Playing with Mechanical Advantage

Grade 8 Science No Comments »

I have finished discussing the basics of simple machines with my grade 8 classes. We have looked at the formula for work, and their weekend homework task was to play on and explore the following websites:

Edheads (update – this game is no longer free, it now requires membership)
Museum of Science and Industry

This week we begin mechanical advantage.  We will start by playing with levers (materials: prisms for fulcrums, metre sticks, spring scales, and various masses). The students will investigate what happens to mechanical advantage as we change between first, second and third class levers, exploring with various lengths of effort and load arms. We will then move on to pulleys, and the students will build various systems with fixed and movable pulleys (materials: pulleys, string, spring scales, various masses, and retort stands with ring clamps). They will explore different lengths of rope and how mechanical advantage changes depending on how the load is supported.

Here are some links that I will use along the way to supplement their learning:

Wisc Online – I will have to tread carefully with this one, as the units are not metric.

Pulley Basics (from an unexpected source: Summerlift Products)

Mechanical Advantage (from Hila Road Outdoor Centre & Educational Resources)
Eureka Video Series (1980’s cartoon series from TV Ontario) – This is the first video in the work and mechanical advantage series, which include episodes 8 through 15. For more information on Eureka, see the Wikipedia Page.
Mechanical Advantage (from Khan Academy)

If you have any other good resources, I would love to see them.
Have a great week.

Analyzing Systems

Grade 8 Science No Comments »

In my grade 8 science classes we have been learning about systems. The Ontario curriculum unit, Systems in Action, has the students go beyond learning about physical systems and has them explore social systems and the evolution of systems.

I began this unit by having my students analyze a social system which included identifying subsystems, inputs, outputs and side effects. Each student chose a different industry and analyzed the various parts of that industry and their effect on society, economics, and the environment.

The students are currently finishing presentations for their second assignment, the evolution of technological systems and their impact on society. Together we brainstormed a list of ideas to research, and then students wrote their top five choices. They were then assigned to groups based on their topic preferences. Amongst the favourite topics, students chose to research the evolution of the telephone, the computer, the camera, and mp3 players. Each student group had to create a visual timeline of their chosen system using digital or non-digital tools. As they presented the timeline, they had to explain the reasoning for each technological change and how the evolution of the system has impacted society.

Below is a copy of my assignment sheet. As my school is an IB World School, the rubrics are IB MYP style.

Systems Evolution

Once presentations are complete, the students will move on to the second phase of this assignment. They will consider the various presentations and determine which technological system they believe to have made the biggest impact on society. To do this, we will have discussions to determine which criteria would be used to make this type of judgment. Based on the criteria that we determine, the students will compose their thoughts.

After analyzing the evolution of systems, we move on to experimentation with work and mechanical advantage.
Have a great week.

Systems in Action

Grade 8 Science No Comments »

I have accepted the fact that I am not superhuman, and so I cannot always accomplish everything that I want. There was a time where I would feel guilty for not writing for the past month or so, but I have become wiser and now understand that I must retain my sanity. Report cards and another school project (Climate Spark) have kept me on hiatus, but I am back…

We have begun our Systems unit in grade 8 science. I introduced the unit by having my students play Fantastic Contraption, one of my favourite online physics games. The site has been a little finicky lately, but my students still had a lot of fun with it. After they had a chance to play for a while, they shared some of their favourite designs with their classmates. I then showed some videos of neat inventions that work as systems. First, we watched a few videos that highlight the innovations of Theo Jansen, creator of PVC sculptures in the Netherlands (see the BBC news video and the Ted Talk). Next I showed them some of the machines designed by Rowland Emett, which were used by the character Caractacus Potts in the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. This week I will also show them some examples of Rube Goldberg machines, videos of which can be found on my July 3 post. When we are a little further in the unit I will share some websites for work and mechanical advantage.

Until then, have a great week.

Go With the Flow

Grade 8 Science No Comments »

My grade 8 students are currently learning about the properties of fluids. They already conducted labs on density and viscosity, and are now adding buoyancy into the mix. This will be followed with discussions of hydraulics and pneumatics. In order for them to explore how all of these properties work together, these are the activities I have planned for the next few weeks:

Build a tin foil boat that can hold as many pennies as possible:

My students have already completed this. I modified the activity that was presented in our Nelson Science and Technology resource, but a similar activity can be found here.

Float My Boat

The students were not only challenged to find a way to build a boat that held as many pennies as possible, but they also wanted to “outdo” their peers by having their boat hold more pennies. It was a fun day filled with learning and friendly competition. As a follow up, students were asked to explain how the tin foil boat design was modified as they carried out the activity and identify which design worked best, and why.


