Showing posts with label Science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Science. Show all posts

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Not in Buffalo: Skip the Book and Go to the Volcano

There have been a couple of other posts about our month in Antigua, Guatemala.  Here I would like to highlight our visit to an active volcano, Pacaya.  When we went there was no flowing lava only gas and heat.  There had been lava only about a year before, so we could see the black hardening lava and step into areas where we could feel the geothermal heat radiating from the magma still hot under the hardening top layer.  You could also see clearly the way it flowed from the crater to the pool of lava.  If this isn't the best way to cover volcanoes, geothermal heat, and even igneous rocks, I don't know the best way!

This seemed like our one opportunity.  First off, we were near it and it was active.  Secondly, this one was only a 2 kilometer hike after a 4 kilometer car ride up.  I, and others with health problems, could do the hike either by hiring a horse or by hiring a private guide for the day so that we could take as many breaks as necessary to make the hike.  Very little of it was treacherous, most of it was just a walk at an incline.  Still, if you are out of shape or have health issues, I recommend a private guide at the very least, if not the horse.  Obviously, this is more expensive, but for us it was the difference between being able to have the kids experience the volcano or not.  Here are some highlights:



The best part of melting marshmallows in hot spots in the hardening lava area and making smores:





Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Expanding our Horizons in Guatemala Meets Escaping Buffalo in January

Several months ago, at the age of 34, I got my very first passport.  I was always nervous to travel abroad.  I am sure part of it was the propaganda about traveling to certain places.  However, most of the time I think I was intimidated by new languages, international paperwork, and flying. I had a terrible time with Spanish in college and only received some sort of a B (don't remember the exact grade) due to a student teacher who was afraid to look bad.  I hate flying, not because I am afraid as much as I feel sick, both air sick (either I come down with a sinus infection from the pressure or actually vomit on the plane) and it aggravates my fibromyalgia.  Until now, I never felt like I missed out and I certainly traveled otherwise, hitting more than half the states (by car) before I turned 20.  Still, I was nervous.  I have a cousin who has lived in London for quite a while and have never gone despite the fact that I am sort of in love with Britain from its wonderfully made television mystery shows.  In the case of Britain, it isn't a language issue, but a long flight and time change issue.  Anyway, with our kids in the training choirs at church and the regular church choirs traveling to England this August, it hit me that I needed to get comfortable with foreign travel in the near future.

Then a friend of mine who lived in Guatemala for over a year, raved about it to me and wanted to go back, so we decided to go together for the month of January.  It would be a great homeschool trip for her son and my kids as well as a break for my fibromyalgia in the cold.  Of course, if she had only been on vacation there, I never would have been brave enough to go, but since she actually lived there, on her own with her son, I was much more comfortable.  I wanted the kids to be immersed in Spanish as well as see a different culture and experience life very different than the U.S.  The nice thing about Panajachel Guatemala is that there is still a very strong Mayan culture including traditional food and dress.  It is one of the few places left in the world where so much native culture remains.  The climate is also ideal with lows of about 48F and highs of about 72F all year, so it is never cold or hot.

For homeschool, it was a super experience.  First off, the architecture was interesting with buildings open to the outside, sometimes in the middle of the building, since they don't require heating or cooling.


There are churches much older than our church too.


Don't forget the day trip to Antigua where we saw many sites with old ruins including the Church and Convent at Capuchins.

There was the natural wonder of Lake Atitlan with its surrounding volcanoes.

The science of hot springs due to the nearby volcanoes.
The nature preserve was quite exotic complete with banana trees.
We learned about coffee on a tour of the farm and processing.

Forget conventional art class.  The kids took a Mayan weaving class.
They visited a handmade pottery factory.
They visited the Galeria owned by Nan Cuz where they viewed lots of Guatemalan art.

