Saturday, February 25, 2012

Volcanoes and Igneous Rocks: Geology Lesson Plan (#3)

Last week my Geology class talked about volcanoes and igneous rocks. The two seemed to go together as one is made from the other. How can we have a lesson about volcanoes without the vinegar and baking soda volcano activity? 
When I did this with my kids at home we made it a multi-day project. We spent one day constructing a clay volcano around a bottle with white air-dry clay. After it dried we painted the whole thing (it was a work of art after all). The next day we "exploded" it. For this class we just constructed a clay volcano (there is a bottle and some newspaper under there), dubbed it "Mount Homeschool" and "exploded" it. A generous portion of baking soda inside the bottle and red-food-coloring-dyed vinegar poured in the top did the trick. If you add some dish soap to the vinegar as well it adds to the bubble effect. Some of the kids lamented the fact that it didn't actually explode, but we talked about how that would be pretty dangerous.

Here are some fun volcano/igneous rock facts:

"Volcano" comes from the ancient Roman God Vulcan, who was thought to live inside an island mountain in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Italy. He was the blacksmith to the gods. The Romans imagined he forged thunderbolts on his anvil, smoke thundered from his oven, sparks from his hammer shot into the sky, and the mountain shook. People named the rumbling island Vulcano.

* Magma - is molten rock below the surface or inside a volcano. Lava is magma that has broken through the crust to the surface.

*Volcanos come in three basic types: Cinder cones are short and steep formed from repeated eruptions of pumice, ash and other debris. Shield volcanoes are wide and somewhat flat and formed by successive flows of runny lava (low silica lava). Mauna Loa on Hawaii is a good example of this. Stratovolcanoes resemble other mountains but are formed from a series of eruptions of different types. These tend to be explosive and have gooey (high silica) lava that doesn't flow as well. Gasses build up over time and then it all comes out in a violent eruption. Mount St. Helens is a great example of this.

*Yellowstone National Park is actually a large caldera, or collapsed volcano crater over a rare- mid-continental hot spot. Magma underneath the ground causes heating of ground water which results in geysers and the like.

* Most volcanoes are formed on the edges of tectonic plates where subduction of one plate under the other causes pockets of lava to rise through cracks or weak spots to the surface. Hawaii is an exception, as it is in the middle of the Pacific plate.
* Fumaroles are holes where steam and other gases come out
* Geysers are where hot water comes out
* A Caldera is a huge volcanic crater formed when a volcano explodes or collapses
* A hot spot is a place where magma rises through the earth's mantle and can break though the earth's crustal plates to the surface.
* A Pyroclastic flow is a hot cloud of ash, gas, and rock that can race down the side of a volcano at up to 200mph. These are much more dangerous than most lava flows, as they move much faster.

* "Igneous" means fiery and igneous rocks are rocks formed from magma or lava. They come in two types. Intrusive igneous rocks are rocks that formed below the surface. Since they are in the earth or volcanoes they tend to cool slowly, giving the rock time to form crystals and larger grains of rock types. Examples include granite, diolite, and gabbro. Extrusive igneous rocks are rocks that formed on the surface from lava that rolled more quickly. These tend to have no or fewer crystals. Examples are pumice, scoria, obsidian, basalt, andesite and rhyolite.

*Minerals are what rocks are made of, they are the ingredients to the rock recipe. The main minerals in igneous rocks tend to be feldspar, quartz, amphiboles and pyroxenes. They also commonly have olivine, mica, magnesium and iron.

I had a limited amount of rock samples to show them. I think the more actual rock types you could get your hands on for this lesson the better. You can order kits of rocks from various learning and scientific sites. My one complaint with the one I got is that all of the samples are just so small. It would have been a lot more interesting if they could handle some big chunks of rock.

Here is a list of resources I used:

Bill Nye: Earth's Crust (video) (This can be found in pieces on YouTube or rented from here.)
Minerals Poster from Feenix Publishing
National Geographic map: Physical Earth (Millennium in maps series)(For an old NG issue, shows volcanoes of the world.)
Books: 101 Questions about Volcanoes by John Calderazzo
How the Earth Works: 100 Ways Parents and Kids Can Share the Secrets of the Earth by John Farndon (Reader's Digest series)
Atlas of Geology and Landforms by Cally Oldershaw

Video of lava entering the ocean in Hawaii
Video of Mount Saint Helens erupting
Rocks for Kids Igneous rocks
Geology for Kids: Igneous rocks
various pictures gleaned from the internet (most rock pictures above are from

Monday, February 20, 2012

Noah is 9

Today my little guy is 9. I can hardly believe how fast time is flying. I know everyone says that, but I guess when you have kids it really is true. They keep you so busy day to day, it's hard to take the time to look up and see where and when you are and look... really look... at the people around you.

