Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Fun

Halloween season is upon us and kids everywhere are getting their costumes ready and carving pumpkins.  My kids have had their costumes ready for a few weeks and this past weekend we carved pumpkins.  Carving pumpkins is an opportunity to teach your kids about pumpkins and about carving safety.  But before any of that, you need to teach your kids how to pick the perfect pumpkin!

When picking a pumpkin to carve you want one that's not too odd shaped.  If it's too odd shaped then it's more difficult to carve a nice face.  It shouldn't be too big either.  If it's too big, then that's just more time that it takes Daddy to dig out the pumpkin guts!  :-)

The carving stage was the perfect opportunity to teach my daughters about knife safety. "Knives are sharp and it's important to let only Mommy or Daddy handle one.  Also, keep your face from being too close to the pumpkin while I carve in case the knife slips."  If you're careful everyone will have fun.

Next we discussed the pumpkin guts and why we need to remove them and the seeds.

Our pumpkin guts....ewwww!

I tried to get my 5 year old to dig out the guts herself, but she refused.  She did help separate the seeds, however, so that was good.  We'll later cook the seeds for a tasty snack.

Next came the carving.  Being the expert carvesman I am, I was able to carve a couple of very cool pumpkins!!!  Oh, how I kid myself.  Fortunately my daughter asked for square eyes and a circle nose, so that wasn't much of a problem.

An awesome job by Daddy (left) and Mommy (right)!
I intended to make a straight mouth on the pumpkin on the left, but as I carved, the mouth drooped down a bit, but this was a good thing.  It looks a bit scarier now!  

I encourage you to take time out of your busy schedule to carve pumpkins with your kids.  In a few years the "magic" of pumpkin carving will wear off and they'll be somewhere else hanging out with their friends, leaving you all alone.  Tis the life of a parent.  Enjoy every moment while it's there.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

I'm sure that most anyone reading this in the United States is aware of Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the East Coast.  I hope that everyone in the area stays safe and follows all evacuation plans.  Storms like this can be very unpredictable.  If you are in a safe area then situations like this are a perfect time to discuss with your kids hurricanes.  What is a hurricane?  How does it work?  What does one look like?  The easiest question to answer is probably what does a hurricane look like?  There are plenty of satellite pictures of Hurricane Sandy on the web to show your kids.  Just do a google search for "Hurricane Sandy" or hurricanes in general and you'll be flooded (no pun intended) with images.

That's a big storm!!!

There's a lot that's still unknown about how hurricanes, and weather in general, work, which explains the often unknown path that a hurricane will take.  Even now, as Hurricane Sandy makes landfall in New Jersey and New York, there are still many unknowns concerning its future path.  Here are a couple of websites that will assist in your understanding of hurricanes.

The most important thing, if you live in a hurricane area, is to be prepared and to follow all safety protocols, including evacuations.

Monday, October 29, 2012


This week my wife and I voted early.  I figured that we might as well get it done now while we know we have time as opposed to being forced to make time on election day.  We had our 5 year old with us which is actually pretty normal for the two of us.  In previous elections (primary, midterm, etc.) I've taken my daughters with me and usually my wife takes them with her too when she votes.

I think it's very important to take your kids with you, if possible, to the voting polls to give them an idea of what voting is and how it works.  Granted, discussing actual politics with a 5 year old is a waste of time, but simply showing them how to vote introduces them to it.  And seeing Mommy and Daddy voting at every election shows them that it's something important.  

One problem with the younger generation of voters (those in that 18 - 22 age group) is that they take their right to vote for granted and often times don't vote.  It's a shame knowing that people fought hard for the right to vote for younger people and then seeing them not vote.  I want my daughters to know that their vote is important and it counts.  I want them to know that their vote means something.  Who they vote for potentially plays a role in our country's education system and the funding that goes to science.  I can't tell them who to vote for.  I'd like to think they would share the same political beliefs as I do, but even if they don't, the important thing is that they truly understand the importance of voting and voting as an informed citizen.  

Although I have no evidence to back this up, it's my opinion that taking them to the polls at a younger age will make it more likely that they vote when they are of eligible age.  

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Finding the International Space Station (ISS)

If you're looking for a cool activity to share with your son/daughter, try spending an evening together searching for the International Space Station (ISS).


NASA has a great tool on their website you can use to determine when the ISS will be visible in your area.

I'm going to try to take my daughters out this weekend to try to see the ISS crossing our sky.  The ISS will be crossing our sky several nights in the upcoming week after it gets dark, but before my daughters' bed time.  

Hopefully the weather will be in our favor and we'll see it.

