World Biomes #5: Marine — The Ocean, by Cheryl

 

Previously: The Taiga

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Two years ago we took the kids to the beach for the first time. They loved searching for shells and playing in the waves. I timed this biome study for the two weeks before we left for our second trip to the ocean. We studied the animals, plants, and more before we left – and then we experienced them in real life!

Our library held a plethora of books on this subject! We also found a few interesting books on our trip.

Down, Down, Down in the Ocean by Sandra Markle describes the four levels of the ocean and what is found in each.

About Habitats: Oceans by Cathryn Sill was a fun, quick read that introduced us to many ocean creatures!

Who’s at the Seashore? by John Himmelman has beautiful illustrations with a look at animals living in and near the ocean.

Looking Closely Along the Shore by Frank Serafini provides close-up pictures and a guessing game. I love that our library has several books in this series. It has been a great way to keep my six-year-old interested in our study!

Coral Reefs by Jason Chin has beautiful illustrations and great information on food chains and webs in the coral reefs.

Even an Octopus Needs a Home by Irene Kelley has information on animals from many biomes and where they live. It covered a couple of ocean animals but also provided us with a review of animals we have already studied.

Life Cycles: Ocean by Sean Callery has a lot of information. We did not read this together, but my eight-year-old used it as a reference for a report he put together on sea turtles.

Ocean Seasons by Ron Hirschi covers a year in the ocean and how the animals migrate and live in the different seasons.

Seashore Life by Herbert S. Zim and Lester Ingle is a book we picked up on vacation. We used it to identify the many shells we collected at the beach!

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We also included some videos in our study:

The Wild Kratts Ocean episode is a favorite in our house. We also watched Finding Nemo as part of our study. I think my kids absorbed and recalled more from these cartoons than from any book we read!

DK Eyewitness DVD: Seashore gave us a good introduction into ocean life and allowed me to get some other work done while we studied!

Who Lives in the Sea by Annie Crawley was another DVD I picked up as an intro to our study.

Marine Wildlife

The world’s oceans support an immense variety of wildlife of all shapes and sizes. Some of the world’s most intriguing creatures live in the oceans. We learned about arrow worms, herring, salmon, sharks, seals, shrimp, hatchet fish, salp (which looks like one big creature but is really a colony that is connected!), sperm whales, giant squid, sea cucumbers, gulper eels, angler fish, viper fish, clams, crabs, tube worms, barnacles, sea stars, anemones, Portuguese Man of War, blackwing flying fish, octopus, lobsters, and penguins.

On vacation we went on a dolphin tour! It was amazing to see these animals up close!

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Plants

Algae and seaweed are plants found in the oceans. Much of the ocean is void of plant life due to a lack of light.

Vocabulary

Crustaceans, Sand Dollar, Conch Shells, Microclimate

Fun Fact

The oceans are divided into four zones or levels: the ocean surface, the twilight zone, the midnight zone, and the ocean floor.

 

Cherycheryll–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

World Biomes: The Taiga, by Cheryl

 

Previously:  The Rain Forest

The taiga or boreal forest has been my favorite biome so far. The variety of animal life within these forests is amazing! Much of the variety is due to migratory patterns of birds and other wildlife. We spent some time studying migration as we read about the wildlife in these forests.

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My son, four years ago, on the timber wolf statue in my parents’ back yard.

Books on this biome were hard to come by in our library system. We found a couple of general information books and then selected some specific animals from the biome to study more in depth. Some of our favorite books were:

Life in the Boreal Forest by Brenda Z. Guiberson was a quick read and a great introduction to the biome. We loved the illustrations and the many interesting animals it introduced.

Ecosystems: Boreal Forests by Patricia Miller-Schroeder was more in depth than our first book. We read and studied portions of the book. For older children, this would be a great place to start.

Forest by Frank Howard offered a couple of pages on each type of forest. We reviewed our rain forest knowledge and got a hint of what is to come with our other studies.

Look Inside a Beaver’s Lodge by Meagan Cooley Peterson gave us a fun look at the life of a beaver.

A Moose’s World by Caroline Arnold went through the first year of life for a moose.

