5 Cool Science Activities to Keep Kids Learning During the Holidays

In the past, summer learning was sometimes treated as an optional, not-so-important part of education. After all, summer was all about taking a break from school. Not this year! With the COVID-19 outbreak, parents have been getting involved in home schooling this summer whether they like it or not, and we know that sometimes it can be hard to continually come up with new educational activities! 

Never fear, we’ve got a few good ideas of our own—after all, Twig Science Tools is packed full of them—and we’d like to share five of our favorites. We know all about how important it is to fight the summer learning gap, but at the same time, summer is all about fun, so we’ve selected activities that kids will really enjoy. They may not even realize they’re learning science at the same time—but they will be! So whether you’re a teacher looking for inspiration for summer school, or a parent looking to keep their kids busy over summer, the following activities are a great addition to your toolbox!

1. Grow Your Own Geode

Geodes are natural rock formations that have cavities lined with crystals or other minerals. They’re typically formed in igneous rocks by cooling lava or magma—but you can encourage your children to grow their own geodes, helping them to learn how different minerals create crystals of different sizes and shapes based on saturation levels and cooling rates.

What you need:

  • Alum powder
  • Epsom salts
  • Borax
  • PVA glue
  • Empty, clean eggshell halves
  • Food coloring
  • Three cups
  • An empty egg carton

Procedure: Coat each eggshell half with glue. Sprinkle a couple of shells with Epsom salts, a couple with borax and a couple with alum powder. Let these dry overnight in the empty egg carton. In the morning, fill the three cups with boiling water and add several drops of food coloring to each. Pour alum powder into the first cup into it stops dissolving; add borax to the second cup in the same way; and saturate the third with Epsom salts. It’s essential that in all three cases the mixtures are saturated—i.e., as much as can be dissolved in the liquid is dissolved. Pour each mixture into its corresponding geode: the alum mixture should be poured into the eggshell coated with alum, the borax mixture into the shell coated with Borax, and the Epsom salts mixture into the shell coated with the Epsom salts. Leave the shells to cool. Observe them after an interval of four hours and another of 10 hours, and then look again the following morning. What happens to the geodes? Do the crystals get bigger if they are left to cool longer? Which mixture creates the most beautiful crystals? See? Fun and scientific learning rolled into one. You now also have a number of beautiful paperweights!

2. Windmill Garden Ornaments

These beauties help kids learn how to measure the velocity and direction of the wind, as well as providing you with beautiful decorations for your garden. Why could it be important to measure the wind? Well, this natural resource is a major source of energy, and countries all over the world use wind turbines or windmills to harness this energy. Pinwheels use the same principle as windmills or wind turbines, providing an excellent way to study how wind energy can be captured so that it can then be converted to electric energy.

 What you need (per windmill):

  • Square of colored paper, 8 x 8 inches (20 × 20 cm)
  • Scissors
  • Pushpin
  • Length of thin dowelling

Procedure: Fold the square of paper in half diagonally, then open out before folding diagonally again perpendicular to the first fold. Open out flat. Use the scissors to cut along the folds, stopping each cut around 3 cm from the centre. Pull down alternating corners to the centre of the square, taking care not to fold or crease them. Hold each of the corners gently in place until you’ve pulled down all of them, then secure with the pushpin. Push the pushpin into the top of the dowelling, but leave just enough space to allow the windmill to turn.

Choose a windy day to take the windmills out. Ask your child to look at the front of the pinwheel. How fast does it go? What way do they need to hold the pinwheel in order for it to spin the fastest?

3. Color Your Flowers

This is a fun little activity to get young children interested in botany by showing them how water is transported in plants.

What you need:

  • Several white flowers (chrysanthemums or carnations work best)
  • Several different colors of food colouring.
  • Lukewarm water
  • Small vases

Procedure: Begin by cutting about a quarter from the bottom of a stem of each flower, making sure to cut at an angle. Line up the vases and fill each about halfway with lukewarm water. Ask the children to pour around four or five drops of food coloring in each vase. Alternately, you could vary the amount of one color that you put in each vase: one drop of dye in the first vase, four in the second, eight in the third, and so on. Now place a single flower in each vase and leave them for a day. Over time, you’ll see the flowers take on the colour of the water. How did that happen? Which colour is the darkest and which is the lightest? Why is one flower a pink colour while the other a deep red when they all have red food colouring? You can also remove a flower to cut the stem halfway, showing your children how the inside of the stem is the same colour as the water. You can have a lot of fun with this experiment using different flowers—you could even split the bottom of the stem of a flower vertically into two and put each half in a vase with a different color!

