87th AMS Annual Meeting

Sunday, 14 January 2007
The sea & sky connection in a high school physical science class
Exhibit Hall C (Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center)
Ann Kelly, AMS/AERA, St. Louis, MO
You might think that just because you're teaching physical science to ninth graders, there's no place to incorporate anything about the topics of meteorology and oceanography. As I learned after twenty-eight years in elementary education, and in my first time teaching high school, this couldn't be further from the truth. The natural world of water has a perfect fit in the curriculum of a high school physical science class.

During our work with the states of matter we used water many times because of its ability to exist in all three forms: liquid, solid, and gas/vapor. Many of my students had never really done any kind of labwork in elementary school with water, so I had the perfect opportunity to let them explore this marvelous treasure. One of the labs I designed for them was called "When is a drop not a drop? When it turns into a puddle!" We used waxed paper for our work surface, then using an eye dropper each student placed one drop of water onto the waxed paper. Everyone then recorded in their data table a drawing and description to go along with what they observed. The lab continued with data for 5, 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50 drops. Even then they weren't finished because they had to keep counting and making observations until it puddled/flattened out. They kept checking the sideways view of their blobs of water and noticing that it still had that roundness to the edge. Eventually after about twenty minutes of adding drops and playing with the water blob(lifting one edge and carefully rolling the water around the wax paper, blowing on the water's surface to separate the blob, or then blowing against one blob until it rejoined with another), I let them stop, and we talked about their observations. Then we did the experiment again, but with skim milk. My students were quite surprised that it didn't act the way the water had. In fact, one of them even asked, "I wonder if it would be different if we used whole milk?" This activity became our introduction into the vocabulary terms of surface tension and cohesion.

The information about water is limited in the textbooks that we use for homework reading assignments, so I went searching on the net to find sources that I could use in class to help my students learn more about water. With the help of a website called TrackStar, I was able to put the sources I had found on the net into one place that my students could explore on the computers in class, as well as at home, and discover the information about water that wasn't in the books. I named the lesson "Water in the World around Us." The lesson can be found at track number 275485 at the website address of http://trackstar.4teachers.org/. It included fifteen sites that my students could browse through and play with to learn more about water. And that was exactly what they did. They spent three class periods working diligently to get through the sites. They loved playing on the interactive sites and discovering things for themselves. They even created "The Water Game" from information learned in some of the tracks.

As we studied the properties and characteristics of matter, we were introduced to terms like density and buoyancy. To help my students understand the terms better, we again found ourselves in the lab floating fruit and soda cans. Each time before the item was placed in the tank of water, the students had to predict what they thought was going to happen. I'd poll the class for how many thought it would sink or float. Then I dropped the item into the tank. They would also record the results of what actually happened. After all five soda cans had been tested, I asked them to write down what ingredient/thing they thought had made the difference in how the can reacted when I dropped it in the tank. Again I polled the class to find out what they thought. Their answers included fat, sodium, carbonation, caffeine, citric acid, calories, dyes, and sugar. I read through the nutrition facts and ingredients label on each can, so that they could record the results in their data table and compare them to determine if what they thought made the difference really did. They could tell me what didn't make the difference right away. Shortly after that, they were able to determine that sugar had made the difference, and how it contributed to the calories. The fruits used were apples, oranges, lemons, grapes, kiwi, and bananas. We used both unpeeled and peeled. Before testing each fruit, a prediction was recorded. Unpeeled fruit was placed in the tank first. After recording the result and making the next prediction, the peeled fruit was added to the tank. As an extension to the lab, I had my students list other foods they would like to test if we were to do it again. Many of them went home and floated foods that we hadn't tried in class for extra credit.

Designing sailboats was a favorite project for everyone. Using wood, styrofoam blocks, milk cartons, or plastic bottles for the hulls of the boats, they drilled, sawwed, and sanded to achieve the looks they wanted. Once they were satisfied with the hull, they added the mast, boom, and sail. The boats had to be completely built and weighed before they could even touch water. Once they were placed in water, the students had the challenge of getting their boats to balance. After getting them balanced and reweighed, their next feat was to sail them successfully in an underbed storage container or a five foot piece of guttering.

These are just some of the activities used in my high school physical science class to incorporate meteorology and oceanography. Photos and work samples of these activities and more are on my poster display. Contact me during the conference at the poster sessions, or afterwards at akelly@bishopdubourg.org.

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