Big Bag of Science Kit Review

Big Bag of Science Kit

 

The Big Bag Of Science gets 5 stars!

My teaching philosophy when it comes to science is to make topics as hands-on and engaging as possible. When Otter was younger I invested in TONS of science kits and have always kept a closet stocked with hundreds of different science related items (as well as a bookshelf stuffed full of colorful books on all types of science topics).

Science books

A tiny sliver of our science books…

I still endeavour to make science something like the dessert of our day. Yes, science is harder now, but after working years on building a strong foundation, Otter finds many of the topics we are studying for highschool more like an in depth review of things he’s covered years before. He loves science and I feel like my approach was a big part of kindling that.

Now that I’m helping my friend teach her daughter some homeschool subjects, I get to play some more and watch a new set of eyes light up during “science time”.

Today, Rabbit got to try out the Big Bag Of Science kit. She’s learning about animals from her main science program, but we are breaking things up with kits and extras, as I always did for Otter and my other kids.

The Big Bag of Science is actually a pretty decent sized plastic bag with a woven handle and zipper top filled with most of the supplies you need to do around 70 science activities (some of which are dependent on others, so in reality they are stretching it quite a bit to say it has 70 things to do).

The first thing we did was unpack the bag. Everything was laid out neatly in zip-loc style plastic pouches and a plastic case with indentations to keep things from shifting around. Once it was unpacked it looked like this:

Big Bag of Science Kit Review by Guesthollow!

 

Here’s the “official” photograph of the contents, which is quite a bit nicer than the picture I took:

bigbagofscience2The nice big sheet of color changing paper as shown in the official picture is, in reality, just little yellow strips in our kit.

Some of the items you get in the kit are:

  • Color changing strips
  • Gravity Goo Powder (Linear Polyacrylamide)
  • Insta-Snow Power (Sodium Polyacrylate)
  • Water Gel (Poly homopolymer or sodium salt of polyacrylic acid)
  • Quicksand Powder (cornstarch)
  • Super-absorbent crystals (Sodium Polyacrylamide)
  • Fizzing color tablets
  • Worm Goo Activator (Calcium Chloride)
  • P.T.C. paper (Phenylthiourea-Phenylthiocarbamide)
  • UV beads
  • Garbled marbles (Cross-linked polyacrylamide Polymer gel)
  • Iron filings
  • Worm goo (Sodium Alginate)
  • Assorted equipment like “baby soda bottles”, plastic test tubes, geyser tube, magnet, magnifying glass, plastic wells, petri dish, plastic cups, balloon, metal nut, twister tube, cardboard color wheel, etc.
  • A 30 page instruction guide (feels like it’s printed on something similar to heavy newspaper print and is all text with no pictures) with various activities and experiments outlined step-by-step as well as “How does it work?” information that explains the “why” behind the science

Most of the items are of pretty decent quality. The test tubes and test tube holders are TOUGH and could probably be dropped on the floor multiple times. A few things are a little chintzy, like the cheap plastic pipette, but everything is certainly serviceable. Overall, I think the kit is worth the money. I don’t think you could buy all of the items individually for less (plus it would be a huge hassle rounding it all up, if you tried).

The included items do NOT have enough materials though to do some of the cooler experiments more than once. However, if your budding scientist turns out to really want to do something again, most of the experiments can be purchased in single kits that have enough materials for multiple uses via the Steve Spangler Science website.

The instruction manual gives you a list of materials you will need to obtain yourself like water, paper towels, red cabbage, vinegar, soda pop, D battery and so on. Most of the items are things you would normally have laying around the house with maybe a few exceptions like a 1/2 cup of potting soil and fast growing seeds (radish or similar), Mentos candies, a bottle of diet soda, iron fortified cereal (like Total), and sunscreen.

Little kids won’t be able to do the experiments on their own, but I think the kit would be appropriate for ages 6-12. The package says it’s recommended for ages 8-9 with adult supervision. Having said that though, Otter, my 9th grader, has repeatedly expressed how he wants to use the kit himself and how it looks like so much fun. I guess you are never too old to play science!

