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Posts Tagged ‘Science’

  1. Calculated

    September 14, 2015 by admin

    51555_calc_machine_md

    School is now in full swing. Back to school shopping has been completed.  Paperwork has been filled out and filed.  Extraneous school fees for things like orchestra, sports, etc., have somehow been paid.  You breathe a sigh of relief and get ready for the typical drama that any new school year brings as your child navigates friendships and homework.

    51555_calc_machine_mdAnd then your kid comes home and declares, “I need a graphing calculator for math.”  Ummm…okay.  We don’t recall seeing that on the supply list but we’ll get right on it.  We can find a calculator at any type of Dollar Store, Walgreens, etc.  No problem!  And then reality hits.  A quick google search shows that the average price of a graphing calculator is around $100.

    We can swing $100 but it is an unexpected major blow to our budget.  And since we are hard hit by this expense, we can only imagine that many families find the purchase simply impossible.  There are some free, and some low cost, apps of graphic calculators.  But purchasing apps works on the assumption that all families have unlimited access to the web and that teachers will allow personal devices, like iPhones or iPads, in their classrooms.

    No family should be faced with an unaffordable educational purchase that is required for the successful completion of a class.  And no child should have to deal with the embarrassment of figuring out how to ask the school for charity.

    We live under constant bombardment of news stories and politicking calling for increased attention to STEM (Science/ Technology/ Engineering/ Math) curricula in schools.  Students are taught on a daily basis that success in these fields is vital for their future careers.  (Setting aside for the moment the question of whether a STEM focus is the best direction for schools to be heading…)  How is a student supposed to find success in STEM classes if they aren’t given the tools required to learn those topics within our public schools?

    It doesn’t have to be this way.  If our nation values STEM classes, then our nation must also value getting a graphing calculator into the hands of any student who needs one.

    So we reach out to:

    • Mayim Bialik:  Actress, Doctor, and brand amabassador for Texas Instruments Education Technology.
    • STEM Education Coalition:  Working diligently to educate on the critical role STEM education plays in the US.
    • Bill Gates:  Founder of Microsoft and philanthropist.
    • Vi Hart:  Recreational mathemusician.
    • Danica McKellar: PhD Mathematician, Author of math books including “Math Doesn’t Suck” and “Hot X”, Actress

     

    This is our starting list of influencers we call upon to join this cause.

    Here’s our proposal:

    Let’s work together to create a national program that puts a graphing calculator in the hands of any child age 12 – 18 for free.  If a family can make a donation when they pick up their absolutely free graphing calculator, great!  And if they can donate back their free graphing calculator at the end of their schooling career- fantastic!  But nothing will be required to pick up a free graphing calculator beyond proof of age.  It seems like such an attainable goal.

    And so very necessary.

    Who’s with us? We know there are many people (more than listed above!) passionate about education, math, and closing the severe educational gap caused in part by economic disparities. Local and far flung friends, let’s get this done for all kids in this country!

    We will keep you updated with our progress as we move forward and as we find other possible solutions to this national issue.  Every student should be able to pursue STEM classwork as far as their interests and aptitudes take them.  No child should find a door closed to them because they lack the immediate resources to buy the tools needed to succeed.


  2. Horicon National Wildlife Refuge

    September 7, 2015 by admin

    IMG_2111Horicon National Wildlife Refuge is a place of wonder.  Located just about 1 hour from Madison, it is a super easy day trip for a hike or a bike ride upon your arrival.

    We had decided to bike and made our first vehicle stop at the Federal Visitor Center on Headquarters Road for some suggestions on the best path for our family.  We were pleased to discover a nice nature display, an observation deck, a small gift shop, and clean bathrooms within the Center.

    The Center’s guide suggested that we try a bike path that runs along side an auto tour road.  This path included access to a network of floating pathways which led out into the wetlands and a central observation spot. We have the most luck on our hikes and biking when our travels include water, so we knew this was probably a great trail to explore.

