Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Educational Fun - Making ornaments

There is a great deal of science involved with cooking.  With that in mind, my wife and I came up with a very inexpensive little bit of educational fun for us to do as a family.  She pulled out her mothers old recipe for making christmas ornaments and after purchasing a few supplies, we had an entire evening of Christmas music, baking, painting and talking for less than you would spend at the movies.

suggested discussions: flour and water acting as a glue, heat and evaporation, acrylic sealant to keep the "food" from going bad since these ornaments are edible (though I wouldn't recommend it.. They taste horrible)

Salt Dough Ornaments

2 C. flour
1 C. salt
1 C. water

Mix salt and flour. Add in half the water, then gradually add the remaining water. Knead until the dough is smooth, this can take up to 10 minutes.

For flat dough ornaments roll out the dough on baking paper. You can also be creative and make odd shapes and wreaths (takes longer to bake.) Use cookie cutters, cut-out templates, or just use your hands.

Dust dough with flour and begin to add details to the ornaments with a toothpick, popsicle stick, and knife.
Don't forget to use a straw to make a hole so you can hang the ornament.

Baking: Time varies based on thickness of ornament
Temperature: 325°F.
Time: 1 1/2 hours - or until dry

Let cool before you begin. Paint with acrylic paints. Glue on beads, buttons, or any fun accessory. Coat with acrylic varnish when everything is dry.

Friday, December 4, 2009

thought experiment - how big is space.

Here is some good clean educational fun about space (my favorite subject). For me, those huge measurements like '1 billion light years' are very hard to grasp.. It makes it easier if you start from where we live.

It takes the earth 24 hours to make a circle on it’s axis
It takes the moon one month to go once around the earth
It takes the earth (and moon) one year to go around the sun
It takes Pluto (the farthest micro-planet so far) 247.9 earth YEARS to make one trip around the sun

Now.. Think about this..

The sun is orbiting something too.. Our sun is ONE of the BILLIONS of stars in the milky way galaxy.. The sun (and its planets AND all the other stars in the milky way) are orbiting the super-massive black hole in the center of the galaxy.

It takes the Sun (and us) 200 MILLION years to make one rotation around the big black hole.. We aren’t even on the edge of the milky way like Pluto is on the edge of our solar system. We are in the middle of the disk of things orbiting the black hole.. That means that some of the outside stars may take a BILLION years just for one rotation!!!

Now that you know how big the milky way is.. Our galaxy is only one of billions of galaxies that are out there.. They are all moving around space too although no one knows where from or where to.. Now that you know how big just our galaxy is, think about how big space must be for those galaxies to move around and not be smacking into each other all the time... Now you can see why light takes BILLIONS of years to get to us.. Space is just that big!! Our absolute nearest neighbor galaxy is still 2.2 MILLION light years away..

Light years are mainly about distance.. But because the distances are so big, it takes a lot of time to travel - Even for light.. The distance light can travel in one year is 6,000,000,000,000 (6 trillion) miles.. So if something is JUST 4 light years away, that is 24 trillion miles..

Now think about that newest neighbor being 2.2 million light years away!!  If someone near that star turned on a flashlight, it would take that light 2.2 million years to make it to us. At the end of it's journey, it will have travelled this many miles 18,200,000,000,000,000,000.

To get a visual idea of how big space is.. This is a photo taken by Voyager 1 which was launched in 1977 the year after I was born. In the 30 years, it has only gotten to the edge of the solar system (pretty close to Pluto).. You know how big Earth is right? This is what Earth looks like from the half-way point or, where Voyager 1 was in 1991.. So this is what the Earth looks like from half way to pluto. 

Here is another REALLY cool site for space that is geared more for kids for more information.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The band aid experiment

Bellow are some oversimplified ideas and then a fun and cheap experiment to show you the basics of the ideas.

How does friction work:

Have you ever rubbed your hands back and forth on each other really fast? Try it out.. If you rub them fast enough, your hands get very hot because of friction.

Friction is “a force that resists the motion of two bodies in contact”. That is what the dictionary says but this might make it a little more real for you.

You know that if you were sitting on one end of a completely flat football field and pushed a basketball towards the other end, it probably wouldn’t make it all the way. The reason that it slows down and stops is because there is friction between the ball and the ground.

Whenever you FORCE something to move against something else, the friction can’t make the movement stop instead the energy that is generated starts turning into heat.

How does a lightbulb work:

Heat isn’t the only byproduct of friction. In a light bulb, there is a tiny piece of metal that has electricity passing through it. In electrical terms, the wire provides “resistance” to the electricity which would normally stop those electrons from moving.. But just like friction, when you FORCE a movement to happen, heat is generated but in this case, light is too..

Now you can see that changing from one state (stopped) to another (moving) or forcing movement generates energy that has to be released in some way.

Weird chemical friction stuff:

Now.. Imagine applying that principal to chemicals.

Adhesives like glue work by creating atomic bonds to the atoms next to it. That is fancy talk for “they like to stick to stuff”.. Just like the friction idea, if you FORCE them away from each other pulling them apart, an energy is created which has to be released.