Update:  On the first night we were free and it was clear outside, I took my 5 year old out to spot the ISS.  Right on schedule it popped up above the horizon.  I pointed it out to my daughter, but it wasn't entirely dark out yet, making it a bit difficult to spot.  She didn't see it right away and was starting to panic.  I told her to not worry, but in my head I'm thinking "ok, I've got 4 minutes to get her to find this...what will I tell her if she can't find it?"  Fortunately she found it a few seconds later and we watched it until it was no longer visible.  We talked a bit about how astronauts live in the ISS for periods of time.  She thought this was very cool!  It was a great bonding experience with her.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Ask Magazine

My 5 year old's first issue of Ask magazine arrived in the mail this past week.  She was super excited to dig into and between myself and my wife, we read her over half the magazine the first night.  This first issue is excellent, in my opinion, and I hope that future issues are just as good.

Ask Magazine

The October issue is all about bones.  There are several excellent articles for kids on how bones grow, how they mend, and what they look like. The first small article in the magazine, however, doesn't deal with bones.  It deals with astronauts and the taste of food.

I remember reading about this some time ago, but this article was a good reminder about how being in space, in a low gravity environment, has an effect on the human body.  This magazine also has an article about how human bones weaken in a low gravity environment and are more susceptible to breaking.  It's one of the big problems with future long distance space travel.  

The first astronaut article in this magazine is about taste.  Being in a low gravity environment can cause nose stuffiness, which blocks the sense of smell.  Thus foods will taste more bland.  The same thing happens on Earth.  Think about this the next time you have stuffed nose.  Does food taste as good without being able to smell it?  Most likely not.  

My daughter, my wife, and I have all learned at least one new thing in the first half of this magazine.  I'm happy with our choice of a magazine for our 5 year old.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thunder/Lightning Misconception

This week in my physics lab for my high school students an excellent opportunity presented itself to clear up a common misconception.  In the middle of lab it started to thunder outside very loud with many flashes of lightning.

Lightning is flash of light and thunder is a sound.  Since sound travels at a much slower speed than light, the time it takes between seeing the lightning and hearing the thunder can determine how far away the lightning strike was.  There's a big misconception with this, however.  I learned in school, as many kids learn in school or from their parents, that if you count the number of seconds between the flash and the thunder, then that is equal to the number of miles the storm is from your location.  In other words, if you counted 3 seconds between flash and thunder, the strike was 3 miles away.  This is not true.  In fact, the storm is much closer than 3 miles.

A more accurate rule of thumb is to take the number of seconds between the flash and the thunder and divide by five.  If you count three seconds between the flash and the thunder, the storm is 3/5 miles away.  That's much closer than 3 miles!

This is a neat little exercise to do with kids.  It introduces them to the difference in light versus sound speed and allows them to use their knowledge to figure out the distance to the storm.  It also reinforces their math skills.  Once you start dividing by 5, a little bit of math is used.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Meteor Shower

The other day I posted about a misconception/hoax about his past weekend's meteor shower.  As mentioned in that post, the Orionids are a result of Earth passing through the tail of Halley's comet.  Depending on the sky conditions and amount of tail debris that enters our atmosphere, the Orionids can be impressive.  Earlier in the day I thought briefly about waking my 5 year old and taking her outside to see the shower.  Estimates ranged from 30 - 60 meteors per hour which isn't too bad.

The best time to observe the Orionids this year was around 1 AM on the morning of October 21.  Since my daughter is in kindergarten, waking her up at 1 AM on a school night is not an option.  Not to mention, waking ME up at 1 AM on a work night is not an option either! :-)  This year the time of the shower was fortunate in that the 21st was a Saturday night/Sunday morning.  So I thought that maybe if the skies were clear, that I'd wake her up and have a father/daughter science bonding experience.

Meteors in the Orionids appear to come from the direction of Orion in the sky.

Unfortunately things did not work out and we didn't make it outside at 1 AM.  I have no clue if it was even cloudy or not.  Throughout the day my 2 year old was cranky and in one of her moods.  At 11 PM after she'd been asleep for 3 hours, she turned over and vomited out her dinner into her bed.  Lovely.  One of the joys of being a parent.  I had to turn on the bedroom light, which woke up my 5 year old.  It took 10 minutes to get everything cleaned up and both girls back to bed.  30 minutes later at 11:30, the 2 year old vomited again.  My 5 year old woke up again and it took another 10 minutes with the light on to get everything cleaned up.

By that point, I basically said, screw it.  My daughters have both been up twice already, no one is having any fun, and even though my 5 year old was fine, waking her up at 1 AM again was going to make for one rough Sunday.  So things didn't work out this time, but I'll continue to be on the lookout for a good meteor shower to share with my daughters.  

