Physics Archives - Eva Varga

April 22, 2019

Charms is a core class and subject taught at both Hogwarts and  Ilvermorny Schools of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It is a required subject for all students. Throughout the course, students learn specific wand movements and proper pronunciation of the charms outlined in their course texts.


You don’t need a magic wand to create levitating objects. Simple gather a few things from around the house and you will be underway.

1. Levitating Ping Pong Ball

You only need two things to perform this science experiment.

  • Ping pong ball
  • Drinking straw (preferably a bendy straw)


  1. For the best results, use a bendy straw instead of a regular straight straw. Bend the neck 90 degrees so it points straight up. While holding the straw with one hand, hold the ping pong ball over the end.
  2. Blow a constant breath of air into the straw under the ping pong ball.  If the air pressure is strong enough, it will lift the ball off the tip of the straw and the ball should be able to float at least one inch off the straw.

How does it work? Simply put, it’s air pressure.  The air coming from the straw is moving faster than the air around it, and this means that it also has a lower air pressure than the air around it.  The ball is kept within the column of lower air pressure because of the higher-pressure air surrounding it.

2. Static Flyers

In this experiment, if you know how static electricity works, you can make the students at Hogwart’s envy your skills. Here’s a great TEDEd video to get you started, The Science of Static Electricity.

  • Plastic produce bag
  • Balloon
  • Cotton towel


  1. Use a pair of scissors to cut a strip from the open end of the produce bag. Once the strip is cut, you should have a large plastic band.
  2. Blow up the balloon to its full size and tie off the opening end. Rub the the surface of the balloon for 1 minute with the cotton towel.
  3. Flatten the plastic band on the table surface and gently rub the towel on the band for 1 minute.
  4. Hold the plastic band about one foot over the balloon and let go. The plastic band should levitate.

How does it work?

Rubbing the towel against the balloon and the plastic band transfers a negative charge to both objects. The band floats above the balloon because the like charges repel one another. If you really want to impress someone, just tell them that it’s a demonstration of “electrostatic propulsion and the repulsion of like charge.”

In a related demonstration you may have tried picking up small pieces of paper confetti with a charged balloon. Though the paper isn’t charged, it is attracted to the balloon because the negative charge on the balloon repels the electrons in the paper, making them (on average) farther from the balloon’s charge than are the positive charges in the paper.

As something gets farther away, the electrical forces decrease in strength. Therefore, the attraction between the negatives and positives is stronger than the repulsion between the negatives and negatives. This leads to an overall attraction. The paper is said to have an induced charge.

3. Levitating Spiral Orb

One more fun activity is the Levitating Orb. For this one, you’ll need:

  • PVC Tube about 60cm long (a regular balloon will also work)
  • Mylar tinsel (typically used to decorate Christmas trees)
  • Cotton towel (or your clean hair)
  1. Arrange 6 strands of mylar together and tie them together in a knot at one end. Do the same at the opposite end (each knot should be about 15 cm apart). Cut off any excess strands on the ends that protrude beyond the knot.
  2. Charge the PVC tube by rubbing the towel back and forth along the length of the tube for about 30 seconds.
  3. Hold the mylar orb (by the knot) above the charged tube and let it drop and touch the tube.
  4. It should repel away and start floating. If the tinsel keeps sticking to the tube, the tinsel is probably not thin enough and you will need to try another kind of tinsel. You will also need to “recharge” the tube each time.

Projectile Motion

In the Harry Potter movie The Sorcerer’s Stone, Malfoy throws Neville’s remembrall and Harry races after it, making a spectacular catch (all while flying on broomsticks).

Magical Motion ~ Using this film as a starting point, students are immersed in concepts related to projectile motion. They explore the relationships between displacement, velocity, and acceleration.

Projectile Magic ~ In the next lesson, they learn to use equations of linear motion to describe the behavior of a system as a function of time.

This post is part of a five-day hopscotch. Join me each day this week as we dive into each course.

