Friday, December 19, 2014

Wind Tube!

John Muir Science Workshop's first Science Friday series gave students the opportunity to play with aerodynamics. Students were given tubs of materials, masking tape & crayons to create a flying machine for the wind tube. Students were encouraged to think about how they wanted their flying machine to act in the wind tube; hover, spin, soar, zoom.... and then test it out. It was nice to see so many students not get discouraged at having to go back to the drawing board.

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.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Bone Picking

Last month, I took my family to Pescadero to go to the beach... to collect whale bones.  Thanks to our friend Brian's sage advice we were prepared with boots, gloves and lots of Vicks for under our noses (to help lessen the stench). The humpback whale had been on the beach for about 4 weeks when we went down to gather up the first collection of bones. Another crew went down last weekend after the whale had washed out for a week or so and actually washed back up closer to the trail to the parking lot. As for our crew, neither of my kids will forget this particular, rather peculiar, trip to the beach this summer.

The first time I met Dan Sudran was when he brought the bones of a baby blue whale to my daughter's school for her & her classmates to re-assemble. The experience turned into whale week... and eventually, turned into the John Muir Science Workshop. I was excited to be able to help collect another set of whale bones, knowing it will be seen by so many curious kiddos, and not knowing what might come of it.
Below is a link to an article in the SF Chronicle about Dan and crew collecting bones of the Pescadero Humpback. My son, daughter, husband & I can all attest to the smell.

This past May, a Humpback whale carcass was found washed up near Pescadero, CA. Dan Sudran of the Mission Science Workshop organized permits and digs with the Greenfield and Watsonville Science Workshops to unearth the bones and add them to our traveling and workshop collections. The young humpback was about 25 feet long, and (sadly) was killed by a group of Orcas—but will soon have a new life traveling to schools around California! The process was broken into 2 separate days to get all the bones. *Note that special permission is required (and was granted to the Mission Science Workshop) in California to harvest from washed-up marine mammals.
Greenfield CSW video documenting the 1st dig:

Summer Science with EOBA

This summer I had the privilege of heading over to the East Oakland Boxing Association each Thursday to explore magnets and electromagnets with the awesome EOBA youth. Grades ranged from K through 9th grade and each group explored a slightly different side of magnets. The younger kids made guesses of what was magnetic & what wasn't, figured out the pushes and pulls of magnets with magnetic trains, & held magnet races. As groups got older, we explored or discussed magnetic fields, the Earth's magnetosphere, & electromagnetism. Some kids made electromagnets, some made compasses, some invented magnet toys and all made 'anti-gravity' paperclips - which by the way was fascinating to watch how it mesmerized kids from kindergarten up to 9th grade and even the teen & young adult group leaders. Tie a paper clip to a string, tape the other end of the string to a table, and pull the paper clip up with a magnet, or two, or more; then try to pull up the paper clip without touching the magnet to the paper clip. It'll keep you curious for a while.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Community Building Days

Community Build Days are the best. On Friday, June 20th, the Mission Science Workshop & Excelsior Science Workshop hosted a community build day. 50 employees from Genentech volunteered their time to make exhibits for CSWs around the Bay. I was so excited that the John Muir CSW was included & so fired up to receive a Wave/DNA Model, a Lux-a-gon and a stellar set of  Pipe Chimes, all made with the hard work and modesty of Genentech volunteers. A huge thanks to Sam Haynor (CSW instructor/outreach/developer/ideation extraordinaire) for including me in this awesome day & a GREAT BIG THANK YOU to all the Genentech volunteers!!!

Inspired by Sam, and motivated by the experience, I hosted our own John Muir CSW community build day today. We were a small but mighty crew of 15 volunteers over the coarse of the 4 hour session. We accomplished so much in such a short time. Thanks to our super star community helpers we have 2 Table Top Supply Trees, 10 sanded, painted, nailed & in some cases googly-eyed boards (ready for soldering & then our Electromagnetic Wall on Wheels), 20 manipulative Marble Wall pieces, a painted box to hold the pieces & a craft stick box made to hold the pegs, a new & improved Water Table (also on wheels:), an IQ puzzle model, a ridiculously organized supply cupboard & work space for the Make-It & Take-Apart tables & some strategic planning on how to securely put up our Wave/DNA model. I have much appreciation for our litte CSW & our BIG hearted volunteers.

Thanks also to the MSW, the CSW Network & JM PTA for the donation for supplies - this is some serious stretching of your dollars going on here.

