Frog Watch

Vernal Pool 1Several years ago we discovered vernal pools.  In fact my first ever blog post was about exploring vernal pools and the cover picture for the blog is usually of the boys sitting beside their favorite pool examining larvae.

A person might think we would get tired of studying frogs each spring, but there is a certain happiness to hearing the first spring peepers.  This year we are thrilled to join citizen scientist across the US monitoring local frog populations.

Tadpole 2014Our local zoo, Akron Zoo, is part of Frog Watch USA, a citizen scientist project.  We attended training back in February and received a CD of all the local frog calls.  Thankfully there are only 16 species of frog we need to know by call.  We started out knowing about six of the calls and were able to learn the rest within a few car rides listening to the CD.

IMG_1810Once each month we will be visiting a couple of our favorite frog locations.  After sunset we will listen to the frogs for three minutes and report our findings through the Frog Watch website.

When we started homeschooling, one of our major desires was to “learn more about animals.”  Frog Watch is a great opportunity to learn more about our amphibian friends and contribute to our community.

Field Trip: Nina and Pinta

IMG_2511On a bright October morning, we headed to Pittsburgh to visit replicas of the Nina and Pinta.  We tend to enjoy living history exhibits and this display was no exception.IMG_2510

The Columbus Foundation sponsors these ships.  You can find their port schedules and more details about the ships at thenina.com.   We spent about an hour touring the ships and listening to crew.  The crew is all volunteer.  They are out on these ships because they enjoy sailing and history.  They are incredibly knowledgable and entertaining.

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A historical detail we all found interesting was that the ships of the period were coated with black pine tar including the deck.  On a sunny fall morning in Pittsburgh, we were very comfortable even though the decks were a more natural color.  We could only imagine how unbearably hot it would have been sailing these boats in the Caribbean.

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It was incredible to stand on the decks and imagine the decks packed with cargo and crew with livestock down below.  Today the ships sail with about 10 people total in two boats, but in Columbus’s day the crew numbered 20 – 26 per boat.

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Growing up in the midwest I’ve had little experience with sail boats.  Today will forever change my experience when I read about explorers on caravels.  I will have a picture in my mind, not of a vague generic sailboat, but of a hot, crowded, black deck full of people and ropes.  I always imagined that sailors felt a bit lonely against the vastness of the sea.  Today I gained a sense of how the boat could feel crowded and chaotic or perhaps warm and friendly with a sense of companionship.  IMG_2515

My thanks goes out to the people who made this experience possible – both the crew and the dreamers, who thought of the concept and carried it to reality.

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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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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Weekly Wrapup

FIELD TRIP!!!!    Field trips are probably at the top of my Favorite Things list.  Field trips when dad can go along are even better!

IMG_0024 We had a blast hanging out together at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum.  The Children’s Museum is absolutely one of my favorite places, it is so full of creativity.  On exhibit right now is Tapescape, miles of packing tape transformed into an interactive play space.

I’m so excited, because I got a new computer this week.  My first MacBook!  I’m still trying to find my way around things like photo apps.  If anybody has recommendations let me know (particularly a photo app that does collages and watermarks).  I love the way my calendar syncs across all my devices, I feel so productive!

Over the weekend the boys  did Yard Charge with the Cub Scouts.  They spent the morning raking leaves.  I had a couple of wonderful hours all by myself.  It would be fun to say I went to the coffee shop or had a manicure, but I’m not cool like that.  I stayed home, purged a few paper piles, cleaned the kitchen, and enjoyed the quiet.  It was great!

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We had the first “real” snow at our house this week.  We did some lessons but also had time for throwing snowballs, sipping cocoa, making Minecraft creations and baking cookies.

This week I reviewed our reading list for the year.  Check out some of our favorite read alouds.   Taking time to laugh through a good book together is such a joy!

What are some of your favorite books to read together?

Hope you are having a wonderful week!

Carol

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10 Ways to Promote STEM Learning

STEM – Science, technology, engineering and math.  It can sound so serious, which is really a shame.  STEM learning is fun!

This past week we went to the Children’s Museum in Pittsburg.  It is a wonderful place.  The kids love it and I feel inspired every time we are there.   I happened to notice this Mr. Rogers quote on the wall:

“When we treat children’s play as seriously as it deserves, we are helping them feel the joy that’s to be found in the creative spirit. It’s the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives.”
― Fred Rogers

I thought, “That’s what science is all about.   It’s about discovery.  It’s about playing around and pushing the limits.”

Promoting STEM learning in the elementary years isn’t about lists of vocabulary terms.  It’s about play and discovery.  So today I provide a list of tips to promote STEM learning in your home:

1. Allow failure.  Failure is part of the science experience.  Sometimes things don’t work out and we have to figure out why.   This is tough for parents.  We see a mistake and we want to correct it before our kid fails, even if it’s a 2 year old building a tower or a 9 year old hooking up a circuit.  It’s okay to ask the child, “What could you do differently?” and brainstorm after a failure.  But try to let them choose the solution.

