Students toss coins to determine what traits a set of mouse parents possess, such as fur color, body size, heat tolerance, and running speed. Then they use coin tossing to determine the traits a mouse pup born to these parents possesses. Then they compare these physical features to features that would be most adaptive in several different environmental conditions. Finally, students consider what would happen to the mouse offspring if those environmental conditions were to change: which mice would be most likely to survive and produce the next generation?
Students find the volume and surface area of a rectangular box (e.g., a cereal box), and then figure out how to convert that box into a new, cubical box having the same volume as the original. As they construct the new, cube-shaped box from the original box material, students discover that the cubical box has less surface area than the original, and thus, a cube is a more efficient way to package things. Students then consider why consumer goods generally aren't packaged in cube-shaped boxes, even though they would require less material to produce and ultimately, less waste to discard. To display their findings, each student designs and constructs a mobile that contains a duplicate of his or her original box, the new cube-shaped box of the same volume, the scraps that are left over from the original box, and pertinent calculations of the volumes and surface areas involved. The activities involved provide valuable experience in problem solving with spatial-visual relationships.
To display the results from the previous activity, each student designs and constructs a mobile that contains a duplicate of his or her original box, the new cube-shaped box of the same volume, the scraps that are left over from the original box, and pertinent calculations of the volumes and surface areas involved. They problem solve and apply their understanding of see-saws and lever systems to create balanced mobiles.
Few people are aware of how crucial the sense of smell is to identifying foods, or the adaptive value of being able to identify a food as being familiar and therefore safe to eat. In this lesson and activity, students conduct an experiment to determine whether or not the sense of smell is important to being able to recognize foods by taste. The teacher leads a discussion that allows students to explore why it might be adaptive for humans and other animals to be able to identify nutritious versus noxious foods. This is followed by a demonstration in which a volunteer tastes and identifies a familiar food, and then attempts to taste and identify a different familiar food while holding his or her nose and closing his or her eyes. Then, the class develops a hypothesis and a means to obtain quantitative results for an experiment to determine whether students can identify foods when the sense of smell has been eliminated.
Two lessons and their associated activities explore cellular respiration and population growth in yeasts. Yeast cells are readily obtained and behave predictably, so they are very appropriate to use in middle school classrooms. In the first lesson, students are introduced to yeast respiration through its role in the production of bread and alcoholic beverages. A discussion of the effects of alcohol on the human body is used both as an attention-getting device, and as a means to convey important information at an impressionable age. In the associated activity, students set up a simple way to indirectly observe and quantify the amount of respiration occurring in yeast-molasses cultures. Based on questions that arise from this activity, in the second lesson students work in small groups as they design and execute their own experiments to determine how environmental factors affect yeast population growth.
Students use a small quantity of modeling clay to make boats that float in a tub of water. The object is to build boats that hold as much weight as possible without sinking. In the process of designing and testing their prototype creations, students discover some of the basic principles of boat design, gain first-hand experience with concepts such as buoyancy and density, and experience the steps of the engineering design process.
With the help of simple, teacher-led demonstration activities, students learn the basic concepts of heat transfer by means of conduction, convection, and radiation. Students then apply these concepts as they work in teams to solve two problems. One problem requires that they maintain the warm temperature of one soda can filled with water at approximately body temperature, and the other problem is to cause an identical soda can of warm water to cool as much as possible during the same thirty-minute time interval. Students design their solutions using only common, everyday materials. They record the water temperatures in their two soda cans every five minutes, and prepare line graphs in order to visually compare their results to the temperature of an unaltered control can of water.
Students use two different methods to determine the densities of a variety of materials and objects. The first method involves direct measurement of the volumes of objects that have simple geometric shapes. The second is the water displacement method, used to determine the volumes of irregularly shaped objects. After the densities are determined, students create x-y scatter graphs of mass versus volume, which reveal that objects with densities less than water (floaters) lie above the graph's diagonal (representing the density of water), and those with densities greater than water (sinkers) lie below the diagonal.
Students design and conduct experiments to determine what environmental factors favor decomposition by soil microbes. They use chunks of carrots for the materials to be decomposed, and their experiments are carried out in plastic bags filled with dirt. Every few days students remove the carrots from the dirt and weigh them. Depending on the experimental conditions, after a few weeks most of the carrots will have decomposed completely.
With a simple demonstration activity, students are introduced to the concept of friction as a force that impedes motion when two surfaces are in contact. Then, in the Associated Activity (Sliding and Stuttering), they work in teams to use a spring scale to drag an object such as a ceramic coffee cup along a table top or the floor. The spring scale allows them to measure the frictional force that exists between the moving cup and the surface it slides on. By modifying the bottom surface of the cup, students can find out what kinds of surfaces generate more or less friction. They also discover that both static and kinetic friction are involved when an object initially at rest is caused to slide across a surface.
