Tag Archives: science

Current Status: Geeking Out

Right now I’m:

  • Watching weather data stream in from all over — radars, weather models, twitter feeds of multiple meteorologists and weather researchers. Lightning maps and weather spotters live data. Plus the data from our own backyard, tabulated and graphed for me. So much fun!
  • Counting birds for the people at eBird.
  • Watching the bottom of the ocean with Okeanos, hoping we see another new species today (they’ve been on a roll).
  • Testing the new streaming media NAS the husband set up, so I have Flash Gordon spewing from the speakers of my laptop. (“Flash! Aaa-aaah! He’ll save every one of us!”)
  • Making a note to myself to watch the solar eclipse tomorrow morning on Slooh, an internet-connected telescope.

This future isn’t always horrible.

Weeks 3-5 of Fall 2016 – What We Did These Weeks

We went to the beach for two weeks, and (for some reason) I decided to relax and play instead of posting. Crazy, huh?

Anyway, to help me catch up, I’m going to combine three weeks together — the week we packed for the trip (hardly any “formal” school got done that week) and the two weeks at the beach (no “formal” stuff those weeks, either, but we learned so much!)


  • Reading: All the kids played a lot of DS and/or online games, which involves a surprising amount of reading.
  • The oldest got a really neat book about constellations and read it a lot.
  • The younger two read a few small books. Kid #2 found a neat book about crabs and the littlest read a graphic novel called Mighty Jack to herself. Woo!


  • All three kids worked collaboratively to come up with a good way to distribute plastic animals when the number of each animal type wasn’t divisible by three.
  • Calculating when to leave for restaurants. You need to know what time it is now, what time the reservation is, and how long it takes to get there. Fun!
  • We played miniature golf, which actually requires a lot of geometry.
  • Counting tickets for rides — the ticket sheets had 4 tickets across, and the rides usually cost 4, 5, 6, or 8 tickets. And if there were 2, 3, or 4 riders… well, you end up with a lot of thinking about multiplication and division. (Ok, the ride is 5 tickets, and there are 4 of us, so that takes 20 tickets, which is 5 rows…. Or the ride is 6 tickets and there are 3 of us, so that’s 18 tickets, which is 4.5 rows…)
  • Spent a lot of time talking about high tide and low tide and watching it move in and out… and how it changes from day to day.
  • Sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset were also pretty common topics of conversation. We saw some beautiful sunsets and harvest moon rises. (I saw a stunning sunrise, but the kids were never up that early).
  • We measured so many things. Sizes of animals (feet, inches, centimeters), bushels of crabs, pints of sides…


  • Engineering interesting buildings with tiny building materials (Mini Materials)
  • Kid #1 started teaching himself Lua to make mods for a spaceship game he plays.
  • Tides, the sun, the moon, planets, and constellations count for science, too! We saw the Milky Way, Mars, and a few other night sky things.
  • The ocean provided many opportunities to talk about waves and how when two waves meet it can be constructive or deconstructive.
  • We visited NASA’s Wallops site and read and saw rockets, a neat radar display, and so many other things.
  • We flew kites and saw how different parts of kites change how they fly.
  • The fall equinox conveniently happened while we were there.
  • And animals… so many animals! Birds, crabs, fish, etc..
  • We played with animal bones at a nature center and looked at their list of birds they saw that week.
  • We saw TWO live horseshoe crabs in the ocean. The first was pointed out to us by random a marine biologist we met there.
  • After Hermine went past the week before we came, we got to see a lot of examples of erosion.
  • Mosquitoes. So many mosquitoes.

Social Studies

It wasn’t a very geography sort of month. And that’s ok.

  • Some local history of the MD, VA, Delaware area.
  • Some geography of places we drove through.


