Science in the City

Aug 6, 2020

Popular Q & A For Teaching Static Electricity

One of my most popular FREE resources is designed to teach about static electricity.  It is written for middle school but would be appropriate for upper elementary, or perhaps 9th grade.  

This middle school static lab is a lot of fun, and memorable for students. It includes an explanation, with diagrams, of static electricity, and then five stations of activities for students to explore static electricity. It also has summary questions for them to answer to process and assess their knowledge.  In this post I answer some common questions, and explain ways to extend this activity

This middle school static lab is a lot of fun, and memorable for students. It includes an explanation, with diagrams, of static electricity, and then five stations of activities for students to explore static electricity. It also has summary questions for them to answer to process and assess their knowledge.

It used very basic household materials, so it would also be an activity that you students could do at home, if needed, or to show their families what they have been learning.  The materials needed (to do all five stations) are: soda cans, inflated balloons, packing peanuts in a plastic bag, small pieces of wool cloth, puffed wheat cereal, black plastic strips 

Here are some common questions and answers that I often receive.  

  • Can you explain more about the materials?  What if I don’t have some of the materials? What can I use instead? 


Possible Substitutions

Inflated balloons

Bubble wrap/bubble packing materials

Packing peanuts

Cut or break apart small pieces of a styrofoam cup or plate

Small pieces of wool cloth

Another cloth can be substituted.  Some types of cloth that work well would be something ‘furry’ or fuzzy, nylon, or even leather. 

Puffed wheat cereal

Could use another similar cereal that is not too sweet and is in discrete pieces, such as cheerios.  Something puffed may work better simply because it is so light.  Puffed rice cereal would also be great. You can also use black pepper here as well.  

Black plastic strips

You could also use a comb, small ruler, or another plastic strip.  If needed, you can substitute the balloon here as well. 

What classroom management tips do you have for doing this lab with middle school students? 

I have done this lab as stations, but it is easily adapted.  I wrote a more lengthy post about how to run stations that may be helpful. 

Further Inspiration and direction

In case you are looking for more inspiration or an engagement video to get your students started, it can be very engaging to do something very simple, that ties it back to real life.  Static electricity causes lightning, so it would be eye-catching to have a picture of lightning up on the board and ask students for their ideas about what causes lightning at the start of class.  

There are also many readily available pictures of children with their hair standing on end, etc.  Again, this could easily be used to capture student attention and engage them before starting the activity.

In either of these cases, it would be ideal to return to that picture after the lesson and see if students could further explain the cause of that phenomenon. 


If you are looking to extend this further, this is the perfect lab to practice experimental design. Students can choose one variable to test (such as the type of fabric, or the type of cereal) and determine how it affects the results that they see.  This could even be a chance to graph some data if you can collect quantitative data.   

If you want to try this activity in your class, with complete written directions and summary questions, check it out here.

Jun 4, 2020

How Teachers Can Support Students Studying At Home

(Pixabay CC0)

At the time of writing, many children are studying at home due to school closures instigated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many teachers are having to find new ways to support their students, and also their student's parents who have been encouraged to provide learning opportunities at home.

Of course, going beyond the pandemic situation, you might still find cause to support those pupils who have to study at home. There are instances when some children can't make it into school, for a variety of reasons, and there are reasons why schools might be closed too. We are thinking of the weather, for example, which can cause disruption for many.

When offering support then, you might want to consider the following suggestions.

Provide activities in a range of formats
You already know that children have a range of different learning styles, so try to vary the activities you send to them. Some children will benefit from recorded lessons that can be accessed online, whereas others might need to experience hands-on learning when under the tuition of their parents.

It's important to remember that children from low-income families might not have access to computers and smart devices, so paper-based activities should be provided when digital learning isn't possible. You will already have printables that can be used at home but click here for some literacy examples.

Thinking about your students then, consider their individual needs, and then try to match them when preparing activities for them to do at home.

Offer parents practical support
In a lot of cases, older children will need little support from their parents, other than the encouragement to actually buckle down and work. Younger children will need more support, so their parents will need to have some understanding of how to teach their youngsters effectively.

So, give parents clear guidance on what they need to do to support the needs of your students. Share activity ideas, give them instructions on how to deliver a lesson, and offer tips on time management. Remember that most parents won't have your expertise, so stay clear of jargon, simplify your instructions and share tips that can easily be adopted.

Be reachable too. While you don't want to inundated by calls from parents, you might still offer your services online. If your school has a Facebook group, make yourself available at certain times of the day, as you will then have the opportunity to support any parents who have questions or concerns about the lessons they are being asked to deliver.

Go live!
Skype and Zoom both offer group chat functions, so you will have the opportunity to connect with small groups of pupils at a time. Use these platforms to talk to your students, offer them encouragement and reassurance, and when its practical to do so, provide some level of teaching from behind your computer screen. This is also your opportunity to connect with parents, so encourage them too, and guide them if they need advice on any aspect of their children's learning.

Thanks for reading!

May 21, 2020

How to know if you are successful as a teacher

How to know if you are successful as a teacher

One of the down sides of teaching is that you may never feel like you have done enough. It can be overwhelming. Particularly now, when we are doing distance learning and transitioning to new methods of teaching, in many cases while taking on responsibilities at home with our own children, it may not feel like you are “doing a good job” or “being successful.”

First of all, there are answers, and no hard rules right now for what you should be doing. All bets are off. You are doing enough. You are doing your best to help your students and take care of yourself. You are doing it right.

So how do you measure success? Many of our common measures of teaching success are not fair to teachers (as well know), or only tell part of the story. For example, test scores. We all know about that. Many of these ‘measures’ are out of our control and influenced by so many other factors, that they are really not measuring teachers’ success at all. 

How to know if you are successful as a teacher

So how do you measure and evaluate your own success?

This question came up in our Facebook Group a while ago, and I would like to share some of those responses here, as well as add a few others that are specific to some of the more recent events.

From the Facebook Group

  • From member Louette McInnes: New teachers take note. When I started teaching, an experienced teacher told me that if I had 'one really great lesson a day', that was success. He also said it would take me a year to get one course set up so I knew it would be really successful and do what I wanted it to do. He was right.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others - look at your own progress, look at the interactions and progress that you can see with individual kids
  • Are kids respectful (for the most part), are they engaged? Are they learning?
  • Are they thinking?
  • What do they know that they weren’t able to do when they came to you?
  • And more in this post

In addition, right now, some things are more important than academics.

  • Are you building or maintaining relationships with your students (and their families)?
  • Are you working to meet your students needs (both academic and otherwise), while taking care of yourself?
  • Are you helping students to make some progress, within their other constraints?
  • Are you doing the best you can? Not giving up? Trying some creative ideas, even if they don’t all work? Taking some risks with the hope of improving?
Then you are successful as a teacher!

Keep building relationships, keep thinking, being creative, and building relationships with your students and the rest will come. Teaching is not a place for instant gratification. You won’t start your teaching career, or your school year, and have it all be successful. It’s a slower process. You will make gradual gains, and have ups and downs. But over the long haul, as you look back, you will absolutely see signs that you have been successful!!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...