Copyright 2014 Science Explorers, Inc. 620 Mendelssohn Ave North Suite 156 Golden Valley, MN 55427
As my husband and I watched the Vikings game this Sunday, we sat shivering under blankets in our inefficiently heated apartment. If any of the players or live fans at that game would have traded positions with us, I’m sure our apartment would have felt more like a tropical paradise, no matter how inefficient the heating! As the players braved the cold, we watched as every movement was captured by their foggy breath, coming from warmed lungs into the cold air surrounding them.
When we exhale, our body is eliminating carbon dioxide waste from our bodies. Along with this carbon dioxide, we are also releasing water. Our breath collects moisture as it travels through our lungs, mouth, and other breathing passages. Inside our warm bodies, the moisture is in the form of gas or water vapor. The warm environment of our bodies provides energy for the water molecules to move very quickly and stay in their gaseous form. As soon as our breath is expelled into the cold, the molecules of water vapor slow down quickly and “huddle together” instead of spreading out as they do as gas. This slowing down of molecules results in what we call condensation, or the changing of a substance from gas to liquid form. The cold may be uncomfortable but it allows us to see this process of condensation right before our eyes as we breathe!
It's hot out! Cool off with some frozen fun! This activity will not only help you beat the summer heat, but it will educate your children about the properties of ice and water. They'll explore what substances work best to melt ice!
What You'll Need
What To DO
1. Drop your small toys/knickknacks into your freezer safe containers.
2. Pour water over the toys/knickknacks in the containers with water, filling them all the way.
3. Place the containers in the freezer. Depending on the size of your chosen containers, you will need to leave them in the freezer for a few hours or overnight.
4. Gather your “ice-picking” tools and chosen materials to use for ice melting.
5. Remove your containers from the fridge. Pop them out of their containers onto cookie sheets or into bins.
6. Take all your materials outside to eliminate clean-up indoors.
7. Have your children explore and try to save all the toys from their entrapment in the ice! Allow them to explore using different materials like salt, sugar and vinegar to see if adding them to the ice will help it to melt more quickly!
At Science Explorers, we teach a Dynamite Dinosaur class to pre-school aged children. Just this week in fact, I was assisting in a dinosaur class. The children were learning about the different types of eaters: carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores. In response to the question, “Name an animal is an herbivore,” one boy responded, “Brachiosaurus!” In response to the question, “Name an animal that is an omnivore!” another responded “Gorilla!” And finally, in response to the question, “Name an animal that is a carnivore,” another boy replied matter of factly, “A teacher!”
With the recent popularity of the movie Jurassic World, it is fun to revisit what life might have been like for the creatures that existed so many years ago. Scientists posit based on fossil records that animals like the dinosaurs lived in the Mesozoic Era. During this era was the Jurassic period which took place roughly between 200 and 150 million years ago. The big names of the Jurassic period include creatures like the tyrannosaurus rex, the brachiosaurus, the triceratops, and the pterodactyl. As tempting as it may be to gather other creatures of that era and place them into one category – the dinosaur category – this would not be accurate. In fact, even a pterodactyl is not truly a dinosaur. While dinosaurs may have been dominant in their time, there were a myriad of other creatures that, though similar in habitat and appearance, are actually not as related to the dinosaurs as most would think.
The word “dinosaur” was first coined in 1841, by biologist and paleontologist Sir Richard Owen. It is derived from two words: dienos – meaning “terrible, powerful, and wondrous” and saurus – meaning ”lizard”. Put them together, and a dinosaur is a terrible, powerful and wondrous lizard! It’s no wonder with this name that we tend to label so many of the Jurassic creatures as dinosaurs.
Scientists today use special category of science called cladistics to determine which animals are the most related to one another. For living animals, this task is easy. Scientists can take use the building blocks of an animal, housed within something called DNA. For animals that are extinct, like dinosaurs and other Jurassic creatures, the task is more difficult. Scientists rely on evidence found when comparing the fossil remains of these creatures.
For example, pretend that all birds were extinct. If, as a scientist, you had never seen a living bird, you would rely on fossil remains to categorize them. When you discovered that there was a group of animals that all have feathers in their fossil remains, you might place them into one category and call them birds on this basis.
