Using Psychics to Teach Physics!

(Or, "Join the Physics Phriends Network Today!")

Fortune Fish
The above little red-cellophane looking toy looks very innocent, doesn't it? Well, it isn't! It can be used to introduce kids to the over-rated "scientific method" and to destroying preconceived notions. A little history on where I got this idea...

Seven or so years ago, a few buddies and I ended up at the White Dog Cafe near Drexel University in Philadelphia PA. This was after an annual Michael Jackson lecture at the University of Penn Museum. NO! Not THAT Michael! This one is a frazzled-looking British beer expert. Anyway, we were sitting at the White Dog sampling their beverages when one of the guys, Dennis I believe, went next door to the Black Cat Gift Shop. Cute pair of shops, eh? The Black Cat is one of those shops where you can buy really strange things like rubber chickens, two-foot ling pencils, and this now famous Fortune Fishee Thing. He came back with one for each of us. It tells your fortune depending on how much it curls in your hand. You know... REAL scientific stuff like "Jealousy" or "Fickle" or "Passionate"... This is REAL science, Baby! Anyway, these things entertained us for about a minute. They asked me how it worked. I came up with some sorta BS answer like, "Oh, it's reacting to the heat of your hand like a bi-metallic strip in a thermostat..." So, the gang continued emptying their glasses. Except me. I was sitting there, at the bar, playing with this stupid thing running tests to verify its operation. HINT: Try never to run scientific experimentation at a bar after drinking all day. Your results simply cannot be verified by the witnesses even IF you could remember them the next day.

So, I researched these little guys and found out they work on moisture, not heat. I bought them from the Black Cat for a discounted rate of $0.75 each - normally $1.00! I went through hundreds of these things for my classes and during my teacher workshops. Spending my hard-earned money on them at the Black Cat. (It was probably just a lame excuse to go back to the White Dog.) Well, at the NJ State Science Teacher's Convention 3 or 4 years ago, an audience member asked where to get these. I rambled on about the above little story to the bemusement of the crowd. Another attendee then said, "Did you ever hear of Oriental Trading?" "Yes", I said. "I throw away 5 of their catalogs a weeks!" Oh! So, I checked them out. Guess what... They sell these little $0.75 things for $4.95 A GROSS! [Addendum 08/10/03: Thanks to Patricia Mason from Indiana for pointing out that they are now $7.95 a gross... And she suggested I post the catalog #. See next sentence... Thanks, Patricia!] Check out Oriental Trading Company Online, catalog number IN-39/761.

Curling in my hand...
So, how do they do what they do? They are long-strand polymers that actually GRAB water molecules. They will grab only on the side of the direct contact. It doesn't absorb, it just grabs. One side swells up with the added volume of water and curls just like a bi-metallic strip with heat. The polymer is used commonly in baby's diapers! Cool!

So, Why use them in class? I throw these little guys at the kids on the FIRST DAY of school with a LAB sheet that just has 4 questions on it and no directions other than "Get in groups of 3 or 4". The questions they must strive to answer are:

  1. What are your group's results after using the Fishee Thing?
  2. Have your group take a guess as to why it works that way. Make sure you all come to an agreement of sorts.
  3. Devise a test that will verify your guess from #2.
  4. Share your findings with the rest of the class. Have the entire class come up with one explanation.
Then, I review their procedures and steps and results as a class. Then I tell the "truth" by placing one on a slightly moist sponge that has been sitting on my Demo Desk, thus in front of them, the whole period. It curls drastically.

In review, the kids went thru all 5 stages of the over-rated "scientific method"! Observation, Hypothesis, Experiment, Theory, Conclusion. Without even knowing that's what they did! I LOVE teaching subversively!

Return to Daryl's Main Demo Page