Wow Them with Physics!

Today I had the pleasure of conducting a workshop at Lynnhaven Elementary for parents and students. My goal-to show parents how they can do science at home with simple activities and materials. In 50 minutes I did 4 experiences-one dealt with disappearing water (a really cool magic trick that can be explained by science), water gels, refracting glasses, and the final activity-The Egg Drop!! Parents loved this one and with a little practice, I had all of the students and parents successful in getting the egg to drop!! Check out this video to watch how it works in slow mo!! If you feel lucky, try it out for yourself! Here is what you need:

  • Solo cup
  • Pie pan
  • Toilet paper tube
  • Egg

To complete the task you must have no fear!! Repeat that to yourself-no fear, no fear, no fear.  As you will see in the video, the key is to hit the pie pan and follow through in a straight line motion. Don’t hit down or you will cause the cup to spill or cause the pie pan to flip!!

Let me know if you were successful!! Tag your post or pictures using this hashtag: #justsimplesciencewithjennysue

Go Science!


Happy Groundhog’s Day 2018

Hate to break the bad news to you, but Punxsutawney Phil has predicted 6 more weeks of winter! Of course you know the tradition-if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, then spring will come early; if it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and the winter weather will continue for six more weeks.

Of course we know predicting the weather is not really dependent upon the groundhog (also known as a woodchuck-which by the way is a rodent of the family Sciuridae, belonging to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots-who knew?) seeing his shadow, but the tradition is a fun one! (To learn more about the tradition, check out the post I wrote back in 2013-has some great activities you can do with your kids). Here in the Virginia Beach area we have our own weather guru known as Chesapeake Chuck and given the weather today (cloudy) his prediction might say spring is coming early to our area!

Whether spring comes early or not, Groundhog Day does allow us to answer the question how are shadows formed? Shadows are created when an object blocks light. In order for the object to block light, it has to be opaque or translucent. Depending on the grade you teach, you either may or may not have to teach these terms. If I were explaining how shadows are made to either a group of Pre-K or Kindergarten students, I would simply say that any object that blocks light makes a shadow. Don’t even worry about translucent and transparent materials just yet.

For older students, they need to know the difference between the terms. An easy way to help students remember the difference between opaque and translucent and transparent is to teach the meaning of the prefix “trans.” Trans is a Latin prefix that has the following meanings: across, beyond, and through to name a few.  By teaching students that translucent, transparent means to let light “through” they can remember the difference between opaque and these two.

Okay so what do you do to help kids remember the difference between translucent and transparent because they sound so similar? Again, focus on how the words are made! Let’s start with translucent. Translucent means to allows some, but not all, light to pass through it. If we go back to the prefix of the word, remember trans simply means through.  In Latin, the stem of the word was “luceo” which means to shine. So essentially translucent means shining through! Frosted glass allows some light to shine through but not always an image of the object.

Transparent allows allows all light to pass through it. Because light passes through it, transparent objects will not make any shadows, as light will pass straight through it and you can see the image. Think about a cup of water in front of a picture. You will see the picture through the glass!

And you thought you would never need Latin! If you teach PreK-K, here is a free lesson that will have your students understanding how the position of the light source can change a shadow. The lesson is called  Where is Punxsutawney Phil’s Shadow? I hope you enjoy it and I hope you have fun with your kids learning about shadows!

Making Models of Snowflakes!

IMG_3340We are still buried here in Virginia Beach. Last Thursday night we got over 10 inches of snow here at our house. Talk about a winter wonderland! It is absolutely beautiful!

With all the snow on the ground, I got to thinking about one of my favorite books to use to teach about matter changes: The Secret Life of Snowflakes by Kenneth Libbrecht. This is a great book with real, close up pictures of snowflakes. Ever time I use it with a group of students they are amazed at the actual size of a snowflake.

The book is a great launching point into a lesson on how and why models are so important to scientists. Scientists use models (three-dimensional representation of a person or thing or of a proposed structure, typically on a smaller scale than the original) to represent real objects found in our world. Think about it-up until camera technology improved, seeing what a snowflake looked like was very difficult.

Snowflakes are incredible beautiful creations made during winter. Even if we bring snow into the classroom, it melts and we still can’t really see a snowflake. Sure we can spend time having students make paper models, but why not try to create something that is more real? Interested? Continue reading to learn more!

Making Models of Snowflakes:

Here are the materials you need to make your own model of a snowflake: Borax, pipe cleaner, 10 inches of string, hot water, clear glass mason jar (large).


