British Science Week 2017

British Science Week officially kicks off tomorrow but we've been getting into the swing of things early on the basis that the weather forecast for next week looks much improved and therefore we don't want to be stuck inside conducting science experiments when there is a beautiful beach to enjoy. Ah, the beauty of home education. 

The theme for British Science Week 2017 is Change, encouraging young people to think about the changes happening in the world around them; from seasons and climate, to materials and energy. It is also a chance for youngsters to consider the changes they can enact to have a positive impact on the future. Of course, Jenson is a bit young to understand all that but he can still enjoy the benefits of the activities. 

I downloaded both the early years and primary resource packs last week. There are lots of different projects for children to do but I selected about half a dozen, which we have been working on for the last day or so. 

1. Flowers To Dye For (Changing Colours)

The aim of this colourful activity demonstrates how plants absorb water through their roots and up their stems and into different parts of the plant such as the leaves and petals. By adding a little food colouring white petals can be transformed into different colours, which really help children to understand how plants feed.

We also tried the same experiment with celery, by which point Jenson had lost interest and was once more engrossed with his LEGO.

The plants have now been in their colourful containers for over 24 hours and there are no colour changes yet! Despite this, I still managed to have a conversation with Jenson yesterday about what was going on inside the containers and what changes he was expecting to see. He made the connection between the coloured water and the plants by telling me the petals were going to change colour. When I asked him how they were going to change colour he came unstuck. He talked about how the leaves and petals drink the water, so I suggested he look at the part of the plant that was actually absorbed in the water. This helped him to understand and he answered correctly.

2. Kitchen Chemistry (Changing States)

This activity took a little more time and effort than the others and yet typically, it gave the greatest rewards. Jenson showed no interest whatsoever to start with. He was feeling extremely cross with my brother, who was meant to be joining us in Devon for a few days but texted me to say he was no longer coming. Jenson felt very let down.

So Wren and I got on with the task at hand, which was to get our bake-on and make some bread. Baking is often thought of as an exact science: with precise measurements, temperatures and timings resulting in a tasty transformation. But what do all the ingredients do? What happens if we change the recepe and a key ingredient is missed out? That's what we were about to find out.

I decided to experiment with four different combinations:

1. As per the recipe using strong wholemeal bread flour.

2. Without margarine using strong wholemeal bread flour. 

3. Without yeast using strong wholemeal bread flour.

4. As per the recipe using plain white flour.

I halved the quantities on the basis that we would have bread coming out of our ears and Wren and I set to work!

She dutifully helped me to measure everything out before we mixed the ingredients together for the first combination: as per the recipe using strong wholemeal bread flour.

Once we had kneaded the mixture for ten minutes, Wren helped me to cut some shapes out. We popped them into the oven for fifteen minutes and made a start on our next combo: without margarine using strong wholemeal bread flour.

Jenson was slowly coming out of his mood by this point. Perhaps it was curiosity that drew him over to us but he was keen to get involved whatever the reason. He enthusiastically helped to sieve the flour, add the yeast and pour in the water. He absolutely loved feeling the gooey consistency of the bread mix between his fingers, and yes, a chocolate snack is compulsory while you bake!

When it came to making the shapes, he was at a bit of a loss, so I suggested he make a LEGO cutter. That idea isn't featured in our Learning with LEGO Bible but I think it jolly well should be! 

It's fair to say this fired his imagination. The cutter he made was super lovely but it was just the tip of the ice berg. That afternoon he went to a place of such fantasy that he was unable to engage in anything else and lets be honest, why would you want reality when you can get totally lost in the adventures of your own imagination? How many opportunities are there for our children to do that these days? Well this was it for Jenson. He believed in that story he was telling 110%.

As far as I could make out the story all began with a giant gooey monster, (the dough) who was hell bent on eating everything in its path, (the LEGO figures). One by one I watched the monster swallow the tiny figures up. Some would try and fight back but the monster always proved too strong.  

Some would suffocate...

...others had their limbs ripped off.

Big gorilla gave the monster a good go...

...but even he was overpowered and lost an arm!

Eventually, the monster's anger subsided and one by one he spat the mini figures back out. As you can imagine, there are a whole heap of photographs from this series but too many to include in this blog.

All the while Wren helped me to bake...with the help of doggie of course! Here she is making combination number three: Without yeast using strong wholemeal bread flour.

But even she got inspired by Jenson's creative story telling and started a bit of make believe of her own.

The bread dough Jenson was playing with was still the one without margarine but there wasn't much of it left as we had used most of it to make the bread. He was dead keen to make more dough, for obvious reasons! And so we started on the final combination: as per the recipe using plain white flour.

After a good few hours, all the bread was eventually ready and the results were really interesting. The reason the bread quantities get less is because the children refused to give up their dough so busy were they playing make believe stories with it! Jenson even engaged in a conversation with me and we talked about the differences between them all and the reasons why. I love the different shapes we all made. Again, so reflective of our personalities. You have Wren's strange and wonderful quirky faces, then you have Jenson's orthogonal rectangles and finally my attempt at a plait!

