Thursday, January 31, 2013

Happy Groundhog's Day-February 2nd

Happy Groundhogs Day on Saturday!

As we approach Groundhogs Day, I began to think why do we focus so much on the tradition of pulling a groundhog out of his warm burrow only to see if he sees his shadow? Poor little guy!
Of course you know the tradition-if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, then spring will come early; if it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and the winter weather will continue for six more weeks. But do we really believe groundhogs can predict the weather?
Of course not! But traditions are important. Groundhogs Day, while a tradition in the United States,  stems from similar beliefs associated to Candlemas Day and the days of early Christians in Europe. On Candlemas Day, the custom was to have clergy bless candles and distribute them to people and it marked a milestone in the winter months. And so the weather on that day was very important. Here is the old English song that describes the day:
According to an old English song:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.
As I was researching for this post, I found myself thinking about what it must have been like to live without accurate weather predictions and forecasts. I don’t know about you, but the weather report is the first thing I turn on in the morning. I can only imagine during the time when the tradition of Candlemas was important, people must have been trying to find something that would give them hope as they looked forward to winter changing into spring. How many of you are hoping it is cloudy on Saturday?
Of course the tradition of Groundhog’s Day can also be connected to science! I know on Friday or Monday teachers will be engaging children in conversations about the day and will even be cutting out pictures of groundhogs, but I encourage teachers to add in something different this year! Have some fun with shadows!
Shadows in Ancient Times!
Love the shadow created by my outdoor candle holder!
Did you know that early mathematicians and scientists used shadows to learn more about the world? Eratosthenes, the famous mathematician, used shadows to find the circumference of the Earth. Ancient Egyptians believed the shadow was part of a human’s soul. They also used shadows to keep time. Shadow puppets were created 2000 years ago when a minister thought of the idea of using shadow puppets to cheer up the Wu Emperor of the Han Dynasty when he lost his desire to lead.
Changing Shadows!
Here is a fun activity to do with your children that shows how the relationship between the sun and the earth can change shadows.
Go out in the early morning and on a driveway or a parking lot, have the children stand so their shadow is created behind them (let them figure it out!). Have someone trace his or her shadow and mark the time. The children can even measure the length of their shadow.
In a couple of hours, have the children go outside again and repeat the process. They should try to stand in the same spot. Again, have them measure the length of their shadow.
Do this one more time and then compare the measurements. As the students compare the measurements over the day, ask them if they notice any changes? They should see the shadows get longer as the day goes on. Here is the reason why-this might be a little complicated for little ones, but older students should get it. It all has to do with the  relationship between the sun and the Earth. As the Earth rotates on its axis, the light reaches us at different angles. This makes shadows become longer as the day goes on.
You can plan on shadows being a family activity on Saturday here in the Flannagan household! Here is hoping for some sunshine! 
graphics from scrappin doodle.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Science and the Snow Day!

Today I had to take a break from thinking about shadows. Why-SNOW! Excitement raced through our house last night as the fluffy, white stuff came down! This morning my son Hugh could not wait to get outside. As I walked out to take pictures of him riding his bike, I could not help but remember my own childhood and the time we had over  4 feet of snow. For three days we were out of school and enjoyed sledding, building a snowman, and having good old snowball fights with my brother!

Making snow angels!
Riding bikes can be fun in the snow-but you need your helmet Hugh!
Science and Snow Days!

As a science teacher, snow offers a great opportunity to make observations and do some experiments!  Snow is matter. It is matter that is in a solid form. How does it become a solid? It freezes! Water is a great substance! 

If we add a little heat to frozen water, guess what, it will melt! From a science perspective, it is simply changing states!! How do we get it back to a frozen state once it melts to the liquid state water?? We have to cool it to the point it freezes again. Science is so cool!

So here are some fun things to do today before the snow melts!

See, Think, Wonder

See, Think, Wonder is this great strategy that is quick and easy to use. Best part of this strategy is it gives parents a tool to have a conversation with your child without worrying about correct answers to their questions. Here is how it works!

Go outside and have your child just make observations. What do they see?  If they are like my children, they will say snow is white, looks fluffy, all over the place, and even they may say it might look like it is cold. Although we can’t really tell temperature from how it looks, let them get their hands in it to feel how cold!

Then ask them what does the snow make them think about.  Here are the responses I got: they thought about winter and how quiet it was when it was falling from the sky last night!

