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About the Author

Rock-It Science is a non-profit organization dedicated to developing children's enthusiasm for science. We accomplish this by mixing exciting activities, storytelling, and opportunities to make discoveries in much the same way as a professional scientist.

John McChesney presents the lessons in good humor and with some aspect of science as a secret that's presented in a way to peak a child's curiosity.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can enroll your child in Rock-It Science Classes.

Rock-It Science:
Snakes and Diamonds

Snakes and Diamonds

By John McChesney
of Rock-It Science

A lesson on different forms of energy and why it's always worth the effort to rescue your pet bowling ball.

I. Get Their Attention With Funny Questions

In this lesson you might gather the attention of a group of children with some playful questions such as:

If you took away everything that had weight, what would be left?

If the stuff that was left was right, could you see it?

  • Does light have weight?
  • Does electricity have weight?
  • Does heat have weight?
  • Does fun have weight?
  • How about worry, anger, thoughts, energy or laughter?

Actually, if you really want to be picky, a brilliant fellow named Albert said that energy can be changed into stuff (mass) that can actually be weighed here on earth and, if you want to be opposite, stuff that has weight can be changed into energy.

By the way, his last name was Einstein.

I like energy because you can't put pure energy in a box but, without it, we would all die instantly.

People have made up names for different types of energy ...like kinetic energy is in charge of things that are moving ...and potential energy is in charge of things that aren't doing as much as they could (kind of like lazy people).

In this lesson I have made up a whole slew of new kinds of energy just for the fun of it.

A bit of silly questioning does wonders to bring children into the world of science. It doesn't matter what they answer or if they even answer at all. We just want them to wonder about their world. We then give them a story that introduces a problem or a mystery for them to solve:

II. Tie Your Theme Into a Great Story

Snakes and Diamonds

Once upon a time there was a volcano right out in the middle of nowhere. It was so tall that there was always snow on the tippy-top but no one ever dared to climb this volcano. Not because of the chance that it might erupt and cover him or her with hot lava; nope, this mountain was never climbed because it was simply covered with huge rattlesnakes from the bottom right up to the snow!

At the base of the volcano was an ancient mine shaft with a sign that said: "Only those carrying that which was dead and now is alive may enter, otherwise, that which is alive will die."

It is said that many foolish men had entered the mineshaft, but none had ever come out again.

Not far from the volcano was the Sixth City of Cibola, which was packed with people who had no money. Their city had been rich beyond belief at one time with pure gold so common that people used to make hammers out of the gold.

And they had diamonds so large that they were used for doorknobs. But one fateful night during the Tenth All-World Bowling Championship Games taking place in the Sixth City of Cibola, all of the gold and the diamonds disappeared. At the same time, all the bowling balls in town had been thrown in the dump; all scratched, chipped, and covered with smelly garbage.

It was rumored that a band of renegade Leprechauns had done this dastardly deed but many said that this was nonsense since Leprechauns never steal diamonds.

Over the centuries, people had searched for the lost treasure but nothing was ever found. Now everyone was very poor but they wanted their city to look like any other so they built their skyscrapers out of cardboard boxes. They made sidewalks out of already-been-chewed bubble gum. And their streets were made from a mix of ashes, dirt and boiled straw. Since they couldn't afford cats or dogs, the people made pets out of the discarded bowling balls!

Two of the poorest people in the city were Jack and Jill but they still had managed to find bowling balls for pets even if they were a bit scuffed up and stained from the spaghetti at the dump.

Jack and Jill liked to take their bowling balls on adventures. For instance, one day Jack and Jill got up early, balanced their bowling balls on their heads, and climbed straight up the side of one of the tall cardboard buildings.

When they finally made it to the top they were very hungry but there was no food in sight. Jill was the first to notice a half-eaten pizza in the dumpster right next to the building 200 feet below — of course, after the initial dumpster episode, all the people in town kept the dumpsters sparkling clean in case their bowling balls ever ended up there again.

So, back to the story . . . Jill hollered "Jack! Follow me for some food!" and she jumped off the building with Jack screaming as he was falling close behind her.

Jack and Jill explore different forms of energy

The dumpster not only had the pizza but it also had a few hundred pounds of chocolate pudding, some anchovies, and a whole barrel of pickles! So Jack and Jill ate their fill and plopped out.

But now, Jack and Jill were a little bit chubbier than before.

