Category Archives: school

Teacher movie night at the Smithsonian

My sons and I went to IMAX movie night at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum this month.  Each teacher was allowed to invite one guest and William, who teaches 4th grade, invited his brother Thomas.  I invited my husband, but he was in California judging a VEX robotics competition.  So, the three of us met at East Falls Church and took the Metro to Federal Triangle and walked over to the museum.

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Outside the Natural History Museum

Before the movie they had some of the mobile cart exhibits in the foyer.  One had some very neat ocean fossils which we were allowed to touch and explore and another had insects from the insect petting zoo

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Fossilized vertebrae of a whale

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Rows of shark teeth waiting to take the place when one falls out

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Petting a hissing cockroach

Learning about the tomato cutworm/sphinx moth

Large grasshopper

Large grasshopper

The first movie was “The Ultimate Wave Tahiti”, an exciting 3D movie filmed in Tahiti showcasing two famous surfers, Kelly Slater and Raimana Van Bastolaer.  The movie skillfully embedded lots of knowledge on how and why waves form.  It would be a great film for the upper grades, especially those studying landforms or the ocean.

During an intermission we were invited into the Ocean Hall to explore the exhibits.  It was very cool to be in there after the museum has closed and we had this huge space practically to ourselves.

Looking up at the whale exhibit

Looking up at the whale exhibit

Many displays are interactive including this one with pull out drawers to show collections

Many displays are interactive including this one with pull out drawers to show collections

The next movie was my favorite and was “The Flight of the Butterflies”; also in 3D.  It felt like you could reach out and touch the butterflies as they flew about.  It highlighted the history of the Citizen Science Project and the discovery of the monarch winter hibernation grounds in Mexico through the story of Dr. Fred Urquhart who developed a monarch tagging system to discover where they migrated to each winter.

I highly recommend going to see either of these movies.  If you are a teacher, your admission is free-any time, any day, for any Smithsonian IMAX movie that is not a feature film.  Here are some places to get more information about teaching migration, ecology, biodiversity and the process of scientific discovery through the study of monarch butterflies.

Flight of the Butterflies

Maryland Science Center

Monarch Larva Monitoring Project

Monarch Watch

Journey North

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Snow day

Today was a snow day here in Northern Virginia so I got the day off of school where I work.  We were supposed to get walloped with over a foot but it turned out to only be about 5 inches of very wet and heavy snow.  The daylight hours were above freezing so even though it came down fairly constantly it compacted and didn’t seem like we had as much as we probably did get or would have gotten had it been a drier snow.

This was our first big snow in two years so I decided it was time to create some more snow dyed fabric to add to my quilting stash.  I put a few yards of white fabric in soda ash to soak and mixed up some green and blue dyes.  I was thinking it would be nice to make something that looked like water for some underwater animals I want to applique.

Snow dyeing is a lot like making a giant snow cone.  In the bathtub I put a big plastic bin and on the rim I place a wooden frame with a piece of screen stretched over it.  Next comes the soaked fabric all bunched up and then an entire bucket of snow packed on top of the fabric.  On top of the snow I pour the mixed dye.  As the dye melts through the snow it hits the fabric at different rates and gives a tie dyed effect to the fabric.  It is a lot of fun because the results are so serendipitous.

After about 24 hours or long enough for the fabric to warm up (dye sets better in warmer temperatures) I rinse out the fabric until the dye no longer bleeds out and then wash it with some fixative in the washing machine and put it in the dryer.  I love taking it out of the dryer to iron the wrinkles out and see the final product.

blue and green dye

blue and green dye

Our GEMS learn about crystals

At the beginning of GEMS this year, the girls wrote one sentence about what they would like to do in GEMS (Girls Excelling in Math and Science) and many said “study gems”. Perhaps we did not do a good job explaining what the acronym GEMS meant.  Even so, one week we decided to focus on the topic of crystals.

The science fields of Minerology and Gemology are closely linked which is why we started with crystals. We had two stations and rotated the girls through after they made a GEMS journal which was a handmade “burrito style” book.  After working at the two stations the girls could free write in these journals.  I was so pleased to see the amount of drawing, writing and detail they put into their work.

GEMS journals writing in their new GEMS journals

One station was making their own rock candy.  We watched a youtube video to learn how and then each girl made their own.  We had to be patient and wait until next Saturday to see the results but we can check on them during the school week.

