Grade 6 Applies the Scientific Method

The sixth graders have had their first experience applying their understanding of the scientific to learn about the properties of solutions. Rather than just have a lesson on this, students applied their abilities to plan, conduct and evaluate a scientific experiment completely independently.

Students measure out Copper Sulfate to separate through evaporation.

Students measure out copper sulfate for evaporation.


The scientific method has been a common thread through many of our labs through first semester until now. The model we used first semester is very “sixth grade friendly” for stimulus-response labs on living organisms, and the one used now is quite rigorous-which the SSIS Science Department has collaboratively planned and used. Here were the questions for investigation:

Does stirring a solution help dissolve more solute? 

Does heating a solution dissolve more solute? 

Does slow or fast evaporation yield bigger crystals?

Many student showed a great ability to use this new model which starts use at grade 6 and continues through high school.


A student measures control variables.

Posted in Math and Science News | Tagged | Leave a comment

Experimental Design in Grade 7

Welcome back everyone! It’s been great hearing what great holidays the students had and we’re in our second week of school. Due to scheduling changes, I have some new students that I didn’t have semester 1, and my A and D block students have mixed, so it’s like whole new classes!

The new semester brings a new topic of study: human body systems. There is an emphasis on experimental design and data analysis which the seventh graders have already participated in with their experiment: “Can you feel the difference?” and a collaborative discussion on the results.


Posted in Math and Science News | Tagged | Leave a comment

Grade 7 Engineers Boats for Electrical Understanding

The seventh graders just tested their homemade boats in the swimming pool. This is the culmination on our unit of electrical energy in which students had to apply their understanding of electricity and circuit building to construct and engineer a device to accomplish a task. Below you’ll see some finished products!

This culminating task is the result of a movement that our school is making in science through the use of Next Generation Science Standards which supports science as a design process made manifest through testing, evaluation and design thinking. Feel free to read about your child’s reflection of the process. As this will be my last post of the semester, I want to thank you all for supporting your child’s learning in the science classroom. For the small number of you who are leaving at the end of the semester for a new country, I wish you well, as those of you whose children will me moving to Mrs. Uemura’s class next semester due to scheduling. Have a happy holiday and see you in 2015!


Gary Johnston

MS Science Department

Posted in Math and Science News | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Calculating Work

The sixth graders calculated how much work they did when they came to school this morning. Work is measured as force times a distance. Below you can see where they all live!

Posted in Math and Science News | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Building Models to Help Others

The sixth graders are a few weeks into their introductory unit on Physics and simple machines and after reading an inspiring article about a middle school student that invented a low cost braille printer for the blind, the sixth graders have focused their efforts on their understanding of simple machines by building an inclined plane that serves as a handicapped accessibility ramp. I think this is a dynamite application of connecting skills to life and fostering one of our expected school-wide learning results: respect for all.

One groups data collection using controlled experiments to identify relationships.

One groups data collection using controlled experiments to identify relationships.

Ramp Designing and Testing Within Constraints

There are number of design constraints that make this quite challenging. For starters, the parameters of the design is that ramp complies with the American with Disabilities act, which stipulates that handicapped accessible ramps have an actual mechanical advantage of at least 12 and be 1 meter wide. To add to the challenge, the space is small, 12 meters by 12 meters which does not allow a long, straight ramp to be built. Groups have been collaborating to share 3D models before prototype building and testing.

One group's model using "play with chrome"

One group’s model using “play with chrome”

A student cuts sections of her ramp for testing.

A student cuts sections of her ramp for testing.


A finished version of a student's ramp complying with the ADA.

A finished version of a student’s ramp complying with the ADA.

Enter Next Generation Science Standards

Our school’s science curriculum is taking steps to adopt Next Generation Science Standards which will be implemented in the coming 2-3 years. I took a course in using these standards in the science classroom last spring, and they’re really interesting. The emphasis with them, is that there is more of an focus on design, product testing and application of skills on authentic learning tasks. They aim to engender innovation, cyclical design thinking, creativity, learning from mistakes and promoting persistance. Here are some for our unit that relate to engineering design:


NGSS: Science Performance Expectations(2013), NGSS: MS Engineering Design, MS.Engineering Design
  1. Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
  1. Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  1. Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.
Posted in Math and Science News | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Grade 7 Tells Digital Stories with Puppet Pals

The seventh graders just finished their digital story for chemistry. Working in groups, they all identified an element that they wanted to work on and created a presentation on it to inform other that was infused with script writing and story telling elements they’ve been working on in language arts class.

