Tag: physical science activity (Page 3 of 3)

Meteor Shower Saturday Morning

If you are in the western U.S. or Canada, you might want to set your alarm clocks so you can catch the Quantrantid meteor shower. The meteor shower is predicted to be at its peak just before dawn, or 6:00 am Mountain time.

Have you ever watched a meteor shower or seen a “shooting star?” Basically the bits of rocks or dust from a comet that create a streak of light as they burn up in the atmosphere. You won’t be able to use binoculars or telescope, because they move too quickly to follow. A few years ago my family stretched out on blankets (and under blankets – it was cold) in the back of my husband’s pick up truck and watched the sky. What a neat experience.

If you want to find out more about the Quantrantid meteor shower, check SpaceWeather.com.

A “Cool” Weekend Science Fun: Snow Science

A friend called this week to report they had 24 inches of snow in 12 hours in Colorado. With that much snow, it’s time to do some snow science!

Snow science? Why would anyone study something as common as snow? I know that sometimes adults view it as a major headache. But snow has some important functions, and it turns out scientists from a number of different fields are interested in snow. Physicists, water scientists, meteorologists and even food scientists study aspects of snow.

Physics of Snow
The FAQ’s pages at the Snow Crystals website is a perfect place to start if you want to study the physics of snow. The author discusses how studying the growth and form of snow crystals can be applied to the field of crystals in general, and may have important engineering and technology applications.

“Cool” Physics Experiments.

A few weeks ago, we mentioned snow in the post on growing crystals. We suggested collecting some snow and examining it under a hand lens or magnifying glass.You might see something like this:

snow crystal

Wow, isn’t it beautiful?

If you are interested in more incredible photographs of snow crystals, check out the three photo galleries at Snow Crystals.

The Snow Crystals website also has a number of science-related activities with snow and ice, including this discussion of ice spikes that form on ice cubes in the freezer. This is another great example of something you may have seen, but not really registered that it might be something worth taking another look at.

Another experiment you can try is to study the effect of light and heat absorption on snow melt. On a calm sunny day with snow on the ground, lay a square of aluminum foil on the snow in the sun. Then lay equal-sized squares of white cloth, and black cloth nearby. Leave them in the sun for at least an hour. Come back and look for any changes in the snow around and under the squares. Place a thermometer under each square and record the temperature. Are there any differences? What would you predict would happen?

Meteorology and Water Science

Here in Arizona we are very interested in snow, or more often lately, in the lack of snow. We are not interested in what happens in Phoenix because it rarely snows here. But we are very interested in the snow that falls far away in the mountains. Why are we interested in snow that far away? Are we avid skiers? Actually, how much and where the snow falls in the Rocky Mountains determines whether we have water to drink the following seasons here in the desert, so snowfall is critical to us.

How much water is in snow? A common figure is that 10 inches of snow equals one inch of precipitation, that is, one inch of water. Different types of snow, however, often yield different amounts of water. To test this, loosely pack snow to fill a measuring cup. Bring the snow indoors and let it melt. Now record how much water you obtained. Try this experiment several times, with snow of different consistencies. Does the same amount of snow always result in the same amount of water?

For more information about water storage in ice and snow, and how that effects the water cycle, visit the USGS water cycle page.

Food Scientists
Okay, now why would a food scientist be interested in snow? Because snow contains certain bacteria, which produce a protein that may be used in the future to prevent ice cream from getting freezer burn. Who knew?


If you are interested in learning more about snow making and how snow forms, check
Harris, Tom. “How Snow Makers Work.” 06 December 2000. HowStuffWorks.com. 12 December 2008.
http://adventure.howstuffworks.com/snow-maker1.htm – particularly number 2, How nature makes snow.

Books for young children:

Snow Is Falling (Let’s-Read-and-Find… Science, Stage 1) by Franklyn M. Branley and Holly Keller

Snow (Blastoff! Readers) (Weather) by Ann Herriges (Author)

We haven’t tried this, but it looked interesting:
Sand, Snow and Solid Physical Science Wonder Kit

Have a great weekend, and enjoy the snow if you have some.

Making a Science Boredom Bin

Who hasn’t heard the whine of “I’m bored” from their children, particularly during the quiet summer months? Usually it is enough to say, “Go try…” but sometimes they may need a bit of help to get started on a new project. This often happens in the late afternoon when we’re all tired, and the weather is keeping us confined to the house.