They tried on authentic Mayan clothing from the village of San Antonio.
While we didn't plan on doing a whole lot of math, they kids studied Guatemalan currency and used it buy things including watching Mom attempt to bargain.  Social studies was the strongest area covered mainly because the kids visited the homes of two local families and ate a traditional meal at one of them.  We also experienced the ancient by visiting Mayan ruins.
Modern differences were the most interesting.  On the one hand, there was litter and less than perfect plumbing, but on the other hand there was the tremendous wisdom in simplicity such as the efficiency of tuk tuks on roads without too many cars (no traffic lights), hopping in the back of a pickup truck for longer distances, shopping in a pharmacy with no prescription needed, using ATMs where you can lock yourself in without the fear of someone else with a bank card being able to get in, and eating in restaurants where the owner's chickens roam about the premises.
Physical Education wasn't left out either as we did a horseback ride throughout the village of San Pedro (which I don't recommend for someone with fibromyalgia as due to lack of balance and sensory issues it was very uncomfortable and afterwards I had to rest quite a bit on the couch for several days - but it was fine for the kids).

The kids also went kayaking, but I didn't get pictures.

Obviously, many people in Guatemala don't have as much as we (or most Americans) do, so we had the kids volunteer two mornings doing an art project with preschoolers at Mayan Families.  They really felt great about helping the little ones. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

When Defiance Turns into an Experiment

For the longest time I have been strict about sunscreen and sun hats.  I have always said they were necessary from nine to five between March and September and ten to four the rest of the year with adjusting to nine to three during standard time.  It is just a rule I have used to be prudent about the sun.  The kids, however, were getting sick of it and challenged me on it.  So we sat down and researched possible rules of thumb for sunscreen usage.  A common one that seemed to come up was to wear it when one's shadow is shorter than oneself.  But even with this, my times didn't seem to be too far off - until we tested it.

We began by watching a video online about the angle of the sun.  Then we decided to measure our shadows beginning within a week of the summer solstice and once a month, thereafter.  After the June one, we looked up the solar noon so we could extrapolate the end time rather than have to measure shadows in both the morning and afternoon.  Here is what we came up with for sunscreen/hat usage:

Month (3rd week) Start Stop
June 9:45 4:45
July 10:10 4:35
August 10:40 4:00
September 11:20 3:00
October never shorter never shorter


In Buffalo, there is a big variance in how much sun we get during the different times of year.  As you can see, I wasn't too far off for June.

We continued in July.

August, however, was more like the times I had been using for winter.  This is when the kids started to get excited.  By September, it was less than four hours.

And finally, here is October, when their shadows never even got close to shorter:






Do you see the satisfaction at Mom being wrong?  Hopefully, this is the beginning of questioning all kinds of rules and seeking out the truth in more areas.  Of course, we are (painfully at times) aware that it often means questioning us too.





Saturday, March 23, 2013

Making Our Own Soap

I often contemplate whether or not our homeschooling approach is good.  We do a mix of online curriculum, reading classic books, and hands-on activities, not to mention the outside classes they have in art, science, martial arts and dancing.  I recently tried to decide which hands-on activities are most valuable.  It struck me that we should try to make as many of the things we use as possible - if not on an ongoing basis, at least once or twice to get a sense of what's involved.

Soap is something that I hadn't though about too much except I was pretty sure that what we were buying in the store wasn't all that healthy.  Once I researched it, however, I found out that so many academic subjects could be covered in making soap so there is value across age groups.  There's safety, chemistry, math, social studies, art, reading, and research skills.

Safety is very important since you are handling lye.  Glasses and gloves must be used.  I suit up the kids in sunglasses that wrap around with good coverage and gloves.  I also don't have them directly handle the lye.



Chemistry is obviously covered, but the real nuts and bolts of the reactions are probably better for older age groups though.  Still, my kids get a sense of it by measuring the temperature of lye and water mixture (with a non-touching thermometer) and seeing how much heat is given of when the two combine.

Math is well covered.  I have them add up the oil amounts so we know what number we are weighing to on the scale.  They weigh the oils and take temperatures.  They help me use an online calculator to determine how much lye and water is needed for the type of oil.  There is also cutting the soap trying to get as even measurements as possible and weighing the bars once they are cut.

Social studies is loosely covered since I have explained that mixing oils and lye is the traditional way of making soap back into history.  There is also the economics of selling some of the soap online and to friends and acquaintances. 

Art is somewhat involved because one can get creative with coloring and design.  Although we prefer natural soaps we stay away from too much in the way of color.  However, it is interesting to see how appearance is affected by the ingredients.  We may experiment with color at some point providing it is from natural sources.

Reading is obvious since we need to read recipes.  Although many recipes we learn by watching videos.

