Learning by Cooking

This mom is feeling extremely pampered today.  E is working on his cooking merit badge.  Today was the day he prepared ALL the meals for the family!  Every single meal AND he did ALL the dishes!!!

Tortilla Soup BrightThe cooking merit badge experience has been great.  The boys have learned their caloric and nutritional needs and developed three days worth of meal plans that satisfy those requirements.  It was nice to see E develop an appreciation for how well balanced some of his favorite meals are.  He has always liked tortilla soup, but now that he knows how many requirements it fulfills he seems to like it even more.

I like the shopping trips we do for scouts.  I don’t do a very good job of including the boys in that aspect of things, so it’s really been good taking E shopping with a budget.

IMG_0212Beyond the merit badge, scouting is really helping E gain confidence and independence.   It’s a great reminder for me that I need to hang back and let the kids contribute more.  It’s a huge help when we are packing lunches and the kids make their own sandwiches. Sometimes I think, “Wait, why am I doing this?  This kid knows how to pack for a weekend outdoors, cook over an open fire, and use a backpacking stove.”

Cooking doesn’t have to be all about meals.  Sometimes it’s still fun to bust out our metric cookie recipes and make a batch of cookies using our best kitchen lab skills.

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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Community Service Day

If you are ever want to be inspired, you should spend some time hanging out with a FIRST LEGO League (FLL) team.  I’ve written several times about how these kids do an amazing job coming up with solutions to problems.  This year the challenge is Trash Trek.  Our FLL team has spent the last few months learning about trash, recycling and ways we can Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

TrunkChallengeMonday the kids had a day off school and decided to spend it doing community service.  Our first project of the day was to contribute to the reuse portion of the cycle by filling the trunk with clothes and shoes for the Goodwill.  I’m not sure what the donation receiver thought when five boys spilled out of my car.  She was gracious enough to give us a quick tour and we looked around the retail store for several minutes.

CollectingTrashatLakeErieDuring the course of our trash research we were shocked to read how much micro plastic is in Lake Erie.  Since we live near Cleveland, we decided to investigate ourselves.  Getting out on the lake and collecting samples of micro plastics wasn’t practical, so we decided to conduct a beach clean up.

We took a couple of clip boards with survey information by the Great Lakes Alliance, trash bags and gloves, and we headed for the beach.

IMG_2558Probably because of the time of year (mid October) the beach looked pretty clean from a distance.  We found mostly bits of plastic, bottle caps, straws, and a few plastic bottles.  By far the most common items found were cigarette tips and small bits of plastic.  We only stayed about an hour but collected 2.5 kg of trash.

BlueTrashScorpionWe thought it would be fun make art out of our litter finds.  During the summer months we would probably find more litter in the form of bottles and caps that would make better “art”, but the boys really seemed to enjoy figuring out things to construct.  A little spray paint really helped.

TrunkChallengeOverwriteThe LEGO Dragons are extending a “Trunk Challenge” to our friends, family, and readers.  Fill your trunk with donations for your favorite charity.  Donate.  Then post in the comments to let us know you took the challenge.  Issue your own challenge to your friends and family.

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Real Spring

IMG_1795We were walking in the woods last week when we heard them, spring peepers and wood frogs.  It’s one of the most beautiful sounds on earth.  When the peepers and wood frogs emerge and sing their mating calls, a person can’t help but feel the hope and renewal of spring.

IMG_1803As we were walking my son said, “There should be two first days of spring.  The equinox and the day the peepers come out.”

It doesn’t look like much.  The trees are still bare.  Only the earliest plants are pushing their way up through the soil.  BUT the air is warming up.

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Many of the local park services are hosting night hike visits to vernal pools.  During night hours the spring peepers can be absolutely deafening.  It’s amazing to me that a creature barely larger than my thumbnail can emit such piercing call.  For just a few days the yellow spotted salamanders come above ground to mate in the pools before heading back to their holes for another year.

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We found this super cool fossil next to a creek the other day.  The shell filled with mud and sand that solidified.  It’s amazing the things we find and the deep learning that takes place when we have time to just explore.

 

 

Engineers Week – Part 1

Engineers WeekMy favorite tradition in our homeschool is celebrating Engineers Week.  Last year we tried celebrating a different type of engineering each day.  This year we decided to focus on one project.

Over the years I’ve found weapons are a great avenue for my boys to learn about history.  The evolution of technology and weapons is helpful for placing events in chronological order.  It’s amazing how intertwined technological advancements are with military conquest.  Sometimes armies are just better at utilizing new technologies, but quite frequently research is funded solely for military purposes.

I thought you might be interested to see part of our learning path for this semester.  I mapped out the paths that were relevant to our current project.  It’s purposefully a bit messy to illustrate the non-linear nature of interest led learning.

Catapult Map.001

Given our current interest in ancient history, we decided our project should have something to do with onagers or ballista. (Trust me before having boys I had no idea what the difference was between a trebaucht and catapult.  I certainly would not have been able to correctly describe a ballista or onager.)   A search of the library system lead me to The Art of Catapults.  I placed a hold but we weren’t able to pick it up until Tuesday.  That left us a bit short on planning and build time during our official Engineers Week.  No big deal we will just continue into next week.

The boys were so impressed with The Art of Catapults we ordered our own copy of the book within a few hours.  We decided to make a model sized wooden ballista for C and a pair of large PVC “Stone Thrower” catapults to launch water balloons at each other.

Catapult Parts

Wednesday we did the shopping which was a good experience for the boys.  They found all the pieces and loaded the carts.  They also loaded the car while I questioned my sanity.

I purchased a special PVC pipe cutting tool, which I managed to destroy it in just two cuts.  Then we used a saw.  The boys were somewhat helpful with the hacksaw, but it was taking forever.  My husband came home and hooked us up with his reciprocating saw.  Yeah, power tools for mom!  The cuts went much quicker on day two and we got about halfway finished cutting and dry fitting.

I’m hoping we will have things completed in a few days and enough warm weather to do some enjoyable testing.  I’ll keep you posted on how this project comes along.

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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.

Weekly Wrap-up – Crazy Tournament Prep

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I was completely delighted see this hawk hanging out on the boy’s play set.  I think it’s an immature Coopers Hawk.  It stayed on this perch for several minutes and we were able to watch it’s head rotate around.  It finally unfluffed and then caught something but we couldn’t see exactly what.

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Mostly this week has been spent getting ready for our LEGO League competitions coming up this weekend.  One morning both the boys were working on missions with their respective team robots.

I will probably be sharing the LEGO Dragons project with you next week.  I think they have a truly innovative solution this year and I just hope their presentations go well in front of the judges.

Hope you are having a great week!

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