Saturday, August 24, 2013

Off the Bookshelves: The Camel Who Took a Walk

The Camel Who Took a Walk

This is an old book, published first in 1951, and written by Jack Tworkov and illustrated by Roger Duvoisin. My family got a hold of it by inheriting it from other family, and it is a fun little picture story that I think many kids of all ages would enjoy. You can still get it used from Amazon even though it is not currently in print.

The reason I love this book so much is simple; it is different from most other books in this genre and the end is completely unexpected. It is great fun to read out loud.

I won't spoil it by telling you what happens... or doesn't happen... or what could have happened. If you have little ones that can take some suspense and a joke, I recommend getting a hold of a copy!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Going through "last years" papers: new plans and poetry

Ok, so we are back from our travels (hopefully more on that later), and I am frantically trying to clean up our work from last year and put together a schedule and plan for the new school year, while also doing mounds of laundry and keeping food on the table. Just getting the schedules from all of our activities organized is a huge job. As I do many times during the year, I am thinking we do too much, and yet every activity on our list is something I feel is a must or is there because the kids insist that they can't give it up. 

On the docket are many things I have outsourced for years: Spanish lessons, piano lessons, art lessons... My daughter will be continuing her literature studies with some other middle and highschoolers this year because it was so incredibly productive for her last year (Heroic University), and I have signed my son up for some outside writing instruction because that is his weak spot. This year, my daughter will also be studying to be Bat Mitzvahed and that means Hebrew school and extra lessons along those lines. In the science department, we have museum classes and one kid doing Odyssey of the Mind while the other will again do the Science Olympiad. P.E. is soccer, karate (working toward black belts by December), and horseback riding. We are also going to do some theatre and voice lessons. That is just the weekly stuff, and I will be cramming in Social Studies, Math and extra science in in our "free time". 

Two co-ops mean that I need to prepare a few classes this Fall. I'll be keeping it simple with a book club and a round of debate (much easier than the science), but I still need to put some thought into those. The procrastinator in my mind keeps thinking that first I need to brush the dog, make some more kombucha, clean off my desk...

So, in cleaning off my desk, I found some lovely poems from last year and I thought I would post them before stashing them away in the mighty tome that is "last years" work.

Here is Noah's.

Flying Friendship

There was once a giant caterpillar
Walking along
Walking along
It came upon a giant mushroom
Sitting in the shade
In the shade
Was a tiny dragon
Red and eyes aflame

To the caterpillar it said Hey!
and hey it flew away
but that giant caterpillar
just would not go away
so it turned into a butterfly
flew after the dragon

but the dragon did not recognize
the giant butterfly
so the butterfly just
yelled at him and asked why he had flown away
I thought you were a creature
that would kill me if I stayed
and so they landed
and when they landed
oh no! it started to rain
and it was matza balls!...
so together they flew away.

Fibonacci Teacup by Jessi

1,1,2,3, Fibonacci
Around, around
Entranced by flowers
Most natural and fantastical beauty

Around mountain
Magically like a bird
In flight, spiral, spiral around
The mountain turns the world, mystical, magical white

Bends over
The water, breeze
Blows its sweeping leaves, it
Brushes, ripples tickles still, still water drinking from
The teacup.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Plants Class #7: Wrapping It Up!

For our final class on plants, I put together a "Common Trees of North Carolina" booklet for each of them, gave them a "plants" crossword one of the moms had passed on to me (photocopied, so I don't know where it came from), and played a final rousing game of "plants" bingo. The booklet and crossword were their "prize" at the end of the game.


To play the bingo game, I made up nine squares of numbers, 4x4, and filled them somewhat randomly with the numbers 1-34. I had 34 questions prepared on notecards. Each question corresponded to a number, and I shuffled the cards so the questions would come up randomly. If the person had the number on the card and could correctly answer the question, they were allowed to put a chip over the number. This required a bit of honesty on the part of the kids, but I always like to let them know that I trust them by giving them the benefit of the doubt. In any case, this wasn't a problem with this bunch of kids. They would have called each other out if there was anything unfair going on!

If none of the kids with the proper number could answer and someone else could, I let them go ahead and answer. They were very hung-ho and I figured the more they heard the answers the better!