Through a teacher-led discussion, students realize that the food energy plants obtain comes from sunlight via the plant process of photosynthesis. They learn what photosynthesis is, at an age-appropriate level of detail and vocabulary, and then begin to question how we know that photosynthesis occurs, if we can't see it happening. Elodea is a common water plant that students can use to directly observe evidence of photosynthesis. When Elodea is placed in a glass beaker near a good light source, bubbles of oxygen will be released as products of photosynthesis. By counting the number of bubbles that rise to the surface in a five-minute period, students can compare the photosynthetic activity of Elodea in the presence of high and low light levels.
Using the same method for measuring friction that was used in the previous lesson (Discovering Friction), students design and conduct experiments to determine if the amount of area over which an object contacts a surface it is moving across affects the amount of friction encountered.
Using the same method for measuring friction that was used in the previous lesson (Discovering Friction), students design and conduct an experiment to determine if weight added incrementally to an object affects the amount of friction encountered when it slides across a flat surface. After graphing the data from their experiments, students can calculate the coefficients of friction between the object and the surface it moved upon, for both static and kinetic friction.
In the first part of the activity, each student chews a piece of gum until it loses its sweetness, and then leaves the gum to dry for several days before weighing it to determine the amount of mass lost. This mass corresponds to the amount of sugar in the gum, and can be compared to the amount stated on the package label. In the second part of the activity, students work in groups to design and conduct new experiments based on questions of their own choosing. These questions arise naturally from observations during the first experiment, and from students' own experiences with and knowledge of the many varieties of chewing and bubble gums available.
Based on what they have already learned about friction, students formulate hypotheses concerning the effects of weight and contact area on the amount of friction between two surfaces. In the Associated Activities (Does Weight Matter? and Does Area Matter?), students design and conduct simple experiments to test their hypotheses, using procedures similar to those used in the previous lesson (Discovering Friction). An analysis of their data will reveal the importance of weight to normal friction (the friction that occurs as a result of surface roughness) and the importance of surface area to the friction that occurs between smooth surfaces due to molecular attraction. Based on their data, students will also be able to calculate coefficients of friction for the materials tested, and compare these to published values for various materials.
Students are introduced to the important concept of density with a focus is on the more easily understood densities of solids. Students use different methods to determine the densities of solid objects, including water displacement to determine volumes of irregularly-shaped objects. By comparing densities of various solids to the density of water, and by considering the behavior of different solids when placed in water, students conclude that ordinarily, objects with densities greater than water sink, while those with densities less than water float. Then they explore the principle of buoyancy, and through further experimentation arrive at Archimedes' principle that a floating object displaces a mass of water equal to its own mass. Students may be surprised to discover that a floating object displaces more water than a sinking object of the same volume.
This lesson introduces students to the important concept of density. The focus is on the more easily understood densities of solids, but students can also explore the densities of liquids and gases. Students devise methods to determine the densities of solid objects, including the method of water displacement to determine volumes of irregularly-shaped objects. By comparing densities of various solids to the density of water, and by considering the behavior of different solids when placed in water, students conclude that ordinarily, objects with densities greater than water will sink, while those with densities less than water will float. Density is an important material property for engineers to understand.
In the first of two lessons of this curricular unit, students are introduced to the concept of friction as a force that impedes motion when two surfaces are in contact. Student teams use spring scales to drag objects, such as a ceramic coffee cup, along a table top or the floor, measuring the frictional force that exists between the moving object and the surface it slides on. By modifying the bottom surface of the object, students find out what kinds of surfaces generate more or less friction. They also discover that both static and kinetic friction are involved when an object initially at rest is caused to slide across a surface. In the second lesson of the unit, students design and conduct experiments to determine the effects of weight and surface area on friction. They discover that weight affects normal friction (the friction that results from surface roughness), but for very smooth surfaces, the friction due to molecular attraction is affected by contact area.
Students visit second- and fourth-grade classes to measure the heights of older students using large building blocks as a non-standard unit of measure. They also measure adults in the school community. Results are displayed in age-appropriate bar graphs (paper cut-outs of miniature building blocks glued on paper to form bar graphs) enabling a comparison of the heights of different age groups. The activities that comprise this activity help students develop the concepts and vocabulary to describe, in a non-ambiguous way, how heights change as children age. This introduction to graphing provides an important foundation for creating and interpreting graphs in future years.
Students randomly select jelly beans (or other candy) that represent genes for several human traits such as tongue-rolling ability and eye color. Then, working in pairs (preferably of mixed gender), students randomly choose new pairs of jelly beans from those corresponding to their own genotypes. The new pairs are placed on toothpicks to represent the chromosomes of the couple's offspring. Finally, students compare genotypes and phenotypes of parents and offspring for all the "couples" in the class. In particular, they look to see if there are cases where parents and offspring share the exact same genotype and/or phenotype, and consider how the results would differ if they repeated the simulation using more than four traits.