Younger kids will need a lot of help, especially with reading through the activity steps, and older kids might need a bit of assistance or instruction, especially if you want to expand on the activities and teach additional concepts or explain the “whys” behind the experiments in greater detail. I would feel comfortable turning an 8 year old loose with it, IF I could trust said 8 year old to read through the instructions and not just start experimenting willy-nilly. At the very least, make sure young scientists are in an area where it’s O.K. to make a big mess and keep things away from little ones who might put things in their mouths, as there are a lot of chemical powders and things like iron filings.

The Big Bag Of Science kit covers a variety of things like physical science, chemistry and biology with even a small smattering of earth science and others.  The kit is what I’d call mostly science PLAY (unless you add to it, as I’ve done), so you couldn’t use this as a curriculum. However, you could use it as a spring-board for introducing various science concepts and as something to pull out to add a bit of fun during your school week.

Big Bag Of Science in Action

Today we tried out the first 3 activities. Some of the activities rely on materials created in a previous activity, so you’ll want to skim ahead in the instructions to see if you should combine some of the activities in one session, as we did today.

Today’s activities / experiments:

Activity 1: Fizzing colors – Rabbit learned what a solution is, what it means for something to dissolve, a little bit about chemical reactions, gases, carbon dioxide and experiment safety. We added in information about exhaling carbon dioxide and how plants give off oxygen too.

Color tablets releasing carbon dioxide and fizzing

Activity 2: Cross-eyed Colors: Rabbit held up the capped tubes with the colored water to the light, crossed them and saw that you can make new colors. Um, yeah, not much of an activity. See what I was saying about “stretching it” to say there are 70 activities in the kit?!

Activity 3: Color Chemistry: Now Rabbit used the colored water from the tubes to mix new colors in some shallow plastic wells. She learned about primary colors, secondary colors & tertiary colors. I also added in some additional information and activities so she learned how light is made up of colors, how our eyes perceive colors, how and why scientists record their experiments and so on.

Rabbit mixing colors:bigbagofscience7

 

Learning to record results:bigbagofscience6

 

Max thinks science is boring…

dog

 

After Rabbit mixed colors, we looked at a prism (not included in the kit) to see how light is composed of different colors and made rainbows all over my craft room:

prism1

 

A rainbow on the wall:

 

prism

Rabbit spent over an hour experimenting and learning and we covered quite a few different science concepts just from 3 simple, yet fun activities!

Final Thoughts:

The Big Bag Of Science gets 5 stars. It has plenty of activities to spark student interest and nourish a love for science that will hopefully continue through high school and beyond! This type of kit is perfect for helping to set that kind of permanent foundation – one where kids think science is FUN and not a chore. It’s also makes a great supplement or concept starter and a parent who is well-versed in science topics will have no trouble using it as a springboard for all sorts of teaching. It’s also something that will keep kids busy for hours over the life of the kit, even if parents are totally hands-off.

Pros:

  • You get a lot of different materials for a pretty decent price (considering how much it would cost to buy the items individually) in a fairly impressive package.
  • It will probably appeal to a multitude of ages due to the fun factor.
  • There are lots of gooey, messy experiments that will appeal to kids.

Cons:

  • Kids who’ve been doing a lot of science over the years (like Otter) probably won’t learn much from the kit, even though they are likely to have fun.
  • The kit exaggerates how many experiments there are by adding in activities like “Put flowers in water in one of the test tubes” and tries to call that life science.
  • Many of the more fun experiments don’t have enough materials to do them repeatedly and the instructions don’t tell you when you need to save items from one experiment to use in another (so you have to skim ahead).

All-in-all, I think this is a worthwhile kit, especially to brighten up a dull day in your homeschool or to help spark an avid interest in science that gets you out of a textbook and over to the table to learn and have fun!

 

Otter’s Christian High School Biology is Posted

I’ve finally finished posting the homeschool biology curriculum I put together for my son! I’m still working on a few things like:

  • Making more workbook pages for the later chapters
  • Creating some lab printables
  • Continuing to edit the textbook
  • Working on Greek & Latin root vocabulary

Even though I will be tweaking the program over the 2013-2014 school year while we use it as well as creating additional components, it’s completely usable “as is”.

