Final Preparations

There’s a lot that’s happening behind the scenes as we get ready for the opening of Science in the Parks’ 2017 tour. On Monday we get to set out into the community, starting with Lester Park and continuing per our summer schedule (posted here). Basically, we just follow Arts in the Parks around Ogden, so you could plan a solid two weeks in one park and always have new things to experience.

Each year we learn a few new things. Recently, the team has been trying to perfect a new parachute mechanism for our water rockets, so we can watch well engineered, gentle landings after each dramatic launch. They’ve been trying out new ways of making musical instruments and other sound devices. They’ve got some new filters that kids can hold up and see how light of different colors will mix. And, a recent resupply mission had us loading 500 pounds of sand, gravel, and (of course) corn starch — all things that kids can get their hands in to see how materials pack, erode, and flow.

But maybe my favorite innovation was just realized today: we have decals on our 11-year-old trailer, so you can recognize us when we arrive or even when we’re crossing town. You may even be able to spot the decals on our rear gate and just follow us to the park.

trailerdecals.JPG

As our season rolls along, we’ll create more frequent posts and updates, including some announcements, activities in the parks, and hopefully some “how-to” posts to describe some of what we’re doing. Stay tuned!

See you soon, making more science in a park near you!

2017 Summer Tour!

Have you been waiting? Are you eager for summer 2017? Need some more play and science in your life? We’re right there with you, so:

We’re delighted to announce our Summer Tour for 2017!

  • June 5-9, 2017 at Lester Park (663 24th Street, Ogden)
  • June 12-16, 2017 at Lorin Farr Park (769 Canyon Road, Ogden)
  • June 19-23, 2017 at 4th Street Park  (275 4th Street, Ogden)
  • June 26-30, 2017 at West Ogden Park (751 West 24th Street, Ogden)
  • July 5-7, 2017 at Monroe Park  (850 30th Street, Ogden)
    *Note: No lunch or science hosted on July 3-4.
  • July 10-14, 2017 at Mt. Ogden Park (3144 Taylor Avenue, Ogden)

All activities are free to all comers, hosted from approximately 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM, coinciding with Ogden School District’s free lunch program hosted at each of these parks. Each day of the week will celebrate a different theme and a different set of activities, and these will be cycled through at each park. We’ve teamed up with Arts in the Park again so that we follow them through town.

We’ll post more information more regularly as we get closer. Right now we’re assembling materials, putting together a team, detailing our staff schedules, and starting to recruit our volunteers. (Please contact Adam Johnston if you’re interested in volunteering possibilities.)

launch

2017 Science in the Parks is “Go!” for launch.

back to school

Summer came and went, and now we’re all back in school. Some of our staff are starting their very first days as new teachers — and you’re all very lucky to have these people in your communities and working with your children for the long term. As for me, the director, I get to think about new waves of future scientists and teachers entering the labs and lecture halls this week, and what I might be able to do to get them to volunteer for Science in the Parks next summer. What I should be doing most immediately, though, is just figuring out what I’m doing in class tomorrow.

Still, when I flash back on what we get to do in the summer, I think I simply need to get my future teachers (and doctors and engineers and all the rest) to play. I think we all need to get our hands in the thick of it and get a feel for the pushes and pulls, the sounds and the colors of nature. So, a lot of what I think I need to do is simply get my university students doing the same kinds of things that our Science in the Parks friends were doing a few weeks ago.

Here’s a handful of some favorite images from the summer. Many more are in our 2016 photo album on Flickr, as well. Stay tuned. I’ll post more updates here about next year’s program, as well as some odds and ends in between.

sand and water

We cleaned up Science in the Parks today. I came home with specks of white powder all over my shirt from when I was taking out some garbage that included the remnant of a 50-pound bag of corn starch. I had a rainbow of food color staining my hands from washing out the bin with our elephant snot. We’d wiped off counters in the cave that we call our “parks room,” and items got reorganized and stowed. A list of items to replace for next year is written on the chalkboard, and I found a few additional bulbs and motors that we never got to pull out for this year. But there’s next year; and now that we have a clear work table again it feels a little more bittersweet that we have to wait until the summer of 2017.

(That said, it will also be nice to have a vacation before we gear up for classes that start in August.)

The program is a giant mess in so many ways. Having finished the tenth year, I know that “giant mess” was ever part of the explicit mission statement, but I don’t think it would be inappropriate, either. There’s a lot that we can do at parks that we can’t do in a classroom or a living room, at least not easily. Besides having the space that allows us to launch rockets and butterfly cups, no one is going to be upset if a little sand and water gets spilled on the grass.

For a few years, we’ve had some of the hardware to make erosion tables, but it wasn’t until this year that we were brave enough to do it. Misti, a soon-to-be science teacher in a local junior high, had the gumption to put together a system that was comprised of 50 pounds of sand and 10 gallons of recycling water, shared between four different troughs, a terrace of tables, and interconnecting tubes. From this, we not only have a way to shape the sand, but produce a dynamic and interactive display of erosion. We added palm trees, dinosaurs, cows, and a host of other figures to spice it up. The stakes are a little higher if there’s a possibility that Stegosaurus gets washed away.

