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Girl Scouts Perform Energy Audit at Francis Wyman February 9, 2016

Posted by Sean Musselman in Burlington Community.
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Girl scouts from Troop 88060 performed an energy audit of the Francis Wyman Elementary School on their way to earning their “Investigate Award.” To help them find points of heat (and therefore energy) loss the scouts commandeered the Science Center’s infrared camera and explored their classrooms using its dual visible-infrared camera interface to identify points of energy waste.

The scouts were surprised to see that not only did their exterior walls and windows lose heat, but their electronic devices left idle were using lots of energy too! The experience gave all the scouts appreciation for turning off electronic devices along with the lights at the end of the school day.

The Science Center applauds these scouts on their way toward informing their community about ways to save energy while becoming better energy consumers themselves. We also thank Mrs. Schultz at the Francis Wyman School for volunteering as their fearless parent leader! The use of the IR camera was made possible through the Burlington Education Foundation and benefits all Burlington classrooms and organizations interested in using the tool. Please contact the Science Center to learn more!

Investigating Light and Sound at Francis Wyman January 20, 2015

Posted by Sean Musselman in Science Center, Student Work.
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Before holiday break, all the first graders at Francis Wyman were busy investigating light and sound energy.

All along Ms. Farmer was good enough to take photographs of the students experiments, observations, data records, and science diagrams. Thank you so much Ms. Farmer! Her blog with all of her unit photos can be found here.

There was lots of fascinating science phenomena on hand as students explored how sound waves traveled through different types of matter and observed how objects of different shapes and sizes created different sounds.

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While exploring light, students used special glasses to decode hidden messages in the scramble of letters. This led students to realize that some light flows through objects better than others, which led us to experiment with even more materials to determine which ones blocked light, bounced light, or allow light to pass through the best.

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Squid Dissections at Memorial School June 12, 2014

Posted by Sean Musselman in Science Center.
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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

What’s In Your Backyard? May 8, 2014

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photo 4

Students observing a beaver chewed log

One of my favorite acitvities with my elementary students is called “What’s In Your Backyard?”  Our third grade students learn about plant and animal habitats as part of the life science curriculum.  We start of the lesson by talking about what kinds of things scientists do (ask questions, discover, explore, create, build, and observe). Then students talk about what it means to “observe” something and how they use their 5 senses as part of their observation skills.

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As a class, they brainstorm and make a list of animals that are found in their bakyard (the habitat they are most familiar with).  I ask the students “how do they know that particular animal lives in your backyard?”  We list the clues or evidence that animals can leave behind in nature that cues us in to the fact that they are around.

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There are several numbered stations spread out around the classroom, which include artifacts or evidence that nature has left behind in their backyard (examples include feathers, footprints, antlers, nests, scat, acorns, woodpecker holes in a tree, trash).

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Woodpecker holes in a tree

The students then observe each object, record data about this object and answer why they think the item was left in their backyard.

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Footprints station

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Deer tail station

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Skull station

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Students observing antlers, scat and trash

At the end of the lesson students share their answers and have group discussions about why they think the object was in the backyard.

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Students decide a turtle had passed away due to the observation of seeing the backbone on the inside of the shell

This activity helps students with observations skills, brings nature indoors and changes the way a student looks at the outside world.  An exttension for this acitvity is taking the class ouside for a nature walk to look for similar clues or items in their schoolyard.

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.

Fifth Graders Become Consumer Scientists April 8, 2014

Posted by Sean Musselman in Science Center, Student Work.
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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

The Curious Mystery Animal November 1, 2013

Posted by Sean Musselman in Science Center.
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Mr. Musselman recently collaborated with Laura D’Elia, Dan Callahan, and Kindergarten teacher Mellissa Parnell on developing a unit where students explored animal families while learning how to read and glean important facts from notes and other non-fiction. Their full blog post can be found on the PineGlenLTC blog here.

The curious mystery animal gave kids a chance to not only learn about animal families and pick out important facts from reading but make claims using evidence, an important scientific practice! The concept of visualizing data in the form of a graph was also introduced when “Dr. Curious” visited the Kindergarteners to hear their persuasive arguments first hand.