If you have the chance as a parent, and your kids aren't barfing all over the place, I encourage you to enjoy a meteor shower with them.  It may suck to wake them up in the wee hours of the morning, but they'll always have this moment that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

My Girls have a Geek for a Daddy

Yep, my baby girls have a geek for a Daddy.  I've always been a geek and always will be a geek.  They'll just have to learn to live with it.  :-)  Here's a perfect example of my geekiness, and thriftiness.  The other day at the grocery store I had two items on my list, milk and toilet paper.  A weird combo, I know.  I think my wife is always worried when I head to the store to buy toilet paper.  I have a tendency to buy the cheapest brand, which is usually the crappy store brand.  I was told a couple of years ago, in no uncertain terms, that I was only to buy toilet paper brands on my wife's approved list.  I guess that since I live with three girls and am the only man in the house, that I'll just have to concede this to them.  :-)

So on my latest toilet paper shopping trip I took a look at the approved toilet paper brands, pulled out my phone, and started pricing them out per square of TP.  One brand sold packages of 12 rolls and 24 rolls.  It's often that the bigger package is cheaper, but not in this case.  The price per square of the 12 roll package was cheaper than the 24 package.  Also different brands have a different number of squares in a roll, so I had to factor that into my calculation.

I'm a geek and I price compare!

While I was doing this, one of my co-workers and friends strolls down the aisle and starts laughing at me.  The nerve!  Actually, I can imagine that a bystander would find this somewhat funny!  :-)  I wasn't embarrassed though.  I was on a mission to find the best bargain.  Eventually I found it.  The first brand I priced came out to $0.0033 per square.  It was the most expensive, but then I found an approved TP priced at $0.0020 per square.  It went straight into the shopping cart.

So this is the geekiness that my daughters have to deal with.  :-)  Actually, I know that once they're more comfortable with math that I'll teach them how to price compare when shopping.  They have no idea what they're in for!!!!

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Floating Egg Experiment

This past weekend my 5 year old daughter and I did a very cool science experiment called the "Floating Egg".  As you can guess from the title, the goal is to make an egg float, but not just make an egg float on top of a glass of water, but make the egg float in the middle of the glass of water.  The science behind this revolves around density.  If the egg is more dense than the water, the egg sinks.  If the egg is less dense than the water, the egg floats to the top.  But how do you get the egg to float in the middle?  That's trickier.  To start we filled a water bottle half full of regular tap water.  Then we dropped the egg in.  Here's the video of our drop.

As you can see, the egg sank to the bottom because the egg density is greater than the water density.   Next we filled a second water bottle half full of water, but then put several tablespoons of salt in the water.  The salt increases the density of the water.  If the density exceeds that of the egg, the egg will float.  Here's our video of the egg in salt water.

Our first attempt failed because we didn't add enough salt, so with the egg in the water, we added salt until the egg started to float.  Now the tricky part is figuring out how to make the egg sink, but only halfway to the bottom.  To do this, take a glass of tap water and slowly pour it into the salt water mixture.  By pouring slow, the tap water won't mix with the salt water.  It's very similar to oil sitting on top of water except you can't see a clear division between the tap water and the salt water.  When the egg is dropped into this 2 fluid mixture, the egg sinks through the tap water, but floats on top of the salt water layer.  Thus it looks like the egg is magically floating in the middle.  

Although this isn't a complicated experiment, it looks cool seeing an egg float in the middle of a water bottle filled with water.  We let the bottle sit for awhile, and several hours later, the egg was still floating.  Very cool!  Grab your kids and give it a try.

Update:  We checked again in the morning and the egg was still floating in the middle!  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Rare Meteor Shower? Or Hoax?

A co-worker recently sent me the following picture and wondered if it was a hoax.

A hoax?

There's a tiny bit of truth in this statement, but overall it is a hoax.  The truth is that there is a meteor shower on October 20/21.  It's called the Orionids and happens ever year at this time of the year.  This meteor shower is the result of Earth passing through the tail of Halley's comet.  When Earth passes through a cometary tail, tiny bits of dust and debris enter our atmosphere and burn up, thus creating the streak of light we know as a meteor.

This will not be a rare meteor shower.  Meteor showers will vary in intensity from year to year.  This year's Orionids are expected to produce about 25 meteors per hour, which isn't bad, but I've seen better.  

So other than stating that there is a meteor shower on October 20/21, this picture message is a hoax.  This isn't a rare shower and it's nowhere near the most intense shower ever produced.  A rare intensity shower is a shower that is really a meteor storm, producing 1,000+ meteors per hour.  This has happened a couple of times in the last 200 years.  This year's shower is nowhere close to being rare.

This statement is also incorrect in saying that you can go out and see meteors until November 7.  Technically it's correct in that you can go out any night and stare long enough and eventually see 1 meteor.  But these aren't showers.  They're caused by a random piece of dust/debris that entered our atmosphere and burned up.  

