A semester of science

We are coming up to our first annual visit from our department moderator, in the next couple of weeks. So I am busy getting all of my paperwork together. When I say paperwork, it’s not actually all that much as far as volume is concerned, but rather, I need it to be chronological and coherent. My job is to present Miss 6s learnings to the Dept. in a way that proves we have covered the key learning areas, as set forward by the curriculum, and to show improvement on Miss 6s abilities over the last 12 months. I also need to show a loose plan for the next 12 months, stating what we intend to cover, and how I intend to link it to the curriculum. To date I have written a very loose plan for the next 12 months – if the last year has shown me anything, it is that everything I plan in detail will be tossed straight out the window! – and all I need to do now is type it up, so that it is legible. I have 2 folders of loose examples of work. I have a folder of various workbooks that Miss 6 has used, I have the dedicated folders for Auslan, Music Class and Science/Steam club, and I have my Facebook page, which acts like a photo diary, and takes care of the need for dated photos. Apart from typing up the 12 month plan, all I need, or, more particularly want to do, is type up a summery of what we have done, what Miss 6 has accomplished, and areas that I feel we need to focus on. I also want to get this blog post done, updating on the last semester of science-based learning that Miss 6 has been doing.

So, with Miss 6s help, I picked 8 areas of scientific study, for her to take a look at. So far we have done 5 of the 8. Initially I had figured we would spend a week or two on each area. But, as I mentioned, anytime I plan something in detail, the plan gets tossed (homeschooling parents are nothing if not flexible!!), and we ended up spending anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks on each area. The areas we picked were;
– Chemistry
– Biology
– Botany
– Geology
– Meteorology
– Zoology
– Astronomy
– Physics
We have done chemistry, biology, botany, geology and zoology. We will do meteorology over the next couple of weeks, but I have a feeling Miss 6 is going to skip astronomy. She did a unit on space last year, and when I mentioned a little revision, she didn’t look too interested!

The chemistry unit went well enough. We bought Miss a second hand chemistry kit, and while we have not used it as much as I had hoped we would – Miss 2 makes it a bit tricky – she had fun with the experiments that we did do. I booked her into a homeschool chemistry workshop at Scitech during this period. There she reinforced what we’d already discussed about states of matter, and had the opportunity to be involved in a few more experiments. At home we experimented with turning water into ice (solid), and then steam (gas) and then back to water (liquid). We also tried to do the instant freeze water experiment, which is advertised widely as being “super easy”, but we found it to be super hard! We were, much to my frustration, unable to make it work. After speaking to a friend of mine, who is a secondary school science teacher, I found out that it is actually NOT as easy as it’s made out! However it was a learning curve for Miss 6, who found out that not everything in science goes to plan, and there are many, many failures, before success.

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I based the unit on biology around human biology, as I knew we would be covering plants and animals in separate units. Miss 6 learned about cells, and the different parts of the cell, as well as the difference between plant and animal cells. She already had a basic understanding of the human body, but we delved further into the major organs and what their functions were. She made a working model of lungs, which was a great hit with her as well a Miss 3. The lungs can be seen on our Facebook page, here. She also experimented with growing bacteria in a handwahing experiment, and explored the senses with some fun blindfold games. At the end of the unit, Miss 6 was able to draw a LifeSize body on butchers paper. On this, she correctly placed the heart, brain, liver, lungs, kidneys, windpipe, small and large intestine, stomach, and pelvis. Miss 6 also completed a biology class at Scitech durning this time. During the class she was able to reinforce her learning on cells, as well as use various pieces of equipment to magnify and observe things like hair, string, plant matter and insect parts.
Incidentally, even though Miss 6 has technically finished her unit on biology, this will be an ongoing unit for her, for at least the next few months, as I enter the third trimester of my pregnancy. Miss 6 has been eagerly following and learning all about how a baby is conceived (two cells joining together), how it grows and how it is delivered. She even had a wonderful opportunity to help my midwife with my most recent scan and blood pressure check.

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Botany was particularly fun for Miss 6, although it is the shortest unit she has done so far. She learned about different types of plants (trees, bushes, flowers, etc), as well as different parts of the plant. She helped out in the garden, weeding and planting seeds for our winter vegetable patch. She has since been able to watch the seeds germinate and grow. She also learned, about photosynthesis and the fact that plants need sunlight, water and carbon dioxide in order to grow. We did an experiment with celery and food colouring, after she wondered out loud how plants drink water, without mouths. We cut some celery stalks and put them in jars of water, with added food colouring. Then over the course of a couple of days, she was able to observe the coloured water being drawn up the celery stalk and dispersed throughout the leaves. After this time she took the celery sticks and spent a good hour and a half dissecting them, following the veins and tracing the path that the coloured water had taken.