Explorations with diving balls, Cartesian divers, and density kits:

Cartesian Diver Activities from the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Resources from The Marine Institute

Density Block Activity from Arbor Scientific


Investigation of Ballast Water:

Students will research the problems associated with using ballast tanks and some of the solutions currently in use. They will present their findings through the viewpoint of those affected, and they will be required to consider their audience. This is an IB task, and the rubrics follow the IB standards.

Ballast Water Management


Investigation of Hydraulics and Pneumatics:

After conceptual discussions, the students will have time to explore hydraulics and pneumatics while using syringes and tubing. They will then design a hydraulic or pneumatic system that will move an object a certain distance.

Make it Move


As students explore, the following interactive sites and videos will be available for them:

Balloons and Buoyancy Interactive Simulation – from PhET lab, explore by filling the balloons with different gases

Buoyancy Explorer Interactive Activity – from SEED, drop blocks into different liquids to see what will happen

Eureka Video on Buoyancy

Brainpop Science Buoyancy Site

How Stuff Works – Submarines

If you have any other great resources that I can incorporate, I would love to hear about them.
Have a great week.

Let the labs begin….

General Science, Grade 7 Science, Grade 8 Science 1 Comment »

After completing my first lab with my grade 7 and 8 classes, the following thoughts have filled my mind:

It is hard for students to have a triple beam balances in front of them, and not play with them. After the labs this week, we went from having 7 working triple beam balances to four. I am not quite sure what happened, and it is quite possible that they were on the brink of doom before the labs, but still…

To help students learn proper use, I will be posting the following websites on my school science page:
(This will, of course, be followed with more in-class practise. In my class, the more hands-on activities, the better. )

WISC Online – Reading a Triple Beam Balance

Triple Beam Balance use and tutorials from OHAUS

But there is also the thought that using triple beam balances may not be the only way to go. We have now begun to consider the use of digital scales. I was on a tour of the science labs at another IB school in Toronto, as we are looking at design considerations for a new science lab. The school that I visited had a slew of digital scales out on the counter. The cost is greater, and so we must consider whether or not cheaper digital scales will be as effective. But they have to be more effective than non-functional triple beam balances, don’t they? There is also the skill factor. Students should be learning to use various lab tools. I don’t think that we should abandon the balances, but perhaps find a way to incorporate both.

Then we come to graduated cylinders. With my grade 7 class, it came to the point where I was doing the measuring for them. Not the way I would normally go, but there were other considerations that were more important at the time. Over the next few weeks I need to make sure that I properly teach students how to read a graduated cylinder. I will be posting these sites to help them review the process, and then will follow up with an in-class activity:

WISC Online – Measuring Volume using a Graduated Cylinder

ChemPages Laboratory Resources – Reading the Volume from a Graduated Cylinder

This week my grade 7 and 8 classes will be handing in their first lab reports as a follow up to the in-class labs. In past years, the marking of lab reports has been all-consuming. I welcome any strategies that you can share so that I do not have to enter hibernation as I mark.

Have a great week.

Rich Performance Tasks

General Education, General Science, Grade 6 Science, Grade 8 Science No Comments »

The London (that’s London, Ontario folks) District Catholic School Board has a website called Rich Performance Tasks, or RPT’s for short. The website is no longer updated, but the tasks are still there for others to access. They are real-life tasks that bridge different subjects.  There are tasks for all grade levels and most subject areas within the Ontario curriculum. Each task has both a student and a teacher page. If you click on the teacher page, then you have access to pre-task activities, exemplars, and curriculum tie-ins.

If you click on the science tasks link, then you are brought to divisional science projects. There are tasks designed for primary, junior, and intermediate grades, and it appears that the goal was for students to work together across grade levels.

If you are only looking for science-based tasks, then I have some of my projects posted for all to use.  Enjoy.

Note – This website is no longer accessible to the public…..sigh…..

Cells Galore

General Science, Grade 8 Science No Comments »

I am just beginning my cells unit with my grade 8 students. This year, I want to cover a little of the basics, but then I want to dive into the hearty issues that will require my students to really think and to make judgments about where they stand on some controversial issues.

As my school is an IB world school, we will be exploring this unit with the following question in mind: How do we use biotechnology to meet our needs?

