Tag Archives: mythbusters

Do You Science?

10 Jun

Sciencebanner

letter big surprise: I used to be a middle school science teacher before I was a dentist. I know – shocker, right? So it’s safe to say I know a thing or two about the “school science fair.”

In fact, surprising though it may seem, my undergraduate degree has nothing to do with science. I was an elementary education major. (Long story. Don’t ask.) As I went through my program it became pretty obvious that smart as my fellow education majors may have been, and as cool as they though science might have been, let’s just say that science wasn’t really their thing. In a world where teachers need to worry about standardized tests , overpopulated classrooms, shrinking budgets and differentiating individualized instruction, it’s no wonder that come science-fair time the finer points of what science *REALLY* is tend to get lost in the noise.

At my kids’ elementary school students get their first taste of the science fair in 2nd grade (at the very end of the year when their attention couldn’t be less focused). “Science” as an entity looms large in our house, so when the assignment finally came Episode IV was all charged up and I, in turn, was all charged up to make this a *REAL* learning experience, rather than an end-of-the-year afterthought.

Kids that age think science is just something cool where some person in a white coat does something dramatic with dry ice, or liquid nitrogen, or giant 3-inch locusts (all of which I have done in their classrooms). That in itself is wonderful. It sparks their interest and gets them excited. But science isn’t a sideshow. Science is about asking questions, rationally collecting information, and then shaping our understanding of the world based on where that information leads us. From that perspective, the first thing kids need to learn is how to formulate a proper (testable) question.

mentos

Case in point, a real conversation at our dinner table:

“So, have you thought about what you want to do for the science fair?”

Episode IV thinks for a bit then, going for the gross-out factor, “How about we get a cow eyeball…” (we had talked about dissecting a cow eyeball for a classroom lesson) “and a human eyeball and dissect them both and see what the difference is!”

Gross, though not surprising if you know this kid. Clearly she was not in the right headspace and needed some proper instruction about what a real scientific experiment is. That sparked a great conversation around the table about control, and variables (two concepts that are most definitely within the grasp of a 2nd grader if presented to them properly) and how to formulate and test a hypothesis. We brainstormed for a while and eventually settled on an idea expanding on the tried-and-true mentos and diet cola experiment.

“CANDY AND SODA — Is there anything that makes it explode better than mentos?”

DorkDoggy got in on the action too

DorkDoggy got in on the action too

Now it should be said that I am also well aware of the “obviously-the-parent-did-this-science-fair-project” factor, and I was determined to let Episode IV do as much of the project as she could. But kids also need guidance and instruction. If someone doesn’t show them HOW to set up a proper experiment, and doesn’t show them how to rationally interpret the data, they’ll never learn anything. So from concept to presentation, letting her do as much work as possible without leaving her floundering, we definitely took a “let me show you how to do a proper science fair project” approach for this first foray into the world of science fairs.

Mentos and diet soda -- it never gets old.

Mentos and diet soda — it never gets old.

That Saturday morning I loaded Episodes IV and V into the car and off we went to the candy aisle at Target. There they picked out as many different candy types as they could get their hands on, and we cleared the shelf of 2 liter bottles of diet coke. Giddy at the prospect of exploding soda (and leftover candy) they bounced in their seats until the car pulled unexpectedly into the Home Depot parking lot. “Why are we here, Daddy?”

Jellybeans and soda... not so great.

Jellybeans and soda… not so great.

“Where else can you get an eight foot piece of border molding and a roll of black duct tape?” They blinked at me, incredulous. “Trust me,” I said.

We got back to the house and, eager though they were to tear into the candy, I made them watch/help as we used to duct tape to mark out two inch stripes on the border molding. “How are we going to measure the explosions if we don’t have something to measure it with?” I stood the zebra board up next to me and the light of understanding clicked on in both of them. We spent the rest of the afternoon gleefully exploding diet coke all over the backyard, taking pictures, eating candy, and writing our results down in a log.

truth

…and wouldn’t ya’ know it? We got a result that none of us were expecting (OK… maybe I had a suspicion, but they didn’t). It turns out that the thing that makes diet cola explode even more dramatically than mentos is a spoon full of BAKING SODA!!

After dinner as the kids were crashing from their afternoon-long sugar binge, drunk on science, sunshine and saccharine, we skipped the usual bedtime YouTube clip and snuggled into Mommy and Daddy’s bed to watch a TiVo’d episode of “Mythbusters.”

Baking Soda And Diet Soda -- Who Knew?

Baking Soda And Diet Soda — Who Knew?

