Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Restaurant Game

We have a hard time determining where to eat as a family. It is our form of entertainment on the weekends. However, we are very routine, and we get sick of eating the same thing over and over. One day, it was taking so long to decide where we were going to go, that we were walking the very thin line of whether we waited too long and J would have a disastrous meltdown. I decided that we were going to play restaurant at home. I'd be the hostess, waitress, and chef. I printed J a menu with a coloring page taken from the internet.

As part of the menu, I gave J a few choices. He had to select one of each group: protein, side/veggies, drink. His favorite menus at restaurants have pictures of the food, so I copied that for our menu. He and his daddy left the house and came in like they were entering the restaurant. I seated them and gave them the menu. J circled what he wanted to eat. I made it and served it.

Kids love to pretend! There's plenty of science in this game too. We talked about nutrition and a balanced meal, along with good choices to help our bodies grow big and strong (not just big). The menu activities can incorporate math games, ie. connect the dots, identifying patterns, etc. J loved this quick thrown together idea that it has become part of our normal week. Yesterday, he requested that he was the waiter and chef. Of course, I supervised him and suggested something that he can do with minimal help (chicken salad sandwiches). He mixed our canned chicken, which I opened, with 3 spoons of light mayonnaise and some cucumber pieces. We calculated how many pieces of bread we needed if mommy, daddy, and J all needed 2 slices each for their sandwiches. He also decided carrots would pair well with the sandwiches. This game also taught J that a lot goes into bringing food to the table and we should be respectful during dinner time.

I can't wait to add more to our game of restaurant. I think as he gets older, we'll start to associate a cost of dining at a restaurant and add money math to the game. ::squeal::

Friday, April 26, 2013

Static Electricity

I love simple, unexpected science lessons. It was a beautiful day which made for perfect static electricity hair when playing at the park. All he had to do to get the crazy hair was slide down the tunnel slide. Then he grounded himself by jumping off the slide onto the ground or shocking himself on a slide bolt to get his hair back to normal.

Fun quote: J saw the picture and stated, "I look like a puffer fish!"

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Science Saturday: Squishy Circuits

We had a successful Science Saturday for April! Thanks to everyone who attended.

Preparation for fun:

I made 4 batches of conductive dough: purple (left over from our trial-run of Squishy Circuits), blue, green, and yellow. I also made 3 batches of the insulating dough, without color. Per Squishy Circuits recommendation, I purchased small Safety Glasses from Amazon (affiliate link).

I bought out two local Radio Shack's inventory for buzzers and vibrating motors to end up with 5 of each. These were great because they already had wires on them. Less work for me!

I bought 10 of the 4-AA battery holder with snap connector from Fry's with the 9-volt snap connector. This was also great since I didn't have to solder wires, and I can remove the snaps and store the battery packs without worrying about shorts.

John and I crimped terminals (not exactly what we used, but think something like this) onto each wire. This allowed greater surface area contact for the connections. We also hot glued where the wire connected to the crimped plastic to reduce the pull-out possibilities (kids are hard on things). We also hot glued the joints of the LEDs after we broke one during our trial-run.

All of this preparation paid off. We didn't break the legs of any LED and no wire was pulled out from the crimper. Since everything survived, I now have a classroom set of small electrical components.

The table set-up:

I put down a plastic disposable tablecloth. This helped keep the play dough from acquiring dirt and other park related gross things. Safety glasses were required to participate (provided by us).

My favorite find from cleaning out my parent's house a few weeks ago was this drawer set, which is perfect for electrical components (previous use: Barbie's shoe sorter). Those are original stickers my sister and I put on in the 1980s. It just screams science fun!

Reminder about circuits and shorts:

The battery does not liked to be plugged into the same piece of play dough. There needs to be space or insulative dough between at least two separate conductive dough pieces.

We briefed everyone on "shorts" and how to prevent them. I also made wearing the safety glasses mandatory. We, thankfully, didn't have any shorts.