Mindstorm NXT

 

2. Play with Toys –  Invest in toys that promote learning.   Buy snap circuits, radiometers, hand boilers, and plasma balls.   Bouncy balls, marble runs, and Newton’s cradles all teach principles that can be explained later with physics.  Magnets are wonderful play objects.  Marble runs and wooden train sets build a great foundation for understanding potential versus kinetic energy.  Robots, like the NXT, are a great starting point for learning to program.

 

3. Watch TV.  Not just any TV.  There are great programs on PBS for kids – Cyberchase, Fetch, and Wild Kratts come to mind.  Discovery channel and History channel both have some good shows.  PBS NOVA has some great episodes.  Modern Marvels is fantastic.  If you don’t mind a little innuendo Myth Busters really reaches kids, although you might find yourself explaining to relatives how your 7 year old knows the exact temperature that causes rapid frost formation on the outside of a beer bottle.

Ribbon Snake

 

4. Nature Walks / Observation – Whether it’s birds at the backyard feeder or a trip to the beach, nature provides a rich learning experience.  Many an inventor has found his/her inspiration in nature.  I also feel it is absolutely critical to teach our future scientists and engineers to be nature lovers. Nature teaches keen observation skills.  We frequently have to listen for what we hope to see.

5. Play games – Play games like Blockus, Battleship, Mastermind, Checkers, and Chess to name a few.  These games promote critical thinking skills, but mostly they’re fun.

The Family with the Penquin

6. Visit zoos, science centers, museums, and botanical gardens.  Most of these places do a great job rotating exhibits, so there is always something new to learn.   It’s one thing to read about space exploration, but actually seeing the size of the capsule the early astronauts used is mind boggling.  Taking the elevator from the feet of a apatosaurus up to its head really brings home the scale of these dinosaurs.  Even mom can learn something new when she gets to pet a penguin.

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7. Do science experiments / activities.  It’s okay to do science activities multiple times if you find them fun.  We keep the plaster volcano in the  basement and sometimes we break it out to play with it.  It’s more an activity than an experiment, because we know what will happen. We also do all sorts of egg experiments the week before Easter, because it’s tradition.   If you have trouble thinking of experiments buy a few experiment books or buy a science kit.

Apple Picking 2013

8. Cook – Bake cookies together, make soup, make apple pie.  There is so much to learn in the kitchen – everything from good measuring technique to acid / base reactions.  You can teach nutrition and talk about why you chose the ingredients you do.   Baking bread introduces the importance of temperature on yeast growth and the properties of gluten.   Kids are really proud of their accomplishments in the kitchen.

9. Read non-fiction books and magazines–  I think too many of us have come to associate non-fiction reading with testing.  Personally I became a non-fiction reader about 7 years ago when I discovered books like, “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles”,  “For All the Tea in China” and “Freakonomics”.  It can be so pleasurable to just learn a little more about the world or think of things from a new angle.   I began to understand why my boys were selecting stacks of books about animals, inventions, weather and geology.  They wanted to learn more about their world.

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10. Share your discoveries –  Kids are great at setting up their own experiments and testing hypotheses. They also tend to be keen observers when we give them time and don’t rush them.  When they make a discovery celebrate it!   My kids love sharing new observations like zombie caterpillars on Learning with Boys and through social media posts. When we found several off cycle cicadas in our yard, they were delighted to make a report to a website that tracks cicada emergence cycles across the country.

 

How do you keep the spark of discovery alive in your children or students?

 

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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.

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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!

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

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Do you have any favorite non-fiction book series?

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

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*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.

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.

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Weekly Wrap Up – a Minecrafty week

DSC_0966Hope you all had a wonderful Halloween.  It was rainy and windy here, but reasonably warm.

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Minecraft Party Snow Golems

The big thing going on in our lives this week was a birthday party.  We had a super fun time.  Check out the Minecraft birthday post.

Our Jr. FLL team met this week and decided on Volcanoes as their natural disaster.

The rest of the week was pretty normal.  Hope you are having a wonderful week!

 

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Pikas and Tornadoes – Weekly Wrap-Up

IMG_4435 “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better” – Einstein

 

 

 

Pika

Pikas continued to be a hot topic at our house this week.  We saw this cute little pika in the Grand Tetons during our Yellowstone trip.  At the time we only knew a little about pikas from a documentary.  This week we read the two books I was able to find in the library system about pikas.  C actually read both books twice!  Interesting fact: Pikas are cousins to rabbits and hares, so they are lagomorphs not rodents.

Both boys worked on creative stories with pikas as the main characters.

res Fury Logo SM

We’ve also done a lot of weather research over the last couple of weeks, E in particular.  It is part of his research for FIRST LEGO League.  He is especially interested in tornadoes.  We have occasional tornadoes here and we used to live in the heart of tornado alley.  I’m always amazed by the amount of information kids can digest when they are really interested in something.  During our research I found a very nice article in the November 2013 National Geographic about Tim Samaras.  It is well worth a read if you remember Tim and Carl Young from Stormchasers on the Discovery Channel.

 

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This week our free time didn’t seem to match up well with sunny weather, but I’m looking forward to getting in some great fall hikes with the boys now that soccer is wrapping up.  I’m always sad for the days to grow shorter, but I adore the beautiful colors of autumn.  I’m hoping for campfires and family time.

 

Hope you and your family are enjoying some beautiful fall weather together!

 

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