Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Solar Cooker Oven -- Science Fair Project

BigSis's school had a Science Fair last week. Participation was optional and non-competitive.

The optional part makes a lot of kids wiggle out the fair though and there was only about 30% participation from 5th graders. Ours is a good enough school district but I see the emphasis in elementary classroom is more on Mathematics and Language Arts while Science is kind of a "also ran" subject. More hands-on student experiments in class could have triggered more student interest I feel, but then it is all very easy for me to say while the teachers have to struggle with the curriculum.

At first Big Sis too was not sure if she wanted to participate. Her last year experience was not exactly great where she did the project with another girl whose Mother took upon herself to do most of the work as she thought the project should look perfect. The kids were mostly in the periphery, doing little as the mother strived for perfection.

But I am a Mother who believes that more elementary school girls should be involved in Science even though at this point they might not find it terribly interesting. It is good to get feet wet even if the swimming comes much later. So I asked her if two of her friends in the neighborhood would like to participate too. Eventually all three girls were very enthusiastic about the science fair.

Some topics were discussed from the internet and then they narrowed it down to making a rudimentary solar oven. I think it appealed to them that they could make s'mores and that the project started off with ordering pizza as they needed a pizza box to make the oven was a good start. Honestly most of their idea for the oven came from this site. But then they extended it by trying to compare two solar ovens, one big and one small. Their hypothesis was that the smaller oven would cook the s'mores faster. Eventually the comparison could not be done perfectly as there were only couple of sunny days in the week running up to the Science Fair but on the first warm, sunny day they were indeed successful in cooking s'mores in the larger oven.

I hope the experience was a good one for them as they followed the scientific process, collected data and learned to write up the experiment themselves and also make their poster board. They also learned that there will be failures in an experiment as none of the s'mores got cooked on a day that was sunny but also chilly.The school gave every participant a medal and a certificate and that boosted the morale of all participants. It was also fun to see all other cool projects on display that day.

If you are enjoying sunny, warm days, this is a nice project that young kids can do and cook their own snacks.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Rocket Pinwheel -- Newton's Third Law

This simple experiment was something we did earlier this year. I thought of keeping a note as we might do it again with LS a couple of years later.

BS's class has been reading about Newton's Laws of Motion in science. To understand the third law of motion, "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction", we found this simple and fun experiment from where else but the world wide web. Details on the experiment can be found here at NASA.

What you Need

1 Bendy Straw
1 Pencil with eraser at the back
1 Balloon
1 Pin/PushPin

What You do

Stretch the balloon a bit and then fit the nozzle of the balloon over the non-bendy end of the straw. Secure the balloon edge to the straw with tape.

Now find the balancing point of the straw with the balloon attached. You can do this by trying to balance it on your finger.

Once you have found the balance point(which will be the pivot), put the pin through the straw and lodge it on the eraser side of the pencil

Now blow through the open end of  the straw to inflate the balloon. Once the balloon is inflated move your mouth back and let go of the straw.

See, what happens.

Newton's Third Law of Motion says, every action is, accompanied by an opposite and equal reaction. In this case, the balloon produces an action by squeezing out the air inside causing the air to rush out the straw. So the air traveling out is the action. The air, traveling around the bend in the straw, imparts a reaction force at a right angle to the straw. The result is that the balloon and straw spins around the pin.

This YouTube video will give you a clearer idea of what is being done.