Now, here is something easy to do so that you can see that:

Ask your mom for a couple of band aids that are still in their individual package. Make the room as pitch black dark as you can and quickly open the band aid the way you usually do. This forces those atomic bonds to break which creates energy that is released as a blue light.

MAN I love science.. Weird how the same forces that make the sun work as it changes atoms from one state to another also happen on as small of a scale as opening a bandaid.

thought experiment - BOY! that Einstein sure was smart

So.. You probably have heard of Einstein’s theory of relativity. It sounds very simple but in reality, it describes how every atom of mass, every force of gravity and almost anything else works.

This includes:
• Time travel and warping from one place to another
         With the help of gravitational waves and black holes which make ‘time warps’ because they are so strong that they warp time and space.
• Light
• Atomic principals for generating energy and bombs
• The universe, space, time and everything else you can think of probably.

Most people recognize E=MC2 which is one EXTREMELY tiny part of his works and even that short equation is super-complicated (let me know if you want to know what all it describes).. Almost all science fiction is based on his works including Star Trek’s warp speed, Worm Holes, Black Holes, Time Travel and etc.


It was said that Albert forgot to do anything with his hair and never worried about his clothes. People described him as ‘famously sloppy’.. Most people also described him as goofy or absent minded.. In reality, his brain was so involved with things that scientists STILL don’t understand (50+ years later) that he couldn’t be bothered with little things like dressing himself or remembering peoples names.

Super-brief History
• Einstein was born in 1879
• Died in 1955 (76 years old)
• Published his theory of special relativity in 1905 at 26 years old (I am almost 30).
• Published his theory of general relativity in 1915 at 36 years old
• After his death, his brain was taken out and stored. After FINALLY being found, it was studied to try and find out why he was such a genius. (

Super smart History

It is one thing to sit and use your imagination to come up with theories about how things work.. It is quite another to do what Einstein did. He used VERY complex math to find missing things in the standard theories of the time and then used math and other things to explain what is probably missing.

A GREAT example of that are black holes. He noticed that our solar system is orbiting around the milky way along with all the other stars in our galaxy.. He knew there HAD to be something with a LOT of gravity at the center of our galaxy to be affecting that many stars and all their planets.. He did the math for how much mass something would have to have (how big it is) for the gravity to be that strong but couldn’t make his math work out.. He couldn’t find anything in the universe big enough to have that kind of gravity so he began to come up with theories about what else could be there.

He used his knowledge of atomic energy to figure out what happens at the end of a stars life.. A star (like our sun) is a careful balance of atomic conversions or explosions and gravity.. Too much atomic energy and a star would blow itself up.. Not enough and it would collapse. He found out (with math) that when a star uses up all of the fuel for those explosions, it collapses in on itself.. The result was that he predicted an object which we now call a black hole.

Keep in mind that he did all this stuff in 1905.. The first “computer” is generally believed to be the “eniac” created in 1942.. 37 years after Einstein did all that math!!!!!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

baking soda a vinegar experiment - chemical reactions

Almost everyone knows that baking soda and vinegar create a bubbly reaction but not very many know what is actually happening in detail. This experiment teaches kids what is actually happening with this chemical reaction.

Materials needed:
One 20 oz soda bottle with label removed
One balloon
Baking soda

Time needed: about 10 minutes

The payoff: not only do you see the chemical reaction but you also get to see the balloon fill up with the carbon dioxide gas that is escaping.

  • Place 1-2 tablespoons of baking soda in the bottle. If need be, you can roll up a piece of notebook paper to use as a funnel.
  • Pour as much vinegar into the deflated balloon as you can.
  • Stretch the balloon over the mouth of the bottle but don’t let the vinegar spill in yet

For the experiment, tip the empty balloon up to let the vinegar pour into the bottle. The reaction will release a lot of co2 gas which will fill up the balloon.

Discussions: Since the gas is invisible, the balloon will help you illustrate that the acid (vinegar) and the base (sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)) react together to help release carbon dioxide into the air.

These chemical reactions are happening in your body too though on a much smaller scale. Remember that co2 is what we breathe out.

For a more violent (outside) reaction, use a 2-liter of diet coke and the candy mentos that come in a roll.

Monday, November 30, 2009

making butter experiment

My daughter and I made some bread for a science experiment - you know, yeast, infusion and chemical reactions, etc (yes, I know I am a (big) nerd). Rosemary Garlic bread if anyone is curious..

When we got finished, my daughter said it needed butter which brought us to science experiment #2 – One that I had never done before.

Turns out that it is ridiculously easy to make butter when you aren’t being forced to use a churn by your parents. I bet that adds a level of difficulty or at least boredom.

Time required for full effect – about 10 minutes (excluding the 6-12 hours of leaving the cream out of the fridge)

Items needed:
• Small container of heaver whipping cream
• A clean jar with a lid – we used a miracle whip jar
• Some salt, rosemary or anything else if you want flavored butter

Leave heavy whipping cream out on the counter for 6-12 hours (gross I know.. but imagine in pioneer days), pour into a jar and add a bit of salt or other flavoring (for taste only).

