Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Gross Science Program

Now that summer is over, vacation is over, and I can finally recover, I would like to start posting some of my favorite and most sucessful programs from the summer. Having already discussed the Harry Potter event in great detail, I will move to my second favorite event of the summer - our Gross Science program.

Gross Science was held on an afternoon (2pm) for one hour. It was registration only, 30ish spots, filled up, and we did not take a waiting list. (Though anyone who showed up hoping to snag a no-show's spot was allowed in.) The program was aimed at boys ages 7-10, but anyone was allowed in. It was almost perfectly half/half gender divide, ages 6 to 11 attended (with the greatest cluster around 7 to 9), and about 35 kids came. Total supply cost is around $30.

Set up:
I had a large meeting room at my disposal. I put tables against all the walls and left the middle area empty. Each table (actually a wall with two or three tables pushed together) had a different station. No one was allowed in early (of course I was still setting up until the last second). When everyone came in, they all sat in the middle.

Getting the gross fun started:
All the kids are sitting in the middle, facing me and the "front" (In a room with stations on all sides, front is a relative concept, but they were facing the projection screen.) What could be grosser than poop? So that is how we started things. We did some fun facts about poop. How much do you poop a day? (There's a fun math formula to help you figure it out.) How does poop help us? How can we use it? Poop helped us fight WWII. (German soldiers fighting in North Africa believed it was good luck to roll their tanks through camel dung, so Allied soliders began hiding bombs under the dung.) Kids had fun with the facts and guessing which animal pooped the most, etc. However this was mostly short. I then held up a copy of The Truth About Poop and explained that this was the source of all of my facts. (See resource list below). At this point the parents who hadn't left (just unobtrusively hanging out in the back) were looking rather queasy.

Then we went into a powerpoint that was projecting on the wall of a "match the poop" game. Each slide had two pictures of poop and two animal pictures. First the poop would appear and the kids would shout out guesses. Then (when I raised my hand they went silent, mostly) the two choices would appear. We would vote on which ones we thought matched. With a click of my magic mouse, lines would be drawn connecting the animal and their droppings. Super fun.

Next we read a book about mealworms (A Mealworm's Life by John Himmelman).

Starting the stations:
At this point we were ready to start the kids on the stations where they would spend the bulk of the program. I walked from station to station explaining what they were and what they would do. (In an ideal world we would have one staff member or volunteer for each station, in my world we just had me.) All the kids were given a handout that explained some basic fun facts, stuff about each station, reading list, website list, etc. And they got a bag to carry things around in. Then I turned the kids loose. They could go to any station, in any order, and stay as long as they liked. I encouraged them that if one station was full they could go somewhere else and come back when it was less busy.

Station one: Owl Pellets
On the right side table I had some owl pellets set up for the kids to disect. I had information about what you could expect to see in the owl pellets (bones, hair, fur, etc). Owl pellets are paper plates with disection tools (plastic pointy things). I got the pellets from Operation Wildlife for a $1.50 sterilization fee each. Great deal! They are a local group here, check for a local group or find someone to ship to you. This was not as popular as I expected, but many of the kids had done it recently in school.

Station two: Fake Poop
On the table to the right, clockwise, of the front, this one I really spread out over three tables together so many kids could work at once. At this point, I had put up on the projector pictures of the different poop types. A few pictures on the tables would have been nice too. I made my own play dough and colored it brown. (I have a great recipe I will post later.) To color it brown I put in black food coloring (available separately from the rest of the pack) and added in some of the yellow and red for warmer tones. It was a rather grayish brown, but it was real looking enough to be gross. I also purchased a large bag of hamster food that had lots of seeds etc. Kids rolled these seeds, nuts, shells, etc into their poop pellets. Corn is a good filler (and often isn't digested and shows in feces). These fake poop pieces were then placed in ziplock baggies and into their carrying bags. Actually I already had the playdough divided into chunks in baggies to keep one child from taking it all, so they put it back in their baggie. It was a good system. Some children really got into making their poop look like a specific animal's poop. Lots of fun, especially after the owl pellets.

