Last week, the kids and I saw a bright red bird with a blue head. Baffled, I pulled out my favorite bird identification app: Merlin Bird ID, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The app is free, available on the App Store and Google play, and much of the data in the app has been collected by citizen scientists, like you and me!
To use the app, you simply answer 5 simple questions about the bird you see and the app draws on a wealth of data to help you identify the bird. It comes up with a list of likely matches, and you choose the bird you’re looking at to learn more about it, and even listen to a recording of its song.
Normally, we can quickly identify the bird we’re stalking using the app, but the blue-headed red bird was tricky, so we went online to do more research. Merlin Bird ID suggested that it might be a cardinal, so we did a search for blue headed cardinals and discovered that we’d seen a bald-headed cardinal. It seems that some cardinals and blue jays molt all their head feathers at once, leaving their bluish skin exposed.
It’s been a busy summer, but we’re working on some sweet new experiments to share with you soon!
Last week, the kids and I got an advance copy of my new book “Kitchen Science Lab for Kids,” which will be available September 15th and we love how it turned out!
If you pre-order a copy from Amazon, Barnes&Noble, IndieBound, or Indigo before August 15th, I’ll send you a personalized, signed bookplate for each copy you order. Just email your receipt number and the address where you’d like the bookplate(s) sent. My email address is email@example.com. (Be sure to include the name(s) you’d like the book signed for!)
At-home science provides an environment for freedom, creativity and invention that’s not always possible in a school setting. In your own kitchen, it’s simple, inexpensive, and fun to whip up a number of amazing science experiments using everyday ingredients. Science can be as easy as baking. Hands-On Family: Kitchen Science Lab for Kids offers 52 fun science activities for families to do together. The experiments can be used as individual projects, for parties, or as educational activities groups. Kitchen Science Lab for Kids will tempt families to cook up some physics, chemistry and biology in their own kitchens and back yards. Many of the experiments are safe enough for toddlers and exciting enough for older kids, so families can discover the joy of science together.
Too hot to bike? Pool too crowed? Try some hot weather science! Just find a shady spot in the driveway, pull out the garden hose and you can experiment with:
and fire-proof water balloons.
Click on the experiment names to read directions and learn more about the science. Have fun!
This week, abulleyeview.com featured three of my favorite summer science experiments and I showed Twin Cities Live viewers how to make nature walk bracelets and green slime! (Oh yeah, we also broke a few eggs.)
What summer science experiments have you tried?
Don’t forget to download KidScience app for more great ideas! We just added a new experiment and have another one on the way!
I demonstrated a few fun science experiments on Kare11 this morning .
Here’s an experiment I did on Kare11 Sunrise that demonstrates why sunrises and sunsets look red.
And, here’s a fun optics experiment you can do with a laser pointer and a bottle of water:
We collected some moss and lichens this weekend at the cabin, so we can look for amazing creatures called tardigrades hiding in the clumps. You may have heard about these extremophiles on Cosmos (they can survive heat, cold, drought, radiation and even space. Click here for some nice close-ups of what we’re looking for. I’ll let you know what we find!
While you wait for the sun to come out, put away the screens and pull out some simple science! Just click on the blue experiment name for instructions and more about the science behind the fun, or click here to watch me demonstrate them on Twin Cities Live.
Fizzy Balloons are a fun way to explore chemical reactions!
Have an engineering competition by making breath-propelled Straw Rockets and seeing whose will travel the farthest.
Make your own Orchestraws from plastic drinking straws. (Get out the earplugs.)
Or watch science turn psychedelic when you add food coloring and dish soap to dairy and make Tie Dye Milk.
It only takes a spark to start a fire, and it only takes one atom to act as a seed for crystal formation. Under the right conditions, the atoms in alum will join together like puzzle pieces to form large crystals. I posted a few years ago about how to grow a large alum crystal, but this experiment is even more fun. It’s also easier for young kids, since it takes less small-motor coordination.
Alum is also called potassium aluminum sulfate. It’s used in pickling and in found in baking powder. You can grow beautiful alum crystals at home with a few jars of alum, water and any object you don’t mind covering with glue. We made fake geodes by breaking eggs in half and washing them out, but we also encrusted a grape stem and a plastic shark.
To do this experiment, you’ll need glue, 3/4 cup alum from the spice section of the grocery store (4 or 5 small jars should do it,) water and whatever you want to coat with crystals. It takes three days to complete.
On day one, paint glue on the objects you want to grow crystals on. If you’re making “geodes”, apply a thin layer of glue to the inside of an eggshell that’s been cut in half, washed out and dried. Then, sprinkle a little alum powder on the glue and let it dry overnight. We heavily coated our object with alum, but might have grown larger crystals if we’d used less. Each alum particle acts as a seed for crystal growth. The closer together they are, the less room your crystals will have to grow.
