Tag Archives: experiments

Life Science

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I usually try to keep science contained, but right now we have so many collections and experiments going for life science that the entire mantle has been completely taken over.

I am finally admitting to myself and to you, dear readers, that I simply have not kept up the Science Without a Net section.  Alas.  However, my enthusiasm for doing science is unflagging.  Sometimes we hit a lull where not much is done, but we have recently revved up again, as you can see.  I was especially excited that we began doing zoology.

When we studied physics, chemistry and earth science we struggled to find good books.  There were some stellar options.  However, there aren’t multitudes of choices.  On the other hand, there are a number of experiment books.  Now that we’re on to life sciences, there are so many good books about the topics that I’m overwhelmed.  But there are almost no good experiment books.  I had to search high and low and find some, but I got some good recommendations and found a few gems.

Grocery Store Botony by Elma Joan Rahn
This older, out of print book has wonderful, simple ideas for how to raid the grocery store for useful plants and then dissect and investigate the way plants work as a starting point.  It’s a very simple book and best for elementary school, but it has the type of open-ended discovery that I look for in a science experiment book.

Biology Experiments for Children by Ethel Hanauer
This is another older book, but one which has been reissued and is widely available.  It contains sections for plant, animal and human body experiments.  Many of the experiments are simplified versions of the experiments you might do at a higher level in biology and would be appropriate for elementary or middle school, depending on how much depth you went into with them.  Our hay infusion experiment, in which we spotted real protozoa swimming around under the microscope, came from this book, as did a recent dissection of mushrooms.  It has many ideas of ways to take easy to find things and use them as jumping off points for exploration.  It’s yet another book that asks open-ended questions about the experiments and asks kids to observe and think.

The Amateur ZoologistThe Amateur Zoologist by Mary Dykstra
This book is a real treasure.  It is full of great experiments that I’m very excited to tackle and would be appropriate for upper elementary to middle school.  It uses insects and occasionally other small animals in simple explorations, such as observing how they respond, such as which color bugs will gravitate toward and which food mealworms like best.  Yet again, these experiments don’t have a set result.  Instead, they’re mostly jumping off points for thinking and observing.

Janice Vancleave's Biology for Every Kid (Hardcover) ~ Janice Pr... Cover ArtBiology for Every Kid by Janice VanCleave
Finally, it’s no surprise that there’s an Every Kid entry for life science.  It’s exactly what you would expect from the Janice VanCleave books.  Each experiment is relatively easy, most are short and she has provided the “right” answer for every single one of them and a clear explanation of why it happened that way.  Many of the ideas in here are good, especially for elementary school.  However, don’t let the kids see the book as it really robs the observation element from them.  Instead of looking to see what happens – which food will the bugs prefer or what is inside that mushroom – they’re waiting for the right answer.  Can you tell that I’ve grown a bit disenchanted by these books?  I’m trying not to let it deter me from using them though.  She has a nice idea about capturing a spider web with hairspray and examining the geometric patterns that I’d like to try, for example.  However, many of the ideas are just flat, such as watching your breath fog up a mirror as a way to think about camels or checking the temperature underground to understand why desert animals burrow.  These are so simple, quick, and predictable, even to eight year-olds, that they seem pointless, especially when the connection to the topic is tenuous at best.


Science Week 5: Forces and Motion

And we’re back with forces and motion for science this week!  There are so many different ways to approach this topic.  We began, as we always do, with a pile of books.  The highlight was, as always, the Let’s Read and Find Out title, Forces Make Things Move by Kimberly Bradley.

However, we had another excellent title with the DK title Can You Feel the Force? by Richard Hammond.  That one began with a joke about THE force from Star Wars which really made the kids smile.  Ah, it’s the simple things that hook them, isn’t it?

After all that, I decided to focus on a couple of things.  We introduced Isaac Newton and his three laws.  Then we looked at the concepts of equilibrium and inertia (aka, the first law).  We’ll probably keep exploring those ideas in the next week or two, as well as adding new concepts.

