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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Thermal Features of Yellowstone

The thermal features were the impetus of my desire to go to Yellowstone.  They seem to create scenes from a Sci-Fi movie.  It feels like being on another planet.Thermal Feature

Did you know half of the worlds geysers are found in Yellowstone? 

2013-09-22 Yellowstone

And Yellowstone sits atop a massive super volcano that fuels the hot springs, geysers, and fumaroles?  Magma is usually deep underground but scientist believe that in the caldera of Yellowstone the magma is a mere 3 miles beneath the Earth’s surface.

Old Faithful

Old Faithful is of course the most famous thermal feature.  It’s of impressive size, predictable, and close to the gift shop, lodge, and inn.   Standing around with lots of people and the temperature just above freezing in a light rain to watch it for the first time was sort of anti-climatic.  Watching from the lodge while drinking a cup of cocoa was an improvement.  Sitting outside under a full moon watching Old Faithful with my family was close to perfection.

Morning Glory

Although the ranger said Morning Glory isn’t as vibrant as it used to be, it is still well worth the walk.  The colors are caused by thermophilic bacteria.  You can actually tell the temperature of the water by the color.

Chromatic Pool

I thought Chromatic Pool was interesting.  Doesn’t it seem like a scene from Star Trek or something?

Mammoth 2


Stinky Mammoth


The terraced springs at Mammoth were unique and fascinating but stinky.


Firehole Drive 1


We were really glad we took the scenic Firehole Drive.  We saw 3 or 4 geysers erupting.  If I remember correctly this was toward the end of a day when the kids had already walked 10 miles so they were thankful to have so many geysers close to the road.

This was a really incredible trip!  I’m so thankful we finally made it a reality and I’m super thankful to Scott for taking so many pictures for me to share.

Check out the posts on Wildlife and The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and The Grand Tetons.



A Day at Grand Teton National Park

Just realized I didn’t get this post published.  Hard to believe we’ve been back for 3 weeks already.


During our Yellowstone vacation we decided to take a day trip down to the Grand Tetons.  It turned out to be one of our favorite days.



We went for what was supposed to be an easy hike around Jenny Lake, however due to a trail closure for reconstruction we ended up on the much more difficult horse trail.  That turned out to be a great thing because it made for wonderful views and….


we saw a pika up in the high rocks!!!  If you’ve never heard of a pika, they are adorable little creatures who live in rocky places high up in mountains.  They spend their time gathering bits of grass and flowers to eat during the winter and they are incredibly speedy.


Jenny Lake

Scott and E took the challenge of hiking all the way up to Inspiration Point.  C and I were a little concerned about missing the boat and being forced to hike back, so we only made it half way up before heading to the dock.  Scott has a Fitbit pedometer that tracks flights of stairs as well as steps, by the end of the day he and Eli had climbed 100 flights of stairs!

It was a terrifically rewarding day.  Check out the wildlife post for pictures of the moose and coyote we saw on the way back to the hotel.  Grand Teton felt more active and accessible than Yellowstone.  The road travels through a valley and there are places for bicycles.  There were some tour buses, but it had less of a “drive by and take pictures” feel. The hotel was promoting horseback riding and rafting.   It is definitely worth adding some time to your itinerary if you are making the trip.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

I love the opportunity to take a fall vacation and have it work into our studies!   I’m ever so thankful to my wonderful husband, who took most of the pictures while we were in Yellowstone.


Our second day in Yellowstone, we set out to explore the beautiful “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone”.

Bald Eagle - Upper Falls of Grand Canyon of Yellowstone



We started at “Brink of the Upper Falls” where we saw a bald eagle. We hiked a short way up the river before turning around.


Lower Falls - Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

We drove around to Uncle Tom’s Trail on the South Rim of the Canyon.  Uncle Tom’s Trail has a 500 ft. elevation change down into the canyon for a spectacular view of the Lower Falls.  It involves something like 300 metal grate stairs.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone The views on the way down were exquisite!  When we got to the bottom platform we saw a beautiful rainbow.  The colors of the canyon were stunning!  I thought the platform was vibrating, but it was just my fear of heights causing my leg to involuntarily shake! (Metal grate stairs are my nemesis.)  The boys bounded up the stairs out of the canyon.  I slowly climbed the stairs as they asked, “Mom, are you okay?”.  I wish I’d had my heart rate monitor so I would have known how many calories I burned.


