‘Elementary Education’ Category

Elementary School Science Fair Project Guide

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

Elementary School Science Fair Guide

Science fair projects are activities that are both fun and educational for students. They can pick topics that pique their curiosity, test their hypotheses by creating their own experiments and learn how to use the scientific method — a practice used by professional scientists around the world.

However, there are many steps to take to make this project a success, and we’re here to guide you through each one of them.

What Is a Science Fair?

A science fair refers to an event, often held in elementary schools, where students share experiments that they’ve conducted and the results that they have found. In some fairs, students will compete for prizes, while others are less competitive.

History

Science fairs in the U.S. can be traced back to the E.W. Scripps’ Science Service. The mission of this organization, which was established in 1921, was to increase interest and awareness of science by teaching scientific concepts in simpler, less technical terms. This organization was instrumental in organizing the Science Clubs of America, which in 1950 held a national science fair for the first time.

How to Make an Elementary School Science Fair Project

Follow these steps to get your scientific investigation underway:

  1. Pick a topic you love: You’re much more likely to enjoy this process — and do it well — if you pick a topic you’re passionate about. Don’t limit yourself to scientific topics, but rather think of your most intense interests and how they can be related to science. A science experiment can be created using practically any topic. For instance, if your passion is art, you could investigate the reaction of paint chemicals or how to make artificial colors. Choose a topic that is suitable for your age. While you can pick a topic that is challenging, you don’t want to choose a topic so difficult that you can’t complete it in time. 
  2. Think of a question: Once you’ve decided on your topic, think of a question that you can test. 
  3. Formulate a hypothesis: A hypothesis is an attempt to answer your question. 
  4. Think of a procedure: A procedure is an experiment that can be conducted to affirm or deny your hypothesis.
  5. Acquire materials: Once you know how you’ll conduct your experiment, start gathering materials you’ll need to do it. 
  6. Record results: By experimenting, you can see if your hypothesis was correct. 
  7. Arrive at a conclusion: Take a good look at the result you got, and determine whether your hypothesis was right or wrong. Also, think of ways you could further explore the question. As you’re doing your experiment, take notes so that afterward you can more easily share what you did and what you learned. 

How to prepare your poster

How to Prepare Your Poster

After you’ve finished your experiment and drawn your conclusions, the project is only halfway done — now you create a poster that provides a clear overview of what you did.

Creating Your Display Board

Elementary school students create posters with basically the same format as those presented by professional scientists at conferences. In general, display boards at science fairs are tri-folds, meaning that they’re folded on both sides so that they can easily stand. It’s not uncommon for boards to measure up to 14 inches deep and 3 feet wide. You can find these boards at office supply, craft and drug stores, or you can make your own with cardboard or poster board.

If you decide to make one yourself, it’s probably best to create three separate pieces then attach them with duct tape so that they can easily bend.

Organizing the Display Board

When it comes to organizing your poster, you’ve got several options. However, no matter you decide to do the layout, make sure that it includes these key sections:

  1. Title: When writing your title, you can simply go with your question or some other message that grabs your audience’s attention.
  2. Question: Clearly state your question. Also, provide some background why this topic interests you and how you thought up the question.
  3. Hypothesis: Tell your audience what you guessed the results would be before you conducted the tests.
  4. Procedures: Clearly explain the steps you took to test your question and why you decided on that procedure.
  5. Equipment and materials: Include a list of the things you needed for your test.
  6. Data and results: Describe what happened when you conducted your experiment. Use graphs, charts or other visuals to help convey your results.
  7. Conclusion: In your previous step, you just described the data. In this step, you want to make sense of them. Mention whether your hypothesis was correct or not, and explain why you think you got those results. Also, if you were to redo the tests, mention what you would do differently.
  8. References: Include the resources you used, whether they’re websites, books or people.
  9. Your Name: Also add your grade and the name of your teacher.

Example

Below is an example of a science fair project, including a detailed account of the procedure, results and conclusions.

1. Title

“Keeping Flowers Beautiful”

2. Question

“What Solution Can Keep Flowers Fresh for the Longest Period of Time?”

I chose this topic for several reasons. First of all, I love flowers, and I’m always trying to figure out better ways to keep them fresh for longer. Also, this issue is of great importance to many industries and consumers since they buy flowers for many occasions including weddings, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Christmas.

Flower shops often provide customers with an additive to put in the water in their vase, but I wanted to question whether this additive is the most effective solution and whether another could work better. In my project, I tested homemade solutions, commercial preservatives and old wives tales.

3. Hypothesis

I believe that some home remedies will be just as effective as the preservative provided by florists. I hypothesize that the most effective solution will be lemon-lime soda because it contains sugar as well as several chemicals that I believe will inhibit the growth of bacteria that could damage the plant.

