They’re outside and it’s hands on for Joe Karr’s fourth grade science class. It’s all about asking scientific questions and making observations -- and the students are definitely doing that as they learn about habitats in Mr. Karr’s outdoor science classroom.
Mr. Karr and his students built the classroom themselves. They dragged logs and stumps into a circle, and they’ve been meeting in this spot in the woods ever since. On a beautiful fall afternoon, it’s the perfect place to study the natural world. On this particular day, third graders were manned with clipboards, colored pencils, thermometers, and a soil core sampler.
How is it different for the students to be studying and gathering data outside?
Mr. Karr explains: “By comparing the forests and fields right outside our door, we position ourselves to better understand our local habitats, put skills to work, and feel the joy of discovering creatures that were always so close, yet unknown.”
Meanwhile ... inside the eighth grade physics lab on the Upper Campus, the eighth graders were gathering their own data and making observations in order to determine how a candle works. It is probably one of the simplest tools of man, discovered, perhaps in prehistoric times, when a woman inadvertently tossed the beeswax into a fire and the blaze got bigger. Her discovery led to lighting up the cave, even in her tribe’s darkest hours.
The eighth grade scientists have been struggling to unlock the process that keeps a candle burning. How does it do that with such consistency? What exactly is the role of the wax, the wick, and the flame? Using only the tools and equipment in the lab, the teams went to work, given no specific apparatus or parameters to measure, just a set of safety rules and precautions. They learned how to operate a Bunsen burner and how to burn materials in a controlled environment.
What looked like a simple lab investigation wasn’t easy at all. With four lab teams in each section, it took over five weeks to complete, with the first breakthroughs occurring after a week and a half of discovery, dead ends, and misleading conclusions. This wasn’t an internet research project. It was a nuts and bolts challenge, “What can you prove with your collective creativity, in this lab, and with this equipment?”
“Wax is not flammable; it helps to slow down the burning, so the wick doesn’t burn right up and go out.” This conclusion, proven many times in different ways was finally overturned when one team heated wax in an evaporating dish over a Bunsen burner. The hot smoky liquid caught on fire with no wick. The team concluded that wax is indeed flammable when it reaches a high enough temperature and turns to a gas.
Another team identified the black substance on the wick as the element “carbon.” One lone member of that team postulated that the carbon came not only from the burned wick but also from the wax. It turned out that she was right.
Using small bits of carbon as indicators, another team identified currents moving in the pool of wax at the base of the wick and proved that the liquid wax was moving toward the wick. This later helped to explain the capillary action occurring in the wick to draw up the liquid wax to deliver it to the base of the flame, where it heated to a gas and kept the flame going.
Some teams created an apparatus and carried out a procedure that resulted in no discoveries, brea
Ninth Graders Volunteer at A-Home
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Volunteers who saw a need for permanent affordable housing for seniors and individuals with disabilities in Northern Westchester founded A-HOME in 1985. On Friday, November 13, members of the ninth grade class raked leaves and planted over 100 bulbs at A-HOME’s Pound Ridge residence. While we were working, Lonna Kelly, Director of Development for A-HOME, took photos of our team (ones she called “UNselfies”). Gerry Granelli, A-HOME’s property manager, commented that we have great kids and that it’s always a pleasure to work with them. The ninth graders should be proud of their willingness to lend a hand in this worthy effort. Thanks to Mike Kober and Chris Perry for helping the event run smoothly!