    Tip1: Be careful to examine your maps closely. In our haste to begin, we ended up on a path that shared the way with vehicles. The majority of drivers were using extreme caution, but a few zipped down the path with seemingly no care about the blind corners, hikers, and bicyclists.

    We were happy that the bike trail had only a few rises that Bluey easily managed. We had to leave our bikes to explore the floating pathways.

    Tip2: There are no bike racks at the head of walking-only pathways. Be prepared to take valuables with you and to leave your bike propped off the main road.

    The surroundings were breathtaking. We’ve done a lot of biking and hiking in the areas in and around Madison. But we were impressed with the beauty of Horicon National Wildlife Refuge.  And we had more wildlife encounters than we’ve ever experienced in our prior outings.  If you aren’t familiar with many species of water birds, you may want to tuck a pocket guide in your gear.  You will have a chance to see many rare birds in a wildlife setting such as this.

    Tip3: It appears that dogs are allowed on many trails but we’d suggest you leave them at home if you are interested in experiencing wildlife.

    Even though we spotted a school bus, vehicles, and others out and about on the trails- we managed to enjoy the majority of the area we chose on our own, without fighting crowds. Parking wasn’t an issue and access is free.

    We can’t wait to go back in the Fall and perhaps witness some migratory bird viewing!


  3. Car Tunes

    May 13, 2015 by admin

    It’s no secret that this TRFamily loves music! IMG_0766

    One place we always have the tunes playing is the car,  Nothing is more fun, or helps a long car ride, like a family sing-along.  So when we purchased our newest car and found its older radio was not compatible with iPod music players, we knew we’d pretty quickly have to swap it out for a different receiver.

    Why is this so important?  Well, for a couple of reasons:

    1.  We love the no commercials and no sometimes shocking news reports version of listening to music via our mp3 equipped phones.

    2.  Our iPod enables us to create long custom lists featuring songs everyone in the family likes.  We all know the words to most of the songs on the playlist, so everyone can join in and sing, or play an awesome air-guitar lick.

    After some internet research, we were able to find an inexpensive but reliable unit that would fit in our car.

    IMG_3057Then Bluey and TRDad got to work putting it into the car.

    Installing your own car stereo is a fun and worthwhile project.  Along the way we were able to cover a variety of topics including:

    Safety rules (like disconnecting your car battery before you start).

    Color matching while sorting wires for the adapter cables.

    The importance of reading instructions and proceeding carefully and methodically with a big project.

    Hands-on skills of using screwdrivers and wrenches correctly.

    And the all important value of Doing It Yourself

    Naturally, Bluey got to take the old radio apart.IMG_0786

    Our project took most of a Saturday morning.  It rewarded us with a great new stereo unit and the satisfaction of knowing we’d done it ourselves.  We know our Bluey will remember this for a long time.  Next time something breaks on the car, or some piece of electronics needs to be upgraded, he’ll be ready to take on the challenge.


  4. Connections

    April 29, 2015 by admin

    IMG_2723A funny thing happens when you embark on the path of un-schooling.

    You start to see connections you didn’t anticipate.  By following the diverse interests of our young Kindergartner, we frequently find- voila!- something we are doing today is connected to something else we did the other day.  And no one planned it.  It is just the natural route of the unstructured pursuit of knowledge.  You follow your path and you find it crosses over where you have trod before.

    For example- Bluey was recently learning how to skateboard with some help from TRDad.  He’s just getting started, so we’re working a lot on keeping balanced on the board and putting our feet down in the right spots.  Later, Bluey headed for karate class.  In order to do a new spiraling kick move, he needed to keep his balance and get his feet in the right spot!  Another example- we’d previously discussed with his swim instructors that they were seeing more fluidity in Bluey’s swim strokes after he started karate, where repetitive arm movements are the norm.  And yet another example- we read a comic about ninjas at home and Bluey discovers the students in the comic call their teacher “Sensei” and practice their moves in the dojo just like he does in his own Karate class.IMG_9479

    The connections keep going.  Once you start realizing how everything is related, you start to see it everywhere!

