Snow and Cold Weather Science (Part 2)

How do arctic and antarctic animals stay warm?  In many cases it’s blubber.

Can blubber really be that insulating?

Yesterday we investigated the effect of melting ice on water levels.

Today we added more ice and made a “blubber” glove to test the effectiveness of blubber.


"Blubber" Glove Experiment


  • Solid vegetable shortening or fat - like Crisco
  • 2 large ziploc bags
  • Duct tape
  • Large container of ice water
  • Stop watch or timing device
  • Thermometer (optional)


  1. Fill one of the ziploc bags with the vegetable shortening, making sure to leave some space around the top.
  2. Try to make sure to smash the fat into the corners and coat both sides of the bag.
  3. Turn the other bag inside out and insert into the bag of fat. If you can zip the two bags together.
  4. Use the duct tape to seal the bags together. Make sure the fat is fairly evenly distributed.
  5. Measure the temperature of the water.
  6. Place an unprotected hand in the cold water and time how long until it feels cold.
  7. Protect the other hand inside the blubber glove and place in the water making sure to keep the top of the glove above the water level.
  8. Place thermometer in glove and measure the temperature each minute.

We’ve read that vikings may have coated themselves in fat as protection against cold waters.  So, the boys coated a finger with fat and one without to feel how much difference it would make.

Check out  National Geographic Education for an explanation of the ways blubber benefits arctic and antarctic animals.

Have fun making this experiment your own.


Snow and Cold Weather Science (Part 1)

We are still finishing up our volcano studies, but interest is waning.  They did enjoy watching Nova’s Deadliest Volcanoes and C worked on a volcano model with his Jr. FLL team.


This week I picked up some books on snow and polar regions.  These were greeted with enthusiasm!

First up was The Secret Life of a Snowflake by Kenneth Libbrecht.  The photography in this book is amazing!!!   I love the explanation of “The Right Way to Make Paper Snowflake”.

We looked through the incredible catalog of snowflakes in Wilson Bentley’s “Snow Crystals”.   Wilson Bentley was a Vermont farmer, who was fascinated by snow crystals.  Back in the early 1900’s he purchased a camera capable of microphotography and cataloged thousands of pictures of snow crystals. We read “Snowflake Bentley” by Jacqueline Martin.  It is written picture book style, so it feels a bit young, but it is the only kid biography of Wilson Bentley I could find.  I’m also reading a biography of Wilson Bentley myself.  It doesn’t seem like it would make a good read aloud, but maybe I will find some good tidbits to share.

We set up an “Iceberg” experiment.


We filled an aquarium with 10 cm of water (Make sure to do your measurements in cm) We placed our “icebergs” in the aquarium to observe how they floated in fresh water.  Then we removed the icebergs back to the freezer.


E calculated the volume of water in the aquarium in cubic cm.  Once we had the volume we converted it to grams.  This is the beauty of the metric system.  For fresh water at atmospheric pressure and a temperature of 4 C, 1 cm3 = 1 g = 1 mL. (and yes it is annoying me that I haven’t figured out how to superscript the 3 in my blog editor)

Next we calculated how much salt we needed to add to replicate ocean water based on 3% salt by weight.


We mixed in the salt and then floated our icebergs again taking note of the water level.  The addition of the ice caused a 3 cm rise in water level, however we did not observe any significant difference in buoyancy of the ice comparing fresh to salt water.

As the ice melted we measured the water level to verify there was no change.

The purpose of the experiment is to show that melting icebergs don’t raise ocean levels, because they are already displacing water.  The melting of glaciers does raise ocean levels.  When glaciers break apart and fall into the ocean they become icebergs so glaciers add volume to the ocean when they either break apart and fall into the ocean or when they melt.   This experiment happened to fit very well into E’s math studies this week as he was working on both volume and percentages.

Next week we will be using benzoic acid crystals to make snow globes.  If you ask a mom to order benzoic acid, she will get a good price from the soap making supply store.  Once she is shopping soap supplies, she will want to make her own lip balm.  When she orders the supplies to make lip balm, she will also order lotion making supplies.  Since Christmas is coming she will order enough to make gifts.  Once her cart is full, she will suddenly notice she forgot the benzoic acid.  Now we will be making snow globes,  lip balm, and lotion.   All of these make great winter science projects, even if they don’t directly involve snow.

Now if I can just remember where I stored my molecular modeling kit…… we can explore WHY snow crystals have 6 sides.

