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Science Corner

Science has sprung to life at Willingdon with our science teacher Kathleen Usher, a long time outdoor and environmental educator who joined our staff last year. Kathleen’s doctoral research at McGill’s Faculty of Education looks at how to better prepare teachers in training to be able to teach using place-based, experiential and outdoor educational approaches. In Miss Kat’s science class the Quebec Education’s Science and Technology program is brought to life using Nature as a mentor and guide and the outdoor classroom and the community are used as living labs to bring a sense of meaning and place to the learning.

Older students play the role of mentor with the younger students sharing their learning in science in hands-on ways. The Trees of NDG, The Human Body Expo and the Science Olympics are just a few ways the Cycle 3 students share their learning with the Kindergarten and Cycle One students at Willingdon. By playing the role of mentor these students really have to know what they are talking about!


Willingdon’s own Black Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes)

This butterfly hatched out of its chrysalis on May 20th. In its caterpillar form it is called the “celery worm” and sure enough that’s where we had found it, eating dill leaves (dill is in the celery family along with Queen Anne’s Lace) in the garden. After researching this butterfly’s natural history, we mimicked the fall, winter and spring by moving the chrysalis from the counter to the fridge to the freezer and back to the fridge and finally back to the counter where it emerged! We released it on our beautiful crabapple tree on the Royal side. We will of course be planting dill in the garden boxes!

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Water Tension

Grade 6 was amazed to discover the hydrophilic nature of water – water molecules like to stick together, so much so that teams were able to get as many as 60 drops of water on a single penny!!

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The Adventures of a Water Droplet

Grade 6 has been learning about the ancient cycles of life including the water cycle. They were challenged to share their learning in fun interactive ways with the Kindergartners.

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Grade 5 science field trip to the Morgan Arboretum in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue

Grade 5 braved teeming rain and ventured out to the Morgan Arboretum on their science field trip on Quebec Biodiversity. In the pond the students caught (and then released!) tadpoles, dragonfly larva, mosquito pupae, snails and newts. In the woods students found salamanders, wood frogs and spring peppers and enjoyed being in this beautiful forest!

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The Rock Cycle

In Grade 4 students have learned a lot about rocks and minerals about precious and rare earth metals and minerals and enjoyed a lecture from Marie Graf on Geology and the rock cycle. Students were then challenged to come up with a creative way to present the rock cycle. Here are a few of the ways: from miming to poster projects to power point presentations there was a lot of erosion, transport, deposition, and re-lithification going on! 

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Grade 3 Cooperative Games

To end the year in grade 3 classes were challenged to the “Bull Ring” a classic cooperative initiative task that tests a group’s ability to cooperate, communicate and work as one! A great way to get ready for their next year in Grade 4 Science!

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Fossils & Paleontology

In Grade 3 students learned about paleontology and prehistoric creatures. They were able to dig for fossils thanks to Makayla’s fossil set. Each student was also able to make a “fossil” out of salt dough and plaster of Paris.

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Outdoor Classroom Lab & Rock Garden

Students learned how to read thermometers and measured the temperature in shade and sun. Following this the students got the garden beds ready for planting - we plant vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and tomatoes that grow over thesummer to harvest in the fall.

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Stoma-what? Oh, I see little tiny holes in the leaf!

But how does the CO2 get into the leaf during the day in photosynthesis and how does the O2 get out at night during respiration? STOMATA! Small holes in the leaf – visible with our handheld 30x microscopes!

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Chemistry Can Be Fun!

In Grade 6 the classes have been working on how trees work and how they are able to produce their own food out of thin air, water and light! Here they are constructing 3D models of the molecular structures involved in the photosynthesis equation. As dictated by our Play-Doh colour choices: carbon is blue, oxygen is orange and hydrogen is purple.

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Grade 6 bird feeder project with the Kindergartners

The Grade 6 students shared their love and learning about trees with the kindergartners by running a bird feeder workshop. Each student made two kinds of feeders one for the birds who love eating seeds and the other for the winter birds like the cedar waxwings and cardinals who enjoy eating fruit. The grade 6 students looked after their kindergarten partners with so much care it was a joy to see! The trees of Willingdon are now festooned with cranberry wreaths and birdseed & lard pinecones and the birds (and children) are very happy indeed!

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Grade 6 Neighbourhood Tree Walk

Before delving into science, the Grade 6 classes needed to beef up their cooperative skills as the science classroom counts on great group work skills and leadership. Here they are showing their ability to work together and have fun while doing so!

In Grade 6 the students are learning about trees and enjoyed a neighbourhood tree walk where they identified native trees and were amazed at the number, age and diversity of NDG’s trees. Their learning will continue up in the lab as they discover more about how trees grow and how photosynthesis really works.

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The science of trees

In Grade 6 we are learning about trees: from identification of trees in NDG to how trees grow to scientific tools used in forestry science we are learning a lot!

Trees of NDG walk – we enjoyed a tour of the trees of NDG in late September and have been using the leaves and seeds we collected up in the lab as part of our tree unit.

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Tree Labs

Students have been rotating through four hands-on tree labs where they discover how trees work. From seeing xylem in action to understanding why animals prefer buds and bark to wood, students are realizing that trees have different tissues and that each kind of tissue serves a particular purpose: xylem, sapwood, bark, wood, roots. By examining tree cookies and stumps students have realized what a great tool tree growth rings are for the study of climate. These Grade 6 students are becoming true tree-ologists!

