Learning science hands on

DiscoveryLabBy Carol Christian

The Oil Sands Discovery Centre is known for paying homage to the oil sands, chronicling its histories, evolutions and sciences, and the people and processes involved.

But it’s more than a museum of oil sands.

It’s also a place where parents can come with their children and learn science – hands-on – together. That’s where Saturday Morning Science comes in. It’s a morning of family-friendly science fun with programs offered 10:30 a.m. until noon on the second Saturday of each month. While the programs are designed for children aged four to seven, they’re open to children of all ages.

“Saturday Morning Science is a program we’re trying this year,” says Diana Moser, senior interpreter at the centre. “We wanted to have something additional for families to do. … An experimental program that we wanted to try out to see if it filled a niche in programming for families here.”

So this six-month pilot project kicked off in January.ExhibitHall

The program involves different activities, experiments based on a theme; each month has a different theme. February was dinosaurs for example and proved the most popular by far, boasting full attendance.

Registrations have been up and down since the program began, and Moser believes there are several reasons for this.

“I think some of it has to do with what the theme is, but also some of it has to do with timing. The January program, for example, we weren’t able to run because there was enough registration. Again, that might have been because we didn’t do enough of a push before Christmas or maybe we shouldn’t have done something only a few weeks after Christmas.  February, March we had sessions; they were great. Dinosaurs was really full; March was Science Magic and not as full, but we still had people.”

Feedback from families has been good, acknowledged Moser. “They seem to really enjoy it.”

The children get to leave with something to take home that was created during the program, and she points out that’s a big hit with them. And even though the program is structured, it’s still casual and informal which the young participants seem to enjoy while learning something new.

A lot of families already come to the centre to check out all the exhibits and climb up the “big truck,” and they like that there is something extra they can do.

However, April fell short in numbers and was cancelled. The program for April 12 was befitting spring as it was Blooming Botany. Participants were to get down and dirty with plants and the young botanists-in-training were to discover what plants need to survive and grow their own plants in a biodome.

Moser attributes the low numbers down to vacations being taken for spring break.

“But it’s all part of learning with this new program; when the best time is and how to reach people.”

The two remaining programs are: Up, Up, and Away on May 10 when participants can create different flying contraptions, making their own gliders, kites, and other flying delights; and  Kitchen Counter Science on June 14.  Participants can learn how to turn any kitchen into a laboratory. From bubbling eruptions to growing crystals, all the experiments will use common kitchen items.
The cost is $15 a child, per Saturday in addition to regular centre admission. Moser explains that the there is no additional charge for the first grown-up but after that, it’s $10 each and a minimum of one parent per three children is required.
To register, contact the centre at 780-743-7167. Registration fees must be paid in advance. Guaranteed refunds require two weeks’ notice prior to the program date. Spaces are limited so register early.
Meanwhile, Moser remains optimistic about the future of Saturday Morning Science.

“I think we can make it a permanent program. The key issue is timing and making sure people understand what it is and when it is because we have interest in it; it’s just a matter of how do we figure out the timing.

“I’d love to make it a permanent thing.”


Experiment at Home! Elephant Toothpaste

A chemical reaction that quickly produces heat, steam, foam, and a whole lot of fun!

You will need:

  • A small plastic bottle  (around 450 mL)
  • 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide
  • A squirt of liquid dish soap (about a tsp)
  • Food colouring
  • 1 tsp of yeast
  • 2 tbsp of warm water
  • A small bowl
  • A funnel
  • A pan or dish with 5 cm sides

What to do:

  1. Stand the bottle up in the center of the cake pan and put the funnel in the opening.
  2. Pour the peroxide through the funnel into the bottle
  3. Add 3-4 drops of food colouring to the peroxide in the bottle and a squirt of liquid dish soap.
  4. Mix the yeast and warm water together in a small bowl until dissolved.
  5. Pour the yeast mixture into the bottle and quickly remove the funnel.
  6. Watch the foam shoot out!
  7. When you are all done with your elephant’s toothpaste it can safely go down the kitchen sink.

The foam you made is special because each tiny foam bubble is filled with oxygen. The yeast acted as a catalyst (a helper) to remove the oxygen from the hydrogen peroxide. Since it did this very fast, it created lots and lots of bubbles. Did you notice the bottle got warm. Your experiment created a reaction called an Exothermic Reaction– that means it not only created foam, it created heat! The foam produced is just water, soap, and oxygen so you can clean it up with a sponge and pour any extra liquid left in the bottle down the drain.

This experiment is sometimes called “Elephant’s Toothpaste” because it looks like toothpaste coming out of a tube.