Check out this list of Fun Holiday Science Activities.

Also Kenneth Libbrecht has a website that has an AMAZING gallery of snow crystal pictures as well as physics explanations of snow flake formation and ice spikes.

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9 Fun Holiday Science Activities for Kids

Looking for some fun science activities for the holidays?  Try some of these ideas to keep the learning going during the holidays!

Borax snowflake1. “Snow ornaments” –  Make ornaments using pipe cleaners and a saturated borax solution.


2. Bake cookies –  Everybody loves Christmas cookies.  Take some time over the holidays to get the kids in the kitchen.  The skills kids learn in the kitchen transfer straight into the chemistry lab.  At Learning with Boys we’ve even converted some of our favorite cookie recipes to metric units.  Check out our “Metric Kitchen” post.


3. Snowflake science – Maybe you will be lucky enough to get snow over the holidays  to view the crystals with a magnifying glass.  If not check out The Secret Life of a Snowflake – by Kenneth Libbrecht.  Libbrecht is a physics professor at Caltech but his book is suitable for all ages.  The photographs are just incredible and he does a great job explaining the formation of snowflakes.  He also has a website   Of course no snow study is complete without studying Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley.

4. Circuits – Let kids explore circuits with an old string of Christmas lights.  Depending on their age set them up with a AA battery pack, wire cutters and old lights.

5. Mini-mythbusters – Pine tree preservation – Let the kids use any leftover branches to determine the best way to keep the tree fresh.

6. Set up a taste test.  Is your favorite brand based on taste or packaging?  Find out what your families favorite brand of hot chocolate really is.

7. Do a germ study.  Winter is prime for spreading germs.  Use Glo Germ Gel and a UV light to test how well your family or class mates wash their hands.  Prepare some Petri Dishes and Agar and find where bacteria lurks in your home or school.

8. Make gingerbread houses – Everything from the thickness of the dough to the consistency of the icing affects the final outcome.  Have the kids use graph paper to plot out their designs.

9. Make homemade lip balm, soap, or lotion.  Kids love to make things they can give as gifts and natural ingredient lip balm is a must have item for winter.  Salt scrubs are also easy to make and a good gift.


What science activities do your kids enjoy when the weather is cold?


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List_it_Tuesday   HHH

Back to School with BIG Science

One of our back to school traditions is to start the year with a science experiment.  So while traditional school parents are buying backpacks,  we are ordering a solar bag.  The experiment works best on a sunny morning.

Solar Bag 1


We tried this at our house last year and  decided it would be a much better idea to go to the park.

The bag is really long.








Solar Bag 2

Solar Bag 3


Solar Bag 4


Finally its almost full!

We tied it off and added a string.  Then we waited a little bit for the sun to do its job.

Solar Bag 5


Solar Bag 8


Solar Bag 9






If only we had reeled it in and called it a day right here.









Solar Bag 9


The string wrapped up in a tree.

Solar Bag 10

I spent about 15 minutes walking across the ball field rolling up string!


It was a great way to celebrate the “first day” of back to school with a great hands on science activity.  You can order a solar bag from Steve Spangler.  In addition to the solar bag make sure to take some invisible tape and scissors.  Oh and be prepared to answer questions and make friends.

Wishing you many happy experiments!


Every Day Science – The Metric Kitchen

Does anyone else find the gram measurements on food labels abstract?

I truly would like to see the U.S. start using more metric units.  All scientific measurements are taken using metric units.  It is easier to make conversions between units by simply multiplying by 10 or 100 or 1000 instead of multiplying by 12 or 3 or 5280 or 16.   Not only is it easier to make conversions within length or volume,  did you know that a mL is 1cubic cm and 1 mL of water weighs 1 gram?

When we have a solid understanding of what a gram looks like, it makes food labels so much easier to understand.

With the above in mind, we’ve started taking advantage of our digital scale in the kitchen. Cooking with Scales

We started by taking the boys favorite cookie recipes and measuring the ingredients first in English units  then weighing out and recording the weight in grams.   Liquid measurements were easy because our measuring cup is marked in both mL and cups.

The next time we made cookies we used the metric measures we previously recorded.  So instead of saying, “I need a cup of sugar” we said, “I need 200 grams of sugar,”Chocolate Chip Cookie


This simple “experiment” :

1. Develops an understand of metric units by making concrete connections.

2. Develops a greater understanding of volume v. weight.  A cup of sugar weighs more than a cup of flour.

3. Provides a chance to practice good lab skills.

Plus,  we get to eat cookies!


