How to Combine Thanksgiving and Science in your Elementary Classroom

How to Study Seeds with Popcorn
by Christy McGuire, Contributor

Students’ minds are turning to the holidays. You can harness some of that excitement by including some holiday-themed activities in your classroom.

How to Study Seeds with Popcorn/How to Combine Thanksgiving and Science in your Elementary Classroom

There are many great learning activities that follow holiday themes. Here are two activities that combine Thanksgiving and science.

We love studying (eating!) popcorn seeds year round at our house.

Here are two activities that will help your students understand the parts and functions of a seed.

Used together you have a hands-on opportunity to discuss all the parts of a seed and their functions, and the general characteristics of a seed as well.

A key to making these activities irresistible. Is to use the same popcorn for all parts of the demonstration. If possible, pop the corn in front of your students.

Activity one : Grow a Popcorn Plant

This classic demonstration is more intriguing done with popcorn.


  • unpopped corn
  • baggies
  • wet paper towels
  • tape
  • windows

How to Study Seeds with Popcorn/How to Combine Thanksgiving and Science in your Elementary Classroom


1. Let your students place three or so kernels in the baggy with a wet napkin.

2. Write their names on the baggies and tape them to the window.

Corn germinates quickly, so if you set this demonstration up on Friday, chances are good that by Monday you will have something fun to look at.

Some questions to ask the day that the seeds germinate:

“Where does the energy for the little plant to grow come from?”

“Why do all of our plants look similar to each other?”

“Why is corn planted in the spring and not in the fall?”


Activity two: Seed coat observation

This activity was actually developed by my children. Playing in water is always a hit!

For maximum excitement, pull this activity out on the day your students find the germinated popcorn seeds as a kind of extension.


  • unpopped corn
  • a method for popping the corn
  • water in small dishes


1. Hand out popped and unpopped corn.

2. Tell your students to draw pictures and write descriptions in their science journals.

3. Have your students place unpopped corn in a dish of water.

How to Study Seeds with Popcorn/How to Combine Thanksgiving and Science in your Elementary Classroom

4. Pop some corn.

5. Have your students place it in a second dish of water.

6. Wait for five minutes or so. While you are waiting, discuss the seeds.

“What is the difference between these two types of popcorn?”

“What is the yellow shiny thing on the outside of the unpopped corn?”

“Why do you think seed coats are important?”

How to Study Seeds with Popcorn/How to Combine Thanksgiving and Science in your Elementary Classroom

7. When the five minutes has passed, encourage your students to make observations and record them by drawing pictures and  writing descriptions. First have them just look at the seeds, then allow them to touch the seeds as well.

Some questions to ask in summary:

What about the seeds changed?”

“What stayed the same?”

“Why do you think the seed coat is important?”

Finally after all that work, be sure to EAT some popcorn.   (Check for corn allergies first.) Nothing is better than eating your own experiment! Oh, and while you are munching, “What is it about seeds that makes them good to eat?”



Christy McGuire is a trained physics teacher who loves developing new ways for students to engage with science.  While taking a break from the high school classroom, Christy rediscovered that young children are tons of fun, and can learn powerful science and math too.  Now she is attempting to cross the excitement of early childhood style learning with serious STEM study to benefit students on both ends of the learning process.    Find activities and reflections on STEM learning on her blog:



Until Next Year, Polymer Body Parts

Halloween is over and it’s time to put away the polymer body parts, but first, let’s compare what they look like at the end of October with what they looked like at the beginning of October.

Each polymer body part is about two inches long.
Each polymer body part is about two inches long.
Each body part is between 4 and 7 inches long!
Each body part is between 4 and 7 inches long!

Watching a polymer grow is always fun;  with some polymers, the transformation is instant, and with others, the change takes a little more time, but never very much time.  With the dismembered body parts, watching the transformation is like watching the hour hand on a clock; it never seems to move while you’re looking at it, but when you look away and then look again, there’s been movement.

Now Halloween is over and the body parts are drying out.  They didn’t grow in a day and they won’t shrink back in a day, but once they seem dry, I’ll put them back into their jar and put the jar back in the laundry room until NEXT October.