I hope it helps some of you out there! Feel free to snag the graphic from this post if you want to spread the word.

Extracting DNA from Strawberries Experiment

Today in botany we extracted DNA from strawberries! This is a super-easy experiment with dramatic results.

You need the following supplies:

  • 10 ml (2 tsp) dishwashing liquid (or shampoo without conditioner) – shampoo frees the DNA by disrupting the cell membranes.
  • 90 ml (6 T) water
  • 15 grams ( or 1/4 tsp) of salt (Salt allows the DNA to precipitate because the positive Na+ ions shield the negative charges on the DNA.)
  • 1-2 fresh or frozen strawberries (We used strawberries because they are octoploid – which means they 8 copies of each type of chromosome. That means they have 8x time the DNA of normal cells. Strawberries also have enzymes like pectinase that assists in cell wall breakdown.)
  • Ziploc bag
  • Coffee filter
  • Clear glass or test tube
  • Cup or beaker or similar container
  • Isopropanol alcohol

Instructions:

  1. Put your strawberries in the Ziploc bag, close the bag and then mash them up for a couple of minutes.
  2. In a large container, mix the dishwashing liquid, water and salt.
  3. Pour 10 ml of the dishwashing liquid, water and salt mixture into the Ziploc and mix it with your mashed up strawberries for about a minute. *Note: We actually had to pour in more liquid to get our strawberry mash to liquify. Add as much as you need to make a juice like consistency.
  4. Pour the solution through a coffee filter into a clear glass or test tube. You’ll have more visible results if you can pour it into a skinny test tube, like we did.
  5. Now gently pour in Isopropanol alcohol on top of the filtered strawberry liquid. Pour in 2x the amount of the strawberry liquid. So, if you poured in 4 ml of strawberry “juice”, you should pour in 8 ml of alcohol on top. DO NOT MIX. Just pour it gently right on top of the strawberry “juice”.
  6. As you view the tube (or glass), you’ll see a fuzzy, stringy white precipitate start to bubble up and then gather in a mass as it floats to the top of the alcohol layer. If for any reason you don’t see this, just add a little more salt. This is the strawberry’s DNA! You can poke in a toothpick or other item and spool some of the DNA onto it.

Here’s a picture of our test tube with DNA floating up to the top of the alcohol layer. You can see it clumping up at the top of the liquid with some bubbles.

Here’s a close-up. I’ve circled areas with blue. Look at the lower circle. You can actually see thread-like strands of DNA floating up.

So how in the world can you see DNA when it’s so tiny inside a cell and we wouldn’t even be able to see it with our microscopes? Think of cotton threads. You wouldn’t be able to see a single thread from 100 feet away, but you would be able to see it if it was wound together into hundreds of feet of rope. That’s what happens when you extract the DNA from strawberries. You can’t normally see an individual strand of DNA. However, when it becomes spooled together with all of the other strands via the extraction process, it becomes visible – just like our thread analogy.

This is a great experiment not just for botany but also for biology or a human body study. I think Otter was impressed that he was looking at real DNA!

“Once in a blue moon” is tonight!

Picture taken by Otter through his telescope last year

Ever been told something will only happen “Once in a Blue Moon”?
Well tonight is your lucky night!

Otter has been waiting for this all month. He just got a new 3.0mm Orion Edge-On Planetary Eyepiece for his telescope and will be busy tonight exploring the moon. His new eyepiece makes it look like you could reach out and touch each crater. We were even able to see Neptune with it the other day (and yes, it was BLUE, unlike tonight’s moon which is called blue but not actually colored blue)!

Besides tonight’s special moon, you can find Neptune this month (and into October). Click here for instructions. Here’s another site that says you can even see it in binoculars.

If you have a kid interested in astronomy, I can’t recommend enough that you save up for a real telescope (not a toy, which is likely to be frustrating). Otter has spent so many nights out in our backyard studying the sky and learning how to navigate to different stars and planets. He’s even taken some beautiful pictures of  the moon.

