Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Now that I've been here for 7 years and still have yet to do many things in our backyard, I've started a bucket list for things I should do while living in the Bay Area.  One of those things I've wanted to do but never have gotten around to was walking the Stanford Dish.

Well, Big J wanted to go for a family hike, so I suggested this as a starter hike (we haven't been hiking as a family - plus, it's something I've wanted to do).

The day was gorgeous and so was the view (which the cellphone camera picture doesn't do it justice).

Here's the Dish:

Yes J stayed on Big J's shoulders most of the hike.

Anyways, we had more fun science lessons while hiking.  We were counting the animals we saw.

Squirrels: 20
Lizards: 10
Ladybugs: 3
Deer: 1

J has never been close to lizards before.  We were this close to most of them:

Taken with a crappy cellphone with no zoom

Since J was fascinated by the lizards, I figured it was time to dust off my Desert Discoveries "star student" skills from the 7th grade (over 15 yrs ago) and give him some science info to keep him engaged.  Like our 2-minute lady bug lesson, here's what our 2-minute lizard lesson sounded like:

  • Lizards are reptiles (compared to humans which are mammals or frogs which are amphibians).
  • Lizards are cold-blooded, which means they are the temperature of their surroundings.  These lizards were on the blacktop/pavement because they were trying to warm up.  The pavement in the sun is warmer than the bushes in the shade.  Comparison: humans are warm blooded, we stay ~98-99 degrees F.
  • These lizards camouflaged themselves to their surroundings.   We saw quite a few run into bushes and we had to look really hard to see them.  They looked a lot like the dried up sticks that surrounded them.
  • These lizards were chasing and eating ants.  Mmmmm, crunchy.
  • Lizards are quick when they run.  It helps them get away from anything that might be wanting to eat or step on them.
  • Lizards lay eggs.

I've started a 2-minute lesson tag for our unanticipated science lessons and quick general knowledge recaps.  I'm sure there will be plenty more as we discover the world through the eyes of a preschooler (man, time flies).

5/29/12 edit
**Let me clarify.  The Bay Area is not desert - we get ~15" of rain/year, which is more than the 10" or less to classify an area desert climate.  However, lizards inhabit both climates.  I know about them through science, but I think I learned more about them through Desert Discoveries, an elective I got placed into because my school was overcrowded and they were making up classes.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Solar Eclipse 2012

One benefit about being on the West Coast is that we got a good show last night!  It was supposed to be really good in Oregon, if it wasn't cloudy (haha, yeah).  Luckily, J's Uncle Nick and Aunt Ashley got this pic from the Oregon Coast.

Photo Credit: Uncle Nick

We were a little low in latitude for the full eclipse, but we still got a good portion.  Here's what you missed (or didn't depending on where you were).

Between 6 and 7p, we were having a solar eclipse, where the moon is positioned between earth and the sun.  It started getting dark at 6p, and I thought, "Wow, I didn't realize it was that late already."  Then I remembered that I had forgotten about the solar eclipse.  I went out immediately to our apartment's wall of sun and started doing science.

It's hard to explain what's going on and expect kids not to want to stare at the sun with their bare eyes (please don't ever stare into the sun unless you have special filters).

What we did was collected to pieces of scrap paper and made a small pinhole in one.  We held the paper with a pinhole so it casted a shadow on the other piece of paper that we held down with our feet.  On the piece of paper we shadowed, we saw a sliver of light, which eventually grew into about 3/4 of a circle (see picture below).

If the sun wasn't being blocked by the moon, we'd see a full circle of light.  At different stages of the eclipse, we'd see variation in the slivers of light.

Sorry, we were caught unprepared leading up to the full-ish eclipse (ie. more pictures of various sized crescents). It happened between dinner and getting ready for bed, which is usually not the best time for our family, on a pretty busy weekend.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Working leaves no time for science play

I'm winding down on my Pepsi Refresh grant, which means I am ramping up the final push to finish my project.

I've joined a machine shop place, The TechShop, to help me create the last few pieces.  In the next few weeks, I'll have a prize wheel (think Wheel of Fortune) made so kids can learn about rotational motion and balance (and how offbalance affects rotational motion).  I hope to have a few race car ramps too.  This part of the project is a big deal for me since I am a mechanical engineer who hates big machines that could chop off my fingers.  I have to get over a more-than-slight fear and intimidation in the machine shop.  However, I personally want to make these final items.  I took the first steps with a woodshop class (which I have to take anyways to use the woodworking machines), and I have a babysitter who would like to come babysit for us regularly!  I no longer have to rely on my husbands iffy and ever changing work schedule.  Unfortunately, with my first class, I learned that this desert girl might be allergic to wood/sawdust.  What are trees? ;-)  Luckily, I'm no longer itchy/wheezy (I <3 Benedryl).

