Thursday, April 30, 2009

Night At The Museum History Unit - Making Rexy

Our history unit continued today, turning from Theodore Roosevelt, to a big dinosaur skeleton. We recently had a dino day, so we're already familiar with the Tyrannosaurus Rex, but there's always room to learn a little more. Besides, dinosaurs are fun (to learn about anyway - we wouldn't really want to meet one).

Montana Kids has a great deal of information about the bones that have been found in Montana. We took a look at the map of dig, and museum locations. I can see we're definitely going to have to make a dinosaur road trip, once it finally stops snowing. I had a pretty good idea that all of the museum sites for children would present the dinosaurs from an evolutionary stand point, so we started out with another look at

This time we watched The X-Nilo Show. It was funny, but factual, and it explained very nicely the differences in Biblical, and non-Biblical, scientific views. It was nice too, because it also explained how Biblical historians come to a timeline of about 6000 years for the age of the earth.

We looked at quite a few pictures of T-Rex skeletons from the various museums in the state, and compared them to Rexy. The movie makers did a pretty nice job. We were planning on watching the special features to check out the scale they used (Rexy doesn't look quite big enough), but we got busy building our own T-Rex out of Zoobs, and lost track of the time.

We'll probably continue moving through the other characters from the film, while finishing up some of our dinosaur activities. I printed out a T-Rex mural for the kids to color from , that will probably take them the better part of a week or two to complete (it's five feet tall!). I'd also like to return to Teddy Roosevelt, and review some of his better known quotes. I'm thinking that has handwriting practice written all over it.

I had thought we'd take on one character from the movie per day, but now I'm thinking we'll introduce a character each day, and then mesh them together a bit as we move on. That will flow nicely with the feel of the movie anyway. Of course, in the end, I hope to separate them all out into their proper places on the timeline. We did manage to complete the marking of another thousand years today, and discovered another math bonus of making a timeline - now we have a really good understanding of how big a thousand is.

It's great to be a homeschooler!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Night at The Museum History Unit: Theodore Roosevelt - Paper Bag Teddy Bear Craft

We finally started our Night at The Museum history unit. We'll be taking some time, and studying through the characters presented in the Ben Stiller film. This unit will probably be directed more at the middle school years, but we'll pull in the younger children whenever possible.

We started by watching the movie of course (at least the older kids did). I've ordered the picture book by Milan Trenc, that the movie was loosely based on, from a partner library. In the meantime, we've done quite a bit of talking about the museums that we've visited in the past, to get the younger children on board.

Our first order of business, was to begin working on a timeline. I'm a big fan of hanging timelines around rooms. When we studied American history, we made a timeline using the presidents as a base. This time however, we're going to have to include the entire history of the world (it's a good thing we subscribe to the young earth theory. I'm pretty sure we couldn't fit a billion year timeline around our family room). We're going with a really literal interpretation of Genesis, and beginning our timeline at about 4000 BC.

The timeline will allow us to place the characters from the movie into their proper place in history. I figure that drawing out a thousand years a day ,we'll have it completely ready before we finish studying all of the characters. We're allowing 1/4 inch per year, so it will take a bit of work to complete the entire thing (fitting a timeline to a room can be an excellent math exercise, using measuring, multiplying, dividing, and fractions).

Once we tired of working on the timeline today, we turned to our first character - Theodore Roosevelt. We watched most of the short video clips about the former president at The children took note of the fact that in the movie, Robin Williams, is dressed as the pre-presidential Rough Rider Roosevelt (and to my Canadian friends, that doesn't mean he was dressed in green and white).

After taking quick note of some of President Roosevelt's more impressive accomplishments, we read the account of the naming of the Teddy Bear. The younger children took the opportunity to make some teddy bears of their own out of paper bags. We started with the bear circle craft at . Then we cut out two bear shapes that we had traced onto a flattened paper bag, using a bear cookie cutter as our stencil.