Once I finally got up to the top of the rim again, we headed off down the trail for Artist Point. The views along the trail were absolutely breath taking.


It was incredible.  Pictures in the mountains can never seem to capture the vastness.


After what seemed like an incredibly long hike (it felt like at least 3 miles) we met up with the bus loads of tourists at Artist’s Point.   A friendly ranger was taking family pictures!

We retraced our steps back to the car (minus the trip down into the canyon) and it was really only 1 mile!

In the afternoon we went to the visitor center at Canyon Lodge.  They had a wonderful topographic model of the entire park.   Upstairs was Thomas Moran’s painting of the Lower Falls.  The painting is in 3 panels and  7′ x 12′. It’s incredibly beautiful. The visitor center also had a display that represented the amount of ash put out by Mt. Saint Helen’s compared to the amount of ash that is believed to have been spread by the Yellowstone Volcano.   The boys got their Young Scientist papers and we made an afternoon visit along the Northern Rim to complete a couple of the activities in their packets.

It was truly a beautiful area.  Even though there is some thermal activity in the canyon, the area is vibrant and full of life compared to some of the geyser basins.

Check out the Wildlife of Yellowstone and Thanks to Mary for Hosting:












Yellowstone and Grand Teton – Wildlife

We wrapped up our Yellowstone unit study – WITH A TRIP TO YELLOWSTONE!!!   I have wanted to go to Yellowstone forever!  Last year I finally quit wishing and planned a trip for this fall.  It was AMAZING!  Mama Bear w/ Cubs

One of the best parts of the trip was seeing 6 Grizzly Bears in our first hour!  I had prepared the boys that we would be extremely lucky to see a bear so you can imagine our excitement when the ranger at the entrance gate said there was a bear family on a carcass about 18 miles into the park.  The picture is a bit blurry because they were really far away.  Our binoculars allowed us to see an incredible scene.  The mama and her three cubs were feeding on this carcass with ravens all around.

Lamar Valley - Male Grizzly Approaching

Then we spotted a male grizzly approaching.

Male Bear circling Mama Bear with cubs and carcass

He circled around and eventually challenged the mama bear.  We actually  heard them vocalize!Mama Bear nursing cubs

She decided to give up the tasty bit of carrion, led her cubs a short distance away and began nursing them.

Lamar Valley - Bears

One last picture of the beautiful Lamar Valley, so my mom knows we weren’t in any danger.  The bears were out beyond the trees.  Good thing we had binoculars!

Once we were about another mile down the road E spotted another grizzly headed in the general direction of the scene.  The boys were so excited.

Bald Eagle - Upper Falls of Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

The next morning we saw a bald eagle nesting in the canyon.  We watched it for several minutes before it flew right over our heads.

Osprey and Raven in Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

In the afternoon we spotted a young osprey defending its nest against a raven.


Another day we took a side trip to the Grand Tetons where we saw a  PIKA!!!  We had seen them in a documentary, so I was thrilled when I heard one peeping high up in a rocky area.  Just like in the documentary, it was busy bringing grass back to its burrow.  These little guys are amazingly fast and completely adorable.  It sort of reminded me of a chinchilla.


As we were leaving that evening we saw several cars pulled over to watch something which turned out to be a few moose.  Again it was a good thing we had binoculars but the kids were very excited.

Coyote Hunting Dinner

Further up the road we spotted a coyote hunting his dinner.  C really wanted to see a wolf, so he is holding on to the possibility it was a lone wolf.   Unfortunately we didn’t see a wolf pack.

In Mammoth Springs we saw lots of Elk and we even heard them bugle in the early morning.  Of course there were lots of bison, squirrels, chipmunks, deer, and pronghorns.  No marmots this trip, but the pika more than made up for it.

It was such a thrill to actually go to Yellowstone and Grand Teton and see so many of the animals we have been studying.  Seeing the animals free in their natural habitat is so much more exciting than viewing them in a zoo.  We really had to use our knowledge to help us stay alert for the animals we might see.

Stay tuned for posts on the thermal features and hiking the “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone”.