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Our Favorites from 2012 – 2013

This year was so much fun!  I thought I would give you a peek at some of our favorite things from 2012-2013.Field Trips 1. Field trips are the GREAT.   I can’t say enough about how much we enjoy the chance to explore our community. As you can see the boys had a great time checking out the military equipment during Marine Week.  It is tempting to think of these trips as just fun but the kids really remember things and tie them back to what they are learning.   The science center has a coordinate plane model that works something like an etch-a-sketch.  I never noticed it but it immediately came to E’s mind when his math book introduced the coordinate system.   It is really a pleasure to go to the museums at non-peak times when we have plenty of time to spend at each exhibit.  This year we easily took 25 field trips.  Lake Hope / Hocking Hills 2012 2. Vacation.  When we went on vacation this year, we learned about hummingbirds, iron furnaces, and sandstone caves.  We had some great discussions while we were there and looked up more information once we were home.  Our experience feeding the hummingbirds last fall has prompted us to put out more feeders this spring. Building with Legos 3. Lego Build Days and FIRST Lego League – Like most 8 and 9 year olds these two enjoy Legos.  E enjoys the building aspect the most while C enjoys creating stories and dialog.  This year E had the chance to join a FIRST Lego League (FLL) team.  It was really a fantastic experience.   He learned how to do research and make a presentation along with programming and robot building.  His coach did a great job  involving the entire team in all aspects.  This summer both boys asked to go to a camp to learn more programming for the NXT robot.

4. Reading –  The boys always list reading books they like as one of the perks of homeschool.  I know many people are afraid boys this age would only chose Captain Underpants and the like; but we haven’t found this to be the case.  They choose mysteries and a lot of non-fiction. E reads many of our unit study books on his own and then I read those aloud to C.  We spend read aloud time with harder books that are enjoyable to them.  I have really enjoyed being able to spend lots of time reading aloud again.  We read several classics including “Farmer Boy”,  “A Wrinkle in Time”,  “The Secret Garden”,  “Trumpet of the Swan” and a few Chronicles of Narnia.   We had fun reading “The Tale of Despereaux”, “The Incredible Journey”,  and “Hugo Cabret”  then comparing the book to the movie.

Engineers Week   5. Engineers Week was an incredibly popular idea this year. So popular it lasted two weeks. Every afternoon they built or did experiments.  They built cup towers, straw towers, marshmallow and toothpick sculptures, boats, and airplanes.  We were studying the Great Wall of China at the time so they built a wall and the Lego Mongols attacked.  We tried to incorporate different fields of engineering including civil, mechanical, chemical, computer, and bio-chemical.  In the evening we watched Myth Busters and Modern Marvels. Vernal Pool Collage   6. Vernal Pool Unit Study Homeschool hardly ever feels more right than when a simple question turns into a unit study several weeks long.   “What’s that noise?”  The noise was spring peeper frogs and wood frogs.  We spent several weeks studying their habitat and finding out about the other animals that live or breed in vernal pools.  We spent a lot of time “in the field” including doing a night salamander hike.

7. A desire to learn more about Giant Squids led to several weeks learning about not only Giant and Colossal Squids but other cephalopods as well. This study was really fascinating because we were reading books about discoveries made in late 2012 and watching ground-breaking videos from 2013.  We took a field trip to the aquarium to see an octopus.  Homeschool 2012-132 8. Science experiments are another one of our absolute favorite things.  Our homeschool journey actually started because E was so sad about the lack science at school.  We put together solar contraptions, studied DNA, had a week of “egg”periments around Easter, observed butterflies, grew crystals, studied acid / base indicators and reactions, and much more.


9. Nature Walks –  Being outside when the weather is nice is great.  We are so inspired by our walks. Sometimes we make observations that spark questions and inquiries.  Mostly it is just fun to see birds, chipmunks, squirrels, ducklings, snakes and frogs.

10. Vision Therapy – C went through a six month round of vision therapy this year.  It was a big commitment of both time and money.  He did about 30 minutes each day of exercises at home and met with a therapist once per week.  After just 3-4 weeks he was reading for up to 30 minutes.  At some point we learned that in the past he had seen both red and black letters that somewhat overlapped. Prior to vision therapy he had consistently complained about stomach aches when asked to do reading or writing tasks.  Even 10 minutes of reading was a struggle.  Vision therapy has made a huge difference for him.

