Watching an Eclipse, by Jane-Emily

Science With Friends

 

In late May 2012, I was very lucky; there was a solar eclipse right where I live!  We had a great time getting our friends to come and watch it with us, and preparation was the key to a good experience.  Most of us don’t think too hard about an eclipse until it is about to happen, and by then it might be too late to get good equipment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI knew something about a solar eclipse coming up, but it was only about six weeks beforehand that we really got serious. I got to attend a lecture on upcoming astronomical events (there were a bunch in 2012!) given by one of my all-time favorite college professors, Dr. Alexei Filippenko.* He gave us a lot of great information and stressed the importance of having correct viewing tools. We’ve all heard that welding glass is a good viewing medium, but it turns out that not just any welding glass will do; it should be #14 welder’s glass, which isn’t as easy to get. Happily he had bought up a large supply and shared them with us at cost, so I snapped up four or five. (I keep one in the car so I can look at the sun anytime I like!)

After this, we were very excited about watching the eclipse! We wanted to share the fun, so my husband put in a large order for eclipse sunglasses. These look like old-fashioned 3D glasses, but they have very dark plastic in them that is just as good as the welder’s glass.  We got 100 of them and invited everyone we knew to buy them from us (at cost, of course). At first we didn’t get a lot of takers and we worried that we would have a lot left over, but as the day approached, everyone wanted them and we worried that we would run out instead.

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On the big day, we gathered at a neighborhood park. We made sure everybody had proper eye protection, and we sat down for a picnic. An eclipse is a long event and it was a hot, sunny afternoon, so we went prepared for the heat. A couple of people brought a tent for shade, which was great and served as a lovely projection screen. Many families had blankets to put down in shade areas. I remembered at the last minute that I really dislike having the hot sun on my face (and I have a redhead prone to sunburn!), so I made several full-face screens with large pieces of cardboard. I just cut a rectangle shape out in the middle top area and fastened my welder’s glass down with packing tape, and ta-da! –I could watch the eclipse in shady comfort.

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This particular eclipse was an annular solar eclipse.  The moon went exactly in front of the sun (in our area; this, of course, depends on where you are), but because the moon was at its furthest point in orbit, it did not cover the sun’s disk completely. We saw a “ring of fire” around the dark disk of the moon. It was an amazing experience to be able to watch the whole thing happen. During the long period of time while we watched the moon eat away at the sun bit by bit, we played around with shadows and projecting images, used binoculars to project the crescent sun onto anything handy, and marveled at how the shade of the trees made for thousands of crescents. The peak of the eclipse lasted just a few minutes, and we could see the shape of the sun’s disk changing moment by moment. For most of us, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

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Check out NASA’s Eclipse Web Site to see what eclipses are going to happen around the world in the next few years. Maybe you will be lucky enough to have one nearby!  Australians, take note: you will get to see part of a very unusual kind of eclipse next month! Americans have to wait until 2017 for the next full solar eclipse and may wish to plan to travel to see it. Wherever and whenever you get the opportunity to see a solar eclipse, remember that preparation will help you have a great time.

* I took astronomy from Dr. Filippenko when I was in college, and enjoyed it a lot, so much so that I’m planning on using his Teaching Courses materials for my own kids next year.

Featured photo : Thomas Bresson. From Wikimedia Commons.

Janejane-emilyEmily homeschools two daughters in California.  She is a librarian who loves to quilt and embroider, and she’s a Bollywood addict.  Her favorite author is Diana Wynne Jones. She blogs about reading at Howling Frog Books.

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Real Science 4 Kids, Focus on Middle School: Astronomy Review

Middle School Day

by Jen W.

Real Science 4 Kids (RS4K) is a wonderful science curriculum designed by a scientist and homeschool mom, Dr. Rebecca Keller. As of this writing, there are 5 complete subject areas to study in Elementary and Middle School levels: Biology, Astronomy, Geology, Physics and Chemistry. There is also a course in High School level Chemistry. Each book and corresponding lab book is designed to take a semester to complete. However, each book is presented in a  well organized fashion that makes them easy to beef up and extend for a full year, if desired. Homeschoolers following the four year science cycle of life science/earth science/physics/chemistry will find it easy to plug these books into their homeschool plans.

If you are starting science late or have recently pulled your child out of school and feel their science education has been lacking, then you will be glad to note that Gravitas Press offers several alternate sequences on their website (found under their FAQ). Homeschoolers may also appreciate the fact that the books seek to take a “neutral worldview” and specifically mention that some scientists disagree over scientific facts such as the age of the earth. Due to this fact, many parents will want to fill in the blanks a bit using other resources.

Middle School Astronomy (previously titled Astronomy Level One) is a book that appealed to me because astronomy is a subject that is often given the short shrift, considering its importance to science as a whole. The book first discusses what astronomy is, then expands its topics from earth to the moon and sun, to other planets and so forth until it investigates galaxies other than our own. The language is simple enough for middle school students, but the concepts are solid and complex. There are colorful pictures and diagrams that help keep students engaged. The labs are mostly easy to complete with household items, but truly help students grasp the concepts presented within the text. The lab book makes it easy for students to learn how to record their science experiments.

