Summer Science Discussion Starters

Educational Innovations Newsletter - Discussion StartersChoosing a few compelling ice-breakers and discussion starters for the first week of school may not be a priority right now, but it’s never too early to jot down a few good ideas.  We’ve compiled 20 ideas to help you start some lively science conversations next year.

Each of these “raise-your-hand-if…” statements can be expanded or modified, depending upon the grade you teach.  Your goal is to find ways to connect your students’ summer experiences with science topics.

Do you have any excellent discussion starter questions related to summer science?  Share them with us in the comments below!

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What I have discovered – Teaching about Energy

bKen Crawfordy:  Ken Crawford

As I mentioned in my last blog, I had the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of introducing a new teaching tool called the PowerWheel.  As a career social studies teacher and administrator, it has been a great experience to learn about a whole new area of academics…the teaching of energy and everything that goes along with it.

As we started to market the PowerWheel, one of the first things that we did was to bring together a group of teachers that represented all teaching levels…from the elementary to the post-secondary.  Many of these teachers were not science teachers…or had limited science backgrounds.  After giving them the chance to use the PowerWheel, we asked them, “How can we make the PowerWheel the most effective teaching tool it can be?”

PowerWheel pulleys Teaching about energy

Their answers were an eye-opener for us. It came down to variations on a single theme:  Before we can use the PowerWheel effectively, we need to understand energy ourselves…then we can teach our students. It turns out that one of the greatest fears or limitations that some of the teachers had was the lack of their own knowledge.  If given a chance to choose between a social studies lesson and a science lesson…they would choose the former…just because of comfort level.

From that moment on, we knew that we had an additional priority…help teach the teachers, and then effective learning about energy could take place. The PowerWheel is a great tool to help do this…easy to understand, and easy to use.

Here are three thoughts about teaching energy education in your classroom:

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What is a Radiometer?

Tami O'Connorby: Tami O’Connor – Taken From Litetronics

The radiometer is a light bulb-shaped device containing an object that looks like a weather vane (wings arranged in a circle like spokes of a wheel).  Developed to measure the intensity of radiant energy, or heat, the radiometer will:

  1. Help you understand the principles of energy conversion.
  2. Show how heat and mechanical energy are products of energy conversion.

Most of us don’t realize how important energy is in our lives.  In actuality, every facet of our life involves energy.  One of the reasons we tend to take energy for granted is that it is constantly changing from one form to another.  We call this change conversion.

During this conversion, energy is changing from one form to another.  In all energy conversions, the useful energy output is less than the energy input.  This is because some energy is used to do work, and some energy is converted to heat.Radiometer

Sir William Crookes invented the original radiometer in the mid-nineteenth century.  The device was developed to measure the intensity of radiant energy, or heat.

What causes the vanes of the radiometer to spin?

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Great Balls and Fire! Smashing Steel Spheres with Video

Tami O'Connorby:  Tami O’Connor

When two 1-pound, 2-inch diameter, chrome steel spheres are smashed together, enough heat is generated at the point of contact to burn a hole in ordinary paper!  This dramatic demonstration has been a favorite of students in every grade for as long as I have been teaching!

Smashing Steel Sphere Demo KitThere are a few considerations when allowing students (especially younger ones) to conduct this activity on their own…  First, the spheres are pretty heavy, so if they were either dropped on a foot or onto a nice tile floor, the result would not be good.  Also, be sure that the only thing between the spheres is paper or aluminum foil.  Fingers caught between the colliding spheres would not  be happy.  Finally, all participants should wear safety glasses, as it is not unusual for a small piece of paper to fly off after the spheres collide.

The Procedure for Smashing Steel Spheres:

Smashing Steel Sphere Demo KitHave an assistant hold the top edge of a piece of regular white paper vertically.  Hold one sphere in each hand on either side of the paper.  Quickly move the spheres together until they collide against the paper.  If they do not burn a hole in the paper the first time, try again and move the spheres together more quickly.  Examine the hole in the paper.  You will see that the areas around the edges of the hole are actually singed, and you will smell the burning paper! Read the rest of this entry »

Teaching Energy Using Dropper Poppers

Tami O'Connorby: Tami O’Connor

One of the units I enjoyed most as a middle school teacher was the section on energy.  The many awesome hands-on experiments generated such a series of oohs and aahs that it made my already-enjoyable days even more enjoyable!  One of my favorites was a lesson that dealt with the Law of Conservation of Energy.  A consequence of this law is that energy cannot be created, nor can it be destroyed.  (The students would have already explored potential and kinetic energy before the following activity.)

I initiated this lesson reviewing what happens with energy in a closed system.  The students clearly remembered comparing the amount of potential energy to kinetic energy using the example that the height of a roller coaster’s first hill is always greater than the height of any of the remaining hills.  It is, of course, possible to have a little hill followed by a higher hill as long as the roller coaster is going faster at the top of the little hill than the next higher one.  The students were generally able to explain the transfer of energy including heat energy and sound energy in the overall system.

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