First, we did a little experiment. I took a sheet of paper and a little bag of pennies and showed them to the kids.
|Materials for experiment #1
I've done this experiment with other kids (probably 50 kids total, over the years) and Pumpkin is only the second child to come up with that third option, so I'm pretty proud of her.
Then we did the experiment. We counted down from three, and I dropped the pennies and the paper. As they expected, the pennies hit first, while the paper floated down.
I asked them why they thought this was, and they both agreed that it was because the paper was lighter.
Then I asked them how we could test that theory. They didn't have any ideas, so I provided one: I crumpled up the paper and said that if their theory was correct, the pennies should still hit first. They agreed.
|Materials for experiment #2
I asked whether they had any other ideas about why the pennies hit the ground first in the first experiment but not the second, and to my amazement, Pumpkin got it. She said it was because the air was pushing on the paper and in the second experiment, the paper was smaller so the air couldn't push on it as much. Mr. Snarky had been watching in bemusement up until this point, standing behind the kids. I saw his eyebrows go up when she said that. I think I managed to just smile and say that was a good answer.
In fact, I am very impressed with her answer. I think they covered something similar in science last year at school- they talked about wind as part of their weather module, and she came home with a pinwheel. But still, she was able to take that idea and apply it to something completely different. I was not expecting either kid to figure out why the paper fell more slowly in the first experiment.
After talking about our results a bit, we all watched this really cool video demonstrating the same point with far fancier equipment:
The kids really liked the video, so even if you don't do the experiment, consider showing the video to your kids. I think having done the experiment makes the video more fun, though.
One thing I didn't do that I wish I had done was point out that the people in the control room in the video are a physics professor and a bunch of engineers. They all knew what was going to happen, but they still react to the outcome with the same delight my kids showed during the penny and paper dropping experiments. That's part of the beauty of science!
The entire process-two experiments, discussion, and video watching- took less than 20 minutes. I think Petunia is maybe a little bit young for the experiment, or at least for doing the experiment with an older sister who got the answers faster than she did. However, Petunia still really enjoyed the experiment and the video, and both kids tell me they want to do more family science experiments. I guess I'd better find us some more to do. Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments.