Bite-sized Science projects

 

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. -Dorothy Parker

CÚRAM has created this page as a one-stop shop for hands-on science activities that families can experiment with at home. We'll be adding fresh content each week, and every activity will be quick, easy to carry out and suitable for primary aged children. Enjoy!

Activity 1

DIY Plastic with just two ingredients!

 

Materials needed;

•     Measuring cup
•     Milk
•     Stove-top or microwave
•     Mug or other heat-resistant cup
•     Measuring spoons
•     White vinegar
•     Paper towels
•     Spoon
•     Cookie-cutters, glitter, food coloring, markers (all optional)

Want to delve a little deeper? Read about the science behind this project in Scientifc American

 
  •  Add four teaspoons (tsp.) of white vinegar to a mug or other heat-resistant cup.

  • Add the cup of hot milk to the mug. You should see the milk form white clumps that are called curds. Why do you think the milk forms curds when it is added to the vinegar? What do you think they are made of?

  • Mix the mug slowly with a spoon for a few seconds. What happens when the milk and vinegar are mixed together? Why do you think this is?

  • Stack four layers of paper towels on a hard surface that will not be damaged if it gets damp.

  • Once the milk and vinegar mixture has cooled a bit, use a spoon to scoop out the curds. You can do this by tilting the spoon against the inside of the mug to let excess liquid drain out while retaining the curds in the spoon. Collect as many curds as you can in this way and put them on top of the paper towel stack.

  • Fold the edges of the paper towel stack over the curds and press down on them to absorb excess liquid. Use extra paper towels if needed to soak up the remaining moisture.

  • Knead all of the curds together into a ball, as if it were dough. What you have in your hands is casein plastic. How do the kneaded curds feel and look different from the original ones?

  • If you want to use the casein plastic to make something, you can color, shape or mold it now (within an hour of making the plastic dough) and leave it to dry on paper towels for at least 48 hours. Once it has dried, the casein plastic will be hard. 

Activity 2

Apples & Handwashing!

Materials needed;

•     Apple
•     Knife or apple slicer
•     Two class jars

Want to delve a little deeper? Read about the science behind this project in Smithsoniann Magazine

  • Prep your glass jars. Clean and dry the jars, then fix a label on the front of each jar, one labelled 'Clean' and the other labelled 'Dirty'.

  • Cut an apple into slices.

  • Select one apple slice and pass it around from person to person, being sure to have everyone involved handle the apple before placing it in the jar and fixing the lid on tight.

  • Have everyone in the house wash their hands with soap and water.

  • Select another apple slice, pass it from person to person and then place in the jar labelled 'Clean' and screw on the lid.

  • Place the two jars on a shelf and observe the difference over the course of several days.

Activity 3   

Non-Newtonian Fluid

Materials needed;

•     1 lb. Cornflour
•     Water
•     large bowl/ flat dish

Want to delve a little deeper? Read about the science behind this project in Wired

NOTE: This is a messy one! If you can do this activity outside, so much the better. Prepare for mess- but it's a sure fire hit with kids of all ages. Anyone working in the bowl needs to wash hands first. That keeps the goo much cleaner and more pleasant to study.

  • Pour 1lb. of cornstarch into the large bowl or containrer and add one cup (237ml) of water. It’ll be tough to stir with a spoon. It’s just easier – and way more fun – to mix the cornstarch and water with clean, bare hands.

  • Continue adding water (and/or cornstarch if needed) in small amounts until you get a mixture that has a consistency similar to honey. It may take a little work to get it just right so try to have extra cornflour to hand in case it gets too runny. Now, let the fun begin!

  • Gather a handful of the gloop and lift it from the bowl. Roll the gloop between your hands and make a snowball. Try handing the snowball to someone and watch what happens!

  • Pour the mixture onto a tray, cookie sheet, or baking pan. Notice its unusual consistency as you pour it. Stir it on the tray with your fingers, first very slowly and then, as fast as you can. You may be surprised at what happens. Skim your fingers across the top of the gloop. What do you notice?

  • Hold your hand flat over the pan palm-down and smack the liquid gloop as hard as you can. You might be expecting a splash... but prepare to be surprised!

  • As you play with the gloop, think about why the “liquid” behaves as it does. What causes it to feel like something solid when it’s squeezed, yet flow like melted ice cream when the pressure is released? When you’re finished with the activity, pour the glop into a large zipper-lock plastic bag to store it for later use. (Mixing and “researching” it with clean hands helps it store longer- see Activity 2 if you're wondering why that is!

Activity 4      

Colour Chromotography

Materials needed;

•     scissors
•    absorbant white paper- a coffee filter works best but kitchen paper would do!
•     black marker (not permanent)
•     water
•     coffee cup or mug

Want to delve a little deeper? Read about the science behind this project in Scientific American

  • Cut a circle out of the coffee filter. (It doesn't have to be a perfect circle, just a round shape that's about as big as your spread-out hand.)

