Grade 7 Learns about the Gray Area

The seventh graders are halfway through their unit on watershed health. For this, we’re investigating the “Gray Area Mystery” which is a fictitious place where thousands of fish have been washing up dead over the last 5 years.

A map of the Gray Area

A map of the Gray Area

The students have been conducting investigations related to sediment loss, bioindicators and chemical indicators, predator prey relationships and revising their predictions of what factors are responsible based on the scientific evidence.

Students have predicted who they think is responsible based on the factual scientific evidence.

Students have predicted who they think is responsible based on the factual scientific evidence.

Our study of the Gray Area has led us through games, experiments and scenarios to help understand some of the concepts. Today, the students played “Oh Deer!” which helped understand limiting factors of population interactions such as carrying capacity and resources.

Students play "Oh Deer!"

Students play “Oh Deer!”

Environmental science is a complex science because there are so many variables that affect environmental health: hence the name “The Gray Area”. Can we really identify a specific industry or person or is everyone responsible?

Students investigate clues from the past to look for patterns within data.

Students investigate clues from the past to look for patterns within data.


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Grade 7 Presents on Human Body Systems

The seventh graders are concluding their study of “Comparative Systems” this week. Our unit on comparative systems focuses on the human body, and after looking at 6 body systems through our own investigations, students have been grouped together to research and present on a human body system which hasn’t been discussed.

These presentations will continue throughout the week and after the spring break holiday, will kick-off our final unit: Watersheds. See some of the presentations below, but encourage your child to present your presentation to you at home!


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Science Reflection for Student Led Conferences

I really liked learning about atoms and the periodic table first semester. We read some case studies of the benefits of atomic theory, but overall I think that it’s been more helpful force than a destructive one. My partner Lee Yang and I also investigated “Flourine” and used the ipads to create a digital animation using an app called “Puppet Pals”. For our electricity unit, I learned how to solder connections and make a simple circuit to create a functioning boat. Although we didn’t get a perfect score on the project, it was fun when I finally worked! Finally, my human body experiment focused on human testing of a consumer product. I think this is first time I really understood the concept of variables.

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Sample Science Reflection for Student Led Conferences

The first big experiment we did in “Diversity of Life” was an experiment on living things. This was my first time in doing an experiment on living things and I did it on protist’s behavior while looking through a microscope. We also did a writing piece called “How am I Alive” and I chose to be butterfly. I learned a lot of how things are classified in living kingdoms. I also designed and built a handicapped ramp, in which I built using an inclined plane. I learned how math is used to make sure the ratio of steepness is not too high. In second semester, I did an experiment on “solutions” and I wanted to see if evaporation affected crystal size. I think this is when I really understood the concepts of variables, but I forgot to include an evaluation, so I’ll be sure to do that. We finished by building a distillation apparatus to purify water. I learned a lot about percentages.

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Grade 6 Engineers a Distillation Apparatus


One of my best units I’ve ever designed is our recent on “Intro to Chemistry” for grade 6 science. This was the topic of my COETAIL’s project last year and you can see a full video below:

The sixth graders accepted the challenge head-on this year by focusing on “Law of Conservation of Mass” and using data we collected over multiple trails were able to apply concepts of calculating percentages, rates and use the process of design build which is becoming an increasing strand of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) strands and an increasingly popular 21st century skill that will help create graduates who are creative problem solvers.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of “The Design Process-Discover Design”


  1. How did this project encourage persistence? 
  2. How did you deal with setbacks? 
  3. What did you learn about distillation and the nature of materials? 
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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.

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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.


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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

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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!

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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.
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