Tag Archives: physics

Science: Music

Music is a science topic?  Why yes it is!  Understanding music is part of sound, right?

Of course, this one should start with the videos.  And the very best video for music would be Disney’s classic film about music, Fantasia.

I’m a bit surprised that was on Youtube, to be honest.  We own the movie and especially liked the beginning where they introduce the instruments.  Of course, for a more scientific look at music, Bill Nye also has an episode about music.  And it contains the very best (and that’s really saying something!) Bill Nye music video of the entire 100 episode run of the show.  Watch as Bill takes on Rocky Horror:

Of course, there are books too!  We found a lot of them about instruments, the history of music, specific genres of music and more.  There were several older treasures at our library, including a lovely remnant of the 1950’s with old cut outs…  But I digress.  My top picks were probably the widely available Meet the Orchestra by Ann Hayes and the lesser known The Magic of Music by Lisl Weil.  Many of the sound experiment books geared toward younger kids are heavy on the music experiments.  We especially liked Neil Ardley’s The Science Book of Sound for ideas.

On to the activities!  The kids, aided by friend the science teacher extraordinaire, did a bunch of things with just playing around with sounds by using all the various sound makers on hand.  They had fun just making a racket, but also discovering ways to change the sound by using an instrument in a different way and by exploring all the various options.  They played with a bunch of different instruments, such as a basic xylophone as well as these cool contraptions called “percussion tubes,” that showed how the size of the percussion instrument has a big effect on the pitch.

As the kids talked about different kinds of musical instruments, they got to see the real thing.  Obviously, children’s musical toys tend toward the percussion end, but my friend produced a guitar for them to try as well as a real trumpet.  Getting everyone to make a proper sound on the trumpet was a challenge and BalletBoy needed several goes before he got anything other than spit everywhere.  This was all very much like the symphony’s petting orchestra which often makes appearances at various local arts events.  I think it seems very obvious that you strum or pluck a guitar, but actually getting to try and see that if you hold the string down it changes the pitch is something else.  And there’s nothing like trying to play a brass or woodwind instrument.  The term “blow” just doesn’t really tell you anything until you try it.

Finally, the kids had a chance to make their own musical instruments by putting rubber bands on tissue boxes (the best part was discovering that to make it twang, it needed a bridge).  They also made cool like percussion shakers by stringing together lots of bottlecaps.  Ah, bottlecaps.

Apologies again for the lack of art in these science posts.  We’ll get back on track with a few more pictures in a couple of weeks.

Science: Waves

Since we started a new science unit, I thought I’d ditch the numbering of the weeks.  In case you didn’t notice, I messed it up anyway.  This new unit will cover light, sound, and electricity.  Because understanding energy is such a big part of these topics, it’s strange to me that it’s a totally different section in The Usborne Science Encyclopedia, but whatever.  The kids liked that it’s a new unit.

WavesFirst of all, let me clarify by explaining that “waves” means ocean waves, sound waves, radio waves, and all the other electromagnetic waves.  This section simply introduces wave behavior.  We found some good resources.  There were several good book offerings about tsunamis at the library which we read, probably in part because of the tragic tsunami of a few years ago.  However, the best book we found was Waves: The Electromagnetic Universe by Gloria Skurzynski, which covered electromagnetic waves in a lot of detail, but not too much for the kids.  There were many fine books about sound waves, but we’re saving those for next week.  The Bill Nye the Science Guy episode about waves is excellent.  Here’s the, as always hilarious, music video from the episode:

We began with our notebooks by drawing simple waves and labeling the crest, trough and wavelength.  We talked about different kinds of waves and the kids knew that waves could be in the ocean or the water, that sound was waves and that some waves had, as Mushroom put it, “something to do with something like electricity.”

Product DetailsThen, drawing from the book Making Waves: Finding Out About Rhythmic Motion, we began a bunch of exploratory experiments.  This book was so excellent, that I went to see if there were others in the series, which is called the Boston Children’s Museum Activity Books.  I was delighted to find that there were, even in my library system (though I’m scratching my head at why I haven’t seen them before).  While we didn’t build some of the elaborate things the book called for, such as a wave generator or the clear wave experiment box, it was exactly the sort of book I want about science topics.  Instead of laying out just a few “cool” experiments, it suggested open-ended ways to explore the topic with different materials.

We began by playing with making waves using our fingers and various toys.  We started with a very shallow pan of water.  We added tiny floating confetti to see if it helped us observe the motion of the water.  Next, we went to the big, clear containers of water.  We did some of the same explorations, then added some food coloring to help us see the waves from the side.  In addition to just identifying the crests, trough and wavelengths, the kids made some good discoveries about how the waves move, for example if you start two waves in different directions.

In order to illustrate the idea that the water in the wave may move up and down but doesn’t change position, we moved to the living room to knock over rows of dominoes and knock a row of marbles so that the energy transfered through the marbles and sent the final marble rolling.  The kids understood this idea immediately, which made me feel good about all the learning we did about energy earlier in the year.

Next, we explored waves with rope, string and sheets.  We tried to see how many wavelengths we could get and how big or small we could make them.  The kids enjoyed this very much, as you can see below.

Finally, we looked at the electromagnetic spectrum a little bit.  We added an illustration of the different waves in the spectrum to our notebooks.  Then, the kids ran all over the house to find different things to show off that use the electromagnetic spectrum.  They found some obvious things, such as the microwave, the TV and the clock radio.  Then they found a couple things I hadn’t though about, such as the remote control, which I had to look up to be sure I had right (it uses infrared light).

