Friday, January 27, 2012

Sail Cars with 2-3 yr olds

I did it! I had my first official Pepsi Refresh sponsored visit to a preschool!

I started with double this amount of special race cars!  Note-to-self, when speaking to 2-3 year olds, when you say you have a "special treat" for them, they think something yummy, not super cool race cars.  Whoops.

I started out with an introduction to the concept of gravity. We dropped some balls from way up high. They were able to guess that the balls will fall to the ground. Great hypothesizing! We talked about gravity keeping us on the ground and not letting us float up into the sky.  They happily repeated, "Gravity!"

I then thought it would be fun to see what they thought about what an untied balloon would do when dropped. Whoa! It didn't fall to the ground. It shot off like a rocket!  The kids giggled.  I then show them my balloon I have tied off and asked what they thought it would do if I let go.  They said go up to the sky.  However, it was just blown up with air and not helium, so it too dropped to the ground.  It was fun to see their wheels turning and get them making some educational guesses.

Ok, back to the non-edible "special treats".  I had pre-made the 18 vehicles the week before.  I hot-glued the wheels and only two kids' wheels fell off, one of the two was more interested in destruction than science.  It's all good - I'll count it as reverse engineering for now - still science.

We started with discussing what would happen if we let go of the cars on the ramps.  I had ramps of different sizes all across the room and tried to snap some pictures.  Man, these kids move quickly.  They quickly realize that the biggest ramp, held up by a bookshelf, was the best ramp for the fastest car!  Yay, they used their scientific process to figure that out because I didn't say.  The biggest ramp was the most popular by far.

On your marks, get set, go!
It was during the time we were playing with ramps that some teachers and kids from the older preschool rooms decided to peek in at our fun!  It looks like I might have to repeat this experiment with the 3-5 year olds too.  I don't mind.  It was tons of fun!

Back to the lesson: I then showed them that even when the cars aren't up high we can make them go.  I gave them all a sail (which I white-school-glued the night before and they all stayed together!) to put in their pre-punctured hole in the top of their car.  They tried it on the carpet first (which worked pretty well with the school-style, high traffic carpet)

A friend successfully moves his sail car 

This is another point where I love teaching science.  The 2-3 year old kids figured out the sail cars work better on the table than the carpet.  The whole experimented shifted to the tables.

Blowing on it like a candle

A race!

It's not working so well blowing down there

Yay, success!

Then they found out how to have real fun, blowing it off of the table!

And there it goes!

That was the basically the end of the lesson.  I let them have a few more minutes of free play with their science cars before I packed up the ramps.  This is the point where I could brainstorm about how to tweak the lesson for the next time.  They went back to the larger ramp, of course, but they wanted to make it taller.  It became taller and taller until it was basically vertical.  Then their cars were nose-diving into the ground!  I love letting kids experiment freely.  They thought it was pretty fun.

Try 1
Try 2
Almost captured the car mid-drop

Time for lesson - 10 minute set-up, 20 minute lesson!  I consider it a major success.  Keeping 2-3 year old kids' attention for 10 minutes is hard, and I had them most of the 20 minutes.  The kids all seemed to enjoy themselves and some kids wanted their parents to wait a little longer so they can finish their experiment (I did this in the late afternoon/pick-up time).

Lessons learned - don't use anything as ramps that would be of value.  Luckily, the ramps were recyclable cardboard and particle board scraps.  Thicker poster board would work well too.

I'm definitely pocketing sail cars for a future family science day.  Now to start thinking about the next lesson...

Related Post:

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sail Cars: Preschool Preview

Here's some of my fleet

I have my first "official" visit to the classroom to J's preschool tomorrow, sponsored by Pepsi Refresh.  We're going to do a modified Toilet Paper Tube Sail Car.  I was able to purchase cheap little foam circles from RAFT, a nearby resource for teachers.  This saved me a few hours of drawing, cutting out, and balancing 72 small cardboard wheels.  I also hot glued the wheels to the stirrer straws (used instead of wooden dowels because they came with the foam wheels) in hopes there will be less tears and frustration in the classroom tomorrow.

So the plans for tomorrow:
*Discuss gravity and how it pull things up high down.
*Drop a few things from way up high.
*See if they can guess what will happen when I let go of a car on a ramp.
*Have them guess which ramps would make the cars go fastest.
*Pop in the sails and have the kids see who could blow them off the table first.
*If time, I have three balloon pumps and lots of balloons for crazy balloon rocket fun.

I'll check back in with how the 2-3 yr olds responded.  I'm excited!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Model Lungs

I had too much fun that I couldn't share.  I was recently invited to speak to a group of Girl Scouts that meet once a month to have activities and discussions based around "technology."  The girls were well within the range of ages I've worked with before, but not of the blog target audience.***   However, I thought it would be useful for anyone who might be looking for a biomedical activity for late elementary-early middle school since there isn't too much info out there.