Angry Birds: Playground: Animals: An Around the World Habitat Adventure by Jill Esbaum covered more than just our taiga animals. My son found it and has made it his extra reading. We plan to hang on to it through the rest of our study.The Angry Birds characters introduce you to animals in a variety of habitats.

Why Do Birds Fly South? another Weekly Reader ‘Just Ask’ book we had at home provided a good explanation of migration. We found that many birds of the taiga are migratory, so we added a short study of migration to this area of our study.

Animals of the Taiga

Non-Migratory – Moose, Beaver, Snowshoe Hare, Brown Bear, Lynx, Wolves, Voles, Great Horned Owl, Red Fox, Ermine, Timber Wolves, Grizzly Bears, and the Stone Centipede.

Migratory – Tennessee Warblers, Whooping Crane, Pelicans, Cross-bills

(It just happened that as we finished up our study of the taiga, my son’s IEW assignment was to write a report on the whooping crane. This made an excellent extension to our study. I love it when things work out that way! This can easily be added to every biome, if your student knows how to write a research report. They don’t have to be long; my son’s was only three paragraphs.)

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Plants

Spruce, Fir, Pitcher Plant, Birch, Larch, Poplar, Lichen, Mushrooms, and Moss

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Vocabulary

Migration, Chlorophyll, Isotherm, Permafrost, Deciduous, Evergreen, Coniferous, and Hibernation

Fun Fact

Boreal means northern, after the Greek god of the North – Boreas. The boreal forest covers approximately 50 million acres.

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Lapbook

Our lapbook entries covered migratory and non-migratory birds, deciduous and evergreen trees, animals, photosynthesis, and migration.

Coverpage, Animals, Birds, Trees, Map, Review Sheet, Migration, Photosynthesis

 

Next time: The Ocean!

 

CherylcherylCheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

World Biomes #3: Rain Forest

by Cheryl

My kids were excited to start on the rain forests! The plants and animals that live in the rain forests are so amazing and varied that we spent a little more time here than I had originally planned. My daughter wishes she were a jaguar living in the rain forest now!

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Books

Again, all of our books came from our local library. Some of them are great and I would suggest looking for them! Every book we looked at had some great information.

Looking Closely at the Rain Forest by Frank Serafini is the second of a series we have used. Just like in the desert book, he shows a close up of a plant or animal and you try to guess what it is. The following page has a full picture and a description of the subject of the photo.

The Magic School Bus in the Rain Forest by Joanna Cole is a fun story about a visit to the rain forest to see Ms. Frizzle’s cocoa tree. We love The Magic School Bus, and this was a great intro to our study.

Who Needs a Jungle by Karen Patkau is a beautifully illustrated look at the rain forest and the creatures that live there.

The Rain Forest Grew All Around by Susan Mitchell is a play on the childhood song, “And the Green Grass Grew All Around.” My daughter loved the repetition and the sing-song nature of the book.

Why Does it Rain? is a Weekly Reader book that walks you through the water cycle. I found this at our library book sale a few years ago.

Draw Write Now Book 7 by Marie Hablitzel and Kim Stitzer contain the lessons that correspond to the rain forest study.

Animals

The rain forest is home to some amazing animals! In our reading we came across howler monkeys, sloths, humming birds, leaf cutter ants, weaver ants, flying frogs, spider monkeys, flying squirrels, sliding snakes, jaguars, tapirs, anacondas, gorillas, red-eyed tree frogs, poison dart frogs, macaws, toucans, harpy eagles, vultures, capybaras, caimans, scarlett ibises, and piranhas!

Plants

Carnivorous plants, huge trees, vines, plants that grow on other plants instead of the ground – the plants of the rain forest are a lot of fun! We learned about orchids, bananas, rafflesia, pitcher plants, cocoa plants, kapok trees, and more.

Vocabulary

Epiphyte, bromeliad, water cycle, evaporation, condensation, precipitation, emergents, canopy, understory, forest floor

Fun Fact

The rain forest is divided into four layers.

Project

We read about rain and the water cycle as a part of our rain forest study. We decided to make a mini-rain forest at home to watch the water cycle at work.

