Thanksgiving Science

From the pop-up thermometer to turkey genetics, Thanksgiving offers lots of topics that can be explored through science. Thanks to Terry Shiverdecker for pulling together resources from the Ohio Resource Center collection of exemplary science, mathematics, and English/language arts resources.

Along with these resources consider asking students to conduct Internet research to answer these questions:

• What is it about a traditional Thanksgiving meal that makes you sleepy? Is it the tryptophan in turkey or something else?
• What is the science behind those golden brown and delicious dinner rolls? Hint: Maillard reaction
• Does cornstarch or flour make the best gravy?

Please share any other resources/ideas/questions/comments and have a great time!

Delicious and Nutritious
The food we use to celebrate Thanksgiving is delicious and may also be nutritious. But if we stuff ourselves we are likely to suffer the consequences. What better time to study digestion, what we get from food, and how science comes to the rescue when we over do it?

Thanksgiving Science: Tryptophacts and Tryptophantasies
Is turkey what makes you sleepy at Thanksgiving? No. Maybe. (How much did you eat?)

Food and the Digestive System
This lesson focuses on the digestive system. Students identify the major organs of the digestive system and determine the function of each organ. This Science NetLinks lesson is the first of a three part series.

Good Food, Good Health
Students explore ways in which food provides energy and materials for our bodies. In this investigation, students will use online resources to help them explore how food can affect their overall health. This lesson is the second of a Science NetLinks three part series.

Got Broccoli?
This lesson is designed to help students understand why the body needs food, and how it takes necessary nutrients as food passes through the digestive system. Students are asked to look critically at the advertising claims of foods they eat, recognizing those that ascribe unrealistic, emotional, or psychological benefits to foods, rather than nutritional benefits. Students will then create an original advertising campaign for a “forgotten” vegetable, presenting compelling, factual information about the nutrients found in these foods and the benefits derived from them.

Enzyme Salad Lab
In this activity students examine the effects of a specific digestive enzyme (bromelin) found in pineapple on a specific protein found in Jell-O.

The Effectiveness of Antacids
In this performance assessment from PALS, students design and conduct a scientific experiment to test which of four antacids would be most effective for neutralizing acid. They will rank the antacids in order from most effective to least effective and explain how they determined the effectiveness of each one. The resource is designed to assess grades 9-12 students but can be modified to be appropriate for middle level students.

Pop-Up Turkey Thermometers
How do those pop-up thermometers they put in turkeys work? It turns out that there is a little piece of a solder type material in the thermometer that melts at 185 degree F. So when the turkey reaches that temperature the solder melts, the plastic pops up, and you know it is time to eat. This bit of Thanksgiving information can be related to change of phase, heat transfer, and physical/chemical change. You could also consider a design challenge around this idea.

Matter of State
This lesson is designed to give students the opportunity to observe a phenomenon created by particle movement. Students begin to move from the fundamental concept of solid, liquid and gas to the reasoning for why the states exist under given conditions.

The Heat Is On
In this resource students discover how heat is transferred by conduction through matter by watching interactive video segments.

Turkeys and Genetics
The turkeys served on Thanksgiving Day are dramatically different from the ones served many years ago. To meet the demand for birds with more white meat, turkeys have been selectively bred and fed special diets designed to result in birds with larger breasts. Consider engaging students in a discussion of this somewhat controversial practice as a way to introduce genetics.

Modeling Mendel’s Pea Experiment
This modeling activity allows students to discover for themselves what Mendel uncovered in his famous pea experiments. It is an excellent introduction to Mendelian genetics which generates discussion and stimulates interest in Mendel’s principles. Students are encouraged to use the same observation and critical thinking skills that Mendel used.

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at Post updated 4/09/2012.

The Science of Sports II

Looking for “sporty” ways to teach your students about science? Here are some resources from the Middle School Portal 2 Digital Library. You can do your own searches at MSP2 Collection of Resources.

Science of NFL Football
In America, the autumn season means two things–back to school and back to football. To celebrate both events, NBC News’ educational arm, NBC Learn, teamed up with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Football League (NFL) to release the “Science of NFL Football”–an informative 10-part video series that explores the science behind America’s most beloved sport. Made especially for students and teachers as they head back to the classroom, these videos are aligned to lesson plans and national state education standards. Lessons plans for middle school students that accompany each video can be found at

For each segment in the series, an NSF-supported scientist explains the selected scientific principle, while NFL athletes describe how these principles apply to their respective positions. Series scientists supported by NSF are: University of Florida aerospace engineer Tony Schmitz, Clemson University mechanical engineer John Ziegert, University of Maryland physicist Sylvester “Jim” Gates and Bryn Mawr College mathematician Rhonda Hughes. Also participating in the series are two scientists from the University of Connecticut, kinesiologist Douglas Casa and nutritionist Nancy Rodriguez. Current players and retirees who participated in the video series include:

