WEEK 4 at Woodson: Owl Pellet Adventures and Thanksgiving Traditions

By Tolu

This week at Woodson, the girls revealed how much they knew about owl pellets and their own Thanksgiving traditions. Owls have no teeth but break up their prey whole using their sharp beaks. Since they cannot digest bone and fur, they regurgitate pellets. Scientists and Sisters4Science girls alike can dissect these pellets to learn more about what these owls ate. This week we had Ashanta and biological sisters, Brianna and Desiree for the lesson (from left to right).


            Dissecting owl pellets was nothing new for these girls so although a little grossed out at first, they handled themselves with poise and professionalism! Ashanta found two different skulls in her owl pellet so deciding on the type of animal eaten was a bit tricky. It was great fun to observe how the girls went about dissection. Ashanta made use of both her tooth picks and took her time dissecting. She also told us about her families Thanksgiving tradition of eating tamales. They are one of her favorite foods.











Brianna is such a character and thoroughly funny. She zipped through her dissection and even decided to give her bones to her Sisters4Science Facillitator, Tolu. She made sure to  soften her pellet using a little bit of cold water.


Desiree on the other hand, was incredibly meticulous in her dissection. She found no skulls in her pellet. The other girls joked that maybe the owls all shared a meal, and Ashanta’s owl ate part of Desiree’s owl’s dinner. Desiree and Brianna both shared about the Puerto Rican food they have on Thanksgiving as well.




At the end of the day, the girls used their critical thinking skills and diagrams of rodent skeletons to guess the type of rodents in their owl pellets. Ashanta found a vole skull, and Desiree used her magnify glass to take a look at her rodent bones.  Brianna learned that she, a 7th grader, could actually tell the difference between rodents! All in all, it was a day of discovery.


Posters with a Holiday Twist

By Bori

It was our last day in this fall-winter semester.  Over the last ten sessions, we have gone through so much together!  I am very proud of my girls!  It’s been such a blessing to witness them grow in science!  Since it was snowing and freezing outside, only a few girls came in for our last class.  We still had so much fun reviewing what we have done in this semester.  We started the class by picking up our most favorite experiments.  Here are our most favorites:

*Moon Craters20131209_164736

*”Critical Mass” by Sara Paretsky

*Pipe Instruments

*A mug of Chocolate Cake

Faith got up and started working on the poster for Reflection of Knowledge Party this Friday.  I had simple materials for them to use.  Amorianna was assisting Faith to create a Christmas-like poster.  Faith is very creative, especially when it comes to Art.  She is very artistic!  With a pencil, she started to carefully create the calligraphy of  “Sisters4Science.”  Amorianna and I were helping overwrite on her calligraphy with markers.  Faith used Christmas ribbon tapes to make a grid on the poster and had red and green card-papers for each title box.  I loved the way how they used the colors and the shapes in our poster.  They were so excited to present this at the Reflection of Knowledge!


As we reviewed our sessions together, I noticed something I have never learned before.  It’s true we all love hands-on learning, but for our girls they have more focused on the materials used in each experiment.  They love chocolates.  They love music.  These materials ignites their curiosity.  I remember the girls always touched them and asked what we were doing when I had all materials set up at the front table.  Plus, they love having new science mentors each week, especially Ms. Sara Paretsky, the New York Times Bestseller author.

Sisterhood in Science

By Bori

It was a Thanksgiving week and it was a perfect day to reflect on what we have done together in this amazing journey!  As the girls started to come in, I had three questions written down on the board for the girls to start journaling.

*What do you think Science is?

*What have you learned in Sisters4Science?

*What is or are your most favorite experiment(s) and why?



The girls were very eager to share what they have learned and their favorite experiments, but I let them “think aloud” before we shared together.  For 15 minutes, we had a time to reflect on our own then we got together and started sharing. “Who wants to go first?” I asked.  Micah and Faith always want to go first and I always have a hard time to pick one of them.  This time, Micah got her voice up first, “I think Science is asking questions and experiments with accepted ideas.”  “I love your response.  Thank you.” I replied.  Micah is always enthusiastic about asking questions.  She always has questions prepared.  “Who wants to go next?  Faith?”  “Science is the study of anything around us.” said Faith.  “Yes, that is!  What do you think, Ashley?’  “I think Science is the study of genetics and DNA.”  responded Ashley.  “So you like Biology!  So do I!”

