Thursday, November 27, 2014

Science + Winter/Christmas= MAGICAL!

Science + Winter/Christmas= MAGICAL!

I have done a pretty decent job infusing holidays with math and science concepts this year. I dedicated the month of October to chemistry and plan on dedicating December to energy/electricity. I also plan on doing some other things that focus on winter and Christmas in my fifth grade science class. I am writing about this now because I realize when I best prepare, it's at least a week or two in advance. Want to find out more? Read on. 

1. Fake Snow: 
Connection:  Chemistry
Explanation: Purchase diapers that have sodium polyacrylate, which is a fine white powder within a small compartment of the diaper. To make snow, your students have to add water to the sodium polyacrylate until they feel they have "snow". Sodium polyacrylate consists mostly of water, so it feels cold to the touch. The Instructables page also suggests putting the snow in the freezer for ten minutes to make it "extra cold". The snow does not melt; it dries. Sodium polyacrylate absorbs 200-300 times its mass in tap water. This page states it is a super-absorbent, cross-linked polymer containing sodium atoms. When sodium polyacrylate comes into contact with water, sodium atoms leave and are replaced with water molecules. Water then swells the "polymer network". 

2. Make Light-Up Holiday Cards and Winter Scenes Using Circuitry Stickers
Connection: Electricity
Explanation: Circuitry stickers are awesome. This kit for $29 has 40 stickers! You need these along with copper tape and a coin cell battery (with something along the lines of a binder clip) in order to light up holiday cards.

In an LED sticker, as shown in this file, the positive charge is at the top of the sticker while the negative charge is at the bottom. There are two metal pads, a wide, flat one at the positive end and the pointy one at the negative end. There are white, red, blue, and yellow stickers that come in clusters of six. Copper tape, as your students likely know, is a conductor that is soft enough to cut, bend, and rip. Last, you need a three-volt coin cell battery and possibly a binder clip to hold the battery in place. 

3. "Spark" a discussion (I did not intend to be punny at all!) about series and parallel circuits...
Connection: Electricity
Explanation: We all get agitated about that one faulty Christmas tree light that keeps the entire string of lights from lighting up! Here, I think about Clark Griswold checking all the bulbs in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (though their problem was obviously not related to faulty bulbs!). Ask students why the lights on a Christmas tree do not light up when there is one faulty bulb!

BBC has a good explanation of series and parallel circuits here.

4. Christmas Cookie Mystery from
Connection: Chemistry
Explanation: The Science Spot, first and foremost, is one of my favorite science websites and offers quality resources. This resource focuses on mystery mixtures that students test. The teacher directions are here, which includes the list of materials you need. Mystery sample #1 has flour, cornstarch, and powdered sugar. Mystery Sample #2 has flour, baking soda, and powdered sugar. Mystery Sample #3 has flour, baking soda, and baby powder. Mixture #2, obviously, is the correct mixture to make the cookies because it fizzes in vinegar, turn black in iodine, and melt/bubble when heated.

5. Christmas Chromatography with a Chemistry Carol, also from
Connection: Chemistry

Explanation: According to a weblog dedicated to chromatography, it is "the science of separating mixtures from complex to simple". This website states there are materials that may appear to be homogenous, though they are rather a combination of numerous substances. The dyes in the markers are dissolved and separated.

6. Construct a Model City:
Connection: Chemistry
Explanation: Students are going to spend time constructing a model city with a winter/holiday theme in groups where they will use series and parallel circuitry to illuminate it.

7. Making Ornaments from Dough: 
Connection: Chemistry, Energy (Thermal Energy)
Explanation: Linking measurement and chemistry, making ornaments from salt dough is exciting. This is an ideal time to talk about physical changes, chemical changes, and thermal energy. Heat is transmitted to the dough mixture through radiation, convection, and conduction.
- Radiation: Waves of infrared energy radiate throughout the oven.
- Convection: There is an obvious movement of molecules in the dough going on during this process. The convection consists of rapidly-moving molecules while the molecules are the dough are slow-moving. How rapidly heat diffuses depends on how rapidly the air is moving in the oven. The turbulence of the air in the oven is causing convection to occur.
- Conduction: Thermal energy is transferred to the dough because of its direct contact with the tray it is placed on.
(I used this page and this page to do a little research; both are pretty neat!)

