homeschool, making, preschool science, project based homeschooling, projects

The Balloon Car Failure

In project-based learning, as in life, sometimes things don’t go as expected.

And sometimes, things just fall apart.
This is the story of one of those times.
SuperSam recently received a set of children’s encyclopedia-type books with answers to all kinds of interesting questions. One of the books had an activity outline for making a balloon car, and he really wanted to try it. He asked for several days in a row if we could do it. Finally, one morning when The Sisters took an extra nap, he got his wish.
In the book, the instructions seemed simple. Make a rectangle from construction paper. Tape sections of a plastic drinking straw under the card. Cut circle wheels from cardboard. Put a toothpick through the center of each wheel. Put the toothpick “axles” into the open ends of the drinking straw to attach wheels to the car. Tape a balloon on the back of the car. Inflate the balloon, let it go, and watch the car roll away on its wheels.
It didn’t quite go like that.
We modified the materials up front. Even SuperSam knew that construction paper wasn’t stiff enough to support two drinking straws, four toothpicks and four circles of cardboard. (Maybe that should have been our first clue that something was awry with these instructions.)
We substituted an index card.  
The wheels all fell off. There was too much space inside the straw to hold the toothpicks straight. 
Car, nicely decorated, on wheels that fell off. Repeatedly.
SuperSam covered the ends of the straws with masking tape and tried again. His fix held until we attached the balloon.
Wheels fell off again when the balloon was inflated.
Persistent boy with car that was constantly falling apart.
We made a series of videos to record our process for posterity. Watched one after the other, they give an idea of the kind of persistence my son has…and they remind me of the utter frustration of trying a project that just seemed doomed.
By my usual definition of success, this was a total bust. We never even got it to do anything but spin in a circle! I was annoyed both at our lack of success and at the stupid book, which led me to believe this would be an easy activity with predictable results. Did the book people ever even try it? Did they just take carefully arranged photos that made it look like it worked? Or did they have special drinking straws and construction paper and balloons that we in the non-book world cannot access? 
To me, this was a complete balloon car fail.
SuperSam didn’t see it that way. He wanted to try it over and over and over again. “Don’t give up, Mama!” was his refrain. He got to mess around with the design of the car quite a bit. He got to spend time one-on-one with me. He got to be on video, which he loves. And he got to crack up laughing every time the wheels fell off or the car spun out.
That’s better than getting frustrated.
I should probably keep hanging out with him and hope he rubs off on me.
If we believe that learning happens in the process of making/doing/watching/trying things, then we have to acknowledge these sorts of projects-gone-wrong as times when great learning could be taking place. What could be better for learning than having to repeat something, trial after trial, continually reevaluating and making changes as we go? This is science, engineering, and Real Life all rolled into one terribly-thought-out activity. As frustrating as it was, I know SuperSam learned some things from tinkering with the car. At the very least, he learned to keep on trying in the face of adversity.
I just wish (still) that we had gotten one successful result from all our work. I like things to work out in the end.
Ever had a project go totally wrong with your kids? How did you handle it? 
activities, preschool science

Science Rocks! Baking soda and vinegar activity

SuperSam has been all about doing experiments lately. He likes to wake up early from afternoon nap (before The Sisters are up) and use the time to do “Science Stuff.” It’s nice for us to be able to spend some time one-on-one, and it gives him a chance to feel like he is doing Big Kid Things. Usually, he spends at least part of the time talking about how this activity (whatever it is) “wouldn’t be appropriate for The Sisters.”

He loves that word, appropriate.
I am probably to blame for that.
Anyway. I set up a baking dish for him with cups of vinegar (one with blue and one with yellow food coloring added), an eyedropper and a dish of baking soda. I didn’t give him any further instructions.
He started out slowly.
With the first fizzy reaction, he got really excited and fell off his stool. Fortunately, he wasn’t hurt and went right back to work.
Soon, the eyedropper wasn’t making things happen fast enough for him. I gave him a syringe. Then things got wild. He started making sound effects as he squirted the vinegar.
An unsuspecting Tyrannosaurus who happened to be hanging out nearby was pulled into the action.
Finally, SuperSam abandoned the syringe completely, dumped everything in together, and turned it into a sensory activity with a side of process art.
This activity is easy to set up, easy to clean up, and lots of fun to watch. I’m definitely adding this to our official List of Things to Do When We Need SuperSam to Stay Busily Occupied for about 20 Minutes Or So.
Have you done this activity? How did it go? I’d love to know if you try it.