Thursday, April 25, 2013

Human Body: Respiratory System

We finally got around to doing the next system in our Human Body study – the Respiratory System.   The kids really enjoyed this one since they were able to play with water and make a total mess.

We started off with the kids coloring pictures of the respiratory system, while I read from REAL Science Odyssey and our Science Encyclopedia.   Both colored pages from the Evan Moor Giant Science Resource Book, but George’s was a labeled diagram of the parts of the respiratory system, while Vicki’s was the heart and lungs to be added to our giant body poster.


We then read A Tour of Your Respiratory System (a cute book in a comic strip format, that covered the information quickly and simply, I believe they have them for the other body systems as well)….

A Tour of Your Respiratory System

and from our Scholastic Kids Science Encyclopedia.

I really wanted to build the model of the lungs using a 2 liter bottle, balloons and play-doh from Science Sparks, but no matter where I looked, I could not find our balloons.  I’m pretty sure we still have some around here somewhere……

Instead, we pulled out a couple of paper bags and the kids breathed in and out while holding the bag to their mouths.  The bags expanded and collapsed, showing how the lungs expand and collapse as we breath. 


Then came the fun, messy demonstration.  I found this activity in our Usborne Internet-Linked Children’s Encyclopedia.  We took a bowl of water, a 2-liter bottle full of water (which I found while gathering supplies for the model we could not do), and a bendy straw.  We turned the bottle upside down into the bowl of water, stuck the straw into the mouth of the bottle and blew into the straw to watch the water get displaced by the air.   The idea was to see how much air they could hold in their lungs.  The reality was they kept taking extra breathes so they could see how much air it would take to overflow the bowl of water.


They took turns doing this a few times since they thought it was completely hilarious.  It probably would have been smarter to do it outside on the deck instead of in the middle of my living room.

George then read on his own from Look at Your Body: Lungs and wrote in his “research journal”.   After each of our science or history topics, I am having him make an entry in his composition notebook.  I don’t tell him what to write, or correct it in any way.  I’m just trying to encourage him to write more.  .

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4-H Cloverbuds: Fish

We had a great time learning about fish (along with other animals native to NJ) this month.

We started our meeting at the library by discussing the characteristics of fish.    With lots of discussion, we determined that fish:

-live in water – both fresh water and salt water
-have fins that they use to move through the water
-have gills instead of lungs
-have scales
-are cold-blooded
-lay eggs (mostly)
-eat bugs, smaller fish, and other small creatures
-not all fish have bones (sharks are among the cartilaginous fish)
-have a swim bladder that works like blow-up floaties to help the fish control their depth

We also discussed a little bit about the rules for fishing in NJ.  A license is required if you are between 16 and 70, to fish in fresh water.  No license is needed for salt water fishing.  There are limits to the size and type of fish that can be kept.

We then played a true/false trivia game.  The kids stood in a line.  When I asked a question, they would give a thumbs-up if they thought it was true, and a thumbs-down if they thought it was false.   I picked unusual facts and unusual fish for most of the questions, but some apply to local fish to prepare to our trip to the fish hatchery.  Here are the questions I used (answers will appear at the end of the post so you can see how well you would do).

T/F – A swordfish can swim as fast as a car.

T/F – There is a fish that will shoot spit to knock out it’s food.

T/F – Some fish can climb trees.

T/F – when you go fishing, the box that holds hooks and lures, is called a lunch box.

T/F – The primary food of trout is acorns.

T/F – A group of fish is called a flock.

T/F – the part of your fishing pole that holds the line is called the reel.

T/F – You can use a bow and arrow to go fishing.

T/F – A baby fish is called a guppy.

We then played a game that totally didn’t work, where I made bubbles using a bubble gun and the kids were supposed to pop them without using their hands, like they were fish going after bugs.  The gun didn’t work fast enough, there was no air circulation in the room so the bubbles went straight to the floor, and the kids couldn’t resist using their hands.  So, it was only a few minutes of the kids surrounding me jumping for bubbles before I called that one off.

