Tag Archives: Science

Science Weekly: Yeast Experiment

I was recently making soft pretzels at home and realized I have a huge tub of yeast. Since the dough was rising while Cam was asleep I thought she might get a kick out of experimenting with the yeast by itself.

Our question was, what are the best conditions to get yeast to activate? I set out a number of bowls and put yeast in each of them. I also set out some salt and some sugar. Cam added salt and sugar and nothing to the yeast in the bowls. Then we poured in hot, cold and warm water. Technically you don’t need to have sugar in the water, but without adding anything else the yeast never activated. 

It took a good five to ten minutes to really start seeing results, but once it got going, it got going. She had lots of questions about what was going on and wanted to start mixing sugar, salt, and yeast to the bowls and doing a little experimenting of her own. She realized the more sugar you add, the quicker you see results and the more foam you get. 

I think the most interesting take away from this was an interest in our own digestive system. Cam asked where the gas from the bubbles was coming from and I explained that the yeast was eating the sugar and producing gas. That was funny to her because it’s basically a fart. :) But it lead to A LOT of questions about how our bodies work to process food. I explained a little and then got out our Eye Wonder Human Body book to read more. 

Science Weekly: Making Crystals

I kind of fell apart this summer on Summer of Science. Oh well. I’m picking up the thread and instead of trying to do one thing a day I’m going for one thing a week. Last week (as this series will run a week behind) we did a little experiment with making crystals. If you follow me on Instagram you will recognize the pictures and the activity. The series here on the blog is intended to document what we’ve done and make it possible for you to recreate it at home. 

Why I chose this project: Cam found her rocks and crystals and has been playing with them. We started talking about minerals and rocks and reading up about them a bit. I thought she might be interested to see how crystals form. 

img_3553 img_3555 img_3582

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What we did:

The set up was pretty simple. String tied to a stick and dangled in a jar. I mixed equal parts hot water and three different substances: table salt, sugar, and Borax. I had Cam help mix up the solutions and then dip the strings into the jars.

We left them out for a week and she would check them periodically throughout the day, every day. The top right picture shows the Borax crystals after about 30 minutes. The picture on the bottom shows them after a week. The sugar solution only developed mold, no crystals. I think next time I would go for another type of salt, kosher or sea, instead. Either that or made the sugar solution more concentrated. 

I had Cam draw pictures of the results in a journal and dictate comments to me about what had happened. She enjoyed that part of the experiment too. Next up is talking about how this relates to actual rock and crystal formation.

Summer of Science: Round Up 3

I didn’t really go with any type of theme this week. We just sort of found science in our everyday lives. For pictures see my Instagram feed to the right. You can click on it to bring up the website and see larger images. 

Day 1: Polymer Science

Cam had a friend over today and I amazed them both by sticking pencils through a water-filled plastic bag. I got it all set up and then asked them what they thought would happen if I stabbed a pencil through the bag. Of course they thought it would burst or leak, but it didn’t. Read about why and see where I got the idea here on Tinkerlab.

Day 2: Sick Day

Cam was sick all morning so all plans went out the window. 

Day 3: Telescope

We got out the telescope tonight and looked at the moon and Mars. Tom is still figuring out how to use the telescope so sometimes it’s easiest to just point it at the biggest, brightest thing in the night sky- the moon. 

Day 4: Garden Harvest

More of our tomatoes and tomatillos were ready for picking. We’ll be making salsa this weekend!

Day 5: Poetry Friday

I love the idea of combining the language arts piece with science! I recently bought the Poetry Friday Anthology for Science to use with Cam and in the library this next year. 

Day 6: Legos

Cam has really been into Legos for the last few weeks. We’ve been getting the little $5 sets at Target when we go and she comes right home and builds them. To me it’s amazing. She sits down, opens the packages of pieces, lays them out, puts out the direction booklet and then builds. We recently swapped out her Duplos for the smaller traditional Legos, but she hasn’t been as interested in building from scratch and her mind. I know she will get there though watching how she loves to build and play with these sets. 

Day 7: Aerospace Museum of California

Today is Father’s Day and we’re two of Cam’s four grandpas to the Aerospace Museum of California. We went two years ago and even at almost three Cam had fun looking at all the planes and models. I think she’ll be even more excited this year.

