Science Always Starts With a Question …




Sunday, January 14, 2018

Science Update



Happy New Year!

I hope you and your family had a healthy and happy winter break and used your time to relax, disconnect, and spend time with those who are important.


As the door closes on one year and opens to another, I want to reach out and say thank you. I have always loved coming to work each day, and this year is no different. The smiles on ‘my’ students' faces, their enthusiasm, and energy are contagious. And, working side by side with them each day is made even easier because of your open communication and support. As your child’s teacher, I truly appreciate your time, commitment and involvement in your child’s education.



Astronomy Unit Recap - Science is challenging, the big ideas, specific content, qualitative and quantitative data analyzation, and the way facts and theories keep on changing based on new research and technology. But, that doesn’t mean challenges can’t be fun!  


You may have heard all about it, however, 24 teams met the challenge of building a thermal protection system using common materials such as felt, spackling, screening, aluminum foil, cork, and copper mesh to build an ablative shield that protected an “egg-stronaut” from the heat of a mock reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. But, ask your child, meeting a challenge can mean many different things… even an ‘egg-stronaut’ explosion can bring about communication, reflection, and successful redesign.


The students worked through the engineering design process throughout the challenge, designing, testing and analyzing data to reflect on iterations that were required to meet the criteria - an ablative shield, not a thermal soak. Construction of the shield, the motivating aspect of the challenge, helped the students grasp the concept of heat transfer, a not so easy topic. Teams communicated their final results through Google Slide presentations (click links below), which allowed all teams to analyze the quantitative and qualitative data from each test and rank the array of heat shields.


Click the links below to look at the team's final results, they are quite impressive!


Period 5

Period 7








Due to significantly cold temperatures a big thank you goes out to Mrs. Doto, a TMS 8th grade science teacher, who allowed us to take over her classroom to use the vent fume hood for testing. A good trade all around since our test environment needed to meet Hopewell fire safety standards and her students were able to observe and discuss our Tomatosphere project!


Earth Unit Introduction - The new year brought a new unit, Dynamic Earth, our third unit. The students will continue to strengthen their skills of observations vs. inferences, making predictions/hypothesis, analyzing data, and communicating experimental findings to help them explore the ideas of Unit 3. There will be a constructivist theme to the unit as students begin to look at maps of the earth over its history and search for patterns to predict how the continents could have moved over time. Each day, students will learn a new piece to the puzzle.


Important learning activities that will drive this unit are:

  1. Scaled Earth wedge, depicting Earth’s distinctive layers, including the sub-sections

  2. Map investigations of Pangea maps vs. present-day maps, as well as ocean floor maps indicating crustal ages, maps that show fossil evidence, and maps that indicate earthquake and volcano locations

  3. Calculating density of Earth materials to identify layer of origin

  4. Exploring heat transfer - applying this to the movement of the interior of the earth through conduction and convection and drawing connections between the movement in the interior of the earth to the movement on the exterior of the earth

  5. Plotting locations on a map using lat/long coordinates – comparing maps of the location of earthquakes and volcanoes to the maps of earth’s tectonic plates

  6. Drawing connections between the movement in the interior of the earth to the movement on the exterior of the earth – and the effects it has (earthquakes, mountains, volcanoes)





Sunday, November 19, 2017

Science Update





Trenton Area Soup Kitchen -  Donations were due last Friday, but… if you have an extra package of juice boxes taking up cupboard space, we’ll take them, so send them in tomorrow with your child! The Family and Consumer classes will be assembling 600 lunches for TASK patrons to take with them after their Thanksgiving dinner. Sixth graders have been asked to contribute, if possible, packages of juice boxes. Any and all juice boxes will be appreciated.



Tomatosphere™ Growth - Our data is NOT complete, we are still waiting for one stubborn G plant to germinate (we’ve given up hope on the other 10 or so). This one, however, looks like it’s ready to POP, and we keep saying, “any day now” but, nothing. We will give it one more week, now that it has moved into a new environment, before sending in the official data report.



Although our citizen science research commitment is just about finished, we are continuing our project to determine growth and taste among our specimens. So, a big shout out to parents who donated the plastic tarps to construct our greenhouse! And, another to the continued support of Jack’s Nursery. I took four plants, 2 Gs and 2 Hs, over for a check-up on Saturday, and received a thumbs up. Air circulation had been a concern, so Mr. Jackowski was excited to hear we added a fan to our set-up. However, moving forward that will mean we need to think about plant rotation. Warmth is still a concern, especially over long weekends when the HVAC shuts down in the classroom, but the first stage greenhouse is now constructed, we have three grow lights hanging, and we’re excited to observe what happens.