On day two, dissolve 3/4 cup alum in 2 cups of water by boiling. This step requires adult supervision. Make sure all the alum dissolves (it may still look a little cloudy) and let the solution cool. This is your supersaturated alum solution.
After about 30 minutes, when the solution is cool enough to be safely handled, gently immerse your object in the alum solution. For color, you can add a large squirt of food coloring. Let your project sit overnight to grow crystals.
On day three, gently remove your object from the alum solution and let it dry. How does it look? Draw it or take a picture to put in your science notebook!
Crystals are geometric networks of atoms. Imagine a three dimensional chain-link fence, and you’ll get the picture. Certain crystals will only grow in certain shapes. For example, diamonds are always cube-shaped when they form. Whether the atoms have joined to form a small diamond, or a large one, it will always be in the shape of a cube!
Some crystals, like alum, will form from supersaturated solutions, like the one you used in this experiment. A supersaturated solution is one that is forced to hold more atoms in water (or another solute) than it normally would. You can make these solutions using heat or pressure. Crystals can form when a supersaturated solutions encounters a “seed” atom or molecule, causing the other atoms to come out of the solution and attach to the seed.
What else could you try? Could you do the same experiment with salt, or sugar crystals? How do you think the color gets incorporated into the crystal? Do you think the food coloring disrupts the shape? Will larger crystals grow if you let your object sit in the solution longer?
You can read more about crystals and gems here.
Can kids in middle school come up with world-changing inventions? Absolutely.
Most 5-8th graders don’t have free access to labs full of chemicals and equipment, which is probably a good thing, but they’re armed with more curiosity and creativity than most adults. When given the opportunity and encouragement to let their imaginations run wild, kids come up with the most amazing ideas.
The Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge helps address the gap between idea and reality, and offers kids amazing incentives to come up with big ideas. The competition encourages kids in middle school to make two-minute videos about their ideas for using science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) to solve real-life problems. The videos are judged based on
- Creativity (ingenuity and innovative thinking) (30%);
- Scientific knowledge (30%);
- Persuasiveness and effective communication (20%); and
- Overall presentation (20%).
3M‘s Innovation Page gives overviews of how their scientists are impacting our daily lives, and some of their scientists will mentor the contest’s ten finalists, helping them envision how to take their creations from dream to reality. Ten finalists will travel to the 3M Innovation Center for the final competition.
Want to enter? Here’s the link: http://www.youngscientistchallenge.com/enter.
It seemed like the best way to learn about how kids come up with ideas was to ask my own two middle schoolers if they’d like to enter the contest, so I asked them to think about problems that they could help solve with STEM. They were less than excited until I showed them a few of the videos from the Young Scientist Challenge website. Like me, they were blown away by what Peyton Robertson and Deepika Kurup created to win the 2012 and 2013 Young Scientist Challenge and decided, without any prodding from me, that they wanted to come up with their own ideas.
My son, who is a voracious reader of all things science, and is somewhat obsessed with meteorology, immediately knew what particular area he wanted to focus on. It took a few days, but now he’s got a great idea and is working to make a model to test.
My oldest daughter was another story. She likes science, but spends much more time thinking about acting, basketball, photography, her friends, and our German Wirehaired Pointer. She quickly got frustrated and worried that she didn’t know enough about science to come up with a good idea. To encourage her, I asked her to think about how she could solve a health problem in animals, prevent basketball injuries, make a camera app, or solve an environmental problem. She decided to try to think of something people throw away and use it for something really great. While researching ocean trash, she came up with another idea, addressing a water pollution problem and is excited to test out her idea.
They need to get going, since the entry deadline is April 22nd, but I know they can do it, and love the ideas they’ve come up with!
If you’re on Twitter, you can follow the contest @DE3MYSC and join us for #STEMchat on Twitter April 8 from 9 – 10 PM Eastern as we talk about How to Raise America’s Top Young Scientist (this is the title earned by the winner of the DE 3M YSChallenge.)
Although I don’t usually write sponsored posts, I made an exception for this contest, since I think it’s a fantastic way to get kids excited about STEM. This post is sponsored by the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.
Spring is the season for eggs. You may prefer dyed eggs, deviled eggs, or even dinosaur eggs, if you live close to the Science Museum of Minnesota’s new Ultimate Dinosaur exhibit.
No matter what kind of eggs you like best, you’ll love these eggsperiments that let you play with the amazing architecture of eggs, dissolve their shells and even dye them with the pigments found in your refrigerator. Just click on experiments for directions and the science behind the fun!