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news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Thanksgiving Science

Every holiday is full of great opportunities to tie in science but in the past I have not made good use of the connections with Thanksgiving. This year I intend to dig into Thanksgiving with gusto (and some great science).

The turkey is the center of most Thanksgiving meals and there is so much about that less than attractive bird to generate good science discussions. Here in the heartland my students and I are noticing a lot more of the birds in or near urban areas. We would like to know if the turkey population is growing. That is a great time to call in the local fish and wildlife officer and have a question and answer session.

To prep the kids it would be necessary to engage them in an activity that covers the basics of food webs, predator prey relationships, population dynamics and the turkey itself. There are lots of web resources to help out with those concepts.

For food webs there are a few favorites.
http://www.vtaide.com/png/foodchains.htm
http://teacher.scholastic.com/ACTIVITIES/explorer/ecosystems/be_an_explorer/map/foodweb_play.htm
http://mrsdell.org/foodwebs/

For predator/prey relationships there are a number of good sites. The Cal Academy site has a scavenger hunt that can be adapted to any level.
http://www.educationalsynthesis.org/prof/Lessons/LESS-SCI-PredPrey.html
http://4h.uwex.edu/uphamwoods/programs/documents/PredatorPreyLessonPlan.pdf
http://www.calacademy.org/teachers/resources/lessons/predator-prey-scavenger-hunt/

The Kansas City Zoo has a great set of activities on population dynamics.
http://www.kansascityzoo.org/_FileLibrary/FileImage/populations.pdf

If you do not mind a room full of fruit flies Access Excellence provides a great hands on activity for studying the key factors.
http://www.accessexcellence.org/AE/AEPC/WWC/1991/population.php

Once you decide what to do to bring the students up to speed the game warden can come in and the questions the students ask will be more focused and the experience will produce greater depth of science understanding.

A turkey has even got some amazing physical science as well. I love the tiny little pop up thermometers. How they work is pure physical science. There is a tiny little piece of solder that melts at 185 degrees F. When the turkey reaches that temperature the solder melts and the plastic pops up. We identify materials based on their boiling point and melting points so there is a good opportunity to revisit the characteristic properties of materials. Of course there is a spring of sorts and a bit more mechanics than simple melting. Taking several of these apart leads to a rich discussion about invention, materials science and how else you might make use of a device as brilliant as this one. I have asked my students to gather these pop up thermometers and bring them into school after they are used on thanksgiving. I have also written the company that processed my turkey to see if they would donate a few of these devices to my class.

Many of my students will eat turkeys that their families hunted. These birds are very different in many ways than those we buy in stores. My store turkey was genetically bread to produce more white meat and was fed a specific diet to produce a plump and juicy bird. Photos and observations of these two different birds should lead to a good discussion on agricultural science or genetics.
While I will be enjoying the well cooked fowl and all the trimmings, the back of my mind will be running with uses for all of these experiences in my classroom. From calories to heat transfer I will find some rich ways to connect what happens this holiday to my classes. The learning never ends. Science is everywhere. Have a happy Thanksgiving.

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