4. Edible Stained Glass

Food science at its best! Adding food coloring to this experiment gives it that artistic touch that kids love. It does require constant adult supervision, but the results are stunning and delicious. You can find the full experiment here.

What you will need:

  • Saucepan
  • 13/4 cups (350 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) light corn syrup
  • Pinch cream of tartar
  • 1 cup (240 ml) water
  • Food coloring (preferably in at least three different colours)
  • Cooking thermometer
  • Baking sheet or disposable baking tray
  • Nonstick cooking spray

Procedure: In the saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and cream of tartar with the water and place over a very low heat. Stir constantly until the mixture is dissolved and becomes transparent. Check the temperature using the thermometer and let the mixture slowly come to the boil: for this mixture, about 300–310℉ (149–154℃). In the meantime, spray the baking tray with the nonstick cooking spray. When the sugar mixture comes to the boil, remove from the heat and pour the mixture very carefully into the baking tray, watching out for splatters. Allow the kids—still under supervision!—to sprinkle drops of food coloring over the mixture before spreading them in swirling patterns using a wooden spoon or butter knife. Leave the mixture to cool for a few hours. Once cool, remove the stunning glasslike sugar pane.

5. Grow a Plant Without a Seed

Farmers and gardeners use botanical science all the time when it comes to growing fruit and vegetables. Asexual reproduction of plants is an important part of the curriculum, so why not give the kids a head start for next year while cultivating some homegrown herbs at the same time?

What you need:

  • Old jelly jars (cleaned thoroughly)
  • Shop-bought basil, mint, and coriander
  • Room-temperature water

Procedure: Select a couple of healthy stalks and trim their ends. Let the children gently remove the lower leaves, but make sure to keep the top leaves intact. Half-fill each glass jar with the room-temperature water. Place the stalks in the water so that the nodes left from where you pulled the lower leaves off are submerged, but make sure the top leaves remain above the water line. Place jars in a well-lit area (although out of direct sunlight). In two weeks’ time the stalks should sprout roots and be ready to be potted up. Ask the kids if they thought that this would be possible.

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For lots more inspiring activities—plus high-quality science videos and lessons—check out Twig Science Tools

Planet Hunters Find Watery Clue to Alien Life

For the first time, scientists looking for life outside the Solar System have identified a faraway planet with water vapor in its atmosphere.

For planets to be able to contain life, they must be in a star’s “Goldilocks zone,” where water is liquid—neither too close to the star (or water would evaporate in the heat) or too far away (where it would freeze).

The planet in question is called K2-18b, and it was first observed in 2015. Follow-up studies using the Hubble space telescope revealed the water in the planet’s atmosphere—possibly in the form of rain or clouds.

The discovery is an encouraging sign for scientists searching the Universe for places other than Earth where life might have developed.

Planet K2-18b is what is known as an exoplanet. “Exo” means outside, and exoplanets are outside the Solar System. Scientists who look for these distant worlds are called astronomers.

“This is the first potentially habitable planet where the temperature is right and where we now know there is water,” said University College London astronomer Angelos Tsiaras. “It’s the best candidate for habitability right now.”

Being an astronomer can be exciting, rewarding work. That’s we included it as one of dozens of STEM roles students encounter with Twig Science, the investigation-based program developed for NGSS. In the Grade 5 module Patterns in the Night Sky, students meet an astronomer and learn all about how scientists gather information about the Universe. They learn about how to spot an exoplanet—and then try to find one themselves! And that’s not all they do as astronomers. They also investigate why some stars are brighter than others, why we only see them at night, and how they seem to move across the sky. They discover how to use the night sky to navigate, explore the constellations, and investigate the reasons why we don’t fall off the Earth!

Twig Science prepares students for a whole range of careers by enabling them to experience different STEM roles, from chemist to zoologist to architects. They go from working with a Hollywood special effects department to mapping real-life earthquakes as they happen all over the world. They read about and engage with scientists and engineers—from all walks of life—doing work that makes them think, “Yeah, I could do that.”

Visit Twig Science and get your students trying out dozens of possible futures.

