Periodic Table Lessons and ODS Debriefing

by Mrs. Nilsen on November 11th, 2013

Weekly Science News 11/4 - 11/14

Wow!  It has been a busy couple weeks in Science since our return from Outdoor School.  We jumped right into parent teacher conferences, and then whoosh...and we're already into November.  Here's what we've been up to in Science:

8th Grade - Atoms and the Periodic Table

8th graders are just finishing up a fantastic study of the Periodic Table.  We've been studying the invisible universe of Atoms and Elements for a while, but now it comes to a close.  It can be an intimidating topic at first, but I tried to have lessons that help students break apart the meaning of big, tough topics in small, tangible ways.  For example, we looked at how the atomic model has changed over time (you might think it looks like that symbol from Jimmy Neutron, but you would be mistaken) and built models out of Playdoh.  In another lesson, we classified all the pens and pencils we could find by their characteristics, much like scientists did for arranging the Periodic Table.  When we work together and combine reading, seeing, and doing, we build content knowledge and actually have a lot of fun doing so.  

Our Periodic Tables of What are a huge hit!  Students are still stopping by the breezeway to see their hard work.  Our 8s also rocked our "Periodic Bee" and "Ultimate Element Challenge."  Be sure to ask your student about each of these contests and how well our class did collectively and individually.  Stop by the breezeway if you get a chance to see their hard work.

6th and 7th Grade - Ecosystems and ODS Debriefing

In 6th and 7th grade, we've been trying to get as much as out of our Outdoor School experience as possible.  I know in a world short on funding for extra programs, ODS can be seen as something that we can't afford.  But at a time where so many things are being cut due to tight budgets in the education field, MRA is a beacon of light in continuing to offer hands on learning environments within the arts and sciences.  I honestly believe that Outdoor School is one of the most important experiences 6th graders can experience here in the Pacific Northwest. 

Allowing students to explore curiosity and wonder in the natural world is the underlying motivator for an experience like ODS.  The camp environment challenges students and teachers alike to see each other in new and different ways.  When we share meals together, play games together, talk about real issues facing our environment together, we build a deeper sense of community.  ODS truly helped MRA in our mission of encouraging deep thinkers and careful care takers of the Earth.

In the words of the Onceler, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, its not.”  In times of political stalemates it’s easy to develop a sense of utter hopelessness, that our differences and ideas are too different to ever reconcile.  But if you could have seen our students that week, you too would have a deep sense of hope for our future.  Political ideas were set aside and we let the world around us be our teacher, we let the aspects of community and the good of all be our guides. 

Now we’re back from our magical week and the reality sets in.  We’ve got to take what we learned from the four main content field studies, to the games, from the food-waste challenge at dinner, to the "Tip-for-the-Earth announcements - and applying it to our lives.  How can we take all that we have encountered and make it mean something? If we simply go home and do nothing, then yes, the week was cool, but it was also a little pointless.  So, what did we learn?  Really, really learn?  How do we take it back with us?

We've had good discussions about the topics and challenges our Earth is currently facing. We've written professional business letters to our favorite counselors/staff, as well as to a few local newspapers to tell them how important Outdoor School was to us, and how important we think it is for future students to get to experience something similar.  We're raising fish in our classroom though the 4-H Extension office to further explore life cycles and ecosystems.  We know that how we treat the water in our tank directly affects their health and lives - just like what we put in our streams affects the health of species in the wild.

It's been a fantastic couple weeks of asking really hard questions without a lot of answers, but something these students will hopefully be working towards answering over the course of their lives.  

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