Building Bridges

My grade 7 students will begin building bridges next week. They will be allowed to use white glue and wooden sticks of their choosing, such as popsicle sticks, toothpicks, and stir sticks. They will model it after a real bridge that exists somewhere in the world, and so a research component will be involved. They will have to meet the following design specifications:

  1. The bridge deck must be able to span a distance of 30cm but may not be longer than 40cm.
  2. The bridge must be able to carry a load of at least 1kg.
  3. The bridge can be no higher than 20cm off the ground.
  4. The travelled portion (width) of your bridge must be at least 3cm wide, capable of transporting a Hotwheel © or Matchbox© car (each car’s dimensions are approximately 30 mm wide x 70 mm long x 25 mm high).

The following websites will help them as they prepare to build their bridges:

Bridge Building page from 42Explore

Physics Balsa Bridge Building Contest – scroll down to the links at bottom

In addition, they can also explore the following bridge building game sites:

Cargo Bridge

Nova Build a Bridge

Have a great week.

Posted by admin in Grade 7 Science, 0 comments

Playing with Mechanical Advantage

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.

Posted by admin in Grade 8 Science, 0 comments

Analyzing Systems

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.

Posted by admin in Grade 8 Science, 0 comments

Systems in Action

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.

Posted by admin in Grade 8 Science, 0 comments

Science Interactives

Interactive sites allow students to practice learned concepts in a fun and engaging way, especially with the increased use of interactive whiteboards and iPads. This week I have chosen to share some of my favourite interactive science websites. If you have a website that I should add to my list, please send it along.

Have a great week.

Phet Interactives

Nova Interactives from PBS

Utah Education Network Interactives

Foss Interactives

Sheppart Software

NASA For Students

Sumanas Inc

Science NetLinks

Jefferson Lab

SEED Laboratory

BBC Bitesize 


WISC Online Learning Objects

Study Jams

Posted by admin in General Science, 0 comments

Go With the Flow

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.

Posted by admin in Grade 8 Science, 0 comments

Let the labs begin….

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 (Update – link no longer active)

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.

Posted by admin in General Science, Grade 7 Science, Grade 8 Science, 0 comments

The NEED Project

I came across this website quite a long time ago, but I still love it. It is the site for the National Energy Education Development Project, or NEED. The project began over 30 years ago in order to enhance energy education in schools in the United States.

Click on the Educators tab and you will find a variety of curriculum guides with lesson plans on energy education, organized by title, subject, or grade level. There are also activity suggestions, games, and more. In the Students tab you will find ‘Infobooks’ with fact sheets on a many topics, organized by curriculum level, as well as ideas for science fair projects. The Multimedia tab has a selection of presentations, complete with colourful images, on different energy sources. The Links tab speaks for itself, providing many alternate websites for exploring energy education.

It is a great resource for energy education, and worth checking out.
Have a great week.

Posted by admin in General Science, Grade 6 Science, 0 comments

Play some games

A while back I came across –  a collection of physics-based games. The downfall? You need to watch a short commercial clip before accessing the game, which may be enough to turn away some people. My favourite on this site is Fantastic Contraption, which I have used in the classroom for a few years, and my students love it.

I have not explored all of the games, but I have played quite a few of them. Given the chance, I could probably play Colour World for a few hours (whether that is good or bad, I am not quite sure….).  I seemed very ineffective as a truck driver transporting animals in Zoo Transport, but I feel that I need to improve, as I have done harm to too many monkeys and turtles in this game.  I also enjoy testing my abilities in the Magic Pen game, and I think I will introduce this one to my students this year. 

If you have some good links for fun games such as these, I would love to hear about them.
Have a great week.

Posted by admin in General Science, Using Tech, 0 comments

Getting warmer….

In my grade 7 science class, we are currently working on a unit on heat. The students have just finished learning about thermal expansion, and tomorrow they will be handing in an assignment that considers the role of thermal expansion with rising sea levels. I look forward to reading about the various efforts that are undertaken to protect coastlines and river edges from the dangers of the rising waters.

This week’s task will be for the students to assess how to make a home or building more energy efficient. They will explore the various ways that homes and other buildings are designed to maintain comfortable temperatures in various weather conditions. They will consider both the materials used for construction, as well as what goes on within the building. They will be encouraged to investigate the advantages and disadvantages of airtight buildings and how green roofs can be used to help with energy efficiency.

The following is the assignment they will be receiving tomorrow, and the links which will help them to begin their research:

Energy Conservation Inc Word Docx

Energy Conservation Inc PDF

Energy Efficient Homes  from Natural Resources Canada – A good resource – this website discusses energy efficiency in all parts of the house.

US Department of Energy – A similar website as the one mentioned above, this time from the US government.

Energy Star – From the US Environmental Protection Agency, the website behind the Energy Star ratings for your home.

Green 3D Home – Look at the resources under “Go Green” and “Your House”.

Green-Energy-Efficient –Homes – Another website that provides ideas for making your home more energy efficient.

Green Building – This website goes through some of the science behind building green homes.

 City of Toronto Green Roofs – Learn about green roofs and how they are being used in the city of Toronto

HGTV Goes Green – Home and Gardens Television tips and tricks for energy efficient and sustainable homes.

Posted by admin in General Science, Grade 7 Science, 0 comments