Herbology (Botany)

Care of Magical Creatures (Zoology)

Potions (Chemistry)

Alchemy Astronomy & Divination (Geology)

Magical Motion (Physics) – this post

July 3, 2016

Rube Goldberg was a famous cartoonist who took simple and compound machines which are meant to make tasks easier, and made them overly complex. His cartoons depicted complex machines that worked in an indirect and convoluted way, such as the “Self-Operating Napkin”.

Art and Science of Rube Goldberg
As you raise spoon of soup (A) to your mouth it pulls string (B), thereby jerking ladle (C) which throws cracker (D) past parrot (E). Parrot jumps after cracker and perch (F) tilts, upsetting seeds (G) into pail (H). Extra weight in pail pulls cord (I) which opens and lights automatic cigar lighter (J), setting off sky-rocket (K), which causes sickle (L) to cut string (M) and allow pendulum with attached napkin to swing back and forth thereby wiping off your chin.

Rube Goldberg Physics

When Goldberg showed his “Self-Operating Napkin” machine to his friend, his friend said it would not work. Using what you know about mechanical advantage and work, prove to Goldberg’s friend that the invention will actually work.

Work (in Joules, J) = Force (Newtons, J) x Distance (m)

Mechanical Advantage of a Lever = Distance from fulcrum to the applied force / Distance from fulcrum to weight lifted

You raise your spoon of soup 0.15 meters with 2 Newtons of force. How much work did you do?

The spoon pulls a string as you move it. How much work is transferred?

The string jerks the ladle, which is a lever. The string is attached 10 cm from the fulcrum and the force is applied 0.5 m from the fulcrum. What is the mechanical advantage?

The spoon throws a cracker past a parrot. The parrot jumps after the cracker, applying force to the perch he is sitting on. The perch spins around throwing the seeds into a pail. The perch is another lever. It has a mechanical advantage of 2. If it would take 0.5 J of work to move the seeds 0.1m without the lever, how much force will be needed with the lever?

The extra weight in the pail pulls a cord, which goes around a pulley and opens and lights an automatic cigar lighter. If the pail can apply 3 N of force to the cord, and the pulley system has a mechanical advantage of 2, how much total force can be applied to the match?

The match sets off the rocket, which causes a sickle to cut the string, allowing a pendulum with attached napkin to swing back and forth thereby wiping off your chin. If 3 N of force is needed to strike the match, will the system work?

Discover the amazing resources and contests at Rube Goldberg.


The Art and Science of Rube Goldberg @EvaVarga.netReuben Lucius “Rube” Goldberg was born on July 4, 1883, in San Francisco, California. He loved to draw and received some basic art instruction when he worked with a sign painter as a young teen. Rather than pursue a career in art, though, he followed his father’s advice and attended the University of California at Berkeley, where he earned his degree in engineering.

Mapping out sewer pipes and water mains in San Francisco didn’t hold Rube’s interest for long, though. He began creating cartoons for local San Francisco papers. He eventually moved to New York where he landed a job as a cartoonist for the Evening Mail.

He used his engineering background to create funny cartoons featuring complicated machines that were described as new inventions to accomplish easy, straightforward tasks through a series of convoluted steps involving chain reactions. The public quickly fell in love with Rube’s inventions.

His work became popular nationwide, as his cartoons were syndicated in hundreds of newspapers across the country. The art world also loved his works, some of which were displayed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Rube even made it to Hollywood, where his move script “Soup to Nuts” introduced a trio who would soon become famous as the Three Stooges.

Bring It Home

Check out the following activities to learn more about Rube Goldberg and his work:

Dive a little deeper into the history by watching this video that explores the man behind the machines.

If you have a smartphone or a tablet, you can purchase and download Rube Works, a fun game that challenges you to build a virtual Rube Goldberg machine.

Make your own homemade Rube Goldberg machine! Check out Make a Rube Goldberg Machine for ideas to help you get started.

