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Wood frog eggs and life cycles! April 16, 2014

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Every spring as the temperatures rise and the local water resources thaw, local wildlife starts to emerge and prepare for reproduction.  Amphibians travel to areas of the forect floor that have filled with water from melting snow.  These pools of water are called vernal pools.   Vernal pools provide a great food source and a safe place to lay their eggs.  They are a wonderful habitat for viewing unique wildife. photo 1 Every year Ms. Pavlicek travels to local vernal pools in search of amphibian eggs to share with her elementary classrooms.  They are used for a variety of science curriculum connections including life cycles, characteristics of living things, adaptations and amphibian units.  Each interested classroom receives 10 eggs, food and an information packet.  The classrooms will raise their tadpoles and release them back into the vernal pool shortly after. 

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Wood frog egg masses attahed to plants

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Wood frog egg mass

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Garden snake in the forest

Be sure to check out the Science Center’s video on this egg collecting excursion here.

Mrs. Anderson’s second grade class working on their observation amphibian journals.







Investigating Craters April 15, 2014

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For thousands of years humans have looked to the sky and told tales of the moon. Invoked by patterns on the moon’s surface, the stories of the man on the moon and the rabbit of immortality hold special places in different cultures across the earth. But as second graders at Fox Hill have been learning, the images of these creatures have been made over billions of years by the moon’s exposure to asteroids and the craters they leave behind.


Crater 01

Students drop everyday classroom objects into the baking soda “moon surface” and record qualitative and quantitative data about the crater that forms.

Mrs. Sheppard and Mrs. Lewis’ class recently investigated how craters are made. Why do craters take the shape that they do and what causes a crater to be wide or narrow or shallow or deep. Mr. Musselman recently joined them in their investigation, bringing model moon surfaces (baking soda) and a variety of crater makers (batters, balls, markers, and just about anything else from the storage cabinet) to explore how different craters are made and how to measure each crater using centimeters from the metric system and rounding to the nearest half.

crater 02

Which crater made the widest crater? Which crater made the deepest crater? Did any craters surprise you? Why?

Students were delighted to form their own craters and tested objects over and over to ensure similar results were made after dropping the same “asteroid” over and over again. The rounding to the nearest half and recording of mixed numbers proved a challenge to second graders, even before recording their results, but as patterns developed in the data collected on their data tables, students began to understand how different craters were being generated on the moons surface by a variety of different asteroids of different, shapes, sizes, and masses.

This lesson has been adapted from Peggy Ashbrook’s “Seeing the Moon” lesson from the January 2012 issue of Science and Children magazine. For access to the printable worksheet seen in this activity and produced by Mr. Musselman at the Burlington Science Center click here.

Fifth Graders Become Consumer Scientists April 8, 2014

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With teen years fast approaching, fifth graders everywhere are on the precipice of becoming the next generation of consumers. With ads inundating students on television, radio, and even inside apps and their favorite games how will they make informed decisions about the purchases they make?


How will we determine which paper towel absorbs the most water?

The paper towel experiment is a good first step. Students are briefed on what “Consumer Reports” is and introduced to the challenge by being told that they are about to try their hands at being consumer scientists, testing how absorbent different brands of paper towels are, including the well known “quicker-picker-upper,” Bounty and the thoroughly detested school paper towels!


Carefully measuring the weight of the dampened paper towels. Look at the concentration on that balance needle!

Fifth graders are broken into small groups, and asked what they already know about the brands as a way to collect information in order to form a thoughtful hypothesis. Groups are then challenged to plan and design a repeatable experiment that can be performed on three different paper towel brands. Few instructions on how to design such an experiment are provided, though students are limited by the tools provided and 50mL of water per paper towel test.


Materials: pan balances, graduated cylinders, funnels, cups, weights, and beakers.

Across Burlington the experiments are rarely identical. As students record their data and determine if their hypotheses are correct, they also share their information on a class wide data table to see how their results compare to those of their classmates, just like collaborating scientists do like those at Consumer Reports.


Student collaborative data table. What does the data tell us about the paper towels’ absorbency?

The goal of this experiment is not to turn students on to a career at Consumer Reports, but to give them an opportunity to practice using a variety of scientific tools including, graduated cylinders, pan balances, and metric weights. Developing their understanding about what makes an experiment “fair” is also an important result of this activity as students begin more and more to explore “variables” in both science and mathematics while the demand for more student-driven experimentation and thinking increases.

While a handout is distributed to all students, some teachers use the handout as a script that students complete and later use to direct their own Explain Everything presentations they can share on their digital portfolios.


Student work on the experiment worksheet

Burlington Teachers and Students Present at National Science Teachers’ Association Conference in Boston April 6, 2014

Posted by MrMusselman in Burlington Community, Science Center, Student Work.
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Learning in Burlington was on full display at the National Science Teachers’ Association’s National Conference in Boston over the past weekend. Third grade teacher, Jane Lynch teamed up with Science Specialist, Sean Musselman to share her incredible model of social studies and science curriculum integration in a workshop for teachers titled, “Connecting STEM and American History Through Water Wheels.”

