Milk it for all it’s worth!

Let’s face it, with all the technology kids have in their lives today, sometimes they come to school less than enthusiastic to learn what we need to teach them. I really believe by simply shifting how we do things, we can get them wanting to know more.

So, let’s get to the point today-Milk an activity for all it’s worth!

Here is the activity: using salt dough creations to help kids understand change

Change.  Great concept found in science. In fact, the next gen science standards say we should be engaging students in connecting topics to this concept. So how do we help kindergartens to understand this idea that objects or materials change when they are made different or altered in some way?

We engage them in a tangible experience that illustrates change.

That is why I picked salt dough creations.  Fun. Messy. Real-life example of change that doesn’t take a long time.

Now I know what you might be saying-that is just doing crafts in science. No. What I am doing is using an experience to show students the science by using the experience.

Let me give you some background. This activity opens up my unit on changes. I wanted to start with something that allowed my scientists to see changes quick and in a simple manner. The unit was introduced by explaining to students they were going to be investigating changes in our world through seasons and weather. But to begin, they were going to experience change in order to describe what change means.

The investigation question that guided what they were about to do was posted:  What happen when we mix salt, flour, and water together?

Let me start by saying I didn’t  have students jump in and make predictions of what they think will happen. Making predictions, while a great part of the scientific process, is not what I wanted to work at that moment. Plus, if my students didn’t have any prior experience with mixing flour, salt, and water, then they would simply throw out answers they thought might be correct-those wild guesses. I didn’t really want them to think predictions were wild guesses. As they would learn later in the year, predictions are made from experiences.

I also didn’t just mix the materials together to find an answer to the question I posted.

So, I purposefully slowed down and had students make observations at every step along the way. By doing this, many more standards than just science were reinforced!

Okay so the gist of the activity goes like this:

Give each student (you can do this whole group if you like) 1/2 cup of salt, 1 cup of flour, and 1/2 cup of water. Have them make observations and record them for each material. Ask your scientists-what do you see? How does each object feel? Here is the perfect part about this opening activity-you can turn this into a language lesson. What other words can we say to describe the object’s color? Texture?? Build those million dollars describing words!!

After students have made observations, allow them to mix the salt and flour. What happens? Now describe how it looks and feels. What is the same? What is different?

Then mix in the water. Ask those questions again. How has the material been made different (which is the definition of change)? Because they have experienced each substance along the way- helping them see change occurring before their eyes makes it more understandable.

Because students have recorded each idea in their science journal ( hint, hint, hint-writing for a purpose) along the way through the change process, they can go back and use those words to describe how salt, flour, and water changed.  They have tangible evidence the materials they began with-the salt and flour changed when the water was added. In fact, the observations they recorded said it all-the salt/flour went from dry to wet.  The material went from feeling soft and fluffy to sticky and thick.

When we went back to our descriptive investigation question, the students were able to answer the question easily because they have experienced what happens when you mix all three materials together.

So, where did the activity go next? Well I wanted my students to see one more example of change. The next investigation question asked students to research “What happens when our material is put into a hot oven? How does heat change our material?”

Students were asked to make a rainbow using their material.  To make their rainbow, they were given the directions of having 7 pieces to the rainbow. Of course, this is the perfect time to work on our counting ability, so students are asked to make an object in the shape of a rainbow with 7 pieces of the material.  See how sneaky that is-just sneaking that math into my lesson without calling it math!!! Practicing one to one correspondence! They went on baking pans and the fabulous ladies in the cafeteria baked them for us. The next day we made observations again.  Students now had their answer to their research question!  To quote one of my scientists; “The heat dried ’em out and made them harden up .“

Now if you teach upper elementary you might be asking yourself “well how could I do this with my older students to have fun yet teach my standards?”  Simple recipes are a great way to talk about parts and wholes. Ratios. Have your students design an experiment to see if changing the ratio of materials makes a different on the material produced.  could continue this activity even further (which I did by the way) and we talked about colors.

So, let’s see. Using this simple activity, I was able to engage my students in working on building their vocabulary by generating words to describe each of the objects. We practiced counting up to seven and making one to one correspondence.  We asked several research questions and did something to find the answers to those questions.  We used our senses to make observations and thus observe carefully.

And that my friend is the point to just simple science. Milk an activity for all it’s worth. Pick a fun activity, slow down, and milk it to get everything you can out of it while teaching your standards. Make it so different students don’t even know they are doing math or language arts.

Fabulous Science Fridays in June!

