Tag Archives: home school

Science Week 8: Gravity

A couple of resources to start you out for gravity.  First of all, the Let’s Read and Find Out title was Gravity is a Mystery by Franklyn Branley was a bit of a disappointment.  Unlike most of the Let’s Read and Find Out books, I didn’t feel that this one did a very good job at explaining gravity.  I’m not a scientist, so I really invite someone who understands physics better than I do to correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t scientists think they understand gravity reasonably well?  Why one object should attract another is never anything I’ve seen explained fully, but the basic concept makes sense.  However, this book kept insisting that scientists don’t even really know what gravity is.  The fact that gravity causes an attraction, not just to the earth, but also between all objects, was never mentioned in this book.

I much preferred the simpler, but useful book I Fall Down by Vicki Cobb.  I wouldn’t have minded this sparse picture book having a little more information.  However, it did do something very nice by warning the reader that you’ll need a number of household objects around to illustrate the concepts in the book.  I hate when I’m reading a science book that seems like it’s a text and it suddenly tells you to get up and do an experiment out of the blue.  It’s nice in concept, but sometimes I don’t budget our time for it or have the materials ready (even if it’s just a dishcloth or a scale).

My favorite book of resources this week was The Science Book of Gravity.  I’ve really been enjoying this series, which is from the early 90’s.  The experiments are all pretty simple, but focus on fun.  Not everything we’ve done from this series has worked, but most of the experiments have.  This week, I took nearly all our experiments from there.  I didn’t find anything simple for us to use from the Janice VanCleave book about gravity.

We began with an experiment that you absolutely must try, even if physics isn’t your topic this year.  I rank this among the truly excellent home science demonstrations I’ve seen in my life.  Here’s what you do:

  1. Take a small water balloon and fill it with water.  It should be about the size of a clementine or maybe a tangerine.  A grapefruit is too big.
  2. Open the mouth of a regular balloon very wide and have a partner put the water balloon inside the regular one.  Roll up the mouth so that the water balloon is inside.  Both balloons have some give, so it may take some shimmying, but it can be done.
  3. Blow up the regular balloon and tie it.
  4. Now play with it.  The center of the balloon’s gravity isn’t where you expect and it constantly moves, causing the balloon to act in unexpected ways.  Trust me.  We all giggled as we tried to throw and catch it.

Nothing we did topped that, but we did do a few other fun things.  We built a marble run to think about how gravity pulls us downward all the time.  We weighed ourselves.  We made a simple scale and “weighed” objects by hanging them on a rubber band and seeing how much they pulled on the rubber band.  We also dropped a large combination of objects and watched to see if they hit the floor at the same time.  We dropped some of them into modeling clay (though I realize now Play-doh would have worked better) to see what type of object made the biggest dents.

We enjoyed a couple of good videos.  First, the Eureka video on gravity was a good one.  I’ve posted about this series before, so I’ll just link to it.  You can see it here.  We also, of course, enjoyed the Bill Nye episode about gravity.  Finally, did you know there’s a Schoolhouse Rock video about gravity?  Well, now you do!

Finally, we did one last fun experiment.  Using modeling clay (this was really a modeling clay heavy week), we stuck marbles into one corner of a jar lid.  If you place the lid on a slope with the marbles slightly to the upper end of the slope, the jar lid with roll upward.  But it’s not defying gravity!  The marbles are the heaviest things and they need to go down the quickest way.  Anyway, three of our four lids failed because they weren’t flat on the edge, so make sure you have a completely flat rimmed lid for this one.  Below is a picture of the inside of one of the lids that did not work.  Alas.  But you get the idea.

Throwing Stuff at the Wall Until It Sticks

Does your 6 year old know the word "blot"?

Some things we learn about, such as science or history, are things that, if the kids don’t perfectly get it or remember it, it doesn’t really matter.  Obviously, it would be great if they remembered every detail of Norse mythology we read about in the last two weeks, but I’m not holding my breath.  If, in a couple years, they can see a reference to the Valkyries and know what that is, I’ll be thrilled.  If they don’t get it, no big deal, we just move on.  I’m not saying it’s not important, but the specific sort of aren’t.  The thing that matters is that we’re doing something.

