Rivendell Science

Simple Machines – Grand finale!

The past three weeks have been… well, messy!  Our Simple machines grand finale has been different for every grade level.  And while your child may still sound confused while trying to explain “Mechanical Advantage,” they have learned a great deal about problem solving, collaboration and design thinking. These skills are where every good scientist and engineer begin right? Gaining the ability to move from feeling as if they are a failure, to realizing that they are only failing will result in GRIT (recent buzz word in education).  These two terms are Failing and Failure are similar, but  in the end result in a very different emotional outcome.

It has become my recent goal to introduce all Rivendell student’s  with the terms “experiment/trial and prototype/design test.”  This will be helpful in learning the concept of “try and try again” or “failing but not failure.”  Studying the 6 simple machines and how they work has led to creating some very fun and challenging projects.

  • PK enjoyed time playing with screws and wedges, constructing gears and creating tops to spin.
  • YK have created pulleys, game spinners and pinwheels. 
  • MK built pulleys on a flagpole, designed cars and utilized wedges of all kinds.
  • OK have built an auger to see the simplicity yet power in a screw. They used inclined planes to study increased length of  slope and decreased force and or increased slope to increase speed formulas. They have realized the absolute genius of Rube Goldberg while working to build their own collaborative machines. Others have designed their own car to race for distance or speed. 

Trace your Turkey, from Farm to Fork


Please click on the link and reference the photos below to read the lesson I created for the kids to understand just exactly what it takes to Trace their Turkey from Farm to Fork!

Each student got to act out a part, call various truckers and watch as their “operation- thanksgiving” came to life.

We counted at least 4 trucks, hundreds of miles, 8 different business operations including incubation, packing plants, cold storage and 2 farms.  There are dozens of people involved and loads of energy=carbon used to power it all.   Although your Thanksgiving provides hundreds of jobs from skilled scientists to truckers, farmers and teenage checkers/baggar’s, it takes a LOT OF ENERGY.


Needless to say,  LET”S ALL take time to be aware and GIVE THANKS!


Cheers to you and Happy Holidays,

Kari Gill


Preschool science

Every year I love to give the kids a “dancing corn” experiment. They simply observe corn as it sinks in vinegar…They then get to add the “catalyst” or “activator” and ta da!  IT DANCES!   The smiles and giggles make cleaning up the mess Well worth it!

Preschool has had 3 great weeks with simple machines- first playing with my models, second using simple machines from around the class and house and they used wedges and screws this week.  They hammered nails into stumps (good backyard activity) drilled holes into pumpkins, screwed into Styrofoam, matched nuts and bolts and used pizza cutters to slice dough!



Mesopotamia – levers and wheels

YK used the good ol’ catapult to learn more about the fulcrum, load and effort of a lever.

While  MK and OK worked on mimicking the design for the first simple machines in Mesopotamia.  The water wheel and the Shaduf….moving water was a HUGE part of their lives.

This design challenge proved to be quite the project. They had to work collaboratively, use a design that could actually move water and utilize the random materials at hand. The kids quickly got busy with the drills, saws, hammers, hot glue and more.


Mesopotamia- the fertile crescent=soil science

Ancient Mesopotamia had a lot of good science and engineering to offer the world.  AND a lot of mistakes that we are still trying to solve.

  1. the wheel = YK got to work on making a cart that would roll. As you can see from the photos below, there were many different engineering designs. The practice I value with an activity like this is ingenuity, small motor skills and Tenacity. Engineering design rarely happens perfectly the first time. I use the appropriate word when speaking of this.  PROTOTYPE>  maybe you can support this with a “maker shelf” at home. The problem solving, basic skill practice and pride that comes every time from design is critical to participating as problem solvers of our future..
  2. soil science= Mesopotamia was known as the fertile crescent for thousands of years…until salinity got the best of them. Our farmers today are still working out the logistics of salt in the soil.  MK and OK took time to experiment with absorption, erosion and salinity.  Testing a variety of soils for their growing properties and crops for their tolerance to salt.

Planting Tulips!

Fort Collins Nursery donated 45 tulip bulbs! Next time you go plant shopping, tell them THANKS from Rivendell School!!!

I planted them with the Preschoolers and some younger kids today….Everyone was excited about the whole process! We dug out soil, talked about bulb positioning and how many seasons they would sleep, we acted out the process and celebrated fall!

