Winter is a perfect time to teach lessons about heating and cooling. Even if your students are just learning basic scientific concepts, heating and cooling lessons are a fun way to make science engaging. Try this lesson activity to teach students about Arctic and Antarctic wildlife and and entropy.
- Teach studens basic concepts of heating and cooling by thinking about how energy is transferred from one object to another. Look at photos of animals in cold conditions, such as a polar bear in the Arctic, penguins in the Antarctic, and whales in frozen water. Ask students how these different animals stay warm. Polar bears have hollow fur that insulates them with air. Penguins create a warm layer with downy feathers and thick feathers. Whales (and most animals living in cold climates) have a thick layer of fat called blubber. All these strategies help them keep warmth around their bodies the way a jacket helps students keep a layer of warm air around their bodies.
- Have students look up the average temperatures for different areas where these three animals live and determine the coldest temperatures each animal might experience.
- Ask students which technique they think is the most effective—hollow fur, layers of feathers, or a layer of fat?
- Next, talk about what humans do to keep warm in cold temperatures and ask students for examples of what humans do. Some human techniques for staying warm are using clothing, using a heat source, or creating a wind-breaking structure.
- Tell students that they are going to travel to the Antarctic and need to prepare for the cold temperatures. Divide the class into teams and tell your students the object of the experiment is to keep one team member’s hand warm in a bucket of ice water. Set out supplies for teams to use, including bubble wrap (to represent hollow fur); feathers; shortening (for whale fat); fabrics like cotton, wool, and fleece; and plastic bags. Tell students that they need to keep the team member’s hand dry and at 50 degrees after two minutes of submersion in the ice water. They can use any and all the materials to create an insulating device for their team.
- Students will prepare their insulating contraptions and prepare the team member’s hand for the test. When all teams are ready, place a thermometer in the contraption with the team member’s hand.
- Place the team member’s hand in a bucket of ice water for two minutes and watch the thermometer. After two minutes, check the thermometer and write down the temperature on the board of each team. The team with the highest temperature wins.
- Have the winning team explain how they built their insulation and why they think it worked best.
Students will learn in this activity that different combinations of trapped air, fat, and fabrics work better than others and that insulation prevents the transfer of heat from the team member’s hand to the cold water. They’ll also get a good chance to practice problem solving and experimental design.
Fractals are fun — and they team up perfectly with a study of snow. To do this activity with your students, you first need to explain what a fractal is:
A fractal is a a curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole. Fractals are useful in modeling structures (such as eroded coastlines or snowflakes) in which similar patterns recur at progressively smaller scales, and in describing partly random or chaotic phenomena such as crystal growth, fluid turbulence, and galaxy formation. – From Oxford Dictionaries
You can explain this definition to your students by asking them to look at a nearby body of water on a map. It probably looks pretty smooth. Ask them to imagine what the map of the body of water might look like if you only could measure with a yard stick. The edges would not be so smooth.What about a 12-inch ruler? The smaller the measuring tools, the more jagged the map would look. Since all the sides are the same length, this is a fractal.
Ask your students to draw an equilateral triangle on a piece of paper in pencil. Then ask them to divide each side of the triangle in to three equal parts and erase the middle section. Then ask them to draw two lines that are the same distance as the parts removed to create open triangles in the part that was removed. Ask them to do the same thing again. This is called a Koch snowflake.
Ask students what the shape is starting to look like. When they say it looks like a snowflake, share pictures of different snowflakes. You can use this Java applet to show students without asking them to draw the shapes themselves. Ask students to identify snowflakes as fractals or not so they understand what different fractal snowflakes might look like.
Show students different types of snowflakes and discuss whether they are fractals or not. Ask students whether the snowflakes are radially symmetrical or not and whether you can have a non-fractal be symmetrical. Are all fractals symmetrical?
Try these other fun, nerdy winter themed activities:
- Mystery of Christmas Cookies Science Experiment
- “Disaccharide J Tubes” or Candy Cane Experiment
- Chemistry of Cookies video
- Peanut Brittle Science
- Crystal Christmas Tree
- Microscopic Christmas Tree
- “Lather” printing wrapping paper and activity
- Silvered Ornaments Experiment
- Crystal Windows
Have you ever put a full bottle of your favorite beverage into the freezer just to cool it off — and then forgotten it there? If so, you’ve probably ended up with a broken bottle, and maybe a mess. It’s all about the hydrogen bonds. Your elementary students aren’t ready to contemplate hydrogen bonds, but they’ll be interested to learn about the behavior of ice. Activity 1 is good for young students, who can just be amazed. Go on to Activity 2 if your students are ready to think about the behavior of molecules.
Activity 1: Ice Expands
Fill a jar halfway with water and secure a lid on it. Mark the level of the water and ask students if they think it will go up, go down, or stay the same when it’s frozen. Put the jar in the freezer and check it the next day. The line will be lower than the level of ice. Ask students why they think that the level of water went up. Tell students you didn’t add anything to the jar. Nothing changed in the amount of water that was inside the jar so how come the level is higher?
