Candy Making: Snow and Cold Weather Science Part 3

Want a science activity your kids will love?  Try making candy!  It’s more of an observation experiment as the hot sticky syrup requires adult handling, but it’s fun and tasty.

DSC_1119

The first time we did this activity the kids were amazed that pure sugar candy was really just sugar with a tiny bit of flavoring.   We’ve used just sugar and we’ve  used the kit from Hobby Lobby that comes with some powdered corn syrup.  I thought it went faster when we used the kit but I didn’t time it.

DSC_1111

The nice part about the kit is that it comes with a couple of reusable molds.

DSC_1113

 

I added blue food coloring and raspberry flavoring.  Somehow before the process was done the blue reacted with the flavoring and turned green.

DSC_1118

 

The trays that come with the kit are really handy.  Once we tried making candy without using the molds and we ended up with lots of sharp edges.

If you are using the kit there is more mixture than what fits in the molds so have some aluminum foil or wax paper handy to make extra shapes.

This activity ties in well if you are studying crystals, saturation, or phase changes.  It is also a good time to review melting and boiling points in F and C and emphasize that 0 and 100 C are the melting and boiling points for water at 1 atm pressure.  Other substances have different melting and boiling points.

Wishing you many happy science experiments!

 

 

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.

DSC_0059

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.

DSC_0851

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

Image

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

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.

 

IMG_4387

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!

 

Thank you to the wonderful Friday hosts:

Mary_CollageFriday              weeklywrapup125

 

 

 

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

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?

weeklywrapup125

 

 

 

Every Day Science – The Metric Kitchen

Does anyone else find the gram measurements on food labels abstract?

I truly would like to see the U.S. start using more metric units.  All scientific measurements are taken using metric units.  It is easier to make conversions between units by simply multiplying by 10 or 100 or 1000 instead of multiplying by 12 or 3 or 5280 or 16.   Not only is it easier to make conversions within length or volume,  did you know that a mL is 1cubic cm and 1 mL of water weighs 1 gram?

When we have a solid understanding of what a gram looks like, it makes food labels so much easier to understand.

With the above in mind, we’ve started taking advantage of our digital scale in the kitchen. Cooking with Scales

We started by taking the boys favorite cookie recipes and measuring the ingredients first in English units  then weighing out and recording the weight in grams.   Liquid measurements were easy because our measuring cup is marked in both mL and cups.

The next time we made cookies we used the metric measures we previously recorded.  So instead of saying, “I need a cup of sugar” we said, “I need 200 grams of sugar,”Chocolate Chip Cookie

 

This simple “experiment” :

1. Develops an understand of metric units by making concrete connections.

2. Develops a greater understanding of volume v. weight.  A cup of sugar weighs more than a cup of flour.

3. Provides a chance to practice good lab skills.

Plus,  we get to eat cookies!

 

Linking to:

HHH

 

 

 

 

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?