    We’re reading a whole book about cats, and learning how cats are able to balance and jump as they do.  We hadn’t planned the cat studies to tie in with karate and skateboarding, but they do.  As we follow one trail of interest, it inevitably crosses or runs parallel to a different trail.  These crossroads and parallel strands serve to reinforce the learning and help explain why we’re so happy with our homeschool/un-schooling life!


  5. Science Is Fun

    April 19, 2015 by admin

    IMG_0615 Our Plum recently went to a science fair hosted by our local University.  Among the various exhibits and presentations, Plum discovered Oobleck.  It’s fun to say and even more of a good time to manipulate!

    The recipe is super simple:

    • 1 part water
    • 2 parts cornstarch
    • a drop or two of food coloring if you desire

     

    Mix all of the above together until you have a consistency that works for you.

    IMG_0617Your kids will be fascinated by the Oobleck.  You can punch it and it will resist penetration.  You can scoop some up and form a ball.  But if you flatten your hand while holding the ball, the Ooobleck will slowly ooze from its original shape and drip back into your bowl.

    Let your kids explore and learn from this neat mass.  The clean up is a breeze as  Oobleck dissolves in water.


  6. Journey To The Center Of The Etch-A-Sketch

    February 25, 2015 by admin

    oa_feature_etch_0.pngOne quiet afternoon, Bluey came out of his room with an Etch-a-Sketch.

    “Can we take this apart and see how it works?  Maybe we can fix it?”

    Since the toy was already mostly non-functional, it seemed like a fun adventure.IMG_2776_2

    All we had to go on was the knowledge that there was some sort of powder inside, and some sort of controls that scratched the powder off the glass.  We didn’t know much more.

    Tip: We did a quick google search to confirm that the powder was non-toxic and harmless.  So no worries there!  But we wore safety goggles as a precaution.

    There are no discernible screws or other points of entry into the Etch-a-Sketch.  Apparently, the folks at Ohio Arts don’t encourage this sort of activity.  Undeterred, we brought out a flat headed screwdriver, and ultimately a chisel, to split the connection between the red front, and the black back of the device.IMG_2775

    Inside, and spilling onto our arts and crafts table, we found a super-fine aluminum powder, and the clever string and pulley system that controls the stylus.

    Tip2:  Be prepared for a huge mess, if you take this on.  The powder gets everywhere, coating surfaces like paint.  But it all cleans up relatively easily, so don’t be discouraged.

    IMG_2777_2Seeing how the Etch-A-Sketch works was a lot of fun, and well worth the effort.  We’d wondered for years what was inside, and had to satisfy ourselves with a vague: “some sort of powder or sand.”  Now we know what the powder is and how the mechanism functions.  We weren’t able to fix the toy, but we had lot of fun figuring out how it works!


  7. Crafting And Science

    February 4, 2015 by admin

    IMG_0022 Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching and our Bluey is very excited. We don’t really go out of our way for this holiday. But when our kids are jazzed about something in particular, we like to support their enthusiasm.

    Bluey is determined to create Valentine’s cards and to decorate for February 14th. But unlike our stock of Christmas and Halloween supplies, we don’t have a lot of love themed, sparkly heart stuff. So we decided that we’d try to make most of our Valentine’s Day stuff from scratch.

    This fun project combines Bluey’s desire to make Valentine’s decorations and his love of science!

    Tip1: Even though we made these decorations for Valentine’s Day, you can have fun creating them for any holiday or event! Think of snowflake or star structures, to name just a few variations.IMG_2768

    Shimmery Shapes (adult supervision required):

    3 cups boiling water

    ½ cup Borax

    Pipe Cleaners

    Ribbon or String

    Popsicle sticks or pencils (something stable that can extend over the lid of your container while supporting minimal weight)

     

    IMG_0013Manipulate your pipe cleaners into any desired shape.

