Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Just Simple Science Blog has Moved!!!

In an effort to put all my stuff together, I have moved my blog to my official website. Please make sure you visit the site and click on the RSS feed to get the latest blog updates! Just go to www.justsimplescience.com for the latest blogpost!!! See you there!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Science of the Loofah!

No, this post is not going to be about bathing-well yes it is. But not in the way you might be thinking. What I love about science is this-you can find it everywhere!  How many of you out there have bought a loofah before? I have to admit I have several and love using them! But do you know where the inspiration for our plastic loofah’s come from? 

That is right. The idea behind those plastic loofahs that cost you 2$ originally came from a plant. My friend Anne called me the other day to tell me about her latest adventure–growing loofahs. Hmm-growing loofahs! And the questions began: where do they come from and how did they fit into the whole bath experience. 
Let me just say thanks to  my guest blogger Anne for inspiring this post and sharing how she grew loofahs this summer!

In Search of the Loofah!
I turned to the Internet to answer some of my most basic questions about bathing and the loofah. Here is what I learned:

Why were People so Against Bathing?
Thanks to the Black Plaque in the 14th century, people did not bath much. According to doctors, the warm water opened up your pores and allowed diseases to enter. This trend continued until the 19th century when doctors felt that keeping the pores open was a better solution.

When did Bathing Really Start?
In the late 1800’s thanks to a little book called “Baths and How to Take Them.” You can see a copy of it here. Thankfully the book told everyone how long to stay in the water, what temperature the water should be, and of course when you should not get in the water!
 Because most American’s did not have indoor plumbing, the bucket and sponge substituted for the modern day bathroom! Enter the Loofah! It was a great tool to use.

What is the Luffa or Loofah? 
The Luffa belongs to the same family as squashes and cucumbers. Scientifically, they are from the genus Luffa. They have large yellow flowers, a vining growth habit, and fruit that roughly resembles a zucchini or cucumber.

Here is how my friend Anne, from Pungo Couture, grew hers this summer:

These things love to climb! I simply planted them near my kids swing set and wham! They took off!

To plant your very own loofah's, this is all you need to do:

  1. Sow seeds between two wet paper towels on a plate - keep in the sun and keep plate wet for about a week until the seeds sprout

Plant in soil close to the base of your swing set or fence when school gets out
Enjoy the pretty yellow flowers all summer long!  Full sun makes loofah very happy
When school starts, you can begin to harvest your loofahs

How do you harvest your Loofah?

  1.  Get mom to buy a Dollar Store or inexpensive serrated bread knife
  2. Slice vertically to open the skin
  3. Take your thumbs and push the loofah skin off
  4. Wash all the loofah plant goo in a bucket of water
  5. Dry outside for a week or more in a sunny spot turning to make sure all moisture is gone
  6. Slice with the serrated knife into sections

    So what can you use them for? Well you can use them to clean pots and pans; or exfoliate in the shower! Other cultures use the loofah to make soups. Check out this recipe here
Making Loofah Soap!
This is an easy project you can do with your kids once you have grown your loofah!

Here are the materials you need:
Wax Paper
Tart Tin
Ready-Melt-Soap (click here to purchase some or here)
Double Boiler or Microwave

  1. Cut a half slice of loofah using a bread knife.
  2. Place slice in the tart tin with cups lined with wax paper.
  3. Melt ready-melt-sop in the top of double boiler or in the microwave.
  4. Pour enough soap into tart tin until the slice is covered.
  5. Wait for soap to completely harden before popping out of tin
Finished Product!
 Who needs to purchase these things from a store when you can turn to science! What other things do you do that connects to science? Go Science!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Back to School

Is it that time already???

I can't believe another summer has gone and the kids are off to school. With the beginning of school comes a time to do things differently, to jazz up what we did the year before, and to inspire another group of students!

Last week I did my first ever drawing and I have to give a big shout out out to Karen M. who won the Magnificent Magnifying Lens and activity pack! Can't wait to see pictures of her girls doing some science! Thanks to all who entered! 

Cool Resources for 2013-2014!

With all the teachers heading back, I wanted to share a couple of links I found from a friend. These are some great resources and they are FREE! That is right-free. So go check them out!

This site offers free lesson plans. All you do is sign up. Most of the resources have power points and other pre-created items you would need to teach the lesson!

Apps for the Classroom
Who doesn't love those little apps!  Developed by Cyndie Sebourn, there are over 20+ apps ranging from reading strategies to math. Most of them are very inexpensive to purchase but the best part is you get the curriculum for free! Go check it out!