  • We talked about safety a lot: safety at the beach, in the waves, ocean, rip tides, looking to make sure the lifeguards are around.
  • A couple kids also went on walks alone or with each other, so we reviewed stuff about crossing the street, walking alone, and so forth.
  • Sunscreen and sunburns.
  • We actually got a bit dehydrated — it’s hard to remember to drink water when you’re surrounded by water!
  • At the carnival-type areas, some kids (and I…Heh.) got to challenge their fears of heights and such.


  • Before we left on the trip kid #2 made a really neat mosaic out of post-it notes. It ties in with learning about the Romans right now.
  • Then at the beach, we made forts and sandcastles and other sand installations.
  • The older two kids practiced taking pictures.
  • Everyone colored and drew.


  • We heard some performances while walking around the boardwalk, and that’s about it.


  • Went out walking and looking for Pokemon or crabs quite often.
  • Swam in the ocean for hours and hours and hours.
  • Soccer on the beach.
  • Walked around parks and nature areas.
  • Walked around everywhere!

So, to summarize:

  • You can do so much science on vacation.
  • You can even do a lot of math!
  • It’s okay if you don’t do a subject for a week or two or three. You have years.

What interesting things did you do this week? (Or two, or three?)


Yep, Birds Are Dinosaurs

Classification of living things has changed a lot since I went to school. Seriously, it’s changed a ton. They’ve invented entire kingdoms and added a bazillion layers of stuff. There are a lot of living things out there.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a good resource for learning how things tend to be classified now. Scientists actually rarely agree, so this web site just shows the classification as is agreed upon by several resources. That’s just how science is.

The Tree of Life website has been around for over twenty years (in fact, it was born on my birthday in 1994… be still, my heart!). That pretty much makes it an Internet antique — but of course they keep it updated, so you can trust the information contained within.

Anyway I thought I’d draw attention to the “Dinosaurs including birds” page. Because birds are dinosaurs, officially.

What Does Science Look Like at Home?

I was just watching a periscope (a live video thing, though I watched it after it was saved on Katch) by Julie over at Bravewriter. It’s about unstructured vs. structured learning… and her main point was “what does learning at home look like?” — http://blog.bravewriter.com/2016/04/11/the-split-between-structured-and-unstructured-learning/

As a liberal arts major, she could easily figure out how to play word games, pick out amazing books for Big Juicy Conversations… and so forth. (Watch the periscope! And all her other ones! They are so good!) But she didn’t necessarily know how to do the same thing in math, or maybe even in science.


So how do you get kids excited about science? How do you get them curious and interested?

Let me give you a huge hint — it’s not by doing labs where they already know the answers. It’s not by writing up lab reports. It’s not by getting the “expected result”. That isn’t science! That’s really, really boring!

Babies can do science. Every time a toddler drops their toy car and watches it hit the floor, they’re testing gravity. It becomes a fun game watching mom or dad pick it back up again… and then dropping it again. That baby doesn’t have a lab write up. That baby doesn’t know the word gravity. But that baby just intuitively learned “things go down”. And “making mom and dad do things is fun”.


Babies love making observations. They use all of their senses (especially taste!) to test everything around them non-stop.

The thing is… science is messy. And dangerous (especially if you want to use inappropriate sensory organs too much). And parents don’t like messes. They don’t like even minor risk, usually. So science becomes safe and boring. Parents worry that the experiment “won’t go right” so they want a tried and true experiment or demonstration (most “science” ends up being a demonstration, not an experiment anyway). But that’s boring! It isn’t fun!


If the experiment doesn’t work, great! Now you get to troubleshoot it! That’s what real science looks like. Maybe it was a badly planned experiment — an important aspect of science is experimental design and identifying flaws in other people’s experiments. Not out of malice, but being an independent observer who can maybe see something that you missed. That’s what peer review is.

In our school we do use simulations sometimes — they let you play with things in ways you might not be able to otherwise… like nuclear reactors. But parents worry about screen time. Who cares? Do you know what science looks like? Messes and lots of computers.

