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, former CSTA Upper Elementary director, and is a current CSTA member.

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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HappyAtoms

Please contact Rosanne Luu at rluu@wested.org or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. 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 NGSS 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.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.