Vernier Science Education - June  2024


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Earth and Space Science

Earth Science: Hands-On for Students

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Veronica Winegarner Veronica Winegarner 1870 Points

I recently taught two lessons to my kindergarten students for the Earth Science course that I am taking. Both of the lessons were about the basic materials that make up the surface of the Earth and how the shape of the Earth’s surface might be altered by forces that we are very familiar with like wind and water. The second lesson was a very hands-on lesson with the potential to be very messy due to the fact that we were combining dirt and water: two items that we generally prefer to keep outside the classroom. However, the experiment was well worth the possible mess because the students were fully engaged in the process of watching how erosion can occur with water. There was even a very magical moment when, as the students were pouring water over our landforms composed of samples of Earth’s materials, a huge rain began to fall outside. It was a really big downpour, and we had to stop the experiment for a few minutes and just watch the rain come down. When we returned to the experiment, the power and value of hands-on activities was really evident to me because under most circumstances it is tricky to regain student attention and focus when something like a rainstorm interrupts a lesson. But in this case, the students transitioned back quickly and became fully focused and engaged in the lesson even though the rain continued to fall outside. I was glad that I had risked the potentially messy lesson. The kids loved it. And I had a good time, too. And it really wasn’t too terribly messy. I am still learning how to conduct hands-on experiments, and it is a bit intimidating because it means that I have to be willing to have things not go exactly how I had planned. That still feels strange. It also means learning how to think like a scientist as a teacher and asking thought provoking questions about the unexpected events that might happen during experiments. It is a whole different kind of teaching experience than teaching from a Teachers Edition for subjects like Reading and Math!

Andrea Godsill Andrea Godsill 1670 Points

Hi Veronica, Sounds like your students really enjoyed your lesson! I loved hands-on projects because you can really see how interested they are in the learning when they actually get to dive in. Once you let go of the notion that learning has to be clean and can open so many avenues for learning. Here's to many more messy experiments in your future! :) Annie

Erin Mendelson Erin Mendelson 2690 Points

Hi Veronica, I understand the need for kinesthetic activities. I teach an eighty minute period to 14 seventh grade boys. The Sciguide on Rocks had an interesting article titled GROWING PEBBLES AND CONCEPTUAL PRISMS - UNDERSTANDING THE SOURCE OF STUDENT MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT ROCK FORMATION by Judi Kusnick. This article described an interesting experiment in a geology class in a college. I changed it a bit to introduce a unit on rocks. I directed my students to walk outside in the field and find a pet rock. I specified that it couldn't be bigger than the palm of their hands. I was surprised when there wasn't a lot of rocks in the field, but soon enough they found piles and areas of rocks. My students explored, examined, traded, and looked closely at many rock before choosing their favorite. In the classroom, the students put their rocks on their desks and were given a writing prompt taking from the article: Write the history of your pet rock. How did it form and where? How did it get to where you found it? Don’t worry if you don’t feel like you know anything about rocks yet - this is supposed to be just a guess. Next time, I would also say think as if you were a geologist. Some students put in a lot of thought. Some students thought that their rocks came from space, volcanoes, a large mountain, a bigger boulder... They also engaged in great conversations about how old the Earth is and what kinds of minerals are in rocks. It's a great what do you know activity. I think it could be adapted for kindergarten to the university.

Andrea Medrano Andrea Medrano 1075 Points

This is also like a paper lab, inexpensive if you can get pizza boxes donated, expensive if you have to purchase. Have the students bring the marshmallows (mini), graham crackers and chocolate chips (melt faster than bars) One of the ideas I have used to demonstrate energy and heat was to make small solar ovens out of pizza boxes. The only problems I have encountered are that the topic occurs in my pacing around November and that is the rainy season here in Hawaii and its hard to find a sunny day to heat the s'mores. And that the classes in the early am, because the sun is not as high in the sky, don't get to have any real heat in the class period. Every year I say I am going to change it to the beginning of the year, but I forgot again this year! How to Build a Pizza Box Solar Oven - This small solar oven is ideal for heating s'mores, warming store-bought cookies or biscuits. (This link was not working last time I checked)

Danyelle Hanes Danyelle Hanes 855 Points

I absolutely love the ideas shared on this thread. I find these activities to be very fun and hands on, while still serving a purpose. I think the most important thing we need to remember is why we are doing a lesson. While some things may seem fun to do in the class, it needs to align with the state standards or there is no need to even do the lesson. I think the students would love these hands on lessons, and would gain a lot of content knowledge when expanded upon with research, discussions, and literacy connections. Taking the hands-on activities and incorporating cross curricular material will lead to a very powerful lesson.

