Archive for the ‘Science Projects’ Category


This year Cosette had a very interesting science project that ended up much differently than we had originally planned.  She wanted to do an investigation that tested the rotations per minute of a toy helicopter’s blades under a variety of conditions.  So, we got the helicopter, researched ways to measure rpm, and started trying to gather data.

We quickly discovered that all of this was easier said than done.  First of all, the helicopter was pretty hard to control.  In addition to that, measuring rpm on a moving object can be tricky.  We were almost ready to give up when I saw a friend of mine post some information about his drone.  He graciously offered to fly his drone if that would help with the project, so we tried it out, experimented with the right kind of tachometer to measure the blades’ rpm, and got the investigation re-worked.

We didn’t completely abandon the helicopter.  We thought of ways to adapt her original project that would be more practical in real-life and gathered data under a variety of conditions with that as well.

So, probably the most important lesson we learned from this project was to thoroughly test an idea before investing a lot of time into a project that may or may not work.

Once we were finally able to collect the data for Cosette’s project, her board and reports came together quite well.  I will include a video of her presentation and a slideshow about her project with this entry.

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As Brock was completing his last A Beka Academy Science Project, Luke was working on his first.  In 7th grade, the students plan a project, but do not actually complete the experiment or make a display.  Then in 8th grade, the students go through the entire process to put together a finished science project.

Luke’s project is kind of hard to describe, and it didn’t work like we had planned.  So, we had to make some modifications as we went along.  His investigation involved transferring static electricity to a Leyden jar with various conditions and measuring the resulting discharge spark.  The first jar that Luke built did not work.  That was our biggest obstacle.  It simply would not consistently discharge making the collection of data nearly impossible.  So after a few days of frustration, we hunted for ideas on how to improve the jar’s design to make it more reliable.  Ultimately, we completely scrapped the original design which required Luke to rethink his tests, hypotheses, etc.  This was a good lesson to go through, however, and Luke was very persistent in getting the project finished.  Now we know that it is a pretty good idea to test a procedure out early in the planning stages of the project just to make sure everything works right….sigh…..

Anyway, we eventually got the data we needed, and Luke got his display made.  Here is a slideshow of his project followed by a video of his oral presentation:

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The Prairie Family is nearing the end of this year’s Science Project Season–yea!  🙂  These projects are good for the kids to do, but they do require a lot of work (and patience).  Most years we will only have two projects, but we were lucky enough this year to have three….  Seniors in A Beka Academy are not required to do a science project, so this is Brock’s last one, and I am pretty sure that he is glad.

Brock’s project worked really well this year.  In fact, this one has gone the smoothest and had the most consistent results of any project that the Prairie Family has done so far.  This project involved measuring and comparing sound levels under a variety of conditions using different insulating materials.  The little sound meter that we used to measure the loudness worked really, really well!  It made gathering the data a simple process.  Brock and I both agree that designing more projects that use this tool would be a good idea for future studies.

Here is a slideshow about Brock’s project followed by a video of his oral presentation describing his experiment:

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Roller Coaster Collage

Cosette had an interesting investigation for her first “real” science project.  She decided to build a model of a roller coaster loop-de-loop and then test a couple of different variables (one at a time).  She first tested how high the initial hill must be to successfully complete the loop, and then she tested different starting points along a set slope.  We all learned some things through this process.  We were all quite surprised that the initial slope must be quite sharp to make the marble complete the loop.  Also, the results were much more consistent than we had expected.  We thought there would be “levels” of completion, but we quickly discovered that the marble either did or did not complete the loops with the different variables mostly 100% of the time.  That made for a not-very-exciting result graph!  😦

John thought of a related project that would extend this project with more interesting results.  He suggested making a U-shaped track with cm marks along the ends.  Using those markings would enable good data to be gathered, such as how high the marble went with different starting points.

Cosette enjoyed making her display.  She loves all things artsy-craftsy, so this was right up her alley.  She did a good job picking coordinating, but not matching, patterned paper that made her display reflect the amusement park theme that she was looking for.

She also did a nice job putting together her oral presentation–I am attaching a video to this entry.

Getting these projects finished is always a major milestone in our academic year.  I am hoping to get a jump-start on next year’s projects this summer.  We’ll see how that goes….