Ocean zones

All of the kids are beginning to understand just how BIG and DEEP the ocean is. They are also able to identify the zones and what lives in each zone.  The PK really like playing with the ocean creatures, but they can also tell you about their identifying features and how that might help them to live up high in the ocean or down deep.
YK – know the 5 zones as sunlight, twilight, midnight, abyss and trench. They already know it is dense and salty down deep light only goes so far. They made density towers to represent the light.

MK-understands that the currents move different water in that ocean column around and the nutrients down deep feed the plants and animals in the sunlight zone. They are also beginning to understand that currents cause that stirring up of water and some currents take centuries to circle the globe.

OK- can identify where the currents are coming and going and if they are warm or cold. They understand the difference between the high pressure of the midnight and abyss zones and how the creatures have adapted to live there.They have also begun to understand the pull of the moon on the ocean and what makes a spring or neap tide.       

Why is the ocean so Salty?

We started our year off doing what all kids love best. MIXING POTIONS! But I put an educational spin on it of course….

Our first topic unit is Oceans and one of the big questions is “How did the salt get into the ocean?”  If you are not certain, do not fret, many adults have never stopped to think about this, but kids do.  So we answered it – the way we usually do – through discussion and experiments.  Our answer is basically this. Rocks and minerals are washed down their watersheds and into the (keep it local) Poudre River, into the Platte, into the Missouri, into the Mississippi and finally the ocean.  BUT? that is all fresh water!  Yes….then comes the water cycle and up welling.  SO begins our study into salinity and currents.

During our salinity studies:

PK learned that salt water is YUCKY, but eggs float in it.  They are also learning what tools are in the lab and how to use them during their 10 minute free choice time each week.

YK learned that eggs float in salt water and fresh water floats on top of salt water too!

MK learned that eggs float in 3 tsps of salt water if it is hot and 16 tsps if it is cold and that they can make 3 layers of colored water just by mixing fresh and salt and layering it appropriately.

OK learned that the density of salt water changes according to the distance from an estuary and when the cold and warm waters mix they cause currents, but when the salt and fresh waters mix it causes up welling. Both occurrences are good for the Grey whale and its food source. They also learned that the currents are caused by the rotation of the Earth known as the Coriolis effect, but didn’t really care about that….what they did care about is the flush direction in toilets and if it is different on the Northern or Southern Hemisphere…I asked them to investigate a toilet here…but it is a MYTH….so they do care about the Coriolis Effect and believe EVERYTHING I SAY!

I hope you will teach them to ask more questions…I will try my best too- but seriously- look into it with your kiddo. http://factmyth.com/factoids/toilets-flush-backwards-in-australia/



States of matter. SOLID, liquid, gas

The question “What’s the matter/” has taken on a whole new meaning. We are not concerned about why, but WHAT?  we have identified the 3 states of matter, yes and plasma. We have run around acting out SOLIDS, which are tightly packed together with a definite shape, liquid which is freely moving but touching and takes on the shape of its container, and gas, which takes up as much space as it can and moves a bit more charged (and the kids love to act out!)

Our topic unit has also moved into the study of acids and base or the change that occurs with simple chemical reactions. This exploration started with ph in PK and YK. We used a wide variety of liquids and added them to cabbage juice, which is a neutral. This test gives us the true color on the ph scale.  The ph scale is a bit more than they care about, but the chemical reaction and change that occurs while mixing IS VERY INTERESTING. As you can imagine the ever popular baking soda vinegar reaction captured in a balloon was an enthralling and meaningful experience.

MK and OK started by investigating chemical and physical changes in matter and molecular structure. We sculpted molecules, drew them and have learned about the atoms and why the periodic table is full of numbers.  Our next step is ph where they will be expected to identify common properties of acids and base.




Animalia, Arthropods, Insecta!

We have begun our final descent to wrapping up the year. We are headed into the amazing world of BUGS!

PK learned how the move. caught insects in various habitats outside. built a 6 legged critter and looked up close at our collection.

YK studied metamorphosis, insect anatomy and drew and sculpted their own insect complete life cycle.

MK used a basic insect taxonomy to break down the huge variety of insects while learning more about Kingdom, phylum and ORDER of the most famous critters. They also sculpted their own complete life cycle and identified the family, genus, species.

OK created their own taxonomy guide to their chosen insects and learned how to use it. Their insect comes complete with habitat and food chain.