Lesson Pathways
For all my elementary friends-this is your site! It has a ton of lesson plans but I have to admit- it does take some time to go through all the lessons. Most of them seem to be linked to a website or a sample lesson. For example, I looked up scientist activities and found my way to the family education website where it had a lesson on evaporation and how scientists do their work. Might be good for a rainy day when you have time to explore.

Media Education Lab
This is a great site for those looking to integrate multimedia curriculum resources in the classroom. I personally found the site to be full of great ideas and support. For example, I clicked on a tab called Copyright and found lesson plans, power point, and other tools to teach students the importance of paying attention to copyright laws.

Let me know your thoughts on these resources! Hope you all have a fantastic Back-to-School week!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Resources for creativity, drawing people together, and inspiration!

I am trying to become a serious blogger. Notice I said the word trying. What I have learned over the last few months is this-if you want to be a serious blogger, you have to make time to write. So here I sit, writing, writing, writing. Maybe one day my blog will be recognized and maybe it won't. But if one teacher who visits this site walks away with a new idea for teaching science or a new website that helps improve their teaching, then I have served my purpose in life!

This blog post is all about creativity, drawing people together, and inspiration. Sometimes one website or blog can just make your day. Other times, you see something on a blog and you ask yourself, how did they do that? And other times, you read a blog that just leaves you going, I want to be like that person! Take a read through three of my new favorite sites. Enjoy!

The School Supply Addict

I have a cousin who is an amazing artist. I look at his work and am amazed at what he can draw. When a friend showed me this site, I was in teacher heaven! When I was teaching, I used to spend hundreds, well maybe not really that much, but it seemed like a lot of money on cute bulletin boarders and posters to make my room fun and inviting. If this site had been around then, I would be in debt up to my eyeballs!

Ashley Hughes is amazing!! Already in this past month, I have purchased several of her items and they are quality with a capitol Q! Of course, if my husband finds out  how much I have spent, he will kill me (not in our budget!). But seriously, anyone can afford her work because the items run between 2-5$. Yes, I said 2-5$!!! Her graphics are perfect and she seems to have thought of everything. From cute paper to clip art, you will find everything you need to jazz up your classroom and lesson plans this year! Every now and then, Ashley even gives away free stuff!  Oh, if I could be like her some day! Be sure to check it out!


Drawing people together or rather drawing them to your website or blog is the name of the game with this site. Of course as I was reading Ashley's blog, I noticed she does a lot of giveaways. Then, another friend hooked me up with this site. Intrigued, I started reading and learning how these little things work. They really are simple. All you do is sign up for free, fill out the information on what you want to giveaway, then hit click. In a matter of two seconds, you have a code you simply copy and paste into your site and like magic, you get your giveaway box! Of course I had to try it! Please don't let me down.  Enter to win a free copy of the book "The Magnificent Magnifying Lens" along with lesson plans and free materials! I will even get the authors to sign the book for you! You might just be the next winner of Jenny Sue's small give!!

Read, Run, Raise a Family

Lastly, we all need inspiration in our lives every now and then. This last blog is a shout out to a friend of mine who has inspired me to start stepping out and getting my work/ideas out there! I have known Peggy for a long time now, but we have recently just reconnected. I was blessed to have her take one of my workshops and her enthusiasm and support of my work made me feel like a rock star!  But I often wonder if over the last few weeks she knows how much she has really inspired me. Just the other day, she posted on her facebook page that she ran 3 miles without walking once. Let me tell you, I have run two half marathons, but I can barely even run one mile without walking. But one day, I am going to be like Peggy! I will run 3 miles without stopping!

Peggy does not just write about running. She also writes about life, books, teaching, and much more.  So go check out her blog and get inspired! You won't be disappointed!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Just Simple Science Ways to Organize in 2013-2014!

I can't believe it is time to start another school year! I feel like I just wrote the blog post welcoming summer! Guess it is true that as we get older, time really does fly!

While I love teaching future teachers, I have to admit something. I miss decorating a classroom! Yep, I admit it. Decorating my classroom was one of my favorite things to do. If I was going to spend 183 days in a classroom, it had to be a place that I enjoyed being in. I wanted my students to love coming into our classroom. Creating the classroom space meant color, curtains, and personalized items from my life. I can still remember teaching Earth Science with my poster of Indian Jones proudly displayed for all my students to see!

Of course, I know my husband is happy I am out of that stage in my career. He always hated back to school because it meant our budget would take a huge hit. Who can't help themselves from buying all those cute bulletin boarders and neat letters from Michaels! You can check out the latest sales from Michaels here. And did you know teachers get 15% off each and every day! Just talk to a sales associate! Sorry-had to give a shout out to my favorite store!