To combat the occasional summer blahs, I have been making what we call a “boredom bin” each spring. When I visit dollar stores or secondhand shops, I pick up inexpensive items like puzzles, games, books and art supplies, and throw them in a bin hidden in my closet. Once tedium reaches maximum levels, someone requests a trip to the boredom bin. I suspect just the anticipation of something new helps. Each child gets one item without seeing what else is in the bin. No matter what it is, off they run to play with it. It is a very happy tradition at our house.

This year I’m taking things a step further and making a science-themed boredom bin. Having recently heard a mother explain how she finally had saved up enough money to buy an expensive science kit for her children, I want to emphasize you can do a lot of science with things around the house that don’t cost much at all. Here are some ideas:

Because our family is studying the physical sciences, the first list is a physical science theme.

1. Inexpensive kites (often available in grocery stores for just a dollar or two), or balsa, string, tape and paper to make kites
2. Straws to make into kazoos, atomizers, droppers, bridges, you name it
3. Paper towel tubes, file folders and boxes to make marble towers, houses, airplanes, etc.
4. Plastic bags, bits of yarn or string, and action figures to make parachutes
5. Balloons to make cars, hover craft, drums, etc.
6. Inexpensive magnet and electricity kits, available used or at discount stores that sell returned/discontinued items
7. Inexpensive kitchen scale (garage sales) or materials to make a homemade scale
8. Flashlights, thermometers, magnifying lenses, prisms (we got a very inexpensive crystal pendent that works), aluminum foil to study light and heat
9. Building blocks and wheels (like Legos, Knex or Megablocks) (garage sales)
10. Plastic bins, toy boats, clay, soap, foil etc. to study floating and sinking
11. A good book of science activities to get you started, often available used

A chemistry-themed bin might include:
1. A box or two of cornstarch, to mix with about equal parts water to make cornstarch goo. Kids of all ages love to revisit this messy activity again and again.
2. Bubble mix or try the bubble science experiment in this blog
3. Pennies, nails. Add lemon juice from the kitchen to clean the penny, and copper plate the nail. Lemons can also be used to make invisible ink and with cabbage juice to explore acids and bases (see color experiments in this blog)
4. Oil, food coloring and water to study oil and water separation
5. Vinegar and baking soda to make volcanoes and rockets. For an incredibly simple, yet effective volcano: Have your child make a volcano shaped heap in a sandbox or loose soil, if no sandbox is available. Make a hole in the top, about 1 1/2 inches deep, and pour in some baking soda. Then pour in about 1/2 cup vinegar and stand back for the eruption. The cone can be rebuilt again and again. Add red food coloring to the vinegar to simulate lava.
6. Yeast packet, sugar, balloon and a water bottle. Mix the yeast, sugar and water in the bottom of the water bottle and then cover the opening with the un-inflated balloon. Watch what happens as the yeast begins to grow.
7. Metal objects such as nails, washers, paper clips, etc. Place in jars with either plain water, water plus salt, or plain vinegar and see what happens.
8. A good book of science activities to get you started, often available used

If you want a biology-themed bin, consider adding:

1. Bug catching and viewing toys such as bug vacuums, jars and nets. Encourage your children to catch, observe and release.
2. Seeds to plant in recycled containers
3. Dried beans to soak and sprout
4. Simple kits to make bird houses, feeders. Get more ideas from the bird watching activity in this blog.
5. String, measuring tape, pencils and paper, crayons, camera to study a tree. Keep a nature journal to see how the tree changes from season to season and over the years. Use the string to measure around the trunk and the tape to figure the length. Record what animals visit the tree. Make bark rubbings and press a few leaves. Check the tree flower activity, too.
6. Consider constructing a worm bin to recycle food waste. Red wiggler worms are the special type used in worm bins.
7. Gather materials to start and study a compost heap.
8. Herb seeds and pots to start an herb container garden. Kids like herbs because of their wonderful odors and textures, plus many herbs are hardy to grow, giving children success.
9. Inexpensive tape recorder. Tape insects, birds, mammals and frogs making noises, singing and calling.
10. Find a good book of science activities to get you started, often available used

Please let me know if you want further instructions for any of these projects, or if you have additional items to add to the lists. Good luck and hope you have a happy summer filled with science fun.

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