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Our unit on geology was another short one. Miss 6 learned about the three types of rocks, and watched some short documentaries on you tube explaining what they were, as well as how they are formed. Our STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, maths) co-op was, fortuitously, based around rocks. During co-op Miss 6 was able to investigate a fabulous rock/gemstone collection, and refer the rocks to a book that was on hand, to try and identify what type she was looking at. She complete a “cut and paste” activity where she pasted pictures of rocks into a structure (in her case a bridge), and then had to decide whether her structure would work in real life, if she were able to build it exactly as she had pasted it. She made a pet rock – a table was set up with a hot glue gun, a beautiful pile of river stones, and a dozen containers of craft supplies. Hands down it was the hit of the day, with ALL of the children! – as well as an example of a sedimentary rock. The sedimentary rock didn’t quite work as it was supposed to. I think we made the mixture too wet, meaning that it didn’t get hard, but rather stayed soft and crumbly. However she did get the point of the task, as, only today, she took a cup out into the backyard and layered it with various types of sand, soil and rocks, showing me and exclaiming she had made a sedimentary rock! Unfortunately, around this time, Miss 2 killed my laptop and I have been unable to download the photos I took on co-op day. To support her unit on geology, we took a drive, as a family, 2 hours north of here to a geological formation known as The Pinnacles. The girls explored the rocks as well as the little museum that is on site. Miss 6 decided that she had spotted some metamorphic rocks in the desert, and was fascinated with the theory that the formations could possibly be fossilised tree roots from an ancient forest.

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Lastly, we have been, and are currently still, working on zoology. Miss 6 has revised what she knows about different classifications of vertebrates (fish, amphibian, reptile, mammal, bird). She has been watching a lot of documentaries from David Attenboroughs collection, as well as those of her hero, Steve Backshall. She attended a workshop on Birds of Prey, where she was able to hold or pet a variety of raptors. She also learned what a raptor was 🙂 And I took the girls to Caversham Wildlife Park for some close encounters with the mammals there. She made friends with a little wallaby and was terribly sad when she had to say goodbye! We also have, coming up in the next couple of weeks, a Worm Farm workshop (where the children learn about worms, the important role they play, and how to make a worm farm), and a class that is being held at Perth Zoo (where the children will read a book and do a craft based on a particular animal, and then take a walk around the zoo, to find and observe the animal they have just been learning about. 🙂

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All in all, it’s been a pretty busy first semester for my little Miss. On top of the science, she has been attending music class, dance class, various workshops, play dates, co-ops and lots of outdoor activities. I have seen a big leap in, not only her reading and writing abilities, but her willingness to do it, and I have been amazed, again, at how much knowledge she retains. Also, in amongst the above, she has developed a fascination with movies and how they are made. She has experimented with stop motion, and has written a basic script, made costumes and has asked her beautiful best friend to help out, by acting a part in the short film that she wants to direct. I’m thinking my next blog will involve a couple of movies by Miss 6!

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A big week in science

Miss 5 has always had a very strong interest in science. She comes from a family of like minded people. There are numerous nurses, a scientist, a geologist, a doctor, a couple of engineers and a high school science teacher in our extended family. Added to this Husband is an engineer and a lifetime ago I started a degree in forensic pathology, so I guess the foundations for Miss 5s interest were always there. Husband and I have always encouraged her to test things, pull things apart to see how they work, experiment and think for herself, rather than give her the answers.

(On a side note, I think it’s amusing that when she was 3 and we did this, we were encouraging and nurturing parents, but now that she’s 5, and “should be in school”, the same people think that we’re “not qualified”). 😉

