Chemistry: Fun with Matter

Chemists in the class Chemistry: Fun with Matter today learned about the importance of quantitative data.

“It’s more important to scientists than the more descriptive, narrative qualitative data,” Teacher Brian Marquardt said.

But, getting that data proved difficult for students who were trying an experiment for the second and third times today.

“This is our third time doing it,” admitted Giulia. “The first time we waited too long to add the iodine so it didn’t react.”

“The second time we forgot to add the starch,” Lynnea added.

Giulia was proud to say that attempt number three seemed to work. “This time we did it right.”

According to the lab instructions, the experiment involves biological catalysts – enzymes – and discovering what it is that influences the activation of a particular digestive enzyme, amylase.

The experiment was an effort to “learn what amylase does to starch,” Giulia explained. “It (amylase) breaks apart starch into sugar, from a long chain of glucose into single molecules of sugar.”

Or, in lay-person’s terms: “We’re learning about enzymes in the body and how you dissolve things you eat,” Giulia said.

Light readings are used to determine how much the starch has broken down. The chemists shine a beam of light through the mini beakers and a detector measures how much light shines through. The darkness of the liquid indicates the amount of starch remaining; the darker the liquid, the more the starch.

At another lab table, Abby and her team were using the light test. “We put different amounts of amylase each time we do the test to see how much the light shines through.”

“We figure out how much light gets through the liquid and how much is absorbed,” Olivia said.

Olivia, Mia, and Abby had run the experiment two times and were processing the data they accumulated.

“We don’t know the result yet because we don’t have all the data,” said Olivia. “We have to do more experimentation.”

They suspect a mistake was made in the first attempt. “We believe we messed up the order of when we dropped in the iodine,” Olivia said.

“We’re supposed to put iodine in every 15 seconds, but we did it every 10 seconds,” said Abby.

The good news is that the scientists learned not only from their successful experiments, but also from the not-so-successful ones.

“We learned you have to work quickly and to read the directions,” Lynnea concluded.

Programming the Future: Lego Robotics

“Henry! It’s going to work! Just try it!” Brady shouted at his partner.

Lego robotics engineers today were eager to tackle the cardboard golf “greens” in preparation for playing mini golf at the Mall of America next week. It won’t be the kind of mini golf any of us is used to playing, however.

“The robots are going to do it for us,” Henry said. “It’s challenging because you can’t use remote controls.”

In the Challenge Room, students tested their robots on five cardboard mini golf holes, learning to program around obstacles in order to sink their balls into the holes.

At Hole 3, robots had to climb a steep slope and drop the ball into a tunnel at the top. Junia’s team had tried and failed on Hole 3 several times, but they were back with an adaptation they hoped would solve their issues.

“A ha! I made a tail so it doesn’t fall backwards on the hill,” Junia said.

She placed the ball at the front of the robot and hit start. At first it seemed to climb, but then got stuck. “It’s not falling over, but we might need more grips or to put the tail in a different spot,” Junia decided.

She scooped the robot up and headed from the Challenge Room back into the Engineering Lab. As seen in today’s Facebook video, Junia’s robot successfully conquered the hole just a few minutes later.

Peyton and Evan had similar issues on Hole 3. “We’re trying to get up but one part of the robot gets caught,” Peyton said.

“We’re going to add something that pushes it up,” Evan mentioned.

Jakob did a happy dance when he learned his robot made it into the “Hall of Fame”. Once a team’s robot successfully completed the five practice holes, they could attempt Level 6, “an incredibly difficult one,” said one of the teacher’s assistants who was helping to create it.

Earlier in the week, the robotics engineers completed smaller challenges that helped them learn to build and program their designs.

Suheyla and Sydney used “sensor thingys” to program their robot to react to bumping or touching an object. “We’re trying to get it to touch four walls,” said Suheyla. With a touch sensor on the front of the ‘bot, “we have to touch it and go back, and then touch it again and do it four times,” she said.

But they struggled with the turns. “We’re trying to make it turn more,” Sydney said.

Suheyla analyzed the issue. “It hits the corner of the same wall instead of the next wall.”

Max and Cole had conquered the sensor challenges and moved on. “We made a robot arm so we can pick up something with it. It will be attached to the tank bot,” said Max. “It will be able to go across rough terrain and pick up things it can fit in its arm.”

Their robotic arm will be tested in the Robo Cross challenge. “We have to pick stuff up and move it to another zone on the board,” Cole explained. He pointed to a wooden platform, roughly four feet square and divided into quadrants. Robots must pick up Lego blocks, batteries, ping pong balls, etc., and move them. Each successfully moved item is worth a different point value.

Suhelya and Sydney were not new to the world of programming. “I have done a lot of coding but not EV3 coding (Lego Mindstorms),” Sydney said.

“I have done some programming on robots, but this is the first time we have had to build and program it ourselves with just a little help,” Suheyla said.

