Weekly Wrap-up – Lots of Science

This week we concentrated on science and easing back into math.

Botanical Garden Butterflies

We took a field trip to the Cleveland Botanical Gardens to visit the Nature Connects Exhibit before it closed.  I sometimes forget how much I enjoy going to gardens and arboretums.


We continued our unit study of atmospheric science.  This week we drew representations of the layers of the atmosphere and learned more about the phases of water and hydrogen bonding.

Solar Bag in Flight

It has become a yearly tradition to do a solar bag experiment at the local park.  This year it tied in really well with our science unit.

We’ve added back in math.  One day C practiced his math facts by putting post it notes around the trampoline and running to the correct answer.  It was fun and active, but still a great review.

The FIRST LEGO League challenge was released this week.  This year the challenge is “World Class Learning Unleashed” and the teams will be figuring out an innovative way for people to learn about a topic of their own choosing.  Both boys met with their FLL teams and I’m confident we will be off to a good start.  We don’t have our table built yet, but the boys laid out the robot game configuration anyway.

Hope your year is off to a great start!

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Atmospheric Science – Part 3 – Solar Science

It has become a bit of a tradition for us to open the school year with a solar bag experiment.

Unfurling the Solar Bag


The solar bag is rather like a very thin black garbage bag only much much longer.

Solar Bag Filled


Once the bag is filled we tie it off and add a string.



Then we wait a few minutes for the air in the bag to heat up.  This year we had a nice conversation about radiant energy and convection while we waited.  We were also careful to observe that we could visibly see the bag had expanded.

Solar Bag in Flight

Eventually the bag was floating high in the sky.

You might notice a lot of clouds in the pictures.  The clouds caused a lot of rise and fall of the solar bag.  In past years, we have done the experiment on clear sunny mornings.  Clear sunny days are certainly best for having the bag flying for a long time, but the cloudy day really illustrated the importance of radiant energy from the sun.

We sourced our bag from Steve Spangler Science. (not an affiliate link)  If you choose to do this experiment make sure to choose a large grassy field and bring along transparent tape and scissors.

Hope you are having a great school year!

Atmospheric Science – Part 2

We are continuing our study of atmospheric science using lesson plans from UCAR with our own twist.  The activity today closely followed Introduction to the Atmosphere – Activity 3.  

Today’s activity was short, but packed with important concepts.

First we watched the following short videos from the Canadian Museum of Nature:

Part 1

Part 2

I emphasized to the boys that not all molecules are polar.  The polarity of water gives it properties that are important.  The polarity is introduced due to an uneven sharing of the electrons that create the bond between hydrogen and oxygen.

After viewing the videos,  we used paper plates and M&Ms to make models of water in it’s solid, liquid and gas states.


C chose to use single M&Ms to represent each water molecule.  This representation allowed us to shake the plate rapidly to represent gas molecules and more slowly when representing molecules in the liquid state.  He glued the molecules to the plate when representing ice and drew in the hydrogen bonds.

We briefly discussed that it is a combination of pressure AND temperature that effect the state of matter, but for our purposes we would be discussing water at a constant atmospheric pressure.  We also reviewed the temperatures at which state changes begin to occur in both Celsius and Fahrenheit at atmospheric pressure.



E chose to emphasize the  H2O structure of water.  The disadvantage was we couldn’t shake the gas and liquid plates, but we were more clearly able to see the need to line up the hydrogens facing the oxygen in the solid state.

Both boys used a roughly equivalent number of molecules in their solid and liquid representations.  We ended up moving a couple of molecules from solid over to liquid to emphasize that ice is less dense than water, which they knew but just didn’t think to count the number of molecules in each plate.

The shape of the arrangement and hydrogen bonds didn’t turn out exactly right in the models, but they did understand the concept of attraction between slight positive and negative charges that are easily overcome at higher temperatures (faster vibration).

Between the videos and the models the boys were able to clearly understand why ice is less dense than water and why that is a “special” case.  They were also able to grasp that hydrogen bonding between molecules is a much weaker force than the sharing of electrons between atoms, yet the hydrogen bonds are important in creating the structure of ice and causing it to float.

In addition to the lesson plan I think it is worth pondering some of the ways our world would be completely different if ice weren’t slightly less dense than water.  How would that impact life in ponds?  What about polar bears?  What about the planet as a whole?

