Science/Math

RX: Digestion Investigation

Soup  2

Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week. I had prepared a science activity for the kindergarten class. I had planned to help out in the classroom while the teacher went to a special luncheon.

Then, life took over. Both kids got sick, and we were stuck at home. The worst part was Cooper’s disappointment at not being at school for the science experiment.

Fortunately, it was a case of internet to the rescue! While Cooper’s class watched THE MAGIC SCHOOLBUS: FOR LUNCH on DVD, I was able to pull up the same episode on Youtube.

After watching the show, we did this SID THE SCIENCE KID “Digestion Investigation.” All you need is a zip-top bag (stomach), lemon juice (stomach acid), crackers (food) and the patience to see what happens. Fortunately, we had all the saltines we needed, and chicken soup too.

Cooper didn’t miss a thing, and Finley was able to participate. Watching the TV show and doing the experiment filled up 45 minutes of a very long day with two sick boys. And they learned a lot about the digestive system. What fun!

Science/Math

Senses Science: What’s That Smell?

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“Ewwww. I smell broccoli!”

“Mmmmmmm, cookies.”

“Finley’s stinky!” (Actual quote.)

Smell is one of the five ways we learn about our world, along with sight, sound, taste and touch. For most animals, their sense of smell is their sharpest. It helps them hunt, find out where they are going and locate family members. Human noses are not quite as sensitive, but we can still detect more than 10,000 different smells!

For scientists, their five senses are important tools, whether they are studying animals in the field or creating new chemicals in a lab. Here’s a fun activity to help your budding scientist hone his or her sniffing skills.

What you need:

  • 3 or more small containers (Note: We used test tubes from Learning Resource’s Primary Science Set.)
  • Cotton balls (for liquids)
  • Smelly stuff: citrus peels, herbs, spices, coffee beans, vinegar etc. (Just make sure whatever you are setting out is safe to sniff. Avoid harsh chemicals.)
  • Handkerchief or blindfold

What you do:

  • Put a little bit of smelly stuff in each test tube.
  • Blindfold your child and hand him or her each test tube in turn. (Note: Sniffing coffee beans in between each test tube can help cleanse the nose’s “palate.”)
  • Ask questions: What does it smell like? What does the smell remind you of?
  • Challenge your child to guess what’s in the test tube.

A good extension would be to have children record their observations and guesses in a science journal. Younger children could draw pictures of their guesses instead of using words.

Do you want to learn more about your sense of smell? Check out these kid-friendly links:

Science/Math

Science Fun: Water Balloon in a Bottle

It’s still warm — ok, hot — in our part of Southern California, so this experiment from Steve Spangler Science was a fun way to cool off. We used it to discuss how air is “stuff” even though we can’t see it.

Air takes up space in a one-liter bottle, which you find out when you try to blow up the balloon inside the bottle. You can’t do it because the air already in the bottle has nowhere to go. When you poke a hole in the bottle, the air filling the bottle can escape as you blow air into the balloon. Really, the water balloon part is just for fun.

The boys enjoyed the final part of this experiment the most. The Steve Spangler team shows you how to splash your friend as he or she looks at your water balloon in the bottle. The boys got to splash Daddy, which they found hilarious. File this one away for April Fool’s Day.

The experiment requires only a few household items:

  • One liter bottle
  • Duct tape
  • Balloon
  • Tack or pushpin
  • Water

You can watch the how-to video…..here.

Outside, Science/Math

Scoping Things Out

Much to our parents’ chagrin, my husband and I still have “stuff” stashed in their attics on the other side of the country. My Mom and Dad boast my Barbie dolls. My in-laws house lots of LEGOs. Occasionally, our parents bring an extra suitcase brimming with childhood treasures: Fisher-Price campers, American Girl Dolls and the like.

My husband’s latest endeavor is convincing his mom to bring his childhood microscope, especially since our boys are budding scientists. For some investigations, our assortment of magnifying glasses just won’t do, and purchasing a new microscope is a big investment. Recognizing a microscope migration may not happen immediately, I discovered a near-term substitute on Colleen Kessler’s Raising Lifelong Learners blog: the Carson Microbrite Pocket Microscope.

The Carson Microbrite arrived yesterday ready to go. It included the required batteries, and the instructions were easy to follow. You can adjust the magnification from 20 times to 40 times with a wheel, then focus with the lever. Press and hold a button, allowing the LED light to illuminate your specimen. The kit includes two slides with covers and a detachable slide “stage.”

We took it outside for a test drive yesterday morning. A roly-poly (aka pill bug) provided the most amusement. Magnifying him 40 times, we could watch his legs wriggle and his mouth parts move. Observing a flower, we could see the presence of pollen. We also looked at rocks, dirt, pine tree parts. This microscope’s portability makes it perfect for outdoor play or hikes: no need to wait until you are home to look at your specimens.

