When life gives you lemons... - FamilyEducation

When life gives you lemons...

March 05,2010
This week was definitely The Week That Got Away From Me. You know, one of those weeks that starts out fairly manageable, but then explodes out of control by Tuesday night and by Thursday you're scrambling to fit a million different things into what feels like a sliver of time. By Thursday the kids were pretty fed-up with the week, too. And I was pretty fed-up with the kids being fed-up. The icing on the cake, or the straw that broke the camel's back, was the fact that I committed, several months ago, to run a science experiment this Friday for the fourth graders, as part of L.'s school's annual Science Celebration. I also, several weeks ago, signed up to chaperone T.'s kindergarten field trip to the Science Museum--on the same week. A week with two scheduled doctor's appointments, two work meetings, and mid-term exams to write. Of course, several months ago, the thought of running a science experiment for L.'s grade seemed welcome and oh so doable. This is always the undoing of us over-scheduled, over-committed people. For three years straight now I've been setting up and running experiments for this Science Day. For two years straight I ran the ever-popular "rescue an ice cube" with the kindergarteners; last year the third graders and I had lots of fun racing balloons, as we experimented with force and motion. Every year I find myself over-committed and panicked the night before Science Day--and that was with ice cubes and balloons. This year, I had the brilliant idea that we'd make a lemon battery. That's right. A battery out of a lemon. A quick internet search on citrus-powered batteries didn't make the process seem too bad. There's even a video on how to do it! Make a circuit using the acid from lemons and voila! you can light a small LED bulb. I thought the idea was wonderful; the perfect way to help students think about alternative energy sources, while having fun poking copper nails into fruit. Last week I bought several bags of ripe lemons and oranges, and felt ahead of the game. Then life took over, and it wasn't until yesterday--as in the day before Science Day--as in the same day I chaperoned T.'s field trip, and went into work, and picked up the kids, and drove across town to the only Radio Shack near us so I could buy LED bulbs--that I decided to test the concept. At 5:20, hungry and tired and very frazzled the kids and I made it home. I brought out the lemons, hooked up the nails and pennies and wires and we waited for that magical moment when the two wires would touch, and the tiny light would glow in my hands and we'd all be amazed that all it took was one yellow lemon and I could get on with more pressing things, like making dinner. Except nothing happened. The thing about science is, of course, that it doesn't always work out just the way you want it to, especially at 5:30 on a Thursday afternoon. Scott came home from work not long after I had sent the kids to watch TV while I wrestled with rounds 2, 3, and 4 of the lemon battery experiment, and found me in near tears over a pile of soggy lemons and a mangled nest of twisted copper wires. The thing about tag-team parenting is that it's really so much more than just about schedules and logistics and juggling. It's about that instinctive balance you and your partner have learned to maintain, so that you know just when to step in and you, the frazzled I'm-at-the-end-of-my-rope spouse knows just when to step out. After dinner Scott and L. spent over an hour tinkering with oranges and wires and alligator clips and a digital clock face instead of the LED light. I was just settling down with T. for story time when L. came racing upstairs, bursting with the news that the orange battery had, in fact, worked. There, on the kitchen table, in the middle of a sea of wadded up napkins and oranges sprouting out wires and clips was a little round digital clock, with blinking numbers. An orange-powered clock. It was amazing. A thing of beauty, really. The coolest clock I'd ever seen. Attempt 1Attempt 2Orange powerPower! If you're having trouble viewing the photos you can also find them at my Flickr account, right here. If you try this experiment with your kids: --The orange/lemon battery will power a clock easier than the LED light --It will take up to six oranges/lemons strung together as a circuit to power one small LED light --Cover your table with a plastic cloth before you begin poking citrus fruits with sharp objects --Potatoes and bananas can, apparently, also be turned into workable circuits! Have fun experimenting with different fruits/vegetables --Turn it into a guessing game: how many oranges will it take to turn on the clock? --Have fun in the process of doing it; don't get so hung up on the results, as I was. Happy Weekend!