  • With the black marker, draw a line across the circle, about 1 inch up from the bottom.

  • Put some water in the cup-enough to cover the bottom. Curl the paper circle so it fits inside the cup. Make sure the bottom of the circle is in the water.

  • Watch as the water flows up the paper. When it touches the black line, you'll start to see some different colors.

  • Leave the paper in the water until the colors go all the way to the top edge. How many colors can you see?

  • If you have another black marker, draw a line on a clean, dry coffee filter circle. Put the circle in some fresh water. Does this marker make different colors than the first one?

Activity 5

The Naked Egg

Materials needed;

•     one raw egg
•     white vinegar
•     large glass or container (not metal!)

Want to delve a little deeper? Read about the science behind this project from The Exploratorium

  • Start by submerging one raw egg in a container full of vinegar. You just need enough vinegar to cover the egg entirely, so choose your container wisely! You should see mini bubbles forming around the shell. This is a chemical reaction taking place. You might want to take pictures at various points of the process to compare how the egg changes.

  • Leave the egg in the container of vinegar for 24 hours. A white film will develop on the top of the vinegar as the shell breaks down- don't worry, this is normal.

  • On the second day, throw away the vinegar in the cup and replace with fresh vinegar. We’d recommend using your hand or a strainer to “catch” the egg, and not a spoon as spoons can break the egg. Put the cup and egg aside for another full day and don’t disturb the egg. Take another picture to compare.

  • On the third day, pour off the vinegar and carefully rinse the egg under water. Be gentle with the egg. The shell should be completely gone and you should see the membrane that surrounds the white and yolk.

  • Examine the way it moves. Shine a flashlight through the egg and see what happens. What size is the egg now? How does it look different from the beginning?

    * Remember to wash your hands after handling the naked egg at any point in this experiment. Eggs can contain salmonella, so scrub away. Do not eat this egg. This is not a safe way to prepare an egg for consumption.

Activity 6   

Make a Bubblarium

Materials needed;

•     small clear plastic lid (from a yogurt container, for example)
•     clear plastic tape
•     flashlight     
•     spoon
•    straw   
•     Store-bought bubble juice- or homemade if you don't have any (see recipe at the top of the instructions)

 

Want to delve a little deeper? Read about the science behind this project from The Exploratorium

Bubble Juice-1 gallon water & 2/3 cup dishwashing soap
Mix the ingredients together in a big bucket or dishpan. If you make your bubble juice the day before you want to use it, you'll get bigger, stronger bubbles, but it's pretty good right away, too

  • Tape the plastic lid over the end of the flashlight the light shines from

  • Turn the flashlight on and hold it so the light shines straight up.

  • Dip your finger in the bubble juice and wet the lid. Put a spoonful of bubble juice on the lid. With a straw, blow one big bubble to make a bubble dome that covers the whole lid. This takes a bit of practice! It might be handy to practice blowing bubbles with a straw on the surface of a table first- just wet a small section of the table surface to work on- and remember to blow out, not in!

  • Turn off the lights and hold the flashlight so that the bottom of the bubble dome is just above your eyebrows.

  • Watch the swirling colors. If you put the wet straw into the bubble dome and blow very gently, you can move the colors around.

  • Watch the colors. How many do you see? If you watch a bubble for a few minutes, do the colors change? What colors do you see right before the bubble pops? Do you ever see black and white polka dots?

Fun Fact - Right before it pops, the skin of a soap bubble is only one-millionth of an inch thick!

 
   
 

Activity 7

Bird in a Cage- an Optical Illusion

Materials needed;

•     4 sheets of white card or heavy paper
•     red, green and blue paper, or colouring markers in these 2 colours
•     glue stick     
•     black marker
•    scissors   

Want to delve a little deeper? Read about the science behind this project from The Exploratorium

 
  • Cut the same simple shape, such as a bird or a fish, from each of the three colored papers. If you don't have coloured paper, cut out three shapes and colour one red, one green and one blue.

  • Glue each shape to its own white rectangle of heavy paper.

  • Draw an eye on each bird or fish with the marking pen.

  • On the fourth white sheet of paper, if you chose a bird as the shape, draw the outline of a birdcage; if you chose a fish, draw a fishbowl.

      Here's an example of a bird and cage to help you with your drawings!

  • Place the boards in a well-lit area. Bright lighting is a significant factor in making this activity work well.

    Time for Observation!

    • Assuming you cut out birds, stare at the eye of the red bird for 15 to 20 seconds and then quickly stare at the white board with the birdcage. You should see a bluish-green (cyan) bird in the cage.

