12 Cups: Thermal Energy

December 10, 2013

Students study the twelve different containers, using reason to deduce their thermal properties.

Students study the twelve different containers, using reason to deduce their thermal properties.

I gave the middle-schoolers twelve containers — cups, bottles, mugs, etc. — that I found around the classroom and asked them to figure out which one would keep in heat the best. In fact, I actually asked them to rank the containers because we’d just talked and read about thermal energy. This project is intended to have them learn about thermal energy and heat transfer, while discovering the advantages of the scientific method through practice.

Day 1: Observation and Deduction: When I asked them to rank that containers based on what they knew, I’d hoped that they’d discuss the thermal properties of the cups and bottles. And they did this to a certain degree, however, part of their reasoning for the numbers one and two containers, were that these were the ones I used. Indeed, since I use the double walled glass mug with the lid (container number 7) almost every day, while I only use the steel thermos-mug (container number 6) on field trips (see here for example), they reasoned that the glass mug must have better thermal properties.

The twelve containers are labeled with sticky notes, while students' initial assessment of  thermal ranking is written on the paper pieces in front of the containers.

The twelve containers are labeled with sticky notes, while students’ initial assessment of thermal ranking is written on the paper pieces in front of the containers.

Day 2: Exploratory Science and Project Organization: On day 2, I asked the class to see how good their ranking of the containers was by actually testing them. Ever since the complex machines project where they had to choose their own objective, they’ve been wanting more independence, so I told them to pretend I was not in the room. I was not going to say or do anything to help, except provide them with a hot plate and a boiling kettle, and keep an eye out for safety.

They got to work quickly. Or at least some of them did while the other half of the class wondered around the room having their own, no-doubt important, conversations. I pulled them all back in after about half and hour to talk about what had happened. But before we discussed anything, I had them write down — pop quiz style — what their procedure was and how it could be improved. The vagueness of some of the answers made it obvious to both to me and the ones who had not been paying attention who’d actually been working on the project.

Experiments in progress.

Experiments in progress.

Of the ones who’d been working in the project, I brought to their attention that they’d not really spent any time planning and trying out a procedure, but they’d just jumped right in, with everyone following the instructions of the one student who they usually look to for leadership. Their procedure, while sound in theory would have benefited from a few small changes — which they did recognize themselves — and the involvement of more of the class. In particular, they were trying to check the temperature of the water every 10 seconds, but it would take a few seconds to unscrew lids, and about 5 additional seconds for the thermometer to equilibrate. They also were restricted because they were all sharing one stopwatch while trying to use multiple thermometers.

Day 3: First Iteration: Now that they’ve had a bit of trial by fire, tomorrow they’ll try their testing again. I’m optimistic that they’ve learned a lot from the second day’s experience, but we’ll see how it turns out.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. 12 Cups: Thermal Energy, Retrieved September 21st, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Science Starts with Careful Observation

October 13, 2011

Page 1 of my notes: Diagram of our mysterious mixture.

Sealed jar with a number of unknown substances.

The middle school started science this week with a mysterious jar of unknown substances: a couple immiscible liquids; some plastics and metals of different densities.

As they try to separate and identify the mixture they’ll be learning about handling potentially hazardous materials, material physical and chemical properties (like density and pH), and a little chemistry.

But the first thing they need to learn is how to take notes. Science starts (and ends) with observation. Careful observation. And most middle schoolers need mentoring to make sure their notes are rigorous.

To this end, after they wrote up their observations of what was in the jar, I put together my own notes as a general reference. This is not the only way to take notes, but I’m going to have them amend their own notes to make sure they’re neater and have as much detail as possible.

Page 2 of notes on the mysterious jar.

Page 3 of notes on the mysterious jar.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Science Starts with Careful Observation, Retrieved September 21st, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Build Your Own Solar System: An Interactive Model

August 6, 2011

National Geographic has a cute little game that lets you create a two-dimensional solar system, with a sun and some planets, and then simulates the gravitational forces that make them orbit and collide with each other. The pictures are pretty, but I prefer the VPython model of the solar system forming from the nebula.

The models starts off with a cloud of interstellar bodies which are drawn together by gravitational attraction. Every time they collide they merge creating bigger and bigger bodies: the largest of which becomes the sun near the center of the simulation, while the smaller bodies orbit like the planets.

This model also comes out of Sherwood and Chabay’s Physics text, but I’ve adapted it to make it a little more interactives. You can tag along for a ride with one of the orbiting planets, which, since this is 3d, makes for an excellent perspective (see the video). You can also switch the trails on and off so you can see the paths of the planetary bodies, note their orbits and see the deviations from their ideal ellipses that result from the gravitational pull of the other planets.

I’ve found this model to be a great way to introduce topics like the formation of the solar system, gravity, and even climate history (the ice ages over the last 2 million years were largely impelled by changes in the ellipticity of the Earth’s orbit).

National Geographic’s Solar System Builder is here.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Build Your Own Solar System: An Interactive Model, Retrieved September 21st, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Creative Commons License
Montessori Muddle by Montessori Muddle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.