Tag Archives: Science

Recycled Ocean Bulletin Board {with how-to pics!}

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card!

This fabulous idea was found organically (no pun intended) when my son’s pre-K class was learning about both recycling and the ocean. His {wonderful} teachers Lindsey Allman and Ariana Hull combined the two units in this uber-creative bulletin board, featuring an array of marine life made by the children out of materials pilfered from their recycling bins.

Check out the pictures below. This bulletin board is too cute not to share…and recreate!

How to build your own recycled ocean: 

The bulletin board was covered in white paper and then topped with crinkled blue cellophane wrap. Add a sandy ocean floor made out of textured scrapbook paper, white paper painted sandy tones, sandpaper, or a roll of craft paper. You could even get creative and have the children glue on dry grits: Paint white glue (thinned with a bit of water) over paper with a large brush, sprinkle on grits as you would glitter, allow to dry, dump off the excess, and hang.

The items can be attached to the board with staples, strong tape like Mavalus Mounting Tape, and/or a glue gun.

Add some yogurt-container ribbon jelly fish. The children loved painting their “trash!”

Check out the empty detergent-bottle Shamu!

Here’s how Shamu was attached…a little ingenuity, a little ribbon, and some staples. :)

How cute is this cardboard sea turtle with an egg carton head?

This empty container was inverted, painted, and given eight streamer tentacles with bead suctions. Adorable octopus!

A school of water-bottle fish is happily swimming in the corner. The bottles were cut by the teacher and their “tails” were stapled shut. The children customized their own fishies.

Some empty bottles cut into strips and painted green became seaweed. (Others were painted orange and assembled into coral.)

Paint and streamers transformed this drink bottle into a giant squid.

These three little egg carton clams may just be my favorite.

I like the idea of including a “what was learned” paragraph with the bulletin board, especially since this one is hanging in the hallway outside the classroom:

See why I had to share this idea? This bulletin board epitomizes a great culminating project: it combines two units of study, allows the children to utilize their creativity, and results in stunning student-made decor. Fabulous!

And…the class had loads of fun building this “recycled robot” out of their leftover trash:


Many thanks to Ariana Hull and Lindsey Allman with Primrose Schools for these awesome ideas. Your creativity is inspiring!

Click here for more ocean-themed activities, courtesy of The School Box.

Elizabeth D. Cossick, M. Ed. has a bachelors in education from The University of Georgia and a masters in curriculum and instruction from Lesley University, Cambridge. In addition to being the editor of A Learning Experience, she publishes Little Black Dress | Little Red Wagon Magazine. She resides in Atlanta with her husband, two young children, and a frisky Westie named Munson.



Filed under Activities, Art, Classroom Decor, Science, Social Studies

It’s Slime Time!

We know you’ve seen those Hollywood productions that have a ghost, ghoul or other alien creature dripping, drooling or slinging their green and gooey stuff all over the place. It’s disgusting, it’s messy, but for some reason, kids (and even some adults) love this kind of stuff. Well, now you can create your very own batch of green goo. The best part? It only takes four ingredients and under five minutes from start to finish!

What You Need

  • 1/4 Cup Water
  • 1/4 Cup Elmer’s Glue-All Glue
  • 1/4 Cup Liquid Starch
  • Food Coloring (green, red, or whatever color you wish)

How To Make It

  • Pour 1/4 cup of glue and 1/4 of water into a ziplock bag or bowl. Knead or stir to mix thoroughly.
  • Add six drops of food coloring to mixture. Knead or stir to mix thoroughly.
  • Pour in 1/4 cup of liquid starch. Mix thoroughly. Mixture should be fairly blobby at the start, but the more you play with it the  more stretchy it will become and easier to hold.

The Science Lesson

Voila! You’re done! But how does it work? The glue is a liquid polymer. This means that the tiny molecules in the glue are in strands like a chain. When you add the liquid starch, the strands of the polymer glue hold together, giving it its slimy feel. The starch acts as a cross-linker that links all the polymer strands together.

Make sure you keep the slime in a ziplock bag or sealed container when you’re not playing with it to preserve it for future fun time!