Our next game went better.    The kids stood about 6 feet apart from a partner.  Each of them had a bucket, and each group had a stuffed fish.  They tossed the stuffed fish back and forth attempting to catch it in their buckets.   They had a LOT of fun with this one, even if most of them were pretty bad at catching the fish and a some of them seemed to be trying to hit their partner more than get the fish into their bucket.

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We finished up with our craft – decorating fish shapes cut out of watercolor paper using dabber paints (the only kind of paints we can use in the library), markers and crayons.


For this months field trip, we went to the Pequest Fish Hatchery in Hackettstown.    The hatchery is run by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.  They raise trout to be released each year into the public waterways of NJ.

IMG_2207They offer structured programs for groups and the first program we did was Sensory Safari.   We learned about some of common animals found in New Jersey, including black bears, coyotes, striped skunks, red and gray fox, bob cats, white-tail deer, raccoons, great horned owls and barn owls.  

We learned about scat, including touching fake bear scat.  The kids were able to touch some pelts and see which animals felt softer than expected and which were coarser.  George also felt the need to smell all the different pelts (a big switch from his usual avoidance of strong odors).   We were shown some replica skulls and discussed what we thought they would eat based on the teeth. 

For many of the animals, our guide had recordings of the sounds they would make.  And of course, the kids had to join in on the howling, grunting, bellowing and squawking.    It was definitely a multi-sensory experience that hopefully taught the kids a lot.

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We stepped right outside to the trout pool and the kids learned more about what they eat, why the bottom of the pool is concrete (they won’t lay eggs unless there is gravel and they don’t want them laying eggs there), and how to tell the difference between a Brook Trout, Rainbow Trout and Brown Trout.


We then took a walk up to the nursery, where the young fish are kept.   The fish are fed by truck and our guide had the kids stomp their feet and clap their hands to simulate the vibrations of the truck coming with food.  All the fish swam up and congregated in front of them, thinking they were going to be fed.


We finished up with Fish Fun Games.   The idea of the game was to have a couple kids as birds, and the rest of them as fish.  The birds would run around and attempt to tag the fish.  The fish could be safe by hiding under rocks (cardboard boxes) or by flowers (hula hoops) but could only stay for a count of 5.   At least that was the idea.  In reality, the kids ran around randomly, stayed on base too long, the two birds tagged each other, and Vicki cried because she couldn’t catch anyone.   Our guide attempted two rounds before giving up on it.  


We finished up by feeding the trout in the pool out front, and visiting inside the education center.    The trip was a lot of fun and very educational, but I think it was bordering on too much structured time for our gang. 

Answers to Trivia:

True – a swordfish can swim up to 50 mph.  I realized after that this question was awfully vague and could use some rewording.  A car can drive anywhere between 0 and 120 mph if you want to get technical about it.

True – The Archer fish spits at bugs to knock them into the water to eat. (I showed the kids a picture and then told them “no spitting!”)

True – There are actually a few fish that can climb trees.   The Mangrove Killfish found from Florida to Brazil, the Climbing Perch of India, the Snakehead of fish of Asia and Africa, and the Mudskipper found in Africa.  These all have various adaptations that allow them to breathe either through their skin or through specialized organs.

False – It’s called a tackle box.  (you wouldn’t want to eat worms and hooks for your lunch!)

False – Trout are carnivores and eat mainly flies and other insects.

False – a group of fish is called a school.


True – bow fishing is legal in NJ.  You can bow fish for carp, eels and catfish.  Don’t forget to tie a line to your arrow so you can reel it back in.

False – although it’s common to use the term guppy for baby fish, a guppy is actually a specific kind of fish.  A baby fish is called a fry, a fingerling or a minnow.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

2 Week Wrap-up

Another two week wrap-up but this time it’s not because we were so busy having fun and being productive.  This time it’s from being lazy and not getting much accomplished.  At least it felt that way.

