Sunday, March 24, 2013

Patterns, an impromptu lesson

Patterns are everywhere in our life. They are particularly useful in science and are often used to make predictions about what will happen (aka hypotheses). If you can see what is happening, you can use that knowledge to your advantage. It's a great way to start guessing about what's going to happen or come next.

The greatest thing about patterns is that they are super easy to come by. You can make many patterns with pieces of paper (colored, textured, etc), blocks (different shapes and colors), beads, colored pencils/crayons, toys (blue car, red car, blue car...), food (beans, pasta, fruit, veggie, etc), silverware, straws (big straw, little straw, bendy straw), and many more. So next time you're bored waiting somewhere, see if you can challenge your youngin' with what you have at your disposal. Create a pattern and see if they can continue. You can also use a pattern while stacking (I've been known to play the tower game at restaurants back in my day - I haven't yet introduced J to some of my childhood shenanigans).

Here's our short lesson on patterns (which turned into about an hour of pattern making/completing):

Two weeks ago, we were walking home from lunch and found a big box of free items up for grabs. There were lots of books and games. This particular box caught my eyes:

It's definitely not an English game, but it looks like Domino's. I figured this would be fun for science (cause and effect - totally didn't think about patterns).

J immediately requested we played, but it wasn't in the "let's set it up like the picture on the box" way. There were four colors, and J wanted me to make patterns for him to complete.

I tried to convince him that we can make patterns and still build things to knock down too.

Then we found the bobble people the game came with. I think their sole job is to knock things down.

This was one of our more fun evenings over the past few weeks. I'm thankful for this gem of a game we found.

What are some of the ways you have used patterns in your family?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Goldie Blox - Engineering Toy

I was introduced to GoldieBlox via their Kickstarter campaign back in September. A friend had messaged me the link via Facebook since I'm very pro-science/engineering and also a Stanford alum. It turned out the inventor of GoldBlox graduated Stanford at the time I was entering grad school. Her back story also involves a lot of volunteer service and a desire to get young girls interested in engineering. Based on my desires to spread the love of science to the younger generation, I thought I'd support the cause just for that reason alone, even if I didn't have a young girl, let alone a kid in the targeted age group (6+).

J (almost 4) loves to read and is very excited when it comes to activities that involve science, so though it is geared towards girls (pink, light blue, main character is a girl), I figured J would still enjoy it. He has yet to distinguish between boys' and girls' toys (something I hope lasts as long as possible). I also wanted to show J what an engineer can do, especially since I am one.

I waited with anticipation for the box to arrive (he had no idea that I had purchased this toy). It arrived on our doorstep this Wednesday, the day after they shipped it out (a benefit of being in the same area as the company). It was so quick that I didn't even receive a shipment notice!

Our neighbors joined us for this toy debut in our household. We all had fun. I ended up reading the story aloud and supervising the kids as they followed directions. I noticed the peg board has a star design, so I used that star to assist for the overall 5 point star pattern. It kept their attention for about 45 minutes while we read through the story and tried the star design and two alternate designs (also included in the book). There were lots of "oooh's" and "aaaah's" and giggling coming from our household. It was a hit, for sure!

Minor room for improvements: The story is short, which is probably good for more of a toy than literature. Katinka (the pink dolphin) almost came off as cantankerous. As a mom, my first reaction is, "Who wants to give a grouchy character what they demand?" The crank (well, everything) falls off too easily from the wheels, and the grooves to connect everything should be a little deeper to omit frustration. The pegboard is very soft and already has scratches from the little playing we've done. I liked the star pattern, but I also wish the star pattern was drawn on the instruction pegboard in the book, so J could visualize what it looked like with the star as a reference.

Today, I stayed home with sick J, and he requested to do GoldieBlox. I asked if he wanted to read the book and try the star design again or work on the alternate designs it came with. He chose the alternate designs. He loved playing with the designs and learning how to do it himself while getting a grasp on the terminology. He also learned, "When things are a little bit hard, I can ask for help." This is a great engineering lesson since teamwork is a great engineering skill to have. He also told me, "This is science. It needs to go with the science stuff [and not in his game closet]." Success! Anything that is related to science is considered cool in our house.

J made the GoldieBlox G

Again, he has no idea this is a toy designed for girls, but he does know that it's fun. I know there is a disparity of female engineers (I was one of the two girls in my mechanical engineering graduating class of 20+ in undergrad). I think GoldieBlox should be marketed towards everyone since as a nation, we are falling behind in all areas of science, math, and engineering technology. My boy loved it. I'd hate for someone to tell him that it's just a girl's toy.

All-in-all, I am looking forward to future versions of GoldieBlox and seeing how the company grows and develops.

