(Last Update: 11:31 PDT 28 July 2009 )

Notes for Family Science Night 2007

I volunteered to run a committee to organize a Family Science Night at Spring Hill School. The date we picked is Tuesday 24 April 2007, 6:30 p.m. This is during testing week for the kids, so there is no homework.

I've added a brief report on how it went at the bottom of this web page.

The format that I pushed for was to have many small hands-on projects that parents could do with their kids, rather than demos or projects that took substantial amounts of time. This choice was inspired by two things:

I am running Tech Club as an afterschool activity on Tuesdays, and we can use the Tech Club kids to help set up Fellowship Hall for Science Night. They may also want to have some computers set up to demonstrate their computer animations and video games.

Perhaps the most important use of the web was to find sites with interesting project descriptions. The quality of the descriptions varies a lot, as does the ease of finding and navigating the sites.

One of my first thoughts was to check the Exploratorium's website, since they are world leaders in the sort of hands-on informal science fun that we want. I tried finding stuff on their web site and was quite unsuccessful. The best I could do was their educators' website: http://www.exploratorium.edu/educate/dl.html which was hard to browse through and I found nothing useful. Luckily, Curtis found the Exploratorium site with the right flavor: Their "snacks" list http://www.exploratorium.edu/snacks/

Curtis also found http://www.scitoys.com/ Science Toys to make with Kids, but I haven't had time to explore it yet.

Since OMSI (the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) does a very nice traveling interactive museum, which visits the Santa Cruz County Fair each year, I checked their web site for help also. As with the Exploratorium site, I did not manage to find directly useful stuff, though the resources page http://www.omsi.edu/explore/resources.cfm has some good links to other sorts of science sites.

The most important task for the committee is to pick project that are interesting, hands-on, and doable with our time, space, and budget constraints. I think we need about 8-10 15-minute projects, with perhaps a couple of sturdy science "toys" to play with that don't require much thought. We also need to have people to sign up to create specific projects. This means gathering enough copies of the materials for 4-8 people at a time, writing and printing out instruction sheets for the station (we can laminate them at the school, now that the laminator is fixed), and getting the materials set up on the night. We would like to have written instructions at each station, rather than an "expert" so that parents and kids can explore without turning to an "expert" for help. A few volunteers will circulate around the hall to handle problems (like water spills or running out of materials).

Here are a few ideas that committee members have come up with, together with pointers to web sites giving advice on the projects. Note: the pbskids.org/zoom sites are good for getting ideas, but they leave out most of the details, expecting you to have watched the corresponding segment of their TV show. We probably need other sources for any ideas from their shows (or we make up the projects ourselves).

The Family Science Night Committee met Monday 12 Feb 2007 at Caffe Pergolesi. Four people attended despite the pouring rain. We selected and assigned four or five projects, and still have another three or four to select. The meeting scheduled for Monday March 19, 6:45 pm at Gelatomania was cancelled. People with ideas or interested in heling out should contact Kevin Karplus: karplus@soe.ucsc.edu

Selected Projects

Lung and diaphram model
Wendy Knapp
Bubbles on CO2
http://www.exploratorium.edu/snacks/bubble_suspension Keyoor Shah
Cartesian divers

This is a classic project. Building Cartesian diviers with empty soda bottles is fairly easy and cheap. The kids can take home their divers. Keyoor Shah

Al-foil boats
Notes for aluminum-foil boats

Kevin Karplus

Glo germ
http://www.glogerm.com/ Blurb from the Glo germ site:

The Glo Germ Kit contains a bottle of liquid or gel, a bottle of powder, and an ultra-violet lamp. The liquid or gel and the powder contain the plastic simulated germs, and the lamp illuminates them to test the effectiveness of your (and your workers') practices.

For handwashing training, Glo Germ Liquid is rubbed onto one's hands like lotion. For surface cleaning, dust Glo Germ Powder onto surfaces and generally throughout the entire area. Then wash your hands or clean the area as normal. One's hands and the surfaces appear clean. However, the ultra-violet light tells a different story. The discovery of the remaining germs will cast a new light on your cleaning effectiveness.

The Glo Germ products demonstrate germ communication, cross-contamination, effectiveness of sanitary practices, and more!

Wendi Knapp.

Balancing a ball on a stream of air

I have a ShopVac which can give a pretty good stream of air (at least if I clean the filter). I also have several hair driers that I bought at the thrift store for filling a demo hot-air balloon, but that could also be used for floating ping-pong balls. I also have a "Vornado" fan that can (barely) balance a beach ball.