I know I complain about this guy. He can be incredibly stubborn (a family trait), a bit OCD, and sometimes a complete airhead. Whenever we go somewhere he inevitably leaves something behind... shoes, water bottle, jacket, etc. He also can't sit still for very long, or stay in his seat for a meal. Yet, he is the sweetest, kindest kid. He gives the best hugs in the universe and has the best laugh in the world. The laughs totally make up for the whines.

He's a smart kid, something for which he rarely gets credit, having a precocious older sister always casting her shadow. He's great at sports and very musical. He's been pretty good at math as well and is just becoming a reader. He'd rather not do too much writing or crafty stuff though, thanks very much.

He's a great helper and is so very thoughtful about people and things. Just when I think there is no hope of getting any new learning to stick, he comes up with the most profound statements and incites. I love how he'll decide to do something and stick with it with dedication and determination. I'm so proud of him and I know he is gonna grow up into one really terrific guy. I love him so much it hurts.

Happy Birthday Noah.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Earth Structure and Plate Tectonics: Geology Lesson Plan #2

I haven't been posting much these days because I am neck deep in planning and teaching co-op classes, as well as other things like birthday party planning, driving all over creation, and (gasp) actual schoolwork at home!

This week I did my second class for my 8-9 year olds on Geology. The topic this week was "Earth Structure" and "Plate Tectonics". My main resource this week was a video called "Greatest Discoveries with Bill Nye: Earth Science". What I love about this video (other that it's laid out in chapters for teachers) is that it explains how scientists have figured all of this stuff out, and all very recently too! For someone who feels that problem solving is probably one of the most important things we can teach our kids, this video stands out because it focuses on the how as much as the what. Admittedly, this is not the easiest video to get your hands on. I got it from A+ video, but you can also find snippets of it online here. It's aimed at 6-12 grade, but you may have figured out that I don't really follow "grade level material"!

In talking about the structure of the earth I did the obligatory clay model with them, putting a new color on their little Earths for each layer. We started with a marble, since the core of the earth is solid iron and nickel, and then layered yellow (outer core), orange (mantle), and blue and green Model Magic(crust) over that. This gives them a real hands-on feel for it all. In theory, you could cut a wedge away and see the layers inside, but in practice I only able to cut one for this picture after the Model Magic dried completely. The colors get all squished and mixed up if it's all still wet. Here is a nice plan for this exercise I found online, with a worksheet and everything, though I didn't actually use it all. An egg can also serve as a good analogy of the Earth, by the way. The shell is the crust (very thin), the white is the mantle, and the yolk is the outer and inner cores.

I explained how all that iron and nickel sets up the Earth's magnetic field and how this protects us from the worst of the Sun's solar wind. A few iron filings and a magnet served nicely to show the lines of force.
Plate tectonics was my final topic. I started out with a little more video to introduce this and then we looked at some maps to see how the continents fit together and where the most earthquakes and volcanoes occur. I explained that there are three main kinds of faults (boundaries when the plates meet): divergent or spreading (like at the middle of the Atlantic Ocean), convergent or coming together (like where the Pacific Ocean crust is subducting beneath Asia) and transverse or sideways (like in California). North America is moving to the West at about the same rate that our fingernails grow, and the Pacific Ocean is slowly getting smaller.

Here are some great online videos and sites to look at: this is a nice plate motion animation the Ology website from the American Museum of Natural History has some neat stuff, put this pertains specifically to plate tectonics, and if you go to the button titled "Explore How Plates Affect Your World" there is a nice tutorial and demonstration. At the USGS website, you can view real-time info on earthquakes in the United States and around the world.

The American Museum of Natural History also had a nice activity that I had the kids do as our final activity. It's basically a puzzle of the continents. They have to put the continents back together to reconstruct Pangea using clues on the pieces, like similar pictures of fossils on each continent. The pdf. is here:
The hardest part about this is that I had to personally cut out all the continents for them. I didn't want it to be a long exercise in cutting frustration, so I took all of that upon myself. Still I think it was worthwhile.