    Tie one end of a string to your shape and then attach the other end of the string to the center of a popsicle stick.

    Add Borax and boiling water to a mason jar or other heat proof clear container. You want to utilize a container that you can see through as part of the fun of this project is witnessing the crystallization.

    Mix the borax and water if necessary. A lot of the borax will settle to the bottom of the jar and that is okay.

    Place your shape into the hot mixture and secure with the stick lying across the jar’s opening.

    Leave undisturbed for at least 8 hours.

    Tip2:  You can create colored crystals by adding food coloring to the mixture before you hang your shapes.

    This experiment/craft project gave us a chance to talk about crystals and how they are formed.  The boiling water holds more Borax than cold water would.  As the mixture cools, it can’t hold as much Borax.  As the Borax molecules group together, they form these beautiful crystals.  It’s related to what happens when it snows: warm clouds of water vapor get cooled, and become supersaturated.  The water molecules group together and make snowflakes!

    Tip3: Once your shape has crystalized, you may have to chip away at the bottom or the sides to release it from the container. And to clean your jars, you may have to add hot water to the hardened borax that has settled to the bottom.IMG_0032

    We hope that you enjoy your shimmery shapes as much as our family. We plan to add some to home decorating and the rest will be gifted during Valentine card deliveries.

     


  8. Animals In Winter

    January 23, 2015 by admin

    IMG_2739 We don’t let winter keep this TR family indoors.  There are many great, fun things to do outside during the winter: sledding, building snow forts, conducting science experiments, and more!

    A fun adventure we enjoy is to go on a winter hike.  Hiking in the winter is a different experience than going during a warmer season.  For one thing, you have to dress right.

    You might think there are fewer animals to see in winter.  A lot are hibernating and many others migrate.  There aren’t a ton of critters left to observe, right?

    Wrong.  A lot of Animals are still out and about during the winter months, even in the most extreme weather.  You just have to know what to look for.

    IMG_2748We are reminded of one of our favorite illustrated books on this topic: Animals In Winter, by Henrietta Bancroft, Richard G. Van Gelder and Gaetano di Palma.  We’ve been reading this book to our kiddos since they were tiny tots.  The poetic writing and space pen-and-ink drawings beautifully capture the wonder of the wilds in winter.  Our family learned from the start that animals are up to all sorts of activity during the winter.

    We took this knowledge with us on a recent walk at the Waubesa Wetlands State Natural Area.  Bluey had been learning about foxes and wanted to try to see some in the wild.  Using this as our motivation, we headed out to a likely habitat.

    IMG_2737Tip: Be prepared when heading out for a inter hike.  Parks and natural areas are sparsely attended in the thick of winter.  Dress warmly, and be careful not to overestimate how far your group can hike.  Remember you have to be able to make it back to the car.  Bring a cell phone.

    Immediately upon stepping out of the car we found a trail of canine footprints that were too large to be a fox.  We guessed they were coyotes which we also knew to frequent that area.  Undeterred in our desire to explore, we followed the coyote pack’s prints through the fresh snow and saw where their path crossed those of squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks and deer.IMG_2735

    And it’s not just mammal prints we found.  We saw hawk footprints near a deer carcass, including a great imprint of the bird’s tail feathers as it crouched in the snow.  We’d never seen that before!

    IMG_2736As beautiful as this natural area is, we would never be able to have this adventure if not for the recent snow and cold temperatures.  We were able to enjoy a beautiful hike, see some amazing signs of animal life, and engage in a meaningful discussion about our local wildlife and what these animals might be up to in the winter.

    To top off our discussion of animals that migrate, hibernate or stick around in winter, a large group of Canada Geese passed over us on their migration route as we headed back to our car.


