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Geeky Parent Guide: Science Rocks! (Part 2) – Getting Ready for Science Fairs

What makes a science fair a special experience for students? Is it the opportunity to learn how to do something, seeing other completed projects, or is it simply the love of creating something really cool?

Today on the Geeky Parent Guide, we’ll take a look at some possible science fair projects you and your kiddos might want to work on together. In addition to some classic examples, we’ll explore a laboratory that highlights additional experiments.

Now, onto some fun projects that I want to, rather, your kids might want to explore for their next science project. One note of distinction will be to identify each activity as the demonstration, and then introduce some type of change to each demonstration to prove a point or find the “best” method, making it an experiment.

Growing Mold

If you can get your hands on some Petri dishes, then your kids will have an opportunity to watch things grow, and quite possibly in several different colors. If you check out Mark Rober’s “1st place science fair ideas,” he explains a way (at the 1:28 mark) to turn the process of demonstrating mold into an experiment.

What you will need – cotton swabs, Petri dishes, food/objects to swab, multiple days to track growth, and a variable to make it an experiment.

To simply demonstrate the growth, take a swab, wipe it over any type of surface, and then wipe that same swab into a Petri dish. Close it up and check its progress day after day. For the experiment, testing the “five-second rule,” drop one food item on the floor for one second, and then drop another item for six seconds. Do the swabbing process for each test, and then catalog the results.

One note to mention: Is there moisture involved in the experiment? Dropping food, dry versus wet, should prove to have some interesting and different results.

Other mold experiments include:

Bread Mold Experiment” – Testing slices of bread, individually in a sandwich bag, by placing them each in different locations to see the varying results from darkness, sunlight, or cold temperatures.

Another test, from Steve Spangler, includes swabbing everyday items, such as a phone, keyboard, and remote control, and watch the results form in Petri dishes. The experiment includes then testing the same items after cleaning them. Will any bacteria grow after cleaning?

For this project, it would seem necessary to wear gloves during the testing and examination process.

Overflowing Volcano

What kid wouldn’t want to make a volcano? And what parent wouldn’t want to have this experiment done outside? To understand the basics of building a volcano, PBS Parents lists everything you need to make “lava” and a little bit of a mess. The basic components include baking soda and vinegar, along with a few other ingredients, and they highlight the instructions and the result of mixing these particular ingredients together in a brief video.

What you will need – container to hold mixture and construct the volcano around, materials surrounding container (examples: newspaper, dirt), baking soda, vinegar, food coloring, and dish soap.

Now, the experiment part of the volcano might introduce how the eruption differs with varying amounts of baking soda – how slow or fast does the lava flow with the different amounts? The most elaborate part of a volcanic experiment might actually be the steps of constructing the volcano itself. Along with some glow-in-the-dark lava slime, MonsterKids constructs a very sturdy volcano (starting at the 0:58 mark) that seems able to withstand many eruptions.

For this project, it would seem necessary to have safety glasses on during these tests.

“Boiling” Lava Lamp

Along with watching kids’ fascination with a volcano erupting, they can also continue their journey with “lava” flow, but in this case, it will be relatively contained. The process includes using an empty water or clean soda bottle (from 16 ounces to one-liter in size) and seeing how Alka-Seltzer interacts with three different ingredients.

What you will need – water or soda bottle, water, vegetable oil, food coloring, and Alka-Seltzer.

The order and amount of things could be the experiment, seeing how everything interacts with these changes. One set of instructions, via PBS Parents, lists “fill your bottle about two thirds of the way with oil,” while states to “fill the plastic bottle 3/4 full with vegetable oil.” Another test for the experiment could be to follow Science Bob’s method and add water first.

For each test in this experiment, you’ll need to make sure the oil and water have enough time to settle, leaving them separated. After a few drops of food coloring and then adding broken pieces of Alka-Seltzer, watch as the lava lamp forms, almost like colorful, boiling water right in front of your eyes. You can also add a flash light to the process, turn off the lights, and see the lamp’s glow.

Are you interested in learning how commercial lava lamps are made? Check out the Science Channel.

For this experiment, it would seem better to wear safety glasses during these tests in case there is any splashing.

With these science demonstrations and experiments, especially with younger children, please make sure parental supervision is available to run, assist, or monitor the entire process. Not only does the Geeky Parent Guide believe these projects should be supervised, but the interactions with your kids will be fun and possibly get a baseline of any interest they might have in science. All of these experiments should include common household products, or readily accessible ingredients, making it an easier opportunity for your kids to get involved. Fortunately, there are many tutorials online for parents to watch and determine what experiments are age-appropriate for their own children.

There are also chances to witness presentations for those living near the Newport News area in Virginia. Jefferson Lab has its series, Physics Fest, and there are many opportunities for groups of students to attend throughout the school year. These two-hour programs include information about the ins and outs of “science and technology at Jefferson Lab.” After learning about the organization, you get to watch presentations that reach opposite ends of the spectrum – “Deep Freeze (cryogenics) and Hot Stuff (plasmas).” Some of these classes are already full; however, there are many chances to visit and you can “click on a date to request a reservation or to be added to the wait list.”

Now, if you’re looking for some additional ways to have fun at home, Jefferson Lab shows you how to make “Oobleck.” This references to the stretchy, “slimy, green material described in Dr. Seuss’ Bartholomew and the Oobleck!”

What you will need – Elmer’s Glue All, water, and Borax (“Look for it where you’d find laundry soaps and detergents.”)

If you’re looking for something edible, at least after completing the test, you can try to measure the speed of light, by sticking chocolate into a microwave. This requires the largest chocolate bar you can find, a microwave, and some math that they explain in detail for you. Essentially, you’ll microwave the chocolate until you see the first signs of melting, measure the distance between those melted marks, multiply that number by the microwave’s frequency (listed on microwave), and then convert to a simpler meters per second speed. Not only does it sound straightforward, it seems like an excellent reason for “repeated trials…and it’s okay, because it’s for science.”

What you will need – large chocolate bar, microwave (with a spinner that needs to be removed), paper towels, ruler, and a calculator.

If you’re interested in seeing more experiments, some involving liquid nitrogen and static electricity, Jefferson Lab has multiple videos available for you to explore. Check out our featured article for more information on this laboratory.

Are your kids already excited for science projects or fairs? Would you want to create a demonstration for them to see if it grabs their attention for something they would want to do? Have your kids already done some of these or created something else entirely?

Please share in the comments below, and don’t forget to share with all of your friends, because you never know at what age kids, or their parents, might find science exciting.

Until next time, happy parenting and happy geeking.

S.T. Lakata, Fanbase Press Senior Contributor



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