Thursday, October 24, 2013

Super Secret Science Challenge FOUR

This week, field agents Misty, Sunshine and The Weather Weasel have been captured by the evil Mr. Fluffy. They need to build a super complicated, crazy contraption to distract the villain before he can use his Puppinator to change all of the world's dogs into cats!

This week's materials are:

  • 6-4x6 and 2-3x5 Index cards 
  • 3 dixie cups 
  • 4 bamboo skewers 
  • assorted cardboard (corrugated and chipboard) 
  • 6 feet of twine 
  • 10 paper clips 
  • 10 assorted rubber bands 
  • 2 marbles 
  • 1 ping pong ball 
  • 3 toilet paper tubes 
  • 1 balloon 
  • 4 drinking straws 
  • 4 pipe cleaners 
  • 2 clothes pins 
  • 10 tongue depressors 
  • 1 disposable spoon 
  • masking tape and scotch tape 
This week's challenge encourages students to build a Rube Goldberg Machines. These contraptions are designed to make simple tasks much more complicated, often with silly results. Aside from being tremendously creative projects that are a lot of fun to build, Rube Goldberg Machines also give students the opportunity to explore simple machines.

Simple machines -- such as inclined planes, levers, wheels and axles, pulleys, wedges and screws -- are mechanical tools that make work easier by changing the direction or amount of force used to complete a task. We use simple machines every day, and when we combine them, we can create complex machines. Challenge older students to identify examples of simple machines within their crazy contraption.

Have fun! And please, don't hesitate to share your pictures of your machines!

We'll be back next week with another Super Secret Science Challenge. You can take the challenge at Kaleidoscope, or bring it to your school or club!

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Making the Future: E-blast for October 18

Fall is such a time of transformation, and our Kaleidoscope kids are coming up new and creative ways to explore their world. In the newsletter enjoy some great crafts for Fall, tips for young business hopefuls, information on programming for kids, exciting explosions and our Super Secret Science Challenge!

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Upcoming Events

Programs may be booked through Bookwhen or email. You must register no later than 24 hours before a class to participate.

Weekends in October
Local Farmer's Markets: Come join in the free fun at these great locations:
Blairstown Farmer's Market, 10 am to 2 pm, Route 521, next to the Agway.
Belvidere Farmer's Market, 9 am to 2 pm, Second Street, Belvidere.

Monday, October 21
Mythbusters. Explore science the Mythbusters way and be sure to “Try this at home!” 3:45 - 4:45 pm. Grades K-8, $15/week.  

Tuesday, October 22
Kaleidoscope Cooperative for Science and Math. Homeschool coop. Members only.  9:45 am - 3 pm. Grades K-12. REGISTRATION NOW OPEN FOR QUARTER 2.

Wednesday, October 23
Super Secret Science Challenge. One bag of mystery stuff. One hour to build. One super fun class! 1:30 - 2:30 pm starting 10/2 Grades K-8 $15/class.
Programming in Scratch. Learn to create simple computer games using Scratch, a free, visually-based computer language. 3:30 - 5 pm. 4 weeks. Grades 4-9. $55/student.

Thursday, October 24
Web of Life: Halloween Edition. Explore the legends -- and the truth -- the creepy creatures and amazing plants that make Halloween fun! 3:30-4:30 pm, 4 weeks. Grades K-8, $60/student.

Friday, October 25
Friday Funday. Join us at St. Jude's Giving Tree for this fun program for 3-5 year olds! Lots of games, reading, crafts, science and more each week. 9 am - 12 pm. $15/student. Before and after care available.

Mark Your Calendar Now
FoodShed Alliance's Harvest Celebration. Saturday, October 26, 10 am to 2 pm. Magic show, science demos, face painting and pig roast! Free!

TREP$: Empowering Kids Through Entrepreneurship. Begins Wednesday, November 6. 3:30 - 4:45 pm, 6 weeks. Grades 4-8. $115/student, includes all materials.