4. Procedures

Follow these steps to test your hypothesis:

  1. Thirty (30) daisies (bellis perennis) will be bought from the same store at the same time to make sure they are all equally fresh.
  2. Using a lab coat, gloves and goggles, certain solutions will be mixed together in 10 one-pint jars with an 8-ounce measuring cup, a tablespoon and a teaspoon. To avoid contamination, wash hands after making each mixture.
  3. The solutions used are tap water, distilled water, tap water with a teaspoon of salt, tap water with an aspirin pill, lemon-lime soda, tap water with 1 tablespoon of bleach, tap water with 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar, tap water with 1 tablespoon sugar, tap water with 1 tablespoon of mouthwash and tap water with 1 tablespoon of commercial preservative Floralife.
  4. The stems of the flowers will then be submerged in lukewarm water and clipped at a 45-degree angle. Afterward, they will be put into the solutions. Three specimens will be placed in each of the 10 solutions.
  5. Every other day, the stems will be cut again and put in fresh solutions. These are considered good florist practices.
  6. The state of each flower will be examined once a day until either 14 days have passed or nothing remains in the vases. The number of specimens remaining in every solution will also be documented every day, as will their color and droopiness.
  7. Once their state has been recorded, specimens that are wilting, drooping or browning at the edges will be removed so that the bacteria won’t harm the other specimens in the container.
  8. A chart that shows how long each specimen stayed fresh will be made, accompanied by photos of the changes.

5. Equipment and Materials

Here’s what you’ll need for this experiment:

  1. Ten 1-pint jars to contain the flowers in the solutions
  2. A teaspoon measure
  3. A tablespoon measure
  4. An 8-oz. cup measure
  5. A pair of gloves
  6. A protective lab coat
  7. Tap water
  8. Distilled water
  9. 30 cut daisies (bellis perennis)
  10. A 1/2 cup of cider vinegar
  11. 12 cans of lemon-lime soda
  12. A 1/2 cup of sugar
  13. A 1/2 cup of Floralife
  14. A 1/2 cup of bleach
  15. A 1/2 cup of mouthwash
  16. Aspirin

6. Data and Results

  1. In the tap water, mouthwash and aspirin solutions, the flowers stayed fresh for seven full days. Every other homemade solution that I used in my project caused the flowers to wilt faster.
  2. By 14 days, the freshest specimens were the ones in the sugar water. One of the flowers in the lemon-lime soda solution browned in the middle, as did all of the Floralife specimens.
  3. By 21 days, the specimens in the sugar water still had not browned, although they had significantly wilted. The specimens in the soda had wilted. The Florarlife specimens still had the brown color, but no wilting of the petals occurred.

7. Conclusion

My hypothesis that the lemon-lime soda would be most effective was incorrect. The specimens in the soda, the floral additive and sugar water solutions all remained at Stage 1 for seven days and fresh enough for display for a full 21 days.

Although Floralife research suggests that it is more effective than any alternative, my results showed that both lemon-lime soda and sugar water can help keep flowers fresh for the longest time. This suggests that florists and consumers could save by using sugar water instead of the more costly floral preservatives.

Science Fair Project Ideas

If you’re having trouble coming up with a topic that interests you, below are some science fair ideas for inspiration:

  • Soaking pennies: A long-time favorite of elementary school students, dirty pennies are collected in this experiment and soaked in a variety of acidic liquids such as lime juice, lemon juice, vinegar and salsa. This experiment is best for kindergartners or first graders.
  • Creating circuits: Students interested in technology can make simple circuits using everyday objects. This is also most suitable for kindergartners or first graders.
  • Rainbow rubber eggs: This fun experiment involves submerging eggs in vinegar, adding a few drops of food coloring and waiting a few days to see some cool results.
  • Teleidoscopes: These objects are like kaleidoscopes but do not have an end, allowing you to view anything you want. Looking through one of these is a fantastic experience. This project is most appropriate for kids between second and fourth grade.
  • Density tower: This experiment involves layering liquids of different densities on top of one another without having them mix together.
  • Growing salt crystals: Salt crystals can be grown overnight in the fridge.

General science fair tips

General Tips

In addition to the necessary steps mentioned above, we’d also like to share some general tips to boost the quality of your presentation.

  • Document everything: Through the entire process, record all your activities, thoughts and findings in a journal. Some science fairs actually request that you include your notebook as part of your presentation. For professional scientists, keeping a detailed log of their experiments is critical.
  • Write on separate pieces of paper: It’s much easier to write all titles and other text on pieces of paper and then glue them to your board than to write directly on the board. You can also type them out with a computer and use attention-grabbing colors and fonts — just make sure that the font and font size are easy to read from a few feet away.
  • Take photos: One of the easiest ways to help explain the process is with pictures, so remember to keep a camera nearby and take photos throughout the experiment. Then, print out your best photos and include them on your board — breaking up the text with pictures will make your project easier to digest. 
  • Make it colorful: If your teachers allow it, consider buying a colorful board. Other ways to add color include printing out your titles and text on colored construction paper, scrapbook paper or cardstock. You can also make your project pop with stickers, cut-out letters or colored paper.
  • Lay everything out before pasting: Before grabbing the glue, first lay everything out that you want to include on your board. The hypothesis, procedures and materials should be on the right, the data and results should be in the center, and the conclusion, personal information and resources should go on the right. Depending on how much you include for each section, you may need to adjust this layout. Once you’re happy with the placement of everything, paste it to the board.
  • Use glue dots or glue sticks: These two types of glue are the easiest to use. You can use regular glue as well, but it sometimes causes wrinkles in the paper and can be difficult to change the position of things after the glue has dried.
  • Limit parental involvement: Parents should give their children the opportunity to do as much of the work as they can for their age. Although requirements vary from school to school, parents are usually allowed to type up the notes their children have made — just make sure that your child is telling you what to write. Your child should be able to explain every step of the process to the panel of judges. It’s a good idea to have your kids practice explaining what they did to you or other members of your family.

