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Daily Classroom Special: Science with Toys

About this Daily Classroom Special: 
Science to Go
provides easy yet meaningful science activities for grades k-8. Science to Go was written by Barbara Smith, Magnet Coordinator at Harvard Elementary, Houston (TX) and former Teachers Network web mentor.

Science With Toys

One of the more interesting ways I teach science (particularly physics) is with toys. If you search through educational science catalogs, you will find a few there, but I have much better luck looking through the toy departments in local stores. Make it a habit to walk through the toy department of any store you visit! If you see an inexpensive or interesting toy, try to determine the principle behind how it works.

Party Toys
Look in the section of the store where they keep party favors. These toys are small and inexpensive. A few are directly related to scientific principles, and many can be used to teach basic experimental skills and variables.

Pop-up Disks are great for testing variables of temperature, surfaces, flexibility/age. In addition, the kids love the sound and predicting popping times.

Seasonal Toys
Stores will often run seasonal toys on great sales, nearly giving them away. Watch for water toys, beach supplies, gardening kits, sports equipment, and holiday games.

Once, at the end of summer, I found colorful plastic sand buckets with shovels for 15 cents each. We use these now for equipment holders, carrying water, collecting samples, preparing stream beds for erosion modeling, and they look bright and attractive in the classroom.

Broken Toys
Solicit broken toys from students and parents. If this doesn't net enough good samples, go to the local thrift store or donation center. Unfortunately, they receive many of these, and you should be able to get them to save some for you. One donation center I know of has a monthly auction, and you can easily get a truckload of toys for one or two dollars.

Let students examine toys for characteristics, take them apart to see what makes them work (electronic toys are especially interesting), or see if you can fix them. If they have moving parts, can you identify which "simple machines" are involved?

Toys I use often

  • balls - for teaching astronomy, transfer of energy/motion
  • marbles - for ball bearings, weights, density/buoyancy study
  • model cars - for friction studies, speed, motion
  • erector sets - cause and effect, motion, model-building, constructing simple machines
  • balloons - buoyancy, model rockets, volume, cushioning for models
  • airplanes - motion, aerodynamics, potential v. kinetic energy, variable testing
  • electronic toys - circuits, circuit boards, electricity, radio waves, switches
  • bath toys - motion, variables, conservation of mass, energy, characteristics of liquids
Web Picks
Institute and Museum of the History of Science in Florence
Museum in Italy has interpretive displays of artifacts in the museum, multimedia applications, a library, bibliographies (useful for science project research!), archives, news, research, and a good list of other links.

Science Learning Network (SLN)
A national project between the National Science Foundation and Unisys that paired science museums with schools. The website has links to 11 outstanding partner museums.


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