Totally awesome creations:

I did a happy face (the "hot dog" circuitry is on the underside and the wires stick through the insulative dough to the conductive dough underneath):

Doggy wagging his tail, a vibrating motor (by my husband, John- note the tail flying off at the end):

A few butterflies:

A rocket ship:

An airplane:

A train (that whistled):


Problems we encountered:

The biggest problem was that the dough dried out as we were playing and wasn't conducting well. Reforming/reworking the dough or switching the connector locations solved this problem.

The sunlight drowned out the LED lights, but if we cupped our hands over the play dough circuit, creating shade, the lights burned bright.

During the experiment, we shorted 2 LEDs. Lesson learned: don't connect the LEDs directly to the battery wires. They need resistance which is provided through the play dough.

Please note that due to crazy May scheduling, we will not hold a Science Saturday. We are tentatively thinking about repeating Stomp Rockets for June, with a date TBD.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Roller Coasters with the 4-5 year olds

I mentioned earlier in the week that I started a new birthday tradition of volunteering in the classroom. Marble Roller Coasters is my all time favorite lesson, so I thought the bigger kids at J's school would have fun with it. They did!

The main takeaway of the lesson was classifying if they had too much or too little energy. I did a small demonstration where I told them about potential energy and how things up high potentially fall down. If something is close to the ground, it doesn't have a lot of energy. If it's way up high, it has a lot of energy.

With that guidance, everyone started their roller coasters up high.

We also learned that there wasn't enough energy for the marble to make it all the way back up the track if the track was shaped like a "U".

They also learned if their drop was too steep, the marble would have too much energy and jump the track. They had to modify where they started the marble or the angle of the drop in order to keep the marble on the track because nobody wants to be on a roller coaster that jumps the track. That would be scary!

Most groups made roller coaster drops, some as long as half the length of the room. One group made a loop with their roller coaster.

Some groups crisscrossed their tracks with other groups.

All in all, the kids had a great time. I consider my birthday lesson a success!

He's holding up two fingers

J requested to look through old pictures this evening. We came across this one where he's flashing the #2 before he was even 2 months old!

I'd like to say he's been good at math since the beginning, but this was just a random "good timing" photo. However, he does love his numbers.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

New Nerdy Birthday Tradition

Don't get me wrong, I love making cakes (not so much eating them). However, our family also enjoys the laughter and excitement that comes with science, and we feel that's a fun thing to share on special occasions.

Last year, I brought cupcakes with a science lesson (balances) to his school for J's 3rd birthday. I decided to volunteer in the older class (4-5 yr olds) this year for my birthday. I brought Marble Roller Coasters for a quick lesson on energy! And, boy, did they have lots of energy! I'll blog about that experience hopefully later in the week.

J's 4th birthday is coming up in a few weeks. He's debating between roller coasters and Squishy Circuits. Of course, we'll still have cupcakes (though probably not the Sesame Street cupcakes).

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Squishy Circuits

We were introduced to Squishy Circuits at last year's Maker Faire. I thought they were very interesting, but J was a little too young as a new 3 yr old. Almost a year later, I've decided that J's old enough to try playing with circuits.

What is a circuit? 

It's a connection of electrical items through wires/conductive material. Metal, water, human skin are all examples of conductive materials. Metal is intuitive when it comes to conducting electricity. You can feel electricity conduct through your skin if you rub your feet on the carpet and then touch someone else or something metal (static electricity is shocking). You also don't want to be in the water during a lightning storm since water conducts electricity.

How do circuits work?

Each circuit needs a power source (ie. a battery pack) and at least one component (ie an LED, motor, buzzer, etc). Basically, the items in a circuit all need to "hold hands" in some way, without the battery pack being connected to the same side of a component or itself, without a component. If a connection is missing/broken, the circuit won't work. Electricity is also lazy. It likes to take the easiest path around the circuit. If there are two wires, one has a component and one does not, the electricity will go through the wire without the component since it's less work (be careful since this can also "short" your circuit - read below).

