May 11, 2009

Volcanos and Earthquakes!

We've had a geology and plate tectonics binge lately. Partly at my mate Jeni's house with some older boys and partly at home with my girls and some of their other friends too.

Jeni is my inspiration for delving more into science with the kids at an early age. I don't really expect them to grasp fully the concepts, but just enjoying the process and gaining the vocabulary and the gist of the science is a fine start as far as I'm concerned. The six and seven year olds really get it and the younger ones partially get it and are swept up in the fun too, so it's a nice experience for everyone.

We had an afternoon long play date at Jeni's house with some more of their friends from three years old up to seven years old. This post is only going to have some of the things we did with the kids. Not all the things we did, because I think there were something like fifteen projects for them that day! and I don't want to hog the blogspace here with too much older kid stuff. Maybe I will have the gumption to get another blog going for the science related stuff at some point, because we've had dinosaurs/robots/medieval technology and electricity and magnetism since Jeni first invited me to help out. Also, there are some pictures in this post from further experiments we did along the same theme at home a few days later with some more of our friends.

Firstly, here is a floor puzzle I made for the kids to put together, showing all the earth's tectonic plates. It's a printed out image tiled together onto cardboard I pulled from in between the pallets at Costco, edged with electrical tape and cut up with an exacto knife. Yep, there's my cup of tea that I need to get anything done. I have one sat right by me at this moment in fact!
I was amazed that all eleven children worked together on this with mini printed images of how it should fit together. It was more team work than I could have ever hoped for! I also found a strange globe for $3.99 in Savers that was completely white with the countries drawn on in black outline. I have no idea what it's intended purpose was, but it was great for me to draw the plates on and label them for the kids to see how the plates from the puzzle fitted together in 3D space. To emphasize this concept, we hard boiled eggs and then let the kids roll them on the table until they cracked showing plates like those on the globe. Some kids managed to squeeze the eggs enough that a crack in the white made some liquid yolk ooze out like magma. Another project I put together for them was to test building structures and see what was strongest and most earthquake proof. To do this I built a quick and easy shake table out of a tray, a piece of scrap wood, some nails, some clips and some rubber bands. Here's the diagram showing how it all fitted together to suspend the wood over the tray on the rubber bands. Moving the tray slightly sets the suspended wood wobbling. The hubster was planning on making us an electrical shake table that we could build lego on with a variable shake dial, but his wisdom teeth extraction intervened and a quickly thrown together manual shake table had to do.
The kids built various wooden block structures on the shake table and saw which was strongest. Short/Tall, Weight low down/Weight high up, then we tried some base isolation, using dish sponges, talcum powder and later Jello to separate the buildings from the "ground". The kids thought using Jello was hilarious. It definitely proved a point though, because the structures on the "isolated bases" really did withstand more shaking. My two have enjoyed playing with the table at home quite a bit, having competitions building towers next to each other and seeing whose falls first in a quake.
I made a tonne of home made play dough for us to roll out and layer up and see what effects pushing and squashing had on the shapes of the layers of sedimentary rock. All the kids liked that project too and when we were done we used the play dough to make baking soda volcanoes.

I'm from the UK and I'm not sure if the baking soda and vinegar volcano is just a big thing in the US for kids or if I led a sheltered upbringing back home, because I'd never heard of it until I came out here and learned that it's a bit of a school science fair cliche for Americans. My kids thought it was the greatest thing since ice pops when we did this at the beginning of the year and the novelty hasn't worn off, so we keep doing it. I set them up with some cardboard to make a cone and we stuck the cone over a couple of old vitamin tablet bottles, stuck it down with play dough and then for a laugh they endangered all their toy animals at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro.

The next day they took turns with their friends putting a table spoon of baking soda and a little water and food colouring into the bottle, then pouring on a quarter of a cup of vinegar and watching the eruptions.

Another one that the kids thought was great fun was the home made geyser. We used a laundry detergent bottle and some tubing and a bike pump, so that when you filled the bottle up about half way and then pumped air in with the bike pump, the pressure built up and the only way for the pressure to be released was by a cork blowing out and the water being pushed out in a geyser like spurt. I don't have any "operational photos" for this one though :( Just a diagram I drew and what the hodge podge looked like.
Of course, if you're feeling daring (Jeni was) and everyone stands back, you can always pop some Mentos in a bottle of Diet Coke (and then run)...


  1. I've said it before - but *wow* - you're outta control! In a good way that is ;)

    Can you tell us where you found the print outs for the plates? It must have taken ages to print, paste & cut them out, non?

  2. Thanks Amber :)

    The plates image was from Wikipedia and is a scaleable vector graphic (svg file), so you can print it out huge with no pixelation. The version I'm linking to here has even got arrows on it showing which direction each plate is shifting.

    It's granted as public domain, so is free to use and they have it available in five other languages from the same page.

  3. Oh, and it took about two hours the night before the playdate to put it together. Just white glue, some packing tape for the tile joins. I edged the outside of the jigsaw with black electrical tape to make a wide black border for the edge, so the kids could fine "edge pieces" more easily. Then an exacto knife to cut out the plates when it was dry. I also printed out a few small versions of the jigsaw, for the kids to refer to when putting it together.

  4. Thanks again :) We're not doing Earthquakes / Volcanos yet but will totally try these when we do!

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  6. Hi!
    It's wonderful what you do with kids! Do you remember Kireei? We ask you permission a few days ago...
    Here it is the post:
    You can use translation by google translator (up, right) but it is not very accurate...
    Thank you very much!

  7. Thanks for sharing all these great earth science ideas!! I will try some of these in my class next fall.

  8. Where did you get your little "art caddy" that is holding the markers from?? I so need one!!

  9. Hi the Mama. That little art caddy doodad we picked up from a thrift store. I'm not even sure what it was supposed to be used for in it's previous life. It does a great job for carrying a range of pens and pencils and crayons for the kids to choose from though. I have another smaller one that holds glue and scissors. The nice big handles make it easy for the kids to go and get what they want and put it on the table.

  10. Your house looks like it has a crazy fun time! I'm scared to get messy with my kids!☺
    I linked to your fun recycled leg warmers and hat idea for a post I did on Baby Craft Projects! It's so cute and perfect for dollies and tiny babies!


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