Science for character AND knowledge

Our first month of the 2014 After-school Program has been a busy one implementing our STEAM SEL curriculum.  In our Science and Innovation Labs at Aldrin Elementary School in Reston and Forestville Elementary school in Great Falls, VA, we are using all hands-on activities to build an understanding of and love for science, while also building character.  In each class we emphasize scientific facts, the scientific process (aligned to VA’s Practices for Scientific Investigation), and 21st Century Social and Emotional Life (SEL) skills from our Character Toolbox. Want these types of experiences for your children? Register for our Winter Camp!

Here’s a look back at our last month of afternoon programs:

9/24 – Forestville – Acid-base Art and Paleontology

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Students unleashed their creative side while making colorful chemical reactions from baking soda and vinegar on top of paper. They also added oil and soil to their creations. During the same class, students dug for “fossils” in a series of tubs with buried treasures. They put together their finds to discover something from the past (in this case, that that teacher’s children get Happy Meals from McDonalds frequently). Due to the messy nature of the activity, the entire class was held outside. Children learned about chemical reactions, molecules, textures, and the use of fossils to understand the past. Scientific Practices emphasized were Classifying, Analyzing, and Evaluating Data.  The targeted SEL skill was Appreciation for small things.

10/1 – Forestville – Earthquakes and Marble Tracks

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Children were creative as they built structures that could withstand an earthquake, caused by cardboard rolling on round blocks. They also learned some of the geometry and physics behind engineering – with certain shapes holding up better (rectangular over U-shaped) and multiple storied buildings holding up better when heavier and larger pieces were on the bottom.  They also thought out-of-the-box with recycled paper and paper plates to make paper “roller coasters” for marbles. There was heavy emphasis on angles, forces, and friction as students worked to control their marbles and change their trajectory. Scientific Practices emphasized were Constructing and Interpreting Models. The targeted SEL skill was Empathy, as engineers must build safe structures with the feelings of others in mind.

10/6 – Aldrin – Catapults and Roller Coasters

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Children built and tested catapults made from Popsicle sticks, spoons, and rubber bands.  They tried to reach targets on the floor and learned about math concepts such as angles, accuracy, and precision. Scientific Practices of Prediction and Measurement were heavily emphasized. They also showed off their individuality by being creative with their catapult design. Targeted SEL skills were Embracing Failure and Perseverance – students were encouraged to see mistakes as educational and to try new ways of making something. They also got started making paper plate roller coasters and examining angles and friction.

10/8 – Forestville – Geodesic Domes

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This was a wonderful activity that is perfect for iSchool, because it has a history of Empathy, Perseverance, Scientific Investigation, and Innovation.  Geodesic Domes (such as Epcot Center) are fascinating structures that maximize internal space while minimizing external building materials. A man named Buckminster Fuller invented the structure in the 1940s after a 20-year effort because he wanted to help improve housing for humanity. He used his knowledge of STEM fields (such as the geometry and physics) and knowledge of history and other cultures (e.g. famous domes), to create this new innovation. Students learned about him, his innovation, and the connections between science and the SEL skills of Embracing Failure, Perseverance, and Empathy. Students first had fun building their own Geodesic Domes out of gumdrops and toothpicks. We even tested the structures, comparing how light they were (one was 1.26 ounces) to how much weight we could put on top (at least 6 nearly-full rolls of masking tape).  Then we scaled up – and started building a large Geodesic Dome out of newspaper. That was a great team effort, with students working together to roll and measure tubes and put them together into the right geometric shapes. Students persevered on the structure for several weeks – even through an injury! Scientific Practices of Measuring and Constructing Models were emphasized. Targeted SEL Skills were Embracing Failure, Perseverance, and Empathy. Several students also continued working on their paper plate roller coasters.  At first their marbles flew everywhere, but they kept trying out new ways after making mistakes and were pleased to see their marbles going into the right cups from table-high coasters!

10/15 – Forestville – Polymers

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Students explored the world of polymers during this activity, after first discussing atoms, molecules, and bonds. They held hands to form a polymer chain and then experimented with hands-on activities. They first made and observed Instant Snow, and were amazed with the amount of water the small amount of polymer could hold. They then were creative with colors as they each made their own bouncy balls out of glue (a liquid polymer) and borax. They discussed additional concepts such as solids versus liquids at the molecular level, gravity and the law of equal and opposite forces, texture and composition, and physical versus chemical reactions.  The Scientific Practice of Observation was emphasized. The targeted SEL Skill was Patience.

10/20 – Aldrin – Chemical Reactions and Polymers

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In honor of National Chemistry Week this class was all about the fun of chemistry and its role in our daily lives. We started off with chemical reactions – the classic acid-base reaction between Vinegar and Baking soda. Along the way we learned about the difference between a physical reaction and a chemical reaction (which creates something NEW!). After observing “explosions” when the two are mixed and seeing a balloon puff up due to the gas created by the reaction, each student got to create their own chemical reaction. They changed their experimental variables. Younger children were asked to make predictions, and older students were asked to make a hypothesis about what would happen. We then moved on to polymers, making instant snow and glue/borax balls. Scientific Practices of Predicting, Hypothesizing, and Using Variables in an Experiment were emphasized. Targeted SEL Skills were Patience and Self-regulation.

10/22 – Forestville – Chemical energy and Electricity

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In honor of National Chemistry Week we explored chemical energy. It was also an example of a lesson change on the fly – it had been raining all day so when the students arrived for class, they had a lot of excess energy. We went outside to burn off excess energy, talking about conversion of cellular chemical energy into motion and heat, as well as the conversion of potential energy into kinetic energy.  It was also a great example of good ways to self-regulate: instead of getting in trouble for being “hyper” they simply released some of their energy and were ready for class.  Back inside we watched a video and talked first about electricity and the movement of electrons through a circuit. Then, we played with batteries, small light bulbs, and an analog battery tester, making and testing circuits. Students each made a potato battery while learning that electrons flow from Zinc-covered nails to Copper batteries and are “slowed down” by the potato. They worked as a team to hook the potato batteries up to try to increase the power enough to power a light bulb. Several students also used the potatoes to make art. Several students also played with an electricity kit – putting together different circuits to make sound or turn on lights. We also discussed scientists who are working on potatoes as an energy source for poor people who don’t have access to modern sources of electricity. The Scientific Practices of Measuring and Observation were emphasized. The targeted SEL Skills were Empathy and Self-regulation.
Want these types of experiences for your children? Register for our Winter Camp!