My name is Jacob Laser. Over the month of January I spent almost 7 hours a day working in the lab, but it never really felt like work at all. It would be fair to say that this class made me fall in love with science all over again. I was able to relive the joy of hands on discovery with these kids. Adult science can be fascinating, but it does not compare to racing drops of goo down a ramp, or building motors with magnets and batteries. As a kid I loved learning that science is all around us, and not just something confined to laboratories or classrooms. I feel that you can only be a real part of the world if you make an effort to learn how it works.
My projects developed around three distinct themes. The first project I designed was concerned with analyzing the chemical properties of four mystery slimes (Alien Slime Teacher Kit). This project introduces the concepts of density, disruption of surface tension, and chemical reactions. I gave the kids context for the tests they were preforming by giving them a story about how the different slimes came from different alien species. The slimes aligned nicely into a density column. The kids got to observe how dish soap broke the surface tension of water. I also had them test the slimes for starch with iodine and for pH with cabbage juice indicator. All of these chemical properties were correlated with physical properties of the aliens so when the kids finished all the tests they could then draw what each alien looked like.
Another one of my projects centered on physical properties of household liquids (Viscosity Racetrack Teacher Kit). The students learned some valuable measuring skills. I also focused on the difference between mass and weight, surface tension, solubility, and viscosity. I tried to communicate to the kids how water is a dramatically unique compound. It has very low viscosity, just like rubbing alcohol, yet water had the highest surface tension of any liquid while rubbing alcohol had the lowest. I introduced the concept of the hypothesis by making the kids make educated guesses as to what would happen before I had them do each experiment.
My final project was less concerned with chemistry and more concerned with physics and engineering. I had the kids observe and make a variety of different transducers (Energy Transducer Teacher Kit). A transducer is just something that turns one form of energy into another. The project includes catapults, generators, motors and engines powered by Mentos and Diet Coke (see video below!). This was my favorite activity to do by far. I must have made over 100 motors, tweaking the design. I loved giving the kids the materials and basic knowledge to make these different devices and letting their imaginations run wild. So much of science is routine and regimented, especially in grade school. It is important to show that science can be an outlet for creativity as well.
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