How Does the Judging Work?

Some science fair projects are assessed by a panel of judges and the winners may advance to regional or state levels. At elementary school science fairs, however, it’s less common to award placements. Instead, judges may point out the best parts of each project, award ribbons and leave commentary. At the elementary level, the objective is usually to just encourage students to continue participating in these events.

Check out Science Explorers science programs

Check out Our Science Programs

If you live in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware or Maryland, and your child is between the ages of 4 and 11, explore the fun and educational science programs offered by Science Explorers. Our programs, which include summer camps and after-school science clubs, are designed to get kids excited about science and create lasting memories in the process.

 

Toys to Encourage a Child’s Love for Science

Friday, November 9th, 2018

Science toys

When you are buying toys for your children for the holidays or for birthdays, you should consider educational toys that promote a better understanding of science. The world needs more scientists, so a parent can stimulate a child’s interest in a variety of sciences, and these are some of the best toys for helping your child learn.

Toy 1: Telescopes that work with Computer Screens

Telescopes that work with computer screens are one of the newest ways for children to look at the stars and planets. This type of telescope connects to a computer’s USB port, and it has a digital camera that records the images in the sky so that your child can see the constellations and planets on her computer screen. It is possible to change the power of the telescope to see images that are farther away.

2: Geodes that Your Child can Break Open

If you want to encourage an interest in geology, then you can order geodes from online companies. A geode kit will have tools to help with opening the geode so that a child can see the minerals that line the cavity of the item. The crystals will have interesting colors or shapes that your child can learn more about with an internet search.

3: Simple Machine Kits for a Variety of Ages

You can find an assortment of simple machine kits for children of different ages. There are simple machine toys for toddlers, and these items may have brightly colored blocks or other shapes that a child can manipulate with her hands. As your child gets older, you can find complex simple machine toys that are made by the Lego Group Company or by K’NEX Industries Inc.

4: Human or Animal Anatomy Kits

When you want your child to learn about the anatomy of animals or humans, you can buy kits that contain plastic parts that represent bones and organs. These types of kits can teach your child about the bodies of humans and animals to encourage her to explore a career in a medical field such as registered nursing or veterinary science.

5: Engineering Laboratory Kits

If you have a child who is fascinating with robots, then consider an engineering laboratory kit that focuses on the science of robotics. Robots are the newest trends for transportation, manufacturing and health care, so this is a field of science that offers a career future for your child.

6: Kits that Contain Moth or Butterfly Cocoons

Scientists are still learning new information about insects, so you can encourage an interest in entomology. You can order kits online that contain butterfly or moth cocoons so that your child can observe how the insects develop in the cocoons and exits from the cocoons. This kit will contain a notebook so that your child can write down his scientific observations in the same way that a real entomologist does.

7: Matching and Number Toys

Matching and number toys such as cards with pictures, colors and numbers are one of the easiest types of scientific kits to find in local and online stores. These types of scientific toys will increase your child’s brain development while teaching her about logistics. A set of cards with numbers or images is appropriate for taking with you to other locations so that your child has something to play with.

8: Primary or Chemistry Laboratory Kits

You may have had a primary or chemistry laboratory kit as a child, and these are still valuable for learning about STEM topics that include science, technology, engineering and math so that your child will excel in school.

Talk to Your Child about What He or She Wants

Before buying toys for your child, talk to them about their interests in scientific topics, or alternatively, you can learn more about what she is studying in school to augment her education.

If you’re looking for additional ways to encourage your child’s love for science check out Science Explorer’s summer science camps and after-school clubs.

 

Annie Grace Wilson is a Public Relations Specialist for The STEM Store. She regularly produces content for a variety of blogs that cover topics on STEM toys and fun educational material

5 Fun Ways to Teach Your Students About DNA

Friday, October 5th, 2018

DNA

Some topics are difficult to properly teach to students, mainly because of their complexity. DNA, which is otherwise known as deoxyribonucleic acid, is one of those complex topics, and while it is actually quite interesting and important to know about, communicating that to a student still in elementary school is not the easiest thing to do.

Don’t give up on properly conveying the important things to know about DNA however, because it can be done. Listed below are some simple and easy-to-follow tips that will ensure that even a topic as challenging to fully grasp as DNA will be understood by elementary school students.

Describe the Subject Matter in a Different and Simpler Way

According to Science Daily, DNA “is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions for the development and function of living things.”  As far as definitions of DNA go, the one provided by Science Daily is actually quite concise and easy to understand, but still, some of the younger elementary school students may not comprehend it completely.

This is where the teacher has to step in and simplify the way in which DNA is defined. Instead of going with the scientific definition of DNA, a teacher can opt to share with the students one of the popular terms used to describe it. It may be a bit of a challenge to convey to a student what nucleic acid is, but it’s not as hard to tell them about what a blueprint is and how it is comparable to DNA. Nucleic acid may be tough for them to visualize, but a blueprint is not.

Make Use of Visual Aids

Although DNA is a substance abundant in the body, it still carries a certain abstract quality because it isn’t something that can be seen without the aid of a special microscope of some kind. Young kids will become more interested in something if they can see a visual representation of it, so how can a teacher find a way to show students DNA without bringing in a special microscope?