However, other things have to be mastered, like math and reading.  With Mushroom these days, I feel like we’re just throwing things against the wall until it sticks for reading.  I have no doubt that he’ll get it.  Six and not devouring chapter books is hardly a late reader.  But we’ve had so many different starts.  Here’s some of the things I threw at the wall, so to speak.

Starfall.  Starfall really helped BalletBoy learn to read.  At least, I think it did.  I still don’t entirely understand how BalletBoy taught himself to read last year, but I think Starfall gets some credit.  I tried to get Mushroom to use it some more this year.  It’s fine, but he memorized most of the books and it’s not really doing anything for him anymore.

Explode the Code Online.  That didn’t stick.  It will go down in history as the first big waste of money in our homeschooling journey.  Mushroom quickly figured out how to play it like a video game, clicking things very fast and memorizing pictures.  Clicking things fast is weighed more heavily than getting it right.  He got nothing out of it.

The BOB books.  When he was smaller, he didn’t find these appealing.  Then a friend handed them down and he was willing to give them a try.  He has just never found any fluency with them though.  And they quickly got old.  We still use them, but they weren’t the thing that really got him reading.

The I See Sam Books.  He likes them.  They only cost is the time it takes to print them out and staple them together.  They’re actually really cute.  However, they suffer from some of the same problems as the BOB books for Mushroom.  They’re part of what we’re using, but they haven’t totally made it just click for him.

Explode the Code workbooks.  This is working much better for us than the online program.  There are still some strange words (“Mama, what’s a crag?” or “Mama, what do they mean the pop spills?  What’s pop?”) and some strange pictures that take me awhile to decipher.  However, it’s working, at least a little.  This program, by the way, is going excellently for BalletBoy as a way to shore up his phonics.  It’s just not as good for Mushroom.

Blend Phonics.  It’s free and it has the kind of word lists I wanted in order to play games.  We made cards, we played sounding out games, we used the whiteboard a whole bunch.  I think it helped.  At least a little.

Progressive Phonics.  It’s free too.  We haven’t been doing the worksheets (I thought they looked far too easy).  However, we’ve been trying the readers.  In a way, they’re too easy.  Sounding out one word, when you isolate it, is much easier than a long string of words.  By word number five, Mushroom is worn out and starts mixing up sounds or guessing.  However, it’s a confidence builder to have him doing some of the basic books.

I’m sure if you ask me in another couple of weeks, I’ll be throwing something else against the wall to see if it sticks and I’ll have another resource we’ve tried.  Like I said, I know it’ll come.  I’m just waiting.  Trying new things, circling back to old ones.  Working on it a little every day.  CVC words, blends, silent E.  CVC words, blends, silent E.  Okay, back to CVC words…

Science Week 7: Friction

Last week, we headed out for a boat ride on science day.  What do boats have to do with friction?  Well, not nothing because I can think of connections, but mostly we just wanted to avail ourselves of the free boat ride before they expired.  We saw some blue herons, the edge of the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and the National Arboretum.  There’s Mushroom and one of his friends on the boat.

Then, we headed to the playground for some friction experiments.  My idea was originally to explore all the forces and motion concepts we had learned about by playing on the playground equipment.  However, this wasn’t the best playground ever, though we did have it to ourselves.

We started by reviewing Newton’s Laws and then demonstrating different aspects of them on the equipment.  Here are all the kids on the little bouncy equipment piece.  We talked about how it had a lot of potential energy, the way a rubber band does.  Then we talked about how it’s still until a force makes it move.  We talked about how different weights (or, combinations of kids) effected its motion differently.  This was a nice thing for exploring Newton’s third law since the kids could feel the equipment bounce back up every time they pushed down on it.

