Sunday, June 5, 2011

And I'll Huff and I'll Puff... Explorations with Air and Wind

This year in science lab, kindergartners learned about gases, wind, and air. They performed many experiments to measure how far objects would move when blown, investigated evidence that gases existed, and created a kit and a parachute (Science Museum of Minnesota). Parachutes were created using tissues, tape, string, and a paperclip. The parachutes were dropped from the same altitude (height) and students recorded how long they took to hit the ground for each of 10 trials using the online stopwatch. Then they graphed their data using Create a Graph.
I used tissues because dish towels were too heavy and I wanted the students to be able to decorate their parachute. On second thought, I would use a paper towel or decorative napkins instead. You could also tie the strings to Army men or Lego people instead of paper clips.
Second and fifth graders studied tornadoes and hurricanes. Students used a hurricane maker, NOAA's National Hurricane Center website, a weather balloon simulator to learn about air pressure and temperature in each layer of the atmosphere, a tornado simulator, and a Teaching Tornado to experiment with factors that contribute to formation and strength of each natural disaster. If you don't have the budget for one, tornado tubes or a Pet Tornado work just as well, but as with every model you use, be sure to explain how the model is like and not like the real thing. My students have become so used to those questions that they automatically analyze the models for accuracy. In this case, the Teaching Tornado is much smaller, has slower wind speed than a real tornado, does not move over a wide and unpredictable path, is manmade instead of natural, and moves from the bottom to the top because our fan creates a vacuum instead of a downdraft.
I used a Windows to the Universe Activity. Second graders created a bar graph and hurricane calendar. Fifth graders graphed data about the number of overall and stronger hurricanes within a given period, students had to conclude whether or not global warming was contributing to an increase in natural disasters. They learned a new word they now love to use, "inconclusive." We also watched a video about how meteorologists use science, math, and technology predict hurricanes and tornadoes.

 My students were so excited when I told them they were going to become engineers and that they were about to build something. The problem they had to address was that many people in Tornado Alley were concerned that their roofs were not going to be able to withstand tornado force winds. They were to use the engineering design process to build a model of a roof using popsicle sticks, index cards, and tape. They would then calculate the cost. The winner of the challenge would be the team that built a sturdy "roof" that stayed on for 15 seconds or more.
A couple of days ago, we had a tornado warning from the National Weather Service Prediction Center at NOAA (U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration). One of my students stopped me on Friday to say, "Miss Battista, did you know that we had a tornado warning last night? I predicted that it probably wasn't going to happen here because in science lab we learned that New Jersey is near the Appalachian Mountains, and tornadoes usually can't gain enough wind speed to get to at least 74 miles per hour like in Tornado Alley." I love it when the lightbulb goes off!

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