Materials: 2-liter bottle or a large mouth jar, plant charcoal, gravel, soil, a plant (a fern or tropical plant is best; we used a pepper plant seedling because we had it on hand), packing tape, and water

Cut the top off the bottle, fill the bottom with charcoal and gravel, cover with a thick layer of soil (we did 3 inches and included some of our fresh compost), moisten the soil, place the plant in the soil, spray with water a few times, tape the top of the bottle on, and place in a warm and well-lit spot. Now you can watch a “rain forest” in action!

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Lapbook

Our rain forest section has plants and animals, like the previous sections. We also included a section to label the layers of the rain forest. We added a Water Cycle piece to our general information section, as well. Click the links below to see what we did.

CoverpageAnimalsPlantsMapLayers of the Rain ForestWater CycleVocab Review

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Next time: Boreal Forests (Taiga)

 

Cherylcheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

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.

Even More Science Apps, by Jen W.

Homeschooling With Technology

by Jen W.

Each day seems to bring more education-related apps for the iPhone, iPad, and Android platforms. However, not all of these are created equal. Here are some apps that my kids and I have found to be of great use as study tools or as methods of demonstration. It’s worth noting that there are many science apps that serve as little more than vehicles for flashcards or quiz questions; all of the apps on this list have more substance than that.

 Life Science:

  •  12979204503_02ee7056d6_s HudsonAlpha iCell (iPad, Android): This app gives students a 3D, easy-to-rotate view inside the three basic cell types: animal, bacteria, and plant. While viewing a specific cell type, students can tap the parts of the cell, which both zooms in on the part and provides a brief description. It provides three levels of knowledge: basic, intermediate and advanced. Basic is good for elementary (or lower level readers) while the intermediate and advanced are good for middle school through very basic college-level biology. I highly recommend this app as part of learning about cells and/or while working on microscope skills. It could use more information, such as the fact that a cell might contain thousands of organelles or show the internal structure of the mitochondria.
  • 12959942533_327553031e_s  D. Bones (iPad, Android): This is a great app for learning all about the skeletal system. It has three modes: a text that provides information about each bone in the body; in puzzle mode, students drag and drop parts of the skeleton with three different levels of difficulty; finally, quiz mode tests  students on their knowledge base using two different levels of difficulty. My only complaint is that it can a little hard to tap exactly where the app wants you to.
  •  12959862334_399813e5be_s Biology – Plant Handbook HD (iPad, Android): This is a wonderful high school level app designed to teach students about the biology of plants. It teaches about leaves, dissection types, flowers and more. There is also a free version that gives limited access, but could give you an idea of what this app is like before paying for it. Biology – Plant Handbook (free)
  • 12959863774_dc549a74db_s  Froguts Frog Dissection HD (iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire): This is a very realistic view of a frog dissection. It has male and female specimens and provides both dissection and 4 different practicum modes. It can be used either to help walk a student through a hands-on dissection (which is preferable to my mind) or could be used as an alternative to actual dissection (especially for those students for whom dissection might cause an ethical dilemma).
  •   12960082953_caf8cf0c31_sDK The Human Body App (iPad): This multi-award winning app is an amazing reference guide containing over 270 zoom-able illustrations, detailed videos, story pages and a testing tool. It covers all 12 systems of the human body: “integrated body, skeletal, muscular, nervous, endocrine, cardiovascular, respiratory, skin, hair & nails, lymphatic & immune, digestive, urinary and reproductive.”

Earth Science:

  •  12960215463_ace9aa1707_sBack in Time (iPhone, iPad, Windows 8): This app gives an astounding view of the universe, allowing students to travel back in time to the moment of how scientists believe the Big Bang happened, through the vast stretch of time until the present day. There are animations, videos, timelines, and articles that discuss various phenomena. The one drawback to this app is that it takes up a lot of memory (over 600 MB), but the upside is that you don’t need to access the internet for the app to remain functional.
  • 12959577473_b668eea0f7_s Folds and Faults (iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire): This is a simple app that teaches students about the various types of folds and faults found in rock layers. It is a great little geology tool, especially if you are visiting an area that allows students to observe these in real life. It doesn’t have incredible depth or substance, but that is probably expected with its low price point.
  •  12959861594_fa38bfbc07_sWater Cycle HD (iPad): This is an audio-visual presentation of the water cycle. It includes photos, videos, and a Bloom’s taxonomy-based quiz function. This is one of the few apps in this list designed with younger students in mind.
  •  12959428475_a72b092a53_sSolar Walk (iPhone, iPad): This is another multi-award winning app. It serves as a 3D model of the solar system. You can view the galaxy as a whole, moons of other planets, interesting artificial satellites orbiting the earth, or a host of other databases. There are so many features available within this app that they are impossible to list in this short blurb.

