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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Weekly Wrap-Up WUH

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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Weekly Wrap-Up WUH      Mary_CollageFriday

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!

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.

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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.

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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!

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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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        Hip Homeschool Moms

 

 

Finding Inspiration at the Ledges

Boys @ LedgesAfter all the longing, it seems like Spring has finally arrived, mostly, except the day it snowed this week.  I didn’t take pictures of the daffodils drooping their poor heads down, covered with snow.  I tried to ignore it.  I knew spring would be back and we would be outside again.

It was a pretty productive week on a lot of levels.  I did a ton of planning for summer weekend trips, some birthday party planning, and made summer camp reservations.

Calendar Pic @ Ledges

We had a really nice hike on Friday.  The boys were feeling quite photogenic, so I got  some great shots for the grandparent’s calendar.

Pebble Layer in the Ledges

Even though we’ve hiked this same trail multiple times before, the boys had new questions about the rocks and their formation.  I think it will make a great jumping off point for a geology unit.  We’ve studied volcanos and igneous rocks quite a bit, but we haven’t done much with sedimentary rocks.

During the last 3 years,  I found the learning that really sticks usually starts with a question asked by the boys themselves.  This is the great opportunity of homeschool – the freedom to wait for interests to develop.  The opportunity to ask your own questions about the world and seek the answers is a wonderful thing.  In fact it is exactly the thing the great scientists and inventors have always done.

 

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!

 

Vernal Pools in Winter

It’s still winter here.  It’s was warm for a few days and melted some of the snow.  Then it snowed several inches again.  Ah well, spring will be here soon.  Maybe you live somewhere warmer and spring has already settled in. Icy vernal pool in early March

This week we took a walk to check out some of our favorite vernal pools.  We learned about these cool ecosystems last year and have been observing them off and on through the changing of the seasons.

If you aren’t familiar with vernal pools, they are seasonal ponds.  Over the course of a year they fill and dry out.  The fact they dry up at times is essential to these unique systems.  Fish and other predators can’t survive when these pools dry out, so the vernal pools become the perfect place for frogs, salamanders, fairy shrimp, caddis flies, and dragonflies.

Winter vernal pool as seen from walking path

We started studying the pools last spring to find salamanders, wood frogs and spring peepers.   Now we make sure to take an occasional trip by our favorite spots to check the water levels and notice which animals are hanging around.

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Despite a couple of days of temperatures in the 50s, we found the pools were still filled with ice, but the ice was starting to get slushy on top.  All around us, the squirrels and chipmunks were busy, and the birds were singing.

Pointing to the deer along the trail

In the distance, the boys spotted some deer.

Deer along the trail - early March

At least a few of the deer spotted us as well.  We watched them for several minutes, and were surprised to realize there weren’t 3 or 4 deer, as we had counted, but 8 tails running down the hill.Early March on the Spring Peeper Trail Time to head home and wait for a few more warm spring days!

If you want to learn more about vernal pools, I highly recommend Frog Heaven by Doug Wechsler.   The book follows the yearly cycle of a vernal pool in Delaware. The pictures are vivid and helpful for identifying the different creatures found in vernal pools. We checked it out from the library last year to learn about spring peepers.  We ended up buying a copy to keep as a reference.

weeklywrapup125  Mary_CollageFriday

5 Plans for Engineers’ Week

Homeschool 2012-132A couple of weeks ago I shared some of the activities we did for Engineers’ Week last year.  This year I’m actually planning ahead so I’m hoping it will be even more fun!

1. Visit a FAB LAB.  What is a FAB LAB?  It’s a fabrication laboratory where people can create “stuff” using 3D printers, laser engravers, and other equipment.  Check out this link to find out what you can do at a FAB LAB or this one to find one near you.

2. Computer Programming – Since E has 2 years of experience programming the LEGO Mindstorm NXT through  FIRST LEGO League (FLL) and C will be on a FLL team next season, we will be completing a programming challenge similar to the one found here.

If you want to do programming as part of Engineers’ Week, but don’t have access to a robot give code.org, light bot, or scratch a try.

3. Take a fun factory tour –  Check out Factory Tours USA to see what factory tours are available in your area.  We’re planning to tour a Chocolate Factory with some homeschooling friends.

4. Celebrate Pi Day on 3/14 – I’m planning to do circle art and calculate the perimeter of a very large circle.  Of course we will make chocolate pie for dessert.

5. Building Bridges –  We’ve recently picked up a couple of books about bridges including one with directions for building your own bridges.  We’re lucky enough to live close to a few historic lift bridges, so we will visit some of those.  I’m also planning on the boys putting together a model of a lift bridge like the one above.