After the Orionids on Oct 20/21 there are the South Taurids and North Taurids on Nov 4/5 and Nov 11/12 respectively.  Neither of these showers will amount to much.  The South Taurids are predicted to produce 7 meteors per hour.  On November 16/17 the Leonids occur.  They are usually a bummer, and are predicted to be so again this year.  Sometimes the Leonids produce great showers.  The best shower I've seen was the Leonids in November 2002 and even then there were probably only 50-60 meteors per hour.

So the moral of this story is be careful of what you read.  If it sounds too good to be true, it's probably a hoax.  The misspelling of "meteors" in the last sentence is another indication this is a hoax.  :-)

By all means go out and enjoy a meteor shower, just don't expect anything rare, because you'll only end up disappointed.  

For more on meteor showers, check out the following links:

Friday, October 19, 2012

Hubble Space Telescope Misconception #2

The other day I discussed one of the major Hubble Space Telescope (HST) misconceptions. Another big, although not as widely spread, misconception relates to the next great space based telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).  I suppose I could call it the JWST misconception #1, but I included it with the many HST misconceptions since the misconception is connected to the HST.

If you are not familiar with the JWST, I encourage you to read more at the following link:

The JWST is currently scheduled for a 2018 launch date.  Hopefully this is not delayed any longer as it has already been delayed several years.  I took a look at my old teaching notes and in the fall of 2007 I discussed with my astronomy class the JWST and the projected launch date at that time was 2013!  So in 5 years, the project launch date has been pushed back 5 years.  Ouch!

Model of telescope after placed in orbit

So what's the misconception?  The misconception is that may people, including many in the media market, are calling the JWST the "replacement" to the HST.  It's true that this will be a replacement space based telescope, but the replacement to the HST is very misleading.  The JWST will be much bigger with a 6.5 meter mirror compared to the HST's 2.4 meter mirror.  It's common for people to think that the JWST is just a bigger version of the HST.  The biggest difference, however, between the HST and the JWST is the type of light that each telescope collects.  The HST primarily collects visible light, light that humans can see.  The JWST will primarily collect infrared light, light that humans cannot see.  Therefore, it really isn't the "replacement" to Hubble.  For more information on the two telescopes, check out NASA's comparison site:

The HST was (and still is) a great telescope.  The JWST will be a great telescope too, but in a different way.  It will answer many questions the HST cannot answer due to the type of light it collects.  

Keep your fingers crossed that the JWST launches in 2018 and isn't delayed any further.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

B-I-G = BIG?

Classify this one under the category of "kids say the darnedest things".  My 5 year old is learning to read in kindergarten and every week comes home with a new set of words to learn.  She did this in pre-school and learned many words last year, but the list of words is quickly growing this year.  She's done a fantastic job, but there are a few words that she struggles with initially.  At school she's taught to sound out the letters in words she doesn't know.  Last week the word 'big' came up.  'Big' isn't a tough word, but it was new to her and she didn't know it right away so she worked on sounding out each letter.

She started with 'B' which makes a 'buh' as in 'bee' or 'ball' sound.  Then came the 'I' which makes an 'eh' sound, like in the word 'it' or 'icky'.  So far so good for her.  Next comes 'G'.  'G' has two sounds depending on the word.  It can make a 'guh' sound like in 'go' or 'great'.  It can also make a 'juh' sound like in 'george' or 'giant'.  When she sounded it out in the word 'big' she chose the 'juh' sound but it came out as a 'ch' sound.  If you're following along you'll understand my shock and surprise.

Sound it out like my daughter did.  'buh', 'eh', 'ch'.  Sounding it out that way you do not get big, you get "BIT--". What was my reaction?  My reaction was to turn, facing away from my daughter, covering my mouth, trying to prevent her from seeing my laughing.  The funniest part of this wasn't that she mispronounced 'BIG', but that she looked at me after saying the word with this very innocent, questioning look that said "Is that right Daddy?"  "No, pumpkin, that's not right, but thanks for the good laugh!"  I didn't say that, but it's really what I wanted to say!

The moral of this story?  Help your kids out with their homework.  You never know what you might hear!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

New #1 Post

The other day on this blog I mentioned that there was a battle brewing for the most viewed blog post.  The current #1 at that time, Are Blue Moons Really Blue?, was quickly giving ground to the Loose Tooth post.  While I was focused on these two posts I did not see another post quickly approaching the #1 spot.  In the last couple of days, the Why Earth has Seasons post took over as the most viewed post on this blog!  Apparently people searching for Earth's Seasons have found their way to this  blog.  Hopefully they learned something and cleared up any existing misconceptions.

A Rough Morning

The other day my two year old was having a very rough day.  It started right away with her not happy about the clothes my wife picked out for her and was even madder when my wife combed and tied up her hair into pony tails.  Many times we sit her in the sink in the bathroom because it limits her mobility when doing her hair.  Styling the hair of a moving child is next to impossible.  My two year old, in her "everyone in the world is against me" tantrum was having nothing to do with sitting quietly.  She screamed for awhile, but then, against the better judgment of anyone sitting in a sink, decided it would be interesting to turn the faucet on.

