Category Archives: science

G the Kid Scientist

I’ve been watching Cosmos with the kids every Tuesday because it’s on past bedtimes on Sundays and we can all watch it together after school using the “on demand” replay. They all look forward to it and it leads to some great discussion. After the first show, G, age 5, declared she wanted to be a “kid scientist.” During our next trip to the library, she picked out books on space and the human body, but really, space is winning out. She told me she wanted to do experiments, so on the next trip to the library, we took out Astronomy for Every Kid: 101 Easy Experiments That Really Work, by Janice VanCleave. Now I will admit I think many of the experiments are a stretch, and many aren’t even experiments in the true sense of the word, BUT G picked out a few to try and she is pleased about feeling like a kid scientist.

experimenting

Here she is seeing how water affects the weight of a rock…which is supposed to relate to the moon’s gravity versus earth’s…which is kind of a stretch. But what’s more interesting is what the kid scientist did next. She told me she had her own “experiment” to do, and she requested a piece of black paper and two balloons. I blew up the balloons and she covered one with brown marks representing craters. Then she made silver marks all over the piece of black poster board I found. Then she set it all up.

earth moon sun model

The sun is in the center, obviously. She had me walk the globe pillow (representing earth, of course) around the sun, while she walked with me, moving her moon balloon (the one with the craters–impossible to see in this action shot) around the earth.

And this is why I love tagging along behind kids following their own interests. If I’d decided it was time to do an “astronomy unit” and had her create a model of the solar system, really, I’d have no idea if she was getting it. But a child who asks for materials to complete a vision in her head that demonstrates the motion of the earth around the sun, and the moon around the earth? That kid understands what she’s doing. It’s so darn cool, every single time.

Ready to Mail: Nature Exchange

We were pretty excited to sign up for the Mudpuddles to Meteors Nature Exchange. All three kids wanted to participate, so getting everything wrapped and ready to go had to wait until my schooled boy was home to join in. It’s all ready to get into the mail today, the deadline day.

When we signed up, I figured it would be fun to share part of our world. We really love where we live. (Ahem: I could do without winter and snow, but what can you do?) But of course, this project involved much more than just sharing. We spread out all the possibilities for packaging and agreed on at least twelve items to send. Then we needed to write up tags (writing!), which also involved precise identification so we could include the Latin names. We generally know what we’re looking at, but we wanted to be sure we got it right for our Alaskan recipients.

identifying our finds at amyhoodarts.com

I gathered our relevant field guides, in this case Peterson Field Guides: Atlantic Seashore, Peterson First Guides: Shells, and Save the Bay’s Uncommon Guide to Common Life of Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Coastal Waters, and we set off identifying. We counted the teeth on the crab shell. We compared the descriptions of blue mussels and ridged mussels, bay scallops and sea scallops. We copied down correct spellings. We wrapped them carefully and taped on the tags:

boxed up nature exchange at amyhoodarts.com

Very few of our items were small enough to fit into an egg carton, as suggested, so we used a larger box, and later I cushioned everything with newspaper as well. It will soon be off to the post office, and we’ll wait for our package and a chance to learn about the local nature of someplace far away.

What a great idea by Dawn and Annie of Mudpuddles to Meteors–thanks so much for hosting!

Homeschooling Plans

This photo has nothing to do with this post. It’s just nice to look at.

As we ended our first year of homeschooling my middle child, much was up in the air (my least favorite place to locate things). So I put off planning too much and took a wait-and-see stance for a while. But we’re now definitely homeschooling this year, too, and a few things have fallen into place.

We’ll be continuing with Story of the World as our spine for history, and when our world history gets up to the Age of Exploration, I expect we will start with the first book in A History of US, by Joy Hakim. We’ll also continue with her science text, The Story of Science, supplemented with hands-on science as we go along, primarily based on interest.

Last year for math I used Life of Fred; I talk more in depth about my gentle approach to math here. This year I feel he’s ready to move into something more rigorous, and I’m going back to Singapore Math, which I used for my eldest. It gave him a great foundation in math. We’ll take it as slowly as necessary, and of course real-life math is a part of our days. I’ve noticed my middle child likes to explain his thinking process in his own way. I’ve learned to be quiet and let him have the time he needs to explain what he’s figured out on his own about whatever math concept he’s been thinking about. He doesn’t want to hear me say it; he wants to get there on his own. His train of thought is not necessarily the school/textbook train of thought, but if he gets to the same station in the end, I don’t really care.