Shake in a jar for 3 minutes (about one shake per second). The goal of the shaking is not to mix the ingredients but rather to slam the milk against one end of the jar repetitively. This breaks the protein bonds and allows the butter to separate. So one slam of the milk per second for 3 minutes.


Notice the milky substance. That is where ‘buttermilk’ comes from. You pour that off (save it if you want) while talking about buttermilk pancakes and buttermilk ranch dressing.

Pour a bit of warm water and give one shake to rinse the butter. Pour that off and enjoy.


Additional discussions:
• If you were to shake the jar for a while longer than 3 minutes, you could actually make whipped cream instead of butter.
• You can do this experiment starting with whole milk but it takes a LOT longer than three minutes. My grandmother told me that I had cheated starting with cream :-)
• Almost all of our parents\grandparents used to do this for eating instead of learning which I think makes the experiment more personal. My kid was so excited to talk to my grandmother after this and she actually had an old butter churn that she showed us.

One word of warning:
My daughter who had been so excited said upon tasting the butter “it just tastes like real butter”. We had to talk about how real butter was what we just made and that manufacturers imitate what we did. It blew her mind.

Have fun with this easy experiment.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

celery experiment - how plants drink

Time required for full effect – overnight

Materials required – a new stalk of celery with leaves on it, a glass, water and food coloring

The payoff – color the water red (or blue) , cut the bottom of the celery stick as shown. put celery in the water as if it were a flower. Overnight, the celery sucks up the colored water staining the veins and the leaves.

Suggested discussions:

Preparation: how do plants grow? They need light from the sun, carbon dioxide (which we breathe out remember) from the air but they also need water and nutrients from the ground.

The roots take in water and capillary action draws that nutrient-rich water up through the veins (show them the bottom of the celery stick and notice the holes)

and just like blood in your body, that water goes all over the plant. Up through the stalk (or trunk) and through the leaves.

Put celery in the water and leave overnight for this as proof of the discussion:

Once the experiment is done, talk about how our food grows in the ground. What do you think happens if trash or chemicals are in the ground we grow food in?

Results –
before and after image:

Notice the veins running up the stalk?

Veins on the leaf bringing nutrients to the entire leaf

Good contrast of green leaf with red veins.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

geocaching - free outside fun for the whole family.

My kid is in religion education classes right now. After one of her last classes, the teacher told me that she wanted to talk to me which immediately scared the crap out of me. It is bad enough when a regular teacher tells you that but a religion teacher opens up a whole new level of “what the heck did my kid say”.

Turns out, they were asking the kids what their favorite summer activity was and mine said geocaching. They just wanted to know what it was. (phwew!)

see my links at the bottom for some of our adventures.

Geocahing (pronounced geo cashing) is basically a treasure hunt for nerds using a GPS and a website full of coordinates. People all over the world hide small containers stuffed with a log file and little toys or coins. Then they post the GPS coordinates on this website geocaching.

People like us go there and look for caches (cashes) near us. Put the coordinates in and start hiking.

The general rules are:
• Sign the log book
• Take a small toy and leave a small toy
• Sign up online that you found it
• Don’t let “muggles” (non geocachers) see you when you find it.

So it’s free fun, they get a toy, they get to be sneaky and they know a secret that not many others know. My kid LOVES knowing that we have one we can see from the house and people are walking past it all day without knowing.

Once you get good at finding them, hide one. You and your kid can read all the log entries from people who found what they hid. And for even another level of fun, you can order “travel bugs”.

Those are dogtags you attach to a toy. When someone finds a tag, they enter it’s code online and move it to another cache. In this way, your kid’s toy can go all over the world and they can watch it online. We had one that went to Hawaii and back twice and both coasts of the US. It was a lovely way to teach geography too.

Here is a link to one of my travel bugs and a photo gallery of where all he has been in his 8,000+ miles of travel. Then there is the cache cow that we hid. 124 finds and this is the oldest cache in grason county.

Mama isn’t horribly keen on this since last time she went she got covered in poison ivy but apart from that, we have all had so many good times, I thought I would share. Ps. If you keep your eyes open because you are likely to find wonderful father and daughter fishing locations.

information about this blog

I love science.  There, I said it.

Being a huge nerd has always served me well and I have always had a lot of excitement for learning. Now that I have a young child, I have someone to share that excitement with and I am afraid her mind works a lot like mine.

In an effort to keep her learning, we almost always are looking for education opportunities no matter where we are and when they can’t be found, we make them. With that in mind, I am hoping to use this blog to help other parents, teachers, uncles, aunts or anyone dedicated to keeping the spark of learning alive.

This blog will being with a post from my other site about learning while geocaching but will then take on a life of it’s own. I plan to fill it with the experiments we have done, information, lesson plans and other educational fun and ideas which are either free of very close to it.

Check back often as I will be posting like mad very soon.