Kevin Karplus

Pinhole magnifiers
Curtis Galloway
Straw-bridge challenge
Curtis Galloway
Molecular modeling:

Madeline Adamczeski is putting together a project doing some molecule viewing with the CHIME tools, using the information from the Cabrillo College website. I've added another site that has molecular visualization material for high-school students.

Since I do a lot of molecule viewing as part of my work in protein structure prediction (using rasmol, but not chime), I am not a good judge of how fast kids and parents would be at learning to use the tools and play with them. Other committee members should try out the tools and see whether this would make a good 15-minute (or shorter) station, and whether it is worth the trouble of setting up computers.

Bob reports that one of the grandparents of a 2nd grader will bring a telescope, weatehr permitting.

Projects we considered, but did not get around to doing

These projects look more or less feasible, but no one has volunteered to implement them.
Simulating natural selection
Sylvie found the following idea in a newspaper for modeling natural selection [Intermediate Lentil Science]: fill a box with a few pounds of lentils, mix in 10 red beans, 10 pennies, and 10 pinto beans. Have kids search for all that they can find in 1 minute. (Patter: the 30 objects are "rabbits" in a "lentil prairie", the kid is a hungry fox. Which rabbits survive to reproduce in the next generation?)
Balancing stick

I particularly like this low-tech device for demonstrating the rather unintuitive nature of balancing inverted pendulums. It is also a very physical activity that can keep the more energetic kids occupied.

Mechanical models of logic gates
We are still looking for a good simple model we can build to explain logic gates mechanically, perhaps using a flow of marbles to power them.
Mechanical model of a transistor.
We had an idea for modeling a field-effect transistor by having liquid flowing through a rubber tube, and pinching the tube shut by pressing on it.
Center of gravity
Resonant pendulum

This is a fun activity---but do we have a strong enough place to hang it away from windows and other breakable objects? I checked the Fellowhip Hall, and there does not seem to be anywhere we could hang a pendulum without adding an eye-bolt to the ridge beam, which I think would be frowned on by the landlord.

Optical Illusions

At Parent Club, someone suggested an optical illusion station. They said that they would send me some URLs, but they actually sent me some gif files that were much less useful (trapped by my spam filter for being too big a message).

Stripped-down motor

This project is fun, but Bob's 5th grade science class does a version of it, and it takes about 45 minutes for the kids to do. It also requires careful balancing of the coil, which some kids required adult help with (that's fine for Family Science Night, but the project takes a bit too long).

Soda-bottle loudspeaker

This project is too complicated for Family Science Night, but I have found a (badly written) set of instructions for a simpler implementation. Bob tried the simpler version in 5th grade science, and it takes about 45 minutes.

Lenses, optic bench, diopters
Would be fun, but Thanh Ly won't be able to do the setup, and a good set of demo lenses would cost a bit.

Report on Family Science Night

Family Science Night was quite successful. We had eight successful projects, with kids and parents running around from project to project. Planning was not much effort, as each parent who agreed to do a project (or, most often, two) did it without needing to be nudged. All the projects were delivered on time and all the parents set them up themselves.

Two projects did not work out as planned:

I did not see a telescope there, but I had not been clear on whether anyone had actually committed to bring one.

In addition to the planned projects, we also borrowed 4 computers from Bob's classroom for the Tech Club to show off their animations and video games. I loaned my laptop for that also. The Tech Club games were quite popular, particularly Graham's games, and several parents asked for more information about the programming language, scratch. I have more information about Tech Club and scratch on the web page that Abe and I started for scratch: http://www.soe.ucsc.edu/~karplus/scratch_programs

The Tech Club kids were very helpful in moving and setting up the computers for their display and for setting up tables in the hall. I'm very proud of them, both for what they can do on the computers and for their helpfulness in making Family Science Night easy to set up.

I don't know how strong the strongest bridge was---I seem to remember that it was a single-deck bridge, not a truss. Does anyone remember who made it and how many pennies it supported?

The boat that supported the most pennies was by Madison V. at 69 pennies. (My initial try supported 58---I still had some freeboard left but the load was not well centered, so the boat tilted and sank.) I did not need all 300 6"x6" sheets of aluminum foil that I cut (using a rotary cutter on a dressmaker's cutting board), but 100 would not have been enough. I'll give the extra sheets to the kindergarten class.