Interested in helping out? We are now in need of -


  • 45 - 3ft. (or taller) dowels/sticks to secure growing plants

  • Numerous twist ties

  • 1 space heater



greenhouse for tomatosphere project

Astronomy Unit in Progress -
 Science is exciting! It arouses curiosity and engages students in thoughtful action… definitely, an attainable goal as we continue our learning about Earth Space interactions. Our next concept of gravity and inertia combined with heat transfer embarks the students on an intriguing journey into deep space exploration, entitled Thermal Design Challenge. The idea is to connect students with the work of today’s NASA engineers. Students will design, build, and test (thanks to Mr. DePaolo, and his handy dandy construction skills) their own solutions to a design problem similar to one faced by NASA engineers - Thermal Protection Systems.


NASA, along with Lockheed Martin, is currently designing and developing the next generation of space transportation vehicles, the Space Launch System, including the Ares launch vehicles, and Orion crew exploration capsule which will one day replace the Space Shuttle as a way to put people and satellites into orbit and help transport them to the Moon and eventually to Mars. The Ares launch vehicles are being designed at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. One challenge faced by designers of the Ares rockets is how to protect the vehicle from the heat of friction as they fly through the atmosphere at high speeds during launch. Another challenge is to protect the rockets from the heat of their own engines. The tremendous heat caused by friction with the Earth’s atmosphere must be kept from reaching the skin of the spacecraft. This is the purpose of a “thermal protection system:” to protect the launch vehicles in these situations.


Each team’s challenge in class is to build a thermal protection system for an “egg-stronaut”. Common materials will be used such as felt, spackling, screening, aluminum foil, cork, and copper mesh to build an ablative shield that will protect the “egg-stronaut” from the heat of a mock reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. The design will be tested and then each team will have the opportunity to revise the design based on the test results. Teams will communicate their final results through Google Slide presentations and data graphing.


This is an inquiry-based activity. This means that much of your child’s learning depends on hands-on experimentation. It is important, however, that reflection occurs on the hands-on work in order to understand why certain design features were or were not successful.


You can encourage this reflection by asking questions:


  • Explain the challenge and the design constraints.

  • Describe the design and how it survived the testing.

  • Explain why the design did or did not work well.

  • Explain whether other students in the class tried different designs and how those designs tested.

  • Explain the next design and why it will be an improvement



November 1, 2017

Science Update



Tomatosphere™ Growth - The students are still collecting data, however, the data collected to date indicates Packet H has a quicker rate of germination, with 28 germinated plants, and more consistent growth. Packet G has 18 germinated plants. The rate of germination for G has been much slower, and the rate of growth appears sporadic. The students have observed three additional G plants that may produce the two leaves necessary, and can then be added to the count by next week, but it’s uncertain since they appear to be at a standstill.


Our citizen science data collection is almost finished (when germination ends), but the students have decided they would like to taste test the difference between the official Earth tomatoes and those from the International Space Station (ISS). So, I want to give a big shout out to Jack’s Nursery for supplying the buckets needed to transplant our seedlings and some helpful advice. Understanding that light and heat are extremely important for continued growth through the winter months there are a few items on our ‘To Do’ list, of which I will gladly accept any and all donations.


1) I plan to purchase another grow light for the classroom since our planting surface area has increased, and all plants are not receiving full light.


2) If anyone has…


  1. some long flat strips of bubble wrap, or something similar, or even better to use as insulation under our plants

  2. clear plastic tarps to aid us in creating an enclosure (mini indoor greenhouse for warmth)

  3. space heater (safety approved - tip over/shut off)... C-15 is a bit cool in the evenings for our seedlings


Click -->  Check out the NEW Photos!


Thank you! Several students have delivered supplies from the BTSN ‘Wanted List’ to science class for upcoming design challenges. Please know I appreciate each and every item. A roll of duct tape may seem inconsequential, but here, in C-15, we can find a number of uses for one small roll. I have taught in HVRSD for 17 years, and each year I am grateful for the parents who support our students, and my teaching.


Astronomy Unit in Progress: I’ll fill you in on our progress, but first… anyone an astronomy “geek,” scientist, or work in the field? Or, do you simply know someone that does? Bringing the real world into the classroom whenever possible is my goal, so if you have something to offer or can put me in touch with someone that does, please contact me so the kids can benefit.




The students delved into space a few weeks back and have been busy investigating myriad questions about Earth, its place in the Universe and how its motion explains seasons and eclipses. What was thought to be simple, rotation vs. revolution, isn’t so simple. What we thought we knew... “of course seasons are because we’re closer to the sun,” is not actually accurate. Many misconceptions have been voiced, thus, a great deal of observing and questioning has ensued.




Our focus next week will move toward the Moon. To aid the students in critically thinking about new information we’re learning nonfiction reading strategies and utilizing graphic organizers. The simple use of a highlighter (on paper) or ‘blacking out’ (on a Google document), quick sketches, notes in the margins, and questions written and asked, all help with understanding content.