A Rube Goldberg culminating project will be included in the Physics Logic: Simple Machines & Laws of Motion curriculum to be released soon.

Science MilestonesYou may also be interested in learning about other inventors and scientists who have made an impact in our lives.

The bloggers of the iHomeschool Network have teamed up to create fun and original unit studies on fascinating people who were born in July.

February 14, 20161

As parents of middle school age children, I am sure you have long been aware that the toys that we choose to buy for our kids can make a difference in their development. Being presented opportunities to see, play with, and experience specific materials present different challenges, require different skill sets, and cover a variety of different learning areas.

Classic Toys to Challenge Middle Schoolers

Educational toys encourage specific learning areas such as literacy, math, science, and music. Games and puzzles teach strategic thinking skills and encourage laughter and social awareness. They also bring family and friends together to make wonderful memories that will last for years to come.

I love classic toys for many reasons. One of things that I have discovered is that these timeless classics continue to captivate people of all ages.

Challenge Middle Schoolers with these Classic Toys @EvaVarga.netThe Amazing World of YoYoing by Erik Everson, age 13

One amazing hobby (and potential) profession is yo-yoing. There’re all sorts of variations and styles. The five main styles are:

1) String Tricks
2) Looping
3) Two-handed String Tricks
4) Off String
5) Freehand

String Tricks is the most popular style and the style I will focus on today. What makes it so unique you ask? These aren’t traditional yo-yos that most people grew up with. These are known as non-responsive yo-yos, which means they do not come up with the tug on the string. The ones that come up with a tug on the string are called responsive yoyo’s.

What makes yo-yos that are non-responsive so unique is the string can touch the yoyo in many more variations without accidentally coming back up to the hand. This makes your trick variation possibilities expand so much more.

Well then, how do you get it back up, you ask? The basic way to get the yoyo back up is to put a layer of string into the yoyo. Most of the time this trick is called “the bind”. If you’d like to see this performed, search on YouTube under, “How to Bind with a Yo-Yo”.

Competitions happen around the world. It’s amazing to see how many people are have taken up this hobby/profession. If you’d like to see some amazing performances of String Tricks here are some names to look up: Gentry Stein, Zack Gormley, Paul Kerbel, and Brandon Vu. These are just some of the many amazing yo-yoers.

In conclusion if you decide to join me on this amazing journey you’ll have the time of your life. Remember not to take it too seriously, it’s yo-yoing.

Challenge Middle Schoolers with these Classic Toys @EvaVarga.netCubing with Pizzazz by Jeffrey Varga, age 11

I first discovered the Rubix Cube in 2014 when I received a classic cube in my Christmas stocking. I played around with it a bit over the holidays but I never got further than solving the green side so I gave up. My parents told me that was far as they ever got, too.

I didn’t think too much about it until several months later when I saw a video on YouTube where someone solved it in under 30 seconds. I thought to myself, That’s cool. I want to to be able to solve the puzzle like that. So I searched for ‘how to solve’ videos on YouTube and began to practice the algorithm.

There are 43 quintillion possibilities, but only one correct solution. Knowing how to solve a Rubik’s Cube it is nearly impossible without a little help. When it comes to solving the Rubik’s Cube, t is really simple, you just have to follow the steps and you will be solving the Rubik’s Cube in less than two minutes (yes, that quickly!).

I am now a cuber and my best time is 21 seconds. I can also solve the 2×2, Pyramix, and 3×3 Cuboid Shape Shifter (pictured above). My favorite cube is the 3×3 MoYu HuaLong because it feels like butter when you turn it.

Challenge Middle Schoolers with these Classic Toys @EvaVarga.netLego

The history of Lego spans nearly 100 years, beginning with the creation of small wooden toys in the early 20th century. Manufacturing of plastic Lego bricks began in Denmark in 1947, but since has grown to include factories throughout the world. Today, the company is an iconic brand.