The game took surprisingly long (the whole hour we had anyway) and in the end I was reviewing questions that they had all gotten incorrect the first time around. They LOVED it, and I'm hoping at least these 34 answers got stuck in their heads. If nothing else, they will have learned those few things.

The questions I ended up with are as follows:

1. Name 3 ways seeds get moved around
Wind, animals, water, bursting, humans

2. What kinds of animals pollinate flowers? Name 3.
bees, moths, hummingbirds, geckos, bats, mice, humans

3. On a flower, what is the stamen?
Male (pollen-bearing) part made up of filament and anther

4. What is the female part of the flower called?
Pistil - made up of stigma, style and ovary

5. What kind of flowers do hummingbirds prefer?
red and tubular

6. Name a vegetable that is really a fruit.
tomato, butternut squash, cucumber, zuchinni

7. What is the leaf of a plant for?
To make food for the plant. To do photosynthesis.

8. What are the stoma?
Small pores on the underside of leaves that help the plant to "breathe" and regulate water loss.

9. When we look at a green leaf, is it because the leaf is absorbing green light or reflecting green light?

10. What is photosynthesis?
How a plant uses light to make it's own food (sugars) using oxygen and water

11. Can you name a photosynthetic pigment?
chlorophyll, carotenoids (carotine, lutein, xanthohpyll), anthocyannins, betalains

12. Why do leaves often change from green to yellow or red or brown in the fall?
The chlorophyll is often the first to leave the leaf, leaving behind the other pigments

13. What does the xylem do?
Carry water and nutrients from the roots to the leaves

14. What does the phloem do?
Carries food from the leaves to the rest of the plant (down).

15. Why does and oak tree die if you remove the bark from all around the trunk (girdle it)?
The vascular bundles are in a ring under the bark. If you damage all of them the tree will die.

16. What is the stone, amber, made out of?
fossilized tree resin

17. Where do we get maple syrup from?
sugar maple trees

18. Can you name two ways a tree moves things around without using too much energy?
capillary action (cohesion), transpiration, osmosis

19. Where do we get sugar from?
sugar cane or sugar beets

20. What makes a plant different from an animal?
Don't move, photosynthesis, cell walls, chloroplasts

21. What does a plant need to live?
space, CO2, water, sunlight, nutrients

22. Name the different levels of how we classify things.
Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species

23. The latin name for crabgrass is Digitaria ischaemum. How do we fit this into the classification scheme?
Genus and Species

24. Who came up with the system of classification we use today to classify all of life?
Carl Linneus

25. What Kingdom are plants in?

26. What makes a fern different from a flowering plant?
a fern has spores instead of seeds

27. What is the scientific name from flowering plants?

28. Is a pine tree a flowering plant?
No, it is a gymnosperm

29. Name two ways a monocot and a dicot are different.
Monocots: paralel veins, flower parts in 3's,1 seed leaf, vascular bundles scattered through stem
Dicots: branching veins, flower parts in 4 or 5's, 2 seed leaves, vascular bundles in circles

30. Name one kind of tree native to North Carolina.
long leaf pine, loblolly pine, tulip poplar, red oak, white oak, black oak, sourwood, etc.

31. Name a kind of root we eat.
potato, beet, carrot, garlic, onion, sweet potato, etc.

32. Name a seed carried by the wind.
dandelion, maple seeds, etc.

33. Name a seed carried by water.
coconut, mangrove, sea bean, sea heart

34. Why do plants make fruit and nectar?
To encourage and reward animals to move their seeds and pollen around.

Of course, if they came up with an answer that I had not thought of that was true, I gave it to them. A lot of the acceptance or denial of answers required some judgement calls on my part. Once or twice I asked the group to decide if an answer was acceptable. 

I won't lie. Putting this class together was a lot of work for me. The hardest part was not the finding of the information, but deciding what to present and how to present it. By the end I was really ready to be done with it all. However, putting something like this together allows me to review and re-learn a great deal of stuff I may have forgotten. It really is true that homeschooling allows you to learn along-side your kids and it reaffirms the idea that learning happens throughout life.

I really appreciated the kids in this class. They stuck with me, even when I was going on about how to classify plants. As ever, the goal was to get some information to stick while having fun, and hopefully we accomplished that.