Once you have all your materials, here are the next steps.

1. Cut pipe cleaner into thirds and then twist them together to make snowflake shape. You can use 5 pieces of pipe cleaner if you want to get fancy. I just kept it simple.

IMG_8480IMG_8481Next, measure out 1/4 cup borax and 1 1/2 cups of hot water.

IMG_8482IMG_8483Then, tie the string onto your snowflake. I used one of the ends that seemed a bit longer. I then also measured to see if my snowflake would fit in and out of the mason jar with ease. I also measured to see if it would be covered when submerged in the water.

IMG_8485Once I knew that it would go into the jar and had the string secure, I put it into the jar and waiting. This is actually the crystals forming within 10 minutes!! It was really cool! IMG_8493After 24 hours, this was my snowflake! Really pretty!!IMG_8510While this activity is certainly fun, there is so much more you can do with this lesson that will meet your language arts objects.

Idea #1: Have students do a descriptive writing where they sequence they steps they took to set up the activity. Focus on using first, next, then, and last in the writing.

Ideas #2: Compare and Contrast: Have your students do a compare and contrast using a picture of a real snowflake verses the one they made. Have your students use a Box and T Chart to organize their thoughts and then write up how the two snowflakes are similar and different. Here is a free template you can download.

If you would like to have the complete lesson plan, just click here to purchase it.

Powerful professional learning; what if?

One of the questions I find myself asking as I work with teachers is what if? What if we engaged all students in hands-on science? What if all students had the opportunity to have their learning needs met? What if…?

Over the last few years I have had many opportunities to work with teachers. Our conversations have been varied-from science to differentiation to assessment-we have covered it all! Of course these conversations have filled my head with lots of  what if questions!

Many of the groups I have worked with, like the one in the picture above, have literally soaked up everything we have done together! The above group were middle school teachers I had the pleasure of working with in the summer of 2016 at the CTA workshop at JMU. As we spent a week together doing science, it was amazing to watch their minds race and the ideas to fly around the room. As something new was given to them, the question “what if” begin to germinate.What if we did the mentos and diet coke at the beginning of the year to get kids excited and then reuse it again during our matter unit? What if we used the rockets lesson to teach students how to write directions? What if…

What if all students had teachers who got to engage in professional learning that inspired them to try something different in their classrooms? Sadly I know not every teacher gets to experience professional development opportunities that go beyond the sit and get type of session. I also know not every teacher feels they have something they can learn. But what if?

What if all teachers engaged in professional learning every day, every week, or every year that caused them to change one aspect of how they taught? What if the changes they implemented made their teaching ever better? What if every single science teacher in this country engaged students in continual, hands-on learning experiences? If teachers did these things would we be so overrun with students who believed they could go into a STEM field? What if????

These ladies and the countless other teachers I have been blessed to work with have reminded me how powerful the work we do in our classroom really is to the health of our communities. As I have listened to their many stories, they have reminded me why I went into teaching. I went into teaching to make a difference in a child’s life because other teachers had made a difference in mine. I wanted young people to see the beauty and joy in learning how the world works.

I believe our jobs as teachers is to inspire the next generation to question, to seek answers, and to ultimately make our world a better place. I know as teachers we would all love for all of our students to come to us in pretty little packages with beautiful bows ready to learn. But the truth of the matter is this-life is hard and some of our students are coming to us with packages that have been torn or broken. They are the ones that need our inspiration the most. They are the ones who need us to engage them in learning experiences that takes the focus off of the brokenness in their lives and refocuses them on developing their ability to inquire and see they can make a difference in this world.

What if all students had a teacher who saw beyond the stinky clothes or the hard exterior? What if all students had a teacher who saw the potential trapped inside their heads and worked to find the right key to unlock their potential? What if??

I don’t have all the answers just yet, but I am going to keep asking what if in order to continue challenging myself to seek solutions!

Thanks to all of the teachers who inspire me and who continue to inspire their students to ask WHAT IF!

Don’t Carve-Etch Your Pumpkins!

Fall is slowly coming to us here in Virginia Beach.Every year it never fails that we have summer like weather in VB in October. This week we are scheduled to stay in the upper 70’s! While some love summer (don’t get me wrong I do as well), my favorite time of  the year begins in October.