So she did and stared at the steady stream of water as it washed over her skirt and leggings, soaking them completely through to her diaper.  The expression on her face was priceless!  It was this what have I done, what do I do now, someone please help me look!  She learned very quickly that water is wet and it's no fun sitting in soaked clothes.  Will she learn from this experience and sit calmly while we do her hair in the future?  Probably not, but that's the life of a toddler!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Physics at a Football Game

This past weekend I took my 5 year old daughter to a college football game.  I've taken her to football games in the past, but this game presented the opportunity to teach her a bit of physics.  There were several physics concepts in play at the this game.

1.  Bouncy houses.  There were bouncy houses set up along the walkway behind one of the end zones.  She spotted these right away and during the second quarter we took a break to check them out.  The bouncy houses were for kids only (boo!) so I had to sit and watch.  She had a blast in the bouncy house.  We didn't really talk about the physics of a bouncy house together, but when she's older a bouncy house is a perfect opportunity to talk about Newton's 3rd Law.  Newton's 3rd Law states that for every force there is an equal and opposite reaction force.  In the bouncy house, someone jumping pushes down on the bouncy house material, applying a force to it.  The equal and opposite force is the bouncy house floor pushing back on you which propels you into the air.  Like I said, my daughter's a bit too young for a full discussion on Newton's Laws, but it's a good topic for the future.

2.  Boom sticks.  Every so often at football games they hand out these blow up sticks called boom sticks.  The boom sticks we received are shown in the picture below.

A boom stick.

The idea is to take two boom sticks and smack them together repeatedly.  When struck together, they make a 'boom' sound.  The point is to have thousands of these all smashing together at once to create a lot of noise.  The cool thing about the boom sticks is that they produce a different sound based on the angle you strike them together.  I had never thought about this before until this weekend's game when my daughter was smacking them together and they were making a very loud, ear-shattering noise.  I borrowed them from her and couldn't repeat the noise at first.  The noise I made with them was more of a dull, hollow sound.  If you strike them parallel to each other, they make the louder, higher pitched boom.  I tried looking up the physics of boom sticks online but didn't find much in terms of an explanation.

3.  Friction = heat.  It was a bit chilly at the game so we were wearing earmuffs and hats.  I forgot to bring my gloves so during the game I was rubbing my hands together and blowing on them.  My daughter asked me why I was doing that and I told her it was to keep my hands warm.  We had a short discussion on how rubbing your hands together releases energy through friction.  That energy is heat which temporarily warms your hands.  Blowing on your hands releases warm air from your lungs which also temporarily warms your hands.  

So we had a great time at the game and learned some physics in the process.  I encourage you to take time to notice your surroundings.  Science is everywhere and there are many great opportunities to quickly introduce your kids to simple science concepts.  The more aware they are of science, the great role it will play now and later on in their lives.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Battle for the Most Viewed Post?

There's a battle brewing for the top spot on my blog for most viewed post.  The current record holder is the Are Blue Moons Really Blue? post on August 30th.  Battling to overtake this post is the recent Loose Tooth post, from September 22.  I'm not sure if the Loose Tooth post will overtake the Blue Moon's.  It's loosing a bit of steam over the last couple of days.  Regardless if it overtakes the Blue Moon, both posts, for some reason, have a significant number of page views compared to all other posts.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Hubble Space Telescope Misconception #1

There are many misconceptions concerning the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).  The HST, launched in 1990 and still operational today, is probably the most famous telescope in the world.  If you ask the average person to name one telescope, the likely answer is the HST.  The HST has a 2.4 meter mirror that collects light and is located in space, approximately 350 miles above Earth's surface.

The Hubble Space Telescope

The HST is famous for being an excellent telescope that has taken some amazing pictures.  The misconception comes in when people are asked why the HST takes such amazing pictures.  The most common answer is that Hubble is closer to the stars.  Well, technically this is right.  The HST is approximately 350 miles closer to the stars than a telescope on Earth, but let's put this distance in perspective.  The nearest star, other than the Sun, is Proxima Centauri, approximately 4.24 light years away.  Converting from light years to miles gives us a distance of about 25 TRILLION MILES!!!!!  Looking at this in terms of percentages, the HST is about 0.0000000014% closer to this star than a telescope on Earth.  In other words, distance plays no role in the HST's ability to take amazing pictures.

A way to make this clear to younger children is to ask them to look at a distance building, tree, building, billboard, etc. from inside their house.  Then ask them to take one step out the front or back door.  Does the object look any closer?  Nope.  Is it closer.  Sure, by one step, but not nearly close enough to make a difference in your ability to see details on the object.  (Thanks to my high school students for this analogy.)