  9. Discovery World

    January 11, 2015 by admin

    We were recently gifted with a membership to the Discovery World Museum (DWM) in Milwaukee.  We immediately started making plans for a visit.  We’d been to this museum before, so we knew it would be a great trip.  In fact, our kids had been asking when we’d get to go back!

    Tip1:  DWM has very steep admission prices.  If you don’t have a membership, you’ll need to plan ahead for the expense.

    We started our exploration of the DWM at the science and biology end of the building- a three story wing that faces Lake Michigan and offers amazing views along with great interactive displays.  We particularly love the Great Lakes map exhibit where you can actually make rain fall from the ceiling.  And our Bluey greatly enjoys scrambling around on the full sized boat on the 2nd floor.

    IMG_9770In the basement level, a top-notch aquarium can keep you mesmerized for quite some time.  There are jellyfish to watch, and sting rays and sturgeon fish that you can touch!  They feel like… well, that would be telling. You’ll have to find out on your own. 😉

    Tip2:  A snack before romping through the DWM’s 2nd wing is a great idea.  There is only one small, overpriced cafe at the museum.  We recommend you enjoy your own snacks from home!

    At the other side of the building, you’ll find the technology in Wisconsin wing.  It holds fabulous displays on various machines that have been developed and built in Wisconsin- from Evinrude engines to Les Paul guitars.  There are countless devices to manipulate and learn the science and technology that went into making them.

    Also within this wing, The Kohls Design Center allows you to take a break from the museum exhibits and create various arts and crafts projects – for FREE.  A team of assistants will help you find all the materials you need to make a unique craft that you can take home from the museum.IMG_9768

    Exploring the entire DWM will easily take all day, if you can last that long.  If possible, we recommend you break your enjoyment of the DWM into several separate day trips.


  10. The MacGyver Solution

    December 21, 2014 by admin

    IMG_9303As new hermit crab owners, we’ve been preoccupied with making sure our little friends are happy and comfortable.

    Maintaining the preferred level of humidity in their sandy crabitat is one piece that has proved difficult for us.

    We tried various ideas from misting the tank regularly, to making sure the sand was well moistened.  Nothing seemed the right solution for keeping the humidity steady.  And to the extent any of our methods helped, they all required a very hands-on, all day approach.  What if we went away on a day trip?  Surely, there just had to be an easier way.

    So we started shopping for alternatives.  When we saw the prices for crab tank humidifiers, we balked.  After all we have already invested in our crustacean friends, there had to be a more affordable option.

    We returned to our YouTube sources and saw various ideas for ways you could make your own humidifier for much less than any store brought option.  So we took on this DIY task.

    Building our own humidifier turned out to be quick, easy and only a few dollars investment.

    Supplies:

    Fish tank air pump

    Length of air pump tubing

    Air Stone

    Plastic Bicycle Water Bottle

    Glue Gun

    Wire Cutters

    Technique:

    We first used a screwdriver to punch two small holes in the top side of the water bottle.  We placed these holes just under the rim of the lid.  This way, refilling the bottle wouldn’t require disassembling the whole system.IMG_9300

    Next we cut a length of tube to go from the pump to the bottom of the bottle.  We attached the air stone to this tube.

    Another tube went from the top of the bottle, up into the tank.  We used wire cutters to cut through the wire mesh removable top of the crabitat, just enough to let the tub fit through.

    We used a glue gun to seal the the tubes at the edge of the bike bottle.

    Then, all we had to do was wait for the glue to dry, and put some water in the bottle.

    How It Works:

    The air stone creates bubbles, which rise to the top of the water, creating super-humid air at the top of the bottle.  The second hose then leads this humid air to the tank.  Presto!  A nice, humidity boost to the air of the crabitat.

    IMG_9298We were so pleased that we could make this on our own, with only a purchase of a few materials!  Our Bluey helped with the whole project (a great home lesson!) and was suitably proud of how well it all worked out.