Thursday, October 11, 2012

TIC Supplement: Where Trout Live

Angler on the Paulinskill River
An angler on the Paulinskill River. 

Though our eggs didn't arrive as expected, we took time this Tuesday to learn about the trout we'll be hatching. This week we focused on how the tank and the stream were alike and different. First we reviewed the parts of the tank, looking at the chiller that keep the water at a steady 52 degrees Fahrenheit and the filter that keeps the water clean. Students noticed that the tank had cold water, gravel and bubbles for oxygen, just like the stream, but that it didn't have sand, silt, plants or other life in it. (Learn more about trout habitats.)

Those are really important observations. Right now, one of the most important things we need to do is build the bacteria colonies in our tank. That surprised the students! After all, aren't bacteria the things that make you sick?

Well, not all bacteria are bad. Our trout will need the bacteria to help them digest food, keep their scales and skin healthy and to decompose wastes, just like we do! So we've been adding special bacteria from a bottle to our tank for weeks, which helps the filter create a healthy colony. (Learn more about creating beneficial bacteria colonies in fish tanks.)

But we wanted to customize our bacteria. We want to create a tank environment that is as close to the environment that the fish will eventually live in when they are released into the Paulinskill River in May.

Rainbow trout swimming in a gravel-bottomed stream.

So we took a walk to Footbridge Park to visit the Paulinskill. The Paulinskill River is a  41.6-mile tributary of the Delaware River, formed when the Wisconsin Glacier melted 13,000 years ago. It begins just north of Newton, NJ and ends near Columbia, where it feeds into the Delaware. (Learn more about the Paulinskill.)

At the river we collected water samples and algae-covered rocks. By transporting them back to Kaleidoscope and adding them to our tank, we'll be able to transfer some of the microscopic life, including bacteria, to our artificial habitat!

When we got back to KLC, we poured some of our water onto white paper plates. There we used a digital microscope to look at the water. We saw lots of sediment, algae and even a few moving creatures, likely small bacteria, protists, insects or crustaceans. (Learn more about what lives in "pond scum.")

We can't wait until our eggs arrive next week on Tuesday, October 16 after 9:15 am!

Lesson extensions:
  • Have students draw the tank, labeling items like the chiller and filter. How much do they remember? What do the components do? What part of the stream environment do they mimic? They can check their drawings for accuracy next week! (Here are some examples that are similar to our tank.)
  • Go to a local river (or back to the Paulinskill) and do a scavenger hunt to explore the water and the surrounding Area. Use this worksheet to track your findings.
  • Describe a Dream Stream.
  • Watch "The Way of the Trout" and describe a trout habitat. What animals and plants are present? What are the trout’s prey? What are the predators?
  • Explore how glaciers form rivers like the Paulinskill. For a simple experiment fill an ice cube tray half full of water. To each cube, add various sediments like dirt, sand, gravel and rocks. (I would suggest two each with a single type of sediment, then several mixed samples.) Top off with more water as needed. Leave some cubes as just water. Freeze the cubes. In the morning, press out modeling clay into flat discs. Take each cube and drag it along the clay. Use different amounts of pressure. Go slowly, then quickly. Record your findings and draw or photograph examples of the results. Which looks like a river or valley to you?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Go Fly a Kite

A few weeks ago, the weather report said that it was going to be really windy. Since it was a Farmers' Market day, I thought kites would be an excellent idea!

We used paper bags to make box-style kites. The process is really simple. Decorate your bag. Punch four holes in the corners of the open end of the bag. Tie string in each hole, then take those four strings and knot them together at end opposite the bag. Tie on a long piece of string for you to hold. Then add lots of fun streamers to the closed end of the bag (using glue or a stapler). Voila! A kite!

Kites are a great way for kids to explore aerodynamic forces. Kites work by blocking the normal air flow, forcing the air around the kite. Air passing under the kite is moving more slowly than the air over the kite, creating lift.

Of course, I knew that one craft is never enough, which is why I brought a bunch of silly face stickers too. That way we could make puppets!

It was a lovely day, made more wonderful with music. My daughter, Caitie, especially loved the band. That young man in the center of the picture below is her fourth grade teacher!

Ice play at the Farmers' Market

Since the weather is getting colder, and my kids are already looking forward to sledding and snowballs, I thought I'd bring some ice to the Farmers' Market this week for some frozen fun.

My favorite thing to do with ice is super simple. I give each child an ice cube and a piece of string. I challenge them to pick up the ice cube with the string without touching the cube with their hands. After giving them a few minutes to attempt the task, almost none are able to successfully pick up the ice. (Abby, below, was the only one who was able to do it, by waiting for the ice to wet the string well, and carefully sliding the string under the entire length of the ice cube.)

But I have an easier way. I drape the string across the ice and sprinkle it with salt. After a little bit, the salt has melted the top layer of ice. However, the water quickly refreezes as the salt dilutes and the ice itself wicks away heat from the water layer. The result is that the string is frozen into the ice! You can lift it easily. It's one of the oldest magic tricks in the book.