We glued some of the circles from the bear craft onto one of our paper bag bears, to make a face. Then we glued the two bears together, leaving an opening at the top. We stuffed the bears with left over paper bag, and finished gluing them closed. When they were dry we used a hole punch to make sewing card type holes around the outer edge of our stuffed bears. Finally, we "sewed" through the holes with some fuzzy brown yarn, and we had our own Teddy bears. My four year old surprised me, and did most of this craft of her own. The older children showed a little less enthusiasm at this point, so I didn't push it (okay, so I pushed it - but just a little). They got the idea of the story, and tomorrow we can have some "Teddy" Bear cookies for snack, and probably be ready to move on to our next character.

It's great to be a homeschooler!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Snowy Day In Montana And The Tales of Despereaux

I had wonderful plans to start a history unit, based on the movie, Night At The Museum. That was before I realized how grey, cold, and wintry it was going to be today. We managed to drag through our morning work, but by the afternoon we were ready to snuggle up together on the couch and watch a movie.

Not all of the children are old enough to watch Ben Stiller (even in a slightly educational, "family" film), so we tossed out our history lesson, and watched The Tale of Despereaux instead. Before today I hadn't read much about the movie, so I didn't realize it was based on a children's book. That was a nice added bonus.

We watched the movie, and then played around on the official movie website for a while. I knew things were going to work out well, as soon as I saw the button to create a story in multiple languages. I think the children might have rolled there eyes a little, but I never pass up a chance for a German lesson. There were also some fun games and printables.

I had hoped to find the book, by Kate Dicamillo, at the library, but it doesn't seem to be in our local holdings. We managed to find a printable version of the first three chapters though, which worked for our story time tonight. And, I have hopes of working out the bugs in the Library2Go site, in order to access an audio version of the book.

In the meantime, we printed out finger puppets and a castle scene from the movie, for some pretend play (we liked the ones we found at I suppose, we could push on into a full blown literature unit. I noticed several studies based on Dicamillo's work bouncing around online. But sometimes, it's just nice to let a book be for reading, a movie for watching, and a snow day for fun.

It's great to be a homeschooler!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Knitting Plastic Grocery Bags

Our science today took a decidedly arts and crafty sort of turn. It started out simply enough, with our watching the new Sesame Street: Being Green DVD (Redbox has it for $1.00). The show summed up our last few projects nicely: planting trees, recycling paper, saving energy. But, it also made mention of something we had not tried yet - knitting plastic grocery bags (on the show, they actually use a latch hook method, but we didn't have a canvas bag handy, so we figured knitting was in keeping with the concept).

Since there were a rather large number of old grocery bags lurking under the kitchen sink...
...we decided to proceed with the project. It's really pretty simple. First, flatten the bag out.

Next, fold the bag in half lengthwise, twice, and cut off the handles, and the bottom seem.

Then, cut the bag into about one inch strips (they don't have to be perfectly even, just somewhat similar).

When unfolded, the strips are actually loops, which can be intertwined...

...and knotted together.

Finally, roll the plastic strips into a ball, and crochet or knit them into anything you like.

We used a round knitting loom (the adult hat size), to make this purse. Loom knitting is simple enough for younger children, and there are a lot of patterns free online. We just kind of bumbled our way through this one, improvising from the hat pattern that came with the loom. The children did help, although I ended up doing most of the knitting. Even so, it provided a good lesson in recycling, and crafting at the same time. And now, I have a lot more room under my sink.

It's great to be a homeschooler!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Dinosaur Day - A Christian Approach

Between Earth Day, Arbor Day, our wind unit, and solar unit, we've danced around the issue of fossils fuels quite a bit in the last couple of weeks. Maybe that's why today felt like a good day to discuss dinosaurs. Or maybe we were just ready for some fun.

We started off by watching the Jurassic Ark Mystery series at . This series lays the evidence of the dinosaurs and Bible side by side to dispel some of the myths of modern "science". It's a little advanced for the preschool set, but has lots of good corny fun for middle schoolers. We followed it up by reading the account of the behemoth and leviathan found in Job chapters 40 and 41.

Next we made coffee ground fossils, an activity we found at . It's just a basic flour and salt dough with coffee grounds and coffee mixed in to give it a muddy rock type look. We pressed shells into our dough, though any variety of items would make a good imprint for a "fossil".

Then we move on to story time with Whatever happened to the dinosaurs? by Bernard Most. We listened to Raffi's, "If I Had a Dinosaur", and colored dinosaur coloring and handwriting pages printed from, where you can find a number of really great dinosaur themed resources.