We did no history, no science, no geography (although we almost went on a field trip), no art…. you get the idea.

We did manage a lot of nature study.  Partially because of the warm weather finally reaching New Jersey and partially because the kids have discovered a fascination with bugs.   George found a new friend, Dom, and while we let Dom stay in his room one night (in a tightly closed jar with a few air holes in the lid), the next day they had to release him back into the wild.  Dom appears to be a common black ground beetle according to our Field Guide.    George had a nice speech that he prepared for Dom’s release.


Vicki’s favorite creepy thing to catch is worms.   Those are not welcome in the house so she kept them in a big planter of dirt on the deck.


We learned about more of the birds we have visiting our yard….

I searched our field guide but couldn’t figure out what this guy is, looking online he’s maybe a bunting or a vireo, or maybe a specimen of another bird with more white than usual.  I’ll have to print out a picture and ask Grandpa Charlie.







and red-winged blackbirds.


We learned about fish at 4-H (a full post about this will be coming next week after our field trip to the fish hatchery).


The kids also blew bubbles…..


and snuck the hose into the sand box.


As for our regular work…..I felt like we were getting into a rut again.  Just plowing through the worksheets to get them done.   I pulled out some games and extras for Vicki, while George was able to get back into puzzles, thanks to a Scholastic Dollar Days sale.



Vicki is struggling a bit with OPGTR.  We are STILL on Lesson 50 after 3 weeks.  We already stopped ETC until she advanced a little more so I’ve been searching for some fun ways to review before trying to move forward again. 

I brought back her Word Book.  This is a three-pronged folder with pages that have blocks for each letter.  I write words on little post-its and any she can read, she can put in her book.   I made up a bunch of sight words and those with ending blends.  Once she can do those, I will add some beginning blends (which seems to be what she struggles most with).


I also pulled out our Hubbard’s Cupboard booklets again.  A lot of them feature words with beginning blends, and Vicki generally likes these a lot.

I’m also thinking of pulling out AAS1 and starting phonics back at the beginning to see if a different approach helps.

She is doing okay with HWT, although initially refused to do the “a” page.  I had her practice on the wider lines of the chalkboard before returning to the book.

She is doing MUCH better with writing her name.   Until today when she decided she wanted to change her name.  To “V”.  So all she would have to write is “V”. 


George is doing well with handwriting.  I can’t wait until he finishes his current book and we can move on to cursive.

He scored 100% on his spelling test for this week (we didn’t do spelling last week so only one word list).  This week’s lesson included punctuation.

Reading Comprehension is still going well.  There is an occasional question where he can’t decide between two possible answers.  When that happens, we discuss the wording and decide which is better.  One of the biggest things is telling the difference between a fact and an opinion.

One of the completely new things I picked up at the Scholastic sale for George was Analogies Grade 4-5.   So far he is enjoying them and they aren’t too difficult.  They start off with finding similarities between things on a list.   On a couple pages, we threw in some dictionary work since he didn’t know all the terms (not the page shown).




Vicki is still doing one page of Math Mammoth and one page from Evan Moor Skill Sharpeners each day.   We are almost done with Chapter 1 (addition) in MM and will start subtraction soon.  I like the EMSS because it introduces a variety of topics.  This week she worked on Venn Diagrams, graphing, pennies and ordinal numbers.

I tried to shake things up with math this week by using more hands-on stuff.  She was having a little trouble with a MM page involving greater than/less than.   Since the page involved a addition problem on one side and a whole number on the other, I pulled out flash cards, Skip-bo cards, and made up index cards for the greater than/less than sign and the equals sign.  I would put out a flash card and a Skip-bo card and she would put the correct symbol in between.


We also used playing cards to practice the 10 facts.   I laid out the 10 card, then gave her two sets of 1 through 9 cards and had her pull out all the combinations that added up to 10.

