Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Summer Science Camp: Sharpie T-Shrits

This is both a Summer Science Camp idea and a previous-post update.

The pinwheel Sharpie t-shirts are a great summer science camp project.  Take the shirts, markers and rubbing alcohol outside and get creative.  Bonus: when you're outside there's less worry about alcohol fumes bothering anyone!

The update: when I was getting ready to do this project with a group of 24 students, I was trying to find some enough of the same type of container to stretch the shirts around, without making a huge investment. 

I decided to with with 4" PVC pipe (available from hardware stores), cut into 5 or 6" lengths.  You do need a hacksaw to cut the pieces, and the cutting can be a bit messy, so you'll have to determine if this option makes sense for you. 

It worked quite well for several reasons:
  • The tie-dye designs don't usually go beyond 4", so it was plenty large.
  • The smaller size (as compared to a shoe box or dish pan) made it easier for young hands to manipulate and stretch the rubber band around.
  • The smaller size was nice for students sitting almost shoulder-to-shoulder at tables. 
The pictures included in this post are of shirts created by students in grades 3 through 5.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Science Camp: Chemistry Demonstrations

If you're running your science camp in a full science lab, and you're comfortable with chemistry, consider putting on a chemistry "magic" show for your campers. 

While this doesn't have the same hands-on, active participation as most science camp activities, the students loved it!  They oohed and aahed and were captivated the entire time. 

Grab your science supply catalogs and look for the chemistry demonstrations (I've gotten them from Flinn Scientific, Ward's Natural Science and Nasco) - they have kits that contain the chemicals (and often anything else you might need, minus the glassware) you need for each demonstration.  Look for demonstrations that involve color changes or some other wow-factor.  It's fun shopping, but if you're not careful, you could blow your whole camp budget on this one session - choose wisely and realistically.

Make sure you follow all safety precautions - wear your goggles and lab coat and make all the students wear goggles as well. 

When you're "performing." show the students the solutions you'll be mixing together and ask them for predictions as to what will happen.  Make sure you react appropriately amazed and awed by the reactions, as they occur!
I don't expect the students to learn a whole lot from this session (they're elementary students and there's no way they'd understand the chemistry), instead I use it as an opportunity to build their enthusiasm for science and just have a little fun (it is summer, after all!).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Summer Science Camp: Slow Car Race

Students are each given a length of lumber (the size doesn't really matter, just make sure everyone has the same sized piece) and a matchbox car.  They need to create a ramp the car can travel down, but as slowly as possible. 

The students can position the wood in any way they wish and add anything to the wood to slow the car.  My only caveat is that they cannot ruin the wood - at the end of the "race" they need to be able to remove anything they've added and return it to me in the same condition in which they were given it (so it can be used again for another group). 

I spread out a variety of supplies:
  • a variety of types of paper
  • rubberbands
  • masking tape
  • glue
  • yarn
  • string
  • thread
  • toothpicks
  • popsicle sticks
  • straws

Students are welcome to ask for other supplies - if it's something I have in the lab, they're welcome to use it. 

The ramp construction must be completed within one session.  Even students who build quickly can remain busy by constantly testing and trying to improve upon their design.

Once construction is complete, all the ramps are set up.  The cars are placed at the top of the ramp and released at the same time.  The last car to reach the bottom is declared the winner.  Any cars that don't reach the bottom of the ramp (put a 5 or 10 minute time limit on the race) are disqualified from the competetion.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Summer Science Camp: Egg Drop

Egg drops are a classic science activity for a reason - they're fun!

The overall idea is this - you create some sort of packaging to protect a raw egg.  The protected egg is then carried to the top of a tall ladder or building and dropped to the ground.  The goal is to have the egg remain in tact. 

There are lots of variations....
...you can restrict the dimensions of the finished carrier.
...you can restrict the weight of the finished carrier.
...you can restrict the materials allowed in construction.
...or you can make it a free-for-all. 

A Google search will provide you with lots of ideas on how you might want to run your egg drop.  It will also provide you with grading guidelines and rubrics, if you're interested in using this activity during the school year. 

The younger the students, the fewer restrictions I'd place on the project. 

When we ran our science camp for elementary students, we had small boxes for each person/group to use as a starting point and then a whole variety of supplies, such as
  • yarn
  • fabric
  • packing peanuts
  • sponges
  • cotton balls
  • newspaper
  • balloons
  • straws
  • popsicle sticks
  • cotton batting
  • anything else we could think of
Because the students were you, we didn't put any restrictions on their construction - anything, inside or outside the box, was fair game. 

Students had one session to build.  For testing, a custodian carried the eggs in their carriers to one section of roof and dropped them for us.  We dropped them onto a black-top surface.  The kids were really excited to see how each would fare. 

Make sure you have a way to wash away any raw egg (i.e. a hose or bucket of water) that may get on to things.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Just For Fun: DNA Scarf

If you're a knitting science teacher and are looking for a new project to kick off summer vacation, have I got one for you....

the DNA scarf! 

The pattern comes from Two Sheep, for free.  You do need to know how to cable (which really is easier than it looks), but other than that, it's a simple pattern. 

How fun would it be to wear your new scarf when you start talking DNA next school year?

And if you're not a knitter, maybe you know one whom you could appropriately bribe to make one for you!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Solubility: The Floating Letter

Use a graphite pencil to write a letter (or other small figure) on one side of a sugar cube.

Place the sugar cube into a glass of water. (A white cup works best for visibility.  Or you could use a clear glass and place it on a piece of white paper).

Wait and watch.

The sugar will dissolve in the water, but the graphite from the pencil will not.  As the sugar dissolves out from underneath the graphite, the graphite will float the top of the water.

If you're lucky (and I'm usually not) the graphite will stay together and you'll have your letter floating on the surface of the water.  If it doesn't stay together, you'll just have small gray flecks floating on the surface (as seen above). 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Body Systems: Digestive System: Digestion in a Bag

Students model both mechanical and chemical digestion with simple materials.

Each student needs a zip-top bag, one or two crackers (saltines work well) and a small amount of soda.

The crackers are placed in the bag. 

Students smash the crackers to represent mechanical digestion - breaking apart the food. 
A small amount of soda is added to the bag.  After observing for a  few moments, students and squish the contents of the bag.  The soda contains acid, like your stomach does, which helps break down the food even further.  Once the food has been turned into a slurry, it is ready to be passed on to the intestines.