Friday, January 31, 2014

This Blog's History: The Food Coloring Race

This Friday in This Blog's History I bring back to you the Food Coloring Race experiment.

The Food Coloring Race

This is a very cool experiment that requires materials that you likely already have in your kitchen.  It's an experiment that tests how quickly food coloring spreads throughout a liquid when the conditions of the liquid differ.

Check the original blog post at the link above for full details.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Burning a Dollar Bill

Here's a cool science experiment that only takes a few minutes.  Show your kids how to "burn" a dollar bill without damaging it.  You need a dollar bill, water, salt, and rubbing alcohol.  Fill a measuring cup with a 50/50 mixture of water and rubbing alcohol.  We used a bottle of 71% rubbing alcohol.  Then add a few dashes of salt to the water.  Place the dollar bill in the water and let it soak for a couple of minutes.  Make sure you wash your hands of any rubbing alcohol so as not to burn yourself in the next step.  Use a pair of tongs to remove the dollar bill and ignite it.  Our video is below.

video

The rubbing alcohol is very flammable and burns away very quickly.  It burns away so quickly that the water soaked bill doesn't catch on fire.

Be very careful with this experiment and make sure you tell your kids to never do this without an adult around to supervise.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Should You Take Your Kids to SeaWorld?

Should you take your kids to SeaWorld?  You're free to decide however you wish, but my answer is no.  There's nothing new about the animal rights/humaneness issue of taking an orca (killer whale) and removing it from its living environment of 100s to 1000s of miles of ocean and placing it in a living environment that is the equivalent of a human living in a bathtub for the remainder of their lives.  There's nothing humane about that.

I read a great review/synopsis of the independent film Blackfish that exposes the behind the scenes activities that go on at places such as SeaWorld.  I've added the film to my Netflix queue.

What's the difference between SeaWorld and zoos?  The goal of most zoos is conservation and preservation.  Zoos do not exist to make money (at least most of them).  Zoos are usually non-profit organizations whereas SeaWorld is a for-profit company in the business of providing entertainment and making money.  For-profit companies (including zoos) are not necessarily bad, but one should always be skeptical when the goal is to make money.

I went to SeaWorld as a kid and loved it, but had no clue about what goes on behind the scenes.  Now that I do, I have a completely different outlook.  Everyone is free to make their own choices, but this family will not be making a trip to SeaWorld.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Blokus

Looking for a challenging activity for your child that's fun for the whole family?  Try the game Blokus.  Blokus is a strategy game that will definitely work to develop your child's critical thinking skills.  My 6 year old received the game for Christmas and absolutely loves it!

To start the game you are given a set of Tetris-like pieces.  The goal is to lay all of your pieces on the board, but you can only lay your own pieces if they touch corner to corner (not adjacent).  Your own pieces can lay adjacent to the other players' pieces, just not your own.  An example of our board game is below.


Offensively the game is pretty easy if you are playing with just 2 players.  In a 2 player game you need to think defense in order to block the other player from laying all of their pieces.  In a 3 or 4 player game there are more pieces on the board, making it more difficult to lay all of your pieces before the board is filled.  My wife and I were playing with our 6 year old the other day and she beat both of us!  

Blokus is a great game and I recommend that you check it out.  It's a great birthday or holiday gift!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Fun with Clay

Looking for a fun activity for your kids on a day when the weather is bad and your kids are cooped up in the house?  Try clay!  My daughters received sets of colored molding clay for Christmas and one day the other week when outside temps where below zero and school was canceled, we pulled out the clay and they went to work making various clay objects.  


You may be wondering what some of these objects are.  Some are clear.  There's a sun, a tree, two penguins, and a koala.  I can't remember what my 6 year old said the white objects with the yellow ball on them are.  The 3 red/pink objects are interesting.  I had not clue what they were and they look phallic-like!!!  I asked her and they are cherries!  LOL!  

So there you go.  Get some colored clay and let your kids use their imaginations!  