Another common misconception is that the HST is better because it's bigger.  Again, this is wrong.  The HST has a 2.4 meter mirror.  The largest optical telescope on Earth is the 10.4 meter Gran Telescopio Canarias on the Canary Islands.  In terms of how much light these telescopes collect, the Gran Telescopio Canarias collects about 19 times more light than the HST.  

So if it's not distance and it's not size, what makes the HST so amazing?  The answer is Earth's atmosphere, or lack thereof.  Light from stars traveling through Earth's atmosphere is exposed to turbulence (moving pockets of air).  This turbulence causes images to not be as clear as they would be in the absence of Earth's atmosphere.  The HST has the advantage that it sits above Earth's atmosphere and light is not subject to turbulence.  Thus the images are much clearer.  

There you go.  One less misconception to worry about.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Egg Drop Experiment

This week in physics lab for my high school students we finished up the egg drop experiment.  This is a lab experiment that many students complete at sometime in their middle school or high school education.  The basic idea is to build a "ship" out of a pre-selected materials that will house an egg.  The ship is dropped from increasing heights until the egg breaks.  The goal is to build a ship that protects the egg such that it doesn't break.  There are many variations of the egg drop experiment, but in my high school classes, students are allowed the following materials.

10 tongue depressors (or extra wide popsicle sticks)
10 popsicle sticks
10 paper clips
5 soda straws
5 rubber bands
3 pipe cleaners
2 feet of yarn
10 cotton balls
1 plastic sandwich bag (size small)
1 bottle of glue

Students do not have to use all of these materials, but they can't use anything not on the list.  Below are a few pictures of "ships" that student's build for this week's drop.

Eggs were placed in the "ships" and we went to a nearby parking garage.  We dropped from 2 feet, 6 feet, the 2nd floor, the 3rd floor, and the 4th floor, all onto grass.  Out of 12 groups, 3 survived the 4th floor drop.  These three then dropped their "ships" from the 4th floor onto rocks.  The parking garage is only 4 stories high.  Two of the groups survived the rock drop.  The next step was to drop the "ships" upside down.  Neither of the remaining groups' eggs survived, although in previous years I've had students build ships that survived the rock drop.  

I'll point out that this is an activity that you can do with kids of any age.  The younger the child, the more liberal you must be with the supplies.  I've done this before with groups of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders.  We use the same supplies, but I give them more popsicle sticks and cotton balls to use.  Even younger kids can do this if they have sufficient parental help.  I haven't done this with my daughter yet, but it's on my list of sciency things to do.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Flu Vaccine

Flu season is here and it's time to get a flu vaccine.  Before I had kids, I never felt it was necessary to get the flu vaccine.  After having kids I've gotten one each year and I make sure both of my daughters get one too.  The CDC recommends that everyone get the flu vaccine, assuming supplies are not limited.  Yesterday I decided to take myself and my two daughters in for our vaccines.

I always dread doing this.  Not because it hurts or because I think it isn't necessary.  Getting the shot doesn't hurt and it is recommended.  There are no severe side effects so the decision to get the vaccine is a no-brainer.  The tough part is convincing my 5 year old of that.  I take them in to the my employer's clinic since they offer free flu vaccines through our employer based health insurance.  Normally they only  have the shot available and my 5 year old dreads this.  Today she was all in tears when I told her we needed to go in and get the vaccine.  I caved and told her we'd go out for ice cream afterwards.  This calmed her a little, but not much.  The past two years we've left the clinic with her screaming bloody murder, which I'm sure scares the you know what out of anyone sitting in the waiting room!  

I suppose I could take her to her normal pediatrician who always has the nasal mist in stock.  There's no shot involved and my 5 year old has no problem with it.  Unfortunately the nasal mist from the pediatrician is not covered fully through my insurance and I end up paying about $25 per child.  Not a lot, but $50 for the two of them is $50 I'd rather use on something else, especially when I know they can get there flu vaccinations free somewhere else.  

The good news was, that upon arrival at the clinic, for the first time in 3 years, they had the nasal mist in stock.  You should have seen the huge wave of relief that swept over my daughter when she learned that she wasn't going to get a shot.  The 2 year old on the other hand was not a fan of the nurse sticking something up her nose.  She wailed away for a few minutes.  

In the car on the way to the ice cream shop we chatted about why we get flu vaccines.  My 5 year old understands that it is to help her from getting sick with the flu this winter, but the thought of a shot just overwhelms her better senses.  

My advice is to get your flu vaccine.  Get it for your kids.  The fear of a shot lasts a few moments.  The potential protection from getting the flu lasts an entire season.  They may cry, but it's nothing ice cream can't fix!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Moon Misconception in Daughter's Planets Book

My 5 year old daughter recently received her Planets book from her first Scholastic book order.  We're reading a few pages every other night or so, mixed in between other books we are reading.  Overall it's a great book for kids her age.  There's a ton of facts and pictures that bring out the excitement in astronomy.