So, what links all the dinosaurs together? It’s probably not what you might think. All dinosaurs were reptiles – cold blooded, egg laying creatures. Some walked on two legs. Others walked on four legs. Some were very large. Others were quite small. Some ate leaves. Others preyed on other dinosaurs. What all dinosaurs had in common was actually their hips! At the place where a dinosaur’s thighbone (or femur) connects to its pelvis, there is a hole. Dinosaurs have open hip sockets!
I’m sure that many of us are familiar with the Little Miss Muffet nursery rhyme. What some of us may not know is what exactly Little Miss Muffet was eating. What on earth are “curds and whey”?
Curds and whey are both formed from milk. Try out the experiment below to make your own curds and whey. Learn how to make sculptures out of milk!
Curds and Whey - Making Milk Sculptures
What You’ll Need:
What To Do:
What's Going ON?
Happy Memorial Day Weekend! For most of us, this weekend will be filled with family time, grilling out, picnics, lawn games, and as much time outdoors as the weather will allow. As you spend some time outside with your family, take the opportunity to do a small experiment with your younger children!
What You’ll Need:
What to Do:
The goal of this experiment is to introduce your children to two of the states of matter – solids and liquids. They will observe how water turns from solid (ice) to liquid (water).
Extension for Older Children:
Happy Memorial Day! Have a wonderful weekend with your family!
In honor of our Mothers today, I would like to share a bouquet of facts about some of my favorite spring flowers – tulips.
Garden of Tulips Craft
If you still need to come up with a mother’s day gift, or if you would like to continue honoring your mother in the coming week, check out the innovative tulip project below:
What You’ll Need:
What to Do:
1. Clear a work space and put on a paint shirt. You should be using washable paints, but an extra layer of protection is always a good idea.
2. On your white sheet of paper, using your paint brush, paint tulip stalks and leaves all along the length of the paper. Make sure to leave enough room for the tulip flowers on the top! Tulips typically have one long stalk with one large prominent leaf on either side of it.
3. With your pain in a tray, dip the flat part of the fork prongs in the paint. Make sure it is completely covered. Use the painted fork to make a flower imprint on the paper at the top of a tulip stalk. Repeat with other colors to finish off all the other stalks.
4. Let dry and you will have a beautiful garden to give to your mother to show how much you care!
5. Make sure to clean up so your mother does not have to!
As I was sweeping my kitchen this morning, I gathered quite a pile of dirt and crumbs on my floor. The amount did not surprise me. Living on the main level of an apartment building, you inevitably track things into your kitchen. And considering it had been two weeks since I’d last swept, I could hardly expect anything less. I was finishing the last section, but there was one piece of dirt that wouldn’t cooperate. It kept sticking to my broom, never quite making it to the pile where all the rest of the dirt was lying so obediently. Frustrated with my vain attempts, I finally stooped down to put it in its place, when to my surprise it began to crawl away! That was no ordinary piece of dirt. In my sweeping, I had gathered more than the crumbs on my floor. I had unearthed a spider from beneath my cupboards.
I love nature, but admittedly my first impulse is to squish spiders whenever I find them in my apartment. There’s something about those 8 wiggly legs that is very unnerving. Who cares if the spider is only as small as a piece of dirt? Well, today, I let the spider live. Perhaps it was because I started to think about all the amazing characteristics of arachnids like that spider. Or, perhaps it was because when I came back with my dust pan to sweep up that particular pile of dirt the spider had already crawled away to safety.
THe Amazing SPider
Nonetheless, spiders truly are amazing creatures. And I would like to give a hats-off to the spider who now lives safely under my cupboards. In letting him go, I’m sure I will now have far fewer other critters roaming around on my kitchen floorboards.
Why are spiders so amazing? For starters, if you live on the Zuckerman family farm and have a friendly pig named Wilbur, you may also have a literate spider who spins words in her web. Not many of us have such privilege. However, did you know that many spiders do spin secret signals into their webs?