He often uses the free program Stellarium to help him locate planets or nebulae.

Anyway, today is the day to tell your kids you expect them to find lots of extra chores to do without being asked because it’s a blue moon after all! Wink

Otter’s Botany Curriculum Notebooking Pages

I’m currently working on creating notebooking pages to help my son retain what he will be learning in botany this year. All answers to these notebooking pages can be found in the Botany For Dummies text. All the pages are in PDF format. I’ll post more sets of notebooking pages as they become available. I’m also creating some interactive tests and quizzes, but am waiting to see whether they can be posted online or not.

Chapter 1 Botany Notebooking Page
This printable page highlights the many ways plants are useful.Botany notebooking page chapter 1
Chapter 2 Plant Cell
Draw and label the plant cell parts based on figure
2-10 from the text.botany notebooking page
Chapter 2 Lift the Flap 3 Domains Base Sheet
Learn about the 3 domains. Copy the book’s text explanations underneath each flap.botany notebooking pages
Chapter 2 Lift the Flap Cut & Paste Page
Cut out the tree parts for the 3 domains printable.botany notebooking page
Chapter 2 Plasma Membrane
Make the parts and jobs of the plasma membrane memorable with this printable!botany printable
Chapter 2 Lift the Flap Cell Parts & Jobs
Create a lift-the-flap on colored paper to help retain the parts of a cell and the various organelle jobs.botany lapbook page
More to come!

Copper Plating Experiment

Yesterday in chemistry we copper plated an iron nail. If you look at the picture below, you can see that the nail has taken on a copper color.

Copper plate a nail experiment

Want to try it yourself? You’ll need:

  • The juice from 2 lemons or 1/2 cup of vinegar (We used lemon juice.)
  • Plastic cup or ceramic bowl (We used a disposable cup.)
  • 10 to 20 dull pennies (We used about 20.)
  • A pinch or couple shakes of salt
  • An iron nail (ungalvanized)
  1. Put the lemon juice into the cup.
  2. Place your pennies in the bottom of the cup, inside the juice.
  3. Add the salt.
  4. Place the nail inside the cup and leave it for at least 30 minutes. We left our nail in overnight. When you take it out it should be coated with enough copper for you to notice!

Why does it do that? The lemon juice dissolves the copper on the pennies and this produces copper ions. An ion is an atom that either has extra electrons or is missing some electrons.
The copper ions are attracted to the iron in the nail and build up, until there is a visible coat of copper on the nail.

Here’s a close-up of the nail, which is now, roughly, the color of a penny, when before it was almost completely gray:

Copper coated iron nail

Here’s what the experiment did to the pennies, especially the newer pennies!!

Corroded penny

We also learned that pennies after 1982 are actually zinc that is coated with copper. We could really see this when we took some of the newer pennies out and observed the partially-dissolved, thin copper coating over a darker metal underneath. Copper is so expensive now that it would cost MORE than a penny for each penny to be pure (actually 95%) copper!

Click here for a printable of this experiment.

Chemistry

Otter is keeping a chemistry notebook. Inside he’s keeping track of some of the experiments we’ve done using this lab report. He’s also doing some notebooking pages, lapbook elements glued onto colored paper and other printables. When he’s done with chemistry, he’ll have a nice notebook to browse through and remember the various projects he completed. Here’s the cover I made to slip into the front:

Chemistry notebook

Here are some of the assignments he’s already entered into it:

This was a project from Christian Kids Explore Chemistry. Otter took a look at the ingredients of various items and wrote them down to see how “chemistry is in our home”. He noticed how some of the items had the same chemicals.

chemistry

In the 2nd week of our study, he learned about chemistry tools, safety and measurement. I made him this lab sheet to record the data from a hands-on activity from C.K.E.C. . Otter learned that when you pour liquid from one container to another, eventually it affects the measurement. He also learned how to measure from the meniscus of the liquid.

