Saturday, December 31, 2011

Celebration Helicopters

No, I won't be staying up till midnight tonight, and J's already down.  It's 8:30p on NYE; I'm such a mean mommy.  He has no clue that much of the world stays up really late and throws fun stuff in the air at midnight tonight.

Well, we made these fun paper helicopters to throw up in the air today.  Yay, science!

Earlier in the month, we played with helicopter leaves.  If you are desert dwellers (like me) and you want to play with helicopter-like science, you can purchase helicopter seeds or you can make your own spinning helicopter out of scrap paper.

Our helicopter was ~6x2 inches and started as a rectangle.


  • Cut the paper in half about 2.5 inches down on the long side (please use your best judgement when letting your child use scissors).
  • Leave half an inch.
  • Make one slit on each side coming in ~1/3 of the way of the paper.
  • Fold the bottom half (where you just made the two slits) into thirds.
  • At the bottom, fold about 1/2 inch up and attach a paper clip.
  • Fold the blades of the helicopter in opposite directions.
  • Toss up in the air and watch the helicopter whirl down to the ground.
  • Shout HAPPY NEW YEAR!  (or whatever you want to celebrate).

Things to experiment with:

  • Attach different paper clips and note how the helicopter reacts.
  • Make different sized helicopters and note how the helicopter reacts.
    • What if the blades were longer/shorter?
    • What if the paper was wider than 2 inches?
  • Drop it from different heights.
  • Drop it upside down and note how it reacts.
  • Make helicopters out of different types of paper: computer, construction, newspaper, cardstock, tissue paper, etc., and note how each react.  Which one(s) make the best helicopter?
I might edit this post at a later time to add the video of J playing helicopter, but for now, I'm going to enjoy my NYE hot fudge sundae and relax with a movie.

Hope you had a safe New Year's!  I look forward to blogging about more science in 2012!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Too much ice cream

Every once in a while, the hubs and I get to escape.  We went to Fentons, the ice cream parlor highlighted in one of our favorite movies, Up!  Their special was a cookie sundae with chocolate and vanilla ice cream.  Proceeds went to donate school supplies to poor kids, so how could we refuse?  Big J didn't want to share (actually, it was the chocolate ice cream and cold fudge that I didn't want, so I chose an alternate ice cream with hot fudge - that I couldn't finish).

Big J spent a good portion of the date calculating how much ice cream he was eating/ate (see before pic above).  I think he estimated a liter of ice cream through measuring approximate diameter of the ice cream scoops with his fingertips.  He was very determined to finish it.  No wonder he got the chills afterward.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Robot Arm

This is how I spent the first day of my winter vacation:

I'll post video of J playing with it soon. It needs to be bolted down so it doesn't tip over when the arm is pushed all of the way down. We're brainstorming ways to also get it to stop before the motor skips if pushed to its limits. Since it was a cheap kit, it's probably going to be hard to make adjustments. If you are a little more familiar with electronics, suggestions are greatly appreciated.

In terms of what I am hoping to show with it:
  • Robots are cool!
  • Input and response (controls)
    • Make the robot go up/down, side/side, open/close (my 2 yr old can do this)
    • Pick up objects and put them down somewhere else (more advanced)

Other plans to go with robot curriculum
  • Electricity and circuits (still working on how exactly this will play out for the little ones)
  • Gears (yay mechanical engineering!)
  • Controller game (something I'm creating for the 4-7 yr olds to learn how to use programming type language and learn about degrees of a circle and distances - stay tuned)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Shout-out to Home Depot

I took a trip to Home Depot today. I had a list of items for the shake table and a couple of helpful workers that were eager to assist. One of my biggest concerns was cutting the wooden pieces to the correct sizes. They did all of the cutting for me and saved me a few hours of finding a place or the tools to do the cutting. And, since it was cut, everything fit in my small car's trunk.

Upon asking one worker for assistance, I got to talking about my project and grant. It turned out that he was a manager and gave me 10% off too! Awesome!