One more time, look really closely at how big they got.

Big polymer body partsMore big polymer body partsBig polymer parts again

Until next October then, dismembered body parts.  (Polymers last pretty much forever, you know.)


Jane GoodwinJane Goodwin is a professor of expository writing at Ivy Tech Community College, a hands-on science teacher for College for Kids, a professional speaker and writer, and a social media liaison  for Steve Spangler Science.  She wanted to be a ballerina and an astronaut, but gravity got the better of her.

Dismembered Body Parts: Day 31

Check out our dismembered body parts now!  Skipped a few days, do you think?  I got busy playing with other polymers with my students – pictures to follow.

When last we left our dismembered body parts, the hypothesis was that the polymer hand, foot, brain, nose, ear, and hungry alligator would eventually grow so large that they would push off the lid of the jar.  As you can see, that’s exactly what happened.

Check out the jar's lid.  It's being pushed out of the way by those giant still-growing polymer body parts!
Check out the jar’s lid. It’s being pushed out of the way by those giant still-growing polymer body parts!

Actually, as the jar seems to be completely full of dismembered body parts, I don’t think there’s any place for them to grow and go except up and out.

Quite a contrast to the tiny body parts that didn’t even cover the bottom of the jar a few weeks ago, huh.

That’s how polymers work – just add a little water and they morph into giant things that astound us.  Polymers are so cool.

Stay tuned for details on size.  I’ll need TWO rulers this time.

Dismembered Body Parts: Day 9

I’ve missed a few days since Day One, but the point remains that our hydrogel polymer dismembered body parts just keep on growing.  Kind of as if they were real. . . .

I need to add more water!
I need to add more water! The dismembered body parts need room to grow!

Remember how tiny each of these dismembered pieces used to be? Two inches, and all of them together not covering the bottom of the big jar, and now? Pretty soon they’ll be outgrowing the jar! I wonder if they’ll push the lid off. . . Well, we’ll have to wait and see.

Hypothesis: If the jar’s lid is not screwed on tightly, the hydrogel polymer dismembered body parts will push the lid off and completely outgrow this jar.

Therefore, I’ll unscrew the lid, add more water, and set the lid back on loosely.

And now we wait.


Jane GoodwinJane Goodwin is a professor of expository writing at Ivy Tech Community College, a hands-on science teacher for College for Kids, a professional speaker and writer, and a social media liaison  for Steve Spangler Science.  She wanted to be a ballerina and an astronaut, but gravity got the better of her.

Jefferson County School District – The Teacher Salary Debate

Our office is located outside of Denver, Colorado. The Jefferson County School District is in our backyard. Teacher sickouts and student protests recently made national news when one of the school board members proposed creating an advisory counsel to review curriculum in AP History classes.

9News - Stand Up for Students Rally
Parents, students, teachers, community members line Wadsworth Boulevard to voice displeasure with recently elected school board majority in Jefferson County.
(Photo: Andy Buck)

Those protests and frustration aimed at the majority board members is only a small part of tensions between the board and the teachers, students, parents and community it serves.

Salary Increases Based on Changing Criteria

The teachers are also unhappy with salary negations with the union. The board majority recently approved salary increases but changed the criteria for how teachers receive the raises. This was without listening to input from the teachers’ union, the teachers and administrators or anyone else.

The board majority of Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk even rejected the findings of an independent fact-finding report that recommended the teachers’ union and district work on a new evaluation system.

Witt said he wants to only reward highly effective teachers – “This is increased compensation. That’s what this discussion is about. It’s not about moving anyone back,” Witt said. “Our experienced teachers, their salary is what it is. We’re talking recognizing effective and highly effective teachers and increasing compensation for those teachers.”

However, the system that currently ranks teachers is unable to clearly evaluate teachers in the way Witt wants.

Jefferson County Education Association President John Ford has expressed concern over this plan.

“Having an evaluation system that does not accurately rate teachers does not help reach our goal of every student being taught by a quality teacher,” explained Ford.

The old step system awarded pay increases based on a scale of years of experience and education. The new criteria awards increases based on last school year’s performance evaluations.

