Friday, October 31, 2008

Look Out! It's a Mad Scientist!

The promised photos of a group of Mad Scientists. We had an absolute blast all day!

Check out those intestines!

Alien Slime and sensory bottles

It's a brain!

Flubber experiment

Playing with "oobleck"

For those of you who are curious, I took most of the photos so this is the only one I'm in. I'm the one with the wild hair third from the right.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Still More Mad Science

Thought I'd share our mad science preparations in this post so the next post doesn't get so long. This is our classroom door. Found the door curtain at Oriental Trading.

We spent the end of the day transforming our "work" area into a "Laboratory." I don't know who had more fun: the kids who were watching the video Young Frankenstein (a couple of the kids were doing awesome imitations of the monster noises and then laughing and laughing; another kept activating step-by-step that had various screams recorded on it; it was all too funny!) or the adults who were playing with a variety of solutions and mixtures and concoctions to create the lab (more on that later). The cabinets and table are covered in white shower curtain liners left over from our sensory room make over.

Here is the "Nevermore" raven I found at Party City keeping watch over the tray of monster parts for the sensory story. Below are a bunch of sensory bottles (more info below) and other creepy lab experiments including Alien Slime (awesome stuff! It's even scented!) and a variety of test tubes and beakers (really intended for sand art but for the price they were perfect for us).

Another view of our "experiments" including the Mad Lab Kit, and a color changing brain and heart. I picked up the electo-static ball years ago at Wal-Mart. I stuck one of our other "mood" lights up there too, just to add to the effect.

The large flask has green tinted water with ping pong eyeballs. The flask on top of the "burner" has purple tinted water with dish soap suds.

A closer view of the sensory bottles and Alien Slime.
I got the idea for the sensory bottles from and then went my own direction. They are concoctions of various combinations of water, Karo syrup, baby oil, dish soap, and hair gel (the orange ones) with food coloring, glitter, confetti, and small objects added in (the orange bottle in front has hair gel and rubber eye balls). One or two just have loose beads inside so they rattle. We used the same technique to fill most of the flasks, beakers, and test tubes. They turn out really cool and the kids have fun manipulating them and watching what happens when you turn them over. I used Gorilla Glue to secure the lids to the tops of the bottles for safety. I left the flasks and test tubes open so we could recycle them but the kids won't get to play with most of those.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

More Mad Science

I just finished doing the powerpoint and script for Mad Monster Lab and it turned out too cute! Many thanks to my wonderful husband for showing me some of the tricks to powerpoint 07. I will post it here as soon as I figure out file sharing. It was unbelievably easy to do. Link to powerpoint.
Link to script (in Word) You'll need both documents. My kids are controlling the powerpoint using either the Smartboard or a jellybeamer. You could also add fun with messages on voice output devices (ooh, that's scary; look out!; what gonna happen now?; I'm scared; that's creepy; etc.). Have fun! Just a note: when I tried to download the powerpoint to another computer using 4Shared not all the sounds came through, which kind of ruins the effect. When I checked the presentation the sounds weren't even listed. If you can't get it to work correctly leave me a comment with contact info (or email me) and I'll send it to you directly. Try this link to the powerpoint to see if it works better.
Well, that didn't work either. The download still leaves out 4 of the sounds: storm, lab, shock, and Monster Mash. Works just fine on the original on my PC so not sure what's going on (I'm not that tech savvy, sorry). Here are the links to the missing sounds so you can add them yourself. I found the first 3 on and Monster Mash in :

Here are the words to Spooky Hooky:
Put your [body part] in
Put your [body part] out
Put your [body part] in and shake shake shake shake shake
Do the hooky spooky and
Wave your arms around
Then make a Halloween sound!

We use finger bones, foot bones, leg bone, arm bone, head bone, and the favorite rear end bone as well as whole skeleton.

I have a body parts PCS board already made for the Hokey Pokey that the kids take turns choosing from. Ahead of time they get to come to the computer and choose a spooky Halloween sound from my collection of wav files and record it on an AAC device (either tablet PC or step by step). Makes for lots of noisy fun as they don't usually wait for the end to activate. :-)
We also do "wave your arms" instead of turn around because our space is limited and turning around gets really challenging with all those wheelchairs!

I also have a copy of the song "What Do You Like About Halloween" by Sue Schnitzer (search her name on itunes; awesome stuff; I also like Oh the Bats, great use of a balloon and really just everything on her Halloween CD) that I just did a board for. I tested it at ROCKO this Saturday and it was a huge hit.

