Posts Tagged ‘science’

Discrepant Events to Spark Scientific Curiosity

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

In science education, a “discrepant event” is an attention-grabbing experiment or demonstration that upsets the viewer’s preconceived notions about how the world works. The more dramatic, the better! Discrepant events are a lot like magic tricks, at least in the sense that they want to make us want to get to the bottom of what we saw happen.

This impulse reaction is hugely valuable for teachers, as it prompts their students to follow through on the natural inclination to approach the world with a scientific mindset: apply background knowledge, make a hypothesis, and see if the results of the demonstration can be reproduced when different variables are changed. The best part? Plenty of students will be intrinsically motivated to do all of the above on their own if they’re shown something cool enough. Check out four of our favorite discrepant events from’s Science Fair section below.

What is Condensation Education_com

What is Condensation?

Why does the water balloon get sucked into the bottle? Kids will apply what they know about pressure, states of matter, and condensation to make educated guesses and figure it out.

Hammer Ruler Trick Education_com

Hammer Ruler Trick

This experiment periodically makes the rounds on the internet and often gets accused of being fraudulent! It’s very real, very cool, and because it makes little visual sense when kids (and many adults!) are first confronted with it, it enriches their intuition regarding important physical principles like center of mass and torque.

Liedenfrost Effect Education_com

Liedenfrost Effect

When a pan is heated to extreme temperatures, water droplets released into the pan demonstrate some cool behavior. But what’s going on? And what explains the mind-boggling fact that water droplets evaporate more quickly in a pan that isn’t as hot?

Candle Science Education_com

Candle Science

This one is totally bizarre. Smoke itself isn’t flammable, right? Then something else in the air must be…

These projects require adult supervision to ensure that everything goes smoothly. But don’t jump the gun, parents! Let your kid make a hypothesis before you explain what happened in each project.

Get Ready for a Solar Magnetic Field Reversal

Friday, September 6th, 2013

In a matter of months, the sun’s magnetic field will completely invert itself, an event that will create ripple effects throughout the entire solar system. Don’t freak out! Solar magnetic field reversalsSolar Magnetic Field Flip are relatively common occurrences in our cosmic neighborhood (they happen once about every 11 years or so).

Our planet’s polar regions change, too—they just do it very slowly. Then again, the earth isn’t a humongous churning ball of burning gas that’s constantly rearranging its matter, so count on your compasses continuing to point north until scientists say otherwise. Right now, however, our sun’s north pole has already switched its sign, and the south pole is racing to catch up.

Because the orientation of the sun’s magnetic field is constantly in flux, it induces a small electrical current in all matter in the solar system (that’s right—all matter in the solar system, including stuff beyond Pluto!). The inverse is also true—the flow of electricity induces its own magnetic field, giving objects with an electrical current the ability to attract and repel other magnets. See this for yourself by checking out this great science fair project where kids build their own working electric motors.

To further honor this relatively obscure (but pretty darn cool!) cosmic event, check out these sun-related science fair projects that will have kids doing everything from testing the optimal angle for solar cells to learning how to cook hot dogs with parabolic mirrors.

What Direction Should Solar Panels Face?

Solar Hot Dog Cooker

Energy Efficient Windows Partners with Scientific American’s Bring Science Home

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

We at are proud to announce our partnership with Scientific American’s Bring Science Home. Every Thursday, Bring Science Home provides parents with a fun, science-related activity to do with their six- to 12-year-olds that can be completed with simple household materials in under an hour. The projects themselves are fantastic because they give parents and children the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning together, and are written in such a way that the scientific content is enlightening to people of all ages. It’s a truly fantastic feature.

Bring Science Home: No Experience Necessary

“As a kid, I often spent an afternoon after a big rain storm with my brothers tromping down to a local drainage stream tBring Science Homeo see what the water had washed in,” writes Katherine Harmon, associate editor for Scientific American and managing editor of Bring Science Home, in her introduction to the feature last spring. “And it wasn’t unusual to find  sitting around the kitchen table with our hands coated in a green, oozy cornstarch-and-water mixture, wondering at its weird properties. My parents aren’t scientists or university professors, and my brothers and I didn’t think of these diversions as science. But they were—and these simple activities, along with the questions and conversations they prompted, have stuck with me into adulthood.”

Bring Science Home is built on this guiding principle: you don’t have to have any formal background in science whatsoever in order to promote science literacy in your home. Even American astrophysicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson acknowledges this in an American Scientist interview, as he recounts his two-year-old daughter spilling a glass of milk on the dining room table: “When she watched it drizzle between the leaves, and then drip down to the floor, she was performing experiments in fluid dynamics. Let ‘em play. When you do, the kids do not have to be reintroduced to ways of questioning nature, and the task of promoting science would be a trivial exercise.”

By contributing content to Bring Science Home, helps parents facilitate an environment where kids can easily follow through on their own innate inquisitiveness. The content we contribute is structured in the sense that it gives parents and kids a clear procedure to follow and accessible scientific explanations that are tied directly to what parents and kids saw happen—but it’s informal in the sense that the content isn’t designed to lecture. Instead, it encourages kids (and their parents) to ask questions think critically about what they’re exploring.

Whenever we choose an article to rewrite from’s vast library of science fair project ideas, we make sure that the article lends itself particularly well to creating these kinds of enriching experiences…but we must admit that we have a strong bias towards selecting projects that make kids and parents go “Whoa.”

Check out what we’ve contributed to Bring Science Home so far. These projects are sure to be a big hit with your little evil geniuses.

Seesaw Science: The Hammer-Ruler Trick

Sonic Science: The High-Frequency Hearing Test

Soapy Science: How Microwaves Affect Matter

Steamy Science: Demonstrating Condensation

Sight-Line Science: Candle in the Mirror

Weird Workday Discoveries: Animals I Want to (But Probably Shouldn’t) Keep as Pets

Friday, May 31st, 2013

Over the course of our workday, we editors often find ourselves learning all sorts of strange and amazing information about history, science and literature. We’d like to share some of our favorite finds with you. Today’s post is brought to you by Wikipedia and editor Jody Amable.

I’ve always known that the animal world is an extremely diverse place, but it wasn’t until I came to that I got a sense of just how diverse it is. Even posting coloring pages to the site requires a quick Google search in order to write a competent blurb, and that invariably leads to falling down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, so to speak, of articles on the furry and the feathered; the slimy and the scaly.

I’ve fallen in love with quite a few animals here at my desk. I like to imagine a world where I could fall asleep with a snow leopard curled up at my feet, but I’m adult enough to know why that’s a bad idea. Nonetheless, I continue to dream. Here are my top five (very impractical) picks for exotic pets:

5. Marmots

I usually end up on this page while looking for information on Groundhog Day.


Kid Literally Expelled for Doing Science

Monday, May 6th, 2013

Early in the morning, on the grounds of Bartow high School in Bartow, Florida, Kiera Wilmot conducted a science experiment by mixing some common household chemicals in a plastic water bottle. The chemical reaction produced a small explosion that caused the top to pop off and some smoke to rise out of the bottle. Nobody was hurt, and no damage was caused to school property.

In addition to being expelled from school, Wilmot is being charged for “possession/discharge of a weapon on school grounds” and “discharging a destructive device.” There’s a chance she will be tried as an adult.