Those are a few of our favorite things from 2012-2013.  We are looking forward to what next year will bring.  What were some of your favorites this year?


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Mary_CollageFriday    weeklywrapup125

10 Fun Science & Engineering Activities for Summer or Anytime

Incorporating science and engineering into your summer is not only fun but easy.  Try these simple ideas to bring more science to your summer.

Red-spotted Newt hiding under root

1.  Go on nature walks. Take along a camera and magnifying glass. Kids are naturally curious and observant.   Repetition is key to maximizing the benefits of nature walks.  Some days we don’t find much, other days we see lots of animals. Sometimes the kids really enjoy looking for rocks or observing how a stick or leaf flows down the stream.  It might feel like this is just play, but it sets the foundation for learning theory.  The more often you go,  the more interesting things you will find.  We have a mile long paved walking path close to us. We try to walk there at least a couple of times a month in addition to other walks.  Over the last couple of years we’ve observed  foxes, salamanders, frogs, tadpoles, hawks, deer, groundhogs, black snakes, ribbon snakes, water snakes, ducks, geese, and other birds .  Of course we don’t see all of those every day, but sometimes we get lucky and see 18 snakes in one day or two foxes together.

Plasma Ball @ Science Center

2. Visit a science museum. We love visiting science centers and natural history museums. Your time at a good science center will look like play and it is. Play is imperative to developing scientific reasoning.  I love when we begin studying a topic and the boys say, “Oh, like the …… the science center.”

Racing Solar Cars

3. Science kits and toys.  Speaking of science centers pick up a science kit or toy while you are there.  Hobby Lobby is also a great source for science kits and toys.  Tornado tubes, circuit kits, magnets, geodes, Newton’s cradles ….. they all allow a child to investigate their world and learn through play.  Steve Spangler also has a lot of kits and ideas.  Don’t worry if the science principles behind the toy are beyond your child’s development.  They are building experiential knowledge of the world.

Illuminated Naked Egg

4. Open the Kitchen Pantry – The chemistry that happens in the kitchen is amazing.  Check out these fun experiments:

  1. Oobleck – simply mix cornstarch and water into a non-Newtonian fluid.  It seems like a solid under pressure but quickly liquefies when the pressure is removed.
  2. Make your own pH indicator–  You can use cabbage or black bean juice as a pH indicator.
  3. Make naked eggs – simply soak a raw egg in vinegar for a few days.  The shell will dissolve but the membrane will stay intact.
  4. Freeze water, salt water, and sugar water
  5. Make ice cream
  6. Make hard candy or lollipops – All you really need is sugar, water, and a candy thermometer.  Hobby Lobby has a kit that uses powdered corn syrup that is actually easier.

5. Programming– There are several ways to bring programming to a kid level.  Check out scratch, Light-bot, Alice,  Lego NXT or EV3.

We were fortunate to join an FLL (First Lego League)  team this year.   It is a great program that combines a research project and a robot game.  I’m fond of the Lego NXT and EV3 because they combine programming and robotics.  The ability to tell a robot what to do seems especially thrilling to kids.

Cookies Ready to bake

6. Bake – The kitchen is excellent preparation for the chemistry lab. It provides great opportunity to measure accurately, mix ingredients, and observe chemical reactions. My kids have actually requested to re-write some of their favorite cookie recipes into metric units and use the scales.

Mardi Gras flowers w/ bee

7. Garden – Whether you stick to flowers or have a kitchen garden, gardening helps you study plants, weather, the water cycle, insects, butterflies, birds, slugs, and much more.

Growing Borax Crystals

8. Do some easy experiments.  We have a few different books of easy science experiments.  One of our favorites is 101 Great Science Experiments, because it has great color pictures of the experiments.  The kids enjoy looking through the book and picking out a couple of experiments each week.

The Great Wall of China

9. Build – Build with LEGOs, PVC tubes, sand, cups, straws, toothpicks, books, or blankets. Build a pop boat.  Make paper airplanes.  Install a pulley system on your play set. See how high you can build a marble run.

Borax snowflake

10. Mix Art and Science – Grow crystals.  Create paper mache sculptures, tessellations, or optical illusions.  If you are really adventurous try a kinetic sculpture.  Take a look through the recycle bin and see what you can create.  Sculpt a clay creation and have it fired.  Watch a glass blowing demonstration.  Learn how to weave.  All of these hands on activities are great not only for our creativity but teach math and science principles.

Wishing you a happy summer full of learning!