Saturday, September 15, 2012

Science For Seniors (4) - Balloon Magic

Science was a huge hit last week. I presented three activities with balloons. Two of which were engaged individually by each of the participating seniors. The third...well, I had trouble reaching up and positioning the balloon before it sped across the room, so this one was simply scientific eye candy.

The first activity included a repeat presentation on magnets and how magnets draw to them some objects, but not others. Also, I demonstrated, again, how a paper clip could appear to "float" in the air just beneath the strong pull of a magnet. Because the majority of the seniors have some degree of dementia, they did not recall me doing this activity the week before. It was fresh and new to them.

Next, I put aside the magnet and began talking about static electricity. I asked if anyone every pulled clothing from a dryer and noticed how some items clung to each other. Too, that when these items were pulled a part that there was a soft, crackle sound. "Yes, I saw that. That is called static electricity. It makes your hair stand up when you put on a sweater just taken out of the dryer," one senior stated in a matter of fact voice just before taking a sip of ice water.

I thanked them for their comment and said, "Yes, exactly. We are going to create static electricity now and we are going to the use the static, instead of the magnetic, to pick up these paper figures." I then placed four of the pre-cut shapes on the red place mat before me. I had placed one of the place mats in front of each of the seniors, also.

I had one of my assistants blow up eight balloons just prior to the activity and so I placed one of those in front of me also.  I can not emphasize enough how important it is that all materials be prepared prior to the activity. Maintaining excitement and enthusiasm for the activity is essential. Not having everything ready is the fastest way to lose the group's interest. This is the same for any group, regardless of age.

The blue balloon in front of me had captured the attention of all of the seniors. Some had leaned forward in their seats to see just what I was going to do with it. I picked it up and rubbed it several times up and down on my sweater. I then held it over the paper figures and watched as they leaped up, clinging to the bottom of the balloon. Everyone smiled and some laughed. Soon, every senior was rubbing a blue balloon and/or the paper figures on their sweaters.

Again and again, they picked up the paper cut-outs. This first segment of  "Science With Seniors" was very successful and so was the next.

After several moments of working with the balloons and the cut-outs, I asked that everyone hand me their balloons and paper figures. I then stated that one of the assistants had tired themselves out blowing up all those balloons. I said this with a smile and a laugh. I said that we were going to need another way to blow up the rest of these balloons. I then placed ten empty balloons on my place mat. "I have a great idea! Let's use science to blow them up!" I said enthusiastically. "What is she up to now?" I heard one senior ask another.

I placed an empty, narrowed necked bottle on the table. I had several waiting on a table behind me. Too, I had all of the other materials positioned there. I then placed a funnel, a bottle of vinegar and a bagful of baking soda next to the bottle. "What is all that?" a participant asked. "All of this is going to blow up this balloon," I answered flashing a huge grin.

I placed the funnel into the bottle and poured vinegar into it until it was about 3/4 full. Next, I put the funnel into the opening of the balloon and then placed 4 tablespoons (or a little more) of baking soda into it and into the balloon. Next, I stretched the opening of the balloon over the opening of the bottle.  I looked up and noted that I had everyone's attention. The table was completely quiet. I then lifted the balloon up so that the baking soda feel into the bottle and into the vinegar. It was like feeding coal to a fire. The bubbles rumbled loudly. The balloon inflated larger and larger. I am absolutely not exaggerating when I say that everyone was hooting and hollering with absolute excitement.

My assistant worked alongside several of the seniors, while I worked with others so that each of them had the opportunity to do the baking soda/vinegar/balloon activity.  Some could put the balloon opening over the neck of the bottle, while others needed help. All did the pouring work themselves. All lifted the balloon so that the ingredients mixed and that the reaction occurred.

There was a moment when the laughing was so loud that I had to walk around and make sure that no one slipped off the seat of their chair. Maintaining the safety of all is always important.

The day was coming to a close and I had one last balloon "magic trick" planned. Hehehehe!

Before I even asked everyone to join me for science, I taped the end of a string on the outside of one of the cabinets and then threaded it through a straw. Next, I stretched the string, with the straw, tautly across the room and taped it on the opposite wall. I did this while the seniors were on a "walkabout." It was now time for this third and final segment of the afternoon's science activities to be acted out.

My assistant and I cleaned away the bottles with their now deflated balloons. I then walked over to  the the string and asked that everyone turn towards me. They were also encouraged and assisted to do so by my assistant. I took one of the three remaining balloons that had been blown up for the static activity and I positioned it just under the straw. Next, I placed two piece of tape over the top of the straw and down the sides of the balloon. I was careful not to squeeze the straw closed so that it would still be able to slide up and down the length of the string. I took a pair of scissors, and while all watched, I clipped off the knotted end of the inflated balloon.

It sped down the string like a sled down a snow covered hill. It shot down that string - oh yeah! And again there were hoots and hollers from the seniors. I did it twice more.

As the last balloon whipped down the string, one of the senior's caregiver entered the room. This middle- aged daughter stood next to her mother and, observing that there were balloons here and there, asked if she had missed the party. I explained that we were just finishing "Science With Seniors." She laughed and said, "I love it! Do you have science for middle-aged, pre-menopausal women? Let me know if you do because I love science too!"

One of the reasons that "Science With Seniors" is so successful is that all of the participants are successfully engaged. They hold a magnet over some metal hooks and the hooks cling to the magnet. The cause and effect works. It uplifts their spirit. They can do this. They may no longer be able to drive, use a stove or a telephone, but when they rub a balloon on their sweater it creates static electricity and the world is alive with possibility...well for an hour or so. And that is so much when you really think about much.

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