Physical Science

Are your children interested in learning more about the physical sciences? We'll be adding a series of activities to explore:

  • Astronomy (today)
  • Meteorology
  • Earth Science
  • Physics
  • Chemistry

Astronomy is the study of objects and processes that occur out in space. Astronomy covers the moon, planets, the solar system, asteroids, comets, stars, nebulae, galaxies, etc.

Let's start our study with near objects.

moonset-peake(Photograph by Tim Peake of the European Space Agency Image Credit: ESA/NASA)

The Moon

Begin by observing the moon on a clear night, which will raise a child’s interest and start the questions flowing. Check the newspaper for the weather, phase of moon and local times when the moon will rise and set.

Try to find an area away from lights and look at the moon. Take a pair of binoculars or a telescope with you, if available (The moon is bright, so don’t stare at it with binoculars for too long).

Activity 1.  Making Craters

The most obvious features on the face of the moon are the impact craters. Children can create and study craters using a simple model.

Gather:

  • Flour
  • Powdered cocoa or cornmeal
  • Unbreakable pan
  • Marbles and/or rocks
  • Candy sprinkles (optional)
  • Newspaper or garbage bags (optional)

Find a level surface, preferably outside or indoors where a bit of flour won't cause a mess. Cover the surface with some newspaper or flat garbage bags to help with clean up. Fill a large pan (preferably unbreakable, such as aluminum or plastic) halfway with flour. If you want, you can also add a thin layer of candy sprinkles to represent other minerals present under the surface. Finally, gently add a thin layer of cocoa powder or cornmeal.

Have your kids drop various round objects into the flour. The results should be some interesting craters and splash patterns, which are the patterns of debris shot out of the crater with impact.

This video from NASA gives more complete details.

Related:

1. Outreach Resources from Night Sky Network, which include the following activities to download (may have to provide some information for access) :

  • Does the moon rotate?
  • Observing the Moon
  • Why does the moon have phases?
  • Why do eclipses happen?

2. World Space Week Heinlein Teacher Kit (direct link to .pdf)

3. Geology.com has an interactive map of the 50 largest impact craters on Earth.

The Solar System

The next step into astronomy is to study the planets and other objects in the solar system.

Activity 2:  Make a poster or model of the solar system.

One simple way to study all the planets is to create a mobile or poster of the solar system. How complicated a project this can be will depend on the age and interests of your child. Use your imagination and move beyond Styrofoam balls (which can be expensive).

Suggested materials:

  • Cloth
  • Salt clay or model magic
  • Paper maché
  • Yarn/string (see video below)
  • Balloons
  • Paper

How to make decorative balls out of yarn that could be used for a solar system model:


You can also purchase model kits made of various materials.


(Amazon Affiliate Link)

Related Resources:

Exploratorium has a calculator to determine the relative sizes and distances for a scale model.

The European Space Agency has an excellent set of lesson plans complete with full color images of objects in the solar system to download:  Our Solar System

The McDonald Observatory has a lesson on making a scale model of the solar system (direct .pdf link) to download (as well as many related lessons)

When the mobile/model is completed, ask some questions. Why do we have night and day? What is an eclipse? Why do we have seasons? A sophisticated model can help answer some of these questions.

Activity 3:  Outdoor Solar System Scale Models

Take a field trip to an outdoor scale model of the solar system. Wikimedia has a partial list of scale models found throughout the world.

In Arizona try:

  1. The Solar System Walk at the Environmental Education Center in Chandler, Arizona
  2. Display around the observatory at the Gilbert Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, Arizona.
  3. The Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Do you know where there's a scale model of the solar system to explore? Please leave a comment.

Books about planets and the solar system

planet-books-button

Stars/Universe

It might seem like it would be difficult to study something as large and complex as the the universe, but there are actually many potential hands-on activities.

  1. Take a trip to a planetarium.
  2. Study dust
  3. Make your own galaxy
  4. Scale model of a black hole (advanced)
  5. Constellation Detective (direct link to .pdf)
  6. Build your own telescope, for example using this kit from Home Science Tools (I am not affiliated with this company)

Want to learn more? Khan Academy has video lessons about stars, black holes and galaxies.

Lists of related children's books at Science Books for Kids:

Children's books about stars and the universe.

stars-books-button

For National Poetry Month, try our list of Poetry Books about Space

space-poetry-for-kids

 

Physical Science Investigations

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This week for STEM Friday we have physical science activities inspired by the new book:  The Kids' Book of Simple Machines: Cool Projects & Activities that Make Science Fun!by Kelly Doudna.