Need some fun activities and experiments you can do with your own children this summer? How about quick and simply things you can do in summer school that are tied to your state and national standards? If this is you, come and join me each Friday at 11 a.m. on Facebook!  Just like my page @justsimplescience on facebook and then look for the events page!! Hope to see you online!

Time to Celebrate Teachers! Nominate Your Star Elementary Teacher

Grade 4 Box of Free Books and Materials
box with free books
Kindergarten Box of Free Books and Materials!

I still remember my first day of teaching. Eighth grade at Bayside Middle School. I had been hired to teach physical science.  The butterflies, my fear I might fail, the wonder of having my own classroom, the hope I would make a difference.  Teaching has always been in my blood. I come from a long line of teachers and administrators. It was no surprise to my mom when, at the age of 4, she found me in my room with my dolls lined up on the wall and a chalkboard in front of them. And yes, I still have that chalkboard!

The seed to become a teacher was planted well before I was born. I know it is my calling, my purpose in life. But it wasn’t until the 7th grade that I found out teaching science would be my gift. Just like my first day, I can still remember my 7th grade life science teacher Mr. Perino asking us to bring in a sample of water from a pond or somewhere near our house. As he put it we were going to see the life in a drop of water. Life in a drop of water-right! I thought he had lost his mind. Being the rule follower, I did what he asked. From my water sample I learned how to make a wet mount slide, learned to focus the lens on the microscope, and laughed as I put my eye up to the eyepiece and focused. 

Bam-there it was-life in a drop of water!

It was amazing! I might have even shouted out loud how cool it was, but I didn’t care. Suddenly the questions started flooding my mind-how could life live in water. What do they do all day? How do they eat? I wanted to know more! That one activity launched me on the journey to becoming a science teacher.

Teachers teach the next generation of lawyers, doctors, writers, mechanics, truck drivers, teachers, nurses, politicians and so on. This one profession is responsible for inspiring children to dream big and believe they can set the world on fire! Sadly, the wear and tear on teachers is showing. Burnout is becoming a real problem in the teaching profession and the numbers of people seeking to become teachers is dropping.

But you can help to make a difference in the life of a teacher who may be questioning their value. For this years Teacher Appreciation Week (May 6-10), Just Simple Science wants to spread some love to some special teachers! Do you know a teacher who is having a rough time? Maybe someone who just needs a pat on the back? If you do, please nominate them for our first “Celebrating Teacher” award recognition. We are taking nominations for teachers in the Hampton Roads area who teach in grades PreK-5. Nominations are open from April 12-April 28th. At the end of April we will select 7 winners-one from each grade level and give them a box full of books and other supplies.  But we can’t do this with out your help!  Nominate a teacher who needs a little pick-me-up! All you have to do is fill out a simple form and we will do the rest!! There is no cost to this-this is our way of blessing public and private school teachers in the Hampton Roads area (click here to see listing of school districts) Let Just Simple Science bless a teacher you know! Apply today! Applications are open from April 12-April 28.

Developing Expertise-Free Lesson Measuring

Ahhh, the wisdom of yoda!!! One of the greatest lessons we can teach our students is this- when we fail, we learn. My children (Beth and Hugh) hate to be wrong and they hate to fail. Bill and I have really been working with them over the last few years to understand that from our failures come our greatest learning opportunities. I am often reminded of Edison and his work with the light bulb. It took him failing 1,000 times before he got it right. In his words, he didn’t fail 1,000 times. It took 1,000 steps to figure it out.

I often see children struggling the most with skills they don’t use that much in the classroom. Take for instance measuring. Measuring can be a difficult skill to master. One because it involves using a tool that is hard to understand unless you have continued practice with using a ruler.  Think about this-when you use a ruler or measuring tape do you have to google those tiny little marks in between the larger marks? Do you remember how to discern the difference between the 1/4 and the 1/16th line? Come on now-admit it-some of you do!!! I do. Why? Because it is not a tool I use each and every day. Those who work in the construction business use it multiple times a day. Measure 3 times; cut once. Their brains are on autopilot. Ever heard of the phrase if you don’t use it you lose it?

This week’s free lesson is a part of the lesson Measuring Plants and Animals. The lesson is really a tiered center activity that allows students to practice measuring. The group activity you are getting today involves students using inch worms (non-standard unit of measurement) to measure pictures of plants and animals. Students are given different pictures of plants and animals and ask to measure how wide, tall, and how long are the objects in the picture. The other center activity in the lesson plan calls for students to measure multiple attributes at one time (if you would like the entire lesson plan click here).