I found our Microbrite for under $10 on Amazon. At that price, it’s a perfect addition to your science tools.

Homeschool, Nature, Outside, Science/Math

Monarch Migration

First I send a big thank you to fellow blogger Mamadestroy for prompting this post and providing the source materials. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!

Some of you have been following our adventures as we attempt to grow painted lady butterflies from caterpillars. Our little guys should be making a chrysalis any day now.

Now here’s your chance to get into the butterfly act and become scientists from the comfort of your armchairs without committing to raising caterpillars.

Scientist need your help tracking monarch migration. Each fall, monarchs migrate to Mexico (and some to Southern California) where they spend the winter. Come spring, the females return to the U.S. and lay their eggs on milkweed in the southern U.S. Once the caterpillars hatch into butterflies this new generation continues north for the summer.

Monarch migration is mysterious. The butterflies overwinter in the same forests year after year. Amazingly, these butterflies know where to fly even though no monarch makes the trip to Mexico more than one. Still, logging in Mexico has made monarch migration a “threatened phenomenon” since many of the trees where monarchs spend the winter have been destroyed.

You can help the monarchs. Record sightings of monarch butterflies, eggs and caterpillars, as well as milkweed (their food source)….here. This data helps scientists learn how climate change and other factors affect this butterfly beauty.

The site also has integrated maps of reported sightings…here. The Kids section provides a host of resources, including videos of caterpillars hatching from their eggs and butterflies bursting from their chrysalis. National Geographic Kids also has a wonderful overview of creature including video…here. If you are a teacher or homeschooling parent, these resources would be an excellent accompaniment to a spring unit or caterpillar study.

Have you seen a monarch in your neighborhood? Report it and help scientists learn more about this fascinating creature.

Science/Math

Sid the Science Kid: Little Scientist Day

Sid swag

First a big thank you to two fantastic bloggers who shared some sunshine with me this weekend. Check out Vivian Kirkfield at Positive Parent Participation and Jarmila Victoria Del Boccio at Making the Write Connections. These two ladies were gracious enough to pass on the Sunshine Award.

Here’s what makes me happy: hundreds of preschoolers, toddlers and their parents squealing with delight, dancing in their seats and screaming like crazy for….Sid the Science Kid. Never heard of Sid? Imagine animated, childlike Muppets conducting hands-on science investigations and encouraging kids to investigate, explore and discover. That’s Sid, a creation of The Jim Henson Company, which airs on PBS.

My children have enjoyed the show for a couple of years now. So, when PBS SoCal hosted “Little Scientist Day” featuring Sid at the California Science Center, I snapped up tickets. We enjoyed “real-live” Sid singing songs from the show and had a sneak peek at a yet-to-be-aired Easter episode about rocks. The museum also had a number of investigations set up throughout. We made slime out of polyvinyl alcohol and sodium borate. You can to the same thing at home with school glue and borax (scroll to the bottom of that post for directions for making “alien goop.”)

Our hosts: Sid and Jamie Annunzio Myers

As a parent of budding scientists, I love the Sid show. Each episode includes a real science investigation that you can replicate at home from instructions on the PBS Parents site. We’ve made applesauce to discuss irreversible change, bounced balls to explore elasticity and much more. Each activity includes learning objectives, a materials list and step-by-step procedures.

Parents and teachers also can follow the two Sid-related blogs for more activity ideas and ways to implement the investigations at home and school.:

Let’s face it, children are natural scientists. Early introduction to hands-on investigations plays into their natural curiosity and can instill a life-long passion for science.

Books, Science/Math

Perfect Picture Book Friday: Older Than The Stars

Author: Karen C. Fox
Illustrator: Nancy Davis
Publication Info: Charlesbridge, 2010
Intended audience: Ages 7 and up
Genre: nonfiction, picture book
Themes/topics: cosmology, evolution, science
Synopsis and opening: ”You are older than the dinosaurs. Older than the earth. Older than the sun and all the planets. You are older than the stars. You are as old as the universe itself.”
Karen C. Fox explains Big Bang Theory and evolution in a simple and child-friendly way. Her tale connects the reader and all the plants and animals on the Earth to the beginning of time when the Big Bang created the “bits” — the protons, neutrons and electrons — that became the building blocks of all elements and life. These elements are eternal, Fox explains. You breathe the same oxygen the dinosaurs breathed. Your fingernails contain carbon that might have been part of a plant. As she knits the tale together, she follows the format of “This is the House That Jack Built” to show how the Big Bang ultimately resulted in complex life.
Resources: BrainPOP has a fantastic animated cartoon that explains Big Bang Theory. You’ll need a free trial to access it. Several Web sites use balloons to explain Big Bang Theory. In this one, from Discovery Education, children blow up a balloon and measure distances between different objects marked on the balloon to see how the universe is expanding. DLTK has an activity for making your own universe in a baby food jar. It’s kind of like the snow globe activity I posted previously.
Why I like this book: I wish I had written this book. Karen C. Fox’s book is the perfect marriage of scientific fact, told simply and within a beautiful narrative framework.
Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.
Science/Math

