Monday, August 30, 2010


Today we had an experimental playdate. Basically, our good friends invited us over to make some big messes at their house in the name of science. We used this book to guide us:

We found that the instructions were clear to follow, with very age-appropriate activities and descriptions.

Our first order of business was to get some homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream going in the ice cream maker. The kids clamored to take turns adding ingredients and loved watching the concoction spin around on the counter. This was sort of a side project to the main event, but food science is a fascinating discipline that should never be overlooked! Following a protocol, making discreet measurements, and often, applying temperature change to cause phase transition--baking is such a relevant way to subtly introduce good scientific practices to kids!

Anyway, for our main projects, we really played to our target audience and decided to make slime and snot.


This didn't turn out quite how we adults were envisioning, but it was definitely cool. Cornstarch was the main ingredient here, which made the mixture solid in the bowl, but slimy when you tried to pick it up.

Next up, snot:

OK, this had more the consistency we were expecting for slime. But it was also stretchy, and well, snot-like, I guess. This one was made with unflavored gelatin, which gave it a bit of an unpleasant odor, but was definitely fun to play with.

Also fun? Mixing our polymers into one big slimy mess!

The book gave a very nice blurb about how polymers were made and why our slime and snot had the unique physical properties that they did. I'm not sure the kids were really too interested in that, though. Not when they were being actively encouraged to get messy!

We had been hoping to make a soda bottle geyser to cap off our morning of mess, but we had to put that off for another day. Before our playdate ended, we were all able to have a nice bowl of our homemade ice cream. The kids were pretty excited to not only have dessert before lunch, but to know that they all played a part in making our treat. Thank you to our friends for a fun morning...and sorry about the state of your kitchen after our little get together.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sing A Song Of Science

Oh, hello! That's right, I have this blog over here to chat about cool science-y things. I haven't forgotten about this space, I promise; we've just been busy with other things and have not had much time to do any extra projects recently. But as we start the countdown to summer vacation, I am definitely gearing up for some science activities with the kids.

In the meantime, may I recommend a few songs about science?

We've been having a blast listening to and watching Here Comes Science, the latest children's release by They Might Be Giants. Some of the songs are just silly fun, but some of them are truly educational. For example, my four year old now can name the planets in order thanks to repeated playings of How Many Planets. Fun for the whole family!

For the grown-ups, here are a few entertaining offerings.

PCR song I
PCR song II (GTCA)
These are actually advertisements for the company Bio Rad, but they are extremely clever (and catchy!)

A Biologist's Mother's Day Song. (Thanks to my brother for sending this my way! He passed it on in a timely fashion; I am just slow in getting it posted here.)

And finally, a classic (in my family, at least): The Elements, by Tom Lehrer. Good stuff, that.

Anyone else have some scientific tunes that they'd like to share? We're all ears, harhar. Happy listening, and check back soon to see what we've got cooking here (literally!)--should be fun!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Disappointing Results

Last week, we had some flowers hanging around from Valentine's Day and my preschooler was very interested in how they "drank" their water. In order to demonstrate transpiration, I placed some white flowers in glasses of colored water. Since this was a spur-of-the-moment activity, we used the only white flowers we had on hand--baby's breath. Note: if you try this at home, use something else!

We started full of ambition and excitement, adding a few drops of food coloring to several glasses. I had big plans for further investigation once we established our baselines (varying temperature, adding sugar to the water, etc).

Unfortunately, our results were far from spectacular. This was very disappointing to the curious four year old who checked on the flowers every few minutes. We did get it work a little bit with the green dye, thus demonstrating that the flowers were pulling water up through their stems and out to the petals.

Elapsed time: 48 hours

For the blue and red dye, we discovered several small bends and breaks in the stems that we hadn't noticed when we first put the baby's breath in water. We might redo the experiment with a heartier flower (white carnations) or even some veggies (celery or carrots).

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Model Cells

My four year old is starting to get interested in human biology, which is tremendously exciting to me. Of course he's already pretty knowledgeable about the excretory and digestive systems (in less fancy terms), but he's also fascinated by what he's learned about most of the organs and the skeleton. I've been trying to impart that all these systems are made up of smaller bits, called cells, but I'm not sure how much it's sinking in.

So to help illustrate this point, we made a 3-D model cell! This was an extremely easy project that was perfect for a preschooler attention span. I followed the guidelines here, but I know I've seen this activity written up elsewhere around the web as well.

What you will need:
Light corn or karo syrup
Two sandwich baggies
Assorted foodstuffs and toys for organelles
Picture of a cell for reference--I found the one below to be the right level of detail for our purposes:

What to do:
First put one baggie inside the other (there's your bilayer membrane!), and then fill with syrup (cytoplasm). Now, go crazy adding in your organelles!