The Kids' Book of Simple Machines is the perfect hands-on science book for early elementary-aged children. It has concise explanations of the science of simple machines,  clear step-by-step instructions, and enticing colorful photographs of the projects. In addition, the background information in the different sections introduces children to famous scientists and inventors, from Archimedes to the Wright brothers.

The six simple machines covered are the lever, pulley, inclined plane, wedge, wheel and axle, and screw. After a brief introduction to each type in the front, the following chapters give more in-depth information, numerous examples of the different simple machines, and several activities and projects to explore the concepts more fully.

Whether you are teaching science in the classroom, after school, or at home, The Kids' Book of Simple Machines is a well-designed and useful resource. The young makers of the world are going to have hours of fun trying out the activities in this book.

Related Activities:

1. Archimedes Screw

One of the simple machines from the book is the screw.

Screws1_(PSF)(Public domain image from Wikimedia)

A screw is an inclined plane wrapped around some sort of central core. In addition to holding pieces of metal or wood together, screws can also be used to move objects. Propellers are types of screws that help move boats through water or airplanes through the air.

One of the earliest examples of a screw being used to move things was invented by the Greek scientist Archimedes. We all know that water moves down slope because of gravity. Archimedes figured out a way to move water against gravity using a device that now bears his name, the Archimedes screw.

Check out this video of a simple Archimedes screw made by a young girl:

Instructions for making an Archimedes screw may be found at:

2. Simple Machines Quiz

After reading this introduction to simple machines at Idaho Public Television,  figure out what kind or kinds of simple machines are illustrated here  (Public domain images are from Wikimedia).

Answers are at the bottom of the post.

A. What kind(s) of simple machine(s) are these scissors?

Scissors3_(PSF)

B. How about this wheelbarrow?

Wheelbarrow_(PSF)

C. What kind of simple machine is an adze?

Adz_(PSF)

D. How about this press, which might be used to squeeze the juice out of apples?

Press_2_(PSF)

Learn more with The Kids' Book of Simple Machines: Cool Projects & Activities that Make Science Fun!by Kelly Doudna

Age Range: 5 - 9 years
Grade Level: Kindergarten - 4
Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: Mighty Media Kids (August 25, 2015)
ISBN-10: 1938063597
ISBN-13: 978-1938063596

Disclosure: The book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.

Answers:

A. Scissors:  You are correct if you answered lever or wedge. Scissors are complex machines consisting of double levers and wedges (the blades).

B. Wheelbarrow:  Also a complex machine, a wheelbarrow combines a wheel/axle with a lever.

C. Adze:  The blade of the adze is a wedge.

D. Press:  The simple machine found in this press is a screw.

How did you do? If you'd like to learn more about simple machines, please let us know.

Seems like it has been too long since we've done any science activities, so let's share a book for STEM Friday that is sure to get the scientific inquiries flowing. Explore Gravity!: With 25 Great Projects (Explore Your World series)  by Cindy Blobaum and illustrated by Bryan Stone explore-gravityis a new children's project book that helps budding physicists learn about why gravity is important and how it works. The best part is that it is filled with hands on projects that can be done with easy-to-obtain objects, mostly from around the house.

What to like:  The instructions are clear and easy to follow. New vocabulary words are highlighted with bold font, and then defined in sidebar glossaries. There is also a complete glossary in the back, as well as an index (great for finding projects fast). Plus the projects are fun and some, like the marshmallow trebuchet, are sure to "launch" new projects

Studying the effects of gravity and weightlessness can be a blast for adults, too. Check out scientists investigating fluid movement in weightless conditions in this video from Science Friday. Note: some mention of the effects of nausea are discussed briefly. May take a few moments to load.

 

 

For a more advanced discussion of how gravity works and what it is, check out this video from How Stuff Works:

You can also do this by stretching out a bed sheet.

Explore Gravity!: With 25 Great Projects is a perfect way to investigate how gravity works and to inspire budding scientists.

Related activities:

At the Nomad Press Explore Gravity page, select activities in the lower left sidebar (you will need to scroll down to see it) and a link will come up for you to download free instructions to make a balance sculpture (mobile).

Making parachutes is a good way to explore the forces of gravity.

Making siphons is another way to explore gravity (Growing With Science Water Cycle, second activity).

Note: Nomad Press has other free activities to download as well (to accompany other books)

Age Range: 7 - 9 years
Series: Explore Your World series
Paperback: 96 pages
Publisher: Nomad Press (November 1, 2013)
ISBN-10: 1619302071
ISBN-13: 978-1619302075

Disclosures:  The book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

 

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.