Oreo Plate Tectonics and Moon Phases

A couple of nice activities using Oreo cookies (or in my case, cheaper alternatives).

Plate tectonics

Explain that the upper cookie is the lithosphere, the creamy filling is the asthenosphere, and the lower cookie is the lower mantle. Begin by simulating the motion of the rigid lithosphere plate over the softer asthenosphere by sliding the upper cookie over the cream. Then break the top cookie in half and simulate a divergent plate boundary by sliding the two cookie halves apart.

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Push one cookie half under the other to make a convergent plate boundary.

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Finally, simulate a transform plate boundary by sliding the two cookie halves past one another. Students should feel and hear that the two ‘plates’ do not glide smoothly past one another (thus modelling the earthquakes that occur at transform fault lines such as San Andreas).

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Moon phases

Simply remove the top cookie to reveal the creamy filling beneath. Scrape away and shape the cream to show the phases of the moon. Students should draw the relative location of the Earth and label the phases. Great as a revision tool or plenary.

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Lemonade Bottle Ecosystem

This is a wonderful activity in which students build a self-sustaining ecosystem containing primary producers (microscopic algae), primary consumers (brine shrimps) and decomposers (micro-organisms) inside a lemonade or coke bottle.

So long as you leave the bottle ecosystem on a sunny windowsill, the brine shrimps never require feeding and never run out of oxygen because the photosynthesising algae on which they feed, multiply by asexual reproduction. In turn, the algae never runs out of carbon dioxide, water or mineral salts because they are all recycled.

A book produced by Stephen Tomkins and Michael Dockery entitled ‘Brine Shrimp Ecology – a classroom-based introduction to ecology‘ is available to download copyright free from the British Ecological Society and contains a plurality of resources for ecological investigations including teaching notes, technicians’ guides and background information. The activities are primarily aimed at key stage 3 and key stage 4 students but could also provide the starting point for post 16 biology projects.

Blades Biological (based in the UK but accepting international orders) can supply brine shrimp eggs and algal cultures to get you started.

 

Science and Plants for Schools (SAPS)

I highly recommend the Science and Plants for Schools (SAPS) website. It is packed full of very high quality teaching and learning resources including set practicals, videos (like the one above), journal articles, science club ideas and presentations. It also hosts an extensive image library. Sign up for their free newsletter to be the very first to hear about exclusive opportunities and grants, a round-up of the latest research and even more inspiration for your teaching.

Teaching Evolution by Natural Selection

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Here are some resources and activities for teaching evolution by natural selection at Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4.

Bird beaks

This is a fun activity for demonstrating adaptive radiation in birds, as observed in finches by Charles Darwin during his famous expedition. Materials and procedure are detailed here but I use forceps, clothes pegs, chopsticks and toothpicks as beaks and red kidney beans, mung beans, raisins and rice for the four food types.

Peppered moth hunt

This exercise simulates how predators locate prey in different environments and is perfect for highlighting the fate of the infamous peppered moth.

You will need:

  • sheet of white paper
  • newspaper
  • forceps
  • stopwatch
  • 30 newspaper circles (made with hole punch)
  • 30 white circles (made with hole punch)

Steps:

  • Students work in pairs
  • Place a sheet of white paper on the table. One student should spread 30 white circles (‘pale peppered moths’) and 30 newspaper circles (dark peppered moths’) over the surface while the other student (‘the predatory bird’) is not looking.
  • The ‘predatory peppered moth’ then uses the forceps to pick up as many circles as he or she can in 15 seconds. This corresponds to the predator capturing and eating the moths.
  • Repeat the trial with white circles on a newspaper background, newspaper circles on a white background, and newspaper circles on a newspaper background. Record the data in a table and then ask the students to consider the following questions:
    • What type of tree surface is represented by the newspaper?
    • Which moth colouration is the best adaptation for a polluted background? How do you know?
    • Following the first trial, what has happened to the frequency of the allele for ‘pale’ colouration?
    • Moths which survive i.e. are not eaten by the predatory birds can pass on their alleles when they reproduce. How does the simulation model natural selection?

Giraffe stretch

This is a very quick and simple demonstration of variation and survival of the fittest. Before the lesson, I stick some paper leaves at the very top of the door frame. I then ask a small number of students (of different heights) to come and see who can reach the leaves (you may wish to remind them that giraffes can not jump or stand on chairs!).

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Phet simulation

For slightly older students Phet have an excellent interactive simulation of natural selection.

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YouTube

Bangamukande Education Pack

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This is a teaching pack that I produced as part of an environmental education and community outreach programme in Sri Lanka in 2005. It was developed alongside an existing community-based conservation (CBC) project restoring rainforest in the wet zone ecoregion of southwestern Sri Lanka, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. The education and outreach programme was funded by the Born Free Foundation and the Primate Society of Great Britain (PSGB) and was awarded the prestigious BP Future Conservationist Award.

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The pack was translated into Sinhalese and distributed with much needed resources such as colouring pencils and exercise books to primary schools and Buddhist hermitages in the region. Although specific to the flora and fauna of this particular part of Sri Lanka, the pack contains some fun ideas for teaching younger students about wildlife conservation and the natural world.

Project-Based Learning

Over the past eight weeks our Year 10 students have been involved in an extended project-based learning (PBL) task. Each group of 3-4 students was presented with a real-life problem which could not be solved by one ‘right’ or easy to find answer and asked to present their ideas to an audience of parents, teachers and peers.

The problems were purposely open-ended in order to emphasise active, student-directed learning across a plurality of disciplines. The students all effectively investigated the problem, carried out scientific research and then constructed their own solutions. New technology was used throughout to communicate, collaborate and present their work.

The students decided that the theme for presentation day should be ‘Jurassic World’. They produced invitations for guests and decorated the science corridor.

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On arrival guests were shown an introductory video. The quality of this is exceptional.

Innovations included an ant deterrent made from kaffir limes, a hanging storage facility for utilising the space beneath a work desk, a wind-up torch and this device for removing the shells from hard boiled eggs.