For use with the scientific method
All of the activities presented were created as a means of using the scientific method to solve a fun and interesting problem. Not all of the steps need to be used, but all of the steps can be used if desired, and since the scientific method is not necessarily a straight-line series of steps, some steps can be repeated more than once. The first two activities, Toy Bomb Bags and Fortunate Fish, utilize all of the steps of the scientific method and were meant to be conducted during a full week of science classes. The activities that follow are more direct in their presentation and focus on a few steps.

Teachers using these activities should feel free to shorten, lengthen, or modify any and all of the activities as they see fit to suit their own classroom needs. From a warm-up, to an example of one step of the scientific method, to a two-week project, please make the most of what has been presented at the workshop.

Adding a research component
There is an online resource section which lists web sites that teachers and students can use to research the topics presented in the activities (click here to go to this section). As of August 31, 2012 the web sites were working and did not contain any questionable content or ads, and with any luck they will remain that way. Only the first two activities presented include a research component, but it is a simple matter for teachers to add it at the beginning of the other activities as a means of having the students form better hypotheses or at the end of the activities as a means of strengthening their conclusions.

Where to buy materials online
In the same online resource section for background research there is a section devoted to purchasing materials. As of August 31, 2012 the web sites had the materials listed for sale at a reasonable price and with any luck they will remain that way. Some materials, such as the Magic Eraser, can be found in most any grocery store. All of the activities presented were chosen because the supplies needed have been readily available for the last 5 years or so.

Why teach with toys or household items
In the eyes of a child toys are viewed in a positive light and an activity which uses them is more likely to be viewed in the same positive manner. Familiar toys allow the focus to shift quickly on the science being performed and new toys add a discovery component. Regardless of whether or not students have encountered the toy before, there is a promise of fun and often that promise is fulfilled.

There are two main benefits to using household items. First, the use of them enables students to relate the activity to their everyday lives. Science is not just a discipline conducted in laboratories by individuals wearing white coats; it is something accessible to anyone which may prove useful in a myriad of situations. Second, it identifies a property or use of the item that was previously unnoticed. How often has the humble one-liter or two-liter bottle been used as a dispenser of liquid refreshment while its other more fantastic uses remain latent? If a bottle can be used to create tornadoes, clouds, and fountains, what else might it be used for? Perhaps other mundane objects in our lives have other uses too.

Lastly, there is an economical reason for using toys and household items, as they tend to be fairly inexpensive and can be bought in bulk.

Hands-on, discovery, inquiry-based activities
I wasn’t certain of the order to put the “hands-on”, “discovery”, and “inquiry”, but for the most part you will find all three in each activity. Science is about doing and students greatly benefit when they are allowed to discover the scientific relationships or connections on their own. A few of the activities you may want to use only as a demonstration, e.g. balloon-on-a-stick, as it may not be suitable for the young students in your classroom to perform.

Ensuring activities have a hands-on and discovery component is fairly straightforward: students need to find out something by doing it themselves. By using the scientific method the inquiry part is naturally included. At least I believe it is. Here is a paragraph from the National Research Council (1996) in the National Science Education Standards to help you decide for yourself:

Inquiry is a multifaceted activity that involves making observations; posing questions; examining books and other sources of information to see what is already known; planning investigations; reviewing what is already known in light of experimental investigation; using tools to gather, analyze and interpret data; proposing answers, explanations, and predictions; and communicating the results.

Following each activity is a short scientific explanation of the phenomenon experienced. While a good college effort has been made to explain what has occurred in each instance, it may be necessary to conduct additional research to fully appreciate what has happened. Additionally, you should feel free to email me with any questions and I will do my best to answer them.

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