3/15/13 - Edit: Addition 6:30p - When John got home from work, J requested he played GoldieBlox. J set up his own design and called it a butterfly. He wound up Nacho's wheel and guided the ribbon around Katinka and the posts. He then attached the velcro'ed ribbon end to a wheel with the crank, and then he wound up the next wheel to use. I'm pretty impressed.

Now my husband got all excited that he can create things of his own with the toy too. He basically made a carnival ride:

However, he did note that the holes in the wheels are a different distance than the holes in the pegboard which actually limits some sideways building capabilities. However, I'm now excited to see what else we can come up with using this new family toy.

Disclosure: I purchased this toy with my own personal funds. All opinions are my own.

P.S. J has a sudden new interest in his blocks. I wonder if it's because of GoldieBlox.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pi Day 2013 Greatness

People ask me, "What is Pi Day?" My default answer is, "It's like St. Patty's Day, but for the nerds." Instead of green, we wear Pi embellishments, and we eat Pi(e) inspired foods (pizza pie, pot pie, fruit pies, etc). Some people might even go as far as making nerdy Pi drinks, like a PIna Colada or PIneapple juice. You also don't have to be a nerd to celebrate. Ok, maybe you do ;-).

Our homemade mixed berry pi(e) was a hit at my lab meeting and J's schoolmates loved the chocolate cream, Oreo pie.

I want a Pi Day family photo. Out of the last 4 years, we've managed two (2009 (pre-J) and 2011). Luckily, J was a willing participant in our photo shoot this year...

...if we allowed him one silly picture:

After the picture session, we went out for pie with a really good friend of mine, but at dinner/pie, J started feeling icky and couldn't finish his pie :-(. Nobody should be sick on Pi Day! I hope he feels better with a good night sleep.

Happy Pi Day 2013

Rest assure that I am currently sound asleep (or so I hope). I scheduled this to be posted at 1:59a to wish you a very Happy Pi Day (3.14159...)! If you miss it, it's ok to celebrate at 1:59p.

I will be sharing this I <3 Pi pie with my colleagues at work today. The minis will be given to friends.

J and John helped me make the pies. J had a blast with the pie crust: "It's like playdough!" I asked him if he wanted the I <3 Pi pie for his class or if he wanted the chocolate cream, thaw and serve, pie that I bought. Of course, there is no competing with chocolate when it comes to a 3 yr old. Good, because I promised my coworkers a mixed berry pie. I'm actually a little sad that I am missing J's school pi day for the first time since he's been able to eat pie. My normal lab meeting got moved an hour later, making me miss snacktime :-(. I'm sure J will represent Pi Day pretty well on his own (after all it was his first letter he recognized).

We're going to meet one of my good friends from high school for some pi(e) out after school/work today. It's nice to have nerdy friends.

I wish you the Nerdiest of Pi Days!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Finger tracing/counting

J came up with this unique way to write his numbers. It starts with 0 up on the top right, then 1, and then he traced his fingers 2-5. 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 are on the bottom row*. He's so creative.

On the way to dinner today, he repeated a version of his finger counting lesson and squealed with excitement about how much he likes counting. I was pretty excited about his counting too. At dinner, John told J that he (John) doesn't have to count the amount of fingers we hold up, he just knows (based on memorization). We then flashed a few fingers (5 and under) at J and told him to just say how many we were holding up. He did very well with all numbers under 5. Maybe we'll try 10 and under a different day.

*We're still working on the English way of reading and writing.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

You know when...'re raising a nerd -

My son has recently started drawing people. He draws the standard little kid stick figures, but he insists on drawing the sternal notch for everyone he draws. When asked what that small circle under the head is, J points to his sternal notch. It makes me smile.

I guess his stick people don't wear turtle necks.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Water density and floating egg experiment

This experiment was suggested by a fan of Nerdy Science, Stephanie, as a fun experiment to do with eggs.

Experimental Questions:
Are eggs denser than plain water? Are eggs denser than salt water?

When things are more dense than water, they sink when placed in water. If they are less dense than water, they float.

Test your knowledge to form your hypothesis (educated "guess"):
Gather a few items from around the house and see if they sink or if they float. Which items are more dense than water? Which items are less dense than water? Can you guess what will happen to the egg when placed in water? Do you think anything different will happen to the egg when placed in salt water?

-1 glass of plain tap water
-1 glass of plain tap water + salt (amount varies)
-1 or 2 raw eggs, non-cracked

-Gently drop an egg into the tap water. What happened?
-Gently drop an egg into the salt water. What happened?
-Add more salt to the salt water. Did that change any of your results?

Our Results:
Our egg in plain water sank to the bottom of the cup.