As noted earlier, DNA is often compared to a blueprint, so why not bring that into the classroom. Obviously, there’s no actual blueprint depicting how a specific human body should be built, but the teacher can still come in with a blueprint for a building, show that it contains instructions for designing the structure and then explain how DNA does the same thing except that it does so for people’s bodies.

Focus on the Double Helix Structure of DNA

One of the most interesting features of DNA is its structure. The double helix model is quite eye-catching and something closely associated to DNA, so why not make use of it as a teaching aid. There are a few ways for teachers to go about doing that.

The first way is to borrow a model of DNA showing off its double helix structure. Again, younger students may tend to rely on their sight to learn more about something, so by entering the classroom with a model depicting what DNA looks like, chances are many of them will immediately perk up and become more interested in hearing more about this unusual object teacher just brought in.

Alternatively, teachers can also show kids the double helix structure of DNA and then ask them to create their own models.  An article from Red Tricycle suggests allowing kids to use items like candy, grapes, toothpicks, pipe cleaners, and even Lego bricks to create their DNA structures. Just be sure to supervise them of course. By doing those things, kids will develop a greater level of familiarity with DNA and perhaps become more invested in hearing about it.

Ask the Students to Answer Questions About Themselves

Many kids are eager to share more about themselves, so take advantage of that trait and get them talking about things related to DNA. Ask them about some unique things they only see in themselves and their families and then explain how DNA is responsible for that.

By relating DNA to them and the people close to them, students will naturally want to learn more about how they have become who they are now.

Have the Students Participate in Games/Contests

Games are fun, and many kids are always up for one. Teachers can make a game or a contest out of who can create the best double helix DNA structure and then reward bonus points depending on how well the student explains what they have just built.

There are also matching games that can come from pairing up the chemical bases adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine that are all related to the topic of DNA.

Those are just some of the ways for teachers to make DNA a more interesting topic for their elementary school students. For those teachers struggling with that topic now, they can try out the tips above and see how well they work inside their classrooms.

 

Abby Drexler is a contributing writer and media specialist for Genetics Digest. She regularly produces content for a variety of science and education blogs about the wonders of genetics and DNA.

 

Guide to Teaching Children About the States of Matter

Friday, May 4th, 2018

Guide to Teaching Children About The States of Matter

Many of us have experienced that existential “wow, science!” moment in adulthood.

It may have occurred while watching an ice cube melt in the sun. Suddenly, it dawns on us that the ice is actually made of crystalline water molecules, that they are absorbing light from a star 93 million miles away, and that it’s causing them to wiggle excitedly until they slide off the ice cube. The colossus of scientific knowledge behind even this simple process can be overwhelming, provided it catches us in the right mood.

But here’s the tougher question — how do you translate this wonder to children in a way that inspires and engages them?

Science is fascinating, fun and extremely useful in children’s futures. Most importantly, understanding its principles allows them to engage with the world around them by thinking critically about everything they see — literally, everything they see. Why are puddles of water frozen in the morning? Why does boiling water create steam? Why is there steam-like mist hovering over riverbeds in the morning?

Let’s take a look at the best ways to teach children about states of matter, one of the most applicable and ever-present scientific concepts in their lives.

An atom is the basic building block of nature

Start With the Building Blocks of Matter

One of the greatest parts about this subject is that nature has put it on display for us everywhere we look. States of matter start with atoms and molecules.

An atom is the basic building block of nature. This is a particle 1 million times smaller than a speck of dust, meaning it is impossible to see it. You can drive the small size of an atom home by asking children how many atoms they think are in a single grain of salt. The answer is 1,200,000,000,000,000,000 — that’s 1.2 quintillion.

molecule, on the other hand, is what results when two or more atoms bond together. This small cluster of atoms forms a new substance altogether. For instance, while gold is made up of individual atoms packed together, water is made of molecules. Specifically, water is made of two hydrogen atoms bonded to a single oxygen atom.

Atoms and molecules often bond to one another, meaning they have attractive forces between them that cause them to stick together. This is why water forms beads instead of spreading apart.

There are loads of fun facts about atoms. If you’re looking for ways to instill a sense of wonder into children about atoms and molecules, sprinkle these facts into your conversations:

  • Atoms are made up of 2 parts: the nucleus, made of protons and neutrons, and electrons that orbit it. Though it’s actually quite a bit more complicated, you can illustrate by comparing it to planets orbiting the sun.
  • Most of an atom is empty space. If one atom were the size of a football stadium, the nucleus would be right in the center of the field and would be the size of a pea. That means the solid thickness of everything around you is an illusion — it’s mostly empty space.
  • If an atom were bigger — say, if it were the size of a period at the end of a sentence — then a human lying on their back would stretch from Dallas, Texas to Los Angeles, California.
  • “Atom” is derived from the ancient Greek term for “uncuttable.” The Greeks supposed that one could take a piece of matter and keep cutting the pieces in half until it was impossible to make them any smaller. This smallest piece was what they called the “atom.”
  • There are about 7 billion billion billion atoms in your body. Through eating, drinking and breathing, you replace 98% of these atoms every year.
  • If a child is having trouble understanding what a billion is, show them a visual representation of 7 billion people. This is the approximate population of earth and gives an idea of how large these numbers are.