My 9yo also came out of school really not enjoying writing at all. I gave him space on that last year and didn’t push it, hoping he’d come around. He had fits and starts but no regular interest. This is something I don’t want him to abandon entirely, so this year we’ll be using the Brave Writer curriculum. He is in the Partnership Writing age group, and I assured him I’d be doing the same writing exercises as he. Actually, I was surprised by his response when I told him we’d be using a writing program this year. A year ago, I’m sure he would have protested immediately. This year, he said okay, as long as it wasn’t like the writing he had to do in school. We each bought three new notebooks: one for copy work (from the Arrow portion of the program), one for lists (because lists are fun), and one for Friday freewriting.

We’ll continue to start our mornings reading aloud together, whether it’s the book for that month’s Arrow or other books. And we will get more focused about project work, which kind of fell by the wayside this spring and summer. I’m enrolled in Lori’s Project-Based Homeschooling Master Class, which begins this week. I expect it will get me more focused and on track to get even better about mentoring my kids’ interests. I’ve already gotten a head start by beginning to tackle our studio space to get rid of some accumulated stuff and improve ease of use. I have my eye on the office/play room too, which has never been used well. (It tends towards entropy.) My hope is that by signing up for the first session of the class, I can take advantage of the natural beginning-of-school-year momentum and keep that ball rolling all the year through.

A big change from last year is that I’m taking a break from our homeschooling co-op, at least for the fall session. This was a hard decision, but several families with older kids left, leaving no offerings for my 9yo’s age and interests except a class I was teaching. I looked at the two classes I was to teach and the effort and time required (which is considerable, because I don’t use a prepackaged curriculum but instead plan as I go based on the students I have), versus what my son would be gaining, and decided it wasn’t the best use of my energy right now. I’ll miss the other moms, but given some challenges at home this winter and spring, I am wary of overextending this fall. My energies need to go to my own kids and family first, my own self-care (running, exercise class, and hopefully art classes), and my work (both shop and classes).

And those are our homeschooling plans, which look quite comprehensive when I write them all out. My biggest challenge, I think, will continue to be that my 9yo and 4yo bicker. They love to play together, but they experience quite a bit of friction, too. My second biggest challenge is that my oldest is in school, so I have to juggle a homeschool rhythm AND a school schedule, and those often work at cross-purposes. Also, I realize I haven’t mentioned plans for my 4yo at all. She’ll do what her older brother does, because she won’t have it any other way. She is practically teaching herself…she is writing more and more, copying down words and reading them back to me, making up her own math games….homeschooling a preschooler is easy as pie, in my opinion. She is also a pro at project work; she just needs her mama to get back to being a good mentor.

We all have our work this school year! I think it’ll be a good one, though. The second year of anything is always a little easier than the first.

Animal Classification: Reptiles

Reptile page, all filled in.

Reptile page, all filled in.

{Previous posts in this series: Animal Classification BookletAnimal Classification: Mammals + FishAnimal Classification: Birds; Animal Classification: Amphibians.}

Phew, the last post in this series. We finished up our five-part animal classification class for ages 5-8 at co-op this past week. Because this was the last class, it included some review of all five groups.

Resources:
Reptile poster from Verterbrate Teaching Poster Set
Various books on reptiles, including ID guide
Snake shed (not necessary, but I happened to have one)
Large (18×24″) chart to fill in with the kids. List the five types of vertebrates down the left side and create five columns with the following headings: How it breathes; Body covering; Eggs or born alive; Warm- or cold-blooded; Distinctive characteristic.

Activity:
Sniffers activity at Reptiles Alive
(Note: I used citronella as one of my essential oils and I do not recommend it! It sort of overpowered all the other scents.)

Handout:
Reptile word search found via Google
Completed Animal Classification booklets

We began by listing the groups we’ve already talked about, and the kids identified which group (reptiles) was left. As a group, we listed what we knew about reptiles, and then I hung the poster for discussion. Since we have snakes that live in our yard and I happened to have a complete snake shed we found in the yard several years ago, I brought it in to share. We tried the sniffing activity–it worked well enough but would have worked better if I’d avoided the citronella–and then we discussed how snakes use their tongues to pick up scents and why animals might need a good sense of smell.

After the kids filled in the reptile page in their booklets, I hung up the large chart and we filled it in together. The best part of class for me, I think, occurred when one child was working on the matching activity on the back page of the booklet and was stumped by kangaroo. Instead of telling him the answer, another child helped him figure it out on his own: “Kangaroos have fur. There’s only one group with fur, do you remember which one?” Witnessing the point at which someone feels confident enough in what they’ve learned to help teach it to somebody else–that’s just awesome.