Summer of Science: Round Up 1

I decided to do some light exploration and experiments this past week because Cam had been watching an episode of Curios George that featured rainbows. In the episode one of the characters shows George how to make a rainbow with a bowl of water, a piece of paper, and a flashlight. Cam was totally fascinated and completely without prompting or any input from me, wandered off after the episode was over and tried to do the experiment herself. She was a little disappointed it didn’t quite work, but I promised to help her out with it the next day. Instead I thought we might take some time this week and explore light in number of different ways. 

For pictures see my Instagram feed to the right. 

Day 1: Reading

I bought this new book called How Things Work (there are several books with that title, but this one is new and more at a preschool level). It just so happens that it has a couple pages dedicated to light, so we read the introduction to understand a little bit more about light. 

Day 2: Shadow Play

After learning a bit about light we went outside with a stuffed rabbit and set her up on the driveway. I traced her shadow and we came inside. Thirty minutes later we went back out to retrace the shadow. Before coming inside the first time I asked Cam if she thought the shadow would move (she said no). Then I reminded her of the question when we went back out.

She was amazed that it had moved and we talked about what was happening. I asked her if she knew what the light source was outside that was helping cast the shadow (she knew it was the sun). I asked is she thought the sun moved across the sky or stayed in the same place. After some thought she said she thought it moved. I explained that this was why the shadow appeared to move across the driveway and that the distance the shadow had moved was also the distance the sun had moved across the sky in those 30 minutes. She was hooked. We had to come back out several more times (before the sun dipped behind a tree and obscured the shadow). We were also able to notice that the shadows lengthened and changed shape. The reason why was a lot harder for her to understand, but the more we discuss it I’m sure she’ll begin to grasp it better. 

She wanted to do it again the next day with some other toys. 

Day 3: Spectroscope

This was kind of a flop. The device is a little bit like a periscope, but is supposed to help diffract light so you can see a rainbow Cam had a hard time seeing the rainbow in the spectroscope and she wasn’t as engaged with it. The thing is, you don’t really need the “fancy” set up with a paper towel tube and paper slit to see a rainbow in a CD. Just put it in a light environment and move it around. I thought she would like this experiment more because it was very similar to what she saw and attempted on Curious George. I was wrong. 

We did end up getting out the prism and made some more shadow outlines with My Little Ponies and she was a into those for a little while. 

Day 4: Water Wall

We ended up upgrading our water table. Cam hadn’t been overly interested in setting it up and playing with it so we got a water wall. It allows her to dump water into the top and then there is a variety of cups, strainers, buckets, chutes, and funnels that fit into holes in the wall. They catch the water and divert it down the wall into the bottom pool. It’s very cool and a neat experiment in playing with gravity and water. 

Day 5: Moon sighting

Today we are going to head out and look for the moon. It rose this morning between 5:30 and 6 and will set sometime around 9 which means it’s really only up when the sun is up. Ramadan, the Muslim holy month dedicated to fasting and reflection, begins tonight at sundown. The start of the month is begun by sighting the new moon. This is an interesting discussion to have with Cam as it ties in history to the science of time in talking about using the lunar versus the solar calendar. 

Summer of Science

100dayspledgeI recently came across this project called The 100 Day Project. It encourages you to do one thing for 100 days, with an emphasis on making or doing something. The project technically started back in April, but I just don’t have time to do this kind of thing every day during the school year and I feel like I had my plate full this spring. So instead I decided to start late (which they still encourage you to do) and use it to frame my summer. For this blog I will be doing #100daysofscience with Cam. It will be 100 days of a simple, easy, and fun science exploration each day. 

I have the first week planned out and I think I will try and center weeks around a theme or concept that way it doesn’t feel like a bunch of disjointed projects. It might also allow us to hit on something Cam is interested in and explore more deeply. 

I will be posting (hopefully!) a picture each day on Instagram. I kind of hate taking pictures daily and I also don’t really like having yet another social media platform to check in on, so we’ll see if I can manage. You can see my latest in the widget in the sidebar over there. ———> I haven’t quite decided how to balance Instagram and the blog, but I’m thinking of writing a weekly round-up post where I share the pictures and a brief explanation of what the experiment was (and how successful and popular it was) so anyone interested can recreate it. 