Background: I met the leader through work and told her about this blog and my mission (this blog is fun to write and share!).  I also told her that I've done an activity based off of this lung modeling activity with high schoolers, but I thought it would be easy enough for the age group.  She agreed.

The group of girls ranged from 8-12 years old.  I told them about wanting to be an engineer since playing with Lego Robots at age 8 and a little bit of my background - where I came from and went to school and that I'm a dancing mechanical engineer doing gait analysis.  I also told them about two modeling experiences I had.  No, not runway modeling.  I created a finite element (computer) model of a knee with a total knee replacement and made the knee walk.  I explained that the company could then exchange out different knee replacement designs and see how it would affect someone's walking.  I then told them about "bench modeling" and how I created a super simple, but effective, model through research.  I got to build the model and test it out for a super cool medical device company (and - I got to go to the slaughter house to pick up cow parts, even better!).  We talked about the importance of conducting modeling - main reason is safety, and the governing regulatory body - the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that makes rules to keep people from being harmed.

I then talked about lungs.  We all have them.  Some of us even have a common problem, asthma.  We discussed basic anatomy of the lungs and a little bit about how asthma affects the lungs.  I introduced the materials they'd have to work with and gave them this handout that I made two years ago when I did it with the high schoolers.

Here's the basics (but check out the handout for a nice layout and some pictures)

2 liter soda bottle with the bottom cut off
2 bendy drinking straws
3 small rubber bands
1 large rubber band
1 small produce bag

Cut off the bottom of a 2 liter bottom.  Attach balloons to the bendy part of the straws using a small rubber band, but be cautious not to make it too tight, as the airways would be closed and the model wouldn't work.  Tie the straws together with another small rubber band, again making sure that the straws weren't pinched closed.  Place the straws in the neck of the bottle and close off with modeling clay.  Take the produce bag (you might need to trim it down a little bit) and place it over the bottom of the bottle, attach with a larger/thicker rubber band.  Make your model breathe by pushing in and out on the produce bag (aka the diaphragm), making sure the bottle is air tight.  The "lungs" will fill with air, but don't expect them to be blown up like party balloons.  It might take a little adjusting of the bag and pulling on the bag to fill the lungs the first time, but then it should work well.  If it doesn't work, begin troubleshooting.  The airways are most likely clogged somewhere along the lines.  Note that I do not use binder clips, as I felt it was an unnecessary expense.  Using your fingers to pull the produce bag in and out for breathing works just fine.


Once the model is working, talk about what they can do to model asthma and other problems in the lungs.


All of them were able to get a working model, and most of them could model asthma (swollen airways).  The easiest way to model asthma was to squish the straw with a rubber band/the clay.  My favorites are those who use clay to clog up the straws .  Some of them were challenged to model what happens during pregnancy and why some ladies get short of breath easily (having to do with the baby in the way of the diaphragm).

The girls were very on top of their game that we ended the model making early.  I was asked to do an impromptu discussion at the end (instead of letting the girls roam free which would ultimately end in indoor soccer).  We talked about other lung problems, like cystic fibrosis, and how some people get double lung transplants.  We discussed what's going on during CPR.  We talked about smoking and tracheotomies (and that gross anti-smoking commercial of the smoker talking through the hole in her neck - Stages 2010).  The double lung transplant discussion led to a few other medical type questions and discussions (body rejection, relying on and being kept alive by machines waiting for donors).  The leaders even discussed organ donation, sweet!  Preaching it young.  So there's an array of great material to introduce to young kids just by making soda bottle lungs!

I felt good about volunteering.  I hope it inspired them to at least learn more about biomedical/mechanical engineering and/or the medical field.  The girls might even come to the gait lab next year to see what goes on there.  I can't wait.

***Note that my J tried to play with my model lung I created for the demo multiple times.  Once, he even brought it out to show his friends.  He totally was able to make it breathe, though I'm sure he couldn't explain what was going.  It was a neat toy with balloons and straws.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Year In Review

Oh my!  It's been a year since I started Nerdy Baby/Science.  What a difference a year makes.  I'm so very thankful for all of your love and support.  Even if you just happen upon my site by searching, I'm thankful that I could hopefully provide you with useful information and ideas.

When I started the blog last January, it looked like I was going to be jobless for a while, and I was going to use it as a way to connect and share information with other parents.  I actually started it before I was scheduled to lose my job due to research funds ending.  Within two weeks of starting the blog, a colleague decided to switch careers which freed up funding and allowed me to jump into a bigger role in my lab - which also meant bigger time commitment and work responsibilities from me.  The blog, though personally important, took a back seat.  I made it my goal to post at least one fun science thing to do a week.

Why did I start Nerdy Science?

Short answer: I wanted to share simple science with others who had really young kids.

