It’s Falling, Falling!

What better way to teach about gravity than to make parachutes and drop them!  We began our lesson by reading a science picture book called, It’s Falling, Falling! by Ji-an Yang.  This colorful and engaging book helped us to answer questions like, “Do people on the other side of the Earth fall off?” and “Why do astronauts float in space?”

Then, students built parachutes out of yarn, coffee filters, tape, and paper clips.  They tested their parachutes using a stopwatch and proved that a parachute really does help to slow down the effects of gravity!

Parachutes Its Falling parachute

Focus: Science

Topic: Building a parachute and testing its effectiveness

*Materials needed:

BookIt’s Falling, Falling!, by Ji-an Yang

Paper coffee filter for each student

3 pieces of yarn (about 12 inches long), tied together in a knot, for each student


Paper clip- at least one per student, more for extra experimentation

Stopwatches- one for each group of 3-4 students (if students have iPads, the stopwatch feature works great!)

Parachute recording sheet


Time needed: 30-45 minutes (45 minutes is much better, because then students can test the parachutes, time them, and make changes to see if this affects the time the parachutes take to fall.)

*Note:  I made a parachute of my own to bring with me and demonstrate.  I also showed them how to use the stopwatch to time the parachute.

Engage: Show students the cover of the book and ask them to make predictions of what they think the book will be about.  Many may guess that the book is about apples or apple trees because the cover shows a young person with his hands in the air appearing excited about an apple falling from a tree.  Use student thoughts to introduce the fact that everything, including apples, falls to the ground because of a special force in the Earth.  Tell them that this book will help us learn more about this force.

Read the book to students, pausing to make predictions, share connections, and ideas. This book is short and easy to understand, but also encourages students to think critically about the role of gravity in our world.

Parachutes Its Falling inside cover

Explore: Show students the pages in the back of the book that explain how to make a parachute.  (I used coffee filters for the parachutes because we had many available at the library.)  Demonstrate with your own parachute how to hold the parachute and release it.

Before students built and tested their parachutes, I did a demonstration using a student volunteer of a paper clip dropping without a parachute, and timed it with the stopwatch.  We dropped and timed the paper clip three times to get an accurate idea of how long it takes the paper clip to reach the ground.  I was working with mostly 1st and 2nd graders, so I told the students that the smallest numbers on the stop watch were parts of seconds.

We determined that it took about 50 parts of a second for the paper clip to reach the ground without a parachute.  I then had them predict whether it would take more or less time for the paper clip to fall when we connected the parachute.

It was so nice to hear most students predict that it would take MORE time for the paper clip to fall with the parachute!  They even told me that the numbers would be bigger, or closer to a whole second or more.

Put students in groups of 3-4 and hand out the supplies to to build the parachutes.

I did not give students stopwatches until they were finished with building the parachutes.  I didn’t want them to get distracted with pushing buttons.

Parachutes Its Falling supplies

It didn’t take me long to realize that I needed to make 3 blue dots with a marker on each coffee filter to show students where to tape the ends of their yarn.

If you are working with very young children, you of course, could skip the recording sheet.  I used it with 1st and 2nd graders, and they really enjoyed recording their scientific findings.

Parachutes Its Falling students building

We wrapped up the lesson with talking about different materials they could use at home to make parachutes, and we thought about how the changes would affect the time it took for the parachute and “diver” to reach the ground.

I encouraged kids to continue exploring the effects of gravity by experimenting with parachutes and items.  I showed them the back of the book again, and another experiment they could try:

Parachutes Its Falling book instructions

Posted by Kim Angell, Children’s Assistant

If You Built a Car…

what would it look like?  What kind of cool features would it have?  Jack, a young boy riding in the back of his dad’s car, comes up with the coolest car ever!  His car is made of a polymer gel to keep people safe, and it has a pool, a fish tank, and a snack bar!  In the book, If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen, we enjoyed being taken for a ride in a futuristic car that drives, floats, submerges, and flies!

After the story, students built balloon cars, and raced them with classmates.  It was a fun way to explore forces, and think like an engineer.

Focus: Engineering

Topic: Building a balloon-powered car

*Materials needed:

BookIf I Built a Car, by Chris Van Dusen

Half of a paper plate for each student

One whole straw, one straw cut to medium size (about 5 inches), and one small piece of straw (about 2-3 inches) for each student


2 pieces of spaghetti for each student

4 cardboard wheels, with holes poked in the middle (use a thumb tack)

4 marshmallows for each student

1 balloon for each student


Time needed: 30-45 minutes (45 minutes is much better, because then students can test the balloon cars, race them, and make adjustments if they don’t work right away.)