The kids began by looking for ways to use force around the house.  I had each kid find a push and a pull they could demonstrate to the rest of us.  In the saga of how I’m continuing to figure out great ways to use our science journals, I snapped a quick picture of the kids demonstrating their pushes and pulls then printed them and taped them in the journals where they labeled them.  It worked very well.  Below is Mushroom showing us a push with the wheelbarrow.

And there he is pulling the string for the blinds.

Next we tried an experiment from the book Science Experiments with Forces by Sally Nankivell-Ashton.  We put things of various weights into a small box with a rubber band attached to measure how far the rubber band had to pull.  The measurement aspect was fun and it was nice to have a table to put into our science journals.

To introduce Newton’s laws, we turned to a video.  This was a very video intensive week.  Some of our videos are embedded below, so I hope you can click and enjoy the miracles of Youtube.  Here’s the first one, a Lego Sir Isaac Newton.  I can only hope my kids’ legomation gets as awesome as this kid’s.

And in case you just need a Bill Nye fix, here’s the parody song from the episode we watched.

To think about some of the concepts in Newton’s laws, we first started to explore equilibrium.  We used the balance that usually gets used for math to show off the idea of forces being equal.  Then we built card towers.  Next we had an excellent tug-of-war in the basement.  The kids tried some arm wrestling at the table.

Finally, we repeated the experiment BalletBoy got to demonstrate at the science show at Discovery Theater a couple weeks ago by hovering a ping pong ball with a hairdryer.  The kids loved it.  There’s BalletBoy showing them how it’s done.

Next, we began thinking about inertia by watching yet another short video, this time from the old Canadian show Eureka.  If you’ve never seen this show, it’s dated, but very cool and all available online in multiple locations.  This show has an odd feature in that it spends a full minute and a half talking about the other episodes, which is sort of off-putting for a 4 minute short.  Start your viewing at about 1:25 to see the actual show.

To demonstrate inertia, we did the trick where you pull a card from under a coin and a cloth from under a bottle.  The kids loved practicing it.  Then (and no one freak out) when we next got in the car, I demonstrated inertia by starting and stopping more abruptly than usual in the empty alleyway to let the kids feel their bodies go back and forth.  Two of the passengers thought this was great fun.  The other two clearly perceived that I was going to get them killed if I drove that way on the actual road and warned me never to do it again.  Such responsible youngsters.

Science Week 3: Heat

We skipped a week of science, but we’re back on track this week with heat.  The kids and I sampled the full range of hardcover nonfiction series book entries about heat from the library during the week.  They were okay, but as with all these sorts of books, nothing to write home about.  If I had to pick one that was worth looking at again, I’d say we got the most out of Heat by Sally M. Walker.  It had simple, easy to understand text and reasonable photos.  Oh, Let’s Read and Find Out series, why couldn’t you have had a book about heat?  You know you’re my favorite.

In the realm of more fun resources, I happened to find a copy of Horrible Science: Killer Energy at the thrift store for 60 cents.  Score!  So we read a little about energy and heat in there.  We watched the Magic School Bus crew try to insulate themselves and retain heat in the Arctic in an episode.  Also, as always, Bill Nye amused us with his antics.  Here, please feel free to get yourself over to Youtube to enjoy the parody song from this week’s episode.  I’m telling you, Bill’s making me miss the 90’s.

On to more important things.  With heat, I felt pulled in too many directions and I admit I had trouble distilling for the kids what they needed to know the most.  In the end, the information I think they got most clearly was that heat makes (most) things expand and rise.  Also, that some things conduct heat while others insulate.  I also introduced the three methods of heat transfer: conduction, convection and radiation.  We also did a good bit with temperature.  This was the first time my kids had been exposed to the Celsius scale, so that was an important thing to introduce.

We started this week by cooking up some s’mores in our solar oven.  The marshmallow got a little gooey and the chocolate turned to liquid, making them extra fun to eat.  Heat radiated by the sun sure isn’t heat radiated over a fire quality when it comes to marshmallows, but they were enjoyed by all.