Also when the dough is mixed, a physical change occurs, and a chemical change occurs as the dough comes in contact with the heat source.

8. The Chemistry of Baking Pizza and Cookies:
Looking at the explanation above, thermal energy is also a part of baking pizza and cookies. We are probably going to hold our Italian feast this year as we had in the past, so we will be making pizza for our celebration. We are also going to bake cookies from scratch!

Since I am a HUGE TED-Ed nerd =), I found a spectacular video I will show my students the day they bake their cookies...

I am also showing them Untamed Science's "Chemistry of Baking Soda and Yeast":

9. Christmas Tree Fire Safety: 
Connection: Chemistry

Explanation: Steve Spangler is PHENOMENAL, and this is obviously just a video I am showing because I cannot by any means demonstrate this in my classroom! Though authentic evergreens are wonderful to have in the home, they can also pose a major fire hazard. I am going to have my students focus on how to avoid potential fire risks.

Furthermore, here is a "Christmas Tree Science" lesson intended for third graders. I probably won't use it, but I definitely wanted to share it.

10. Ski Slope! 
Connection: Mechanical Energy
Explanation: The ski slope is something I am setting up at our school's grades 3-5 holiday dance, hosted by the middle school Technology Club students I sponsor. I am going to have pool noodles cut in half and painted white to make them look like a ski slope. My fifth grade students are going to construct five different "slopes" and have a marble race for the students who attend the dance. Students will see the potential and kinetic energy transfer as the marbles race down the slopes! They will use timers to determine the winner.

11. Elephant Toothpaste: 
Link: and
Connection: Chemistry
Explanation: Elephant toothpaste is an exciting chemistry demonstration. I used the kid-friendly version from Steve Spangler at Halloween, but it wasn't the best for demonstration purposes. Hopefully at our holiday dance, we can do something bigger and better! Of course, hydrogen peroxide decomposes into water and oxygen gas, and the process is sped up by a catalyst, which in the case of the Middle School Chemistry website is potassium permanganate.

12. Making a Snowstorm in a Jar: 
Connection: Weather, Chemistry
Explanation: Though this is intended for younger kids, I really think older kids will enjoy looking at what gets this demonstration to work on a deeper, chemistry-centric level. This can also be really neat if your students have younger elementary Book Buddies.

13. Making Snowflakes: 
Link: and
Connection: Chemistry
Explanation: I feel "kids" of all ages (as young as pre-school and as old as my fifth graders) can enjoy this demonstration on different levels. First, I shared the instructions with you. Out of many websites I perused, this website had a nice explanation about the chemistry behind the demonstration! Even on a middle school level, this .pdf file focuses on the science behind growing crystals.

- Students are preparing a supersaturated solution.
- When the pipe cleaners are immersed in the supersaturated solution, a crystalline structure forms. Crystals are comprised of ions or atoms, depending on what is in the solution. The crystal formation mimics what comprises the matter that is added to the solution. As it states in the .pdf file I shared from Nano-Link, some structures are cubic while others are prismatic. Crystals repeat because of their internal molecular structure and unique chemistry.

You may want to show this website to your students as well, which has a good explanation tailored to upper elementary and middle school students.

p.s. If you are somewhere that snows (which is DEFINITELY not where I am in Florida), frozen bubbles sounds like a ton of fun. Enjoy, if you are truly in a winter wonderland!

Hope this helps jump start your holiday season in your upper elementary (science) classroom! Upper elementary students should have as much fun as younger elementary students... and with these hands-on activities and wonderful demonstrations, I know their scientific knowledge is going to expand even further.

Happy Thanksgiving from Jasztalville! Have a safe, heartwarming, beautiful day with your family and friends. I'll be back in a few days with yet another post!

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