Kits help students reap benefits of hands-on science lessons

Josh Barr and Eryn Anderson, students in Barb See’s fourth-grade class, works on an activity from a Just ASK science kit. “I really like the kits because of the hands-on investigations the kids get to do,” See said. “They get to discover answers to my questions (and theirs) by investigating with the given supplies. The kits also lead to doing adaptations of the lessons in other subjects. For example, we can write compare-and-contrast articles for language class using the critters that are in our science kit.”

Holy Trinity elementary students are becoming budding young scientists thanks to a group of newly trained and energized teachers along with the help of some amazing science inquiry kits that are part of a project Holy Trinity was invited to participate in: “Teachers Helping Teachers Teach Inquiry Science: The ‘Just ASK’ Project,” by James Shymansky, University of Missouri-St. Louis, funded by a National Science Foundation grant.

In kindergarten, students study organisms and plant seeds, record growth and construct habitats for their organism’s needs, behavior and changes. They also use the Weather Kit to observe, discuss, measure and record data on cloud cover, precipitation, wind and temperature. Students learn how to read thermometers, take daily temperature readings and record their findings on a class temperature graph. Children construct a rain gauge and practice measuring rainfall while exploring what happens to rain after it has fallen.

The first-graders concentrate on “Comparing and Measuring” and “Solids and Liquids.” When using standard units of measure to measure height, width and distance, students begin to understand key measuring concepts such as beginning and ending points, a common starting line and standard units of measure. In “Solids and Liquids,” students observe, describe and compare a collection of solid objects, focusing on such properties as color, shape, texture and hardness. Investigations of liquids center on how various liquids look and feel, their fluidity, how they mix with water, and their degree of absorption. In the final lesson, students compare the properties of solids and liquids and identify how they are similar and different.

“The Life Cycle of Butterflies” enables students to investigate the painted lady butterfly. Throughout an eight-week period, students observe, record and describe the metamorphosis from caterpillar to chrysalis and from chrysalis to butterfly. Students prepare the caterpillars’ food, learn how to care for the butterflies, and observe the caterpillars under a hand lens. Children also watch the caterpillars crawl, suspend themselves upside down, spin silk, eat, eliminate waste and molt.


Another unit explored in second grade helps to expand students’ understanding of solids, liquids and gases by exploring changes in state. Second-graders investigate freezing, melting, evaporation and condensation of water by mixing two solids and a mixture of solids with liquids and observe the results. Children work through several methods of separating mixtures and set up “races” that involve sugar dissolving in water to observe the effects of particle size and water temperature. They also observe crystals formed as a result of evaporation and begin to recognize the characteristics of chemical reactions.

Third-graders use tuning forks, slide whistles, strings and other sound-producing objects to investigate the characteristics of sound. Students will construct simple stringed instruments to discover how they can increase the volume of the sound produced by the strings. They will learn about the anatomy and functioning of the human ear by building model vocal cords and by designing and building musical instruments. “Chemical Tests” challenges students to explore and determine the identity of five common household chemicals: sugar, alum, talc, baking soda and cornstarch. Students begin by focusing on the physical properties of color, form and texture. Next, they explore the chemical properties by observing how the five powders interact with water, vinegar, iodine and red cabbage juice. These tests enable them to explore crystallization, evaporation and filtration.

Fourth-graders focus on animal studies as they care for and observe three animals from different habitats — the dwarf African frog, the fiddler crab and the millipede. The students learn what the animals need to survive, the primary parts of their anatomical structure, and the ways in which they are suited for life in a particular environment. “Electric Currents” are also studied in the fourth grade. Students learn about electric circuits, the parts of a light bulb, conductors and insulators and learn about the symbols used to represent the parts of a circuit in circuit diagrams. Students will apply their knowledge and skills to wire a cardboard house.

“Floating and Sinking” and “Land & Water” are studied in the fifth grade. “Floating” investigates buoyancy and begins with students making a spring scale used to weigh objects. After making clay boats and testing their buoyancy, students are challenged to design a boat that has a certain loading capacity. The interaction between land and water is studied while students use a stream table that serves as the basis for investigations of the water cycle. By observing the model, manipulating certain parts of it, and testing interactions under various conditions, students discover how water changes the shape of land and how land formations affect the flow of water.  

Sixth-graders are continually encouraged to “think like a scientist” as they study ecosystems and magnets and motors. When setting up terrariums students use grass, mustard and alfalfa plants and add crickets and isopods. Sixth-graders also set up an aquarium into which they introduce snails, guppies, elodea, algae and duckweed. By connecting the terrarium and aquarium bottles to create an ecocolumn, students observe the relationship between the two environments and the organisms living within them.

Students begin their study of magnets by making a compass. They then investigate the relationship between magnetism and electricity, as they explore the characteristics of switches and circuits. Finally, students experiment with three different motors. They dismantle, experiment with and reassemble a manufactured motor.

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