'Tis the Season for Scientific Exploration

By Victoria Jasztal on October 7, 2009


The month of October opens up many opportunities in my classroom. Not only do we enter the "season of many celebrations", we enter the season of trillions of science experiments (or so it seems).

This past Friday morning, we dissected owl pellets. I was amazed by the quality of the students' discussion because I remember when we had read a section on classification in our science book a month ago. They were not as engaged as I desired, yet during this experiment, they were enthusiastic about using the dichotomous keys that had come with their $4.00 kits from Home Science Tools. I had purchased enough kits for partners to work together, and they were truly excited about their discoveries. At the end of the experiment, several students thanked me for incorporating the "gross and disgusting yet fascinating experiment".

Here is the video I made for the experiment- Owl Pellet Video at Teachingvision.org

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This experiment truly brought the concepts they had read in their science books to life! It led to an incredible mini-lesson from Laura Robb's non-fiction strategies toolkit. She included a book about owls for a lesson called "List, Group, Label". The schema my students brought into this lesson was compelling, even after one forty-five minute experiment! They discussed the adaptations of owls, the habitats where their pellets were found, and what could be found in a pellet. They explained how owls being nocturnal helped them to be better hunters. Additionally, they explained how the soft feathers on the owls' wings was an adaptation for hunting. We then read the book, and they were able to add more details to their list before they categorized the lists. During the lesson today, the group I had said that the lesson was "a lot of fun".

... However, owl pellet dissection is not the be-all-and-end-all of science experiments in October (or the rest of the year). The students in my class have a LOT to look forward to, and their schema is going to skyrocket (literally) as they launch rockets in February, construct roller coasters with rubber tubing and marbles in March, and design containers that provide protection for eggs as they fall to the ground from a place several feet in the air. Additionally, we are going to have our class' science fair experiment to work on this coming month, though obviously the details will be top secret until we are judged! (We won second place for all the fourth grade classes in the district last year with our egg drop parachute experiment, and honestly right now I do not know of a better experiment than that one!!)

Back to October, we are going to be transitioning to geology in the next few weeks from our unit about environmental studies. Soon we will be classifying sedimentary rocks and making a model of a landslide to demonstrate erosion. We are also going to use straws with a cup of layered JELLO to take "core samples" of the Earth. Then for Halloween, we have an incredible mini-unit called Spooky Science where the students use some materials from Steve Spangler. One kit I particularly think is awesome is called "Atomic Slime". We also place hex nuts inside of balloons to generate "eerie" sound effects. The day before our huge "Spooky Science" celebration, we complete a lot of math- and science- related activities about pumpkins.

Here are the links to some of the activities and resources I use. Perhaps you'll like them, also-

How can I afford this? I do purchase some of these materials out-of-pocket, and sometimes parents offer to bring in items as well. It is good to plan well in advance so you are not finding yourself scampering around at the last minute (which yes, I have done before, and it's not the smartest thing you can do!!!!!).

How do I find the time for this? Yes, I know state testing in Florida focuses on reading, math and writing for fourth grade students. The FCAT is a high-stakes test that can cause pressure at times on behalf of teachers. Yet setting aside time is worth it because... what if the students had a selection on the FCAT about something they have studied? Think of all the opportunities one experiment creates for lessons and mini-lessons. Their vocabulary expands greatly! They generate all kinds of questions. When they use dichtomous keys, they are learning about text features that enhance their understanding.

Last, I will leave you with some pictures from last year's class at this time of the year-


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I hope this season brings you many scientific explorations, also! Share about your recent/upcoming experiments this week. Do you need any ideas to make a specific topic in science more exciting? I am always willing to help!

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