Science: The Beauty, Wonder, and Fun!
by Bill Reed
I was reminded that I am a S.T.E.M. person. Yes, I focus on the M. <Best> part of S.T.E.M., which we all know is Mathematics. Yet, Science, Technology, and Engineering need to get some press too. So, let’s talk about Science.
I started thinking about what I love about Science. So many things came to mind. Science is amazing! It causes curiosity, amazement, and explains so many things we see around us and events that happen daily.
Like the title of this blog post suggests, we must make sure the beauty, wonder, and fun come through in the science we teach! I went through the Indiana Academic Standards for Science and Computer Science and found standards where teachers can make sure the beauty, wonder, and fun can shine through in the science projects they have students complete.
Biology and Science
I remember a very special project everyone in 9th-grade Biology had to complete. We did a deciduous Indiana tree leaf collection (check out this Trees of Indiana Field Guide).
We were graded on many factors. The number of different leaves we found, identified, labeled, described, and categorized correctly was half the grade. The other half of the grade was how well we explained why the various types of trees we had leaves from were found in a particular location, how they interacted with the environment and were a part of the local ecosystems. This project fits perfectly with the Biology content Standard 3: Interdependence.
To this day I still remember most of the information I learned from that project. I can identify so many different deciduous Indiana trees from their leaves. I understand why certain types of trees can be found in certain locations. I can still explain why trees grow to similar heights in a given area.
People are always amazed at my knowledge of deciduous Indiana trees. They think it is a passion for me or that I have done extensive research on the subject. The reality is, I had an amazing experience in 9th-grade Biology that has stuck with me my entire life. What other Biology projects do we have students complete that inspire students?
Earth & Space Science
When I was in college, I helped pay my tuition as the Assistant Director of the James Irving Holcomb Observatory and Planetarium at Butler University. (This contributed to my becoming a teacher.) I was fortunate enough to give presentations for elementary and secondary students throughout the week. I would engage them in activities that shared the beauty of the universe.
Activity 1- Planetariums
One of the activities I loved was using the planetarium to have students create current nightly star charts. Students had to place at least 6 or more constellations that could be found in the current night sky over Indiana (check out this Field Guide to the Night Sky). I would start this project in the planetarium with the students seeing the night sky and recording what they saw on their star chart. The classroom teacher would complete the project in the classroom by having students identify the main stars in the constellation, their magnitude, distance from earth, and other key information about the stars. This is a perfect project for Earth and Space Science content Standard 1: The Universe.
Activity 2- Public Telescope Viewings
We would give school presentations during the week and public presentations and viewing through the telescopes on Saturday and Sunday nights. I remember one Saturday night during the public presentation a parent stopped me as we were going up to the observatory for viewing through the telescopes. They explained that they were there that night with their daughter because she hadn’t stopped talking about the star chart she had created and what she had learned about the stars. The parent explained how the daughter had been inspired to learn more about the stars, space, and the universe by doing the star chart project. I have no idea what happened with that girl after that, yet I would hope she went into a S.T.E.M.-related career or at least had a greater appreciation for astronomy.
Activity 3- High-Altitude Weather Balloon
Another amazing project that I have heard students and parents talk about was when the Earth and Space Science teacher used a high-altitude weather balloon to teach the standards. I know that many teachers say “yeah right!”, I don’t have the time, resources, or budget to do activities like this. I totally understand this and thought the same thing until I did a little research on this activity.
First of all, there are FREE resources teachers can download that give all the details and lesson plans for these activities. One example of this is by StratoStar and can be downloaded here. Second, I did not realize how many government programs are dedicated to helping teachers with projects like weather balloons. N.O.A.A. has a variety of programs to help. Check them out here.
NASA regularly takes student science experiments up with their high-altitude weather balloons. Find out more information about this program here. What I found with just a little research is there are many programs designed to take the cost and much of the work for the teacher out of giving your students these amazing opportunities. All you need to do is Google!
Science and Chemistry in Cooking
One of my main passions is cooking. I love to experiment with different flavors, spices, consistencies, and combinations. I never really thought of cooking as science until our youngest son took a summer school enrichment class, “The Science of Cooking.” Now I see how cooking is an excellent and fun example of Chemistry.