Chemistry worksheet

Here’s a cut & paste vocabulary activity I downloaded from middleschoolscience.com.

matter

He also made these lapbook booklets about the scientific method and pasted them onto colored paper:

chemistry lapbook

Here’s another cut & paste activity that helped define solids, liquids and gas:

solid, liquid, gas

I’m also making use of BrainPop, one of our favorite online activities. I found this printable to go with the movie about solids, liquids and gases.

BrainPop

He also did some fun lab safety papers with a Sponge Bob theme. You can find the teacher’s notes here.

Sponge Bob science

Here’s an activity he did examining various compounds and mixtures:

chemistry worksheet

Otter isn’t just learning about chemistry. He’s still exploring other science interests, such as astronomy, on a regular basis. He pulled out this kit we forgot to do when he was studying WinterPromise’s Sea & Sky program and completed it the other day. He looked up the actual positions of the planets from this site, to make sure every planet was in its place.
Woe to the big brother who might move one of them out of the proper orbit!

Solar system kit

 

The other day we read about plasma globes and did some experiments. Here are the pics. Warning: I’m not recommending you do what we did! These experiments could be dangerous and we were referencing websites and videos such as this one. In other words, don’t try this at home.

Otter got a fluorescent light bulb to light up, just by holding it near the plasma globe:

Plasma globe and light bulb

If you put a penny on top and then touch the penny with a nail, you can see a small arc of electricity:

plasma globe

Super close up of the above:

plasma ball

Otter also got an LED light from his Snap Circuits kit to light up just by touching it to the plasma globe:

plasma globe and led

We also recently split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Dad put a lit match to the hydrogen we collected and we all got to hear a POP!

Another experiment Otter did was to figure out how to separate salt from sand:

chemistry

Other recent things we’ve done in chemistry:

  • Learned about hydrogen
  • Distilled salt water
  • Watched an acid reaction
  • Put up a periodic table poster
  • Learned about lab safety with Sponge Bob
  • Learned about controls and variables
  • Went on an elements scavenger hunt
  • Learned about Antoine Lavoisier

I think Otter is in science heaven lately. Chemistry is full of fun experiments and explorations.

For history, Otter made some ancient Greek honey cakes:

Honey cakes

Starting Chemistry

We just ended our study of astronomy and started chemistry. You can get a sneak peek at some of the books and materials we are using here. I’ll post the schedule I’ve created when I’m finished with it. So far, it’s a highlight of our day and Otter is loving it.

Here is a pic of one of the recent experiments Otter did:

Solid, liquid or gas?

You can download the free printable for this experiment from here. There are more science freebies at ACS Chemistry for Life. If you click on “Science for Kids” there are free lesson plans, some online activities, art ideas and more. I’m scheduling in some of the activities into our chemistry schedule.

Otter’s Physics

Physics

In 2009, Otter completed Real Science-4-Kid’s Physics book. I couldn’t help but add to it though. In case anyone is planning on doing an elementary study of physics, I’m sharing the rough outline I created for an entire unit on physics incorporating the Real Science text, extra books, a few kits, songs, printables and some interactive websites. This outline was never meant to be shared, so it’s a bit more rough than some of the other schedules I post, but hopefully it will be a help to someone!

Click to download the Microsoft Word document: Otter’s Physics.

Apple Mummy Project

Today Otter started an apple mummy project! I considered making a chicken mummy, but that seemed so wasteful… so we settled on making apple mummies instead.

Otter set up the supplies:

  • 1 cup Epsom salt
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 4 containers (we used disposable cups)
  • Something to label the cups with (we used a permanent marker)
  • One apple
  • Knife
  • Cutting board

Apple Mummy

Otter cut the apple into quarters (4 pieces).

Apple mummy experiment

We then labeled the cups with the following labels: control, salt, baking soda, and Epsom salts.

After that, each individual piece of apple was weighed and its weight was recorded on the cup that it went into.

Apple mummy project

Otter poured the substances into the cups over the apples. The cup labeled control didn’t have anything added to it (other than the apple slice).

Apple mummy

So now the apple slices are ready to be put in a place where they won’t be disturbed for 2-3 weeks! When we pull them out, we’ll instantly weigh each piece and compare it to its original weight. We’ll determine which substance did the best job of drying the apple.

How to make an apple mummy