Saturday, February 12, 2011

Cloudy, with a Chance of... Shaving Cream?

I think I've mentioned before that I LOVE teaching Science. It allows for so much hands-on learning and is so full of experiments and interesting knowledge that the students really enjoy learning it... which makes it so much easier and more enjoyable! One of my favorite units that we teach is Weather. We cover clouds, storms, weather instruments, and meteorology (cold/warm fronts, high/low pressure, etc). We just started this unit last week and so far have mastered the 4 main cloud types and 3 major storms. I love this unit because it deals with topics that kids encounter every day and allows them to feel and sound so much smarter in their day-to-day conversations! Although, I don't expect my kids to go around for the rest of their lives pointing out every cirrus cloud they see, at this point in their lives, it is a big deal and some cool information to know!
Since standing in front of 23 kids and saying lots of new words like 'cumulonimbus' and 'thin and wispy' doesn't seem to have much effect on their learning, I tried to bring in as many kinesthetic activities as possible. The first day of the unit, we attempted the "make a cloud in a bottle." I stress the word 'attempted' because it didn't work. Apparently, if you put a small amount of water in a bottle and then light a match above the lid, suck the smoke into the bottle and put the cap back on, a cloud will form. We tried twice and nothing happened! Before I set off the fire alarm, I decided to stop, told the kids I would practice at home and we could try again at a later date. It still piqued their interest for starting the unit, so mission accomplished! :) From this activity, we watched a few short, educational clips about the clouds. (For some reason if a video says EXACTLY the same information as I do, the kids retain 75% more of it! Go figure!!) We then discussed the information, summarized and stressed the main points they need to know and broke out the shaving cream!
We started with 2 small puffs of cream on each student's desk. Students were not allowed to touch it until we had successfully reviewed all of the characteristics of cumulus clouds (the big, white puffy ones that look like cotton balls in the sky... associated with fair weather, if you're interested!). When they proved they knew it, I told them to make stratus clouds. Stratus clouds are the ones that bring light rain/snow and block out all sunlight, we call it the "blanket in the sky" clouds. In other words, the entire desk was covered.... along with students hands, clothing, faces, etc. What was supposed to be a fun, educational activity, rapidly declined into a loud, educational mess! Apparently shaving cream is a LOT more condensed than I remembered because those "2 small puffs" expanded and expanded and expanded! I couldn't believe the amount of shaving cream each student had! The original plan was to have them make cirrus (featherlike/thin and wispy... predictors of foul weather) and cumulonimbus (thunderstorm clouds), but that plan quickly changed into washing hands and wiping desks! (The janitor walked into the room in the middle of the activity and instead of freaking out, just smiled and said, "Aww, they're cleaning the desks for me and they don't even know it!" :) We eventually got the room free of all shaving cream and I shipped them off to Art class!
Although the activity was a major headache and extremely stressful for me, I will definitely be doing it again next year with my kids (although a modified version!!). The entire time the kids were working with the shaving cream the only things I could hear were comments such as "This is AWESOME!" and "I can't wait to tell my mom about this!" and "Ms. Wacek, you're the best teacher ever!" and "I LOVE shaving cream!" Haha. It was definitely a moment where I was so happy to be a teacher and even if they got minimal learning from the activity, it hopefully re-established a reason to come to school and love of education! Maybe that's wishful thinking, but I'm going to stick with it! :)

These two tiny little cumulus clouds turned into.....

...a messy classroom full of stratus clouds!!! But totally worth the smiles and laughs!


  1. I always think it's interesting to see how differently we do the same students "drew" the clouds on a "board" of shaving cream instead of forming the clouds with the shaving cream. Still a huge mess, but so fun!

  2. Guess you've never shaved Dad's neck, eh? You are right...I can't believe how a tiny glob can go so far! What a GREAT activity...and a GREAT teacher! Someday I may even learn how to post my comments so they are not anonymous!!

  3. would Steph have ever shaved dad's neck? I love that one of the comments was "I LOVE SHAVING CREAM!" Really? You LOVE shaving cream? Or do you just love making a huge mess in a classroom? your kids. And I think I learned more from your blog about clouds than I've ever known!