Thursday, May 11, 2017

4-H STEM: Wiggly, Squiggly, Slimy Worms

Our latest 4-H STEM activity was all about worms.  This was a big reach for me because I am borderline phobic about worms.  Seriously.  I walk around them on the sidewalk, I shudder when I see them.  But, it my endless attempts to not infect the kids with my squeamishness (about various things), I pushed through it.  Mainly because I thought the kids would get a real kick out of these activities.   They definitely did.  I was actually surprised that all the kids (except Squidy) were really into it.  Only a few of them even felt the need to wear gloves.

First thing we did was talk about why worms were so important for your garden and lawn.  They help aerate the soil, their tunnels help prevent soil erosion by allowing water to seep into the ground easier, they are decomposers that eat dead leaves and other organic materials, their waste is high in nutrients, and they eat some garden pests.

We then discussed interesting facts about worms.  Like the largest one ever found was 22 feet long!  (EEEK!), and that they come in all colors including blue and purple.

We went ahead and made our worm jars first, so that they would be all ready for their inhabitants once we finished our observations.  We put some aquarium gravel in the bottom, then layered sand and soil to fill the jar to about 3 inches from the top.



We put aside our jars, and got out our worms.  First the kids observed the external anatomy of the worms using magnifying glasses.  We noted how the worms had ridges all the way around them. This is why they are called segmented worms, or annelids.   We also noted the wide, smooth section toward the "head" end of the worms - the clitellum, which is responsible for mucus production during reproduction; worms are hermaphrodites – both male and female but two are needed for reproduction.

We talked a little bit about internal anatomy and how it was not possible to cut a worm in half and wind up with two living organisms.  If cut in the certain places, one part of a worm may still survive, as long as the major organs were avoided.

We then took a close look at the "head" end of our worms to see if we could identify any sensory organs.  After we decided we didn't see any, we did some tests to see if worms would react to various stimuli.

We started with testing if worms showed a preference for wet versus dry.  We placed a wet paper towel next to a dry paper towel, then placed our worms half on each.  We observed to see if they crawled to one side or the other. We then repeated our experiment with them turned the opposite direction.  We also tried starting them entirely on the dry side and entirely on the wet side.  Just about everyone's worms showed a clear preference for the wet side.


We then tested their reactions to light.  We had white lights, our UV lights, and I brought along clear red plastic to see if they reacted differently to the red lights.   We used a black piece of paper to shade a small section of the area we were working in to see if the worms would go toward the shade.  We tried shining the lights on various parts of the worm ("head" end versus "tail" end) to see how they would react.  In general, the worms crawled very quickly away from the white and UV lights, but did not react to the red lights.  We discussed a little bit of why that would be true.



Our final test was to place a small amount of acetone on a Q-tip and wave it near the worms.  We were very careful NOT to touch our worms with the acetone since it would be toxic to them.   Our worms did not like the smell of acetone and wiggled away from the q-tip.


After we finished observing our worms, we placed them in the prepared jars.


We moistened the soil slightly using a spray bottle, placed grass and cut carrots on top of the soil, wrapped the jars in black paper (so the worms would dig tunnels close to the sides) and covered it with a piece of cheesecloth.

The kids took their worm jars home for a week, then removed the paper to observe any changes in the layers, and to release their worms back into the wild.

The layers were slightly mixed up. More time might have been good there.
The worms really seemed to like carrots since multiple people noticed there were a lot of carrots missing.
One of the kids had a small extra worm more coming out then went into the jar, and two of the worms were tangled together when released.  So, we may have had some reproduction going on.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Steve Spangler Science Kit #1

I was feeling bad about the lack of hands-on science we were doing outside of 4-H.   We were reading about science and watching videos about science and doing 4-H STEM twice a month, but it still seemed lacking.

So, I did a trial membership with the Steve Spangler Science Club.   Since getting the materials together is probably the worst aspect of doing science at home, I figured this would help.  And it kind of did.  Kind of because we've actually had this kit for about three weeks, and I just got the shipping notice that our next kit is on its way, and we still hadn't done it.  To give me some credit part of the hold-up was I wanted to finish up our Mesopotamia unit before all my library books ran out of renewals.

The kits are geared toward ages 7 to 14, so right in line with Squidy and Vicki.

The great thing about these science kits - they really do come with everything.   The only things we needed to add to the contents of our kit were water, scissors and a towel.


The first experiment was a demonstration of air pressure, cohesion and adhesion of water molecules, and surface tension.   First we poured water into our screen covered mason jar.  We held the laminated card over the top and flipped it upside down.  When we let go, the card defied gravity and continued to hold the water in the jar.