So, they decided they needed some exercise. As they wandered through The Sixth City of Cibola they came across a swami playing a flute. Next to the swami was a large basket with something that looked like a fat rope extending clear up into the clouds.

"Bet you can't climb up that rope," challenged Jill.

"Jack is nimble," said Jack "and Jack is quick. Jack can easily climb this candle wick!"

So with nary a thought for life or limb Jack and Jill — along with their pet bowling balls — started to climb up what they thought was a harmless rope.

Higher and higher they climbed until they were clear up into the clouds. Just when they thought their climb would never end they found themselves face to face with the giant open mouth of a deadly, poisonous, killer COBRA!

Without a thought Jack and Jill jumped off of the cobra. This would have been the end of Jack and Jill except...

"We interrupt this story to bring you a knowledge brief"

When Jack and Jill were climbing the cardboard box skyscraper they were using 'climbing energy.' When Jack and Jill were on top of the skyscraper, their climbing energy had changed into 'height energy.'

When Jill and Jack jumped off the building, their height energy changed into 'falling energy.' When they ate the food in the dumpster they developed 'chocolate-pizza-anchovy-pickle energy.' When they were climbing the cobra they changed their 'chocolate-pizza-anchovy-pickle energy' into more 'climbing energy.'

As they climbed up into the clouds they changed their 'climbing energy' into 'height energy.'

When the cobra confronted them, they developed 'fear energy.'

And when they jumped off of the cobra they traded 'height energy' for 'falling energy.'

The point here is that energy can change forms in the same way that the food you eat is being used by your bodies to keep you warm and alive. Scientists made up weird names for these types of energy — words like 'kinetic energy' for things that move, and 'potential energy' for things that go higher up.

We now return you to your regularly-scheduled story where, as you recall, Jack and Jill, with their pet bowling balls on their heads, appeared to be doomed by their fall from the giant Cobra!

You might guess that a bowling ball doesn't make the best pet in the world, especially if it is sitting on your head as you plummet to earth! But in this case Jack and Jill each took their bowling balls and, just before they were going to hit the ground, they threw the bowling balls downward with such great force that they stopped in mid air for a moment and were able to land more slowly without even falling down! (It did, however, take them two days to dig the bowling balls up out of the dirt crater that was formed from their heave-ho.)

Jack and Jill devise a plan to raise money for the Sixth City

The rest of the poor people in the Sixth City of Cibola didn't have adventures like Jack and Jill. They took such good care of their bowling balls by keeping them polished and warm that one night, the Good Fairy of Bowling Balls flew into town and took pity on the people and gave life to every one of the bowling balls.

The bowling balls had eyes that completely disappeared when they were shut. Their ears were flaps like a cat's ears but they could close them so that they also were invisible. Their nose holes were two of the finger holes, and their mouths were the third finger hole. So a sleeping bowling ball pet looked exactly like an ordinary bowling ball (unless it snored, of course).

Everyone in the city immediately took their pet bowling ball out for a walk and, at the end of the day, every bowling ball got to take part in a rousing bowling match. The people soon discovered that the bowling balls were somehow clever enough to hit the bowling pins just right so that every pin fell down no matter how poorly the ball was rolled down the bowling alley.

That's when the mayor of the city had a brainstorm: What if one or two people took their pet bowling balls to tournaments? They could win all kinds of money for the people of the city. So Jack and Jill went from bowling tournament to tournament making millions of dollars which they sent to help all their friends in the Sixth City of Cibola.

Pet bowling balls kidnapped!

Things couldn't have been better in the Sixth City of Cibola. For the first time ever there was hope that life would improve for them. Now they had a little money to enjoy life and all was good ...but not for long ... Somehow, the evil Mister Fred discovered the secret of the bowling balls and he came to the Sixth City of Cibola disguised as a musician playing a flute. He walked the streets playing his flute and sang this song: "Walk your bowling ball for a penny. Rest your toes and relieve your woes, let me walk your bowling balls."

The magical flute enticed everyone in town into letting the evil Mister Fred take their pet bowling ball for a walk. Before the day was over the evil Mister Fred walked every bowling ball in the Sixth City of Cibola over to the rattlesnake-covered volcano. He told the rattlesnakes that he would pay them in with all the diamonds they could possibly carry on their backs if they'd roll the bowling balls to the top and perch them on the rim of the crater above the hot lava.