This month my posts will be about one of my favorite fall things-pumpkins!! I just love them don’t you? Two weeks ago I learned something new-etching pumpkins! I had never heard of this but it is really easy and fun to do. Here is what you will need:

  • small pumpkin to start off (get a larger one later once you have gotten the hang of the etching)
  • etching tools-I got mine from the workshop I attended but you can get them here for only 7.27!!
  • template for drawing your design on your pumpkin-I did mine freehand but want to try these templates!

Here is the thing-you just need to start! Don’t panic over the design you want to make-just begin.  As you take your tool you just want to scrap off a little bit of the flesh. Push away from your hands and body (this saves your hands from getting cut-these tools are sharp ya’ll). Don’t go too deep and don’t be upset when your pumpkin begins to weep!! This is just the flesh oozing. But once it dries, the lines will get a little darker. Here is a great video to show you how to do this cool idea.

Etched pumpkinHappy pumpkin etching friends!


Scaffolding Inquiry and Engineering Experiences

Tomorrow I am presenting at the VMI STEM Conference. Excited to finally see VMI! I have lived in Virginia my whole life and this will be the first time visiting. Woo Hoo!

Scaffolding. When you hear that world do you think of scaffolding used for painting? This is what I think of when I hear the word! In fact, when my mom was a little kid, she climbed up a whole set of scaffolds so that she could get as high as she could to call out to a special friend who she believed lived behind her house. Talk about my great grandmother having a panic attack!! But those scaffolds certainly did get her up high!

Scaffolds in education are those things we use to help all students reach the learning goals. When we scaffold, we don’t use them too long or else our students come to become dependent upon them.  We use them to get them to a point where they feel comfortable with content or skills they are trying to learn. As we design our lessons, we can scaffold graphic organizers by using question prompts. We can also scaffold skills like find mean, median, and mode by creating “hint” cards that remind them of the process how to find the mean. Or how to find the mode of a data set.  As they practice and use these “hint” cards, they gain confidence. When we pull the cards away after they have had time to practice, they should be able to do the skill independently!

There are several scaffolds I love to use when teaching science. But the two I love the most are the 4 Question Strategy and SCAMPER. If you want to read them in action, check out the two articles I wrote for NSTA. The 4 Question Strategy is originally from a book called Students and Research. I modified it and have used it with students in grades K through college! It is easy to use and helps students to learn how to brainstorm their own testable questions.

SCAMPER is a tool to use when students need to brainstorm ideas during engineering tasks. You can use just one of the letters or you can use all of them. SCAMPER stands for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to other uses, Eliminate, and Rearrange.  If you want more information, check out these resources:

If you would like to see a copy of my presentation, click here.

Welcome to the 2017-2018 School Year!

And just like that summer is gone! Gone I tell you! In a blink of an eye.  I don’t even know where it went. I don’t even think I accomplished all I wanted to accomplish! But as we know time continues to march on!

This will be my 25th year in education! Doesn’t seem like that long ago that I woke up to arrive at school on my first day full of anticipation and excitement. I still get that way about the beginning of each new year. While my beginnings may look a little different these days (in higher education my school year began two weeks ago), I still find myself thinking about new beginnings and new starts.

21192877_10215035614150713_8779374047799509620_nThis new school year brings new ideas and new projects for me. Right now I am working on finishing the first in a series of preschool science units. These units will contain reading books and simple hands-on science experiences to get your little ones doing science! There will be both a faith-based version for my friends who work in Christian preschools and a secular version. Hope to have the first one ready to go in a couple of weeks. Check back for more details.

I also updated some of my lessons in my Teacher’s Pay Teachers site. Over the next few weeks I will be posting some new science lessons and posting the books from my preschool series. I hope you will find some time to check them out! If I can ever do anything to help you with science, just let me know!

Here is to a great beginning of 2017-2018 school year!

Scientists are Born in Early Childhood Classrooms

IMAG0622I keep waiting for spring to arrive. Virginia seems to be the only place that allows you to experience all of the seasons in one week! Just last week we had 80’s and then 40’s and now we are hovering in the 30’s! Crazy weather!

This week I am off to Boston to do several workshops at the Early Childhood Conference for the Northeast Region of the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI). Nothing better than doing science when the weather is cold outside! Actually, as we wait for spring to arrive and the earth to wake from her long sleep, there is a lot we can do as we prepare to do science in the spring. One of the sessions this week will focus on inspiring teachers to use the outdoors to teach science in preschool.