Anyways, sorry for the lack of new posts this week.  We've been pretty crazy with J's birthday party and Mother's Day over the weekend (no science :-( ).  We love when science falls into our laps during the week, but for the rest of this week, we're treading water.

This weekend is Makerfaire in the Bay Area.  We have tickets, and I'll probably get home even more jazzed about the future.  I'll try to write some highlights if I find anything useful to spreading the love of science to very young kids or the super nerdy and the exhibitors would agree to being highlighted.

Stay nerdy.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bioengineering Kids Day - June 15th, Stanford

I'm excited to be invited to help with Stanford's Bioengineering Kids Day!  This year it's held on Friday, June 15th at the Clark Center Courtyard, 1-4p.  It's opened to the broader community, but an RSVP is required to attend (6/12/12 edit: please note that the RSVP is now closed).  I was told to expect kids of all ages, even as young as 2!  If you attend, please stop by and say hi!

I'll be doing a toned down version of the Elbow Lesson that I did with high school girls through SWE back in March.  By the end of a quick stop to my booth, kids (and adults) should be able to state the bones around the elbow and the major flexors and extensors (maybe even point to the belly of the muscles too!).  They will learn muscles only pull, not push.  They will put together a 2-ruler arm with a brad for the elbow joint and use yarn to flex (bend) and extend (straighten) the arm.  Depending on their age and comprehension level, I might give them challenges or assist them so they have a working model.  I'm excited about it just thinking of the fun in store!

As for now, it's time to put away the 600 rulers that I thought would take a month to get here...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"The Balance Game" - Science Birthday Lesson

J wanted me to bring cupcakes and science to his school for his birthday. We've been extremely busy between some pretty gross bugs that have been passed around the family, working super hard on finishing the Pepsi Grant, and planning J's baseball birthday party.

I had gone to RAFT on my birthday last month and got one of these balances, to which J absolutely loved!  I went back last week and got 8 more to bring to school.  If you don't have access to a cheap, plastic balance, don't fret!  I'll post soon about other objects you can use as a scale/balance.

The lesson objectives with my 2-3 yr olds:
  • Introduction to weight and balance.
  • Play a guessing game using science.
  • Be able to identify which side of the balance was heavier and to add more weight to the other side.

A balanced balance :-)

Can you guess which side is heavier?  Which side should we add weight to make it look like the balance above?  Yep, you would add weight to the side that is up.  If that side goes down to the table, you've added too much weight.  Try again with something lighter.  If the side stays up in the air, try something heavier to try to level it.

I placed some extra tape below the cup above to counter the tape I put over different objects in different cups.  The cup with tape on the top was placed opposite of the taped down empty cup.  The kids selected objects to choose from to place in the empty cup and see if they could "balance" the scale, seeing if they could guess what was in it.

Objects to choose from: milk cap, big ball, sponge, penny, bouncy balls

I was hoping to do this in a few groups of maybe 4-5 kids, but the kids were just enthusiastic.  I ended up playing the guessing game surrounded by ~15 2-3 year olds on a small picnic table.  They enjoyed guessing what was in the cup and seeing what happened.  Since I was greatly outnumbered, I didn't take pics of the guessing game.

Then, I gave the kids free play with the balance.  They tried to see which objects were heavier than others.

The littler ball was heavier.

There was an equal number of rocks, but one side was heavier!

Yay, the kids balanced rocks!

And sponges!

Overall, J and his friends were very excited for this lesson.  It's fun to have such an enthusiastic group of kids!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Nerdy Birthday Request

You know when you're raising a nerd when he requests for you to bring cupcakes and science to school for his birthday.  I love this kid.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


We had an unintended science lesson yesterday waiting for a friend to answer her door.

A lady bug was happily sitting on a leaf of this bush.  We watched it for a few minutes and talked about ladybugs (sorry the photo isn't great, I only had my cellphone with me).

Discussion Points (as much as we could fit in in the two minutes it had J's attention):
  • Colors are red with black spots.  Red is usually a nature warning sign for predators (what eats ladybugs) to stay away.  It acts like a stop sign.
  • They have wings (our ladybug even flew up a few branches for us).
  • Ladybugs eat aphids, which are little bugs that eat leaves/plants.  J got excited and stated that the silkworms in his class eat leaves too!  However, ladybugs don't eat silkworms.
  • Insects, like the ladybug, have 6 legs.
  • The ladybug has 2 antenna, to which J gave himself antenna and pretended to be a ladybug.

Some fun ladybug sites:

J's quote: "I don't want to touch the ladybug.  It'll sting me!"

Needless to say, we were just quiet observers of the ladybug.