There are 3 main states of matter

The States of Matter

Technically there are 5 states of matter, but most people only need to know 3. Here they are:

1. Solids

A material in solid state holds its form and shape. That means it doesn’t flow. Solids can be many different colors, can have different hardness and come in a variety of shapes. Just because an object is solid doesn’t mean it can’t be squished or molded — it means that, if left untouched, the material won’t flow.

Examples of solid objects include:

  • Floors
  • Pencils
  • Trees
  • Cars
  • Skin
  • Books
  • Ice
  • Chairs
  • Computers

There are many solids that can be compressed and molded, such as clay, Play-Doh, cushions, fabric and clothing. Even though this latter group changes shape when we poke and squeeze it, this doesn’t mean it isn’t a solid. If you left it sitting on a table in a moderately cool room, it would have the same shape when you came back to it later as when you left it.

Let’s think about how this relates to atoms and molecules. In a solid, atoms and molecules huddle closely together, which makes them rigid and stiff. This effectively means they are frozen in place and do not flow around one another. This stiffness occurs because the bonds between the atoms or molecules are strong and hold them together.

2. Liquids

A liquid takes the shape of its container. That means if you pour it into a bowl, it will fill the bowl from the lowest points upward and come to rest. Imagine the difference between placing a large chunk of ice into a bowl versus pouring the same amount of water into it. The ice is solid and will keep its shape, while the water will fill the bowl.

Liquids can have different thicknesses, known as “viscosity.” For example, pancake batter is thicker — it is more viscous— than water and flows more slowly. Examples of liquids are:

  • Water
  • Juice
  • Oil
  • Blood
  • Coffee
  • Gasoline

Mercury is an example of a metal that is also a liquid.

To better understand viscosity, picture yourself waking up on a cold morning. You don’t exactly throw the covers off and jump out of bed. Rather, you pull the covers farther up and are slow to get moving. Many liquids react to cold the same way — the colder they are, the slower they move. This is the case for substances like syrup, oil and liquid bath soap. Note that water does not react the same way, but as we shall see, water is one weird substance.

The atoms and molecules in liquids are farther apart than in solids, which gives them the freedom to move around and lessen the bond between the individual atoms. In the liquid state, atoms and molecules are far enough apart to flow around one another but not so far as to be in the final state of matter — a gas.

3. Gases

A gas is a substance that behaves like the air around us. Gases also take the shape of their container, but they are much lighter than liquids. That means they will expand to fill any container they are placed in. If you poured water into a glass fish bowl, the water would fill the container from the bottom up. If you did the same with gas, it would expand to fill every part of the glass fish bowl, not just the bottom.

It is not hard to move through gases, and if they escape their container, they will quickly spread through the surrounding air. You can’t measure how much gas there is using a scale or a measuring cup. To figure this out, you have to use math. Examples of gases include:

  • Air
  • Steam from boiling water
  • Smoke from smokestacks
  • Exhaust from cars

Within a gas, atoms and molecules are far apart from one another and bounce around independently. They do not flow around one another as in a liquid, but rather ping off each other freely in all directions.

Changing States and Temperature

Now that we have covered the 3 states of matter, it’s time to discuss a phenomenon that we can see in everyday life. This is the changing of states, or the tendency of matter to shift between solid, liquid and gas.

We see this all the time — butter melting on hot toast, ice melting to form water, water boiling to form steam, beads of water condensing on cold surfaces or sweat evaporating. In our everyday experience, the most common reason formatter to change states is temperature. A material in solid form is colder than the same material in liquid form, which is colder than its gaseous form.Kettle on stove

Let’s look at some of the changes that occur between the states of matter.

1. Changes Between Solid and Liquid States

To understand the shift between solid and liquid states, it’s helpful to try a very delicious example for yourself: butter melting on a piece of hot toast. Butter is quite hard when it comes out of the refrigerator. When you place a chunk of it on a piece of toast fresh out of the toaster, however, it begins to soften up and turn to liquid, making it easier to spread.

Let’s zoom in now on the atoms and molecules making up butter. When they come out of the refrigerator, they are huddled close together and are cold and rigid. Then, a giant knife slides in and whisks a whole section of them away, only to plop them onto a hot piece of bread. The heat from this bread spreads into the butter. It disperses among the molecules, warming them up and causing them to move apart from their neighbors.

Eventually, they are far enough away from each other that they can begin to flow around one another. Zooming out, this is the liquid stage of butter. Because the cold butter absorbed more energy in the form of heat, its molecules began wiggling around and were freer to move.

Before we move on, let’s look at the reverse process with a liquid-to-solid experiment. Picture a bowl of melted butter placed in the fridge. We know that the butter molecules are freely flowing around one another in liquid form because they have enough heat to do so. But as the butter’s heat gets sucked away by the freezer, the molecules within it begin to huddle together and slow down. Eventually, they will congeal and form a solid.

2. Changes Between Liquid and Gaseous States

Teaching kids about the state of matter is easier when you have something for them to look at. Try using a liquid-to-gas experiment to illustrate this change.

Boil a pot of water on the stove. You turn up the dial and begin to heat it up. This heat passes into the water through the bottom of the pot, and, in response, the water molecules start to move around. More and more heat is added. They move around more and more in response. But how long can this go on? Will they just keep moving faster and faster?