Physics:

  • 12959862534_fd8ec85a94_s Monster Physics (iPhone, iPad): This app allows students to build and operate various types of vehicles. They must use their vehicles to complete over 50 different “missions.” Monster Physics Lite (free)
  •  12960646975_d88467148b_sBuilding Serial Circuits (iPad): Students will learn about circuits via 3D graphics and 2D symbols. They will build various types of circuits using wires, switches, batteries and light bulbs. This would be a great supplement or prelude to a similar hands-on activity. Building Serial Circuits Lite (free)
  • 12960646975_d88467148b_s  Building Parallel Circuits (iPad): Using 3D graphics and 2D electronic symbols, students will build simple parallel circuits by using wires, batteries, switches, and light bulbs. By constructing their own closed circuit with two light bulbs, they will develop a deeper understanding of series and parallel circuits and discover that electricity follows the path of least resistance. Building Parallel Circuits Lite (free)
  • 12959864634_ccb7c13a14_s Coaster Physics (iPhone, iPad): Students learn about physics while building roller coasters. You can create and ride all sorts of roller coaster tracks while learning how speed, acceleration, energy and g-force change at different points in the track.

Chemistry:

  • 12959577613_0479a3d14d_s  The Elements: A Visual Exploration (iPhone, iPad): This is a beautiful reference that takes students on a visual journey through the period table. You can read about each element and see a visual sample.
  •  12959429115_182c363938_s Molecules (iPhone, iPad): This app allows students to view and manipulate 3D models of various molecules. They can download simple or complex molecules as they need to view them. The one downside to this app is that it would be nice if there was a better catalog of available molecules that students could explore.
  • 12959864904_27138afc22_s  ChemLab (iPhone, iPad): This app tests students’ knowledge of chemical compounds in a fun setting. If you are creating carbon monoxide, then you must add one carbon and one oxygen to the formula. Get it wrong and things go “boom!” While formulas are given after the fact, a pre-knowledge of chemical formulas would be useful.
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.

Co-op Chemistry, by Cheryl

Mentos and diet soda, in cold weather

Science With Friends

 

My kids love doing science experiments! I really do too, but with everything else we do at home, the experiments sometimes get put on the back burner. I wanted to be sure that my eight-year-old science enthusiast had a year full of science experiments. To be sure I followed my plan, I signed up to teach a class for our co-op. I have never had so much fun with a group of seven, eight, and nine-year-olds!

We have spent the last two months studying the basics of chemistry. We have covered atoms; the periodic table; mixtures; four kinds of reactions; four types of evidence of reactions; polymers, and more.

Experiments we have done so far:

Mixing things found around the house to check for reactions: baking soda, lemon juice, vinegar, salt water, egg whites, and milk. As we mixed items, we recorded what happened in a chart. The kids loved baking soda with vinegar and baking soda with lemon juice. Milk and lemon juice was another fun reaction. We looked for bubbles or precipitation in these experiments.

We also spent a week studying the pH of various household liquids by mixing them with red cabbage juice. Acids turned our juice from purple to pink, bases turned it green/blue, and neutral items did not change the color. We also neutralized the acids by adding bases to watch the color turn back to purple. The kids had a great time mixing things back and forth to watch the color changes.

We tested mixtures. Our first project was to make a cake. We made a nearly homogeneous mixture as we stirred the mix, eggs, oil, and water then we added giant drops of frosting to turn it into a heterogeneous mixture. I think this was their favorite experiment because we ate it! While that cooked we tried mixing oil and water based liquids to see what would happen.

We checked for starch in food items with iodine.

The second favorite experiment was making gooey putty. Mix equal parts liquid starch and white glue to create a polymer that is fun to play with!