We were limited by time (50-minute sessions) and space (no field trips, just a classroom experience), but I think we managed some great learning-together sessions. I hope you find these posts a useful starting point if you decide to plan something similar at home or in a co-op.

{PBL} Scattering

There have been some seemingly one-off random things going on this week, but you never know where things will lead. My 4yo has been interested in bones for a while now, although I’m not sure I even posted anything about that interest here. Recently she’s developed an interest in coyotes, too, but that’s not necessarily a separate interest. We visited the local NWR visitor’s center a week or two ago to look at the bones they have on display–they have many, out and available to touch, and among them are many skulls.

0207131012a

Coyotes have skulls too, you know. And skeletons. She was delighted to make this connection between her projects. (Yes, she identifies them as such. As a never-schooled preschooler, she signed on to this style of learning with full joy, quickly realizing the gravity the word “project” bestows upon her interests.)

Here she is drawing and then painting a picture of a coyote, using some reference pictures.

0219130845

This is such authentic work she is doing. She is working hard there, choosing to try to draw a coyote, noticing its colors and how many ears and legs it has, and where they are. She asked me where its nose was, and I showed her the snout and we talked about how the shape of the snout is one of the ways a coyote is distinguished from other dogs, and she worked at getting it right, at the same time understanding that she could make as many paintings as she wanted to try and get the coyote to look the way she wanted to.

This all makes me happy, not because my child is doing this but because I have created the space in which my child knows she can do this. She is not being kept distracted with “age-appropriate” busywork but instead allowed to choose her own work.

Also this week, all three of the kids made light straws.

0219130952

Someone on Twitter–I can’t remember who, unfortunately–posted a link to an article about diy.org. I checked out the site and sent the link to my 11yo because I thought he might find it interesting. He decided he wanted to make Light Straws, so he bookmarked the video instructions and wrote a supply list. All of us went to Radio Shack and tried to figure out which LEDs were super bright if none of them said super bright, and realized he’d spelled “ohm” incorrectly, but we managed to find everything we needed. I helped the 4yo but he and his brother made their own while we watched the video. Don’t they look super cool? And once they were made, they tinkered with the design, deciding they’d like the switch to work differently.

Later that day, my 4yo looked up at one of our light bulbs and excitedly announced that inside, it had wires that looked like the ones that connected to the LED in her light straw. My 8yo, who is building a pretend machine out of various block-type toys, is explaining how the “wires” should connect. All these scattering activities and interests…they connect in such interesting ways.

Animal Classification: Amphibians

{Previous posts in this series: Animal Classification Booklet; Animal Classification: Mammals + Fish; Animal Classification: Birds.}

amphibian page, filled in

amphibian page, filled in

I find the common practice of discussing reptiles and amphibians together both annoying and mystifying. They are wholly separate groups of vertebrates. There is perhaps a superficial resemblance, in that some salamanders (amphibians) remind people of lizards (reptiles). That’s my best guess. They are nothing alike. Lumping them together only leads people to confuse the two groups. So of course I am addressing them separately for my co-op class.

Resources:
Amphibian/Reptile poster from Vertebrate Teaching Poster set, folded over so only amphibian portion is visible
Assorted books on amphibians
Life cycle of a frog sheets

Activity:
From Polliwog to Frog: Association of Zoos and Aquariums
Frog sounds, using an Identiflyer; you could probably also search for an app that would supply amphibian sounds

Handouts:
Word searches, found through Google

We began by talking about what we knew of amphibians, making sure to discuss the most important characteristic, their metamorphosis from aquatic creatures with gills as juveniles to adults that breathe with lungs and live on land. The session’s activity was craft-oriented, with coloring, cutting, and assembling; this is part of my desire to offer various types of activities. As with other classes, we discussed the information on the poster and wrote the group characteristics in the animal classification book.

In our final session (coming up), we’ll discuss reptiles and compare the characteristics of all five groups as a whole.

Animal Classification: Birds

Bird page from booklet with characteristics filled in.

Bird page from booklet with characteristics filled in.

(This is the third in a series of sorts…the PDF of the animal classification booklet can be found here. Teaching plan for Mammals and Fish can be found here.)

Resources:
Bird poster from Vertebrate Teaching Poster set
Assorted books on birds–the kids really enjoyed DK Eyewitness Books: Bird

Activity:
Birds, Beaks, and Adaptation: PDF activity found at the teacher resources page of the National Park Service’s Mississippi (Minnesota) National River and Recreation Area.