Truly there is no show better suited to entertain the whole family, and joyfully illustrate the sound principals of the scientific method. That night my kids went to bed with visions of glorious science in their heads.

Addendum:

Fast-forward a couple of days. I was tooling around the internet when I discovered that the Mythbusters live stage show was coming back to our area. UnDorkMommy and I went to see it from the nosebleed seats a couple of years ago and it was great fun. We both agreed that it was totally family-friendly and perfect for a kid just about the same age as Episode IV.

mythbusters

So I went into high gear and found that there were still a scant few awesome VIP-level seats available. One swipe of the credit card later and Episode IV and I have front-row seats to see Adam and Jamie bust some myths live on stage in fantastic Mythbusters fashion. And if that wasn’t enough, the VIP level seats also come with “Meet The Mythbusters” access. That’s right. After the show Episode IV will get to go backstage and meet Adam and Jamie in person, the very guys who performed the definitive television experiment on mentos and soda.

When I told Episode IV about it she said to me “Do you think they’ll be interested in our experiment? Can we show Adam and Jamie what we did?”

“I know they will, sweetheart, and yes we can.”

 

-Dork Dad

What I Want

14 Jun

letter My wife asked me a few weeks ago what I wanted for Father’s Day. Seriously, I have everything I ever wanted… or at least everything I ever needed. I don’t want for much, and if I do want something I’m lucky enough to be in a position to just go out and buy it (except the Porsche).

But that doesn’t help UnDorkMommy when it comes to Father’s Day. She wants to do something nice for  me, and she knows she doesn’t have the nerd-cred to know what it is I really want. It’s my obligation as a loving husband to help her out in uncomfortable, difficult situations like this. So here you go, Honey. Here’s a short list of some things that I would genuinely appreciate for Father’s Day:

AC-Cv869_solicit

 

Five simple things I want for Father’s Day

(each should be pretty easy to come by)

1) I want security – security to know that I will be able to provide for my family for as long as they need it, and that no horrible tragedies will befall the people I love.

2) I want to be able to share the things that I get excited about with my wife, like the new Superman movie, or the microbrewery that just opened nearby, or the latest Star Wars Lego set — because having a 15-month-old and two other kids makes it so easy for both of us to do things together as a couple. ((not))

3) I want the seasons for “Game of Thrones” and “Walking Dead” to be much, much longer than they already are.

4) I want to resolve the terrible guilt I feel taking time away from my family to take care of myself, and the terrible frustration I feel taking time away from myself to take care of my family.

5) I want to finally be picked to be a volunteer on “Mythbusters,” especially since I’ve tried three times already without getting the call, and my sister tried only once and totally got picked — and she doesn’t even watch the show, dammit!!

You should be able to handle those things, right Honey?

You thought I was kidding about the Mythbusters thing, didn't you?

You thought I was kidding about the Mythbusters thing, didn’t you?

-Dork Dad

FDAY

From Marlin Perkins to Adam Savage

5 Jan

ome of my very earliest memories are from the days when my mom worked the night shift at the hospital, and my dad had to pick me up from daycare after work. He would bring me home and the two of us would have bachelor night – which ultimately meant Van Camp’s pork and beans (with hotdogs) for dinner on the ottoman, in the living room while watching “Mutual Of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” hosted by Marlin Perkins. This was priceless father/son time because I knew there was no way Mom would approve of us eating Van Camp’s on the ottoman if she were home. Dad and I were having our buddy time.

Marlin Perkins - everybody's cool grandpa in the 70's

I can’t say if it was the “buddy time” association with “Wild Kingdom”, or just my natural aptitude for science, but that show stuck with me. I remember Marlin Perkins very vividly – sort of a Walt Disney-esque with a genuine love of nature which, perhaps, shifted him enough away from the mainstream to qualify as mildly dorky. For whatever reason his enthusiasm resonated with me, and to this day I love watching those nature shows.

I’ve mentioned before what a high value I put on science, particularly with respect to passing on a love of it to my children. For my part, before I was a dentist I was a middle school science teacher, and I took that role as seriously as I do parenting. I believe in my heart that to spark a love (rather than fear) of science, the teacher has to be a little bit quirky, incredibly enthusiastic and quite frankly, dorky. I tried to be that person for my students, and even more so for my children. But I can’t be the only influence. My efforts have to be supported in countless other ways, by my children’s teachers and by the science “celebrities” that they are exposed to via other mediums.

Slim Goodbody - would you let your kid spend time around a dude dressed like that? I don't think so.