At a certain point, the water molecules absorb enough heat energy that they turn into a gas. This means they move so rapidly, they rise to the top of the water and escape into the surrounding air. From our vantage point outside, this is steam rising from the pot of water. This process eventually leads to evaporation.

The reverse of evaporation is condensation. There is water in the air around you at all times. It has evaporated off of rivers, lakes and oceans and out of the soil and is a large part of our atmosphere. These water molecules are in gas form, and even though they are not at boiling temperature, they are light enough and far enough apart that there is no reason for them to turn liquid again.

However, imagine now that you’ve got a cold glass of iced lemonade. The moist air around the glass, which contains water, comes in contact with the cold glass. The cold causes the gaseous water in the air to “condense” — that is, it collects on the glass because the heat has been sucked out of it, until there is enough of it to form liquid water. This liquid water collects and forms the drips and drops we all recognize as condensation.

Water expands when cold

Water: One Weird Substance

It is worth noting that water, the most important liquid in our lives, is also probably the strangest substance we know of. Scientists regularly scratch their heads at its bizarre tendency to break all the rules. Here are some of the strange facts about water you may want to mention when explaining states of matter to kids:

  • It expands when cold. It is a basic universal rule that substances contract, or shrink, as they get colder. That’s why we’ve been doing all this talk of atoms and molecules “huddling” together when they lose their heat. But water expands when it freezes. For example, ice frozen in a glass will produce a seemingly smaller amount of water in the glass when it melts.
  • It takes a lot of energy to heat it up. Water can absorb a lot of heat before turning to a gas — kind of like a boxer who can take a lot of blows before losing the match.
  • It can dissolve almost anything. For being such a nourishing part of life, water sure does tend to tear things apart. It can dissolve sugar, salt and many other solids — more than any other liquid known to man.

Let Science Explorers Awaken a Child’s Inner Scientist

Bolstering your child’s science education can open new doors for them and help them understand the world. Science Explorers offers fun summer camps and afterschool clubs that let children explore and interact with the world around them. This leads to greater motivation, understanding, performance in school and general interest in their surrounding environment.

Our life’s work is to make science fun for kids. In the words of our owner and founder, Jupiter Jen, “If it’s not fun, we’re not doing it.” This program is perfect for children ages 4-11, allowing them to become engaged with science and remove its stigma as a tough subject. We focus on a hands-on format with cool experiments like dissections, chemistry, creating cool materials, looking at organs, launching rockets and much more. Get in touch today to learn more about our programs.

Teaching Science to Different Learning Styles

Wednesday, March 7th, 2018

Most successful teachers are personally invested in their students’ success. The best are instructional chameleons, changing colors and adapting to each unique situation. No two students are alike, both in terms of personality and learning style. As a result, no single teaching style is going to be effective in all situations. Further complicating the issue is the fact that each academic subject also tends to have a specific style of instruction that works best. Anyone who thinks teaching is easy has clearly never done it.

What Kind of Teacher Do You Want to Be?

If the entire goal of a child’s education is the acquisition and practical application of knowledge, the teacher has to choose from a number of paths to get each child to their end goal. The two most common teaching personas are:

  • The Lecturer: The lecturer will dictate information to the child, expecting rote memorization of information to be regurgitated on an assessment at the end of the unit. In some subject areas, this is an acceptable strategy. If you’re attempting to teach students about the important causes and battles of the War of 1812, it’s hard to picture a better way to do it than in a lecture.
  • The Mentor: A mentor puts the students in position to make their own discoveries and think about the subjects with their own thought processes. Taking a mentorship role requires creativity, patience and an interminable well of emotional support. It’s tough to watch students struggle and get frustrated, but in many cases, this puts the kids in position to take control of their own learning.

Each teaching style has its positives and its negatives, and a successful teacher must be adept at employing both styles to suit all situations and learners.

Learning Styles: Covering the Spectrum

The education field has spent a considerable amount of time and energy over the last three decades on understanding the wide variety of learning styles and developing a varied arsenal of teaching techniques to match. Teaching is no longer a matter of standing at the front of the room and handing out papers, dictating knowledge to a group of eager youngsters. Every teacher must adapt to accommodate all of the kids in their class.

Science is the perfect subject for keeping students and teachers on their feet. Each new topic offers a brand new experience and opportunities for discovery. The possibilities for differentiating your instruction are practically endless. With so many options, you can plan lessons that speak to each and every student in your class.

Let’s talk about each learning style and what you might need to consider when you plan your lessons.

Visual Learners

Have you ever talked to a student and felt like everything went in one ear and out the other? Sure, some of that can be chalked up to kids being kids, but don’t discount the fact that some students truly don’t process information just be listening — visual learners prefer to get their eyes on the information. This isn’t to say they always enjoy reading assignments and diligent note-taking, but visual learners are exactly the audience that graphic organizers were designed for.

Handouts and worksheets can be effective in small doses, but science is all about interacting with the physical world around us, so why wouldn’t you expose them to the real deal, rather than giving them a worksheet about it?

Teaching science to visual learners means giving them hands-on demonstrations, graphs, charts and creative projects. Don’t just tell them about the hardness scale and cleavage types of rocks and minerals, bring the rock samples in and pass them out. For your astronomy unit, assign a project that requires your students to build a scale model of the solar system.

