Dyan Branstetter | September 2015

STEAMy Back to School Inquiry

Editor’s Note: Please welcome Dyan Branstetter to our EdCloset Writing Team! Dyan is an elementary classroom educator who uses arts integration and STEAM regularly with her students.  She will be joining us each Tuesday.  

The first week of school is over. Students go home for the weekend and can easily slip back into summer mode. It is hard for students (and teachers) to snap into the back to school inquiry and routine for that second week, so I like to give students an easy way to get excited about getting back to school inquiry class:

UV Detecting Beads!

I discovered these beads when going through my Masters program, and they are so much fun. When exposed to UV rays, the beads change color; the stronger the rays, the more brilliant the color. (You can find them here: http://www.teachersource.com/product/ultraviolet-detecting-beads/light-color). Because this science content is not official 3rd grade curriculum for me, I use this as an inquiry science kick-off, but there are so many experiments you could do, such as testing the effectiveness of sunscreen and sunglasses, in addition to helping students become aware of the dangers of the sun on our skin.

On Friday of the first week of school, I explain the upcoming weekend’s homework assignment to the students. This elicits a few groans until I explain that I have a “present” for them. I share that they may do as much or as little experimenting and observing as they want, but their job is to wear this special bead for the weekend. The only thing they may not do is place the bead near a heat source or cook it since it is plastic. Their mission: 1) to figure out what the bead does, and 2) why the bead does this. I give each student a piece of yarn or a pipe cleaner with a UV-detecting bead on it and have them tie it on like a bracelet.

The immediate reactions are interesting. Some students instantly make a hypothesis about what is going to happen, while others brainstorm ideas of experiments they’d like to do. I don’t give any hints of the answer, even if a student happens to guess correctly. The fun part is hearing the reaction when a student happens to be standing next to a window and the bead changes color. It is usually quite a disruption, in the best way possible- they all start to hypothesize and try to find a way to make their bead change.

Arriving back to school inquiry in the following Monday, students are excited to share their results.

Together, we make a T-chart for students to share what they did and what the result was to help us come to a conclusion. This would be a great lead-in to a lesson on the scientific method. After the students share the results, I explain how the beads work: These beads contain pigments that change color when exposed to ultraviolet rays, which are invisible to us. I explain that UV rays are the rays that cause sunburn. (More scientific information here: http://blog.teachersource.com/2009/11/13/chemistry-of-ultraviolet-detecting-beads-video/) This usually kicks off a brainstorming session of ways we can use the beads for more experiments.

When observing the beads, students can record data by noting the shade of the bead on a 5-point scale, by using a colored pencil to match the observed shade of the bead. This is a great time to introduce the art vocabulary word tint, and explain how a tint is the mixture of a color with white. Students can make an anchor scale with a colored pencil prior to the experiments, and match the bead to the level of tint for recording purposes. As an extension, you could further experiment with mixing colored paints with white to create matching levels of tints, or adding proper amounts of water to watercolors to achieve the desired tint.

I’ve found back to school inquiry to be a fun way to get students excited about science, and to dabble in the scientific method. Do you have other ideas for integrating the arts with these beads?

About the Author

Dyan is a fifth grade teacher in a public school district in Lancaster, PA and has over 16 years of classroom experience. With a Masters of Science Education and a passion for dance and music, she strives to integrate the arts into the curriculum whenever possible. Dyan has a background in teaching advanced learners, and is devoted to using project based learning to help her students achieve 21st century learning skills and master the PA Core Standards.