There are so many science experiments you can do with ice. Challenge the kids to create ice that is perfectly clear... or completely cloudy. Ask them which freezes faster -- hot water or cold. Try freezing tap water, distilled water and salt water to compare results. Have an ice melting contest and come up with lots of methods for melting ice as fast as you can. the possibilities are endless!

Of course, I wanted to have some artsy fun too. So I diluted some of my washable tempra paint with water and put it into some fun ice cube trays. I covered that with foil and placed Popsicle sticks into each one. (The foil helps hold the Popsicle sticks straight up.) When they were frozen we used the paint Popsicles as brushes to crate out own artwork!

Of course, the kids quickly came up with their own ideas! They sprinkled salt on the paper, after painting it, to create speckled patterns. That was fun. Then Henry took a piece of paper towel and made a print! Even when the ice melted, we still had a good time splashing the paint around.

So I hope you'll have some fun playing with ice!

Friday, July 27, 2012

July 2012 Newsletter

July 2012 Newsletter
Kaleidoscope Learning’s mission is simple: to make learning engaging and exciting through innovative programs and fun activities. Kaleidoscope has a variety of exciting programs available right now. Check our website for all the details.
New Location!
We're excited to have a new home! This Fall Kaleidoscope will open at 27 Main Street in Blairstown, NJ. With two big rooms and an outdoor space, we'll be able to offer a wide variety of programs and host educators from all over the area. Stay tuned for more information!
Homeschool Co-op Forming
There is interest in forming a non-denominational homeschool co-op at the new Kaleidoscope space. If you would like to be part of the planning process or think that such a co-op would be helpful for your family, please let us know ASAP! Email for information or to get involved.
On the Go
Kaleidoscope can bring our programs to you! We're happy to work at your home, library, church, hall, park or other location. At present, we're focused on science, nature studies, engineering and math programs. We're happy to customize programs to best meet your needs. 
Keep in Touch
Do you read the Kaleidoscope Blog? Check it out for great ideas for science and art activities. And join us on Facebook too. We post fun informaiton every day.  
Contact Kaleidoscope today to learn more about our many exciting programs. Find out more by emailing or calling 908-854-9887.

Making boats: hull design

A friend recently invited me to her house to do a science experiment involving the stream that runs through her property. Well, that sparked about a million ideas! However, I thought we'd start with a fairly simple concept: boatmaking.

More specifically I wanted to focus on hull design: the watertight body of a ship or boat that meets the waterline. Hulls are generally divided into two categories: displacement hulls and planing hulls. Displacement hulls have a large underwater profile and tend to move slowly. Planing hulls are meant to ride high along the waterline, and can go fast.

Art:Most boats are designed with a displacement hull, which pushes the water aside as it rides along. The planing hull, characteristic of many high-speed boats, tends to rise up out of the water and ride on its heel as the speed is increased.

The shape of bottom of the boat is key to how it functions in water. Depending on what you want to do, you can build a boat with anything from a flat bottom to a rounded bilge to a hard chined V-shape. And of course, you can combine these basic shapes into a wide variety of composite shapes. Finding a balance that allows for a boat to carry the needed load while being able to move quickly and accurately is a tricky thing.

To further adjust the hull, a designer can add a keel to add stability or a rudder to help steer. You can also easily adjust the bow of the boat, the front or forward part of the hull. Changing this shape affects how well the boat cuts through the water, by reducing its resistance.

When you ask a child to draw a boat, they often focus on everything above water. After all it's what you can see easily. So getting them to think about the hull, and how it can affect the way a boat actually works, is a great change in perspective. And it makes for a fun engineering design project.

For materials I wanted something easy to manipulate, basically waterproof, and inexpensive. I like using things you can buy in the supermarket, because it gives kids the opportunity to keep experimenting at home without the need for special equipment. So I settled on wax-coated paper cups, an assortment of tapes and a stapler. I also provided some aluminum foil, but explained that they couldn't use the foil as their main design component.

I love working with kids, because you never know what they'll do. I assumed they'd cut up the cups, maybe use the flattened sides to build their designs. But instead they started creating displacement hulls and pontoon-style designs using the whole cups. Soon they were sharing designs, adjusting and improving their boats.

Once everyone was ready, we headed down to the stream to test our boats. First we used fishing weights to see how much load each boat could hold. Some were able to handle a pound or more! Then we let the boats take a run down an area of "rapids" while we timed the run with a stopwatch to see which moved most quickly. Several crossed the finish line in under 10 seconds, one in 7 seconds!

I was impressed with their determination. It started to rain when we headed down to the stream, but everyone stayed to test their boats. (What the heck, we were wet anyway!) However, the weather didn't give us a lot of opportunity to develop our boat design based on what we learned.

For students that want to extend the project, a soft wood like pine can be used to carve a hull.  They can also experiment with buoyancy by using various types of wood in the same shape and size to see how the density affects how they float.

