View Lessons by Subject > Science > Hands-On Lessons
(Chemistry): In my 10th grade chemistry class, we performed an experiment in which the students reacted hydrochloric acid with the zinc inside of pennies, which reacts much faster than the thin copper layer on the outside. Overnight, the zinc inside the penny (which makes up nearly all of the penny’s mass) reacts, but the copper is left nearly untouched. The result is that the students come in the next day to find that they have a nearly weightless copper shell of a penny. It’s still in the shape of a penny, but the copper itself is much thinner than aluminum foil. The great part was when a student asked about what would happen to the copper if the penny was left in the acid for a longer period of time, so we left it in for the weekend, over which the copper disappeared and the solution turned blue. They then asked if a new penny would react with the acid as it did at the beginning, so I put one in. While the zinc reacted as expected, the copper from the previous penny did something unexpected and came out of solution and formed around the new penny's copper. This sparked a discussion of what had happened, and we made a connection to the type of reactions that were occurring, discovering that there were two competing reactions, one slow and one fast. The slow reaction was reversed by the fast reaction, but with enough time would itself complete. The students enjoyed trying to figure out this puzzle. Since it was from a question of theirs and not something I had tried myself, they enjoyed the genuine surprise that I exhibited (One of them asked if I had known what would happen. I had not. I think that my own surprise helped to augment theirs). The feel of “oh, this is a genuine discovery, not a guided activity” really helped them feel invested.
(Biology): Mrs. [teacher name] (our 7th grade science teacher) was teaching us about the circulatory system. This system involves the heart, lungs, and blood. To better understand the system, Mrs. [teacher name] organized an in-class activity for the students to do. She taped blue and red lines on the ground, representing blood vessels with oxygen-rich blood (red) and blood vessels with oxygen-poor blood (blue). She also used tape to outline a heart on the floor and moved the class furniture to the outskirts of the room to make space for us as walked and crawled around the room. Mrs. [teacher name]. had recreated the circulatory system on the floor of our science classroom and we represented the blood, moving through the blood vessels and dropping off oxygen (mini balloons) at each organ (a lab table) so that they could function. She made it extremely realistic, making us (the blood) start at the heart, move to the lungs to retrieve oxygen and then move to the body to drop off the oxygen because this is what the blood inside our body actually does. To add to it all, Mrs. [teacher name] hit scissors against a plastic bin to create the sound of a heartbeat. For me, this was a useful class activity because I am a visual learner and this made me act as the blood and helped me understand where blood moves and what it does when it gets there.
(Biology): My most memorable experience in high school was in my A.P. Biology class. Specifically, the fetal pig dissection because I got to learn in a hands-on environment that pertained to what I am most interested in-- the body and its function. Throughout my junior year, AP Biology had been my favorite class because it was the most interesting; however, this lab captivated me completely. I was able to examine the liver and intestines of an actual specimen without the hindrance of self-consciousness I often felt in my co-ed English classes. My teacher, Ms. [teacher name], let us conduct the dissection independently; therefore allowing me to focus on what interested me most while simultaneously completing the requirements of the lab. I had never been more interested in the subject matter in a class than how interested I was in locating the kidneys and small intestines in this pig. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to conduct such an experiment and learn about my passions in such a calm and inviting environment.
(Environmental): In my AP Environmental class, I feel that I was particularly interested and engaged because we approached to topic of eutrophication many different ways. First, we were exposed to the problem first-hand; the pond behind our school has a huge amount of algae buildup because of eutrophication. Instead of sitting in a classroom talking about eutrophication, we got into canoes and hauled pounds of the algae from the pond, brought it to land, and composted it. Next, we hypothesized the reasons for this extreme algae growth in our pond, and came to the conclusion that the eutrophication had been caused by the fertilizer run-off from the sports fields and the disruption caused by the building of our athletic center. The next day, we learned how eutrophication is a problem on a global scale and what can be done about it. I felt that learning about this issue on a global scale, seeing an example of eutrophication first-hand, and helping the local ecosystem all at the same time was the most meaningful way to fully understand the problem.
(Environmental): In my Living Environment class, we spent three days dissecting frogs. The project began with a discussion of the ethics of dissection and an assignment in which students wrote about their opinion on animal use. Students were given the option of dissecting a real frog or a virtual frog on the computer. All but a few students chose the real frog. Students were motivated and engaged throughout the investigation, asked insightful questions, and conquered their fears of “gross” stuff. After the activity, they showed a deeper understanding of anatomy and could compare and contrast human and amphibian organs and organ systems. The students report that they have posted photos of themselves with their frogs on Facebook.
(Physics): In my Physics class, taught primarily to eleventh grade students, one of the teaching practices that I have used for years which lends itself to engagement and excitement from girls in particular is an activity associated with the study of pressure. Pressure is the amount of force applied per given area and although this topic can be covered in a variety of ways, the demonstration and activity I employ tend to result in good understand of the concept without large amounts of additional information.