Friday, January 24, 2014

This Blog's History: The Blown Out Egg

This Friday in This Blog's History I bring back to you a cool egg activity/experiment that your kids will enjoy:

The Blown Out Egg

In this activity you teach your kids how to remove the yolk from an egg without cracking/breaking the shell.  When finished you have an egg with just the hollow shell after which you can do anything you want with the shell.  You can paint it, turn it into a decoration of some sort, etc.  The options are limitless!

For details on how to remove the yolk, check out the original post above.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

I Spy Eagle Eye

There are many board/card games out there that are great for kids and families.  Some games, such as Candyland, require little to no critical thinking skills, while others require a great deal of critical thinking.  There's nothing wrong with games such as Candyland.  If you have a young child, Candyland is a great game to help your child learn colors as well as counting.  Once your child knows his/her colors and knows how to count, there's no critical thinking skills to gain.  Then it's time for another game.

My 3 year old isn't ready to play many of the strategy games that my 6 year old is capable of playing, but my 3 year old loves to play I Spy Eagle Eye.


In the game you are given a board with many objects on it.  A card is drawn with 8 objects on it and one of those 8 objects is on the board.  The first to find the object on his/her board wins that round.  The other day when we were playing my 3 year old won the first 3 rounds against me!  Within a few seconds of turning the card over, she had found the object on the board!  Games like this are a great way of teaching kids how to quickly scan something, looking for particular patterns.  Plus it's fun!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Political Dad

I'm using today's blog post to inform you of a second blog that I've recently started.  I love discussing science and how it relates to my daughters, thus the purpose of this Dad, Daughters, and Science blog.  However, I also have a great interest in politics.  Politics comes up every once in awhile on this blog, but when it does, it is usually very light and has a direct link to parenting and/or science.  I've created a second blog, The Political Dad, as a way of publishing my thoughts on politics (mainly for me, but if others read it, then that's great too).  I have no clue how long this new blog will last, just as I had no clue how long or how long this science and parenting blog will last.  I guess they'll last as long as I continue to enjoy publishing on them.

If you have an interest in politics or just want to hear some of my thoughts on politics, head over to The Political Dad and check it out.

The Political Dad

I warn you, however, that I have a distinct "lean" to one side of the political spectrum.  :-)  It should be pretty clear once you check out the blog, which direction I lean.  If you don't agree with political opinions, that's your choice, but it won't affect me in any way.  Rest assured that I will keep this science and parenting blog as apolitical as possible.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Star Wars!!!

I finally did it!  I introduced my 6 year old to Star Wars!  We had the day off yesterday and took advantage of it to watch Star Wars.  We only watched 1 of the 6 movies and started with Episode IV:  New Hope.  It was great to be able to cuddle up with her on the couch with some popcorn and watch Star Wars together.  I explained a bit of the plot to her to start out so she wouldn't be too confused.  She picked up on things very quickly and seemed to follow along well.  She really liked it too!  She said her favorite character was Luke!  Now we just need to find time to watch Episode V:  The Empire Strikes back.  Need to check the calendar for when we both have a day off again.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Colder Than Mars?

With the very cold temperatures those of us living in the U.S. suffered through about 2 weeks ago, you may have heard many "witty" phrases used by reporters to describe how cold it actually was.  One phrase that made headlines was "it's colder than Mars".  Sigh.

Technically this is a true statement, but is is very, very misleading.  According to NASA, the temperature of Mars varies widely with highs near 70 F at the equator on the Martian surface.  Lows reach -225 F during winter at the poles.  Average temps are between -50 and -60 degrees F at mid latitudes.  More Martian stats can be found at:

Martian Statistics

The problem here is that we are comparing apples to oranges.  If we are going to make a true comparison, then we need to compare lows to lows.  Doing so, the cold temps we recently experienced in the U.S. are nowhere near as cold as low temps on Mars.

As a matter of fact, given that the highs on Mars can reach 70 F at certain times of the year and at certain locations, one could say that EVERY day on Earth there is a location with temps colder than Mars.

I'm glad the reporters thought they were witty in saying that "it's colder than Mars", but frankly they sound like someone who did no research at all.  Don't let this be your kids.  The more fantastic a claim seems, the greater the likelihood that said claim is very misleading.  Teach your kids to do their research and be prepared!