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Filed under Activities, Crafts

a long way from Legos: the latest, greatest building sets {and how to use them in the classroom}

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card! (Which you could use to buy…building sets! :)

Legos and Lincoln Logs used to rule the roost when it came to building sets. Not so these days, my friend. Magnets, gears and pulleys make today’s building sets more engaging–and mind-bending–than ever. Whether you’re looking for sets for a classroom, birthday gift, or just a rainy day, here are our top picks for kiddie-approved, creativity-inspiring building sets, followed by some ways to incorporate them into your classroom.

Gears, Gears, Gears!

The fun Gears, Gears, Gears! sets allow young builders to construct buildings, vehicles, factories and the like. There are a variety of sets, from beginner to themed kits (like this cute Movin’ Monkeys set), but all are interchangeable. Sets include spinning gears, pillars, connectors and cranks to set creations in motion–plus interlocking plates for limitless building.


I first discovered these magnetized balls, rods and plates when my son received a Magneatos set from his Popi. Three years later, they’re still a favorite. No wonder why Magneatos have garnered so much praise: recipient of 2005 & 2006 OPPENHEIM AWARD WINNER; featured on NBC’s Today Show and Featured in MONEY magazine; recipient of Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Award (Top Honor); recipient of Oppenheim SNAP (Special Needs Adaptable Product) Award Winner.

Thistle Blocks

Thistle Blocks are an oldie but goodie– a cousin to the Bristle Blocks from my own childhood. Guess what? These stick-to-each-other squares, rectangles and rods are still tons of fun. 


What set allows children to build movable bridges, creatures, vehicles and reptiles all with the same blocks? Flexiblocks! These wonder blocks, shown below, can be configured into a limitless variety of critters and formations: a boredom buster for sure. 

In the Classroom

Here are three ideas for using building sets in the classroom to encourage critical thinking and creativity, while practicing  hands-on geometry, public speaking, measuring, graphing and writing.

  • Hold a Building Challenge.

Break students into groups or pairs. Give each group the same number of blocks (or have pairs bring in building sets from home) and set the clock. Give the groups 15 or 20 minutes to build. Then, have each group present their creation to the class. The class can vote on which structures win Most Creative, Most Impressive, Most Blocks Used, Most Movable, etc.

Skills utilized: critical thinking, cooperative learning, oral speaking/presenting

  • Create (and Write About) a Fantasy World.

Allow students (individually or in small groups) to build a fantasy world with sets of blocks, including buildings, creatures, people, vehicles, bridges–whatever their imaginations hold. At the end of a set building period (around 20-30 minutes), students will then write either fiction stories, descriptive narratives or poems about their fantasy world, explaining what it looks like, who lives there, and how life works within the world of their imagination.

Skills utilized: critical thinking, cooperative learning, writing, grammar

  • Have a Race and Chart the Results.

Lots of building sets have circle or disk components that make great wheels. Allow students to build vehicles and then hold a race. Make predictions about which vehicle will go farthest. Create a starting line with tape, line up students two-at-a-time to race their creations. Then, use a ruler or yard stick to measure the distance traveled. Chart or graph the distances as a class on a piece of a bulletin board or chart paper. Be sure to note which are creative and aesthetic, even if they don’t go the distance! :)

Skills utilized: critical thinking, predicting, math, graphing, measuring, comparing/contrasting

For more great building sets, click here and here and here.

Build on!

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Filed under Activities, Art, Centers, Critical Thinking, Parenting, School Readiness, Science, Summer Learning

Pinspiration: Pinterest Finds for your Classroom

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed. 

Comment on this post to be entered to win a $20 gift card to The School Box! 

So, you’ve heard of Pinterest, right? It’s a virtual pinboard where you can “keep” all of your online inspirations–from recipes to decorating pics to travel plans to–yup–teaching ideas. Here are our favorite Pinterest-found classroom inspirations…so read, enjoy, and pin to your heart’s content.

And, if you haven’t been formally introduced to Pinterest, yet, you’ll find a good article from USA Today on how to get started here.

