Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Michael Faraday

We teach about the contributions of many famous scientists in Virginia.  The third scientist who makes contributions in electricity is Michael Faraday. We used the book from FOSS Science Stories to introduce his contribution of creating the electromagnet.

He, like so many of our great scientists, was one who did not have a good experience in school.  This story tells how he struggled the first 13 years of his life, until he consciously made the decision to change.  What did he do?  He studied successful people and decided to act the way they did.  Guess what?  He became successful too!

After we read and discuss his life and contributions, we reflect with the  sheet below....

                                Grab your freebie here!


Monday, February 27, 2012

Writing up an Investigation

Yesterday I talked about how we practiced writing up an investigation.  Today I am going to tell you how we did it for "real."
I started by telling the children that today's work was something I was going to count for a grade.  I explained to them that we have been working on guided investigations for a while and now was the time for them to create their own investigation. 
I posted the rules on the whiteboard:

You will need to have
1. a question to test
2.  a prediction
3. a plan
4. some written data
5. a conclusion such as "Today I learned...."

       I told the students that they would be working in their science groups on this task.  Each child would be expected to work together, but each notebook would be graded individually.  They are pretty familiar with the Science Notebook Rubric that I have and so they were well aware of my expectations. Before we started I helped them brainstorm some ideas to test with their electromagnets - changing the way we wind the coil or what item we pick up.  Then they set to work.  
It was the quietest hour of my life!  No one was asking me for help, they all knew what to do and worked without arguing.

  (On an aside note, I did have one special ed student build circuits virtually on the bbc websites because he has social issues with cooperating. Each lesson had a quiz at the end and I could still check his!)

Here are some of the results.  This is an entry from Robert.  He has some spelling errors, but the science is right on track.
He even included this amazing diagram on the next page.

Another example from another group that was twisting the wires in two directions.
I love the diagram that shows it does not work! I have multiple examples that I don't have room to share... I hope this will inspire you too to trust in your kids to create their own investigations.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Do you practice how to write up an investigation?


I just finished watching my son play in a championship basketball game for his U9 team at the YMCA.  As I watched, I thought we never could have gotten here without the specific and targeted practices each week.  The coach watched each player and would have them practice what they needed.  Some may practice free throws, some layups, and some defense.  But put it all together, and we won many basketball games.  Not bad for a child who had never played before!

Now, why am I telling you this? So often I think we expect kids to perform to high expectations without the practice it takes to get there. 

In my classroom we have been working on building electromagnets and we were ready to move to the next step - designing your own investigation.  I wanted them to be able to think of the question, make a prediction, record their data and write a conclusion on their own.  But before we could do this, we needed to practice. 

I set up the practice session by telling them I wanted them to test how many washers it would take with a set number of winds of coil.  Each group needed to pick a number to test and write it as a question.  Next, we talked about how to write your prediction.  Then, we practiced writing a plan with a format that looked like this: Step one, Step two... I showed them how to record data and finally a conclusion step.

Here is an example of how one of my students wrote up his practice plan in his science notebook.

If you are interested in grabbing the format for the plan, you can click here for a freebie... You can run this off for students who need the structure, of you can use it yourself to help you plan how to format a science notebook page.  Check back in tomorrow to see how they did with their small group investigations ... on their own!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison: Inventor with a Lot of Bright IdeasThomas Edison is another famous scientist that we teach about in Fourth Grade.  I like him, too...for different reasons than Ben Franklin. For one, did you know he was probably either ADHD or on the Autism Spectrum? He also had a hearing disabililty. He did not speak until age 4 and was not liked by his teachers.  Why?  All he wanted to do was ask questions and take things apart!  He would fit in nicely with today's children. 
Luckily, Thomas Edison had good parents who supported him at home.  They helped him get plenty of books to read and he was allowed to take things apart. When I teach about him, I make sure that I mention his less than perfect start.  All kids need to see role models, and he has some great qualities to introduce to our kids.
The other thing I like about him is his spirit of invention! 

I usually use a picture book to introduce Thomas Edison. However, this year I am using a new source that I love!  Delta Education sells this graphic novel for the computer for $17.95.   I can't wait to project it on the big screen with my projector cart and engage my students as it reads aloud and highlights text for the students to follow! 

