How would you feel if you had to spend your whole life hurtling through space, with all of your food, water, air, and general supplies limited to what you could find or make on your ship? That’s the premise of Erin Twamley‘s and Joshua Sneideman‘s activity books, Climate Change: Discover How it Impacts Spaceship Earth, and Renewable Energy: Discover the Fuel of the Future. Written by educators within the Department of Energy, these are both power packed books on climate change, citizen involvement, and a lot of fun for kids!
These are hands down some of the coolest Earth Science books I’ve ever seen! We begin on Spaceship Earth, which immediately brings to the mind a space station filled with the food, water, oxygen, and other supplies you would need to survive. Everything you need to thrive is on the ship, and while there is a cycle of energy to replenish your supplies, if anything were to happen to the delicate balances operating your ship, you might just find yourself doomed to the cold grips of space!
With that imagery in mind, it’s an easy leap to understand that the delicate balance between climate, wind patterns, the water cycle, our protective atmosphere, our hydrosphere, and our biospheres, all can have an impact on the habitability of our planet.
These books get these messages across, not by firm statements of doom and gloom, but with excitement, curiosity, and a fierce sense of protecting our planet. Visually, this book is FUN to read with fun filled overlays on every page! Things like timelines, highlights of important scientists throughout the ages (featuring the likes of Carl Sagan, Johannes Kepler, and more!), extra concepts to think about, and projects and experiments you can do to supplement your learning.
As we spent time going through these books, we conducted a few of the experiments in them, notably Can Crusher, and experimenting with Dry Ice. These were so easy and so much fun! But more importantly, they really made the concepts they were demonstrating super easy to grasp for me and my daughter. As an added bonus, the cost for materials all together was around $5!
Note: The language used in the experiments below are examples from the books themselves.
BUILD A CAN CRUSHER
Is an empty soda can really empty? It might not have any soda in it but it is full of air. The earth’s atmosphere pushes in all directions – it’s inside the can pushing out and it’s outside the can pushing in. What happens if we create a vacuum inside the can, making the pressure on the outside greater than the pressure on the inside? Start a scientific method worksheet in your science journal. Caution: Have an adult help you with the hot can.
Empty Soda Can
1. Fill a saucepan with ice water and set aside.
2. Pour 1 tablespoon of water into an empty soda can. Use oven mitts and cooking tongs to heat the can on the stove. Boil the water until a cloud of steam escapes from the opening of the can.
3. Quickly flip the can upside down into the ice water saucepan.
A note on the Can Crusher Experiment: My daughter and I were floored by how cool this was! It was a fantastic demonstration that quickly lent itself to experimentation with different amounts of ice, and the amount of time used to heat the water. We very quickly went from awed by the result to planning ways to test variables!
EXPERIMENT WITH DRY ICE!
The North and South Poles of Mars have ice caps just as the poles of Earth have ice caps. The ice on Mars, however, is much different. On Earth, polar ice is made of frozen water. On Mars, polar ice is made of frozen carbon dioxide. To learn about carbon dioxide as both a solid and a gas, experiment with dry ice. Like the polar ice on Mars, dry ice is made from frozen carbon dioxide.
Caution: Dry Ice can cause frostbite if you touch it with your skin. Wear safety goggles and rubber gloves and use tongs to move dry ice. You can purchase dry ice at most grocery stores, although you may have to call in advance. Buy the dry ice the day you plan to use it and carry it in an open bucket, not an airtight container. Open the windows while in the car to keep fresh oxygen in the car. The clouds that form when working with dry ice are safe for you to touch and feel.
1. Start a scientific method worksheet in your science journal. What can you learn about carbon dioxide from experimenting with dry ice? Make your prediction.
2. Use tongs and wear gloves to place a piece of dry ice on a plate. Place a piece of regular ice on a different plate. Leave the ice for one hour. What happens? Why do you think frozen carbon dioxide is called dry ice?
3. While you are waiting for the hour to pass, fill a glass halfway with warm water. Use the tongs and gloves to place a piece of dry ice in the glass. What happens? Add more warm water to the glass after a couple of minutes and observe the results.
4. Add a squirt of liquid dish soap to the warm water. How does this change the behavior of the dry ice?
5. Add food coloring to the glass of water. What happens to the gas? Record your observations in your science journal.
A Note on the Dry Ice Experiments… These were awesome! The dish soap caused these fantastic vapor filled bubbles to ooze out of our vases. The warm water caused delightful fogs of vapor to wisp about all over the place. We couldn’t get enough of this, really. We were having a blast! The great thing about this particular experiment was that it invited further experimentation almost immediately after the initial delight from our first experiments had passed. Soon, we were wondering whether dry ice would create these same fogs in different kinds of liquids. As we conducted this new experiment, the results were really surprising!
It turns out, the fog that is produced when you add dry ice to water, isn’t just carbon dioxide! The carbon dioxide gas that is escaping to the surface of the water is much colder than the air around it. So, when it escapes, it condenses the warm air and the water, into a vapor which sticks to the carbon dioxide molecules and forms a cloud! When we tried it in canola oil, there was no water vapor to condense around the cold gas. The fog that we saw from the condensed air was barely visible. The difference was incredible to see!
That’s what I love about science and indeed, these books. These books speak to a child’s innate desire to explore, to learn more, to seek to uncover the secrets of the world around them. As they do so, they then learn about ways they can protect it, for themselves, for the animals that they care about, and for future generations.
These books inform, inspire, and empower kids to be compassionate, active citizens of the world, and take matters into their own hands, both at home and in their communities. With suggestions like planting more trees, organizing Earth Day parades, writing to your local legislators, and more, kids are given the tools they need to build a better future.
On a personal note, as for us, this is one instance when a book review has turned into something more. Both of these books are being used in our science curricula for the month of April. This means we’ll get to do some more of these incredible projects like turning our food into fuel through composting! Not even just composting, but turning it into a flammable liquid that we can use to demonstrate different kinds of alternative fuel. Experiments like this are just incredible, and inspire so many creative ideas to find different solutions! These books will be used and loved in our house for a long time. I look forward to seeing worn pages and scribbled notes in the margins as my daughter uses it to learn about, protect, and build up our world for herself and for the future.