Spiders are able to secrete thin silk threads made of proteins out of glands in their abdomens. Spiders often have several different glands that each secretes a different type of thread. When building a web, spiders will first secrete a dry thread with which they will spin and form the framework of their web. After the framework is complete, they then secrete and spin with a sticky thread that will be placed over the framework. This sticky thread will later serve to trap unsuspecting insects. Finally, some spiders have the ability to secrete a special ultraviolet thread that they use to “decorate” their web. We cannot see ultraviolet light but many insects can. The sticky frame of a web is a material that does not reflect ultraviolet light very well. It is essentially invisible unless it is closely inspected. When spiders spin with the ultraviolet thread, they create a design in the web that insects can see. Not only do insects see the thread, but they are tricked into thinking that it is some tasty treat, like a flower, so they come to inspect it immediately….only to SPLAT…become stuck! Now, the spiders have their own tasty treat for later.
According to the Smithsonian Institute, at any given time, there are approximately 10 quintillion insects on the earth. That’s 10 with 18 zeros after it! Many of us do not appreciate the spiders in our homes. However, if I saw a line of ants crawling across my kitchen floor, I think I would appreciate that even less. For now, the spider will stay.
With Your Children
In my own experience, I have very fond memories playing outside for hours on end. I couldn’t get enough of outdoor exploration. Much to my mother’s dismay, my curiosity about the natural world did not even end when I set foot indoors.
One day when I was about 8 years old, my friend and I found a small field mouse in my basement. I’m guessing that most children would shriek and run upon finding such a discovery in the room they only hours before had been using as a location for a slumber party. However, I was thrilled to find this new friend. We trapped it in a bucket, named it Mr. Ruggers (I don’t recall why), and took it down to a local park to play with it. That is likely not a mouse’s idea of a fun excursion, but we had a grand time pushing it on the tire swing, going down the fire pole with it, and sending it down the slides.
In telling this story, I am not encouraging children today to treat a mouse like I did. Little did we know it at the time, but I’m sure we traumatized the poor thing a great deal! However, I will say it seems that today’s generation of children has lost some element of its curiosity and interest in the natural world. And as educators and parents of these children, it is our job to spark that curiosity once again.
Inspiring OUtdoor Play
So, what can you do to inspire an interest in the outdoors in your children? Nature scavenger hunts and free exploration time are both engaging ways to get a child interested in exploring outside. They are fun for children already familiar with the outdoors, but can also be an excellent way to introduce children who are less familiar and have more aversion to it.
Guided Nature Bingo for Young Children:
If you have preschool or early elementary-aged kids, print out the following spring nature bingo sheet. Go on a nature walk with your children. Explain to them that you are going to be naturalists for an hour. A naturalist is a scientist who explores nature by directly observing it. See if your children can help you find five items on your bingo sheet in a row! If they are enjoying your exploration, then give them the added challenge of “bingo blackout,” where they find all of the items on the sheet. Bring along a crayon or marker for them to cross off items as you walk. When you get home, make sure to ask them about their favorite item on the list!
Free Exploration for Older Children:
Challenge your children to be naturalists. A naturalist is a scientist who studies nature by directly observing and recording what they find. Naturalists almost always carry a special notebook where they record all their observations. Make naturalist notebooks by folding copy paper in half and tying the middle together by hole-punching along the edge and tying yarn through the holes. Repurpose a brown grocery bag for the cover and have them decorate it. Allow your child to go outside and explore and take notes or make drawings of anything interesting they might find. If this sounds too much like school work to them, make it into a game. Have them pretend they are brave explorers discovering a brand new land. Nobody else has ever seen the plants, animals and other natural elements that they will be discovering. If multiple children are participating, have them go out on their own with the challenge to discover as much as they can about their new land. When they return together as group, they can share all that they found and determine how they can live in this new land with the plants/animals/other elements that they discovered!
The hallmark of a curious child is his or her questions. As a young child, I know I often pestered my parents with my queries. Why is a bubble round? Why can I shock you when my hair has static? Why do some birds fly but others do not? The list went on and on.
