Beguiling Bubbles

Coins don’t float on water, except at Summer Academy, where all things are possible.

Students in Bubbleology today watched as a visiting Mad Science scientist filled clear plastic cups to the brim, and beyond, with water. Owen leaned down and peered into his cup from the side. “It looks like a hill,” he observed of the mounded water rising above the edges of the cup.

The bubbleologists were learning about surface tension of water. “It’s about bubbles and chemistry,” Owen said. (According to the USGS, surface tension could be defined as the property of the surface of a liquid that allows it to resist an external force, due to the cohesive nature of the water molecules.)

Owen watched this resistance in action, as his desk partner Derek lowered a paper clip with a silver coin onto the top of the water. “Awesome, Derek!” he cheered. “The coin floats! You didn’t break the surface tension!”

Logan explained why the coin moved immediately from the middle of the cup toward the edge. “It floats to the edge because of gravity,” he said.

The boys then watched as pepper was sprinkled onto their “hill” of water. Like the coin, the pepper spread over the top of the water, instead of sinking.

It wasn’t until a blob of liquid soap hit the water that the surface tension broke. “The soap pushed it away,” noticed Sarah.

Pepper skidded to the edges of the cup as the hydrogen in the soap molecules attached to the water and the carbon molecules reacted against it. “Carbon hates water,” the visiting scientist told the students. “A carbon molecule will try to stand up in the water – stand on its head – and break the surface tension.”

Other activities in today’s Bequiling Bubbles session included racing soap-powered boats, blowing bubbles inside of bubbles, making tetrahedron wands to create pyramid-shaped bubbles, and learning about bubble colors.

Owen was fascinated by the experiments, but was especially looking forward to the next activity. “We get to go in a bubble!” he said.

Mateo stood on a stool in the middle of a small pool of soapy water, hands to his sides, and peered through the lenses of oversized goggles. A soapy ring was pulled up around him, and suddenly he was enveloped in a life-sized bubble. The infectious smile that broke out on his face was, indeed, quite beguiling

I Survived…

I Survived…the first day of Summer Academy!

One of the Academy’s new courses this year – “I Survived…” – is based around the book series of the same name. The historical fiction books recount real-life disaster situations from the viewpoints of fictional young survivors. Some of the students taking the class are big fans.

“My favorite is I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001, the worst American disaster of the 2000s,” said Jack. Jack has read many of the 16 books in the series and he and the other students in the class will have the opportunity to read the latest – I Survived the Children’s Blizzard, 1888.

Jack enjoys learning historical facts from the survival situations. Some of the information has made Jack sad, like what he learned about the fates of certain soldiers at Pearl Harbor in I Survived the Bombing of Pearl Harbor, 1941.

“We never would have had Jackie Robinson if he hadn’t left on the ship,” before the attack, said Jack. “If he’d left Pearl Harbor one ship after, we’d never have seen Jackie Robinson in baseball.”

In addition to the survival stories from the books, students will learn about other real and potential survival situations. “We’re going to learn about Mars and how NASA is programming a rocket to get there,” said Jack.

As part of that survival scenario, Jack and his partner Logan were building and programming a robotic satellite using Lego robotics. “We’re building a satellite because you have to be able to communicate in space,” said Logan.

Jack said that communication is important in all disaster situations. “You need to be able to communicate with EMTs, rescue helicopters,” he added.

Ava and Hanna grabbed colorful Lego pieces from a tray and peered at their ipad screen for the satellite building directions. “I like this class so far,” said Ava. “We decorated the cover of our survival notebooks this morning.” Neither she nor Hanna have read the series, but they’re excited to learn about the Children’s Blizzard and to learn from a NASA scientist who is visiting on Friday.

Hands-On Fun with Math, Science, and…Art?










Rhett added a small yellow triangle to a page filled with color-coded triangles of various sizes. “We’re making fractals,” he explained. Each new set of triangles added was incrementally smaller in size than the last. “I’m going to get to really small triangles because I want to use the entire rainbow!” he said.

Abdi explained, “A fractal is an image that if you zoom in on it it’s going to have the same image.” His table partner Era Faith added: “The image stays the same at different distances.”

But how are fractals math? “It’s math because math is supposed to be patterns and shapes,” said Abdi.

Wyatt’s fractals included straight and wavy vertical lines in different colors. “I like to doodle and I wanted it to be different from other people’s,” he said about his decorative choice.

Across the table from Wyatt, Mallory placed orange dots on her page, drawing lines between the dots to create her triangles. She took the class because she likes all three of the subjects. “I like math because it’s easy, I like science because it’s fun, and I like art because it’s relaxing,” she said.

New Summer Academy teacher Jennifer Schuetz developed the course to engage students in creative mathematics. The topics came naturally to Jennifer, who serves as Executive Director of the creative educational organization, Fractal Foundation.

“I love science and math and using art to inspire more interest in math,” she said. “When they’re being creative and having fun, they’re actually doing math.”

Rhett confirmed her claim. “I think it’s really fun!”