Pinsirpiation: Look What We Found On Pinterest

Runde’s Room: The Queen of Measurement

This cute Pinterest pin, left, led us to discover the blog of teacher Jen Runde, who offers a wealth of creative teaching ideas. We love this idea for teaching the metric system by declaring yourself the Queen of Measurement– tiara included.

Mrs. Schmelzer’s First Grade: Sensational Space

The image from Pinterest, below, led us to the classroom of Mrs. Schmelzer, who’s always got a great idea up her sleeve. Love this idea for teaching the moon phases and other facts about the solar system.

One note about blogs, though, should you choose to begin one: make sure you use good judgment and secure parental online photo releases for any children you feature. You never know whose Pinterest board they may end up being pinned to….

Disney FamilyFun

This adorable paper tray, below from Disney FamilyFun, caught our eye on Pinterest. Can you believe it’s just three boxes (think: cereal boxes) taped together and then wrapped with wrapping paper? What a cute idea for art papers at a writing or crafts center!

These examples hardly scratch the surface of the fabulous ideas found on Pinterest. We’ll be sharing more of our favorites from time-to-time. We thought you might appreciate some help narrowing down the really great ideas, since it’s tough to ferret through the good, the bad and the pretty on Pinterest without losing several hours of sleep.

So rest up…and happy pinning!


Filed under Activities, Art, Centers, Classroom Decor, Math, Science, technology

Toys that Teach: Christmas Gifts that Go the Distance

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card…just in time for Christmas! 

I recently sat down with my 4-year-old son to craft a Christmas wish list. Two hours and about 40 items later, we were done. And he’s only 4!! I didn’t even know he knew half those toys existed!

As his mom, I obviously have a more realistic idea of the toys he will actually play with beyond Christmas afternoon. My job is to sort through his list and pick the items that won’t be quick to become toy box fodder. To help me (and hopefully you) find toys whose impact and interest will last longer than the egg nog, I consulted with Chris Persson, mom of two, former teacher, and co-owner of The School Box along with her husband Dave.

“The best gifts,” says Chris,”are those that blend fun with learning. The toys we carry at The School Box are highly engaging, but allow kids to learn while they’re playing–often without even realizing it!” It’s like sneaking applesauce into the brownie mix: something good for your kids, incognito.

Here, Chris shares her top picks (and The School Box’s top sellers) for holiday gifts.  

1. Hands-On Science Kits, $14.99-$26.99

What child (or adult) wouldn’t want to build a robot out of an empty soda can? Or make their own slime laboratory? Or create a doorbell from electromagnets? As gifts, these kits are just plain cool.

What Kids Learn: “These kits bring science to life while reinforcing critical thinking skills,” says Chris.

 2. Games Galore, $10.99-$29.99

The School Box’s unmatched game selection is the perfect red herring for undercover learning. my new fave: Cartoon It!, a fast-paced memory game with an artistic twist. Younger kids will love Maze Madness, where they guide a ball through a twisty-turny maze. Game on!

What Kids Learn: “Games promote memory, strategy, fine motor skills, fair play and more. Plus, they’re fun!” Chris asserts.

 3. Froggy Ecosystem, Price: $19.99

This funky gift is an annual best-seller. It’s two little frogs in a plant-filled, self-sustaining ecosystem: no cleaning required. Much lower maintenance than a puppy on Christmas morning!

What Kids Learn: “They learn all about habitat and lifecycles,” says Chris, who notes that these fly off the shelves during the holidays.

These gifts have me thinking that The School Box may be as sly as those applesauce-laden brownies. Perhaps they should really call themselves The School and Toy Box: where your kids will learn without even knowing it. And, as for my son’s list, I think there may still be room to add a froggy or two.

 Need more gift ideas? Visit www.schoolbox.com to order online or find a location near you. Or stop by any School Box location for Super Saturdays, where kids make a (free) craft! Second and fourth Saturdays each month, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

This article was adapted from Little Black Dress|Little Red Wagon Magazine. 

