“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” It turns out that the US Postal Service motto could be adopted by the Seminars on Science team and a dedicated group of educators who didn’t let a hurricane or a nor’easter stop them from participating in a workshop. From November 8th to November 10th, 16 teachers from the International Baccalaureate came to the Museum for three days of hands-on science education professional development. They toured Museum halls, viewed special exhibits, conducted experiments, and thought about ways to bring the informal education of a museum into their own science classrooms. Here are some of the hands-on aspects of the workshop, which you can replicate with your own students:
What’s in the bag? Take a brown paper bag and fill it with random objects. For our workshop, we used a cork, skittles, marbles, a plastic eyedropper, a piece of tinfoil, and a cotton ball soaked in anise. Place the objects in the bag and tape it shut. You’ll want to make several bags like this. In class, give a bag to a small group of students. Tell them to feel the objects in the bag and try to guess what they are, writing down their observations based on touch, sight, sound, and smell. Instruct them not to open the bag. After a few minutes, have them switch bags with another group and make the same observations. Did both groups guess that the bags had similar objects? What words did they use to describe them? At the end of the activity, collect the bags. Your students will surely protest because they weren’t able to open the bags. Tell them that sometimes, scientists don’t get to find out what’s inside the object of their studies. Sometimes, you have to make hypotheses, and rely on ways other than sight to try to obtain information.
Test your sense of smell. A fast, fun, and tasty way to test your ability to smell things comes from our Ology site. Buy a bag of jelly beans. Cinnamon flavor works best, but if you can only find assorted beans, that will work, too. Give your students a jelly bean. Based upon the color, what flavor do they think they have? Many students (and adults!) will guess strawberry for a cinnamon jelly bean. Have your students pinch their noses shut while they start to chew the jelly bean. After a few seconds, have them breathe normally. With their noses pinched shut, the jelly bean will just taste like chewy wax. But once they can breathe through their noses, the flavor – especially cinnamon – will become immediately apparent. Repeat this process without having the students hold their noses, so that they can pay attention to the connection between their sense of smell and the flavors.
These activities generated a lot of discussion at our workshop, and can be replicated in the classroom with any age group. If you have older students, you might want to try Ology’s refraction and reflection experiments. Ology is AMNH’s science site for kids. It’s also a great resource for classroom ideas!
Of course, the IB workshop wasn’t all play. The teachers in attendance talked about the importance of interdisciplinary units, about ways to encourage girls to become confident science students, and about how to apply IB principles to the ideas they were generating as a group. We at Seminars on Science love hosting teachers for our on-site workshops. Our next IB workshops are in February (for the Middle Years Program) and April (for the Primary Years Program). We’d love to see you there!