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Tanoak trees have little clusters of catkins that fall into the lake and float on the surface of the water, when the wind blows in the summer.

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There’s a tiny island in the center of the lake, that you can only reach by boat, that my family calls Lizard Island. It’s inhabited by tiny brown lizards sunning on rocks and scurrying around around tree stumps. After sketching one, Zev created fictional characters for a number of them in rainbow colors. These Western fence lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis) are aptly named, because they are frequently found napping on top of the fence posts.

overview small copy.jpgOn Summer days, my family likes to go boating at Loch Lomond Reservoir in the Santa Cruz mountains.

Titrations and Lab Safety

cover.jpgWith Zev’s questions about: What are titrations, and How do you do them? We set-up a backyard acid-base titration with cabbage juice as an indicator dye.


After we finished our acid-base titration we began talking about lab safety and safety equipment. We looked at pictures of kids of lab safety equipment such as; lab coats, safety goggles, close-toed shoes, gloves, fume hoods, emergency showers and eye wash stations.

Zev particularly loved the concept of emergency eye wash stations because he (being three years old) loves anything sprays water in the summer, and here was a novel water sprayer in a chemistry lab.

He built his own emergency eye wash station:IMG_20170802_175248665.jpg

And demonstrated how to use it:



Felt Board Chemistry Lab


For the last three weeks, to my son, everything has been a Bunsen burner. He loved the concept of flame tests. We somehow moved straight from rocket engines to lab burners. Here, Zev has flipped a drawing of a rocket ship that we did together upside down and is now pretending it’s a Bunsen burner.IMG_20170725_165044958.jpg

This lead to questions about what are different types of Bunsen burners? Which led us to a conversation about Meker burners and into a discussion of different kinds of labware. Zev started with a Lego Laboratory set where he was pretending to do fuels research in his “Laboratory.” After adding a few of his own designs for different Bunsen burners:DFJz-ANVYAAPjqj.jpg_large.jpg

We made a felt board together with some of the chemistry lab equipment that he was interested in. This conversation led us from Bunsen burners into: What is a burette? And, how do you do a titration?

MBARI Open House 2017

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My family visited MBARI (Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute) in Moss Landing, California. The same way my son loves the Mars rovers, he loves these aquatic robots. They come in a wide array of shapes and sizes and zip all over the ocean collecting data used in oceanography research.

Mars Rover Party


For my son’s third birthday, we held a Curiosity the Mars Rover Party. My son loves geology and robotics and the Mars rover theme let him share his excitement for them both with his friends.


In advance of the party, my son and I made Mars Rover costumes that he designed. They are white t-shirts that he dictated to me how to draw the various rover components that he rovers that he liked best, such as lasers and sample analyzers. As they arrived, each child was given an identical rover shirt and headlamp (as working lasers or cameras depending on the child’s imagination).


The night before the party, it rained unexpectedly. So instead of making the yard into Mars, we turned the living room into Mars. My mom and I ran to the thrift store and bought everything red or brown in the bedding section. We washed it all and staged the living room as “Mars.” My husband borrowed a projector from work and projected a landscape of Mars along the rear wall of the living room. The pictures don’t do it justice. It was a rainy day and the kids really imagined they’d landed on Mars.


The children were given a brief explanation of how the Mars Rovers explore Mars¬† geology by taking rock samples and photographs and sending data back to Mission control.¬† Then the kids ran around the living room collecting rocks on “Mars” and bringing them to “Mission Control” for analysis. At “Mission Control” my parents had a table set-up with a key and some information about the rocks that the kids were finding. It was like an Easter egg hunt, only instead of eggs the kids were collecting rocks and learning about them. The huge antennae was a pretend parabolic dish antennae for collecting the signals from the rovers.

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We had hidden a set comprised of four types of rocks: obsidian, granite, pumice and basalt. There was a key for them at mission control for the kids to match their rocks to. By the end of the party, most of the kids could accurately recognize those types of rock.


Some of the kids got curious about what the rocks looked like inside, so my mom (a retired science teacher) took out chisel, hammer and safety goggles. One at a time, the children who were interested got to crack open various rocks that they collected so she could talk about them in a little more depth.

15941333_10154628782095020_5876123403596030789_n.jpegI baked a Curiosity the Mars Rover cake. It was red and chocolate marble cake inside with chocolate icing and decorated with Mars rocks (a variety of chocolate candy and crumbled cookies as rocks) and Curiosity on top.



The “little rovers” also got to play with and eat homemade chocolate gears dusted with gold luster-dust.

After cake, we used the projector to show the kids a video about Mars rovers landing on the surface of Mars. Then they had a chance to build their own rovers out of Legos and try to land them safely. We put out an array of balloons, tape, parachutes, coffee filters etc. and we let them experiment with it for a while.

Building the rovers:


Testing the landing gear:


I have no photographs of my favorite part. Right at the end of the party, when all of the kids understood what the game was about, they used a blanket was a part of the Mars staging as a tent and they had a lively game of pretending to be Mars rovers.


Very tired rovers resting on Mars… Little rovers were sent home with their costumes, a bag of mars rocks that they’d collected and a link to more Mars Games for home.