Thursday, October 27, 2011

Co-op Science Week 9


I spent some time talking about whys of magnets -- why do magnets act the way they do (electrons), why can we magnetize certain metals temporarily (organize the atoms in, say, an iron screw by using another magnet or an electric current), why do compasses point north (Earth has a magnetic field).

Mostly, though, we played.  I had some neodymium magnets I'd gotten at Hobby Lobby several months ago -- I'd gotten them for my refrigerator, frankly, so I can stick papers to it without having everything tumble off.  They came in packs of 2 -- a red and a yellow -- about 2 inches by 1 inch by 1/4 inch thick.  I've since figured out that they're encased in plastic because neodymium is brittle; also, the plastic keeps them from sticking together so tightly that they're impossible to pull apart (the plastic is slick enough to slide them apart).  Who knows how big the encased magnets are -- they might be much smaller.  Anyway, they're pretty powerful little goobers, and I have 4 total magnets.  I went back to Hobby Lobby recently to get more to use in class, but they were out of this particular model.

The kids were enchanted by picking up wads of paperclips with them.  Also, they're powerful enough to stick one on top of your hand and one underneath and have them stick together.

I'd taken in some iron drywall screws that we magnetized by stroking with the magnets.  Drywall screws were the only thing I could find in our workbench that worked -- most of the nails we have are galvanized or elsewise coated.  I put duct tape on the plastic of the neodymium magnets so it wouldn't be scraped off by the threads of the drywall screws.  I explained theories of how to de-magnetize the screws, but, frankly, dropping them repeatedly didn't work, and in our classroom setting  I didn't feel like messing around with heating them .

We also magnetized steel needles, taped them to small pieces of cork, and floated them in bowls of water to make our own compasses.  We discussed that these didn't have the handy marker to show us which end is north, and how could we figure out which was which? (Using our knowledge of where the sun rises and sets, for example.)  We also experimented a bit with making the compasses go wonky by exposing them to another magnetic field.

Then I got out another set of drywall screws which we wrapped in insulated copper wire like this, attaching to 9v batteries.  I had the kids work in groups for this to make it easier to supervise.

At the beginning of class I'd put a full serving of Total cereal in the blender with some water, then put it in a plastic bag.  I'd hoped to get the iron filings to separate out.  They eventually did, but this demonstration works best for me if I set one of the neodymium magnets on it for a while, then wander off and forget about it for a long time (like, hours).  At home I was able to get a dollar bill to react a bit to the magnet, but I wasn't able to in class.  The kids were somewhat appalled at the news that some people put a dollar bill in a blender to do the same type of demo ("that's illegal to do that to a dollar bill!"). Our currency is printed with a magnetic ink, by the way, which is why this would work.

I couldn't find any iron filings to use to show the poles of the magnets.  Somewhere in the house we have one of those old games where you move the iron filings on a picture to make a beard or hair, but, alas, I can't find it.  It also would've been wicked cool to get some ferrofluid to play around with, but it wasn't in the budget.

Some of the kids seemed disinterested in the entire session.  Perhaps they've done it all before; or perhaps the set up of just playing around and seeing what happened bothered them.  I'd expected that most everyone in class has played some with magnets, but now I know they've all seen certain things that we can build on as we explore more about electromagnetic forces.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bento Fail

This sounded like an okay idea on the surface:  Trader Joe's orange chicken, rice, some orange pepper and green onion, diced apples, Goldfish for Annabeth and some sort of Hapi sesame crackers for Thalia. Thalia and I had nori faces on our pumpkins full of rice; Annabeth had a little heart shape (which looks like a belly button).  Lots of seasonal interest, right?