Although we’ve had several new activities this summer — magnetic filings, x-ray imagery, ping-pong ball roller coasters, and more — the erosion table is my favorite new addition. Water spills everywhere and kids have sand and grit all over them, and yet no one complains. I’ve seen kids spend most of an hour just figuring out how to pile up sand, how the water interacts with it, and even how to make sure the plumbing continues to operate. The few times I’ve heard crying were only when it was time to leave. And, when we needed to put all of our sand back into our buckets, kids were happy to help us scoop it all out of the troughs by hand, one pile at a time.

The chair of the Department of Geosciences at Weber State stopped in one day to see how this was all working, and he ended up playing along with the kids in the mix of grit and water. (I don’t think that this is much different than his job as a researcher, except that his associates in the park were shorter.) Later, he stopped by to tell me how much he liked all of this and the program in general. We talked about how we each can trace back our own scientific curiosities to playing in a sandbox. For myself, I remember trying to figure out how high a mountain I could build, how deep of a cave I could dig, and how water would run down in rivulets and soak into the ground through the porous grains. I don’t remember anyone telling me what I should do with the sand or challenging me to make a deeper pond or a taller castle; I just had a shovel and started carving out my own world.

I think this is what I like about the sand and water in the parks. It isn’t just that it’s a sandbox that kids might not have at home, but because it’s a new world that they can create and re-create themselves. They can construct a dam and see how well it holds; or they can watch the water pour and form patterns on the other side. Or, sometimes, they just want to stack a bunch of sand and see how tall it can get. We’re fine with all that. Working alongside the kids, we can imagine: where will we build our shopping mall and where will we live and what happens when the dam breaks and why is this hose plugged? It’s play; and it’s science. These are two things that humans — and kids in particular — do especially well. It’s fun to realize that it only takes heroic amounts of sand and water to see this in action.

bubbles

Hosting this parks program for 10 years, there have been lots of awkward and funny slips and spills. Most of these result from “Feel it!” day and the variety of goos that we create on Fridays. In fact, it was a few years ago that Arts in the Parks started going to parks a week before us — originally we led the way. This was, in part, because we sometimes left some residue in the grass that hadn’t completely been washed away by the weekend sprinklers, and it surprised artists teaching people to dance, act, and play. We were both apologetic and a little proud that our influence remained even after we’d left. (Not to worry. Everything that we might spill is water soluble.)

But, as far as real spills and treachery go, our bubbles top the list of troublemakers. They’re also one of our very most favorite things, and giant bubbles have been a staple of the program for 10 years. They’ve been hosted on different days because they have so many different attributes and applications, but most recently they’ve been a feature of Thursday’s “Move it!” theme.

What I really love about bubbles is that there is so much to observe and do with them. First, they make these great spheres of almost-nothingness. They have all kinds of colors; they wobble; they flow around the edges and drip from the bottom; and when they pop they spring back on themselves and then leave behind a shred of their bubble skin. And, when you have buckets and a kiddie pool of our solution, you can blow all kinds of varieties of sizes from straws or wands or pipes or even your own two hands.

One especially interesting thing about bubbles is that they are really, really hard to get good pictures of them. Cameras don’t like to focus on them, and the lighting that’s interesting for bubbles is not what a camera is metering on. And, of course, bubbles pop at just the wrong moment. We’ve taken lots and lots of bad pictures of bubbles, as well as a few good ones. (We like to show these on these webpages and on Flickr when we have the chance.)

Our in-house bubble solution is so gooey that it makes giant bubbles. On a cooler day that isn’t too dry, we can get a bubble that can be as long as a car and as tall as a child, streaming out from a loop of cotton yarn as a wobbly iridescent film. The trick to this is a little bit in the conditions and in the cotton loop, but most of the credit goes to the ingredients. Essentially, if you can make bubbles that are more gooey but still liquid, they stay together almost magically.

That magic goo comes at a small price. For something that’s mostly detergent and water, it makes a big, slimy, slippery mess. We know this all too well from firsthand experience. Also, the ingredients can be a little weird, but I think that, deep down, this is part of what we like about it. When we were running low on supplies last week, I think that the staff was giggling as they sent me to the store to pick up extra tubes of what’s known as “personal lubricant.” In addition, we keep on hand a bottle of powder that is mixed with water to create a super slippery gel that veterinarians use to deliver calves. This is the kind of stuff that works well for making bubbles.

If you’d like to see our recipe and even try it out, we’ve created this annotated copy. On our general recipes page, you’ll see a simpler concoction for bubbles (and other stuff), as well as links for other bubble resources and ideas. Try them out; and by all means please let us know how it turns out or if you run into questions. We love to hear about your own experiments.