Share it! Science : Pirate Science! Fool's Gold, Parrots and Shipwrecks

Pirate Science! Fool's Gold, Parrots and Shipwrecks

©SBF 2015 Mateys! Are you ready for Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19th? If you aren't then you've come to the right place! Not only will we delve into some Pirate-y science, you'll find all sorts of links to other pirate activities in this post.

Scroll down to find out how to test your rock collection for real gold, learn how parrots talk and build your own pirate ship

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Before we begin, you might want to bone up on your pirate speak by using this handy translator! ARRRGH!

Fool's Gold:
Now we know that pirates are always in search of treasure, and gold is their favorite! But how does a pirate know if what they have found is genuine gold? Science of course!

I've never met a young pirate who hasn't enjoyed a good rock collection. You can find rocks anywhere- at the park, at the beach, in your yard, or even the gravel in the driveway! How can you classify and identify these rocks and minerals? Pirate scientists use many clues, such as hardness, cleavage/fracture, luster and color. You can use these to help you identify the rocks in your collection- is it gold or pyrite (fool's gold)? There's only one way to find out!

Pyrite, or Fool's Gold By Didier Descouens (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Hardness: The Mohs hardness scale is a way of classifying how hard your mineral is. Talc is the softest mineral on the scale and diamond is the hardest. Can you classify your rock collection from softest to hardest? How can you test it? How easily does it crumble? Can you scratch it with your fingernail? If you're a pirate who's had an accident with a crocodile, you can use your hook to scratch and test your rock! 

Cleavage and Fracture: Now that you've ordered your rocks from softest to hardest, check out their shape and form. When a rock breaks into layers, we call this cleavage. Fracture describes other shapes that a mineral forms when it breaks. Be careful if you try to break a rock in your collection. It's a good idea to wear safety goggles and supervise young scalawags in the process.

Luster: Luster describes how shiny a rock or mineral is. Pirates like the shiny ones! Pirate scientists describe these as having a metallic luster. Non-metallic lusters might be described as pearly, silky or greasy. What type of luster do you see in your rock collection? You might notice more than one type of luster in a rock because it is made up of more than one type of mineral. 

Gold Nuggets by Arum Dulyan, public domain

Color: Pirate scientists use a tool called a streak plate to determine a mineral's color. A streak plate is a piece of unglazed porcelain tile. When you rub the rock or mineral along the plate you will see a streak left from the mineral's powder. Different minerals make different color streaks.

"Streak plate with Pyrite (L) and Rhodochrosite (R)" by Ra'ike - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
You can purchase an actual streak plate, or use the back of a glazed porcelain tile from a hardware or craft store. If you need help cleaning your streak plate, there is some information about that here.

If you have a mineral collection and a streak plate you can test your minerals and keep track of your data on this handy sheet from Kids Love Rocks!

**A word of caution: Please do not test your rocks for gold by biting them like a pirate! Pirates are known for having horrible teeth because they don't heed this advice!

Best of luck to ye on your treasure hunt!


Although many a story pirate carries a parrot on his shoulder, it turns out that it probably didn't happen. (Birds do go to the bathroom a lot after all!) However, pirates most likely did deal with parrots through the exotic pet trade. The beautiful birds were worth a lot of money and they were probably entertaining to have on the ship.

Blue and yellow Macaw. photo: I, Luc Viatour [GFDL, CC BY 2.0, or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
New scientific research completed this summer has identified the genetics and parts of the brain that parrots use to speak. After comparing structures in parrot brains to other birds and humans the researchers from Duke University made discoveries about these bird brains that have been a mystery up until now. Turns out that they aren't really bird brains after all!

How do parrots mimic people so well? Just like humans, but unlike other birds, parrots move their tongues to make different sounds. They don't have lips or teeth, so they can't form their words exactly the same at us, but they are pretty impressive! Try speaking without moving your lips, just by moving your tongue. How does it work for you? Can you say, "Polly want a cracker?"

Check out this link to a brief but neat video showing how the parrot's tongue moves while it "speaks". 
credit: Verena Ohms
The high seas can be a dangerous place and many a pirate's ship sunk to Davy Jones' locker. Modern technology has allowed oceanic archaeologists and modern treasure hunters the opportunity to explore these shipwrecks. Excavation of the infamous pirate Blackbeard's ship, Queen Anne's Revenge, is ongoing off the coast of North Carolina. The state uses this project as a way to educate about history. You can learn more at their website.

Pirates wanted ships that would carry lots of plunder and move swiftly. Boats come in many shapes and sizes. Which of these are best for cargo and speed? Why not experiment to find out what makes the best boat shape? Gather some materials, fill up the tub and get to work! That treasure won't wait forever.

Materials to experiment with: tin foil, foam trays, balsa wood and recyclables. See how much weight your boat design can take! Using something that is similar size and weight to test your boat is best. Try pennies, nickels or other change, metal washers, marbles, etc. Which design holds the most plundered treasure?

If you'd like to delve further into ship building, you might want to explore this science project I designed for, "Keep The Boat Afloat". You'll learn about the different shapes of hulls and keels and engineer your own ship. Careful you don't run aground!

Looking for more pirate activity fun? Hop on over to these other blogs to finish your Talk Like a Pirate Day preparations!
Pirate Blog Hop at Peakle Pie

Make Your Own Pirate Treasure - The Gingerbread House
DIY Pirate Vest & Patch - Play Dough & Popsicles
Toilet paper roll pirates - Just Another Mom
Set Sail with this DIY Pirate Boat - The Resourceful Mama
It’s a Pirate’s Life for Me - Study at Home Mama
Pirate Colouring Pages - In The Playroom
Pirate Books for Kids of All Ages - Superheroes and Teacups
Treasure Chest Craft - Messy Little Monster
Pirate Sensory Bin - Life with Moore Babies
Pirate Preschool Printable - Living Life and Learning
Pirate Perler Bead Patterns - Brain Power Boy
Going on a Pirate Treasure Hunt - Play & Learn Everyday
Treasure Alphabet Match - The Kindergarten Connection
Make Your Own Pirate Map - My Little Poppies
Treasure Map Grid Activity - My Little Poppies
Create a FLOATING Pirate Ship! - Milk and Cuddles
Pirate Puppet Craft -Sugar Aunts
Hidden Treasure Cupcakes - Emmy’s Mummy
Non Scary Pirate Books and Movies - Edventures with Kids
Gold Nuggets - Kelly’s Classroom
Fizzing Pirate Treasure Adventure - Preschool Powol Packets

This post was also shared at:
Christian Montessori Network

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