But, alas, the food markers wouldn't draw on the orange pepper I'd cut out in pumpkin shapes.  I'm about ready to give up on the Wilton food markers, as this is week 2 of disappointing results.  And I was out of sushi rice so I used regular white rice which, since each grain was separate, sort of swirled around all over the bentos as the boxes were jostled in transport; my jack-o-lantern face ended up stuck to the inside top of the box by lunchtime, and I had rice in the apple chunks.  And the sesame crackers ended up soggy from the apple chunks and flying rice, although they turned out to be stale and disgusting anyway.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Homeschool Update

Some highlights of the past couple of weeks:


Thalia took a test early in the week, and has now started Chapter 5 of Lial's Intermediate Algebra, Systems of Linear Equations.  She says she now has more of a clue about some of those ACT math questions from back in September, having now seen what the heck they were going on about.

Annabeth continues to storm through Key to Decimals.  She's not quite halfway through the second book.  So far it's been review, with mistakes made out of sloppiness rather than misunderstanding.


Thalia actually missed an answer in Notgrass World History -- the first this year.  I think it might have been absentmindedness.  She's displaying signs of nitpicky-ness with the text, looking for minor faults.  It really isn't very challenging as a history text, so I guess that's what keeps her occupied.

Annabeth wonders about all of the timelines in History Odyssey.  Why make the little one that you can't fit all the stuff on, and then also put the same stuff on the big one?  Because then you actually learn it by fitting it in; plus the big one is to keep and add to  from year to year.


Jensen's Format Writing requires that one select one's own topics, which has apparently been the biggest challenge for Thalia  so far -- figuring out what she'd like to write a 7 sentence (occasionally 8 sentence) paragraph about.  The topics are getting more and more ... interesting.  For analogy, she compared kidneys to furnace filters, saying it was the first thing that came to mind.

And Annabeth is working on similes in Writeshop.  Which is nice, since it's something she hasn't worked on before.


Let's see, Thalia had her first Physics test a couple of weeks ago, which she did really well on.  Then we had the assignments from hell, which took F.O.R.E.V.E.R.  to complete, and included much wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Then this week everything was easy-peasy.  Sort of a bipolar course -- you just never know what to expect next.

And I've been trying to go over more assignments in Shepherd's Life Science with Annabeth, since they're not doing that much in their once-per-week class.  They've made it through cell biology, which she thought was confusing.  Overall, if I didn't feel comfortable with the subject I think this would be a tough course to supervise from home (it might be easier to outright teach it, since then you're following along more closely anyway).


Dave Ramsey has taught us about relationships and money (hohum, THAT was a fairly useless chapter), and how to interview for jobs (ditto -- better info about this is available elsewhere).  And a brief swipe at taxes.  Don't get me wrong, I still like the course.  But we hurried through these chapters. There were test questions I thought were just plain silly, since they were more along the lines of "were you paying attention" rather than "you should remember this stuff".  But we're coming down to the home stretch.  She's also been reading Adam Shepard's Scratch Beginnings this week for sort of a look at real life applications.

Theater work is keeping everyone busy.  Sets to paint.  Songs and blocking to learn.  Annabeth just got the lead in a play at church.  She sewed several pillows for the Snow White set last week, stuffing one with an extraneous bed pillow we had in the closet.  She was pretty proud of them, especially the one with gold fringe which she figured out how to apply herself.

Also, we've been handing around the latest Rick Riordan book (Son of Neptune) since Thalia was one of the first to get it from the library.  Three of us managed to read it this week during her checkout period of it.

And all the other usual falderal -- voice, piano, dance, driving.  Annabeth started doing Mango French again this week (Mango is available through our public library's website).  Plus all the stuff I'll think of after I post this, which is pretty typical.  You'd think by now I'd be writing notes all week, but no.  Just scrawls in the planner -- otherwise, these ARE my notes.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Co-op Science Week 8


Actually, we started out with a review of gravity from last week.  I used some questions from Science Jim's Bite-Size Physics: Force like: Which of the following are most attracted to each other by gravity?  A) apples and bananas,  B)beagles and chihuahuas, C) Earth and you, or D)All of the above.  Sort of mildly silly, but got the point across.

