USGS Field Trip and SET Fun Night

On May 15th, just a day after the boys returned from Washington DC with their dad, they not only attended a field trip at the United States Geological Survey in Menlo Park, they also had to work a 4-H event, SET Fun Night, which is a new program started by the national 4-H Council to educate and train 1 million new scientists through 4-H in the next decade. I’ve been attending SET (which stands for Science, Engineering and Technology) committee meetings for Alameda County for the last 2 months or so, and the group decided to kick off the effort by hosting a Fun Night with fun science activities for 4-H kids. I (and another mom) were a little dismayed by the focus on the activities being fun and short, but in the end it worked out rather well. My interest in participating in the SET committee is using 4-H resources to find real science opportunities for our members, by perhaps working with scientists doing lab or field research in local universities (using the 4-H name can get you into places a single family might not be able to), or organizing county wide projects and gatherings with the focus on a real science and engineering experimentation, for example, hosting an Egg-Drop Competetion (kids design a contraption that can protect an egg from breaking when dropped from 10-100 feet). I have high hopes for our SET committee, and John and I are even starting up a Maker Faire 4-H project (more on Maker Faire later), where the kids can tinker and build contraptions, which elicted whoops of joy from both Chance and Jack when we told them (wow!).

For Fun Night, both Chance and Jack ran the booth we did with Dragon Genetics, where we tried to used popsicle sticks to teach kids about dominant and recessive genes, and other facts about genetics, using a mom and dad dragon with different horn and wing types to illustrate the possible babies they could have. It involved some explaining before the kids could do an activity, so it was probably the least fun of all of the booths (the others included making a boat, vinegar-baking soda film canisters), but at least the boys got mentioned at the end by one of the organizers as being very informed about genetics (He’s a parent of one of the girls in 4-H and is a physicist, so he came over and got a lesson from Jack). Some of the older kids liked our booth as well, which made Chance and Jack feel good as well.

Before we even went to the Fun Night, we attended the Open House at the USGS, which only happens once a year at probably the premier center for geological sciences in Califonia and most of the western United States. We met up with some families from our BAGHS homeschooling group, and even though the boys were tired, I think they had a great time.

Here is a picture of Luke standing by one of the trucks the USGS scientists use to conduct field reseach and collect data. Luke thought it was a very cool truck, especially since it had outriggers!

Chance is here, just walking around.

This is Jack and Luke playing with the earthquake exhibit, where you crank a brick on a piece of sandpaper very, very slowly, unil it suddenly jerks and moves a few inches at a time (which is pretty much how the plates of the earth’s crust move to cause an earthquake). Luke thought this was great fun, I hope he feels the same about the next big earthquake!

Luke climbing one of the big boulders in the central garden area, being quite silly.

And not quite so silly:

This is a vertical wind tunnel (where the air blows upward) for the kids to experiment with different toys and planes to see how they fly in the air flow. Luke really got into this, and he and the brothers spent at least 30 minutes playing with this.

Finally, the other big hit of the day was gold panning in the trough outside of the mining exhibit. The scientist in charge gave the boys authentic pans and showed us how to pan for gold, and after swishing the water and dirt/rocks for about 5 minutes, we found gold left in the pan, which delighted Luke to no end (and the other boys as well). It was lead painted gold, but that didn’t detract from the fun.

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