Periodic Videos offers some thoughts on the importance of the density of ice:

Hope you are having a great day exploring the world around you!



New school year resolutions

I love new beginnings and fresh starts.  I need them.  I need the reminder to evaluate what I’m doing and recommit.  As we head into a new school year these are things I want to work on as a mom.

new school year

1. Speak with kindness and encouragement – I sincerely believe the world would be a better place if we were all more intentional with our choice of words.  It grieves me to see parents speaking harshly  and I wonder how often that is me.  I truly think I will spend my entire life learning to watch my words more carefully.

2. Remember my kids – all kids – all adults are a work in progress.   Knowing something and being able to consistently execute on it are two different things.  I know how to do a better job listening to my kids, but I don’t always practice it.  My kids I might know how to defuse an argument, but be too set on winning the argument to care about de-escalating it.    As kids there are lessons they will have to learn over and over and over again.  I must be patient to teach those lessons over and over and over again – looking not for perfection in this moment but improvement.   Sometimes they will have all the knowledge they need but need practice facing the situation.  It’s difficult, but in those time I need to be able to watch them without lecturing.

3. Have a sense of adventure – Somedays instead of asking, “why?” I need to say “why not?”  Honestly I can be a bit of a ‘fraidy cat sometimes.  We go to a particular water park each summer and there was a ride there I had convinced myself I didn’t want to do.  This trip C asked if I would do it with him and I said yes.  It was actually sort of fun and not at all the big deal I had made it in my mind.  So many things I’ve been afraid of have turned out well.

4. Choose a positive attitude – I like to think I have this one under control. Yet when one of my kids struggles with a negative attitude for the 3rd time today, I realize I still have a long way to go.  I say to my child, “You have the power to choose your attitude” yet I also say, “Your behavior makes everyone around you irritable.”  If I can choose my attitude, I shouldn’t be claiming he is making me irritable.

5. Cultivate a thankful attitude –  I truly am grateful for the wonderful blessings I have in my life and I hope it shows in my general attitude and countenance.  This is one of those things I think I feel but I want to exude. It isn’t really enough to be quietly secretly thankful.  Thankfulness isn’t so much about our circumstances, but about our ability to see the goodness around us regardless of our circumstances.  Perhaps the reason I don’t exude thankfulness is because I do have a hard time transcending circumstance.  Sure sometimes I can be thankful in the midst of facing challenges, but make my environment dusty or smelly with some annoying bugs and I have a hard time.

Just this morning I saw this wonderful post called Give me Gratitude or give me Debt and I thought it was really good.  ( Ironically I was on my way to select new countertops for our kitchen. )  Anyway I think it speaks to the ridiculousness of our first world discontent.

6. Make time for friends – Not just vague, “Let’s get together sometime.” This year I want to make sure I actually say, “Would you like to come to our house next Saturday?” or “The boys are interested in seeing the ____ movie.  Would you like to go with us?”

What are your resolutions for the new school year?

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7 Hopefully Interesting Facts

A few days ago I was excited to see  Lucinda at Navigating by Joy had a fresh post.  I really enjoy seeing what they are up to at Lucinda’s house, so I headed straight over to see what wonderful book or science experiment they were doing.  I enjoy reading Navigating by Joy because Lucinda provides great links to learning resources and she challenges me to think outside the box (or rather the workbook ).  I’m often inspired by her to make sure we keep the hands on activities coming.  What I found that day was a delightful post “Seven Revealing Facts About Myself”.  It was great to learn more about Lucinda and I was honored to see Learning with Boys listed as one of her inspirational blogs.  Thank you!



Coming up with seven revealing facts was a bit challenging.  I hope you don’t think me too much of a chicken once you are done reading this.

Me at the Beach

1.  I learned to swim when I was 34.  When I was a kid my brother managed to teach me to back float and do a backstroke, but I couldn’t bring myself to jump into deep water and would sometimes be seized with fear if I was in deep water.  Once my boys started swimming, I realized how much I wanted to be able to relax in and around water.  I signed up for adult swim classes.  I’m no longer afraid of jumping into deep water and I can freestyle swim and tread water.  I’ve discovered I don’t actually enjoy timing my breath and having my face in the water for swimming laps.  But now I can go to the pool and swim laps in deep water doing the backstroke and feeling relaxed and happy knowing I can swim.