We teach students to begin measuring with non-standard units of measurement because it gives them a visual representation of an estimate of how long something is. Sometimes we don’t need to be precise; we just need a quick estimate. For example, one inch (2.5 cm) is roughly the measurement from the top knuckle on your thumb to your thumb tip. The rule is this-parts of your body can be used to estimate many common units of measurement. Of course it is a good idea to first measure your own body parts in order to understand how close your own proportions are to these averages.For more information on how to use body parts to measure, check this out!

I tell science teachers all the time, look for ways to incorporate measuring into the science curriculum. Don’t wait until the math unit to teach an reinforce this skill. Practice makes perfect!

Author Study and Science: Top Secret Free Lesson Friday

Have you ever read a great book and wondered more about the author and why he/she wrote the story they put on paper? I know I have! Intrigued by the story, I was left to wonder how they came up with the story. How did they know they wanted to be a writer? Did they ever struggle to put words to page like I do?

Engaging students in an author study is the perfect way to help them to see beyond the stories and learn not only about the authors behind the stories, but to make a connection to them. An author study is a strategy where students go deeper into the author’s life and the stories they have written. Through author studies, students build critical thinking skills, foster deeper connection to the stories they are reading, and provides a different way to build literacy skills.

This week’s free lesson is an author study about John Reynolds Gardiner, specifically focused on his book Top Secret. Top is secret is a story I absolutely adore! It is the tale of a young boy who wants to figure out a way to turn himself into a plant so he can make his own food. Through the story he designs his own experiment, carefully manipulating variables to see if they work. Through the twist and turns, your students will love this story. A bonus is the story is a great connection to inquiry and the process of designing an experiment! Students will also learn how, even with the lack of encouragement, you can accomplish what you dream.

John Reynolds Gardiner had a vivid imagination along with a great sense of humor. As he was getting ready to graduate high school, his English teacher told him he would never make it in his college English classes and writing compositions. While he didn’t write any stories between ages of 18-28, he ended up enrolling in a television writing class and his writing career finally took off!

I hope you enjoy this week’s free lesson and the book Top Secret!

Spring is Coming! Life Cycle Hats

We are having a cold snap here in Virginia and I have to tell you, I am ready for spring! Spring is one of my favorite seasons for many reasons. I love the rebirth of flowers that have been laying dormant throughout the winter. Trees come to life in a colorful rebirth. And of course the average temperature throughout the day gets warmer. With the onset of spring I know summer is not far away.

Hopefully your science curriculum has placed the topic of life cycles during the springtime months. It is always easy to grow plants in the spring versus the wintertime (unless you have a greenhouse). Today’s free lesson comes from an upcoming preschool science unit that will be released sometime this summer (be on the lookout! ). I will be releasing both a public school version and a version for Christian Schools (spring is a great time to connect to the topic of resurrections).

Today’s free lesson combines science with art. This activity is good for fine motor developing and to have your young scientist practice sequencing/putting things in order.

Here is what you need:

  • Life Cycle Cut and Color Sheet
  • Green Construction Paper (enough to make a green band wide enough to go around each budding scientist’s head)
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • Life Cycle Book (coming soon!)

Here is what you do:

Have the children color the plant life cycle of butterfly life cycle before cutting out (easier).  Read a book on life cycles and talk to your budding scientist about how living things, both plants and animals, have a life cycle. A life cycle shows the series of changes in the life of a plant or animal (organisms) as they grow and develop. Each stage has a specific purpose for the life of the plant or the animal. For example, in the caterpillar stage, the main goal is for the caterpillar to eat, and eat, and eat. It takes a lot of energy for a caterpillar to transform into a butterfly. Be sure and explain to children how a life cycle is a pattern of growth and development. This is important! By linking the topic of life cycles to patterns, they can begin to identify other patterns in nature (weather patterns, patterns on a butterfly’s wing).

I hope you enjoy this free lesson and have fun being creative with your budding scientists!

Photosynthesis Free Lesson-Elementary/Middle School

We are having a cold snap here in Virginia and I have to tell you I am ready for spring! Spring is one of my favorite seasons for many reasons. I love the rebirth of flowers that have been laying dormant throughout the winter. Trees come to life in a colorful rebirth. And of course the average temperature throughout the day gets warmer. With the onset of spring I know summer is not far away.

Springtime is the perfect time to help your budding scientists understand how plants make their own food through the process of photosynthesis. In this free lesson, your students will observe the process of photosynthesis and then use what they have learned to design their own experiment.

Here is what you need:

  • elodea plant for each group
  • small container to put plant in

What your students will do:

Post the following question: “What happens when an Elodea plant is placed in a test tube and put in the sunlight?” This is descriptive research instead of experimental because students are just observing what happens. They will learn from this research that the plant will produce oxygen as the plant sits in the sunlight. 