Handout:
Bird word search–Googling will bring up many choices. One of my students asked for a word search to bring home each week so I am trying to accommodate!

For our third session, I began by asking the kids what they knew about birds. I realized after the fish class that I need to do lots less talking with this group. They are so eager to share what they know, and they know plenty. We went around the group and everyone shared something about birds–they lay eggs, they have feathers, they fly, they have beaks, etc–and we compared those things to mammals and fish. This was a great way to review the previous two groups we’ve covered, especially since it had been two weeks (instead of one) since we last met. I only put up the poster after we’d discussed what we knew of bird characteristics, and we checked if we’d missed anything, and we had! We’d all forgotten about warm-blooded or cold-blooded, so we reviewed that too and then talked about the groups of birds shown on the poster.

While the kids wrote in their booklets, I set up for the beak adaptation activity. Early finishers looked through the selection of bird books I’d brought. Some of the youngest kids aren’t reading yet, but I noticed older kids explaining and reading the information–I love these opportunities that naturally arise in a mixed-age group.

We had eight kids in class, so I separated them into four pairs for the beak adaptation activity. Each group was given one tool and a recording sheet, and they went around the room trying their “beak” at the different “habitats.” More than one tool will work for some items, so I told them this and asked them to find the beak that worked best. When they’d finished, they traded tools with other groups so they could try more out.

It’s impossible in an hour to cover everything about a group of animals! But focusing on one area (beaks) through a hands-on activity worked really well.

Animal Classification: Mammals + Fish

As promised, to go along with the Animal Classification Booklet download, here are my plans and resources for the first two groups we talked about in co-op, mammals and fish. Again, this class is for ages 5-8.

mammals copy

Mammals page from the booklet, with characteristics filled in

In our first class, we covered mammals but began with the idea of classification itself, discussing the two big groups of animals (vertebrates and invertebrates) and how scientists make that first divide (by whether they have a backbone). We found our own backbones.

Resources:
Vertebrate Teaching Poster Set; I’m using the appropriate poster for each class, starting off our discussion of the group by talking about the information and animals on the poster.
What is a Vertebrate? by Bobbie Kalman, to have on hand for pictures and to refer to.

Activities:
Dichotomous key: We did this together, keying out most of the included animals, to show how scientists use differing characteristics to place animals in smaller and smaller groups until the species has been identified.
Mammal matching: Each student had a copy, but we did it together as a group. This demonstrates how mammals are divided into smaller groups.

We also filled in the pages of their books as a group, with each student writing in their own booklet.

Take-Home:
Mammal word search

Fish page from booklet with characteristics filled in

Fish page from booklet with characteristics filled in

We began our second session by reviewing the characteristics of mammals before moving onto fish. In this way we could compare the groups (which are very different!). Again, we discussed the poster and wrote in the booklets.

Resources:
What is a Fish? by Bobbie Kalman
Various field guides/books of fish

Activity:
Fashion a Fish from Aquatic Project Wild: I received my copy many, many years ago by going through the Project Wild and Aquatic Project Wild training; this remains the only way to obtain this curriculum. Google tells me some folks have scanned in this activity and posted it online, but you’ll have to search yourself, because I’d feel uncomfortable linking. However, that link above includes a link to the state coordinator page for this program. Training is, as far as I know, still free, and you get an entire book of resources for free, too.

Birds, reptiles, and amphibians will be upcoming as we cover them!

Animal Classification Booklet

Click to download PDF

Click to download PDF

Our winter session of homeschool co-op is just five weeks of classes, so I’m offering an animal classification class for ages 5-8. This is a really fun age group, very enthusiastic, and while it’s called “animal” it’s really vertebrate classification. We’re learning about one class of vertebrates–mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians–each week.

I wanted something for the kids to write in and keep. (Some of the kids really like paperwork.) After hunting around on the Internets a little bit, I decided just to go ahead and make my own, which I’m now sharing with you, because, well, why not? What you see there is just the cover. It’s a PDF file designed to be printed landscape on regular printer paper so you can fold it into a booklet. Print pages 1 and 2 back to back, and pages 3 and 4 back to back. Assemble and fold together. Each page has room for the kids to write down the characteristics of that particular vertebrate, and the back cover has a little bit of matching. All the images are from the fantastic image library at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

I also plan to share my full lesson plan with the activities and resources I’m using. Coming up: Mammals and Fish.

{PBL} Projects + School

One of V's scenes in his organic farming movie.