Kelly Amendola Kelly Amendola 10320 Points

I like your idea of you giving them extra credit for applying their hands on activities to the real world. I really think that will be important for the students to do because at least they have a better understanding of their lesson and activity. I have them do an activity write up which they are really good at doing. They have a reflectiont that they have to write and I know that the next time I give them a reflection I'll ask them how they can relate it to the real word.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

I love the classroom experiences you all are sharing about how hands-on activities have engaged your students in key science concepts! Thanks for sharing. Some of the points you brought up are important to remember, Veronica. For example, I have wondered if I should stop the lesson - for the lessons in the moment. How phenomenal that the downpour occurred at such an opportune time in the activity! (You really planned it to happen that way, right?) I recall one year when I was teaching catastrophic events in IL AND we were online at an earthquake site, when an earthquake was being recorded in CA near where my daughter lived. My students wanted to know if she could feel the quake. I picked up my cell phone and called her. She shared her in-the-moment experience. Most of my students had never experienced a quake. They were so excited - that the online site was recording actual events and that my daughter was describing everything they had been learning as it was happening during that minor earthquake. We then classified what kind of quake it was based on the observations of my daughter. They couldn't wait to make their earthquake proof structures and try them out on my earthquake-shake table. It's hard to replicate a downpour or earthquake at the exact moment you might need it - but be ready to seize that moment! Maybe you'll get lucky and your principal will walk in...

Alyce Dalzell Alyce Dalzell 64075 Points

Hi Veronica,
I am so thrilled for you and your students that Hands-On Inquiry learning was such a successful endeavor for you! Many science educators are hesitant to take that plunge - and some for good reason. Behavior issues, administrative questions and colleagues tilting their heads as they wonder if instruction is taking place.

I'd love to share a couple of my favorite earth science lessons with you - as always, these are lessons I that have been shared with me over my years as a classroom teacher from student teachers, colleagues, NSTA conferences and journals. I always tweak a bit every school year, depending on my students.

Enjoy, Alyce

Jennifer Rahn Jennifer Rahn 67955 Points

A couple of my favorite resources are Project WET and Project WILD. Both are full of hands-on activities. WET focuses on water, and WILD on terrestrial ecosystems. WILD is very appropriate for the younger ones, and WET has activities K-12, with most activities being very adaptable.

Kendra Young Kendra Young 17180 Points

Jennifer, Thank you for reminding me about Project WET. I haven't seen Project WILD but plan to look into it. I'm currently looking for possible teacher PD for the education program at a children's museum and think this might be perfect! Thanks! Kendra

Jennifer Rahn Jennifer Rahn 67955 Points

Yes, it is a great program for informal educators as well. The local Girl Scout council usually makes one or the other available each year for leaders and adults providing programs through a local nature center.

Juliet Kim Juliet Kim 2340 Points

Hi Veronica, You're very brave to try a hands-on lesson that had the potential to get very messy! I'm glad that your students were very engaged despite the downpour! I know as teachers we strive to be in control in our classrooms and feel uneasy when our lessons take unexpected turns. However, I feel that when our students take the lesson in a different direction, that is when our students are most engaged. The students have become so engaged in the lesson that they are thinking like scientists and have become genuinely curious.

Kelli Stokes Kelli Stokes 1500 Points

This is such a great idea, students are able to remember concepts such as erosion better after something like this (and who doesn't love to play in the mud?). I'm sure this lesson helped the students concretely understand this topic. Way to take risks! Also all of these other hands-on ideas are awesome, this is how science lessons should be.

Stacy Holland Stacy Holland 6865 Points

We use marshmallow cream and graham crackers to show plate movement and the upper mantle. The marshmallow makes the graham crackers slide easily, and stick where we want them. We used to use candy bars, but it was too messy.

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