Friday, September 26, 2008

The First Seventh Grade After School Science Lab

For those of you who cruise regularly through my rants, raves and whines, you've obviously realized that this year's crop of seventh graders is - to put it mildly - a challenge.

Actually they're a freaking nightmare, but I'm trying to put a Pollyanna spin on it.

Anyway, the three of us who teach seventh grade science (and yes, we are the Queens of Collaboration), just couldn't put up with the bad behaviors anymore and have had to eliminate labs and go to demonstrations in our classrooms. Thus, the birth of the Seventh Grade After School Science Lab.

This Wednesday was our first meeting and it was - can you believe it! - a pretty amazing success.

We handed out about 60 permission slips (we only had space for 32 and that was pushing it) and had 16 kids get them signed and in by the deadline. On that day only 13 showed, and it was wonderful. Two teachers, thirteen kids, one great big awesome lab. (Mrs. Robin isn't able to do the labs with us yet as her hubby is deployed and she has two kids of her own to deal with.)

We are finishing up our unit on elements, compounds and mixtures and we decided to have them work with a mixture called a colloid. Colloids are mixtures where the particles are so small that they don't settle out.

Like butter, for example.

Yup, we had them making butter. It's really a pretty fun lab that we haven't done for a few years due to time constraints. It's pretty easy. You get some little plastic containers that are somewhat clear (Gladware works well), some marbles, and some cream. Basically, you fill the container with cream, plop in a marble, and give to a kid to shake. They had to shake their cream for ten minutes, stopping every minute to observe any changes in their mixture, and to make notations on their lab sheet.

(BTW, if you ever plan to do this do NOT ever use baby jars. Marbles can crash through a baby jar to create a mess like you wouldn't believe, not to mention glass everywhere!)

The changes the cream goes through is pretty cool if you're a kid and haven't ever made whipped cream with a mixer (these kids think whipped cream comes in a can or a plastic container in the freezer section of the grocery store). When it finally turns to butter it happens in a flash and all of a sudden you have a sloshing milky liquid and a yellow blob of butter in the container. The kids were a hoot - shaking their jars, and hopping up and down and trying to get their butter made the fastest.

The hardest part for them was the part of the lab where they had to let it sit for ten minutes and make more observations (the clear liquid settles out and the butter gets a bit firmer). After that we gave them crackers and they ate their butter and crackers.

They were ecstatic. They loved the big lab. They loved the fact that they got a lot of attention as there were only 13 of them in there. They cleaned up without complaint (and did a good job of it too). They filled out their lab sheets in detail and never once whined. No one asked if it was for a grade, which surprised me as these kids usually won't lift a pencil without asking if they get credit for it. They even worked together on a puzzler that we had to kill the last few minutes of class since we weren't too sure how long they'd take.

We walked them out to the parent pick up area, with their little containers of butter (if they hadn't already snarfed it all down), and they couldn't wait to show their parents what they'd made in science lab. A lot of the parents took the time to roll down the car windows and thank us for doing the lab, and off they went.

Mrs. Eagle looked at me and said, "This was the most fun I've had in a long time."

She's right. It was a lot of fun. It was nice to do a lab with kids who wanted to be there and who listened.

And we're already planning our next one.


The Bus Driver said...

yay for success!!!!!! i'm soo happy you guys experienced success and hopefully these kids will "talk" it up to the other kids and make the others jealous for not listening in the first place!

HappyChyck said...

Hooray for you! What a difference it makes when students WANT to be there, huh? Let us know how the others go!

The Vegas Art Guy said...

Would you be willing to send me that lesson plan? I know a couple of middle school science teachers who may love to use that in their class.

Let me know on my blog if you would!

Mrs. T said...

Yippee! So glad to hear it was a success.
btw- I did this thing with baby food jars and no marbles- when I taught kindergarten. The kids had to shake their jars for 20 shakes and then pass them to the right.

Melissa B. said...

Awwwwww...I always enjoyed middle-school teachers like Mrs. Bluebird. Good for you! Maybe after the successful butter-churning, the "challenging" kids will be less so? BTW, don't forget my Silly Sunday Sweepstakes tomorrow--I've got a sweet snap for ya. Remember, it's all about Sharing the Caption Love!

Sarah said...

How fun! I love it when the kids WANT to be there and learn! So fun!

nbosch said...

I think I mentioned this on your blog when you first talk about the after school club but isn't it too bad you can't cull these guys out and put them in a class during the day, you'd have them 5 days a week---could you imagine how much you could get done? Yes, yes, I know the other teachers would have larger, goofier, classes. So, each one of you could have the class that loves science a third of the year.

Mrs. Bluebird said...

Ah yes, it would be nice, but it might be a class of ten kids, which would mean my remaining three classes would have about, oh, 35-36 a piece. That would make them even worse!!!

I'm curious to see how many kids we sign up for the next one...don't know when we'll do it, maybe before fall break.

CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

Years ago when I kept goats, I made butter--the very first time was the most exciting. Along the way, I learned an old-timey song to chant while doing the arduous work of churning:

Come, butter, come.
Come, butter, come.
Peter standing at the gate,
Waiting for a butter cake,
Come, butter, come.
Come, butter, come.

Jpm said...

I think I had a day like this today. It is fun when things just work out!

Unknown said...

I totally believe that kids want to learn, but that learning needs to be fun for them. That's why your butter lesson worked so well - the students were engaged. My kids like for online learning games to keep learning after the school bell rings. I think learning needs to be fun for kids!

:) Abigail

Rhonda Halushka said...

We have the same problem at our school too -- class sizes way over 32 each and extremely unruly kids. Makes science teaching very hard without being able to do labs but ya gotta get them to behave. Mine can barely draw a straight line if they have a ruler and graph paper so I can relate! I am almost dreading our scientific method labs in the next couple of weeks cause they just don't listen here either. Sigh...

loonyhiker said...

I think it says a lot about y'all for being willing to do this after school. It shows parents and students that you really care about learning. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story!

Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

We did this for a "pioneer" tie-in while we read the Little House books in our homeschool. Empty clear peanut butter jars work well, too, and the lid screws on tight.

I had never thought of this as a science experiment!

Teacha said...

Everytime I read about your science experiments, it makes me wish I'd become a science teacher! You are awesome . . .you are making me dread the Freshmen that are coming down the pipe! What kills me is that every year, it get a little bit worse. And they seem somewhat apathetic to grades and conduct.