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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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?

 

Linking to:

List_it_Tuesday       HHH

 

 

 

 

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

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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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

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?

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