We made a dinosaur dig snack. Layering chocolate graham crackers mixed with whipped cream, dinosaur fruit snacks, and chocolate pudding in dessert dishes. These were a little messy to make, but a lot of fun to eat.

Finally, we expanded some of those little sponge-in-a-pill dinosaurs, that I found at the grocery store, and called it a day.

It's great to be a homeschooler!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Windowsill Orchard - An Arbor Day Activitiy

For Arbor Day this year we decided to plant a windowsill orchard. I pulled out some of the fruit from the fridge. We ended up with an apple, an orange, a pear, a lemon, and a lime. Of course, the lemon, lime, and orange trees will not thrive here in Montana. They will have to remain house trees, but the others should eventually end up in the yard.

We started this activity by reviewing the creation story, and explaining to the younger children that God made the trees to grow fruit with seeds that produce more of the same kind of tree. Then the children sampled the fruit for a snack, and harvested the seeds. That gave us a visual example for the creation lesson. As we planted the lemon seed, we talked about how it would not produce an apple, or an orange tree, and so on.
We made markers for our pots using craft sticks, and some of the recycled paper from our Earth Day project (it seemed appropriate for today). Since I like to get a multi-lingual aspect into our studies whenever possible, we wrote the fruit names in German.
With the seeds planted, and pots marked, all that was left was to place our orchard into the windowsill, and our Arbor day project was complete.

It's great to be a homeschooler!

Frugal Homeschooling - The Grandparent Guest Lecturer

I'm not sure who it was that popularized the idea of the need for every child to spend countless hours in extra-curricular classes. Whoever it was though, I can tell you, they weren't trying to live a frugal lifestyle. At $50.00 or so a pop, all of those great educational, social, and skill building opportunities out there, can really put a crimp in the budget. With a little creativity, and a willing family and friend support group, it is possible to provide a plethora of fun and enriching "classes" for your children, without going bankrupt, or running the tires off of the minivan.

Why not invite in a guest lecturer (also known as a grandparent, uncle, cousin, or willing friend). After all, who is teaching all of those wonderful classes being offered by the public parks departments, and children's museums? In most cases it's just another parent with an interesting hobby or career experience (sounds like a grandparent to me!)

We recently had a visit from my folks. My mother happily provided some painting instruction to the kids. Grandpa, in the past, has been willing to share his yard skills, and we're still hoping to get a French lesson, or two, out of him. My husband's parents are due in a week or so, and have graciously agreed to offer our oldest few a sewing seminar. Most of the time, a hobbyist has all of the necessary tools for their hobby, so with a minimal addition of supplies, they can be ready to pass on their interest.

Grandparents are often willing to provide this training for free. They get the benefit of making memories with their grandchildren. Friends, and other relatives, might want some sort of incentive. Trading off teaching their children your hobby might work, or maybe just some free babysitting. If they don't still have young children, maybe they would settle for a plate of cookies, or a basket of that home baked bread we homeschoolers are so renowned for. At any rate, careful negotiations with family and friends, can lead to great learning opportunities for your kids, at a cost far lower than what you might find from strangers.

And, if you really are dying to fire up the minivan, take your children to your guest lecturer instead of the other way around. Then you can pullover, and read the historical markers that line the highway on the way, and get a double bang for your buck. And, I don't know about you, but our Grandma usually has a candy jar full of jelly beans at her house.

It's great to be a homeschooler!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Communion Cup Construction - Recycled Toy Extraordinaire

If you happen to attend a church that uses those plastic disposable communion cups for the communion service, then don't miss out on a great recycling opportunity. Communion cups, once they are cleaned and dried, make one of the best construction toys out there. I can vouch for this whole heartily, as they were one of my own favorite toys as a child.

My friends and I spent many quiet hours building communion cup pyramids. Though my own children seem to prefer building villages, capturing Lego men, and holding fairy tea parties. These little cups are perfect for sparking the imagination of a bored child on a rainy afternoon.

They are like Jenga, Legos, and a box of craft supplies all mixed up into one. And, you have the added bonus of being a friend to the environment by saving all that plastic from the trash. Not to mention, the startling breaking glass like sound when all those craftily constructed creations come crashing down.