*Note:  I made a balloon-powered car of my own to bring with me and demonstrate.  I used the demonstration to engage students to have a conversation about forces.

Engage: Tell students that this story is about a young boy who invents an amazing car.  Ask if students have every wanted to build a car, or a house, or something in their bedroom that’s amazing.  Ask them to share some amazing, creative ideas.

Read the book to students, pausing to make predictions, share connections, and ideas. This book is written in rhyme, and is fun to read.  Students love that this car has a snack bar with squeeze cheese!  Cheese seems to make its way into many of my book choices, and many students have noticed that. Yum yum!


Explore: Ask students if they are ready to build a balloon-powered car that they can race and test with classmates.  Hand out supplies and take students through the steps to build their own.

Step 1:

Have students fold the half of the paper plate from a “smile” to “a piece of pizza.”

Step 2:

Have students attach the big straw and medium straw to the underside of the car with tape.


Step 3:

Have students put their two pieces of spaghetti through the straws, then put the wheels on, then finally the marshmallows to hold the wheels in place.

Step 4:

Hand out balloons.  I always tell the students to gently pull and stretch the balloons, because this will make it easier for them to blow the balloons up.

After students stretch the balloons, tell them to take the small piece of straw and put it halfway into the opening of the balloon.  They will fold the balloon around the straw, and then wrap tape around the balloon and straw together.  They will need to test the balloon to make sure no air is leaking around the tape.  If air is leaking, more tape will need to be added.

Balloon car building motor

Last step:

Time to attach the balloon to the car and start testing!  Have students tape the balloon motor on the car, with the “tailpipe” facing the rounded edge of the plate, so that the air goes out the back.Balloon car

Students had a blast testing and racing their cars:

Posted by Kim Angell, Children’s Assistant

Dive Papa Dive!

Students made their own divers with plastic bottles, straws, rubber bands, and paper clips!  First, we enjoyed reading about the zany inventions of Papa in the book, Papa’s Mechanical Fish, by Candace Fleming.  Papa wasn’t always successful in his quest for fantastic inventions, but finally, one day, after many many attempts- he builds a submarine and takes his family under the water in Lake Michigan!

Focus: Engineering

Topic: Building a diver in a bottle!

*Materials needed:

BookPapa’s Mechanical Fish, by Candace Fleming

Half of a drinking straw for each student

4 paper clips per student

1 medium-sized rubber band per student

1 clear plastic bottle (with cap) per student (These might take a while to collect, so give a week or two for students to bring them in.)

1 large container, to fill with water so that students can test to see if their divers float before putting them in the bottles.

Water- to fill each bottle, and the testing pool


Time needed: 30-45 minutes (45 minutes is much better, because then students can test the divers, and make adjustments if they don’t work right away.)

*Note:  I made a diver in a bottle of my own to bring with me and demonstrate after we read the book.  Students were amazed and then excited to build their own.

Engage: Tell students that today’s story will center around a man who invents a “mechanical fish.”  Show students the book cover and ask if they know what the mechanical fish might be.  (I had a few 2nd graders who guessed it was a submarine by looking at the cover.)  Explain what a submarine is, and that the word part, “sub” means “below,” and the word part “marine” means “water.”

Read the book to students, pausing to make predictions, share connections, and ideas. (There is a great pattern that evolves in Fleming’s writing that students will notice: Papa thinks of the idea, attempts to make it, fails, gathers information from his family, and makes changes to perfect the invention.)

They love predicting at the end that Papa will go back to his workshop and build a “mechanical bird,” because he is asked if he ever wonders what it’s like to be a bird.

Papa’s enthusiasm is contagious, and at the back of the book, we learn that the book and Papa were based on a real inventor, named Lodner Phillips, who really did take his family on an excursion under the water in Lake Michigan.

I did not read the entire description of Lodner Phillips, and instead paraphrased it.  It is long, and I was working with 1st and 2nd graders, and I usually only had 30 minutes to complete the lesson.

I was, however, sure to include that one of Lodner’s inventions was “diving armor,” that helped to bring up treasures from shipwrecks.

Explore: Ask students if they are ready to build a diver that will dive under water at their command.  Hand out supplies (except water bottles- save those for later), and take students through the steps to build their own diver in a bottle.

