Crystal Science: How to Make Your Own Magic Crystal Coral Reef

DSC_0052

A few months ago, the kids and I played around with making our own crystal snowflakes. (how to and amazing results here)  It really had nothing to do with anything we were studying but hey, it was winter and we weren’t getting any snow so we needed to make our own. Or something like that.

Anyway, we loved growing the alum crystals.  I spent some time on Pinterest looking for other ways to grow crystals.  Currently, I have pinned to my Science board to try these sparkly crystal geode eggs (good Easter project, anyone?) and these overnight crystal gardens.  While I was perusing the many ideas on the internet, and pondering many sciency things, I remembered the magic crystal trees that I had purchased as a kid and then grown at home.  Does anyone else remember these?  Apparently, there are still versions of those scientific little wonders for sale.  When I saw the familiar puffy crystal branches, it immediately made me think of coral.  What if we could grow our own magic crystal coral reef?  That would fit in perfectly with our ocean unit study.

If you search “how to make your own magic crystal tree,” you’ll find dozens of websites with clear instructions.  It seemed like it would be fairly easy to adapt it to a piece of coral instead of a pine tree.  And so we attempted to make our own crystal coral reefs with fantastic results.  Get these supplies if you want to try it for yourself:  one or two pieces of cardboard, table salt, ammonia, Mrs. Stewart’s bluing, scissors, pencil, water, food coloring, and a glass dish.

DSC_0017

First, you will need to draw and cut out your coral shapes from the cardboard.  (Note about the cardboard:  it cannot be coated, like cereal box cardboard, and should not be too thin, as it would fall over with the weight of the crystals.  I used the cardboard backs of some legal pads I had.  They worked perfectly.)  The kids looked up pictures of various types of coral online and chose two different ones to draw.  Draw it once on the cardboard, cut it out, and then trace it again on the cardboard to be cut out a second time.  You can see that we tried a short coral version and a tall one.  Don’t make it too tall!  Cut a slit from the bottom center of one of your cardboard pieces halfway up the design.  Cut another slit on the other piece of cardboard halfway down the design.

DSC_0021-001

Now you can put your pieces together to give your coral a 3D effect.  Simply slide the two slits together and spread the piece apart until they stand nicely, as in the photo above.

DSC_0023

Next, it is time to mix your solution.  (A word of warning: keep your work area well-ventilated as ammonia has a very potent odor!)  In your glass dish, mix the following:  3 TBS bluing (get it in the laundry section of your grocery store), 3 TBS water, 3 TBS salt, and 1 1/2 TBS ammonia.

DSC_0024-002

Then drip some food coloring over your cardboard coral structure and carefully place it into the solution in your glass dish.

Now comes the waiting part, but don’t worry, you won’t have to wait long.  The next day, Mikey came racing into my room shouting that I needed to come and see the coral now.

DSC_0025-001

Sure enough, tiny delicate salt crystals had gathered on all the points of our cardboard coral reefs.  It is near impossible to avoid with over-excited children, but please do your best to not touch or bump the crystals in any way.  They are extremely fragile.

Two days later, the tiny salt crystals spread out over the cardboard a little more.

DSC_0028

DSC_0034

The kids were delighted to find blue, green and yellow tinged crystals sprouting up everywhere.  For some unknown reason, the crystals were unaffected by the red food dye.  In a few more days, the shorter coral structure was almost completely covered in crystals while the taller structure experienced crystal growth about three-quarters of the way up.

DSC_0056

At this point, the finely detailed, sharply pointed crystals of the first two days softened into a more pillowy design.  Doesn’t it look a lot like coral?  Check out the similarities:

white-coral-mary-deal

(White Coral, fine art photograph by Mary Deal, from fineartamerica.com)

The crystals do not last more than a few days before they start falling and shattering into little piles of powder.  However, seeing a simple piece of cardboard burst into hundreds of beautiful little crystals is pretty amazing.  And of course, being a good, responsible homeschooling mom, you are going to want to know the science behind it all, right?

