Saturday, September 27, 2014

Fun Experiments and Family STEM Night at Lower Columbia College in Longview Washington

Friday, September 26, 2014 my husband and I took our girls to a Family STEM Night at Lower Columbia College in Longview Washington. STEM education is teaching and learning about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. It is hands-on and so much fun! I love to include this type of learning in my homeschooling. Teela had been excited to go all week because she saw a handout with information on it.

We got there a little late, but it was going to be going from 4pm to 8pm so we actually were fine. We met in the Student Center and spread out to different areas of the campus from there.They handed out a map which had each station listed and well marked so we could find our way around. Hands-on learning activities included: Marshmallow Catapults, Make Your Own Slime, Sink Your Boat, Electric Play-Doh, SubZero Demonstration, Reptile Roadshow, Fire Truck Crawl, Alka-Seltzer Rocket Cannons, Ocean in a Bottle, etc.

Community participants included:

Making catapults to launch mini marshmallows.

My daughters made marshmallow catapults with rubber bands, Popsicle sticks and  a plastic spoon. Teela tried to launch them into her mouth. The instructions on how to make the marshmallow catapult can be found on

Fun with Slime.

DIY Slime

Ingredients and Additional Items Needed:
  • Elmer's white glue (for opaque slime) or Elmer's school glue gel (for translucent slime)
  • Borax (find in the laundry detergent aisle of the store)
  • Water
  • Two bowls
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • In one bowl mix ½ cup (4 oz) glue and ½ cup water.
  • Add food coloring if you want colored slime.
  • In the other bowl, mix 1 tsp borax with 1 cup water until the borax is dissolved.
  • Add the glue mixture to the borax solution, stirring slowly.
  • The slime will begin to form immediately; stir as much as you can, then dig in and knead it with your hands until it gets less sticky. (No one makes slime without getting a little messy!)
  • Don't worry about any leftover water in the bowl; just pour it out.
Science behind the Slime:

The glue has an ingredient called polyvinyl acetate, which is a liquid polymer. The borax links the polyvinyl acetate molecules to each other, creating one large, flexible polymer. This kind of slime will get stiffer and more like putty the more you play with it. Store it in a plastic bag in the fridge, to keep it from growing mold.

Boat sinking 101

We had fun shaping tin foil boats, floating them in a plastic tub with water in it, and filling the boats we made with various items to try and sink them. We answered the questions: Why do some things sink and others float? and How does the shape of something affect its ability to float? We learned the properties of: hydrodynamics, fluid dynamics, buoyancy, upthrust, gravity, density, volume, mass, water displacement, and the Archimedes' Principle.

Making a circuit with Play-Doh

DIY Electric Play Dough (Play-Doh)

The idea of adding electricity to play dough to make play dough creations have light, sound, and motion was developed by Samuel Johnson and Dr. AnneMarie Thomas of the St. Thomas Lab at the University of St. Thomas. Dr. Thomas and her researchers wanted to introduce circuits to young kids. In their research they discovered that salt dough was a great conductor and sugar dough was a solid insulator. They called their invention Squishy Circuits.

Ingredients and Additional Items Needed:
The last 3 items you can get from your local electronics store or you can order a kit online at

If you're assembling everything yourself, pick up some spade terminals while you're at the store and crimp them to the end of the wires. Click here to see how.

Simple Circuit Instructions:
  • When you have all the materials together and set up you can have your child start by making a simple circuit. The circle of circuitry will create a closed circuit and the light will turn on if done properly.
  • Give your child two pieces of the conductive dough.
  • Have them make a ball with each piece setting them on a surface apart.
  • Let your child place one wire from the battery pack into one ball and the other wire from the batter pack into the other ball. Make sure the two pieces of dough don't touch each other.
  • Your child can now close the circuit by placing a wire from the LED into each piece of dough. If the LED doesn't light up, have your child flip it around. LEDs only allow energy to flow in one direction.
  • Success! Your child has just made a simple circuit and the light should turn on.
  • Now have your child remove a piece from the circuit, either one of the battery pack wires or one of the LED wires. The light will go out. This creates a open or broken circuit. The energy/electricity can't flow.
  • Have your child put the circuit back together so the light comes on again. Have them move the dough pieces closer to each other. This makes the light go out and is called a short circuit. To fix the short circuit take a piece of insulating dough and put it between the conductive dough. The light will shine again.

Vocabulary Words:
  • Electricity
  • Squishy Circuit
  • Circuit
  • Conductor
  • Insulator
  • Battery
  • Positive
  • Negative
  • Closed circuit
  • Open circuit
  • Short circuit

You can amp up the fun even more and get even more creative with the dough. Have your kids sculpt the dough into different things and use the lights as eyes for animals, etc. You can get more ideas online if you do a search for circuit dough. Once your child has the simple circuit concept down you can teach series circuits, parallel circuits and voltage to them.