 I have provided a FREE worksheet that allows you to note his contribution (the light bulb) as well as his story of overcoming obstacles.  There is a spot at the bottom to brainstorm a quick write about your own possible invention. Click on the worksheet to grab for free!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Famous Scientists - Ben Franklin

How do you teach about Famous Scientists?  In Virginia we are asked to teach the students about the contributions of Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison and Michael Faraday as it relates to electricity.

I will start today with Ben Franklin...he is my favorite afterall!

Resources to hook the students:

Favorite Video:  Animated History - story of Benjamin Franklin

Favorite Books:  I love to connect children's literature to my science lessons.  Now and Ben is all about how the inventions of Ben Franklin have been modernized and are used today.

Some of my other favorites include the National Geographic version (full of beautiful illustrations), the Step into Reading one (is really about a math puzzle he created) and Ben and Me is just a sweet novel told from his pet mouse's point of view.


So besides these hooks that I use at other times in my day...what do I do? Our standards require that we teach students that Ben Franklin made a major contribution to science by creating the lightening rod.  Did you know that lightening is really static electricity?  So in keeping with my philosophy using inquiry as a basis for my lesson....we use this worksheet to fill in the main points for both his role in the Revolutionary War and in Science. 

You are welcome to grab this freebie! I am still working on how to insert a picture and link it to the docucment page.  Until I figure it out, here's the link at the bottom.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Hibernation for Squirtle

Who would have thought that my turtle would go into hiberation???

It happened shortly after we got him. He stopped eating and started gaining fat pockets around his legs. He became inactive and I got worried....So, I took him to Pet Smart and spoke with the reptile specialist who had helped me purchase him. Sure enough...he had gone into hibernation!

Why? Well it is cold in my classroom! Our county decided to regulate our temperatures in the classroom at a cooler temperature. They turn the heat off on the weekends, too! My students are always chilly and I guess it was too cold for Squirtle.

Some observations we have made....he doesn't completely sleep. He does move around a tiny bit, but not much. He likes to stay in the water more often now.

More updates will follow...

By the way, Pets in the Classroom have put my blog post on thier website.  Super excited - go and see it!

Friday, February 17, 2012


When I was in graduate school at Lesley University (online program in science education rocks!) we spent a lot of time focussing on questioning.  These are some of my favorite question prompts that came from an article that we read within Wynne Harlen's book.  By the way, if you haven't read this book - I highly recommend it! 

I use these questions in all areas of my classroom.  They fit into math, reading, and social studies.  Just yesterday we had a great discussion about the revolutionary war based on a painting and questioning was the key to it all. 

Questioning Strategies from “The Right Question at the Right Time” by Jos Elstgeest  in Primary Science: Taking the Plunge by Wynne Harlen

1.  Attention Focusing questions: 

          'What is it?' 'What does it do?' 'What does it show about itself?'

          'What happens?'

'What do I find inside (outside)?' 'What do I see, feel, hear? Have you seen?  Do you notice?  What is it?

These are the simplest questions.

2.  Measuring and counting questions

Questions such as 'how many?', 'how long?' and 'how often?', are measuring and counting questions  the children can check their answers themselves.

3.  Comparison questions

          Other, more qualitative, comparison questions bring about sharper      observation. For instance: 'In how many ways are your seeds alike and how do they differ?'

4.   Action questions:

          These are 'what happens if' questions which can always be truthfully answered.  What happens if you place your ant lion in damp sand? What happens if you pinch the seed leaves off a young growing plant? What happens if you place a cutting or twig in water? What happens if you put your twig upside-down? What happens if you hold your magnet near a match? What happens if you throw a tiny piece of paper in a spider's web?

5.      Problem Posing Questions:

The 'can you find a way to' question comes in many guises. 'Can you make a mealworm turn around? 'Can you make a sinking object float?' 'Can you separate salt from water?' It is in essence a prediction question, a more complicated 'what happens if' question turned around. Finding the solution necessitates the forming of a simple hypothesis and consequent verification in a very direct manner.