Next, we talked about friction.  I invited to kids to use a bag of stuff I had brought to increase the friction on the slide enough to stop a heavy wooden block from sliding down it.  They figured out a way involving modeling clay and strips of sandpaper.

I pointed out that sometimes you want more friction.  We all climbed up the slide to demonstrate that and checked out the friction on the bottom of our shoes.  However, sometimes you want less friction.  I pulled out a brand new roll of wax paper to show everyone.  Then, we all did the old trick of sliding down the slide on the wax paper.  My kids had never done this and it proved to be great fun.  If you don’t know this trick, get yourself down to the playground with wax paper.  The more you slide with the wax paper on your bottom, the more the wax rubs off the paper and onto the slide, decreasing the friction on the slide and increasing the fun.  I wish I had a non-blurry picture of the results of sliding down a waxed slide, but honestly, my camera’s not good enough for something that quick!

As an addendum to our science day, the other day Mushroom borrowed my fuzzy gloves at a playground so he could decrease his friction as he slid down some poles.  But then he didn’t take them off when he climbed to the top of the big metal climber and suffered a really severe fall, presumably because he didn’t have enough friction to hold on.  Luckily nothing was broken.  So, as a public service announcement, let me just say it’s important to know when you need friction and when you don’t.

Oh, and one more note!  I’ve added my name to a group of other homeschoolers doing “We Did Science Friday” blog posts.  You can check out the list at Rowing Downstream.  Reading on homeschool lists and blogs, it often feels like many homeschoolers struggle to find a time to give science its due.  I’m not sure what to say about that except that we love science.  Doing science isn’t as hard as you think, at least not for elementary schoolers – I wouldn’t want to presume for high schoolers yet!

Math Picture Books

We’ve gotten back to math picture books in the last week or so.  Last year, we didn’t do a formal math curriculum for kindergarten, so games and picture books were a cornerstone of what we did.  This year, we’ve moved away from using them, but I picked out a few things at the library and pulled some stuff off the shelves and I was reminded of how much fun math picture books can be.  There are many, many math picture books, but here’s a few of our favorites.

Uno’s Garden by Graeme Base
This little tale is part environmental parable, part seek and find book and part math.  The numbers of all the different elements in the story ascend and descend in different ways – counting, doubling, prime numbers, multiplication.  It’s a fascinating little book that can be read again and again for different elements.

One Grain of Rice by Demi
Demi is such a great illustrator.  I like her detailed art with its Asian influences.  The kids like her use of shiny gold.  She’s also a good storyteller.  This book tells an old folktale with a mathematical lesson.  As a reward, the emperor agrees to give a woman a single grain of rice on the first day and double it every day for a month.  Obviously, emperors should be made to study more math.

Anno’s Counting Book by Mitsumisa Anno
Any of the Anno books could have made my list.  We own two of the Anno’s Math Games books and I also think Anno’s Counting House is an excellent book for learning what combinations of numbers add up to ten.  However, we’ve been enjoying simple numbers this week, looking for patterns and counting things out.

Math-terpieces by Greg Tang
This is one of the kids’ all time favorites.  Each page shows a famous work of art and an element next to it you need to group into certain numbers in different ways.  Such as finding four ways to group Monet’s water lilies so they make eight.  Greg Tang has other math picture books, but this is by far the best, especially for younger kids.  I can’t sing this book’s praises enough.

More, Fewer, Less by Tana Hoban
We use this book much the same way we use Anno’s Counting Book, by looking at patterns and counting out numbers.  The book contains only photographs without text.  The reader is invited to compare sets of things in the photos – such as different colors of shoes or sandals to boots.  I also ask the kids to find certain numbers of things.

Obligatory Halloween and Rally Post

It was a busy weekend at the Rowhouse.  First, we took a trip to the Rally to Restore Fear and/or Sanity on Saturday.  Here’s BalletBoy boogieing to The Roots down on the Mall.  The rally would have been way better if we’d had cell phone service and could have hooked back up with the husband after losing him on a Metro train so crowded that I feared we’d be crushed.  Oh well.  BalletBoy agreed it was fun to read the signs and he was thrilled to get free stickers in his favorite colors.