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Gravitas Press offers their own supplemental materials such as the “study folders,” which would particularly appeal to people using these books in co-op settings who are looking for engaging material that is easy to expand for multiple students. Downloadable quizzes and lectures via CD-ROM are also offered for this course, which can help a busy homeschool parent or co-op teacher. The “Kogs” workbooks are designed to help students make inter-disciplinary connections between science, history and other areas, which is something that might particularly appeal to parents with students with strong interests in other areas to help pique their interest in a subject less naturally appealing to them.

If you were to use this book along with Geology in order to study one year of Earth Science, then you would only need a basic science encyclopedia to fill in some blanks and expand the reading. Parents who wanted to use Middle School Astronomy for a full year’s worth of science would need to supplement a bit and can find a list of suggested resources at the end of the article.

Sample of Middle School Astronomy

FAQ on the Gravitas Press website

Dr. Keller discussing the issue of world view and her books.

Purchase the text and lab book here:

Focus on Middle School Astronomy Text

Focus on Astronomy Middle School Workbook

Focus on Astronomy Middle School Teacher Book

Suggested Additional Texts:

The Usborne Internet-Linked Science Enclyclopedia

Suggested resources for expanding the course into a year long course:

The Usborne Internet-Linked Science Enclyclopedia

Janice VanCleave’s Astronomy for Every Kid: 101 Easy Experiments that Really Work (Science for Every Kid Series)

How the Universe Works

Science in a Nutshell, Destination Moon

Science in a Nutshell, Planets and Stars

Helpful YouTube Channels:

NASA Spitzer (includes the series “Ask an Astronomer”)

NASA

National Geographic

PBS Astronomy videos

Ohio State University Department of Astronomy

Khan Academy

Audible books:

Don’t Know Much About the Universe: Everything You Need to Know About the Cosmos

iPad apps:

StarWalk

AstroAid

SolarWalk

Planets

List of NASA apps

Jen jen_wW.– Jen is born and bred Sooner who has spent twenty years following her military husband around the world. Jen started on her homeschooling journey when her eldest daughter learned to read at three years old, and she decided that she couldn’t screw up kindergarten that badly. That child is now a senior in high school, and they have both survived homeschooling throughout. Jen has two more children who are equally smart and have also homeschooled all along.

Pigby, Digby, and Chuck Learn About Matter, by Megan

Teaching Elementary Science

 

My eldest son is a science fiend. He devours all science books he can get his hands on. He loves to do science projects with my husband. He loves watching science videos, Bill Nye the Science Guy being his favorite.

This year for our science curriculum, we’re using REAL Science Odyssey Earth Science & Astronomy Level 1. I feel like it has the right balance of interesting, factual text and fun, hands-on projects. It also has worksheets for recording data, which makes my life easier.

This week, we did the Unit 2 lab #1 demonstration. Unit 2 is about the water cycle and for this lab we observed water molecules in their solid, liquid, and gas states.

We started off by taking a dry jar, making sure that it was dry by feeling it, then adding ice and water, drying off the outside, and letting it sit. We came back to the jar when we were done with the rest of the demo.

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Next, we took some ice cubes and put them in the hot pot. Before we turned the hot pot on, we felt the ice cubes and Pigby recorded his observations on the accompanying worksheet. We did the same with a bowl of water and the water vapor in the air.

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Next, we turned the hot pot on and watched the ice melt into water and then turn into steam. As the water heated, I pointed out the moving air bubbles and how the hotter the water got, the more they moved.  I said the same thing was happening with the water molecules; we just couldn’t see them individually.

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Then we discussed how to get water vapor in the air to turn back into a solid. We did this by pouring the boiling water into a jar and then putting an upside-down lid filled with ice on top. They could see the steam fogging up the sides of the jar and then see the droplets fall back to the bottom.  I also lifted the lid and and showed them the condensation that had gathered on it.

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Next, we compared the two jars. I wiped my fingers on the outside of the hot jar and showed them that my fingers were dry. Then I let them wipe the outside of the cold jar and they could see the water that had gathered. I asked if the water in the cold jar had leaked through the glass. Pigby said yes, but I again explained how condensation works.

And while Pigby finished writing his observations, I let the littler two put their mittens on and play in the ice in the cooler. This might have been their favorite part.

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Some points I’d like to make: While the pictures show the little two patiently observing, I would like to make it known that keeping three and four-year-olds occupied is fairly difficult, even with an intriguing subject. The pictures don’t show them crawling over, under, and around the table! The pictures don’t show me telling them to back up before they burned their faces in the steam. They spent most of the time playing in the ice cooler and asking me questions both related and not related to the subject at hand. This is all normal and a little frustrating, but the thing to do is just go with it and redirect as you can. Playing in ice is more important for a three-year-old than trying to stay quiet and listen to explanations on molecules and condensation. Get them to participate as much as you can (mostly to keep them occupied and out of trouble) but don’t be surprised when they wander as much as they can.

Megan–Megan is mom to three children: Pigby (boy, age 7), Digby (boy, age 4), and Chuck megan(girl, age 2).  She loves history, ballroom dance, and crocheting.  She made the decision to homeschool when her oldest was three and they’ve been on this journey ever since.