Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Third Grade Science Fair

I can't seem to do anything low key.  Its always got to go well beyond expectations. Is there a disorder in the DSM that describes this behavior? 

This year I was so excited about doing our first science fair in March, I made my daughter choose her topic in January so I could get started thinking about it. She picked The nervous system because of this schoolhouse rock video. 

So I pulled together 5 age-appropriate Neuroscience experiments that an 8 year old could perform and understand from the internet. Thanks for the help University of Washington, what a wonderful website!  My sister-in-law also gave me some ideas because she did a model of the peripheral nervous system with string and cardboard when she was a kid using yarn as the peripheral nerves. I went over all of these ideas with my child and she had some ideas, such as "What if we could make the peripheral nervous system light up?"


I went through the toy-box to examine everything we have that lit up. I found some toys made with fiber optic lights. BINGO! but they were only a couple of inches and my daughter wanted it to be about 3 feet high so I searched the internet and found a website that sold fiber-optic side-glow cable by the foot.  The great thing about fiber fiber-optic side-glow cable is that you just shine a light on it and it glows.

PROBLEM: The bad thing is that for you to see the cable glow, it has to be about two times brighter than the room.

SOLUTION: I went to the UPS store and bought a box 3 feet high and spray painted the inside black. My daughter wanted to also spray it with black glitter spray for that extra pizzazz.

My daughter drew an outline of a kid body inside the black glitter box with white chalk, punched a hole in the top of the box where the brain would go and pushed in the fiber-optic side-glow cable and slid it into place.

PROBLEM: When we went to tape in the fiber-optic side-glow cable on the painted glitter box it would not stick. DUH. I have worked with enough glitter stuff enough to know that scotch tape will not stick to a glittered surface.

SOLUTION: I used wires to put everything in place. At this point she could not help and now it was more my project than it was hers. Who knew that was going to happen? Everyone probably.

It was very difficult to punch that wire though the box. I had to use a pin to start it then fish the wire through. It took forever and that pinchy wire hurt my hands.

PROBLEM:  We had to make a brain out of clay and some how attach it on top of the fiber-optic cable entering the box.

SOLUTION: I cut a spongy ball in half and molded the clay around it. Then rolled some clay into a long skinny worm and put that all around. I pushed that awful wire though the spongy half ball, I pushed the wire through the cardboard box and Viola! Brains! I put our lizard light on top of  the box where the the cable  was and it looked great. Of course I used energy efficient light bulbs because they are low heat and I didn't want to light the box on fire or melt the fiber-optic cable.

My daughter has these really great light up multi color blinking shoelaces. We decided to wrap them around the spine to make the central nervous system a little more special.

PROBLEM: My daughter didn't like the fact that our peripheral nerve model was white. She wanted colorful nerves.

SOLUTION: I put plastic Easter egg halfs (pink, yellow, orange, purple) on top of the fiber-optic cable and wow!!! It really gave it that extra kick.

This was probably enough for the science fair, but of course, I still wanted her to perform the 5 experiments on the kids to explain how the nervous system works. We studied the the different functions of the nervous system. I typed out the terms that were the most important and I had her define them in her own words, incomplete sentences and all.


#1 Visual Illusions.

This shows how you can trick your central nervous system.   Read the half covered words at the top of my poster. What do they say? Lift the paper and see what it really says. Our eyes see the half letters then sends a message is sent to our brains then the brain fills in the part you do not see.

#2 Two points of Discrimination Test

This shows how sensitive your nerves are on different parts of your body.  Take 2 toothpicks and put them close together on the tip of your finger, does it feel like there are 2 or one toothpicks? Move them farther apart, does it feel like two or one toothpicks? Repeat on your elbow.  Can you tell the difference between one or two toothpicks on your elbow? 

#3 Autonomic vs. Somatic Blink Experiment

This shows how you can control blinking (somatic) and how you blink automatically (autonomic).  Control the movement of your eyes by blinking.   Have a friend clap their hands in front of your face and you will automatically blink without even thinking about it.

#4: Digestion Response

This shows how the parasympathetic nervous system works. When you are at rest, your body digests your food. Smell the mystery box. Does that make your mouth water?  Saliva is part of digestion and the smell of oranges causes your parasympathetic system to respond by making more saliva. Smell the other mystery box, does this give you the same reaction?

#5: Flight or Fight Response and Heart Rate
(FOR 3rd graders and up) This shows how our sympathetic nervous system reacts.  Watch the movie; does your heart rate go up? If it does, I caused you to have a sympathetic response.

The number 5 experiment was a big hit with the classmates. I thought I was going to get in big trouble but most of the kids were familiar with this youtube video already.

Now if there was a prize for this Science Fair, we would have won. But it was only for participation. That doesn't matter, I enjoyed every second and I can't wait until next year's science fair.