There are, however, a couple of slight misconceptions I've noticed.  The first is a short statement related to the Moon.  The books says "We see different parts of it [the Moon] depending on how much sunlight shines on it."  I understand the message the book is trying to convey, but this statement is misleading.  It implies that the Sun shines different amounts of light on the surface of the Moon on different days.  Although the intensity of sunlight striking the Moon does change slightly due to slight changes in the Moon-Sun distance, these differences play no role in the phases of the Moon.  Half (50%) of the Moon's surface is illuminated by the Sun at all times.  The same is true for Earth.  Half (50%) of the Earth is illuminated at all times.  In other words, half of the Earth and half of the Moon are currently, and always, experiencing daylight, while the other half is experiencing night.  It's just a matter of how much of that illuminated surface is facing the Earth.

Further details can be found in my previous post on Lunar Phases.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Magic Ketchup Experiment

With my 5 year old in kindergarten each day, along with Girl Scouts, soccer, and swimming lessons, there isn't as much time for science experiments as there was this summer.  We did, however, find some time on an afternoon last weekend to complete the Magic Ketchup Experiment.  In this experiment, one is testing the density of single serving ketchup packets.  First fill a two liter bottle full of water and drop in a small, sealed, packet of ketchup.  Depending on the packet, it may sink, or it may float.  It all depends on the initial density of the packet.  If it's more dense that water, it sinks.  If it's less dense, it rises.  Ours initially sank.  If the packet sinks, add salt to the water until the packet rises.  Adding salt to the water increases the water density.  Once the water density exceeds that of the ketchup packet, the packet begins to rise.  Now you're ready.

Have your child, or do it together, squeeze the two liter bottle.  By squeezing the bottle, you increase the water pressure which applies pressure to the ketchup packet and contracts it.  You probably won't see the packet contract, but the extra pressure contracts it ever so slightly.  Assuming you didn't add too much salt in the earlier steps, the ketchup will contract such that its density is now greater than that of the salt water.  It will begin to sink.  Release your hands, decreasing the pressure on the packet and it rises again.  Keep repeating this process to watch the packet rise, fall, rise, fall, etc.  See below for our video.

This is a fun little experiment that lets you talk to your child about density and pressure.  My daughter thought this was cool.  We also tried Taco Bell hot sauce, soy sauce, and mustard packets, but they wouldn't sink when we squeezed the bottle.  The water density was already much greater than that of the packet.  We needed to start over with fresh water in the two liter bottle.  We didn't have any time left in the afternoon, so we'll try these on a later date.  

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Cool Science Dad Facebook Community

If you haven't yet, you should join my Cool Science Dad Facebook community.  There are a few extra things I post there that do not show up on this blog.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Future Science Fair Project?

At some point I imagine my daughters will do some sort of science fair project in school.  Most elementary kids do at some point in their education.  An interesting question popped into my head the other day.  (Note:  This is probably 80% joking and 20% serious on my part.)  How long, on average, does a tube of chap stick survive before it is lost or destroyed in the washer?

Think about it.  Have you ever used an entire stick of chap stick before it is lost or destroyed?  I can honestly say I never have.  I'd be curious to see a study on the average survival time of chap stick.  This probably isn't a great science fair project, but it could be a neat little mini project at home with my daughters.  We could mark on a calendar the date on which a new tube is opened, and the date at which the tube is lost.  Are their differences between Mommy and Daddy?  Is more chap stick used during the summer or winter?  That's something an elementary student could answer through a simple research project.  And it would be a great way to introduce them to research methods.  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Sharing a Bedroom

My wife and I finally made the decision to rearrange our daughters' bedrooms and turn one bedroom into a true bedroom with beds for sleeping and the other bedroom into a play/toy room.  Prior to this week they each had their own bedroom.  My youngest was at the point where she was outgrowing her crib.  We took off the crib rail and turned the crib into a day bed to get her used to sleeping without a side rail. The first night for her was a little rough.  About 15 minutes after falling asleep she fell out of bed.  Fortunately we anticipated this and laid pillows and blankets on the floor so she wouldn't hurt herself.  My 2 year old doesn't fully understand this thing called gravity!  :-)  Sometime in the middle of the night she fell out of bed again and had rolled half her body under the bed with just her head sticking out!  She didn't seem to mind though since she was sleeping peacefully.  Every night since that first night has been much better.  She hasn't fallen out of bed since.