Naturally we sampled them and talked about which our favourites were. Jenson's was the combination that excluded the margarine and mine was the combo that was made from plain white flour. Wren didn't want to eat any! We caked them in butter and home made strawberry jam and gobbled the lot up! I must say I was so impressed with the children and their attention span with this activity. I can normally only get about twenty minutes out of them but the fun here lasted for hours. 

3. Oobleck Slime (Changing States)

We had to have two attempts at this activity because I gave the children the wrong ingredients! It actually turned out really interesting to compare how the two faired in their slime making capabilities though.

Technically we should have mixed cornflower with water but we mixed bicarbonate of soda with it instead! Turns out they both do near enough the same job: the concoction acts like a liquid but behaves like a solid when you hit it. Here Wren is on our second attempt using cornflower. Jenson was still engrossed in his monster eating LEGO story. 

4. Catch A Rainbow (Changing Colours)

Some very unusual interactions take place when you mix a little milk, food colouring and a drop of washing up liquid. Typing this up now I can see we forgot to add the washing up liquid to our concoction!! I got so caught up in the moment with three pints of milk, two children and multiple bottles of food colouring that I must have overlooked the toolkit and instructions. Never mind, we still created a nice effect and the children enjoyed experimenting with the three different types of milk: whole, skimmed and semi-skimmed. 

Having spent all day in the house we were itching to get some fresh air. Jenson was dead keen to go for a swim so at 3pm, which is about when we wrapped up our final experiment, we drove over to Croyde. Sadly the pool was shut again so I treated them to dinner at the Red Barn instead. Afterwards we made a beeline for the beach where they were able to enjoy a good hour or so throwing themselves off a sand dune, naked, in thick fog, much to everyone's amusement. 

5. Nature's Colour Palette (Changing Colours)

Nature is full of a wonderful array of colours that change over the course of the year through four seasons. From the green buds showing new life in Spring, the bright colours of Summer, the golden browns and rusty oranges in Autumn to the bleaker shades of Winter, our environment is constantly changing. 

This simple outdoor activity involved collecting coloured items from the environment to create a colour palette. We conducted all of the other science experiments yesterday because the weather was so fowl but saved this last one for today, which was forecast drier. 

We woke up to thick fog again but it slowly cleared to give us a glorious day. We conducted our little outdoor challenge in the Churchyard, just a few metres away from the house. It's ever so picturesque and the children always love running through its 'secret' pathways.

Wren was the keener of the two; picking small blades of grass and flowers. Sadly, because everything was so wet with dew and sea mist, nothing really wanted to stick to the double sided sticky tape. This frustrated Jenson a lot. Eventually though, he came around to the idea and he ended up wanting to make two palettes while Wren became distracted by other interests.

It was a lovely hour or so spent enjoying the morning sunshine, breathing in the fresh sea air and listening to the sounds of the birds singing. Jenson, eventually, found the whole activity very enjoyable and was soon scarpering around busily picking rosemary flower heads, berries, thorns (because they looked like shark teeth) and other colourful bits and pieces. 

They completed their colour palettes and I love not only the colours, but also the shapes and the way the children have laid all of their treasures out. Jenson's enthusiasm didn't end there though, he proceeded to trim the grass, prune the bushes using a pair of scissors and even gave a jolly hello to the postman! 

All in all, it was a really positive few days. It's never without its ups and downs and there can be quite a lot of shouting but I mainly remember the good bits, and I think they are the most important memories to hang on to.

We've done one more experiment since getting back to Cheltenham and that's because the nearest Hobbycraft to Woolacombe is about 100 miles away! The missing ingredient was rubber latex solution. Here's our story.

6. Making A Rubber Ball (Changing States)

Natural rubber latex is the elastic hydrocarbon polymer liquid obtained from rubber trees. Liquid rubber can be changed to a solid ball simply by adding an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar. 

We began by placing a small amount of rubber latex into a small container.

Next we added a small amount of lemon juice or vinegar and stirred it with a teaspoon until a solid rubber was formed. There was also the option to make a foam rubber ball, where bicarbonate of soda could be added prior to adding the acidic element. This is what Jenson is doing here.

Next he added the vinegar. You can see how empty the vinegar bottle is in this shot. That's because by this point Jenson was onto his third rubber ball and was pouring the vinegar as freely as I pour wine!

We watched the chemical reaction take place. Jenson was enthralled!

Next Jenson placed the solid rubber in a large bowl of water and moulded it into a ball shape using his hands. I helped him to dry it with a cloth afterwards.

Hey presto!! As you can see, the rubber balls gradually got bigger and bigger! Jenson put them to the test and investigated their bounciness. We measured by dropping the balls from different heights and watched to see how far they bounced back up. The smallest one did the best and the one with the foam rubber faired worse.