Step 1:

Take half of a drinking straw, and bend it in half, wrapping the rubber band around the bottom where the two halves come together.  (The straw doesn’t need to have the “bendy” part.)  I tell students that either half will work, as long as they don’t crush the straw flat.

Papas Mechanical Fish diver step 1

Step 2:

Take each paper clip (4 total), and hook it over the rubber bands, all around the diver.  When finished, the paper clips should be evenly placed around the diver, so that it could stand up like a rocket ship on the desk.  The kids loved testing this!  This test helps insure that the diver is evenly weighted, so that it floats straight up and down in the bottle.

Step 3:

Let the students test divers in the big container with water to see if they float.  (This is easier than having students put them in the bottle, only to find that the diver sinks to the bottom and won’t come up.)

If the diver sinks, adjustments will need to be made.  Ideas to try may be:  1)  Make sure the straw appears to have air in it.  If it is crushed too flat, the diver may sink. 2)  Add or remove paper clips- it may be that there is too little or not enough weight. 3) There should be two holes at the bottom of the straw, but there should not be a hole anywhere on the straw.  Check to make sure.papas-mechanical-fish-diver-in-pool-e1489260285997.jpg

Step 4:

After students are sure that the divers float, hand out bottles with water inside and caps on top.  Instruct them to take off the cap, drop the diver in, and twist the cap back on tightly.  Again, at this step, if the diver sinks, it is not going to work.  The bottle will need to be dumped, and adjustments made to the diver.

Papas Mechanical Fish diver 2

Last Step:

Dive Papa Dive!  Instruct students to use both hands and squeeze the bottle.  The diver should drop to the bottom of the bottle.  When the student releases grip on the bottle, the diver will float back to the top!  See if anyone can get the diver to “float” in the middle of the bottle.


So, why does this work?  First, there is a small air bubble inside the diver that is created when we build it with the rubber bands and paper clips.  When we squeeze the bottle, we put pressure on the air inside the diver, momentarily changing its density (or how tightly the air molecules are packed together).  When the air molecules are squeezed together, the air temporarily becomes heavier than the water, and the diver sinks.  When we let go, the pressure is released, so the air molecules spread out, and the air becomes lighter than the water.

Build A Bridge!



Students enjoyed another great book by Andrea Beaty, Iggy Peck, Architect.  We got to work building bridges out of paper, and testing their strength by adding weight. After many trials, we discovered a strong shape that helps to withstand the pressure of cars and trucks- a cylinder!

Andrea Beaty gives us another opportunity to learn about building, problem-solving, and persevering in a book that includes fabulous illustrations and engaging rhyme.  Visit the author’s website for more about her and her books:

Focus: Engineering

TOPIC: BUILD a bridge!

 Materials needed:

Book:  Iggy Peck, Architect, by Andrea Beaty

4 pieces of paper per group of 3-4 students (I used magazine pages.)

Tape (Enough for each group to get about 1 foot of tape.)

Small bathroom cups (for putting weights in).

Weights (I used floral pebbles, but you can use pennies, marbles, washers, etc.)

Small squares of cardboard (for a flat surface for the cup).

Blue construction paper (one sheet for each group, to act as a “river”).

Time needed:  30- 45 minutes

Engage:  Show the cover of Iggy Peck, Architect, by Andrea Beaty, and ask if the students think it looks familiar to another book we have read.  They will most likely recognize David Roberts’ wonderful illustrations, and may even notice Lila Greer, the second grade teacher of Rosie Revere, from our previous book, Rosie Revere, Engineer.

Tell them that we are about to learn about a boy who loves to build and tinker, and his name is Iggy Peck.  Iggy wants to be an architect.  Discuss what an architect does, and how an architect is a scientist and problem-solver, similar to an engineer.

Read the book, pausing to make predictions, share connections, and ideas.

Explore:  Students will now explore with bridge-building.  I did not show students any other pictures of bridges (besides the illustrations in the book).  I really wanted this to be an exercise in inquiry and exploring, so I didn’t want to shape any ideas or creativity they might have.

I was also working with 1st and 2nd grade students for my lessons, so I knew that my lesson would be one of many in which they could expand their knowledge of structures.  If you are working with older students, you may want to increase the time spent on the lesson and include a study of different types of bridges, the materials used, and the shapes involved in the design.

Divide students into groups of 3-4 and hand out the supplies, or make a table for them to come and pick up their own supplies.