Color Changing Liquids part 2

We recently tried an experiment from Steve Spangler Science, one of my favorite sites. You can find full instructions for the experiment….here, though we made a few modifications. Here’s our set up and what was supposed to happen:

The blue and green liquids (test tubes on the right in each stand) were mixed using cold water. The red and yellow liquids (test tubes on the left) were mixed using hot water. We put the blue (cold) water on top of the red (hot) water. We put the yellow (hot) water on top of the green (cold) water. We expected the heat to rise and cold to sink in each situation. So, we expected the cold blue to sink into the hot red and create purple. We expected the hot yellow to be perfectly content on top of the cold green, therefore not mixing at all. This is indeed what the beautiful video on Spangler’s site showed.

However, we learned a thing or two about how precise one has to be with science experiments. Here was our result:

Whoops! This wasn’t what was supposed to happen. The yellow-green at left wasn’t supposed to mix together. However, I had used an old recipe card to separate the two test tubes, before I placed them one on top of each other. Pulling out the recipe card wasn’t easy, and I think I ended up lifting up the top test tube, introducing some air and force that caused the two liquids to mix. Spangler had opted for a waxy playing card, which I’m sure slipped more easily. So, we talked about how careful scientists need to be with their experiments to produce accurate results.

Seriously, if you try this at home, follow Steve Spangler’s lead and use something slippery (a playing card) to separate the two liquids. It will pull out from between the test tubes much more easily. Oh, and this is very messy, so we recommend putting a cookie sheet underneath your workspace. We always have fun with these experiments even when we aren’t successful!

Books, Nature, Outside, Science/Math

Perfect Picture Book Friday: When the Wind Stops

Author: Charlotte Zolotow
Illustrator: Stefano Vitale
Publication Info: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995 (third edition)
Intended audience: Ages 4 and up, though my three-year-old loved it
Themes/topics: nature, natural science, weather
Synopsis and opening line: “The bright yellow sun had shown all day, and now the day was coming to an end. The light in the sky changed from blue to pink to a strange dusky purple. The sun sank lower into the long glowing clouds. The little boy was sorry to see the day end.”
In Zolotow’s beautiful, lyrically written book, the boy’s mother explains that nothing comes to an end. When the day ends at his house, night begins and day breaks at another spot on the globe. Falling leaves signal not the end of autumn, but the beginning of new life, as the decaying leaves nourish the soil. Zolotow’s text is a poetic preschool introduction to the natural world and its cycles.
Resources: This book encompasses much of the natural world. To explain the Earth’s rotation, you need only a flashlight and a globe. Don’t have a globe? Try an orange instead. Show children where you live on the globe (or mark the spot with an x on the orange). Tell the children that the flashlight is the sun. When the sun shines directly on the x (or your city on the globe) it’s daytime there. Now rotate the globe or orange 180 degrees. Explain that now your home is in Earth’s shadow, and it’s nighttime. But see, the sun is shining somewhere else! You could also compost to explain how old leaves and dead plant matter create nutrients and new life. Boil water to show how water becomes water vapor, which creates clouds. Trap some water vapor in a bottle and let it cool. Now you’ve got rain.
Why I like this book: A busy two-year-old serendipitously handed me this book at the library when he saw me pulling books off the shelf. His choice couldn’t have been more perfect. At each sunrise and sunset my three-year-old asks, “Is the sun coming up or going down?” We talk about the Earth’s rotation and the fact that sunset means a new day is dawning somewhere else in the world.  This beautifully written book provides just enough information about nature and its cycles for preschoolers.
Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.
Geography, Nature, Science/Math

Creating your own compass

Do-it-yourself compass

Our favorite nonfiction picture books include related, hands-on activities. I think these are a great way for children to learn and expand upon the information in the book itself. As I mentioned previously, I’m working on a navigation picture book. Along the way, I’ve collected some wayfinding activities I hope to include at the end of the book.

Of course I would never include an activity I hadn’t tested myself. Today’s task: make a compass.

Steve Spangler Science has a good version of this activity. He uses wax paper as the float. I sliced a thing piece of cork, about 1/4 inch. Also, I used a common household magnet, rather than one with a north/south designation. This meant I had to calibrate my compass with the known directions.

I wouldn’t recommend taking this sloshing compass with you on your next camping trip, but it’s fun to try at home. Let me know if you do and whether it works for you!