My wife and I have talked for awhile now about the advantages and disadvantages of sharing a bedroom.  Some of the disadvantages are obvious.  There will be times that my kids argue with each other about sharing space.  They have different bedtimes which makes for an interesting night time routine.  The little one has a tendency to want to talk and play when both of them are supposed to be sleeping.  On the other hand, there are several long term advantages to sharing a bedroom.  My daughter's are forced to learn how to share.  It's not that they haven't had to learn how to share now, but sharing a bedroom introduces several new sharing challenges.  They'll need to learn to respect each other and each other's privacy.  These are skills that are necessary when they go to college and potentially have roommates   Another advantage is the cleanliness of their rooms.  Prior to this week, both bedrooms were messy with toys.  Now only one bedroom is.  That's more of an advantage to us, the parents.

We also spent time talking to our oldest daughter about her wishes and desires.  She was really excited to share a bedroom with her little sister and after 4 nights she's still excited.  She doesn't like it when little sister doesn't go to bed right away and babbles, but that's something both of them will work out as they gain more experience together in the same room.

I'm not sure how this will play out in the end, but I think we made the right decision to have them share bedrooms.  The advantages outweigh the disadvantages.  I shared a bedroom with my younger brother up until I was a senior in high school and I turned out fine.  I think!  :-)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Does the Moon Rotate?

It's a common misconception that the Moon does not rotate on its own axis.  Earth, for example, rotates on its own axis about once every 24 hours.  In fact, all astronomical objects in the solar system rotate, although some have a very long rotation period (time it takes to make one complete rotation).  The main reason many people think the Moon does not rotate is due to the fact that we always see the same side of the Moon facing Earth.  We can never see the "back" side of the Moon from Earth.  Remember, that this does NOT mean there is a perpetual dark side of the moon.  All portions of the Moon experience day and night at some point during the Moon's day.

We always see the same side of the Moon fro Earth.

If the Moon always shows the same "face" to us, then how is it possible that it rotates?  The answer lies in the revolution of the Moon around the Earth.  It takes about 29 days for the Moon to make one orbit around the Earth.  The Moon is rotating on its axis at exactly the same rate, taking about 29 days to make one complete rotation.  So as the Moon moves around the Earth, it slowly rotates such that the same "face" always points toward the Earth.

Is this coincidence?  No.  The Moon is tidally locked to the Earth.  After the Moon's formation approximately 4.6 billion years ago, gravitational forces between the Earth and the Moon slowly "tugged" on each other.  These frictional forces slowly changed the orbit of the Moon to the point that it is at today.  The Earth and the Moon continue to interact gravitationally with each other and as a result, the Moon is slowly moving away from us, by a couple of centimeters each year.  Earth's rotation (or length of day) is slowly increasing  

Tidal locking is common in our solar system and occurs with many moons orbiting other planets.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Corn Maze Fun!

This past weekend my family and I had the opportunity to go to a local corn maze.  The corn maze was located on a farm that had much more than a corn maze there.  There was a small farm area with lamas, horses, cows, ducks, and goats.  I grew up with goats when I was a kid, so I'm very familiar with them.  Whenever we go to a petting zoo I always try to get my wife to feed the goats, but she always refuses.  :-)  This year I introduced my 2 year old to feeding goats.  I paid a quarter for the goat feed, stuck a few pieces in my daughter's hand and told her to stick her hand next to the goat.  As soon as the goat made a move toward her hand she dropped the feed, pulled her hand away, and giggled.  I gave her a few more pieces and this time held her hand until the goat licked the feed off.  You're not really feeding a goat unless the goat licks your hand!  At least that's my opinion.  I thought she might freak out, but she giggled again when the goat licked her hand.

Who would refuse to feed a goat?

Later I paid another quarter for a handful of corn to feed the ducks.  My two year old had a blast throwing the corn at the ducks.  Together we led one of the ducks closer and closer, one corn kernel at a time, to the edge of the fence.  It was awesome seeing the smile on my daughter's face as the duck came closer.


Later we did the corn maze together as a family.  There were several educational aspects to the corn maze.  First, my 5 year old had to use critical thinking skills to determine which way to go at the unmarked intersections.  Although the choice may seem random, it really isn't.  If one is paying attention to how far they've walked in a certain direction, you can deduce which way you should turn at unmarked intersections.  She was also able to determine which paths led in a small circle.

There were several marked intersections that asked you multiple choice questions.  Depending on your answer you were told to turn left or right.  Most of the questions were about corn.  Where does popcorn come from?  Which part of the corn plant do we eat?  Etc.  Thus my daughters learned a little about corn on our trek through the maze.  

In addition to the education, it was an awesome experience as a parent to watch my two daughters run after each other, hold hands through the maze, and point out cool things.  One time they spotted a beetle crawling across the path.  My 2 year old insisted on stopping at every cob of corn that had fallen into the path and shouting "CORN!!!!"  

There are corn mazes all over the country, especially in the Midwest.  My guess is that there is one not far from your home.  I encourage you to take a weekend day and take your kids to a corn maze.  You won't be disappointed.