Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Explore .... Indoors with Sock Science!

On any other Wednesday we'd be heading outside to do a nature break. But this week I wanted to play around with some sock science (and math). Because it's that time of year when you might need a snow day activity. Or maybe just something to do on an otherwise dreary day. 

When my kids were littles, their "laundry job" was matching socks. It's a great way to develop math and science thinking. Sometimes we'd roll sock pairs into balls and play sock-hockey in the kitchen or "toss the sox in a box." Here's some other sock science to play around with:

Red Sock, Blue Sock

If you have a bunch of unmatched socks hanging around, how many pairs can you make out of them? Let’s say you have six misfit socks: blue (B), yellow (Y), green (G), purple (P), stripes (S), and dots (D). Six socks means three pairs, but you can create more than three combinations. Think about what you can mix with blue: BY, BG, BP, BS, and BD. That’s five potential combinations. Then, if you look at combinations with yellow (but not counting BY because you already have it) you could get four more: YG, YP, YS, and YD. How many new combinations can you get with the green sock? Purple sock? Striped sock? If you add all the potential combinations together, how many are there?

Secret Sock Codes 
Socks exist in two states: rolled up and flat. That makes them perfect for creating coded messages, like Morse code which uses combinations of dots and dashes. What if you use a rolled sock as a “dot” and a flat sock as a “dash” to create messages? For example, an A would be a rolled sock followed by a flat sock. I would need seven socks to spell my name in Morse sock code. But ... you don't have to stick with Sam's code. You can make your own Secret Sock Code.

Do Socks Fly?
One little-studied sock phenomenon is flight behavior. While rolled socks have been used as substitute hockey pucks, snowballs, and hacky sacks, I don’t know of any studies that compare how well socks fly under various conditions. Perhaps you will be the first to document such things as how far socks fly when they are rolled up or flat, wet, dry, or frozen. To be totally consistent, you’d need to create a launching device.. perhaps a rubber-band catapult?

Further Sock Research
There are tons of fun books about socks, ducks (or others ) that wear socks, and even how to make socks. But here are a few of my favorites:
Odd socks by Michelle Robinson
Five stinky socks by Jim Benton.
Have you seen my new blue socks? by Eve Bunting
Ducks don't wear socks by John Nedwidek
A sock is a pocket for your toes by Elizabeth Garton Scanlon

note: these activities were first published as part of my "Archimedes Notebook" science column in Ithaca Child, Fall 2017.

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