I made ScienceFix.com to share my favorite demos that I do in my middle school science classes.  

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Media that I like...
  • Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Moon
    Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Moon
    by Sara Howard
  • NOVA - Origins
    NOVA - Origins
    starring Neil Degrasse Tyson
  • Human Body: Pushing the Limits
    Human Body: Pushing the Limits
    starring Bray Poor

What Makes a Planet a Planet?

State testing is late in the school year which means that we get to spend only about two to three days on our last unit, astronomy. Luckily this year we have what's called a science reading enrichment period. It allows us to cover more in depth some of the concepts that we don't usually have time to do. This past couple of weeks, we got to cover some astronomy. In the last few years, students have been asking me numerous times two questions: "Why isn't Pluto a planet anymore?", and "Did you hear about the 10th planet?" Normally I would quickly have to answer these questions without students investigating themselves. This time I decided to use a method of inquiry used by Veritasium.

Derek Muller, the main host of the videos, usually goes to the streets and asks questions to ordinary people about a particular science concept. It is fascinating watching people try to verbalize and work through their thinking during the interviews. At the end Derek reveals "the answer" to the main question with easy to follow explanations. I wanted to incorporate that kind of inquiry into my class.

I decided to ask the question, "what makes a planet a planet?" to some of my fellow (non science) teachers. My plan was to ask a question that many people are familiar with, but have a hard time with the definition. I then wanted to show the video to my students so that they can see that this question is hard for learned adults as well as for students. Students then had to write their own definition of a planet and share with the class. I then gave them reading materials and showed a couple of videos that dealt with the concept. Then the students came up with their final answer and then had to share their results by speaking to the camera. The above video shows the teachers' responses and the students' responses to the teachers.


Flaming Colors

Students in my classes have to determine if a substance has changed physically or chemically. In order to do that, they need to know if the properties of a substance has changed. We can look at many different properties of a substance such as color, density, boiling point, melting point, taste, texture, hardness, etc. One of the most exciting properties of matter is the color in which they burn.  In the video above I show color flame candles and then show a demonstration of two different compounds, strontium chloride and copper sulfate, mixed with denatured alcohol, that produce large colorful flames.


Water Bottle Rockets

At the end of the year, students get a chance to be the scientists in several projects. One of my absolute favorites is the water bottle rocket. The video shows the general design of the rockets and several launches. What I love about the project is that they chose one variable to change that will increase flight distance. Variables include fin shape, fin size, fin placement, volume of water, etc. I also love that there is not just one design that works. Here is the handout that I give to students.


Motion: A Change in Position

Motion is the change in position over time. Students often have a difficult time understanding that concept graphically, which is one of the big 8th grade science standards.  Vernier's Go!Motion sensor and software are excellent demonstration tools. The video demonstrates how both of them work together. Usually when I introduce it, I just give a volunteer student a big (1 x 1 yard) whiteboard and tell the student to walk towards and away from the sensor. The students can see the graph on the large video screen. They quickly pick up that the farther away from the sensor the student is, the higher on the graph the line is and vice versa. I have them draw graphs what what they think certain types of motion are and then we see if we can replicate the graph. The software also allows a prediction graph to be drawn and then students can see if they can walk that same motion graph. In later lessons, acceleration graphs are explored. Having a class set would be ideal, but having one sensor with a computer hooked up to a video projector will work just fine.


Density Column

The densities of different liquids can be easily demonstrated by making a density column.  Steve Spangler has a splendid density column demo that I decided to make on a much larger scale.  Instead of using a graduated cylinder I decided to use a fluorescent light bulb tube guard. To seal one end of the tube I used duct tape and Goop so that no liquid would leak out.  Once the tube is ready, it's just a a simple matter of pouring the liquids into the tube according to their densities. Check out the video for the results and for some additional tips. 

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