From there I asked who all had read or seen Magic School Bus Plays Ball, since we were talking about the same topic.  Several kids had, but some hadn't.  Some came up and looked through the book as we were doing our various activities.

We started by listing ways friction was a friend or foe (idea from Science Action Labs -- Physical Science).  We discussed car brakes, crickets, violins, snakes, walking, standing, things that overheat due to friction, etc.

We then did an experiment with a board and various shoes, seeing how high we could incline the board before the shoes slid down the ramp.  We talked about how shoes that had more points of contact with the board tended to have more friction.

Next, we tried pulling a heavy metal tray from my kitchen over various surfaces.  I hooked a spring scale to the tray so we could see the force used.  This also involved explaining Hooke's law about springs, plus what the heck a "Newton" is.  Besides running the tray over the carpet, I had brought in a fluffy rug and a yoga mat.  After that we ran it a few times over the same surface, but with different amounts of weight on top -- we used books the kids had in their backpacks.

I showed on the board how they could start writing a lab report for this experiment -- what they would write for their hypothesis, materials, procedure.

We took a brief look at bearings.  First of all I stuck some pens under the tray while it sat on the yoga mat, and demonstrated how easily it moved on the pens.  Then I set up a demo rather like this one (Annabeth and I had done this for a Junior Girl Scout badge back when Girl Scouts had cool badges worth earning).  And discussed how the bearing gave the item fewer points of contact with the surface below, just like with the shoes.  And, no, even though your grandpa puts grease on bearings doesn't mean that grease is a necessity for bearings to work.

I didn't do much explaining of the whys of friction, although I let the kids know that it's something scientists are still working to understand more about.

Finally, we explored air friction by making parachutes out of plastic grocery bags, taping them to little paper-cone-people.  I had taken along drinking straws so we could shoot the people in the air, but since we were done a few minutes early we trooped outside, tossing them over the 2 story balcony on the way out to enjoy the last warm, sunny day of the week.  It was really cool to watch them floating down like a bunch of gigantic baby spiders.  Some of the kids were still playing with them on the playground, and one girl intended to show her little brother how to make one that evening.

I'd reflect on all of this more, but a rat keeps running across the keyboard, typing nonsense, so I'll leave it at that.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


-- Rick got a couple of tickets to Friday night's playoff game.  His sister drove over from Kansas City to go with him.  They had a fantastic time -- the weather was gorgeous, the crowd was fun, the Cardinals won.  

-- Up early Saturday to have people over.  Then Donna stayed the day to help put up the bathroom light.  During which Rick whacked his head into the nails in the attic ceiling (I was taking Thalia to ballet when the cell phone rang:  "Daddy would like to know how to get blood out of clothing" -- not a phone call you like to get, if you know what I mean).

-- Also, open shop for backstage crew for upcoming Snow White ballet.  Which meant the kids were gone most of the day.

-- Thalia was supposed to go to the SLUH Fall Formal with the guy whose mom makes him go to dances. Only this time he managed to convince his mom that none of his friends were going to that particular dance so he shouldn't have to; she acquiesced on the condition that he take a female to dinner and a movie.  So now Thalia and friend have practiced how-to-have-a-dinner-and-movie-date.  Actually, I think they had pretty much fun.

-- In the meantime, I realized that what my life was missing was Halloween-themed silicon baking cups, mini-cookie cutters, and plastic picks.  I found some picks in our box of Halloween decor; the baking cups and cookie cutters were 40% off at Hobby Lobby.  And the sun shone in the window on the bento I was making, and life was good:

Corn muffins, orange slices in a pumpkin shaped baking cup, 2-bite brownie, twice-baked new potatoes, steamed broccoli, and slices of cheese.

Except the food markers don't really want to draw nicely on Monterey Jack cheese, so that was a little blotch on my bento euphoria.

-- Up early on Sunday so Thalia's choir could sing.  Then all the usual Sunday fal-de-ral.  It was sunny and in the 80s, so Rick was trying to get the last few tiles cut for the bathroom (using a tile saw tends to be a rather soggy experience).  And sliced open his finger.  Second injury this weekend.

