Participate in cutting-edge science with Citizen Science

We’re all about hands-on learning. And what better way to learn than to participate in actual, cutting-edge science inquiries?

Citizen science allows ordinary people–like you, me, and our kids–to participate in science. For example, The Lost Ladybug Project asks people to find and photograph ladybugs, in an attempt to find rare ladybug species. A 10 and 11 year-old boy and girl made the first major breakthrough in the project when they found a rare 9-spotted ladybug–the first seen in the eastern United States in 14 years!

Can you imagine the power behind citizen science? Students aren’t just learning about science, they’re participating in it! They are making science happen. Along the way, they’ll learn observational skills and apply the scientific method, as a matter of course. They’ll also learn about the topic at hand, whether it’s neutron stars or backyard birds.

Are you ready? These fantastic websites have curated lists of citizen science projects for you to participate in!

Cool Cat Teacher lists 17 citizen science projects for schools, teachers, and parents
Hack Education describes 5 apps that encourage citizen science
Wikipedia has dozens of Citizen Science Projects
SciStarter indexes hundreds of projects including Moon Zoo and a DIY Laser Harp

We’ve also made a¬†Pinterest board tracking citizen science opportunities.

Giant Ant Farm review


We received a Giant Ant Farm and some harvester ants from Heath Scientific to try.

The Ants

Harvester ants are HUGE. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill tiny sidewalk ants. Even without a magnifying glass, you can clearly see their mandibles and other body parts.

The Farm

The Giant Ant Farm is fantastic for more than one child. The large, double-sided viewing area gives plenty of space for kids to come close and observe the ants.

The only drawback is the base: we’ve accidentally knocked it over a couple times. Then again, we have a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old, so accidents are not unexpected. I’m certain that older kids wouldn’t knock it over. A large-base alternative that won’t get knocked over is the ant hill, which has a smaller viewing area but is more stable.

Taking care of the ants

Ants are low-maintenance. They just require a few squirts of water and crumbs of food. The ant farm came with a years supply of food, which makes it easy to feed them.

For all ages

My 4-year-old and a 2-year-old were absolutely fascinated when we set up the ant farm. Elementary aged kids will love the farm as well and they will be thrilled to see the tunnels the ants build.

I find it fascinating to watch the ants too. You can see how they communicate and react to events like water raining on their farm. It’s unbelievable that even though no one ant is directing them, they still manage to get communal activities done. At first they’d dig and refill each others tunnels, but now they’ve built several together.

Teaching Parallel Circuits to Your Students

Parallel Circuits

To start, we need to define current and voltage:

  • Current is the rate (or speed) at which the electrons are flowing through the circuit and is measured in amperes (Amps).
  • Voltage is technically the electrical potential difference between the beginning and end of a circuit….or simply, the force at which the current travels through the circuit. Voltage is measured in Volts (joules/coulomb).

We are going to start with the simple circuit we created in a previous post (connect the alligator clip to negative side of battery, then connect to knife switch, knife switch to lamp holder, lamp holder to positive side of battery).

Now let’s make some modifications and create a parallel circuit. In a parallel circuit, the voltage stays constant in each branch of the circuit.

Creating a Parallel Circuit

Using our simple circuit with the knife switch in the upright position, we are going to add another load (light) and create a parallel circuit.

  1. Take a wire with alligator clips and attach to one side of the existing lamp holder.
  2. Using a separate wire, attach one end to the other side of the existing lamp holder (*note: there will be 2 clips attached to each side of the existing lamp holder).
  3. Take the ends of the two wires that are free and clip one to each side of a new lamp holder with light bulb. When the knife switch is closed, both lights illuminate.

In a parallel circuit, the voltage stays constant in each branch of the circuit. So, using a 1.5V battery, both bulbs are receiving 1.5V of electricity. This is the reason both light bulbs have the same brightness. If you measured the current, you will find that the current is divided into each branch. Therefore, if 10 amps of current were flowing through the circuit, each light (or branch of the parallel circuit) would be receiving 5 amps of electricity. Adding the amount of current in each branch together, will give the total amount of current introduced into the circuit.

