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Lego League Bootcamp Full of Success (and Meaningful Failures!) July 31, 2017

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Over thirty students from all four Burlington elementary schools participated in the Science Center’s FIRST Lego League Bootcamp session as a part of the Burlington Public Schools summer programming. Students took on the robotics challenges from last year’s FIRST Lego League Challenge, “Animal Allies” using the board, challenges, and LEGO elements used by the MSMS Robotics team in the fall of 2016, Also on board were three volunteers from the team as well as a mentor from the BHS Devilbotz. Mrs. Sheppard and Mrs. Anderson co-operated the camp with Mr. Musselman and hope to use some of the elements and LEGO kits themselves in the coming academic year in their classrooms or after-school clubs.

About to begin scoring round 1 of our FLL boot camp!

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A look through the Burlington Science Center instagram feed over the past two weeks will reveal all of the great fun students had succeeding (and failing!) at their challenges. Students learned the importance of using sensors to guide robots toward their goals and experienced first-hand the challenges of cooperating with peers to coming to a consensus on how to approach a challenge with many possible solutions!

Working on our pollinator challenge at the @burlingtonsummerprogram

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Mr. Musselman is also pleased to announce that next year the Science Center will be expanding its role in the community by developing a EV3 LEGO Robotics library loan program, available to all Burlington students. Contact Mr. Musselman after September 15th to schedule a loan of one of the center’s EV3 LEGO kits.

Scenes from FLL boot camp @burlingtonsummerprogram

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The Science Center would also like to thank the BEF for their continued support of Burlington Public Schools robotics programs and the Science Center specifically. Thank you for all that you do!

Our great robotics programs would not be possible without the support from the @burlingtonedfoundation. Thank you!

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Science with Mr. Musselman at Camp EagleFox September 25, 2015

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With roughly a classroom’s worth of students between Memorial and Fox Hill fifth-grades choosing not to attend Camp Bourndale, Mrs. Olshaw and Mrs. Walsh brought their students together to create “Camp Eagle-Fox.” Mr. Musselman joined the campers on their first day to facilitate an exciting morning of science investigations and activities.

A squid dissection immediately had students buzzing with excitement as they explored the exterior adaptations of their squid specimens before taking their first snips with surgical scissors into their squid’s interior.

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Once inside, students examined the squid’s gills, hearts, and ink sac while learning about their function and the role they play to help the squid survive. Students particularly enjoyed removing the “pen” that gives the squid its long, pointed structure to write their names with the ink found inside the sac!

Writing our name with ink from the squids ink sack!

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Students wrapped up their investigation by removing the beak and eyeballs from the head of the squid. Students were surprised to find just how small the eyeball was and how similar the two-part beak of the squid was when compared to birds of prey like hawks and falcons!

After cleanup students were treated to an exciting round of “Mountain Lion Hunt” where they were introduced to the concept of a habitat’s “carrying capacity,” the maximum number of organism a habitat is able to sustain. Students played the role of mountain lions hunting squirrels, rabbits, beavers, and deer in order to obtain enough food to survive for the month. Some students were burdened with additional challenges, including an injured leg and the need to care for two additional mountain lion cubs!

Hunting our prey in a model carrying capacity activity. #elemsci

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When the game was finished, several of the mountain lions had been unable to gather enough food to survive while others had plenty. Ideas were shared about how to make the process more fair so that everyone was able to eat leading to some mathematical calculations about just how many mountain lions could survive on the food available.

Just 17 mountain lions could survive in our model habitat. Eventhough there were only 16 mountain lions playing the game, only 7 survived when left to fend for themselves!

Just 17 mountain lions could survive in our model habitat. Eventhough there were only 16 mountain lions playing the game, only 7 survived when left to fend for themselves!

Students were prompted with tough questions. Do you feed yourself or your mountain lion cubs first? What if all the rabbits died of disease and there was not enough food to go around for even half the mountain lions? Finally students were left to ponder how well this game could be applied to humans on Earth. Students noted that humans had a much more diverse diet than mountain lions, but also recognized that problems such as the amount of water in California, and the hungry found in our own neighborhoods had some similarities. Great food for thought as our students grow and become even greater consumers!

