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Ask Slashdot: Online Science For 8th Grade Students? 225

Peterus7 writes "I'm a student teacher in an 8th grade science classroom, and have noticed that students are very motivated by anything online. After realizing that, I've been looking for ways to incorporate internet resources into my teaching, and trying to find cool citizen science projects, activities, and simulations that would be appropriate for a grade school science class, such as galaxyzoo and So, I'm asking slashdot for more resources that could help bring science to their lives. Thanks!"
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Ask Slashdot: Online Science For 8th Grade Students?

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  • Get them to read Slashdot. I promise their lives will be much more fulfilling. :P

  • KhanAcademy (Score:5, Informative)

    by EliotVU ( 1957146 ) on Sunday March 20, 2011 @04:22PM (#35552966) FTW!
    • I second this. Also, go to Wikipedia frontpage, follow links that you find interesting. The amount of stuff I've learned doing that is immense.

      Then again, I'm way past school age, and back then I'd only look at stuff the teacher DIDN'T tell me to look at. Maybe you should instruct them to look at Fox News, tmz, Hello magazine, and a good dose of X-Factor and Big Brother reruns.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Sunday March 20, 2011 @04:25PM (#35552996) Homepage

    Do real experiments. The kids will remember that.

    • Exploding sodium. Never forgot it.
      • by tm2b ( 42473 )
        Pfah. Metallic sodium is too much of a pain to get. Nitrogen triiodide was what really kept my classmates' attention.
        • Nitrogen triiodide was what really kept my classmates' attention.

          Cool if your high school chemistry teacher allowed you to synthesize NI3 or NI3(NH3) and then use it. Was he fired afterwards?
          NI3(NH3) is impressive for stability demos and maybe even a very cautious practical joke. We did not make it until university, where one of the chemistry lecturers was slightly mad - the labs had to be evacuated on several occasions because of the experiments he encouraged.

          • by tm2b ( 42473 )
            She was not fired. We were, however, an AP class.
          • by tm2b ( 42473 )
            Also, let me add - this was 25 years ago. Schools seem to be much more twitchy about such things these days.
            • Also, let me add - this was 25 years ago. Schools seem to be much more twitchy about such things these days.

              Yep. 35+ years since I was in high school. We played with all sorts of "dangerous" stuff in our poorly-equipped chemistry and physics labs. It included some organic synthesis and distillation as well as pyrotechics (the usual Mg, Na+water, etc.), and we also played a little with throwing around lightning, and spinning while holding heavy gyroscopes. Of these, the gyroscope sessions were probably the ones with the smallest safety margin.

    • by fermion ( 181285 ) on Sunday March 20, 2011 @06:02PM (#35553812) Homepage Journal
      It is true that a science teacher should include practical experiments, if the kids are going to do the expeiments themselves. If you are just going to demonstrations, then I see no reason why kids should not just be watching videos. I believe the computer simulations are way underrated in a world where schools are more fearful of letting kids do anything useful.

      These practical experiments will give the conceptual basis of what will be tested if the kids ever take an AP Science exam. They do not need to be fancy. Heat water measure rate of change. Build a gravity accelerated race track, film the cars, and analyze using free video analysis software. Run 1mw laser though pieces of plastic. And, the most important experiement of all, give them measuring instruments, let them measure things around the room, and then compare results. They will be amazed at how different everyone's mesasurements are. At that age, mean, mode, median, and rage are valid math concepts.

      As far as online goes. Look for any and all animated experiments. PHET has many of them. You can download videos of experiments, or have the kids make them, and make scatter plots relating various variables using Tracker Video Analysis. The construction of these graphs meet many objects for high school math and science. I have found online sources to simulate any experiment that I want to do. Most of these are accesible to almost any age group by simply by adjusiting pre-lab instruction and post-lab assessment

      Just like in any expeiment, the pre- and post-lab are the thing. Most kids will lean very little from a lab without a pre- and post-lab. Doing the lab is only going to be so successful. The required analysis of what the student has observed is a key learning process. In any lab, online or not, know the concepts that are to be taught, and how they will be reinforced and assesed. For instance on PHET you can make resistors catch fire. Why do they catch fire? Will they catch fire faster if the resistance is increased of the potential or current. This creates an exciting learning activity.