Below is a sample from Giao and Lee Yang but I encourage all parents to visit the grade 7 blogroll to find your child and encourage them to tell you about their stories. Some questions that you could ask your child to help guide the process:

  • What are valance electrons and how many can an atom have? 
  • What is the difference between ionic and covalent bonding? 
  • How is the periodic table of elements organized? 


Posted in Math and Science News | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Parent Teacher Conferences

It was such a pleasure seeing so many returning parents and meeting new ones on Thursday and Friday last week during parent teacher conference. I met with 79 different sets of parents and didn’t have a moments rest!

In addition to saying “thanks” for coming out and supporting developing your child’s interest in science, I did want want to summarise some key realisations from our time together because many parents did have some “ah-ha” moments and if you didn’t have the chance to meet with me, I hope to convey these to help acquaint you with some reporting.

1.) Many grades have comments for review. A number of parents didn’t know that a numerical score might have some key information behind it.

A "9" out of "15" but how was the student evaluated and what explains their score?

A “9” out of “15” but how was the student evaluated and what explains their score?

For example, above is a quick screenshot of a student’s evaluation on powerschool. However, I think it’s important not only to email grades and comments to the students, but to paste them into powerschool so you as a parent can help identify areas that your child could work on.

Clicking on the "9" reveals descriptive comments and a request to resubmit higher quality work.

Clicking on the “9” reveals descriptive comments and a request to resubmit higher quality work.


2.) Help focus on comments, not grades for learning. It’s easy to focus on a grade, but it often becomes a challenge to reduce a huge learning activity down to a letter grade or a number. Working with rubrics, two different students could show different understandings but have the same score on a project after rubric categories are added up. Encourage your child to show you work that they’ve done in class and ask them if they understand the comments that were given to them so that can apply that to what they’ve learned.

Descriptive comments after an argumentative writing piece in science.

Descriptive comments after an argumentative writing piece in science.


3.) Grades are not cumulative. I was pleased to see so much improvement in so many students through formative assessments (quizzes) and labs over time. However, if your child might feel a little sad about a low mark early in the semester, please know that every semester is a fresh start.


4.) Wednesday’s “Tutorial” is very under-utilised. Our advisory program has carved out a 30 minute time slot on Wednesdays for students to meet with teachers about projects, assignments or missing work. So far, I’ve had very few students in sixth grade take advantage of this. If you notice that your child has a piece of work that they’d like to discuss in person, encourage them to come and visit during that designated “help” time.

5.) Our Class Blog has a “Translation Widget”. Some students who were translating for their parents recalled that they had received emails and links to our classroom blog, but were unable to understand the content as they were not native english speakers. On the right side, is a translation widget that you can access in order to translate a post to Vietnamese or Korean.

Select your language and it will translate the entire site.

Select your language and it will translate the entire site.

If you could not meet with me over the last two days and would still like to make an appointment, please write me an email to schedule a time. Once again, thanks for your time and support!


Gary Johnston

MS Science Teacher



Posted in Musings | Tagged | Leave a comment

Cultural Stories!

Posted in From the Field | Tagged | Leave a comment

Summative Labs: Diversity of Life

The sixth graders have just had their first “summative lab”. Summative labs are tests of a students experimental design skills which is the ability to design, carry out and draw conclusions from an experiment. I typically administer summative labs in the fall and spring to help students identify growth over time and some summative labs are done in order to gain a better understanding of scientific concepts. For our lab today, the three questions that students had to choose from were:

Are snails more active in pairs or alone?

Does music have an effect on snail behavior? 

Is microscopic life more active in bright or low light conditions?

The kids said they had a fun time and one parent even commented that her son was excited to come to school today and experiment with organisms! All three questions focused around the stimulus response. Below is what this looks like in action:

After the holiday, we’ll be having parent teacher conferences. If you have specific questions related to science assignments on powerschool, I’d be more than happy to walk you through them on Thursday, October 23rd or Friday October 24th.

Thanks for your support!

Gary Johnston

MS Science Teacher

Saigon South International School

Posted in Math and Science News | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Grade 6 Gets Microscopic!

The sixth graders have started investigating some of the various kingdoms that are microscopic in life. On Monday, we investigated “Bacteria” and had our first investigations with the microscopes. See some images below:

The students have also been starting to use “Google Drawings”. Drawings are a great collaborative tool that allows to you import images, write and scribble. This is a fantastic tool for the science classroom and observations that we make. See one student’s example below:


A student makes observation on a Google Drawings.

A student makes observation on a Google Drawings.



  1. How was your experience of using the microscope? 



  1. Ask your child questions about bacteria. Check out the slideshow above to help guide you and them!
Posted in Math and Science News | Tagged , , | Leave a comment