And it’s definitely the first time she has had to design a robot to play golf for her.

Popping Rockets: Inventions & Engineering

Ellie was perplexed. “Mine still isn’t blowing up!”

She stared at the small white film canister on the ground in front of her, waiting and waiting for it to “pop”. Teacher Tracy Pluim picked up the canister and flipped open the cap.

“That one was ready, but just didn’t go,” he assured Ellie.

Ellie refilled her canister with water and broke an Alka-Seltzer tablet into quarters. “I’m adding a tablet, one quarter of it, and it’s going to blow,” she said, confidently.

“I think it’s a carbon dioxide solution,” said Teacher’s Assistant Britta.

Ellie placed the canister upside down in front of her and waited. “It makes the water fizz,” she said about the tablet. “It has a reaction and it blows!”

A canister nearby gave a slight “ppppfffttt” and fell over. “It didn’t even go very good!” said a disappointed A.J. But he wasn’t deterred by his anti-climactic result. Try and try again.

Rhys sat on the ground, waiting patiently. “It takes a while,” he said. He leaned in to check the canister. “Yeah, it’s still fizzing.”

Suddenly, “POP!” “Oh, my gosh!” Rhys exclaimed, falling back onto the concrete, his eyes big.

Ellie’s third attempt was not looking good several minutes in. “I hope it works,” she said. Getting impatient, she bent down, about to pick it up, when it suddenly POPPED and she jumped back in surprise. “So one-quarter works better!” she concluded.

Luke said they were instructed to try different amounts of the tablets to determine which would work best for the actual launch of their paper rockets. “That’s what we were testing,” he said. “We tried one half, and then three quarters. One just sat there and the other, the three quarter piece, exploded, but didn’t go very high.” Like Ellie, he also found that the one-quarter piece worked the best.

When it was time to launch the rockets, students lined up against a wall, slipped the uncapped canisters into the rocket tube and waited for the countdown. At “One”, they quickly capped the canister, set it upside down and ran to the “observation deck”. A couple of rockets exploded right away, and others took their time.

Luke’s didn’t pop until he picked it up. “Mine exploded in my hand!” he laughed.

DNA Jewelry: Patterns & Impressions, Math and Science

A lesson on DNA may seem overly complex for first graders, but visiting Bakken Museum scientists today made the concept kid-friendly through an interactive lab that made DNA visible.

Students sat in groups on the library floor, clad in colorful, plastic goggles. Thomas leaned over a container containing light green foamy liquid. “It’s squished up pee, or something,” he shared. Clarification: The liquid is what they called a “green slurry” made up of green peas broken down in a concoction of chemicals such as dish soap.

Zach used a plastic pipette to transfer the liquid from the container to a tiny vial in his hand. “I call it a sucker-upper,” he said of the pipette.

Once students had a vial half filled with the pea slurry, they added contact lenses solution, one drop at a time. “Oh, that’s so hard!” said Thomas. “It’s so tiny!”

Gideon ended up with solution on his knee. “I squeezed it too hard,” he laughed.

Thomas thought “it smells so weird,” but Jacqueline had a different reaction. “I love the smell of a doctor’s office,” she said.

Jacqueline dropped the contact solution into her vial until the liquid rose to the top. “This is supposed to be 10 drops, but I only did 5 because it’s almost full,” she said. She wasn’t sure if that would make a difference in the final result. She capped the vial and slowly turned it upside down then right-side up again to mix the slurry and the contact solution.

She held it up in front of her. “It looks kind of like lemonade,” she said.

Tanner had a different take on it. “It looks like cloudy snot,” he remarked as he peered at his mixture through a magnifying glass.

The Bakken teachers asked students to look for any stringy-looking strands in the mixture. “That is the green pea DNA,” she said.

Xander shared his observation from the activity. “When I was done, there was a bubble thing on top and I mixed it up and the bubble was inside and I think that was the DNA,” he said.

After the activity, students tied long pieces of yarn to their vials to wear around their necks, because DNA jewelry is so hot right now. It’s a good thing those vials are not really filled with pee and snot.

Delicious Experiments: Science in the Kitchen

Elizabeth, Nora, Charlotte, and Lexi crowded around the stove, peering into a pan where a pancake slowly browned. Like scientists conferring over an important experiment, the girls observed and made predictions.

But, in this science lab, lab coats are replaced with personalized aprons, bunson burners become stove tops, and lab reports double as recipe books.

Today’s edible experiment involved pancakes. Grady reviewed the groups’ task: “We can make them fluffy, crispy, or thin, and we can add chocolate chips or blueberries or other stuff to it.” His group decided to start with a thick, soft, fluffy version.

Kate recorded the group’s process in her recipe book/lab report. “I’m writing what we did – the hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion,” she said. “We wanted it to be fluffy, so we sifted the flour and didn’t push it down” while it cooked.