    • Now repeat the process, staring at the green bird. You should see a reddish-blue (magenta) bird in the cage. Finally, stare at the blue bird. You should see a yellow bird in the cage.

    • If you used a fish shape, try the same procedure with the fish and the fishbowl.

      The ghostly images that you see here are called afterimages. An afterimage is an image that stays with you even after you have stopped looking at the object.

Activity 8

Melting Ice Science Experiment   

Materials needed;

•    water
•     salt
•     food colouring/paint       

Want to delve a little deeper? Read about the science behind this project from Thought Co.

 
  • Make ice. You can use ice cubes for this project, but it's nice to have larger pieces of ice for your experiment. Freeze water in shallow plastic containers such as disposable storage containers (an old icecream container would be ideal). Only fill the containers 2/3 way so that the ice isn't too thick. The salt can melt holes all the way through the ice, making interesting ice tunnels.

  • Keep the ice in the freezer until you are ready to experiment, then remove the blocks of ice and place them on a cookie sheet or in a shallow pan. If the ice doesn't want to come out, it's easy to remove ice from containers by running warm water around the bottom of the dish. Place the pieces of ice in a large pan or a cookie sheet. The ice will melt, so this keeps the project contained. This activity is perfect for outside on a sunny day!

  • Sprinkle salt onto the ice or make little salt piles on top of the pieces. Experiment. See what different types of salt do to the ice- basic cooking salt, rock salt, even Epson salts. Just don't use Mom or Dad's Maldron salt!!

  • As the salt begins to change the surface of the ice block, and tunnels begin to form through the ice, you can begin to dot some food coloring on the surafce. The coloring doesn't color the frozen ice, but it follows the melting pattern. You'll be able to see channels, holes, and tunnels in the ice, and your sculpture will become a work of art.

  • Keep exploring the ice for as long as it's there, adding more salt and coloring, until it melts away. It will be very easy to make a new block and start all over again another day!

Activity 9   

The Science of Sound Waves

Materials needed;

•    a ruler, preferrably wooden or heavy plastic
•     two spoons of different sizes (one teaspoon, one dessert spoon)
•     4 feet of string or yarn

Want to delve a little deeper? Read about the science behind this project from

 
  • Start by creating a loop in the middle of the yarn/string and insert the handle of the spoon. Pull tightly so that the spoon hangs in the center of the yarn/string and you have two long pieces of approximately equal length. 

  • Take each end of the string and wrap them around your pointer finger on each hand. 

  • Push the string against each ear (not into the ear but just outside) You'll want the spoon to hang just below the waist once both ends of the yarn are placed near the ears.

  • Now the fun part- have someone GENTLY hit the ruler against the round part of the spoon -- and watch the look on your child's face (priceless!)

           Note: Kids often think that the HARDER they hit the spoon, the louder the sound -- be sure to test out this theory too!

  • If you are using a small spoon, you should hear a distinct bell sound -- with a larger spoon, it will sound more like a gong.

Activity 10   

Swimming Spaghetti

Materials needed;

•    water
•    clear drinking glass
•    vinegar
•    blue food colouring (optional)
•    pasta (spaghetti works best!)
•    baking soda (bread soda- same thing!)

Want to delve a little deeper? Read about the science behind this project from Steve Spangler

  • Measure 2 cups of water and pour the water into a clear drinking glass.

  • Measure 2 cups of vinegar and add it into the clear drinking glass with the water.

  • Add 3-6 drops of food coloring to the water and vinegar mixture. (Don't worry if you don't have any, it's not necessary!)

  • Add some pasta noodles to the glass. How much pasta? It’s up to you!

  • Drop 1 tablespoon of baking soda (the mystery powder) into the glass. Be ready… adding the baking soda into the mixture might get a little messy!

  • Watch closely and check out all of those dancing noodles!

  • Are your noodles done dancing? Add more baking soda to the glass and start the dance party all over again.

Activity 11

Make a Pinhole Camera

Materials needed;

•    sharp pencil
•    empty shoe box with lid
•    sharp knife (a grown-up is needed for this part!)
•    scissors
•    ruler
•    wax paper
•    taper
•    blanket

Want to delve a little deeper? Read about the science behind this project from National Geographic Kids

 
  • Use the point of a sharp pencil to punch a hole in one of the shorter ends of the shoe box.

  • Ask an adult to use an X-Acto knife to cut a square in the opposite end of the box, directly across from the hole. The square should measure 2 inches on each side.

  • Use scissors to cut a square of wax paper that measures 3 inches (7.62 centimeters) on each side.

  • Place the wax paper directly over the square you cut in the box. Tape the edges of the wax paper to the box.