Miss 5 thoroughly enjoys hands on experiments, and loves nothing more than to “do science” with her sister. And the more theatrical, the better. Because, she’s 5 😀
So we try to incorporate some kind of science based lesson at least once a week. This may be gardening in the veggie patch, where they maintain, fertilise, weed, prune and harvest the plants. It may be finding and catching or observing creatures in the backyard. So far there has been Charlotte the Orb Weaver, two frogs, bees, a spider wasp, cabbage moths (they kept a caterpillar inside a container and watched it build it’s chrysalis and then turn into a moth), and our resident bob tail lizard. They have made crystals and also have a microscope that is often pulled out – and hopefully in the next 12 months we can think about buying Miss 5 her first chemistry set. Miss 5 has a few apps on the iPad that are science based lessons, one in particular My Incredible Body has been a huge hit, and there is usually some way to include something scientific in most of her units of study, if we aren’t already doing it in everyday life.
Keeping in mind that she is 5 and her sister is 3, so we’re not talking quantum physics here, but rather a real world focus on their bodies, the world they live in, how it works, how it grows, and why, as well as giving them the foundations for a life of critical thinking. I want my daughters to be able to think and form an opinion based on facts, and to have the confidence and the ability to question everything.

Sometimes, however, we like to “do science” just for the sake of doing it. Not to tie it in with a lesson, not to underline something that she’s been talking about or thinking about. But for no other reason, than it’s fun. And their smiles and giggles and gasps are just awesome to watch 🙂 So that’s exactly what we did this week.
I get a non-related, weekly delivery that happens to include a small bag of dry ice. So this week, we had some fun with it 😀

With the girls’ help, I set up a couple of dishes, one with warm water and blue food colouring, the other with milk and pink food colouring. We talked about solids, liquids and gasses, and Miss 5 learned that the fog or “smoke” they could see was water vapour mixed with carbon dioxide. She already knows about carbon dioxide, as she knows this is what we breathe out and what trees breathe in. With our previous experiments, Miss 5 is familiar with the terms like observation, hypothesis and conclusion. She initially observed that the ice in the warm water was bubbling and smoking more than the ice in the milk, which was basically doing nothing. Her hypothesis was that the dry ice worked better when it was in warm or hot liquid. She tested this by boiling the kettle and adding hot water to the cold milk. Which set the dry ice off, bubbling and smoking like crazy. I introduced her to a new term viscosity and we talked about whether the viscosity of a liquid might change the way the dry ice reacted. Miss 5 went running to the pantry to find something thicker than milk. She came back with a bottle of olive oil, and then observed that the olive oil didn’t cause the ice to smoke, but it did start to emulsify (or in Miss 5s words “it looks like it’s starting to freeze the oil and make it go hard!)

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Once this avenue of playing with the dry ice had lost it’s shine, we packed away the dishes, and I showed the girls how to make a Dry Ice Bubble Machine! We used a large plastic tumbler, a length of rubber hose, a small funnel, a plastic bag and a bowl of “bubble mixture” – which was just some dish soap mixed with warm water. We poked a small hole through the plastic bag and fed the hose through it, sealing it with sticky tape. We then attached the funnel to one end of the hose, which became the “bubble end”. I added some dry ice and hot water into the tumbler and quickly put that inside the plastic bag, making sure the end of the hose was in the glass, but not in the water. The gas flowed down the hose and out of the funnel, which, when dipped into the bubble mixture, blew smoke filled bubbles. Miss 5 spent a good 10 minutes coming up with theories about these bubbles. From “I think that you could hold them in your hand, without them popping” to ” I think once you popped them, there would be a big cloud of smoke inside”. Some of her theories were wrong, and some were spot on. She had a ball playing with the bubble machine and consequently we burnt through the entire stock of dry ice doing it 😀

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With our dry ice gone, and a little bit of milk left over, I decided to do one last experiment with them. It is one that I have done with Miss 5 before, when she was either 3 or 4, so I figured she wouldn’t quite remember it and would enjoy doing it again. Miss 3 had never seen it before, so she enjoyed it immensely. In a dish I poured some milk, the girls then added half a dozen drops of every colour food colouring they could find in our pantry. They then took turns adding squirts of dish soap. The dish soap reduces the surface tension of the milk and the effect is the swirling and churning of the colours. It looks like tie-dyed milk! Miss 3 claimed it looked like “a beautiful blue sea” 🙂

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All in all, it was a fabulous morning. Miss 5 learned some new words and had a ball doing her science class. Miss 3, who still has a limited attention span, sat at the table and watched or participated when she felt like it, and when she didn’t, she floated off into the next room and did her own thing. We are lucky enough to have some actively supportive friends and family, one of which is a science teacher here in Perth. She is wonderful enough to email me examples of “kitchen science” experiments to try with Miss 5. We have a few saved up now, and Miss 5 is very much looking forward to next time 🙂