Thursday, December 4, 2014

Big dig

We’ve started thinking about archaeology!! 2nd 3rd and 4th graders are exploring what types of objects archaeologists search for, where their laboratories are, and what tools they use. In investigations we’ve learned that archaeology involves a whole lot of careful detective work. Archaeologists are scientists who use ancient material as evidence, to infer human behavior and human activity that occurred many years ago. We’ve looked at a tool kit used by archaeologists and discussed the elaborate protocol that is undertaken in setting up a field survey and dig site. We’ve imagined what archaeologists might conclude about our classroom and students if our school itself was a dig site! Students are thinking about what objects get left behind, how scientists catalog artifacts, and how they use technology to date the objects that they find. We are learning how to keep careful records in our notebooks and thinking like budding archaeologists. Students completed an archaeological investigation of a grave site, using diagrams and cataloging techniques. We are realizing that burial sites provide a human connection to the past and reveal the culture of ancient people. We have learned about the original settlers of Lincoln, MA, not only their family names but in many cases, their cause of death, age, hobbies, wealth, ancestry, and history.

We have a professional archaeologist coming to visit in December!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Leaf Book

Kindergarten and 1st graders began creating their leaf book last month!
After some very concentrated illustration sessions, the students helped one another to identify their leaf species using kid-friendly tree guides and the ipad app leafsnapHere are just a couple snapshots of their work in progress. We plan to use MagCloud photo book for our final document.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Our forest studies

Our Kindergartners and 1st Graders are deciding how to best tell tree species apart. They have been discussing the key features that all trees share and we are learning to notice the attributes that give us clues about which species a given tree might belong.

A typical tree guide requires significant amount of background knowledge; much of which we adults take for granted. Wouldn't it be great to have the students design their own tree guide -- deciding for themselves the features that they deem most important for telling trees apart?

We are working toward that goal. In order to categorize the leaves that they find, students have begun collecting fallen leaves around the school yard and are listing all of the traits and qualities that they notice. K/1's started making Venn Diagrams comparing and contrasting sets of leaves. One of our first comparisons included looking at a white mulberry leaf and a catalpa tree leaf. We are on our way to collecting data for creating a K/1 guide to trees!

Students also spent time outside yesterday, between rain showers, studying an elaborately decorated maple tree. But before they even began depicting coloration to their drawings, students carefully counted the branches and trunk formations; we were surprised to count at least 7 large branches that started very near the base and looked like the tree had multiple trunks.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Nature's Engineers

 We invited members of a silk lab to our school. And oh, wow, were we treated to an amazing presentation today!

I am forever grateful to Principal Investigator Fio Omenetto who came, along with Benedetto, a post-doc, and Alex, a graduate student, to talk to our students about the seriously mind blowing power of silk. I thought I already knew a fair amount about potential applications of biomimicry (imitating elements of nature to solve complex human problems). But today, thanks to the silkworm (and to some really smart biomedical engineers!) I could actually envision a future without our piles of trash accumulating in landfills.

It was inspiring to meet these scientists who are spending their life's work cleaning up our planet; creating everyday products made out of silk.  Fio and his lab members are figuring out how to manufacture electronic gadgets from a renewable, sustainable source.

Could we really hand off a cleaner world to future generations; one without plastic piling up in landfills and in trash heaps?! It's a beautiful vision!

Fio, Ben, and Alex came with beaucoup props: thin sheets that looked like plastic, screws, nuts and bolts, a femur bone, entirely made of melted down silk. And enough cocoons for every student to take one home.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Testable Questions

Recently we spent time brainstorming about possible research projects. Students excitedly offered their ideas about different questions that they would like to test using our silkmoths. 

Shown here (on right), a 4th grader lists her initial questions in her science notebook and illustrates a molting larva:

1. How much do they eat in 10 minutes? 

2. Do they make silk before the cocoon making? 

3. We have silk worms that are different ages but do they care about the younger worms?

After we talked about how scientists go about forming a testable hypothesis, the students decided to try their hand at changing their initial questions into testable statements.

The same 4th grader uses a microscope to enhance her observational drawing and translates her questions into statements (her changes shown here to the right).