I try to let the kids get exposure to real life experiences as much as life allows. Let’s make paper airplanes. Let’s learn how to solder and build a robot. Let’s go to the zoo and observe the penguins or fish or whatever.


Once we stood around an aquarium for at least 30 minutes observing this weird little fish who decided to move rocks around with his mouth. These were huge rocks! He really struggled. Should we have stood there that long? Sure. We watched him, made observations, and guessed at what he might be doing. Eventually one of the people who volunteered there came over and told us what they thought the fish was doing. It was great!

We never wrote it up. I think I posted a picture on Flickr… maybe?


Throwback Thursday: Prehistory and a Pangaea Flip Book

Today’s Throwback Thursday is about prehistory. It includes links to some great picture-intensive books about pre-history as well as a link to a website where you can print a pangaea flip book that you can make.

Prehistory – Books to Read and a Pangaea Flip Book to Make

Since I wrote that post, there are a few more in the same series:

We haven’t gotten around to reading them yet, though, but we loved the earlier books in the series.

Project: Osmosis and a Permeable Membrane

Everyone has a different background. My degree just happens to be in Molecular Biology, so I have a lot of sciencey stuff going on in my head all the time. That makes it easier for me to spontaneously unschool in science than in history or art. Those are the two subjects I probably have the least breadth or depth.

(The best part of homeschooling is that I’m slowly fixing that over time as I learn with my kids!)

Anyway, I can throw together a short unit study in anything in science almost accidentally, and I thought I’d share an adventure in membranes and osmosis from a few weeks ago.

First, my son read the beginning of The Way We Work, a lovely illustrated book about the biology of people. It touches on the chemistry and physics you need to know to understand how biology happens. It’s funny, it’s whimsical, and it covers a vast amount of molecular and cell biology, plus anatomy, reproduction, and I can’t remember what else.

I introduced it because I thought it was time he knew some more details about biology, and the large cartoony (and silly!) illustrations might be able to hold his attention. He uses some pretty weird but amazing visual metaphors. I had my son read a few pages while his sisters finished their math work, and then had him tell us a few facts he learned, just to check to see if he had paid any attention to what he was reading.

As it turns out, those first pages are about atoms, ions, and diffusion (among other things).

A few days later, he just happened to show up in my home office, bored. I didn’t have time to amuse him or do anything long and involved, so I just showed him where the dialysis tubing was in the science area of the homeschooling room, I gave him a vague idea of what to do with it and sent him a youtube video of how to use the dialysis tubing.

After he turned his hands blue, he came back up to my office, so I sent him off to watch the Crash Course video about Membranes and Transport (CC Biology #5).

Then he came back again. He hadn’t watched the video and got discouraged that nothing had happened to his experiment after five minutes. (Oops. I forgot to set his expectations for how long it would take).

We had a quick talk about what force was going to be moving his dye around, and he realized it was diffusion. I pointed out that even without the membrane, in five minutes the dye wouldn’t spread out. So now he’s off to go make his experiment again, this time with a control. He’ll have a second cup/beaker with no membrane — just dye and water. That way he’ll know if he should have expected anything to happen, or not.

He can watch the Crash Course video while he waits, then try out this PhET Membrane Channel Simutaion. It lets you play with a few particles and some different types of channel proteins.

But in reality, what actually happened is instead of re-doing the experiment, he played with the simulator. Then a friend logged on to Steam and they started up a game of StarCraft. Things happen.

I guess tomorrow he can set the experiment up again. And if he’s still bored after that… well, it’s spring. It’s a great time to scoop some organisms out of the now-thawed lake and look at them under the microscope.

Solar Eclipse Tonight

There is a total solar eclipse tonight!  The problem is… you have to be in south Asia to see it in person. (If you are in south Asia, make sure to observe the eclipse safely. And send pictures!)

However, if you’re not in Asia, you can still watch online. Slooh telescope has a team set up in Palu on Sulawesi, Indonesia.