One-Day Robotics Programming Intensive. Always wanted to build your own robot from the ground up? Want to learn to program a robot with Arduino? THIS is the class for you! Saturday, November 9, 9 am - 4 pm. $155 Basic Kit. $175 Advanced Kit.

A Steampunk Winter Solstice Celebration, a Kaleidoscope Fundraiser. Saturday, December 21 1 to 5 pm at Rutherfurd Hall, Allamuchy, NJ. Tickets start at $15. Fun for the whole family!

Students should bring a filled, reusuable water bottle and small, nut-free snack to class.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Kids Can Code

In this day and age it isn't always enough for a student to be able to use a computer for game play, web browsing and word processing. The future needs them to be able to use computers in more advanced ways.

Luckily, it's becoming easier and easier for kids to learn to program and design technology. For example, there is Scratch, a tile-based visual programming language designed by MIT. Kids can use it to create stories, games, and animations then share them online as part of a community of other programmers. It's the perfect first language for kids to develop the thought processes needed for higher-level coding. Kaleidoscope offers classes in Scratch, for exactly that reason.

The importance of coding is getting more and more recognition. In fact, a group technology superstars -- Microsoft's Bill Gates, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Susan Wojcicki of Google, to name a few -- have teamed up to create a nonprofit called As a kick-start, they've issued a challenge for every school child to spend an hour programming in December. Is your school up to the challenge? (If your school needs help, Kaleidoscope can provide educational programs for students and training for teachers.)

But what if you child wants their efforts to be more real world than virtual? Welcome to the world of robotics! These days it's easier than ever to get started with building and programming your own machines. (For example, you could take Kaleidscope's Robotics One Day Intensive on November 9!)

Many makers love to use Arduino, an open-source electronics platform. It was designed for artists, designers, and hobbyists that want to create interactive objects, like robots! Arduino has a wide variety of hardware available -- for everything from robotic limbs to wearable electronics -- and it uses a programming language and software that is easy to learn, based on the popular C/C++. With components that are relatively inexpensive and a huge community of enthusiasts to draw from, it's no wonder that Arduino is fast becoming the standard.

Before you think this is all too complicated for kids, stop. There are young folks making amazing things these days. From Super Awesome Sylvia to RoboGrrl, kids are using their creativity to make some of the most amazing projects!

So this Winter, take some time to cozy up with your computer and really get to know it. Encourage your kids to code and create. Those skills will not only lead them to a life-time of exciting, fun projects, it will help them shape the future of technology.

Super Secret Science Challenge THREE!

Field Agent Misty must rush to save her partner, Special Agent Sunshine, from the forces of evil! You need to build her a car that can move quickly, quietly and without much steering. (Misty has tiny, little hands. After all, she's a rat.)

This week's materials are:

  • 2 pieces of cardboard (make sure at least one piece is corrugated)
  • 4 CDs
  • 2 bamboo skewers
  • 2 drinking straws
  • 1 pipe cleaner
  • 2 paper clips
  • 6 various rubber bands
  • 1 clothespin
  • 1 binder clip 
  • 1 roll of masking tape
I also included 4 wooden hobby wheels and 4 pieces of wagon wheel pasta. I encourage you to look around and find other "wheels" to use -- try old tools, bottle caps, etc. 

The challenge here is to build a car from the materials. The facilitator should set a track of 10 feet for students to run the cars. The goal for younger children may only be to create a car that can run straight for that distance. It's not as easy as it sounds! Older students should be encouraged to use the rubber bands to propel the car. This is more challenging.

In all cases, students should use the experience to develop an understanding of how the wheel and axle works. The wheel and axle is one of the simple machines, allowing vehicles to move with less friction. The size of the wheel in relationship to the axle affects the amount of work done by the machine. Encourage students to explore these ideas.

To propel the car, attach a rubber band to the front axle, then pull it to the back of the car and secure it. Wind the axle, release it, and the energy you built up in the rubber band will be released to turn the axle. It can take a few tries to get it right, but once you do, there are endless variations.

