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STEM Book Club: Jack and the Geniuses

It’s fall and that means our STEM Book Club for 4-6th graders is back in session! For our first book we are reading Jack and the Geniuses by Bill Nye & Gregory Mone.

Jack, Matt and Ava aren’t your run of the mill orphans, they’re geniuses… well Matt and Ava are geniuses and Jack, he has the street smarts. Jack doesn’t resent his foster siblings exactly, but it can be hard to stand out when they know all the answer. This is especially true when the trio begin working for Dr. Hank Witherspoon, one of the worlds leading scientists. Ava tests the experiments, Matt talks shop with Hank and Jack, runs errands and answers emails…

That is, until the whole crew are invited to accompany Hank to Antarctica to judge a science prize worth a million dollars. But when they get there, they find out a fellow scientist has gone missing and no one seems to care.

It is up to Jack and his siblings to uncover the clues and save the day!

Here is my questions for guiding the discussion:

1. What is this book about? What are the main themes? 

2. Ava, Matt and Hank talk a lot of “science.” What are some of the scientific concepts hey discuss?

3. Jack and his siblings are “autonomous.” What does this mean and what do you think about how this affects their life?

4. On page 173, Jack says, “in a strange way we were starting to feel like a family.” What happens in the book to make us think this way? Give examples.

5. Jack is a super relatable, down to earth character. What are some ways you might relate to Jack or any of the other characters in this book?

6. The majority of this book takes place in Antarctica. What did you learn about Antarctica that you didn’t know before?

7. Jack and his siblings do a lot of detective work when they get to the station. What do you think makes a good detective?

8. A good portion of this book has to do with density. What is density and why was it so important to the plot?

9. Let’s talk gadgets? What was your favorite gadget that was used in the book?

10. This is the first book in a series. Can you make any predictions about what is going to happen on the kid’s next adventure?

Then we get into our STEM activity. This time we are doing a DIY Cartesian Diver.

 Supplies:  water, 16oz cup, scissors, 2 hex nuts, 2 pipettes, 1-lter bottle with cap; 16” of wire—cute to 10” & 6”

How To: PART 1

  1.  Slip the hex nut onto the stem of the pipette. Screw it onto the base of the bulb. A few turns will hold it in place. Cut the stem a quarter-inch above the base.

  2. Pour about 4 inches of water into the large plastic cup. Test-float the diver in the cup. It should bob up and down with the bulb sticking out of the water. Squeeze the bulb and draw some water into it by releasing your grip. Repeat this several times until the diver is half-full with water.

  3. Let go of the diver to see if it still floats. When properly adjusted, the diver should just barely float in the cup of water. If the diver sinks to the bottom, grab it, squeeze out a few drops of water, then re-test it until it floats properly.

  4. Fill the soda bottle all the way to the brim with water. This is VERY IMPORTANT! Place the diver in the bottle, but be careful not to lose any of the water inside the diver or out of the top of the bottle.

  5. Put the cap on the very full soda bottle with the diver inside! Squeeze the sides of the bottle. Does the diver sink? You may have to squeeze very hard with both hands, depending on the water level in the diver. What happens when you release the squeeze?

How To: PART 2

  1. Make another Cartesian Diver, with the directions in the first activity.

  2. Wrap one end of the blue wire several times around the stem stump of the Cartesian Diver you’ve already tested. Make sure you wrap the wire between the bulb and hex nut. Shape the other end of the blue wire into a giant, J-shaped Hook.

  3. Wrap one end of the red wire around the stem stump of the second diver between the bulb and the hex nut. Loop it over the diver’s bulb and wrap the other end around the stem stump, too. This diver will act as the Sinker.

  4. Set up a float test for the sinker in the large plastic cup, just as you did when you built the first Cartesian Diver. This time, however, fill the sinker with enough water so it barely sinks to the bottom of the cup.

  5. Top off the soda bottle with water, pull the sinker out of the test cup and drop it into the top of the bulging soda bottle. Again, make sure that the bottle is absolutely full with water (the diver won’t work if there’s any air in the bottle). Check the bulb to make sure that it hasn’t lost any water and then drop the diver with the hook into the bottle. Screw the cap on the bottle as tightly as you can.

  6. Squeeze the sides of the bottle. The hook will dive to the bottom. The object of the game is to catch the sinker with the hook and lift it to the surface. You may have to make some adjustments on both the hook and sinker to get this to work, but it’s all part of the game!

What’s Happening?

The Cartesian Diver is a classic science experiment that’s hundreds of years old. It’s named for a Frenchman, René Descartes (1596-1650), who made huge contributions in the fields of philosophy, math, and science. The original Cartesian Divers were made out of glass medicine droppers or delicate glass ampules.

When you have the water levels adjusted correctly in your new, unbreakable divers, you should see the water in the diver rise as you squeeze the bottle. The air trapped in the pipette compresses into a smaller space and the diver’s weight increases. It becomes less buoyant and it sinks. When you release the squeeze, the compressed air expands and forces water out of the diver, allowing it to float to the top of the bottle.

Note: If the bottle requires a super-strong squeeze to move the diver, there isn’t enough water in the pipette. Remove the diver from the bottle and increase the water level in the diver so it just barely floats.

Resources: A special thanks to…

How’d it go:

We only did part 1 of the experiment because we ran out of time, but as the kids put it, “wow, this was actually cool.” From 4-6th graders, I’m pleased. We were a little rambunctious, which we will have to work on, but other than that, I think everything went really well. We came. We saw. We got wet. We conquered this book! 

That’s all for now!


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