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Every year each of my kids does a large scientific investigation, and it is that time of year again. As I did last year , I will write up what we have accomplished each week, so that you can see true scientific inquiry in action. Often people only see the outcome of a scientific investigation, and it always looks so tidy. This is not how science works as you will soon see with my kids' projects. So last year, my older son won the Regional Science Fair and was so excited that he started planning his next project 2 months later! Here is what I wrote up in October: x-post Coming up with an idea. October. Older ds who is in 7th grade. Well, it has been 2 months since the Regional Science Fair, and my ds is already planning his next project. We are studying chemistry this year, so he would really like to do a chemistry project. This is a very difficult thing to do for a few reasons: 1) How does a 12 year old uncover anything new in chemistry? 2) We have no chemical equipment. His first idea was to determine which chemicals made the biggest explosion. Yes, I am sure most of you are smiling. Not really surprising in a 12 year old boy, but not a great idea from the point of view of my insurance. Plus, not really original. The next idea came from his reading on fracking (which unfortunately for me has a different meaning because of watching Battle Star Galactic .) He read an article in Scientific American and was curious as to why the concrete pipes leak underground. So we discussed testing different kinds of concrete for resilience to seismic disturbances. I knew we could get cement for free, and we have lots of different levels of grit for rock tumbling (we had to buy in bulk), which would allow for a quantitative comparison as we know the grit sizes. So we talked about creating different types of concrete and testing it for strength and flexibility. He could have some fun designing some objective ways to smash or shake the concrete, but I was not clear how he could make any tubes. He also was interested in having it set at different temperatures, possibly under water kept at a certain temp with ice cubes etc. Seemed pretty promising, but he just never took to it. His current idea concerns air pollution. He has noticed that one of the longer tunnels in our town is quite smelly. We have to roll up the windows in the car and turn the vent to internal circulation or we are really gassed out. This got him to thinking about what kind of ventilation existed in that tunnel. We also discussed what else affected the air pollution - number of cars, direction the tunnel faces compared to the prevailing wind direction (we live in a very windy town), and the length of the tunnel. Then, he starting thinking about parking decks. We have some smelly ones and some clean ones. Some underground, some above ground. Some with multiple open walls, some with only one open wall. Some with fans, some without. He starting getting excited about building a M.O.D.E.L.... yes , this is my very mathy kid, and he is very motivated to win the math award 2 years in a row. So next up he starts researching how to measure pollution. CO2, lead, CO, etc. He wants to do it himself rather than send the air samples to a lab. He very quickly finds a site that tells him how to build a pump and where to buy the CO2 kits. They are $65 per 10. hummm. I tell him that he has a $200 budget. Given that I spend nothing on lab equipment, it seems like a fair but generous amount. I told him if he plans to spend more, he needs to dip into his $700 winnings from last year's fair. Last year's project cost us $12 for a new ruler when he left it behind + $12 for a poster board. So definitely a money making venture! I told him that we could go to an exhaust testing station and talk to them. I also discussed with him that he does not have to test for ALL the different pollutants. One could be representative. His current question is NOT: Is there pollution in the different parking decks?, but rather creating a model to explain the different pollution levels. So one pollutant could be representative of pollution in general. But he needs to know the *levels* of pollution for this question, not just if the pollutant is found. We also discussed counting cars going through the tunnels during different parts of the day, and counting the number of cars per volume of space in the different parking decks. Good thing he is starting early! Currently, he is very excited about the pollution question. But he needs to see if he can do the work within the budget. I am not so sure. Really depends on the replication he needs. But there is still much more research he needs to do. Scientists do have to work within a budget, so it is not a bad problem to have from the point of view of replicating real science. Ruth in NZ
