Archive for June, 2014

Get Out of Their Way

A week or so ago this video of Neil deGrasse Tyson came across my twitter feed (the first minute is the most relevant);

A couple days later I went to check on Melia, my 6 year old, in the bath. The conditioner pump had stopped working, and she had disassembled it and was pumping water through it to try to clean it out. “I think this (points at some possibly stuck conditioner in the tube) is why it isn’t working.” Then she asked for something long and skinny, I found a toothpick, and she used it to clean the pump tube out. She put it back together and it worked (at least better than before, still not 100%).

Then yesterday she wanted to do an experiment with the rocks we have frozen in water in ice cube trays. (aside: Why do we have rocks frozen in ice cube trays, you ask? That would be a question for our babysitter from the other day…) She wanted to see how the ice melts with the rocks in them. Through a bit of conversation (I really have to get better at recording these conversations), she decided to put cubes in 3 different bowls in 3 different locations; inside, in the shade outside, and in the sun outside. She started putting them in some containers, and I suggested that she use the same container style for each one, so everything was the same except the locations. Then she put them in the various locations, and we added a tray with regular ice cubes for comparison.

Melia decided that the tray outside in the shade melted faster, based on very quick qualitative observations. My wife tried asking her why she thought so (“What observations led you to that conclusion, honey?”), but Melia was already onto the next thing. Which is fine, because it’s not about the result right now.

I want my kids to be curious, and stay curious. In both these situations, Melia formulated a question, designed a way mostly on her own to test that question, and carried out the investigation. We just largely got out of the way (with a few suggestions to plant the seeds about control variables and a control comparison).

In another example of how kids can drive the conversation through their curiosity, I received this email from Christopher, author of Talking Math With Kids;

A proper subset of the questions Tabitha asked on our recent camping trip:

-How does mosquito repellent work?
-What if mosquitos adapted and started to like bug repellent?
-If the water is orange, how come it looks so blue? (It looked orange straight down and blue on the horizon)
-Could a spider make a web in your armpit? (referring to the triangular space created when placing your hand on your hip)
-Is it illegal to kill ants on purpose?
-Does fire hurt ants?
-Even fire ants?
-How do ducks decide who to marry?

Some of these questions led to discussion and speculation, some did not. None led to googling, as we were in the North Woods.

I love that I can see Tabitha’s curiosity and, in some cases, thought process. She likely thought about fire hurting ants because of their name, fire ants, but asked about fire hurting them first. Tabitha can formulate questions, and  Christopher is a master of eliciting conversation with his kids; he recognizes here that some of these questions were worthy of further investigation, and some can be left unanswered. In my last post on this blog we used real life to motivate Googling for information. That worked in that scenario, but I in no way want to encourage Googling as the first line of defense in Doing Science with Your Kids. The big thing is to let them question, let them think, speculate, and be curious. Don’t worry about answers/results/correctness.They may make a mess; they may do things differently than you would. Let their curiosity thrive.

Just get out of their way.

Motivating Curiosity with Turtles

Today at my in-law’s house a turtle was laying eggs at the end of the driveway.

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I knew this was a great opportunity for doing science with my kids, but I didn’t have much of a thought for how to approach it. So I put the question to twitter, and got this awesome insight from Adam;

This opened some doors. I did a quick internet search and found this article, which I skimmed, then this one, which was written in a language that my kids could better understand. We read the second article together. Particularly interesting was learning that for turtles, and apparently many reptiles, the sex of the hatchlings depends on the incubation temperature! The kids also liked that the baby turtles were going to be only an inch long and hatch in 9-18 weeks (likely longer in our northern climate, so probably in October; I hope to report back when that happens).

In reflection I realized that my kids wouldn’t have cared much if I had just read them the web page. The real-life event of watching the turtle laying the eggs motivated their curiosity about turtles in general.

Next we talked about how to protect the eggs since they are in a driveway, and Grandma Sue took over. She’s also going to take over the narration here to describe how she and the kids approached this task.

Unbeknownst to the turtle, she laid her eggs in the middle of our shared driveway. We started watching her at 6:30 AM and she did not leave her mission until 9:30 AM! My granddaughter did the subtraction (editor’s note: talking math with your kids!) and realized it was a 3 hour project!  The kids and I decided that was way too much energy spent to let the neighbors run over the eggs with their cars…I suggested we could make some signs and tape them on chairs to put over the ‘egg nest’. They were all over it! They decided what message they wanted on their signs to keep the eggs safe and asked me how to spell the words, using permanent marker so the message would not be ruined in the rain.

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We taped the signs to two chairs and set them over the nests. Challenge in this whole do we keep chairs in the middle of the road for 9-18 weeks?!?!

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All in all a great learning experience for the kids where they did some science, a bit of math, reading, and writing. Thank you turtle!


‘Doing Science With Your Kids’ is Born

My first experience of doing science with my kids happened by accident. In January of 2014 we had quite a cold spell in Minnesota and school was canceled for a number of days. About the same time, some videos about throwing boiling water into the air and freezing instantly were making their way around the interwebs. I figured my kids would like to see if it works. We boiled some water, they stood by the window, and I went out on the deck and threw it into the air. They were thrilled. Then, for some reason I really wish I could remember, we decided to make it more experiment-like. We wondered if the water really needed to be boiling. So I guided the kids to the idea that we should try different temperatures of water to see if it still had the same effect. We would get some water in a bowl, measure the temp with a meat thermometer, and then, crucially, I had each child make a prediction as to whether it would work or not. We recorded their predictions on a whiteboard, then recorded the results, all shown below.


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This was a wonderful experience for both the kids and I. They got experience with experimentation, record keeping, and measuring both qualitatively and quantitatively, and more importantly, had the chance to ask a question and explore to try to find out the answer.

This is what Doing Science With Your Kids is all about; be curious, ask questions, wonder, explore, and authentically seek out evidence and answers while having fun. 

Fast forward a couple of months, I was inspired by Christopher’s Talking Math With Your Kids hashtag (#tmwyk) to start #dswyk, and a few folks and I started tweeting to it. From there, someone mentioned a blog. I thought it would be fun to make it collaborative; anyone could become an author and post to it. So here we are.

Go here if you would like to contribute to this blog. More importantly, go do some science with your kids!