Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Up in the Air

ZBoy is in third grade at a Science and Math Magnet school. Which means that a science fair project is mandatory.

I am not the most scientifically-minded person. Much of what I know, I intuit if I haven't flat out read it. The scientific process makes sense but is a bit of a mystery to me.

So imagine my joy when Z brought home the papers with the information and a sheet to fill out with the proposed project. I looked at him blankly and asked him what he wanted to know.

"Why does an eclipse happen?" We'd just watched the eclipse a couple of nights before.

Sounds good to me, so I fill out the sheet and send it back to school the next day. It comes back that afternoon. Nope. Can't do that. Well, pooh. How about the Bernoulli Principle? "No," says ZBoy. It must have sounded pretty scary to him. He decided to do something about the tides and the moon phases.

So for a month and a half, we cut out the weather section of the paper which contained the tide tables. Monday evening, we sat down and plotted tides and phases on a graph and were amazed to see that some of our assumptions about them were off.

Then I read the project directions. EXPERIMENT? DEMONSTRATION? Um. I couldn't think how to demonstrate the moon's affect on the tides. I'm sure there's a way, but I sure wasn't coming up with it and it was beyond ZBoy's third grade capabilities. Which means we had to start from scratch - two days before the project was due.

I tried again with the only scientific-y thing I knew about. "How about the Bernoulli Principle?" I asked again. This time, Z actually asked what it was before dismissing it out of hand.

After I explained, he agreed that yeah, he could do that. So we went upstairs and hit the internet, looking for illustrations, pictures of planes, a short bio of Bernoulli himself, and experiements we could try. It would have to be relatively simple - remember, we're working on a third grade level here. Finally, we found it and trundled off to bed quite satisfied that we were on the right track.

In the morning, after sending ZBoy off to school, I went off in search of the things we needed. A small fan and a hairdryer, plus neon poster board were acquired at the drugstore, but one item wouldn't be so easy to come by.

I approached the entrance of the sporting goods store. It was apparently under some kind of review by the head office because for the first time ever I saw actual sales people waiting to wait on me. They were dressed in black shirts and nametags and looked very official. I walked into the midst of a gaggle of them and said, "I'm looking for ping pong balls." They looked back at me blankly until one guy said he knew where they were and we set off in that direction. I found a delightful array of balls and picked a colorful set:


And on a rack right in front of them were these:


I picked two off the rack and continued walking around the store. By the time I left, I had a pack of ping pong balls, two hula hoops, a jock strap and a baseball bag. I laid the items on the counter, and fighting off giggles, the cashier asked if I'd found everything I was looking for. I looked her straight in the eye and said, "No. I couldn't find any orange socks. What's up with that?" A tiny guffaw escaped her mouth before she got herself under control and checked me out. I slung the hula hoops over my shoulder and headed off to the food court to pick up some teriyaki chicken for lunch at the school with ZBoy.

After school and KenPo, I revealed my treasures. The little fan didn't work so well for the experiment, but the hairdryer was awesome. We sat down and started with the question: Why don't airplanes fall out of the sky? Then we had to write down what our research had told us, and describe the experiment we would use to prove/disprove the ideas we arrived at from the research.


Darling Man worked with him to write his question and research down. Meanwhile, I came up with a measuring device for our experiment:


I explained and showed them what I had in mind, then took off for Tai Chi class. When I got home, they had a whole page of data and were working on a graph.


The experiment itself was to use the hairdryer to float a ping pong ball. Then tilting the hairdryer, see at what point the force of gravity overtakes the airflow's ability to keep the ball in the air.


He turns this part in tomorrow morning. Thursday he has to turn in the display with graphics and pictures and all the fancy stuff that says he actually did some work on this.

Oh, the pressure!


karisma said...

A+ Well done! Zboy I am impressed. Looks like a lot of fun too!

min said...

I loved/hated science fairs!
Whatever you do...don't try to grow mold! You'll have the whole FDA on you!

Beckie said...

First of all, let me just say I could only wish that we had magnet schools in our area.

That is quite a project for third grade. I am impressed!

Kaytabug said...

I'd say that is a great project for a 5th grade Science fair!! You should have seen some of the crap kids submitted. Way to go!!!
I am very impressed! I loved science projects when I was in school but my oldest has no science desire and I hate helping him with these now! Weird huh?

BTW I posted my closet pics yesterday.

Jan said...

Great post, I'm a retired retail manager, and I love the part about your experience in the sporting goods store. I think you may have been right about the corporate visit.

Alice in Wonderbread said...

Lovely!!! I'm sure he'll get a great grade. How do the hula hoops and jock strap fit into the experiment?

You have it already I bet but be sure to include a picture of an airfoil- the shape of a plane's wing and how the principle causes lift. Air is compressed and goes faster on the top of the wing, causing the pressure at the bottom of the wing to be greater. Z-boy's audience will be super duper-impressed if he can explain the parallel between the ping pong ball and blowdrier to the shape of the wing and the pressure of the air pressure as a result of the plane's speed.

A good picture is here:

Way to go, Z boy!!! (and parents)

You learned the hardest part of all, and Z boy will learn from it too: Before starting ANY project, read the instructions carefully or you end up wasting time.

I'm still thinking of how a third grader could demonstrate through experiment the effect of the moon on ocean tides. I guess I would simulate gravitational pull with magnetic attraction. Cover a spherical magnet with metal chips and revolve a smaller spherical magnet around the chips in mock orbit matching the moon's orbit? But where on earth in suburb-land can one find spherical magnets and metal sand/chips?

Alice in Wonderbread said...

oh wait- there's a better graphic on this page!! More third grade helpful...


Sayre said...

Oooo... mysciencesite is great! May have to refer to that again next year...

The hula hoops and the jock strap do not figure into the experiment (though I did see a cool site about designing a "ring wing" (scary!)). The hoops just looked like fun - I used to be able to do that but can't anymore. Want to do it again, though. And the jock strap is for Z. The shorts he usually wears with a cup just don't seem to hit him in the right place, so I thought a strap might make more sense. Unfortunately, it was too small so I have to go back and get a bigger one.

Sandy said...

I never knew that was called the bernoulli principle. I just love how the air keeps the ball in the air at the discovery center!

Alice in Wonderbread said...

Oh- thanks for the explanation; I was dying to find out how the hula hoop and strap came into play.

I'm proud of Z boy for not freaking out at all! I think your last minute idea is the best; the third grade is the perfect time to understand flight. It's still magical, and even the "why" of it it is a little magical. :)

trkndude299 said...

I love science projetcs that involve 2nd to 6th graders.
I was a Cubscout leader for a few years and Bernoulli's principal is one of the things I tackled. Another was the moon phases + tides, and as a previous poster stated, I achieved iffy results using magnets.
The Scouts have a big book, the name of which slips my mind now, but it is excellent for this age of kids, boys + girls. It gives some very good ideas at how to achieve end results, from a kids' perspective.