Friday, January 17, 2014

This Blog's History: Why Does Toast Always Fall Butter Side Down

This Friday for This Blog's History I bring back to you a post that provides a bit of a science explanation for one of life's more frustrating moments:  watching toast almost ALWAYS fall butter side down on the floor.  At first glance one would think that a falling piece of toast has a 50/50 chance of falling butter side down.  But it seems like it's more 90/10 in favor of butter side down.  Is the Universe out to get you?  No, there's a perfectly good explanation and that explanation is gravity and center of mass.  Here's what I wrote in the original post which you can view here.

"Most of the time a piece of toast is dropped one one edge. Think about a piece of toast slipping off the counter/table top.  When the first half of the toast goes over the edge it starts to fall due to the force of gravity.  Since one half of the toast starts to fall before the other, the toast begins to rotate through the air about the toast's center of mass.  Unfortunately for the toast eater, the toast strikes the ground less than 1/2 a second later.  Therefore, the toast doesn't have time to make one complete rotation and land butter side up.  It's still in the first half of its rotation, so it usually lands butter side down."

So there you are, a scientific explanation to one of life's mysteries.  I say this is I sit here watching my 3 year old hold a piece of buttered toast in the not so careful way that a 3 year old holds a piece of buttered toast!  :-)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Extinguishing a Candle

There are several ways to extinguish a candle and the other day I asked my two daughters (ages 6 and 3) to tell me how they think you can make a candle go out.  They came up with two:

1.  Blow it out.

2.  Dump water in the candle.

Ok, excellent ways to extinguish a candle.  Then I asked them, if I don't want to make a water mess and I don't want to blow it out, how can I extinguish the candle?  They thought for awhile and neither came up with anything.  So at this point I showed them a third way, as shown in our video below.

video

A flame needs oxygen to survive.  Without oxygen, the flame goes out.  When the lid was placed on the candle, the flame used the remaining oxygen in the jar and as the oxygen was used up, the candle began to dim and eventually go out.  My daughters thought this was cool!  This is a very quick experiment that teaches kids some basic science.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Salt Dough ornaments

I give the Cool Science Mom credit for this cool kid-friendly activity.  The other day the kids and her created salt dough ornaments.  If you're not sure how to make a salt dough ornament (and neither am I!!!) you can do a web search for salt dough ornaments and find plenty of recipes to follow.  Here's one link.  The needed ingredients are very minimal.

Salt Dough Ornaments

My wife even made a 3-D salt dough snowman for the girls!


After baking the ornaments and letting them cool you paint them!


Again, I had very little to do with this activity aside from taking pictures, but it's a cool activity you can do with your kids on a cold winter day.  

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Size of Space Understated in Movies

Most people recognize that space (as in the outer space kind) is big.  The distance between objects is tremendously large.  Many movies and TV shows try to emphasize the size of space, but usually fail.  They fail, not by overstating the size of space, but by vastly underestimating how large the Universe is.

Here's a perfect example.  My daughters and I recently watched the animated movie Planet 51.  In the movie a human astronaut lands on an alien planet occupied by an equally advance population of aliens.  At one point the human says that he traveled across the Universe to reach this planet.  Okay, across the Universe is a huge distance.  But later the human contradicts himself by saying Earth was 20 billion miles away.  20 billion is a large distance...compared to the size of the Earth.  You'd have to drive around the equator of the Earth 800,000 times to reach 20 billion miles.  Wow!  However, compared to the size of the Universe, 20 billion miles is tiny.  Let's put this in perspective.  The Earth is 93 million miles away from the Sun.  20 billion miles is 215 times farther away.  Pluto is 40 times farther away from the Sun than the Earth.  20 billion miles is about 5 times farther than Pluto's distance to the Sun.  It's true that this is a large distance, but again, compared to the size of the Universe, this is still a tiny distance.  In fact, 20 billion miles is still within the boundary of our very own Solar System!!!

So how large is the Universe?  The physical size of the Universe is about 150 billion light years (see How Big is the Universe? for more details).  150 billion light years is 44 TRILLION times farther than the 20 billion miles given in the movie.  As a percent, the movie astronaut traveled 0.0000000000023% the distance across the Universe.  Talk about an underestimate of the distance traveled!!!

