It’s been a busy few weeks. Students in each of my classes have enjoyed lots of hands-on projects—the best kind! Not all course units have great labs, but I look for the active, hands-on kind whenever I can find good ones. These are pretty simple (and cheap), but simple is often the best kind.
The biology class made play-dough last week to create their own cell models. I’m never sure which of the activities they enjoy most: making the play-dough or creating the models. And since all my students are girls, I shouldn’t have been surprised that they all chose to make their play-dough pink. But they were serious about constructing their cells with the beans, popcorn, pasta, beads, and markers I set out for them. They had to accurately label the organelles and other structures, so I’m hopeful they’ll remember some science as well.
The play-dough recipe I use is easy, and one that we make several times a year for model projects. I’m planning another one for my anatomy class this week or next, as they construct skull models. Here’s my recipe:
1 cup flour
1 cup water
½ cup salt
2 T. Cream of Tartar
1 T. cooking oil
Food coloring (optional)
Add dry ingredients to a pot, then add water and oil and stir well to break up large lumps (don’t worry about a few small ones). Add a few drops of food coloring if you like. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the dough sticks together into one large mass. It will get very hard to stir near the end and should take about 5 to 10 minutes. When the dough is done cooking, let it cool for a few minutes before kneading the dough in your hands. Rub a little oil on your hands before this step to keep the dough from sticking. We use gloves, but it isn’t necessary if you want to give your hands a nice warm spa treatment—it feels wonderful! Knead until the dough is smooth, then seal in plastic baggies until ready to use. Dough can be air dried or baked until dry, then painted.
The physical science class just finished constructing their Periodic Table of Elements on a shower curtain and will begin their Kitchen Chemistry Project this week, which includes a variety of labs using ordinary household items. One of the labs they enjoyed this week was making GAK, otherwise known as slime. It’s also quite easy. They each emptied a bottle of Elmer’s glue into a beaker, then diluted with one glue-bottle full of warm water and stirred until mixed, along with a few drops of food coloring (in this class, blue was the color of choice). Meanwhile, I mixed a tablespoon of Borax (not so easy to find, but cheap) in a cup of warm water. We added the Borax solution slowly to the glue mixture while stirring, until the polymer formed large clumps of GAK. This makes great fart putty! As you can imagine, it’s popular with students—and it smells really clean!
Not to be outdone, the anatomy and physiology class put B.O.B. (Bucket of Bones) together this week as an exercise in remembering the names of bones in the skeletal system. Once they had the skeleton together, they measured the arm length and analyzed the angle of the pubic arch to determine that our skeleton would be about 5’10” tall and is likely a male (with a name like BOB, what did you expect?). A round of Bone Bingo tomorrow should cap off this part of our chapter before we move into study of the axial skeleton (skull, vertebrae, and rib cage), and another batch of play-dough models.
The reason I became a scientist many years ago was because I really enjoy getting my hands on things and making discoveries. I want my students to experience this, too, and I hope it will lead to some future science fanatics.