We well begin by covering some of the basics, such as:

  • Cell Theory
  • Plant and Animal Cells (for this I am planning on having the students do an analogy assignment where they compare the parts of the cell to parts of cities, factories, houses, schools, airports…you get the idea)
  • Use and Care of the Microscope
  • Osmosis and Diffusion

The following sites support learning in the topics listed above:

Camilla Senior Cells Page

Science Spot Microscope Links

Teachnology Cells Page

Intel Cell-to-Cell Page

CREATE for Mississippi Microscopes and Cells

Internet4Classrooms Cell Structure and Function

Lesson Corner’s Diffusion Page

Lesson Corner’s Osmosis Page

Lesson Corner’s Cell Biology Page

The following are some assignments that I have used in my unit which support the topics above:

Use and Care of the Microscope

Cells Lab

Plant and Animal Cell Scavenger Hunt

Cell Superheroes Assignment

Modelling and Observing Diffusion

Modelling and Observing Osmosis

And then we will move into an exploration of critical thinking issues, such as:

  • Cloning

Learn.Genetics Cloning Page

International Debate Education Association

How Stuff Works:  Cloning

  • Genetically Modified Food

Health Canada

Center for Food Safety

International Debate Education Association

CBC Digital Archives

World Health Organization

  • Stem Cells

Learn.Genetics Stem Cells Page

National Institutes of Health

Science Daily

How Stuff Works

  • The Donation, Selling and Harvesting of Human Organs

International Debate Education Association Page 1

International Debate Education Association Page 2

Santa Clara University:  Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

  • Prenatal Selection of Gender and Genetic Traits

Washington Post

New York Times

Legal Affairs

International Debate Education Association

I have developed a Cell Debate which incorporates the above critical thinking topics.

And finally, for some additional websites to support the study of cells, please check out my cells page.

I am always looking for new ideas to incorporate into my cells unit….would love to hear from you.

World Health Day 2011

General Science, Grade 6 Science, Grade 7 Science, Grade 8 Science No Comments »

April 7th is World Health Day. Every year the World Health Organization creates a World Health Day with a different theme. This year’s theme is “antimicrobial resistance and its global spread”.  What does this mean, exactly? It refers to a resistance to the various antibiotics medications that we use to fight infectious illnesses and diseases. At some point they become ineffective in our bodies, thus no longer achieving the goal for which they were created. This problem is becoming more widespread. The World Health Organization is using World Health Day 2011 to bring this issue to the forefront in the eyes of governments and stakeholders so that they can begin to combat this problem.

Who are the stakeholders? The people within the World Health Organization might have their own opinions, but I think that the stakeholders would be every living person in this world. The entire human population stands to gain, or lose, from the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of the various medications that we use to fight infection and disease.

It may be too late to plan a whole unit around this topic in time for World Health Day this year, but you can certainly begin the conversation by introducing some thought provoking activities. Here are some links to get you started in your planning:

World Health Organization – This is a direct link to the World Health Day page on their website. Go here for information about World Health Day for this year, and for past years. Here is their document which provides information about antimicrobial resistance:  World Health Day 2011

Antimicrobial Resistance from Public Health Agency of Canada

Antibiotic Awareness

Evolution and Antibiotic Resistance from PBS

Similarities Between Spread of an Infectious Disease and Population Growth

Unit Plan on the Evolution of Antibiotic Resistance

Plant a SEED, watch it grow.

General Science, Grade 8 Science, Using Tech No Comments »

Have you heard about SEED?

SEED stands for ‘Schlumberger Excellence in Educational Development’. It is a “non-profit education program that focuses on underserved communities”, in its own words.  The overall goal is to enable educators in all parts of the world to ignite a passion in students for the learning of science. It encourages an understanding of various global issues, and it strives to have students make these issues a focus in their lives.

The online Laboratory is what I like to explore, and more importantly, what I like my students to explore.  Some of the labs are activities for you to carry out with your own students, while others are online explorations that are perfect for at home trials or presentation on an interactive whiteboard.

I have used the Buoyancy Explorer with my students. This online exploration allows the user to test various solids to see how they will float in various fluids. On the same page there are links to Archimedes principle and other teaching facts related to buoyancy. The students have also enjoyed using the Viscosity Explorer. Again, many links are provided for other activities and labs that are related to the topic.

There are many teaching ideas and lessons, with the topic labels being air and space, earth science, electricity and magnetism, properties of liquids, and energy. There are many worthwhile activities to explore in each of these areas.

But don’t stop there. Below the Laboratory links are a series of Math links as well. Click on Math and it opens into the various curriculum strands, each highlighting a series of activities and puzzles to support learning in that area.

And yet one more area in the Science section of the SEED website is the Articles section. These appear to be small fact based articles in various areas of the science curriculum.

These are but a few sections of the SEED website. I was content to stop there, but you may want to explore more.

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