September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Science in the Season

Posted: Monday, December 3rd, 2012

by Rick Pomeroy

I want to start this, my last article of 2012, with holiday wishes for everyone. It has been an interesting year in science education in California and 2013 promises to be filled with a whole new set of surprises and challenges.

As a science teacher for 20 years, I was always challenged to keep my students interested in science with holiday “spirit” and pending vacation plans. As I was thinking about it again today, the day after Thanksgiving, I once again realized that there are some great science lessons all around us at this time of year. Not only are they fun for our students, they also provide us with an opportunity to continue to practice good science teaching.

As I drive around town in the evenings the first things I notice are the holiday lights. Nothing seems to indicate the festivities of the winter season to me more than all of those lights hung on gutters, trees, bushes, windows, and yes, even cars. Did you know that you can help your students learn about circuits by cutting the mini lights out of the long strings with a little bit of both wires still attached to the socket? (Ph Grade 4 #1a, Physics #5a). You can add to that all of the colored lights which can be used in light boxes (Grade 3 #2c, Grade 7 #6), or the evolution of holiday lights from the traditional C-7 incandescent bulbs of my childhood to the LED lights that we are now being encouraged to buy to reduce our carbon footprint.

Next, you can’t help but notice that the weather and climate of the next three to four weeks will be vastly different than it was at the start of the school year, or that it will be by spring break. Depending on where you live, these changes can be significant or subtle but the connection to latitude, elevation, proximity to the ocean and wind patterns is a natural lesson for this time of year. Communications with students in other parts of the world would provide a great lesson in how our weather-based traditions like building snowmen and going ice skating would be meaningless in Australia or Cairo. For younger students, this is a great time to track the daily weather, temperature, rainfall, clouds and wind (Grade K,#3, Grade 1 #3, Grade 7 #4, Biology #6 Earth Science #6). At the middle school or high school levels, you can discuss the effects of climate patterns on issues such as solar energy or wind power, and even the availability of snow run off for irrigation and hydro-electric power (Grade 5 #4, Grade 6 #4). These have significant application to our lives as the year progresses so they can help make the lessons interesting and relevant to the students.

Chemistry has several applications at this time of year, as well. Two come to mind: candy cooking, and snow globes. A little know fact about the chemistry of candy is how cooking temperature affects the final product. Several sites online contain well-written lesson plans and explanations about the chemistry of candy but my short explanation is that the temperature at which the sugar and water solution is cooked determines if the candy will be soft or hard (Grade 5 #1a, Grade 8 #5d, Chemistry #2c, #7, #8). The second is the chemistry behind the snowflakes in snow globes. Snow globes are a childhood favorite and there appear to be snow globes available for just about any holiday you want to celebrate. There are several renditions of snow globe activities from water and glitter, to polar and non-polar solvents (Chemistry 2,6) but the one my students enjoy involves creating a hot saturated solution of benzoic acid in a baby food jar (Chemistry 6).

Not to be forgotten, there are great opportunities for biology lessons at this time of year, too. As the leaves on the trees turned from green to orange and yellow, many teachers guided their students in studies of the pigments in leaves (K 2c, Grade 1, 2e) with paper chromatography (Chemistry 6), but how many looked into the process necessary to produce those bright red poinsettias? Apparently, to achieve the vivid red color, the plants must spend a period of time in total darkness. For a plant that was originally found in Central America, this quirk of its biology makes for an interesting discussion about the adaptation of plants to their environments. One last activity that I always enjoyed was collecting the stump cuts from Christmas tree lots and comparing the ring patterns of the different sized trees. If you collect all of the cuts from one type of tree, it is fairly safe to assume that the trees came from the same tree plantation and if so, the ring patterns should be fairly similar. If you collect stump cuts from a variety of tree species, you can ask the students to use the ring patterns to determine if the growing conditions for the different trees were the same in terms of available moisture. I know that trees grown on plantations are not “natural” but few plantations are irrigated and thus the tree ring patterns do reflect local climate patterns over the 8-15 year life span of the tree. Another advantage of using stump cuts is that they are small and easy to transport and store, and there are not so many rings that counting is difficult.

Additional information about each of the topics listed in this article are available online. CSTA does not recommend or support any external websites where additional information on these activities can be found. Please share your favorite winter science lessons or ideas in the comments section below.

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy is science education lecturer/supervisor in the School of Education, University of California Davis and is a past-president of CSTA.

3 Responses

  1. Wow, what an awesome article and great ideas too. Where are the links to the cool sites?
    Oh yea, I wrote this article.

  2. And where are the links?

  3. Links are now posted.

Leave a Reply

LATEST POST

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Cal

This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.