Several examples are presented in the video, and I wanted to share them here as well, so that you can take a good look if you like.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dino Party Time!

Recently, I was asked to help plan a dinosaur party for one of our Kaleidoscope Kids. Of course, I jumped at the chance! I knew it'd be a ton of fun to make this little girl's 3rd Birthday a blast!

Her mom is pretty darned crafty, so for an activity she created dino tails for each attendee. She used brightly colored sheets, which she cut into triangles and sewed together. Along the top seam she sewed ribbon in, to look like spikes. She stuffed them with newspaper and attached ribbon to hold them in place around their kids' waists. At the party, everyone used sparkling foam stickers to decorate their tails. It was a big hit!

To complete the dinosaur outfit, I made a pair of dinosaur foot stamps. I simply used a template of a foot to trace the shape onto some scrap plywood. Then I used a jigsaw to cut it out and a bit of sandpaper to take off the rough edges. I painted the tops of the feet with acrylic craft paint. Once that was dry, I traced and cut the template out of craft foam. Using E6000, I attached the foam to the bottom of the feet and trimmed as needed. I weighted these with a book and allowed them to dry overnight. In the morning I just attached elastic with a staple gun, so that kids could slip their feet into the elastic and wear them as "shoes."

At the party, I squirted Crayola Sidewalk Chalk Paint onto plates and had the kids step into it while wearing the dinosaur feet, then they stomped around making footprints on the pavement. The younger children needed some help getting the hang of it, but once they did, they created tracks everywhere!

After we were done playing dinosaur, it was time to dig for dinos. First we cracked open "rocks" that contained miniature dinosaurs inside! To make the rocks, I used a recipe I found at Surviving a Teacher's Salary. Simply combine the following:
1 cup used coffee grinds
1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
1/4 cup sand
up to 3/4 cup water

I doubled the recipe to make 12 rocks. Be very careful adding water! I added too much at first and had to add more flour. To make the rocks, I just grabbed a chunk of dough in my hand, placed the figure inside, and wrapped the dough around. It'll be sticky. Then I shaped it and place it on a lined cookie sheet. I baked them at 170 degrees for about an hour, flipping them once, until they were dried well.

The day of the party, we used tongue depressors to crack open our rocks and find the prize inside.

The last activity was a dinosaur treasure hunt. I used a long, low rubbermaid bin (the type for storing clothes under a bed) and filled it with two 50-pound bags of  multi-purpose sand. Then the all kinds of dinosaur figures, special rocks and plastic plants were hidden in the sand. Our young paleontologists just LOVED this activity. The older kids enjoyed identifying all the dinos!

When the fun was winding down, the mom brought out her fabulous dinosaur cake. She cut her's free hand, but there are great cake pans available that make it even easier.

Finally, we handed out gift bags. The bags were just plain white paper gift bags, which I sprayed with liquid watercolors (green) and some Perfect Pearls Mist (heirloom gold). Then I used a metallic bronze Sharpie to write each child's name on the bag. I used dinosaur foam stickers to decorate the bags. Inside I added a "Prehistoric Fern" plant and a handful of stickers. 

Mom also made sure each attendee got a super cool dinosaur temporary tattoo as well.

It was a really fun day, and I thank the Kelleher Family for making me a part of it!

Ten Easy, Cheap Crafts for Fall

At the Farmer's Market this week, I was asked if I had ideas for simple, inexpensive crafts kids could do at upcoming Halloween and Thanksgiving events. Are you kidding? Of course, I do!

So here we go: Ten Easy, Cheap Crafts for Fall!

1. Paper Plate Scarecrow Faces -- Make them pretty, or make them spooky; either way this craft is a ton of fun for everyone. Just use standard paper plates as the head. Cut triangles of colored paper for the hats. Googly eyes add a lot of fun, and the rest of the face can be drawn on. Strips of paper or some raffia make great hair. That's it! Let the kids get creative!

