I love this sentiment! Scientists with lab coats go through the methodical process of hypothesis, experiment, observation, results analysis, conclusion, new hypothesis and design or replication. Young children go through the same process as they play and explore, but in rapid succession!
What’s this? What does that do? What if I do this? Can I make this happen? Why did that happen? Can I do it again?
Certainly professional researchers have to learn to play with ideas in order to turn things on their head and make new discoveries, but the smallest scientists among us are professional players and are truly researching all the time.
When I posted the above quote to my Facebook Wall – (You’re following, right? OK, I’ll wait while you take care of that. Ready now?) – I mentioned that I had just seen this principle in action. My first grader had been working on his science fair project, and I couldn’t help but think of this quote over and over. With the relaxed requirements for his grade level, we could essentially just do any science activity and present it. I didn’t weigh down his curiosity by imposing my grad school questions about isolating variables or clarifying his hypothesis. We just played, and wondered, and talked.
Here’s what we did, in case you want to do some high-level research with your little scientists.
He wanted to do smoky bubbles or “Boo Bubbles” from Steve Spangler’s book, Fire Bubbles and Exploding Toothpaste: More Unforgettable Experiments that Make Science Fun (*affiliate). You can also find the activity on Steve Spangler’s website here or in his YouTube demonstration here:
(We’re Steve Spangler fans around here! Remember when I saw him in person? Made me like him even more!)
Now, had I thought to find the activity on his website, I would have seen Steve’s new suggestion for creating the dry ice bubble contraption that’s shown in the book. Maybe that was just as well, because our first challenge to tackle was how to recreate it.
We needed a container for the dry ice and water with a tube at the top to allow the fog to escape out with a higher pressure to create the bubbles. We came up with this:
A bulk sized plastic container with a hole cut (rather unprecisely) near the top, plastic tubing inserted (you can buy it at Home Depot in the plumbing section, I believe, but we had it laying around because, well, I’m a nerd for sensory play) and the unprecisely cut hole sealed with sticky tac (again, because that’s what we had laying around, but modeling clay would be awesome). I’ll let you get all the details from Steve’s site linked above, but here was our set up:
Two very important safety notes about dry ice, which you’ll see were some of my son’s favorite points for his “What I Learned” write up. First, dry ice will burn your skin if you touch it. Use tongs (which make an awesome “screaming” sound, as my son says) or leather gloves. (The knit gloves in the picture are NOT for handling dry ice, but for bouncing the bubbles.) Second, the sublimation (foggy release) of the dry ice creates pressure. That’s what makes the bubbles work, but it’s also what will cause your container to explode if it’s ever completely sealed off. (In trying to emphasize this to my son, I mentioned that people can actually make dry ice bombs. This became one of his favorite facts from the activity. Go figure!)
With it all set up, we were ready to do some serious play research!
The boys loved the bubbles and experimenting with what surfaces would keep the bubbles from popping. Though the fun, misty explosion that followed when the bubbles burst made up for any disappointment at their popping!
Afterward, I asked my scientist to help me make a list of what he explored and what he learned. Here’s what he came up with:
What I explored:
Different amounts of ice and what it does to the amount of fog and pressure.
Different openings for making different bubbles and different pressure.
Different surfaces to make bubbles on without popping.
Different ways to make the bubbles.
What I learned:
That you must have a bit of an opening when you use dry ice or it will explode.
You can make bombs with dry ice.
Dry ice sublimates, that means it melts straight from a solid to a gas.
Hot water makes dry ice sublimate faster.
More ice makes more fog.
Dry ice bubbles bounce off of softish fabrics like felt and stretchable knitted gloves.
When dry ice bubbles pop fog bursts out.
Smaller openings made the bubbles come out faster because there was more pressure.
Dry ice sublimates slowly all the time, that’s why you can’t keep it in your freezer for a long time.
Dry ice can burn your fingers so you should use leather gloves or tongs to move it.
When you use metal tongs to pick up dry ice it makes a screaming sound.
Dry ice is made from frozen carbon dioxide.
Playing with dry ice bubbles is fun!
These scientists agree, play really IS the highest form of research!
Do you dig science? You’ll love this post I wrote for my friend Allison at No Time for Flash Cards .(While you’re there, check out the rest of her science week offerings!)