      • by nbauman ( 624611 )

        Build a gravity accelerated race track, film the cars, and analyze using free video analysis software.

        Galileo did it with inclined planes, without video, and without video analysis software. How does the video and software make it any better?

        • Galileo already had a certain level of expertise relative to his time. 8th grade students may need to be able to slow things down or freeze or rewind them to see what's happening.
          • by nbauman ( 624611 )

            An inclined plane is a pretty good way to slow things down. If you need to rewind it, put the ball on top of the inclined plane again.

            There's a major benefit of an actual ball and inclined plane over a video of it.

            You *know* the ball is going to follow the laws of physics, whatever they are.

            When you watch a simulation, you don't know whether the simulation is right or not. You're not learning from the real world any more, you're learning from models and calculations. You're like the anti-vivisectionist girl

      • If you are just going to demonstrations, then I see no reason why kids should not just be watching videos.

        There is a huge difference between seeing something live and watching a recording. We are all used to seeing amazing and impossible things on video for entertainment. Doing something real in front of a lecture has a far bigger impact. Plus students get the chance to ask "but what if you did X instead of Y" and see the results (assuming it is safe!).

      • "They will be amazed at how different everyone's mesasurements are."

        Really? I recall being the only one in my high school chemistry/physics classes who really cared about that.

    • 1) This. Video is no substitute for real life.
      2) Nobody remembers how to measure anything these days. I spend a large part of my time explaining to PhD students (and the not so occasional postdoc) how to measure stuff, and why their measurements might not quite match their equations, and why they shouldn't always believe their (or my) results. And why some measurements are pointless, because the error is larger than the number they're looking for. We've gotta start teaching this stuff early.
    • I've taught a course called Technology in Science Education, and my premise was that technology for the sake of technology is the wrong way to go - a sentiment I hear echoed here pretty frequently. HOWEVER, there's a reason we use technology - it gives us abilities that we don't commonly have. And this addresses that other common critique when someone wants a technology for education - it's not just a "Cool, see how this is on a computer now?" thing, or a replacement for hands-on experimentation, but rath

  • I've been out of school for quite a while but have kindled an interest in physics. I find that more and more there are Youtube demonstrations and lectures that are worthwhile. Also labs and hands-on science work is invaluable so I'd check out because this not only can provide unique science opportunities, it also helps people in gaining engineering skills. BTM
  • Seriously, have them play with applets like this [] that show them how simple things can behave very differently from an initial guess would suggest. And motivate them with "further up ahead, people are doing awesome things!"
  • [] [] [] [] [] And many many more, but those are my favorites.
  • by vik ( 17857 ) on Sunday March 20, 2011 @04:36PM (#35553100) Homepage Journal

    Teach the kids about 3D printing (see [] maybe even get one of the cheap printer kits or an UP! Printer if you have budget.

    These things let kids unleash a form of creativity and spatial learning that is hard to find anywhere else. No need to actually teach them how to design 3D objects - they'll be scrambling to figure it out for themselves! Keen students will print their own 3D printers. Less enthusiastic ones will download from [] and create "Mash up" objects.

    Inevitably one of them will print a penis for shock value, but kids are like that.

    • by Speare ( 84249 )

      Teach the kids about 3D printing

      Er, that is fairly well removed from the concept of science. Science is about, you know, the scientific method: observe, hypothesize, experiment, refine, repeat. The closest I can see this coming is material science, like finding the optimal wall thickness for a given force, but I'd say that's closer to applied engineering.

  • Scratch ? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by unmadindu ( 524636 ) on Sunday March 20, 2011 @04:46PM (#35553208) Homepage
    You may want to look at Scratch programming environment []. While Scratch is a programming tool which lets kids make all sorts of stuff (animations, games, etc), there is a large number of kids who build science simulations with it. For example, you can look at this gallery [] of physics simulations and animations, all of which were created by kids. Most of the projects on the Scratch website have been created by kids and all projects are under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike, so kids in your class will be able to download the projects, examine how they have been built, and build their own projects upon existing work.
    There is also a website [] for educators who want to use Scratch - you can ask for ideas and suggestions in the forums in that website.