While decorating my classroom was always the first item on my back-to-school to-do list, the second task had to be organizing my room! When I ask my pre-service teachers what they fear the most about teaching science, organization always comes up! Here are two of my favorite tricks!

Lab Role Cards!

The number one question I get asked when I conduct teacher training is this: how do you get students to work in groups? Simple. Give students responsibilities and put them in charge. These simply lab cards, while not new, really help me to facilitate group work.
Kids love when they have responsibilities!
Conducting labs are one way students learn how to do the work of a real scientist. With the cost of materials these days, it is impossible to have enough materials for every student to do his or her own lab. So group work in the science classroom is essential.  When I first started teaching, I  taught in a regular middle school classroom instead of a science lab. Just imagine 28, 8th graders crammed into a room with huge science tables in a space that would normally have desks. Add in the fact I love to collect stuff and let's just say space was always a wanted commodity!

One of the things I learned from my teacher education program was to always have everything ready to go when the students came in the classroom. By doing this, you minimize the loss of instructional time. Setting up labs always took place in the afternoons. By the time I left for home, each group's set of materials would be on their desk with any lab sheets or handouts stacked neatly beside the materials. Yep, you read correctly. I used to put materials on the student tables. After the 10th time of trying to get my students to not play with the materials until it was time for lab was a big mistake! Big, big mistake!!  I am sure you are shaking your head at me right now and saying "Jenny Sue, were you crazy?" I guess I was. Who would have thought my students would be so curious they would start messing with stuff from the moment they walked in? But they did!

This taught me to set up a materials table. Of course this presented a problem. Now, I would have students getting up and moving around an already small space. Solution? Have only a few students get up. Thus the creation of lab role cards was born!  I never knew creating 4 simple roles would make such a huge difference in how my classroom ran; but they did! Not only did they help to facilitate the distribution of materials, clean up process, and how we shared out data, but my students started to function as teams. Teamwork became a huge component of my classroom.

Over the years I have gone from using hats, to buttons, to cards, and finally created this version-which is my favorite! Using the Avery Badge Holders with the clips, students clip on their job at the beginning of the lab. I either allow them to pick the role they want to do or I assign roles. The front of the card shows the role and the back has the list of responsibilities.  When we start a lab, I always go over what each role will do during the lab. For example, I tell the Supplies Director where they can find the lab materials they will need to collect when the lab starts. Sometimes I meet with the Lab Director so they understand the purpose of the lab. The Communication Director knows they are going to have to post the data on our classroom data chart and discuss with the class their findings. The Safety Director is in charge of ensuring all materials are in working order.
Safety Director makes sure team members stay safe!
While the badge holders can be expensive, it is worth the investment!  I still use this idea when I am conducting teacher training.You might want to check to see if your school has some left over ones or get a couple of your friends to go in on the purchase with you.

So how do I store them? Of course I used a just simple cute ribbon and simply had the Supplies Director hang up the name badges for their group at the conclusion of the lab!

If you would like a copy of these for your classroom, visit my store on Teachers Pay Teachers. This download is free!

Storing Materials

When I started teaching, I had not clue what to do with regards to storing material. Let's be honest, classrooms don't always have closets! In my first year, I started using clear shoe boxes. But I quickly found those take up precious classroom space. Next, I started using zip lock bags. They worked for a while, but tearing became a real issue. You know students are never a gentle as we are when stuffing bags! Seven years ago, I came across the best product and have been using it every since!

Uline is a great company that sells boxes and a variety of shipping products. The best product they sell, hands down, has to be their reclosable poly bags! Just imagine a  Zip Lock on sterioids! They are thick and durable! You can get them in a variety of sizes and some even come with holes so you can hang them up!

So here is what I do. I first figure the materials I want to put in my science center or the materials each group will need. Then the quest becomes to find the bag that will fit all the stuff nice and neatly.  Again, be prepared-these bags are not cheap! But the investment is so worth the price you pay! One purchase will go a long way! Once the materials are in the bag, I simply store them either flat or in boxes in my garage. At the office, we have shelves and each center or class set of materials fits on the shelf. Now, instead of spending time finding materials for my class activities, I can spend the time developing my lesson plans!
Materials for Observation Center

Makes for Easy Storage!
Have fun this year with science and keep checking back for new ideas for your classroom this year!

Go Science!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Connecting Science and History!