Our final chemistry experiment was the “Mentos in diet soda” reaction. We read about the reason for the reaction, discussed what we thought would happen with different types of soda and then we went outside with eight bottles (four types of soda) and two flavors of Mentos. We had a soda fountain show! Our soda did not shoot as high as Mythbusters’ did. Our hypothesis is that the soda and Mentos (which sat in my car all night in the freezing cold) do not react as strongly when cold. We plan to test it again when it is warmer outside.

The kids have been introduced to some important foundational concepts of chemistry as well as the idea of the scientific method in experimentation. We are only halfway through our class. I cannot wait to get started on physics with these kids!

Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her cherylwhole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

FIRST Lego League Robotics, by Cheryl

Science With Friends

 

My oldest son is great at math and has been since he learned what numbers were! His brain does not work like mine; he breaks numbers down in his head in ways that make me dizzy (and I am good at math, too). He is also very visual and good at seeing how things work, how to make things work, and how to build. I have been looking for ways to take his mathematical and mechanical abilities and show him what he can do with them. We found it in FIRST Lego League this year.

We participated in the Jr. league this year. The kids are given a theme and required to build a Lego display with one motorized part and a couple of simple machines. At the meets they are judged on their design and how well it works. They are also judged on a presentation board they create and on their ability to talk to the judges about their project. This year was “Disaster Blaster:” the kids had to pick a natural disaster and create their project around that.

We live in Moore, OK. Our teammates do, as well. Our kids picked a tornado for their disaster. They built a town and a working tornado out of Legos. I was not involved in any of the design or build. I was very impressed with what I saw at the first meet.

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My eight-year-old had a great time! He learned about machines and a lot about gears as he attempted to make his tornado work properly. (He was even more excited when we were at the Oklahoma Science Museum riding the Segways, and we saw that the inventor of the Segway started FIRST Lego League!)

Next year he will be in FLL instead of FLL Jr. They build and program a robot with the Lego Mindstorms robot kit. The robot has to complete a series of tasks. The students are also required to do a research project and present their project. We loved watching the older teams practice at the meets, and my son cannot wait for next year!

I am impressed with the setup of this program. It teaches kids so much more than robotics! They learn team work, public speaking, and presentation design. The website (linked above) has information on starting your own team and volunteering to help run events.

Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taughtcheryl ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

Teaching Physics With an 8th Grader (and a Few More), by Jane-Emily

Middle School Science

 

This year, we are studying Physics.  I have used the four-year science/history cycle described in The Well-Trained Mind for eight years now; this is the end of our second cycle (which goes Biology, Earth Science/Astronomy, Chemistry, Physics).  Recently, I wrote about our Chemistry studies last year, and now I’d like to tell you what we’re doing in Physics–and what I would change if I were starting over.

My goal was to have a really solid year of Physics at the 8th-grade level.  Clearly, however, an 8th-grader taking her first year of Algebra is not going to be able to do a traditional Physics course with all that complex math!  What I wanted was a good grounding in the ideas of Physics, but without very much math at all.  After quite a bit of poking around for textbooks, I figured out that what I was after is called Conceptual Physics.

There are only a few textbooks in Conceptual Physics.  I ended up choosing the textbook by the guy who thought up the idea of a math-light physics course in the first place: Conceptual Physics by Paul G. Hewitt.  The one I got is the current 11th edition and it is a college textbook.  My daughter has not found it to be too difficult for her–I think a good reader wouldn’t really have a problem–but I found out later on that there is a high school textbook. If I’d realized that I probably would have gone with it.  (Although maybe not; I was able to preview a lot of the college text online which helped me decide, and she really is doing fine and enjoying the textbook.)

Conceptual Physics is my spine, and I designed everything else around that.  I figured that since physics is both complex and very hands-on, it might be good to have a lecture series to watch on TV to reinforce the material and help do examples.  I looked through The Teaching Company’s offerings (otherwise known as The Great Courses), and chose a DVD series called Physics and Our Universe: How It All Works, taught by Professor Richard Wolfson.  The course description says that “it doesn’t rely heavily on equations and mathematics, using nothing more advanced than high school Algebra and Trigonometry.”  More on that below.  During my planning, I arranged the DVD lectures so that they would match the textbook chapters.  This came out to usually doing two 30-minute lectures per week, but not always.

