.

The next day we sang the songs again, and glued the lyrics into their Science Interactive Notebooks. Next time they will have a Quiz to see what they can recall about the steps, and the variables.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Flipping Water Bottles

If you are a teacher, or a parent of a pre-teen or teen, you have probably observed some strange behavior regarding water bottles lately.  They spend hours trying to flip a partially filled water bottle and get it to land standing up. On everything.

We are a 1:1 with chromebooks school, so I had to ban this activity from my classroom. However the scientist in me wanted to turn it into a fun science lab, so.....

In 8th grade we are studying Physics and Chemistry. We are right in the middle of a unit on the Scientific Method, and especially CONTROLLING experiments. I brought in a bag of empty water bottles which were waiting at home to go to recycling, and challenged my 8th graders to come up with their own scientific question: They had to identify the independent variable (things like how much water you use, shape of bottle, type of liquid) and design a data table to take data. They will have to be careful to control all of the other variables.

Here is my lab handout (I print 2 pages per piece of paper, copy them back to back, and make a fold in half booklet to glue in the notebook)

The physics behind the water bottle flip are kind of complicated. I just want them to get a basic understanding that it has to do with the center of mass, and mostly show me they can apply the scientific method.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Pokemon Go!

This year I am back to teaching 8th grade computers, which I have NOT been teaching for about 5 years.  I am looking forward to changing up what I used to do with them (Microsoft Office primarily, with some BASIC programming, html and yearbook design using Micorsoft Word) and including NEW web tools, such as padlet, Google Apps, etc.

To start our year off with a bang, on the first day they arrived to find out that our syllabus had been taken over by Pokemon.

I printed pictures of 16 different pokemon, and for each one I made a QR code with the missing information. 

Then I hid them all around the school.

On the back of the syllabus I arranged 16 small pictures, clues as to where they would find the pokemon. These picture clues looked like this:

So armed with ipads with a qr reader, I turned them loose on the school and gave them time to find the pokemon.  They worked together in pairs or threes.

After about 15 minutes, they returned to the room, and we reviewed what they had found as a class. 2 of the teams found ALL of the pokemon, but the ones missed by other teams were filled in as a group.

I hope this will help them actually remember the information on their syllabus, they were genuinely engaged in trying to find the pokemon- hopefully this will make the information stick!