May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Thermal Protection- Science with Blowtorches!

Posted: Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

by Joanne Cozens Michael

STEM… the final frontier. Okay, not really, but it is our students’ future and it is up to us to get them as prepared as possible. One of the issues many educators face when teaching STEM is finding something that can cover multiple strands of the STEM “rope”. A few years ago, I attended Space Camp for Educators in Huntsville, Alabama, and was introduced to an amazing lesson sure to inspire engineering and creativity, get those STEM juices flowing, and captivate even the most reluctant of learners!

The lab is called “Thermal Protection”. The basic idea is to protect a screw that is hot-glued onto a wooden dowel from getting so hot that the glue melts, and the screw falls off. Protecting it from what? A blowtorch! I primarily do this with 5th grade students because my school goes up to 5th grade, but it can be done with students as young as 3rd grade. A colleague does this with his high school seniors- everyone loves it! It can also definitely be done as part of a family science night with parents helping.

Before the students arrive, you will need to prep the dowels. A dowel ½-inch in diameter works well, and only needs to be six inches long. Place a drop of hot glue on one end, and stick a screw, flat side-down, into the glue. The type of screw doesn’t really matter, but it shouldn’t be longer than two or three inches. You will also need to assemble some “protection materials”: non-insulated copper wire, aluminum foil, tin foil (if available), and any other metals that are (relatively) easy to shape or cut a hole into. I normally prep my aluminum foil for my students by cutting it into strips about four inches long by however wide the roll of foil is. The wire can be any length. You will also need to have some way to hold the dowel while the blowtorch is being used. A ring-stand from the high school chemistry department works beautifully, and most have a screw-clamp on them that will hold the dowel without issue. The clamp will need to be positioned about 2/3 of the way up the stand, and when the dowel is in place, the torch’s flame is about four inches from the screw – hot enough to cause the heat to radiate quickly from the flame to the screw, and melt the glue, but not so hot that it would cause injury or danger to anyone. I place newspapers down on the table that the stand is on and then a large piece of aluminum over them, to protect the table from melted glue or bits of metal that may fall off.

To introduce the lab, I show them footage of a NASA rocket launch and explain that in order to get the rocket up past Earth’s atmosphere, it obviously has to have an incredible amount of thrust that can only be attained by a chemical reaction producing insane amounts of heat as a by-product. The payload inside can have humans, food, various experiments, oxygen tanks, or other vital things that need to stay protected at a certain temperature, but the outside must be strong enough to withstand the launch, any meteorites or space debris that it may come into contact with, and be able to survive re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Metal has proven to be one of the best materials to use. From there, I bring out the ring stand, with a dowel/screw already attached, but no protection on the screw. I place the blowtorch in the correct spot, and have a student time how long it takes for the glue to get so hot that the screw falls off. That number is the benchmark for the class. The time is generally 30 seconds or so (not too long of a time!).

From that point, their mission is simple: using the various metals, create a “thermal shield” to protect the glue from heating up too quickly. This could very easily become a unit project in which students can research the heat conductivity of the various metals used, the best order of the metals to be placed on the screw, if certain metals should not be used at all, and/or the shape that best reflects the heat. They can weigh the materials, and use that data against the rest of the class’ data.

The highlight is obviously testing day. I set a time limit for how long the torch is on the dowel of three minutes, just to make sure we can get through all of the experiments in one session. The students that succeed over the baseline are deemed “thermal champions”, while the others can have a chance to improve their time. Depending on how your class/unit is structured you can have the students go back and reengineer their thermal protection. For example, they might alter the order of metals, shape of metals (was it better concave or convex? Folded over, or a single sheet? Crumpled up in a ball?).

One of the many reasons why I love this lesson is that it gives every single student the chance to be a star in front of their peers. It is generally pretty easy to reach the baseline time. The only exception I have experienced is when they’ve placed so much “protection” on their screw that it is too heavy, and just a little bit of heat is enough to pull the screw off – another engineering lesson in itself! I have had students that struggle to comprehend lessons on a daily basis just soar in this activity- to see their faces shine brighter and brighter as they see the seconds, and then minutes, tick by, and their screw holding steady under the intense heat of the blowtorch. It is these kinds of experiences that give students the encouragement they need to pursue other STEM activities, and possibly a future career. And all from using a blowtorch in class!

Written by Joanne Michael

Joanne Michael

Joanne Michael is a K-5 Science Specialist for Manhattan Beach Unified and is a CSTA member.

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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or zi@cascience.org.)

New Information Now Available On-line:

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.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 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.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

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