Our first attempt at the salt water resulted in our egg being neutrally buoyant and hovering above the bottom of the cup:

So, we took a guess about what would happen if we added more salt. Based on the semi-floating egg above result, J guessed that the egg will "really float" when we added more salt.

He was right!

Conclusions (via J's own words):
-"Water can't hold up the egg."
-"Water with salt CAN hold up the egg. Science is amazing!"

The egg is more dense than plain water, but with enough salt, the egg is less dense than salt water.

Thanks, Stephanie, for this fun addition to our egg experiments!

Friday, March 8, 2013

An Awesome Review, Thanks Stroller Hikes

One day, when Nerdy Science was a baby (ie. Nerdy Baby), I was at the park with my son trying to get the wiggles out after school, before coming home for dinner. I ran into a friend and was telling her about this brand new blog adventure and how I was getting little sleep between setting it up and J waking up between 4-5a (it was pretty awful). I guess the passion for this science blog showed through my words (and maybe my baggy eyes). Another person playing with her daughter happened to overhear and told me about Stroller Hikes, a non-profit organization that encourages family outdoor activities together. She had done some web work for the group and put me in touch with the organizer. I was hoping to help write some of their science curricula, but it turned out that I went into hyper drive with the Pepsi Refresh campaign, then the grant, and now Science Saturdays (sorry, Stroller Hikes). They still have tons of information for parents about fun activities in the outdoors, including science activities. I highly suggest checking them out whether you are a Bay Area Local or not.

Since our Science Saturdays happen to take place in local parks, I decided to see if they would be interested in our science activities. They wrote a fantastic blurb about Nerdy Science's Science Saturdays on their website. I look forward to meeting more parents as the activities continue. If you would like to join in on the Science Saturday fun, please email me using the link to the left and I'll add you to our email list. Since we depend on weather and our family's health, we can only predict about 5 days in advance when the next Science Saturday will be. So far, April's activity is looking like April 20th or 27th. Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Magnet Detectives

Science Saturdays for 2013 started off with a bang! The weather brought us 70 degrees and partly cloudy, and it was a perfect morning for being outside and having some science fun!

Our lesson this month was on materials things are made out of. There are lots of materials on earth, but only a select few are attracted to magnets - those materials have iron in them (think steels). Many kids hypothesize that all metals stick to magnets. This is a good educated guess, but it's wrong (and it's ok to be wrong at this level of science understanding - that's how we learn).

I got the idea to bury things in the sandbox from J's preschool, where they bury paper/sequence in their school playground and the kids go find "treasures" (which we cannot throw away no matter how many times they fall on the floor and the Roomba threatens to vacuum them up).

The materials I buried:
  • Matchbox cars
  • Tin/jar lids (ie. Altoid boxes)
  • Sponges
  • Aluminum foil
  • Cheap Ikea baby silverware spoons
  • Milk caps
  • Candles
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Straws
  • Balloons
  • Marbles
  • Pennies
  • Bobby pins
  • Paper clips
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Army men
  • Rubber bands
  • Giant metal washers
  • Colored plastic chips with a metal band around them (they came in a magnet activity)
*note, I stayed away from anything sharp since burying nails in a public playground doesn't sit well with me as a mom.

As the kids dug up a treasure, they had to say what they thought it was made out of and whether or not it'll be attracted to a magnet. A good way to test would be to place the item on top of the magnet, then flip the magnet over. If the item sticks, it's attracted. If not, it's made up of a different material.

For those who were still interested in playing science after 15 minutes (seriously people, sometimes science day feels like a flash mob, but the adrenaline rush is awesome and the kids always have fun), I showed them that the magnet itself doesn't stick to cardboard, but the magnet has a field which can go through cardboard. I made up a dancing bug activity on the fly. It went over super well. All you need: a few pipe cleaners, a magnet, and a piece of cardboard. Place the magnet under the cardboard and watch your pipe cleaner bug move magically!

Big J (my husband), came up with the game, how many washers can your magnet hold. I also heard they were playing pass the washers with their magnetic wands as they ran around the playground.

One more game with magnets on playgrounds: hide the magnet. It's like hide-n-seek, only you're hiding the magnet (hopefully a larger, visible one) somewhere on the playground (preferably on a metal structure to narrow things down). Then the kids have to find it based on their knowledge of where they think it could be sticking.

Thanks for everyone who came to our fun Science Saturday. If you live in the Bay Area and would like to join us, shoot me an email using the link over to the left, and I'll add you to the email list for Science Saturdays. I try to hold them at least once a month and give at least a 5 day notice of events. They do depend on weather and our overall family's health (we love sharing, but not the flu).

**These are the magnetic wands we used: Learning Resources Magnetic Wands**