Weekly Wrapup

photoThis week we took a field trip to the Natural History Museum.  Of course we had to visit the outdoor animals.  C was really proud of his picture of the fox all curled up.  The traveling exhibit about mammoths and mastodons was pretty cool.   We also spent time in the children’s department checking out tracking information to prepare for the “What Went By” event at the Science Olympiad.


We are really enjoying the combination of ski passes and homeschooling.  Monday was beautiful, just the perfect day to be at the ski hill.  We ended up spending almost 4 hours skiing on Monday.  We are all making a lot of progress and it has been SO invigorating for me to learn a new skill.    We went again on Wednesday but C and I just weren’t having a great day.  I had a boot that didn’t fit well and made for a very scary trip down.

Despite all the time skiing we’ve been very diligent about our reading, math and grammar this week. I actually felt like we were able to focus better after spending the morning outside.  I have a simple spread sheet that helps me keep track of how much time we spend doing school related activities.

E finished up Singapore Math 6B last week.  I didn’t feel like the timing was right to move straight to 7A, so we decided to try Challenge Math.  We’ve decided to just enjoy math for the rest of the year.  It’s been a bit of a change not having all the needed information presented in each problem, but I think E is getting used to it.  I certainly think he is feeling challenged.  I’m a little disappointed that Challenge Math uses primarily English Units instead of metric,  but we need to be able to use both.   Overall I’ve been really impressed with Challenge Math, I think it will really make a great bridge from elementary math into more advance algebra and geometry skills. We are enjoying the focus on problem solving.

IMG_1561We’ve been working on Science Olympiad events.  We are meeting another family to work on Simple Machines and also Aerodynamics.  We spend about an hour on simple machines and then drive over to a local gym to fly airplanes.  The boys have had some good luck testing their distance planes at home, but we’ve found testing the gliders is much more successful in a large space.

On Our Bookshelf:

Percy Jackson 1-5.

D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths

McElderrry Book of Greek Myths

Nature’s Children: Stingrays

Spinach and Tofu ShellsOn the Table:

Spinach and Tofu Shells

Make Your Own Taco Bar

Beef Stew

Tortilla Soup

Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

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Weekly Wrap-Up WUH






Get Organized

GetOrganizedCan I admit that some variation of “Get Organized” showed up on my resolution list for  many many years?

If your goals for this year include “get organized”, check out the series of posts I’m sharing this week.  I’m offering details about various strategies that have helped our home become more relaxing and more organized.

Before we get to those I want to take a moment to think about goal setting.  “Get organized” might be the search term we all use, but our goals really need to be more specific.  Take some time to think about what “get organized” means for you.  Does it mean you want to be able to find your keys when you leave the house?  Maybe you want to have better communication between family members about appointments and pick up times.  Are you eating too much fast food because you don’t have healthy meals available?  Are you scrambling to make sure your family can find clean clothes to wear?  Do you “stash” piles of paper if company is on the way?

Instead of making a broad goal that is hard to measure, think about specific areas where you could make improvements in order to simplify your life and make it less stressful.  Then establish priorities and work on just one area at a time.

This week I will be sharing the importance of having a meal plan and a clean up strategy in the kitchen.  I’ll also share my “laundry epiphany” and wardrobe strategy.   My personal biggest struggle has been to eliminate paper clutter and the stress and mess it creates – during the last year or two I’ve finally found a system that eliminates the paper piles that used to clutter my counter and allows me to find what I need when I need it.

I hope you enjoy the series and find some tips that work for you.  It’s not about being perfect or superior – it’s about creating a home that serves it’s inhabitants well.  We all deserve a home that is functional, restful, and welcoming.

Weekly Wrap-up – Crazy Tournament Prep


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.


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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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!



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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Let’s go Racing!



How cool is this LEGO Race Car?  It’s part of LEGO Travel Adventure exhibit now on display at Great Lakes Science Center.