It is the middle of a hot week here in Virginia and I have been teaching a week-long workshop on Physical Science. So blessed to have 27 amazing elementary teachers playing, debriefing, and playing some more this week with me!  Take a look at some of the pictures and see if you can identify a common theme among them:

If you said the teachers look like they are having fun learning; you would be right!  But these pictures actually show two activities that connect to topics found in the Virginia Social Studies Standards of Learning.  

Making Water Flow Up!

Let's start with the fountain. Yes, we made a fountain in the classroom and did not make a mess! The history of the fountain can be traced back to Ancient Rome. Using a system of aqueducts, cisterns, and the force of gravity, Ancient Rome was able to received and store water. Gravity helped to move the water and cisterns, which are similar to what we know as water towers today, helped to store the water.  

Water flowed from the cisterns either through pipes to individual houses or to public distribution points. Fountains were not only decorative; but functional. People could bring their buckets to the fountain to collect water. Some of the fountains had elaborate sprays. These were due in part to the height of the cisterns.

Our fountain works off of air pressure. On top of the bottle is a balloon filled with air. Once released, the air rushes into the bottle and begins to force the water out through the straw. Even though the straw is pointed up, the pressure is great enough to make the water flow up and out of the straw! Keep reading for directions on how to make this easy, yet fun water fountain that will have your students or children shouting-"Can we do this again?"
Learning about Ancient Rome (grade 3) and the importance of aqueducts and fountains!
Sometimes Accidents in Science Create Fun 

In 1940, Franklin Roosevelt called rubber a "strategic and critical material." When our military success in the war became dependent on rubber production, the US government asked companies to invent a synthetic rubber that could be made with non-restricted materials. Scientist James Wright quickly began experimenting with various materials in his quest to discover synthetic rubber. 

The now famous goo, known as Silly Putty, was accidentally created through the combining of boric acid and silicone oil. Tests on the "new goo" done by Wright concluded it could bounce, stretch farther than regular rubber, did not mold, and had a high melting temperature. Unfortunately, it did not have the properties necessary to replace rubber. Originally called "nutty putty," the substance was a lot of fun to many people. After a series of events, it eventually made its way into the toy market and the rest is history!
Science is just plain fun at times!

Even though our Silly Putty is made from items you can find in Wal-Mart, we still had a great time exploring chemical changes! 

If you would like to have some fun this weekend, here is what you need:

Water Fountain

2 liter bottle
Blue Tac or Modeling Clay

Get ready for some fun!
  1. With a pen or a pair of scissors, poke a hole in the empty bottle just big enough for a straw to fit through.
  2. Seal the straw with Blue Tac or Modeling Clay.
  3. Pour water into the bottle over the level of the hole (we put the hole down lower on the bottle).
  4. Plug any leaks by squishing down the clay and make sure the straw is pointing up!
  5. Blow up the balloon, twist it slightly, and then put over the opening of the bottle. Let it untwist and get ready!
Silly Putty

To make silly putty, you need the following items:
  1. 1 4 oz bottle of glue
  2. 1/4 cup of  StaFlo starch
Pour these materials into a quart sized bag, seal, and mix together.

When the solid begins to form, open the bag and continue to knead inside the bag. Eventually you will be able to pull it out of the bag and have fun!

What other connections can you find between history and science? Just remember, science rocks!


Friday, June 14, 2013

Summer Science Fun

Ah, the air temperature has finally gotten over 75, the cicadas were out in full force last weekend up in Northern Virginia, and we just finished the last grading period. All parents and teachers know what that means!

Of course now comes the hard part! What do you do when you hear-"Mom, I'm bored!" Don't worry my friends, I have you covered! Science can always make the long summer afternoons a little more fun for all!

Marvelous Matter!

In two weeks I am doing training with a group of preschool teachers from Hampton. I am blessed to get the opportunity to do some really simple science with them. Super excited about this workshop as I will be teaching them about matter!

Solids, liquids, and gases oh my! Using water, teachers will learn the properties and other really cool stuff about matter. In preparing, I wanted to find an activity that would tie it all together and allow the teachers to learn how they could connect a topic again at another point in the year.

The best part about teaching matter is this- it's everywhere. Stop reading this blog now and look up. What do you see?  Do you see examples of solids? What about any liquids? Right now as you breathe in you are breathing a gas called oxygen and then you exhale a gas called carbon dioxide! I know you were just thinking how science is so cool!! 

So in my quest to find the perfect idea, I stumbled across this:

Of course those of you who know me really well know I see all things through a lens of science! And this was just the right way to end my workshop! What is better than taking a solid which has a specific property (allows light to pass through but not the images on the other side) and create something fun and pretty at the same time!