It's great to be a homeschooler!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Recycling Paper, A Scissor Skill Earth, Solar S'mores and a Very Messy Earth Day.

In my usual well organized fashion, I realized last night that Earth Day was today. The timing actually turned out pretty good for us, as we've been studying wind and solar power. We needed to dismantle and clean up our paper wind turbine tower before my folks were to arrive for a visit, so I figured why not combine everything together into a recycling project for Earth Day.

We unbolted and unrolled all of our paper posts (see the wind power unit study posts if you don't know what I'm talking about), and then tore them into one inch squares. We followed the instructions for making recycled paper found at , except that we added a blender and a little food coloring to the process.

After turning our paper scraps into a blender full of blue mush, we spooned the pulp out onto a piece of tinfoil we had poked full of holes (we had an old towel under the tinfoil). We formed the pulp into a rectangle, and then covered it with another piece of tinfoil, and a few heavy books. Then, we removed the books and the top layer of foil, and set the resulting paper aside to dry.

I had thought about trying to cook a whole dinner in the solar oven in honor of the day, but the sky in the morning was hazy, and I thought we might lose the sun, so I settled for some more s'mores. Our picture is of our s'mores before they went into the oven. After the marshmallows were roasted, and the chocolate melted, we topped them with another graham cracker.

While we were waiting for our s'mores to cook, and our paper to dry, we did a quick cutting craft for the younger ones. We found the idea and template for the craft at By the time our little worlds were complete, our s'mores were done.

With tummies full, the children wandered off to watch Wall-E, leaving me with a colossal mess. Next year I think I'll have the children weave rugs out of plastic shopping bags for their Earth Day craft, then at least I'll have something to sweep the mess under!

It's great to be a homeschooler!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Wind Power Unit Study - Day 6: Building an Electric Generator (for kids)

We've been gradually working our way through the parts of a wind turbine. Today, we took a look at the generator. Some wind turbines are used to generate mechanical energy, rather than electrical energy. Since we had already done an experiment involving the load lifting capacity of various rotor designs, today, we focused in on generating electricity.

I was very happy to find the design for a very simple electric generator at . I was even happier about it, when I read that all of the necessary parts could be purchased for a minimal sum from Radio Shack. All that is needed is a spool of very thin copper wire, a nail, some cardboard, a very small AC light bulb, and four two inch ceramic magnets.

  • The cardboard is formed into a small box.

  • A nail is punched through the center of the box.

  • The magnets are stuck together and positioned, two on each side of the nail, inside the box.

  • The wire is wrapped 200 to 300 times around the outside of the box.

  • A small light bulb is attached to ends of the wire.

  • The children spin the nail, and thereby the magnets.

  • The light bulb lights up!

I'm never too impressed by tiny glowing light bulbs, but it did fit in nicely with our study. Of course, when I gleefully yelled, "I have created electricity!", the children completely missed my Tom Hanks, Cast Away, reference. It's always nice to have an experiment actually work the way it's supposed to though.

At this point it would be fun to finish off the gear box for our paper wind turbine tower ( see, and attach it to our generator to test and see how much power we could generate - but that might be an experiment better saved for the high school years. Besides, we just received word that the grandparents are going to be paying us a visit - which means another holiday (or maybe we can get some art lessons out of Grandma).

It's great to be a homeschooler!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Windshield Shade Solar Cake - Take Two

We had a birthday in the house today, so regular school work was suspended. That, of course, does not mean that unschooling stopped - it never stops, that's the whole point. So, we had a cake mix, a free day, and a clear sky. It was definitely time for another solar cooking lesson.
We followed the normal procedures for using the windshield shade cooker (look back a few posts, or check out , if you don't know how to set one up). For today's cake, we used a black spring form pan in a turkey bag. Because we were trying to bake an entire cake mix worth of cake, we set it out early, at 8:30 a.m., to get as much cooking time as we could.
At 8:40 a.m., a gust of wind knocked the shade and our pan to the ground. Since all of the batter was contained in the turkey bag, we were able to rescue most of it. By 9:00 a.m., our cake was back in the solar oven, but this time in a slightly smaller spring form pan. It baked nicely throughout the day, but was once again knocked to the ground at about 4:30 p.m.