The students have been observing photos, diagrams, models, and simulations to determine useful evidence, which is not an easy task, they’ll tell you. And, in order to strengthen the domain specific language needed to communicate their evidence and support it with reasoning, they’ve been reading, notetaking and writing about the phenomena being studied. And unbeknownst to them, they’ll be calculating data this week. I truly love the learning happening!




OnCourse Check 👍 … the end of the marking period is fast approaching. Each week my science students have been asked to check their ‘Academic History’ link and look over their assignment grades and my comments. I have stressed the importance of iterating classwork (not pop quizzes), and the assignment comments always support second chances, fixing errors (most specifically OnCourse submissions) or simply making improvements. As per the syllabus, students should submit iterated work no later than one week after the initial grade has posted to OnCourse.


October 9, 2017

Science Update


→ Help Wanted! Is there any mom, dad, grandpa, grandma or neighbor that’s handy? Why you might ask… the selection process has begun, and soon 6th grade iSTEM Renick scientists and engineers will assume positions at Lunar Nautics Space Systems, Inc. to learn about how heat transfers and how heat tiles and ablative systems protect spacecraft. The LNSS employees will then receive an engineering design challenge assignment to build an ablative shield to protect their ‘egg-stronaut’ during a mock re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. But, in order to make all that happen, the project manager requires a test stand for a blowtorch! If you, or someone you know, can aid in this endeavor, please let me know. Click for test stand directions - How to Build the Space Camp Thermal Protection System Test Stand

Tomatosphere™ : Using the excitement of space exploration to teach the skills and processes of scientific experimentation and inquiry. The students have begun to investigate the effects of the space environment on the growth of food that will inevitably support long-term human space travel.


First-the Seed Foundation supplied our students with two packages of tomato seeds. One package contains seeds that have been sent into space and the other package contains “control” seeds, which have been kept on Earth, with no exposure to any extraneous conditions. Through the Tomatosphere™ project, students will learn how to conduct a scientific experiment and compare the germination rates of the two groups of seeds.


Tomatosphere™ relies on a “blind test” in which educators and students will not know which of the two packages are the “space” seeds and which are control seeds until the germination process is complete and results have been submitted. So, stay tuned for results of our data collection, and hypotheses.






Fabulous Science Opportunity… The Boys & Girls Clubs of Mercer County and Comcast is proud to announce the opening of registration for the 2017 Teen STEM conference to be held on Thursday November 9th.




You may register on line at: There is a $35 fee to register, or $40 after October 15th.This fee covers the conference registration and the boxed lunch. However, if the fee doesn’t fit in your budget, simply email me and I’ll send home a paper packet with a scholarship form for any student in need of financial assistance to attend. Unfortunately, if you are applying for a scholarship you can’t register on line, and must register manually utilizing this packet.




I’ve been informed, workshops and the conference space is limited, and registration will be accepted based on the date received.  Don’t delay and miss this opportunity.  The conference will be held at our 1040 Spruce Street Community Center in Lawrence Twp.




For additional questions & information, contact our Spruce Street Community Center main office at 609-695-6060 ext. 0

OnCourse Check 👍 … the end of the marking period, November 8th, is fast approaching. It's become a routine in class, at least once a week, for science students to receive a reminder about checking their Academic History link in OnCourse. If you haven't looked lately, you might simply take a peek, especially at any teacher comments, so we are all on the same page. Surprises are no fun for anyone! As per the syllabus, students should submit iterated work no later than one week after the initial grade has posted to OnCourse, if they are looking to boost their grade; waiting until the end of the marking period, isn’t acceptable.







Thursday, September 28, 2017


Science News


→ Missed BTSN, here's a chance to view 'some' of tonight's agenda. At BTSN, but want a refresher, especially with the 'Wanted List'? Here's your chance to take another look :-)


2017 Back-to-School Night Renick Slides






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September 11, 2017

Science News



→ Hurricane Irma couldn’t have picked a better time… what better way for a science teacher to start the school year off than with relevant news, and lots of it? Irma’s existence, José following close behind, the 8.2 earthquake that hit Mexico just before Katia came ‘round’... all were real events that sparked thought provoking questions, and allowed for some insightful observations. Woohoo, the year is off and running!


→ I’m looking forward to meeting everyone at TMS’s Back to School Night on Wednesday, September 27th, however, before then a few ‘housekeeping’ items…


  • If you haven’t done so already,

    • please review TMS’s Student Behavior Agreement with your child, sign and have your child return by this Wednesday.


  • Read, sign and return the Watershed field trip form, with a check for $27 by Thursday


  • The Cyclones Team would like to show some team spirit and create a team shirt for the year’s Spirit Days and field trips. Please have your child bring in a clean white t-shirt by this Wednesday, so we can prep it on Thursday for Friday’s bath.


I’m looking forward to a fabulous year of learning!

Ms. Renick