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.

2013-04-084

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.

IMG_0080

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.

20131122-135630

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly Wrap-up – Pebbles of Encouragement

I’m happy to report that good attitudes are back again!  We hit a bit of a rough patch, but it was quickly fixed by pulling back out the pebble jars.DSC_0008The pebble jars remind me to offer positive encouragement.  I can’t tell you what a difference these jars make.  I remember to give praise and the boys feel like their actions are acknowledged.  We’ve made two rounds of filling the jar and it takes about 6 weeks or so.  The reward is simple, ice cream at a spectacular ice cream shop or a field trip.   The real reward is the daily difference.  You can check out how the system works in this post.

To add a little enthusiasm, I started the week with bagels for breakfast, a huge favorite for one of the boys.  When we’re in a funk, a little STEM learning always helps. We decided when our book work was done we would be “Food Process Engineers”.  We baked raspberry oatmeal bars and discussed what we would do differently if we were making big batches to sell at the store.

Our school friends had the day off Tuesday for election day.  Normally we would just have school but E’s FLL team met.  I didn’t tell the boys the public school had the day off until 10:45.  By that time we already had our reading and math done.  They enjoyed the FLL meetings and we spent part of the afternoon at the library.

2013-11-07

Wednesday was a zoo class followed by barely making it home in time for Jr. FLL at our house.   I really enjoy coaching the Jr. FLL team.  There are 4 boys on the team including C.  This week two of the boys gave a report on a volcano.  They also worked in teams to start building a crane and a crazy floor machine.    Last week they chose LEGO Dragons as their team name.  Each of them is making a dragon for our team picture.

Here at Learning with Boys we love non-fiction science books.  E has read several books from the “Scientists in the Field” series.  The series has several different authors and is designed for kids 9-14.  Each book profiles a scientist and their work.  One of the things I like is that each scientist tells what inspired them as a kid to become a scientist.

We’ve been reading several books about life in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620 – 1621.  This week we read “1621 A New Look at Thanksgiving”.  The pictures were very well done.  The boys enjoyed the book Samuel Eaton’s Day by Kate Waters describing a day in the life of a young boy in 1621.

It was a really good book week at our house.  We read an abridged version of Treasure Island.  E finished Mystery at Yellowstone National Park.   C read about marine mammals and dolphins.

DSC_0960-001We finally made time to take care of this situation. I pay very little attention to fashion, but I do want the their clothes to fit.  The pant situation had gotten so bad.  They had longer pants but they insisted those were too big in the waist. We spent the weekend trying to find another brand that was long enough, skinny enough, wind-resistant, and soft on the inside.  Finally we found one pair in a store and I was able to order more online.    Yeah!

DSC_0963

 

Just a little more fall beauty before it’s gone for the year.

DSC_0968

Do you have any favorite non-fiction book series?

How do you hit the “reset” button with your kids?

Thanks again to the Friday hosts!  Linking to:

weeklywrapup125      Mary_CollageFriday

 

*This post contains affiliate links.  No products or services were obtained by the author in exchange for this post, however this blog may benefit from purchases made as the result of outbound links contained in the post.

STEM learning with FIRST

STEM Learning:  Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math  – It’s easy to make sure we teach the science and math.  What about Technology and Engineering?   How do we teach those?

Senior Solutions Tables

Today I thought I would share a program that helps us incorporate STEM learning in our homeschool.

I have 8 and 10-year-old boys who are very into everything science and LEGO.  A little over a year ago the older requested a Mindstorm LEGO Robot.  Cool!  I thought he would make a few configurations and learn to make it do a few things.

Then a friend of mine told me about FIRST LEGO League (FLL) !  She even helped us find a team!  It’s like a sports team only more FUN!  Most of the parents don’t know much about what’s going on so they just do their best to cheer and be supportive.  The atmosphere of the events is very fun for the kids.

logo

FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.  They have programs for kids from K – 12 so no matter what age your kids are you can find a program designed for them.

We had such a positive experience last year that I’m coaching a Jr.FLL team for my younger son this year.

Some of our favorite things about our FIRST LEGO League experience:

1. The TEAM – Our son had a great time being on the team with a friend and becoming friends with kids who were older than him.  It was great to have a team with so many similar interests.

2. The core values of FIRST reinforce many of the values we are teaching our kids.   The kids are judged not only on their robots, research and projects but on how well they display the core values.

3. Researching and thinking in innovative ways.  Research is such a great life skill and the kids learn it in such a fun way.  They aren’t just researching to write a paper like everyone else, they are working as a team to find a solution.  What are existing solutions?  What can we do better?

4.  The competitions are crazy fun and recognize achievement in multiple areas. The kids might dress up like knights or cows, wear weird hats, or hand out trinkets.  The judges and referees dress up.  Some teams had a team song, dance, or handshake. There isn’t just one team taking home an award.  At the FLL age approximately 1/3 of teams went home with an award.  Awards were given for how well the robot performed, quality programming, teamwork, professionalism, research, and innovative solutions.

5. Programming is challenging and fun.  It is so great to get all the bugs worked out and have your robot perform as expected.  The way the robot rounds are set up with a 2 1/2 minute time limit achieving a “perfect” score is impossible.  Teams must decide which points they will attempt and which ones are most repeatable.

Check out the overview of FLL offered at this link:

logo

Remember you don’t have to know how to program to start a team!

I received no compensation for this post.  I’m simply a mom / coach who is enthusiastic about the opportunities the FIRST competitions give kids.

I’m ever so pleased to be sharing this post over at

showcase300_thumb

Thank to Kris for providing the Homeschool Showcasewhere she spotlights all the encouraging, inspiring and just plain fun ways that homeschooling families live and learn together.