real science for today's homeschooler

Using Popcorn to Practice Scientific Method

Using Popcorn to Practice Scientific Method

This is a fairly common science fair project that I actually helped my grandson carry out for an elementary science fair. It’s definitely not a new idea, but a great way to let children work through the scientific method using a fun topic . . . POPCORN! The question to be answered is: “Does storage temperature affect how well popcorn pops?” Children will be storing popcorn in a warm environment, room temperature, cold, and frozen. Before beginning the experiment, encourage students to make a Hypothesis. Ask them to decide which storage method they think will work best, and why.

Materials: large bag of loose popcorn (not the individual “flavored” bags), baggies, paper lunch sacks, access to a microwave

Here’s the procedure we used, but it’s important to let your child come up with the procedure if this is to be a scientific method experiment.

1. Put 100 popcorn kernels in a plastic baggie and label as “warm.” Repeat with 3 more baggies, labeling them as “room temperature,” “cold,” “frozen.”

2. Place the baggies in the appropriate area. For example, store the “warm” bag under an electric blanket, the “room temperature” bag in the pantry, the “cold” bag in the refrigerator, and the “frozen” bag in the freezer. Select a specific time for storage, such as a week, a month, etc.

3. After the storage time is complete, remove the bags from their storage area at the same time. To test the storage methods, divide out the 100 popcorn kernels between 5 paper lunch sacks, with 20 kernels in each bag. Label each paper sack with the appropriate storage method. Repeat with all the remaining popcorn, being sure to label each paper sack with the correct storage method!

4. Decide on a specific popping time. Somewhere around 2 minutes works best, but any time will work if it gives the popcorn time to pop and you keep the time the same for all trials.

5. Put one of each sack of popcorn into the microwave at the same time. (In other words, place one sack that contains popcorn stored as “warm,” one sack with “cold” popcorn, etc. Turn on the microwave for the specified time. After the time has elapsed, remove the bags and count the number of kernels that popped. Record. Repeat until all the popcorn has been tried.

Data: Here’s a sample data table that can be used to record the results. For older children you may want to let them design their own table.

  Trial 1 Trial 2 Trial 3 Trial 4 Trial 5 Average
warm            
room            
cold            
frozen            

 

Older children can find the average of each type. For younger children who may not understand the concept of averaging, change to “Total” for the last column.

Analysis: Younger children can compare the totals to see which storage method resulted in more popped kernels. Older children can graph the results for a visual representation.

Conclusion: Have students state out loud, or write down, which storage method produced the most popped popcorn. Why do they think this method worked best? Also have them refer back to their original hypothesis. Was their hypothesis right or wrong?

HINT: Based on experience, don’t try to pop one bag at a time in the microwave. There will not be enough water in the popcorn to absorb the microwaves and the appliance will overheat! Mine actually stopped working for awhile! Popping four bags at a time worked well for us, but do feel the sides of the microwave after the first round to make sure it isn’t overheating. Take breaks between rounds if needed.

ALTERNATE METHODS: Children can also come up with their own idea of what to test, such as light vs dark, storage time, type of storage container, etc. The more children are able to make the experiment their own, the better!

BACKGROUND: Depending on the age of your child, You may also want to have them research WHY popcorn pops. Here’s a great website that explains the science of popcorn, as well as some interesting history: http://www.popcorn.org/Facts-Fun/What-Makes-Popcorn-Pop.

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How do you rate in general Scientific Knowledge?

How do you rate in general Scientific Knowledge?

Here’s an interesting Science Quiz done by the Pew Research Center. It contains some basic science knowledge questions in multiple choice format. Take the quiz and then see how you score against average American adults. You can also find overall results based on demographics. Follow another link to check out the full analysis of the poll that was designed to discover, “What the Public Does and Does Not Know About Science.”

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Inexpensive microscope substitute

Inexpensive microscope substitute

One of the most expensive pieces of science equipment to purchase for home studies is a microscope. A good microscope is really a necessity for middle and high school studies, but there’s a cheaper alternative for the earlier grades. You can purchase an “illuminated pocket microscope” for anywhere from $10-$30, depending on the light source and magnification level. It’s definitely limited in what it will do, and it’s no substitute for a real microscope at the secondary level. But, for elementary studies, it will magnify objects well enough for children to see details they can’t see with a regular magnifying glass.

A quick internet search for “illuminated pocket microscope” will give you many sources from which to purchase one. Amazon has a wide selection. I haven’t found that any one brand works better than another. Just make sure it has a light source, and choose the magnification level based on how much you want to spend.

Be aware that the object being viewed must be held close to the pocket microscope, children must be able to look through a small eyepiece with one eye, and it isn’t made for viewing traditional slides. The light will shine on the surface of the object being viewed, not through it like a compound light microscope. You can check out a few different types being demonstrated by watching this utube video.

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Where to get science supplies?

Where to get science supplies?

It’s a constant struggle for homeschool parents to include science labs in their curriculum because of the supplies and equipment required. That’s why I try to include only labs and activities that can be completed with household materials. But, there will be times when you want to include some basic science materials in your home studies. So, where do you buy science stuff?

I buy from a number of vendors, usually basing my decision on cost, quality, and availability. I’m often able to get a “good deal” based on quantity that doesn’t apply when you’re buying for one or two children. The best company I’ve found to purchase good quality science supplies in small quantities is Home Science Tools. They cater to homeschool parents and sell quite a few “kits” that make science experiments more doable at home. Orders are delivered quickly, and almost always correctly. I’ve only had a problem with an order one time in a number of years. The customer service department was quick to respond and went out of their way to fix the problem and make sure I was satisfied.

 

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Getting ready for middle and high school science

Getting ready for middle and high school science

Parents decide to homeschool for many different reasons, but there’s one thing they all have in common . . . they want what’s best for their children. I teach college prep science classes to middle and high school level homeschoolers in my area. I’m often contacted by elementary school parents who are looking ahead, and their number 1 question is, “What background will my child need before (s)he can take your classes?” My answer usually surprises them.

As a middle school science teacher, the number 1 thing I want my students to come in with is a love for science and a curiosity about the world around them. When you get right down to it, science is about observing the world around you and looking for explanations about why things work the way they do. At the elementary level, if students learn to be observant and ask questions, they are on the right track to becoming great scientists!

My advice to you as a parent of an elementary homeschooler is, don’t worry about which curriculum you use and what science facts you cover. Just build in opportunities each day for your child to explore the natural world. Encourage them to ask questions, and then teach them how to find the answers to their questions. This will obviously look different at different ages, but the scientific process is the same. Ask good questions. Then look for valid answers to those questions.

The only other thing I would add would be to make sure you’re exposing your child to many different topics in science. They may be really interested in dinosaurs, but also make sure they are exposed to plants, atoms, forces, etc. Having a well rounded exposure to all things science will help your child develop a deeper understanding of “the big picture,” and how everything in science is interrelated.

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