Then we ditched the political theater for Halloween celebration Saturday night and, of course, Sunday.  Some magazine just rated D.C. as in the top ten trick-or-treating cities in the country.  We always trek over to what I think must be the biggest party in town: Lamont Street Halloween.  Weird but elaborate shadow puppets, crazy decked out houses, wall to wall people, costume contests (BalletBoy won in one of the children’s categories), and free marshmallow roasting on a bonfire in the middle of the street.  It’s a pretty sweet Halloween setup.  I kinda love our city.

Finally, we did do “Halloween School” this morning with pumpkin dot-to-dots and Halloween themed pages from Lollipop Logic.  Plus, we sorted, counted and made bar graphs to show what Halloween candy we’d be giving out later.  Here’s Mushroom gleefully sorting and counting.



Science Week 6: More Forces and Motion

We dipped into forces and motion for a second week of experiments and readings.  This week, we hit the Bill Nye episode about momentum and read a couple of the nonfiction section’s lesser offerings on the subject, including the book Forces and Motion: Questions and Answers by Catherine A. Welch.  This is one of those books that only asks you really obvious questions with simple, straightforward answers.  I guess I’m glad we had extra books to flesh out our pile, but I wish more science books for younger readers would treat their readers with more respect.

But on to the fun stuff.  We began by reviewing Newton’s three laws in the simplest terms.  For their science journals this week, the kids drew an illustration about each law.  Here are BalletBoy’s below.  The first law shows an apple falling (until stopped by Newton’s head) and an apple staying still.  The second picture shows someone trying to lift a big pile of books versus a single book.  The third picture shows the card houses we made last week – in other words, two forces balanced against each other.

Then we did experiments to think about each law.  For the first law, we talked about inertia again and pulled a piece of paper from below a cup full of water.  In other words, more magic.  We did a lot of these tricks last week.  This time, we moved on after that one.  Taking that same cup of water, I put a layer of oil on top then put four drops of food coloring.  We took turns slowly spinning the cup on the table so you could see that the liquid resisted moving.  In other words, it had inertia.

Staying with the liquid theme, I showed the kids two eggs.  One would spin easily.  The other resisted spinning, but once you got it going, it was harder to stop.  The one that spun easily could be stopped with a tap, but the other one kept going even after you stopped it with a light tap.  The kids had various ideas about this.  We ended up weighing the eggs on the balance to show that the difference in their weights was negligible.  Finally, I let them crack open the eggs.  The easy spinner was hard-boiled.  The one that didn’t like to spin (and then didn’t want to stop) was a raw egg.  We talked about what made that one different.  Overall, I think this was one of the most successful experiments we’ve done so far.  The kids loved trying to figure out the mystery and had many great (if not correct) ideas about what made the eggs act so differently.

Next, we continued with liquids by exploring centrifugal forces.  The kids made little buckets out of paper cups and string.  Then, they made quite a mess in the kitchen.

For the second law, we watched another Eureka video then did exactly what they talked about in the video.  We threw a heavy ball and a light ball.  I think, at least at this level, Newton’s Second Law may be the most intuitive.  The kids all know that heavy things are hard to move.  After all, they’re tiny and the rest of the world is huge.

For the third law, we did a classic experiment with a balloon taped to a straw and threaded on a string.  I tied the string to the easel on one end of the living room and the abacus on the other.  Of course, when you let the inflated balloon go, the force pushes it across the room.  This one delighted the kids.

So did playing with a gyroscope at the end of our experiment time.  The gyroscope did what they do and spun on the table.  We also watched an excerpt from the show Beakman’s World about gyroscopes.  The kids like that show much more than I do.  I find Beakman a little…  annoying.  Somehow when Bill Nye is manic on screen, it’s endearing, but when Beakman is, it’s just grating.  But hey, whatever works, right?