The Scientists Behind Science Education: Our Teachers! May 28, 2015

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Teachers are well known to be life-long learners, so it should be no surprise that a number of teachers in the Burlington schools are working with organizations like the Museum of Science to improve their practice and the state of science education as a whole! At Fox Hill, Mrs. Jaffe and Mrs. Snyder have been participating in an experiment being conducted by the Museum of Science’s Engineering is Elementary division. Over the past two years their classrooms have acted as “guinea pigs” using materials and curriculum provided by the MOS for one of their science units. In Mrs. Snyder’s class students have been studying structural engineering as a part of their Rock & Minerals unit while Mrs. Jaffe’s classes have been acting as electrical engineers as a part of their Electricity unit.

In both cases the teachers have been collecting pre and post curriculum data on student understanding and sending their results to the MOS to be more carefully analyzed for the effectiveness of their units. The real-life science experiment has been a win-win, as Mrs. Jaffe and Mrs. Snyder have both enjoyed modifying their curriculums to include the application of the engineering design process.

The Science Center is proud to support these teachers with the extra preparation needed for some of the engineering activities. We have also been watching with earnest at the wonderful work students have been doing and hope to include units and lessons like these in our coming curriculum changes over the next few years. More details to come on that!

Summer Robotics “Gearing Up” – Register Now! April 14, 2015

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Students entering grades 4 and 5 for the 2015/2016 school year may participate in this new program spun from the popular “Robotics Clubs” that are being run for the first time in several of our elementary schools this year. Students will primarily learn how to construct and program robots constructed from the LEGO robotics EV3 kits and complete challenges that will explore the basics behind robot design and programming. Along the way students will also have an opportunity to meet professionals in STEM careers volunteering their time to introduce important ideas around robotics design and may also discuss simple ethical dilemmas faced by inventors using robots not previously used.

Burlington is offering its students the opportunity to attend a two-week session (Monday through Thursday). Tuition is $250. To register for this camp complete the following registration and emergency form and send to Rosemary Desousa at 123 Cambridge Street, Burlington.

Dates: July 20, 2015 – July 30, 2015, (8 five-hour weekday sessions)

Time: 8:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Place: Memorial Elementary School

Transportation to and from camp: Arranged by parents

SummerSTEM: Engaging Students through Programming and Robotics July 18, 2014

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Today marks the end of a wildly successful pilot of the Burlington Programming/Robotics SummerSTEM camp, spawned after the well received “hour of code” earlier this year by me and Francis Wyman’s IT Specialist, Ben Schersten. With the focus on learning basic strategies and methods applied by computer programmers and robotics engineers, our two-week course primarily utilized “Hopscotch,” an iPad app using “Blockly” computer language, and a dozen Lego NXT kits funded through a grant a few years ago at the Francis Wyman Elementary.

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Mr. Schersten sharing the html code of his website.

With relatively little direct instruction students went from being relative novices in computer language and coding concepts, to mechanical and software “engineers”, problem solving everything from coding miscues to optimal gear placement on the robots axles. Many students integrated the use of sensors to build robots that avoided walls while attempting to maneuver balls from one side of the room to the other. Receiving only rough, open-ended guidelines for much of the camp, students seemed to work tirelessly on their projects, some even groaning when recess or snack brought a “mandatory” break and in some cases coming to camp 10 to 15 minutes early to get a little “extra time” with their Hopscotch program.

To emphasize the importance of robotics and computer science in their community, we spent one day on the second week on a field trip to two robot companies in the area, Harvest AI and iRobot. Their kids were wowed as the Harvest prototypes, “Shaq” and “Skip” endlessly carted potted plants to their watering and sunlight destinations. Our hosts were kind enough to show us the electrical wiring inside one of their other bots and the display sharing the hundreds of lines of commands being used by the bots as they made their way around the warehouse. At iRobot we received a historical tour sharing the evolution of iRobot’s most popular models and learned about how robots were best used when doing jobs people classified under the “Three D’s: Dull, Dirty, or Dangerous.”

Along the way students also dabbled in Scratch, exploring how different coding platforms still use the same skills and concepts. During the first week students also participated in a few Computer Science Unplugged activities, teaching students about how computers use binary numbers to compute numbers, compress image files, and debug programs where the code is translated in error.

With the Burlington school system further investing into its LEGO Robotics infrastructure, Ben and I are looking forward to expanding the robotics camp and programming opportunities available to our students in the future!

Mr. Musselman and Mr. Schersten would like to thank Harvest AI and iRobot for graciously hosting us, and our student volunteers from the high school and middle school who volunteered their time and talents to share and work with our students!

