Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Simple Machines: Levers

I loooove covering simple machines with my third graders. There are so many fun things to do with them!

We study simple machines for three lessons {which equals three weeks for us}. I always start our simple machine study off with a lesson on levers.

What You Need:
-1 large wooden board {see the pictures below}
-1 concrete block
-1 copy paper box with 6 reams of paper inside
-1 meter stick
-1 small wooden board about 12" long for each group of students {I had 6 groups of 4 students}
-1 stack of thick textbooks for each group of students {I used 4 textbooks for every group}
-1 ruler for each group of students

What To Do:

1. We first talked about simple machines and lever in particular, discussing it's parts. 

2. Each group stacked their textbooks close to the edge of their table. First, they hung their wooden board about 5" off the edge of the table and tried to use the board as a lever to pick up the textbooks.

3. Then I had students hang their board off about 10" off the edge of the table and try to lift the books again. The idea was the lift with just 1 finger so we could feel the difference of how much force we had to use to lift the books. We talked about the parts of our mini lever, and how the edge of the table was the fulcrum.

4. Students observed that the closer the fulcrum was to the load -- the books -- the easier it was to lift the books off the table.

5. Then we talked about how there's always a "trade off" in simple machines -- force for distance. If we're able to lift the the load really easily, it's not going to be able to be lifted as high. But if we move the fulcrum close to us -- the effort -- and are able to lift it to its maximum height, we'll be able to lift the load really high. We decided to test this with our huge lever at the front of the room.

6. First, we put the fulcrum close to the effort -- us -- and tried to lift the box of 6 reams of paper. Most kids could only lift it 2-3" off the ground. {I sat by the box of papers and measured the distance from the floor to the bottom of the board as each student lifted it.} They recorded this in their notebook. Then I went ahead and pushed the lever down to the ground to illustrate how far the load could be lifted if the effort was strong enough. 

7. Then we moved the fulcrum to the middle and tried again, with me measuring again.

8. Finally, we put the fulcrum close to the load -- the box -- and discovered that most kids could lift that entire box with just their pinky finger!

I did have questions on the board for students to answer in their science notebook as the rest of the class was taking their turn lifting the lever, but the class was so interested in watching their classmates that the questions weren't really answered. :-/ Oh, well!

I did have to stress many times that it wasn't a competition to see who could lift the lever the highest. Sometimes I love that my kids are competitive because it makes games more fun in my room, but... sometimes it comes back to bite me! hah. It was hard to continually emphasize that we were just comparing OUR three lifts to each other -- not our three lifts to anyone else's three lifts!

If you have time, you can even climb on the end of the lever as the load and let kids lift YOU -- they love being able to say they are strong enough to lift their teacher. Just make sure you have two kids hold your shoulders to stabilize you on your "ride" up and down! :)


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Constellation Tubes and Bingo

In this post, I talked a little about the traveling planetarium -- StarLab -- that our school has for two weeks out of each school year. StarLab helps me cover certain TEKS, for sure. But in my district, our second graders are supposed to study space for three weeks with me.

Sometimes I really struggle with trying to find hands-on activities for the kids with certain subjects, especially since I teach 5 different grades -- I don't want to do the same thing twice!

My colleague came up with the idea of "constellation tubes." They're made out of empty toilet paper rolls, craft sticks, and black paper.

The idea is that kiddos can make their favorite constellations {I let my classes make up to three constellations, since black card stock for 100 students can really add up!} and view them any time -- day or night.

I put directions and pictures of the constellation tubes together in one easy pack for your convenience:
Click the picture to purchase and download this product

I had never done this lesson before and didn't know how much time it would take. This year, I have my second graders for 50 minutes each. Most of them worked on this for the entire time -- especially since I let them decorate their tube! The friends who finished early got to read a space book of their choice.

But next year, I think I might get to have an whole hour with my 2nd graders. For the remaining 10 minutes, I think I'll play constellation bingo:

Click the picture to purchase and download this product
It would be a great way to review the different constellations! I can even use the constellation bingo with other grade levels, as well -- both higher and lower -- because I can show the picture of the constellation and have kids match it on their bingo sheet, or I can just call out the name of the constellation to make it more challenging.

I also decided to combine both of these products into one convenient pack at a slight discount for you:

Click the picture to purchase and download this product

I don't normally post about products from my teaching stores, but this one was too good not to post!  

I'll give a free copy of the combo pack to the first three people to comment on this post and tell me your favorite space activity to do with your kids. :) {Please be sure to include your e-mail address in your comment so I can send you your free product!}

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Every year, our school gets "StarLab" for two weeks.

We go inside and look at the "real" night sky, and then we switch to looking at the pictures of the Greek and Roman constellations and I tell "star stories" {the myths about the constellations} for the rest of our time together. The kids LOVE it.

Our StarLab isn't the latest or greatest technology -- ours is the older projection model, actually -- but it's still a HUGE hit with the kids.

Does your school do StarLab? If so, what kinds of things do you do inside it?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lifesaver Melting Experiment, Round 2

I've talked before about a really simple but fun Lifesaver melting experiment I do with my kinder friends, but I wanted to add a couple of things from this year.

"The hard Lifesaver gets a bigger hole, and the gummy one gets a smaller hole!" is what I heard all day. I tend to describe this based on overall Lifesaver size, but I find it so interesting how they look at things!

{Side note: If you've been following this blog for any length of time, then you know that this is the first year EVER that I've gotten to teach the exact same grade/subject twice. And #letmejustconfess: I'm LOVING it! I feel SO much more experienced and knowledgeable. This must be what "real" teaching feels like, eh?}

Lesson I learned this year: Don't use plastic cups. I try my hardest to avoid using beakers with my littles because, well, let's face it: they aren't always as careful as they should be, and I'd rather not clean up glass if I don't have to. I realize there are heat-resistant plastic beakers, but my budget is pretty small, so I thought I was being smart and frugal by just using the 9 oz plastic cups from Walmart. WRONG. I was being dumb. During my 2nd class {out of 4} for the day, I heard this terrible crackling noise as I was pouring the water into the cups. Turns out, the hot water was melting the cups! hah. Whoops. So I had to deal with cries of, "What's wrong with these cups?!" from my kids all day....

Also: can we talk for just a second about this wonderful notebook entry? I mean, MY HEART IS FULL, people!

A title! A colored diagram! An explanatory sentence! ...Be still my heart.
I'm so proud of how far my students have come this year. :)