In addition to these posts I am going to try and have a Friday Five book post each week this summer. While I enjoy sharing about our urban farm, our parenting successes and failures, and food, I am most passionate about books and I want that to come through here more. I haven’t been all that enthused about blogging lately (see my previous comment about a full plate this spring), and I want to find that passion again, because I do love it when I do it. 

One last note, I am also going to be doing this with my library/book review blog so if you’re following me on Instagram you’ll be seeing those photos coming through too. That one will be #100daysofdiversebooks. Quite frankly you may wish to see those too. Many of them (most) will be picture books that I test out on Cam and am looking at with an eye toward adding them to my library’s collection so they’ll be relevant here as well. 

Here’s to one more week in school and summer on it’s way!

Garden Plan 2016

I spent the last few weeks planning out the garden because, as it turns out, some of my seeds need to be started inside this week. We are very fortunate to live in a mild winter climate, meaning we are in the 50s during the day through the winter (with a few days in the 40s) and nights hovering in the upper 30s. Until a few years ago we seemed to only have a handful of nights that dropped to freezing or below, but I’ve noticed the last few years we’ve had a couple weeks worth of nights that drop down into the upper 20s. Brr! It does not snow where we live in California (although contrary to popular belief there are places it does snow in the state) so once the weather starts warming up in early March we are home free for planting. 

The bigger challenge for our gardening is how hot it gets in July, August and September. There are several stretches of days where temperatures reach 105 and while there is often a delta breeze to cool us off in the evening we have a week or two of airless days. This causes even some of the hardiest plants to wilt and requires a lot of extra watering to pull the food crops through. And water is scarce out here in the West right now. I’m hoping to get some rain barrels and fill them this winter (we almost never get rain in the summer months) to supplement. 

Last year we ripped out our lawn (too thirsty!) and put down bark and a number of other ground covers like lantana and various ornamental grasses. This also freed up space in our sunny front yard for a real garden. Our house faces due north and the backyard is blessedly shaded by an enormous fruitless mulberry all summer long. Excellent for cooling bills, terrible for vegetable gardens. I can grow cooler season crops in the back and occasionally I’ll get some sun-loving plants to limp along. We never got tomatoes. Last year, with the lawn gone, I tried out straw-bale gardening and it worked incredibly well. I’ve never gotten so many peppers and squash and beans and tomatoes. This year I want to expand it and plant more of the crops we tend to use while keeping a few crops and the bee hive in the backyard. 

Here are the layouts/plans for my front and back gardens (to see them larger and more clearly, click on the image to open it in a new page):

Front Garden Plan

Back garden plan

Summer of Mess: Oobleck

IMG_6257One of the most basic science/sensorial projects. Mix water and corn starch and it makes this funky liquid/solid. It will drip and run, but it also becomes firm if pressed, patted or squished into your hands. 

This project went a lot better than the marker explosions and entertained Cam for 30 minutes. Plus she asked to do it again! I put down a splat mat on the kitchen floor then dumped a box of cornstarch into a tub. I had Cam pour the water in and mix, first with a spoon then with her hands. We got out some dinosaur figures and our plastic play dough toys. I also threw in a colander. There ended up being a bit too much water so it was a little too runny, but it sat out on a warm day and by evening the consistency was a lot better. Ultimately it didn’t matter, Cam loved it.

IMG_6258If you try this…

…know that if it falls on the floor it will dry fairly quickly and can be easily swept up.

…add some food coloring. I didn’t have time or the inclination to do that, but it would make it even cooler. 

…add the water slowly. I didn’t know the ratio so we just poured and mixed. This lead to oobleck that was a wee bit too runny. 

 

Summer of Mess: Sink or Float?

IMG_6248This was a perfect activity for a hot day. We gathered up a bunch of objects to test if they would sink or float. We carried them outside to the water table and tossed them in one by one. 

The most interesting conversation we had:

Me: Do you think you would float?

Cam: Yes, because I breathe air.

Me: Are you thinking about your lungs? [I thought this might harken back to a conversation she had last week with my stepdad about lungs and air.]