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Filed under Critical Thinking, Games, Holidays, School Readiness, Science

What’s Your Problem? {science fair 101}

by Diane Burdick, M. Ed.
Comment on this post and be entered to win $20 School Box gift card. A new winner will be drawn this week!

Rows of project boards displayed on tables in the school gym. Students-turned-reluctant-scientists lined up beside them, ready to explain their findings. This scene–the annual school science fair–is part of every American child’s education, a prerequisite of elementary and middle school graduation. And it’s also an experience that can either turn a child onto science for life…or bore them to tears. Here’s how to help your child (or students) achieve the former and avoid the latter.

First Stop: A Strong Question

A successful science fair project all starts with an interesting question. Science Buddies (www.sciencebuddies.org) suggests starting with student interests:
o Are you interested in plants?
o Do you enjoy sports?
o Are you interested in weather phenomenon?
o Do you enjoy mathematical calculations, formulas and looking at data?
o Are you interested in nature?
o Do you prefer mental or physical work?
o Are you interested in memory perception and learning?
o Do you enjoy learning about animals and their habitat?
o Are you interested in improving things?
o Do you like to create or design things?
o Are you interested in chemical reactions?
o Do you like to work with machines?

Next Stop: Problem Statement

The problem in a science fair project, sometimes known as the problem statement, is what the student will research and experiment. The wording of the problem statement often indicates what and how the student will research and experiment.

Good problem statements are easy to understand and directly relate to the rest of the project as a whole. Often, a problem statement discusses a variable–a part of the project subject to change–and indicates that the variable is important to the entire science project process. For example, a project on the best way to make rock candy might look something like: “Do seeded rock candy strings produce crystals quicker?”

Now Consider: Variables

Setting up the experiment in a couple different ways to explore different variables is the next step. Variables are the things that could change in the experiment to alter the outcome. An independent variable is something that YOU can change about the experiment. A dependent variable is something you OBSERVE about the experiment. A controlled variable is something you keep the SAME throughout the experiment. According to Science Buddies, a good variable is measureable, can be changed in the experiment, and is easily identifiable.

In the example of a rock candy experiment, for example, the independent variable might be how long you allow the crystals to seed on the string. The dependent variable is what you observe about the growth of the crystals on the string, and the controlled variable is what you keep controlled, such as the recipe of the rock candy mixture, the location of the curing rock candy, and the type of string used.

There you have it: three steps to a successful science fair project. First, consider personal interests, then construct a strong question, and finally alter variables to produce an answer to your question. Now all that’s left is assembling that project board for the gym!

Diane Burdick, M. Ed. holds a masters in elementary education and a bachelors in history, and is currently pursuing her specialists degree with a concentration in teaching and learning. A homeschooling mother of three, she also enjoys freelancing for online publications.

Article edited by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.


Filed under Academic Success, Activities, Assessments, Science

The Coolest Birthday Gifts Ever (Hands-On Science Part III)

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card!

Science is one of those subjects that, when done right, is just as fun on a Friday night at home with the kids as it is in class. This is part three in a three-part series on fun science projects for home or school.

While the supplies under your kitchen sink make for great science experiments (as shared in Part I and Part II of this series), there are also some fabulous (affordable) science kits that you can purchase at specialty toy stores to provide hours of exploration and discovery.

Here are our favorites, which would also make welcomed birthday and Christmas gifts. Think of them as toys that pack a one/two punch. ONE: They’re tons of FUN. (Seriously, who doesn’t want to make a robot?) And TWO: They teach and reinforce critical thinking skills (cause and effect, reading and pre-reading strategies, direction following, synthesis, analysis, prediction…).

Now doesn’t that sound like a better gift than the usual overpriced plastic thingymajig that will become toy box fodder in two days? We thought so, too.

Five Rockin’ Science Kits

  • Tin Can Robot

Description: Recycle a soda can by turning it into a silly robot that can wobble around! Kit includes all working parts, motor, wheels, arms, googly eyes, and fully detailed instructions. Requires screwdriver and empty soda can (not included). Great way to recycle! Ages 6+.

