Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Tinkering with Chemistry

 I asked our workshop goers who had ever made a 'potion'. They all just stared blankly at me. I guess it was just something my brother & I used to do? We used to hit up the camping supply (less chance of getting caught?) for liquids & powders (flour, baking soda) to mix together to make potions. Of course we don't want to teach kids to be wasteful, but a little cooking oil, water & food coloring can go a long way. Mix in some salt & Alca-Seltzer & you have a good time on your hands... literally. I wrote the following on the white board, gave each group of 2-3 students a tray with the first few supplies on it, and told them when they're done contemplating each step, to come up and get the next ingredient. They'd excitedly tell me what happened in the first step. I had a super star dad helper that day & it was definitely a great workshop.

1) Oil + water = ?
2) Oil + water + salt =?
3) Oil + water + salt + a few blobs of food coloring = ? (Whip out the magnifying glasses & watch from the side!) Instructor's Note - be sure to hand out craft sticks for stirring BEFORE the magnifying glasses. kids will invent dual purpose for end of magnifying glass.)
4) Stir it all & watch it settle down

We also did a sink. float or settle in between to see what objects would sink through the oil but sit on top of the salt water. Possibilities are endless from here - some stayed on through the entire workshop making miniature lava lamps, while others strayed off to wonder about something else.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Wind Mobiles

Workshop goers received tubs with
the following supplies:

1 piece of paper
3 straws
2 paper clips
4 Life Savers

Teams were challenged to make wind powered cars. I'm always fascinated at the amount of different designs kids come up with. I learned last year that when you show kids an example, they do their best to mimic it. When you leave it up to their imaginations, the results are always WAY better. Life Savers got sticky... kids got hungry... need better wheels next time.

Activity courtesy of  ZOOM Engineering.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Conductive Creativity with MakeyMakey

I first tested this out with the high school interns at Vicente Martinez High School & although I haven't incorporated computers into the JM Science Workshop yet, it definitely was a hit & really helped students play with technology in creative ways. 

Here are some great educational resources for MakeyMakey Invention Kits:


Classrooms next level


A big thanks to the John Muir PTA for supporting the John Muir Science Workshop!! Here's just a few Standards that were covered in this lesson - courtesy of Educade. 

ISTE NETS - Digital Age Skills

Students demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems, and operations.
Understand and use technology systems
Select and use applications effectively and productively
Troubleshoot systems and applications
Transfer current knowledge to learning of new technologies

Next Generation Science

4-PS3-4: Apply scientific ideas to design, test, and refine a device that converts energy from one form to another.
5-PS1-3: Make observations and measurements to identify materials based on their properties.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Last Wednesday, 32 workshop students split up in groups and received a bag with an LED, a battery pack, batteries,  & alligator clips. No instructions. Out of the 7 groups, 5 presented me with a lit up LED, at which point they got 2 more LEDs & several more alligator clips....~20 students in K-5th grade worked collaboratively to construct series circuits using good old curiosity. Unfortunately, the other 2 groups were doing everything right with no luck. Even with brand new batteries & LEDs (possibly old battery packs) through no fault of their own got frustrated and asked to stop. Most of them ended up sewing. 
Lesson learned by me: test ALL the material next time - I didn't test all the battery packs. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Beauty of a Challenge

 Looking for inspiration for projects that work best for K through 5, I reached out to the Excelsior Science Workshop in SF and talked to Michael, who said his go-to was a challenge - the egg drop is the best he said. He was right. Thanks Michael! I had 20 kids today and every single design was completely different. Each team had one bag, newspaper, one piece of string, cardboard and tape. At the end of the day, we miraculously only had 3 broken eggs. Theses were from teams who had successful first drops and tried something different the next time around. As always we had some kids that just wanted to tinker and make their own creations and that's fun too, but I'm definitely bringing back the challenge next week. Good times today a the John Muir Science Workshop!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Tinkering Basics

Today, our after school tinkerers made science journals, sewed finger puppets, took apart a 5 disc CD changer, made a few flying machines, played on our electromagnetic wall, checked out some bones and one persistent 2nd grade girl was determined to finish a creepy crawler - video below. One student declared to me he was going to be a scientist when he grew up.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Sewing Journals

 Everybody should learn how to sew. Simply by threading a needle & stitching material together you can MAKE (bags, toys, books, costumes), REPAIR (socks, shirts, stuffed animals, whatever) all while giving your brain a shot at being CREATIVE. Sewing is a really fun way to tinker so I thought I'd kick off this year's Wednesday Workshop by introducing needles & thread. We made Thinking Journals, for ideas, projects, notes, mind maps or doodles  - following this basic design instructable  courtesy of English Drawings. It took a while but theses kids were persistent and really just couldn't wait to decorate their journals, count the pages & talk about what they'd write in them. Some secured their journals using magnets and I sent one girl home with a watch battery, a red LED & some paperclips so she can wire a circuit so the red light will go off when someone opens her journal.
We're going to keep this theme going for a bit and see where our ideas take us.