The Chemist's Carnival: Exploring chemical and physical changes

We are wrapping up our study in physical science, and one of our final skills is observing and identifying physical and chemical changes. I knew I wanted to create a learning opportunity that would truly challenge my students in every aspect of their scientific knowledge to practice identifying these changes. So I present.....the Chemist's Carnival. I will be sure and link all of my resources for the carnival at the end of this post! 

Task One: The Operation Challenge 

As the students entered the carnival, the room was filled with excitement. I welcomed each student and had them sit directly in the front of the room. They were beyond excited at this point. I then said...."welcome to YOUR carnival. Students, today you will be in charge of the Chemist's Carnival."  Again, cheers of joy! I then went another step...."Unfortunately students, we have a big problem on our hands. The manuals for running each machine were "misplaced" during construction."  I went on to explain that they would have 20 minutes to figure out a way to get the carnival up and running. At this point, there would be no was up to them to make this happen. 

Note: I DID NOT allow them to touch or try any machine. They simply had to design a plan. They could make observations, but no trial and error. That could have been a disaster!

Within 15 minutes, my fifth graders had the entire class organized into stations. They quickly got their ipads up and running. Next up...they even identified the brand of each machine to quickly locate the operation manuals and YouTube videos. They also recognized the need for materials and measurements. They found the recipe to create each food along with the cooking times and baking temperatures. Research, analysis, and problem solving at its finest.

I was completely blown away to say the least. 

Task Two: The Creation Challenge

By this point, we had experts for each machine. When I tell you these kids knew exactly how they were going to operate each machine...they knew! 100% they knew. I then told them that their next task would be to go into operation. The class quickly realized (on their own) that they would need to regroup. They then divided up into expert teams. They placed one expert for each machine into a group. This was perfect. During this challenge, they had to use their knowledge to operate and cook each food. This included mixing any and all ingredients (measurement skills). 

They were also charged with one more mission: While the cooking process was in action, they would need to make strong scientific observations to identify changes occurring within the matter. At the end of the cooking process, they had to use their observations to make a scientific inference as to whether they thought the food had undergone a chemical or a physical change. 

Again, another time restraint. They had 20 minutes for each station. 

Task 3: Close reading for textual evidence

Finally, the students were given a reading passage. I found some information online about each food. They had to use their close reading skills that we've been working on to interpret each technical text. The texts did not explicitly state whether the food had undergone a chemical or a physical change. Rather it implied the change that occurred. After reading, they had to make a second inference using textual evidence. 

Finally, they used both their scientific observations and textual evidence to draw a conclusion about the change that each food represented. 

So what were our carnival stations? 

Station 1: Cotton candy
This was definitely a student favorite and was quite tricky. Cotton candy simply goes through physical changes as it goes from sugar (solid), to a liquid once heat is added, and then back into a solid as it "slingshots" back out of the spinning head. 

Station 2: Funnel cakes
Of course as with most baking, funnel cakes go through a chemical change. 

Station 3: Popcorn
Contrary to popular belief, popcorn is simply a physical change. Pressure is added (through steam) that allows the popcorn to pop. The corn kernel is simply inverted meaning what was on the inside is now on the outside. 

Station 4: Hot dogs 
Of course when heat is added to a meat and changes the composition of the protein, the meat has undergone a chemical change. 

Station 5: Sno cones 
Since the shape of the ice is the only thing that has changed, a sno cone is a physical change. The syrup can also be identified as a solution - another physical change. 

This carnival theme could easily be incorporated with any content: 

  • Menu creation - practice of counting money, making change, adding amounts, etc. 
  • Figurative language - describing the foods using vivid vocabulary 
  • Adjectives - using strong words to describe 
  • Research - identifying where these foods originated and how they came to be 
  • Descriptive paragraphs - turning research into an informational text 
  • PBL - designing and running a successful operation (carnival) 
  • STEM - You could easily create STEM challenges to match each station 

Truly, the sky is the limit. 

Where do I find my materials and how do I afford it? 

I will link some of the materials down below if you would like to purchase the machines. However, my philosophy is beg and borrow. It's all about planning ahead. Ask around. You will be surprised at how many people might actually have an air popper (which is common), a sno cone machine, hot dog maker, etc. Contact a local party company and see if they will donate a cotton candy machine to the cause for a few hours. Again, you will be surprised at how many people will actually say yes. Visit thrift stores...they have the best materials. I definitely do not purchase everything that is needed because who can afford that? I call this concept...making it happen. Find a way to make learning come to life. People often use money as a road block to not being able to do these types of lessons. Now call me crazy, but I refuse to let something like money determine how I am going to teach. I will ask around, find a way to raise the funds, borrow materials, etc. until I get the job done. I get this question often, and honestly this is the only way that I know to answer it! No, my school does not fund my materials for room transformations. Actually, I don't even ask them to do so. Don't limit yourself. Accept the challenge. Find a way to make the impossible...possible! I promise you will be so happy you did! 

Carnival Finds: 

The Plot Song

Ok friends! I am going to try *really* hard to get better at posting my song lyrics on my blog. My friend, Chris Pombonyo, posted my plot song today on Instagram, and he is allowing me to share his sweet kiddos here! 