Later, as a class, the students listed additional wonderings that they are interested in investigating:

1. Are larvae attracted to light?

2. Does the pupa die in its cocoon if it's too hot or too cold?

3. Do the larvae gain weight at different rates if they have been fed chow vs. fresh leaves?

4. What is the exact number of days from egg to adult moth?

5. What are the different weights at each stage (larvae, pupa, adult) of the life cycle? 

6. How much silk can we get from one cocoon?

7. How long does it take to form a cocoon?

The students will form these questions into testable hypotheses (based in-part on researching primary source material) and then pick one (or two) statements that they will pursue by experimental design. I'm looking forward to seeing how they decide to design a reproducible protocol in order to test their hypothesis!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The power of keeping a science journal!

Our second week of science class was a whirlwind of good things. The students are becoming more comfortable with using their science notebooks. Many of them are developing detailed and methodical observational drawings and some are adding their personal wonderings.

Here a 3rd grader writes, "Can they produce silk at this age?" He decides that he will try his next observation using the microscope; hopeful to spot silky strands.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Silk Road Begins

First week back at school was a huge success. After a full summer of curriculum planning and school renovation we feel ready for another fantastic year. Happily our student number continues to grow and our eager explorers make teaching science an absolute treat. The start of the year began again with eggs. This time we are investigating the silk moth life cycle. Our K/1 classroom and our combined 2nd, 3rd,& 4th-grade classroom each had a batch of 50 eggs.

2nd grader
I was relieved to find that the eggs began to hatch just as students arrived on the first day of school. Some of us even glimpsed a few critters emerge from their egg cases (see hours-old larvae enjoying fresh mulberry leaves in video).

The students soon began their observational drawings of the tiny silkworms and measured the lengths to be about 1/4 cm.

As the students use their science notebooks they will track the morphological changes of the larvae and document observations over the next month.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Plants for Caterpillars. Flowers for Butterflies.

We went outside with clipboards and graph paper one recent afternoon. Students sketched a plot of the garden shape (an elongated trapezoid) in order to plan their own butterfly garden.
Collectively they used tape measures to measure the dimension of the space and they made careful notes on their individual diagrams (mostly perimeter but some details on area for a few of the older students). They also noted any permanent features (such as the bench, fence, gate, and the garden boarder). We talked about the different butterfly species that are found in New England and the types of plants that they might like. 

We did some research to find out what types of plants are native to the area and which plant species are best for attracting butterflies! Later, working together with our art teacher, students made their own bubble diagrams with watercolor crayons. We lead students in a lesson about what a landscape architect might do and tools they might use in planning outdoor spaces. They drew colored circles to represent where they would like to ultimately place each plant in the ground. Students were reminded that many of our plants will grow both tall and wide over the next few months. Students decided to place the taller plants in back along the fence, the smaller plants in front, and to draw a path so that they will have space to step around the plantings for watering. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Life Cycles Galore

We have officially welcomed spring with full embrace; immersing the classroom in all things related to the life cycle: frogs, butterflies, and chicks! After venturing out to “our” vernal pool several times, we were able to collect eggs and added them to our classroom tank. Kindergarteners have been documenting the developmental changes they observe in their “Tadpole Diaries” as the vernal pool eggs transitioned into small tadpoles and most recently into tadpoles with hind legs! The Ks &1st graders also worked together and transformed the block area wall into a vernal pool installation, replete with creatures found therein: turtles, snakes, dragonflies, frogs, and butterflies.

Our butterfly nursery has also been a huge success. We watched as all five hungry caterpillars ate and ate and ate, and then formed the stereotypical “J” that denotes the start of pupation. Soon our patience paid off, the five pupae transformed from dull, light drown chrysalises, into darkened ones speckled with more intricate colors. Students made careful observational drawings documenting the entire Lepidoptera life cycle. In addition, students are now experts on how moths and butterflies differ anatomically and behaviorally, and what life cycle features they share. We explored the many ways that butterflies contribute to pollination and how essential butterflies are to the food web.

Last week the adults began to emerge and we were rewarded with five beautiful Painted Lady Butterflies. We placed strawberry treats inside the net enclosure as the newly eclosed adults unfurled their wings. Today was warm enough so we set them free. Placing them on some sweet flower nectar - a nearby lilac bush - students begin strategizing about the best plants to add to our schoolyard garden in order to attract the butterflies back.