We could have shared our own thoughts of Science, but since time was limited, we moved onto the next question.

Ms. Bori: “Let’s share what we have learned in this class!  Amorianna?”

Amorianna: “I learned about moon craters.”

Ms. Bori: “Was it your favorite one? Why?”

Amorianna: “Because we use sprinkles, coco, and rocks.  I love coco!”


One last question: What is or are your most favorite experiment(s) and why?


Most girls picked “Moon Craters” for their favorite!  The reason was simple: they love coco.  Micah’s favorite was “Marshmallow Challenges.”  She said, “I loved building structures because that makes me think.  I’d like to demonstrate this at the Reflection of Knowledge.”  Yes, Micah is a thinker!

As we wrapped up our sharing, I showed them the ways we could present our thoughts and ideas.  “Be creative girls! How would you like to present yours?”  “I want to do posters!” responded Faith.  “Can we actually demonstrate this there?’ asked Micah.  “I will try to have you demonstrate your favorite experiment then.”  “Let me show you an example I have created.  Here’s a Prezi presentation.”  http://prezi.com/gwfd-psw66vo/sisters4science/


Towards the end, I wanted to ask the girls what else the girls have taken from Sisters4Science.


Ms. Bori: “Is there something you have learned in this class?  Something not-science?”

Micah:  “I have met my sisters here.  I have got to know middle schoolers.”

Faith: “I have met my new sisters here that I had never imagined before.  I am so thankful for these sisters and the friendship we have.”


I loved hearing the word “sisters.”  I am So thankful for this unique program that offers sisterhood through science.  The girls have so much enjoyed having new sisters, and have learned working together through science.  We can’t make science alone, but like us, we need each other to experience real science 🙂

Woodson Girls “Make Light” and Gear Up for the Reflection of Knowledge

By Tolu

All the girls are back December 6, 2013 for an exciting lesson on fluorescence! We started the day with a brief lecture and discussion on what the girls thought light was. Some thought it was heat, others said it comes from the sun and is a wave.Woodson1

            After learning about light’s ability to excite electrons, the girls performed an experiment that would generate light emission. Since safety comes first, the girls (left to right: Ashanta, Ciera, Stephanee, Brianna, and Desiree) put on their goggles (and of course) posed for the camera!


Tolu broke the girls up into teams and had After mixing chemical compounds together for a brief reaction.


They turned off the lights and saw something spectacular: blue light!














For the second half of the day, the girls prepared for the Sisters4Science Reflection of Knowledge the following week on December 13. Tolu lead the girls in their own individual reflection on what they had learned in the past 5 weeks.  The girl listed Mae C. Jemison, planets, atoms, bridges, and the differences between states, continents and countries.


After writing their thoughts on the board, the girls decided to write a poem about their experiences this quarter. (ON THEIR OWN with no help from Tolu).

 They wrote:

This is what we what we learned in Sisters4Science.

Learned about planets and how not be liars.

We all have a code called, “Trust and Believe.”

We talked about atoms.

Not Adam and Eve.

We learned how to make light out of lots of little things.

Dissected owl pellets and dissected a lot of things.

We have a nice teacher named, Ms. Tolu who helped with all these things.

And most of all, we learned that Science can be a girl thing!




























Happy Holidays from Sisters4Science. We will be back next year!


Handwriting Analysis and Chromatography

By Brienne

This week in S4S Calumet, we learned about handwriting analysis and chromatography from a real life forensic scientist!! Angela Cloud-Simmons is a substance forensic scientist with the Illinois State Police, and she taught the girls how to decode a ransom note.