    [Disclaimer: I am a graduate student in the research group which develops Scratch]
    • by krswan ( 465308 )

      I'm not a grad student at the Media Lab, and I'll second everything the poster above said. I've been using Scratch with 5th grade students for physics and even some simple ecosystem simulations (all student created) for about 4 years now. The programming language is simple enough to get out of the kids' way and let them create what they want. Whatever you are teaching - if the kids truly understand it they can show you by creating a sim for it, and if they don't understand it they have to figure it out i

    • Scratch was a big hit with 4th and 5th graders when I demoed it to them, they also had fun with it at home. I could see you setting up some scratch sensors and using them to capture measurements from a live experiment.
      Cassiopeia project [] also has some great videos, especially if you want to interest boys with raging hormones in science.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Check out for math and science simulations (aka Gizmos) with corresponding lessons.

    • by krswan ( 465308 )

      Gizmos are great, but pretty expensive... figure out when you are going to use them and start the 30 day trial right before you need it!

  • by richg74 ( 650636 ) on Sunday March 20, 2011 @04:51PM (#35553252) Homepage
    Here are a few resources that might be useful:

    1. The Today in Science [] listing of birth and death dates of scientists, and notable events. (For example, today is the anniversary of the publication of Einstein's paper on General Relativity, Die Grundlagen der allgemeinen Relativitästheorie.

    2. Interactive science simulations [] from the University of Colorado, Boulder.

    3. Science news articles at [], New Scientist [], and Technology Review [].

  • AAVSO? []

    American association of variable star observers?

    Kids could observe, but its probably a heck of a lot easier to use the lightcurve generator. Don't tell them about the different kinds of variable stars, let them discover it for themselves.

  • Computers can be used to detect earthquakes: []

    You can get a free sensor from the Quake Catcher network (or use a laptop). []

    Another subject that might be interesting: Fossils. []


  • by jmichaelg ( 148257 ) on Sunday March 20, 2011 @05:30PM (#35553542) Journal
    You'll definitely want [] and their sister site, [] . Both are first rate.
  • Wathcing over our planet tutorial at the Canadian Centre for Remote Sensing []
  • by Iskender ( 1040286 ) on Sunday March 20, 2011 @05:39PM (#35553612)

    I'm not sure how directly applicable it is, but The Periodic Table Table at [] is a great science site.

    It takes something on the face of it boring (the chemical elements as a simple diagram) and makes it really interesting. If it's not good enough to show to students directly then it should contain plenty of ideas for how to make elements interesting.

    A couple of examples: get some tungsten and some magnesium of about equal volume and anyone will notice that one is much, much denser despite both being normal-looking metals. Get some indium and let the students bend thick metal rods with their bare hands.

  • by oneiros27 ( 46144 ) on Sunday March 20, 2011 @05:40PM (#35553628) Homepage

    You mentioned Galazy Zoo, but there's actually a larger effort called Zooniverse [], which includes:

    • Old Weather : transcribing temperature information in British Naval Logs to add to the climate record
    • Solar Stormwatch : estimating the leading front of Coronal Mass Ejections

    ... and the other astronomy like stuff.

    Besides that, a number of science agencies have various educational resources. From NASA, for 5th to 8th grade:

    Other agencies have stuff too, but I don't know where it all is off the top of my head.

  • Physics Simulators (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jessified ( 1150003 ) on Sunday March 20, 2011 @05:51PM (#35553722)

    Hey! I'm just going through a teacher's program right now, and I've been looking for resources to use with smartboard. First of all, if you don't have a smartboard go here: []

    Then try out:
    Algodoo (costs about 25 euros): Great physics simulator. I would say it would be useful even for university students. You can, however, adjust the difficulty level. It's good for kinematics, some optics, buoyancy, some fluid dynamics and a few other things. I started off with making a piston pump system. []

    Crayon physics: Great for intuitively exploring some physics concepts. It costs about 20 bucks. It's similar to above but it's closer to a game. There are a series of challenges that you accomplish (try to move a ball to a star, overcoming a series of obstacles. Learn some physics concepts through osmosis. []

    Celestia: Great freeware for exploring our galaxy (and neighboring galaxies). It implements astronomy knowledge into a space simulator. It allows to you to visit out solar system and beyond. As humanity discovers more, you can update the planet (i.e. with new exoplanets). This one is super cool, a little like Eve Online but IRL. You can also install Star Trek universe updates if you are a trekkie, as well as Star Wars. []

    Ok that's the coolest stuff. There are other things out there but they aren't as impressive. ScaleoftheUniverse is neat, but limited in classroom utility: []

  • Various mechanical and electronic measuring tools abound for use with the PC and for manual use.