In March, when our chick eggs and supplies were delivered, students could hardly contain their anticipation. As we waited, a mere ~20 days, we busied ourselves by learning all about the hidden transformation underway inside the eggshells. Students delved into the biology of chick development, eagerly candling the eggs on day 16, and dissected the yokers and quitters. Once the adorable chicks hatched, we were fortunate to have chicken expert and author, Terry Golson, visit our school.

Terry read from her children’s book, Tillie Lays an Egg, and answered all our questions about chick care! We were surprised to learn that the type of chicken we thought we had was in fact another breed all together. Students are continuing to make careful observations of the chicks in order to document their behavior and determine the ratio of hens to roosters.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Eggs, eggs, eggs

In Science, the children have been learning about oviparous animals. We are beginning to appreciate the great diversity of this group:  birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, invertebrates and even some mammals, all lay eggs. We are observing eggs closely! Eggs that may have been fertilized before release, as in birds and some reptiles, and eggs that are fertilized externally, as in amphibians. Students have been searching our vernal pools near school for amphibian eggs as we begin to study the salamander and frog life cycles. On a few of our outings we hit the jackpot; we collected frog eggs and salamander eggs and placed them in our classroom tank.

We have been making careful observational drawings each day as we document the changes that the eggs undergo. Students also noticed some insect larvae in the tank. We are watching carefully to see what develops!

In preparation for hatching our own school chicks, students are learning about the anatomy of chicken eggs - the different components that are necessary for sustaining a developing chick. We’ve found that there are far more parts to a chicken egg beyond just the yolk, whites, and shell. In mid-April we’ll begin incubating 24 organic Wellsummer chickens. The students have set up the incubator and are developing plans for constructing a chick brooder.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ocean Zones

In February we started our Ocean Zone Installation at school. Our display depicts each of the five ocean layers (sunlight zone, twilight zone, midnight zone, abyssal zone, and hadal zone/trenches). Students began by investigating the ways that certain species are physically and behaviorally adapted to survive in their particular zone (from sun-drenched plankton near the surface to the tube worms found in the darkest trenches below). Students studied the food chain and learned about microscopic plant-like and animal-like plankton. They found that phytoplankton are adapted to remain in the sunlight zone, making their own food thanks to the sun and serving as food for zooplankton. We were surprised to see, in photos of crab larva and reef fish larva, that some zooplankton spend only part of their life cycle as plankton and then turn into the adult crabs and beautiful reef fish that we more readily recognize. 

Students researched the exact depths that differentiate each layer (based on how much sunlight passes through) and they spent time at the library collecting photography books of sea life. After reading about the different types of creatures that are found in each zone, the class created some beautiful observational drawings and placed them on our mural in the correct zones.

Our students were especially interested in researching the coldest and darkest zone. Much of our research was focused on this lowest layer of the ocean, the Trenches or Hadal Zone. We spent time discussing the Challenger Deep (a.k.a. Mariana Trench), where some of the most primitive species on earth are found. Down there, instead of a food chain based on energy from the sun, we learned about a food chain based on the process of chemosynthesis. Students wondered how the trenches were made, which led us into a discussion of tectonic plate movements and subduction - a process leading to the formation of the deepest trench. Children were introduced (through video) to the scientists, past and present, who have ventured there and we marveled about the risks these explorers took in traveling to such amazing depths. Students were fascinated by the immense pressure and the types of vessels that are constructed for traveling to the Challenger Deep. While learning about bathymetry, and the tools that scientists use to make measurements of underwater depths, some of the students pointed out that the ocean floor maps looked similar to the topographical maps that they created last year! This astute observation is gratifying as they are making connections and beginning to understand and articulate the physical characteristics of the surface of our planet.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Moving Underwater

Inspired by our time observing Betta, Kindergartners began to discuss how different marine animals move their bodies. We noticed that our warrior fish swims by moving his tail from side to side. The fins positioned on either side of his body seemed to help him balance and steer. For swimming quickly, we saw that these side fins were held flat against his body but when the fish wanted to stop quickly, it extended its side fins out at the same time, using them as a break. We mentioned that most fish have several fins and we talked about how the fins positioned on the top and bottom of its body might prevent the fish from rocking back and forth, side to side.