Volunteers, you make a big difference and I have the most sincere gratitude for your generosity. Thank you!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

John Muir 5th Grade Design Challenge Derby Today at 2

The Derby will be held in the cafeteria at 2:00 today. The Derby entries will race first & then our Open Derby race, will be held right after. Open Derby is for those who tried their darnedest but just couldn't get their cars to work; they will be as creative as possible to get their cars to the finish line first without touching their car - I'm not sure what to expect but I'm looking forward to it!

Monday, June 2, 2014

5th Grade Derby Prep

5th graders are getting ready for their first annual Derby Design Challenge coming up on June 10th. Each team has been given a motor, battery, wire & material to design a car that will propel itself across the finish line first. There are several working models for them to look at and I've been offering suggestions and guidance as they work. The key is in the ingenuity of the propeller, the lightweight design of the car, and straight axles with the least amount of friction. It's been really hard for me to watch these kids get excited about their designs, and know they won't work... but where's the learning if I tell them how to do it right? I ask them how they think they can make it better, offer suggestions, and cross my fingers they don't give up.
I had to spend a few hours in my garage tinkering with different propeller designs just to make sure the motors I gave them weren't too heavy. I failed at least 4 or 5 times before one glorious design cruised across my garage floor. I'd hate to rob anyone of that feeling. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

GAK! The Non-Newtonian liquid plaything

GAK - 
Mix 1/4 c. white glue + 1/4 c. water.
Mix 1/4 c. water + 1/4 tsp. Borax.
Pour Borax solution into the glue solution or experiment with your own recipe. White vinegar helps with clean up - be sure not to pour any GAK down your drain. 

We just wrapped up our last Science Friday for this year at John Muir - 14 classes, K through 5th, lots of glue, a little Borax, a manageable mess & a ton of fun. Class discussions included liquids, solids, polymers, molecules, elements, chemicals, chemical reactions & the ridiculously fun thing we call Gak. Thanks for a great year! We're working on funding for this program for next year. If you'd like to ensure the return of the CSW, feel free to donate. Checks can be made payable to MUSD-NEW LEAF-COMMUNITY SCIENCE and sent to New Leaf Collaborative, ATTN: Ellen Concepcion, 614 F Street, Martinez, CA 94553. Also, stay tuned for a Community Building Day, tentative date set for Sunday, June 22nd. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Take Apart Table

 A big thanks to the Kiwanis Club of Martinez for the donation of old electronics! They kept the after-school Workshop crew curious for over an hour & a half today.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Family SciNight - Hydraulics

Last night was our final Family SciNight at John Muir CSW, 4th & 5th grade students and their parents came to the workshop and engineered their own hydraulic machines out of syringes, tubing, wood, pegboard, cardboard, pipe cleaners, tp & pt rolls, masking tape, markers & hot glue.
Among the finished projects were a jack-in-the-box clown that had a two part system in place, the first hydraulic system opened the front of the box revealing the clown and the second system pushed the clown's hat up taller. One of the makers said "man, that was hard work!". We also had a magnetic crane that was operated by a hydraulic arm, a spectacular bridge (I say spectacular because this kid copied my draw bridge example but made it so much more precise and efficient and just plain cooler - hence earning the choice adjective.) We had a three part rocket that launched and grew taller from it's base, as well as an existing craft stick bridge that was hacked by it's builder and our New Leaf intern with a four part hydraulic system so that it can now lift up.
Thank you Daniel for volunteering your time!! And of course thanks to Jessica Conkle and John Muir PTA for supporting our Family SciNights. Overall, I really enjoyed the intimate setting of sitting around with kids and their parents and our interns in the Workshop just tinkering and being creative together.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Family SciNights at John Muir CSW