Take another empty jar and put it into a tray. Add water to the jar until the jar overflows. Add a few ice cubes and show students that more water has come out of the jar so the level of the water is at the very top of the jar. As the ice melts, ask your students to look at the level of water in the jar—did it go down? Ask students what this means and why they think it changed.
Activity 2: Molecular Structure
Tell students that water is made up of one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms — that’s why H2O is another name for water.
Explain that molecules have positive or negative charges, just like magnets. Use classroom magnets with north and south poles marked to demonstrate how the sides which are the same repel one another, but the sides which are different attract.
Call on three students, one big student and two smaller students who are about the same size, and ask them to help you with the demonstration. Explain to students that the larger student is oxygen and has a double negative charge. Give the larger student a hat with a minus sign written on it and ask the student to wear the hat. Explain that the two smaller students have positive charges and give them each a hat with a positive sign on it.
Ask the oxygen student to hold hands with one hydrogen student and explain that the other hydrogen wants to join oxygen too but doesn’t want to hang out with the hydrogen because they’re alike in charge. Explain that because the hydrogens are small, they’re also similar to a double negative charge. Ask students how they can arrange the three atoms so that all three are as far apart as possible while still holding hands. Students should arrange the three example students into a V-shape. Explain that no matter what form water is in, liquid, solid, or gas, one water molecule will always stay in this shape.
Invite three more students to join in the example and give them each corresponding hats. Next, take the students through the different states of matter, starting with liquid. Tell the molecule students that they are a liquid and are able to move around each other’s groups, getting close to each other but slowly moving around. Remind students they must keep their V-shape. Now tell students you are turning up the heat and they now have more energy because it is warmer. Tell the molecule students that they need to move faster. They might bump into each other, even, because they are moving so quickly. Now tell students you are turning the heat down so it is getting very cold.
Ask the class how the two molecules must now arrange around each other, reminding them that opposite charges attract. Position the molecule students so one hydrogen is close to the other oxygen. Explain that now they are frozen and can only shake in place. Show students that the molecule students now take up a lot of space because of how they need to stand compared to the other temperatures.
Ask molecule students to go back to their seats and ask the group what they learned and compare it to what they saw happen in the first activity. Finish by letting all the students be molecules heating up and then cooling down. Crank up the music and shake off the cobwebs!
- Why Does Water Expand When It Freezes? video
- Why Does Ice Float? TedEd video and lesson (middle school or teacher background)
Healthy eyes are part of overall health, so eating right, exercising, and getting enough rest are important for healthy eyes. Recent research confirms, however, that certain foods and nutrients are especially good for the eyes; in fact, people who eat these foods throughout their lives have less age-related vision loss as they age. Help your students develop good eating habits that will protect their eyes from now on — and get some math and social studies practice at the same time.
The foods that make the difference:
- leafy green vegetables
- citrus fruits
- oily fish like sardines and salmon
- nuts (increasing numbers of students have allergies to nuts, but those who are not allergic can benefit)
Clearly, these are healthy foods in any case, but they may be new to many students. These foods contain Omega-3 acids and lutein, nutrients that researchers have found are important for eye health.
Introduce the eye with an interactive experience on your smartboard or computer center:
- The Children’s Museum of Manchester has a simple cartoon introduction to the parts and functioning of the eye.
- The National Eye Institute offers a more detailed interactive diagram.
- The Exploratorium has a virtual dissection of a cow’s eye.
Then collect some data and create visual representations of it — understanding visual representations of information is a key skill for the 21st century.
Practice gathering data while encouraging the consumption of these super healthy foods. Create a bulletin board display of the charts called “Eye See Data” or “Eye See Graphs.”
- Ask student each morning who ate the listed foods, count, and mark the number on the calendar. At the end of the unit, week, or month, use the numbers to create a line graph. Did the class consumption of these foods increase?
- Have a classroom tasting. Bring a variety of leafy greens such as spinach, chard, kale, mustard greens, collard greens, and cabbage. Have students taste the various greens and chart who likes or dislikes them. Give each variety a pie chart showing its popularity. Finish with a vote on the best one, and create a pie graph showing that preference.
- Give students incentive charts and stickers to take home. Have them create bar graphs showing how many friends and family members like each of the listed foods.
Where do people eat these eye-healthy foods? Everywhere! From the Dutch herring rollmops (pickled herring) to Vietnamese sardines in tomato sauce, from Southern style collard greens to Portugese kale soup, from Spanish orange cake to South African citrus salads, you can find traditional recipes for all these foods on every inhabited continent.
Have students research the foods on the list, searching for traditional recipes from many different places. As recipes are found, add stickers to the class map to show the locations. Once a country has a sticker, students may not add another but must keep looking till they find a new recipe from a country that does not yet have a sticker.
Use Google’s Map Maker to create a map of traditional foods. This can be as simple as adding a marker and typing the name of a dish, or as complex as creating a report for each dish with photos and music, so it’s good tech skills and writing practice for every grade.