Then we moved on to a bunch of experiments and demonstrations about heat.  This was our first week of experiment flops.  Alas!  The first experiment flop was the trick with the cold bottle.  I’ve read about this one in several places.  You take a frosty, cold bottle and put a penny on top.  Then you use the heat from your hands to warm it up.  The heat should make the coin “dance” or even flip off the top.  Well, it didn’t work for us.  Another one that didn’t work was this one, which I thought had a lot of potential.  You can see the jars below all in a line losing heat…  well, aren’t we all losing heat?  But these jars are doing it for science!  I liked that the experiment allowed us to go through more of a scientific procedure by predicting which materials would insulate the heat best and explain the reasoning.  However, in the end, the results weren’t clear.  All the water lost heat at the same rate.  The temperatures were nearly identical in all the cups.

So, on to the stuff that worked!  First, I let the kids play with a bunch of thermometers: digital ear, meat, oven, alcohol and old-fashioned mercury.  Then, I had a set of alcohol thermometers and let the kids go put them in places of their choice to check the temperature.  We went around and checked them all: upstairs and downstairs, inside and outside, in the fridge and in the freezer.  We also put one right next to the solar oven and got to see how the brick of our stoop had reached nearly a hundred degrees!  However, once the sun went behind the clouds, we checked it later and saw it had dropped nearly ten whole degrees.

Another success was this basic experiment that illustrates that warm or hot molecules move faster than cold ones.  To further illustrate that idea, we moshed like hot water molecules then posed frozen with hands linked like cold ones.  Last, we did an experiment suggested in the Bill Nye episode where we put a small butter pat on a plastic knife, a metal knife and a popsicle stick.  Then we placed them all in scalding hot water.  Again, the kids got a chance to predict which butter pat would melt first.  When the metal one slid off into the hot water, we talked again about insulators and conductors.

Of course, we also added to our journals with some new vocabulary words.  Then the kids ran off to play some game where I was accused repeatedly of being a jewel thief while I cleaned up the mess we’d left.

Science Week 2: More Energy!

Well, this week the boys were all full of maybe a little too much energy.  I’m sure that the fact that my two were about to be rushed off to an afternoon baseball game was a contributing factor.

We read a new book on energy: The Shocking Truth about Energy by Loreen Leedy.  I just love Loreen Leedy’s books about math and measurement.  This one is almost brand new so I hope she’ll do more books about science.  It was a great picture book.

We updated our science notebooks by doing a quick energy scavenger hunt through some magazines.  Here’s BalletBoy and Mushroom’s examples of energy:

We focused on a couple of concepts.  First, the idea that energy can’t be created or destroyed, which the kids copied into their journals themselves.  Second, we used that to think about energy chains and energy transfer.  We began with a simple experiment from Janice VanCleave’s Energy for Every Kid.  We put some rice in a sock and attached it to a string, which we then taped to the table.  Below the table we put a can.  By swinging the sock, we could see how the sock transfered kinetic energy to the can, moving it across the floor under the table.  The higher we raised the sock, the more energy it put into the can.

Next, we talked about how most of our energy comes from the sun originally.  To think about this, we built a solar oven using these plans.  Because we were in a hurry, we’ll have to test it out next week.  Another homeschool blogger put up something about making s’mores in their solar oven and I thought, that’s totally what we’ll make!  I can’t remember who it was, but it was sure a good idea.  The kids are psyched to try it out.

Finally, I gave the kids a challenge.  I presented them with a box of materials and challenged them to see if they could get the kinetic energy to transfer more than 5 times by letting, say, the bowling ball hit the car, which could hit the marble, which could hit…  Well, you get the idea.  There they are below giving it try by testing different methods.  When we finished, we drew pictures of energy chains.  Hilariously, while we didn’t talk about this particular chain at all, BalletBoy’s chain showed the sun giving energy to the plant food, the person eating the plant, and the person’s poop giving energy to a bug!  I would have shown you a picture, but it was mostly blobs and a lot of oral explanation.