Yummy food from Panda Express and Panda Cares Foundation.

Panda Express Panda Cares Foundation and SubZero Ice Cream provided free food and refreshments for participants.

SubZero Ice Cream

The SubZero Ice Cream was in the next building over so after we ate our dinner from Panda Express we headed over there to get a taste and see what other things we could do. SubZero uses liquid nitrogen to make their ice cream really cold. It instantly freezes the custom ice cream to temperatures of -321 degrees Fahrenheit. It was really fun to watch them make ice cream out of ingredients and a billowing cloud of "smoke".  It was very entertaining watching them make it and my kids loved the show as much as the ice cream.

Reptile Roadshow

My daughters had fun seeing and learning about all the reptiles and some arachnids from the Reptile Roadshow that came to Family STEM Night. They got to pet one of the tortoises while they were there.

The wonderful world of microscopes.

The Lower Columbia Gardens was also there handing out free packets of seeds. They told Teela and Zari they could each take 4 different ones. They also had microscopes set up to view the wonderful world of the microscopic. All of us got to see up close live earth worms in composted soil, a cross-section of a bee's head (that is the little speck on the one Teela is admiring in the second picture above), and a sunflower. It was really amazing how cool they all looked under the microscope. It got me wishing I had one like theirs for homeschool use. Maybe someday :)

Making the Ocean in a Bottle.

DIY Ocean in a Bottle

Ingredients and Additional Items Needed:
  • 1 small water bottle with the label taken off (You can use other clear plastic bottles if you add 2/3 water to them. If you use a clear mouthwash bottle the lid is childproof.)
  • cooking oil (we used vegetable oil)
  • blue food coloring
  • glitter and small shells (optional)
  • funnel
  • hot glue (If your lid isn't child proof you may want to add a bead of hot glue around it on the inside before tightening it after everything is added to the bottle.)
  • drink down or dump out approximately 1/3 of the water in the bottle. There should be at least 2/3 of the bottle filled with water still.
  • add a couple drops of food coloring to the water
  • tighten cap and swirl gently to mix food coloring with water
  • uncap and add glitter and small shells
  • using the funnel add oil to top off the bottle
  • tighten lid and tip bottle from side to side and upside down to make a rocking ocean motion
Science behind the Ocean in a Bottle:

Oil and water don't mix. This all comes down to chemistry. Everything is made of tiny particles called molecules. Water molecules are dense and polar. Polar means they have a small positive charge at one end and a small negative charge at the other end, and they stick to each other. Oil molecules are non-polar meaning they have no charge. Because of this, oil molecules are more attracted to each other than to water molecules, and water molecules are more attracted to each other than to oil molecules. It may seem like the oil and water are mixing when you shake or swirl the bottle, but if you set it down again the oil will always rise to the top because it is also less dense than the water.

Alka-Seltzer Rocket Cannons

DIY Alka-Seltzer Rocket Cannons

Ingredients and Additional Items Needed:
  • one empty 35mm plastic film canister and lid. These are getting harder to find, but stores that develop film should have some. (The white canisters work much better than the black ones do.)
  • one fizzing antacid tablet
  • water
  • safety goggles
  • put on safety goggles and go outside to do this experiment
  • break antacid tablet in half
  • remove the lid and place 1 tsp (5 mL) of water into the canister
Do the next 2 steps quickly!!
  • drop the tablet half into the canister and snap the cap onto the canister (make sure that it snaps on tightly)
  • quickly put the canister on the ground CAP SIDE DOWN and STEP BACK at least 2 meters
  • About 10 seconds later, you will hear a POP! and the film canister will launch into the air!
Caution: If it does not launch, wait at least 30 second before examining the canister. Usually the cap is not on tight enough and the build up of gas leaked out.

Science behind the Alka-Seltzer Rocket Cannons:

When you add water it starts to dissolve the antacid tablet making a gas called carbon dioxide. When the canister is capped the carbon dioxide gas builds up inside creating pressure as more and more is released. Finally there is so much pressure that the cap is pushed down and popped off with so much force that the canister goes flying up. This is called thrust. Real rockets use their rocket fuel to blast off much in the same way.

You can take the experiment one step further by adding fins and a nose cone made out of paper to the canister to try to control the path of the rocket cannons better. Also you could add some different colored tempera paint to the water and make exploding art on a large sheet of paper like this blog did.

Fire Fighters, Fire Trucks, and Police Cruisers.

Last but not least, Teela and Zari got to meet some awesome fire fighters all dressed up in their gear. They also got to sit inside a fire truck and police cruiser. So cool!

The evening was really fun and we got to learn some neat things along the way. I am glad we got to go and share the experience with all of you!

DISCLOSURE/DISCLAIMER:  I did not receive any special incentives or compensation for posting this. I just wanted to share my evening with my readers.

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