Friday, April 18, 2014

Dad's Book of Awesome

I like to get my hands dirty with my kids, and as such, I'm always on the lookout for new things to do. The Internets offer a lot of options, but many of them are "crafting" or stuff you can color, cut, and paste, which isn't always what I'm looking for. Enter "Dad's Book of Awesome Science Experiments" by Mike Adamick. This book is so much more than the random Pinterest finds, and each science experiment included comes with perspective. It's not just a "how to," but a "how, when, and why to." 

Mike is funny and engaging. From taking corners a little too fast in your car, to blowing up a balloon with a banana to taking your pulse with a marshmallow, he presents chemistry, physics and other sciencey properties in a highly accessible way. This book is really about opening your children's eyes to the science all around them, and finding teaching moments in every day life. You can stumble through these things on your own, or you can get a little help from a guy who's been there before, and wrote the book on it.

That said, Mike sent me a copy of his book to review, and my kids were all too happy to help me take full advantage of it by taking a few pages out for a spin!

The first thing we set out to try was making our own rock candy, because what kid won't jump at the chance to get more candy? We opened up the book, gathered the ingredients and set to work getting things going. A little sugar, water, some pipe cleaners and a weeks worth of patience was sure to guarantee us some delicious candy that the kids could enjoy.

Unfortunately, something went wrong and we grew no candy at all.

While a setback to inducing sugar comas, this turn of events also allowed me to explain a major principle of science; that it is a process. In other words, science is observing, predicting, testing, and making sense of those observations. Science is problem solving, organizing, recognizing cause and effect. And that is exactly what we got the opportunity to do.

After making our sugar solution and setting it aside to await our delicious rock candy, we predicted that in a week we would have sugar crystals hanging to our pipe cleaners. We spent the next several days observing our setup, and when things didn't work out, we tried to make sense of what we needed to change to achieve our desired result.

It turns out, that we didn't use the right ratio of sugar to water, and so we're trying again. This time, I have wooden skewers instead of pipe cleaners and we'll use a 2-1 sugar to water ratio instead of 1-1 in an attempt to create a more saturated solution for the candy to build from. However, since we had to run the experiment a second time, the results are not yet in. I'll be sure to post an update once we have candy to eat.

In the meantime, I thought for sure the kids would want the Mentos and Diet Cola rocket, but instead they begged to make a Baking Soda Volcano. How could I say "no"? (Mentos eventually would make an appearance, as they could not put the book down.)

I remember building a baking soda volcano for my fifth grade science fair experiment. My teacher was leery to allow it and ultimately told me to be careful with it, as baking soda and vinegar can be not only explosive, but quite a pain to clean up after. With a warning like that though, how could I resist making it my own! Long story short, baking soda mixed with vinegar handled by a 10 year-old can, in fact be a pain to clean up after, and our classroom smelled like vinegar for several weeks after the science fair was over.

Politely posing for a photo when all they want is to get started!

Of course, we started by gathering ingredients inside. Vinegar, baking soda, red food coloring, a vase and some string (not pictured: toilet paper to wrap the soda in). Also, there is coffee on the table. That is just for me, because who would do science with kids without being fully caffeinated?

Building a volcano

After we gathered all of our ingredients, we stepped outside, grabbed a shovel, and began to form a dirt mound around our volcano vase. As I mentioned earlier, baking soda and vinegar can get messy if you're not careful, so we chose to keep the mess outside for ease of cleanup. As for burying a vase in dirt, I'm sure the person in your house who receives flowers would miss it if you broke it, so do be careful.

Once we had a realistic looking volcanic mound, we couldn't just have it go off without considering the ecosystem around it, so the kids had to dig out their favorite toy horses and set them up as though they were fleeing from the erupting mess of magma. Seriously, no detail was overlooked!

So fun, we even had friends join in!

Now that everything was set, it was time to get serious. A funnel helped get all of the vinegar into the vase without sloshing any down the side of our mountain prematurely. We then referred back to Dad's Book of Awesome Science Experiments for the details on how to add our catalyst. Mike suggested wrapping the baking soda in toilet paper and tying a string around it to lower it into the vinegar. Unfortunately, we found that the neck of our vase was too narrow to make this a good option, and we wrapped a tighter roll of soda and simply dropped it in. Almost instantly we started to see results.

It's erupting!

Soon the chemical reaction had run its course and the eruption was over. This was not, however the end. I splashed some more vinegar in, rolled another baking soda wrap and handed it to the second kid to drop in.

Another explosion.

We did it a third time, this time skipping the TP, as we were noticing that it clogged up the neck of the vase a little. I took the baking soda box straight to the mouth of the volcano and carefully poured it in. After five or six "eruptions" we had to call it a day, but it was clear that the kids loved getting their hands on some real science, and that their horses needed to run for their lives!

Mt. St. Vinegar, blowing it's top.

So, thank you Mike for the chance to review this book, my kids have certainly caught the science bug! But as they are currently begging me to not only conduct another experiment from this book, but to make bows and arrows from that other book you wrote, it's time for me to sign off for now!



  1. I, too, was one of the lucky ones to get an early release. You really nailed the essence of Mike's lessons here. Failure isn't just a possibility, it's a part of the process. An invaluable lesson in this age of trophies for participation. Take your lumps, kiddies. Learn "how, when and why" you got that outcome and be creative and perseverant when you tackle it next time. Life is a grand experiment, no? (But seriously, those kids better get their frickin' rock candy.) Keep us posted!

    1. Their rock candy will come, I don't think they'll let me forget about it!

  2. Oh my gosh -- this is awesome! I love how much tinkering they got to do. And so sorry about the rock candy!

    1. They've had so much fun with this book, the rock candy setback was pretty easy to take. We still have several projects they are wanting to do, I have a feeling they will be well occupied this summer

  3. too cool! you really put the fun in being a dad!

    1. Mike's book really made it easy to get them involved - I let them pick the project and supervised, no easier way to look good!