2.  My favorite drink is tea.  Hot or iced, black or green, sweet or unsweet.  I really like sweet tea, but I also like having a waist, so I no longer put sugar in my tea at home.

3. I started college as a journalism major and left 5 years later with a degree in Chemical Engineering – Environmental Emphasis.  A few more years down the road that turned out to be great preparation for being a homeschool mom and blogger.   I’m teaching science and coaching robotics and connecting people with resources and I love it!

Climbing stairs at Old Man's Cave4. I’m afraid of heights.  In the picture above I wanted to look up and smile, but I couldn’t because I was walking up steep stairs with gaps between them.   Fortunately I haven’t let my fear of heights hold me back from trying skydiving and parasailing, both were quite enjoyable.  If I remind myself it’s fun, I like zip lines too.  Mostly I just look where I want to go and push past the fear,  especially when I’m trying to keep up with my boys.

5. A few years ago we decided to give a completely plant based diet a try.  A friend of ours had been on a plant based diet for a couple of years and really loved it.  A couple of weeks into our plant based experiment,  I woke up and my hands and feet didn’t ache for the first time in years.  At that point I was hooked.  It is difficult for me to meet all our dietary needs and provide enough variety (especially for the kids) so we include some meat and dairy in the family diet at this point but MUCH less than we used to.   Amazingly going plant based provides me with more freedom to be creative when I’m cooking.  I make many meals without a recipe now and almost all of them turn out great.


6.  Recently we’ve started taking the kids mountain biking.  I haven’t ridden much except nice flat “rail to trail” stuff for the last 12 years.  I enjoy being out on single track, but I’m probably pretty slow and not necessarily good.  Mostly I just enjoy being in the woods and the sense of accomplishment.  I’d rather be slow on the trail than sitting around watching TV.

7.  I’m constantly striving to be more patient, organized, social and adventurous.  While I’m at it, I’d also like to live simply and be content with what I have.   I never want to stop learning and growing and looking at things in a fresh way.  I really hope I’m challenging myself even when I’m old.

Now it’s time to turn our attention to some other amazing bloggers!

Here are the guidelines 

Thank and link to the amazing person who nominated you.

  • List the rules and display the award.
  • Share seven facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.
  • Proudly display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you.

Nominations. I am inspired by several blogs. Several of my favorites have already been nominated but there are a few more I haven’t seen nominations for:

Chris at Tales of a Househusband

Dave at Bloke School

Both of the above are written by homeschooling dads.  It’s hard enough as a mom to step out in the homeschooling world and try to “find your tribe” but I think it has to be even more difficult as a homeschool dad.  These dads are doing a great job and I love the fresh perspective they bring.

Melissa at Joys of Home Educating – Melissa has great photographs and I always want to head out for an adventure after reading her posts.

Claire at Angelic Scalliwags – I know Claire already shared her award but if you aren’t familiar with her site you really do need to check it out.

Julie at Highhill Homeschool – Julie always has a ton of great hands on science activities.

Again thanks to Lucinda for the nomination!  I know I’m going to think of more blogs I should have nominated – so many of you have helped me along this homeschool journey!

Field Trip: Cleveland Botanical Gardens

I love spending time in nature.  There is nothing like time outside in a beautiful setting to rejuvenate my soul.  I sincerely wish I were better at gardening, unfortunately I’ve never developed the consistency to create beautiful well maintained gardens at home.  I’m so thankful the Cleveland Botanical Garden offers such wonderful spaces we can enjoy without having to do the weeding and watering ourselves.

Botanical Garden Birds

We enjoyed visiting the Glass House to get a taste of Madagascar and Costa Rica.  The boys spotted larvae in the cockroach display.  I have to admit I’d never given any thought to the life cycle of a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach.  We really enjoyed the birds and butterflies in the Costa Rica section.  Of course we had to take a picture of a chipmunk hanging out in the gardens.

Botanical Garden Butterflies

I always enjoy seeing the chrysalis display.  The boys arrived just at the right time to see one of the butterflies as it emerged.


Botanical Garden BromelaidsI’m also a fan of bromeliads.