Thanks to Kris for hosting the Weekly Wrap-Up!




Weekly Wrap-up Week 2

Ever feel like things are working against getting back into a productive routine?  This week felt that way.  But then I looked back and we did get quite a bit accomplished.

Mentos Fountain



This afternoon the boys skipped grammar and the Yellowstone study to have a fun science afternoon.    We broke out the Mentos and Diet Coke because that is always FUN.  While we were looking for something amid my science stuff they found a wind bag to throw.  They also watched several FLL videos, including last years World Champion robot (ironically many of the techniques employed by last years champ would result in penalties this year).


Space Age CrystalsAlso today, we FINALLY started growing crystals. I love doing science projects but for some reasons this kit has just not happened.  We’ve had it since Christmas.  For 8 months they have been asking to do this kit!  At one point I lost the directions. Then the whole house was moving around for carpet and I couldn’t think of a place the crystals could sit undisturbed for 10 days.  I’m excited to let you know how it turns out.

Measurements at the Soccer field

This week we took a trip to the park for a math lesson to enhanced our Yellowstone Unit Study.  It was fun to get outside.   In our Yellowstone Study we did a worksheet on thermal features, read about bears, watched another video from netflix, and drew pictures of bears in their habitat.

English from the Roots Up

I recently ordered these English from the Roots Up Cards at the request of one of the boys.  We learned the meaning of 12 Greek and Latin words this week.  The boys are really enjoying these.  It feels like a puzzle.  It also explains terms that were previously mysteries, like photosynthesis.  They enjoy trying to think of words that use the root word and sometimes make up combinations of their own.


The FIRST LEGO League Natures Fury Challenge came out this week.  It looks like it will be another fun season.  Teams are of course solving a natural disaster related problem.  The new robot game looks challenging as well.

Zucchini Brownie

Summer has reached the point we have too much zucchini.  Wednesday afternoon I did a huge batch of cooking – vegetable soup, veggie lasagna, potato soup, and tortilla soup – and I still had lots of zucchini left.  So after searching allrecipes I settled on zucchini brownies.  They turned out really well and the boys are excited to have “healthy” brownies.  I keep explaining they are full of sugar but C is determined that if he is eating his veggies the brownies are healthy.

Wishing everyone a safe and happy Labor Day!

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Yellowstone Unit Study Week 1

My boys really enjoy studying science.  Maybe because it has always been largely an interest led topic.  We do a lot of unit studies and most of them end up covering science and some history.  I’m not formal about creating a lesson plan because we tend to answer our questions as they come up.


This year we are starting the year with a unit study on Yellowstone National Park.  We will study the geological features, the wildlife, history and some botany and weather.

E in particular is always drawn to learning more about wildlife. Part of our unit study will be reading books about the wildlife in the park.  I easily picked up books about bears, elk, moose, wolves, and coyotes.  Oddly enough, the library didn’t have any books about marmots.

We are also using a guide book of Yellowstone as a resource and supplementing the information with internet searches. One big discovery, for the kids, was that the trees in a petrified forest have no limbs.  They had been picturing entire trees with intact limbs. I was glad I didn’t lead them on a long hike to Specimen Ridge only to discover the trees looked nothing like they expected.

The boys like to watch movies so we are working our way through some DVDs from the library.

I also found The Mystery at Yellowstone National Park by Carole Marsh.  It’s part of the America’s National Mystery Book Series.  It is always a challenge to find fiction the kids like to read but I’m hoping the combination of a mysteries and new places could make this series interesting.  I think the reading level on it was listed as 5.8, but most in the series were a little lower.


The boys did drawings of the types of thermal features found in the park. C’s are shown here.  E was still working on his.  We discussed all four types but they were free to draw whichever ones they wanted.

The school year is off to a great start. You can find the wrap-up of our entire week here.

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Our 2013-2014 Curriculum

Can it really be that time again?

We follow an interest led approach to homeschool.  That can mean different things to different people.  At our house it means we have open reading everyday, we work through a math workbook (so far they enjoy it), and we have a grammar or spelling lesson every day.  The rest of our day is spent learning about things we find interesting.  Frequently our reading in the morning ties into our unit studies.