Former NFL Players:
* Orlando Pace, Tackle
* Hardy Nickerson, Linebacker
* Antonio Freeman, Wide Receiver
* Joey Harrington, Quarterback
* Marshall Faulk, Running Back
* Craig Hentrich, Punter
* Morten Andersen, Place Kicker
* Ryan Kuehl, Long Snapper

Current NFL Players:
* Hines Ward, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
* Antwaan Randle El, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
* Scott Paxson, Nose Tackle, Pittsburgh Steelers
* Patrick Cobbs, Running Back, Miami Dolphins
* Yeremiah Bell, Safety, Miami Dolphins
* Jake Long, Tackle, Miami Dolphins
* Dan Carpenter, Place Kicker, Miami Dolphins
* Lousaka Polite, Running Back, Miami Dolphins

The Science of Speed
The Science of Speed, produced for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and written and hosted by Diandra Leslie-Pelecky, explains the scientific principles that are so essential to the NASCAR experience. Viewers learn how science makes cars powerful, agile, fast and safe – and how these same principles affect their own cars.

Science of the Olympic Winter Games
NBC Learn, the educational arm of NBC News, teamed up with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to produce Science of the Olympic Winter Games, a 16-part video series that explores the science behind individual Olympic events, including Downhill and Aerial Skiing, Speed Skating and Figure Skating, Curling and Hockey, and Ski Jumping, Bobsledding and Snowboarding. Each video is complemented with lesson plans which include fun classroom activities. The lesson plans were written by teachers at Academic Business Consultants for grades 6-9 and are aligned with California State Standards.

Exploratorium: Sports
The Exploratorium website provides creative educational materials for introductory physics students and teachers. Users can learn about the science behind a homerun, find out how the physics of balance helps enthusiasts surf the waves, and discover the physics behind many other popular sports. The site is equipped with interviews, enticing images, and enthralling descriptions. Visitors can find interesting articles covering sports topics such as fitness challenges for climbers and the way balls bounce.

Paintball: Chemistry Hits Its Mark
The first paintballs were fired by foresters and ranchers to mark trees and cattle. In the 1980s, someone got the idea that it would be more fun to fire paintballs at people than at trees and cows. Thus the sport of paintball was born. In this article from ChemMatters, learn how the one billion paintballs manufactured each year are a product of chemistry and engineering. You’ll need to scroll down a couple of pages to get to the Paintball article.

Golf Balls
Since the late 1800s, chemists have been called on to find ways to produce lighter, faster, and durable golf balls. This site traces the chemistry that has transformed the ball and promises to create a ball that will “soar like a cruise missile, hit the ground at a very shallow angle, and roll for up to 40 yards on hard ground.”

Extreme Adventure
Do you have what it takes to win the Ultimate Race? Find out with the Tryscience Extreme Challenge! Compete on seven courses in four sports- mountain biking, kayaking, rock climbing and snowboarding. You must train and apply the science behind the sport to beat the challenge time and earn each course medal.

Come to the Middle School Portal 2: Math and Science Pathways online network to discuss this and many other topics and connect with colleagues!

Snowflakes Grown in Labs Answer Questions About the Ones Falling from the Sky

If middle schoolers are cutting out paper snowflakes for holiday decorations and one student insists on cutting white triangles, that’s okay. The six-sided snowflake is most often depicted, but three-sided snowflakes are not uncommon. They’ve been observed in nature for hundreds of years. Noted snowflake photographer W.A. Bentley (celebrated in the Caldecott Medal Book Bentley’s Snowflakes) and other scientists recorded them.

Physicists Kenneth G. Libbrecht and H. M. Arnold have created triangular snowflakes, as well as hexagons, in their laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. They found that the majority of flakes grown in a vapor diffusion chamber were hexagons but more than they had estimated became triangles, leading them to look for the trigger that turns hexagons into triangular shapes.

According to the authors in their published report, ”We have been studying the detailed physics of snow crystals as a case study in crystal growth, with the hope that developing a comprehensive mechanistic model for this specific system will shed light on the more general problem of structure formation during solidification.”

A single small growth perturbation on the forming hexagon flake resulted in a distorted, or triangular, shape under certain aerodynamic conditions. The perturbation caused the falling flake to tilt up. The airflow around the crystal produced instability in the growth of the facets, creating the triangular shape. After the triangular shape is initially formed, the flake stays triangular during the rest of its fall.

Libbrecht and Arnold point out, “The growth of triangular snow crystals is another piece in the puzzle that describes the many interconnected mechanisms by which complex structures emerge spontaneously during solidification.”