Pictures from our Days

I don’t usually do “Wordless Wednesday” posts.  Probably because I’m a mediocre photographer at best.  But some pictures I gathered over the last week or so seemed blog-worthy.

First, this is what happens when homeschooled children dress themselves.

The husband probably should not be allowed to be in charge of the homeschooling.  He likes to make strange addenda to our whiteboard notes.

We wore out the erasers on our pencils and needed new ones.  Erasers are so good.  Thank goodness for erasers!

Homeschooling is tiring.  This is how my children look at the end of the day.

A Day Where Math and Art Meet

On Friday, we had a day where math and art met.  I love this sort of thing, when two things that people think of as being radically different come together.

The first thing was a quick trip to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History to see the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef.  We might have discovered this anyway, but I’m glad that the NPR show Studio 360 ran an awesome little story about it.  You can listen to it here.  I probably won’t explain any of it properly, but basically there is a type of geometry called hyperbolic geometry.  Not long ago, a mathematician/crochet enthusiast realized you could crochet models of hyperbolic space pretty easily, thus exciting mathematicians and creating a new type of crochet at the same time.  One crocheter who got in on this new form happened to be Australian and interested in the environmental issues plaguing coral reefs.  She began the hyperbolic crochet coral project (coral is an example of hyperbolic space in nature) to raise awareness of the ecological issues.

Suffice it to say, it’s an amazing project.

Even though the kids look kind of bored here, I promise you, they were really engaged.  It’s just my cruddy iPhone photos.

But wait…  there’s MORE!  Directly after this, we met up with our co-op to take a math walk as part of the USA Science and Engineering Festival.  The walk was sponsored by The Museum of Mathematics.  They don’t have an actual building yet, but it’ll be exciting when they do in a couple of years.  If only it wasn’t going to be in New York.

Much of the math walk was above the kids’ heads, but not all of it.  We went through the National Gallery’s Sculpture Garden, exploring geometry and shapes in the sculptures.  Among other things, we calculated how many bricks are in Sol DeWitt’s Four Sided Pyramid and thought about how Lichtenstein used projective geometry to create the illusion in his House.

Next, we went out on the street and thought about the shapes out there, such as the circular manhole cover, the rectangular signs and the cylindrical bus maps.  Here’s BalletBoy with the pentagonal bolt on the fire hydrant.

We ended by standing in the middle of the Mall where we calculated the height of the Washington Monument by having the kids measure the distance to a man standing in the distance when he looked like he was the same height at the monument.  They all had to lay on the ground to get the right perspective on it.  Amazingly, it came out exactly right – 555 feet!

Overall, it was a pretty brilliant day – arty and mathy all at once.  I don’t know about the kids, but I am feeling inspired.  I love homeschool days like this when I get schooled.

Science Week 5: Forces and Motion

And we’re back with forces and motion for science this week!  There are so many different ways to approach this topic.  We began, as we always do, with a pile of books.  The highlight was, as always, the Let’s Read and Find Out title, Forces Make Things Move by Kimberly Bradley.

However, we had another excellent title with the DK title Can You Feel the Force? by Richard Hammond.  That one began with a joke about THE force from Star Wars which really made the kids smile.  Ah, it’s the simple things that hook them, isn’t it?

After all that, I decided to focus on a couple of things.  We introduced Isaac Newton and his three laws.  Then we looked at the concepts of equilibrium and inertia (aka, the first law).  We’ll probably keep exploring those ideas in the next week or two, as well as adding new concepts.

The kids began by looking for ways to use force around the house.  I had each kid find a push and a pull they could demonstrate to the rest of us.  In the saga of how I’m continuing to figure out great ways to use our science journals, I snapped a quick picture of the kids demonstrating their pushes and pulls then printed them and taped them in the journals where they labeled them.  It worked very well.  Below is Mushroom showing us a push with the wheelbarrow.

And there he is pulling the string for the blinds.

Next we tried an experiment from the book Science Experiments with Forces by Sally Nankivell-Ashton.  We put things of various weights into a small box with a rubber band attached to measure how far the rubber band had to pull.  The measurement aspect was fun and it was nice to have a table to put into our science journals.

