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Fox Hill First-Grader Wins Telescope in “Sky Observation” Challenge June 1, 2018

Posted by Sean Musselman in Burlington Community, Science Center.
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Mr. Musselman, Elise Hom, and her brand new Vivitar 50x/100x refractor telescope!

First-grader, Elise Hom was presented with her very own Vivitar refractor telescope yesterday during the K/1 lunch period at Fox Hill School. Between March and April, first graders from all over Burlington participated in the “Observe your Sky” challenge. These sky scientists observed and recorded whether or not the sun was still present in the sky when they went to bed and when they woke up in the morning. Students who recorded observations for a month submitted their data tables to the Science Center, which were then entered into a raffle. Elise’s name was picked and is the first winner of what will become an annual competition!

The Burlington Science Center would like to thank Northern Bank for their generous donation of the telescopes and the seventy-plus students representing all four elementary schools who participated. While these students may not have won the telescope they did collect data like real scientists and uncover the changing amounts of daylight hours during the spring season!


Winter Sky Wonderings: Observe Orion! January 8, 2018

Posted by Sean Musselman in Burlington Community, Science.
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As we know, the winter nights are long and can be cold, but they also present opportunity to connect with student sky explorations and the patterns of nature!

The January and February sky offers fantastic views of the constellation, Orion – easily identified by his bright, three star belt. Orion chases Taurus the Bull, a V shape constellation that can be seen when scanning up and to the right of Orion. These constellations will be visible in the Southeast sky at nightfall before rising higher in the sky as they slowly march South as night passes. These constellations take a path similar to that of the sun across our sky, a pattern you can connect to with your child by observing the constellation at two different times in the night with a point of reference (such as a tree or street lamp) to indicate that the constellations location in the sky has moved.

Night sky image from: http://www.astronomytrek.com/step-4-interesting-facts-about-orion/

If Orion is still hidden by trees early in January just wait 2-3 weeks. Orion will be even higher and more south in the early evening hours as winter marches on. Orion is a seasonal constellation that can only be seen during one half of the year. During the summer months Orion is high in the sky during the day time!

The use of printable star charts or apps that chart the sky using augmented reality technology can also enhance your sky exploring experience. We hope that you will brave the cold and enjoy what the night sky has to offer with your child!

The Solar Eclipse is Nearly Here! August 17, 2017

Posted by Sean Musselman in Burlington Community, Science.
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Mr. Musselman trying out his solar glasses. Even when the eclipse is over these glasses will still let you observe the sun safely!

As you have undoubtedly heard, a partial solar eclipse will be visible in Burlington on Monday, August 21st. Roughly 60% of the sun radiating on Burlington will be blocked by the ‘new moon’ directly between the Sun and Earth between 1:28 p.m. EDT and 3:59 p.m. The maximum partial eclipse will be visible at 2:46.

Solar and Lunar eclipses can be incredible sights! Even though solar eclipses occur as frequently on Earth as lunar eclipses (when Earth’s shadow is cast on a full moon), only people in the small band of Earth’s shadow can see the solar eclipse. They are also shorter in length, making them more rare to see in any one location.

When viewed properly, solar eclipses can be incredible sights! Below are some common myths dispelled along with information and support from NASA Solar Eclipse educator, Charles Fuco.

Myth #1:  “The Sun is more dangerous during an eclipse.”

An eclipsed Sun is no more dangerous than the “everyday” Sun. However, because the intense radiation of the sun is diminished our eyes do not “alert” our brains as effectively and we can be more inclined to look toward the sun… which can still do damage to the sensitive layers of light sensing tissues in our eyes. Therefore, its important to know how to view an eclipse safely which brings us to myth #2…

Myth 2:  “There are no safe ways to view an eclipse.”

There are many proven, safe ways for to observe an eclipse: young children can cross-hatch their fingers to make little pinhole cameras and stand with their backs to the Sun while they project the solar image through their fingers onto the ground—no equipment needed! They also will enjoy seeing the myriad undulating “mini eclipse” crescents on the ground under a leafy tree while remaining safely under its cover; older students can construct a solar viewer, which also satisfies an NGSS Science & Engineering Practices requirement. Anyone can hold a pasta colander as another way to project crescents on the ground; and one can look directly at the eclipse using certified-safe solar glasses (on a non-eclipse day as well). In Burlington, we will not be experiencing a total solar eclipse, so it is never appropriate to look directly at the sun without solar glasses.

Myth #3:  “You can see it better on TV.”

I can remember the first time I ever experienced a solar eclipse as a young elementary age child in Melrose. My brother and I used Cheez-its to observe the shadow on our front porch! It’s hard to imagine this experience would have left such an indelible mark on my memory if I had merely been watching footage on TV or via YouTube (assuming it existed then!) While I strongly encourage everyone to check out later footage of the eclipse totality, be sure to take the time to experience the eclipse first hand in your own backyards and playgrounds. This myth is spoken by those who have never experienced an eclipse live, seeing the dimming of the light in the sky, the sudden cooling of the air, and how our Earth’s wildlife seems to prepare for night to come… in the middle of the day! Experience this rare opportunity with your child today, so that they might reflect on it when the next partial eclipse comes our way another eight years from now!

