Play with a purpose – oobleck

I like to do a pretty light hands-on activity for the first day of school.  Many of you are probably familiar with oobleck (cornstarch and water).  This is a very fun and safe system for students to play with.

This is how I do it:

The hook

Show this video and ask students to think of questions that come to mind:

Freeze the video at the appropriate point to generate discussion (I like to do this before the guy in the lab coat lets himself sink into the oobleck pool).  Ask students to write down as many questions as they can in 2 minutes and tell them not to share their questions with each other yet.  After the 2 minutesis up, give them another 2 minutes to share with a neighbor.

Now, you need to call on a few students to gather a list of questions.  Do not evaluate the questions (I always get quite a few about the program being in Spanish, or things like “why are we watching this”).  Once you have a decent list (say, 5-10), ask the students which one they want to answer.  I usually try to make sure that “is is real?” is somewhere on the list and that we are trying to answer that question (maybe along with one of their choice).  This is a good point to talk about skepticism.

Play with a purpose

Next, tell the students to grab a cup, a popsicle stick and some cornstarch.  Ask them to play with it by adding water and trying to find an interesting consistency.  Tell them to be observant and to get their hands dirty.  It’s time to “play with a purpose.”  Remind them that their purpose is to use their observations to decide if the video is real or not!

Once most of the students have a good mixture, I like to take them outside and let them really play with it.  I tell them to pour it, try to form it into a ball, throw it on the ground and see what happens, etc.

Argument based on evidence

Back inside the classroom now, I ask what the answers to our questions were.  I ask, “was the video real?” and get a resounding “YES!”  I ask the students how they know and they tell me that they just DID it – and some of them will describe how the oobleck behaved.

Now I tell the students that they just did science.  They played with materials but did so with a purpose – to answer a question with evidence.

Then we watch the rest of the video and enjoy the goofiness of it togther.  Invariably some kid asks, “can we do that?”

I wish kid, I wish…


Chemistry Water Quality Field Work

Water testing on Toppenish Creek

On 11/2/09, Chemistry spent the day traveling to 5 different stream sites to test the quality of the water.  We hit 2 spots along Toppenish Creek (Signal Peak Rd. & Harrah Rd.) and 3 spots along the Yakima River (Indian Church Rd., Granger Pond, & Zillah boat launch).

Testing water on the Yakima River

At each site, we tested the water for the following:

  • Flow rate
  • Turbidity
  • pH
  • Temperature
  • Conductivity
  • Dissolved oxygen

We also brought back water samples to test for:

  • Nitrates
  • Ammonium
  • Calcium

The experience of the day was very postive and the students learned a lot about field work and water sampling.  Now we are busy analyzing the data that we gathered and students are learning what each of the testing parameters really means.  They will be posting their reflections to their blogs next week!