What do you like about Halloween?
What do you like about Halloween?
[child selects button that says "I like ___"]
[Child's name] likes [selection]
That's what we like about Halloween.

I put the board in Boardmaker/Speaking Dynamically on a tablet PC that we pass around to let the kids choose. My scanners can either step scan to their choice or use a non-tech mode to tell us what they want before we sing the verse. Now that I know the tune I can think of infinite ways to use the song: holidays, seasons, the weekend, working with our SLP, shopping, ....

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mad Science

I will be the first to admit, I love Halloween and always have. Some of my fondest memories from my childhood are of making my own costumes and going out on crisp fall nights to trick or treat, watching the Walt Disney Halloween special, and trading candy with my brother. Now that I'm all grown up, and don't have kids of my own, I generally get my Halloween fix with my students. I have a huge box of props, manipulatives, and toys. I think I must own every Halloween-themed kids' CD out there (my paras counted today and I think they came up with 10; that doesn't count what I've downloaded to itunes). We typically do lots of Halloween-related activities like going to the local pumpkin patch, carving a pumpkin and playing in pumpkin guts (fun!), designing our own costumes (last year's favorite was a pirate complete with a pirate ship-stroller and a treasure chest treat box, oh, and the parrot, can't forget the parrot), and having a Halloween party. This year we have decided to have a Mad Scientist party instead of the more traditional Halloween classroom party. This came about for several reasons. First, Lon Thornburg of No Limits to Learning fame is sponsoring a "Mad Scientist" theme for October's Assistive Technology Blog Carnival and I really wanted to enter it so got "inspired." Second, I have at least one student whose family does not "do" Halloween so we always have to adapt. I've been fortunate that these families have not asked me to restrict the Halloween fun for the other students (and staff), but they prefer that their child do non-Halloween activities. Third, at the middle school level we are constantly striving to "age up" the kids' activities. So often they seem "stuck" at a preschool interest level and to some extent we allow them to appreciate their favorites (tops right now are Handy Manny, Tigger and Pooh, and SpongeBob). However, we also expose them to as much of the pre-teen/teen culture as we can. The Girls and I all agreed that a Mad Scientist party would not only be fun, but could work to meet a lot of our goals with the kids and still let us enjoy Halloween fun without tromping on anyone's beliefs. I mean, what middle schooler wouldn't want to dress in weird clothes, listen to loud music, and play with weird concoctions? Pretty much an average day around our school.

We had to get creative with our activities to accommodate the kids' sensory issues, especially with science experiments. The exploding volcano project (which would be cool coming out of a beaker) just would not be a big hit with so many kids with vision impairments and I don't think anyone would get the rubber chicken bone thing. Here are the activities we have planned and the assistive technology we will use to support the kids in all the fun:

Ahead of time
Reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in audio book format

Watching Young Frankenstein just for kicks (that will be on swimming day) complete with our own versions of the sound effects or "movie watching" social scripts programmed onto Step-by-Steps (Chloe and I would rather do a fun interactive version of Rocky Horror Picture Show but somehow I don't think that would fly real well; maybe I'll snag her and go to the Orpheum Theater in Wichita to do the real thing)

On the day
Dress up as mad scientists with wigs, gloves, and other props (we have a nurse and a trauma surgeon in our parent collection so I'm sure we'll get some good donations to the cause)

Sensory story on the Smart board based loosely on The Monster Lab Game and work by some folks in the UK (The Advisory Unit Plasma Screen and Whiteboard Room is definitely worth a visit!); the kids will have step-by-steps for appropriate sound effects, use the Smartboard or a jelly beamer to turn the page on whichever software product I decide to use (Boardmaker, Intellitools, SwitchIt!, or powerpoint), and explore all the smelly and ooey gooey props that go along with the story. This will take the place of our usual Morning Meeting activities

Play with a host of "Laboratory Equipment" like a static ball, different light toys, exploring sound effects and creepy music, and "beakers" with different things inside

Cook lunch which will probably be spaghetti and meat sauce (so we can use some of the spaghetti in the sensory story of course) and our favorite pumpkin pudding; I'll have to come up with an appropriate name of course. Hey! Green beans would make good "fingers," hmmm...

Do a Mad Science Experiment, probably making "oobleck" with bright colors (3 parts cornstarch to 2 parts water; fun stuff to play with); I think a mixer (adapted with powerlink) will work with this stuff; guess we'll find out!

Create our own "Frankenstein's Monsters" or robots and use our communication devices to make choices, adapted scissors to cut, etc.