We then slowly slide the card out from the lid and once again the water stayed in the jar, due to a combination of air pressure and surface tension.


Then, we tilted the jar just a little too much trying to take pictures and water poured out. Good thing we had that towel.


Our next activity involved using super-absorbent polymers to turn water into a solid almost instantly.

We put a small amount of the sodium polyacrylate into one of the included cups, quickly added poured in the water and watched it turn to a solid.  We then popped it out of the cup and played with it for a little while.


We then added a small amount of salt to the solid to watch it turn back into a liquid.  The rest of our solid, we're going to let dry out so we can reuse it.  We have quite a bit since we had to do this part a few times.


The final activity that we did involved pulling the stuffing out of a diaper (provided) and shaking out the powder.  


We then added water to the powder to show that it was a super-absorbent polymer.   We seem to have had too much water to the amount of powder we gathered because nothing happened.  So, we added another scoop of our sodium polyacrylate and watched it turned solid in the plastic bag.

The back of each of the experiment cards had information about how the various activities worked, as well as additional explorations (varying the temperature of the water, for example).

The kids had fun doing the activities.  They thought "it was cool!".  Depending on the topics of our subsequent kits we may use Mystery Science (we currently in a free trial period) or Kids Discover to expand on the science behind the activities.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Weekly Wrap-up: Mesopotamia, Insects, and Easter

Yippee!  For once, it actually has been just a week since my last update.  😁

In addition to actually being on time with my weekly wrap-up, we accomplished quite a bit of school this week.   We finished our study of Mesopotamia (click for link) and will be moving on to Ancient Egyptians.


We took a field trip with some friends to the Bug Museum.



We celebrated a beautiful Easter Sunday with the kids singing in choir, an egg hunt, and the first of my twice yearly pictures of all three of my kids.





I've been going through some of my old schooling resources and pulled out one of my Scholastic ebooks that we haven't used yet - Comic Strip Writing Prompts.   This book has familiar comic strips (Garfield, Peanuts, Dennis the Menace) with writing prompts about the individual strips.    The kids are big fans of Garfield so I thought they would enjoy this as a break from Write On!

I was right, they are enjoying it.  But, it's been hard to get them to write in full sentences and full paragraphs.  The prompts are in the form of questions and they both want to just bullet-point answers.  In addition, Squidy protested one asking about a conversation between Garfield and Odie.  Odie doesn't talk so there wasn't much to write.  His explanation?  "I stuck with canon".

We are going to give this another try next week, but first we are going to sit down together and discuss what it means to include the question in your answer, and to write in full paragraphs.



Squidy has been continuing his Python course through Udemy.  He's not completely thrilled with it - it's more business/school oriented and he's having trouble getting the editing software to work.  For now, I'm continuing to have him watch the lectures and take notes.  I told him he needs to show he can see this through before we'll pay hundreds of dollars for the Minecraft Mod Design and Video Game Programming classes he really wants to take.

He finished up the factoring chapters in Math Mammoth and has returned to Jousting Armadillos.  He is now finding it super-easy and is protesting having to do it again.  I may just have him retake the chapter test and as long as he does well, move on.

He is finding the A level of Vocabulary from Classical Roots a little bit harder than the previous levels.  He is having to infer the answers a lot more than in the previous levels.

Squidy is reading the George's Secret Key series by Stephen and Lucy Hawking this week.  We've had the first book for a long time but he wasn't ready for it last time I pulled it out (probably a couple years ago).  He really enjoyed it now so we ordered the rest of the books in the series.

The kids handwriting was starting to deteriorate again, so I started them on daily cursive practice again.  I didn't want to buy a program because they both KNOW how to make their letters, they just need to work on neatness.   I found a free font called 5th grade cursive, made some of my own lined paper (two solid lines with a dotted line in between.  I'll switch them to regular ruled paper soon.), and give them puns to practice each day, along with their names and the date.  I keep them nice and short since they are doing it everyday.
Vicki also had a pretty good week.  She's been working through multi-digit multiplication using the enVision Math used by our public schools.  The additional presentations, the textbook, and the videos seem to have helped her get a better understanding.  We'll probably return to Math Mammoth and move on to division in the next week or two.  I think I'll continue to give her one or two multiplication problems each day just to make sure she doesn't forget after struggling for so long.

In addition to the Comic Strip Writing Prompts, I also pulled out Scholastic Comic Strip Grammar.  It's for grades 4th through 8th but starts out very basic with identifying the parts of speech.   I am still correcting the grammar in her writing, but I felt she needed to get more explicit instruction as well. 




After reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Vicki felt she needed a break before tackling the last book.  She spent one day reading her Thea Stiltons and some other old favorites, but was ready to start The Deathly Hallows this week.   These are probably the hardest books (content-wise and reading level) that she has attempted.    It turns out I didn't have Squidy read the last two books when he started the series last summer, so he was a little indignant that I was letting Vicki read them.  I honestly forgot that I had him stop.

I'm hoping we are finally getting into a good routine with school this year.  We aren't going to be wrapping up our year anytime soon.  I want to get through at least a couple more topics in our Ancient History study, do some experiments, and 4-H projects.  We will also be continuing at least math and reading through the summer, which has been my preference since we started homeschooling.

Ancients: Mesopotamia

We are using History Odyssey Level 2 and our study of Mesopotamia included the Sumerians, the Hittites, and the early Babylonians.

History Odyssey suggests keeping a notebook divided into sections, such as Summaries, Men & Women, Inventions, etc.  where you add the information from each section.  There are dictation sentences, definitions, and short answer questions.  I have the kids do these activities, but we don't add them to a notebook.  

Squidy answers the questions as outlined in History Odyssey, from the Kingfisher Encyclopedia.  I make up additional questions for Vicki, from the Usborne Encyclopedia.  They both answer the questions on index cards and we add them to our timeline book.   I was glad to see that this time (unlike our previous unit on first civilizations) there was plenty of room in our timeline book.  Our study of Mesopotamia actually stretched out across approximately 2000 years.




We learned about how the Sumerians were the first to develop a written language, called cuneiform, and gave it a try ourselves.   Vicki wrote her name in cuneiform.



We used air-dry clay and popsicle sticks to create our tablets.   We discussed the advantages and disadvantages of cuneiform and stick/clay versus our alphabet and pencil/paper.  

They thought that pencil/paper was definitely easier, although the clay was "cleaner" to start all over again (just ball it up and flatten it out again).  Obviously, the clay would last longer.   We also discussed how the straight lines of cuneiform were much easier to put into clay than curved letters like S would be.  

We picked our books based on what was available at our local library or through the Epic reading app.  Our Sumerian selections: 


We read about the Hittites and the Babylonians:


and the kids read about Mesopotamia on Kids Discover.  I had them answer questions from the Teacher's Guide while they went through the units.  This way I could be sure they were paying attention. 

TG_Mesopotamia_088.jpg

We finished up by reading more about the famous Babylonian king, Hammurabi.    


We discussed his code, read some of his laws, and discussed whether we thought they were fair or not.   

Squidy didn't think any of the ones referring to punishing a son were fair.  "Not fair, I'm a son.  I don't like that one".  

Neither liked where the fines were 10x what was stolen, or where death was the punishment for stealing.  "It's fair to be put in a cage if you rob someone, but not fair to be dead".  

The doctor losing a hand if the patient dies:  "depends on which hand?  the one they use or the other one?".  But definitely thought it was not fair if the patient might have died anyway and the doctor didn't do anything wrong.

The kids then took a crack and making up their own codes.  I think in some cases they went in more of a 10 commandments direction.



We took a look at our DK Art book.  It has some really nice pictures of Sumerian artifacts, like the Royal Game of Ur, the Queen's Lyre, and the Standard of Ur; the Hittite Sphinx Gate, and cuneiform tablets.   I am planning a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art later in our studies to see the ancient art exhibits, but for now this book is a great resources.

We finished up by adding stickers to our HO wall timeline.  I made up additional stickers for the events mentioned in the curriculum to use as well as the ones that came with the timeline.






We're going to take a week or two to concentrate on Science (and give time to get books from the library) and then we'll be starting on Egypt!


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Quarterly Update: Lots of changes

Okay, so it's not QUITE that bad, but it has been too long since I last updated, except for all the project posts I did yesterday anyway.  ;-)

Unfortunately February was not the end of us all getting sick every few weeks.  That trend basically continued right through March and into the beginning of April.  Once the weather warmed up, we seem to finally have banished the germs from the house.

The other hold-up was my not that old computer died.  Completely.  I had been having problems with charging ports, and batteries, and holding a charge that we tried a few things to fix (software upgrades, new parts) but ultimately it was no use.  It could not be saved.

So, new computer, no germs and we are back to school.   We have made a few tweaks to our curriculum to address issues that have come up, but things are progressing nicely.