Every year we do a large scientific investigation for our science fair. And I thought that there might be some in the hive who would like to see how scientific inquiry works, especially while we are in the middle of it rather than all tidied up and sugar coated at the end. :001_smile: We are studying Earth Science this year and have done 9 weeks each of astronomy, geology, and oceanography, so there are 9 left for our investigations. Earth Science is always the hardest science topic for kids to study IMHO because the processes are slow (plus I have never studying Earth Science (ever) so I am always at a loss.) I have a 6th grader and a 2nd grader, and the 6th grader will try for the regional science fair this year so there a lot of restrictions on originality and independence. Week 1 6th grader: We discuss what he will study and decide that since he has been reading about Oceanography most recently and has just started learning to sail that he would like to study the ocean. I try to sway him towards studying life in rock pools, maybe how different animals are affected by the tides or prevailing wind etc. He is not interested. "That's Biology; I want to study Earth Science!" sigh. "ok, so what are you interested in?" "I want to study the movement of sand." :001_huh: hummmm. Now, how is an 11-year old going to do that? After some more questioning, he tells me that he would like to see how sand moves differently depending on the location in the bay he sails in. Ok, that is a good question, just maybe not answerable without a million dollars worth of equipment. We go to the library, and find a textbook on seashore ecology which has a chapter on how waves affect animals (my original idea). But not much else. Next, we hunt for articles on sand movement in the peer-reviewed science journals using the library databases. We find that scientists use radioactive sand that they can then trace or they study a shoreline over the period of 5 years. Ok, neither of those are possible. But we discuss how maybe we can use a different color sand and dump it in the water and time its movement and measure its direction. We also brainstorm all the factors that could affect sand movement: sand size, wind speed and direction, prevailing currents, orientation of the bay to the wind and currents (sheltered?), obstacles (rocks, jetties), slope of the shore. WOW. That is a lot of variables to control once we set up the experiment. On Saturday, after sailing he takes a look around the bay to see if the sand moves at all. It does. That is all the information he brings back.:001_huh: Next, we go to a different beach and collect the sand there (which might be a different color), and collect magnetite (magnetic soil mixed into the sand on this beach, it is black and will definitely show up). Finally, we discuss how much he can generalize given the sampling he is considering. Tomorrow, we plan to put the collected sand and magnetite in the water and see if we have any chance of measuring anything, or if this is just a wild goose chase (which it definitely could be). Time: 4 hours including discussions 2nd grader: I start with my this ds trying to convince him that looking at animals in rock pools would be cool (can you see *I* really want to study this) but alas he is not interested. He wants to study how deep the roots of trees go into the soil. :001_huh: I tell him that we could look at this using road cuts, but that perhaps it would be pretty difficult to study. But he does still want to study soil (4 months ago, I read 30 minutes about soil profiles to him, so I am pretty surprised he remembers anything). So we review what we know about soil: layers A,B,C; earthworms, and that is about all he knows. We go to the library and find no books on soil in the kids section and 2 books with a chapter on soil profiles and topsoil composition. The next day when I am out for a walk in the early morning with a friend, I look at the road cuts and notice different layers in the soil. Perhaps we can identify the soil profile using these cuts. I tell ds, and he loves the idea. He packs a backpack and brings a tape measure, a "data collection booklet", a broken pencil :001_huh:, and a trowel. We go to his favorite spot where he digs out "mudrocks" and loves to throw them and watch them smash. I am wondering what a "mudrock" is from the point of view of a soil strata. We get to the site, and start measuring and recording and then promply cannot remember anything about the different strata and how to identify them:lol:. So back home we go, look up the info in the older ds's textbook, take some notes, and go back out. We measure the strata and feel pretty confident. Next, we walk around the woods looking at the different cuts and their strata. Our woods is on a small mountain (large hill) and it was used 100 years ago as a sheep farm so there are lots of old wagon trails that were cut out of the hill side (think Lord of the Rings Weathertop and "get off the road" scenes, because they were filmed 200m from my house). What really really surprises us is that the soil profile just along this one road cut is very different. Top soil thick to non-existant, B horizon 20cm to 150cm deep, or even areas with bedrock exposed. Funny how I have never noticed this before. So, now I ask *the* question: Why? Why is the soil profile different in different areas? We brainstorm a few reasons (I guide him here, but some he comes up with on his own): Slope, vegetation, bikers. He suggests (on his own) that pine trees inhibit the growth of plants under them so that there would be less topsoil where pine trees grow. !!! Excellent thinking and really cool hypothesis. He also suggests that the B horizon is thicker in some areas because in ancient times more soil collected and then over time compacted into b-horizon soil. so.... WOW, this is going to be an AWESOME project. How does the slope and vegetation of the mountain affect the amount of topsoil? If he were 11+, he could win the regional science fair with this one. (or is it that *I* could win? :lol:) Time: 2 hours Ruth in NZ