Some of my plans may go by the wayside if the boys come up with their own ideas, that’s okay. This is a fun week of exploring, creating, building, and designing.

List_it_Tuesday      Highhill Homeschool

Favorite Science Unit Studies of 2013

I love looking back at all the stuff we do in a year.  As I sat down to write this post I thought, “We really haven’t done much science since school started.”  I guess I forgot just how long some of these studies lasted.

Vernal Pool Collage

This past spring we heard the spring peepers calling late one afternoon and it started a very lengthy study of vernal pools.  We learned a lot about spotted salamanders, spring peeper frogs, wood frogs, and caddisflies.  We had a great time visiting the same pools over and over to check the water levels and watch the changes over the seasons.  Frog Heaven: Ecology of a Vernal Pool  was a great book that helped us with this study.

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2013 was the year of the salamander at our house.  Our night hike to the vernal pools introduced us to the spotted salamanders.  Then we found several baby (Northern Dusky?) salamanders  hanging out in a stream during a creek hike.  There was one amazing day in late May when we spotted 7 red-spotted newts and 2 northern two-lined salamanders during a single hike.  Each discovery prompted us to learn more about the salamanders we encountered.

Yellowstone Unit Study

Yellowstone Unit Study – Going to Yellowstone had been on my to do list for at least 15 years.  Seeing the mud pots and hot springs on tv, they seemed like something out of a science fiction film.  This fall we finally made the trip. There was so much to learn about the park before we went.  We studied the thermal features and learned about the super volcano that lies under the surface.  We learned about the wildlife we might encounter during our visit including wolves, bears, bison, coyotes and moose.  Our trip really enhanced our studies and gave our learning purpose.

Pika

Turns out our favorite animal from our Yellowstone trip was a pika we saw in Grand Teton.  Pikas are adorable mountain dwellers that pile up haystacks during the summer to eat during the cold winter months.  We had seen them in documentaries and when we heard their squeaking noise in a rocky mountain area we were able to spot this one.

Nature's Fury PicMonkeyFIRST LEGO League – Nature’s Fury Challenge – Over the summer E read several books and watched a variety of shows about different types of natural disasters including earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, tornadoes, and tsunamis.  Once the challenge was released his team selected tornadoes as the disaster they would study in depth.   E’s team skyped with a meteorologist about tornadoes and severe weather, conducted surveys of 3rd-6th graders about their tornado awareness, and e-mailed other experts in the field.    E spent quite a bit of time learning how tornadoes form in the atmosphere and finding out about the instruments scientist have used to study tornadoes over the years.

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Jr. FIRST LEGO League – Disaster Blaster – Volcanoes.  C’s Jr. FLL team chose to study volcanoes.  Each team member learned about a specific volcano and gave a report to the team.  C read a few books about volcanoes and watched several documentaries as well as gathering information while we were in Yellowstone on vacation.  The team worked together to build a model of a volcano and nearby island.  There was so much to learn in this study.  We learned about magma, lava, pumice, and obsidian.  We learned about ash clouds, lahars, tectonic plates, and the Ring of Fire.  We found out about ways technology is helping scientists map volcanoes and predict eruptions.

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Cold Weather Science:  This fall we did a short cold weather unit study.   We learned about snowflakes, icebergs, and glaciers as well as the insulating properties of fat.  They also chose to read more about polar animals.  Anytime we learn about the polar regions we do a quick review of the earth’s tilt and seasonal differences.

Nature's Fury Table

Computer Science: The boys are learning about computer science in a variety of ways.  We included some computer science in our “engineers week” last spring by playing around with Scratch and Light-bot.  Through his FLL team E has learned quite a bit about programming the Lego NXT robot and this summer both boys took a week long programming class through the local science center.  They worked through the lessons offered through the Hour of Code website during Computer Science Education Week.

Zoo Class Collage

Zoo Classes:  My boys love to learn about animals and we learn a tremendous amount of world geography through animal habitats.  This year we were incredibly lucky to have the chance to attend zoo classes.  These have been great!  The boys are so excited to learn more about the behind the scenes operations of the zoo.  I enjoy touring the zoo with E and C while they tell me new and interesting facts about the zoo and the animals.

Not all of our science learning is neatly contained.  In fact most of it probably isn’t.   The boys are always watching informative shows from PBS, Discovery, National Geographic, and the Smithsonian Channel.  We celebrate the beginning of the school year by launching a solar bag.  Finishing a workbook earns a trip to the science center or children’s museum.  Reading time is filled with non-fiction books.  It is fairly common to find E watching shows about military history.  I had never considered how much science and engineering a kid could learn from military history; but military uses lead to development of new technologies, which then become part of civilian life.

What did you enjoy learning with your kids this year?

weeklywrapup125Mary_CollageFriday