Since it appeared to be done anyway, and was still in one piece, we brought it in to cool. As you can see from our pictures, it was a little flat and lopsided. The outsides were over done and a bit tough, but the middle was perfect. We definitely won't be winning any ribbons at the county fair with this one, but with a little cherry pie filling, and some whipped cream... didn't turn out too bad.

So, we've learned that it is possible for us to cook or bake food in our solar oven (even in the weak Spring sun in the northern Rockies), now we just have to learn how to cook it correctly! I for one am very use to using the temperature and time measurements of a traditional oven. I'm sure we've got a lot of trial and error ahead of us. For instance, today, I realized too late that I should have placed a toothpick inside the bag, beside the pan, so I could have tested whether the cake was done, without needing to open the bag, and thereby lose the heat. It was difficult to judge if the cake was done by eying the top of it.

Now, it's back to the books for a little more research. After all, we don't want to reinvent the wheel, we just want to make it roll.

It's great to be a homeschooler!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Wind Power Unit Study - Twisting Turbine Towers

With the weekend before us, I thought it would be a good chance to get some of the prep work done for the wind turbine experiments I'd like to get through before we conclude our science unit on wind power. I spent Friday night rolling 47 sheets of paper into the sticks needed to build the tower and nacelle for the wind turbine experiments described on . Saturday, I turned things over to my husband and oldest son.

I gave them the instructions, letting them know there is a very specific order for the pieces being bolted together to form the tower. I could tell from the way their eyes glazed over, that the instructions were not really going to be followed. I figured since it was Saturday, and not an "official" school day anyway, I wouldn't worry about it. Maybe male ingenuity would carry the day. Judging from the crooked tower that resulted, I'd guess not. Sometimes you really do need to follow the instructions.

My husband suggested scrapping the paper, and building an actual tower out of wood. That's a thought we may pursue, because it would give the added benefit of some woodworking lessons for the children. Since I was the one who had rolled all those paper sticks, however, I was not ready to scrap them that easily. I dismantled the tower and reassembled it with a slightly (and I do mean slightly) better success. This part of the project would be good for high school aged students - it is definitely too hard for the elementary level.

I'm not sure if our twisted tower will have the strength necessary to carry out all of the experiments we had hoped to run, but at this point - there's no turning back. Now all that's left is to build the rotor and the gear box. Just 40 more sheets to roll!

It's great to be a homeschooler (especially when you can get Mom to do all the prep work for you!)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Solar Baked Apples: Windshield Shade Cooker - Success At Last!

It was suggested that we should stop measuring the temperature in our solar oven experiments, and actually cook something! Since it was sunny again this morning, we thought it wouldn't hurt to give the windshield shade solar cooker one more try (look back a couple of posts if you don't know what a windshield shade cooker is). Today's trial was baked apples.

I chose baked apples for nostalgic reasons. For about a year after we purchased our first microwave oven, in my early childhood, it was used almost exclusively for baking apples. I'm guessing that's because my mother didn't know what else to do with it, and really didn't want to relearn how to cook her favorite dishes. Since, we've had limited success with our solar cooker so far, I figured we'd go back to the basics.

We chopped up two apples and placed them, skin on, into our pan, topping them with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Then we placed our pan onto the tinfoil covered base, with the Pyrex mixing bowl on top. The whole shebang went onto the rack inside the windshield shade.

After about four hours, we had well baked apples! They were probably actually done after about three hours, but we didn't want to take any chances. The microwave still has the sun beat for speed, but there is something very satisfying about a solar success.

It's great to be a homeschooler!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Another Try At Solar Cooking - Windshield Shade Solar Oven

Today dawned sunny and clear, so we decided to give our solar oven another try. We've been trying to use one built after the design by Kathy Dahl-Bredine, which we found at . The last time we attempted to use this design, we traded the oven bag for a Pyrex bowl on the base of a spring form pan. We continued with our modification today, but we wrapped the base in tinfoil.