The moral here is to be careful discussing distances with your kids.  Space is huge.  Much larger than you think.  A billion is a big number.  A trillion is a big number.  Both are tiny compared to the overall size of the Universe.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Be Skeptical II

A few days ago, on Thursday, January 9, 2014 I posted that my challenge for all of you this year is to be a skeptic.  Here are a few podcasts, if you're a podcast listener, that focus on skepticism.  They are all quite good and I listen to them on a regular basis.

Point of Inquiry

Star Talk Radio Show by Neil deGrasse Tyson

The Skeptic Wire

The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe

Skeptiles

There are many others out there, but I've found these to be excellent podcasts focused on science and skepticism.

Warning:  Skeptiles includes R-rated language, so probably not a good one for the kids.  :-)

Friday, January 10, 2014

This Blog's History: The Thunder/Lightning Misconception

For this Friday's This Blog's History post I bring back to you the most popular post on this blog based on page views:  The Thunder/Lightning Misconception.  So what's the misconception?  Most of us, at some point in our childhood are taught how to determine the distance to a thunderstorm.  We're told that for every second you count between the lightning strike and the sound of thunder, the storm is 1 mile away.  For example, if you count 3 seconds between the lightning and the thunder, then the storm is 3 miles away.  Unfortunately this isn't correct.  The correct measure of distance is to count the number of seconds and divide by 5.  This gives you the approximate distance in miles.  Thus storms are much closer than most of us were taught as kids.  For more details, read the original post.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Be Skeptical

As we progress through 2014 I want to encourage you to be skeptical and encourage your kids to be skeptical.  What does it mean to be a skeptic?  A skeptic is not someone who believes in crazy conspiracy theories.  In fact, a skeptic is the exact opposite.  A skeptic is someone who questions claims that are made in the lack of evidence to backup said claim.  A skeptic is someone who carefully analyzes the direct data that is available to support a claim.  Let me provide an example.

Most of us have heard of essential oils and many of you may use essential oils.  Many companies sell essential oils with claims that they can help cure arthritis, cancer, and Alzheimer's.  Immediately I'm skeptical of this.  First, if essential oils could cure cancer, wouldn't you think doctors would use them as part of cancer treatments?  If essential oils could cure Alzheimer's, wouldn't you think the number of Alzheimer's patients would be decreasing world wide?  On top of that, these companies provide no data to support their claims.  They're claims made out of thin air with no support whatsoever.

This isn't to say you can't buy essential oils.  Do whatever you want.  Some people like the aroma that essential oils provide.  I get that, although essential oils can be quite expensive and you can find other, cheaper methods to provide a nice aroma for your room.  My point is that everyone needs to be a skeptic.  Don't believe something simply because a company says it.  If it sounds too good to be true (e.g. curing cancer), it probably is.  My goal for you for 2014 is to be a skeptic.  Don't accept a claim without data backing up that claim.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Happy Perihelion!

Okay, I'm a few days late on this, but Happy Perihelion!  Perihelion refers to Earth's closest approach to the Sun in its one year orbit.  The Earth's orbit is slightly elliptical (not a perfect circle).  As a result, Earth's distance to the Sun changes.  However, this change in distance is NOT what gives us the seasons.  Earth's seasons are a result of Earth's 23.5 degree axial tilt.  For more details on seasons, refer to my earlier post on seasons.

On Saturday, January 4 at 7 AM Eastern Standard Time the Earth was at its closest distance to the Sun in 2014 with a distance of 91.4 million miles.  When the Sun is at aphelion, its farthest distance from the Sun (July 3, 2014) it will be about 3 million miles farther away.  Three million miles seems like a large distance, but compared to 91-94 million miles, that isn't a large distance.  It's certainly not enough to cause our seasons.  If it was, then we would have summer in the Norther Hemisphere in January and winter in July.  Since we don't, we know that distance doesn't cause the seasons.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Making a Gingerbread House

Winter, especially if you live in a colder, snowy region, is an excellent time to make gingerbread houses with your kids.  There are all sorts of gingerbread house kits you can buy at stores, or you can do a web search to build one from scratch.  Either way, they provide a fun activity for you and your kids when you're all cooped up inside the house.  Our family tradition is to build gingerbread houses with my daughter's cousins who are about the same age.  We visit them around Christmas every year and for the last 3 or 4 years the 4 kids build gingerbread houses together.  Here are this year's "masterpieces".



