Hello JOES Families,

Here is this week’s update for science classes Pre-K through 3rd Grade. Have a great weekend, and happy Friday!



Pre-K (GenEd): We began by reviewing “observe,” and how we use our five senses to look closely at the world and learn about it. This week, we were practicing observing with our senses of touch and hearing. Each student was given an opaque, sealed bag that contained one of a number of items that were placed on a tray (clothespins, eye droppers, pennies, blocks, cotton balls, pom poms, washers, . Using their hands to feel the shape and texture of the contents of their bag, and their ears to hear the sounds made by the bag’s contents, they had to guess which of the objects on the tray was inside. Once they had guessed correctly, and given their evidence backing their guess (ex: “This feels hard, and has corners and holes, just like the orange block on the tray.”), they were given a new bag.

Pre-K (SpEd): This week, the students were given a chance to play with and observe the mystery cups. Each sealed cup contained a set of three small objects (paperclips, golf tees, etc.). The students were able to shake the cups and observe the different sounds made by different objects, and to feel the difference in weight between different cups.

Kindergarten: Students reviewed the parts of the tree, and the concept of “compare,” observing how two or more things are the same or different. We read a short passage from a book about trees, their parts, and the places they can live. We then played a game to help us continue practicing our observing and comparing skills. Students worked with a partner to play a tree memory game. Each team was given a set of cards with the same silhouettes of trees that were on last week’s tree puzzles. The students played a game of memory, trying to find matching pairs of tree cards, working cooperatively. They were encouraged to help each other remember where matching tree cards were, and the object of the game was to have a complete set of matching pairs. The students had to observe and compare some of the tree pictures very closely to determine whether they had an actual match, as some of the tree species look very similar in silhouette (apple and maple trees, and pine and fir trees were often tricky to differentiate).

Vocabulary: observe, compare, communicate, tree, roots, trunk, branches, leaves, bark

Try this at home: Practice observing and comparing similar-looking items at home. Try to find objects that your child will have to focus on details to differentiate, especially natural objects such as leaves, flowers, rocks, etc.

First Grade: We began by reviewing the concept of “matter” as anything that takes up space, and that it can take the form of solid, liquid and gas. We reviewed the concept of properties, and added some new words to our word bank. Instead of describing a solid as “bendy” or “not bendy” we used the terms “flexible” and “rigid.” We expanded our properties list to include other sizes, shapes and textures, including:”smooth, rough, flat, round, soft, hard.” The students were given their bags of solids (a square of fabric, clear plastic tubing, a metal bolt, a craft stick, a plastic triangle, a length of wire, and a cylindrical wooden block), and asked to hold up one or more items that matched each property that I called out. After practicing with identifying properties, the students worked with a partner to play a sorting game. Each pair was given a sorting circle, and took turns between partners choosing a property. The choosing partner thought of a property for their partner to guess, and placed one solid item at a time into the circle to give their partner clues as to which property they had chosen. With each wrong guess, another solid with the correct property was placed in the circle. After the correct property was guessed, they switched roles, and the guessing partner had a turn to choose a property. After several rounds of the game, the students were given worksheets with two smaller sorting circles on them, and beneath each circle was the sentence: “Some solids are ________________.” Students were told to pick any two properties they liked, write the property in the blank under each circle, and then draw as many of the solid objects from their bag that had each property as they could.

Vocabulary: matter, solid, liquid, gas, property (shape, color, material, texture, including: flexible, rigid, smooth, rough, flat, round, soft, hard)

Try this at home: Go on a property hunt around the house. For example, try to find all the solids in your kitchen that are flexible, or all the solids in their bedroom that are smooth. Many students have trouble distinguishing between “soft” and “smooth,” so practicing differentiating these two properties is helpful. For example, the top of a desk may be smooth, but it is not soft, and a stuffed animal or a knitted item is soft, but not smooth.