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Trebuchet  Collage

Another year with A Beka Academy means another year of science projects.  John didn’t have to do one for 12th grade, and Luke is in 7th grade, which is the year the students plan a project (for experience) but don’t actually carry it out.  So, that left Brock and Cosette with projects to complete.  Next year will be our first year having three full projects going on at the same time–that should be interesting….

Brock decided to build a trebuchet for this year’s project.  Of course, building such a contraption doesn’t make a science project–the model has to be functional and has to perform measurable tests under varying conditions.  So, Brock chose to carry out three sets of experiments varying (one at a time) the counter weight of the trebuchet, the weight of the projectiles, and the angle of the nail that releases the bag.

To vary the counter weight, Brock simply added or took away weights from Dan’s weight set.  Varying the weight of the projectiles was interesting since they all had to be identical outside of the weight.  Brock opened up identical tennis balls and added bb’s to the inside before sealing the holes.  Doing this gave him a regular ball, one moderately weighted, and one heavily weighted.  The release nail is a little hard to explain, but changing its angle would affect how the trebuchet released the balls.

Each of the sets of experiments had interesting results.  Some were what Brock expected while others were not.  I am adding two videos to this entry.  The first shows how the trebuchet worked, and the second is Brock’s presentation of his project explaining his results.


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John Clock Reaction Collage

John’s science project was….how should I describe it??  Complicated, but interesting!  John chose a chemistry project this year that involved the rate of reaction for the iodine clock reaction and the Briggs-Rauscher reaction.  Basically, he did these experiments varying amounts of chemicals, different temperatures, etc.  It was pretty time-consuming, but John was very diligent and kept plugging away at it until he was finished.  And he got some very good results, so that is always helpful!

So, what exactly are these reactions?  Well, they are pretty cool, I must admit.  The iodine clock reaction mixture goes from clear to purple.  We were testing how long it took for this process to occur under the various conditions.  Here is a video of a trial for that experiment (the color changes at 2:45):

The Briggs-Rauscher experiment was much more complicated to test.  This reaction changes back and forth between a yellowish and a purplish color.  We were counting how many times it oscillated under varying conditions in a three minute time period.  The problem with that is hard to explain, but sometimes it was hard to determine exactly when an oscillation occurred because it was gradual and in different phases in the cup.  Oh well, we did the best we could!  Here is the video of that reaction:

So our season of science projects has reached its conclusion–and I can’t say that I am sad!  LOL!  It’s a good thing that we have this stuff finished, though, because our next phase has already begun.  (More to come on that in the next few entries).  In the mean time, here is a video of John’s presentation and a slideshow of his work:

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Brock Tower Collage

We have survived yet another year of A Beka Academy science projects!  These projects take a lot of work, but the kids gain a lot from the whole process.

This year Brock decided to do a project that dealt with the stability of towers.  He was pretty funny about the whole thing.  When we were first beginning the projects and gathering materials he stated that John’s project needed hydrogen peroxide, iodine, a milliliter of this, a milliliter of that, etc. His materials?  “Legos, dirt, and a bouncy ball! I feel like I am in kindergarten!”

Basically, Brock was testing how much a tower of blocks would move when hit with a ball under various conditions.  The variables he tested were the height of the tower, the angle of the slope, and the types of soil surrounding the base of the tower.  He ran a multitude of trials, and then summarized his data to draw his conclusions.

Here is a video of Brock presenting his project:

This was a pretty good project, and Brock did get some interesting results.  That being said, it always a relief when we reach the end of the science project season!

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John’s 10th Grade Science project was rather complicated, but the results ended up being quite interesting!  For this investigation, John was testing how feeding worms a variety of different materials affected the nutritious qualities of the soil.

This project involved a long process of feeding worms in different buckets different foods:  crushed leaves, crushed egg shell, “worm chow” (a product used in raising composting worms), and a combination of the three foods.  John sent in initial samples of the soils to get a baseline measurement before beginning his procedure.  Then every day the worms were fed or watered,  and observations were made of each bucket.  After several weeks of this, we had the wonderful job of sifting through the dirt to sort out the worms to count and weigh, and then we took the various soils and sent them back into a soil lab to have the nutrients retested.

