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 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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Weekly Wrap-up – FABulous field trips and other creative pursuits

FIELD TRIP!!  Field trips are one of my absolute favorite things about homeschooling.  Field trips, individualized learning, treating kids with respect, building projects, time in nature – they are all my favorite things.

Last Friday we went to University of Pittsburgh to check out their Human Engineering Research Laboratories.  They work with the Veterans’ Administration to develop better assistive devises like wheelchairs, prosthetics, and orthotics.   It was great career exposure for the kids.  The combination of engineering with making a real difference in other people’s lives is a very appealing concept.

It just so happened there was also a place across the street called TechShop.  They were offering tours so we stopped in along with some friends who were also on the aforementioned HERL tour.  What a cool place!  It’s a FAB Lab on steroids.  They have the typical laser cutter/engravers, 3D printers, vinyl cutters and wood shop, but they also have a water jet cutter, a powder coat paint booth, welding, and CNC machines.  They also have a great textile station with embroidery and screen printing and a computer workshop area.   Check out the website and take a tour if you happen to live near one.

IMG_1835After lunch we headed over to the Carnegie Science Center.  It was such a short visit we only had time for the sports area, the traveling H2O exhibit and the shuttle lift.

IMG_1847This week we had the opportunity to attend a Cleveland Orchestra Education Concert.  The orchestra does a great job selecting the music for these concerts.  This one started with the Imperial March from Star Wars then moved on to classical composers like Vivaldi and Bach.  They also did a couple of American Jazz pieces before concluding with a part of the E.T. score.  The boys are really so so about going to the orchestra, but I just adore the chance to hear the orchestra perform.  I also love the architecture of Severance Hall.

After the performance we had lunch with friends and went through the “swords and knights” exhibit at the art museum.  We also went through the modern art section which is always fun.  The art museum is free which makes it easy to just pop in for a few minutes.  After the art museum we headed over to the Natural History Museum for about an hour before heading home so we could get ready for swim lessons.

Going on field trips means lots of time in the car so we listened to the first book of the Redwall series by Brian Jacques.  The story was very action packed and exciting.  If it had been a print edition, I would say it was a real page turner.  We listened to several hours of the story on Saturday and Sunday as well.  We will certainly be listening to more of the Redwall series during car trips this summer.

IMG_1857We had some good weather this week, which allowed us to work on our catapults.  They are almost complete, but on hold again while E is away on a camping trip this weekend.

Having the chance to visit so many creative spaces this week has been really invigorating.  I’m really looking forward to working on some creative projects this summer.

What fun projects are you planning for summer?

Weekly Wrap-Up WUH

A Morning in the Sugar Bush

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Even though the calendar indicated spring, ice still floated on the river.  Although a few days had been warmer this particular morning was cold and brisk.   The weather was right for maple sap to flow, below freezing at night and into the 40s or 50s during the day.IMG_1760

Our guide led us through the sugar bush, pointing out maple trees that were suitable for tapping.  Since this particular area is set up for educational purposes there were a variety of collection types – wooden buckets, metal buckets with lids, plastic bags, and tubing systems were all represented.IMG_1764

The tour focused on the history of maple sugaring from Native Americans through present day, so they also showed various methods used for concentrating the sap into syrup.  IMG_1766

E had a chance to demonstrate how children used yokes to balance the buckets of sap.  I can only imagine what hard work it would have been to collect enough sap to make syrup.  It takes roughly 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup and I’m sure any farm children working in the sugar bushes wanted to make sure every drop was turned into either syrup or sugar. IMG_1768

 

The kettle over the fire has been replaced by a more modern evaporator system, but finding the exact consistency seems to remain an art.

One of the talking points I found interesting was that maple sugar was a “free trade” sort of product at one time.  The cane sugars exported from the Caribbean almost always used slave labor, therefore maple sugar was the preferred sweetener of abolitionists.

Even though we’ve been on this sort of tour before it had been a few years.  Too often we think that because we’ve done something once it isn’t worth doing again, but I frequently find the kids are processing things on a new level or at least challenging themselves to remember their past experience.

Special thanks to the Cleveland Metroparks and Rocky River Reservation for offering this tour and to NEST Homeschool group for organizing our group outing.

 

What Went By : Elementary Science Olympiad

Today I’m focusing on resources to help you prepare for the “What Went By” event at an Elementary Science Olympiad.  If you have a child interested in animals and nature you will enjoy this list as well.
Wild Tracks! by Jim Arnosky is a fantastic resource.  It may look like a child’s picture book from the outside, but it is full of helpful information and LIFE-SIZE Prints.  Kids will learn that hoofed animals walk and run on their toes and wildcats use the same tracks over and over again, however this book stays away from scientific terms such as digitigrade and direct register.  Instead it is written in a friendly, digestible form perfect for independent learning even at younger ages.  The tracks examined are mostly common mammals of North America.

Animal Tracks and Signs by Jinny Johnson from National Geographic is another great resource.  The foreward does a nice job of explaining reasons a person may want to identify animal signs and tracks. The introduction provides a great list of scientific vocabulary terms that are useful for a young biologist and covered by the “What Went By” event.  The pictures of scat are very useful as most books don’t include color pictures of scat.  The scope of this book is very broad and contains information about animals from all over the world.

