YouTube Science: Be Careful Out There!

Geek Culture

Looking for exciting science projects to do with your kids?

Here’s something I’ve realized after years of doing science experiments with my kids at home: Anything you’re thinking of trying has probably already been done — and posted on YouTube.

The trick is to find the demonstrations that are do-able and dramatic — but not so dramatic that you end up winning a Darwin Award.

This year for our homeschool science studies the kids and I have been watching a science video series and digging up related activities to do for our “labs.” Since I apparently went to school myself in the Dark Ages, I am always coming across something new and exciting. One recent topic was states of matter, and I was fascinated to learn that in addition to the three states I learned about — solid, liquid, and gas — there is actually a fourth state that is the most common in the universe: plasma. Plasma is a gas-like field of charged atomic particles. It’s what the sun and stars are made of. Who knew? But even more exciting was searching around the internet and discovering that you can make plasma in your microwave!

Now, the catch with what I like to call “YouTube Science” is that you can’t trust everything you see. Some videos are hoaxes. Some are just dangerously stupid. We found one video that was clear and easy to follow, but before we tried it ourselves, I made sure to find a reputable source that showed how to do the experiment safely (in this case, the Naked Scientist website, based on the BBC radio show featuring legitimate if slightly underdressed researchers from Cambridge University).

Once you verify that an experiment is safe enough to try at home, a YouTube Science video can be immensely helpful in showing you how to make it work.

As for the stupid videos, they’re fun to watch. And they make me glad that my kids aren’t the type to blow up the family microwave, just to get famous on YouTube.

(My family hasn’t graduated to making our own video tutorials, but if you’d like to read about what we did and see more videos, visit our blog Integrated Science at Home.)

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