Of course, several obstacles appeared during the course of this project.  John started the experiment with the buckets in our basement, but that soon led to rather unpleasant issues.  First, mold grew in some of the buckets, which wasn’t very helpful for my allergies!  That was tolerable, however, compared to the little critters that started hatching from the buckets!  Yes, we quickly learned that God has nature pretty well balanced, and it is not easy to replicate His natural balances in a “controlled” setting!  LOL!  I had no idea how delicate the balance of food, water, and worms is to the presence of mold and grossness!  🙂  Anyway, we changed course half-way through the experiment and moved the buckets to the garage where the winter temperatures took care of the bug and mold issues but left the worms to do their thing.  So, we didn’t follow our planned procedures exactly, but practicality and health safety issues do come into play sometimes!

It was interesting when we took the soil out of the various buckets.  For each bucket with worms, there was a control bucket without worms.  The buckets without worms had very compact soil that kind of just fell out like sand castles. The buckets with worms, however, had much looser soil.  It was also notable that even though each bucket began with 150 worms, they all ended up around 40-50 worms each.  After discussing possible reasons, we wonder if maybe that has more to do with the size of the buckets rather than what we were feeding the worms.  I guess that would make another good investigation someday (if we ever decide to tackle worms again!)

So, the soil samples were sent to a soils lab for analysis, and there were lots of mixed results.  That’s another thing that’s complicated about doing experiments with living creatures:  it’s hard to really isolate what is going on without a multitude of trials because of the complexity involved in just being alive!  There was one very clear result in all of the buckets, though.  In every case, the presence of earthworms dramatically improved the nitrogen levels in the soil.

So, what did we really learn from this project?  Mostly that God really does have a mighty hand on His creation.  He knows exactly what is needed for life to exist and to flourish–that includes human, animal, and plant life.  Even simple little creatures that we rarely think about like earthworms play an important role in the whole of nature.  I would suspect that our world would be very different without these little critters–perhaps life might not even be possible without them.  We truly have an amazing Creator who deserves our heart-felt praise.

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I am happy to report that the Prairie Family survived another year of doing A Beka Academy science projects! These projects take a lot of time, but the kids learn a lot from going through all of the steps involved in completing these long-term investigations.

Brock decided to do his project about solar energy this year.  Before beginning his actual project, he wrote a background paper about solar energy and how solar panels work so he would better understand how to design an appropriate investigation.  Ultimately, he built two solar vehicles:  a little car and a suspended cable car.  He set up tracks for each of the vehicles and then timed how long it took each vehicle to complete the track at given times of day.  This also involved measuring and recording the changing angle of the sun as the day progressed.  He was recording the various data to find out how the angle of the sun affected the speed of the little cars.

No matter how well we plan these crazy projects, there are always unexpected obstacles that appear.  In Brock’s project we encountered several such obstacles.  The cable car traveled on a string, but he needed some kind of a track to control the direction of the car.  Unfortunately, it was just a little wider than a standard Matchbox car, so the tracks designed for those were too narrow for the solar car.  We all kept it on the back burner, and Dan was the one who found the right thing.  He saw some weather stripping made for garage doors that worked pretty well for a track when it was tacked flat onto some boards.   Problems like that can be thought over and fixed.  Problems like clouds blocking the available sunlight are not so easily solved.  We tried to pick a day with a good forecast, but, sure enough, there was heavy cloud cover in the morning.  We tried the vehicles according to plan, but there was not enough light to make those little things go even a little bit!  Brock was discouraged, but we told him that no movement was a result for that hour, so he just needed to record it as it happened.  Fortunately, the sun did come out, and we were able to get several good trials later in the day.  Believe it or not, when the sun was directly overhead, the little car went so fast that it was wanting to jump the track!  That made things interesting too……

Anyway, Brock worked with Dan on analyzing his results, and he had very good results that made effective graphs.  His hypothesis that the speed of the vehicles would increase as the light became more direct was definitely supported.  Then all he had left to do was make the display (which is no small task all of its own!) and prepare his oral presentation.  This year we used the foam display boards available at Walmart as the structure for our display.  I googled and searched to find out if these things can be spray painted without making the foam disintegrate, but never found a solid answer, so we just tried it to find out for ourselves.  The answer?  YES, these boards can be spray painted!  We used a light layer of spray primer before using the actual paint, and then sealed the paint with a clear acrylic spray.  Over all, it came out nice with much less hassle than trying to use paper like we had used in the past.

I am currently uploading a video of Brock’s presentation, and will post it when it is ready.  In the mean time, here is a slideshow of Brock’s Project, “Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt.”

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