Looking back at my life I can remember a string of science “celebrities” that stoked and fanned the flames of my love of science. Marlin Perkins was the first. I remember him as fondly as you would remember your own grandfather, and I am incredibly grateful for those evenings he shared with me and my Dad. There was also Slim Goodbody who regularly inhabited the space between Saturday morning cartoons, and the occasional after school special. He wore a borderline inappropriate body suit which illustrated the major organs of the body, and talked about how the body worked, and what we needed to keep ourselves healthy. Between his bad 70’s whiteman afro, and the cornball songs and dances he performed, he ranked a 10.0 on the dorky richter scale, and I loved him for it.

"Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill Nye The Science Guy!"

Later there was Bill Nye The Science Guy who was originally a professional comedian, but found his stride making a science for kids TV show playing the quirky, dorky, bow tied, mad scientist, and then later advocating for all things science as a public speaker. He was dorky in the extreme, and I ate it up.

Then there was Bob Shalit, my high school chemistry teacher. He was certifiably crazy, but brilliant. You never knew what was going to blow up in his classroom, and he had

Steve "Croc Hunter" Irwin. I never knew you, but I loved you.

that glint in his eye that said “I’m not sure how big this boom is going to be. It could be pretty big. But how cool would that be?” I credit him with giving me my first taste of academic science, and for making it fun. Later in adulthood came Jeff Corwin, the more academic, nerdy animal lover, and the indomitable, completely batsh*t-crazy, totally lovable Steve “Crock Hunter” Irwin.

So there it is, my path to science nerd/dorkdom. As my kids grow I have kept an eye out for what science “celebrities” are going to play the same role in their lives, and the picture is beginning to take shape.

Chris and Martin Kratt... the animated versions.

On sleepy weekend mornings my kids crawl in our bed, and while we are all snuggled together they like to watch “Wild Kratts”, an animated show where real-life brothers Chris and Martin Kratt explore the animal-world with super powered suits that give them the characteristics and abilities of the animals they’re studying. It’s super cheesy. It’s super dorky, and my kids love it. They’ve learned more about honey badgers, tazmanian devils, beavers and fireflies from “Wild Kratts” than I could ever teach them. Chris and Martin Kratt are clearly the next link in the evolutionary chain of science/nature show hosts – and I can say with authority that their dork-credentials are of the highest caliber.

Recently though another routine has emerged in our family with echoes of me and my father eating Van Camps with Marlin Perkins. I’m lucky enough to be able to go home for lunch every day, and while my kindergartener daughter is at still at school, my pre-schooler son us usually home. My lunch time is my down time. I need to wall myself off from the world and decompress before going back out there, so I usually wind up shutting myself in my bedroom with a bowl of cold cereal, sitting up on the bed and watching whatever TiVo has waiting for me… typically the stuff that my wife doesn’t like to watch.

That means “Mythbusters”.

These people have my dream job.

If the Kratt brothers are the next link in the evolutionary chain of science show hosts, Adam, Jamie and the rest of the “Mythbusters” crew are evolution’s crowning achievement and pinnacles of perfection. These folks let their nerd-flags fly high. And the brilliance of the show is that they take that slightly crazy Bob Shalit, crazy high school science teacher eye glint and amp it up to catastrophic proportions – all while using the scientific method as the framework for a scientifically sound, totally entertaining narrative. It’s crazy. It’s genius. It’s real science. For my money it’s one of the most intelligent shows on television; and quite by accident it’s hooked my son.

I don’t quite remember how it started, but a few months ago while I was holed up in my bedroom at lunchtime eating cold cereal and watching “Mythbusters”, my son quietly came in, crawled up on the bed, snuggled down, and started to watch with me. This has gone on for some time now (Can I watch Mythbusters with you, Daddy?) enough that it has become a regular thing, something I look forward to and miss when it doesn’t happen. I don’t know if he does it just to be with me, or if he genuinely likes the show, or if it’s some combination of the two. But yesterday as I sat there with him I was struck by two thoughts:

1)      When my son has his own kids and blogs about the very first influences that sparked his interest in science he will likely talk about Martin and Chris Kratt, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman.

2)      He will also likely blog about how these afternoons, alone together in my bedroom with a bowl of cereal in front of “Mythbusters”, was priceless father/son time, knowing full well that there was no way his Mom, under any other circumstances, would approve of us eating cold cereal on the bed and watching science TV during the day.

If it were Van Camp’s and “Wild Kindgom” it could almost be the 70’s, with me and my own father.

Marlin Perkins would be proud. I know my dad is.

-Dork Dad

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