I spent a fair bit of time organizing my ingredients, and trying to assign an object to each cellular component. I attempted to explain what each thing represented, and gave a very brief description of what it's role in the cell would be. Here's what we used:

And here's our finished product:

So, in the interest of full disclosure, my son was much more interested in eating leftover organelles than learning about the mysterious workings of the cell. I don't think he really absorbed anything other than "mitochondria make energy for the cell" and the term "golgi " (because come on, who doesn't find that funny?). However, we had a good time working on this together, and he loved squishing things about when it was done. I think this would be a fun activity to try again in a few years, when he will perhaps understand a bit more about basic biology.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Colors of Fall: Leaf Extraction Experiment

Fall is in the air, and that means leaves are EVERYWHERE! For a kid, jumping into a freshly raked pile of leaves is probably the most exciting thing to do with them. However, here's a little activity with leaves that might be almost as much fun, as well as provide some insight into the science behind the changing colors of Autumn.

Leaf Pigment Experiment: (I found this activity here, and it was very easy to follow)

What you will need:
- leaves
- small jars (like baby food jars) or glasses (I used small juice glasses)
- cover for jars or plastic wrap
- rubbing alcohol
- paper coffee filter
- shallow pan
- hot tap water
- plastic knife or spoon

What to do:
The first step is to go outside and find some leaves! We (I did this activity with my four year old son) decided to get a few different colors and sizes. You will need 2-3 leaves of each kind.

Next, cut or rip the leaves into small pieces and place them into the glass or jar. I recommend ripping--this part was a lot of fun for everyone!

Now add enough rubbing alcohol to cover the leaves, take plastic spoon or knives and start to pulverize those leaves. You really want to break down the leaves as much as possible. After this process is complete, loosely cover your glasses and put them into their hot water bath (hot tap water in a shallow pan). But don't wander off! They will need some attention whilst soaking--make sure the water stays warm (replace if necessary) and give 'em a swirl every few minutes. Let the leaves soak for at least half an hour.

While the leaves are soaking, cut the coffee filters into long, thin strips. After the leaves are done with their bath, remove the glasses from the water and uncover. Place a strip in each glass, making sure it touches the alcohol, and gently tape the paper to the side of the glass.

Wait about 30-90 minutes, for the alcohol to evaporate and the color to travel up the filter paper. Here's what our filters looked like when we were done:

The color demarcation wasn't quite as impressive as I was hoping for, but our crude paper chromatography still yielded some interesting results. I didn't really discuss much of the HOW the extraction process worked with my son, but he understood that there were different pigments in the leaves which gave the them their color, and that this activity let us separate out those pigments. I'm glad we used a variety of leaves to see the different colors each sample produced. If we were to do this experiment again, I'd vary the size of leaves and the types of paper as well. Overall, this was a fun and fairly easy Fall activity!

Monday, October 19, 2009


We are Suzanne and Sharon, two scientific professionals (chemistry/physics educator and biomedical researcher, respectively) turned stay-at-home mothers. We are passionate about instilling our young children with a strong scientific foundation. The best way to do this, we feel, is to merely capitalize on little kids' innate curiosity about the natural world, and provide them with some FUN first forays into scientific thinking and experimentation.

Our goal on this blog is to provide a thoughtful compilation of resources for early science education, including reviews of helpful websites and publications, annotated experiments for you to try at home with your children using everyday items, and our own observations on making science entertaining. Follow along with us as we celebrate the joy of science!

Asking Thoughtful Questions

As a former chemistry and physics teacher, one thing I found to make a huge difference in helping students think about science (or really any) concepts is asking the right questions. I have learned that it's best to stay away from "yes" and "no" questions and focus on questions that require a more detailed response.

"What do you think will happen when I...."
"What happened when we....."
"Why do you think that happened?"

Staying at home with my 2 year old- I'm working on creating little science moments (not major science experiments that require a lot of setup) that will help her to start thinking like a little scientist. Many of my postings, will explain how I created these little moments and give examples of questions I asked her. One thing to note is that my two year almost never answers the questions "correctly"...but that's not point. My goal is not to make sure she has a deep understanding of density, light refraction, etc. (though eventually, I hope she will learn these things as she grows up). My goal for now is to help her to start thinking in a scientific way- which, I hope, will help her in all areas of life.

These science moments can be created most anywhere and anytime with a little creativity; at the park, in the car, in the kitchen, on the stairs, playing with toys, etc.