Helen Quinn

Twig talks to… Helen Quinn

Theoretical physicist Helen Quinn chaired the National Research Council committee that created A Framework for K–12 Science Education—the foundation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) program. As such, she was instrumental in building the program that focuses on new ways of teaching and learning science, in which students are supported to think like scientists and engineers in investigating natural phenomena and engineering design problems.

Twig Education CEO Catherine Cahn spoke to Helen about how NGSS will change the way that science is taught in elementary school and why this stage in students’ development is key.

Catherine Cahn: How can we inspire a love of science in students at a young age?

Helen Quinn: To encourage students to learn, to want to learn, means you have to find ways of engaging them in activities which they find interesting and rewarding, but are also learning activities. That’s the kind of situation where kids get turned on—not just to becoming scientists, but to becoming learners and to becoming thinkers. That is what we want to see in elementary school science.

CC: When did you first develop an interest in science yourself?

HQ: I was very fortunate to go to an elementary school that was very progressive. It was actually a new school on 50 acres of bushland with only three classrooms, and so we had a huge outdoor area to explore and study. We didn’t call it science, we called it nature study. We went out and figured out what plants grew where and why. We just spent a lot of time exploring and finding out what was going on, and that was just part of the way that school functioned at that time. And it gave me a grounding in being curious and asking questions that has served me in good stead throughout my career as a scientist.

CC: What is your vision of how the Next Generation Science Standards will transform elementary science education?

HQ: Science should be one of the things that makes school fun and interesting for kids and engages kids in wanting to learn. That is done by the right kind of activity, putting the right kind of material in front of the children that will make them curious and make them want to ask questions—and then the support for them to investigate and find the answer to those questions and to think for themselves. In my experience, that experience gets kids not just more interested in learning science but generally more interested in learning.

CC: How will this shift in elementary science benefit students?

HQ: What young students think about is what do they like to do and what is interesting to them. What would they like to read about? What are they interested to find out more about? If they are only exposed to sports as something that’s interesting and fun to do and read about, then they become interested in sports. If they’re exposed to engineering and the design process, and have fun designing things, then they become more interested in “Where can I get more such opportunities?”—and maybe eventually they’ll start thinking about becoming engineers or scientists.

CC: Can you describe how you think that a successful science experience in elementary builds the foundation for success in secondary school in all subjects?

HQ: I think the issue of middle school children being turned off to science is partly an issue of middle school children who’ve been turned off to learning by their elementary school experiences. Learning is a sequential process—everything we learn we build on our prior knowledge, and the richer and deeper our prior knowledge is the more we are ready to learn the next thing. A good elementary school science program is designed to build a base for the kind of science learning that needs to happen in middle school, and the middle school program builds a base for the kind of science learning that’s to go on in secondary school. At each level, you’re revisiting topics but revisiting them at a greater depth. So if you’ve built the base, you can start at a different place and go further with the topic.

CC: How do we encourage people from all backgrounds to consider STEM careers?

HQ: Put it this way—people don’t choose a career they’ve never heard of. Just knowing that there are people that do science rather than that “science is just a bunch of facts that I have to know”—or knowing there are people who design things rather than just thinking things exist because they exist—is really important in order to even begin to think about careers that are different from those of their parents.

Welcome to Twig Education

Big news—Twig World Ltd is becoming Twig Education!

Twig World Ltd is changing to Twig Education. Why? Because education is what we do. We’re committed to improving the quality of education around the globe, and we’re also dedicated to creating clear, intuitive, and exciting resources. We want that commitment and clarity to be reflected in our name: Twig Education.

Last year, we launched our new corporate website—twigeducation.com—where you can learn more about our company, our partners, and our full range of products. Since then we’ve been working hard to continue to expand our product portfolio around the world.

If you’re a teacher of students aged 11–16, there’s no need to panic. Twig World, our award-winning secondary resource, isn’t going anywhere and can still be found at the usual website address.

On the subject of names, you might be saying to yourself, “The ‘Education’ part makes sense… but why ‘Twig’?”

Well, we made this little video to explain…

What's in a name video learn.twigeducation.com/whats-in-a-name-twig

Look out for more award-winning, world-class products from Twig Education!

Multicolored balloons flying to the sky.

Twig Science officially adopted by the California Department of Education

The entire Twig Education team—including our partners at Stanford’s SCALE team, Imperial College London, and DC Thomson—is celebrating!

Why?

Because Twig Science has been adopted by the California State Board of Education.

