Forest Fun

Standard Met: NGSS 4-LS1: From ­Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes

What You Need: Tree-identification handout or online guide, leaf and bark samples, notebooks

What to Do: Amanda Green, who teaches math and science at École Coloniale Estates School in Beaumont, Alberta, introduces her students to the field of forestry with a hands-on lesson. First, she discusses the ecology, land use, and products of forests. (Try for videos that explore forests in your region.) She teaches students how to use a dichotomous key, a chart listing a series of characteristic features that students employ to identify tree types. Then, using samples of leaves and bark that Green has collected, students work in small groups and use their keys to identify each tree sample, much like what real forestry workers might do.

Next, Green takes the students outside to put their new skills to work. They explore the trees around the school, selecting a single tree and recording observations about how it looks and feels. They ask questions like What kind of bark does this tree have? Why are some leaves waxy? Why do some trees have needles instead of leaves? Their observations provide the information they need to identify the trees.

Micro Science

Standard Met: CCSS.Math.Content.4OA.C.5

What You Need: Popcorn kernels, small cups, paper, pencils

What to Do: There are many different types of bacteria, including some that improve our health by aiding our digestion and others that make us sick. Since bacteria are everywhere, studying them helps us learn more about the world. Karen Hickland, a science education consultant from Salem, New York, uses a simple yet powerful lesson to introduce students to the job of the bacteriologist and to demonstrate how quickly bacteria multiply.

Begin by asking students if this has ever happened to them: You wake up and head to school feeling fine. By lunch, you’re starting to feel icky, and by the end of school, you’re sick. How can bacteria make us sick so quickly? Tell students that scientists estimate we begin to feel sick when about 2,000 bacteria are present in our bodies; under the right conditions, bacteria can double every 20 minutes. Starting with just one bacterium, how many hours would it take to reach the 2,000-bacteria mark?

To find out, have students pair up and start counting. Starting with one popcorn kernel, tell them to double the number of kernels every minute or so, recording their data on a piece of paper. (Have them group by tens once they get into bigger numbers to make it go faster.) How many “rounds” does it take to reach the 2,000-bacteria mark? (About 11.) How many hours would this be in real time? (About three and a half.) As an extension, have students calculate how many bacteria would exist after eight hours.

News Flash

Standard Met: CCSS.Math.Content.3.MD.B.3

What You Need: Paper, pencils, graph paper, markers, video camera

What to Do: When we think of skills that matter for being a journalist, we usually think of writing or communication. But math can be just as important! Journalists often report on stories that involve numbers and data—from business trends to political polls. In this lesson, students will design a survey, gather data, and present their findings in the form of a news video.

Begin by telling students that you know the class’s favorite playground sport (e.g., kickball). Ask them to challenge you on this claim: What evidence do you have to back this up? (Your evidence could range from the number of kids you’ve observed playing it to the conversations you’ve overheard.) Tell students that journalists must always have evidence to back up their claims. Next, have students work in groups of three or four to create a video of a news story that contains data; allow them to choose their own question to investigate and graph the results. Topics may vary from the class’s favorite TV program to their least favorite household task; they might even decide to compare one grade or class with another. They will then write a short script of their news story and record it, being sure to show the bar graph on camera and discuss the data that backs up their claim.

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