When Jack and Jill returned to town the next day (still with their own pet bowling balls who had traveled with them), they were greeted by the cries of all the people mourning the loss of their bowling ball pets. "Please help us," they cried. "An evil person has kidnapped our pet bowling balls and is threatening to roll them down into the hot lava if we don't give him one million dollars!"

Jack and Jill ran right over to the volcano and hollered up to the rattlesnakes, "Roll those bowling balls right back down to us this very instant or we'll huff and we'll puff and we'll blow you all down!"

But the rattlesnakes answered, "Not by the hair of our chinny-chin-chins." And they added, "Mister Fred has mysteriously disappeared on us, so if you want your precious bowling balls back, you'll have to give each one of us a diamond for every bowling ball we return!"

Jill said to Jack, "OK, this calls for dramatic and foolish action, what do you recommend?"

Jack answered, "Well, since I'm an expert on this sort of thing, I say we try to sneak to the top of the volcano by going down into the old mineshaft that has killed everyone who has ever entered."

So Jack and Jill entered the shaft with their bowling balls perched on their heads. Remember what the sign said? It said, "Only those carrying that which was dead and now is alive may enter, otherwise, that which is alive will die."

Of course, Jack and Jill didn't die and neither did their pet bowling balls Why?

Well, as Jack and Jill followed the mineshaft up into the center of the volcano, it became hotter and hotter. It got so hot that even the bowling balls began to sweat, but they didn't sweat salty water like you or I; the bowling balls sweated diamonds! By the time Jack and Jill came out at the top of the volcano, their pockets were bulging with diamonds!

So there they were, Jack and Jill, up on the rim of the volcano with the kidnapped bowling balls and all they had to do was roll the bowling balls down the side of the volcano. They realized, however, that if they just rolled the balls off the side from the lip of the volcano, many would shatter and break on their bouncy ride down. At the same time, some of the bowling balls might roll right over a rattlesnake and smashing a rattlesnake wouldn't be good, either.

How would they get the bowling balls down in one piece without injuring the rattlesnakes on the mountain? Do the experiment and you'll discover what Jack and Jill had in mind:

III. The Really Cool Experiment

The Marble Maze


  • At least one marble
  • A table
  • Tape (masking tape is easier to clean up).
  • About 20 straws or pencils or anything long, skinny, and smooth.
  • Two fat old books.

The Experiment:

The objective has two parts:

  1. Make the marble touch each and every straw as it rolls down the table.
  2. Position the straws so that the marble takes as much time as possible before it rolls off of the table.

So . . . .

Put the fat old books under two table legs to make it tilt.

Tape the straws on the table so that when you release it, the marble will roll as slowly as possible touching each straw on its way down the table.


  • The marble goes slower if it goes down, and then goes back up, and then goes down again.
  • The less the straw is tilted, the slower the marble goes.
  • The marble picks up speed as it goes along a straight path.
  • The tape bumps little marbles more.
  • Big marbles go a little faster.

This is all related to energy: The marble starts with potential energy (energy of height in this case). When you release it, the potential energy changes into kinetic energy (energy of motion). Some of the energy may be turned into noise and heat if the marble rubs on the straws.

One family taped cardboard to a wall and let the marble go back-and-forth down their wall. A careful design like this can have a run time of several minutes.

How Does the Story End?

As we left them, Jack and Jill were debating about how to get the bowling balls down off the lip of the volcano. If they just rolled them straight down the side, the bowling balls would hit rocks and break and they might also hurt some of the rattlesnakes. So Jack and Jill took each of the bowling balls near the hot lava so that they would sweat lots of diamonds. They told the bowling balls to store all their diamonds in their mouths.

Then Jill stood up on the edge of the volcano and shouted down to the snakes: "Hello rattlesnakes! Listen to what I have to say! If you help our bowling balls get to the bottom of the mountain safely, each bowling ball will give you a diamond as it passes by."

Since this was what the rattlesnakes wanted anyway, they were glad to help. So, the rattlesnakes arranged themselves in slightly tilted rows and the bowling balls were slowly rolled down — row to row — all the way to the bottom.

Then Jack and Jill followed, giving each rattlesnake a diamond as they passed.

The rattlesnakes put the diamonds they received on their backs and, to this very day, you can still see diamond-backed rattlesnakes because of what happened that day just outside the Sixth City of Cibola.

© 2007, Rock-It Science and John McChesney, All Rights Reserved