This trip the boys were much more interested in the plants and structures throughout the garden.  In the past, they had reserved most of their interest for the Hershey Children’s Garden, which is absolutely fabulous.  One of the things that increased their interest this trip was the addition of LEGO sculptures throughout the garden.   We were amazed by the  complexity of many of the structures.

Botanical Garden LEGO and fairies

The LEGO sculptures were all part of the Nature Connects exhibit by Sean Kenney.  Unfortunately the display of Nature Connects has already completed its time in Cleveland. If you are near San Antonio or San Francisco, you will have the chance to appreciate the display in person this winter.  Otherwise, check out Sean Kenney’s website to see even more examples of his amazing work and check the future schedule.

What field trips have you taken lately?  Are you planning something for fall?

“First” week of school

The local school system went back to school this week.  We  ramped up our “school” activities and crammed in some field trips we hadn’t gotten around to this summer.

I’ve learned we need ease into things after a long break.  This week we did our reading in the morning followed by science activities and documentaries. (Once again I was blown away by how well they process visual information.)

Science Center August 2014

We took a field trip to the science center with friends to enjoy the Lego Travel Exhibit one last time before it leaves next week.  You can check the schedule to see if it will be coming to a town near you.

Atmospheric Science


We had fun learning about atmospheric science with M&Ms.

Carol Birthday Collage


It was my birthday this week.  Scott and the boys treated me to dinner out twice.  E crafted a cake topper for me and C helped me bake the cake.  Plus they gave me really nice presents.  PLUS no one had soccer practice.  What more could a girl ask for?

Hope you are having a great start to your school year!

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Atmospheric Science – Part 1

This summer as I was trying to find a good answer to a particular science question,  I found a lesson plan that really did a great job answering the given question and giving a hands on activity that illustrated the concept well.  Then I realized the lesson plan was part of an entire set of Atmospheric Science lesson plans from the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research designed for middle school teachers.  The more of the plans and activities I read through the more I thought –  “These will be great to use with the boys! ”  There are lots of suggestions for hands on activities that will appeal to a variety of learning styles.

Today we started out with the boys telling me what they already knew about the atmosphere.  Then we read through about the first half of the Intro to the Atmosphere lesson.  After that we were ready to start with one of the suggested hands on activities.

Atmospheric Science - Sorting the M&Ms

What could be better for the first day of school than counting M&Ms?

Atmospheric Science - Representation of Earth's Atmosphere

First we counted out 78 Blue M&Ms to represent the amount of nitrogen in Earth’s atmosphere. Then 21 green M&Ms to represent oxygen and 1 brown piece to represent Argon.  There is a fleck of red in there somewhere to represent the 0.03% carbon dioxide.

Atmospheric Science - Earth, Venus, and Mars

Next we used the same color system to represent the make up of the atmospheres of Venus and Mars.

In addition to the planned topics, we had some great discussions about the contribution of plants to our environment, the water cycle, and ozone.  Then it was time for the best part:

Atmospheric Science - Eating the M&Ms

Eating some of the M&Ms!

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Back to School Blues and Excitement

Path through woodsOur local school starts this week and all around us the conversation is about back to school meetings and shopping for supplies.  Some moms are ready to have the kids back in school and some of the kids are ready to be back and see their friends.  Others are sad to see the end of summer.

My personal feeling is, “I’m not ready for school to start.”  Most people assume it’s because I’m not ready to go back to the daily teaching routine but the reality is:

1.  It’s good to see other kids out and about in the middle of the day.  During the school year, E feels sort of odd going out to lunch or running into the store during the week because inevitably we end up having a conversation about homeschool with a stranger.  C isn’t bothered by this, he likes to talk to new people and thinks more kids would homeschool if they had the chance.  People are very supportive, but E just gets tired of having the conversation. During the summer we blend in.

2. We enjoy the extra time we have with friends during the summer.  It’s easy to make plans.  We can meet at the pool or water park.   We might go for a hike or play next to the creek or spend the afternoon bouncing on the trampoline.  Once school starts and schedules fill up it becomes so much more difficult.