I also wanted lots of lab activities.  Some I came up with on my own; I ordered fancy magnets, ferrofluid (look it up; it’s amazing), the world’s longest Slinky, and other fun things.  I also got eScience Labs Introductory Physics (version 3.2), a boxed set that is supposed to have a full year of lab activities.  It comes with a CD-ROM that gives instructions for each lab and questions for students to answer.  It is mid-high-school level; not serious Physics, but enough questions to make it fairly hard work.  However, you can also just do the activities to illustrate the principles, and that is fun for any age!  I figured out a schedule for labs to match my textbook.

We have been doing all this work with a group.  Last year, we had one extra student for chemistry, and that was quite fun–plus it was good for me, because I had to plan those labs and make them happen!  I could never put it off and think we could do it next week.  That student is not homeschooling this year, but all of a sudden several of my friends are homeschooling their kids, and before I knew it I had a group that included three high school students, three middle schoolers, and five elementary-age children!  Students age 12+ come to the lectures and read the textbook; the rest of them use Real Science 4 Kids Physics and only come to the labs.  (At first I thought the 12-year-old was too young to use the college text, but he turns out to be a natural engineer.  He got the textbook late, caught up, and is loving it.)

As if this is not enough, I chose some supplementary books for the older students to read if they felt so inclined.  These are not required, but they are great resources:

Lastly, in order to keep all these students informed, I started a Facebook page.  They aren’t all on Facebook, but their parents are!  I post information, announcements, and neat videos or images, and our syllabus is available there for reference.

And how has all this turned out?

The textbook is fine.  Although I wonder if I would have been better off with the high-school text, everyone is reading and understanding just fine, and my daughter–who was not really excited about Physics in September–tackles her chapter first thing every Monday morning and says she really enjoys it.  I feel pretty good about it.

The DVD course is pretty interesting and has some good examples, as I hoped.  It also turns out to have a different definition of “doesn’t rely heavily on equations and mathematics, using nothing more advanced than high school Algebra and Trigonometry” than I do.  When the math comes up on the screen, we all stare at it in despair.  After that happened a couple of times, I started fast-forwarding when the math starts.  Later on in the course, some of the lectures get pretty advanced.  If I could choose again, I might go with a more conceptual course by the same instructor, Physics In Your Life, though then I would probably worry that it was not rigorous enough!  On the whole this has worked out fine, though.  My students are still showing up regularly for lectures, so I guess we are doing OK.

Hosting labs is always fun.  The box set tends to draw lessons from very simple activities, and sometimes I wish I had something on a bigger scale, but for the most part it is going fine.  The kids enjoy the activities, and I try to tell them the principles behind what we are doing.  Labs also give me a great opportunity to talk about science in everyday life, and using our knowledge to think about what we see around us.  We have had some good conversations on why we should understand scientific principles and how to avoid expensive (yet completely unsound) products.  The very best days are when my husband, who is a true Physics aficionado, is able to be present and talk with the students.  He is much more eloquent than I am, and would be a better teacher, but sadly he has to earn a living.

The Facebook page was a good idea.  It’s easier than emailing everyone, and the videos get a good response.  There are some amazing Physics videos out there!  We have especially enjoyed some of Veritasium’s videos; our favorite was the giant Slinky. 

It’s a bit early yet to declare this a good year for science, but I think we are well on our way to being able to say that.  So far it’s been fun, and everyone is learning.

Featured photo: Iron filings and a magnet. The filings are in a jar of oil so they can be easily observed. The magnet is in a test tube so it will stay clean.

Jane-Ejane-emilymily–Jane-Emily is a classically homeschooling LDS mom of two girls, and a librarian at the local community college, very part-time. She loves to read and will pick up almost anything. She also loves to sew and mostly does quilting, heirloom sewing, and smocking. And she’s a Bollywood addict.