Burlington Science Center Exhibit: Patterns in Nature! January 12, 2015

Posted by Sean Musselman in Science Center.
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In science classes, teachers often focus on specific content areas to drive their science curriculum. Topics such as Light & Sound, Rocks & Minerals, or Animals and their Habitats are particularly popular with students. But there are also science concepts that cut across all science disciplines. This year the Science Center decided to showcase one such concept through their bi-annual touring exhibit: Patterns in Nature.

Younger students are first can find patterns in their everyday lives by observing the natural world around them. As they grow older, students can use patterns to sort and classify objects in their world. They can begin to use patterns to make thoughtful predictions about scientific phenomena. Students even come to use patterns as evidence to support scientific explanations about the world they observe around them.

Our patterns exhibit explores several natural phenomena and the patterns they exhibit.  This charges students to think critically about what the patterns can tell us about the world around us and what they suggest may be to come in the future! Several stations illustrate patterns we can see clearly (such as stripes that help tigers hide in the grasslands) while others reveal patterns that may not be visible without careful data collection for a year (seasons and constellations) or thousands of years (earthquake locations) at a time!

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Check out all the different stations we offer in this exhibit by exploring the pictures below, or come see the exhibit for yourself when it visits your child’s school! The exhibit is currently on display for two weeks at the Memorial School. It will then travel to Pine Glen, Fox Hill, and the Francis Wyman where it will also be on display for two weeks at a time.

As always we love to hear your feedback. Please let us know what you think about our exhibit by email or through the comments section below!

Investigating Craters April 15, 2014

Posted by Sean Musselman in Science Center.
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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.

Pine Glen Science Night October 26, 2012

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The Pine Glen PTO and Burlington Science Center teamed up last night to host an incredible evening of fun and learning. Their first ever “Science Night” was a huge success, as over 200 students and family members came out to explore, engage and socialize as a community.

Community members line up to see the inside of the StarLab

The gymnasium was abuzz with science!

Their were five different activities going on simultaneously over the hour long event, all of which were operated by Science Center student aides and Burlington faculty members past and present. Telescopes were setup outside, fixed towards the waxing gibbous moon as it moved across the partly cloudy sky. Indoors, the Science Center’s StarLab was running short tours of the sky’s constellations while students constructed “straw rockets” and created constellations of their very own. All the while, Miss Pavlicek and students gave presentations and answered questions on a variety of nocturnal animals, including a particularly popular screech owl!

Miss P shares the corn snake with students.

Constellation creators!

Families sit down to build “straw rockets.”



All in all the event was a tremendous hit and the Science Center looks forward to hosting future Science Nights at the other elementary schools in Burlington!

Just a few of our volunteers. We are so lucky to have them!

The Winter Solstice December 14, 2011

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There is plenty to celebrate the week before holiday break, but among the many religious traditions don’t forget to take pause on December 22nd to celebrate a very special day in Earth’s orbit with your students or children, the winter solstice!

The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year for the northern hemisphere (top half) and marks the start of what we consider winter. For residents of Burlington, the sun will shine for only 9 hours and 5 minutes. Amazingly the day is even shorter the further north you travel, with anyone unfortunate enough to be above the Arctic Circle receiving no sunlight whatsoever!

The length of our day is affected not by our distance from the sun but the tilt of Earth’s axis. The axis is an imaginary line running from Earth’s north pole to its south pole that spins or rotates around. Unlike a top that spins standing straight up, Earth rotates slightly sideways at a 23.5 degree angle. This is roughly the angle one might make to form a peace sign with their index and middle finger.

During the Winter Solstice the earth’s north pole is pointed away from the sun, causing the northern hemisphere to receive fewer sunlight hours and less solar energy from the sun. Meanwhile, the south pole and southern hemisphere of the Earth is pointed directly toward the sun and receives their longest day of the year! For southern hemisphere residents, December 22nd is the summer solstice!

Because Earth points in one direction over the course of an entire orbit (revolution), we in Burlington point away from the sun in the winter months, but point toward the sun during the summer months.

Besides sharing some of the information above with your students or children, consider taking time during the final day or two of the 2011 school calendar to do one or more of these fun solstice activities.

Make a Sundial Class Activity – Produced by the Science Center and specifically designed for Burlington residents, this is a science activity where each student creates and uses their own sundial to tell time using the sun. Students will recognize how their shadows change in length and location over the course of a day. The link connects to a student worksheet and sundial template. Appropriate for grades 3-5. Some cutting is required. Grades K-2 may adapt for younger grades by having kids trace their shadows at different times of the day and answer similar questions posted on the student worksheet.

Computer Simulations and Animations:

Earth in Motion: Seasons – Follow Max around the world and learn about how the tilt of Earth and one’s location on Earth influences the seasons (and how Max should best plan his trip!) via Teacher’s Domain.

Seasons Interactive Animation – Best used as a class demonstration on an interactive whiteboard. Allows students to mark and predict where Earth will be in its orbit around the sun during each month.  Courtesy of Freezeray.

There Goes the Sun – For more information on the historical perspective of the Winter Solstice and how ancient civilizations commemorated the day, check out this New York Times OpEd piece written by Richard Cohen. Note: most of the material here is not suited for elementary students but is a curious peek into human past traditions!

Update 12/20: Third grade, Francis Wyman teacher, Letitia Zani also recommends that teachers read “Dear Rebecca, Winter is Here” by Jean Craighead George. It is a favorite that Mrs. Zani reads every year with her students!