The fun starts at 6 pm EST, with some pre-recorded pre-game shows and other astronomical stuff ahead of time. Totality is at 7:37 pm EST:  Slooh Live

Time and Data has more information about this eclipse, with maps and animations.

If you have little kids, help them understand solar eclipses with a hands-on project.

To see more pictures of the eclipse afterwards, Space Weather has a lovely gallery of space images that is sure to be active. In the meanwhile, look at some aurorae, planets, and other space stuff.

Also don’t forget to make plans for the big event in 2017 — a total solar eclipse going straight across the USA!

If I can ever find the rest of my picture archive, I’ll post pictures of what we’ve done in eclipses in the past.

We once had a solar filter for our giant telescope, which meant you could look straight at the sun, and see the action up close.

Other times we’ve made different kinds of pinhole cameras — Simple Pinhole Projector, Cereal Box Viewer, and (my favorite) Cardboard Box Projector.

But my favorite thing has to be when spaces between the leaves on the trees each become their own pinhole camera, making thousands of tiny eclipses appear on the ground.

Destroying Electronics to Make a Case for Algebra

I’m finding a lot of half-written blog posts in my drafts folder. This is another one of those things that actually happened a year or two ago and I never finished writing about it.

We are finally embarking on our electronics course, using Make: Electronics (Learning by Discovery) as our guide. It took a while to find all of the required parts, but we eventually did. If you need to find parts, I recommend: Digi-Key and Mouser Electronics. You can (or used to be able to) buy an already-assembled kit of parts from the author, but it included a lot of things we already had around the house, so it wouldn’t really help us save anything.

One reason I really like the book is that it encourages you to destroy things in order to see how they work. Often people are held back by worrying they might break something. It takes a lot of anxiety out of the situation if you are encouraged to break it!

For example, one experiment involves destroying an LED by hooking it up to the battery without a resistor. My son really likes LEDs though, so he really didn’t like the idea that we were killing them in order to enjoy ourselves. That motivated him to learn how to put resistors in the circuit to keep the LEDs from being destroyed.

Then we discovered that if the resister is too strong, the LED gets dim. He didn’t like that. So I showed him how the voltage, resistance, and current are related — Ohm’s law. He could use Ohm’s law to protect his precious LED by figuring out the exact resistance to make the LEDs as bright as possible without breaking it.

The catch is that you need to use algebra….

Here’s a great Ohm’s Law simulator on PheT: Ohm’s Law

My New USB Microscope

This is the goo that was on my glasses.

This is my sister’s diaper ;).

This is my sister’s doll’s shirt.

This is my sister’s ornament.

 This is a chicken nugget.

 This is a doll’s hair.

 This is a milk weed seed :).

 This is a computer.

This is milk weed fluff.

It’s a printed eye.

A shirt.

I Have a Magic Compost Pile

Folks, this is crazy. Some parts of my garden I research to the nth degree. And I fuss over it. And schedule it, and plan it and go bonkers over it. I stake things and weed them and work in the hot summer heat on my hands and knees.

And then there’s my compost pile.

After our trip to Alabama, we came home to discover part of a 10lb bag of potatoes had been left behind and it went a bit bad while we were gone. Not thinking about it, I just tossed the last of those potatoes into the compost pile, just like any other kitchen scrap.

A few months later, plants appeared.

And they grew.

And grew.

And today I went out to check on the plants, and noticed the pile had crumbled away a bit after the last rain — the problem with planting in a compost pile is that it, well, moves. It slowly decomposes and shifts. So some of the plants had exposed roots adn they sort of died a bit, and as I investigated, a handful of little potatoes popped out. So I gathered them up and underneath, there were more!
Until I’d gathered two handfuls.
So I brought them inside, cleaned them up, and cut them into similar-sized pieces.
I sauteed my magic potatoes with some butter, paprika, lemon, and parsley from the window box.

All for basically no work, and maybe $3 of potatoes. And this is only the beginning of the potatoes.

I hope I don’t die of some sort of rare compost cooties…