How I Taught 7th Grade Chemistry, by Jane-Emily

Middle School Day

 

Last year I had a twelve-year-old in seventh grade and a nine-year-old in fourth.  For science, I wanted to concentrate on chemistry — one of my very favorite sciences!  It’s the recipe book for the universe! — I wanted to make sure that my twelve-year-old would be very well-prepared to take AP Chemistry, or some equivalent thereof, later on.  I searched high and low for materials that would make it possible for me to teach a solid chemistry course without too much math.  I also invited another kid along for lab days; I find that it is more fun if we have an extra kid or two along for the ride.

For a text, I found Friendly Chemistry, a course designed for homeschoolers with plans for larger groups.  Friendly Chemistry is quite clear, and it teaches a lot of chemistry, from atomic structure to stoichiometry to ideal gas laws.  There is some math and it sometimes got difficult, but together we figured it out.  There is not much of a lab component; it’s limited to easily-obtainable home items.  It has quite a few games to aid in memorization of elements, ions, and so on, and several of them are well-designed.  There are a few typos, but otherwise my only problem was that the solutions in the back of the book did not provide help with working out the problems. Only answers were given, and sometimes we got stuck.

I wanted lots of lab work, so I ordered the biggest chemistry set Thames & Kosmos stocks: the C3000, containing instructions for over 300 experiments designed to take the student from basics to more complex organic chemistry.  T&K being a German company, I did find that a few extras it required were hard for me to find, such as hartshorn/baker’s ammonia and so on.  Of course the experiments followed a completely different logic than the Friendly Chemistry did–it is all practical chemistry–but we didn’t have too much trouble with that.   The variety was nice, and all of us appreciated the fun of setting things on fire.  I needed more glass test tubes than were provided, and I came perilously close to running out of a few chemicals.

Meanwhile, my nine-year-old came along for the ride for much of this.  She had the Real Science 4 Kids Chemistry text, which was OK but not wonderful.  I would have preferred something else, but I didn’t find anything I loved.  She and I worked through those chapters together, and otherwise she played the games, participated in the experiments, and did just fine.  I am confident that she absorbed plenty of chemistry for her age.

Our schedule was as follows:

  • Tuesday, read the chapter for the week.  Start exercises and finish by Thursday.
  • Thursday: lab from 12:00 until at least 2:00 (with extra child, who was also doing the same text at home).  Go over the week’s lesson and make sure exercises are understood.  Do any activities from the text.  Do a section of experiments from T&K set and talk about them.
  • Friday: give the chapter test.  And make sure to practice memory work through games throughout!

Some of my favorite activities included:

Element/Ion Bingo: this was at the very beginning of the year, when we needed the kids to learn the elements and their symbols.  I filled large bingo cards with all the most difficult symbols.  After a couple of weeks of that we changed to ion bingo so they could practice distinguishing sulfate and sulfide, etc.

The Doo-Wop board: this is a proprietary game from Friendly Chemistry that helps students understand the structure of the atom.  I found it quite helpful myself!  We would pick an element and fill the shells with electrons until we had it right.  (The electrons were white and chocolate chips, which made it a very popular game.)

 legochem

Lego chemistry: I found this to be a great help with stoichiometry (which is figuring out how much of what goes into a substance).  Get a large tub of plain Lego bricks, and assign each color an element.  We had fun making them appropriate, but you can’t do that with all of them.  Carbon = green, sulfur = yellow, calcium = white, etc.  We made tiny white bricks be hydrogen.  You can then build each molecule.  Build ions first and then attach them.  You can make this work pretty well for molarity, even.  It is a great way to visualize everything and work out the formulae if you’re finding it confusing. The main trouble with this activity, of course, is getting more distractible kids to pay attention to the molecules instead of the really great spaceships they’re building!

We did some really great chemical experiments too, such as producing hydrogen by mixing aluminum with sodium hydroxide (lye), burning various substances to see the colored flames (a good time to talk about fireworks!), and so on.  I wished for a lump of sodium to blow up, but I never got one.  Someday!  I videotaped one of our experiments, and here it is for you.

I also love popular bookPeriodic-Tales-Williams-Hugh-9780061824722s about chemistry. Here are some titles that you might enjoy; you can tell the stories as you teach, or you might have an older student who will like one.

This is a reprint of an article we ran in October 2013.

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.

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.