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The weather in Texas has been fairly nice lately, so the other day I decided to round up my boys, and go for a walk (Which really means Mommy walks while everyone else rides something). I strapped the baby into his carrier, buckled the toddler into his car, and big boy hopped onto his bike. I decided to take the boys to an undeveloped area behind our neighborhood. As we explored the area (trying to not run into any snakes), my oldest found several sticks he wanted to take home with us. And of course the toddler found a pile of sticks he wanted to take home too, since big brother had some. My first response was to tell them to leave all the sticks because mommy didn’t want to end up carrying them all home. But when I saw one of the sticks was shaped like a “Y” I got an idea. I told then they could take any stick that was shaped like a Y. Together the boys found 3, all of which I ended up carrying about 5 minutes into our walk home.
The next day I couldn’t wait til my son got home from school. I had plans! Great plans that would teach him the relationship between spring constants and distance traveled. I had chosen the best stick from the previous day’s walk, and 3 different elastics we had around the house.
Here was the plan:
- Add angry eyebrows to three Peeps.
- Have my son measure the maximum amount each rubber band would stretch, using this ruler.
- Stretch the rubber band that had stretched the shortest distance onto one of the “Y” shaped sticks from our walk.
- Launch a Peep, and mark where it landed.
- Repeat step 2 with the next rubber band, and a second Peep.
- Repeat step 2 with the rubber band that stretched the longest, and the last Peep.
What I expected to happen:
I expected the rubber band that was the hardest to stretch (ie stretched the shortest distance) would throw the Peeps the shortest distance, and the rubber band that was the easiest to stretch (stretched the longest distance) would project the Peeps the longest distance.
Back to what Actually Happened
When my son got home, I told him I had set up a fun experiment in the back, and he ran to the backyard. He saw the set up and knew exactly what to do. After he drew angry eyebrows on all the Peeps, he tried to launch a peep. I watched as he seemed to be having some difficulty stopping the Peep from cutting into two while he pulled the elastic band back. I told him I had a solution. We needed a launching pad!
So I ran into the house and found a small cup with two holes in it. I thought if I strung the elastic band through the cup, then launched the Peep from the cup, we would be good to go. I told him I would give it a try. So I set it all up, pulled the cup back, and…….the cup rammed into the two sides of the “Y”, and the Peep fell to the ground. Fail.
I told my son to give me one of the other sticks; One where the “Y” had a bigger gap between the two sides. I weaved the elastic band through the holes in the cup, and slid the elastic band down the branch. I placed a Peep in the cup, pulled the cup back and….the elastic broke. Fail.
No problem. I asked my son to get me the next rubber band. I weaved it through the cup, and slid it down the stick. I pulled the cup back with the angry Peep inside, let go, and….the elastic broke. Fail.
Ok, so we had one more elastic to go. I was determined to get this set up to work. We could find other rubber bands. I weaved our last rubber band through the cup, and slid it onto the stick. This time I asked my son to pull back the cup and let go. So he did, and….the stick broke. Fail.
My son let out a big laugh, and I couldn’t help but laugh as well. He has a SUPER contagious laugh. We (I) had tried to get this “fun” experiment to work, but I had failed over and over again (4 times to be exact). But you know, it didn’t really matter to me. It made me realized that my son had just seen me fail, and the world did not come to an end. My son had laughed, and so had I. And although I wasn’t able to teach him about the correlation between the “stiffness” of a rubber band and the distance a Peep is projected, I WAS able to show him that even his “Engineer” mom fails. But that is ok. We can learn from it, modify our experiment, and try it again. After all, Thomas Edison failed 1000 times before he finally perfected the light bulb.
Maybe some day we’ll return to this experiment, and find a way to make it work. But for now I’m just going to enjoy the fact that my son saw his mom fail, and he learned more in my failure than he would have if I had been able to get the experiment to work. The most important part of the scientific method is failing. Failure is a way to learn. They teach us where to improve a design (or in this case an experiment).
I would challenge you to come up with an experiment to do with your kids. Maybe its changing the ingredients in a cake recipe, or seeing who can race on their bikes the fastest and why. The experiment may work great, or it may not. But I can guarantee you will make great memories with your kids.
Here are some experiments to do with your kids that actually work!
Teach your child Newton’s First Law of Motion
Tinker Crate: Exploring Polymers
Circular Motion with Star Wars
Teach your kid to be a Materials Engineer
Teach your kid to be a Project Engineer
Be a Process Engineer: Play “How’s it Made?”
Learn about Forces at the Splash Park!
Exploring Energy: How Are Height and Distance Related?