For all those interested in snowflakes, Libbrecht created the web site, with photo galleries of real and synthetic flakes, frequently asked questions, tips on photographing crystals and preserving them, snow activities for all age groups, and more. Libbrecht used a specially designed snowflake photomicroscope to photograph flakes. In 2006, the U.S. Postal Service used his photos as a set of commemorative stamps.

More Snowflake Studies. At Purdue University, a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry, Travis Knepp, has been growing ice crystals in his lab, subjecting the crystals to temperatures ranging from 110 degrees Fahrenheit down to minus 50 degrees. A press release from the university reports that Knepp’s experiments are part of his study of ground-level ozone depletion in the Arctic.

Knepp explains, “Most people have probably heard of ozone depletion in the North and South Poles. This occurs in the stratosphere, about 15 miles up, What people don’t know is that we also see ozone levels decrease significantly at ground level.” The complex chemical reactions that take place on the snow crystal’s surface cause the release of chemicals that reduce ozone at ground level. “How fast these reactions occur is partially limited by the snow crystals’ surface area,” he said. His findings are published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

Brave New World of Physics?

What is the

Largest machine
Fastest racetrack
Coldest place
Emptiest space
Hottest spot

on earth?

It’s the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) that is scheduled to be “turned on” September 10, 2008. The LHC is a gigantic scientific instrument near Geneva, Switzerland that is 100m underground. It is a particle accelerator where two beams of subatomic particles called hadrons will travel in opposite directions inside a circular accelerator, gaining energy with every 17-mile lap, and finally collide. Physicists are using the LHC to recreate the conditions just after the Big Bang, by colliding the two beams head-on at very high energy. The collider is currently cooling down to its final operating temperature of approximately
-271.25 °C (1.9 Kelvin).

There are many hypotheses as to what will result from these collisions (including the end of the world as we know it). Collisions in the LHC will generate temperatures more than 100,000 times hotter than the heart of the sun. Physicists hope that under these conditions, protons and neutrons will ‘melt’, creating a state of matter that probably existed just after the Big Bang when the universe was still extremely hot. Measurements on the particles created in the collisions – their paths, energies, and their identities – will be recorded and analyzed. Physicists are also hoping that the LHC will help them understand why our universe appears to be composed almost entirely of matter, but no antimatter.

The physics behind the LHC is, of course, beyond the understanding of middle school students. However, the LHC is a wonderful example to use when talking about the differences between science and technology and that technology provides tools for investigations, inquiry, and analysis.

Facts and Figures
This fact sheet describes the amazing specifications of this machine.

A Giant Takes on Physics Biggest Questions
This 2007 article from the New York Times describes the history of the project and provides a description of Higgs-boson, aka the God particle.

Doomsday Fears Spark Lawsuit
This March 27, 2008 blog post by science editor Alan Boyle describes the lawsuit brought against the builders of the LHC “…over fears that the experiment might create globe-gobbling black holes or never-before-seen strains of matter that would destroy the planet.”

Twists in the Doomsday Debate
This August 19, 2008 blog post by Alan Boyle brings us up-to-date with the lawsuit and how the collider is still on schedule.

We Need Your Help

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. You can also request email notification when new content is posted (see right navigation bar).

Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We want your feedback on all of the NSDL Middle School Portal science publications. Email us at

Swimming Pool Chemistry

Summer’s here and that means it’s time to head for that clear, cool, and refreshing pool! Did you know that children swallow at least 37 mL of pool water each day they swim for 45 minutes or more? Do you know how many microbes can fit into just 1 mL of water? A lot!

Here are a few resources to acquaint your students with some of the microbes we aim to kill with chlorine as well as the properties of chlorine. Several factors, such as pH and temperature, affect its activity. Due to its noxious quality, hands-on activities with chlorine are not possible. However, you and your students might want to model and simulate the chemical activity of chlorine. Or, you and your students could create case studies in small groups to trade and analyze using their new knowledge.

CDC: Healthy Swimming
The What? Where? Why? How? and Who? of recreational water illnesses (RWI).

Internet Scout Report for Physical Science: Chlorine
A list of several related web sites. We suggest Chlorine Chemistry, which presents 10 chlorine chemistry questions. Answers do not appear on the same screen, giving students a chance to think about them. The Question of the Day links to How Does Chlorine Bleach Work?. Scroll down and click on How Does Chorine Work to Clean Swimming Pools?

This engagingly written, one-page article provides a brief history of humans’ use of chlorine and highlights some common, useful compounds of chlorine, expanding student conceptions beyond pool water disinfectants. This article is from Chemical & Engineering News accessed through the American Chemical Society.

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at Post updated 4/09/2012.