Cam: Yes.

IMG_6250 IMG_6251

If you try this…

…model what it means to make a prediction. I asked Cam each time we tossed in another object to make a prediction and it took her a little while to catch on to what I meant even with an explanation. I think it would have been faster if I asked her to make one and then modeled it myself. 

…be sure to get a variety of objects including bowls and containers. These are harder to know if they will sink or float. You can also fill them up with water and see if they float when full. We put in several of these and I’m really glad we did because it led to a discussion of boats and buoyancy. 

…this is a great time to break out the loose parts. We got out jewels, rubber bands, Christmas lightbulb covers (it’s a long story), plastic dinosaurs, buttons, and plastic ice cubes. If you’re willing to sacrifice a few, wooden objects might be interesting to throw in because they will float. 

Summer of Mess: Egg Geodes

This is a pretty simple project that I got from Tinkerlab. It shows how salt and other materials form crystals once water has evaporated. It’s also a great way to teach observation (you have to have the eggs sit for several days) and potentially journaling or recording the progress of the experiment. 

All you do is clean out some egg shells, mix water with salt and food coloring, and then pour into the egg shells. They sit for several days as the water evaporates out and the salt forms crystals inside the shells. We also mixed water with Borax.

Cam did all the mixing and I helped her pour just so it didn’t end up all over the place. I also placed a large baking sheet under the materials to catch spills more easily. 

24 hours

24 hours

Five days

Five days

 If you try this…

…I think you could add some glitter to the water mixture. We only added food coloring, but glitter, especially fine glitter might make this a wee bit more sparkly. 

…use Tinkerlab’s suggestion and try other mixtures. Next time I would use baking soda, another type of salt (we only had Kosher on hand), and maybe gelatin. This shows what materials form crystals and which don’t. The gelatin would show something else entirely!

…I would premake the mixtures and have Cam add just the food coloring. The recipe calls for hot water which I microwaved to achieve, but heating the water on the stove and stirring in the salt (and Borax) would have gotten more of the salt into the water and would probably have a more impressive effect once the water evaporates. The more I watch the geodes form, the more important I think this is. I think we did not get enough of the Borax and salt incorporated into our solutions to make better geodes.

…it is the perfect summer activity. You have to wait for the water to evaporate and the warmer it is the fast this will happen. It might be neat with older kids to try the experiment at the height of summer and during the winter and compare how long it takes for the evaporation to occur. 

Activity In the Hive: Baby Chicks

We are a family of pets, but not your usual ones. There are no cats or dogs here, nor will there be anytime soon. We have rabbits and a turtle, exotic birds and fish, and chickens and ducks. We originally got the chickens for fun and we haven’t been disappointed. They are ridiculous and most of us could watch them run around doing silly things for hours. Cam loves to chase them around the yard and pick them up. We are also pleased to get the most delicious eggs from them. We are not big egg eaters, but I haven’t had to buy eggs in a couple years and our neighbors and coworkers are always happy to receive a dozen fresh eggs.

About a week and a half ago we went to the feed store to get a new batch of chickens. This is the third time we’ve had baby chicks and I think there is something incredibly magical and special about having such new life in the house. It’s an incredible lesson for Cam in how fragile, delicate, and precarious life is. When we buy the chicks we buy several, both for company and because there is the distinct possibility that one or more will die. We have been lucky that this has not happened, but I think if it did (and even the discussion about the possibility) is a good experience for Cam. I know we have this innate desire to protect our children from all that is bad and scary and sad in the world, but I would rather Cam was exposed to some of that in a safe environment and that we show her how to cope well with it. The thing is, she lives in this world and she will experience these let downs and emotions and it’s important that she knows how to process those emotions and move through them without getting lost in them. I know the experience of a small chick dying while she is only three will not give her profound understanding of death or sadness, but it’s a step toward that understanding and a part of her long learning process. 

The baby chicks also grow incredibly fast and are surprisingly self-sufficient and capable even at a day old. It’s an amazing thing to see them get bigger so quickly and to marvel at how complex life is. It never ceases to amaze us that they just know how to be upon emerging from the egg and with no parental support. 

It doesn’t hurt that they are adorable either (click the image to see it larger):

New chicks