The longer answer:

I hated science.  H-A-T-E-D, with a passion.  I thought it was a waste of time.  I'd much rather crunch numbers.  I grew up in Las Vegas, in a state with one of the lowest high school to college rates (really, being book smart is not a priority for that city).  I remember downplaying much of my excitement for learning (aka - nerdiness) because I already had enough dings against me when it came to the bullying crowd (braces and short/shrimpy and late bloomer, mainly).

But, why did I hate science?  Besides probably hiding some of my nerdiness, I think it came down to I never really had super awesome science teachers - except one chemistry teacher, but Dr. Mr. P. quit teaching to become an administrator into the first quarter of the class.  Nobody really showed me how cool science really was.

How did I transform?  Somewhere also in college, I began volunteering with outreach programs that would teach science and engineering to kids (mostly 3-12 grade).  I loved seeing the "light bulb" moments when kids realized how cool science is!  However, even at age 8, many kids have decided that science is not for them.

Fast forward to January 2011:  Besides thinking of my next move professionally and personally, I saw an ad that would bring scientists to birthday parties.  However, upon further investigating the company, I found that they wanted everyone to be age 5+ to participate in the fun.  My son wasn't even 2!  But, he was sure interested in science.  Everything around him was one big experiment; he was a natural scientist.  Besides, the company charged up the butt for a scientist.  Science is and should be accessible for everyone, including 2 year olds, and it shouldn't make the parent go broke.

With encouragement of a few friends and family, I started documenting J's adventures with science on this blog and thinking of more ways to have science fun.

Here are some highlights of the last year:

January 2011: I started Nerdy Baby blog.

June 2011: I joined a small business entrepreneurs alumni club through Stanford to mainly network with people who have started businesses on their own.  After thinking long and hard about a name, I purchased the domain: (still working on the website).  I started looking for small grants that I could get to start making curriculum to bring to the kids.

July 2011: I applied for a Pepsi Refresh Grant out on a limb, not thinking I'd even get to the voting phase.

August 2011: I WON the Pepsi Refresh Grant thanks to all of your support!  The goals of the grant were to create a website to better share information about doing science as a family and bringing science to really young kids through preschools and community centers, culminating in a science "fair" where the kids show the parents what they've been learning.  I made the Nerdy Science Facebook page.

Oct-Dec 2011: After receiving the funding, I kicked curriculum designing into high gear.  Researching via internet, books, and museums on what I think 2-7 yr olds would find interesting.

January 2012: I began teaching science in preschools.

Where would I like to be a year from now?

My funding from Pepsi will be over, and I hope to actually form the non-profit company that I dream about.  I hope to have a board and volunteers and be applying for further funding.  I love working with little kids.  They are so honest and probably the toughest critics.  My favorite part of teaching science is to see how excited I can get them about nerdy things (like gravity or buoyancy or friction forces).  I love figuring out how to best present the materials for the giggly reactions that means they are having fun.

I really like being a research engineer (hey, it's science), but it is not where my passion lies.  However, quitting a job with any benefits is a risky move (especially in this economy).  My heart melts every time J tells me how much he loves doing science with me.  I don't know how much longer I can keep going with doing something that I like full-time vs. something that I love part-time.  I'm sure when it's time, I'll know for certain.

When all is said and done I hope that we (parents, teachers, friends, family) can be role models for young kids and show them that it's cool to love learning.

Thank you so much for such a wonderful year.  It really has been better than I could have ever imagined.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Balloon Rockets, part 1

This is a great way to get the kids to giggle (and exercise your lungs).

Take a balloon blow it up (you'll probably be doing this over and over and over again since your small child won't have the lung capacity to do it on his/her own)***.

Before you demonstrate the awesomeness of our crazy balloon, ask your child if he/she knows what will happen if you let go of the balloon.  Wait for an answer.  It gets them hypothesizing (making educational guesses).

Let go of the balloon and see what happens.

Things to try:

  • Different size balloons (you can do this also without different balloons, just blow up half way, full, etc).
  • Different shaped balloons (round, oval, long balloons used for making animals).
  • Different colors of the same type of balloon (trust me, colors are important to little kids).
Discuss:  What happened?  How do the balloons react each time?

Then try:
  • Can you put something on the balloon to slow down the reaction?
  • Can you aim the balloon to try to hit a target?

***This might be a good time to invest in a balloon pump too because inevitably your child will try to blow up the balloon, give up, and pass it over to you to blow up.

Also, please be careful of balloons with really small kids.  They are a choking hazard, especially popped balloon pieces.

And, if you noticed this is Part 1 of Balloon Rockets, you'll just have to stay tuned for part 2 which is known and on tap for experimentation later in the month.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Video for Celebration Helicopters

Sorry it took two weeks to pull the (dark, sorry) video from my camera.

Here's the addendum for Celebration Helicopters.  Happy New Year!