Overall, I was happy with this introduction to the idea of waves in different forms, so I’m hoping they remember some of the concepts as we tackle sound and light in the next few weeks.

Science Review and The Box of Science

We absolutely did science this week, but I’m swamped with Tempest rehearsal stuff and life in general, so I thought I’d do a couple of other things instead of posting about our week.

First of all, this lesson wraps up the first section we covered in our spine The Usborne Science Encyclopedia.  This unit took up half the year and covered the section called “Energy, Forces and Motion.”  In case you’re interested, here’s the links below to all the sections and how we covered them:

Energy Parts 1 and 2
Heat Parts 1 and 2
Forces and Motion Parts 1 and 2
Simple Machines
Sinking and Floating

Engines (to be posted next week!)

Looking back, I feel pretty good about how we covered these topics.  Obviously, there are things I see that we could have done better (things other than just me realizing that I accidentally misnumbered the science weeks…  oopsie).  But overall, it’s good.  Coming up next is our second half of the year unit: “Light, Sound and Electricity.”

And just so you don’t feel like this post was all links to other posts (don’t you hate that?) I thought I would share a little about our science organization.  At the start of the year, I looked at a lot of the experiments I wanted to do with these topics and began gathering the materials we would need into a single box so that I wouldn’t need to think about things like, “Hey, do we have any ping pong balls?” every week.  I couldn’t keep absolutely everything on hand, but I’m so glad I did this.  And having see how many of these common household items are used over and over again in experiments, such as the ones in the Janice VanCleave books, I want to keep up our Box of Science so that it can continue to be a one stop spot for experiments.  I had a few things in there that were specific to our units, such as the wacky whirlers I mentioned last week and the putt putt boats that I’ll tell you all about next week.  However, the vast majority of stuff was just common items that I might have forgotten to have around if not for two elementary school science students.

Here’s what we’ve got:

  • balloons (regular and water balloon size)
  • rubber bands
  • magnets
  • one large pickle jar and one small baby food jar
  • straws
  • marbles
  • ping pong balls
  • beach ball
  • magnifying glasses
  • string
  • modeling clay
  • two liter plastic bottle
  • paper clips
  • duck tape and Scotch tape
  • scraps of cardboard
  • tin foil
  • baking soda
  • vinegar

Wow.  The Box of Science is a bit of a mess now that the unit is over.  Must refresh and get it ready for our next unit.

Science Week 6: More Forces and Motion

We dipped into forces and motion for a second week of experiments and readings.  This week, we hit the Bill Nye episode about momentum and read a couple of the nonfiction section’s lesser offerings on the subject, including the book Forces and Motion: Questions and Answers by Catherine A. Welch.  This is one of those books that only asks you really obvious questions with simple, straightforward answers.  I guess I’m glad we had extra books to flesh out our pile, but I wish more science books for younger readers would treat their readers with more respect.

But on to the fun stuff.  We began by reviewing Newton’s three laws in the simplest terms.  For their science journals this week, the kids drew an illustration about each law.  Here are BalletBoy’s below.  The first law shows an apple falling (until stopped by Newton’s head) and an apple staying still.  The second picture shows someone trying to lift a big pile of books versus a single book.  The third picture shows the card houses we made last week – in other words, two forces balanced against each other.

Then we did experiments to think about each law.  For the first law, we talked about inertia again and pulled a piece of paper from below a cup full of water.  In other words, more magic.  We did a lot of these tricks last week.  This time, we moved on after that one.  Taking that same cup of water, I put a layer of oil on top then put four drops of food coloring.  We took turns slowly spinning the cup on the table so you could see that the liquid resisted moving.  In other words, it had inertia.

Staying with the liquid theme, I showed the kids two eggs.  One would spin easily.  The other resisted spinning, but once you got it going, it was harder to stop.  The one that spun easily could be stopped with a tap, but the other one kept going even after you stopped it with a light tap.  The kids had various ideas about this.  We ended up weighing the eggs on the balance to show that the difference in their weights was negligible.  Finally, I let them crack open the eggs.  The easy spinner was hard-boiled.  The one that didn’t like to spin (and then didn’t want to stop) was a raw egg.  We talked about what made that one different.  Overall, I think this was one of the most successful experiments we’ve done so far.  The kids loved trying to figure out the mystery and had many great (if not correct) ideas about what made the eggs act so differently.

Next, we continued with liquids by exploring centrifugal forces.  The kids made little buckets out of paper cups and string.  Then, they made quite a mess in the kitchen.

For the second law, we watched another Eureka video then did exactly what they talked about in the video.  We threw a heavy ball and a light ball.  I think, at least at this level, Newton’s Second Law may be the most intuitive.  The kids all know that heavy things are hard to move.  After all, they’re tiny and the rest of the world is huge.

For the third law, we did a classic experiment with a balloon taped to a straw and threaded on a string.  I tied the string to the easel on one end of the living room and the abacus on the other.  Of course, when you let the inflated balloon go, the force pushes it across the room.  This one delighted the kids.

So did playing with a gyroscope at the end of our experiment time.  The gyroscope did what they do and spun on the table.  We also watched an excerpt from the show Beakman’s World about gyroscopes.  The kids like that show much more than I do.  I find Beakman a little…  annoying.  Somehow when Bill Nye is manic on screen, it’s endearing, but when Beakman is, it’s just grating.  But hey, whatever works, right?