Monday, April 26, 2010

80 Miles to Play-Doh Part I: When Without, Improvise!

Last week, I had the privilege of traveling to Chinle, AZ to participate in a series of educational activities related to the Moon and LRO. Traveling from the DC area, I flew to Albuquerque on Sunday in preparation for a scouting trip to Meteor and Sunset Craters on Monday. Tuesday evening, my colleagues and I were to lead an evening's worth of activities that included viewing the Moon through a telescope and discussing how scientists use Earth analogs to understand the processes that occur elsewhere in the solar system.

Monday evening, one of my fellow NASA educators mentioned that it would be a good idea to prep some hands-on activities for the students for the evening's events. After all, if we're going to be discussing volcanoes and impact craters, why not have the students investigate how they're made in the first place? We all agreed that it was a good idea and decided on our drive back to Chinle from Flagstaff that we would go to the grocery store in the morning to pick up supplies. For those of you whom have never made volcanoes in the classroom, you need the following supplies:

baking soda
paper plates
paper cups
paper towels
clear straws

Now, most of the items on the above list can be readily found at any grocery store - after all, they're all pretty common in the baking isle. On the other hand, play-doh isn't an item typically found in the grocery store. If you happen to live in an urban area, any pharmacy or big-box store would most likely have play-doh. However, if you're in Chinle, AZ, the closest big-box store or pharmacy is over 80 miles away (one-way), and in another state! So here's where our plan got interesting. There are plenty of home-made play-doh recipes out there, but most of them call for you to cook your dough (or at least to include boiling water). What's an educator to do?

My colleagues and I wandered through the small grocery store, searching desperately on our slow cell phone internet connections for a recipe to make play-doh that doesn't involve cooking. The non-cook play-doh options weren't viable for us, so we were stuck. "Wait a minute," I exclaimed, "we can use the coffee pot to heat the water up!"

So, there we were. It was 3 pm, 4 hours before the event was scheduled to start. Pouring flour, salt, cream of tartar, kool-aid, oil, and water heated in the coffee pot into the sink in the hotel bathroom. Yep, I said the sink! Turns out, a hotel sink is a perfect bowl to make home-made play-doh, and it's easy clean up. I couldn't help but laugh at our situation. If you ever asked me if I ever thought my job would have me on a Navajo reservation, 80 miles from the nearest Wal-mart, mixing play-doh in a hotel sink, I would have answered with the requisite "are you crazy?" We made cherry, orange, mango, and grape colored/flavored play-doh. The grape play-doh looked like a warm, giant ball of chewed bubblicious gum. :-P

The event turned out really well. We had about 60 people, made up of families with kids of all ages show up for our event. Everyone had a great time making volcanoes out of our home-made play-doh and learning how impact craters are made. The clouds even (mostly) cooperated with us, enabling everyone to get a close up sight of the Moon through the telescope!


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Great information information in this post and I think there are plenty of home-made play-doh recipes out there, but most of them call for you to cook your dough.