Here's what I ended up with:

All in all, I was extremely thankful for a pleasant experience (my visit to Radio Shack yesterday wasn't as pleasant).  I have a few more things to purchase, and I'm hoping to have shake tables ready by the end of the month.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Helicopter Leaves

Ok, I admit it, I'm from the desert.  I can name you the type of cacti and the latitudes and altitudes where each one grows (maybe that's another lesson).  However, trees are definitely not my specialty (to give you an example: my thermo prof in undergrad was surprised that I didn't know what an acorn on the ground was, but to my defense it didn't have the cap on it as the cartoons, or in particular Ice Age, depicts since the cap fell off in the drop from the tree).

Anyways, we've been having an extremely long fall (or so it seems).  Leaves are still falling from our trees around here and offer at least a few minutes of science-y fun.  Being from Oregon, John knows much more about trees than I do.  He had pointed out the helicopter leaves to me once in undergrad at UP.  However, I had no idea that we lived next to a tree for almost four years that dropped helicopter seeds until John pointed it out to J recently.

For background purposes: helicopter leaves/whirlybirds are seeded pods (the linked article says they are from S. American Tipu Trees) that are shaped in such a way that they spin on their way down.  My quick Google search is popping up Maple trees give off helicopter leaves too.  That seems a little more common.  Maybe you have them close by!

We've been dropping them off of our balcony lately (as seen by the seeded mess on the pavement below).

Why do the helicopter leaves spin?
Their special shape slows their fall down.  The seeds are shaped like a helicopter blades, catching the air as they fall.  According to a Science article, this allows them to travel longer distances if caught in the wind.

Try at home:
Drop different leaves from a height - note their shapes and how they fall.
Drop a different object (ie a soft ball) from the same height.  How does it fall compared to the leaves?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


I may have stretched the science limits on boxes just a little, but I still think they are an awesome learning tool for babies and young children.  Now, I'll convince you that the bike that comes in the box is also science!

Major science points:
*Transfer of energy (metabolic to kinetic)
*Kinetics and kinematics (fancy terms for motion)
*Newton's first law (an object in motion stays in motion - until an outside force, ie. brakes, parked cars, bushes, etc., acts upon it)
*Balance and coordination
*Anatomy - we ALWAYS need to wear helmets to protect our brains.  We might want to use padding on other non-cushioned areas of the body, like the elbows, knees, or shins.

Major engineering points:
*Bike design - point out the parts of the bikes and what each part does
*Bike maintenance - how to take care of your bike so you can ride it for a long time
*How many wheels does your bike have?  Does it act differently if you have a different number of wheels (for example, training wheels vs. no training wheels)

Other important things to discuss (not really science):
*We always wear our helmets, or we don't ride bikes.
*We do not bike without Mommy or Daddy/responsible adult around.
*We always stop and pull to the side if there's a car in motion until the responsible adult says it's ok to go back riding.

Mainly, I wanted to show you that a two year old can ride a two-wheeler (queue proud Mommy moment):

Sunday, December 4, 2011


We had a chance for some quiet family time over Thanksgiving weekend.  We decided to introduce J to board games and pulled out our cheap MB games that we rescued from our parents houses when we "grew up" and officially moved out.

The first one we pulled out was my Giant Cootie!  The pieces are large enough that I don't have to worry about my 2.5 yr old choking.

We explained a little bit of insect anatomy as we built our bugs (the competition part of the game still is a bit above J's level).

Insects have:
  • A head
  • A thorax (middle section)
  • An abdomen (the rear section)
  • Six legs
  • Two antennae
  • Eyes

Other things to discuss:
  • Where do insects come from?
  • What purposes do insects serve?
  • What are helpful insects?
  • What are harmful insects?
  • What do insects eat?
  • What eats insects?
  • How do insects protect themselves?  - We discussed this one as a grasshopper hopped a ride on our car home from church two weeks ago.  It was a giant grasshopper that resembled a leaf!  (Sorry, I don't have a picture).

Other things to try:
  • Collect a bug from outside and study it.  Point out the features you just discussed and release it back into the "wild".
  • Visit a museum with a bug collection on display to see a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and kinds of bugs.

**I don't think MB currently sells Giant Cootie (mine has a copyright of 1986 on the box), but they sure do have regular Cootie (which we also have an updated version from John's family).  I did some internet research over the weekend and they were half off at many toy shops (prob due to Black Friday sales), but they typically run ~$10 non-sale.