Monday, December 30, 2013

Snow Science

If you've got antsy kids at home and another week of vacation time to fill, here are a few more ideas to keep them busy, having fun and learning!

Activity #1 - How Much Water is in Snow?

If you're finding yourself with an abundance of snow.... perhaps you'll want to perform some investigations. 

The amount of water snow contains can very greatly, depending upon the snow. 

Gather a set amount of snow... I collected approximately 500 ml of snow.

Allow the snow to melt - if you'll be allowing it to sit for an extended time, you may wish to cover it to minimize the amount lost to evaporation. 

My 500 ml of snow yielded slightly less than 50 ml of water.  This was a very dry, powdery snow. 

If you live in a place that gets snow throughout the winter, you might want to repeat this activity with each snowfall and see how they vary in water content.

Activity #2 - Learn About Snowflake Bentley

Wilson Bentley was the first man to photograph individual snowflakes, in 1885.  He's the person who determined that no two snowflakes are exactly the same.  A fascinating man, indeed.

Start your research at the Official Website of Wilson A. Bentley.  You'll find a brief biography there, and some wonderful, printable images of his photographs. I printed
 out the collection and laminated them for my students to look at and admire.

Snowflake BentleyFor a more thorough biography, and one to share with your students, check out Snowflake Bentley.  It's a picture book intended for children.  The biography is written as a story, with a lot of factual information in the margins - you can decide how much to share based on your students.
The Snowflake Man: A Biography of Wilson A. Bentley

For your own knowledge, you may want to read The Snowflake Man: A Biography of Wilson A. Bentley.  I haven't read the whole book, but have read an excerpt.  You can probably get it through your library system.

Two other books that look interesting are Snowflakes in Photographs and Snow Crystals. I'm not familiar with either book, but they are both collections of Bentley's images.  Again, it might be worth looking for these at the library before investing.
Snow Crystals (Dover photography collections)Snowflakes in Photographs

Activity #3 - Make Sparkly Snowflakes
This is a fun, artsy-craftsy project in which students can learn about solubility, super-saturated solutions and crystal shapes.

Make a super-saturated solution of Borax and water:
--Fill a jar with hot water (boiling is best).
--Add Borax, a little at a time, until no more will dissolve (you'll know you're there because instead of dissolving the Borax will settle to the bottom)

Use pipe cleaners and thread to make a snowflake.

Attach a piece of thread to the snowflake.

Place the snowflake in the Borax solution and leave for several hours or overnight.

In the morning, you'll have a beautiful, sparkling snowflake, covered with large crystals.

If you'd rather not make snowflake shapes, you can shape the pipe cleaner into stars or other shapes.  You could also just place a straight pipe cleaner into the solution.

The pipe cleaner works well because all the fuzz on it gives the crystals nice places to attach, and thus works much better than just a string.  (Which may explain why all my attempts at making rock candy as a kid were met with utter failure (and a sticky mess)).

Safety Note: The Borax and the finished snowflake should come nowhere near the mouth.

Activity #4 - Learn About the Coldest Places on Earth!

Check out the National Snow & Ice Data Center, where you can learn more about some of the coldest places on Earth!  There are lots of neat pictures in the photo galleries

Monday, December 23, 2013

Hot Chocolate Science

Here are some seasonal science ideas - perfect for a long, cold vacation day with your own kids, or when your school kids need something fun to break up the sometimes-long stretch that is January and February.

Activity #1 - Hot Chocolate Solubility
You'll need at least two different varieties of hot chocolate mix and one mug for each variety.

Place an equal amount of mix in each mug. Add the same amount of water to each mug (it would be good if you could have one person add it to each mug, so it all gets added at the same time). Stir the contents of the mugs (at as close to the same rate as possible), and observe.

Does one variety dissolve better (faster) than the others? Hypothesize what makes the difference.

Activity #2 - Hot Chocolate Taste Test
Since you acquired a few different varieties of hot chocolate for activity #1, you might as well put them to additional use....

Before you prepare the hot chocolate, create a list of properties you find desirable in hot chocolate, as well as those less-desirable.  Possibilities include: sweetness, chocolatey-ness, creaminess, bitterness.

Prepare each variety of hot chocolate according to its directions.

Sample one variety at a time and evaluate it on the properties you listed, giving it a score for each property.

Once you've sampled and evaluated each variety, analyze the results to see which properties your favorite hot chocolates have in common.

Activity #3 - Are Marshmallows Good Insulators?
Prepare two identical cups of hot chocolate (same variety of hot chocolate, same amount of power, same amount and temperature of water) in identical mugs.

Float enough marshmallows on the top of one of mugs to completely cover the surface.

Place a thermometer in each mug.

Observe and record the temperature of each mug every few minutes.