3. I enjoy the relaxed paths to learning the boys take during the summer.  I love the interest led approach to it all.  I wish we did that all year, but I feel the need to have structured  grammar, spelling and math during the school year.  The boys enjoy math with workbooks so that isn’t an issue.  If they were choosing to write their own, we would take a more relaxed approach to grammar and spelling during the year as well, but that isn’t where we are yet.  During the summer I don’t feel any conflict between my ideal picture and what our day to day looks like.

4. Once school starts back our experiences are different than our friends.  While we are still having adventures and going on field trips, most of our friends are back in the school routine.  Their conversations, especially the moms, revolve around the happenings and politics of school.

I like summer time when we are just another family.  During the school year it becomes obvious we are choosing a different path, a path I whole heartedly believe is the best path for us.  Sometimes my desire to fit in leaves me slightly melancholy this time of year and yet….

As the school year approaches the mood in our house is relaxed and calm.  We aren’t rushing about making sure we have school supplies.   We don’t need backpacks or lunch boxes or new clothes.  There are no supply lists to lead us on scavenger hunts through Target and Walmart.  We aren’t worried about adjusting to getting on the bus at 6:10 am or figuring out the expectations of new teachers.

Instead we are thinking about what we want to learn this year.  We are deciding which museums we want to go to and what concerts and classes we will try.  We’re looking for a place to take a glass blowing class.  We’re finalizing the decision of which to study first – atmospheric science or biology.  We are planning what activities appeal to us and culling things we’ve outgrown or that just weren’t particularly beneficial.  The freedom of it all is exhilarating.

We have lots of plans we are excited about this year:

FLL Collage August 2013

1. The FIRST LEGO League (FLL) season promises to be a great one.  This year I will be coaching an FLL team and we will have a mission table available at our house.  I’m not sure how this years theme – “World Class – Learning Unleashed”  – will fit into our studies but I know the project based learning that will occur will be beneficial.

2. Parkour classes – Once soccer season is over the boys will be trying out a parkour class at a nearby gym.

3. Skiing – We have ski passes for the first time ever this year.  I’m really hoping this makes winter more fun for us.  I enjoy exercising outdoors however I’m not much of a cold weather person.

4. Homeschool Outings – Last spring I found out about a homeschool group in our area that does field trips and a geography club.

5. Zoo classes – The boys had a great time doing zoo classes last year and are looking forward to these again.

Animal Science Collage

6. Science – The boys are still interested in learning about all things animal related.  We’ll be using that interest to learn more about biology.  We are also planning some studies of atmospheric science.  It seems like science learning comes naturally at our house, so I’m sure there will be lots of other short units as well.

7. Immersion Reading with the Kindle Fire. I’m excited to add this new resource to our arsenal.   Immersion reading is essentially a personalized read aloud experience.  The text is highlighted as a professional narrator reads the book.   I’m optimistic that it will help the boys increase their reading fluency and read books they might find intimidating otherwise.

This year promises to be a great year just like the years past.  We will be learning and growing and enjoying the chance to be outside when the weather is nice.  At the end of the year I know I will look back and see tremendous growth. I’ll also see areas we could have done a little better but all and all I’m sure it will be great.

What about you?  Are you ready to get back to school or would you like just a little more summer?

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It’s been a great summer !  At the end of July we took our semi-annual trip to visit the grandparents and extended family.   We went fishing at Grandpa Joe’s pond and caught several bullheads.  The boys had a chance to climb a fire tower that my mom climbed back when she was a kid.  It’s been moved and shortened since then, but it was neat to share the memory.  All the boys had a good time playing in a creek catching minnows and crawfish barehanded.



This summer the boys are really old enough to enjoy mountain biking and we’ve managed to enjoy a few trips out to new trails.  We also enjoyed our old favorite of biking down the tow path to the ice cream store.   We checked out the BLUE exhibit at the Pittsburgh science center and decided it would be fun for a school day field trip.  AND we FINALLY  found some inflatable Hamster balls at a local fun center.

Hocking Hills Collage

So far we’ve met our goal of camping once a month (cottage camping that is).  My absolute favorite place we visited the summer was the Hocking Hills area of Ohio.  Last time we visited we went to Ash Cave and the Rock House.  This time we went to Old Man’s Cave as well as Ash Cave.  Old Man’s Cave was exceptionally beautiful and well worth the stairs.

It has been such a delight to be able to spend time with friends and enjoy the relaxed days of summer.   Hope you had a great summer too!

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