Using Matter to Make a Sun Catcher!
Here is what you need:
  • Different colored flat, glass, beads. ( I found these  and they were a really good price for bulk: http://www.wholesalersusainc.com; you can also get them from Michael's or any craft store) 
  • Clear Glue (you can use the regular glue, but it does not dry clear)
  • Picture frame (I got mine at the dollar store-who can beat a $1)

Lay out the colors and work with your kids to make the design. You can provide your kids with a template or you can allow them to be creative.

First you put down a lot of the clear glue on the glass frame. I simply took out the guts of the back part of the frame so the glass was exposed.

Next, Hugh and I laid out our pattern on the table before we put them into the glue. Here you can see Hugh putting his together. Notice he has the beads in the rows as he wants to add them in the frame.

Hugh working on his creation!

This was what Hugh and I created together:

Beth decided to get more personal and tried her hand at making a letter B for her name!

Letter B for Beth!

Then all you do is put them in a place to allow them to dry really well. Here are two of the three final products(Beth's had not finished drying!):

So think of other ways you could use these translucent solid pieces of glass beads!! I already have dreams of doing the glass table I have outside on the back deck!

So how does this connect to Matter???

Matter is anything that has mass and takes up space. It can exist in 4 different states-solids, liquids, gases, and plasma. All matter has certain properties that helps it to be distinguished from other objects. The physical properties of an object can be observed with the five senses. These glass beads are a great example of matter and an example of how understanding the physical properties of an object can lead to innovation!

To start off a lesson on matter, give your children a couple of these glass beads. Ask them to use their senses (except their sense of taste) to generate a list of words to describe them. They may describe the colors they see, how hard they feel, maybe they might even say they feel cold.

You can have the children sort the beads into groups based on the physical properties. They can even compare and contrast using a graphic organizer! Then you can have them build the sun catcher!

So go get some glass beads and create a piece of matter art!

Friday, April 12, 2013

More book ideas!!

Here are some more books you have got to have!

Sea Squares by Joy N. Hulme illustrated by Carol Schwartz

Who doesn't love counting books! Throw in anything about nature and I am hooked! This book is a great counting book that uses nature,  but if you use it right, it can be used for some much more!

I love books with realistic illustrations and this one delivers! Two two-eyed gulls, with two wide wings, shrieking and swooping and pecking up things! 2 white gulls, with 2 eyes each, have 4 bright eyes to watch the beach! Hmmm, see a little addition as well!! 

Don't you just love the rhyme and rhythm of this book! Numbers are used by scientists to describe objects (to tell how much or how many of something). Yes, my friends, math is a language a scientist must be able to speak. Number words tell us a lot. As you read the passage above, even without the book, couldn't  you just see the picture forming in your mind?

There is also another neat feature of this book-see if you can see what I mean.

Make some observations of this picture. Do you see something cleaver in the lower right hand side of the picture? There are 4 little rocks. So while the children are focused on the four seals they see between the two pages, there are also 4 little rocks. Each page has hidden objects that also represent the number on the page! How cool. So you can ask your little reader-do you see 4 other objects on this page? Where and what are they?

Be sure to add this counting book to your library!

Water Dance by Thomas Locker

For all my friends who teach in the upper grades, this book is for you!  Thomas Locker has several books that I love; but this is one of my favorites! In Virginia, students have to understand the water cycle by third grade. Cycles are important processes in the natural world. Cycles often exist within systems. They are just events that repeat themselves while helping to maintain balance. The water cycle circulates water as it changes phase due to changes in temperature. I always tell teachers, the water cycle is not just about singing the cute little song (yes there is a song that goes with it). Children need to understand the water cycle is a natural example of matter changing phase. Water can exist in three states-solid, liquid, and gas. To change, it needs either heat or the absence of heat (cold). Heat from the sun evaporates water and changes it from a liquid to a gas. As the gas travels higher up in the atmosphere, the cooler temperatures help to change it back to its liquid state. Thomas Locker describes the next step in the water cycle so much better than I can, so check it out-

" Some people say that I am one thing. Others say I am many. Ever since the world began, I have been moving in an endless circle. Sometimes I fall from the sky. I am rain."

Beautiful! Add in his incredible paintings and you have the recipe for a classic!

"Sometimes I cascade. I tumble down, down, over the moss-covered rocks, through the forest shadows. I am the mountain stream."

So what phase/state of matter is water taking now in the water cycle? Yep, you guessed it! Liquid state! When you understand how content connects with the bigger ideas in science, it is easy for students to learn!

Get this book to make the water cycle come to life!

I hope you are inspired to use reading to spark a love of science (and math as well)! Now go read!