-- On my way to pick up kids from their activities I saw one of their friends walking through the neighborhood, which was surprising since this friend doesn't live around here.  I stopped the car and rolled down the window.

"Hey, what are you doing over here?"

"We're coming to ding-dong-ditch you."

I sat in the car staring at him for a moment.

"Um, isn't that supposed to be a surprise?  Anyway, nobody's home right now."

Really, the kids (ours) thought it was hilarious -- we discussed calling him when we got home to let him know that it was okay to come over to ding-dong-ditch.  Rick said it was like setting an appointment to TP someone's house.

-- Overall, a weekend filled with laughter, friends, family, fun.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Co-op Science Week 7

Topic of the week:  Gravity.

Began by explaining that while Galileo was figuring out that things always fall down, Kepler was figuring out that planets always orbit around; this looks like it could be two separate phenomena, but Newton figured out that it was all because of gravity.  (Source:  John Hudson Tiner's Exploring the World of Physics).

Listed the 4 forces on the board (strong nuclear force, electromagnetic, weak nuclear force, gravity).  Pointed out that gravity is the weakling of the bunch, that gravity is the only one that is solely attractive, everything with matter has gravity.  Filled glass bowl with water and dropped Cheerios in it bit by bit to illustrate things coming together with gravity (explain that the reason Cheerios clump together, though, is the Cheerio Effect, but it's still a good visual for gravity).  Attempted to explain how forces vary with the inverse square of distance (quicky review of what squares are, quick look at what inverse means).  Pulled out magnet plus a paper clip on string to illustrate how the magnetic force gets sooo much greater when the clip gets closer to the magnet.  Pretty much all of these ideas came from Science Jim's ebook about force, although Science Jim neglected to say anything about the Cheerio Effect, leaving the impression that gravity is attracting Cheerios to each other.

Okay, next,  talked about gravity's pull and how it varies -- Earth's gravity is pulling more on me because I have more mass.  Forgot to talk about how that pull varies by location, although I've mentioned that before in class.  Oops.  Gravity's acceleration is constant, though, as demonstrated in the every-popular flick-a-coin-and-drop-a-coin-concurrently demo, in which the coins hit the ground at the same time (by the way, most places suggest doing this with coins, but I also saw this in a book that suggested using extremely ripe tomatoes -- I'm sure my class would've been charmed, but I really didn't care to clean up afterwards).  Had the kids test each other against gravity by seeing how quickly they can grab a 12 inch ruler dropped between their fingers -- by seeing which inch mark they come closest to grabbing it at, we can calculate how long it took them to react (source for this idea was Science Action Labs -- Physical Science).

Then, wandered off into the subject of center-of-gravity.  We all stood against the wall, heels to the wall, and tried to touch the floor without bending our knees.  We tried grabbing our toes and hopping backward and forward (forward is possible if you scrunch down enough, changing your body shape). 

And then brought out soda cans, water, toothpicks, and forks to start teaching them the skills that will be so valuable in college bars, like how to balance a soda can (or beer can)  on its edge ...

how to balance forks on toothpicks on a salt shaker...
 or else on the rim of a glass, then use a lighter to burn away the excess toothpick.
I'd bought a bunch of extra forks at the Goodwill.  In case you wondered, the Goodwill has more dinner knives than anything else, followed by spoons.  Cheap forks are apparently in high demand.  Although several people felt compelled to comment on my picking through all the forks (I was trying to figure out which ones would work well together) as though they'd never seen anyone buy forks before.
As I was gathering my supplies Rick asked if I had enough lighters for everyone.  "Are you crazy?  These are little kids!"  Of course, as expected, as soon as I got the (single solitary) lighter out I started hearing the speeches like, "Can I use the lighter?  I'm allowed to at home."  "Okay, then, when you go home and do this,  your parents can let you use it if they want. In the meantime, no."

