From the time you are a baby, you explore the world by touching, tasting, rubbing and smelling. The first thing a baby does when it is presented a new object is to pop it in it’s mouth and bang it around. We are naturally inclined to explore by putting our hands on the world around us.
So what happens?
Why do we want to tell our students not to touch things?
“You see with your eyes, not with you hands.” Right?
Other students have also become reluctant to touch objects because “it might have germs”.
Is this any way to teach science? Isn’t science all about the world around us? I am in favor of “keeping it real”, germs or not. Here is a quick and easy list you can use to equip your classroom and engage your students with the real thing.
Ideas for Real Stuff
- Shells and Sand
- Skulls and Bones
- Classroom Aquarium
Next time you make a trip to the beach grab a few bags full of sand and hunt around for a variety of shells and other beach objects you could see working into a lesson. This is sometimes called the “beach in a bag”. Classifying shells, trying to identify them using reference books and looking at sand using a hand lens to try and determine what it is made of are all examples of lessons that can be done with the beach in a bag.
When was the last time you sifted through a pile of dirt? There are tons of interesting things such as earthworms, roots, insects and rocks that can be found in a bucket of dirt. Dirt can be used to talk about the nitrogen cycle, soil particle sizes, sorting and a myriad of other Earth science topics.
Most kids who live in places where it snows have played in the snow, but I highly doubt they have really taken a look at what the snow looks like. How much water can you get out of a snowball? How long does it take to melt? Can you see the condensation nuclei after the water evaporates? Is each snowflake really different?
Keeping plants in the class room is a great long term learning project. Kids get real excited to see whose plants are growing bigger or faster. Keeping a journal on the plant including adding measurements is another way to spice up the project. I have a college who uses her classroom plants as a way to get kids to come to class. At the start of the semester each kid pots their own plant. If they come to class and water it, it will stay alive and they get extra credit points at the end. However, if they are absent they plant dies.
Bringing in plants from your garden or a flower shop is another idea. You can create pressed flowers or dissect them and study their structures.
The Earth is covered with about 70% of it. We are made up of about 70% of it. Yet the mysteries of water are fun and interesting to explore. Fill up a beaker of it and have students use a grease pen to mark the level of the water over several days. One of my favorite activities involving water was to buy 5 different types of bottled water and then fill another unmarked bottle with school tap water. The class then tasted the water without knowing which water they were tasting and tried to describe each one. At the end I revealed which water was which brand and/or tap water and the students loved it.
If you can get a bucket of water from the ocean or a pond there are tons of activities you can perform including using a microscope to try and identify the different organisms you can see.
Taking students outside to look for insects can be fun, however it might be better if you caught one and brought it in for study. I recently did an amber lab where we modeled how insects get trapped in amber. The lab called for various types of insects. Living in Brooklyn and not knowing where to look I had a “bright idea”, no pun intended. I took down my light cover in my kitchen and lo-and-behold there were tons of dead insects ready to be encased. I emptied my find into a ziploc bag and I had my “real” insects. A good extension would have been to have the kids count the different types of insects we found and make a prediction about the population sizes of each species.
Bringing in pieces of wood is a great way to demonstrate topics such as seasons, decomposers and genetic variation. You can bring in branches from winter trees place them in water and watch them begin to sprout. Bark, fungus and lichens, and seasonal changes are all interesting topics that can be illustrated with pieces of wood. You can also talk about our natural resources and how wood plays a large part in the building of our homes, pencils, and furniture.
Kids love bones, especially skulls. You can find complete skeletons for sale online or you can bring in bones from food. If you properly clean and boil bones, they are great for demonstration purposes. You can use them to show marrow, blood vessels, and how bones fit together to form the structures in our bodies.
Having a classroom aquarium is a cheap and easy way to demonstrate a range of topics. The water cycle, how fish breathe, trophic levels and photosynthesis are just a few things you could show with a simple aquarium set up. You can use the aquarium as a reward for students who finish their work. Students can feed the fish, clean the tank, take measurement such as water temperature or percentage of algae covering the glass and record the data. You don’t need anything fancy, just a few simple plants and some feeder fish.
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