Sunday, February 1, 2015

Weird, But True

At our library the Weird, but True series by National Geographic is extremely popular and we wanted to capitalize on that with a STEM program.  We went through all six volumes looking for any fact we could realistically test.  We ended up finding eleven different facts that would work.  We started the program with three group activities before letting the kids loose to test the others.

Group activity: It is impossible to hum while holding your nose.

Why can’t you hum while holding your nose?
Sound is made by air flowing over your vocal chords.  When you plug both your lips and nose, air cannot flow over the chords.  Also, humming resonates in your nasal passages.  When you hold your nose, there may be some sound, but no true humming.

Group activity: Ripe bananas glow blue under a black light.
We took bananas in various stages of ripeness and held them under a black light.  

Why do bananas glow blue under UV light?
As bananas ripen, chlorophyll breaks down producing fluorescing products, which get concentrated in the bananas peel.  As the ripening continues to progress, the blue glow decreases.

Group activity: Apples float but pears sink.
We held up each one and asked the kids if they thought it would sink or float.  We then placed it in the water to see what would happen.  We also asked the kids why they thought the apple floated more than the pear.

Why do apples float but pears sink?
Apples are less dense than water. Air pockets in between the cells of an apple allow for enough air to be captured inside the apple to create an overall density less than that of water. Apples continue to absorb air after being picked.   Pears have a higher water content making it more dense than the water around it. They can no longer absorb air once picked, so the amount of air decreases as the pear ripens.

Individual activity: The length of your arms stretched out is about equal to your height. 
Along one wall we placed wide blue painters tape on which we marked inches from 0-6 feet.  The kids stood against the wall to see how tall they were.  This was recorded on a data sheet.  They then spread their arms and recorded the length outstretched.  At the end, we discussed the results and how most people were close, but not exact.

Individual activity: The length of your foot is about equal to the distance from your elbow to your wrist. 

We gave the kids rulers and had them measure their foot and then the distance from their elbow to wrist.  These measurements were recorded on a data sheet and then discussed at the end of the program.  Some kids didn't want to remove their shoes, so their measurements were off.

Individual activity: Scents smell better through your right nostril than your left.
We placed drops of lemon, orange and peppermint essential oils onto separate cotton balls and placed them into empty baby food jars.  The kids were supposed to try sniffing them using each nostril.  Most forgot and use both.  At the end of the program we talked about the science behind the difference.

Why do scents smell better through right nostril than left?
When you sense a smell, the odour chemicals float into your nose, and land on the olfactory epithelium in each nostril. They stimulate the olfactory epithelium, which then sends electrical signals into the brain. If you look at the electrical wiring, you'll see that the electrical impulses from the left nostril go to the left side of your brain, while those from the right nostril go to the right brain.
Now this is a slightly "fuzzy" statement to make, but overall, your left brain tends to deal with language and words, while your right brain tends to deal with emotions. The scientists thought that this might influence how your brain processes identical odours that are presented to each of your nostrils.

They were correct. The scientists found that each side of your brain did process the information from each nostril differently. When odours came in through the right nostril, the volunteers thought that they were smelling something more pleasant than when the same odour came through the left nostril. That fits in with the right brain being involved in emotional processing.

But what does the left brain being involved in language do to odours? Well, the scientists checked for that by asking the volunteers to give a name to the smells that they were smelling. Sure enough, when the smells came in through the left nostril, the volunteers were more accurate in using their linguistic skills to give the correct name to the odour that they were exposed to.

So your brain tells you that odours are more pleasant if you sniff them through the right nostril, and your brain can name odours more accurately when you sniff through the left nostril.

Individual activity: Three back-to-back strikes in bowling is called a turkey.
We set up our bowling set and the kids had three chances to see if they could get three back-to-back strikes.

Individual activity: The world’s largest toilet-paper pyramid was made up of 23,821 rolls.
We put out around 50 rolls of toilet paper for the kids to build with.

Individual activity: An architect built a bridge out of cardboard tubes.
We gave the kids cardboard tubes and masking tape and had them try to create a bridge. 

Individual activity: There’s an artist who creates tiny portraits on his fingers.
We purchased rubber gloves from Target and cut the fingers off.  Each child got a finger to decorate with permanent markers.