We already talked about crystals and how they form in this post.  In this experiment, crystallization does take place, but only after some other scientific processes occur first.  The first process that has to happen is capillary action.  That’s really just a couple of fancy words to describe how liquid sometimes defies gravity and goes up instead of down.  In plants, water can travel up thin tubes called capillaries to give the entire plant the necessary hydration for survival and growth.  You can see this happen when you stick a stalk of celery into a glass of colored water.  If the tubes are skinny enough, the surface tension of the water enables it to basically “climb” up the walls of the tubes.  Liquids will also climb the fibers of a piece of paper or cardboard.  This video is a great demonstration of this:

In our coral crystal growing experiment, the solution in the glass dish climbed up the fibers of the cardboard.  That’s when the next scientific process took place – evaporation.  Evaporation is the process of liquid molecules escaping and becoming gas molecules instead.  We put ammonia in the solution because it evaporates much faster than water.  The ammonia and the water molecules escaped the cardboard and became gas molecules.  The bluing and the salt were left on the cardboard to begin the next process – crystallization.  Because the solution was so saturated with the bluing molecules and the salt molecules, these molecules are able to combine and form crystals, much like we discovered in the previous post about crystals.  The bluing is a colloid, which is one substance that has another substance evenly dispersed throughout it.  Some good examples of colloids are mayonnaise, our blood, and hair gel.  (You can watch this little video by Martha Stewart on how to make your own colloid with starch and water that does some pretty cool things!)

Oh, and since this is part of our ocean study, it might be a good idea to study up on coral – what is it, where do you find it, and why is it important to the earth?  There are lots of resources online for this, but I’ll leave you with two.  First, here is a link to a free homeschool unit study on coral reefs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

And, as always, here is a short but educational video on coral reefs:

Have fun learning about these magnificent structures of the deep as you make your own magic crystal coral reefs!

Art Journaling: We Will Not Fear

DSC_0019-001

 

. . . though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;  Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.  Selah.  There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.  God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.  Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.  The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.  Psalm 46:1-5, 10-11

Coffee Filter Crafts: Jellyfish

DSC_0106-001

If your kids had fun making the coffee filter seahorse craft, they will certainly enjoy adding these jellyfish to their art aquarium.  They are made with the same technique of washable markers and water and have long tentacles that sway in the breeze.

The topic of jellyfish made an engaging subject in our ocean animals unit study.  As with the seahorses, we borrowed some books from the library to begin our quest for information on these magnificent creatures. (Jellyfish by Louis Spilsbury, Box Jellyfish: Killer Tentacles by Natalie Lunis, and Portuguese Man-of-War: Floating Misery by Natalie Lunis.)  We followed these books up with some videos on YouTube so that we could actually see jellyfish in action.

Here are ten things you may not have known about jellyfish before:

1.  A jellyfish does not have a brain.

2.  Jellyfish come in all sorts of colors: pink, blue, red, even multi-colored.

3.  A jellyfish’s body consists of a polyp, or float, on top and many tentacles dangling below.  The mouth is underneath the polyp.

4.  A jellyfish’s tentacles are filled with toxins used to hurt or paralyze their prey, which can be little fish, other jellyfish, crabs, and plankton.

5.  A group of jellyfish is called a bloom, a swarm, or a smack.

6.  Some jellyfish can glow in the dark.

7.  Jellyfish are a favorite snack of sea turtles.

8.  The Portuguese Man-of-War is not actually a jellyfish.  It is a group of organisms that live together and function together as a whole.

9.  Most jellyfish have a life-span of a few hours to a few months.

10.  Jellyfish range in size from very tiny (thumbnail size) to very large (whale size).

Now, let’s make some coffee filter jellyfish.

You will need: 2 coffee filters, washable markers, water, a paintbrush, a paper plate,  plastic grocery bags, a stapler, party streamers, and some tape

DSC_0107

First, lay your coffee filters one on top of another on the paper plate. Color dots and swirls and scribbles however you like (just like we did when we made the seahorse) on the top coffee filter with the washable markers.  Then, with the coffee filters still stacked up on top of each other, paint over the top filter with water until the colors are swirled to your satisfaction.

DSC_0109

When the coffee filters are dry, staple the outer edges together as shown, leaving a small opening on one side.  Insert the plastic grocery bags into the opening until the polyp is nice and full and then staple shut.

DSC_0106

Next, cut varying lengths of your party streamers and tape to the bottom of your coffee filter polyp.  (I found a couple of rolls of blue and yellow in the junk drawer, so blue and yellow it was for us!)  Use fishing line or thread to hang your jellyfish from the ceiling.

For a short while, we hung our jellyfish in the entrance of our dining room.  They added a beautiful pop of color and a touch of movement to the area, but they were too distracting when you had to walk underneath them.  We ended up moving our jellyfish to a safer location in a corner of the dining room instead.

Get creative!  Think another material besides party streamers would work for the tentacles?  Try it and see!  As with many other ocean animals, the different types of jellyfish vary widely in shape, size, colors, textures, and even the way they move.

And while you are creating your jellyfish masterpiece, you may want to try reading aloud Jeremiah Jellyfish Flies High by John Fardell.  It’s a funny picture book for the kindergarten set but will be sure to entertain the older kids as well.