In the full length video category, "Inside Planet Earth" from the Discovery Channel isn't too bad.

Finally, here are some book resources. I didn't use all of these, but they are not too bad nevertheless.

The Magic School Bus: Inside the Earth (book) by Joanna Cole
Our Patchwork Planet by Helen Roney Sattler
Evan-Moor Geology Science Works for Kids Series Grades 1-3 (this was a little bit simplistic to my taste, but it did have some decent diagrams you can copy)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The History of the Earth: A Lesson Plan for 8-9 year olds

Well, I've started a new round of Co-op classes. This time I volunteered to do a short five days on Geology. Our first lesson yesterday was to answer two questions, "What is Geology?" and "What is the history of the Earth?". I'll include a list of great resources for this topic shortly, but first I want to share what we did for the majority of the class. 

Each kid (there were 8 of them) got their own 5 meter long roll of paper which I had prepared with a line down the middle and some pertinent dates. They turned these into timelines of the history of the Earth starting from the Earth's formation and ending with the present day. I had pre-ordered some stickers to make this more fun, and we spent the entire class reconstructing the Earth's history. Since we only had a limited amount of time, I only had them write down the names of the Eras and Periods and a few major things about those periods. For instance, we wrote "Oxygen!" during the Archean Era, when Stromatolites were creating our oxygen atmosphere. There are a few things I loved about this approach. One is that they get a real physical and visual picture of the Earth's history (and how very little of that time has included mammals and humans) and we were able to go bit by bit and try to get the evolution of it all in chronological order. There are many things I did not get to cover with them that I actually had on my own timeline, mass extinctions, and the like, but I think it was enough to get them going and excited about these questions. Some kids needed help with writing some of the big words, but most did just fine. These pictures are of my prototype timeline.

As far as books go, I didn't find a great deal on this topic that were particularly inspiring, but I did have couple. Here are some decent books discussing this topic:

From Lava to Life: Book Two of The Universe Tells Our Earth Story by Jennifer Morgan and Illustrated by Dana Lynne Andersen. This is a marvelous book that tells the history of the earth as a story, keeping a sense of wonder because the earth is telling it's own story. The love this whole series, but this is the one that deals with early Earth.

The Atlas of Geology and Landforms by Cally Oldershaw has some pretty good pictures and diagrams and a decent overview.

A couple of great videos I highly recommend:

How the Earth Was Made by the History Channel. I watched a couple of different videos and this was the best one. Interesting graphics, pictures, and interviews. It's well done... interesting and not overly dramatic (I HATE that in a documentary.).

Earth Science: 100 Greatest Discoveries with Bill Nye. This is more about how we know what we know. Being Bill Nye, it's hard to get, but I was able to rent it from A+ Video

Online, here are some great sites:

BBC Prehistoric Earth. This is an awesome website with information, great pictures and it's all laid out clearly and simply. 

Geologic time clock:

I got the idea for the time line from here, though I did embellish it a bit:

Other materials:
You will need a large roll of art paper. I just happened to have a roll on hand and it was the more expensive white variety, but you could also use butcher paper, or as suggested in the original plan, adding machine tape.

I was able to get all of my rather unusual stickers from Zazzle, but it was a little pricey. You could always just draw little pictures, but I thought it added an element of fun.

You will also need a meter stick and some smaller rulers with centimeters on it.

I don't know who said that the best way to learn something is to teach it, but they are certainly right! I've learned a lot already, and it's only been the first class! Next week it will be Earth structure and Plate Tectonics. In the meantime, I'm reading Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything and enjoying it immensely.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The good days and the not so good days...

I'd like to be able to say that every day is a wonderful day when you are homeschooling. If I did, it would be a lie. There are days when I think to myself, "Wow! This is SOOO much better than if they were in school." Other days, like yesterday, I am ready to chuck it all in and hand them over.

Here is a blog post I did when we were first starting this homeschool adventure as an example of a great day.