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To help manage and facilitate the workshop, Mrs. Lynch invited three of her Pine Glen students to attend, Liam Gillian, Jenna Lyonnaise, and Thomas Gallagher. Before the workshop started the students received their presenter badges and browsed the vendor booths and all of their incredible scientific instruments, gadgets, and demonstrations. The students then helped Mr. Musselman and Mrs. Lynch move the many boxes of engineering materials to the workshop room, greeted attendees at the door and shared their classroom experience with the lesson during the opening presentation. Once attending members were given the green light to begin planning and constructing water wheels of their own the students provided expertise and construction know-how to teachers interested in picking their brain.

The workshop was a huge success, with local teachers from Newton, Brookline, Rutland, and many others from across the nation delighted by the engineering challenge and excited to bring the experience home to students of their own. For parents and teachers interested in learning more about the workshop check out this link to the google doc shared by Mr. Musselman during the presentation.

Curious Minds Search for Answers in Francis Wyman’s “Curiosity Club” April 3, 2014

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For the past month, fourth and fifth graders at Francis Wyman have been busy after school in Mrs. Lynch’s classroom. There, the Curiosity Club has been meeting each week, learning first about how scientists investigate their world and then taking on the challenge of designing, executing, and sharing the results of an experiment of their own creation.

Questions to answer varied wildly. What paper towel was most absorbent?  How does wind influence different kinds of balls? What is the best design and paper type for paper airplanes? Students worked hard to create fair experiments that tested their question and could be repeated multiple times. Once the experiment were designed test trials were run, data collected, and then analyzed by students and their partners. This past Tuesday wrapped the club up with students communicating their results to parents and a “panel of scientists” there to check out the young scientists’ work and honor them with award superlatives.

To see all of the blog posts written by Curiosity Club Coaches, Kim Lynch and Anne Rigby check out the link to Kim’s page here.

Learning about Earthquakes at Marshall Simmonds Middle School April 1, 2014

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Mr. Musselman gave a special presentation on earthquakes featuring the Science Center’s siesmograph.  Check out the information on the Burlington Public Schools Blog Post here.

DevilBotz Performance in High Gear at Northeastern Robotics Tournament March 31, 2014

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For several months the Burlington High Robotics Team has been hard at work after school, on weekends, and in their spare time perfecting their Devilbot for this past weekend’s FIRST Robotics Regional Tournament. The team did not disappoint; qualifying for the final elimination round competition after being selected by the Manchester club, “Robots by the C” to join their three-team alliance in the elimination rounds.

The Devilbotz at BHS before their FIRST Robotics Competition at Northeastern.

The Devilbotz at BHS before their FIRST Robotics Competition at Northeastern.

“During our first competition in Nashua we reached the quarterfinals, which was nice and we hoped here at Northeastern we could go even farther,” said team president Marko Lazarevic.

The Devilbotz approach to this year’s challenge served them well all year long. With the “coop-ertition” offering scoring opportunities for goal scoring, defense, and cooperation between teams through passing and sharing, the Devilbotz focused on the later scoring from the get-go. “We wanted our robot to be maneuverable, fast, agile, able to get out of any rough situations, focusing only on the low goals,” said Lazarevic (the competition has goals both low to the ground and roughly six feet off the ground for balls to be both shuttled into or flung through from a distance.) The fork-lift style way in which the Devilbotz robot collected and maneuvered the ball also lent itself extremely well to cooperative play, making seemingly effortless passes that increased the value of goals scored.

Over a day and a half the Devilbotz competed in 12 matches. “Friday started off really well, we started out in the top 4 out of 40 robots which is really good,” said Lazarevic. “But then we ran into some trouble with a gearbox we were using.” That gearbox was more than just some trouble. After being rammed by a competitor robot mid-day Friday the robot faced challenges with its grabbing mechanism and had difficulty controlling and maneuvering the ball. Over the course of the day the Devilbotz slipped down the leaderboard and faced a great deal of uncertainty over how they would fare the next day.

The Devilbot is a complex mesh of mechanical, electrical, and programming know how!

The Devilbot is a complex mesh of mechanical, electrical, and programming know how.

Compounding to the challenge were the busy schedules of the team’s participants. With many members also holding roles in the Grease performance back home in Burlington, there was limited time to make the necessary adjustments. Robotics club coach, Arshad Khan and volunteer, Gerry Pothier both shared admiration for the students resolve to get the robot back on its feet. “They were here up to the minute they could be before leaving for the show, and came back early the next day to get the robot running smoothly again” said Pothier, a parent volunteer who has seen many of his children come up through the early years of the robotics program. “Really impressive. It was great to see them problem solving on the fly and refusing to give up.”

Lazarevic took a glass half-full approach to the challenge as well. “Without the arm, we had to help our teammates in other ways. It was actually really good for us to be able to show off our defensive skills in the afternoon after we had shown what we could do on offense in the morning. We showed that we could adapt to any situation that was thrown at us and wasn’t completely debilitating to us even though we dropped in rank.”

With the robot back to full strength on Saturday the team allayed any fears fellow competitors had about choosing them for their elimination round alliance.  Burlington joined Manchester and “Ozram” from Weare, New Hampshire during the draft stage between the qualification and elimination rounds.

