Category Archives: Science

Living on the Edge – of a Volcano

Long ago – during the first semester – my GT 3rd graders decided that they wanted to do their Genius Hour project on volcanoes.  (My 3rd grade class is only 3 students this year, so they are doing their project together.)  To narrow things down, we decided to learn more about shield volcanoes.  Specifically, Kilauea.

You can probably see where this is going.  After months of research, writing a script for a newscast, dealing with many device issues and lost footage, we finally had everything together.

Then Kilauea erupted.

Actually, of course, Kilauea has been erupting.  For years.  But in the last few weeks it has been more insistent on being noticed.  A neighborhood needed to be evacuated because lava flowed into it, and the toxic fumes aren’t too hospitable either.  In addition, more violent eruptions may happen in the near future.

Our video needed to be rewritten and re-filmed.  Again.  The students, of course, wanted to keep all of their “humorous” sections.  I wanted to make sure it didn’t look like we were making light of a serious situation that has caused Hawaii’s governor to declare a State of Emergency.

I think we balanced things out.

Click here to see our Kilauea video!



OK Go Sandbox

If you have ever seen a music video by “OK Go,” then you cannot fail to be in awe of the band’s incredible creativity.  In every production, you can tell that they spent a lot of time on brainstorming, working hard, and having fun.  Even more notable, though, is how much math and science must be used to create these complex feats of artistic expression.

In cooperation with the Playful Learning Lab at the University of St. Thomas (seriously wish this had been a thing at my university!), OK Go has designed a new website, the OK Go Sandbox, that provides resources for educators to use with students for STEAM activities based on a few of their music videos.

Each of the music videos currently featured on the site has a link to educational materials that include free downloads, challenges for the students, additional videos, and suggested activities.  From making flipbooks to experimenting with sounds made by different “found” instruments, this resource explores the astonishing potential of merging science with art.  Some of the challenges can be used with the Google Science Journal (a free app available for both Android and iOS).

It looks like this is a dynamic project that is encouraging advice from educators, so be sure to visit this page for more information on how to get involved.

OK Go Sandbox

National Engineers Week

February 18-24th is National Engineers Week here in the States.  Since my 2nd graders have been studying bridges, we did an activity from the Building Big website, which is still one of my favorite resources when we talk basics about man-made structures.  Yesterday’s activity was one I had never tried with a class before, the Suspension Bridge activity.  Despite prepping everything ahead of time, I went through my normal roller coaster of emotions during the lesson.

Fortunately, all groups eventually got their bridges built, and they were fascinated with the weight the suspension bridges could carry compared to the beam bridges.  I would definitely do this activity again for the wow factor!

For more resources to teach your students about engineering, you can head on over to  I’ve also embedded an awesome video from the National Science Foundation called, “What is Engineering?”


More Bridges

My 2nd graders study structures, and our 2nd semester is spent on man-made structures.  We start with bridges, and I usually challenge the students to make bridges out of different types of materials.  Even though the activities always seem to engage them, I felt like I wasn’t quite making the lessons meaningful.

This year, I started simple by showing the students a BrainPop video about bridges and using our Depth and Complexity mats to discuss the video.  This week, we reviewed a lot of the Language of the Discipline (they particularly like the word, “abutment,” – for obvious reasons), and they remembered quite a few from the video.  Then I challenged them to do this activity.  The students were good at connecting that their attempts at paper bridges were beam bridges, but they were definitely getting frustrated after about 10 minutes of trying and failing.


At this point, I would usually have shown them the solution on the teacher notes.  But this time I asked them to pause while we looked at the shapes interactive on the Building Big site.  After the students realized that triangles are the strongest shape, I asked them to apply that knowledge to some new attempts at the paper bridge challenge.  I was surprised to see some of the creative options they developed.

I finally did show them the solution on the teacher guide, and they were quick to understand and explain why the change in the paper’s shape made it suddenly stronger, Then they came up with variations and improvements.

This was the first time I really felt like the students weren’t just having fun building bridges, but were actually stepping through learning while developing innovative ideas at the same time.  They were explaining how the shapes they tried changed the force on the bridge, as well as how placing the load could affect the outcome.

As I watch many people on Twitter share “STEM” building challenges, I wonder how many, like my first attempts at bridge building lessons, might be more fun than educational.  Though fun is great, I feel better now that the students have found a way to make a “bridge” between their enjoyment and their learning.

3D Volcanoes

My 3rd grade gifted students decided to study volcanoes for their Genius Hour project this year.  (Since I only have 3 of them, they do a project together.) When I was getting ready to print out some Planet Earth sheets for my 1st graders from QuiverVision, I noticed that there were also some volcano ones.   These are both part of the free Education Starter Pack, which you can find here.

My students love these augmented reality sheets because they can make their own coloring into 3d images.  The QuiverVision app also allows you to take video and pictures.  The 3rd graders figured out that they could make the volcano erupt by repeatedly pressing one of the buttons, so they recorded some video of it in action.

While we searched for an online diagram that would help them to realistically color their volcanoes and identify the sections, I ran across another way to create a 3d model that will show the interior and exterior portions of a cone volcano.  Mt. Fuji is one of the free PaperCraft projects available from Canon.  You can download the file, print it on cardstock, and follow the instructions to make your own mini Fuji.  There are some other interesting science papercrafts on there as well.  My students haven’t tried the volcano one, yet, but are eager to attempt in next week’s class.

My next idea is to possibly incorporate the QuiverVision video into the DoInk Green Screen app so we can put the students in there narrating what is happening as the volcano erupts.  Talk about being on the scene!



Adapt Your Classroom for a New “Pet”

My 2nd graders have been learning about physical and structural adaptations in nature.  To exercise their creativity, I asked them to brainstorm wild animals that would make unusual class pets.  Then they were asked to draw our classroom with adaptations for the pet.  The twist was that they could not actually draw the animal in the classroom.  The rest of us tried to guess the “pets” by using clues in their pictures and the descriptions that they wrote.  I was proud of their varied ideas and some of the incredible details they added to the drawings.  I’ve included some examples below.  (I love how the first student decided the most unusual animal he could think of would be an alien from outer space!) . Usually, my students have a difficult time with the “Adapt” part of S.C.A.M.P.E.R., but this activity proved to be really fun and they couldn’t wait to share their work.  I’m definitely putting this in the file, “Do Again Next Year!”

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Halloween Paper Circuit Projects

I think these Halloween Paper Circuit templates from look like a lot of fun.  You can download the templates for free, but will need to purchase the other supplies.  The instructions are excellent.  I plan to try this with my 3rd graders.  Once they learn the concept, I am going to challenge them to light up a picture of their choice to encourage some creativity and give them the opportunity to apply what they have learned about circuits.  By the way, if you are looking for some other paper circuit projects, here is a post I did on ones that our Maker Club did.

image from Wikimedia Commons
image from Pixabay