Welcome to the Earth Exhibition!

We’ve been trying to make the timeline of the Earth riveting for ages for our 7th grade scientists. Geologic ages. Finally, we called on our local 4th and 5th graders to the rescue.  Here’s what we did, ‘learning opportunities’ and all, so you could try something similar to get an authentic audience for your next PBL project.

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Developing teaching materials to engage younger students is very motivating for our students and at 7th grade, it’s wonderful to get them outside of their heads and their dramatic social lives. They were so excited to be doing something real, for real kids and also to see their beloved elementary teachers again.

We probably should have checked with the principal of the elementary school BEFORE launching the project challenge with students – “Write a story in a geological setting to be read out loud to elementary students. Then make a slide show to show the science behind it.” Here’s the overview of Rock a Story Set in Stone including links to examples, templates and rubrics.

We had a second project we wanted to share at the same time “Teach the timeline of the Earth using an interactive model or game that will engage elementary students.” Here’s an overview of the Timeline of Earth Project.

We were lucky that both the principal of our school, and of the local elementary school agreed um, in principle. With the proviso that the experience be interactive and not just a show-and-tell.

We made a little slide show of kids making the exhibits (open with QuickTime), plus links to a couple of the best projects to send out as an invitation to our elementary colleagues teaching 4th and 5th grade classes. We were also lucky to have a 6th grade colleague who agreed to bring her students in to fill in the gaps when we couldn’t find enough elementary classes to come in. Ideally, you need one class of ‘audience’ to one class of ‘teachers’ to have the classroom feel vibrant and to minimize the number of students standing around without an audience.

We set up a Doodle for teachers to sign up and amazingly, some did, walking their classes over the mile or so in the threatening rain, taking a valuable hour and a half from their busy curriculum. We invited admin and counselors too.

Here’s the lesson plan we used. fullsizeoutput_44d4A 45 minute class was a perfect amount of time. 5 minutes intro, 30 minutes for kids to share stories (in 3 little ‘pods’ around the edge of the room), share their exhibit or play their timeline board game. The board games were the big hit by the way. I was not expecting that. Then at the end, we ran a Kahoot where 7th graders each found a younger student or two to pair with. That was super fun and a great way to end the class – the last question asked what they’d liked best about the day and all the alternatives were right. Here’s a link to the Kahoot we used.

Next year, we will re-do the schedule so that elementary classes can visit all our classes – 7th graders felt much more comfortable reading to children a couple of years younger rather than 6th graders. Younger students asked more questions and were more visibly thrilled to be there too. Also great to connect with our elementary colleagues who seemed to think it was so wonderful that they will tell their colleagues at our other elementary schools to build momentum for next year when we’ll invite all elementary schools (this was a trial with our nearest elementary school). We might also move the story telling circles to one classroom so it’s easier to hear. But otherwise, we are tired but pretty happy at the end of this slightly crazy day.

 

 

 

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January 11, 2019 at 4:51 PM Leave a comment

Model the Formation and Structure of the Earth. In one easy lab.

I used to think that geology was basically memorizing the layers of the Earth, and boring collections of rocks. Like most middle school science teachers, I’m a biologist by training and now I have to teach it with the integrated NGSS courses mandated in California. I’m getting more and more excited about the subject matter as I learn more, and hopefully passing that on to my classes.

I dreamed up this lab to help teach the underlying big-picture concepts for both layers of the Earth and an intro to plate tectonics. It went really well. Kids seemed lit up by the concepts and of course, stirring stuff and poking warm wax. I’m excited to share it with you. Not so excited about cleaning up the wax all over almost everything. But worth it. Really 🙂

So welcome to the sawdust, wax, sand and water jam-jar model of the Earth’s formation.

THE SET UP: Grate candles. Get sawdust (or beans will do) and sand. Have a couple of kettles. Boil ahead of time so the water is hot but not boiling. Have some non-slip oven hits. Have a box of ice. A quarter cup measure is handy for the sand and sawdust, a tablespoon of wax is enough. Mason jars or other heat-safe glass jars, one per table. Have a tub for students to wash out jars at the end so that wax and sand does not clog your sinks. Wash out the jars between each class.

SET THE CHALLENGE:

How did the Earth Form? – brief pair-share discussion to expose prior knowledge.

How does the Jam Jar Model relate to how the Earth formed and to the layers of the Earth? – The title they wrote in their journals.

THE DIRECTIONS:

Demonstrate: Put a scoop of grated candle wax, a scoop of sand and of saw dust in a Mason jar. Show how to use the hot water safely but don’t do that step or you’ll give it away. Have students wear eye protection when shaking or swirling the mixture.

Have one student from each group get the materials cafeteria style, Swirl it up. Add very hot water. Swirl some more. Let it settle and cool in the middle of the table. (Don’t do it for them, stop short of showing what happens.) I had students complete a poster of the layers of the Earth if they didn’t have enough to do – this is really a one-kid demo.

Show a video clip like this one from National Geographic “Birth of the Earth”, first 11 minutes.

Have students figure out how the settling and cooling ingredients relate to the real events that geologists think led to the formation of earth and the tectonic plates.