    They need to learn how to use such tools no matter what sub-discipline they enter. Even if they never use such tools much, they must know they exist and how they work, because they will then know people can do work with those tools on such projects.

    Tools to measure and compare distance, time, velocity, weight, PH, temperature, frequency, polarization of light, etc. are all absolutely needed to understand science

  • Here is a video [] that my daughter put together on how to make a diffusion cloud chamber. It takes about 10 minutes to make and you need a keyboard air duster. With it you can see the tracks left by background and cosmic radiation. It is a pretty cool way to visually introduce particle physics.
  • Bad Premise (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Sunday March 20, 2011 @07:07PM (#35554206) Homepage

    "I.. have noticed that students are very motivated by anything online."

    I call bullshit. You're noticing students motivated by non-school things, that happen to be online. Put school online and they will be equally disinterested as before. (Although you get to be that teacher going "Look! I'm hip! I get online! I'm so cool!").

    Or, show me an experiment that an online program has better interest-level and/or student outcomes (from the same population of student).

    • by wjh31 ( 1372867 )

      Or, show me an experiment that an online program has better interest-level and/or student outcomes (from the same population of student).

      Like the hole in the wall experiments?:

      • I don't see any experiment, nor demonstrated better outcomes in any of those links. Citation needed (meaning: short quote, link/book, page number).

        What I do see is this: "On their own, children can get about 30% of the knowledge required to pass exams."

  • Such as Facebook, twitter, farmville...

  • The best way to get kids attention is to start with something that defines intuition, and really focus the discussion on that to begin. Example: we all know that when you cool a substance, it goes from gas to liquid to solid. When you heat it up, it goes from solid to liquid to gas. Look at the noble egg—goes in the pan as a liquid, and as it heats.........wait, ok, well that's a bad example. We all know that when you something turns into a solid, it gets denser, and we know that dense things sink in

    • Look at the noble egg

      No, not noble eggs. They don't combine with anything so you can't make a good omelet. :-D

      There: use humor! Science humor!

      Well, OK, maybe not. :-(

  • I'd use them to assign off-topic to all the posts concerning teacher pay, benefits, workload and state budgets.

    Come on people. This teacher is just trying to do a good job and we have to turn into an on-line teaparty or NEA advocacy forum?

  • These two sites talk about science errors in movies and TV shows. It's a great way to start a discussion because you're leading in with something fun and familiar, and possibly even something that they've seen and thought "oh no WAY could that work." [] []

    • Sadly, it's been too long since Phil's done a good Bad review. Shame, because there's been a lot of good ones these past few years, like a recent trailer talking about how we only use 20% of our brain. The old cliche used to be 10%, so maybe progress is being made. :-P Eh, maybe I'll take up the gauntlet. I have some web real estate somewhere, I think.

  • Just rename it 'Defence Against The Dark Arts'.
    • You win the thread even if you were joking.

      Because science and math and engineering really are the tools we have to fight Sagan's demon haunted world of ignorance.

  • by Quiet_Desperation ( 858215 ) on Monday March 21, 2011 @12:02AM (#35555970)

    Three comments in, and it's a knife fight about the school system between the "Burn The Schools" crowd and the "Teachers and schools are noble places of unicorns and rainbows and they just need another fifty million billion zillion dollars" contingent.

    My advice: Eff the Intertoobs. Take them out to see science and engineering in action. Go to a factory. Go someplace something gets built. Take them to some hub of commerce. Take to a stock exchange or a bank. Teach them that the numbers matter, that they have purpose and meaning. Show them the real world works, and not the filthy 1-dimensional world views you get in places like this. Field trips, my boy, field trips.

  • Get them to find the most interesting things you can do with ammonia and iodine.

    You should know the rest.

MESSAGE ACKNOWLEDGED -- The Pershing II missiles have been launched.