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Keep the kids entertained and learning with seasonal experiments

December 19, 2016 GMT

Mix it up

Explore how changing ingredients affect cookies.

Use this variation of a classic cookie experiment to create tasty science results!

Materials needed

Cookie recipe that calls for baking powder or baking soda

Ingredients listed in the recipe

Baking sheet

Mixing bowls

Spoon or mixer

Baking powder

Baking soda

Helpful information Both baking soda and baking powder cause baked goods to rise by a chemical reaction that produces carbon dioxide. Baking powder contains one part baking soda and two parts cream of tartar. Baking soda is basic, or has a higher pH, and is usually used in recipes that have acidic ingredients or else it may taste bitter. Baking powder has a neutral pH, but because it is mixed with cream of tartar, three times as much baking powder is needed when substituting baking soda in a recipe. Learn more at: http://chemistry.about.com/cs/foodchemistry/f/blbaking.htm.

Safety information Ovens are hot! Use caution when using a hot oven. Children should be supervised by an adult for this experiment.

Directions Follow the recipe as directed, but before adding in the baking powder or baking soda, divide the dough in half and add baking powder to one half of the dough, and baking soda to the other half of the dough.

Use the same amount of each kind of dough and place on a baking sheet. (It is recommended that both types of dough are baked on the same cookie sheet to keep time and temperature constant.)

Make observations as the cookies bake.

Remove cookies after the baking time recommended in the recipe. Make observations about differences in the finished cookies.

A taste test is an important way to collect information about the experiment!

You’ll know you’re successful if… You see slight differences in how the cookies rise during baking and differences in the finished texture.

Extensions Try to make a cookie recipe with vegetable oil or shortening instead of butter. Using different lipids in baking will cause the cookies to spread differently and notable differences in flavor. Keep everything else in the recipe constant so you can see how the different lipids affect the cookie!

Creative crystals

Investigate how crystals form while making holiday decorations!

You can use common household items to grow your own crystals.

Materials needed

Large glass jar

Pipe cleaners


1 tablespoon measuring spoon

spoon for stirring

boiling hot water


string or fishing line

Helpful information Borax is a substance that can form symmetrical solid shapes in a repeating pattern. The rate at which the saturated solution cools will affect the size of the crystals formed.

Learn more at: http://chemistry.about.com/cs/howtos/ht/boraxsnowflake.htm.

Check out this Blue Sky Science video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwzEmSvou2M

Safety information Borax is a common household cleaner and should not be eaten, inhaled, or ingested. Wash hands after contact with Borax or saturated solution. Use caution when working with boiling water.

Directions Create the shape on which the crystals will form. Bend pipe cleaners into any shape you like!

Attach a piece of string, fishing line, or a bent paperclip to the top of your shape to hang it later.

Boil water and fill your crystal’s container (kitchen safe glassware works best to be able to see the crystal forming) almost to the top with the hot water.

Add tablespoons of Borax to the crystal’s container and stir until it does not easily dissolve and the solution is saturated. Depending on the size of the container, the number of tablespoons will vary. The solution has reached saturation when the solution remains cloudy and no more Borax will dissolve when added and stirred. Approximately 3 tablespoons of Borax for 1 cup of boiling water works well.

Connect your string/paper clip around a horizontal pencil (ruler, etc.) and lay across the mouth of the container with the pipe cleaner shape completed submerged in the saturated solution. Make sure the pipe cleaner shape is not touching the sides of the container.

After 12+ hours of the container sitting undisturbed, make observations of the newly formed crystals. Remove the pipe cleaner shape from the solution and allow to dry completely.

You’ll know you’re successful if… After 8-12 hours six sided crystals have formed on the pipe cleaner shape.


Use food coloring to make the crystals different colors, or use sugar or salt to make different types of crystals. Salt and sugar crystals might take slightly longer to form.

Ornaments gone viral

Use origami to make a model of a virus capsid!

Use properties of geometry to learn about the shape of the protein coat of common viruses.

Materials needed Template printed on cardstock


glue or tape

art supplies to decorate

pipe cleaner to create hook (if hanging the virus capsid ornament is desired)

Helpful information

Viruses come in many different shapes, and they have a protein coat, called a capsid, that is designed to protect the genetic information. Some viruses have a protein coat that is arranged in an icosahedral shape, made up of equilateral triangles fused together to create a closed shell around the genetic material.

Learn more about the structure of viruses here: https://morgridge.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Virus-Structure.pdf.

Viruses can infect a huge variety of living things, including plants! For more info, check out this Blue Sky Science video: https://morgridge.org/question/do-trees-get-viruses/

Safety information

Use caution when cutting with scissors.


Print out the virus capsid template from madison.com or you can trace the template from the newspaper onto the back of a cereal box or other piece of cardstock.

Cut along the outer perimeter. The interior lines are folding guides; don’t cut on the interior lines.

Fold along interior lines and glue tabs to make the three dimensional virus capsid model.

Decorate with pipe cleaners, glitter, paint, beads or other art supplies to represent the proteins that make up the virus coat.

You’ll know you’re successful if… The virus capsid is three-dimensional, symmetrical and has 20 sides.


Tuck a piece of string or pipe cleaner inside the virus capsid to represent the genetic material (RNA or DNA) of the virus, which contains instructions for the virus to replicate along with other information.