I've put all of this up in the hopes that the framework I ended up using will help some others out there when facing a group (or maybe just one or two) of 3rd - 5th graders who want to learn a few things about plants. I did review a great deal of material, discarding some stuff because it was just too hard to transport, took too long, or seemed too dumbed down (or conversely over their heads).

Now on to other things, like deciding what to do for science this year!

Plants Class #6: Seeds and Fruit

This was my last real botany class for this group. The next class was just a review, but I will go over that in my next post. I had little time to prepare this class, as outside commitments were overwhelming me at this point. Luckily, seeds and fruit are a pretty easy thing to cover. After all, feeding the kids was a definite requirement if we were going to talk about fruit!

To start things off I asked, What is a seed? 
A seed is the embryo of the plant. It is a new baby plant, often packaged with extra food for the journey, and surrounded by a protective coating to send it on it's way. 

We did a seed dissection so that the kids could see the parts of a seed for themselves. I had pre-soaked some large beans for them to take apart. Lima beans would work great for this. I also had some mung beans and some canellini and black beans. They each got one or two of these and were told to carefully pull them apart and identify the parts. Many of the beans have two halves and this is true for all dicots.

I found several books on seeds at the library, but the one I really like is called "A Seed is Sleepy", and the reason is that the illustrations are terrific. I went through this book with them, pointing out the pictures of different types of seeds and introducing them to the different ways seeds are distributed away from the parent plant. 

After we had cleaned up the seed dissection mess, I gave them a copy of this image (below) and showed them some of the seeds I had collected from around my house. We talked about how each kind gets moved around and why a plant might want to have it's seeds moved around. Some of the methods of dispersal are very clever.

Maple seeds and dandelions are great examples of wind dispersal (we had to stop and go throw some of these "whirlygigs" off the patio). I also had some cotton boles and some grass to pass around.

Animals also disperse grass seeds, but I had a cats claw, a hickory nut, sweet gum balls, and some acorns as examples of this. 
For water dispersal, I had some sea bean and a mangrove seed I had collected in Florida years ago. Coconuts are also a great example of this. One of the kids had supplied us with a green coconut the first week of class, so they had all gotten a chance to see one. 

The previous fall, my son and I had had some fun bursting and collecting jewel-weed seeds. I was able to show them pictures of this, even if I didn't have a real example. If you touch a ripe seed pod, the whole thing explodes.

Finally, humans and other animals can disperse seeds, especially if they are wrapped up in a tempting bit of fruit. Many birds and mammals eat the fruit, seeds and all, and leave the seeds with their droppings wherever they may be.

I brought in a nice sampling of fruit and we talked about where the seeds were in each and how big they were. I also pointed out that many things we call vegetables are actually fruits in a botanic sense. I had a nice selection of whole fruits and vegetables and I would hold up each and ask them, fruit or vegetable? Some of the things I had: apples, strawberries, bananas, kiwi, melon, blueberries, tomatoes, squash, cucumber, sugar snap peas and bell pepper. Also, just for comparison, I had celery, lettuce and beets.

While they were enjoying their fruit snack (I had cut up and pre-prepared a nice selection), I introduced them to the idea of seed banks and why they are so important. A great book for this is The Seed Vault by Bonnie Juettner
As food crops become more of a mono-culture and human populations disturb and eliminate habitats, it's becoming more and more important that we try to save the genetic diversity of plants. The best way, often, to do this is in seed banks. This is good protection for the human race as well as for plant species and habitats in general. 

An example of the importance of this is the potato famine that occurred in Ireland in the mid 1800's. The potato had been imported to Ireland soon before, and had done so well that farmers everywhere started growing them almost exclusively. It became the major source of nutrition for at least a third of the population. The problem was that they were all one type of potato. When a potato blight killed most of the crop, more than a million people died of starvation. Today, we know that there are many types of potatoes, so if it happened again, we could try growing some types that aren't affected by the blight or maybe even put the genes that keep some potatoes healthy into the potatoes that we like to eat. 

There are a couple of really large and well-protected vaults, as well as many smaller ones. The history of these is really interesting food for thought. If you want to know more, this book is a good introduction.

If this were a more evolutionarily minded group, I might have gone into Mendel's genetics at this point, but I decided to stop there. They were reminded to review the handouts I had given them if they wanted to do well for the last class. No tests for us, but reviewing is always a good thing!