Thursday, August 30, 2012

Airplane house - lesson on building tall and modifying designs

J pulled out his Duplos for the first time in forever and stated that he wanted to make an "airplane house", which I assumed was what I call a hangar (where the airplanes live, right?).

He built the tall structure (on the left) and started flying it around our house. He seriously meant an airplane house. Upon building the "tall tall" structure, J had a few balance issues. We discussed where to put blocks if it was leaning one way or the other. Once he got his airplane, I showed him what I thought he meant by airplane house (hangar), and he thought that was so much fun that the airplane almost fit under his airplane house. We modified his house slightly (adding a block of height and widening the legs - all by "trial and error") until the airplane fit in its house. J was so excited that he then built a train and a house for the train all by himself (to the right on the picture).

What I hope J took from this impromptu lesson:
  • Hands-on experience building tall structures - balance, design, modifications, re-design, re-build.
  • Spatial awareness - does the airplane fit? What can we do to make the airplane fit?
  • When he tried to give the blue airplane a tall tail, we had a brief discussion about simple aerodynamics and why I thought the airplane wouldn't be able to fly in real life.
Thanks to J for showing me some fun, unexpected science this past weekend!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

New Nerdy Science Lab Coat

Big J has a little bit of extra time on his hands. He made me Nerdy Science and name patches for my new lab coat. I was totally ready for silly putty messiness this past Saturday.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Silly Putty Saturday Science in the Park

We are still organizing and recovering from our move, but I wanted to keep up the momentum with Science Saturdays in the park. I didn't want to miss August (it seemed like everyone scheduled something for Saturday, August 25th, including me). We squeezed it in during the morning (sorry to those I promised that it would happen in the afternoon - my afternoon was pretty jam packed) in a different park than normal (they upped the reservation fees at the park we were using).

I decided to keep it simple and do something easy, fun, and I know works: silly putty!

I was busy baking a koala summer cake Friday night for Saturday afternoon's event that I didn't get the chance to write up the recipe for the table. I did get plastic tablecloths though for this event since the silly putty picks up everything and park tables are filthy! I thought on the fly and wrote the recipe with Sharpie on the table cloth. It worked nicely! I didn't even have to worry about taping down paper or paper getting wet and messy (this was a super messy event). Before you start, have plenty of wipes handy.

The ingredients that you add to a zipped baggy:

Once in the bag, zip the bag, and shake, squish, and knead:

Some were over excited and wanted to experiment to see what happens if you mix all of the colors:

You get a poop color
Once the white in the bag is mostly gone, take out the putty and continue to squish, knead, stretch, and pull in your hands until it becomes silly putty texture.

Place the silly putty in a clean bag to take home!

Some discussion points:

  • How does the silly putty feel? You can ask this at different stages of this project.
  • What do you think will happen when we mix glue and starch? Do you think something new will be made?
  • What are we using to measure the ingredients? We use less starch than glue (about 1/2 as much) - bring up fractions if you think your kid would like the introduction.
  • What are the different colors?
  • What do we get when we mix colors?
  • What happens if we place silly putty shaped in a ball on the table for a few minutes?
  • What happens if we pull the silly putty slow?
  • What happens if we pull the silly putty fast?
  • Does silly putty bounce?

** It seems as though an email list from Lego Race Cars in the park was shredded before I got to put the names on the email list. If you thought you were on the email list but didn't get the email about Silly Putty this past weekend, please use the email on the left side navigation bar to let me know. Also, if you haven't had the chance and want to be on the email list, please let me know too!

Thursday, August 16, 2012


It's no secret that I <3 math long before I had the same feelings towards science.

In order to be a successful scientist, a person should have a handle on math, which is why I sometimes highlight it on this blog.

I took J to the park last night and while we were playing, he counted to forty!  I was plenty impressed.  It's never too early to highlight numbers.