“I’m pretty sure it worked because the pancakes were fluffy,” Kate concluded.

Nora’s group started their experiment by following the basic recipe, then methodically added new ingredients. “First we made two regular pancakes,” she said.

“Then we altered the recipe by adding cinnamon,” Elizabeth added, pointing to the tiny speckled pancake still cooking.

“This pancake is to test if we have enough cinnamon,” said Nora. “Once we have the right quantity of cinnamon, we’re going to add chocolate chips.”

Elizabeth plated the perfectly browned pancake and held it out toward me. “Finished product!”

The lab technicians, errr, chefs, then sampled the product. “The smell is very vibrant, but you can’t really taste the cinnamon,” Nora concluded.

“So, we’re adding another half teaspoon,” Elizabeth said as she measured cinnamon into the batter.

At another kitchen station, Grace, Anna, Addie, and Eric taste-tested their third variation, “a marbled Nutella pancake,” said Grace.

Their first involved a regular pancake with butter and blueberry sauce the students had also made from scratch. That was followed by a chocolate chip batch, and the Nutella swirl. The next experiment would involve cinnamon and vanilla.

Grinning with pride, Eric spread apart a cooked piece of the marbled batch to reveal an ooey, gooey pocket of molten Nutella. It’s perfect, “thanks to our fryman, here,” said Addie, patting Eric on the head.

They all agreed that the chocolate chip pancakes were the most successful. “It’s just not as complex,” said Anna.

Familiarity also contributed to the chocolate pancakes being a favorite. “We grew up with it!” added Addie.

Addie brought a sample of their cinnamon chocolate pancakes to teacher, Jakky Flanagan.

“Oooooh, I taste the warmth of the cinnamon,” Jakky said, savoring her mouthful, “and the richness of the semi-sweet chocolate pieces.” She held up her arm. “Teacher goosebumps!” she delighted.

In the name of journalistic integrity, Erinn and I also had to experience the fluffy, blueberry, goosebump-inspiring concoctions. Our official lab report: Delicious!

Curious Chemicals and Creepy Creatures: Cool Caves

Scientists engage in making lots of predictions during the course of their day.

To inspire their young scientists to make thoughtful inquiries and predictions, the teachers of Cool Caves intentionally didn’t tell them what to expect from an experiment.

“I think we’re maybe making borax crystals?” said Wyatt after learning that one of the ingredients was borax.

Alyssa thought it might be all about watching a process, not creating a product.

“I’m thinking we might be trying to make something like rocks,” predicted Garrett. “We’re trying to make a chemical reaction that can make something, like a rock.”

The chemical reaction involved mixing together sodium borate (Borax) , alum, and water. Teacher Jeff Lynum cautioned the students that they would witness a chemical reaction in slow motion. “It’s kind of like watching paint dry,” he told the students.

After securing their supplies and ingredients, Aiden began stirring the mixture in a large glass jar. “Oh, this smells good!” commented Garrett.

The boys placed a cone of paper towels into the mouth of the jar. “The water is crawling up the paper towel!” Aiden observed. “But nothing much is happening yet.”

“This is so boring!” Garrett lamented at one point.

“Remember, it’s slow motion,” reminded Aiden.

Despite his momentary impatience, Garrett said the Cool Caves class was “super fun.”

“I really love caves. I’ve been to some in Virginia. I just knew it’d be fun to do and that I’d make a lot of friends,” he said. “It’s fun to explore the caves and to learn about caves so I can do all these things on my own.”

Sophia reminded her group to be careful around their jar. “Now nobody touch the desk because it could mess up the project,” she warned her partners. Sophia said she thought the paper towel might suck up the borax. “I think it’s going to be a hanging rock.”

After the class came back from break, Evelyn said the chemical reaction had done its magic. “It looked like there was stalactites hanging down from the paper towel,” she said. “And some were connected to the bottom. There were also some columns.”

Evelyn said she thought the experiment was “cool”.

“I want to be a caver when I grown up because I’m into this sort of stuff.”

After experimenting with cave formations, students learned about the creatures that live in unique cave habitats.

“Today we’re making imaginary bugs,” Evelyn explained. “They have to live in the dark zones of the caves.”

The creatures are based on real cave dwellers, like salamanders and scorpions. Evelyn’s “scorpialamander” combines those two animals into one creature, called Scorpi, for short.

Rhett made a snail-moth combination. “It looks like a snail, but it can fly,” he said. “It’s only 2 millimeters big.” Rhett constructed his flying snail out of Model Magic. When it’s dry, he plans to paint the wings pink and the shell brown.

My guess is that these cave dwelling creatures will end up inside the students’ final projects – fully decked out caves with hanging rocks, formations, and creepy creatures lurking in dark corners. Make sure to check out the caves in the elementary cafeteria during Open House!