2. Paper Plate Jack-o-Lanterns -- This is a classic, but I have an update to make it so much easier and less messy! Usually you'd paint the plate a bright orange, let it dry, and then attach the elements for the face. But that takes a lot of time. Instead use squares of tissue paper attached with a glue stick! You can buy them precut or make your own easily. Then just add construction paper eyes, nose and mouth. So easy!

3. Toilet Paper Roll Owls -- Folded and cut cupcake liners become wings and feathers when added to a toilet paper roll using a glue stick. Use markers to add a cute face. And of course, googly eyes. I just love googly eyes. A little black paint or a black marker, and these make great bats too!

4. Toilet Paper Roll Mummies -- I found this idea on Pinterest, and it's just TOO cute! Just wrap a toilet paper roll in tissue paper, gauze or, well, toilet paper, using a glue stick to keep it attached. Use twine or yarn to add texture. Top it off with googly eyes. Ta da! Perfect little mummies!

5. Duct Tape Spider -- Everyone loves duct tape crafts! This one, from Leisure Arts, is so simple, just about anyone can pull it off. Use newspaper or a plastic bag to create a ball, about the size of an adult fist. Squish it a bit to flatten it. Use a bit of masking tape to secure this ball. Cover with duct tape. Take four pipe cleaners and twist them together in the center to form a bundle, then tape them to the underside of the spider. (Cover them with additional duct tape for extra drama.) Add googly eyes and your have a great creepy creature. Tip: Use solid color duct tapes if you're on a budget. You get more tape per roll.

6. Pine Cone Turkey -- Dip colorful feathers in Elmer's Glue and attach them to the wide end of a pine cone. Use a little Model Magic clay to form a head. A small piece of corn makes a great beak. Attach eyes, have a great decoration for your table! Don't have clay? Try this version of a turkey without it.

7. Lots of Leaf Crafts -- You can do SO many things with just the leaves from your back yard! Just collect a tons of pretty dried leaves. From there you can create a tons of great crafts. Start by pressing them in between sheets of clear contact paper for bookmarks or punch a hole to string them on yarn as a necklace. Or use glitter glue to lightly coat the leaves for sparkly garland or necklaces. Or lightly coat the leaves in paint and press them to paper as stamps. You can also place them under paper, vein side up, and use crayons to create rubbings. Cut the center out of a paper plate and use glue to attach leaves around the rim, creating a pretty wreath. And then there is my personal favorite: Attach the leaves to mask shapes, cut from card stock. Add feathers, plastic jewels and stickers to create fabulous masks. Use ribbon wear it, or attach to the popsicle stick for a held version.

8. Corn Prints -- Kids love breaking out the paint. Why not give them something fun to paint with? Try taking dried corn on the cob (like Indian Corn), rolling it in paint, then rolling it or pressing it onto paper. You can make tons of great patterns this way. While you're at it, cut open an apple and use it as a stamp. Try using things like gourds and acorn squash as stamps too.

9. Corn Bin -- This one is great for younger children and provides a wonderful sensory experience. Just fill a bin with feeder corn (a.k.a. deer corn) and hide all kinds of fall themed items in it. Then they can go on a treasure hunt.

10. Monster Paper Bag Puppets -- This craft couldn't be simpler. Give kids lunch bags. (I like the plain brown or white versions, but colored bags, sold as party gift bags are lots of fun too.) Print out some fun monster face pieces, like these free ones. You can just use regular paper and a glue stick to attach, or print them onto sticker paper. Use additional stickers, markers, sequins, plastic gems, feathers, etc. to add bling.

So I hope these fun crafts make your holiday parties and events more fun and creative. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The SECOND Super Secret Science Challenge

This is a great super secret science challenge all about bridges. Try your hand at structural engineering and have a lot of fun too! Help The Weather Weasel cross between two buildings using only gumdrops, marshmallows and toothpicks as supplies!