It’s the moment the entire company has been working towards, and it marks the culmination of a rigorous review led by the Instructional Quality Commission.

What does this mean?
This means that Twig Science is now on the exclusive list of approved programs from which schools in California purchase their resources.

Twig Science is a phenomena-based TK–6 Science and Engineering program, built for California and the Next Generation Science Standards.

Along with our award-winning films and engaging digital and hands-on investigations, Twig Science’s print and/or digital solutions offer truly three-dimensional science and cross-curricular connections.

Also included is an assessment suite to track performance expectations.

Our partnership with SCALE means that our assessments are truly 3-D and deliver in building students’ confidence and preparing them for state assessments.

We are thrilled that all students will have access to real-world Science and Engineering as early as elementary school.

Catherine Cahn, CEO at Twig Education, said: “Twig Education has a history of creating innovative science products for students around the globe. We’re excited that students all across California will have the opportunity to explore their world through Twig Science while gaining key skills for success in the 21st century.”

Watch the Twig Science promo film here:

Students working on Twig Science hands-on tasks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’d like to see the full press release, including quotes from SCALE and Imperial College London, you can download it here.

Top 5 takeaways: The Power of 3-D Performance Assessments

NGSS has shifted the way science educators are thinking about and designing instruction and assessment. One way to address these shifts for California educators is to consider how 3-D performance assessments can help teachers chart their students’ progress towards meeting the goals of NGSS.

Cathy Zozakiewicz recently presented the webinar “The Power of 3-D Performance Assessments: CA NGSS, CAST, and Beyond.” Here are our top 5 takeaways:

 

1. The key to NGSS is three-dimensional learning.

With NGSS, science teaching and learning is no longer just about memorizing information. At its heart are Performance Expectations, describing what students are expected to know and to be able to do. To meet these expectations, students have to think like scientists, using knowledge in creative and analytical ways. They apply their understanding of scientific concepts to solve problems and make connections between the various STEM disciplines.

2. The three-dimensions of NGSS learning are SEPs, DCIs, and CCCs.

There are three main components of NGSS Performance Expectations. The first is Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). These are specific activities—such as using models and carrying out investigations—that scientists and engineers use in the real world. Students following SEPs behave just like real scientists. The second component is Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs). These are made up of the primary knowledge and facts that students are expected to know in each discipline. The third component is Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs), which are the concepts that come up time and time again across all the science disciplines—things like patterns and cause and effect.

3. To maximize 3-D learning, we need to think about the assessments we use.

Many forms of assessments—Q&As, research projects—are good at measuring single dimensions of Performance Expectations, but ideally we want to develop assessments that provide evidence of the three-dimensions of NGSS. That’s where performance assessment comes in. Performance assessment is learning by doing. Unlike traditional forms of assessment, in which students learn and then get assessed at the end of an instructional unit, students are assessed as they perform and demonstrate real science practices and reasoning during the entire instructional sequence.

4. Performance assessment is assessment for and as learning.

Performance assessment is educative, because it provides teachers with actionable data—to understand what students are able to do and struggling to do. This allows teachers to give feedback and guidance and actually change what and how they teach as they proceed through a course. What’s more, students assess themselves—they know what they can do right now and what they need to learn. So performance assessment is more integrated with learning and has an impact on how that learning develops, rather than just being a measure of learning already attained.

5. Twig Science’s hands-on investigations make performance assessment truly three-dimensional.

Every Twig Science module features an immersive storyline, with hands-on investigations in which students try to solve problems, analyse their results, and make improvements. The investigations are explicitly tied to the three dimensions of NGSS—students gain knowledge, develop real STEM skills, and make connections between different disciplines. Students are being assessed in the NGSS performance expectations, the practices of scientists and engineers.  Students are also expected to assess themselves as they consider how to develop their ideas, models or solutions. Often they have no idea they are being assessed because they are so involved in what they’re doing—designing solutions, manipulating data, talking to each other, learning from errors. It’s a really effective and dynamic way of learning.

Cathy provides technical consulting and support through Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, & Equity (SCALE). She develops innovative, educational, and state-of-the-art performance assessments for evaluating student learning. The Stanford NGSS Assessment Project (SNAP) team, many of whom, including Cathy, are part of SCALE, were invited by the California Department of Education and ETS to evaluate and provide feedback on assessment items and the development process for CAST.

Watch the full webinar here.