 Theoretically, they all went home and did these things at the dinner table that night.  Optimally they placed bets with older siblings about whether they could do these things, although I forgot to suggest that.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Bathroom Renovation Haiku"

(*a less-known sub-genre of Home Renovation Haiku)

New mirror is hung,
And baseboards put into place.
Light fixture is next.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Homeschool Update 10/7/11


Shepherd's Life Science apparently doesn't have specified experiments, although they have suggestions.  The co-op teacher decided to use The Egg experiment from Apologia Biology.  You know the one, where you take The Egg

and soak it in vinegar until the shell is off.  

Then soak it in various other things like corn syrup and water, measuring after each soak.

In the meantime, Thalia is studying for her first test in Kinetic Physics.  I have the impression the teacher is a wee bit disappointed with the support available for writing her own tests -- I think she was under the impression they would have more test questions available.  They're doing the Principle of Physics, which prepares the class for the Physics AP/B exam, by the way.  Anyway, the teacher has re-opened all of the homework questions, as well as the quiz boards (Kinetic is done online, and the teacher sets the "due date" on the homework by setting the program to close all attempts to enter answers to problems as of the deadline) for the kids to use to study for the test.  She's sent a pdf of the test, and will send the parents a pdf of the answers.


Annabeth finished up the first book of Key to Decimals, and then switched back to RightStart Geometry, wherein she's in the throes of Pythagorean Theorem.  Of course, this brings to mind adventures in The Wizard of Oz last summer, when the Scarecrow could NOT remember his line about the Pythagorean Theorem after the Wizard gave him a brain (and Thalia kept saying, "get a refund on that brain!"), distracting everyone from the point of the RightStart lesson.

Thalia is moving ahead in Lial's Intermediate Algebra, which still seems straightforward to use and grade.


Junior Analytical Grammar is DONE.  Whoot.  Honestly, it wasn't the warm, fuzzy experience that Analytical Grammar was.  I found myself disagreeing with the answer book at times (given that grammar isn't my thing, this is Big News).  But, hey, it's over now, and we're moving on to ... well, we're not moving on to anything in particular at the moment.

Thalia continues to write paragraphs for Jensen's Format Writing.  And occasionally plunges into Analytical Grammar High School Reinforcement -- she's using the Great World Authors book this year.  As I've mentioned before, she does this for fun, sort of like others work sudoku.


Annabeth hasn't done a whole heck of a lot with the Middle Ages, after blazing through the first week or so.  We tend to be rather stop-and-go with history around here.

In the meantime, Thalia is finding Notgrass World History incredibly easy, answering questions about Daniel that she learned in about 3rd grade Sunday School.  The biggest challenge is the Country Study -- she writes an essay every week about India.  Some of the subjects bore her -- for example, writing about the economy of India was apparently less than scintillating.


Chapters 7 and 8 of Dave Ramsey are done.  Thalia knows how to balance a checkbook, and how Dave advises making a budget (I think that's all part of a Girl Scout badge ... oh wait, those practical badges like that are now defunct, and we still haven't received the new badge books ... how does an organization that has failed so miserably at rolling out their new product presume to teach girls about leadership -- gaaaaahhhhhh! ).  Also, how to bargain/negotiate.  Most of which she'd already heard plenty about just in conversations around the house.  But Dave had some amusing anecdotes to illustrate his points.

Theater classes are zooming along, with monologues chosen and memorized, songs practiced, sets designed, etc.

And the usual whirlwind of tap, ballet, voice, and piano.  Plus driving around in that pre-driver's license way.

Once again, even more homeschool updates at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Co-op Science Week 6

I decided to work further with the idea of Alka Seltzer in film canisters, this time shooting them out of tubes.  

After last week's mayhem I had refined my idea about how to accomplish this type of thing with a group of 11 excited 8-11 year olds.

I cut up my Alka Seltzer at home, using a serrated knife to saw them in half on top of a textured cutting board.  The texture held them in place nicely, and I was able to make uniform pieces.  I packed them carefully in a plastic container so they wouldn't break more, nor would they get wet.

I also found 5 plastic water bottles in our recycle which I filled with tap water.  I handed these out to the kids for use filling their film canisters.

I also took along a white board and chalk.

Thus armed, I went to class.

We discussed what had happened last week --how the varying amounts of water affected the speed of the reaction.  Small amounts of water sometimes didn't even blow the lid up -- I asked the class to speculate on why.  The largest amounts of water gave the quickest, most satisfying explosion.

I explained to them that when I was messing around with this on my driveway I had filled the canister 2/3 with water then set it upside down.  I got a quick reaction, but the canister didn't shoot up very far.  I wasn't sure why that was since I had changed TWO things about how I did the experiment (how much water I put in the canister, plus how I set the canister on the driveway).  I wanted to explore this further with their help.  Which would shoot out a tube furthest -- 1/3 water, 1/2 water, or 2/3 water?  One of the kids asked if we could vote by show of hands, which we did -- I made tick marks on the pictures of canisters I'd drawn on the classroom whiteboard.  Some kids gave their reasons for their vote.

I explained in tedious detail what we would do outside, drawing pictures on the board.  Kids asked question about the sequence, I answered.

We went out to the parking lot, and it occurred to me that if we did this in an empty part we could use the painted yellow parking lines to have a launching line.  I asked the kids if they thought that was a good idea, which they did. ( I'm trying to involve them in thinking about how best to set up this stuff, weighing pros and cons.)

I distributed the parts -- I had gotten the plastic tubes from Steve Spangler Science, which is also where I got the film canisters, by the way (really simplified my life -- you can probably find all of this stuff here and there for free, but it was really easy peasy to order a set, plus they even include Alka Seltzer to get you started).  Everyone donned their safety glasses.

The kids had voted to start with filling the canisters 2/3 full.  Most of the canisters didn't even make it out of the tubes!  So, even though that gave us the fastest *POP*, it was sort of a dud insofar as shooting.  We speculated that the canister of water was too heavy to make it out of the tube.

Next they tried half full.  This was very satisfying, and started several arguments over whether one's canister should be measure insofar as its initial point of contact with the ground or where it eventually stopped.  The 1/3 canisters ended up flying about as far as the half full canisters -- interesting since last week several of them didn't even pop open when the kids set them on the ground.  Did we improve technique?  More pressure since the canister was upside down in the tube?  Hmmm ... I don't think we're going to spend anymore class time on figuring that out, but I like ending up with new questions about how something worked.  Always something new to think about, you know?

One boy didn't participate.  He said it was more fun last week.  I don't think it was the fact that we'd done Alka Seltzer/film canisters 2 weeks in a row so much as that last week was more freeform experimentation, and this week was more disciplined.  I have the impression he prefers mayhem.  But, other kids prefer organization.  I imagine we'll continue having a mix of organized activities and free-for-alls, since that's sort of my personality.

The entire demo took amazingly little time -- I think the prep helped, plus the kids are at this point experts in loading film canisters and shooting them.  I had them take their backpacks, etc., outside with them, and we spent the rest of the class (about half of it) enjoying the glorious weather on the playground.  I told them they were supposed to get all of their wiggles out so they could pay attention in their next class -- science is mid-morning, so having a recess tagged onto it makes sense to me.

(Of course, then I noticed one of the boys standing on the highest point of the equipment swigging out of a plastic water bottle ... "Um, where did you get that?  Is that one I brought?"  "Yeah"  "Do you realize I just found those laying around my house?"  "Oh."  Continues drinking.  I decide to not mention that one of them was on the garage floor next to the trash and I had simply brushed off the gunk on it.  "Well, I guess it will pump your immune system to deal with it."  Gotta love kids this age.)

Weekend Merriment


and grouting.

Still to come:  baseboards, mirror, and light.