"We had a really nice day today of home-schooling. Jessi started the day by reading her very first chapter book before breakfast (American Girl - Thanks Sara and Lisa!)! After breakfast, Jessi decided she wanted to scrub the big bathtub (an idea she got from a friend at a play-date last week... gotta love Montessori!). She did this, helped me to clean up the playroom, and then we did some study of sentence structure and capitalization. From there we got side-tracked onto the study of whales (that in-itself is an outgrowth of our “Hawaii” study). Three books and several You-Tube video’s later, I think we’ve got a pretty good handle on whale anatomy, habits, sounds, and history. One more American Girls book later and a nice snack, and we were off to get Noah. I’ve found Spelling really works well in the car (of all places), so we did that and listened to a couple of free audio stories on the way, then picked up Noah and a friend of his and came back home. Noah and his friend played while Jessi and I made gingerbread cookies (the first time I ever did that in August!) and decorated them with icing (all another Jessi idea). Jessi also found time to do a little math work and experiment with oil pastel crayons. She also created a nice drawing to send off to the local kids newspaper. 
So you see, our days can be extremely busy! It wasn’t exactly traditional schooling, but we got in Language Arts, Reading, Spelling, Math, Science, History, Art, Home Ec., and Technology!
Tomorrow is her last day of Nature Camp for the week, so I’m sure we won’t get nearly as much done, but after a day like today, I think maybe I (we) can do this."

This is the sunny happy side of homeschooling that I think we all want to point to. Sadly, the dark and scary side also exists. Yesterday things came a head in our house when I tried to tackle some math with Jessi. She had had a huge meltdown the day before and I said I would sit with her and we would do it together and hopefully we could avert the meltdown and make some progress. Math has been our weak spot and sore point since the beginning. Jessi has developed this very unfortunate tendency to loose all composure when faced with any math she can't do and get immediately. It's a particular problem with bright children who are used to having everything be easy. Add a few tween hormones and the fact that mom usually gets all the flak, and you can see where this is going. 

We sat down and I had us both take a deep breath and reminded her to remain calm, we would work it out and it's ok to not get it right away. We had been working through Singapore Math and having occasional bow-ups, but I had just started her on "Life of Fred: Fractions" in the hope that she would just love it and we would have less stress. Huh. Not so. We made it through Chapter 6 without too much trouble. We then delved into the "Bridge", a little quiz given every few chapters to see if the students remember what was covered. Well, she started out great, she knew how to solve the problem but made a mess of her numbers and got the wrong answer. It all went downhill from there. Pretty soon she is crying, yelling at me, refusing to take a breath and let me answer her and/or try to explain. Once the crying and screaming starts, there is no rational thought, and she worked herself up into such a state of confusion and me into such a state of frustration that I had to send her to her room so I wouldn't strangle her. So, now she is upstairs crying and hating me (It's all my fault... it's always my fault.) and I, in spite of my fuming hopeless frustration, calmly ask my son to complete his writing so that we could make it to the park to see their friends that day. He must have felt he needed to get in on the action, because he chose that moment to get all frustrated and mad about his writing and threw the pencil across the room in a fit of anger. A better mom would have kept her cool, but I didn't. I yelled at him and told him he couldn't start emulating his sister and to just do his (blank blank) writing already or we weren't going anywhere that day. So now he is crying. Uggg! Bad Mommy! Bad, bad Mommy! "I'm a total mess-up at teaching my kids, clearly I can't teach math anyway. Maybe I better find someone else to do it, because I just can't do this anymore." This is what is going through my head. So I emailed our homeschool group and asked for some local tutors. The response was immediate and so heartwarming. Between all the wonderful people who offered resources and encouragement and all the wonderful people at the park that day who shared their own stories and solutions, I realized (yet again), that none of this is new. Everyone has those days, those moments. This behavior is not too terribly abnormal. I came back feeling so much calmer and with a more healthy perspective about the whole thing. 

My husband offered to do the math teaching for a while. Sometimes his explanations are better, and maybe she'll be more civil with him and we can break this awful, awful cycle. I know it will all work out in the end. I may be a dry husk of a person when she is done sucking all the energy and life out of me, but we will get through it (You know I'm joking, right? I love my bright, stubborn, creative daughter even when she is having temper tantrums more appropriate to a toddler.) I can laugh about it already, but sometimes it's hard to step back and get that perspective when you are in the thick of things. I can't say how many times being able to talk to other people in a similar position has helped me. My fellow moms helped me through the difficult time of new-baby-dom (MOMS Club of America is wonderful!) and now my fellow homeschoolers are a great well of experience and knowledge to draw upon. I'm not even a super social person, but having that support group has been so key for us. It's days like this that I think without them we never would have made it this far. 

I recount this experience so that if you've had a day like this you'll know that you are not alone. Raising kids whether they go to school every day, or stay home to learn, is difficult. It's probably the most difficult job there is. There will be good days and there will be bad days. Feel free to share if you feel the urge.