  • Take the camera box to a dimly lit room and turn on a lamp. Stand about 5 feet from the lamp.

  • Cover your head and pinhole camera with a blanket. Be sure that the end with the wax paper is facing you and the end with the pinhole is facing the lamp.

  • Hold your pinhole camera at arms length from your face and aim it at the lamp. Keep it steady until you see an upside-down image of the lamp.

Activity 12   

Make your own Invisible Ink!

Materials needed;

•    half a lemon
•    water
•    spoon
•    bowl
•    cotton bud
•    white paper
•    lamp or other light bulb

Want to delve a little deeper? Read about the science behind this project from Science Direct

 
  • Squeeze some lemon juice into the bowl and add a few drops of water.

  • Mix the water and lemon juice with the spoon.

  • Dip the cotton bud into the mixture and write a message onto the white paper.

  • Wait for the juice to dry so it becomes completely invisible.

  • When you are ready to read your secret message or show it to someone else, heat the paper by holding it close to a light bulb.

Activity 13   

Fireworks in a Bottle

Materials needed;

•    cooking oil
•    water
•    food colouring
•    fork
•    small jar bud
•    large, wide mouthed jar

Want to delve a little deeper? Read about the science behind this project from Exploratorium

  • Pour approximately a half-cup of cooking oil into the small jar.

  • Add about ten droplets of food coloring to the oil. Use multiple colors and be careful not to overdo it!

  • Whisk the food coloring and oil mixture with a fork until the droplets are very small.

  • Fill the large jar partway with water.

  • Pour the oil mixture into the water.

  • Be patient and watch what unfolds.

Activity 14      

DIY Floating ball toy

Materials needed;

•    bendy straw
•    paper
•    scissors
•    pen or pencil
•   tape
•    ping pong ball, or a ball made out of foil

 

We're into the last few activties in this series, so aiming for high fun points with these last four- starting with a DIY toy.

  • Trace a circle onto a piece of paper

  • Cut out the circle and make a cut, stopping halfway, in the centre of the circle

  • Make a tee pee or funnel shape out of the paper by overlapping the ends slightly and securing with tape. Cut a small hole out of the bottom, or point, and insert the short end of the straw into the hole. Just the top oif the straw should be coming through the hole.

  • Place tape around the outside of the “funnel” securing it to the straw.

  • If you feel like air might get through anywhere but the straw (or you test your ball and it’s not working quite right) you can put some extra tape around the edge to seal it off a bit better.

  • Time to play! Make a ball by scrunching up some tinfoil and place it into the funnel. Now put the long end of the straw in your mouth and blow slowly and steadily. The ball should float as long as your airstream is consistent. See how high you can blow the ball into the air and how long you can keep it afloat!

Activity 15

Bee Hummer

Materials needed;

•    Popsicle stick or craft stick
•    Two cap erasers (erasers that slip onto the end of a pencil)
•    Index card
•    Scissors
•    Stapler strong enough to staple the index card to the craft stick
•    A wide rubber band (such as a 1/4-inch #64) long enough to stretch lengthwise around the craft stick

Want to delve a little deeper? Read about the science behind this project from Exploratorium

 
  • Put a cap eraser on each end of the craft stick.

  • Trim an index card so it fits in the space between the two erasers on the stick.

  • Staple the card to the craft stick. It should stick out about 2 inches (5 centimeters) from one side of the stick.

  • Cut enough string (about 2 feet [60 cm]) to safely swing the Bee Hummer. Then tie the string next to one of the erasers, making several knots so it’s secure.

  • Once the string is tied to your Bee Hummer, stretch the rubber band around the craft stick from one eraser to the other, and make sure it’s snugly in place.

Activity 16      

Straw Rockets

Materials needed;

•    paper or card
•    pencil
•    markers or colouring pencils
•    Scissors
•    tape
•    one wide straw and one thin straw

 

  •  trace the outline of a rocket onto the paper or card. Little ones might need a hand with this part. The rocket should be roughly the size of a child's hand.

  • add colour and design to your rocket- this is the fun part and kids can spend ages colouring, so let creativity flow. Add windows, draw yourself inside as an astronaut, add a flag, a model number, etc. Skies the limit.

  • cut your rocket out

  • cut a one inch length from the wide straw. Pinching the top closed, use a short length of tape to seal the end shut. Tape this 'jet pack' on to the back of your paper rocket so that the open end of the 'jet pack' points down and is just at the base of the rocket.

  • time to launch- place the thin straw into the jet pack and hold your rocket to the sky. Using the air in your lungs, and keeping hold of the thin straw, give a great big puff of breath into the straw. Presto- a rocket in flight! Repeat :)

 For more information about this project, please contact Lindsay Deely: lindsay.deely@nuigalway.ie‌

 

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