Some fun ways to incorporate numbers into your daily routine:
  • Have a contest (prize or not): who can count the highest, the fastest, etc. without missing a number?  - This is good with siblings.
  • Prompt your child to count when they are bored/antsy. It gets their mind on something else and might give you a few minutes to think of something to do with them.
  • Start flashcards. Little kids might not know what multiplication means, but they can recognize the numbers. You can create your own with some index cards (which are cheap due to current back-to-school sales). We got our particular set during a nerdy themed baby shower I had for J on Pi Day 2009, and I've been too busy to make my own simpler ones.
  • Negotiate. We have a picky eater (though he's nothing compared to how picky I was - sorry, Mom). I'm also in the mindset that Americans overeat. I don't want to get it in J's head that he has to eat everything on his plate, but he has to have some of everything, especially the healthier stuff. A common conversation at our dinner table, "Have 3-5 more bites of X before you can have 1-2 bites/sips of Y." This is a great place to introduce early subtraction. "You ate 2 bites. Good job. How many more do you have left to get to 3 bites?"
  • Count money/coins.
  • Highlight a number a day for small numbers or week for larger numbers. Have something you do that many times per day/week. For example, on 3 day, maybe you get 3 glasses of milk during the day, 3 fun things the kids can pick out to do, 3 books to read at night, etc. Find numbers in magazines and paste them up on the wall/fridge (#s or objects with the amount of the number).
  • Have your child set the table.  How many plates, napkins, cups, silverware do you need for everyone to get 1 plate, 1 napkin (some especially messy people get 2), 1 cup, 1 fork, 1 spoon, and adults get 1 knife?
  • Play with a candy you don't mind your child eating on special occasions (like counting!). We choose M&Ms. Fun for nerdy parents would be introducing your kids to graphs after counting!
  • Create your own number puzzles (we use In N Out stickers since it's nearby and we go once every few weeks). Print out a picture, draw a grid on it, number the grid, cut it up, put pieces in a bag/box, shake it up. Have a blank piece of paper with the numbers for little kids to use to match the pieces. I love these things since this is the only time I've seen J sit still and focused for a more than 5 minutes.
  • Connect the dots. There are plenty of apps and online print and play connect the dots to keep your little one counting while developing fine motor skills.
  • Play the greater than/less than game. For example, J has 3 carrots and mommy has 1.  Who has more? How can you make them equal?
There are always more ways to have fun numbers. Knowing my feelings about math, a friend introduced me to the Bedtime Math website (which he found on NPR). I think it's a wonderful idea and project and done in a very cute manner. Check it out.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

MIA for a week or so

Taking a short leave of absence while we move to escape downstairs neighbors who don't understand that secondhand smoke affects us (as does the 95+ degree apartment if we leave our doors/windows closed).

Half of J's books...

I'm looking forward to my new science wall at the new place (been holding off any kinds of major organization knowing we'd move soon).

I'll be back when the internet is set up again.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

J and his sunflowers

J's tended to his plants since he started our garden.  He waters these flowers every day before school.

I wanted to get a picture of him and his sunflowers before they died or got snatched by critters.  These ones are much taller than our first sunflower.

I'd say the sunflowers were worth the $1 investment from Target.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Marble Roller Coasters

I will start out that I did not come up with this concept on my own, but I do LOVE the project.  I was introduced to Marble Roller Coasters through a Society of Women Engineers colleague in 2008.  We did it as part of their Designing Women event for middle school girls.  We did a modified version of the project linked above two years in a row and it was a complete hit with the girls!

Fast forward to ~1 year ago, we went to J's Great Grandpa's house, and he was fascinated by an old marble track toy.  Since he didn't try to eat the marbles, I figured he was old enough to play with marble roller coasters.

Materials (cost, ~$5 for 10 halved pieces of foam track):
*Foam pipe insulation (from hardware stores like OSH or Home Depot, ~$1/6ft piece, which will be cut in half to make two tracks)
*Masking tape
*Furniture, towers, anything you can use to prop your coaster up.

Take away lesson:
*Transfer of energy (this topic makes me giddy - yes, nerd).  Total Energy = Potential Energy + Kinetic Energy (+losses due to things like friction, for the older kids)
---When something is sitting high, it has stored energy called Potential Energy (I like to think that it'll potentially fall).  If it's at rest at a height, kinetic energy in the equation above starts at 0 and all of the energy is potential.  Once it's set into motion it begins to have Kinetic Energy (kinetic is a fancy term for motion).  A falling object has a combination of potential and kinetic until the object reaches the ground/a place where it won't fall any more and it's all kinetic energy (potential = 0 in the equation above).

How do build your coasters:
  • Start up high.  Why?  Because the higher you start, the more energy you'll have to play with.  
    • This also could get tricky as you might have too much energy and will have to switch your design to account for that too.
    • I like to tape my roller coaster to a chair or a wall.
  • Play with the drop angle, give your roller coasters bumps, twist and turns, and loops.  Use other furniture/blocks to support the track (see pic below). We use a lot of stools, chairs, side tables, wall space, blocks.
We used Zoob structures for height/support
  • Tape a paper cup to the end of your track to catch the marble.

Trouble shooting:
  • My marble flies off of the track
    • Adjust your track to go where the marble wants to go.
    • Add a bump or a bank (twist/turn) to get the marble to slow down.
    • Start the marble at a lower height.
  • My marble falls off of during the loop
    • Situation 1: you don't have enough energy to clear the loop.  Start the marble higher or shorten the height of the loop.
    • Situation 2: the loop is too tight and the marble has too much energy to go where you want it to go.  Adjust the loop height (taller) or width (separate the loop ends slightly so the track isn't touching on the bottom of the loop).

Other fun thing to try (special thanks to N, age 4 - not pictured, who found this out while playing at the park):

  • Line up 3-4 marbles at the end of the track and watch what happens as another marble you release on the track bumps into the 3-4 marbles at the end of the track.
Feel free to share your pics of hours of roller coaster fun with me.