Second Grade: After reviewing the vocabulary in our word bank, the students were given the sets of basalt, scoria and tuff, a hand lens and two half-sheets of paper (black and white). They were asked to try rubbing each kind of rock against every other kind of rock, starting by rubbing the same kinds of rock against each other (basalt against basalt, etc.), and continuing by rubbing different kinds of rocks together (basalt with tuff or scoria, etc.), and observe what happened. Students noticed that some kinds of rock produced dust when they were rubbed together, or rubbed against different kinds of rocks. Although tuff would make white dust and stain the other rocks white, scoria made red dust and sometimes small chunks would break off. Basalt made very little dust, and its gray color never rubbed off onto the other rocks. We shared our observations, and determined that the dust was actually tiny pieces of the rocks that had been broken off during the rubbing. We also observed that the rocks were getting smaller as they were rubbed together. We learned that rocks rubbing against each other is called “weathering” and that this happens in nature. We also thought about how our activity could help us determine which kind of rock was the hardest. The students figured out that because basalt was able dust from tuff and scoria, but none of the rocks was able to make dust (break tiny pieces off) from basalt, that it must be the hardest of the three kinds of rock. The students then began a scientific sketch of their rocks in their science notebooks.

Vocabulary: geology, property, basalt, scoria, tuff, weathering

Try this at home: Try weathering some of the rocks you find around your home or neighborhood (or the ones in your rock collection, if you have started one). See whether you and your child can determine which rock is the hardest.

Third Grade: This week, after reviewing the concept of energy, its forms, and the energy demonstration with the flashlight from last week, the students worked in groups to determine the observable action, form of energy, energy source, stored energy, and energy conversion at four energy activity stations. The stations included a battery-powered tone generator, solar-powered vibrating crickets, a battery-powered motor, and the fourth station included observing what happens when you rub your hands together quickly, and what happens as a candle burns. At the first station, the students observed the action of sound being generated, which was powered by electricity stored in a battery. The electricity stored in the battery was converted into sound, which (as the students learned last year in 2nd grade) is a form of motion. At the second station, the student were given plastic crickets with a small solar cell embedded in their backs. When held close to a light bulb, the crickets began to vibrate. The light from the light bulb was converted into motion. At the third station, the students had to connect two wires to the poles of a AA battery to make a small flag spin. The electricity stored in the battery was converted into motion. The fourth station was the most complicated station, as it dealt with examples of chemical energy, which can be hard for students to grasp. At the fourth station, the students began by rubbing their hands together rapidly. They observed that their hands felt warm. The chemical energy from our food was converted by our muscles into motion and heat. They then observed a burning candle. The chemical energy in the wax was converted into light and heat.

Vocabulary: energy, convert

Try this at home: Continue discussing the different kinds of energy and how they are used, where they are stored, and what they are converted into.

Hi fellow parents,

Here is my update on our hands-on science work last week for 3rd-5th grades:

What really struck me last week was remembering anew what a beautiful curriculum FOSS is.  I know I’m like a disciple about it!;)  Nonetheless, I hope you are seeing some of the arc’s that spread over the years.  Ms. Caitlin is emphasizing using properties to differentiate different solids from one another in 1st grade.  In 2nd grade, they are using properties to describe the rocks they are studying.  They are also rubbing rocks together and talking about the process of weathering.  Then, in 4th grade we did a review of properties this week as we started our earth science module whose ultimate goal is explain how weathering, erosion and deposition are some of the core processes leading to changes in the surface of the earth.  This was just one of the threads I saw this week across the grades.  It’s great to see the knowledge build up year by year.

Take care,


3rd Grade, Ms. Lin

Last week, we experienced 5 energy exploration stations.  We started this class by defining energy as the ability to do work.  We talked about how every action that occurs requires energy.  Even something like dropping a book on the floor required the input of energy; the book had to be raised off the ground, so that it would have the potential energy available to fall.

We reviewed that an energy source is where energy comes from, and an energy converter is something that converts (or changes) energy from one form to another.  I wrote these four categories on the board:

Energy Source Energy Form A Energy Converter Energy Form B

I put cartoon pictures of batteries, electricity, light and a flashlight on the board.  We worked together to assign each cartoon to one of the 4 categories.  Batteries are an energy source.  Electricity is Energy Source A.  The flashlight is an energy converter.  Light is Energy Form B that comes out of the flashlight.

I then handed out a cartoon picture to each student of one of the components from our 5 energy exploration stations last week.  I asked if there was a student who thought they had an energy converter (those are usually the easiest for students to identify).  Someone raised their hand that had a tone generator.  We put that on the board under energy converter.  Then we talked about where the energy for it came from – batteries.  We added that.  What energy came out of the batteries and into the tone generator – electricity.  What energy came out of the tone generator – sound/vibration.  Slowly, we worked our way through all 5 examples.