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Whiteboard lesson plan

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Students guessed the stages of earth’s formation on whiteboards

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As they waited for settling and cooling, they worked on earth layer posters

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Cafeteria-style collection of materials

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Comparing the model to the Earth layers.

 

SAFETY: Demonstrate how to use the hot water from the kettle – pour when the jar is on a counter or sink. Swirl, rather than shake up. Use eye protection and an oven glove during this process.

WRAP UP: Ask/discuss/write answers to these questions:

Why did the layers form? Use words like floating, sinking, density and buoyancy. The denser sand sinks to the bottom, then the sawdust, then the water and the least-dense wax floats on top. 

Compare the layers in the jam jar model to the layers of the Earth in a ‘t’ chart and/or as a diagram. See the illustration above. The densest minerals ‘sink’ to the center of gravity in the center of the Earth. The crust is the least dense – basalt and granite ‘float’ on top of the slowly convecting mantle minerals. 

How does this model relate to plate tectonics? The wax layer is thin and will break if there are currents swirling beneath, like the tectonic plates over the much more slowly convecting plastic mantle. 

How is this model NOT an accurate representation of the formation of the earth and it’s layers? The shape – it’s not spherical. The water is much more liquid than the mantle which is more plastic and convects very slowly. The sand is not radioactive and made mainly of iron and nickel etc. 

 

January 7, 2019 at 5:43 PM Leave a comment

Kid 2 Kid Puerto Rico Solar Oven Project

With the power taking so long to be restored in Puerto Rico, solar ovens could be really helpful.  So we tweaked the solar oven project to challenge students to engineer a solar oven out of household items that 7th graders could easily find and assemble.

  1. We started with a do-anything, make-any-old solar oven with no guidance. They got the hang of it, and some experiences to link the physics of solar ovens to. The challenge was to heat 60ml of water the most in 2 minutes. I provided boxes, pizza boxes, mylar survival blankets, masking tape, magnifiers, scissors, cling film and other office supplies I had lying around as they asked. This playing around piece might sound like a waste of valuable academic time but it really does make the rest of the learning and the engineering go MUCH more smoothly. It’s also straight up more fun for me – I hate having to over explain stuff and boss around kids who don’t quite get the instructions. Obviously, I keep an eye on safety and circulate all the time to answer questions and give encouragement/re direct. The level of engagement is so high that there are very few discipline issues – the chaos that seems to be implied is way less than you’d think.

2. Then we studied some physics on a need-to-know basis:

 

a. Energy transformations in appliances, toys, pets and cars to review concepts they learned in earlier grades.

 

b. We had to review the definitions of energy and matter with a card sort, this time on a continuum, rather than one or the other. Much easier this way.IMG_1624

c. Light and optics lab to learn about reflection and refraction using light boxes.

 

c. Students researched ideas from other solar ovens being used in the world – in developing countries, by off-the-grid homesteaders, by campers and even by The Chef in his solar oven episode.

3. They put together their knowledge of physics and already-invented solar ovens and designed new solar ovens to fit the challenge with a second build day.

4. All the ovens were tested for effectiveness (temperature change of 60ml of water in a bean can).  Good to repeat the test to iron out data collection issues. I have kids put the ovens by temperature rise rank on the black top so we can easily compare and contrast them.IMG_7364IMG_1727IMG_2179IMG_2961IMG_1731

5. We evaluated the ovens on the use of easily available materials, and on ease of assembly and use. Then we combined the best ideas – what do you think? Think, pair, share. Each class came up with a design that was based on one of the top two or three

6. Apply for a job in the How-2K2K Video Production Company. Here’s the list of jobs. The application was a half page for them to say why they wanted the job and why they would be good at it. IMG_5485

7. Review and test on the science concepts we have been applying – optics, spectrum green house effect, energy transformations. Students see the test and use it to guide their review – I’ll use different solar ovens and energy transformers for the real thing.

Here’s the test and answer sheets.

8. Make the How-To video.

This was harder than saying ‘Hey kids, now you know your jobs, make a video.’ Who knew? After some false starts (chaos 🙂 I grouped kids by their jobs and briefed each group on what I expected. The director(s) were only in charge of the filming.

It’s a good idea to let the ‘how to’ group re-assembling the solar oven rehearse first with the camera people. Maybe one to record a time-lapse, one to videotape and one to take stills.

Props was the hardest job in the end. Students had a really hard time getting past ‘we don’t have a steel bowl at home.’ end of story. Went over how to solve a problem like that and one mom did go out in the evening to actually buy something. Ugh, not what I intended. I used the props people as floaters to fill in for other jobs that arose.

We talked about ‘finding something useful to do’ if they had spaces of time when their job was not immediately needed. What a great life skill.

It was really hard for the directors to assert themselves with their peers, as it is for most of us.

I allowed a catch-up day for editors, script writers and any other crews to finish off their jobs. Much better than a rubbish end product.

9. The Kid 2 Kid Solar Oven How-To Movie Premiere!

Here’s one of our best videos from Period 7

Here is the link to our other videos. And from Marshall Sachs’ classes too.

