“Science in the Kitchen” Cooks Up Hands-on Educational Fun for Families Over Holiday Break

Balloon Blast Off, Hot Air Aircraft and More Experiments to Boost Kids’ Interest in Science, from Connections Academy, Leading Virtual Public School

BALTIMORE, December 14, 2009—The upcoming holiday school break is great time for parents to keep learning alive at home. Fun, hands-on science experiments you can do right in the kitchen—with everyday household items—are a great way for parents to boost kids’ interest in science—something President Obama has set as a national priority with his new “Educate to Innovate” campaign.

The leading virtual public school Connections Academy has an extracurricular club called “Science in the Kitchen” that’s popular with its 20,000 students enrolled in its national network of 15 schools. At Connections Academy, students get their entire public school educations from home, so this club has some great ideas for fun science experiments you can do right at home in your kitchen. A garbage bag and a hair dryer can recreate a hot air balloon and demonstrate how temperature affects gas, balloons bring to life the concept of gas as a power source; and even the youngest child can feel matter change states with corn starch and tap water. The key to these experiments is FUN, so kids will be learning even while school’s out!

Here are three fun, easy experiments from Connections Academy’s “Science in the Kitchen” club for parents to conduct with their children at home over the school holiday break. They’re a good fit for elementary, middle schoolers and older kids, and of course parent supervision is required.

Experiment #1 Hot Air Aircraft
Children create a vehicle powered by heat – to learn about matter, and how temperature affects gas.

You will need the following materials:
coat hangers or straws
1 plastic dry cleaning or lawn garbage bag (this should be fairly big)
1 hairdryer
transparent tape
1 pen or pencil
1 piece of paper

1. Help your child connect some straws or coat hangers together to make an evenly sized figure in the shape of an x. The figure should be a little smaller than the opening of the bag your student is using.
2. The figure should be held together tightly in the middle with as little tape as possible.
3. Let your child open the bag and tape one corner tightly to the end of each arm on the figure. Your child should use as little tape as possible.
4. Your child should pick up the 'balloon' and hold the top of the bag so that the open end hangs freely, facing the ground.
5. Your child should use the low speed setting to make the hairdryer heat the air inside the bag. Hold it about 4–6 inches below the bag and point the dryer up. Note: Your child might need to use a higher heat setting on the dryer.
6. After about 30 seconds of filling the bag with hot air, turn the dryer off and let the bag float freely. Repeat Step 5 if needed.
7. Discuss what your child sees.

Air is a gas, and as the air inside the bag gets warmer than the air outside of the bag, it becomes excited enough that it begins to rise. It gets so excited that it brings your student's hot air balloon along with it!

The convection cycle is complete when your student's balloon loses the energy to keep rising and drifts to the ground. Thankfully, the air in the bag can always be recharged with the hair dryer, and your student can use her hot air balloon repeatedly!

Experiment #2 Balloon Blast Off!
If you’ve ever walked outside and seen fog or your hair has gotten frizzy because of humidity, you’ve experienced an interaction with a gas! Gas is the most excited form a substance can take—the molecules are moving rapidly, and are spread out farther than in a liquid or a solid. This experiment teaches children about how gas is quite different from other forms of matter – and how trapped gas can be used as a power source.

You’ll need the following materials:
10–20 feet of twine (or other thin string)
transparent tape
straight straws
1 pen or pencil
1 piece of paper

1. Thread the string through a straw. The straw must be able to move easily across the string.
2. Tie one end of the string to a doorknob or cabinet. Make sure you have a clear space between what you tie the string to and the other end.
3. Blow up one of the balloons and hold the end closed.
4. Study the balloon. Push lightly on the outside. Write down what you observe.
5. Hold the string taut and have your Learning Coach tape the balloon to the underside of the straw. Don’t let go of the balloon.
6. Pull the balloon along the string until the open end is close to the end of the string.
7. Let go of the balloon.
8. Write down what happens.

There were several forces at work when your balloon went zipping along the string. In much the same way a liquid expands when it’s no longer in a container, the gas flowed out of the high-pressure environment inside the balloon; it moved to where it had more room to expand. The force created by this movement pushed the balloon along the string.

Experiment #3 Goop Galore!
Students get hands-on with dry corn starch and mix up gooey balls -- teaches about isotropy, when pressure makes molecules line up and become firm.(NOTE: This experiment gets a little messy—make sure you’re in an appropriate place and wearing clothes that you won’t mind getting dirty.

You’ll need the following materials:
1 large mixing bowl
1 pen or pencil
1 piece of paper
1 cup of corn starch
one-quarter cup of water
1 stirring spoon

1. Place the corn starch in the bowl.
2. Feel the corn starch with your hands. Make sure to squeeze it a few times in your hand. Write down what happens.
3. Slowly stir and add water until the mixture is a little thicker than pancake batter.
4. Stick your hand in the mixture and feel it. Make sure to squeeze and hold it a few times in your hand. Write down what happens.
5. Take some of the mixture and roll it into a ball. Put the ball on a cleanable surface and watch it for a minute. Discuss what happens.

The mixture acted differently when you were putting pressure on it because of isotropy. Pressure makes the molecules in the mixture line up and become firm. When the pressure goes away, the molecules can relax. Sand is isotropic. The more pressure you put on it, the firmer it becomes.

While some substances are isotropic, others react in opposite ways. These substances are called thixotropic (pronounced tacks-trow-pick). Ketchup and quicksand are both thixotropic because they get thinner when pressure is applied to them.

About Connections Academy
Connections Academy is a leading national provider of high-quality, highly accountable virtual public schools in fourteen states operated in partnership with charter schools, school districts, and state departments of education. Connections Academy schools deliver top quality, personalized education for students that combines certified teachers, a proven curriculum, technology tools, and community experiences to create a supportive and successful environment for children who want an individualized approach to education. In Connections Academy's Personalized Performance Learning® approach, students use daily lesson plans and curriculum materials provided by Connections Academy. Teachers develop a learning plan for each student, utilizing a proprietary, web-based Learning Management System to deliver, track, and administer the learning. In 2009-10, Connections Academy will serve students in Arizona, California (Southern and Central), Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Connections Academy offers grades K through 12, though some schools do not offer all grades. Connections Academy also serves K-12 students in all states through its private virtual school, National Connections Academy. For more information, call 800-382-6010 or visit www.connectionsacademy.com.