Price: $14.99

Available at: The School Box store or online here: http://www.schoolbox.com/Tin-Can-Robot-Kit

  • Electromagnet Science Kit

Description: Build a doorbell, telegraph system and even a catapult using a true electromagnet! Kit includes: disc, latch and neodymium magnets, compass, straws, wires, sand paper, switch plates, wood screws, nails, light bulbs, battery holders, iron filings and more. An instruction booklet walks young scientists through an array of project options and experiments for hours of captivating fun.

Price: $26.99

Available at: The School Box stores or online here: http://www.schoolbox.com/ProductDetail

  • Big Bag Of Science

Description: This giant kit is designed to whet the appetites of budding young scientists of all ages. With more than 70 unique, fun, hands-on science activities, this kit guarantees hours of science fun. Amaze your friends and family with such activities as making water disappear, having liquid flow uphill, making a 30’ soda geyser, growing fake snow instantly, balancing 6 nails on the head of one nail – and much more. Store all components in the reusable zipper bag. Ages 8 and up.

Price: $39.99

Available at: The School Box stores or online here: http://www.schoolbox.com/Big-Bag-Of-Science

  • Solar Rover

Description: Learn how regular sunlight converts to energy as it powers this rover to roll along the floor. All you need is a recycled soda can! Ages 8 and up.

Price: $19.99

Available at: The School Box stores or online here: http://www.schoolbox.com/Solar-Rover-Kit

  • Weird Slime Laboratory

Description: Create green jelly worms, tadpoles and leeches, invisible jellyfish and more! Learn about the properties of matter, wet spinning, hydrated crystals and cross-linked polymers. Kit includes eight activities, each of which builds on the skills learned in the previous one. Ages 10 and up.

Price: $19.99

Available at: The School Box or online here: http://www.schoolbox.com/Weird-Slime-Laboratory

For more hands-on science kits, check out these other awesome ideas and kits (erupt a volcano, anyone?): http://www.schoolbox.com/Science-Fair-Projects-And-Kits.aspx


Filed under Academic Success, Activities, Centers, Critical Thinking, Reading, Science, Summer Learning, technology

Hands-on Science for Home or School, Part II

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card!

Science is one of those subjects that, when done right, really is just as fun on a Friday night at home with the kids as it is in class. This three-part series will explore fun science projects perfect for home or school.

Blow Up a Balloon with Yeast

How does yeast make bread rise? This experiment from Science Bob will explore that question…with a balloon!


A packet of yeast (available in the grocery store)

A small, clean, clear, plastic soda bottle (16 oz. or smaller)

1 teaspoon of sugar

Some warm water

A small balloon


  1. Fill the bottle up with about one inch of warm water. (When yeast is cold or dry the micro organisms are resting.)
  2. Add all of the yeast packet and gently swirl the bottle a few seconds. (As the yeast dissolves, it becomes active – it comes to life! Don’t bother looking for movement, yeast is a microscopic fungus organism.)
  3. Add the sugar and swirl it around some more. Like people, yeast needs energy (food) to be active, so we

    will give it sugar. Now the yeast is “eating!”

  4. Blow up the balloon a few times to stretch it out then place the neck of the balloon over the neck of the bottle.
  5. Let the bottle sit in a warm place for about 20 minutes.

If all goes well the balloon will begin to inflate!

How It Works:

As the yeast eats the sugar, it releases a gas called carbon dioxide. The gas fills the bottle and then fills the balloon as more gas is created. We all know that there are “holes” in bread, but how are they made? The answer sounds a little like the plot of a horror movie. Most breads are made using YEAST. Believe it or not, yeast is actually living microorganisms! When bread is made, the yeast becomes spread out in flour. Each bit of yeast makes tiny gas bubbles and that puts millions of bubbles (holes) in our bread before it gets baked. Naturalist’s note – The yeast used in this experiment are the related species and strains of Saccharomyces cervisiae. (I’m sure you were wondering about that.) Anyway, when the bread gets baked in the oven, the yeast dies and leaves all those bubbles (holes) in the bread. Yum.