 

 

 

 

October 31, 2017 at 2:44 PM Leave a comment

The Hurry-cane Help Project

An engaging, upbeat (and manageable) way for students to respond to humanitarian crises!

Continue Reading October 4, 2017 at 9:21 AM 1 comment

Weighing in on Google and Chrome books

Using Google Classroom with Chrome Books for the first time and reacting to the NY Times article “How Google took over the classroom”.

Continue Reading May 21, 2017 at 7:47 AM Leave a comment

Ore to Store Mini-Project

What is the story of our favorite stuff? Student detectives follow the path to metals and ore all over the world.

Continue Reading April 21, 2017 at 2:16 PM Leave a comment

Sex Ed: Guess and Check

ARE there more teen pregnancies now than ever before? Are “kids these days…” more out of control, engaging in more risk behaviors and more likely to get pregnant in their teen years? Students start by guessing the answers to some key questions about sex – here’s the class sheet I used.

And then we discuss the way they will find out answers to their guesses using reliable, evidence-based, scientific sources that I provide for them. This is not a time to look stuff up on Google by themselves with these loaded questions. And searching for ‘teen sex’ is likely to come up with all kinds of inappropriate sites. Here is the link to today’s lesson plan which includes the links to reliable resources.

We talk briefly about scanning through charts and graphs looking for surprises – stuff that contradicts their guesses and anything else that startles them. That’s exactly what investigative journalists do – comb through boring-looking reports looking for the headline. In this case, it turns out that the headline “Today’s teens more responsible than you were!” would work. The trends with teen sexuality are by and large good news, well except when compared with other developed countries. That surprise leads to a short discussion of discrimination experienced even by the very privileged teens in my classes, just for being teens. FullSizeRender 19

For controversial topics like sex education, it’s extra important to use reliable sources and avoid fake news. This dull, dull topic is also re-vitalized when considered in the context of using science to figure out why the birth rate among teens has dropped, and why it is higher in some parts of the country compared to others. If we could figure out what is making the difference, effective policy could save lives and help teens launch into their adult lives without unwanted pregnancies.

This is just one piece of our sex education curriculum that we’ve developed. If you want the lesson plans with links, go to my school loop website. Sex ed started on March 9th, 2017.

After teaching this for about 33 years, I thought you might like a little list of tips that have helped me:

  • Talk over your sex ed curriculum with your administration ahead of time. You’ll need their support and backing. Sex ed stuff is the most likely part of the curriculum to get you into trouble with parents so front loading is extra important.
  • Try to teach similar stuff as your grade level colleague.
  • Share what will be taught at your grade level with parents in a neutral way – we have a folder of resources we use on Google Drive and shared the link with an e mail to parents from the principal. Parents can opt out.
  • Don’t try to persuade parents who want to opt their child out. Provide work from a text book so you don’t have to design an alternative curriculum.
  • Be clear that you are teaching information and not values. That’s up to families.
  • Frequently encourage students to talk to their parents about sex etc.- parent/child open talk about sex is the single most important factor in reducing risk behavior in teens.
  • Circulate a lot during activities, table discussions and while students are watching clips on their iPads etc. That’s when they might actually ask you a private, needed question. Many fewer parents that we think talk to their children openly about sex and yet we are in a culture saturated with it. They need a trusted, friendly and informed adult to talk to.
  • We teach our own sex ed and don’t outsource it to experts who will not have the depth of relationships that we do with our students.
  • Never, ever say “in my experience…”. Duh 🙂 And don’t share anything about your own private life.
  • Have a question box but don’t answer crazy stuff about unicorns (“If a man gets an erection on his head, is he a unicorn.” Yes. Really.), and unserious questions that are designed to disgust or embarrass you. Also questions that are inherently racist, misogynistic etc. You are the teacher. Don’t be bullied by naughty boys (mostly) intent on a laugh.
  • Re-phrase questions about your own sex life if the question seems serious. Re-phrase badly written questions that may have a serious point underlying them.
  • Model being matter of fact.
  • Talk about sex as an important part of life and a natural drive within the context of passing genes on to the next generation.
  • Scare tactics backfire. Being embarrassed is hard to avoid at first but the more relaxed you can be, the better you convey that sex is a normal part of life.
  • Give students time to practice talking about sex in mixed gender groups. It’s an important skill.
  • Embarrassment about ‘privates’ kills – my poor grandfather did not talk about changes in his bowel movements until his colon cancer was very advanced and it nearly did kill him. You might have similar stories in your family.
  • Re-phrase questions and answers in the third person. This avoids “You will find that…. ” which could seriously embarrass a student you might be glancing at accidentally. Generalizing “Many people find that…. ” is a safer way to phrase answers.
  • Some of the questions in the question box suggest that my 7th graders are viewing porn – how do we address this? This is a serious question that I don’t yet have a good answer for. It’s so easy for students to see it – if not at a parents house, then at a friends house or on a friend’s phone. Porn consumption is having a real effect on adult relationships. What is it doing to our children?  Our school community will need to engage with this question and soon.

 

March 16, 2017 at 1:41 PM Leave a comment

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