Frog Watch

Vernal Pool 1Several years ago we discovered vernal pools.  In fact my first ever blog post was about exploring vernal pools and the cover picture for the blog is usually of the boys sitting beside their favorite pool examining larvae.

A person might think we would get tired of studying frogs each spring, but there is a certain happiness to hearing the first spring peepers.  This year we are thrilled to join citizen scientist across the US monitoring local frog populations.

Tadpole 2014Our local zoo, Akron Zoo, is part of Frog Watch USA, a citizen scientist project.  We attended training back in February and received a CD of all the local frog calls.  Thankfully there are only 16 species of frog we need to know by call.  We started out knowing about six of the calls and were able to learn the rest within a few car rides listening to the CD.

IMG_1810Once each month we will be visiting a couple of our favorite frog locations.  After sunset we will listen to the frogs for three minutes and report our findings through the Frog Watch website.

When we started homeschooling, one of our major desires was to “learn more about animals.”  Frog Watch is a great opportunity to learn more about our amphibian friends and contribute to our community.

Learning with Pottery

C's 2016 Winter PotteryOur learning plan this year  included taking pottery classes.  Last summer we found a groupon for a 2 part pottery class and the boys absolutely loved the process and the artist / instructor.

Finding the right classes and mentors for an interest led course of study sometimes involves a little bit more than signing up for existing classes.  In this case it wasn’t particularly hard, just approaching the studio owner and asking for a quote to take a 6 week class.  We quickly worked out an agreement and things were set for the boys and I to learn to do pottery on our own.

C at WheelOur class was designed so we could become independent in the studio.  We learned how to work the clay to get all the air bubbles out.  Next up was learning the wheel.

Green PotteryEach week we trimmed our pieces from the previous week.  We spent much of our time the next to last week learning to add handles where desired.

E Pottery Winter 2016The final week we glazed all our pieces.  Then it was just a matter of waiting. As Monty Python fans the boys thought making chalices was very cool.

There are so many lessons in learning to do pottery.  Obviously there are technical skills to learn – how to work the clay, how to use the wheel, how to shape things on the wheel.  The soft skills of pottery are really valuable – having patience and dealing with setbacks and disappointment.  Pottery teaches you that “stuff” happens – you can mess things up just when its going perfect, pieces are sometimes dropped and break, pieces can explode in the kiln, the glazing may not turn out the way you envisioned.  It’s disappointing but you just have to start over again.

My Winter Pottery CreationsI particularly liked taking pottery outside a “school” setting.  When I was in school, art was always very limited when it came to materials and time.   In our studio classes we had more freedom to explore and create than I ever had in school.  Also we weren’t worried about a grade.  If something “failed” it was just a learning experience.

What interest led projects have been the most fun for your kids?  How do you display your kids creative pieces?

Learning with Catapults

Catapults from kitsMy boys love catapults.  Whether we are learning about early methods of warfare, watching Pumpkin Chunking’, or flinging marshmallows at each other – catapults are a constant source of engineering wonder.  Over the years the boys have built multiple catapults from kits as well as from scratch.

This year they were able to compete together in a Science Olympiad event called Ready, Aim, Fire!

IMG_0069The competition requires building a catapult of dimensions less than 65 cm x 65 cm x 65 cm powered only by a falling counterweight.  At the competition teams are given counterweights of 1 kg and 2 kg that are used to launch projectiles of 20-40g and 40-60g respectively.  Before the competition teams are expected to launch projectiles of various masses and record data.  The team prepares plots that are used to show where various projectile masses are expected to land.  On the day of competition the catapults are impounded.  After all devices are impounded, the judges announce the masses of the two projectiles that will be used that day.  Teams use their prepared graphs to determine how far they think their catapult will throw the projectiles and then tell the judges where they would like their target set in 0.5 m increments.

Launch scores (LS) are determined using the formula:

LS = TD – 3A +B

where TD is the target distance requested by the kids, A is the distance from where the projectile makes first impact to the center of the target and B is a bonus for hitting the target.  B = 0.15 x TD if the projectile hits the target and 0.30 x TD if the projectile stays in the target.   All distances are in meters.

Points are also awarded for graphing. (Up to 12 points).

This was a great project for the boys.  They handled much of the build themselves.  I helped out with a few of the cuts and my husband taught the boys to use the drill press.  My husband handled the original “basket” build with the boys making modifications later.

E recently had lessons in geometry and basic trigonometry, so he was able to use his knowledge of sin and cos to make the throw arm its maximum length while maintaining the optimum ratio of counterweight arm length to projectile arm length.   We also taught C the methods he was using.  It was a rather complex calculation so we set up a spreadsheet to do some iterations (side lesson on radians vs. angles was necessary).

The boys previous build experience came in very handy.  From the beginning they understood a trebuchet design would be best design for distance.  They also understood the importance of release angles and were quite keen at recognizing when the release angle was off and doing things to improve it.

Testing the trebuchet took quite a bit of time as they chose to make improvements to the basket and sling which required re-collecting all the data points they already had.  They used a spreadsheet to organize their data and select the trend line.

All their hard work paid off when they were able to make accurate predictions the day of the competition.  They were able to hit the target on the 1 kg launch and come very close on their 2 kg launch (the ball landed just a bit to the right).

Boys with TrebuchetIt was a very exciting day for them.  They were thrilled to take home first place medals and they are already looking forward to competing in the middle school division next year.

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