Founded in 1932 by Ole Kirk Christiansen, the word “lego” is derived from the Danish words “leg godt”, meaning “play well”. The word “lego” also means “I put together” in Latin, and “I connect” in Italian.

For decades, Legos were mostly something kids played with and adults stepped on barefoot in the dark. The Lego universe has been expanding rapidly in recent years, however, with the opening of colorful retail stores, a continuous stream of specialty parts, architecture and city sets, and alliances with the “Star Wars” franchise (amongst others).

Clearly something has clicked — Lego recently became the world’s biggest toymaker. With the popularity of the Lego Movie, it is of no wonder that many teens and preteens are jumping into the foray and trying their own hand at Stopmotion videos.


In 1974, Horst Brandstätter introduced the iconic Playmobil plastic figurines and toy sets to the market. They are now a staple in kids’ rooms in around the world. The simplicity of the figurines stimulates the children’s imagination and creativity.

The Playmobil brand is typically thought of a toy for younger children, like Lego, the simplicity of the figurines and the variety of sets makes it a wonderful resource for their Stopmotion videos..


Fischertechnik is another German brand with a strong presence in the toy market. The company’s toys are used in education to teach about simple machines, as well as motorization and mechanisms. The company also offers computer interface technology, which can be used to learn the theory of automation and robotics.

The company first began as a fastener manufacturer, but in 1965, Artur Fischer invented a building block system for a toy set initially intended as a Christmas novelty gift for engineers. The construction toy’s popularity took off and soon hit the shelves in toy stores across Germany and later the world.

Fischertechnik’s success even pushed Lego to introduce its own line of educational toys at the end of the 1970s. The new division “Lego Technic” included gears, axles, pins, and beams in addition to the simpler brick-building properties of traditional Lego sets. These popular building sets provide hands-on experience with simple machines and engineering concepts. With the STEM II kits, kids can even learn computer programming.

Challenge Middle Schoolers with these Classic Toys @EvaVarga.netMy Little Pony

Originally a favorite amongst little girls, the revamped incarnation of the “My Little Pony” franchise has drawn a cult following of teenagers and even grown men. The Pony world includes art, video games, music, T-shirts, and fan fiction — created by fans and based loosely on the canon but jumping off in unorthodox directions.

It wasn’t long before my teen daughter mentioned that she was devoted to the My Little Pony TV show, which airs on Discovery Family. The truth is she more than mentioned it. She watches it all the time, racing through her homework to catch an episode before bed. She has even created several OCs (original characters).

Linking up at Junior High Junction

January 1, 2016

Each month, I like to share a post celebrating the accomplishments of a scientist whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives. To honor the work of these amazing people, I provide a little peak into their life and share an unschool-style learning guides or unit study to guide you and your children on a path of discovery.

This month, I chose to honor the Montgolfier brothers who, born in Annonay, France, were the inventors of the first practical balloon.  Modifications and improvements of the basic Montgolfier design were incorporated in the construction of larger balloons that, in later years, opened the way to exploration of the upper atmosphere.

Discover how Alfred Wegener later pioneered the use of balloons in meteorology (weather patterns).

Science Milestones: The Montgolfier Brothers @EvaVarga.netWhile watching a fire in his fireplace, Joseph became interested in the “force” that caused the sparks and smoke to rise. He made a small bag out of silk and lit a fire under the opening at the bottom causing it to rise. The brothers thought the burning created a gas which they called “Montgolfier gas”. They didn’t realize that their balloons rose because the heated air inside was lighter than the surrounding air.

The brothers were inspired by the clouds and dreamed of floating amongst them. Joseph first experimented with filling a paper bag with steam. Etienne attempted to make a paper bag float with hydrogen gas obtained from sulphuric acid and iron filings. Though both were unsuccessful with these initial attempts, they did not give in.


Science Milestones: The Montgolfier Brothers @EvaVarga.netJoseph-Michel Montgolfier (26 August 1740 – 26 June 1810) and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier (6 January 1745 – 2 August 1799) were two of the sixteen children of Pierre Montgolfier, whose prosperous paper factories in the small town of Vidalon, near Annonay in southern France, ensured the financial support of their balloon experiments. While carrying on their father’s paper business, they maintained their interest in scientific experimentation.

