While classes have been in full swing since the start of the school year, one science class at Dempsey Middle School recently created a laboratory to study their own backpacks.
Sixth grade science teacher Stephanie Buckingham said her class at Dempsey has been learning about science tools and units of measurement this year, including the metric system and how to convert between the metric system and the imperial measurement system.
“If we are going to learn how to use science tools and measure like scientists in our world do, we have to learn their language,” Buckingham said in an email Monday. “I am constantly reminding students that science has a language of its own”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, lockers are not being used at Dempsey. Instead, students are carrying all of their school materials to each class in backpacks. This new normal spurred the idea for the lab, according to Buckingham.
“At the beginning of the year, several students lamented about how heavy their backpacks were,” Buckingham said. “The mass of the backpacks really becomes noticeable after a couple hours … I cannot remember which student said this, but one day one of my kids suggested measuring the mass of the backpacks using our science tools and metric system language. Other students chimed in that this was a great idea and would be super fun. So, I devised a lab with their input.”
Buckingham said students began the lab by creating a chart to record measurements of items in their backpacks.
“Then, one by one, students took items from their backpacks and measured each in grams using triple beam balances,” Buckingham said. “At the end, we will add the mass of all items to get the total mass of the bookbags in grams. To share this information, students will learn to convert grams to pounds so that information can be shared.”
Buckingham added students then had to convert the results from grams to pounds so they could share it with their schoolmates outside of class.
She said the lab was a good way to connect the lesson to students’ experiences.
“I want students to learn the language of science. I want to connect my students’ activities to real world/real life events,” Buckingham said. “I want my students to be skilled in using science tools and understand the importance of measuring objects.”
Buckingham added that doing labs has been a challenge during the pandemic because it’s traditionally a time that students work in small groups or with partners, which can’t happen now for safety reasons.
“Luckily, we have smaller classes this year, approximately 14 in each period class and we have two groups, A group and B group, and for measuring mass in grams, we have just enough triple beam balances so the students can have their own,” Buckingham said.
While she’s not sure what the process will be when the class needs to use microscopes, Buckingham said she and her students will figure it out.
“This has changed everything about how I do labs from working with others to keeping tools sanitized,” Buckingham said. “(It’s) frustrating, but … we make the best of what has been given us.”