Squid Dissections at Memorial School June 12, 2014

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Squid Dissection 1 Mem
The fifth graders at Memorial did a fantastic job with a science investigation that is widely considered a “right of passage” for students entering the Marshal Simonds Middle School next year. The squid dissection is an opportunity for students to use their observation skills to explore the similarities and differences between human and animal body systems. Teachers guide students through the steps and thinking scientists go through when exploring an organisms insides (and outsides!)

Check out some of the short Vine videos Mr. Musselman took while guiding the students through the dissection by clicking on the pictures!

 Squid Dissection Mem 2

Squid Dissection Mem 3

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?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Student work on the experiment worksheet

The Gutterboat Challenge December 14, 2012

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Every year, Burlington fifth graders put their engineering skills to the test in “The Gutterboat Challenge,” a friendly competition between students (and classes!) to see who can build the fastest styrofoam-hull boat. While the type of fan varies from school to school, all students must design and construct a boat that can travel the distance of a plastic gutter, much like the one you might find on a home!

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The Design Process

All students are provided with a block of styrofoam and the instructions that they may use any materials available to them at home or school. They are also instructed on the design or engineering process through an introductory lesson by Mr. Musselman before being left to their own research on boat design and collaborative brainstorming.

Gutterboat Challenge introduction by Mr. M.

The entire challenge takes between one to two weeks with an opportunity to do a “test run” in between the introduction and final testing phase. It is here many students find flaws with their boats (too light, unable to catch wind, unbalanced, etc.) that they are then expected to redesign and adjust.

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On the final day anticipation builds as each student gets the chance to race against the clock on the main stage. Not all boats are successful but all present a learning opportunity. The winning time of Pine Glen’s Gutterboat Challenge this year 07.05 seconds. Can’t wait to see if that time will be topped at another school!

Ready for Liftoff! November 19, 2012

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While many fifth graders at the Fox Hill school were off on their overnight field trip to Camp Bournedale, a group of young scientific minds stayed behind and participated in “Camp Foxy.” After the first day, in which students watched a live webinar with astronauts from the International Space Station, we dove deeper into rocket science with a project aimed at bringing all the STEM disciplines together answering one simple question: “What angle should we launch a rocket to make it travel the furthest distance?”

At what launch angle will the rocket travel the farthest?

Students were asked to predict which angle they believed would launch their rockets the farthest after sharing what they already knew about the topic by considering how they throw sports equipment such as baseballs or footballs long distances. They were then put to work assembling their own rockets to experiment with! When all rockets were ready the students democratically selected a launch site. The weather was good so we went out to the school’s front walkway to experiment.

Constructing straw rockets!

Students were very excited to try their rockets out and experimentation did get a bit messy! It was great to hear students deliberate over whether launches were “fair.” One unexpected problem we faced as teachers were some unexpected results! Despite the students’ short statures there was enough height provided to the initial launch point that students frequently fired their 20 degree launches further than the 45 degree angle, leading to puzzled reactions from some students when their results didn’t match up with their ‘sure-thing’ predictions.

Measuring launch to landing using metric measuring tapes.

After lunch we added a third goal by asking students to communicate what they had learned and how they had learned it via a short “Show Me” presentation using some iPads available in the school. The Show Me app leaves some to be desired in the way of editing work and their was a limited amount of time remaining in the day for kids to brainstorm, outline their presentation, and then make the final work. That being said students gave their best efforts.

Sydney’s Rocket Presentation

Eric’s Rocket Presentation

Sonny’s Rocket Presentation Part 1 and Part 2

Teachers were learning during the activity as well when it became apparent that an elevated launch point (as a results of students standing during their launch!) eschewed data and led to some puzzling conclusions for students who started the day with “sure-thing” predictions. Fortunately, some discussion was had between students and teachers about how “fair” or valid the results were. These were conversations that helped the students better understand their results while giving teachers valuable experience to reshape the lesson for future classrooms!

Using the “Show Me” app to communicate our results.

Invertebrate Observations November 15, 2012

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The fifth grades at Fox Hill School are learning about the classification of living things.  As part of their unit on invertebrates, the students have the opportunity to observe three live invertebrates-a crayfish, a tarantula, and cockroaches!  Students observe the live animals, record information on their data sheet and then make comparisons about the three animals.

Madagascar Hissing Cockroach sitting on student’s sweatshirt

Rose-hair Tarantula

Crayfish

The Science Center offers this animal activity to all fifth grades in Burlington and even assists with the lesson from time to time.