Do you notice any difference between the two mugs?  What do you think accounts for that difference?

If you're looking for some additional activities.... 
the Sugar Cube Rate of Solution activity and the Goldilocks & the Three Bears Heat Transfer activity could both be adapted for use with hot chocolate. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Nursery Rhyme Science: Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty
Sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty
Had a great fall.

All the King's horses
And all the King's men
Couldn't put Humpty
Together again.

Activity 1: Safe From Any Height
Host a mini-egg drop contest to see what could be done to protect Humpty Dumpty.

Before students get to work, demonstrate what happened to Humpty Dumpty in the rhyme.  Push a raw egg off a desk (onto a drop cloth or something else that will make clean-up easier) and observe. 

Put students into small groups to work and challenge them to build a contraption to protect Humpty Dumpty from any subsequent falls.  With preschool or kindergarten students, I would provide each group with a cup or other container as a starting point for their construction.  I wouldn't give anything to older students - let them come up with the ideas on their own. 

Provide an assortment of additional materials for students to work with:

  • yarn
  • fabric
  • packing peanuts
  • sponges
  • cotton balls
  • newspaper
  • balloons
  • straws
  • popsicle sticks
  • cotton batting
  • anything else you can think of

After students have completed their contraptions and placed an egg inside, push each one off the same desk and see if Humpty Dumpty fares any better.

It's possible that some eggs may still break, which is the perfect time to ask the students how they would change their contraption design to make it even better. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Nursery Rhyme Science: Little Jack Horner

Little Jack Horner sat in a corner,
Eating a Christmas pie.
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said, “What a good boy am I!”

Activity 1: Identify the parts of a plum
It's very possible that your kindergarten students aren't familiar with plums.  Pick one up at the store and identify the parts with them: the skin, the flesh and the pit.

Activity 2: Compare and Contrast
Compare the plum to another fruit that students, such as an apple or an orange.  What do the fruits have in common and what's different about them.

Activity 3: Plant the pit
Will the pit grow?  Remove the pit from the plum and plant it in a cup with some dirt.  Give it a little water and see what happens.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Nursery Rhyme Science: Hickory Dickory Dock

Hickory Dickory Dock,
The mouse ran up the clock.
The clock struck one,
The mouse ran down.
Hickory Dickory Dock.

Activity 1: The Chiming Clock
Can you make a coat hanger sound like a loud, chiming clock?

This is a simple demonstration that helps make the point that sound needs something to travel through and that air is not a very efficient material for that purpose.

You only need a wire coat hanger and a long length of string.

Tie the string onto the hanger, so that the hanger hangs from the middle of the string.

Swing the hanger from the string so that it bumps into something (a table, chair, wall, etc.) and take note of the sound it makes.  It's kind of a short, clang-y sound.  Nothing very dramatic or melodic about it.

Now, wrap one end of the string around one of your index fingers and the other end around the other index finger.

Place your fingers in your ears (gently, there's no need to jam them in).

Swing the hanger so that bumps into something once again and take note of the sound it makes.  Louder and more like a gong or large bell ringing.

In the first trial, the sound made when the hanger hit the object had to travel through the air to reach your ear drum.  A lot of the sound was lost on the way to your ear.  In the second trial, the sound vibrations travel from the hanger through the string and your fingers to your ear.  Much less sound energy is lost in route and it makes an audible difference. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Nursery Rhyme Science: Row, Row, Row your boat

Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

Activity 1: Soap Boats
Show your students two bars of soap - one bar of Ivory soap and a bar of any other brand of soap.  Ask them which bar they think would make the better boat and why.  

Put the bars of soap in a pan of water (a clear tub is good, so everyone can see easily) and observe.  

After seeing what happened (Ivory soap floats, all other brands sink), which soap do they think would make the better boat now? 

Ivory whips more air into their soap than other brands, so it is less dense than water and will float.  
You can even make a little mast and sail with a coffee stirrer and piece of fun foam :) 
(My boys came home from preschool with an Ivory soap boat each Columbus Day!)

Activity 2: Boat Races

Cut out a boat shape from an index card or piece of thin cardboard.

Cut a small notch out of the back of the boat.

Float the boat in a tub of water.  What happens?  Not much!

Now, place a small sliver of soap in the notch and watch.  What happens?  The boat moves across the tub!

Without soap, the water pulls on the boat from all directions, resulting in little to no movement.  When the soap is added, it reduces the pull of the water at the back of the boat.  The pull at the front of the boat remains  strong and you see movement. 

Students can experiment with boat shape to find the fastest (and straightest) racer!

Because the soap reduces the water's surface tension, the water in the tub will need to be dumped out and replaced often.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Nursery Rhyme Science: Three Men in a Tub

Three men in a tub,
And who do you think were there?
The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker,
And all of them gone to the fair!