1st Build:

Give them about 5-8 minutes to build a bridge that will span two desks (Use the blue construction paper as a guide on the floor for the width of the bridge.)  I told the kids that the paper was a river, and they had to build the bridge to cross the river.  We used the shortest width (around 8 inches) as the span.

I did not give any rules of building in this first build (except that the bridge had to span the river).  I really wanted to build confidence in the students, so that in the 2nd build, they would be willing to take a risk, and would not feel overwhelmed with the next challenge- which would be- no taping to the desk!

As they were using creativity and imagination (and sometimes other things on their desks, like iPads), to build their bridges and test them for strength by putting pebbles in the cup, I walked around praising them and taking pictures.

2nd Build:

As each group confidently finished their bridges, I gave them the next challenge:  They can use tape still, but NOT to tape the paper to the desks.  I encouraged them to use the tape to connect paper to paper, and somehow strengthen the paper so it wouldn’t just slip off the desks.

It might be difficult NOT to tell them how to build the bridge at this point, because they will be struggling with the flimsy paper, and you will want to see them succeed.  RESIST THE URGE!  I gave them hints like, “This paper seems flimsy if I just leave it flat, but is there a way that it might be made stronger?”


Some students twisted their paper, some folded, but none were able to make a bridge that didn’t collapse under the weight of the pebbles when they were placed on the bridge.

I didn’t worry about that, because after each group had 5-8 minutes to try the “no taping to the desk” challenge, I ended the lesson with a explanation that some shapes are much stronger than others, and help us to build strong bridges, buildings, and other structures.

I showed them how to roll up the magazine page and make a cylinder.  I lined four rolled up sheets next to each other, used tape to stick them together, and voila!  A bridge that can take the weight of all the pebbles we could pile in the cup!

The kids were amazed, and I told them that since they know that the cylinder is a strong building shape, we can use that knowledge in some future challenges, and build something pretty awesome out of just paper and tape!

Ideas for Elaborating Further (Optional):

An absolutely delightfully illustrated book that you can use to show different types of bridges is Bridges Are to Cross, by Philemon Sturges, and illustrated by Giles Laroche.

This website has easy to understand information to expand on bridge knowledge:

This video talks about another strong building shape, the triangle.  It also explains how bridges are so strong.



Rosie Revere, Engineer Tall Tower Trials

After reading the encouraging and entertaining book, Rosie Revere, Engineer, written by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts, students were challenged to a team tower-building activity using spaghetti, string, tape, and a marshmallow!  They used only the supplies they were given, and were able to connect the towers to their desks.  When time was up, the tower had to stand without anyone touching it, and the marshmallow had to sit at the top.

This book and author are at the top of my list of great books that incorporate rhyme and colorful illustrations with a powerful message about persevering and problem-solving.  You can check out more on this author here:

Focus: Engineering

Topic: Building the tallest spaghetti tower!

Materials needed:

Book: Rosie Revere, Engineer, by Andrea Beaty

20 pieces of uncooked spaghetti per group of 3-5 students

1 large marshmallow per group

3 feet of yarn or string per group

3 feet of masking tape per group

Time needed:  30-45 minutes


Engage:  Tell students that today’s story will center around a little girl who wants to be an engineer.  Ask students to share their ideas of what an engineer does.  (Some will probably say that an engineer drives a train, which is also the job of a different kind of engineer.) Make sure students understand that we use the word “engineer” for different jobs.  The type of engineer that Rosie wants to be is one who designs and builds items to solve problems and make life better for people.

Read the book to students, pausing to make predictions, share connections, and ideas.

Explore:  Ask students if they are ready for a challenge to build something like Rosie did.  (Hopefully all will respond with a resounding, “YES!”)  Divide students into groups of 3-4 and hand out the supplies, or make a table for them to come and pick up their own supplies.

Give them anywhere between 8-15 minutes to build the tallest tower they can build together using the spaghetti, yarn, tape, and marshmallow.  Tell them they can use scissors to cut the string or tape if they want to, and that they can break the spaghetti if needed.

They are allowed to attach the tower to the top of the desk, but nothing else. At the end of the time, the tower must be able to stand with the marshmallow on top, without anyone’s hands touching it.

It is tempting to tell students how to build the tower, but since this is an exercise in experimenting and teamwork, let them have fun exploring different ideas. I asked some probing questions as I was walking around watching them build together, to help them to think of multiple ways to build, and I was sure to praise them when they were working together, listening to each other’s ideas, and being respectful.  Sometimes it can be difficult for students to work as a team when they feel like there is a competition.  Continued practice at working in a group is key to help them develop these skills.

