Sunday, January 15, 2012

Co-op Science Week 16

Back to co-op after Christmas, ready to start our second semester.  This semester we'll be focusing more on Chemistry.

And we've also added 3 more kids to the class.  I knew about 2 of them, but the 3rd was a surprise (Didn't that just happen to me in Girl Scouts a few days ago?  Why, yes, it did!  Random extra kids are showing up at things I'm supposed to organize on a regular basis, it seems.)  I've gotta say, going from 11 kids to 14 kids was a leap -- lots of busy-ness, lots of noise.  The kids are all relatively good, there are just more of them now.

And when I got home a mom emailed me to ask if her 2nd grader could join the class.  Sigh.  I let that sit a few days while I pondered, but then I eventually said that I think we're running out of room in the classroom.  Plus I've noticed that some of the younger kids sometimes struggle more in a large group setting -- kids that are pretty bold and outgoing, and who would do just fine with the material in a small group (like in their own home with siblings) are falling right through the cracks when they're in a large group, getting lost and not keeping up.

But, anyway, my big find of Christmas break was the American Chemical Society's Inquiry in Action, which is a free chemistry curriculum for grades 3-5.  Wow.  Okay, first I found the ACS middle school curriculum, and I seriously thought about using it.  Really, any of the kids in the class could probably do the middle school stuff, particularly at home.  But I decided to go with the lower level because it looked simpler for me to implement, plus it involved M&Ms.  Yes, the candy.

"Can I have some of the M&Ms to eat?"
"You know, my family's prediction was that at least 3 of you would ask to eat the M&Ms today.  And my personal prediction was that YOU would be the first one to say it.  Glad to see you didn't change much over break."
Smile.  Hug.  Five minutes later, same child asks again: "Can I have some of the M&Ms to eat?"

So.  I downloaded the entire file onto my iPad, put it in Goodreader so I could browse through it, jotted down lists of stuff I'd need to take to class, printed out some of the handouts, and voila, class was planned.   It is AMAZING how much easier it is to have someone else plan what's going to happen rather than choosing a topic and coming up with all of the demonstrations on my own.

We did the first 3 activities from Chapter 1 during our class time.  We observed M&Ms dissolving on paper plates (I used the Solo brand plates that had sort of a hard finish on the paper rather than styrofoam or plastic -- I used the dessert size).  Everyone had their own M&M and plate for that.  Then we dumped the water and M&Ms (IMPORTANT TIP: It's easiest to slide the plate of water to the edge of the table and then tip it into a bucket or some other large container.  The container needs to be wide enough that you could easily fit the entire plate in, if needed.  I had taken a pitcher, but that was way too narrow, so I just dumped everything out of the 18 gallon plastic storage bin I'd used to transport all of the class equipment.  Also, the container should be deep enough to carry around without all the water sloshing out. Dump the water in the container, but keep hold of the plate -- you can wipe it with a paper towel and re-use it.)

Before class started I'd had the kids who wandered in early draw bullseyes on some of the plates.  We distributed those, and next judged whether different colors dissolved more quickly.  The kids were in 2 groups of 7, and each group had 5 plates to look at.  They did find some variability in the diffusion rates.  I wonder if that was partially because we ended up with various depths of water in the plates, and some of our M&Ms weren't totally covered.

Anyway, dump THAT batch of water and M&Ms, clean up, and, oddly, all the kids started packing up to leave.  ????  "Well, we were cleaning up, so we thought it was time to go."  No, we were cleaning up so we wouldn't have a huge mess at the end.  Also, the clock is broken in the classroom, so they had no clue.  Still time for another experiment!

"Okay, what do you think would happen if we put 2 M&Ms in the water fairly close together?"  I drew a couple of possibilities on the whiteboard.  "Would a yellow and a blue make a huge pool of green around both of them?  Would it look more like a Venn diagram, with a green overlap in the middle between them?  What do you think?"

This time they worked in pairs, with mild squabbling about which colors each pair wanted to try.  One pair ended up with 3 M&Ms, and we all figured, hey, maybe that'll be interesting.  I held up a ruler to show them approximately how much distance we mean by "2 centimeters".

They were VERY impressed by what happened next, and running around looking at each others' plates.  The plate with 3 was quite an item.  One of the kids was excited to realize that their end of the table wasn't level -- he had diagnosed it by looking at the water level vs. the height of the 2 M&Ms.  Then it became the fad to gently blow across the surface of the water to mix the colors.  I did a brief wrap up, saying that if we left these plates here for a day the colors would've eventually mixed.  Then a final clean up, and they were off to history class.

My thoughts:

We only made it half way through the demonstrations listed in this chapter, but I think it's enough.  The main point, I felt, was that we change ONE variable at a time when we're seeing how things work.  We'd already worked on that last fall, so I thought we were okay with just a brief review this spring.

The fifth graders in particular loved having the handouts.  They were making notes on them.  I've emphasized that as they get to middle school next year they'll be doing more lab reports; I think they liked having the practice available to them.

After I got home I sent an email to all parents with a link to the pdf of the science behind sugar dissolving in water, which they had the option of going over with their child.  I also pointed out the links to the 3 related experiments we did NOT do.

I also delivered a small Dixie cup of M&Ms to That Kid at lunch break, with permission of his mom.

How to do this without a sink in the room:

I took old plastic water bottles with me, and had the kids go to the water fountain in pairs to refill them as needed.  I had a pair of kids take the plastic container of waste-water-plus-M&Ms to the restroom, where they dumped it into a toilet and then flushed.

So far I would High Recommend the ACS materials for co-op use!  And I'm thinking about using the middle school chemistry for our own home science class for 7th grade next year.

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