Station three: Mealworms
Continuing clockwise around the room, this was on the "back" wall, opposite the front, projector, and station one. This was also two tables or more. When explaining the stations, this one took the most time. Kids spent the most time here, enjoyed it the most, and in the past few months it is the one they mention to me the most when they come in. I bought mealworms (a hundred of them cost $5.99) at a pet store (when I was buying the hamster food for fake poop). They're in the refrigerator section (to be fed to lizards and what not). If you try to keep them in your fridge be careful, they can't get too cold without dying. I bought them the day before and just let them thaw overnight. I recommend this to get them more active. I learned just as much about mealworms from talking to the pet shop guy who raises them for his lizards as I did from books and websites. I bought them and then dropped some potato bits (for moisture) into the grain stuff they were in. They liked the dark and calm of my cabinet (which also kept my cat from trying to eat them). They were most active immediately after being removed from a darkened cabinet so I tried to keep them in something resembling that right up until I showed them to the kids.

We had "experiments" the kids could do with the mealworms. There were mealworms still in their tupperware (butter tub style) container from the pet store and some on paper plates. As well there were magnifying glasses and paper towels. They wrote the answers/observations with golf pencils onto their handout.
Questions to explore:
  1. Do you see any exoskeletons shed by the larva? Look at them under the microscope. What do you notice?
  2. Pick up a larva mealworm. Does it wiggle? Does it wiggle more when you hold an end instead of the middle?
  3. If you put your mealworm on a plate, does it move toward the damp side (wet paper towel) or dry?
  4. On the dark and light plate*, does your meal worm move to the dark or to the light?

*The dark and light paperplate had half of it covered up with paper taped down like a little "roof" for the mealworms to crawl under.

Next the kids got to make a "mealworm habitat" to take home. We had babyfood jars (with holes punched in the lids). They put some oats (regular oatmeal) in the bottom and a piece of potato. Their handout included some mealworm care instructions. They never need water, they'll get the moisture from the potato. Kids then placed a few mealworms in the jar to take home (but only if their parents approved). Even as the beetles they'll eventually turn into, they really can't escape. Kids were also encouraged to move their mealworms to a bigger container eventually (any sort of small butter tub or other washed former plastic food container such as a cottage cheese tub will work). I think every single kid took home some meal worms. The rest of them were set free in a compost pile and a garden. These mealworms were destined to be food so I felt not bat at all about giving them to children. One child has sucessfully bred a new generation of mealworms.

Station four: Fake Snot
This is on the next wall in our clockwise circle. Following the instructions here we made fake snot. I had big bowls of water and borax solution, gallon jugs of glue, spoons for measuring, and small cups for mixing (as well as craft sticks to mix with). It all goes into a ziplock baggie at the end. The neon food coloring is particularly fun for this. We went through two and a half vials of green food coloring.

Station five: Books and resources
Back on the "front" wall, on the left of the projection I had a table full of books for kids to check out. I requested every copy of these titles in my system and almost all of them were checked out. Usually at a program, one or two people take a book, here everyone left with at least one book, many left with multiple books. Especially popular were mealworm books (to care for their new pets).

A Mealworm’s Life by John Himmelman
Mealworms by Donna Schaffer
Mealworms: Raise them, watch them, see them, change by Adrienne Mason
Grossology by Sylvia Branzei
Grossology and You by Sylvia Branzei
Hands-on Grossology by Slvia Branzei
Gross Universe by Jeff Szpirglas
Gross Science Experiments by Q. L. Pearce
Truth About Poop by Susan Goodman
What Stinks by Marilyn Singer
Jurassic Poop by Jacob Berkowitz
Gee Whiz! It’s All About Pee by Susan Goodman

Web Resources
Learn about mealworms, interesting activity ideas

There is more out there, but I'll let you enjoy finding it. This was one of my favorite programs ever. I'll try to figure out how to get the handouts online or email me if you would like them.

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