Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cleaning Up an Oil Spill

Continuing in our Conserving Resources chapter, today we studied water pollution (surface water, ocean water, and groundwater). To illustrate the effects of pollution in ocean water, the students got their own oil spills to clean up using a variety of methods and resources. Students could choose from spoons, sand, dish detergent, and cotton balls to help clean up their oil spills. Most students tried a combination.
First, they filled bowls with water and I added vegetable oil to simulate an oil spill.

Then, they wrote their lab reports to reflect the steps that they took to clean up the oil. Everyone tried different methods, but they really liked using the cotton balls and sand.

In the end, I think only one or two students cleaned most of their oil out of the water. The best method was a pretty simple one - using spoons to separate and scoop out the oil. For homework, they are comparing their methods to the methods used to clean the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Tomorrow is Arbor Day! We're going to design a community forest and discuss the importance of tree diversity. Then we'll take a walk around the neighborhood and check out our own tree diversity!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Measuring Acid Rain

Today in Science, we learned about acid precipitation and the bad effects it can have on our crops, soil, and structures. To apply our new knowledge, we tested the pH of rainwater compared to distilled water and tap water to find out if acid precipitation is coming down on us!

Before we began, we made hypotheses - is there acid rain in our town? Most of the students, sadly, were convinced that our rain is harmful. After they labeled and filled their three cups, they inserted the pH papers and waited patiently for the colors to change. Once they did, they used the guide to check the numbers.
Luckily for us, our rain water tested at a pH of 6 - the cutoff for acid rain (according to our book) is 5.6, so we just made it. What a relief!! Our tap water also tested at 6, and our distilled water tested at 7.

Yesterday we did a jigsaw activity to learn about a few alternatives to fossil fuels. Afterwards, the students wrote letters to their state senator or congressperson to encourage him or her to support legislation that encourages the use of fossil fuels. Most of the letters turned out really well after we brainstormed ideas of what we could tell them. They wrote with a lot of passion and knowledge of the alternatives!
Here is a little sampling of our letters. As soon as I get them all, I'm sending them away! Hopefully they will write back to us. :)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Earth Day

Since we are off tomorrow for Good Friday, we spent the morning celebrating Earth Day!

We started off by reading The Lorax (which the students informed me that they had heard a million times before - the challenges of teaching middle school, I guess). We talked about how the Thneeds were produced, which led to a great discussion of sustainable development. After coming up with a good definition, the students designed their own sustainable Thneed factories. There were a ton of good ideas - like not chopping down the whole Truffula tree (just taking the fluff off the top so that it could grow back), making the Thneeds out of wool instead of trees, installing solar panels to give electricity to the factory, and covering the walls with windows to let in natural light. They worked really hard on their factory designs!

Afterwards, we moved into the big event - Earth Day centers. So much of middle is school is just sitting that I like to try to get them up and around. I set up four centers: making recycled paper, planting flower seeds, creating recycled tin foil sculptures, and calculating our ecological footprints. They were SO excited. One of my students had made recycled paper before, so she basically supervised that station, which allowed me to take some pictures! (That's a plus of middle school; they're so self-sufficient.)

Two girls figure out their ecological footprints. How many planets would it take to support your lifestyle?
A completed recycled tin foil sculpture (thank you What the Teacher Wants!)!
Come on sun, help us grow!!

Three students work on making recycled paper! It was a multi-step process that was super messy, but they were so excited about it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Chocolate Chip Mining

Today in Science we started a new unit - Conserving Resources. I am super excited about this chapter because it talks about a LOT of super interesting things: fossil fuels, alternative energy sources, pollution, and then the general 3 Rs. The week before I leave, the students will make solar cookers to better illustrate solar power and how people in less wealthy countries heat their food. I am so looking forward to this whole chapter!

We kicked off Conserving Resources today by mining chocolate chips out of cookies. This helped the students understand how coal mining affects the environment in a negative way. They each received a chewy chocolate chip cookie and a toothpick, and their task was to get all the chips out. Afterward, they needed to restore the "land" to its original condition.

Here, two of my students work diligently to extract all their "coal"!
In the end, they found that it was next to impossible to restore their "land" to its original condition. This led to a discussion about the various organisms that depend on this land for survival, and how their living conditions are influenced by our need for coal and other mineral deposits. We all agreed that our country should look to alternative energy sources to heat our homes and get electricity!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

First Post!

Hello! I'm excited to be starting my blog today. :)

I graduated from college in December of 2009, and since then I have done a few different things - working as a one-on-one aide in a first grade classroom, subbing in several districts, and currently I am in the midst of a long-term substitute position in seventh and eighth grade at a small Catholic school. Although my true love is first grade, which is where I did my student teaching, I am really enjoying my current class! They are a very enthusiastic and energetic group of students, and their progress and effort makes me happy every day.

Here are a few things we've been doing in class lately.

In Social Studies, we are learning about Washington's presidency - moving into Adams' presidency. To assess their knowledge of Washington's Proclamation of Neutrality, the students created political cartoons depicting the proclamation. They chose a perspective, used symbols to represent major players, and included captions or titles to give further explanation. I was very pleased with their creativity and understanding!

For World TB Day, on March 24, I gave students symptoms of a child suffering from a mysterious disease. The students got together with their medical teams to research the symptoms, diagnose the child, and suggest treatment and prevention for tuberculosis. They created informational brochures as an assessment.

So that's a little peek into what we're doing in seventh and eighth grade. It's an interesting age level... you never know what's coming in the next minute. They definitely keep me on my toes!
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