Content of Elementary Science: Topic #8

Topic #8: Solar System

Activity #1: Phases of the Moon (November 8, 2017)

The purpose of this activity was to exhibit the phases of the moon as they appear from Earth. In this activity, we used a styrofoam ball and a flashlight to model the rotation of the moon around the Earth and how the sun’s light affects the appearance of the moon. We observed four moon phases (new moon, first quarter moon, full moon, and third quarter moon) in terms of their appearance, time of day for rising, time of day it is overhead, time of day for setting, and time of day it is hidden.

Four positions (New Moon, First Quarter Moon, Full Moon, and Third Quarter Moon) with their respective Appearance, Rising Time, Overhead Time, Setting Time, and Hidden Time

I would introduce this activity to my students by explaining why the phases of the moon occur—the rotation of the moon around the Earth. It would also be beneficial to explain the difference between waxing, which is when the the moon is increasing in brightness and moving towards a full moon, and waning, which is when the moon is decreasing in brightness and moving towards a new moon. In order to provide a visual representation of the moon phases, the students could then get into small groups and model how the moon appears as the sun’s light travels to the moon and then to a person’s eyes by using the styrofoam ball and flashlight. Observing the appearance of the moon at different times of the day during this activity can help student’s better understand how the phases of the moon occur.

Students may have difficulty with this activity in terms of understanding the difference between waxing and waning and how the phases of the moon differ in appearance. It may also be difficult for students to understand the moon’s position in the sky during certain times of day. This could be made easier for students by having them make their own diagram of the phases of the moon so that they can more easily observe the order and the times for the rising and setting of the moon for different positions.

Activity #2: Earth’s Seasons (November 13, 2017)

During this activity, we observed the seasons the Earth experiences due to the tilt of the rotational axis of the Earth with respect to its orbit around the sun. Using a styrofoam ball to represent Earth (with a line of tape to represent the equator) and a flashlight to represent the sun, we observed the amount and intensity of sunlight as we rotated the Earth around the sun at a tilted angle in order to determine the season. We demonstrated four positions to correlate with the four seasons in the northern hemisphere: Summer Solstice in June, Fall Equinox in September, Winter Solstice in December, and Spring Equinox in March. The purpose of this activity was to model the relationship between the Earth and the sun in regards to Earth’s seasonal changes.

Four seasons (Summer Solstice, Fall Equinox, Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox) in the northern hemisphere with their respective sun exposures and months
Using the flashlight as the sun and the styrofoam ball as the Earth to model Earth’s seasons

In order to introduce the concept of seasons to my students, I would have them perform a similar activity in small groups. Being able to have a visual representation of how the seasons change, as well as being able to complete a hands-on activity would be beneficial for students’ understanding of the four seasons. However, students may have difficulty understanding how the angle of the Earth’s tilt affects the seasons that Earth experiences as it rotates around the sun. Furthermore, students may struggle with the seasonal differences between the northern and southern hemispheres—for them, it wouldn’t make sense that the Summer Solstice occurs in December, for example. In order to extend this activity, the students could observe the seasons of both the northern and southern hemispheres to better understand the differences.

Content of Elementary Science: Topic #6

Topic #6: Energy, Motion, and Forces

Activity #1: Hot Wheels (October 25, 2017)

The purpose of this activity was to examine the difference between kinetic and potential energy by observing the motion of a Hot Wheels car on its track. We observed the car’s motion by releasing the car at four different beginning heights (20 cm, 25 cm, 30 cm, and 35 cm) and observing the ending heights (in centimeters) for each. The ending heights were 13 cm, 16 cm, 22.5 cm, and 26 cm for each of the beginning heights, respectively. Our results indicated that the car was moving faster at the bottom of the track and therefore, had more kinetic energy, or energy in motion. On the other hand, the car had more potential energy, or stored energy, at the top of the track. We observed that the ending height of the car was smaller than the beginning height, which indicated that energy was lost due to friction of the wheels on the track.

IMG_4761 (Video of car being released from 20 cm)

I would introduce the concepts of kinetic and potential energy to my students by having them perform a similar activity, in which they are able to observe the relationship between energy and motion through kinesthetic learning. Students would be asked to release the car at different heights on the track and observe their ending heights in order to understand how kinetic and potential energy relate to the car’s motion on the track.

With this activity being hands-on, students may have difficulty staying on task in terms of completing the activity as stated, meaning that they could possibly start goofing off or throwing the cars around, depending on the age group. Another difficulty with this activity may be accurately measuring the beginning and ending heights, as some students may have trouble properly using a ruler.

A change to this activity could be using different objects—for example, smaller balls with different masses, such as marbles, ping pong balls, or rubber bouncy balls. Students could also make changes to the track in order to observe how different pathways for the car could change the relationship between kinetic and potential energy.

Activity #2: Simple Machines (November 1, 2017)

This activity served as an introduction to the six different types of simple machines: lever, pulley, wedge, inclined plane, wheel and axle, and screw. We began the activity by listing the six simple machines and brainstorming our own examples for each. Then, we looked in our toolbox and found five tools with which we were most familiar: claw hammer, screwdriver, pliers, pincers, and wrench. Of these five tools, we observed that the pliers, pincers, and claw hammer used a lever, while the screwdriver and wrench used a wheel and axle. After looking through the toolbox for different types of simple machines, we built a Lego version of a lever in order to observe the parts of the lever, including the load and the pivot, or fulcrum.

Toolbox (including claw hammer, pliers, and pincers)
Lego lever (with load and pivot/fulcrum)

I would introduce this activity to my students by explaining each of the six simple machines and as a class, creating a list of common, everyday examples of each. The students would then be given a toolbox with different tools and asked to separate them into groups based on which simple machines they use.

Difficulties with this activity may include being unable to properly identify a tool and its simple machine, as well as confusing the differences between simple machines. This could be made easier by providing students with examples of simple machines that they encounter daily, such as window shades (pulley) and ramps (inclined plane). A change to this activity could be having students do a scavenger hunt (if possible) for simple machines, either in the classroom, around the school, or on the playground.