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Yu-An Chen


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Why don't we have more "Kitchen" scientists?

When people hear the word "Science", they often think of fancy labs with high technology equipment, and this is not too far off-- In my Bioelectricity class, for example, we learned about patch clamp experiments, which use tiny electrical recorders called micropipettes to record electrical currents from single ion channels in cells, and the voltage clamp experiments performed by Hodgkin and Huxley, in which they managed to thread wires through a single axon! These experiments, and a lot of other important experiments outside this field, require a lot of expensive machinery, chemicals and facilities. But does science always have to be a luxury? For example, instead of using expensive fish-eye lens for photography experiment, we could simply buy a much cheaper door viewer to get the same barrel distortion effect. Or you can go online and buy kits to record from brains, or if you live in New York City, you can join the community laboratory called GenSpace, take workshops, trainings, or can work on our own projects!

How do you think we can help science become more accessible to everyone? The more people, both amateur and professional, who contribute to science, the more ideas will be created!


Closing Statement from Yu-An Chen

Thank you all for the comments and suggestions. I got to know a lot of new resources by going through the comments. It seems like most people will be glad to see more kitchen scientists. We can start with turning off TV and explore more about the world. Science is all around us, if one has the heart, anyone can become a kitchen scientist.

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    Feb 9 2012: It seems people in general have a fear of science, or are bored by it...I do not know why. It is human nature to be curious about life around us. But because we live in such a materialistic world, technology is about the only science people are interested in.

    Maybe raffling off an ipod at science lab events would attract a crowd???

    A few years back our city library got a grant to have two science teachers come every Saturday and perform experiments. I remember they tackled force and motion and simple machines....both extremely practical science topics and very hands on. We loved it!!!

    Regardless of how much promotion was done, noone, except for a handful of parents with their kids, showed up to the wonderful 1/2 day workshops.

    It would be really neat if South Florida had a community laboratory. What fun!!!

    I do kitchen science with my kids. Here's a simple experiment to show how water molecules bond.

    Take a penny, a dropper, and a glass of water. Ask the child, or adult to guess (hypothesis) how many drops will it take for the water to start to roll of the top of the penny. Record the hypothesis. Then proceed to drop water carefully on the penny....the look of surprise on the participants faces is always the same....shock!!!

    Great topic of conversation Yu-An
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      Feb 9 2012: Hi Mary!
      I agree that many people are either 'afraid' or 'bored' with science - as a former science teacher, engaging my students was my biggest hurdle in the classroom. When I was in elementary school, we learned mostly through the textbook or the teacher lecturing to us; hands on engaging learning was a luxury. In college, we were instructed to teach by inquiry in project-based education. However, as teachers in the classroom, there were so many standards to reach and other smaller intangibles that made inquiry based learning difficult to master.

      I believe the best way to combat this fear is to engage kids when they are young - by instilling the 'Why' bug early. Then they are more likely to ask questions and discover answers when they are older.

      A wonderful simple 'kitchen' experiment to open conversation with young children about electricity requires a lemon, a clean dime and a clean penny. Roll the lemon on the counter to release some of the juice. Make 2 small incisions in the rind about 1/2 inch apart. Insert the coins in each incision. Touch the two coins to your tongue (why these coins should be clean) and describe your observations.
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        Feb 9 2012: Hie Dionne!

        It takes alot of devotion to do at least one science experiment per week with students. Kitchen science done using ideas found on the web is a great solution to this challenge. I used to have big discussions with my administrator about science....you simply cannot be an effective teacher teaching science out of a textbook alone. You need to have time to conduct experiments and get your hands dirty..... Science is supposed to be hands-on.

        You said: "the best way to combat this fear is to engage kids when they are young - by instilling the 'Why' bug early"

        I will reply, that you do not need to instill the 'Why' bug early......if you are a parent, you know that children are born with the 'why' bug......why is the sky blue?, why do you have to cut my nails? why can't I look at the sun?.....and so on.

        It is maintaining the bug active that is the SECRET......many parents give the bug anti-biotics, and squash it in it's infancy. They don't want to be bothered with annoying questions.........well, guess what? Those annoying questions are what make children love inquiry and later love school, and science.