"You get up high..."  Twirly twirly twirly.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Toilet Paper Tube Sail Cars

My previous post on sail cars made it onto Pinterest (edited: I'm now on Pinterest!).  I feel so crafty though it was such a clunky car.  It was a really simple car to make on the fly and could be made out of things lying around the house (ie. a contact sol'n box).  It can also occupy kids' attention for some time.

I've been debating about my next lesson with the preschoolers at J's school.  I really want to do sail cars, but I'd have to make 12-15 of them (and make them look identical so we don't have 15 grumpy 2-3 yr olds).  The little voice in my head kept saying cafeteria milk cartons, but they aren't easy to come by if you don't have older kids in school.  I thought about it some more and played with what we had lying around the house.  Enter in my new sail car made from recycled materials that are plentiful: toilet paper tubes and empty tissue boxes.

I actually think this one works much better than the quick sail car I threw together in October.

Toilet paper tube (or paper towel tube cut in 1/2 or 1/3)
Empty tissue box
Wooden dowel (I use skewer sticks with the tips cut off)
Popsicle stick (preferably a clean craft stick)
Masking tape

-Trace a circular object onto the tissue box cardboard (4 times) for the wheels***
-Cut out the 4 wheels
-Cut the two dowels 1/2 to 1 inch more than the diameter of the paper tube.
-Attach one wheel to each dowel (I press fit then masking tape it in place to the dowel) - make sure the wheels are straight.
-Single hole punch 4 holes for the axles - 2 in the front and 2 in the back (make the holes relatively straight across from each other and the front in line with the back holes).
-Insert wooden dowels in the holes and attach the other wheels (masking taping the wheels to the dowels if you so choose).

*Now you should have a car you can push around (even blow on the front of the tube to get it to move).  Test it to make sure your wheels are straight and the tube isn't touching the wheels.  You can also build a small cardboard ramp to let gravity drive the car.

Methods (cont):
-Cut out a sail shape from the tissue box.
-Attach sail to a popsicle stick via masking tape (tape front and back of sail to the popsicle stick).
-Carefully puncture the top of the tube with one pointy side of an opened pair of scissors.  I prefer the puncture to be perpendicular (90 deg) to the length. With only the top of the tube punctured, the sail won't be dragging on the floor slowing the car down.
-This new puncture should be just the right size to insert a popsicle stick.
-Reinforce mast with masking tape.

*Now blow on the sail and watch the car effortless glide across smooth surfaces (it still doesn't work well on carpet).

More fun activities with sail cars:
  • Put your car on a long coffee table.  Can you give it enough power to drive over the edge?
  • Navigate an obstacle course.
  • Have a friend stand on the opposite side of the table.  Blow on opposite sides of the sail.  Watch the car go back and forth between you two.  Have a competition on who can get the car to fall off first.

***I used a compass this time around for wheel drawing, which was nice since I had a pin prick where the center of the circle was.  In turn, my wheels seem to turn better this time time than last when I think I used playdough containers as my circle guide.  Yay for being a little bit of a hoarder when it comes to old math tools.  I don't think I've used it since high school.

Related Posts:

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Colors + Light follow-up

Here's a fun website to learn more about colors and lights: The Physics Classroom.

Mixing light is different than paint.  For example red + green = yellow (instead of brownish) and blue + red =  magenta (instead of purple)

White = all primary light colors (R+G+B)


Black = all primary paint colors (R+B+Y)

Mixing light is additive where as mixing paint is subtractive.

Mix different colors of paint
Shine/mix similar colors of light
Compare and contrast

Alternate equipment:
Instead of flashlights, we also have small LED lights of red, blue, and green.  This seems to be less of a hassle than taping cellophane to flashlights.  Big J bought them a few years ago for a Cub Scout activity about photography and light.  Just remember not to stare into LED lights.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Flashlight colors

Woohoo!  Happy New Year!!

Today we taped some cellophane to flashlights and mixed colors.  Yay, visible light!

Tips and tricks:

  • Use lots of cellophane - if you think you need more, you probably do (for example, the blue flashlight pictured above needs more cellophane).
  • So we didn't have 3 rolls of cellophane in our small living space, we purchased red and yellow cellophane bags for 99 cents (and have lots left over) - a blue bag wasn't available in bag form at our local craft store, so we bought a roll of blue.
  • Scotch tape works just fine to hold the cellophane to the flashlights.
  • It works best if the two flashlights are the same type and size (see yellow and red above).  We ended up switching the flashlight for the blue/red pictures below.
  • Shine the lights on a piece of white paper.
  • Shine the lights on non-white surfaces - which works better?
  • Turn down the surrounding lights.

It's actually really hard to take a picture of the mixing light, so here's the best we could do.

Red and Yellow = Orange

Red and Blue = Purple-ish (magenta)

Blue and Yellow didn't make a good picture, sorry.