Using a bed of nails (a board with numerous nails sticking out of it), I lay down on top of the nails to prove that if you have enough surface area from enough nails, the bed can actually be quite comfortable. This is followed by a problem at the board, using my body weight and the average area of the tip of the nail to calculate the pressure I experience. The girls then have a chance to try the demonstration themselves.

Following this demonstration, I do an activity where the students trace out the outline of the bottom of their shoe on graph paper. They then have to find a way to calculate the area of each shoe print in order to determine the pressure associated with standing. Each girl does this part individually and the hope is that there is a wide variety of shoes sizes (sometimes I ask them to bring in heels). It quickly becomes clear why some shoes are more comfortable than others. I finish the lesson by having a discussion about what they have learned from the demonstration and activity and if there are other instances in their lives where pressure plays an important role.
In eighth grade science class we had a challenging project called “The Submarine Project.” The student was to research about submarines and build one of their own. The sizes could range from as big as a fish tank to as small as a penny. When the class was first assigned this, I thought that it would be very easy to make and I would easily get a good grade on it. As the project progressed, it became very clear that if I would like to receive a good grade on it, I would have to work as hard as I could.

On the weekends I would spend several hours at a time trying many different methods to get the submarine to work. I began to give up on it, thinking that this one time I would have to accept getting a bad grade. When I went to class the next day, I saw that a small amount of people could get theirs to work, and a large amount of people couldn’t. It was then that I decided I wanted to be in a small group. I went in for extra help, stayed after school, and worked endless hours on it at my house, until one day when I found something that worked. The design was a tack with an Alka-Seltzer taped on top of it. I was so proud of my discovery and went to school the next day knowing that my design would succeed. During class, my submarine was tested, and succeeded. I not only felt good for working so hard, but I also felt excited about my grade. In this project my interest in learning and determination was very evident.
The most effective lessons are those in which the students find the answers for themselves and have some fun in getting them. We recently decided to find out whether there were convection currents in the eighth grade lab. The girls figured out that they needed to take the temperature of the room at different heights and locations in the room. This involved the floor, the countertops, and the ceiling. They had to climb counters and be patient while the thermometers or temperature probes read the correct temperature.

The students loved the physical nature of the lab and did not mind taking the time for the instruments to work properly. At the end, they needed to complete a whole lab report (usually a tedious task), but no one complained about the graphing or the determination of independent variables because they felt competent to answer those questions. Everyone understood what convection is about and the grades were higher than normal for a comparable exercise. Fun and ownership of data did the trick.
(Physics): One specific experience that was especially memorable to me took place a few months ago. My physics teacher brought our class outside to a hill, for a physics experiment. He assigned us special tasks for the experiment, and my assignment was to ride a bike down a hill while people timed me. The point of the experiment was to teach us about acceleration. The fact that we went outside and were able to actually physically see how acceleration works really made it stick in my mind. The fact that we were physically able to see how acceleration works made me a lot more interested in what we were doing. I don’t think I’ll ever forget acceleration now.
(Physics): The class experience that is very memorable to me occurred this year, 11th grade, in my Honors Physics course. We were discussing buoyant force and Archimedes’ Principle. I’m a very hands-on kind of learner, so having class demonstrations and labs are very helpful for me. Because we have a number of labs, demonstrations, and applications to everyday life in Physics, most of this teacher’s lessons stick with me. However, this particular one left an impression that made me particularly engaged. I never do well with keeping equations straight in my head and this lab really helped with that. We took an individual weight, tied it to a string and submerged it in a cup of water. To prove Archimedes’ principle, we then measured the displaced water and the force of the individual weight. Putting all of our information together, we were able to see the basis of this principle, that the buoyant force on an object is equal to the amount of water displaced. After this experiment we had a competition to see who could keep the most pennies afloat on a foil barge. The combination of these hands-on activities has ingrained Archimedes’ principle in my mind and I will never forget this particular concept.