        We discussed the topic recently on TED: Is there such thing as a stupid question?.....coming out of children's mouths, all question deserve an answer.

        I am sure that I am preaching to the choir here, but I just wanted to expand on your comment.

        BTW.....I did your experiment......however, nothing happened. Is it because I used a green lime instead of a lemon???? I'm curious?

        My kids think I'm crazy....but I don't think so. Let me know, and thanks for the reply.
        I hope I didn't ramble. I enjoy talking about education, children, science...in no particular order.
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          Feb 9 2012: Hello Mary,
          If only I had parents like you when I was teaching! I agree - it is not only the role of the educator, but the parents and community to instill the most in every child. It's a shame what happens to children when there is a piece of the support triangle missing.

          Regarding the experiment - I never tried it with a lime. There is a pH difference between lemons and limes (the pH scale being logarithmic, it's more like a factor of 10). Additionally, the metal alloys in coins are somewhat variable depending on the year they were minted. Perhaps using zinc and copper plates or household hardware would be better electrodes. Here's a link that may provide additional supplementary information.


          Good luck! (and keep me posted - I'll see what if I can't scrounge up some more labs)
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      Feb 10 2012: Mary, I don't think it is so much a fear of science, as it is a response to what science is in their schools ... a body of facts you must memorize so you can pass the standardized tests you'll be subjected to several time throughout your education. It is mostly taught with no relevance to THEIR lives ...
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        Feb 11 2012: Dennis, yes......facts to memorize so you can pass a test is right.

        I remember my 10th grade chemistry teacher....she was actually the PE teacher, and taught Chemistry as well......or I should say, she lectured out of the textbook.

        I always hated science....b o r i n g.....until I started my career as an educator. When I realized that my students where bored with the way I was teaching....same as I was taught, I had to change my routine. Doing labs once a week and lots of discussions back and forth on science topics made this subject the most enjoyable of the week.......next to Math.....which I also enjoy teaching.

        And anytime you include edibles in science.....well, let's just say that the kids go wild.

        There is a book called "Who Sank the Boat". It's a children's book, and it's great for opening a lab on surface tension and what kinds of boat shapes hold the most weight. After I read the book to the kids, I would pass out paper and have them make paper boats...any shape....they could use tape to put it together....then, each child would put their boat in a tub of water and slowly put pennies one by one on the boats....until the boat sank. Afterwards we would discuss which shape boat held the most pennies. Their estimates of the # of pennies their boats would hold are always way off.....that's half the fun....oh the discovery!!!!

        Great class lab.....we had tons of fun doing it.
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      Feb 14 2012: I think you're right that a lot of the problem is lack of interest on the part of students and creativity on the part of teachers, but I think another cause of apathy when it comes to science in the educational system is that there is a stigma that you have to be "smart" to go into the sciences. I find that kids are convinced at a young age that they aren't cut out for science or math, even if they find it interesting, and end up completely disregarding it as a possibility. And the problem doesn't end there. In undergraduate school, science students are told that if they want to pursue research, they have to go to graduate school and get a PhD.
      We end up putting too much stock in credentials and forget that anybody can contribute to the scientific community, no matter their background.
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        Feb 14 2012: Most definitely, I agree with you.

        There is a wonderful scholastics biography set for young people that I have always used in my second grade classes. I use them exclusively to show children that all that one needs to be a scientist, inventor, or just someone who makes a difference in the world, is one's imagination.

        Two of my favorites are: The Story of George Washington Carver ISBN 0-590-42660-5
        and Louis Braille The Boy Who Invented Books for the Blind ISBN 0-590-44350-X

        These two books have sparked student's love of learning, discovering and inventing......The Louis Braille book even comes with the Braille alphabet on the back.

        How sad that science is reduced to PHD's and degrees and the like...hopefully, individuals whose parents instill in them a love of discovery, or who are exposed to teachers who are passionate about science, will continue to make scientific discoveries in their kitchens, garages, and backyards.

        Thanks for your reply and insights Nicolette.

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