Thursday, March 3, 2016

Sweet, Sweet Science: An Elementary STEAM Event

Last month the Post Road Library hosted a STEAM (that's short for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) program for elementary-aged children.

It was all about candy!

It was a huge hit with the kids. If you'd like to try a few STEAM activities at home, here's a recap from Lisa Echols, Youth Services Supervisor at the Post Road Library:
We started out outside and made Mentos and soda explosions. We tried five different types of soda to see which kind makes the best jet of soda:
  • Generic ginger ale 
  • Mountain Dew
  • Orange cola 
  • Generic cola 
  • Generic diet cola
It turns out that the diet soda makes the best explosion. I taught everyone about nucleation - the bubble forming process that causes the Mentos candy to react the way it does in soda - and explained how aspartame in the diet soda decreases the elasticity of the water and that’s why it makes the best geyser. 

Next, we came inside for more sugary fun.  
We made baking soda and vinegar volcanoes out of cups and aluminum foil and included Pop Rocks for a little extra explosiveness. There, we discussed acids and bases and how mixing them together forms carbon dioxide (CO2) and makes the bubbles. That's also why Pop Rocks pop – because of millions of tiny CO2 bubbles trapped just inside the sugar are released when they get wet in the volcano – or your mouth!
Then, we had Peep battles in the microwave. 
In case you didn’t know, Peeps marshmallow candy expands to about 5 times their regular size in the microwave. Why? Tiny drops of moisture inside the marshmallow candy are superheated by the microwave and become steam. Gasses take up much more volume than liquids, so the Peep begins to expand. 
They get pretty big because marshmallow is a very viscous material and the steam can’t escape – it's like being trapped in a sugary balloon! We placed two Peeps on a plate with toothpicks poking out like jousting poles. Then we popped them in the microwave to “battle.” 
We also had two different dissolving activities where the kids could add water to Skittles or red and green peppermints in separate bowls to explore how the dissolving process was different for different candies. 
The dye leaves the peppermints in the same swirl patter it has on the candy which makes for interesting viewing and the Skittles are cool because, due to the greater density of the dye, when you put four different colors in a bowl, the colors leak off and then don’t mix together – it makes a cool triangular pattern in the water! Also, the letter S on the Skittle is made of an edible wax, so it pops off the candy and floats to the surface, like a floating ghostly letter. M&M’s will do the same thing!
Ready to learn more about STEAM with some really awesome, hands-on activities? Check out the March STEAM events at the Cumming, Hampton Park, Post Road, and Sharon Forks Libraries.