Devilbotz outside Granite State College during their first qualifying competiton earlier in March.

Devilbotz outside Granite State College during their first qualifying competiton earlier in March.

The teams success has only increased year over year as it has grown in size and talents. Lazarevic shared the diversity of roles team members play over the course of a year. “We have a mechanical team who help build a robot, an electrical team that wires it all together, the programming team that makes sure everything works and then a logistics team that handled the business and marketing part of the program.” Some members are more involved than others as many teammates participate in sports and other programs, but during the competitions “all are invited and its a good morale boost just to know that we have a lot of people cheering us on.” Lazarevic went on to add how important the parent mentors, sharing how “every mentor we have is important and makes a difference in their own way and that we really love our mentors.”

The afternoon got off to a tough start, with another malfunction putting their newly formed alliance at a disadvantage and unable to catch up to their competition. With the robotics competition season coming to a close many team members now shift gears and focus their attention toward younger robot enthusiasts like the LEGO Robotics Club at Francis Wyman, sharing their expertise and mentoring abilities to help the next generation of club members hone their skills from an early age and prepare them for whatever challenge the FIRST competition throws at them.

Exploring Oobleck March 7, 2014

Posted by MrMusselman in Science, Student Work.
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Students all over Burlington celebrated Dr. Seuss and his imaginative tales by “Reading Across America” this past week. In many classes, students tied in the reading of “Bartholomew and the Oobleck” with a mysterious matter investigation of their own!


Students exploring oobleck.


What words can we use to describe oobleck?

First graders at the Memorial School spent several minutes exploring oobleck before sharing description words they could use to explain how oobleck felt, smelt, and behaved. After more exploring, students were prompted with the question, “Is the oobleck a solid or a liquid?” Students were asked to pick one of the two phases of matter and provide a reason for why through evidence they gathered while trying to describe the oobleck.


“The oobleck can be stretched into different shapes!”


“Oobleck is squishy!”

In the end, most students thought the oobleck was a liquid, using reasons such as, “it’s wet like water,” “it’s able to stretch,” and “it’s milky.” For many classes oobleck makes for a fun start to a deeper exploration in matter.


“Oobleck can break into many parts.”


“Oobleck takes the shape of the cup!”

Connecting STEM and American History Through Water Wheels February 12, 2014

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water wheel 2014

Across all of the Burlington elementary schools, third graders visit the Boott Cotton Mills at Lowell National Historic Park as a keystone piece of their social studies curriculum. While there the students learn about the conditions that made Lowell such a great place to cradle the American industrial revolution and get a chance to see and feel what living in and around the mills at the time would have been like.

With Social Studies and Science sharing a block of time, the teachers at the Pine Glen school used the Lowell Mills experience to develop a relevant engineering challenge for their students: constructing water wheels that work!

In the week following the students trip to the Mills, Mr. Musselman from the Science Center introduced the challenge by sharing a short video of the simple machines at work in the Boott Mills and a brief presentation explaining how they were connected to a system of canals and water wheels beneath the mills. The following days were spent using the design process in to accomplish the students engineering goals of developing a water wheel that would rotate many times under the flow of a two-liter bottle of water.

Students impressed with a variety of water wheel designs, some that worked better than others. While students worked independently to create their first water wheel “prototype,” students watched one another’s test runs to glean valuable knowledge and experience about which design flaws to avoid, and which to emulate in their own water wheel improvements.

Many of the products were held on to and stored by the Science Center to use during this year’s National Science Teacher Association’s conference in Boston where Mrs. Jane Lynch, Mr. Musselman and a few Pine Glen students will be sharing their experience with fellow science teachers from across the state and country as they challenge themselves to build water wheels of their own and bring the experience back to their classrooms!

Eggsperiments! February 11, 2014

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As part of the fourth grade chick hatching experience, each classe participates in “eggsperiments.”  During these activities, students learn about the chicken egg, its parts and their function for the growing chick inside.  They discuss the scientific process, make hypotheses, record their observations and discuss conclusions about the eggsperiments results.

me and eggs

Eggsperiment #1: Are all chicken eggs the same size? Studments explore and measure the size of each egg.  They record their results on a chart and can graph the results.

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Eggsperiment #2: How to tell a hard boiled egg from a raw egg?  Students explore the differences between a raw and a hard boiled egg.  They have to determine which one of their dozen eggs is hard boiled without opening it.  There are discussions about states of matter and changes in matter when something is cooked.

har dor raw?

photo 3-3

Eggsperiment #3: Where is the shell? A chemical reaction!  Students observe what happens when an egg is placed into a cup of vinegar.  They record their initial observation and continue to record their observations over several days.


Eggsperiment #4:  Floating eggs and egg strength!  Students discuss the strength of an egg, what the shell is made out of and particpate in different strength tests.  Students also observe what happens to an egg in water when salt is added.

Eggspeirment #5:  The incrdible egg-egg dissection! Students examine the parts of the egg and familiarize themselves with the function of each part for the growing chicken inside.

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