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Grade 6 Field Trip to the Royal West Academy Science Fair

Students were tasked with the evaluation of three projects per team. Our Grade 6 students had to be able to identify the hypothesis, the dependent and independent variables and determine if the experiment was suitable for testing the hypothesis. Our students were very impressed with the high school projects they saw but we learned that the staff and students at RWA were equally impressed with our students! We were told that our students were the most engaged and asked the best questions of any of the elementary schools that attended. We returned proud and happy and full of great ideas for science experiments of our own!

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Human Body Expo

The Grade 5 students have been busy in science these days! As part of their learning in science they developed hands-on workshops on various organs and systems  of the body that they ran with the Grade One students on April 1st during the Human Body Expo. The grade one students thoroughly enjoyed these workshops and the children in the EDP also came up to tour the presentations after school that same day. Simultaneous to this the grade 5’s raised funds during the Toonie Challenge for the new MUHC glen site. Willingdon was the very first public school to participate in this event. Twenty student representatives got to attend the big Toonie Challenge event held on Tuesday April 8th at the new Glen Site. Doctors , researchers and other health care providers were on hand with terrific experiments and displays and some students even got to have real plaster casts put on their arms! A special mention goes to Owen Carson for giving a great speech on behalf of Willingdon at the event.  Thanks to the hard work of the Toonie Challenge volunteers and to the generosity of the Willingdon community we raised $1111.45 for the MUHC Foundation!

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Grade 5 Taste Lab

After studying the human digestive system students explored taste buds in more depth by participating in a taste receptor cell lab. The central question was: do we have regions on our tongue that taste different flavors? To find out students worked with a partner to make a tongue map by placing the four main flavors of sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Here they are in action!

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Outdoor Classroom

In Grade 5 students spend time in the Outdoor Classroom sharing ideas about what they would like to learn in science class this year. After brainstorming they then get to work solving problems together as a group. Nothing like trying to move as one on the “Centipede” to get the cooperative problem solving skills warmed up!
In Grade 5 students are learning about adaptation and evolution by examining Miss. Kathleen’s collection of skulls. From beavers to whitetail deer, the lab groups examine and discover different adaptations these animal skulls have in terms of dentition, eye placement and facial structure to determine their identity.

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Adaptation and Evolution

In Grade 5 we are learning about adaptation and evolution. Students have been looking at different skulls of animals from Quebec including black bear, white tailed deer, beaver and coyote. We have learned that a lot can be revealed about an animal just by looking at the eye placement, the types of teeth and the shape and size of skulls. Students have also looked at their own fingerprints to help understand adaptation and why we have evolved particular traits such as having ridges on our fingers. A great connection was made when students realized that the ridges on their fingers provided more grip just like the lines and ridges on the soles of their sneakers!

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Mason Jar Terrariums

In Grade 4 students are learning about the needs of living things. They have constructed tiny “terrariums” in Mason jars using forest floor material which they have used in the outdoor classroom’s living lab to collect and observe invertebrates in. By using invertebrate identification keys the students have been able to name their invertebrates before releasing them. Next up they will construct their own “identification key” for anything of their choosing from video games to breakfast cereals!

The Grade 4 students have particularly enjoyed playing host to Monarch butterfly caterpillars and chrysalides as part of a partnership with Sustainable Dawson and the Insectarium of Montreal. So far two Monarchs have emerged from their chrysalides successfully and, after being tagged to track their migration, released at the beautiful Peace Garden on Dawson College’s campus.

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How Nature deals with Waste

Grade 4 students looked through a bag of forest floor material to determine if indeed there was “garbage” in Nature and classified what they found on a grid. Their conclusion: Nature doesn’t produce garbage because everything gets reused and recycled back into compost that feeds the soil. We then went outside to solve a mystery: every year the leaves fall and yet come spring the leaves are gone? Where do they go? Students discovered worm castings: evidence that earthworms had been eating up the fallen leaves leaving behind the woody stems and veins and little clumps of compost: otherwise known as worm poop!


Earthworm Lab

Students constructed a little bed for their earthworms and then observed a Nightcrawler in action taking notes about how it moved and sketching the various body parts.


Garbage Autopsy

Students had the unenviable task of sorting through some lunchtime garbage to better understand the waste that we produce. The verdict: we prefer NOT looking through the garbage! But students did agree that it was informative and recognize the good sense that garbage-free lunches make.


Experimenting with Air Pressure in Grade 3

Grade 3 Students experimented by first knocking a ruler off of the table and then doing the same thing but with a single sheet of paper on the ruler… they were surprised at how difficult it was to knock the ruler off with the newspaper on it. And yet the newspaper was not heavy…. What was going on?

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Seed Walk with Grade 3

In Grade 3 students are learning about plant ecology and seeds in particular. After having explored many seeds from the school gardens they enjoyed a “seed walk” with their science teacher and parent volunteers to collect seeds from the local laneways. Back in class they will classify these seeds by their dispersal strategy. Students were challenged to track the number of seeds they eat in a typical week – the results were surprising – we eat seeds at every meal!

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Learning About Plants and Seeds

In Grade 3 students continue the learning on seeds and plants. After a neighborhood seed walk students classified their seeds and berries on a grid and described the methods of dispersal.

Learning the parts of a plant was more fun when students had to construct a plant using various fruits, vegetables, seeds and spices. By learning about what part of the plant we eat when we eat broccoli (flowers) or cinnamon (bark) we become more connected to the natural sources of our food.

Students also learned about plant propagation by planting garlic bulbs and by making cuttings of plants to root them. Students also grew their own sprouts and we enjoyed a tasty salad of bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts and even millet sprouts: science is yummy!

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