So many of the Chemistry content standards are demonstrated in cooking. Many of the individual standards of the overall
- Standard 1: Properties and States of Matter can be easily shown with cooking activities like: Making Jello, Flavor Profiles, Making Ice Cream, and all kinds of Baking.
- Standard 3: Bonding and Molecular Structure can be seen by browning meats, making sauces, and combining various ingredients to achieve a sweet taste or change the acidity of a dish.
- Standard 4: Reactions and Stoichiometry is found in so many ways while cooking. Examining cooking pots, pans, slow cookers, and air fryers are great items to use to show
- Standard 6: Thermochemistry. Watch any cooking show and they will educate you about
- Standard 8: Acids and Bases. Almost the entire Chemistry course can be taught using cooking activities.
I was amazed that not only can Chemistry be taught using cooking but just how many resources there are that tie cooking to Chemistry. Two of the best resources I found are the Science of Cooking website at: https://www.scienceofcooking.com/ and the American Chemical Society’s Food and Cooking Chemistry website.
There are even free open-source textbooks for the Chemistry of Cooking that cover the standards specifically. This resource can be found at: Chemistry of Cooking. Cooking is a great way to not only teach Chemistry but also teach a life-long skill that everyone can use. I know my youngest son has been hooked on cooking ever since he took that summer school enrichment class.
Anatomy & Physiology
Another interesting fact I have learned on my educational travels throughout Indiana is this. Did you know that Warsaw, IN is the Orthopedic Capital of the world? Yes, that is right, three of the five largest manufacturers of orthopedic implants and devices are located in Warsaw, IN! What an amazing opportunity and resource for an Anatomy and Physiology class.
When they are covering content Standard 3: Movement and Support in the Human Body: The Integumentary System, Standard 4: Movement and Support in the Human Body: The Skeletal System, and Standard 5: Movement and Support in the Human Body: The Muscular System how wonderful would it be to tap that resource?
I have been lucky enough to visit the Warsaw Community Schools. I have seen amazing projects from students who have created replica artificial joints and limbs from cardboard tubes and rubber bands to fully functional prosthetic limbs that have been 3D printed. I can think of no better way to study human anatomy than to have to replicate it by building it!
Warsaw is not the only school in Indiana with projects like this. Penn High School in Mishawaka combined both their Anatomy and Physiology and Robotics classes to design and build a 3D printed prosthetic arm for an elementary student in the district. Check out the article and watch the “Hand of Grace” video. It is an amazing story of what students can learn and do given the right opportunities.
Finally, there are SO many wonderful projects for Environmental Science classes. I have worked with and seen so many amazing activities that students and teachers are doing to show exactly what the content standards expect from students. I have seen amazing composting activities done on high school campuses using the natural waste from the school’s cafeteria and lunches.
Even small rural school communities like Mt. Vernon High School in Hancock County where students went to the school board and petitioned to have water bottle refilling stations installed in the local high school. The students paired with a regional hospital to get all the data and information they needed to show the health, environmental, and cost benefits from the water bottle refilling stations. Eventually, the water bottle refilling stations were installed in the high school. Read about the project here.
So many of the content standards can be covered using projects that are easy to complete. Entire lesson plans are readily available for teachers to download and use. Students, teachers, and schools can even win monetary prizes for their efforts! Learn more about these opportunities here.
I have worked with the incredible teachers at Purdue Polytechnic High School in downtown Indianapolis who used beehives (housed on the high school roof), butterfly habitats, and worm farms to encourage their students in Environmental Science. Students received first-hand knowledge of exactly what they were studying in their science class. This is how lessons need to be taught!
Overall, science is one of the few subjects where every course offered at the elementary and secondary levels can integrate projects that demonstrate exactly the content and standards the students are expected to know and understand! As the famous old quote says “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”
Students must be actively involved in the science they are learning. A passive approach to science misses out on the greatest opportunities students have to participate in the material they are learning. I know I do not remember any of the lectures or book assignments I had throughout my educational journey. I do remember many of the projects and use the knowledge I gained on a regular basis.
Not only can teachers use projects in their science classes but they also need to be incorporating the myriad of current scientific articles that abound where students can read and discuss the current status of the sciences they are learning. But that will be the focus of my next blog entry. So look for that later in January.
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