Computers can be particularly effective with visual learners, especially YouTube videos that combine fun graphics with solid information.

Kinesthetic Learners

The kids in the class who just can’t seem to sit still or keep their hands to themselves are probably your kinesthetic learners.

For these kids, a reading assignment is less fun than a trip to the dentist. Lessons should include hands-on demonstrations as often as possible. Computers can help put lessons into motion with simulation programs or games. Get the students up on their feet and use the class to demonstrate simple lessons about gravity.

If you ever teach a lesson about magnetism without sitting a pair of magnets and a cup of metal shavings in front of each student, you’ve missed out on a huge opportunity.

Social Learners

We’re sure you have students in your class who can’t seem to go more than five minutes without talking to the kid next to them — they’re your social learners.

The truth is, some students process information better by discussing it with others, whether that’s other students or you the teacher. Group discussions and projects will be much more effective for social learners than worksheets and reading assignments. Allowing students to work in groups puts them in a position to talk through hypotheses and the best way to approach a problem.

Say you’re teaching a physics lesson about gravity and you hand each group a ball of paper and golf ball. Have the students record some observations about the two objects — size, weight, shape, etc. Ask them to talk as a group and decide, based on their observations, which object will hit the ground first. Then, let them drop the objects at the same time and talk about whether their experiment matched their predictions.

If you were to simply stand in front of the class and do all of this for them, you might have engaged ⅓ of the class, while the rest were just watching. When it comes to these types of simple scientific observations, the instructional style that best suits the social learners in your class can also provide value for all learner types.

Auditory Learners

Auditory learners are the students who most effectively learn in the traditional, didactic style. These students process information best when they hear it, so offering clear, detailed oral instructions can be the simplest way to engage them with a task. These kids are far more likely to retain a lecture lesson than other students. If you’re going to give a handout that explains the assignment, do so because you want your students to build reading comprehension skills. It may not be the most effective way to communicate with your auditory learners, but reading comprehension is certainly important for everyone!

When you’re dealing with young children, even the auditory learners will need something more than a boring lecture. Wrapping your information up in a fun and engaging story is a good way to provide kids with concrete associations for important details — this is why the Magic Schoolbus series was so successful. Rather than providing a boring textbook account of life on the different planets, Miss Frizzle and her students visited them and experienced each environment.

Using Blended Lessons to Reach Students With All Learning Styles

While it’s true you can’t teach all students with the same educational style, you also shouldn’t tie yourself in knots trying to cater to your kids every single time. Find a balance between speaking to their learning style and forcing them to grow. It’s unreasonable for a student to expect to receive the same type of instruction all the time.

Part of challenging your students will involve forcing your kinesthetic learners to take notes, your visual learners to listen to a lecture and your auditory learners to complete a reading assignment or two. Students should learn to adapt just as much as teachers do, and a successful academic career will require resilience and adaptability.

In practice, this isn’t difficult to achieve. In an average class size of 20, you’ll likely have a variety of learning styles among the students in a single class. No one expects you to deliver five versions of your lesson simultaneously, so you aren’t going to be able to cater to every learning style every time.

Instead, it’s best to rotate between visual lessons, hands-on lessons, lecture-based lessons and group projects throughout the course of the year. This keeps your students from getting bored, while challenging them every single day — it’ll keep you from getting bored, too.

The Case for Rote Memorization

Sometimes the completion of a task requires you to recall information. It’s not always about doing something — often the trick is knowing something. The recent emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving is inarguably positive, but it would be a mistake to downplay the significance of knowledge for its own sake.

How many jobs in the modern economy require employees to keep track of rules, criteria, guidelines and technical information to produce work that is accurate, timely and compliant with relevant requirements? It’s easy for a student to posit the argument “When am I ever going to need to know this?” with the companion assertion “If I need that information I can always look it up.”

The internet has changed the way all humans interact with information. While it’s true that a student will likely never have occasion to recall the details of the War of 1812, it’s not the information itself that is important. What’s important is the exercise of learning about a topic and being able to recall relevant details when prompted.

Consider the training regimen for a team sport. Practices usually involve running drills that focus on a fundamental skill. These drills often involve movements and routines that the players will never actually repeat in the course of a game. Think of the agility ladder used in gyms and on football fields all across the country. At no point will an athlete ever run in a pattern that involves very small steps in a zig-zag pattern, but these drills build footspeed and agility to help athletes in the heat of the game.

Didactic education and rote memorization is the mental equivalent of the ladder drill. Learning information and using it to complete a task or an assessment is at the core of the traditional educational model, and this instructional method still has merit.

Incorporate this style into your science lessons carefully, though. At a young age, science class is all about discovering the world around you and how it works. You shouldn’t spend too much time with your head buried in a book when nature is right there on the other side of your classroom’s windows.

Differentiated Assessments

As we all know, learning new information is only half the equation in a traditional educational setting. The other half of a teacher’s job is to effectively assess the students’ knowledge. Testing is the most controversial subject in the field of education now, with discussions taking place at every level about the effectiveness of standardized testing for measuring student mastery.

While you may not have control over how well a student performs on their state exams, you absolutely have control over how well they perform on assessments in your own class. Not every student possesses the skills to complete a multiple-choice test, and we shouldn’t ever confuse that with a lack of understanding of the material. We are reminded of the famous quote: “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole live believing that it is stupid.”

