Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Rolobox: Car Wheels

I am at times an impulse shopper, especially if the item can be used towards many days of science fun. I was searching Amazon for cheap cardboard or reusable wheels that could be used with our sail/balloon cars. I did not find something compatible at first search, but I did find this product that seemed interesting: Rolobox Reuseable Wheel Kit for Boxes (affiliate link). It's just another tool we can add to our imagination and science play with boxes.

I like the minimal reusable packaging

I purchased Rolobox over the weekend and it arrived at my doorstep this afternoon, so we played a little bit after dinner. I'll admit that I didn't read the product description thoroughly before purchasing. The wheels are much larger than I expected. The wheels and axles are easy to assemble though parents should do the hole punching into the cardboard. Rolobox website shows a pencil for puncturing, but our shoe box needed scissors. Please use caution when cutting holes into cardboard (I am clumsy, which one reason I recommend hole punch + skewer sticks for axles when it comes to our toilet paper racers).

J and his new race car

Surprisingly, we had a shoebox handy (one that has outlasted the pair of shoes that came with them). I also thought a Cars box was pretty relevant for a (race) car science demonstration. It seems like it would work with tissue boxes and any corrugated cardboard box. 

Sciency things to do with makeshift car and Rolobox Wheels:
  • Attach the wheels so you can put things in the box. How does the car move with different items in them? How does the car move when loaded down with rocks? How does the car move when loaded with tissues?
  • How does the car roll on carpet vs. wood floor vs. linoleum/tile?
  • Flip the box so the bottom of the box is the top of the car. Add a sail, balloon(s), or fan/motor(s). Can you get your car to move without pulling on the included string?
  • Cut your car into a more aerodynamic shape (think "teardrop" or more like a triangle). Test it using gravity on a makeshift ramp (we use particle board as ramps) How does a more aerodynamic vehicle move in comparison to a boxy vehicle?
Now if only I could find reusable wheels small enough to attach to our toilet paper rolls (our most plentiful recyclable) that would also be light enough to move with simple kid power (blowing)...

Disclosure: I purchased Rolobox Wheels with my own money. Opinions are my own.

Official Rolobox Site and Rolobox's recommended place to purchase.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Kiwi Crate: Dancing Robot

I was featured in an ivillage piece on activities you could do with recyclablesKiwi Crate was also featured in that same article. A day or two after it was published online, Kiwi Crate had contacted me praising Nerdy Science and offering me a free sample crate. I knew J was excited about our magnet detectives activity we had planned for the park the following week, and the moving Robot Rally crate seemed pretty sciency.

Kiwi Crate is a monthly-subscription activity kit, based out of the Bay Area. What we loved is that everything we needed to complete their activities was included in the one box (even kid-friendly scissors and a glue stick). I didn't tell J about it, but I let him be surprised by the nice green package on our doorstep. He was super excited the day it arrived!

We immediately opened it and got to work. The activity crate came with a tin, some popsicle sticks, wooden block, and double sided poster hanging tape to attach the robot parts to the body of the robot. It also included a magnet wand, a piece of cardboard, and a maze.

J with his robot arm
The magic behind the Robot Rally is that a simple tin (like an Altoid/mint box) is attracted to magnets.

The attraction is strong enough that the magnet sticks to the tin through cardboard!

When you place the magnet under the cardboard and the tin on top of the cardboard (above the magnet), you can move the magnet and see what happens to the robot tin on the top.

Kiwi Crate included a few mazes for the robot to follow, but J was most happy just seeing the robot dance (the maze frustrated him a little).

With our older kids who came to our first Science Saturday of 2013, Magnet Detectives, we showed them the cardboard + magnet trick, but we used pipe cleaners instead (much cheaper than mint boxes, especially at the last minute). Using the pipe cleaners, they created bugs and other critters and made them dance/move with the magnet.

Thanks Kiwi Crate for such a fun, learning activity!

Disclosure: Kiwi Crate sent me the Robot Rally crate as a sample crate. Opinions are my own.


Edited 5/28/13: Kiwi Crate is offering friends and family discounts to Nerdy Science blog readers until June 3, 2013.

Edited 7/20/13: Deleted expired offers.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Our first homegrown cucumber!

Here's what it looked like in our garden on May 16:

We could have let it grow a little bigger, but we were anxious to try it! We ate half of it with our chicken sandwiches for dinner tonight. J wants to take the rest to his teachers and for him to eat at lunch time tomorrow. He's so proud of what he has helped to grow.

Side note: It's a good thing we like cucumbers since there are many more to come. This particular variety tastes like what is sold in grocery stores and doesn't have a bitter rind that I've tasted in some other homegrown cucumbers.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Equal and opposite reactions, a la J

J: The floor is hard because when I fall, it rips holes in my pants.

 Got to love Newton's 3rd Law explained by a 4 year old, or maybe his own definition of the hardness scale. John has been scratching rocks with other rocks to try to explain hardness. Either way, I found it an amusing conversation this morning.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Gardening with very little space

I feel that gardening is a very important way to get kids interested in what they eat. It's a good way to get them to try something new (most likely veggies!!). J gets first dibs at our garden harvest, washed of course with hose water, also from the garden.

Last year I posted about gardening with no space. We moved downstairs in our complex since that post and basically inherited a side yard that is getting a good amount of sun. With the move, we were able to purchase a planter.