Check out the teamwork!


Do a 10 second countdown as the time for the challenge runs out.  When time is up, have everyone freeze and put their hands in the air.  Instruct the students to look around the room and see all of the creations of their classmates.

With hands still in the air, have everyone give themselves a round of applause, and then praise the students for their hard work.  Some towers may not be tallest, and some may not even be standing, but students should be proud that they persevered through this challenge and kept working together.

Ask students to share thoughts about what went well, and what they were happy about in the challenge.  Ask them to also share their difficulties, and what they would change next time if given the chance to do the challenge again.

Ideas for Elaborating Further (Optional):

After completing the challenge once, explore the internet for images of towers.  Ask students what they notice about how the towers are constructed.  Most will notice that towers have supports that are built with series of triangles.  Talk about how they could use the same materials (spaghetti, yarn, tape, and the marshmallow), to make triangles that form the tower sides.

Repeat the challenge, and be amazed at the creativity and knowledge that evolves!

Posted by Kim Angell, Children’s Assistant

A Fine Dessert!

Students enjoyed making a dessert tradition after reading the four generation story, A Fine Dessert, written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Sophie Blackall.  We compared  tools that families used to make the dessert in the past (a handful of clean twigs tied together) to the tools used in the present (an electric hand mixer).  We talked about similarities throughout the generations, and noted differences from one century to the next.  Students helped to measure and mix, and then enjoyed their own fine dessert.  We all said, “Mmm mmm mmm!”

Topic:  A Fine Dessert!

Focus: Technology, Art, and Math

Materials needed:

       Book:  A Fine Dessert, by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Note:  The following recipe makes enough blackberry fool for each student in a class of 20-24, to have a small bathroom size (Dixie) cup of the dessert.  If you have a larger class size, simply double the recipe to make sure you have enough for each student to sample their creations!

2 ½ cups of blackberries (or mixed frozen berries, thawed)

½ cup granulated sugar, divided in two

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 ½ cups heavy cream

Two large bowls- one for the berry mixture, and one for the whipped cream

Measuring tools

Hand mixer

Small cups (like Dixie bathroom cups) and spoons for each student


Time needed:  30- 45 minutes


Tell students that we are going to enjoy a story that follows a dessert through four families and four hundred years!   Tell them to pay special attention to the similarities and differences from family to family.  Tell them we will stop at different times and talk about the details they notice.

When we finish the story, we will make the same dessert that the families enjoy in the book!

Read and discuss:

Read the book to students, stopping to ask them about the similarities in tools and technology used by the families.  They will also notice that in the past, families picked blackberries and used milk from their own cows.  Families also had different ways of keeping food fresh in the past, as electric refrigerators were not in existence in the 1700s and 1800s!  Allow students to make their own observations as you read.  Many will also notice that the time spent beating the cream to make whipped cream is decreasing with each one hundred years.  They may even start to make predictions of how much time it will take to beat the cream into whipped cream.


Have fun!:

Set up a table at the front of the room, and call different students up to read parts of the recipe, and then measure the ingredients into the bowls.  Once you get the whipping cream and sugar in the bowl, you can call students up in small groups and allow them to see the changes happening to the cream as it is beaten.

When the berries and sugar are mixed in a bowl, and the cream is beat into whipping cream in a separate bowl, scoop a tablespoon of the cream into a Dixie cup, and put a tablespoon of berries on top.  Hand out the cups of dessert like this to the students along with spoons, and allow them to mix and swirl the berries with the cream.


Posted by Kim Angell, Children’s Assistant

Balloons Over Broadway!


How did he do it?  Students learn about Tony Sarg, the real-life puppeteer who created the giant balloon characters in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and then make their own balloon creations!

From a young age, Tony loved to make things move and solve problems.  Students read the book, Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet, and then we experimented with balloons, baking soda, and vinegar.  We finished up the lesson by making question mark balloon hats to remember how important it is to ask questions, imagine, and solve problems.





Focus: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Art

Topic: Gases

Materials needed:

Book: Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet

Empty water or pop bottle (I used a glass one so that it could be used                                            many times)

Baking soda


Funnel (for easily getting the baking soda into the balloon)

Regular sized (round) balloon

Balance scale, or digital scale (optional- to show the difference in mass                                      of the two balloons)

Twisty balloons- one for each child (for making balloon hats) I prefilled                                       mine in the interest of saving time.