Increases that don’t even restore the teachers’ salaries to where they were five years ago. Budget cuts slashed salaries by 3% in 2009/2010. Those salaries were partially restored, but teachers have not seen an increase since 2010/2011.

Even with this brand new increase, many teachers are still making less in 2014 than they did in 2009.

Changing Expectations for Raises 

Agree or disagree about teacher salaries based on experience or performance, changing HOW a teacher receives their increase without consulting or even informing them to criteria changes until after the fact is wrong.

What would happen in the business world if a company decided to base this year’s pay increases on last year’s performance when expectations were already set that raises would follow a different scale?Jefferson County School District Teacher Salary Disputes

What if your entire job performance and raise was based on one evaluation for 30 minutes of the entire year? Would that be a fair and accurate snapshot of your abilities?

That is primarily what the teachers are upset about. The way in which they are reviewed and base their income changed after the fact.

Teacher Evaluation Rubric 

The current teacher performance rating is not based on anything concrete. Yes, they have a rubric and yes they have an understanding of where they need to be, but the performance criteria is only based on “Highly Effective,” “Effective,” “Partially Effective,” and “Ineffective” rankings. In the past, this was set only as a guideline to help show teachers where they were at in their classroom.

How a principal or other administrator decides to rank that teacher on the rubric is very subjective. Clear definitions of what a highly effective teacher vs an effective teacher looks like do not exist.

The rubric is several pages long and contains a summary of what each performance level could be, but does not give clear directions for what each level actually looks like. How these definitions are interpreted is up to each individual administrator.

How and when teachers are evaluated also varies from school to school and from administrator to administrator. Some teachers are evaluated one time over the course of the entire school year, with the potential to not even receive the feedback until the end of the school year.

Other teachers are evaluated several times over the course of a year with short drop-ins and visits.

Many teachers also know when an administrator will be visiting their class, so they have time to prepare their best lesson for their evaluation.

In any of these scenarios, an administrator will have a difficult time getting a strong sense of what happens in that classroom every day, not just on evaluation day. They may miss teachers who are missing the mark or need additional support. The possibility of misinterpreting a great teacher for a satisfactory teacher is high depending on what’s happening in the classroom when they observe.

Administrators may also miss several of the rubric criteria, because they must grade that teacher in a very limited time frame.

The administrator may never actually see the real teacher in the day to day classroom to gain an accurate view of teaching abilities.

Keep in mind a principal doesn’t just do evaluations and doesn’t have one teacher to evaluate – one school may have 30 teachers or more. The principal and administration must run the school in addition to finding time to evaluate that many employees.

Are Teachers Afraid of Feedback? 

The review system is flawed and must be fixed before salaries are fully linked to performance evaluations. 

The teachers I’ve spoken with are not afraid or against pay being tied to performance. They just want a voice, an accurate rating system and an evaluation that encourages their growth as teachers, not a retroactive iron fist.

Great teachers want to be evaluated and given feedback so that they can improve their skills and abilities: they want to give their students the best education possible. 

If we as a community or society agree that it is important to base teacher pay on performance and not a pay scale, then we must –

1. Allow teachers and administrators to participate in defining the performance rubric and set up clear and defined criteria.

2. Give teachers and administrators the information on how pay will be decided BEFORE it is changed, not after the fact.

3. Give administrators quality time to evaluate their teachers, give them feedback in a timely manner and opportunity to improve where needed.

4. Most importantly – Stop portraying teachers as greedy, manipulative people. Teachers only want what everyone else wants – to be able to support their family with their career, make a difference and live a happy life.

Sure there are incompetent teachers, every profession has bad apples, but the majority of teachers are incredible human beings who dedicate their lives to teaching the young people of our community and preparing them for a successful life. Teachers give back a portion of their own salary to their classroom, work tireless hours, solve childhood dramas on a daily basis, offer emotional support, work in a germ factory, educate and stimulate young minds and so much more. It takes a very special person to become a teacher. Let’s give them the respect and honor they deserve.

What are your thoughts on teacher salaries? Should they be based on scale or performance or both?

What is the salary situation in your school district? How are increases determined?

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