Posts Tagged ‘science education’

NSTA 2011 Here and Gone Again

As promised, I will be writing up some of the sessions I attended this past weekend…since this was my first conference as a presenter, I spent less time in sessions as usual, but I did learn quite a few new tricks!

This weekend was also exciting since the conference was held in San Francisco – thousands of science teachers in a city with a tsunami warning; I can bet lots of lesson plans were changed (including my own) to focus on the current events in Japan.

So be on the lookout for:

  • Parent-teacher communication and involvement ideas
  • How to host a physics-themed haunted house
  • Ways to make the most of the Holt Introductory Physics textbook
  • Accessing understanding of ELL students
  • Skills to help ELL students understand science
  • Exhibit hall highlights

My First Prezi

There have been many things going on lately, most of which I’m halfway through blogging about – I promise they’re coming soon!

Anyways, I’m so excited to announce I just finished my first Prezi. Check it out here:

It was so incredibly easy – even faster than Power Point! And much more engaging…I’m interested to see how my 9th graders react!

First Week of School Science Activities

Since it takes awhile to get all of the administrative things out of the way in the first week of school, I am planning on focusing on mostly Nature of Science type activities. The following are some of the things I’m most excited about:

Science Is – Students brainstorm their own lists of things that Science Is and Science Is Not. Then a large list is generated and students sort words on a t-chart into what they believe science is and isn’t. We did this activity using construction paper and glue sticks to make colorful Science Is Charts!

Tower Building – Students work together to build the tallest tower of cups they can without speaking. The second time, students are allowed to talk. This encourages students to think about the importance of communication in science.

Which Is Better? – As a student guided scientific method activity, we split the students into two groups. One had to analyze which bouncey ball is better and the other which bubble wand is better. The students defined their own definition for “better” and their procedure. Afterward, they listed their steps and quickly realized they used the scientific method without realizing it!

Letter Writing – Students wrote themselves a letter setting goals for themselves for the school year. I will return their letters at the end of the semester or the end of the year.

Lab Safety – For lab safety day, we handed out the Flinn Safety Contract and students wrote short skits demonstrating 5 safe lab techniques and 5 safety violations.

Virtual Labs in Science Class

from a lecture given by Amanda Gunning.

Why a virtual lab?

  • Online or downloaded – I recommend the downloaded version if possible since you won’t have to worry about faulty internet.
  • “Hands On” – student should still be manipulating variables, making observations, and drawing conclusions.
  • Fulfills lab requirements.
  • Provides variety to curriculum.
  • Easy way to incorporate technology and use school resources.
  • Explores complex and difficult to observe concepts in a simpler way.
  • Great way to give students lab activities when they are home-bound due to illness or are chronically absent.

Challenges to using virtual labs:

  • Availability of computers and internet access.
  • Battery-life of laptops.
  • Management issues – to get all the computers set up and ready for use cuts into class time.  If you have an IT person who doesn’t come from an education background, get to know them and learn as much as you can so that you don’t rely on them in case of a technology issue in class when they aren’t available to help. Be sensitive that they don’t always understand the time constraints and pressures related with teaching.
  • If students are sharing a computer, are they both involved or is one student taking control and the other off task?
  • Students might want to listen to music while working on the computer – this is a policy that needs to be determined by the teacher if the administration hasn’t already written a policy on that.

Preparing for a Virtual Lab

  • Plan for it! A virtual lab isn’t a free period: are you using the lab to introduce a topic, demonstrate a concept, or assess student understanding?
  • Scaffold the virtual lab! Introduce using the virtual lab as another way to experiment, explain and model the features students will manipulate, and have an associated assignment or handout.
  • Plan for discussion to make meaningful conclusions.

Great Virtual Lab Sites

First Day of School Activities

From a lecture by Jessica Riccio.

As I’m going to be a first year teacher in the fall, I’m starting to think about how to organize my classroom and curriculum. We had a helpful discussion in class the other day and generated the following list of first day of school activities:

  • Have students build the tallest plastic cup tower – without talking! This will lead to a great conversation about why communication is so important in science.
  • Word Search with vocabulary from the entire curriculum.
  • Time Capsule with individual student goals and misconceptions. I really want to do this with my classes to give the students an opportunity to see their own growth throughout the year.
  • Wear a normal teaching outfit with one mismatched accessory (sneakers with a dress). Have students make observations about why you might have chosen to wear such a wacky combination.
  • Have student make collages of themselves and tape them together to form a class quilt.
  • Perform a “purse dump” (backpacks work well too) by dumping out your purse contents onto the table and having student draw conclusions about you. A great way to introduce yourself to students.
  • Have 2-4 students be the scientists and send them into the hallway. The remainder of the class learns 3 new rules for behavior: ex. only yes or no answers, only speak to people with similar symbols on the name tag, and only answer yes to questions asked with a smile. The scientists much determine what the rules are by asking questions.

NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race

I saw this photo gallery about NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race the other day and just had to share!

Students and other participants flock to Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama to race their Moonbuggies: vehicles they have designed to withstand the elements on the moon. Teams race their buggies around the course and compete for speed and design.

This would be a fantastic project for a high school or university engineering or physics course! Check out the Great Moonbuggy Race website for more information.

Steve Spangler [Exploding Soda & Flying Potatoes: How to Create Unforgettable Learning Experiences]

As I walk into the room, I hear the general din of buzzing educators tense with excitement. We’re about to hear from Steve Spangler who has been on television shows across the country and spoken as the key speaker at dozens of events. He’s got a website, blog, twitter, and hosts a myriad of science teacher training events in the U.S. as well as on cruise ships!

Whenever I think of Steve Spangler, I think of things exploding.

“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands, [audience claps]. Just checking…” Haha, you know the man started out as a teacher.

Steve starts his talk with an anecdote about a previous speaking engagement for elementary school students where he discovered that kids still have the sense of wonderment science teachers try to capture and encourage.

Reaching back to kindergarten, Steve discusses a science project from when he was young:

The Potato Gun with Straws

  • Stick a straw into your potato (hold your finger over the end to give it structure)
  • Do it one more time so you have potato in both ends.
  • Jam something else through the end and watch potatoes fly!
  • Bigger straws = more fun! Steve used huge plastic straws for his presentation.

“Just because kids have stuff in their hands, doesn’t mean they’re learning science.” It’s obvious Steve is concerned with giving kids and teachers authentic experiences with science. One of those experiences was in Colorado when he gave a few hundred teachers 200 pounds of potatoes and potato guns. The video was pretty intense.

Good teachers:

  • Lots of activities
  • Kids know good info
  • Tell you how to do things
  • Tell you facts

Great teachers:

  • Open ended questions
  • Teaches you why to do things
  • Takes fact and ties it to real life (making connections)
  • Turn hands on activities into unforgettable hands on experiences
  • Remember that science is fun

“If it gets to the dinner table, you win!” You know you’ve created an authentic encounter with science, Steve says, if a kid shares about it at the dinner table. But he’s concerned about learning, too. Steve is concerned with doing science activities with the wow factor and supporting them with the science content to back it up. The crazy activity should merely be the means of illustrating the concepts.

Find that person at a cocktail who responds to you telling them you are a science teacher and they respond, “I loved science when I was a kid!” and buy them a drink. They’ll always tell you their teacher was crazy.

Steve Spangler could be considered a crazy teacher. He gave us the inside tips to all his favorite “tricks” (yes, he’s got a baccalaureate degree in Bio-Chemistry, but he does tricks):

  • Pretend to have a broken arm: twist your arm and crush the plastic cup you already placed in your armpit.
  • Take a 1 liter bottle and write “Do Not Open” on the outside. Poke tiny holes near the bottom and place it on the table. As soon as someone opens the bottle, water will come squirting out!
  • Take kids to Home Depot and grab a magnet, bottle of spray paint, and bring a ball bearing along. Shake the paint and then stop as you secretly place the magnet against it, drop the ball bearing. Kids will go wild!
  • Put magnet in Starbucks cup and place on top of your car and drive.

“Great teachers exude fun.”

Steve pulled out a super long garbage bag (a la Diaper Genie). Let students to try a few breaths into the bag – how many fills it up? Eventually, you’ll get to discussing Bernoulli’s principle that it only takes one breath slightly away from the bag to fill up the whole thing because it will pull all the air around it into the bag as well. At one conference, a teacher told Steve she found Subway sandwich bags to be successful as well.

Then he told everyone to reach under their seats and grab the bag laying there. It was so much fun for everyone to mess around with the science “toys”.

To finish out his talk, Steve discussed (and gave out) mentos and Diet Coke. Always fun! Once again, Steve had great suggestions for making this a worthwhile science experiment in class: take kids outside and measure how many bricks high the soda flies. Allow kids to predict and test how high the soda will fly with different numbers of mentos.

The grand finale (choreographed to the William Tell Overture) included him knocking cups off the heads of the front row with a homemade air cannon (trash can with a hole in the bottom and the top sealed with a shower curtain). He even filled it with a smoke machine so you could see the ‘o’ shaped ring of air coming out!

The following is a clip of Steve doing the same thing on television:

To get to know Steve better, visit You can also sign up for his Experiment of the Week, a weekly email with great ideas for science lessons!