Using the outdoor setting is perfect for students to hone their scientific process skills (especially the process skills associated with observing and measuring). Students can observe birds, or dig up soil and observe the components that make it up (they might even get lucky and find a wiggly decomposer to observe).  Students can also observe the changes in plants during this time as well.

As we teach children to make good observations, we can use those observations to build their vocabulary.  Take for example the idea of going on a rock hunt. As the children walk the property of your school, have them look for rocks to collect.  You can either bring them back inside the classroom or if it is a nice day, do your observing outdoors!  Teach them how to properly use a magnifying lens while they observe (we are not detectives-but scientists! Hold the magnifying lens closer to the object and move it away from the object to make it look larger!).  As students are observing, have them tell you words to describe what they see with their eyes.  Focus their attention on the color of the rock. What shape does the rock best resemble-is it more like a circle or a square? Have them generate words to describe how the rock feels. Is it hard or soft?

As the children generate their words, introduce other words that mean the same thing. For example, if a student says the rock is small, tell them another word for small could be tiny, little, or even compact. Post these words up on your word wall and continue to use them.

For measuring, have them count the number of birds they see in a 5 minute period. Have them describe the birds and count how many birds are similar colors, i.e. how many bluebirds do you see? What about red birds (robins)? They can also use non-standard items to measure the rocks they collect.

If your school has a garden area (check out a previous post on my old blog space about creating a sensory garden with plants), have the children plant some seeds (after you think the last frost has occured) and count how many days till the seeds sprout. Then measure the growth over time of the new plant.

Besides feeling better in the sunlight, being outdoors doing science is just fun!  There are many science careers that spend a great deal of time outside. If you want to make connections to the different scientists that work outdoors, remember when you are working with plants our students are doing things like botanists. When they are observing rocks, they are geologists. As they describe birds, they are working like ornithologists. You and I both know that little learners love big words! So use them with them!

While doing science outdoors is a fabulous idea, remember the most important thing for our children is that they enjoy the learning process and can see themselves being a scientist! Be sure to tell them they can be anything they work hard at doing! If you do any outdoor science, please be sure to share! Can’t wait for spring!

Free Professional Development

The name of my consulting business, Just Simple Science, came about because of two reasons. First, my husband said my business name should include my initials JS. Of course the name had to include the word science, so JS2 was born! The second reason had to do with my desire to share my passion for good science, good curriculum, and good instructional design in the classroom. Who knew I would have the opportunity to help teachers become passionate about science!

Just the other day I had a teacher friend of mine say to me-“You know Jenny Sue, you think so differently when it comes to designing lessons. I would never have thought of designing my lesson in that way. You really need to bottle up those ideas and share them!”

This got me thinking. How could I share my ideas in a way that 1) would not cost teachers or parents an arm and a leg (we know some programs can be really expensive) and 2) would be easy to do?

Today I am proud to launch the Just Simple Science Youtube channel. This channel will offer free professional development to teachers and parents that will be quick (no longer than 20 minute segments) with easy lesson ideas. The videos will include small chunks of content and provide  lesson ideas that will be perfect for classroom or home use!

Please know the videos are created 100% by me! Forgive the terrible editing job sometimes and my cheesy facial expressions! BTW-you are getting the real me-no professional work here!

The first two video learning experiences are all about pumpkins! Even though Halloween has come and gone, you are going to want to go and grab you a couple of pumpkins in order to engage your students in some inquiry!

The two lessons would go well with the following science topics and concepts:

Topics: life cycles, inquiry, decomposers

Concepts: Change over Time

I hope you enjoy these videos and will think about becoming a subscriber to my channel! If I can get 500 subscribers, I can get my own channel id!! Thanks for reading and hopefully you will watch along and become a science nerd like me! Check out my channel here!


S.T.E.M. is an acronym that stands for the four main disciplines known as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. You may have heard the call to push STEM education in schools. Let me let you in on a little secret- putting these four letters together does not do anything magical in education or in schools.

The magic happens when we expose students to great science experiences that allow them to ask questions and design investigations to find answers to their questions (whether through descriptive, historical, or experimental research investigations). In their quest for answers, students will more than likely have to use math to describe their results and guess what-technology will be the tool that either allows them to capture or organize the data. When it naturally fits, engineering design opportunities come off of great science experiences. Engineers take the best of what scientists produce and ask what can it be used for-how can it solve a problem, or need, or desire.

The answer is not in adding more into an already huge list of standards. The answer lies in designing learning experiences that tap into children’s natural curiosities and allow them to become scientists or engineers.