We had some very interesting discussions along the way.  For instance, a student realized that a lightbulb is both an energy converter and an energy source.  We then discussed how actually batteries are energy converters – converting chemical energy into electricity.

We saw that these energy conversions aren’t just one conversion.  There are series of conversions.  Candle wax is a fuel, like gasoline, wood, coal, or natural gas.  Fuels are made from living organisms (or the products of living organisms like the wax).  If we work backwards, we see that the fuel is actually the energy the living organisms made.  That chemical energy came from the energy of the sun.  But, we talked about how most of these fuels took thousands and thousands of years to turn into fuel.  That makes them a limited resource, whereas solar energy is renewable (always available anew).

Whereas fuels are stored chemical energy that is released by burning, food is stored chemical energy released by digestion.  Both are made by solar power converted to chemical energy by organisms.  The difference is how the energy is released.

It was a great discussion.  We then went back to our tables with a set of 6 energy sources (wood, sun, battery, candle, apple, gasoline), 6 actions (heat, light, chemicals, machine motion, muscle movement, electricity), and a bunch of arrows.  Students were encouraged to connect the energy sources with actions.  Inevitably, they try to match just one energy source to one action.  After some encouragement, they realize how an energy source can cause lots of different actions and an action can be caused by several different energy sources.

Vocabulary: energy, energy converter, energy source, fuel, food

Try this at home:  Try to think about where the energy for the activities you do at home come from.  When you turn on the TV, where did the energy come from?  Keep tracing it back and back and back to see how many conversions had to happen to get that glowing light in your living room.

4th Grade, Ms. Washington, Mr. Briggs and Mr. Calubaquib

We are starting our FOSS earth science module, “Solid Earth”.  In this module, we try to understand the processes responsible for changing the surface of the earth over time.  In this way, we are acting as geologists, scientists who study minerals, rocks, and landforms to understand how the earth has changed and continues to change over time.

Our first experiment was to learn how geologists learn about earth materials.  We first talked about properties (characteristics of an object that you can observe) that might be useful to differentiate one rock from another.  Students suggested that size, shape, texture, color, hardness, mass, and luster might be useful.  Then we gave them some mock rocks to study as a geologist would.  In this case, we gave each student 2 cookies to treat as fake rocks.  Students sketched their “rocks” on one side and then the other.  They made notes about what ingredients they thought the cookies might contain.  We then gave them a magnifying lens and said that geologists might do something similar by putting a rock or mineral under a microscope to get a better view of its components.  Students added to their observations about their cookies.  Next, we told students that geologists might have to use a pick to break a rock or mineral to observe it inside and gather more information.  Students were allowed to break their cookies and make further observations.  For many cookies there were hidden ingredients not visible from the outside.  Last, we said geologists might also have to run chemical tests on minerals or rocks to understand what they are made of.  We were all pretty sure we didn’t want to add chemicals to our cookies!:)  But, we decided that putting them in our mouths to combine them with saliva might give us more information on the composition of the cookies. It was quite a delicious experiment!

But, in all reality, it was a really memorable experiment.  In the past we have made fake rocks using flour, salt, oyster shells and gravel for the students to dissect.  The metaphor was very confusing given that the fake rocks contained real rocks (gravel).  I was lamenting to Ms. Washington how much I hated that experiment, and she said, “Well, you know I always used to do it with cookies.”  Brilliant!  It’s clearly a metaphor, the kids were TOTALLY engaged, and in the end, they could succinctly describe what a geologist does and how they do it.  It doesn’t get better than that!

Vocabulary:  geologist, property

Try this at home:  Try looking at some rocks you see in your yard or on a walk.  Can you observe different components?  What properties allow you to differentiate the components?