Making the Squishy Dough

The "conductive dough" is basically the standard homemade play dough recipe we've been using for J. The salt + tap water makes it conductive.

The "insulating dough" is basically pie crust. It uses distilled water which doesn't conduct electricity. There is also no salt in the insulating dough.

Prepping the components

Per the suggestion of Squishy Circuits, we crimped terminals onto our wires to increase the contact area for better conduction. For consistency, we made all of our positive (+) wires red and negative (-) wires black. The LEDs did not get crimped terminals.

Constructing circuits

Please closely supervise your kids to prevent short circuits. The circuit gets grumpy if you try to plug both ends of the battery into the same wire/piece of dough or the electricity goes around a path without a component. This causes a short circuit. The battery can get very hot or explode when shorted.

The best way we found to start with the circuits was to make a "hot dog". We rolled out two "worms" of conductive dough (ours was colored purple) and one "worm" of insulating dough (ours wasn't colored, kind of whitish in color). We made the insulating dough longer than the conductive dough, so the conductive dough didn't accidentally touch. Touching conductive dough pieces together is bad and could cause a short circuit.

With the + (red) side of the battery plugged into on side of the hot dog bun and the - (black) side of the battery plugged into the other side of the hot dog bun, we placed an LED straddling the insulating dough, with a leg in each of the buns. Note that LEDs are directional and only work in the proper orientation. The longer side of the LED is +. If the LED does not work, flip it around. If it still doesn't work, check your connections and make sure everything is properly attached (or "holding hands").

You can add rows of LEDs down the hot dog. We made ours look like a stoplight with red, yellow, and green lights. These lights are in parallel. If I remove a light, all of the other lights remain lit at the same level as they were before I removed the light.

Now if we were to make a "Big Mac" with 3 buns, we can connect the lights in series. If you remove a light, the other light is affected.

You can also add motors, buzzers, and vibrators to your circuits too to see what they do and how they react.

J and his friends' favorite thing was trying to make a face with a light-up nose. We connected a side of the battery to each eye and then connected the LED for the light-up nose. We used extra dough for eyebrows and smiley faces.

So what does this cost?

The dough cost is pretty minimal. We had everything except distilled water in our cupboards.

LEDs run under $1/light. I found 60 larger ones for $20 at a local store.

Motors, buzzers, and vibrators are ~$2-4/piece. Some of these components came with wires already attached.

The battery pack was $1.30. We had leftover wires from our homemade shake table.

The dough is supposed to keep in a zipped baggie for a few weeks. J has already requested to play circuits 4 times since yesterday. Remember, this is a closely supervised activity for the kids. Short circuits are easy to come by and can be quite dangerous. Please do not let your kid do this activity alone.

We'll be doing Squishy Circuits at the next Science Saturday (tentatively April 20th, morning). If you'd like specific details of when and where, please email me using the address on the sidebar << . I give details the week of the event since we depend on the weather.

Update December 2018:

Remember to clean off your component leads before you store for any length of time. Salt of the dough corrodes the metal. Use rubbing alcohol to clean any parts that touch the conducting dough. The little boy above is now a cub scout doing the science elective for Webelos!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Tentative April Science Saturday & LVA's 20th Celebration

I'll be working this week/weekend on the trial run for the next Science Saturday, tentatively, April 20th (let's hope for nice weather). Stay tuned for the details/lesson plan!

I hope you had safe spring breaks and a wonderful Easter season. I was MIA for a week while I attended LVA's 20th celebration (my high school's 20th anniversary show). More pics of the LVA celebration and some famous LVA alums.

LVA was seriously the best thing that ever happened to me. I am so thankful for the support and acceptance I received in those crucial years of my personal development. I wasn't the most artistic of the bunch, but I also wasn't harassed for wanting to excel back in the days when being a nerd wasn't cool.

I hope every kid gets the chance to feel special and included during their educational experience.

We had a great time at the celebrations! I was told that the money raised this weekend will go towards helping buy new math books since they haven't been replaced in 15 yrs or so. I'm glad I was able to support the cause!