Balloon hand pump (Definitely get one of these! Twisty balloons are                                             nearly impossible to blow up without one.)

Time needed: 30-45 minutes  30-45-minutes-on-a-clock

Engage: Read the book, Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet. In order to get the book and activities done in 30 minutes, I paraphrased the story as I flipped through to show students the pictures. End the book by reading the last page: “Tony Sarg- the puppeteer who loved to figure out…” Emphasize to the students that with a little scientific thinking, problem-solving and perseverance, they too may create something that people with enjoy for generations.

Exploring and Explaining as we go: Get out the water bottle, vinegar, and baking soda. Tell students that in order to make the huge balloons float overhead, Tony Sarg put a special gas in the balloons that was lighter than air. Ask students if they remember the name of the gas (helium). Ask for examples of solids, liquids, and gases, and remind students of the properties of each. Solids: having a definite shape, being firm. Liquids:

Wet, like water, flowing freely and taking the shape of the container that it is in. Gases: clear, air-like substance flowing freely and filling up the container that it is in.

Tell students that you are going to mix a liquid with a solid, and make a chemical reaction that produces gas.

Pour the vinegar (roughly ½ cup to ¾ cup) in the bottle and ask if students know what it is. Ask them if vinegar is a solid, liquid, or gas.

Take a round balloon and attach the funnel to the mouth of the balloon. Get out the baking soda. Put about 4 teaspoons of baking soda in the balloon through the funnel.

Show students that the baking soda is a powder, and although it takes the shape of the container that it is in, this is only because the baking soda particles are very small, and there is a small amount of air in between each particle of baking soda (similar to the way dry sand will take the shape of the container it is in).

Tell students that you will tilt the balloon up so that the baking soda goes into the vinegar. Ask them what they think will happen before you do this. (Remind them that a chemical reaction will occur, and a gas will be made.) Ask them to guess what will happen to the balloon, encouraging creative thinking like, “maybe it will blow up!” I joke with them at this point and tell them all to run if it explodes. (But then, of course, I follow it up with, “Trust me, I’ve done this 100 times, and it’s only blown up once- just kidding.) 🙂

Dump the baking soda from the balloon into the bottle of vinegar, shake the bottle, and watch the balloon blow up with gas!

The gas being formed is carbon dioxide. Shake the balloon to let any fizzing liquid go back into the bottle, because if you are going to put the balloon on the scale later, you don’t want the liquid to interfere with the weight of the balloon.

Tell students that this gas formed is heavier than the air we breathe on Earth. Show them this by dropping the balloon to the ground. The balloon will fall with a “thud,” and it will be clear to students that it is heavier.

Take another round balloon and blow it up with the air in your lungs to appear the same size as the balloon with the carbon dioxide. Ask students to predict what will happen when you drop each of the balloons at the same time from the same height. (They may say that the one with the carbon dioxide will fall faster and harder, and this is great!) Ask them to explain the thinking to clarify understanding.

Drop both balloons at the same time from the same height and watch the one filled with carbon dioxide thump to the ground faster than the one with regular air!

Get out the balance scale. Tell students that you are going to put the balloon filled with CO2 on one side, and the regular air-filled balloon on the other. Ask them to predict what will happen. They should predict that the carbon dioxide-filled balloon will “go down further” than the balloon filled with regular air. Ask them to explain the thinking to clarify understanding.

Put the balloons on the scale so they can see that the carbon dioxide-filled balloon is heavier.

Switch the balloons just to prove that the scale is working.

Explain to students that although gases are clear, and we can’t always see their differences, this demonstration proves that these gases have different properties or characteristics. They may look the same, but when they are put in the same size containers, it is easy to see that one weighs more than the other.

Ideas for Elaborating Further (Optional):

Finish the lesson by handing out twisty balloons to the students, and taking them through how to make a question mark balloon hat! This further demonstrates that gas has mass and takes up space, as they will be moving the gas around in the balloon to the make the hat!

I chose a question mark to remind students that scientists ask questions, imagine, and solve problems.

Posted by Kim Angell, Children’s Assistant

Sand Towers and Water Power!

Students explore the concept of water erosion with sand towers.