The Nature Series: Science on Tracking Expedition kit is also useful for kids interested in learning more about animal tracking.  The focus of this kit is purely tracking.  It comes with plaster of paris for making your own cast in nature or from the supplied molds.The matching cards that come with this kit are useful for memorizing different track attributes.  If you are creative you can create

National Geographic has a teacher’s guide that is pretty helpful when it comes to identifying scat.  We thought about doing the candy scat project, but decided we didn’t want to solidify those associations in our brains.

Our local natural history museum had a teacher’s resource kit that was very helpful.  You may want to check with your state conservation department or local park system to see if they have any kits available for loan.

In addition to the resources listed above, we found local nature centers did classes specifically about animal tracking with Science Olympiad preparation in mind.   These classes yielded some helpful hints we didn’t find in the books.

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Perhaps the best preparation was just spending lots of time outdoors with an eye toward animal signs.

Mousetrap Car : Elementary Science Olympiad

This year our homeschool group put together a Science Olympiad team for the first time.  We were competing in the 4th to 6th grade division.

Our task was to design a car power completely by a mousetrap that would go EXACTLY 10 meters.  Every mm short OR long of 10 m would result in points.  Teams also gave a time estimate for completing a run.  Points were given for the difference between predicted time and actual time.  Keeping the centerline of the track between the wheels was worth a -20 point bonus.  The goal was to have the LEAST number of points.

IMG_1658The boys came up with an original design that works quite well.  The chaise is made entirely of LEGO Technic pieces.  The drive wheels are CD’s with LEGO pieces taped to them to allow for attachment to the axles.  Balloons increase the friction on the cds to prevent spinning. The final design uses florist wire to attach the mousetrap to the chaise.  A K’nex rod is taped to mousetrap as an extension rod.  The final design used the wheels shown, but without the tires.

THE GOOD NEWS:

This mousetrap car was quite capable of going more than 10 m.

THE BAD NEWS:

After a lot of trials on different flooring surfaces the boys thought they had the right distance figured out.  For some reason their results at the competition didn’t match what they had the day before.

NOTES:

Adjustments to the pull string length seemed the most reliable way of adjusting the travel distance.  A shorter pull string traveled shorter distances.

We tried a braking system, but our design was hard to set and tangled too easily.

I was really pleased that the boys came up with a design that was completely original.  It made the project a lot more fun and interesting.

Using LEGO pieces limited the axle length.  A larger width would have made it easier to earn the centerline bonus, but their design did earn the centerline bonus on one of its two runs.

Almost all the cars at the competition used the same design,  a rectangle of basswood with four cd wheels and threaded axles.  They used a longer extension arm that was pinned down when the mousetrap was set.  The result was they could leave the string attached to the axle and self brake.

Having Fun with STEM Learning

It’s been a little quiet on the blog lately.  That’s because our life has been full of this:

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Our dining room has been completely taken over by LEGO Mindstorms and I love it.  We built a competition table that fits over our dining room table and added a temporary “desk” for the kids to use while doing programming.  E continued on with his team and will be competing in his third year of FIRST LEGO League (FLL).  This year I’m coaching a rookie FLL team for C and his friends.

It’s busy and chaotic sometimes, but I absolutely love it.

FLL is about so much more than a robotics competition.  The kids work on a research project and come up with an innovative solution.  They also share their project and solution with a few audiences before they go to a tournament.  This year teams are answering the question, “How can we improve the way someone learns……?”  They come up with a project board and put together a presentation about their project.  The presentations are skits, power points, songs, or anything else the team feels is appropriate.

Teams also learn and display the core values of FLL.  This means they are learning that what they discover is more important than what they win and how to truly honor the spirit of friendly competition.  They work on learning how to find solutions on their own, be a team, and very importantly – HAVE FUN.  The core values aren’t just given lip service.  Awards are given specifically for displaying exceptional core values and teams that score poorly in this area don’t advance.

EV3 PBL Mission World Class

And what would a robot competition be without a robot?  Teams are judged on their robot design and programming as well as its performance.

It’s a lot of work for both the kids and a rookie coach trying to keep up with them.  It is well worth the effort.  I enjoy seeing the kids learn how to program a robot and celebrate when a mission goes correctly.    The robot really brings together a nice combination of mechanical design and programming skills.  The project is always interesting and inspires creativity.  The core values do a great job of teaching valuable professional skills.

I was a little nervous going into this year, but I’ve learned a lot and definitely plan to coach a team again next year.  The new EV3 is easier to program than the older NXT and I don’t have to know a lot more than the kids.  One of the core values is that kids do the work with guidance from their coach.  Looking things up and watching videos together is part of the learning process and valuable for the kids.  Sometimes I can anticipate our needs and learn ahead of the kids, but sometimes we really are learning at the same time.

I look forward to doing more blogging once our tournament is complete and I will let you know what fun and exciting projects I see!

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Science Finds Us

Fossils - Devonian Era(?) Hinkley Reservation

This might look like just a rock BUT if you look closely those are little coral fossils.  Want to know the best part?  We found these fossils in the middle of a hiking trail on a Tuesday afternoon.

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There were actually several fossils in the immediate area.  Cool huh?

When we keep our eyes open, science lessons find us everywhere!

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.

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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.

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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!