Have students work together to set up plant in the test tube.

Once done and the plants have been placed in a sunny spot, have the students make observations at the same time during the next few days.  Remind them to be careful observers!

Once students have seen the bubbles and the test tube fill up with gas at the top (water will be pushed out at the bottom of test tube), time to have students learn about photosynthesis. Use the following discussion questions to start the conversation: •What did you observe happening on the surface of the plant? •What do you think are those bubbles? •What else did you observe?

Hope you enjoy this free lesson!

Making a Rainbow in a Cup! Free Lesson Friday

Hopefully you downloaded my observation sheet to use when you have your students grow clover for St. Patrick’s Day.  Today I want to share another fun activity to do with your students around March 17th.  This activity is a great way to practice making colors!

Materials: clear cups, paper towel, and food coloring.

Here is what you do:
Step 1:
Each cup will need its own paper towel. Fold and trim the paper towels so that they will rest easily into the cups. Make sure the paper towel to touch the bottoms of each cup, but not rise up too far out of the top.

Step 2:
Line up the cups in an arc to resemble a rainbow or a circle like you see below.

Fill cups 1, 3, and 5 with water. Leave cups 2, 4, and 6 empty. Because the next step involves adding food coloring and stirring, fill up the cups only half way. This will make the next step easier if you choose to have the students do the stirring.

Step 3:
Stir a few drops of red food coloring into cup 1. Stir a few drops of yellow food coloring into cup 3. Stir a few drops of blue food coloring into cup 5.

Step 4:
Insert a folded paper towel into each cup as shown below so that one end of the paper towel is in a cup with colored water and the other end is an empty cup. Be sure to leave cups 2, 4, and 6 empty.

Step 5:
Almost immediately you should start to see the water climbing up the paper towels. Carefully add more water to the cups with colored water so that they almost reach the top. Then leave your cups alone for a couple of hours and when you return you’ll have a rainbow!

Here is the science behind this activity:
Just like water “climbs up” the roots of plants from the soil, the colored water in the cups climbs up the paper towels, against gravity. This is called capillary action. The paper towel is a very absorbent, so the colored water is able to move through it very quickly. It then drips down into the empty glass. The color of the two primary colors mixes to create secondary colors!!

Have fun doing this science activity!

Image may contain: drink, plant and indoor

Science and St. Patrick’s Day

One of the best things about our country is the melting pot of races and cultures. As people migrated to America and looked to live here, they brought a variety of traditions we still celebrate today. Tradition(s) is an important concept to teach to young children. Tradition means the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.

The Irish celebrate St. Patrick’s Day because it observes the death of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Over the years, the holiday has evolved into a celebration of Irish culture with parades, special foods, music, dancing, and a whole lot of green. One of the traditions to come out of St. Patrick’s Day is the the finding of a 4 leaf clover for good luck.

Did you know the White Clover plant is the only real four-leaf clovers? I didn’t, but what I learned was this:  the plant regularly produces four-leaf clovers which is one reason why they are so rare.

For the Irish, each leaf of the clover symbolizes a piece of tradition; one is for Faith, one for Hope, one for Love and the fourth for Luck. In Irish tradition, the three leaf clover represents the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, if someone was to find a clover with the fourth leaf then that fourth leaf represented God’s Grace. Legend also has it Eve carried a four-leaf clover out of the Garden of Eden with her to remind her of the wonderful garden she had been cast out of by God.

What better way to teach the traditions of the Irish people than to connect science with history!  With the first day of spring a few days later, you can have your students observe the stages of a growth of a plant. It takes a clover plant a couple of days to start growing (if room temperature is above 59 degrees, only takes between 1-5 days to start germinating) and within 10-12 weeks from planting you should get your first flower! Here is what you need:


What you do:

Have the students make observations of the seeds (they are really tiny). Then plant in the soil and place in a sunny area. Have your children make observations of the plant growth over the weeks. As you near St. Patrick’s Day, read the book What is St. Patrick’s Day and talk about the traditions the Irish brought over when they settled in America. You can even listen to some Irish music and watch Irish dancing! Be sure to talk to your children about the term tradition and why traditions are passed from one generation to another!

Free Lesson Friday

Happy Friday friends!! Did you know that every Friday over on my facebook page I share free lesson ideas? Well, I do!! Be sure to follow me on facebook! You can find me here!! This week I share one of my all time favorite lessons-popping popcorn. Great lesson that shows the water cycle in a totally different way. You don’t want to miss grabbing this lesson idea!