To introduce Newton’s laws, we turned to a video.  This was a very video intensive week.  Some of our videos are embedded below, so I hope you can click and enjoy the miracles of Youtube.  Here’s the first one, a Lego Sir Isaac Newton.  I can only hope my kids’ legomation gets as awesome as this kid’s.

And in case you just need a Bill Nye fix, here’s the parody song from the episode we watched.

To think about some of the concepts in Newton’s laws, we first started to explore equilibrium.  We used the balance that usually gets used for math to show off the idea of forces being equal.  Then we built card towers.  Next we had an excellent tug-of-war in the basement.  The kids tried some arm wrestling at the table.

Finally, we repeated the experiment BalletBoy got to demonstrate at the science show at Discovery Theater a couple weeks ago by hovering a ping pong ball with a hairdryer.  The kids loved it.  There’s BalletBoy showing them how it’s done.

Next, we began thinking about inertia by watching yet another short video, this time from the old Canadian show Eureka.  If you’ve never seen this show, it’s dated, but very cool and all available online in multiple locations.  This show has an odd feature in that it spends a full minute and a half talking about the other episodes, which is sort of off-putting for a 4 minute short.  Start your viewing at about 1:25 to see the actual show.

To demonstrate inertia, we did the trick where you pull a card from under a coin and a cloth from under a bottle.  The kids loved practicing it.  Then (and no one freak out) when we next got in the car, I demonstrated inertia by starting and stopping more abruptly than usual in the empty alleyway to let the kids feel their bodies go back and forth.  Two of the passengers thought this was great fun.  The other two clearly perceived that I was going to get them killed if I drove that way on the actual road and warned me never to do it again.  Such responsible youngsters.

Daily Routines

I thought I’d post about all our learning routines.  We’re not always good about keeping these up.  I try to have things we do every day, but sometimes it will fall by the wayside and we’ll forget it.  However, I like having routines.  It’s like brushing your teeth.  They’re good habits that make learning small things or practicing things easier.

First is the welcome board habit.  I try hard to let the kids know what our day has in store by writing it on the white board easel the night before.  They get up before me.  Honestly, I think they get up before the sun most of the time.  I know that with our odd lifestyle and their father’s strange working hours, they have trouble knowing what day of the week it is and remember if that day has a class or a co-op, so I try to tell them.  It’s good reading practice too.

Next is the vocabulary habit.  After seeing this post on Satori Smiles, I knew this first grade word-a-day book was exactly what I had been wanting for vocabulary.  It’s simple.  Some of the words are definitely things they already know (What American kid doesn’t get to age 6 without knowing what a muffin is?!?).  However, talking about definitions is a nice conversation starter.  The kids get excited to flip the page.

We also have the brain teaser habit.  I don’t strictly think this one is necessary every day.  However, it’s nice to do something for logic and thinking skills whenever we can.  Sometimes I put one on the white board for the kids to do before I get up.  I especially like to do one that will get them thinking.  Sometimes we do a sudoku.  There are some good kid ones here.  Patterns they have to finish are also good.

Next is the art habit.  A friend gave us a cool book called A Year in Art which has a new artwork on each page as well as questions and occasionally things to do to go with it.  A few of the activities and questions are pretty lame, but there’s a nice range of art in there and it’s cool to have a daily art resource like the art-a-day calendars that some people use.

Finally, we have the ballet stretches habit.  I know very little about ballet beyond what I remember from when I took it as a very young child.  However, I do know you need to be flexible and both my boys could use some work.  Have I mentioned that Mushroom decided to join BalletBoy’s dance class?  Adapting the routine that they do in class, we try to finish the day with some stretches.  I’m also try to get us in the habit of listening while lying down on bellies with heads propped up on chins.  That probably sounds strange, but it’s a good position for opening up the hips and for increasing upper body strength.

Those are our little daily learning routines.  Anyone have any of their own?