5th Grade, Mr. Calubaquib

Last week, we started our science year by thinking about how to design an experiment that will actually give us an answer to our question.  In particular, we were learning how to do controlled experiments.  We began by looking at a model system – a pendulum swinging.  We brainstormed the variables (factors that might change the outcome of an experiment) that might affect the number of cycles (swing out and back) a pendulum swings in a given length of time.  Students suggested the mass of the bob, surface area of the bob, length of string, release point, material bob hangs from, humidity, and weather might all play a role in how many cycles a pendulum swings in a given length of time.  We decided that if we wanted to know if any of these variables actually played a role in determining the number of cycles/unit time, we would have to change just one at a time to see if it had an effect.  This is the definition of a controlled experiment – only one variable is allowed to change, and the outcome of the change is determined in an experiment.

We began by changing the release point.  We found that whether we released the pendulum from a high point, a low point, or in between, we observed 12 cycles in 15 seconds.  We concluded that the release point does not affect the number of cycles/unit time.

Next, we decided to change the mass of the bob while controlling all the other variables.  If we exchanged the penny we had been using as a bob for a quarter, we found we still observed 12 cycles in 15 seconds.  From this, we were able to conclude that the mass of the bob does not affect the number of cycles/unit time.

Last, we changed the length of the string.  Sets of 2 students determined the number of cycles in 15 seconds for 13 different lengths of string from 13cm to 200cm.  When we hung these on the bulletin board in order of the number of cycles in 15 seconds, we saw that the pendulums made a beautiful curve.  it’s one of those times when you get tingly all over because it’s just so beautiful!:)  We did notice that a few pendulums seemed to not fit the curve.  We re-tested these and found that the first result had been incorrect.  When we put them in the re-tested #cycles/15 second position, they fit the curve perfectly.  We were able to say with confidence that the length of string affects the number of cycles a pendulum swings in a given length of time.  The longer the pendulum, the fewer cycles/unit time.  The shorter the pendulum, the greater cycles/unit time.

Later in the week, Mr. Calubaquib went on to graph the data on a 2-coordinate graph showing that the independent variable (in this case the length of the string) is graphed on the x-axis, and the dependent variable (in this case #cycles/15seconds) is graphed on the y-axis.  This graph allowed students to make predictions about the behavior of additional pendulums.  And, I think they were going to test a 33cm pendulum to see if their prediction was correct.

Vocabulary: pendulum, bob, cycle, controlled experiment, variable, independent variable, dependent variable, controlled variables, prediction

Try this at home: Let your student explain to you how we conducted our pendulum experiment.  What variables did we try that did not affect the outcome?  What variables did we try that did affect the outcome?  How did we know these variables did or did not change the outcome?  How could we have tested some of the other variables that were suggested?  What would have happened if we had changed two variables at once, say the mass of the bob and the length of the string?  How would this have affected our ability to say which variable caused the outcome?

5th Grade, Mr. Ellingson

This week we started our FOSS module, “Mixtures and Solutions.”  In this module, we are trying to understand what happens when different types of matter are mixed.  In particular, when they are combined, they might form a mixture, a solution (a type of mixture in which components are homogeneously distributed), or a chemical reaction.  We will study the periodic table and understand the properties of classes of elements, as well as how to write and balance chemical equations.  It’s a tall order for 5th graders.  Frankly, I didn’t do a lot of these things until 10th grade.  Crazy!

Because a lot of this is quite abstract, we like to give this unit a focus question related to a topic students care about.  Students a few years back proposed this question as we were studying this unit, and it has stuck.  Our topic – Why do POP Rocks pop?  Honestly, we don’t do candy and sweets every week, I promise!  But a lot of candy involves chemistry, and it ends up being a great muse for the topic.  We began our study by tasting some POP Rocks and hypothesizing about why they pop.  Students had A LOT of ideas!  Some students thought it was a chemical reaction with saliva.  Other students mentioned how they pop when they are in water.  Other students said that the popping was a gas.  It was a great start.  Mr. E and I were really pleased with the discussion.

After that, we introduced some other forms of matter – gravel, kosher salt and powder (diatomaceous earth).  Students observed the properties of the solids.  Then they added 50mL of water to each solid and again observed what happened.  The gravel just sat on the bottom.  The kosher salt dissolved (a process when a solid appears to disappear into a liquid) to form a clear liquid.  The powder made a milky white liquid with some powder on bottom.  We said that anytime 2 or more substances are combined and can be taken back apart, then they are a mixture.  When knew all these solids had been combined with water, but could they be taken back apart?