The second station was a “mining” activity.  Last summer my family went to Moat Mountain in NH and picked up rocks with smokey quartz inside.  You can read the blog post from August 21 to find out more about our trip.  The girls took these rocks which were about the size of two adult fists and cracked at them with hammers and chisels to get out some crystals to view with the camera microscope we have.

Moat mountain smokey quartz sample

Moat mountain smokey quartz sample

Earthquake in the STEM lab

GEMS club designed and tested earthquake resistant buildings today.  We engineered our “buildings” with toothpicks and mini-marshmallows built on a foundation of Jell-O.  Once constructed we wiggled the Jell-O to simulate S waves and pounded on the base of the jello pans to simulate the compression and primary waves of an earthquake.  Here are the directions we used and some pictures of our activity: http://www.teachengineering.org/view_activity.php?url=collection/cub_/activities/cub_natdis/cub_natdis_lesson03_activity1.xml

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Writing in Science at the Udvar Hazy Air and Space Museum

I had the priveledge of attending a special workshop funded by the science department of my school system this week.  It was held at the Udvar Hazy Air and Space Museum which is part of the Smithsonian Institution.

Almost 200 teachers participated and we first saw the IMAX movie “Hubble”.  IMAX is always interesting to see because the photography is so spectacular, not to mention large, and the sound brings new meaning to surround sound.  This was really neat because astronauts on the Space Shuttle did a lot of the filming and many images from the Hubble Telescope were also included.

We also had a docent led tour of the musuem.  My husband volunteers at the museum so I have been numerous times but I had never been on a guided tour before.  It turned out that our tour guide lives behind our school and his daughter once attended Herndon Elementary.  He did an excellent job and is willing to develop a special tour for our GEMS club. Yippee.

After lunch we had a workshop from the author of Writing in Science, Betsy Fulwiler.  Lots of good information to use in with our STEM lab journals.

Space Shuttle Tiles

Space Shuttle Tiles

the nose of the space shuttle is covered in dark heat resistent tiles

the nose of the space shuttle is covered in dark heat resistent tiles

You can fit a bus inside the cargo area of the Space Shuttle

You can fit a bus inside the cargo area of the Space Shuttle

This space suit was worn on the moon, the dirt on it is moon dust.

This space suit was worn on the moon, the dirt on it is moon dust.

Space Shuttle Discovery

Space Shuttle Discovery

This plane has both a jet engine and a rocket engine.

This plane has both a jet engine and a rocket engine.

The Enola Gay; credited with ending WWII

The Enola Gay; credited with ending WWII

Teachers tour the Udvar Hazy

Teachers tour the Udvar Hazy

The Air France Concord

The Air France Concord

Our guide demonstrates the controls on the Wright Brother's aircraft

Our guide demonstrates the controls on the Wright Brother’s aircraft

my colleague, Jill, listens to the tour guide at the Udvar Hazy

my colleague, Jill, listens to the tour guide at the Udvar Hazy

Our guide begins the tour at the Glenn Curtiss aircraft

Our guide begins the tour at the Glenn Curtiss aircraft

GEMS begins again

This is our second year to have a GEMS (Girls Excelling in Math and Science) club at Herndon Elementary.  We are able to have two sessions of 21 girls each this year.  They range in grade from 4th through 6th.

Today was our first meeting for this school year and we took a quick sample of what the girls said they wanted to do this year and Mrs. Powell, our School Based Technology Specialist, typed their sentences into a Wordle.  Here is a photo of our wordle on the screen.

Wordle from GEMS club

Wordle from GEMS club

Then we watched an inspiring video of a young woman who through persistence and desire became a mechanical engineer and a race car driver.  Here is the link to the video.  http://pbskids.org/designsquad/video/racecar/

So, we decided to engineer our own race cars BUT we did it out of PASTA!  Here are some of our race cars.

"Ready, Set, ..."

“Ready, Set, …”

Mrs. Stets made this car but the axel broke on the second test drive

Mrs. Stets made this car but the axel broke on the second test drive

"Riptide" was the name the makers gave this car

“Riptide” was the name the makers gave this car

This car even had a seat

This car even had a seat

We used hot glue to fix the pieces together

We used hot glue to fix the pieces together

This car even had a canopy

This car even had a canopy

A and J made this car

A and J made this car

Incline planes

At Herndon Elementary School the primary grade students are using engineer design skills to build ramps from Keva Planks in the STEM lab.  They are introduced to the design process, new vocabulary, and have fun all at the same time.  Our hope is that when they get to the science unit on simple machines they can recall this activity.  This will give them a head start on understanding an incline plane of which a ramp is an example.

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