The first big change was I set up a loose schedule.  I've always been more of a routine rather than a schedule person, but with the kids being older and more independent I felt it was time.  My main motivation was to have them taking their quiet time/screen free break at the same time so it was also quiet time for ME.  Otherwise one would be on quiet time while the other was still needing help.   I NEED that break to either relax or get things done.  

I also wanted to build in time for me to help them with any struggles they were having.  Both were needing at least a little help each day.  I thought a dedicated time would be better than random interruptions.

It's a very simple schedule:  From the time they wake up until 10:30am they do their reading or work on anything they can do independently (they wake up REALLY early these days); from 10:30 to 11:00 is Squidy's time to work with me.  He often doesn't have much, just one or two math problems.  From 11:00 to 11:30 is Vicki's time to work with me.  She'll usually have a couple math problems, and maybe a spelling test.   11:30 to 12:00 is lunch time.  Squidy doesn't eat breakfast so an early lunch is necessary.  12:00 to 1:00pm is that coveted quiet time.  1:00 to 3:30pm they finish any schoolwork they didn't get to earlier (they can also do it during quiet time as long as they don't bug me for help).  3:30 is when we usually need to get moving for our extra-curricular activities.

Vicki has been struggling a little bit with focus, concentration, impulse control, and being easily distracted (yes, we are considering getting her checked for ADHD/ADD).  The area where this is most obvious is with math.  She is running into the commonly mentioned problem with Math Mammoth in the higher levels - pages too busy and overwhelming.  For a while I was circling just a few problems for her to do, which helped but not enough.  She seems unable to focus down to an individual problem.  

I decided to pick up an enVision Math workbook from Amazon.  This is the program our local public school uses and I have access to the online text book AND videos that break-down the lessons.  This way when she's struggling, we can get a longer explanation from the textbook and watch the video.  So far we've done this for multi-digit multiplication and it seems to have helped.  The workbook pages are also a lot less cluttered than those of MM.




We will continue to use MM but I will probably black-out any problems she doesn't have to do so it cuts down the clutter.   We may also do problems a couple at a time on a whiteboard.
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I also have put the first few books from Life of Fred on hold at our local library.  These are supposed to be good for kids who aren't real mathy and can use a different viewpoint.  I'm not sold on them enough to buy them (especially since she's the only kid I have that would use them), but it looks like the entire set is available at the library, so I'm willing to see if they help her understanding.

I've decided to pick up more formal grammar again, rather than rely on corrections in their writing. Mainly because they seem to have forgotten everything they knew.  

Squidy is going through the Everything You Need to Ace English Language Arts in One Big Fat Notebook but this is a higher level than where Vicki needs to start.  So, I'm having her work through the Scholastic Comic Strip Grammar workbook.  It's funny, quirky, but presents accurate information incrementally.



Vicki is doing okay with her Skill Sharpeners Math Grade 4.   This is mainly a spiral review of things she's already covered in MM.  

Mosdos Press Literature is going well.  We are on schedule to finish up the Ruby book in the next couple of months.  Unfortunately, the website has been down for a few months now and there is speculation that the company was sold and the series may not longer be available.  Books are available through Rainbow Resource, or Amazon but we may have to look for a different literature for next year.

Vicki has moved on to the 6th grade book in Vocabulary from Classical Roots.  We skipped the 5th grade book because it wasn't available on Amazon at the time I needed it.  Both kids are strong enough in language arts (except writing, ugh), that I wasn't concerned about skipping ahead.

She's almost done with the 6th grade Skill Sharpeners Spell & Write.  Once she is done with that, we will stop spelling except for corrections in writing.

Squidy has finally hit some math that he can't do on the first try.  We had switched him over to doing just Jousting Armadillos with Math Mammoth on hold to use if he struggled.  Well, he struggled with factoring.   We took a break from JA to go through the factoring chapter in MM, which has a lot more explanation and examples than JA.  He will be redoing the factoring chapter in JA starting next week, so we'll see if the side-trip worked.

He is also doing well with Mosdos Press Literature, and has moved on to Book A in Vocabulary from Classical Roots.   For Grammar he is reading through the Everything You Need to Ace English Language Arts in One Big Fat Notebook and answering the questions at the end of each chapter.

We finally got around to doing a Brave Writer project last week.  Squidy was looking forward to doing the Imaginary Island project since he first heard about it.  I really should have jumped on this sooner, because I have never seen him put so much effort into anything that was schoolwork.   The full write-up for that project can be seen here.  