I plan to look through MEP (which we have various parts of printed out from using it in the past) and the beginning pages of each Chapter of MM to find more fun games that we can do to work on math. 

I also pulled out the Judy clock to show Vicki time to the half hour this week.  


George on the other hand really likes his worksheets.   He was VERY excited to see that his algebra readiness and his math riddles were back this week.  He was less excited when he realized that the Math Riddles were now multiplication.   At the Dollar Days, I bought Algebra Readiness Made Easy in both 4th and 5th grade levels, and Solve the Riddle Math Problems – Multiplication and Division.   So far the 4th grade algebra readiness seems too easy for him but this book seems to get harder pretty quickly so we will continue along.

I also purchased Logic Posters, Problems and Puzzles from Scholastic.   The first of these involved looking at a poster of 4 gardens and answering questions to see which garden was the correct answer.  George had a lot of fun with these and loved it when he found the correct answer.  I did have to explain some terms to him since they talked about squares, prime numbers, arrays and 3 cubed.   This book also includes matrix puzzles, venn diagram puzzles and arithmetic puzzles.


He has completely finished MM 3A and we will be moving on to Division in 3B, in addition to working on Place Value in 4A (so far he finds it easy so we may move faster), and Fractions in 4B.

He is working on the balancing scales problems in Beast Academy.


We didn’t do any Spanish in the past two weeks but they did both do a few pages from Evan Moor Beginning Geography.  Vicki is working on map symbols, while George is learning coordinates.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

2 Week Wrap-Up

We were having so much fun last week, I never took the time to write-up a wrap-up, so here we are with two weeks worth of excitement.

Let’s see…..

We did the first of what will probably be many lessons on our home state of New Jersey, moved on to the Digestive System in our human body lessons….


and had a wonderful time at Build-A-Bear after learning about quilting and sewing in 4-H


and explored our next Native American tribe – the Sioux.

We finally had some nice weather so the kids played outside, including digging up some “fossils”.


Grandpa Charlie, an expert bird watcher, came over for a picnic Easter Saturday, and told us about some of the birds we had visiting, including the rarely seen towhee, a cowbird, and white breasted sparrows, as well as our usual visitors.


Vicki had a great time helping me clean chairs before our picnic.  Even when it’s barely 60 degrees outside, the girl loves any excuse to play with water.


The kids had an Easter Egg Hunt in the backyard after church on Easter Sunday.  It was a good thing we do private hunts each year because these guys are really really bad at it.


One of our days outside, I pulled out some sticky collage boards I’ve had for years, and had them make nature collages.  Vicki took her first one and just placed it face-down in the dirt but she was a little more creative with her second one.

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Now for what the kids call our “regular school” (as opposed to “fun school”).  One thing has come clear the last few weeks – Mondays really do suck.  Without fail, every Monday the kids are cranky, whiny and uncooperative.  If they ever tested on a Monday it would appear they learned nothing.  Test again on Wednesday, and they are brilliant.  Very frustrating.   I’m wondering if I need to tweak our schedule again to take this into account.  Maybe make Monday one of our “fun school” days instead of a “regular school” day.   Since Mondays are also laundry day, this could work better for all of us.



She has completed OPGTR through Lesson 50.  I may take a break soon to review and work on fluency.

We took a break from ETC in order to get enough ahead so that it will be review and reinforcement.

She likes lower-case letters in HWT and is getting better at writing her name.  (Except, of course, on Monday when she told me,  “Mom, I don’t like your attitude” when I pushed her to do it correctly).

We played a game of rhyming words dominos, and some sight word bingo this week.


Since he decided to get so creative with his handwriting the past few weeks, I sat with him and watched him closely with his HWT this week.  Those letters that he made upper instead of lower-case letters, and those he didn’t do correctly, we practiced on the lined chalkboard.   We will be moving on to cursive when he finishes this book.

