The Northern Lights in a Bowl

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Bringing the northern lights to Texas!

The 2016 Iditarod class has been learning about mixtures and solutions in our science class, and I wanted to try combining our demonstrations and experiments with our amazing connection to Alaska this year.

I decided to bring my fascination with the aurora borealis to class and combine it with some science magic, a good book, and a special art project.

Before we jumped into science, we realized we had some research to do, so we could fully appreciate and understand one of the great natural phenomenons on our planet.

Northern Lights A to Z cover

Photo courtesy of Sasquatch Books

First, we took a little time to learn about the lights and their different cultural legends and myths in our Reader’s Workshop class.  I went to my Sasquatch Books library, and I grabbed the lovely book Northern Lights: A to Z by Mindy Dwyer.

Mindy does a really creative job of teaching about the science and folklore of the lights in a beautifully illustrated alphabet book format.

We learned quite a bit about how native people around the Arctic Circle have incorporated this amazing natural phenomenon into their cultural folklore.

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Reading about the northern lights in the northern lights nook!

My students were surprised to learn that the lights occur at both the North Pole and the South Pole!  In my earlier post I mentioned that they occur on other planets as well.  We talked about why the northern lights are so popular to see and photograph…more people live in the north on our planet to see them!  Next, we turned our attention to bringing the lights to our classroom, since Texas is very far away from the Arctic, indeed.

I am always looking for ways to make my lessons easy to share with my students and fellow teachers, but also a way to save them digitally, conserving paper.  Snapguide.com is a free web-based app that many home cooks and hobbyists use to share their creations with others in a global way.  I created my Snapguide below for our “northern lights in a bowl” project, and now it is available for anyone to use at home or in the classroom either in a whole group format or an independent learning station.

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I gathered our materials and simply used my phone to snap photos of each step in the process.  I then added text, and with very little effort, created my snapguide.  The image below shows what the guide looks like as it’s created, its steps rearranged, and prepared for publishing it live in the Snapguide library.

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We used milk with different types of fat content, with water as a control, to see the effect of food coloring and dish soap in the bowl.  The results were stunning!  How does it work?  The fat molecules and the food coloring create a surface tension that is broken by the addition of soap.  The currents of color create a visual masterpiece for just a few seconds.  Steve Spangler Science online does a fantastic job of explaining the process and the science behind it.  Click on the video below to watch my class investigate the magic:

We created a permanent northern lights display by recreating the experiment using glue instead of milk. When we broke the surface tension with the soap we had the same magical effect!

We let the glue and food coloring concoctions dry for a week, pulled off the bowls, and we had our very own northern lights suncatchers.

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Pour the mixture in a thin layer so the water will evaporate quickly and dry your art.

Poke a hole at the top, pull a ribbon through, and hang them up in a window to see the colors catch the sun’s light.  This weeklong scientific demonstration was not for the faint of heart, but it was great fun, and we learned a lot in the process.

Want to give it a try?  Find my Snapguide online and follow my steps to create your own visual science masterpieces.

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The Northern Lights in a Bowl Lesson Plan

KWL Chart

Scientific Method Form

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Our Parrot mini-drones have arrived!  In November we will celebrate STEM day at Eanes Elementary school and use our engineering skills to test drive drones for our pretend Iditarod trail.  We will create different Iditarod courses, complete with blizzards, mountains, and the northern lights.  Finally, our students will use coding skills on a tablet to fly them safely to Nome.

Stay tuned!

Join us!

The Iditarod Winter Teacher Conference is March 1st – 4th!

Are you interested in taking on the challenge of being the next Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™?  The deadline for applications is December 1st!  See the links above for information.

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