Materials List (for each group):

  • 1 bag of spice drops 
  • 1 cup of mini marshmallows
  • 1 box of round toothpicks (250 count)

For the challenge, students must build a 2-foot long bridge that is at least the height of a toothpick that can hold a 3 pound weight placed in the center of the bridge. Once they have accomplished that, they must raise the bridge off the table or desk and have it suspended over air for a span of six inches. The height the bridge is raised can vary, but using two identical textbooks on either side of the bridge is practical.

Be aware that spice drops and gum drops, while generally allergen free, are often processed in facilities that handle nuts, dairy, wheat and soy, so allergies can be an issue. My sensitive students were able to wear gloves to protect their skin. For alternatives and allergen free options, check out this list at Sure Foods Living.

For the super accurate scientific model of The Weather Weasel, I filled a white men's tube sock with rice until it weighed 3 pounds (the approximate weight of my ferret). This weigh presents a fun challenge, not just because of the weight, but because it's floppy and molds itself to the bridge. It also requires a wider bridge than students might normally choose to make when they are focused on the length of the bridge. This is good, because a wider bridge is more stable. If you don't have a super accurate scientific model available, try stacking books on the bridge instead.

With younger students, have them focus first building a sturdy structure directly on a flat surface. They may not get past that point, and that's just fine. Have them focus in on the shapes they use: triangle versus square, pyramid versus cube. Encourage students to "prototype" a small span of bridge before committing to a larger length.

And just in case you hear, "That's impossible!," let me assure you it is not. Here are some awesome pictures of past creations!

Want to learn more about bridges? Check out "Building Big" by PBS.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


If there is one thing kids people love, it's explosions. And studying these kinds of reactions are an exciting way to explore chemistry.

I usually like to start small, with reactions kids may have seen before and that are safe for them to play with. Mixtures of baking soda and vinegar are a classic, but try swapping out the vinegar with other acids (lemon juice, for example). And if you have a thermometer, watch for the temperature drop as the reaction takes place. You can also do the reaction in a soda bottle, topped with a balloon, to show that carbon dioxide is generated during the reaction.

Another fun reaction is yeast and peroxide. Personally, I go for the easy packet of yeast directly into a cup of 3% peroxide from the grocery store. It yields lots of foamy fun. You can also make a solution of dry yeast in warm water, so that the little guys are awake and active before mixing, to see if that affects the reaction. My friend Elizabeth McCarthy from South Mountain Coop, also does the reaction with frozen peroxide and dry yeast. Because the reaction is exothermic (it generates heat), the reaction itself melts the peroxide and drives the reaction further.

One more classic reaction is Mentos and Coke. You can do a demonstration of a full roll of mint Mentos into a 2-liter bottle of diet Coke, which has considerable "Wow" factor, of course. But it's a great opportunity for scientific exploration as well. Give the kids several types of soda and candy, and have them work through various combinations. (There is a great Mythbusters episode on this reaction, which I encourage you to watch.)

Slightly more dangerous, and requiring a brief safety warning, are dry ice experiments. The sublimation process that allows the frozen carbon dioxide to go directly to gas is both scientifically interesting and fun to watch. It's important to note to students that, though we call this substance ice, it is not water at all, but rather a completely different material, created through pressure and deep freeze. After letting students observe pelleted dry ice for a while, add warm water and create some fog. Then add a bit of dish detergent -- the resultant bubbles filled with fog are very exciting and perfectly safe to touch. Later the foam will freeze into "snowballs" which are also fun for play, especially at the height of summer.

From there you can move into more dangerous reactions. One of my favorites is burning magnesium ribbon in a block of dry ice. Not only does this look really cool, but the resulting residue, a ribbon of white MgO covering a core of black carbon, is neat. Older students may enjoy discussing how you get this layered effect. (The chemistry behind this reaction is available online.) Be sure to remind students not to look directly at the light; it's extremely bright!

Then there is my favorite reaction, the most dangerous one I personally do: thermite. A mixture of powdered metal and a metal oxide, when heated the combination undergoes an exothermic oxidation-reduction reaction that sends sparks flying. And it is awesome. This is the stuff used in welding and fireworks. After everything cools, you can retrieve the blob of iron left behind as a fond memory of your favorite explosions.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Making Mythbusters: Time for a Toast

As part of our homeschool Cooperative for Science and Math, we've been exploring the experiments featured on the Mythbusters show. Last week, we decided to test one of my absolute favorite myths: "Toast will always fall buttered side down."