Focus: Science  Topic:  Erosion

Materials needed:


Small plastic tubes to make small sand towers


Plastic lids or trays to catch wet sand

Cups for water

Pipettes (water droppers)

Sand and Water Erosion Recording Sheet


Hand lenses or magnifying glasses (to look carefully at the sand)


Time needed: 30-45 minutes

Engage: Remind students of the three important things that scientists do: 1) Observe, 2) Measure, and 3) Communicate.  Tell them that today they will be doing all three of these things by exploring what water drops do to towers of sand.

Hand out the Sand and Water Erosion Recording Sheet.  Tell students that they will need to be good scientists by carefully observing what they see, drawing pictures, and writing to communicate.

Before handing sand towers, lids, hand lenses, and rulers, show students how to turn over and release the sand from the tubes by tapping and squeezing (just like they would do building a sand castle).

Important:  Also demonstrate how to use the pipette to “suck up” water and squeeze out small drops on top of the sand tower.  (Some students may find this challenging, and will squeeze too hard releasing an entire pipette full of water on the tower, so I emphasize to make gentle, tiny squeezes that make small drops of water.)

Hand out sand towers, lids, hand lenses and rulers to pairs of students.  (Do not give them water until they pop out their towers and carefully observe them with the hand lenses.) They also need to draw a picture and use words to describe what they see in box #2 on the Sand and Water Erosion Recording Sheet.

Encourage students to make predictions about what they think will happen when they begin to drop water on the towers of sand.

Explore:  After students carefully observe and draw a picture of what the sand tower looks like and use words to describe what they see (including a measurement of how tall and wide the tower is), hand out a cup of water and pipette to each pair of students.

Instruct students to take turns dropping and counting 20 drops of water onto the tower, stopping after each 20 drops to observe, draw, measure, and write about what the sand tower looks like.


Explain: When students have finished dropping all 40 drops of water and have pictures and measurements, discuss the changes students noticed.  Some students may have tried to drop the water drops carefully so that the tower did not fall, and others might noticed that the tower fell and is “mushy” or “slushy.”  Discuss how neither are wrong, and talk about why different results were achieved.

Ask students if they notice any similarities in what happened to their towers and what happens to bare dirt or ground when it rains.  Talk about how gentle rain may “sink’ into the dirt, and barely wash away any of it, but how more aggressive harder rain makes puddles and streams that wash away dirt and particles to other areas.

Tell students that this “washing away” of particles from the surface of the Earth is called erosion.   Erosion is a natural process, or something that happens without humans, but we can upset this balance by farming, logging, and construction. The unbalance can cause too many particles to wash away, and we can lose too much soil too fast.

Wind and ice also cause erosion.

Ideas for Elaborating Further (Optional):

Read the books:

Soil Erosion and How to Prevent It by Natalie Hyde

Erosion: Changing Earth’s Surface by Robin Koontz


Try this:

After students conduct their sand tower experiments, give them all suckers and tell them they were good scientists.  Tell them not to bite the suckers, but instead to lick and suck on them as they watch a short movie.

Show them the movie, Billy Blue Hair- What is Erosion? Find the movie here on YouTube:

As they watch the movie, sucking on the suckers, they will come to realize that erosion by water is similar to licking a sucker.  As they lick a sucker, they are “washing away” particles of the sucker.  As it rains, the rain washes away particles of the Earth’s surface.

Posted by Kim Angell, Children’s Assistant

Exploring Clouds


Topic: CLOUDS  FOCUS: Science  GRADE: 2nd

Materials needed:

Books: It Looked Like Spilt Milk by Charles G. Shaw

Now I Know Clouds by Roy Wandelmaier

Blue construction paper (8.5 x 11 sheets) for trifolds

More blue construction paper, cut into small squares or  rectangles (about 4 x 6 inches)

Cotton balls

Markers (for decorating and labeling trifold)

Glue sticks

Small paintbrushes

White paint

Time needed: 30 minutes

Engage: Show the cover of the book, It Looked Like Spilt Milk. Tell students to think about what “it” is while you are reading. Read the book, and on the last page, have students guess what “it” is by pausing and letting them fill in the blank for “It was just a _______ in the sky.” Ask students if they have ever looked up at the sky and pretended to “see” creatures or items in the sky. Have them share a few of the imaginary items they see when they look at clouds.

Tell them that today they will be learning about types of clouds. Ask them to share some of the facts they may already know about clouds.

Explore: Read the book, Now I Know Clouds, stopping to show pictures and ask students questions about the differences they notice in the clouds. At the end, see if students can name the three types of clouds they learned about in the book, and flip back through the pages to review them and their characteristics. Tell them that now they will be making

their own trifold pamphlet to share information about clouds with others, and family at home.