You you enjoy these questions! 

Monday, February 13, 2012

What's been going on in my classroom?

FOSS Magnetism and Electricity Kit

We have had a blast finding insulators and conductors, lighting light bulbs and powering motors through circuits, and lately learning the difference between parallel and series circuits.  Take peak into my classroom to see the many kinesthetic and visual components provided by FOSS...

 We have made electromagnets using the wonderful circuit board provided by FOSS.  Our challenge was to see how many washers we could pick up with the electromagnet.  We found that the more winds we used the more strength it had.  We also found out that if we used two batteries, we were able to pick up even more!
         This is part of a PowerPoint I made to help focus our thinking and show some examples to create the best electromagnet.  I also supplemented the power point with a video of electromagnets that I found on United Streaming.  This visual element helped them understand the process a little better.

 We determined that distance between magnets made the attraction weaker. We were able to measure the amount of force needed by counting how many washers we used.  Then we plotted the data on a line graph and were able to see a nice decreasing trend.

Here is the T chart of spacers vs. washers that we recorded in our science notebooks.  We recorded that data as we were doing the test so that we could have the data for later and notice the trend.

We have spent a lot of time building series and parallel circuits to light light bulbs as well as mini motors.  We have learned that light bulbs light up brighter on the parallel circuit than the series circuit.

We sorted conductors and insulators using the same bag of materials that we had used to determine magnetism.  We learned that there were some similarities - none of the conductors were magnetic.  We tested them and then made posters to show what we had discovered. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

AYP...feeling the pressure???

As midyear assessments roll around, we have been talking a lot about math and reading.  Are we making growth? Yes!  Will they all pass the state assessment?  Hmmmm....In Virginia we are up to needed 90% of our students to pass the state assessments in math and reading in order to make AYP. 
My school just had our annual review of our School Improvement Team and we realized that we need more time for intervention groups.  Should we take time away from social studies and science to ensure that they are ready to pass the tests??? This is a BIG QUESTION on a lot of teacher's minds.  No one wants to do this...but let's face it, many are.

I want to share some knowledge that I have about why it is important NOT to take away science education.  Research at the Lawrence Hall of Science has shown an increase in reading scores for students using effective science programs - such as FOSS, Seeds of Science, or STC. 

But my own research shows the same results.  When I first came to fourth grade we were switching classrooms and everyone taught one unit four times.  I taught Earth, Sun and Moon.  My reading scores...were okay.  I had 80% meeting the benchmark.  At that time, the reading specialist and her team were pulling kids daily for 45 reading intervention.

The next year I said:  Stop the madness!  I taught my own class all the science units and used quality science curriculum along with science notebooks.  I asked the reading specialist to push in, rather than pull out.  I began to embed literacy strategies within my classroom - using vocab posters, pocket charts, anchor charts, science notebooks, reading non-fiction science books, oral presentation and reflection.  Guess what?  My reading scores soared.  For the next two years I had 96% passing rate of my students (not counting the children who were taught reading in the LD room - I did not teach them reading.) This year, I am expecting 100% to pass. 

So think about this when you are asked to give up something that you know is working.  Do your students light up when you pull out a light bulb and wires? (ha ha) Are they engaged and interested in school mainly due to projects going on in your science classroom?  Then DO NOT stop it...keep it up...the results are worth it...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Science and Valentine's day...

Valentine's Day is usually spent with a lot of fun and games.  Let's be honest....not a whole lot of academic teaching goes on in an elementary classroom on these days.  At our school we do something called "Math Matters" day.  We rotate through all five classroom playing math games with a valentines spin.  However, in my classroom....sciencegal likes to do something related to science instead. 
HTBW heart GIF
I am lucky enough to have a Smart Board in my classroom while the other classrooms do not.  So I thought, why not combine the Smart Board with science? We are doing Jump Rope for heart in why not enrich them with a little 30 minute explanation about our real heart.

I found a great website:

This website is developed to explain How the Body Works.  Click on the heart and you will get:

  • a movie
  • articles for kids
  • a quiz
  • a word find (that you can print)
  • activities (this interactive diagram - which will be great on the smart board!)