There are few ways to look at this. The first is as a coin toss. Flip a coin and you should have about the same odds for a tails up as for a heads. This is basic probability. You can test it yourself. Actually I highly recommend that you do! (Mythbusters: The Explosive Exhibition has a lesson plan, called "Flip It," all about it.)

Get some friends together, as we did in class, and collect as much data as you can. Aim for 100 coin tosses, making a simple tally sheet to record which flips come out heads or tails. Then you can compare the ratio of heads to tails, create a bar graph, even determine the percentage error!

Now that you know what the data looks like if both sides of the coin -- or toast, in this case -- are equal, what happens if you make the sides unequal.

There are a lot of questions you could ask, as you design your experiment. You want to make sure you know your variables and control for as much as possible. Some questions we had:

  • Do the pieces of toast need to be the same shape? Can we control for the the shape of the toast? How?
  • Does the mass of each piece of toast matter? How can we control for the mass?
  • Does the amount of toasting affect how the toast falls? Do they need to be equally browned on both sides?
  • Does the amount of butter on each piece need to be the same? How can we control the amount of butter on each piece? Does it matter how we apply the butter? Can we use something other than butter -- such as vegetable shortening, peanut butter or jelly? 
  • Does the height from which the toast is dropped make a difference? Does it matter how the toast is held when it is dropped? Does it matter if the same person does the drop each time?
  • What would happen if we spread butter on both sides of the bread? Or none?
  • How many pieces of toast should we drop before we can feel sure about our results? 
The toast myth gives a lot of room for experimental design. Make sure you let the kids take the time to decide what questions are most important to them.

We decided to use 1 tsp. of vegetable shortening (easy to measure) on one side of toast, dropped from the height of a step ladder by an adult, with the toast held vertically before the drop. We further tested the affect of the shape of the toast on the fall -- half of the toast was selected for similarity by sight; the other half was cut to a uniform circle using a cutter. We dropped 8 pieces of toast for each shape. 

In the end, our results were very much the same as the Mythbusters results from the show! We didn't get exactly even results. In fact we found toast was more likely to fall with the buttered side up. There are some really interesting reasons for this: period of rotation, moment of inertia and angular momentum all play a role. 

Given enough time to explore, how many variables can you control? Well, we only had an hour, but this could easily be a whole day project. (And time well spent.)

So next time you're having breakfast, maybe you can have some science with your coffee and tea. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The FIRST Super Secret Science Challenge

This week we had our first Super Secret Science Challenge this week, at the Kaleidoscope Learning Center and at Belvidere Elementary School. Want to play along at home? Check out the video below!

Here are the supplies our Science Officers were given:

  • 3 cups -- one each styrofoam, plastic and paper
  • Various string -- 3 feet of twine and 9 feet of fishing line
  • 1 9" latex balloon
  • 2 pipe cleaners
  • 2 drinking straws
  • 2 bamboo skewers
  • 7 tongue depressors
  • 2 disposable spoons
  • Paper -- one sheet copy paper, 1 3x5 index card, 1 4x6 index card
  • 2 pieces of cardboard
  • Tape -- masking and invisible
  • 10 assorted rubber bands
  • 1 pair of scissors
All items were packed into a plastic Ziploc-style bag. Students were only allowed to use the items they were given, nothing else. Everyone had to work in a team to transport as many mini marshmallows as possible across the floor over a distance of 10 feet without aiding their contraption after "launch." Are you up to the challenge?

If you want to make it even tougher,  try for 15 or 20 feet. Or try to send multiple pieces of food,  large pieces of food or really heavy food.

We'll be back next week with another Super Secret Science Challenge. You can take the challenge at Kaleidoscope, or bring it to your school or club!

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