We finished up Issue One of Level Two of The Wand.  George enjoyed the activities using Frog and Toad and says he wishes there were more Frog and Toad books to read.  I did point out the same author has written other things, and he actually seems willing to give them a try.  We will be continuing next week with Harry and the Lady Next Door.

He finished his Spectrum Writing workbook.  I wasn’t planning to replace it with anything since we are doing the Brave Writer activities but I may add some Evan Moor Daily 6-Trait Writing.

Spelling this week he had trouble with two words – different and Mississippi.  Any words he misses are noted down to continue working on.

Evan Moor Daily Reading Comprehension he is up to Week 4.



Vicki is up to page 52 in MM1A, and page 18 in Evan Moor Skill Sharpeners Math 1st grade.  We should be starting subtraction soon in MM.  She has good recall of her addition facts, with a few exceptions.

She understands time to the hour very well, so we will move soon onto time to the half hour.  We will also be starting some work with money.  Mostly just identifying the coins and their values since I don’t think she has the math skills yet to do much more than that.


For the first time we ran into a problem with the funky order we are using to do MM.   George is currently working on multiplication tables in 3A, although he is almost finished and will be starting division soon.

In addition, he is working on place value from 4A (which is pretty easy for him, he seems to just understand place value), and fractions from 4B.  One one of the pages in fractions from this week, there were three problems that “are for children who already know how to find fractional parts with division”.  Since that note was there, I’m assuming that it’s not unusual for kids to hit that point before doing the division so I’m not going to worry about it.

Since George still keeps forgetting about borrowing and carrying (or at least claims to), he is doing some extra practice pages from the Math Mammoth site each day.  The extra practice really seems to be helping his memory.

He is still working on the skip-counting chapter in Beast Academy.  He did very well with these and seemed to really enjoy working out the word problems.

He has completely finished his Algebra Readiness Made Easy book so I will be ordering some new puzzle books for him soon.  I think I’m going to go with logic puzzles, especially grid puzzles.

He also completely finished his Solve-the-Riddle Math Practice: Addition & Subtraction.

Now that the weather is getting nicer, we will be doing more nature studies, more field trips, and more fun outside, including preparing our garden for a new year.


Native Americans – The Sioux

At George’s request, we moved onto the Sioux tribe this week.

We read from some Evan Moor resources about the Native Americans of the Plains and then narrowed our focus to the Sioux. 

The kids colored in the History Pockets title an dictionary cards to add to our poster, while I read to them about the Sioux.




The Sioux lived in the northern plains which include parts of Minnesota and the Dakotas.  We marked off the area on our map, and learned about the buffalo that once roamed the area.  The buffalo were very important to the Sioux and other Plains Indians, and they used them for many things.

We looked at a chart of all the different things the buffalo provided from the South Dakota State Historical Society.  Vicki made a notebook page along with a picture of a buffalo from the History Pockets…


while George completed a chart showing which items came from the bones and horns, and which came from the hide and sinew.


George also decided he wanted to draw his own picture of a buffalo.


The Sioux lived in tipis made from buffalo hide that were taken down and made into a travois to transport their goods when they moved to follow the buffalo.

We made our own tipis out of construction paper, and used gel pens to decorate with symbols and pictures, as the Sioux would have.

George made up his own symbols.  One had a moon, sun and star all together to make a space symbol.



We read a variety of books about the Sioux together…

and then for the first time, I gave George some assigned reading to do himself.  I was surprised, but he was very agreeable to reading more on his own.

Last, but not least, George wrote about the Sioux in his research notebook.   I’m having him do this at the conclusion of each of our science, history or geography units (and any other time I think its relevant).  He actually seems to be enjoying this.  His entry for the Sioux reads:

”The Sioux (siu) is not the only tribe that eats buffalo.  The Siouxes enemys are called the Crow.  The best person in Siouxes is Sitting Bull.”

Clearly we have some grammar work to do but I’m pleased with his willingness to do it at all, and his ability to come up with just a few facts that he finds most interesting.