Lastly, ask them what do they wonder when they look at snow! This is the best part of the strategy! My children wondered how long it will last. Woo hoo! Here is a great question that we can explore a little further!

So to explore, have your kids make two snowballs.  Bring them in and put in the freezer until you are ready.
Our snowball!

First, have your kids take out the snowball and  explore the question how long will it take the snow to melt.  Put it in a container and time it.  While this is not an experiment, it is a great activity to learn more about melting snow.

How long will it take to melt?

It took an hour for our snowball to melt (we keep our house pretty warm-guess that explains our heating bill!).

To do an experiment, ask your children what they could change about the setup of the activity (this is what scientist call the independent variable). For example, Beth and Hugh said what would happen if we put the heater in front of it? Would it melt faster.  Great! So that is become our independent variable- what we changed. Then I ask them what would we observe or measure to see if putting it in front of the heater made it melt faster. "Duh mom-thought you were the science teacher" they said! "We will measure the time again. If it does not take as long, then the heat melted it faster!"

Great ideas guys! So we tried it. We put the heater snowball in front of the heater and guess what-it melted faster!
Snowball in front of our heater.
Try changing the size of the snowballs to see if it makes a difference on how long it takes to melt. Add food coloring to see if color makes a difference on melting time. Just think of different properties you can change.

If you are looking for a great literature tie into snow, here is a great story about a young boy who also learns heat make snow melt! Check it out here.

Designing opportunities for students to do real experiments begins when you simply get your kids asking questions! Go outside today and enjoy the time with your children! But do a little science along the way!

Gotta go have a good old Flannagan Snowball fight!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Fun with Shadows!

Who doesn't love shadows!

I remember as a kid playing with my shadow. And who can forget Peter Pan! Why, he even lost his shadow and ended up having Wendy sew it back on! For the next few posts, I am going to share some of my favorite science activities and experiments to do with shadows. 

To start off, tell your children they have to help out Punxsutawney Phil Sowerby. He is the groundhog who lives up in Punxsutawney, PA. Each year, the members of the town disturb his winter slumber to have him predict the ending of winter. Poor Phil! Here is a copy of the letter: 

After reading the letter, create a Need to Know Board-here is what it looks like:

After you have the children fill out the need to know board, take them outside and have them do a fun race with their shadow. Check out the free download here.

Have fun this week with Shadows! Go Science!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Science for a New Year!

I love Science!

Science is part of my DNA. I was blessed by God to have a grandfather who loved science and shared that love with me. Any of you remember Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom? Well I do! I remember being in awe over the pictures of the animals and all the really neat things about how they lived, what they ate, and the relationships between them.

Along the way, I was fortunate to have teachers who inspired and nurtured my love of science. In seventh grade it was a single drop of water that confirmed I was to do something in the field of science. And in 10th grade it was a cow's eye that sparked my desire to be a science teacher. Of course with parents as educators, teaching seemed to be in my blood.

As much as I love science, I know there are other parents and teachers who can’t stand it!  While I find joy in observing a wiggly decomposer (a worm) as one of my student's described them, there are many teachers and parents who don't like or don't know how to get excited about it. I am saddened to learn that some schools have even taken science out of the curriculum in elementary school.  But I am here to say-NO Longer!

Did you know children are scientists in the making? I like to call them budding scientists. You see God gives every child the foundational blocks to become great scientists. He gives them the ability to ask questions!

From the moment children begin to speak, the questions come. Did you know, according to research done by Rolf Smith, children ask over 125 questions a day! 125!!! Yep, no wonder as parents and teachers we are tired! But we should find joy in their questions. By asking those questions, they are simply trying to figure out how and why the world works. There is however, a second side to Mr. Smith’s research. You know how many questions adults ask a day? Only 6. In fact, there are some 119 questions per day that never get asked. Is it because we don't think they matter? Or we think people won't care? What really worries me the most is why, over the years, as children get older, do they stop asking questions?

I am sure many of you can weigh in with reasons why kids stop asking questions, but what I have learned is this-it is never too late to get people asking questions!  All you need is to present a child or even an adult with something weird, unusual, or even something that goes counter to what they believe, and the questions will come.

So my blog this year will be about questions. Hopefully, the questions I ask and answer will help to make making science fun again. It if is fun for you, then it will be fun for your kids! And of course, I will give you the standards so you can align them to what you need to teach! If you are willing to forgive the fact I am not the best writer in the world (lots of prayers are going up about this writing thing!), then visit my blog for ideas! Are you ready?