Do the "Spooky Hooky," our version of the Hokey Pokey. The kids use either pictures or step scanning to choose what body parts to shake shake shake

That will probably fill up our day. I doubt we do any "trick or treating" as most of the kids either don't eat by mouth or have dietary restrictions that mean no candy allowed. We'll also create the right "atmosphere" with one of our creepy sounds CDs playing through the surround sound (including the itunes visualizer on the wall) and props set around the room, given I can find some "on the cheap." I'm sure the science teacher next door and the school resource officer will also make an appearance. They go all out for Halloween. At least they don't Vaseline my door handle anymore (learned their lesson after one of the kids ate the stuff! Kid is OK, adults a little sheepish).

I will post photos after the Big Event but wanted to get the initial post done in time for the Blog Carnival (submissions are due Oct. 27). Who knows? We might inspire you to have some Mad Science fun, or maybe you have some ideas to contribute to make our day even better. Consider submitting your own entry to the Carnival. It's painless and NOT SCARY AT ALL. It's a terrific way to share and to get word out about your blog.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

News-2-You Fun

Just about every week we read the News-2-You adapted newspaper (see previous post). I always try to plan at least one extension activity to go along with it. Here are some of the projects we've done so far. Please note that while many of these projects are arts and crafts related, I also look for science experiments, cooking activities, and games.

Hubble Space Telescope: We made our own versions of space nebulae. We used BioColor paint to balloon stamp on coffee filters. The NASA website had a fun activity that gave examples of different space formations that have been seen using Hubble. The kids chose from those to decide what shape to cut their nebulae into. (NOTE: We attempted the project as described on the website but our markers wouldn't "bleed" on our coffee filters. I had planned to let the kids choose colors and make random marks then spray water using a switch adapted water pik. We had a big mess and a lot of wet fun but no projects.) The entire website has some fun projects which will be perfect when we do our more in-depth space unit this spring to tie in with state assessments. Balloon stamping has to be my favorite way to paint. I learned about the technique on the BioColor video which came with my first order of paint. Basicially you place 3-4 small puddles (about dime size) of paint touching each other in a triangle/square then stick an inflated balloon in the paint and stamp onto your project. It's something everyone in my room can do, a "no fail" outcome, and just looks really cool. The paint washes off of and out of nearly everything. Mix it with some liquid soap or detergent and you have awesome fingerpaint. There are recipes for puffy paint and other projects as well.

Iron Chef America: I was so excited when this came up as a News-2-You topic because I love this show. We had a blast this week. I was able to find some on-line video of the show to share clips of. Then we had our own Iron Chef Showdown. The secret ingredient was pudding mix. The kids chose between various ways to make their pudding and different ingredients to mix in. Everyone then taste tested everyone else's and voted whether or not they liked it and which they liked better. This was mainly based on yes/no responses and/or how enthusiastic they were about eating/tasting the sample and requesting more. The surprise favorite was vanilla pudding mix combined with whipped topping, bananas, blueberry pie filling, and crushed chocolate chip cookies. I took the kids' recipes and votes and made a recipe card using Boardmaker.

Political Conventions: This was a fun week that allowed us to talk about current events. We learned about the two candidates (and yes, I stayed nonbiased in my presentation, for those who know my political views) and talked about the two-party system. We then did an art project where the kids chose between making a donkey or an elephant. They had color choices of red, white, or blue for each piece of their chosen project, could choose whether to use stickers. etc. We all laughed when every single kid chose a donkey, including the one who would later wear a McCain-Palin shirt at least once a week. The art projects come from I LOVE this resource and use it all the time. It is rare for them not to have something that supports a lesson topic.

Olympics: This was one of the first topics of our school year this fall. We had just finished summer school by holding our own version of the Olympics and inviting friends from some other classes to participate with us. We spent lots of time watching the Olympics, viewing the very exciting Opening Ceremonies, learning a bit about China, and playing various games. For this project we used small paper plates to make our Olympic rings. Although the kids did not get color choices because I wanted to stick with the "real" colors, they did get to choose to use finger painting or a paint brush. They also chose 1-5 favorite Olympic sports using PCS symbols, which we cut out and glued onto the circles cut from the middle of the rings. I think the projects turned out pretty cool and they are still hanging in our room.

Last year I sent the News-2-You worksheets and related projects home every week. This year I decided to collect them to make portfolios. We can look back at what we've done before, I can compare performance on the worksheets to look for growth, and I might just be able to use some of this for state assessments. How cool is that?