We learned that some fish have a swim bladder (an air-filled sac inside the fishes body) that enables the fish to rise in the water. As our Betta comes up to the surface, he allows air to enter through his mouth, or from the bloodstream, into his swim bladder. As the bladder fills with air, the fish rises in the water. The fish sinks when he lets the air leave the bladder.

To demonstrate how a swim bladder works to allow a fish to move up and down we used:

A wide-mouth jar
tap water
2 glass marbles
2 round balloons

Using marbles and balloons we made two different sized swim bladders. We filled the jar with tap water and placed 1 marble inside each balloon. In the first balloon we tied a knot as close to the marble as possible. We inflated the second balloon slightly with air and tied the knot as close to the mouth of the balloon as possible. Then I asked students to predict what would happen when we dropped each balloon in the jar of water. Just as some of them had predicted, the inflated balloon floated and the deflated balloon sank to the bottom of the jar. The smaller, or more deflated the swim bladder, the deeper the fish can swim.

Not all marine animals have swim bladders though and we started to think about how and why marine animals might need to move around so much. Students said that fish move "to find food" and "to get away." After watching a few minutes of Oceans, we talked about how different marine species might be uniquely shaped to help their bodies move in very different ways through the water. Students were especially excited to watch the marine iguana move; we enjoyed seeing it make very deep dives and lumber along the rocky beach in the video. We noticed that its long tail and spiky fins seemed to help it to move quickly through the ocean and that its long sharp claws helped it to climb along the rocky shoreline.

Other animals shown in the video, such as the sea urchin, seem to hardly move at all. But when we watched very carefully, we saw that the sea urchin was actually crawling along the ocean floor. Pumping water into and out of its tubed feet, the urchin slowly glides along the sand. With their long spines we all agreed that other animals would be smart to stay away from the sea urchin!

We are looking forward to future investigations and are excited to learn about how other marine creatures move their bodies through the ocean.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Underwater Lab - Brick by Brick

In math class students were given the assignment of constructing a 24x8x10 ft. underwater research station. Using unit blocks, the students modeled a scaled down version that was able to accommodate 4 people and included a kitchen/living room, bedroom, and bathroom. They built a separate wet lab facility outside the main structure for experiments.

The group worked collaboratively, decided on the base design, and then recorded the necessary dimensions for calculating perimeter, area, and volume, for each room in their station. Their work also involved testing different methods of construction. After some trial and error, the students found that the strongest wall construction resulted when they used alternating brick orientations and that the weakest wall resulted when the brick seams were vertically aligned on top of one another other. Similar testing was done to shore up the corners and the students determined the best method for building and uniting strong intersecting walls.

Kindergartners would not be left out, they helped finish off the station by making signs and labels and thoughtfully affixed them around the underwater research vessel so that each room was clearly identified.

One 2nd grader suggested that the station be lit so we decided to include a lesson on electrical circuits. After a demonstration of open and closed circuits, and a discussion about volts and batteries, the students determined that they would be able to install only 3 small light bulbs (each requiring 2.33 volts) using the provided 9 V battery.

After the group worked together to measure out the appropriate wire lengths and determined the best placement for the lights within the station, we decided that another demonstration was in order.

We ventured outside and using relatively easy to find materials we fashioned a homemade light bulb. As electricity began to flow from our "super battery" it heated up our graphite (pencil refill) and it began to glow!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Wet Pet, Your Pet

A gorgeous warrior fish is the newest member to join our classroom. Kindergartners spent some time getting to know him last week. While making observations about his movements and behavior, they happily made suggestions for the name he should be given. Kindergartners noted that our fish is sometimes swimming in one spot near the surface while other times he can be found resting near the bottom in the rocks.

Therefore one suggested, "He should be named Rocky!"

Another Kindergartner felt the name "Rainbow" best suited him,  she said, "The sun shining through makes him change color."

They pointed out that he has two small fins near his gills that always move very quickly but that his tail doesn't move much while he is resting in one spot.

Students made some beautiful Betta fish drawings as they continued to debate names.

Regardless of the final name, they all seem to agree that the best part of taking care of their new classroom pet is when they are able to feed him his daily allotment of 3 freeze-dried bloodworms!