 Make it an Experiment:

The project above is a DEMONSTRATION. To make it a true experiment, you can try to answer these questions:

1. Does room temperature affect how much gas is created by the yeast?

2. Does the size of the container affect how much gas is created?

3. What water/room temperature helps the yeast create the most gas?

4. What “yeast food” helps the yeast create the most gas? (try sugar, syrup, honey, etc.)

For more fun science projects, visit http://www.sciencebob.com/experiments/index.php and stay tuned for the the next feature in this series on A Learning Experience!

For awesome science kits that kids love (that would also make great birthday presents), check out this top-shelf array from The School Box: http://www.schoolbox.com/Science-Fair-Projects-And-Kits.aspx.


Filed under Parenting, Science

Hands-on Science for Home or School, Part I

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card!

Science is one of those subjects that, when done right, really is just as fun on a Friday night at home with the kids as it is in class. This three-part series will explore fun science projects that your young scientists will enjoy at home or school.

Color Symphony

adapted from ZOOMsci

  • several disposable cups
  • 3 different colors of liquid food coloring
  • milk, at room temperature
  • white glue
  • liquid dish-washing detergent


  1. Take the milk out of the refrigerator and let it warm up a little. It’ll work better if it’s not cold.
  2. Put the milk in a cup (fill the cup about 1/3 of the way).
  3. Add drops of food coloring in a triangle or square pattern.
  4. Put a drop of dish-washing soap in the middle of the food coloring design and watch the colors move. Cool, huh? Milk has fat in it, and the soap breaks up the fat. The food coloring swirls into the places where the fat used to be.
  5. Now, instead of using milk, try it with glue. Soap also prevents glue from sticking together. If you let the glue harden, you can cut away the cup and you have a colored disk.

For more fun science projects, visit http://pbskids.org/zoom/activities/sci/ and stay tuned for the the next feature in this series on A Learning Experience!

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Filed under Parenting, Science

A Fun Science Activity for School or Home

Leaf Man Comes to Life

by Kelli Lewis

Comment on this post and you could win a $20 gift card to The School Box! Winners are drawn each month.

Here is a fun science lesson geared toward students in pre-k, kindergarten, or first grade that is perfect for the classroom–or kitchen table. This lesson incorporates a hands-on activity, a good book (of course), and a healthy dose of fresh air and movement. Let’s get started!

Step One: Read

Find a good place to have story time and read Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert. This story about “Leaf Man” includes labeled illustrations of different types of leaves collected from various locations. After reading the book, discuss the story’s characters, setting, plot, etc. This will be a great way to review any concepts you may have been working on prior to today.

Step Two: Leaf Hunt

Now it is time to go on a leaf hunt! Allow your students to ramble around outside in order to find all different types of leaves to bring back inside. They don’t need to bring in every leaf they see, but they also will need more than just a few (10-15 is a good goal). Encourage them to collect a variety of shapes and sizes.

Step Three: Make Leaf Man

Create, glue, and bring him to life! Bring the students back inside with all of the special leaves they collected. They are going to make their very own leaf man. Hand out construction paper, glue and any other extra materials you may want them to use (googly eyes, pipe cleaners, pompom balls, etc.) Allow them to bring their Leaf Man to life! Does he have a name, other than Leaf Man? Does his name have anything to do with the attributes of the leaves?


• This could also become a sorting activity. When students get back inside with their leaves, you could all come together and discuss the leaves that were chosen. How are they alike and how are they different? Can anyone remember the names of the leaves in the story and figure out what their leaves are called?

• To adapt this activity for older grades, you could incorporate deeper concepts and details about leaves, plants and other studies of botany. They could also write a detailed story about Leaf Man, incorporating vocabulary from their science lessons. The options are almost endless, but I’ll LEAVE the rest up to you!

Kelli Lewis is a graduate student at the University of Georgia and a frequent contributor to A Learning Experience.

For another cool activity for teaching about plants, check out this classroom activity kit available at The School Box.


Filed under Activities, Art, creative writing, Reading, Science, Seasons, Writing