Many questions come from the minds of curious children. And sometimes as adults we need to do a little research before we can answer! Use your children’s questions as an opportunity to learn together! Let’s start by examining one common question a child might ask: Why is the sky blue?
If you don’t know the answer, it might be easy to say,
“Well, it would look rather silly as the color green! It would blend right in to the trees and grass!”
Instead, do a little research for yourself if you don’t know the answer well enough to explain it. In the meantime, I find it fascinating to turn the question back to the child. “Why do you think the sky is blue?” Sometimes you will be surprised at how close to the truth their answers can be!
Aside from aesthetic, there is a scientific explanation for the color of the sky. Before explaining the answer to your child, try to let them find the answer through an activity or experiment.
Try the activity below.
SKY IN A JAR
WHAT TO DO:
1. Fill the clear container with water. Leave about two inches of space at the top. The water represents air around the earth - or our atmosphere.
2. Use the tablespoon to pour 2-3 tbs. of milk into the water. Screw the lid on the jar and let your child shake it up. Our atmosphere is made up of a variety of gases: nitrogen, oxygen, argon, and more. It also contains water vapor, ice crystals, dust, and chemical pollutants. All of these components are floating around throughout the atmosphere. The milk will be suspended throughout the water after shaking the jar. It represents all of the atmosphere’s components floating around.
3. Take your flashlight. It represents the light of the sun shining down through our atmosphere. Shine the “sun” (flashlight) on the “atmosphere” (jar of milky water). Experiment with the flashlight, shining it through the jar at different angles. Try both the sides of the jar as well as the bottom of the jar. You may want dim the lights in the room to observe more clearly. The cloudy water should appear blue as the light shines through it.
WHY DO WE SEE BLUE?
Stay tuned to the Science Explorers Blog for answers and experiments for other Curious Queries from Kids!
Slime. Ooey, gooey, icky, and sticky. If a child sees a bowl of it, you’ll be hard-pressed to keep their fingers out of it! When we think of slime, we typically think of a brightly colored goop that we buy at the store or make specifically for the fun of playing around with it. However, did you know that your body, my body, and the bodies of many organisms in the natural world produce slime? The slimes we produce naturally serve very important functions in our bodies.
Let’s start by examining the slime in me and you! We usually don’t call it slime. It is known best by several other names - mucous or snot. Yes, you read that right! Mucus is a slime-like substance! The average human body produces about 1 Liter of mucus every day! That is equal to about ¼ of the milk gallon in your fridge. I realize that sounds very gross, but the mucus in your body serves many very important functions. Mucus membranes in your gastrointestinal (digestive) and respiratory (breathing) system produce mucus from glands to protect cells and to protect against infectious agents like bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
How does mucus protect you? Mucus is a viscous colloid. That means it is a stretchy, thick substance with a variety of different molecular substances suspended throughout. These substances include antiseptic enzymes, immunoglobulins, inorganic salts, proteins, and glycoproteins. That’s quite a list of ingredients that goes into our snot, isn’t it? All these ingredients work together to protect our bodies. Because of the sticky, stretchy properties of mucus, it can trap bacteria, fungi, and viruses before they can infect us.
Many different animals produce mucus as well. Some amphibians, for example, (frogs, toads, salamanders, etc.), produce mucus on their skin. This mucus can serve to keep them from drying out, can protect them from absorbing harmful substances, and can even contain toxins to deter predators from munching on them.
The hagfish would probably win if the animal kingdom had a mucus producing competition. This eel-shaped, marine fish is one of the only living animals to have a skull but no vertebral column. When threatened, it excretes a milky, fibrous mucus from over 100 mucus glands. This slime is unique because of the fibers it contains. The fibers are strands in the mucus that allow it to stretch and hold together. When combined with the surrounding water, its volume can measure up to 5 ¼ gallons! The slime covers the hagfish and can also cover the gills of a predator. When the hagfish wants to remove the slime from its own body (so it does not impede its own gills), it can tie itself into a knot and squeeze all the slime off as the knot moves down the length of its body!
Next time you blow your nose, remember how amazing your body’s defense system is! It produces slime to protect you from infection!
At Science Explorers, we have a variety of classes that involve slime!