Once again, we put a small black bread pan full of water into our oven. We set it out at 8:30 a.m., and left it out until 5:00 p.m. (by which time a heavy cloud cover had rolled in). Our oven stayed pretty steadily at about 270 degrees Fahrenheit throughout most of the day, but it never got any hotter than that. We did notice that we had condensation leakage between the bowl and the lip of the pan it was sitting on - it is possible we were losing heat as well.

The next time we try this oven, I think we'll return to using an oven bag, but this time a smaller size. In the meantime, we will begin preparing another model to try. At this point, I'm glad I'm not relying on the sun for all my cooking needs. I'm afraid we'd be eating a lot of raw food. My hat is off to the people who come up with the simple ideas for these ovens (so simple I never would have thought of them). I'm also in awe of the people who are making them work! Inspired by their success stories, and the fact that they are using their successes to help other people around the world, we'll keep pressing on.

It's great to homeschool - even when we fail.

Wind Power Unit Study - Day 5: Building a Wind Turbine's Tower

Since a wind turbine has to be mounted on something, our study today focused in on tower design. A tower for a wind turbine needs to be strong while still maintaining as small a footprint as possible. The land around many wind farms is still used for agricultural farming.

We began construction of our own tower, made out of paper, per the instructions we found at . Ultimately, this exercise can lead to the construction of a working turbine, made out of paper, which can be used to run a series of experiments. We began by building one of the three cubes needed for the tower.

The materials needed are fairly simple:

  • 16 sheets of European letter sized typing paper (A4) - The website provides instructions for cutting down American legal sized paper, if you can't get your hands on the European size.
  • 8 bolts, 3/4'' by 3/16'', with accompanying washers and nuts.

    • A glue stick
    • A paper punch
    • A wood dowel 5-6mm in diameter (we used two pen's stuck together)

    The paper is folded (short ends together for short sticks - long ends together for long sticks), leaving about 1/4'' at the top for applying the glue. Then it is rolled over the dowel (for smaller children, you will have to do the rolling for them. It's not at all as easy as it sounds!), and glued. The ends are flattened and punched, with a hole punch. One cube requires 12 short paper sticks, and 4 long paper sticks.

    Finally, the sticks can be bolted together into a lattice pattern cube. Once the cube is made, it's strength can be tested. We placed a board across the top of the cube to evenly distribute weight, then we started adding books.

    Our cube comfortably held 38 lbs...

    ...but collapsed at 41 and 1/2 lbs!

    The children took turns tweaking the various sides of the cube to test the strength of the sides with triangles, verses those that were empty. Then we finished off by watching The Magic School Bus Under Construction, which nicely explains the concepts of strengthening techniques in construction. Now I just have 24 more sheets of paper to roll up, so they can complete the tower (not to mention polishing my table - I maybe should have covered it before collapsing a cube with 41 and 1/2 lbs of books and wood)!

    But it's still great to be a homeschooler!

    Thursday, April 16, 2009

    Wind Power Unit Study - Day 4

    Today we powered up our model wind turbine by adding a real electric generator! Never mind that our wind turbine is currently a pinwheel stuck on the end of a ruler, and our generator is a small DC variety we saved out of one of those battery science kits - power is power. We used a hair dryer for wind, and a volt meter to test the amount of power being generated. To copy this experiment, you need -

    • A sturdy ruler - for the nacelle.

    • A small DC generator.

    • Some tape - we used electrical tape.

    • Two insulated copper wires with alligator clips attached to one end.

    • A cork or the eraser out of a new pencil for the shaft.

    • Some type of rotor - we used a paper pinwheel, the propeller from a toy plane, and some addition flashcards on half-straightened paperclips.

    • A voltmeter.

    We taped the generator to the end of the ruler, attached our wires off the back end, and then clipped the alligator clips to the voltmeter. Next we attached our rotor to the shaft (we stuck the thumbtack of the pinwheel into the eraser), and then attached the shaft onto the rod of the generator.

    We switched out our rotors a few times to see which would give us the most power (the little plane propeller worked the best for us). None of our rotors allowed us to produce enough power to light even a tiny light bulb. Even so, we were able to graph our results, and we learned the importance of a yaw mechanism to keep the rotors turned into the wind. Our power readings dropped off quickly when our rotors were not meeting the wind head on.