The missing person was Rocky the stuffed dog, and no one could find him anywhere, until the S4S girls received a ransom note. The note said that in order for them to have Rocky back, they would have to pay $1000. Calumet4The girls, unwilling to give up that type of money, decide to seek the help of Angela Cloud-Simmons to figure out who had Rocky. After seperating the marker colors with the chromatography experiment, they were able to determine that it was Table 3 of S4S girls!! Once caught, they released Rocky, and no one was punished!Calumet2

Angela also spoke to the girls about her job specifically, even about the hand the coroner cut off and sent to her for fingerprints. They loved that! A great session, very informative, but most importantly, FUN!!Calumet5

Delicious Science: A Mug of Chocolate Cake

By Bori

Screenshot 2013-12-09 at 11.00.53 AM

We are close to the end of this semester. Chicago is getting its reputation again for the icy windy season and getting dark early in the winter. It’s Monday again, which is not easy for the girls to be awake, especially for the after-school clubs. They have been in school like forever. We’ve all needed something refreshing for this tiring day. On this not-easy-Monday, we had “the most awesome” experiment ever that would awake everyone! Chocolates! We love chocolates!Screenshot 2013-12-09 at 11.01.42 AM

We were so grateful for Miss Louesa Akin, a biochemist at University of Chicago. Before moving on to the fun experiment, she shared a little bit of what she is studying and why. Miss Louesa Akin wanted to know how things in the world would work. She loves to find out why the things worked out. Her passion in finding the causes has led to her career being a biochemist.

Following her passion, we were on the way to our journey, finding how all ingredients work together in one chocolate cake. If we miss one or two ingredients, what would happen to the chocolate cake or what taste would be like? The girls were discussing with Miss Akin; “If we have it with no milk in it, it wouldn’t be moist enough,” said Shelby. “I’d like to make one without eggs and taste it,” said Micah. From our hypothesis, we all started making each mug of chocolate cake as assigned.

Screenshot 2013-12-09 at 10.59.57 AMThe recipe was on the board as well as the assignment. The girls were very excited as they were putting flours and the cocoa powder. It was our very exciting moment! Once we were putting the ingredients as assigned, we took a turn to warm it up in the microwave. We were astonished it would take only three minutes to warm up in the microwave! Simple and fun! We had all the mugs of chocolate cake lined up on the counter. Before tasting, we compared them by looking—what differences we could see right away. We discovered a very interesting fact in one mug with no flour, which Faith made. It had been burned in the microwave within only a few minutes. We found out that flour is not just a base for the cake, but it does protect the whole cake from burning. By looking, most of them were just fine and looked very delicious.

Screenshot 2013-12-09 at 11.01.24 AMWe all had a chance to taste each chocolate mug cake. I loved Micah’s reaction to one with no coco, “Ekkk.” It did obviously not taste like the chocolate cake since there was no coco in it. The girls loved their own chocolate mug cake though they had missed the ingredients! It was another messy science we so much enjoyed. The truth is: the messier it is, the more fun science is!

Extracting DNA

By Reem

20131119_173132We had an exciting day at Reavis this week–guest scientist Anna Chen taught our Sisters how to extract and see our own DNA! First, we learned about the organization of life, from the small scale to a larger scale. The girls talked about atoms, and how they make up molecules, which make up cells, which make up tissues, which make up organs, which make up systems, which make up an organism like a human, which make up a population, which make up a community, which make up an ecosystem…and on and on!
The girls shared their misconceptions about DNA (“It’s in EVERY cell? Really? Even in our lungs?”) and we talked about how important DNA is as the blueprint of our bodies.
20131119_172013Then, we got to conduct a very cool experiment: how to extract your DNA using basic materials! Each girl scraped some DNA off her tongue (“We have DNA in our mouths too?? Can we taste it?”), and spit into a test tube. We learned that DNA was in every cell’s nucleus, so we needed some way to get it alone. We added a few drops of dish soap into the tube to break down the membrane that surrounds each cell. Then, we added pineapple juice (delicious and educational!) to our tubes to destroy the proteins in our cells that might get in the way. Finally, we added salt to solidify the DNA, and isopropyl alcohol to dissolve everything except the DNA. When we mixed it all together, we could see our own DNA floating around inside the test tube!
The Sisters were very excited to take a sample of their DNA home–Alita even made an extra DNA test tube–and now we all know how to extract our DNA using simple materials. We’re excited to learn more from Anna next week!