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?

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Toys and Gifts for Science Fun

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Here at Learning with Boys we are all about making science fun and accessible.  Here are some of the toys and tools that make it happen.*

 

1. Snap Circuits –  Snap Circuits are great for teaching the fundamentals of electricity.  The directions include several projects and can be followed even by children who aren’t reading completely independently.  The sets allow plenty of room for experimentation.

2. Microscope – Every home needs a microscope.  The Duo-Scope is really nice for kids because it can function as a compound microscope, where the light shines up from underneath for viewing slides, or it can function as a dissecting stereo microscope, where the light shines down for observing solid objects.  This allows you to look at slides and every day objects.

3. Catapults and Trebuchets – Great lessons in machines.  The particular one in this link is a size that matches up well with LEGO minifigures.

4. Hydraulics Kits  – These kits are great for developing an understanding of mechanical motion and how hydraulics are used.   Again the scale works well with Playmobil and LEGO creations.

5. Newtons Cradle – I still remember questions about Newtons Cradles on my Engineering Physics exams.  This simple desk toys is a great demonstration of transfer of motion.

6. Handboilers – These are fragile and sometimes get broken, but they are a hit with our friends.  I keep a couple on the entry table and kids gravitate to them.  Great stocking stuffer.  (You might want to order an extra or two.)

C watching sand blow @ Science Center7. Science Center, Museum, and Zoo Memberships –  An afternoon spent at the science center or museum provides hands-on experiences we just don’t get at home.  Whether it’s a giant pendulum, a high wire unicycle, a giant water table, a visit to the planetarium, or walking through a life size replica of a whale – these experiences create memories that can’t be matched by a book or video.

8. Science Kits –  Kids love getting science kits especially when there is unstructured time to enjoy them.  We enjoyed both Magnets and DNA from ScienceWiz.


9. Magazine Subscriptions – Ranger Rick, Big Backyard, and Zoobooks are a wonderful way to promote literacy and science at the same time.   MAKE magazine has some neat ideas for the DIY crowd.

10. LEGO EV3 – This is the only item on the list we don’t actually have yet.  We have the predecessor NXT version and really enjoy it.  The great thing about the LEGO robots is the combination of programming and mechanical action of the device.

11. Building Toys – Lincoln Logs, KEVA planks, LEGO sets, K’Nex, Erector sets, Zoob.  There are so many great building platforms out there.

12. Spirograph –  Remember this from when you were a kid?  Gear ratios and cool patterns combined!  Unfortunately they stopped making these for a while and none of the knock offs were very good.   The original is back so get it while you can!

What is the best science toy you ever gave or received?

*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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Noooo!!!!!

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!

Carol

Vernal Pool Unit Study

A local vernal pool

A local vernal pool

We continued our study of vernal pools this week.  We’ve had so much fun with this unit study and learned so much about these unique ecosystems. Vernal pools are filled with water part of the year but dry up for at least 2 months every year. Because these pools dry up completely fish can’t survive in them and that makes them the perfect breeding ground for many amphibians.

A little spring peeper singing at night.

A little spring peeper singing at night.

Spring peepers and wood frogs come to vernal pools in late winter/early spring to lay their eggs.

This is a spotted salamander we observed during a night hike.

This is a spotted salamander we observed during a night hike.

During the first warm rainy nights of spring, salamanders emerge from their underground burrows to make their way to these shallow pools and lay their eggs.

Fairy shrimp, caddisfly larvae, and water beetles also make their homes in these pools.

Salamander underwater during the day.

Salamander underwater during the day.

On one recent trip we were delighted to see a young salamander during the day. There was a lot of reflection on the water but if you look closely you can see the salamander.

Ribbon Snake

Some predators do of course enjoy visiting these pools. On a recent trip we came across a few ribbon snakes.

“Frog Heaven” by Doug Wechsler was a very helpful resource for this study and I am very grateful to our local naturalist for leading salamander walks on rainy spring nights.

What ecosystems have you explored near you?