Our public school friends finished school this week.  We were happy to get the chance to meet up with part of E’s FIRST LEGO League Team to visit the new LEGO exhibit.  If you have the chance to see this traveling exhibit by the Indianapolis Children’s Museum it is well worth the time.  There were several amazing mosaics including a lenticular of Tigger, Eeyore and Piglet. I had no idea it was possible to make a lenticular completely out of LEGO. The models included the Taj Mahal, Titanic, the Palace of Naboo and many other fabulous creations.


The kids enjoyed looking at the displays and had a great time building with their friends.  I’d never seen so many pink and blue bricks.


While we were at the science center we also saw the film Island of Lemurs: Madagascar.   I hadn’t realized lemurs were endemic to Madagascar.  Madagascar is such a wonderfully diverse ecosystem.  70% of the plants and animals there are found no place else on earth. It was very sad to learn about the deforestation of Madagascar.  I was reminded how the decisions we make ripple through the globe touching the lives of other people, animals, plants, and ecosystems.

It is a difficult balance at times – providing for our families and respecting the environment.  The picture seems so simple when we see people slashing the rainforest in order to advance agriculture.  It’s easy to forget just how much damage has been done to our own land or how our choices make an impact.  Certainly we can choose fuel efficient cars, limit our driving, and avoid products made with palm oil. We can also just buy less stuff.  I think we forget we can live with less.  I know I do sometimes.  Even though I try to think carefully about the items I bring into our home, an over-abundance creeps in.   Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been doing a lot of purging, decluttering, and re-organizing and I’m aghast at the amount of STUFF that accumulates.  It’s good sometimes to force ourselves to look at the excess that creeps in slowly and unnoticed.  I hope the experience of the all this cleaning will cause me to think carefully about each purchase I make during the next several months.


One last race car picture before we go!

Hope you are having a great summer!  Let me know if you have any great tips for avoiding the accumulation of clutter.

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Homeschool Record Keeping and Organization – A Relaxed Mom’s Guide


I find it amusing when people find out we homeschool and immediately say, “You must be so organized.”

We did the traditional school thing for a few years.  Homeschool doesn’t require more organization, but it does require a different kind of organization.  I greatly prefer running our homeschool compared to overseeing everyone getting out the door on time with the needed “stuff” each morning.   With homeschool I’m dealing with long term project goals.  I also have a tremendous amount of flexibility and my kids have “bought in” on these goals.  Traditional school didn’t allow much flexibility for me or the kids. It did require flexibility and it frequently felt we were operating in the urgent/unimportant quadrant (you know – finding out Monday evening you need some supply for a project at school on Wednesday after you just went to Target on Sunday)

My traditional school organizational set up included:

  • hooks by the back door for backpacks, jackets, hats
  • a “mailbox” for each child where I could store papers / items that needed to go back to school
  • a “mailbox” for mom where I stored informational flyers for short term reference – notices about parties, concerts, sight word lists, ect.
  • an informational file where we stored papers we might need to reference – student # logins,  policy information,  and various forms
  • a file box of test papers and completed work we wanted to save
  • storage space for lunch boxes, water bottles, and other lunch supplies
  • a file of yearly test scores and report cards
  • a continual STACK of papers I needed to sort / file / throw away
  • a hodgepodge drawer of pencils, balls, and tidbits that came home as gifts and rewards

The day by day homeschool set up is much easier:

  • A bookshelf for math, grammar, spelling workbooks as well as reference materials and idea books (science experiments and the like)
  • A file folder for storing handwriting paper (I also have these bookmarked on the computer for easy reprinting as necessary)
  • A basket for library books
  • A spreadsheet for recording books read and hours spent on learning activities.
  • A dry erase board that stores our “All About Spelling” letter tiles.
  • A dedicated location for supplies like pencils, rulers, protractor, and calculator (same as when they were in school, but now there is only one set required)

When it comes to record keeping my main tool is a spreadsheet I created.  It includes a book list and activities list.

Screen Shot 2014-04-26 at 8.12.30 PM

The book list includes the title, author, reading level, who read the book and the count for the year.  Color coding each line makes it easy for me to process the information at a glance.  I could keep three spreadsheet pages instead of doing the color coding, but I find this method easier.