Activity 1: How many men can your tub hold?
Provide each child with a piece of aluminum foil (the size isn't terribly important, just try to keep the pieces about the same size).

Each child will shape the foil into some sort of tub or boat.

Place the tubs/boats in a tub of water (if they don't float now, do some tinkering to get them to float).  Then begin adding penny passengers, one at a time.

After the boats sink, you can talk about what worked well and what didn't work so well.  If you have the time available, you can provide students with another piece of foil to make a new boat.  Can they use what they learned to make a boat that holds more pennies than the first? 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Nursery Rhyme Science: Simple Simon

Simple Simon met a pieman
Going to the fair;
Said Simple Simon to the pieman,
“Let me taste your ware.”

Said the pieman to Simple Simon,
“Show me first your penny;”
Said Simple Simon to the pieman,
“Sir, I haven’t any.”

Simple Simon didn't have a penny to buy a pie, but if you have a penny, you can do some fun science experiments...

Activity 1: Drops on a Penny
How many drops of water do you think a penny can hold? Allow each child to make a guess.

Take a few minutes to practice using an eye dropper, so everyone can squeeze out a drop at a time.  (This activity provides great fine motor practice!)

Then place a penny on a paper towel.  Provide each student with a dropper and a small cup of water.  Have students place drops of water on the penny, counting each drop, until the water spills over the side of the penny.

Activity 2: Polish a Penny
Dissolve some salt in a small amount of vinegar.

Place some pennies in the solution, the grungier the pennies, the better!

After a few minutes, remove the pennies and rinse them off.  The pennies should now sparkle brightly!

You can also try dipping half a penny in the solution for a minute or so...

The explanation...
The vinegar/salt solution removed the copper oxide from the pennies, leaving a clean copper surface on each penny.

Over time, all of the pennies will become tarnished with copper oxide once again, as the copper reacts with oxygen in the air.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Nursery Rhyme Science: Jack and Jill

Jack and Jill went up the hill,
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.

Activity 1: Was it more work to go up the hill or down?
Do your students think it would be harder to walk up the hill with an empty bucket or back down the hill with a full bucket?

After students have made their guesses, have them each walk up a set of stairs (or a hill if you happen to have one readily available), carrying an empty milk jug.  Then have them walk down the same stairs with a milk jug that's full of water. 

What do they think now? 

Activity 2: Don't Break Your Crown!
As my son told me, "Crown means head."  And you can use this rhyme to give a quick lesson on the brain.

You'll need a small container (with a tight-fitting lid), 2 eggs and some water.

Throughout the demonstration, the egg yolk will represent your brain and the container will represent your skull.

Crack one egg into the container and put the lid on. 

Agitate the container - you can just shake it, or you can have a student run a few laps around the room with it for it.
Open the container and observe - scrambled brains!
Clean out the container and crack the second egg into the container. 

This time, before putting on the lid, fill the remaining space in the container with water. 

Agitate the container once again.

Open the container and observe - the egg yolk remains intact.  (The egg what froths up a little bit, making it difficult to see at first, but the whole yolk is there).

The water cushions the egg yolk, just as the cerebrospinal fluid cushions your brain. 

Nursery Rhyme Science is a series of short stand-alone activities that can be interjected into a language-intense preschool or kindergarten curriculum with minimum preparation.  Additional Nursery Rhyme Science posts can be found here

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Nursery Ryme Science: Little Miss Muffet

Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet,
Eating some curds and whey.

Along came a spider
Who sat down beside her,
And frightened Miss Muffet away.

Activity 1: What are curds and whey?

 Pour a quart of milk into a pot.  Add 6 tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar.  Slowly heat the pot, while stirring.
When the milk begins to curdle (only a minute or two), you can remove it from the heat, but continue to stir and watch.  When you're finished, you'll have curds (the solid part) and whey (the liquid). 

The curds are a very simple cheese and can be eaten if your school allows such things.  (You may wish to refrigerate them and add a pinch of salt).

Activity 2: Why don't spiders stick to their own web?
Spider webs are notoriously sticky - that's how the spiders catch their yummy bug dinners.  But, how can a spider walk across his (or her) own web without getting stuck?

Provide each student with a small strip of scotch tape and have them walk their fingers across the tape.  Then have each student dip his (or her) fingers into a small dish of oil and try walking their fingers across the tape again.  The oil prevents the fingers from sticking.

It's believed that spiders produce a substance that acts like the oil and prevents them from sticking to the web.

Nursery Rhyme Science is a series of short stand-alone activities that can be interjected into a language-intense preschool or kindergarten curriculum with minimum preparation.  Additional Nursery Rhyme Science posts can be found here