Have students get out glue sticks and markers, then hand out one large piece of blue construction paper and one cotton ball to each student. Show them how to fold the piece of paper into a trifold pamphlet.

Explain: Students will show what they learned about clouds and cloud types by putting a different cloud type on each section on the inside of the pamphlet. They will “make” the clouds by pulling apart the cotton ball, to shape or stretch it into the different cloud types, then glue each type on a section. Have students use words and bulleted lists to give information about each cloud (i.e.: Cirrus- white, curly, high in the sky, weather will change). If students need help with words, brainstorm some of the words to describe the clouds, and write the words randomly around the board so that students choose where to put them in the pamphlet.

Have students use the remaining bits of their cotton balls to glue a cloud on the front of the pamphlet, and give the pamphlet a title. The middle section on the back of the pamphlet can be used to explain what “nimbus” means, and the last section on the back can be the “written by” page.


Ideas for Elaborating Further (Optional):

If time allows, give each student a small blue rectangle or square of paper and a small paintbrush. Put a container with slightly watered-down tempera paint on each desk grouping, and tell students to brush or dot their small squares with the white paint. After they finish putting paint on the square, have them fold the piece of paper in half (hamburger or hot dog style- let them choose). Let them admire and name their cloud creations!

Posted by Kim Angell, Children’s Assistant

Using a Compass to Find Friends


Topic: Using a Compass    Grade: 2nd

Materials needed:    Book:  Have You Seen My Dragon? by Steve Light

Compass for iPad (Free) by Friendly App Studio

Finding Friends on a Map- game and activity at

Compass Rose printout and N,E,S, W printed on separate pieces of paper to hang around the classroom.



Time needed: 30-45 minutes

Engage: Ask students what they already know about a compass and directions. Show them the Compass for iPad on the Smartboard on Airplay. If they have their own iPads and have downloaded the Compass for iPad, have them try it out.

Find North by turning with the compass. When North is found, hang the N up on the wall in the classroom to label the direction. Tell students that once they find North, they will know where all the other Cardinal Directions are by remembering this acronym: Never, Eat Soggy Waffles.

Label all the other Cardinal Directions in the classroom. Have students stand up, and give them directions: “Turn North, East, South, West.” Explain that when they are in the classroom or out in the world, North is always in the same direction (as well as all the other directions). Explain that on a flat piece of paper, map, or GPS navigation, the Compass Rose will show which direction is north. It will appear on a flat piece of paper that North is up, but that is not the case. Show them the compass rose on the Finding Friends map, and tell them that they will need to pay attention to the compass on the page when they play the game later.

Read the book, Have You Seen My Dragon? by Steve Light. At the end, show them the inside of the book cover with the city map, showing the places where the dragon had been, and how he turned in different directions.

Connect the book with the Finding Friends activity by telling students that they will be looking carefully at a “city map” with places that they will need to use the compass directions to find.


Explore: Hand out the maps and worksheets (Finding Friends on the Map activity) and have students partner up and find a spot in the room to work together. Allow them to work on the first problem (Maxwell) before giving them any directions. They may quickly figure out that each square on the map equals 10 miles. After most students have completed the first problem on their own, ask for volunteers to explain how they got the answer, and address any mistakes like not realizing that the squares each equal 10 miles, or that the students needed to start at the “START” square for this problem.

Circulate the room and continue to allow them to work together exploring the map, finding “friends,” and double-checking their work. **

**Important, do not let students work together on the last “Where do you want to go?” section. Instead, tell them to find a place in the room alone, fill out the section, and then go back to their partners and only read the directions. Allow the partner to figure out where the other partner is.

Allow them to work on the “Where do you want to go?” section individually,

Explain: When students are finished finding friends on the map, go over the answers, being sure to point out how some friends (like Molly and Stephanie and others) did not start their journey at the “START” square, and that students needed to read carefully and sometimes infer where a friend started based on what they were doing.

Ideas for Elaborating Further (Optional):

Take students outside with a compass to mark the cardinal directions. (You can print out big sheets of paper with N, E, S,W and put them around the play area.)

Tell them to work with a partner to decide a starting point (jungle gym), and make directions to get to another place on the playground. (Example: Start at the jungle gym and take 10 steps west, then 5 steps south, and finally 8 steps south. You are now at the swings.

Let partners trade directions with another group to follow the directions and end up at the place they need to be.

Posted by Kim Angell, Children’s Assistant