Simulating Surface Mining with Chocolate Chip Cookies

My 5th graders are working through a unit on natural resources, particularly our energy sources.  Having learned about the layers of the earth, the rock cycle, and fossils, we are looking at fossil fuels.  While they have built some background knowledge through books and online web sources (I love Energy Kids!), I wanted to incorporate  hands-on activities for each type of fossil fuel.

Since the first fossil fuel we are learning about is coal, I decided to use an activity I first learned about while working at Asbury Woods Nature Center. If you do an online search, there are many free resources outlining this activity.  The gist of it is that students receive a chocolate chip cookie and must “mine” the “coal chips” with a toothpick or paperclip.  They get to see how the cookie, which represents the Earth, is changed by mining – a visual representation of the damage done by surface or strip mining.

To gear my kids up for this project, I started the unit by showing a video: 300 Years of Fossil Fuels in 300 Seconds, available at YouTube.  This video is VERY information heavy, so I made sure to explain to students I don’t expect them to learn or remember everything. I asked them to listen for information about fossil fuels, specifically coal, and identify ONE thing they didn’t know (and now do).  I will admit that I like to push my students – I don’t expect them to master every task I give them, but I always want them to TRY.  And I am blessed to have students willing and motivated to do so!

After we watched the video, I discussed with them how the Industrial Revolution changed our source of energy from “muscle power” to “machine power,” which derives its energy primarily from fossil fuels.  We discussed how nearly everything we use and do each day is in some way created from fossil fuel power, and we brainstormed what might happen if suddenly we didn’t have that source of energy anymore.

After this class discussion, students read about fossil fuels from a volume in a set of books called Science Explorer.  The Science Explorer series are a set of thin books on a wide range of topics, and I actually prefer them to our science textbooks.  As they read, students worked together to make an outline of all of the headings and the important information found in each section.  This was a skill that was new to my students, so we did the first few headings together, and afterward, we reviewed what things students wrote under each heading.  You can see a sample of their outlines below:

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Then, students read about the mining and transportation of coal in more detail from the Energy Kids website.

Then, our activity started!  Briefly, students were given a set of instructions (class set), the supplies to mine their cookies, the graph paper worksheet, data analysis worksheet, and conclusions worksheet.  As a part of their data analysis, I provided the skeleton of the chart I asked them to create, as this is a skill that is relatively new to my middle school students.  It was a great way to incorporate math into the activity without taking up a ton of time!

Like I said above, you can find many free resources that explain this activity.  They can provide you with the instructions and maybe some follow up questions.  That said, the instruction sheets and student worksheets that I created are available for purchase at my Etsy shop, as well as TeachersPayTeachers. I love resources that look professional AND fun, even if my students and I are the only ones to see them! If you are the same way, please check out my creations! You can also see a preview of these documents below. I was able to utilize Roxie’s CreationsTrina Clark, and  DigiWebStudio to make it all look absolutely wonderful as well!

cover page of activity pack

student worksheets

My students LOVED the activity – let’s be honest, anything that involves food is a hit!

Earth Cookie photo IMG_4145.jpg

Chocolate Chip Coal Mining photo IMG_4135.jpg

They also learned a lot though.  Not only were they able to see the effects of mining on the environment as a problem, but they could also identify its consequences and brainstorm ways to reduce that impact.

Not too bad for a 5th grader!

Not too bad for a 5th grader!

What are three ways we can minimize the impact of coal mining and use on the environment? photo IMG_4155.jpg

What are three ways we can minimize the impact of coal mining and use on the environment?

National Conference on Science Education

As a first year science teacher, I am always looking for advice and ideas to use in the classroom.  I have long been a believer in professional organizations – like the National Council for the Social Studies, National Council of Teachers of English, and most recently, the National Science Teacher’s Association.  As a member, I receive a monthly journal with lots of amazing lesson ideas, science content, and resource reviews, and I can access additional material on the web – including old journal issues, email lists, and mini science content courses.

Browsing the site earlier this year, I came across an opportunity for new teachers to apply for an award to help defray the cost of attending the National Conference on Science Education, to be held this year in Boston.  To be honest, I was not expecting the award.  On the application, it directly states that preference will be given to teachers who had been members of the NSTA Student Chapter of their college or university, and to make matters worse, I realized I forgot to send the main information form with my entire application packet and had to send it in a separate envelope.  I figured it was a long shot, but why not try.

I was incredibly surprised and honored, then, to receive an email from NSTA, announcing that I had been one of 25 teachers selected for this award. WOW! I can’t begin to share with you my excitement — it only grew after I began browsing the sessions to be held at the conference as well.

Being selected for this award has not only filled me with excitement to travel to Boston and to attend these amazing conference sessions and (yay!) FIELD TRIPS, but it has given renewed life to my drive to continually improve — to gain new experiences, to make connections, and to become a leader in my field.

I have definitely had my ups and downs with education — when I left Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools last year, I thought I would give up on it entirely.  I felt like a failure of a teacher, and I wasn’t sure what to do with the career I had spent the last seven years working toward. Teaching at OLCS this year has entirely turned that around, though.  I work with an amazing team of teachers, with awesome students, and with administrators that are there for me.  I have the freedom and support to meet curriculum standards creatively and to incorporate the authentic learning experiences so important at the middle level.  My students have video-conferenced with professors from Penn State Behrend, collected water quality data from Cascade Creek, and conducted an energy audit of our school.  They are engaged in independent research projects, investigating original questions and sharing their results through journal-like reports.    Some of my students will even share their research at Allegheny College’s Creek Connections Symposium in April.  I am lucky to work at a school like OLCS, and the culture that our teachers, students, and administrators have created has been a huge factor in my success.

I look forward to what’s to come, and I can’t wait to share it all with you!

 

Spanish Resources: Animal Flashcards

This summer I will be heading to Honduras for six weeks to volunteer at an English school, teaching and (hopefully) testing water quality from local freshwater resources.  I am applying for a grant with Fund for Teachers (fingers crossed!) to help fund the travel and lodging costs, as well as to purchase the water testing supplies (which can get expensive!!).

As my plans for this trip expanded, I wanted to find a way to involve my current students in the project.  I decided to team up with a fellow teacher to create an after school language program at my school. We are about a month and a half in so far, and it has been going great! The students are working at a very basic level, but they are so enthusiastic about it.  We have never had a Spanish program at school — there was a Mandarin program but it was cut a few years ago due to budget restraints.  It’s really a shame, because building these language acquisition skills early is so important! Anyway, this past week we were looking at animals and how to say “I like…”

I had a really difficult time finding printable Spanish flashcards for animal vocabulary (ones with cute clip art, at least), so I decided to make some myself!  I purchased clipart from AMBillustrations and used a pretty font to create cards for 18 different animals.  Each card has either the English or the Spanish term beneath it, and the students can write whichever term fits your activities on the back.  They are so cute, and there are a lot of different things you can do with them.  Click on the picture below to access the flashcards and associated activities.

Hasta pronto!

los animales