If you are looking for a way to help your students get that plot terminology down, check out this little gem of a song below! :) 

You can grab the lyrics by clicking on the link below! 

Rock on! 

Wonderland Book Tasting: Setting a purpose for reading

Have you ever walked through life without a purpose? I am guessing if you are reading this, your answer to that question is "no."  Lol! Have you ever asked your students why they come to school? Most would reply with the robotic answer of "to learn." But is that really a purpose? That's a question that we will have to attack on another day. Ha! Have you ever asked them what book they are reading? Have you taken it a little further and asked them why? Why do they want to read *that* book? 

I did this very thing at the beginning of the year after a few weeks of instruction. Of course it is my requirement that all students read 30 minutes each night. Now, the students have complete control over what they are reading. If you don't follow this concept, I highly recommend that you read Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer

It's good stuff, y'all. But back to that interesting set of questions: a) What are you reading? b) Why are you reading it? 

After posing this question to a group of thirty-four 5th graders and thirty-seven 6th graders, only two could answer. TWO! Let me say that one more time....TWO! Two, y'all! I couldn't believe it. I thought that students just naturally knew how to set a purpose. No? (Insert sarcastic laugh here!) Ok, so I knew that all students wouldn't naturally select a book because of something greater than "the cover is cool"...but TWO? Really? Only two could do this? 

Even worse, only a few could recall their title. When I asked those students why they selected that specific title, most responded with....1) the expected: the cover looked cool, 2) I just grabbed it off the shelf, 3) I don't know, 4) because you told me to read. Disaster. That folks is a straight up disaster if I ever did see one. I realized that the very same way that most students come and go to school because A) they have to, or B) "to learn" is the same exact way that many of my students were selecting their books. They were just going through the motions. Why? Because they HAD to and definitely not because they WANTED to. I could tell that they weren't progressing in reading the way that I would like. At that moment, after posing those questions and realizing they were reading because they had to, I knew exactly why. They had no clue how to identify a purpose for their reading. If they didn't even know why they were reading that selection, how did I ever hope for them to actually gain something from their reading?  

I had to figure out a solution....and fast. So I give you....

The Wonderland Book Tasting - the book tasting that changed it all! 

Here's the skinny of the book tasting: 

Note: I will link all of my resources below. 

Since we began by working on informational/expository text, I decided to center my book tasting around that type of text. I wanted to expose the students to a wealth of interesting books that they could read to practice within this genre. 

I divided my classroom up into 5 different areas: 
- Informational 
- Journalism
- How to
- Biography/Autobiography
- Self Help 

At each table, I had 8-10 different high interest selections. I hand selected 8-10 books that I thought the kids would just die to read. You games, blogging, Minecraft, sharks, name it! I will link some of my favorite books below. I also put a few snacks out because at a tea snack! And food always wins! 

The students then had a little date with each book at their table for about 2-3 minutes. During this time, they had three main tasks. 

1) Identify the topic: I taught the students how to read the title, summary, and table of contents (if needed) to identify the topic of the book. I mean isn't that step 1 of realizing if you even want to read it? Is this a topic of interest for you? 

2) Identify an attention grabber (your purpose): I then taught the students that simply because they like the topic may not be reason enough to read it. Maybe they like video games, so naturally they are interested in GAME ON 2017. But what if that book doesn't even contain information about their game of choice? This is why we must use the text's features to help us dig a littler deeper. I taught them to use the table of contents, headings, subheadings, graphs, charts, etc. to see if the book contained the information they need or want. 

3) One interesting fact (if interested in the text): If they were interested in the text, or a section of the text, they had to turn to that section and quickly skim it to find one interesting fact. They may have even located their fact under a picture, chart, table, etc. 

You can grab our tasting booklet {HERE}

By the end of the "tasting" they had to be able to say one of two things: (Here are two examples of what I expected to hear or see on their paper.)

A) I would love to read the book Sharkopedia because I am extremely interested in sharks. More specifically, I am interested in what causes aggression in Great White Sharks, and this book contains a whole entire section to explain that. I can't wait to read and find out the main cause of this and to learn more about my favorite type of shark. 

B) I am not specifically interested in reading Sharkopedia because a) I am not interested in the topic of sharks or b) because I am specifically interested in Hammerhead Sharks, and after viewing the table of contents, it is clear that this book does not contain the information that I am looking for. 

After 2-3 minutes, the students would rotate to the next book for another tasting. We did this for 2-3 days...and let me tell you...100% worth it! Every single second of it. Now the kids realize the importance of not just reading to read...but reading to learn...what that means...and how they get there! 

So using the text's features to help them set a strong purpose for their reading was exactly what these kids needed. 

Throughout the entire tasting, they earned tickets. They earned tickets for deep thinking, work ethic, etc. These tickets were then used for our book raffle. I set out every book at the tasting and allowed the students to place their tickets in their buckets of choice. I raffled off each book, and you would have thought I was handing out hundreds. Why? Because they had a purpose. A *reason* why they wanted *that* book! 

Here are some of my favorite high-interest expository texts for grades 3-6. Click on any of the pictures to order the book on Amazon. 

  Other resources for the tasting: