Sunday, March 1, 2015

Richardson's Ground Squirrels

The lingering effects of a semi-serious bout of some sort of stomach bug coupled with seesawing winter/spring/winter weather has left us lethargic, and under-interested in school work.  Fortunately, nature has once again come to the rescue with a free, low prep, highly entertaining science lesson, that we've been able to observe through pretty much every window in the house.

At first we thought the cute little creature scampering through our yard, and digging holes in the vacant lots around us were prairie dogs.  That would have been pretty awesome, because I have the perfect book to go with prairie dogs for a history tie in...

...but a quick check of the Montana Fish and Wildlife site pointing us back into the Montana Field Guide, and then a quick viewing of the "Just Little Varmits" episode of Wild America on Amazon Prime (non-affiliate link)...

...convinced us that we have Richardson's ground squirrels rather than prairie dogs.  Either way, they are terribly cute to watch.   And, not feeling up to much else, we've been watching them quite a lot.  So far we've learned that Richardson's ground squirrels:

  • come out of hibernation in February (babies should start appearing sometime in June)
  • live in groups, and seem to be fairly prolific
  • eat grass, and look for water in the downspouts of houses

  • dig lots and lots of burrows (making them unpopular with our pellet gun toting neighbors)

  • run very fast, with a funny little back-leg-up kind of hop

  • are not afraid to come right up on our back patio to check things out, as long as they think no one is watching

  • also are not afraid to run out in front of cars (unfortunately for them)
  • are drawing the attention of couple of hungry looking hawks
  • and are terribly, terribly cute.  
I might have already mentioned that last one, but really they are cute.  And, as so far they've chosen to dig their holes in the vacant lots, and have left our yard in tact, they are a welcome diversion from stomach bugs, and snowy days.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Engineering for Children - Compression, Tension and Toilet Paper Tubes

The children have been doing a lot of building with the empty toilet paper tubes we have out this week.  Watching them experiment with different towers and techniques...

...I realized they were really working through their own sort of lessons on the forces of gravity, compression and tension.  For instance, they learned quickly that they could build a taller vertical tower if they added supports around the base...

...and after watching a BrainPop video on skyscrapers (which I innocently suggested they might enjoy) they realized the problem they had encountered while building pyramids, of having the sides push out and collapse...

...after the third or fourth layer of tubes were added...

...could be solved... simply placing a sheet of toilet paper...

...between the layers of empty tubes... act as girders...

...dispersing the compressive force of gravity on the structure.

In fact, even one layer of paper, between the first and second layers of tubes, was enough to stabilize the entire construction.

The BrainPop video I referenced above is part of a subscription service, though there is a free trial available for the site.  BrianPop does not reimburse me for recommendations, but I do recommend the site every so often.  It's one of the few subscription services we've found useful enough to renew year after year.  It is filled with short, educational, animated videos on a wide variety of topics, that come in handy for quick reinforcement of lessons just like this.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Exploring Perimeter and Area

While we still had the cardboard tubes out, we used them for a quick lesson on perimeter and area to go along with an episode of PBS' Cyberchase...

...exploring the possibility of shapes with the same area having different perimeters.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Toppling Toilet Tube Towers - The Scientific Method

I noticed, this week, that our recyclables were starting to overflow in the craft room, especially the toilet paper tubes.  With eight of us in the house, those sorts of things can really pile up.

Before clearing them out, I thought we should put them to some use for fun, and maybe a little learning, too.

First off, I built the tubes up into a tower (triangles on top of triangles) and asked the younger children (ages 8-12) if they were to fling a pompom into the tower, which size pompom would they use...

...and where would they need to hit the tower to do the most damage?

They each picked a spot on the tower to hit...

...and explained, based on what they knew about gravity, and stacks of items, why they thought hitting that spot would do the most damage to the tower as a whole.

After a few practice shots with a hairband...

...for a slingshot...

...they were ready to take on the tower.

Finally, after several turns, destroying...

...and rebuilding the tower...

...they leaned enough about how a tower of cardboard tubes actually acted when hit by pompoms... contrast to how they had originally thought it would come down, to be ready to use the information gathered through their experiments to modify their original assumptions.

In the end, they found that hitting the tower low in the middle was a good plan, but that they needed something heaver and wider than a pompom (like an extra toilet paper tube) to throw at the tower, if they really wanted to topple it over.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Vacation - Unplugged

The Man of the House is on vacation for the entire week.  Fun family face time is calling.  Cells phones are off, Kindles set aside, and the computer is shutting down.

Have a great week.  See you on the other side, when we power back up, hopefully refreshed, and ready to go.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Peanut Butter Cookies with Chocolate Chip Hearts

Roll peanut butter cookie dough into 1/2 balls.  We prefer the three ingredient recipe - 1 cup peanut butter, 1 cup sugar, and 1 egg.  I'm not sure where this recipe originated, I think we found it in a community cookbook a decade or so ago, but I've seen it around on various recipe websites, too.

Bake the cookies.  In our case, for 8-10 minutes at 350°F on an ungreased cookie sheet.

As soon as the cookies come out of the oven, press two chocolate chips together, tips down, into each cookie.

Use a butter knife to press, and spread down from the bottom of the chips to a heart point.

Allow the chocolate to cool and harden before stacking the cookies together on a plate, or serve them warm and molten, in a single layer.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Valentine Pun and Idiom Challenge

I called the children to the table today, and presented them with a brainstorming challenge.  I told them they were the marketing department for the Cheesy Cheap Toy Company.  For some strange reason sales for the company have been down.  With Valentine's Day approaching the company execs were asking for the marketing department to come up with a campaign to boost sales by attaching their toys to Valentine cards.

They had a sample of Cheesy Cheap Toy's offerings (a sack full of quarter machine toys from the grocery store), and a copy of Riveting Valentine Jokes for Kids (accessed for free through our KindleUnlimeted account) for inspiration (any Valentine pun or joke book would do).

They worked together brainstorming Valentines for their finds.  Admittedly, their ideas were not all that original...

...but for an off the cuff effort, they did pretty well...

...especially considering not all of the toys were easy to identify.

And, if nothing else, it gave us a chance to talk about puns and idiomatic phrases, while honing creative writing skills, and knocking of a few Valentines for family and friends, at the same time.