Squidy has been doing a Python programming class on Udemy.  This class was offered for $19.95 a month or so ago, so we thought it would be worth letting him try it out.  He's not finding it too exciting, mainly because it seems geared toward business solutions rather than gaming, but he is still learning quite a bit.  Once he finishes, I may let him use the EdPy program that is available for our Edison robots and play around with that for a while.

In addition to all of the above the kids are still doing Tai Kwan Do (blue belts at the moment), swimming lessons (both are going to do team this year), yoga, and we're hoping to do lots of hiking/walking now that the weather is nicer.

We've also started Andy in training lessons, and one of the kids may be using that as a 4-H project.

Our recent 4-H activities can be seen here.  Pretty soon we will be picking out our projects for Fair and getting to work.




Thursday, April 13, 2017

4-H: Roller Coasters, Bird Nests, St. Patrick's Day, and Slithery Snakes

I decided to do one post to catch up on what we've been doing in our 4-H STEM club.

We learned about microscopes using the two student microscopes we have.   First we went over the parts of the microscope, then we did the usual two microscope labs - a letter from the newspaper and an onion skin slide.  Both are very easy for kids to do, and the onion skin has the added benefit of showing them plant cells and how important dye is for some specimens.  We also looked at some of the prepared slides that came with one of the microscopes.

We learned about the physics of roller coasters and built our own marble roller coasters using straws, tape, and Legos (for supports).



We learned about the purpose and types of birds nests, and then built our own.  Using primarily natural materials with a few additions (ribbon, string, sticks, leaves, feathers), they had to build a nest in the intersection of two hangers.  The nest had to support golf balls when lifted off the table. 


We marched in an EXTREMELY cold St. Patrick's Day Parade.  Our local parade is one of the largest parades in NJ so it's a pretty big deal around here.  But it was about 20 degrees that day, and windy.   We did have a few members come out to walk with us (in addition to Squidy and Vicki who weren't given a choice in the matter).  We all bundled up as much as we could.



And last but not least, Galactica made another visit to the club.  She's much bigger than she was even a year ago.  She's about four feet long at this point and probably won't grow too much bigger.   The kids were able to look at some pictures with snakes hidden in their natural environment and see if they could find the snakes, they were able to take a close look at snake shed under magnifiers and our microscopes, and they were able to do an interactive quiz I put together on Powerpoint.  The quiz can be found on Google Docs.  And of course, they were able to come meet Galactica, and hold her if they wanted to.  

Galactica was a big hit this year, even among the kids who met her last year.  During my presentation at the beginning of our meeting, she clearly showed her arboreal tendencies by climbing all over my head and slithering down over my face.  


Our next meeting isn't until May, so I should have plenty of time to catch up on my other posts and be ready to share our activities in a much more timely fashion. 

4-H Science-Sational Day: Squishy Circuits

George Sr. and I taught another workshop at this year's Science-Sational Day (last year we did a build the best boat project).   We played around with electricity using Squishy Circuits.

As far as I can tell, Squishy Circuits is originally from the Playful Learning Lab at the University of St. Thomas.   The site provides recipes for conductive and insulating dough, and project ideas for all different levels.   In exploring more while prepping to do Squishy Circuits with our 4-H club (last October, can be seen here) I discovered that Play-doh will serve as conductive dough.  That's right, regular old Play-doh in the bright yellow can conducts electricity.  Mainly because it's basically made of flour, salt and water.  Salt water conducts electricity quite well.

Play-Doh 10-Pack of Colors (Amazon Exclusive)

When we did the project with our 4-H club, I made insulating dough using the recipe at the University of St. Thomas link above.  Basically this dough is made from flour, water and sugar.   But, at Science-Sational Day we were going to be doing 3 sessions with 15 kids in each session.  And the dough would probably not be reusable from session to session.   Since the kids were not going to be able to take their projects home (to expensive with the batteries, battery packs and LED lights), we decided to let them explore some other insulating materials.

We started with a presentation using some of the background materials available at the University of St. Thomas link, giving the kids information on electrical circuits, serial circuits, parallel circuits, and closed/open loops.

We then gave the kids a variety of materials to explore.  We provided paper clips (conducting), Legos (insulating), Play-doh (conducting), popsicle sticks (insulating if dry), straws (insulating), index cards (insulating), Aluminum foil (weak conductor).


In order for the LED's to light, there must be insulating materials between the conductive clay.  Otherwise the electricity will take the "path of least resistance" and travel through the clay, rather than do the work to light the LED.

George demonstrated the various materials during the presentation.





The kids were then able to come up with their own projects.  All of them were able to get a simple circuit to work.  After that, they came up with all kinds of elaborate creations.