As I was driving one of our New Leaf interns home last Friday night after the 2nd/3rd grade Family SciNight and talking about the day and how exhausted we were,or really just how exhausted I was, she said in her casually frank voice "this was the best day ever". Instantly reaffirming and musical to my ears, this made all the hours of planning so worth it. She'd never made Gak before and that was "super fun" (we made Gak and talked about chemical reactions with 5 classes K-5 for the day's Science Friday, a messy yet satisfying experience). Only a few hours later, we rolled right into making polyhedral playthings with John Muir's second & third graders with the help of three other New Leaf interns. All sorts of different shapes were created with pipe cleaners and clear straw pieces including tetrahedrons, octahedrons, hexahedrons, & lots of these dodecahedrons (soccer ball shapes). Just creating the shape is fun in and of itself, but to take it an exploratory step further, you can dip the shape in a bubble solution and observe the fascinating geometrical shapes that the soap films form as well as the shimmering colors in the soap film. When you lift the shape out, the soap film flows into a state of minimum energy (when it's covering the least possible amount of surface area). It was a lot of fun watching the parents and kids interacting together and making connections and observations, and it was great to see generations of kids, high school interns, and parents all at a table working and learning together. Thanks to Jessica Conkle for coming up with SciNights for grade levels and big thanks to the John Muir PTA for sponsoring all three family SciNights! 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Water FIlters

Student engineers are challenged to make dirty water clear (not potable) by designing water filters or 'pollution catchers' out of cups, coffee filters, cotton, pantyhose, sand, activated  charcoal, straws and tape.                                       


Watershed Stewards

For the last five weeks, John Muir CSW students have been learning about how to take good care of our watershed. New Leaf interns have made 'Pollution Soup' with students, where students mix a concoction of pollution to our clean water to see how human actions can impact our watershed. They also drew maps of our watershed and added pollutants with different colored markers then crinkled them up to represent our hills and creeks and sprayed them to see how all the colors (pollutants) eventually end up in our water. Thanks to the CCC Public Works Department, students were able to explore a miniature model of our watershed with a working water feature. We painted grey water on the model to represent litter, oil, pesticides, dog poop, soap and paint and then students made it rain to see how all the pollutants ended up entering storm drains, our creek and into our Bay. As a result, we have 388 addional educated watershed stewards in Martinez!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Education in Action Around the Bay

Today I sat outside in a circle with 6 third & fourth grade kids at the Mission Science Workshop, who were testing out how many solar panels it would take to sound a buzzer and run a motor. I sat in on part of a 9th grade Physics class at Mission High School where a very intelligent, witty and enthusiastic teacher was SHOWING his students how Michael Faraday discovered the electric motor. They all were able to SEE the galvanometer respond to the electric current when he passed a magnet through a copper coil. I left before they got to convert AC to DC currents & watch the waves change on the oscilloscope.  I finished the day by heading over to Lighthouse Charter school in Oakland to visit their Maker Studio & saw kids building craft stick towers, soldering circuit boards and working with Rasberry Pi to build robots. I'm so excited to try out some of the new ideas I learned today at our Workshop. Next up for the John Muir Science Workshop is definitely a 3D printer!

Come join us on Thursdays from 2:45 to 4:00 for open make sessions! 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Thursday After School Workshop

 Two of these upholstered chairs left the Workshop on Thursday... leaving a few bent nails in their wake, but the furniture builders were persistent and proud to leave with their projects. The balloon powered zip line has been an exciting challenge and is always fun to watch zoom through the room. Other kids had fun with chemistry guessing the perfect combination of glue, Borax and water ratio to make a great polymer blob of Gak. The other project that is now on week 3, is the making of a Lego/cardboard Rube Goldberg machine. This quiet third grade engineer dressed mostly in pink is patient, focused and determined and I can't WAIT to see her finished project.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Science of Fossils

 Collections of rocks, shells & fossils were arranged in the center of each table during our Science of Fossils workshop. Students made observations about what they saw & just loved just touching everything! They were asked to sort out the shells & rocks from the fossils. Older kids were given a few fossilized shells to decipher as well. After sorting, students were left with Miocene - Pliocene Fossils from the Central Valley of California (8 - 15 million years ago 'mya'), Eocene fish fossils from about 50 mya and trilobite fossils from about 550 mya! Depending on each class's age & interest, we talked about the Earth's timeline, how remains of plants and animals can become fossils, paleontology, geology, dinosaurs, Pangaea & of course trilobites. We also marveled at the fact that these water creatures were found in Utah, 1000 miles away from the nearest body of water... "so, do you think the Earth has changed over the past 550 million years?" A resounding "YES!" every time. Students were asked to think like a paleontologist while observing their fossils & draw what they thought the animal looked like when it was alive in it's environment. Older students made their own fossils by creating shell molds out of Plaster of Paris. Special thanks to Meg Delano, Dan Sudran of the Mission Science Workshop and to Lisa White, PhD of the Museum of Paleontology and the Department of Geosciences at San Francisco State University for the donations of fossils, rocks & shells that made this hands-on Workshop lesson possible!