    Normally, this would have been the point to give the children a variety of materials to try making and testing their own rotor designs. Today, however, the Disney Handy Manny DVD I had ordered weeks ago from a partner library, finally showed up. In one of those funny twists, it was the "Go Green Edition", so we had to stop and watch it, and have a snack of green pudding(you know, living la vida verde!)

    It might not be what the environmentalist have in mind, but I can assure you, after a snack of pistachio pudding, my kitchen is looking pretty green.

    It's great to be a homeschooler!

    Wednesday, April 15, 2009

    Wind Power Unit Study - Day 3

    Today we continued learning about the parts of a wind turbine. Most of our study focused on the "How it Works" section of the "Wind With Miller" site at . We stayed with this site, because it provides several fun experiments to go along with the parts of a turbine.

    When learning about rotors, we started by making simple pinwheels. There are patterns and instructions for pinwheels all over the Web (if your children are quite young, you might look to Nick Jr's craft section). Then according to the instruction on "Wind with Miller", we modified our pinwheel, turning it into a small wind turbine. We had to substitute a pencil eraser for a cork, and our long shaft was a little thinner than called for, and we used nuts instead of wood blocks - but other than that we followed the instructions perfectly!

    Our little turbine lifted up to two ounces, when powered by a hair dryer on low setting (the high setting blew the turbine apart).

    Since "Wind With Miller" spent a good deal of time talking about lift, and glider wings when discussing the rotor blades, we also watched The Magic School Bus Takes Flight at . With older children, using the "more" button on "Wind With Miller" will provide them with far greater detail and understanding of a turbine.

    We stopped for today with a brief discussion of the types of towers used for wind turbines (lattice verses tubular), and some of the different designs people are using for home wind turbines (vertical verses horizontal). Our next step will be to try making the paper lattice tower and wind turbine shown on "Wind With Miller", and then move into a mini study within a study of electrical generators - we hope to build a simple one ourselves (even if all it will do is light a mini light bulb - it's a start - the children can learn how to save the world with wind power once they've reached upper level high school math and physics).

    Now I just need to call a "teacher in service day", or whatever they'd call it at public school, to run out and collect a few ceramic magnets, copper wire, and European letter sized A4 paper (what do you think my chances are in small town Montana?) Nothing like a challenge in the pursuit of a science project!

    It's great to be a homeschooler!

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009

    Wind Power Unit Study Day 2

    Today we started our study by going through the crash course on the "Wind With Miller" site - . This gave us a nice understanding of the parts of a wind turbine. For a multi-lingual element, we switched over to , and repeated the crash course in German. Remember, you can also view this site in French or Spanish.

    Next we watched Dirty Jobs - Wind Farm Technician. We couldn't find this clip for free, so we opted to pay the $1.99 at to be able to view it instantly. After watching this clip, we asked the question, "Why do wind turbines have to be so tall?" This question is addressed by "Wind With Miller", but we decided to work through the "See the Wind!" lesson we found at . Using a large helium balloon, and a number of streamers we were able to determine that there is a greater amount of wind, and that it is smoother, at a higher elevation.

    This exercise added a small math element too, as we converted the metric units of the lesson plan into standard units, and then measured the streamers and the distance between them (as well as the length of the ribbon holding the balloon). However, a word to the wise - if you have smaller children, save this exercise to last. It can be very difficult to get any more science done once a three foot helium balloon enters the house!

    Our balloon popped quickly, and so we were able to move on to making an anemometer to study wind speed. As we learned from "Wind With Miller", if the wind speed is too great, the wind turbines must shut down in order to keep from flying apart. They have anemometers on top of the nacelles to keep track of the wind speed.

    For this exercise, we used a worksheet from . It gives simple instructions for turning a few household items into a crude anemometer, which along with a watch with a second hand, can be used to keep track of wind speed outside your home.

    Finally, we made a wind sock, following the instructions on the "Wind With Miller" site. When combined with a compass (and some actual wind), this will help us track wind direction throughout the day.

    Tomorrow, we hope to continue our study of the components of a wind turbine. I had planned to cram in a little more today, but silly me, I forget to allow time for mourning the loss of a popped balloon. Is there a special funeral service for a beloved balloon?