There is a lot of physics to be explored with boat design. We only had the chance to touch the tip of the iceberg. But for an overview of all the amazing engineering involved in boat design, check out the video below.

Or if you have an older, computer-savvy child, they may want to give some CAD a try with this virtual hull designer.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Marshmallows flying!

It's just not summer if I don't break out the catapults and launch marshmallows around the Farmers' Market. So the other week, I brought this easy, classic science activity to Blairstown.

The design for this tongue depressor catapult from a really fun book called Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction by John Austin. I know it sounds dangerous, but with a little parental supervision most designs are quite safe for kids. And so much fun! It's engineering disguised as mayhem!

The basic construction is simple. You stack seven tongue depressors together and use two rubber bands on either end to hold them together. Then take two depressors and attach them with a rubber band on one end. Spread the two depressors into a "V" shape, and insert the stack lengthwise to make a "T" shape. Use another rubber band to secure the depressors together into your catapult. (The book gives clear, step-by-step instructions with diagrams.) For the original design, the author suggests using a hot glue gun to attach a bottle cap as a launcher, but I find it easier to just attach a disposable spoon with another rubber band or two. No electricity needed!

You can make the catapult with popsicle sticks too, though I find a stack of just five is enough. The popsicle sticks are thicker, and a bit harder to work with, but you can get the job done. I also like to make the coat hanger slingshot from the book too, and challenge kids to see which works better. The book has a whole chapter devoted to slingshots, catapults and trebuchets, so kids can have a lot of fun comparing results.

Then it's time to load a mini-marshmallow and get shooting! I like to give kids dixie cups that they can use to make towers. It's fun to knock them down. Dominos are also fun! For some Angry Birds action, paint your marshmallows red and green (or use leftover Christmas-themed ones, like I did here).

Another great catapult design that is easy to make and fun to tinker with comes from a great YouTube video I found years ago. This shoebox catapult is always a hit.

Spray paint and other watercolor fun

This week at the Farmers Market I decided to do something fun and messy: spray painting! But don't worry it's not what you think!

Obviously, I wanted to make sure my paints were non-toxic and washable, so I made my own. It's easy! I gathered up some old markers from around the house, used pliers to pop off the back, pulled out the felt and put it into an inexpensive 8 oz. spray bottle. Then I added water and gave it a good swish. Within minutes I had a cheap bottle of parent-approved spray paint ready to go. I let the colors sit over night to make sure they were nice and bright before using them. In other words: FREE PAINT! Great way to reduce, reuse and recycle.

At the market, I offered everyone stencils. It takes a light touch, but you can get a nice affect by spray in the paint over them. Of course, not everyone is interested in precision. Some kids wanted to just have fun mixing colors and seeing what happened! That's why I like to make sure I have all the primary colors available.

One regular KLC buddy, Brenden, mixed stencils, the spray paint, a spray bottle of water and washable markers to make some really neat artwork.

To look at the process from the other side, I offer kids coffee filters. They used washable markers to make designs, then sprayed with plain water, causing the ink to spread and blend. It's a lot of fun. I especially like using the black marker, because all the pigments separate, showing the blues and greens that make up the black ink. This is a really fun way to introduce children to chromatography!

For older students, you can use permanent markers, like Sharpies, and alcohol to create the same effects. Try it on fabric and you can make awesome faux tie dye shirts!

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Caitie is tutored by a lovely woman, Lorna Wooldridge. She's kind, caring, and understanding while mixing in a good dose of appropriate motivation and discipline. In addition to all the great work she's done with Caitie on reading, Lorna also has a variety of other interests including butterflies and moths.

Each year Lorna raises monarchs and other butterflies. Thanks to her, I've had the opportunity to see some caterpillars I'd never laid eyes on before. This spring Lorna raised Zebra silkworms from eggs she got from Michael Cook, who runs an excellent website on silkworms.

This zebra silkworm appears to inspect its new home before entering the nest.
Read more:

The caterpillars are strikingly lovely with vivid markings. As they get ready to spin their silk cocoon, they prefer a close environment, and toilet paper rolls are perfect. Since Lorna was running short, I offered a bag, as I always have lots. As thanks, she was kind enough to give us several cocoons!

The girls and I anxiously awaited moths for a few weeks. Rather than stifle (kill) the cocoons, as is commonly done to preserve the silk, we let the silkworms complete the lifecycle.

Yesterday the moths emerged! We were so excited! Most of the moths were fine, two males and two females. However, the first to arrive had damaged wings and trouble moving. And one cocoon has yet to yield a moth. The healthy moths set about mating pretty quickly, laying eggs soon afterwards. They're still pairing and laying today.

These guys will live for a just a few days, since they don't have mouths. Then we'll store the eggs until next spring, and hopefully, begin the process again!

If you're local to Northwest NJ, and would like to meet Lorna and learn more about her experience raising butterflies and moths, please be sure to attend her Monarch Migration Workshop on July 6 at the Catherine Dickson Hofman Branch of the Warren County Library in Blairstown, NJ.