In 1782 they discovered that heated air, when collected inside a lightweight paper or fabric bag, caused the bag to rise into the air. The Montgolfiers made the first public demonstration of this discovery on June 4, 1783, at the marketplace in Annonay. They filled their balloon with heated air by burning straw and wool under the opening at the bottom of the bag. The balloon rose into the air about 3,000 feet (1,000 metres), remained there some 10 minutes, and then settled to the ground more than a mile and a half from where it rose.

The Montgolfiers traveled to Paris and then to Versailles, where they repeated the experiment with a larger globe aérostatique on Sept. 19, 1783, sending a sheep, a rooster, and a duck aloft as passengers. The balloon floated for about 8 minutes and landed safely about 2 miles (3.2 kilometres) from the launch site. Continuing on the brothers later succeeded in launching the first piloted ascent, carrying Étienne into the sky.

The first free (non tethered) human flight took place in a Montgolfier designed balloon on November 21, 1783, with science teacher Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent, Marquis d’Arlandes as passengers. The flight began from the grounds of the Château de la Muette in the western outskirts of Paris. They flew aloft about 3,000 feet (910 m) above Paris for a distance of about 5.6 miles (9 km). After 25 minutes, the balloon landed outside the city ramparts on the Butte-aux-Cailles.

In December 1783, in recognition of their achievement, their father Pierre was elevated to the nobility and the hereditary appellation of de Montgolfier by King Louis XVI of France. The two brothers were honored by the French Académie des Sciences. They published books on aeronautics and continued their scientific careers. Joseph invented a calorimeter and the hydraulic ram, and Étienne developed a process for manufacturing vellum.

Later, in December 1783, in recognition of their achievement, their father Pierre was elevated to the nobility and the hereditary appellation of de Montgolfier by King Louis XVI of France.

Science Milestones: The Montgolfier Brothers
Montgolfier Brothers Art Print by PrintLand (Etsy)

Bring it Home 

Watch a short documentary, Hot Air Balloon: Montgolfier Brothers on YouTube

Math with Montgolfier pdf from the National Museum of the US Air Force

Sonic Junior Balloonist lesson plan pdf

Color your own paper model of a Montgolfier balloon with this printable from the Balloon Explorium

Learn How Hot Air Balloons Work and have students create a timeline not of hot air ballooning (which in itself is fascinating) but of the inventions that contributed to the introduction of the activity—in other words they are looking at the history of the science of hot air ballooning.   

Discover how Alfred Wegener later pioneered the use of balloons in meteorology (weather patterns).

For the artist, consider creating a unique upscaled art print featuring the Montgolfier brothers (example shown above)

Science Milestones

Visit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.

Interested in learning about others who were born in the month of January? Hop over to Birthday Lessons in January to read posts by other iHomeschool Network bloggers.

December 14, 20152
I received this product in exchange for an honest review. I also received monetary compensation for my time spent in reviewing the product. All opinions expressed are true and completely our own. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

computerprogrammingWhy limit your child’s exposure to computer programming to just a single hour annually?  Fischertechnik provides the materials and curriculum support to engage students in basic computer programming skills year round. 

Last month I shared how excited we were to discover the Introduction to STEM I Kit in my post Play and Learn with Fischertechnik. We have since spent weeks building the various models and discovering how everyday technology and simple machines actually work.

How Does It Work In Our Homeschool?

When the Introduction to STEM I & II Kits arrived at our home, we immediately opened all of the materials and of course Jeffrey was SO excited to just BUILD something. I let him experiment with all of the pieces for a few weeks and he built model after model. It wasn’t long before the models he was building caught the attention of his older sister. She wanted in on the fun as well.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we sat down with our cousins (the more the merrier!) and installed the software. This was as easy as putting the disc in the computer.