    It's great to be a homeschooler!

    Monday, April 13, 2009

    Wind Power Unit Study Day 1: Where Does Wind Come From?

    Since it looks like we have lost the sun to the spring rains, we've temporarily abandoned our solar studies and turned instead to a study of wind power (which, as we learned today is a form of solar power anyway). We started with an introduction to the topic of wind power by asking, "Where does wind come from?" We hope to delve deeper into the science and technicalities of wind power as the week continues. For today, here is a breakdown of our introduction, in case you'd like to follow along.

    • Watch Magic School Bus Kicks Up a Storm. This provides a simple explanation of where wind comes from, for younger children. We viewed the episode for free at .

    • Check out the kid's page of the Danish Wind Industry Association's site - - Click on the wind tab, under the "How Does it Work" heading, for a little more in depth explanation of where wind comes from. This site is aimed at children 12-14, but has useful information and links or students clear through high school.

    • Change the "Wind With Miller" page into German, French or Spanish (by changing the "en" in the link above to a "de", "fr" or "es" respectively. Enjoy a little language learning while you study about wind power!

    • Experiment with wind. Use the "windy wind serpent" handout from the GE Energy site - you will need string and a lit candle to go with the handout. This experiment allows the children to see for themselves the movement caused by air rising as it is heated.

    • Read Psalm 148: 7-13 - just to keep things in perspective.

    Today, being just an introduction, was fairly light. There was not really any math or geography involved, but as math and physics figure pretty heavily into the study of wind generated power, one day away from math won't hurt. There are also plenty of opportunities to add geography into a study of wind power (map the wind farms in your state, the country, the world - do a quick search for a wind resource map of you state- follow the path of the components of a wind turbine, as they move from their respective factories to a given wind farm, why do they pick the routes they do? How does geography combined with the size of the load affect the choice of the route?)

    Hopefully, we'll have more of this study to follow! As with our solar studies, we are eager to find experiments that have real world applications. We would like to do more with science than light a tiny light bulb or make our baking soda fizzle with vinegar (not that isn't fun too)!

    It's great to be a homeschooler!

    Sunday, April 12, 2009

    Solar Success and Set Backs - a Garbage Bag Balloon and Windshield Shade Cooker Follow-Up

    Finally, a sunny day! Of course, since it was Easter, we were tied up until about two in the afternoon, so we missed most of the really good sunshine for our solar experiments. However, after checking the forecast for the next week, and realizing we're probably going to be socked in with clouds and rain all next week, we decided to make use of what sun we could.

    First off, we set out our solar cooker (look back a few posts to see our original trial), with our modified pan set up. Instead of using a cast iron pan in a cooking bag, we used a black bread pan set atop the black base of a spring form pan, and topped with a clear glass mixing bowl. We just put water in the pan this time. Our hope was to see it boil.

    Things started off well. The temperature rose to 250 degrees Fahrenheit within an hour. Then disaster struck. A strong gust of wind tipped the shade enough to make the rack tilt, and the pan and bowl slid off, spilling most of the water onto the ground. We had weighted our pail down with rocks to keep it from tipping, but this did not protect the upper portion of our cooker.

    We started over, but by this point we were into the late afternoon sun. Our cooker touched 250 degrees again, but then rapidly declined as the sun moved lower in the sky. Wind and poor weather seem to be very major negative factors for solar cooking. However, we have watched too many videos on YouTube of people bringing there food to steamy perfection in their own homemade solar cookers to give up yet. When the sun returns, so will we!

    While we were waiting for our water to boil, we did manage to get our garbage bag balloon in the air. Heated nicely by the sunshine it rose quickly. I'm quite confident it would have risen to a significant height if we had not kept it moored to the ground by a thread attached to one end. The thread threw off the weight and balance of the balloon a bit, causing it to move erratically in the wind, like a Chinese dragon on the loose. It was excellent fun!

    With a little modification (like attaching thread to both ends), this could be an excellent kite for days with little to no wind. It requires very little breeze to move the balloon once the air inside has been heated by the sun. Since we are one of those families you might see trying to get a kite to fly on a windless day by running frantically down a hill - this invention could be a great asset to us.

    It's great to be a homeschooler!