We selected Patio Pickers Raised Garden Kit since it was a decent size and came with wheels. The wheels were an important feature as we wanted to move the planter for optimum sun (ie. on one side of the yard for morning sun and the other side for afternoon sun). I love the "cover" (think plastic trashbag + binder clips), which keeps the buggies and weeds out.

I think we didn't have good luck with in-ground gardens because our soil kind of sucked, the sun in the designated gardening spot wasn't great, and the animals, bugs, and weeds took over and got to the plants before we could. I'm also not sure if I watered correctly or not, which added to the stress. I really love the planter so far. We filled it with planting soil and planted our starter plants. We bought a green/red pepper plant, a regular cucumber plant, and a lemon cucumber plant. As much as I love homegrown tomatoes, I just don't have the desire to fail at tomatoes again (4 summers in a row). The watering system is super easy (just fill the cylinder until water starts dripping out the bottom hole).

Planted on March 23:

May 12 (note the overflowing cucumber plants):

We had 6 green bean (blue lake pole bean variety) plants and a sunflower that we grew from scratch. We gave the beans a tomato cage to grow up. Little did I know, our cucumber plants would take over the cage and climb as well. May 16, it just keeps getting bigger and bigger:

I'm a little worried our green pepper plant in the back won't get enough sun, but we'll have many, many cucumbers and green beans.

Our strawberries from last year survived the winter (barely), and that really excited me because I've heard from multiple sources that strawberries do better the second year.

March 23

May 12
Here's our biggest cucumber so far (May 16):

So far we've had 3 green beans and 2 strawberries - not too bad for mid-May. We have another strawberry that should be ready and some cucumbers that should be ready very soon.

Homegrown green beans are the best! I'm hoping for a big harvest so I get some too.

**We purchased our gardening materials at our local hardware store. All opinions in this post are mine.

Monday, May 13, 2013

J visits the gait lab

My poor baby, J, was sick for his fourth birthday last week. It started the day before his bday party and lasted through the weekend until Wednesday of last week. Wednesday, he was still banned from school but feeling good enough to be compliant while I got some work done at the office. For fun, I thought I'd show him what I do.

I manage a motion capture laboratory where we use special cameras to analyze the forces and moments on knees through gait analysis. Gait is a fancy term for walking. Ultimately, we want to find out where knee osteoarthritis starts before symptoms appear in order to develop interventions to slow or even prevent the progression of osteoarthritis (the degeneration of the cartilage - that slippery material that helps your knee move without friction/creaking). Currently, osteoarthritis is diagnosed once you feel pain, and you can only treat the symptoms.

Well, my little guy doesn't know the particulars of my job except that I have access to some cool science equipment. We decided to do a quick collection with J. We stuck reflective markers on our subject. The markers are plastic balls covered in reflective material, like what's on running shoes. The special cameras then send out infrared light to detect the x, y, z position of each marker during each frame of the collection period (typically 120 capture points/second - aka 120 Hz sampling rate). We have force plates (sensors) embedded in the floor too.

J with the motion capture markers

J insisted on the forehead marker

Then instead of walking, I had him dance around. Here's what was reconstructed in the computer (looped twice). The red arrow is the force J is exerting on the floor.

John just showed it to him for the first time, and J was able to point out his feet, legs, and arms. He loved it.

Then just a fun picture of J and the floor plunger (technical term "floor panel lifter"). It's just not working:

I actually got work done too! Win win!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Food Chain, a la J

"If the plants die, then everything will die too: all the sharks, all the lions..."

Monday, May 6, 2013

Free Online Child Nutrition and Cooking Course

Stanford is offering a free online Child Nutrition and Cooking Course. Today was the first official day.

I decided at the last minute to join the class this morning. We are minimal cookers in our family. It's hard as two working parents to cook every night of the week. If you don't count sandwich and quesadilla nights, we have maybe 8-10 dishes we repeat over and over. We also eat out on weekends as our form of entertainment. I wanted to see if the course would offer at least some fresh ideas on how to eat in more.

After joining the class, I realized a big challenge in at least the first assignment. A veggie dish appetizer which is due on Saturday. We've been sick around here, we don't have any cookable veggies (my family has sensory/texture issues/preferences with cooked veggies), and we're going to be busy most of the week, including the days leading up to Saturday. If I was going to complete the assignment, I needed to do it today or tomorrow. If I waited till tomorrow, I'd have a great amount of anxiety. If it was something I cooked with veggies, my family wouldn't eat it.

Anyways, I decided not to cook but rather prepare the raw veggies in a fun display for my picky eaters. There's enough veggies in there to satisfy everyone. They don't have to eat the ones they don't like. There's also roasted garlic hummus for those who like to dip.

Based on my posts on Nerdy Science and now this one, can you tell we like vehicles in our house? Here's my bus scene. We have many different veggie people, zucchini as wheels, and bell pepper benches and greenery. The rainbow of colors is good, as each color contains different nutrients. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to share it, but I decided to make it instead of watching The Voice. It was that important to me. I also submitted for grading before posting this. The time stamps should be in my favor. I'm satisfied with it:

Assignments are peer reviewed, so I'm a little nervous that it's not cooked. After 6 years of being done, I forgot how anxious school makes me.

We'll see how J likes it tomorrow since he's the ultimate judge and who I'm doing this for. He may not eat it since he's still not feeling well. This stomach bug he's had since Friday just won't go away!

Biomechanics a la J

Super sleepy, sick J revelation: "See this?" [points to folds on palms of hands]

"It's so we can pick up things like our toys."

Recycling a la J

"When someone gives us something to recycle, we use it again, like I built a rocket ship out of a bottle."