I promise.

programfischertechnikComputer Programming with Fischertechnik

The girls jumped right in and immediately began to CONSTRUCT a merry-go-round model without any problems. The instructions took them through the process step by step. The process is very achievable for this age level.

They then spent a little time with the software and soon figured out the basic PROGRAM to get the wheel to operate a series of simple commands. The ROBO Pro light software programming is drag and drop, so it’s very easy to learn! A sample is given on screen as well as in the accompanying guide book.

After the model had been built, it was time to CONTEMPLATE why things worked they way they did and for further experimentation. Once the girls were familiar with what each of the different buttons did, they were ready to begin experimenting in all kinds of ways.The curriculum guide provides suggestions for assessment questions to aide students in reflecting on the process.

Finally, students are invited to CONTINUE their learning with more experimentation and a challenge to build and program more complex models and interactions.  My daughter is now motivated to learn MORE.

The Introduction to STEM II kit allows elementary classrooms of different ages to enter the exciting world of STEM and learn the basic skills of computer programming – an exciting activity for young people. 

fischertechnikMaking the Investment in Fischertechnik

If your child is interested in engineering and computer programming, I strongly suggest you invest in Fischertechnik products.

While the cost may at first seem high (the kits begin at $99), you receive a versatile set of bricks, sensors, motors, and a USB connection, along with the software and teacher’s guide. This enables your student to build the 12 models, but from there the creativity is LIMITLESS.

The Introduction to STEM I kit contains 500 pieces with instructions for building 40 different models in all. Students can build a centrifugal governor, manual transmission, block and tackle, wind turbine, a beam balance, and so much more.

The Introduction to STEM II contains 200 additional fischertechnik parts, including:

  • ROBO LT Controller (USB interface/USB power supply)
  • ROBO PRO Light software
  • An XS motor
  • 2 lights
  • A lens tip lamp
  • Photo-transistor
  • 2 switches

Of course, my kids love the models they have made with the instructions, but they also loves to be creative. They have now begun experimenting with the variety of components.

The beauty of this is that they are thinking through problems and solutions; asking good questions. Skills that will serve them later in life.

Interested? Order a free sample activity kit today! 

November 10, 20151

Last year, for the first time, we took part in Physics Quest, a story-based activity that aims to teach middle school students physics concepts and give them a positive experience with physics. When the kit arrived, we jumped right in!

Physics Quest: Hands-on Physics for Middle School

Physics Quest began as a World Year of Physics 2005 project with a kit based on Albert Einstein. The American Physical Society (APS) sent out nearly 10,000 free kits that year, to classes across the country. Teacher feedback from the initial PhysicsQuest indicated that it successfully met a need for fun and accessible physics material at the middle school level, therefore APS decided to continue the program.

Spectra: High Intensity

In celebration of the International Year of Light, the 2015 kit, Spectra: High Intensity, provided the equipment needed to teach students about bending light, spherical lenses, how color and energy are related, and how the sun’s light also carries heat. We spent an entire day reading the story and exploring these physics concepts.

In Spectra: High Intensity, the storyline begins with the students learning that Miss Alignment had broken out of jail and was on the loose hatching evil plans. “Armed with a high IQ, an inferiority complex, and a secret lair, she will try yet again to control the town.”

Working together as a team, my kiddos completed the activities outlined in the book. In doing so, they applied the skills they need to help Spectra and her gang prevent Miss Alignment’s attempted town domination. It was great fun and the hands-on activities were perfectly designed for their age.


Physics Quest: Hands-on Physics for Middle School


Sign Up Today

APS  provides a free Physics Quest kit to registered 6-9th grade physical science classes, home school groups, science clubs, and after-school programs. The kit includes a user’s manual and materials for four physics experiments. This program focuses on middle school students because these grades have been identified as the point when many students lose interest in math and science.

Registration is now open for the 2016 PhysicsQuest, Spectra’s Current Crisis.