This brings me to one of the best thing - research skills.  We learned a great deal from youtube and doing internet searches so the kids got a sense of how to take charge and learn something independently without only relying on formal education.  It also strikes me that youtube, on some respects, is like John Holt's vision for education where there are no schools, but people finding each other and teaching what they know.  This happens when an expert puts up a good video and people like us find them and can replicate what they are doing with no classroom required.  The information is free and available.

On a related note, we did make our own dry laundry detergent.  I am not sure what we will do next in the way of things we use.  What items have you made as a homeschool project that you were able to use?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Kid (and Winter) Prompted Science Experiments

Walking down the sidewalks in Buffalo, I can't help but complain about the way people don't shovel.  I know my neighbors hate how I am last minute with my lawn in the summer, but when it comes to shoveling, I am out there quick and regularly scraping down to the concrete.  I don't believe in salt because of the environment.  If you scrape it right away and wait for the sun to come out (even the limited Buffalo winter sun), it is all you need.  When my kids encountered sidewalks that were poorly shoveled but covered with salt, I want off about this.  Surprise, Surprise!  Anyway, after I shut up, they asked me why salt is put on ice.

It then turned into a great basic science experiment.  We put two plastic yogurt cups of water in the freezer to freeze.  Then we took them out and put lots of salt, a big layer, on one of them.  I tried to explain that the one without salt was the control one and the other was the experimental one, but I am not sure they will remember.


We then placed them back in the freezer.  Over the next several days, we observed the one with the salt melt despite being in the freezer. 






Of course, they had to taste the salt water to see that it wasn't plain water.  That part was their idea, not mine, but since it was plain old salt, it didn't hurt them. 

The best part of the whole thing is that some of our regular activities prompted this which made it relevant.  Over the holidays, I know I was starting to worry about not being creative enough with coming up with experiments.  After this, I started to worry less.

I highly recommend this experiment, mainly because it is very easy and not too much work, but also because it is so relevant this time of year.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Worm Farming Adventures

We have had a worm farm in our kitchen since before June 1st.  It has been a great learning experience for T and C.  My main reason for getting it is that I couldn't stand the idea that we put food scraps in the garbage.  Having the scraps be preserved, sort of, in plastic bags in a landfill bothered me.  Since we are in the city and close to large apartment buildings and businesses with dumpsters, a regular outdoor compost pile seemed out of the question since it could attract rats.  Most people compost to have a garden.  Hopefully, we will transform our front yard slowly starting next spring, but we are far from being gardening people.  It wasn't our main reason for getting one anyway, it was the landfill thing.

I waited until now to do a big post on it even though I have mentioned it on my other blog with our homeschool days itemized.  Now seems like an appropriate time since we recently rotated the last tray and found our mostly finished compost.



I say mostly finished because some of the paper wasn't eaten either because we didn't make the pieces small enough or because we had so much in the first tray as bedding.  However, the food was completely gone and we found no worms or cocoons as they had all hatched and migrated to the upper trays for new food.  We decided to put the paper back through one more time.  It was a great experience for the kids to see that the food was gone.  Here is a picture from June from that tray:


The journey was especially fun too.  We got to see the worms mate and we found cocoons.  Now that the population is much bigger, likely doubled, we catch them mating about half of all times we open the bin now. 



In this picture, there is both interlocked clittela between the worms and if you look closely, a nice cocoon near them.  Worms, in this case red wigglers, spend their days eating, crawling, and mating.  They mate weekly, when mature, and don't need to sleep.  They are hermaphrodites, but can't fertilize themselves.  Knowing their activities and optimum conditions is important for trouble shooting problems.  One example of a problem was escaping worms, not loads but too many.  In that case, we had stirred in food too soon that was still too hot and they had no cool place to find refuge.  We discussed chemistry a bit observing heat from the composting food.  It is important to note that microorganisms take care of the food and the worms eat them. 

Observation of worms in a habitat isn't the only positive.  It is also a good experience for the kids to take care of the farm draining the farm and adding food and paper.







It was a great all around project for biology, chemistry, environmentalism, responsibility, and sustainability, never mind the complete circle when we use the compost in our front yard.  The only part we bi-passed was making the farm.  I hit a sale on a tray set up and bought it when I had the chance to do it, but a more complete way to do this is to build your own using some of the videos on you tube as instructions.  In my case, I was concerned about my energy level and didn't want that to hold us back from the rest of the project.

If you have a worm farm, are you enjoying it?




Thursday, August 9, 2012

There Are No Breaks in Homeschool!

Thanks to the grandparents I got to take the kids on vacation to Maine.  Dad had to stay home, luckily to start a new job, not continue to look for one.  So, did we get a break from homeschool? Not at all!  Yes, I let the kids skip their Time4Learning for the week, but they didn't stop learning.  Besides, what better place to learn than at the beach!  It was unstructured learning though.  I brought along several books from the library on the ocean, Maine, rocks, and seashells.  We looked things up as needed, but made no effort to read anything cover to cover.  The first day, it was raining, but the tide was out at a good time, so we went for a walk and collected rocks and seashells.  Over the next several days we tried to look them up to see what we found.  For the rocks we tried to make an educated guess at igneous, metamorphic, or sedimentary based on what we read.


I showed the kids that if you dig, you can reach water.  We even made a little canal and a sort of tide pool.  It wasn't exactly the Erie canal, but I think they got the idea.


They also had a great time playing in the ocean.  C rode some waves with Grandpa and T goofed off in the water.  They wore their long suits and hats to stay out of the UV rays.



Grandpa took T and C candlepin bowling for the first time.  He got them bumpers of course, but, hopefully, it will get them interested in the sport.  Too bad there is only regular bowling in Buffalo.


Don't forget about crafts too.  Mem helped them teach them how to do a type of knitting.  It was fun to watch them since I did that as a kid.





It was a great time.  There was a lot of learning too.  While many homeschool families say that they take the summer off, I doubt they stop learning.  I think when homeschool families say they take a break, they are really taking a break from formal curriculum.  Reading and exploration continues anyway.  This was certainly the case for us.

What about you?  Do you take a "break" from homeschool?  What does taking a break mean to you?


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Old Fashioned Travel for an Old Fashioned Education

If you have been reading my companion blog, you know that on July 6, 2012 we took an unusual trip with the help of the grandparents.  Driving from Buffalo to Chicopee, MA is nothing new for our family, especially me.  I have been making the trip regularly since 1997 when I moved to Buffalo.  We've always taken the NYS Thruway with the most choice being where to stop, like the supply of fast food was a big variety, and whether to stay on the thruway or stay on Interstate 90 when with goes around Albany.  With the kids the trip takes around 7 hours, pretty efficient like most modern travel.  Modern travel with its well placed conveniences and efficiency is centered very much around getting where you are going, and not about the trip.  Interstate highways have taken motorists off of the traditional US highways where people actually work and live.  Worse is the way people fly around place to place without even having to think about the people they pass by or the real distance they are going.

For a long time, I thought about how interesting it would be to travel on the old US highways across the country, like US 20, or up a coast, like US 1.   It reminds me of old movies from the 1930s and 1940s before the interstate system.  It was a time where, if you drove somewhere, you couldn't help but go slower and experience the places you passed through.   I can't see a situation where we will be able to do the whole thing at once, but I thought we may get to do it in increments.  We started on July 6, 2012 by attempting to pick up US 20 as soon as we could outside of Buffalo and take it to Springfield, MA.  Because we ran out of time we picked up the NYS Thruway just outside of Albany.  While we decided to go at the last minute and I didn't have time to review Carschooling, the kids brought maps and followed some of the town names.

The trip was a great time even though it wasn't exactly the way I expected.  First of all, I thought the kids would be into seeing all the farms as we passed, but after the first few, the fascination wore off a bit.  Despite being city kids, I suppose seeing cows from the car is only so interesting.  We did, however, get to stop at lakes, farms, and dairy stands that we hadn't seen before despite frequently driving within a few miles of them.  Here are the highlights:





This kind of travel is like homeschool, where being able to take your time and ignore the conventional ways gives your a more full experience.  I don't remember how many times I have driven from Buffalo to Chicopee, but we won't forget this trip with all the sights and fun stops on the way.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Homeschooling Failures

The past couple of weeks have been full of hands-on, active learning, a big preference of C.  We have been picking and taking pictures of wildflowers in the neighborhood, gathering rocks, measuring rain, and looking at the effects of UV.