One of V’s scenes in his organic farming movie.

One of my biggest frustrations with school is how much time it takes up. My oldest chose to remain in school, and I haven’t managed to support him on any self-led projects on nights and weekends, which fly by so quickly. The school describes its curriculum as “project-based,” but their definition and implementation is somewhat different than mine. Recently, my son completed a school project on organic farming. The curriculum is pre-planned, and my son chose the topic from a pre-set list. The projects had certain requirements—for instance, each student had to interview someone local pertaining to their topic, asking at least five questions. Interviewing somebody is great—if the student decides that’s the best way to get information that otherwise is unavailable. But assigning an interview takes away so much of the learning process…What do I want to know? How can I find it out? What resources are available to me? Instead, it seems like somebody else decided fifth graders should interview “experts.”

Several weeks ago, my son and I had a conversation that went something like this:

Him: I think I want to make a movie for my project representation.

Me: That sounds cool. None of us have experience with that. Can Miss [x] mentor you as you figure out how to do that? [Because that is what is supposed to happen in project-based learning; the student has a mentor.]

Him: I don’t know. I think there’s a video camera I can borrow?

Me: That’s a start. Do you have an idea of how you want your movie to be?

Him: Well, I want to start with a scene of fields, you know, with the crops.

Me: Okay. It’s December, though. You won’t be able to film that here, unless you’re okay with, you know, dead-looking fields.

Him: But that’s not what I want.

Me: Could you draw a background for that, maybe? Or perhaps try stop-motion? I can show you some examples.

Him, beginning to sound frustrated: I don’t have a lot of time to figure all that out! Maybe I’ll just do a poster.

Me, after a long thinking pause: I can understand, given that you have a deadline for this, why you would want to do a poster. I won’t think less of you if you do. But it makes me sad that you have an idea and don’t feel you have the time or support at school to see it through. I’ll do whatever I can to mentor you, if you want to try a movie. I hope, if you don’t do a movie for this project, we can come back to it when you have more time to dig into it.

And we left it there, for the most part. It seemed my son had decided on a poster. He let me know the materials he’d need (my role in his homework is mainly procuring supplies when necessary). For Christmas, we gave him the book Unbored, which I’d hoped to look through myself, but I can’t get it out of his hands! After his first day back at school, he told me he was going to do a movie after all. Unbored has a chapter on stop-motion, he told me, and now he had a better idea of what he needed. Awesome, I said. Make a list, and a storyboard. A storyboard? “Draw out each scene—figure out what you want to show and say. Then you can figure out what props you need.”

And this he did, in detail. After looking at his storyboard, I pointed out that it didn’t seem stop-motion would work, but perhaps a series of photographs? He brainstormed props. I thought I remembered a Duplo farm set…we checked his sister’s LEGOS and yes, indeed, she has not only a bus and a mailman but a farmer with flowers, a chicken, a pig, and a tractor. He received her permission to borrow her farm LEGOS. He figured out solutions for his other scenes—he transformed a bottle of spray fixative into a pesticide bottle by drawing a new label. We added an acorn and butternut squash to the shopping list. He painted grains of rice black, to represent harmful insects on the plants. We lucked out with a sunny Sunday afternoon, he set up each scene in natural light, took multiple shots, and chose the best ones.

Shooting film for his movie.

Shooting film for his movie.

I’d have liked to set him loose to figure out Movie Maker on his own, but given the time constraints, I tried to figure out the basics ahead of time so I could help him. Together, we added his photos, edited the duration of each shot, and recorded his narration, which had to be matched to each scene just so. He typed up the title and credits, and we strung it all together. It is amazing. If this were a home-based project, more time would have been spent on figuring out the program and investigating different methods of movie making. It’s hard for me to accurately describe what I see as the difference in school projects and home projects, but I’ll try:

School is more interested in showing what was learned about the assigned topic. The movie is a means to prove he learned about organic farming.

I am just as interested in the learning going on to create the representation. Learning about a topic is one part of the learning; acquiring skills to share information in a chosen way is just as (if not more) important. He drew a storyboard, wrote a script, arranged his scenes, photographed them until he was satisfied. He had a vision and manifested it. He struggled with the computer program, worked through that, we figured it out, and he created a finished product which pleased him. All of this is more important to me than the facts he acquired about organic farming.

I still hope he returns to this interest when he has more time to dig into it for the sake of digging into it rather than as a means to fulfilling a school requirement. I will nudge, and I will mentor. And I am so glad he chose movie over poster after all.