Challenge students to try the recipes at home, or create a recipe book for students to give parents for a holiday gift. Get some tech practice by making this a computer-generated project. There are lots of ways to do this:
- Use a free Microsoft Office cookbook template to build a cookbook if you have the software on your classroom computers already.
- Use the Family Cookbook Project‘s free software to create a PDF cookbook you can download.
- Create a Pinterest board. Pin the recipes from the sites where they’re found, or you can upload student drawings and type in the entire recipe to make a self-contained recipe board. Share the link on your classroom website so parents can try out the recipes with their kids.
Both the Chart It and the Map It options lend themselves to the creation of infographics. If you’re working with upper grades, click through and use our Infographics Lesson Plan as a culmination of the unit.
When the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts and settled Pilmoth, they entered the territory of the indigenous peoples who had lived there for centuries, the Wampanoag. Although their relationship with the Pilgrims wasn’t always amicable, the Wampanoag people taught the Pilgrims how to cultivate three important New World plants: corn, beans, and squash. Learning about the relationship among these different plants can help students understand agriculture and nutrition.
Many Native American tribes used companion planting techniques to raise these three crops together. Although each crop could grow on its own, growing them together provides better results.
Corn needs a lot of nitrogen to grow tall, strong stalks and produce large ears of corn. Often there isn’t enough nitrogen in the soil to provide the necessary nutrients for the plants. Corn also loves the sun and provides shade.
Legumes put a lot of nitrogen into the soil while they’re growing but they need something to grow up on. Often, farmers use bean poles to train beans on to grow.
Squash plants have very deep roots and can access water further down than other plants. With their wide leaves, they shade the ground and prevent sun-loving weeds from growing. Their stalks also have hairy spines that insects avoid. They are designed to protect the plant.
- Show pictures of the different features of the three plants to students and explain the special characteristics of each type of plant.
- Explain what a symbiotic relationship is to students.
- Ask students how they think the plants can benefit one another. Guide students towards ideas of a companionship planting of the three plants.
- Tell students the myth of the three sisters. Explain to students that this is a myth and ask questions about reality and imaginary.
- PBS lesson plan using videos on symbiotic relationships
- Types of symbiosis lesson plan
- Investigative Reporter lesson plan
- Symbiosis in the Ocean
- Symbiosis matching game
- Three Sisters: Comparing Native Americans to Colonists Activity
- The “How” of the Three Sisters: The Origins of Agriculture in MesoAmerica and the Human Niche
A favorite classroom activity around Thanksgiving is to make butter and enjoy it on warm bread. It’s the perfect activity to do when dressed up like Pilgrims and while learning about the voyage of the Mayflower or the history of Thanksgiving. This activity is best for young age groups from Kindergarten to Second Grade. It’s also best done with a class of around 20-25 students to spread out the work .
Making butter is also a great way to start a discussion about fats and oils in nutrition.
- Jar with lid
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 Bowls
- Pour heavy whipping cream into the jar and secure tightly with lid. We recommend Mason jars with a handle to prevent dropping the jar for small hands. You can also give each child a small amount of cream in a baby food jar, so each child will end up with a teaspoon of butter.
- Have each student shake the jar vigorously as long as her or she can. After the students get tired, have them pass the jar to the next student in your class.
- Shake vigorously for around twenty minutes or until large solid chunks form.
- Pour off the remaining liquid into one bowl.
- Serve the butter, mixed with a little bit of salt if desired, in the other bowl.
Fats and Oils Nutrition Lesson with Butter
- Butter (see above for butter making activity)
- Plastic spoons
- Apples, sliced
- Brown paper bags
- Nutrition labels
- Students will learn about fats and oils, how to identify them, and how they play a role in healthy nutrition
- Explain to students what fats and oils are and ask students for examples of fats and oils we eat (butter, cooking oils, etc). Explain how many grams of fats and oils we should have daily and how to look for the information on a nutrition label.
- Distribute a piece of brown paper bag to each student, as well as an apple slice and a very small amount of butter on the back of a spoon.
- Ask students to rub the apple slice and the butter on the paper bag. Make sure that students wipe off any large globs of butter from the paper bag.
- Ask students to think about what might happen once the paper bags dry.
- While bags are drying, distribute nutrition labels to groups of students and ask them to put them in order of fat content. Ask them to identify items that have a high amount of fat that should be a sometime treat and healthy options.
- Once bags have dried, ask students to compare the apple spot and the butter spot. The apple spot is gone because there are no fats in the apple. The butter spot, however, is a grease stain that is more translucent. Ask students to hold it up to the light to see the difference.
- Discuss with students their observations about their expected outcomes, the different nutrition labels, and how to eat a healthy diet.
- The history, culture, and composition of butter
- Testing for different nutrition compounds activity
- Comparing Fats and Sugars in Foods
- Interactive explanation of lipids
- Interactive quiz “Face The Fats” from the American Heart Association
- Sugars and Fats by Mari Schuh
Science Experiments You Can Eat by Vicki Cobb