This coming school year E will officially be in 4th grade and C in 3rd grade.  So what workbooks / programs do we use:

Singapore Math.  The boys enjoy math and tend to catch on to concepts quickly.  They like that the Singapore Math series doesn’t bog them by expecting problems to be solved in a particular way.   So far we have used books 1B – 5A and I’ve been pleased with the way concepts are presented.

When the boys were in public school, they used a spiraling curriculum.  They didn’t like the information being presented in such small segments.  They didn’t feel like they were learning anything new.

Easy Grammar We will use Easy Grammar again this year.  It does a nice job of building up skills and reviewing them.   The lessons are short enough that they are not cumbersome. There are no pictures or color, but the boys don’t mind at all.  My left handed son appreciates that Easy Grammar is spiral bound at the top.  I usually take his workbooks and have the office supply store cut off the binding and hole punch them, so I appreciate not having the extra step as well.

All About Spelling – Very straight forward and well planned out.  The tiles that come with this program are fantastic. The boys enjoy putting words in jail when they break the rules.    I’ve done quite a bit of reading regarding what works for kids with dyslexia and this program really does use recommended techniques.

That’s it for workbooks at my house.

What about science, history, music, art, sports and reading?

Last year they studied Greek mythology and history, the Vikings, China ( the Great Wall, Pandas, and ninjas), cephalopods, and vernal pools.  We also touched on WWII and the Civil War.  We did lots of science experiments and read about scientists and their work.

This year we will have a unit study on Yellowstone (including field trip / vacation) !!!   We will also study weather, natural disasters, and programming using the NXT format as part of our Lego League teams.    Bats and White Nose Syndrome will be a topic of study.  I’m hoping we can make it to Mammoth Cave this school year. The boys are starting to take an interest in greek and latin word roots.  They will be playing soccer and golf.  We will try to go rock climbing, sledding and skiing during the winter.  Beyond that I’m not exactly sure what we will be learning but I’m excited to see how the year unfolds.

Right now we are trying to enjoy another month of summer.  Oh and reading, programming, swimming and developing our outdoor skills.

How are your plans for the school year coming?





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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Salamander Surprise

This morning we headed over to one of my favorite parks for a nature walk.  I almost didn’t take the camera because the trail we were going to hike doesn’t usually showcase many animals.

For the first half mile we didn’t see anything beyond the normal fast moving squirrels and chipmunks.  Then to our delight we spotted a tiny red salamander.

Red-spotted Newt on trail



Then two together.

Two Red-spotted newts on trail


Then another.

Red-spotted Newt compared to 8 year old hand


And another.

Red-spotted Newt headshot


Then we went down to the creek.  We found a cool rock, eroded from the flow of the stream.

Rock eroded by water

A large rock in the middle of the stream held a circular pool that reflected the trees above us.

Reflection of trees in rock pool

We turned over a rock next to the stream and found a tiny salamander.  Closer inspection revealed two salamanders.  They looked very young.  At first it was difficult to even see their legs.

Immature Northern Two-lined Salamander

The boys wanted to take the same path back to the car in hopes of finding more salamanders.  We did manage to find a couple more salamanders.

Alert Eastern Red-spotted Newt


Now that our eyes were looking for salamanders, we saw lots of small creatures.  I have no idea how we saw a black wooly bear on brown dirt.  We put it on a leaf for some contrast.

Catching a caterpillar


Did you know millipedes have stingers?

Millipede with stinger


We found a spider web under a bridge…

Spider in web under bridge



and one up in the trees.

Spiderweb in the woods



Chipmunks rarely sit still long enough for a photo, but I was lucky today.

Chipmunk @ South Chagrin


C saw a squirrel that blended so perfectly with the trees I thought I would never see it.

Camo squirrel eating nut


The red salamanders are Eastern Red-spotted Newts.  The ones by the creek with a stripe down each side?  Those are Northern Two-lined Salamanders.  Of course.

It was fun to research the salamanders, once we were home, to figure out which types they were.  The boys were very enthusiastic about finding NINE salamanders.  You just never know what you will find on a nature walk.  Some days exercise is the main thing we achieve on our  walk.  Other days we learn about species of plants or animals that are new to us.

Wishing you many delightful walks this summer!