Posts tagged ‘Curiosity’

Sick Day (With Yeast!)

What do you do while stuck at home with a sick three-year-old? Bake bread! Well, okay, I did the baking, but Z requested a science experiment. Who am I to pass that by?

Because he so loved the baking soda and vinegar stuff, I gave Z some yeast, water, sugar, a funnel, cups, and balloons. First, we took a look at what yeast does with cold, warm, and hot water. IMG_0833

Then, he (mostly carefully) scooped some yeast and sugar into balloons, and added different temperatures of water to each. Check this out! The green balloon is cold, pink is warm, red is hot. In Z’s words, pink wins! Yeast must like warm water. (The blue balloon is a whole bunch of everything.)

This was more interesting to me. About two hours later:
Green and pink are now basically the same size. The red (hot water) balloon must have killed a lot of the yeast.


Baby’s First Experiment

This is the first time I’ve tried an “organized” experiment with Z, rather than noticing some happenstance thing. Z is 3 years old (hence the quotes around “organized”), and received this little “experiment set” for his birthday, so what better to do with it than to mix some vinegar and baking soda.

The initial bubbles were pretty fun, but afterward was more interesting for me.


Me: It stopped bubbling! How can you make it bubble again?
Z: More vinegar!
experiment bubbles
Me: It stopped again. How can you make it bubble again?
Z: More vinegar!!
nothing happens
Me: Huh. That didn’t do much. What else can you do?
Z: More baking soda!
bubbles over the top

Then, it kinda turned into a free-for-all (a.k.a., what any three-year-old does, as well as good experimenters). He started pouring everything together.



Z: I need more baking soda!
Me: How do you know?
Z: It stopped again.
nothing happens
Me: Now what?
Z: More vinegar!

The test tubes are full of water, post-iterations.
Me: Let me pour some liquid off. This is called “decanting”.
Z: Decanting? Okay.
Me: See all of the stuff at the bottom? Does it look more like vinegar or more like baking soda?
Z: Baking soda!
Me: So what should you add to it?
Z: Vinegar!
Me: Why?
Z: I dunno!
bubble bubble

Why this is cool: Z is trying (a very limited number of) reactions on his own. He knows that both baking soda and vinegar are needed to make, but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) verbalize it for me. The next day, I brought out baking soda and baking powder (and vinegar and water), but he really just wanted to pour everything together again rather than stop and compare. He did, however, leave the baking powder alone, once he saw that it made fewer bubbles than baking soda, meaning he’s taking some mental notes about getting more of what he wants.

I did, however, forget to have him say, “sodium bicarbonate” and “acetic acid”. What kind of a chemist am I?

The Magnetizing Pencil Lead Experiment

This post was written by Malke Rosenfeld and is cross posted from her blog

s and p

My (newly 9yo) daughter is a sensory girl who likes to mix things and ask questions while doing so. Over the course of her short life she has created all sorts of goopy, colorful, muddy, tasty inside and outside concoctions out of food, paint, mud, sidewalk chalk, bubbles…all the while narrating non-stop about what she’s going to do and how and why.

This is great but she is very messy and I am, in all honesty, sometimes low on tolerance for daily messes (and for long-running verbal narrative) but I know this is the kind of thing that lights her up. So when she asked:

“Can I take salt and pepper and pencil leads and try to magnetize them in water?”

I said:

“Yes, as long as you clean up after you’re done. And make sure to record your findings.”

And she said:


She put water, salt, pepper and magnets from our fridge into a bowl along with the pencil leads. Her essential question was: “Can I magnetize these pencil leads?” Here is what she wrote down about her experimenting (edited only for spelling):

If I put a pencil lead in water with pepper and salt and rub it to the non magnetized side:

Will it still work if it’s just water and pepper? YES

Will it work with just water? YES

Will it work without water? NO. It does not work if both are not in water. It only works if one is rubbed!

Will it work with a different magnet? YES

When it’s wet it sticks to me! Will it work when I don’t rub it on the magnet? YES, but it does not stick for long.

Her ultimate conclusion was that she could “magnetize the pencil leads but they could not stick to other magnets beside themselves” and that “water has something to do with it.”

I recently picked up a book at our public library used book store called Curious Minds: How a Child Becomes a Scientist. The book is a collection of essays from interesting scientists who were asked to write about how and when in their childhoods they became interested in an idea that led them to go into the sciences. My favorite essay is from Mary Catherine Bateson who is the daughter of Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead. She talks about how she grew up in a household where “the how” of science was the focus. “The what” her father and mother studied changed over time, but it was her childhood experiences of looking for patterns and asking questions that really brought her into her field.

So, when my husband pointed out that the leads stuck together because they were wet, not magnetized as she had concluded, I agreed. We did not succeed in convincing her otherwise, which is just fine with me. What is most important about her sequence of question asking is that she was engaged in THE PROCESS (the how) of science. To me, at this point in her life, the feel for the process is what we want her to have — the curiosity, the personal agency, the flow of question asking.

After all, if you talk to real scientists and mathematicians they will tell you their work is about days and months and years and decades of wrong turns and the resulting new questions. In today’s fast paced world it’s hard to muster patience for this idea of building understanding over time but the truth is this: Coming to know often means you may not have all the answers you want or need right away but as long as you have new questions to ask you can be sure you are heading in the right direction.

Motivating Curiosity with Turtles

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

Photo Jun 14, 9 29 59 AM (1)

Photo Jun 14, 9 31 30 AM

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.

Photo Jun 14, 9 41 15 AM

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?!?!

Photo Jun 14, 10 05 50 AM

Photo Jun 14, 10 06 02 AM

Photo Jun 14, 10 06 09 AM

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!