I want the boys to read books they find interesting regardless of the level of the book, but I also want to make sure they progressively read harder material.

Screen Shot 2014-04-26 at 8.21.17 PM

In the same file, I keep monthly lists of learning activities.  It’s very straight forward.  Date, activity, and the number of hours:minutes spent on the activity.  A cell at the top of each child’s column totals the hours for the month. The current month’s page has a cell that shows the yearly total hours.

Next year I plan to strengthen our record keeping by keeping a list of documentaries and television shows similar to the reading list.  I jot them down in the daily record, but I’ve noticed I don’t keep enough information to share them in a resource list.

I also scan any handwriting samples I want to keep.  E has started typing many of his stories and emails them to me.

Previously I’ve tried keeping a handwritten journal, but I’ve found the spreadsheet option works much better.  I like the built in calculations and the fact the record is backed up to the cloud.  If I haven’t remembered to record anything for the day,  I’m usually reminded when I sit down to check Facebook or do a blog post.

As far as yearly records, I keep a copy of our notification and testing results.  I also keep a summary sheet of unit studies, the yearly book list, and a list of the workbooks completed for the year.  All these records go in a three ring binder.

You will also want to store any documentation of learning issues or testing accommodations with the yearly records.  If you know your child will need accommodations on the ACT or SAT it is best to start building a record early.  Lexercise offers dyslexia screening and testing.  The screening is free and the testing is currently $300.  You aren’t obligated to use their tutoring.  There might be educational consultants in your area who can provide testing for a similar cost.  Going to a neuropsychologist will cost more (usually starting around $2500 and can be $5000 and up), but can provide more information and some of the cost may be covered by insurance.  Even if you homeschool, you may be able to get testing through the local school district depending on the state (don’t depend on the school district to know if they are required to do this).

In addition, the blog serves as a scrapbook of our homeschool activities and unit studies.  I really appreciate the weekly wrap-up sites for the accountability they create.  Because of them, I do a much better job taking pictures each week.

Please remember to check your state laws. Every state has different requirements.

That’s my relaxed record keeping strategy for the elementary years.  It’s no cost, low maintenance, and best of all doesn’t require a large volume of paper work.

Do you have any record keeping ideas to add?  If you did traditional school, do you find homeschool organization easier or harder?

Real Science with Tadpoles

As many of you know we are busy again this year investigating vernal pools.  Today we’ve come up with an observation that hasn’t been easily solvable.

One of the sites we frequent isn’t actually a vernal pool (in 7 years we’ve only seen it dry up once).  We call it “turtle” pond and it supports a large population of turtles and bullfrog tadpoles.  Today we were doing some catch and release of bullfrog tadpoles when we came across two unusual specimens:

Bullfrog tadpole with wormlike protrusions from mouth

The first one had several worm-like protrusions from one side of its mouth and some redness around its fins.  At first we thought perhaps it tried to eat something a bit too large to swallow, but it really looked more like intestines hanging out of its mouth.

Bullfrog tadpole with wormlike protrusion from side

We found another smaller tadpole this time with a few protrusions coming out one side.  We also observed some redness of the protrusions and the tail wasn’t in the best condition.

We released both tadpoles after taking pictures.

Given our zombie caterpillar experience from this fall we thought maybe it was some sort of tadpole parasite, but I haven’t been able to find any similar pictures.

We’re still following a couple of leads to try to find an expert who might be able to explain this.

The boys are of course a bit concerned about a parasite harming the tadpoles.

Do any of you have any insight into what might be the problem? Do you know someone who might be willing to help a couple of young citizen scientists?

UPDATE:  Our contacts at the Akron and Toledo Zoos were SO helpful.  They let us know that it probably IS intestines hanging out caused by the tadpoles being smashed or damaged.  We were really happy to find out it wasn’t anything contagious to the other tadpoles in the pond.  A special thanks to Ms. Carrie!