Summer Science Fun: Review of KidScience iPhone® App
One of the things that I get to do during the course of my day job is review mobile apps for scientists. Sometimes my job requires me to “break” the Promega app during our in-house testing and review procedures before we release new updates. Sometimes I get to play with the apps that other institutions have created.
This month I am delighted to play with the KidScience Premium iPhone® App recently released by Kitchen Pantry Scientist, LLC and CS Web Concepts and Design, LLC. The app, which is available for iPhone®, contains ten experiments.
According to Liz Heinecke, the Kitchen Pantry Scientist, “the idea behind KidScience is to make science easy, safe and accessible while keeping it fun.” She is a scientist with ten years bench experience in molecular biology, and that experience helps her adapt experiments to make them more kid-friendly.
The experiments are organized by recommended age, the science subject “type”, and the amount of time required. Additionally you can search for an experiment based on what you have available in your kitchen pantry. Have a couple of effervescent antacid tablets and a few old 35mm film canisters handy? Then you have all you need to compete with SpaceX and launch your very own film canister rocket.
Each experiment includes a brief overview, a recipe with detailed protocol, variations and scientific explanation, images and a how-to video. Safety is a priority, and all the experiments use nontoxic ingredients. Precautions such as safety goggles are suggested when appropriate. The videos are nice additions to the protocols, keeping the experiments approachable and user friendly for children. Additionally you can share your favorite experiments with your friends and create shopping lists for experiments that you want to do, a handy tool for teachers who might incorporate these activities into the classroom.
One thing that publishers of mobile apps don’t often seem to consider is customer service, but it’s something I value highly. And, I think for a science experiment app directed to parents and teachers, customer service and response to feedback is essential. KidScience does a great job. I found one minor error in a written protocol, reported it on their feedback page and almost instantly received a reply thanking me and saying they were updating the app. That kind of customer service wins major kudos from this reviewer.
The first experiment I tested was the featured “Tie Dye Milk” experiment. My tester was my five-year-old daughter who thought getting to play with food coloring was loads of fun. I used the inflated balloon analogy offered in the video to talk about surface tension, and we dove into our experiment, adding drops of food coloring to a plate of milk and then “popping” the surface with a cotton swab dipped in dishwashing detergent. The best thing about this experiment is that every step was easily handled by my daughter. I simply watched and took pictures.
We used up a quart of milk doing the experiment over and over and over, trying to see what kinds of amazing patterns we could get. My daughter was more fascinated by the swirling patterns and mixing colors than the surface tension concept. This was a teachable moment for me: what fascinated the child was not the principle the experiment was supposed to be about, and I found myself wishing that I knew more about the physics of molecular dispersion (i.e., how those patterns were made).
We didn’t try the pepper variation that accompanies the experiment. One idea that occurred to me as we worked was that a natural companion to this activity would be the paper boat racing experiment. Tabs of “related experiments” linked on each page (once the app has the content to support it) would be nice, so that users have more than one way to investigate a scientific concept. Some links to appropriate reference material might be handy for teachers who use the app.
The second experiment we tested was the “Magic Potion” experiment: extracting the pH-sensitive pigment from cabbage and observing color changes when it is exposed to solutions of varying pH. This experiment has the down side that many steps, like chopping and boiling the cabbage require a lot of parental intervention for safety reasons, but even so the color changes were dramatic. We tested the recommended vinegar and baking soda first and then went on a “What would happen if…” hunt around the kitchen testing lemon juice, milk, and our unfiltered well water (which is quite basic). The grand finale, mixing the pink vinegar solution and dark green baking soda solution yielded such a fizzy delight that we had to repeat it just because.
According to Kitchen Pantry Scientist, her three children serve as her “board of editors,” testing every experiment added to the app, and she has worked with preschools as well. The vetting and validation are apparent in the quality of the work.
Kitchen Pantry Scientist indicated that she will be adding new experiments regularly, and will even feature seasonal experiments for Halloween and other holidays. She may even add an Earth Science category at some point and possibly a Molecular Biology section.
Overall this is a well designed app. Preschool and early grades teachers should find it useful, as well as parents interested in doing some science with their children at home. The app is available for download from the App Store for $4.99.
When I asked Kitchen Pantry Scientist if there is anything she would like to ask our readers at Promega Connections, she replied, “I’d love more kid-friendly biology and molecular bio ideas. For example, any ideas for a safe way to run DNA on food-grade agar using very low voltage (batteries) and visualize it safely? Are there enzymes you can extract from fruits/veggies/other household items to cut DNA with?”
So readers, if you can help out, leave a reply here or visit KitchenPantryScientist.com. I can’t wait to see what you come up with.