There you go.  If you're kids are bored and it's too cold to go outside.  Try making a gingerbread house.  It creates a mess, but your kids will love it!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Baby Illusion?

Now here's an article detailing a recent study of the "Baby Illusion".

'Baby Illusion' Makes Mums See Youngest As Too Short

The study asks moms to mark the height of their child on a chart without the child present.  The study shows that moms do very well at marking the correct height of their oldest and/or middle child, but fall 7.5 centimeters (about 3 inches) short when marking the height of their youngest.  Interesting!

I should test this out at home to see how close my wife and I are at marking our daughters' height.  My 3 year old is obviously shorter than my 6 year old...duh!  My 3 year old is also shorter than my 6 year old was at the same age by 1.5 - 2 inches.  So she really is shorter...at least at this point in her life!  I wonder if knowing that she's shorter at the same age will cause me to underestimate her actual height.  Hmm...

Friday, January 3, 2014

This Blog's History: Are Blue Moons Really Blue?

This Friday in This Blog's History I bring back to you the misconception of a Blue Moon.  Every once in awhile you hear about a Blue Moon and when you do, there are usually many misconceptions floating about.  First of all, the Moon, although it can appear slightly bluish at times, is not blue.  Atmospheric conditions can, on occasion, make the Moon appear slightly bluish.  However, this is very rare and has nothing to do with the Blue Moon you hear about in the media.  A Blue Moon is simply the the second full Moon in a calendar month.  That's it!

For full details, visit the original posting on this topic.

Are Blue Moons Really Blue?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Build a Telescope with Your Kids

A great activity you can do with your kids is to build your own telescope together.  Telescopes can be very complicated with several pieces that have to be constructed and placed just right to work correctly, but there's an easy way for you to build one and introduce the interior of a telescope to your kids.  The answer is the Galileoscope.


The Galileoscope is named after the famous physicist/astronomer Galileo Galilei who built his own telescope to look at the night sky.  Galileo is NOT the inventor of the telescope, but he is the first to use it for astronomical purposes.  He built his telescope in 1609.  In 2009, 400 years after his first use of the telescope, the Galileoscope was released to celebrate his accomplishments.  The Galileoscope is a very simple refracting telescope that comes un-assembled.  Following a simple set of instructions, you put the pieces together and build your own telescope.  It's by no means a great telescope, but it works!  

The Galileoscope is a great teaching tool and your kids will love it.  As an added bonus, it's cheap (or not...see below)!  For more information visit:


As I'm writing this, I see that the price of the Galileoscope has increased drastically since 2009...so maybe not so cheap after all.  Prices on Amazon.com are around $45-50.  Back in 2009 specials were run by several organizations and I bought mine for $12.  Still, it's a great teaching tool!



Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy 2014!!!

Have a happy New Year's Day!  What are your goals for this year?  I have many goals for the year, but since this is a science and daughters blog, I thought I'd just list a few related to science and my daughters.  My list of books to read and TV shows to watch are probably not of interest to you, although several are sci-fi related!  So here's my list:

1.  Continue to challenge myself to find new science experiments for my daughters.
2.  Decide when my 6 year old is old enough for a chemistry set.
3.  Introduce my 6 year old to Star Wars.
4.  Have Daddy/daughter dates with both of my daughters individually.
5.  Determine if my daughters would enjoy an ant farm and how to get one.
6.  And finally, continue to expose them to science whenever possible.

As we begin the new year, I encourage you to expose your daughters to science.  Do the same for your sons of course, but make sure you don't neglect your daughters on the issue of science.  Although the gender gap in science is closing, it's a long, slow process, and there's much work yet to be done.  That work starts with you, the parent.