Individual activity: No piece of square paper can be folded more than 7 times in half.
My questions upon reading this were: Does thickness of paper matter?  Does size of the sheet of paper matter?  We provided the kids with three different thicknesses (construction, printer, origami) and three different size (4 inch, 6 inch, 8 inch) squares.  The kids each picked one square and folded it as many times as they could.  Some had trouble folding the paper.  They just folded it and didn't fold it exactly in half.  We did have one say they folded a piece of origami paper 8 times, but overall most couldn't get more than seven.  

Attendance: 25, 12
Evaluation: This was an awesome program!  Originally we had decided not to do the bridge building activity, but the kids finished all the other activities so quickly we needed to add it as extra filler.  Overall, the bowling, bridge building and toilet paper building were hits and many didn't want to take time away from that to get measured.  The banana experiment was a flop as it was VERY hard to see the blue glow.  It was so faint and the kids wearing white added extra glow to the room making it even hard to see!  The pear floated a little, but not as much as the apple.  Maybe a riper pear would have sank more. 

Polar Fun

We began this program with a brief video explaining the aurora borealis phenomenon.  We also showed parts of various time lapse videos so they could see the different colors that can make up the aurora.

Science Experiment: Blubber
We filled a large tub with water and ice.  Inside a baggie we placed a rubber glove covered in crisco.  First we had them place a bare hand in the water to gauge the temperature.  Then, they placed one hand inside the glove and placed the baggie in the water.  We asked if they felt any difference.  Obviously they did, so we then talked about how animals that live in the arctic and antarctic have a thick layer of blubber to help them stay warm in the frigid waters.

Science Experiment: Large Feet/Snowshoes
In a small, shallow container we placed some flour.  First we had the kids drop a pencil eraser side down and look to see how far it sank into the flour.  Then we had them drop it lengthwise and compare the new depth with the old.  Since the pencil dropped lengthwise didn't sink as far as the eraser side did, we explained that is why polar bears have huge feet and why snowshoes are worn to help people travel in snow.  The larger surface area spreads the weight more evenly, keeping them from sinking into the snow.

Craft: Arctic Silhouettes
Using watercolors, the kids painted a sheet of paper.  Then we had them cut any kind of silhouette they wanted out of black construction paper and glue it on the painted paper.

Craft: Arctic Fox Fans
We found these online ( and printed off copies of the arctic fox for the kids to create.

We used crayons to add shading and color to the image.

Game: Penguin Egg Relay
The kids had an opportunity to race each other across the room while holding a large plastic egg between their legs.

This was hard for the kids, but they had fun trying.

Attendance: 20, 6
Evaluation: This was fun, however we had a hard time finding age appropriate activities to fill the hour.  The fan was hard for the kids to fold, although they liked the finished product.  The silhouettes were fun and each child came up with something different.  Talking about the aurora borealis and it's colors helped them select colors for their paper.  Unfortunately, the watercolors we have are not the best, so didn't spread well on the paper.  Better quality watercolors would have made a huge difference.  The blubber experiment was very messy, but very informative for the kids.  They were amazed at the difference they felt in the water temperature.  

Let's Go Lego!

Activity 1: 30 Piece Build
Prior to the program, 35 baggies all containing identical pieces were compiled.  At the program each participant was given one bag.  They had 15 minutes to use all the pieces and build something.  We then went around the room looking at each creation.  It was interesting to see how different the items were considering they all had the same pieces to work with.
These are the pieces each participant had with which to work.

Room Set Up




Activity 2: 1 Cup Build
Next we gave the kids 1 cup of pieces and had them build something with their pieces.  This time everyone had different amounts and kinds of pieces.

Activity 3: Theme Building Challenge--Outdoors
Here we had the kids build something (anything) that could be found outdoors.  This is where they had the most fun and the most creativity and play came.
Cherry Tree

Attendance: 23, 8
Evaluation: Lego programs are always super easy to pull together.  Having specific tasks gave some nice structure to the program but also allowed for creativity and free choice.  They loved every part.  For the second session we removed the one cup build as it was too similar to the first activity.  This allowed more time for them to work on their outdoor scenes.