Monday, November 30th, 2009
Review: Magic School Bus Science Kits
Science Night was inaugurated in our home Thanksgiving evening with the Magic School Bus Diving into Slime science kit from The Young Scientists Club. We’ve been elongating my 5-year-old daughter’s bedtime routine and dedicating different nights of the week to special activities — science is our newest night. More on that in a future post.
The Magic School Bus science kits are a perfect introduction to playing with science in the home, especially for a neophyte father like myself who has the interest, but no background in science. They are intended for ages 5-and-up.
The Young Scientists Club sent me a kit to review which my daughter and I fully explored over two nights last week.
The kit contains a test tube rack, three plastic test tubes, a 25ml measuring cup, funnel, pipette, measuring spoon, Popsicle stick, glue, Insta-Snow packet, Borax packet, miniature “jiggly marbles,” “gel crystals,” a sticker sheet and experiment manual.
You supply from your home: a spoon, drinking glass, paper towels, tap water, food coloring (not necessary, but neat), low fat or skim milk, white vinegar, a bowl, corn starch, a piece of scratch paper, a plastic sandwich bag, a pencil and table salt.
Activities are outlined, one per page, featuring different characters from the Magic School Bus book and TV series. Familiarity with Magic School Bus is not necessary, but it helped amp up my daughter’s excitement.
Each page briefly asks a question, lists the materials needed, describes what to do, and provides a few simple illustrations that quickly convey the major steps in the activity. Spaces are left for you or your child to write in your hypothesis (your answer to the printed question, such as “Can you end up with something solid by mixing two liquids together?”), your results and your conclusion.
This slime, gel and goop kit is really about polymers, things made up of many segments.
The activities are separated into 12 steps, but roughly involve: extracting a milk protein to use it like glue, making blue goo and shaping it into a temporary bouncing ball, creating Oobleck, experiencing Insta-Snow, and watching water-absorbing objects grow.
Wait. Oo-what? Oobleck — cornstarch and water. Oobleck is just more fun than saying “a non-Newtonian fluid.”
Here’s one of the videos I showed my daughter before we made the stuff. Oobleck drips through your fingers like a liquid, but you can punch a bowl full with not a drop of splatter.
Most activities can be completed within 10 minutes, or longer depending on how much you discuss what’s happening. Several ask you to check back one to several hours later to see how your experiment has changed. There are 12 activities total, although several are related continuations of a previous experiment.
The packet of Insta-Snow contains more material than is used in the kit’s experiments, meaning you have leftover snow to use later. The same goes for the kit’s water-absorbing ‘crystals’ and marbles — you get a lot more than you use… and I think the ones we did use can be reused once they dry out.
My one criticism is that the science behind each experiment is not described in detail. For example, what happened when I extracted casein milk protein, and why does it become sticky and glue-like when drying? Admittedly, my 5-year-old daughter would be hard pressed to understand or retain such an explanation.
I take the broader view that these kits are for an introductory audience. A hardcore science family would own classroom-quality supplies, have a cache of common substances used in science experiments and be led by science experiment books that don’t come with anything more than the ink on their pages.
And that’s exactly where I want to be in a couple years, learning alongside my kids as we research and conduct home experiments on our own.
But where do I start? Here, with the Magic School Bus. My daughter is learning to follow step-by-step instructions and handle equipment (I pour the liquids into the measuring cup for now, but she dumps the cup into the funnel above the test tubes). At each step, I remind myself that if she can do it, I shouldn’t do it for her.
And so, when I eventually become comfortable venturing out of the realm of kits and into book-led experiments, we will have some basic entry-level supplies already at our disposal, such as the test tubes, pipette, measuring cup and so on.
It’s delightful to see her get excited by an unassuming box containing a few unassuming supplies. My daughter is learning that many wonders exist in the world waiting to be discovered and understood.