Now you’re well equipped to teach your students all about parallel circuits. Amazon has a many experiments to teach and explain how circuits work. Check out Energy Ball and Energy Stick.

Steps to a Successful Science Fair Project

Science fair project

8 steps to a successful science fair project. Photo by terren.

  • Did the student learn something from the project?
  • Did the student follow the scientific method to complete the experiment?

If the answer to each these questions is yes, then the student was successful. Let me give you 8 steps to a Successful Science Fair Project.

  1. The first and most important step is the Selection of a Topic. The topic should be of interest to the student and selected prior to designing the science fair project. Example topics could include oceanography, basketball, ballet, sharks, micro-organisms, magnets, etc.
  2. The second step involves some creativity. At this point, you must ask a question about your topic that can be answered in an experiment. For example, if the topic was micro-organisms, the question might be, “What surface in my house contains the most bacteria?”
  3. Next, you must research the topic and discover background information that will be useful for your experiment. In order to answer the question above, you would need to know how to grow bacteria, how to take samples, optimum growth temperature, safety procedures, where do bacteria grow, etc.
  4. Then, you need to take the question from step 2 and reword it, so that, a purpose statement is created. From the question we created in step 2, our purpose statement could be, “The purpose of my experiment is to determine which surface in my home contains the most bacteria.”
  5. Now take the purpose of your experiment and develop a hypothesis. The hypothesis is an educated guess as to the outcome of your experiment. Your hypothesis could be, “My hypothesis is that the toilet seat has the most bacteria.” Don’t ever change your hypothesis. Your hypothesis is based on your research and knowledge. If the experiment disproves your hypothesis, that is OK. An incorrect hypothesis does not make an unsuccessful project.
  6. Design the experiment. This is where most people start. Never start with the experiment, because many times the outcome is know. Learning and using the scientific method is the most important part. During this step, you will determine the materials needed, explain the procedure, collect data and record results.
  7. Draw a conclusion. The conclusion is simply, “Was my hypothesis correct or incorrect?” Your conclusion might be, “In conclusion, my hypothesis was incorrect, the kitchen sink was actually the area that contained the most bacteria.”
  8. The final step is to make an attractive science fair display. You should have label headings, such as, Purpose, Hypothesis, Materials, Procedure, Data/Results, Conclusion. Display part of your experiment. If parts of the experiment are not able to be displayed, use photos that explain your procedure and results.

Teaching Chemical Changes in the Elementary Classroom

Sodium Bicarbonate, Calcium Chloride and Phenol Red

Let’s go over the procedure first and then we will discuss what is happening.

1. In a quart baggie, place sodium bicarbonate(1 tsp) in one corner and calcium chloride(1 tsp) in the other.
2. Lay the bag on its side and place a small cup (medicine cup size – 1 oz) of phenol red in center of the bag. Be careful not allow the any on the chemicals to mix yet. Seal the bag
3. Gently pour the phenol red where it spills into each corner. Do not mix the two corners yet.
4. Have the students feel each corner and make observations. Continue the observations for a few minutes.
5. Pick the bag up and gently move the bage side to side, mixing the chemicals. What happens?

Explanation

The side of the bag with calcium chloride becomes warm. The calcium chloride dissolves forming calcium and chloride ions. The release of heat (exothermic) is a result of the calcium chloride dissolving and not a chemical reaction.

When the sodium bicarbonate dissolves to form sodium, hydrogen and carbonate. It becomes cool (endothermic). The baking soda absorbs heat in order to dissolve. This is not a chemical change.

When the two sides are mixed, calcium carbonate is formed which is insoluble. Also formed are water and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide (gas) causes the bag to inflate. When the carbon dioxide dissolves in the liquid, carbonic acid is formed. This change in pH causes the phenol red to turn yellow. A chemical change has now occurred.

Remember to have the students use all lab safety measures. If the bag becomes over inflated, release some of the gas.