Generally, I suppose it has been successful.  The kids seemed to learn and enjoy our activities, but there were also a couple of failures.  The failures have mainly been mine for poorly understanding an activity we attempted.  One was trying to gather earthworms to compost in the house.  The three worms we found didn't last and very soon we realized we needed more research.  We found out, of course, that you need special red wigglers and you need to be careful about buying or constructing a worm bin.  We are likely going to proceed with getting the right worms since it is a way to compost indoors in the city, but we felt silly for putting time (no money - thank goodness) into something without research.  The other failure, while not much wasted time, made me feel really stupid.  We tried to make a rainbow using the sun, a mirror and water, but failed miserably.  It seemed to be such a basic activity, but we couldn't figure out what we did wrong.  Fortunately we saw a rainbow in the sky a few days later near our house, no need to take the bus to Niagara Falls!

As the teacher of my children, I have spent the past several days back and forth on the implications of some of these failures of activities.  To an extent, I feel that "all's well that ends well" - nothing really bad or really great - end of story - move on.  In other ways, I am very worried that I am setting a poor example for my kids regarding preparedness by not testing the activities before introducing them or not doing enough research before jumping into something.  Still in other ways, I think I may be setting the exactly the right example by showing that science and life is trial and error and that you continue the exploration and pursuit of truth no matter what happens.  I would like to comfort myself that this this precisely the point of homeschooling, but I am not sure when I will stop wrestling with this.  They are 5 and 4 now, won't this dilemma get worse as they get older?  What do you think, success, failure, or no big deal?  Have you had experiences like this? 


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

When the Annoying Becomes Educational

C is very active and I am beginning to have to make lessons more hands-on and, well, active.  She is a good little girl, but her need for activity can be annoying at times.  A recent example is her obsession with dandelions.  Since we walk all over the neighborhood, this invades most of our outings.  She is constantly bending over to pick them or blow the seeds.  Sometimes this behavior is charming, but if we are in a rush or if the risk of stepping in dog stuff is high (if she ventures onto grass) it can be too much.  She even collects them when there are other activities going on.  On a recent WNY Homeschool co-op day, the other kids were in the playground equipment, trading cards, or playing chess and she was running around collecting dandelions sometimes socializing and sometimes not.


Of course, they are good flowers for learning about how plants reproduce and a broad interest in wild flowers isn't bad.  I decided to try to find books at the library about flowers since they seem to be of such interest to both T and C.  It seems like a good way to reinforce science, reading, and maybe even life skills if we decide to rip out the lawn and put bulbs in during the fall.  I never guessed, though, that I would find a book on dandelions specifically called From Seed to Dandelion.  It seems like a great book for C and even T.  They were very excited to take it out and want Dad to read it ASAP.

Customizing learning to their interests is one of the great things about homeschoooling.  I have tried to do this where possible in a general sense at least.  Now, however, I am beginning to see that sometimes I will need to nurture even the annoying interests since they can lead to more learning.  It will be interesting to see if after reading the book they are satisfied or want to pursue flowers even further.  I guess we will soon see!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Science Museum Visit

We went to the Buffalo Museum of Science last week.  We had a great time.  The kids especially love the Explorations section where they learn through play.  Check out some of the things T & C did:


We went to the exhibits too, but this was the part that was most fun for them.  It is interesting to see what exhibits they are drawn to, mostly the more hands-on ones, but sometimes they surprised me.  I know that I thought that rocks in glass cases would be of no interest, but because of the interesting shapes and colors, they actually wanted to stay in that part for a while.  I will need to keep that in mind.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Not Ready For A Pet

We are sorry to report that less than 5 days after getting our fish, Snow White, she (or he - not sure) died.  I am not sure what we did wrong, but I think we will wait before trying any other pet. 

The only plus to it being a short experience is that T & C took the death rather well since I am not sure they had gotten too attached yet.

We will do more research before taking on a another pet.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hands-On Science

Friday we decided to do an experiment from:



We did the Falling Orange one on inertia.  The kids had a blast as you can see from the short clip below:

video

They are beginning to beg to do experiments more often.  We are hoping to accommodate as much as possible an keep the interest in it high.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Always Learning

Even on our vacation to visit family in Florida, T & C were still learning.  Check out these photos from our visit to Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center on Hutchinson Island.  Hands on science beats classroom lecture hands down!






Daddy even fed sting rays:

video