These words, whether they were Einstein’s or not, should have a powerful impact on every educator, no matter your subject matter. We spend a tremendous amount of energy crafting lessons that allow each student the opportunity to engage the material and learn in their own way, so why would we funnel them all back into a traditional pen-and-paper assessment model? After all, no matter how you slice it, a student’s performance is determined not by their ability to learn and master the material, but by their score on an assessment of the teacher’s choosing. We don’t want to coach students up to run the race, but then put a brick wall in front of the finish line so they can never complete it.

Strongly consider offering multiple options for how your students demonstrate their knowledge. Vary your assessment style from unit to unit, and when possible tailor it to the strengths of each individual. It’s impossible to follow every single “As an educator, you should…” statement out there — you’d never have enough hours in the day to incorporate every last best practice that has ever been suggested.

We understand you won’t be able to offer six different assessment types to accommodate the six different learning styles in each classroom, but it should always be in the back of your mind to consider whether you’re putting your students in the best position to succeed on your assessment.

Perhaps you could offer your kinesthetic learners the ability to create something that demonstrates your knowledge, while the visual learners can take the paper test and the auditory learners can write their responses to the test questions that you read to them. Allow social learners to complete some sort of group project.

We understand that no teacher has three assistants to manage all of this chaos on a single day, but varying your assessment style from unit to unit can help to make sure no one is getting left behind. You’ll also be encouraging your students to adapt to the learning styles different from their own.

Pulling It All Together

Keeping different learning styles in mind and playing to all your students’ strengths is a lot easier said than done, but no one said teaching would be easy. In the end, your sole focus is the success of your students, so don’t you want to make sure you did all you could to help them?

As a science teacher, you have the advantage of being able to put the learning in the students’ hands — oftentimes literally. You have options an English teacher could only dream of. Science inspires wonder and curiosity like nothing else in the elementary school classroom, so tap into your personal passion and enthusiasm so you can give all your students an experience they’ll never stop talking about.

If you notice students who can’t get enough and want to encourage their enthusiasm for science, consider recommending an after-school program or a summer program to their parents. At Science Explorers, we happen to have both! Contact us today for more information about our fun, hands-on programs for your budding scientists!

Space Food

Monday, December 4th, 2017

Astronaut

Have you ever asked yourself, “What do astronauts eat in space?” If so, you’re not alone. When you visit a science center, it’s not unusual to see kids — and some adults — walking around with astronaut ice cream and a few other astronaut foods because they’re curious about what’s eaten in space.

Today, the food astronauts eat in space is remarkably similar to what people eat on Earth, although you won’t find cookies or bread on the menu. That’s because the crumbs from foods like these can float into a spacecraft’s nooks and crannies and damage the ship.

Space Food Facts: A Quick Overview of the Evolution of Space Food

As space voyages started to become longer over the years, scientists were forced to develop food that astronauts would enjoy eating and that had the nutrients necessary to keep them healthy. The first space meals had the consistency of baby food. These meals were packed into tubes that resembled toothpaste tubes. When astronauts were hungry, they simply squeezed their food directly into their mouths.

When astronauts began to complain about their space food, scientists introduced freeze dried foods that could last for long periods of time without having to be refrigerated. To eat these new foods, astronauts would use a water gun to add moisture to their meal packets, and then they’d wait a few minutes before digging in.

During the NASA Apollo missions, astronauts were able to rehydrate their food with hot water for the first time. This made it possible for them to dine on new space foods, including chocolate pudding, soup and pasta.

In the 1970s, NASA unveiled a specially-designed tray that astronauts could use to heat their food. At the same time, refrigerators were installed on vessels such as the Skylab space station. This made it possible for astronauts to eat fresh fruits and vegetables while they were in space.

Since the 1980s, the food astronauts eat in space has closely resembled what we eat on Earth. To ensure astronauts have enough food at all times, spacecraft like the International Space Station receive regular food “shipments” that are delivered by an automated space vessel, such as the ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle or the Russian Progress.

Space Food Experiment for Kids

If your children are curious about space food and you’re looking for a space food experiment for kids, consider conducting a space pudding experiment. Here’s what you need:

  • Instant pudding mix
  • Powdered milk
  • Water
  • Zip top bags (quart sized bags work best)
  • Measuring spoons
  • Measuring cup

To make space pudding, give one zip top bag to each child who wants to make a yummy snack. Put one tablespoon plus two teaspoons of the instant pudding mix into each bag. Then, put one tablespoon plus two teaspoons of powdered milk into every bag. Pour a little less than 1/2-cup of water into each bag and seal the tops.

Tell the kids to start agitating the contents of their bags by squeezing and squishing them to mix the ingredients together. Once the pudding sets up, snip one corner on each bag and let the kids enjoy some homemade space pudding!

Space Academy Camp

At Science Explorers, we want kids to fall in love with science, which is why we offer fun-filled after-school clubs and summer camps for them to participate in. Our Space Academy Camp is one of our most popular summer camps because it introduces youngsters to the countless wonders of space.

To learn more about our camps and clubs or to sign your child up for one of our programs, contact us today.

We offer our camps and clubs to children ages 4 – 11 across parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, New York and Virginia.