Friday, June 20, 2014

A little science fun

We have been enjoying a random assortment of outstanding science resources this summer.

First is the Cosmos series just aired on Fox by Neil deGrasse Tyson. If you haven't seen this series, I HIGHLY recommend you do. You will never be the same again.

We are currently viewing it from pre-recorded episodes, but it is my hope that it will soon be available by purchase or download.

If you don't already know, Neil is an astrophysicist of very high stature. He admired the late Carl Sagan, who had done a series of shows by the same name. This series is Neil's effort to update that wonderful series with current science. The show gives you a glimpse of the history and scope of our knowledge of the earth and the universe.

Along those lines, someone pointed me to this little gem of a website:

You have got to check this out. Have the kids play with it.

It's fabulous, and puts me in mind of this fabulous little video we watched a while ago - Powers of Ten:

It's better though, because you can play with it and find out all kinds of things you may not have already known.

Also, we continue to enjoy the programing at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh. Most Thursday's you can find some kind of programming at the Science Cafe'. Sometimes it is speakers sharing their work and knowledge on a particular topic. The first Thursday of each month is Science Trivia night. The kids and I met several other homeschool friends there this month and parents and kids all had a blast. I must say that seating can be a problem, but if you get there early, the food is good. The kids formed a team and did pretty well next too some really knowledgable science geek type adults! During the school year, there are also Teen Science Cafe nights (first Fridays), where they try to select speakers and topics of interest to a younger audience. Of course, none of this includes all of the great classes and opportunities the museum offers, or the special exhibits. Right now they have a special Rainforest Exhibit that we plan to check out soon. The list goes on.
There are opportunities for girls interested in science, for teens to volunteer their time and more.

Finally, I have to confess that I am officially addicted to an iPad app called QuizUp. Pick a topic and pit yourself against other players all over the world. It's free and available on iPads, iPhones and Androids. I have no idea how they are making any money because I haven't seen any advertising. Being the science geek that I am, I've been rocking the Aquatic Animals category and have played people from every continent and a few random islands besides! This can be a great motivator to practice trivia knowledge, though I think we all tend to stick to the topics we feel we can do well at. My daughter is the top player in the state for the Percy Jackson category and also pretty much owns the Lord of the Rings, and my son is rocking the 2014 World Cup. I tried General Literature and found out that I'm pretty bad, but I learned a few things anyway.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Little Writing Monsters

The title of this blog post could easily be my daughter, who has been obsessively writing stories, or at least the beginnings of stories, for a good year now, often to the detriment to other things she should be doing... but I digress.

The fact is, I am actually referring to a fun little writing exercise I did today with my son.

 I've been having my son go through this book: Just Write: Creativity and Craft in Writing, Book 1, as a way to get a little writing practice in over the summer. I found it on my shelf and decided it would do the trick. Since he is actually mostly beyond the material thought-wise (one would hope so, it's 1st grade book and he is supposed to be in 5th grade), I am just skimming through it quickly with him, hitting the highlights. In a chapter about descriptions, I came upon this fun little activity:

...use this sheet to list some details about a monster that you create. Then give this list to someone so they can draw a picture of what your monster looks like. Be sure to have enough details so your partner has a clear picture in his or her mind of what your monster looks like.

I told my son if he wrote down some descriptions I would try to draw a monster. If I got the monster all wrong it would be because he didn't describe it well enough!

Here is what he wrote:

Here is what I came up with:

It wasn't exactly what he had envisioned, but he liked it anyway.

My daughter decided she wanted to do it too, so I made up a monster of my own and she produced this very adorable drawing.

 It's not exactly what I specified, but she said she couldn't do a dog snout. I love how she named it and gave it some character too.

I think I'll call that little exercise a success!

Since we are talking about writing here, I should mention that our friend, Casey, who will be providing us with some writing classes next year, has started a blog with some wonderful writing ideas. It's worth checking out.

I can personally attest that her suggestion of, Unjournaling by Cheryl Miller Thurston, is a great resource for writing prompts. I may also check out the rest of the books in the Just Write Series. Some of this stuff is pretty fun!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

NC Maker Fair 2014

Wow. It's been a long time since I last posted. I won't lie. I did kinda give up on this blog for a while... and pretty much any extraneous writing at all. 

The weight of things to keep up with was just too much for me. I even toyed with the idea of letting it go (a phrase heard way too much around here lately!). 

To enumerate all of the things that transpired this Spring would take me quite a while. Let me just say that I haven't been that stressed and overburdened with worry and commitments since we first started homeschooling eight years ago.

We have come to the lovely month of June, however, and I can finally breathe a bit, take stock, and reevaluate our lives. I have thought of my poor languishing blog but just couldn't face it until now.

It is odd what will point a person in a particular direction, and what has pointed me back here is the fact that we went to the Maker Fair yesterday. Yes, just a local event that was a ton of fun, and I have this tremendous need to share our experience with you and way too many pictures for Facebook or email!

I posted about this event last year

Most of the same organizations from last year were there this year as well, but there were some new things and well as the old things. The Fair got so big last year that they moved into a larger building at the Fairgrounds this time around, which was very nice. A little more elbow room made the experience a little less stressful. We had a lot of fun last year, but I was never one to love crowds. Also, it's easier to see what is on the tables if they are spread out a little bit.

There was a nice article in the local paper about it this morning here. However, I must say that the N&O is being very annoying and requiring an account to view it.

Let me just show you some of the stuff we did...

We met many friends while we were there. There was a large cross-section of homeschoolers in the building for various reasons. This is my son with his friend and a Chinese yoyo. They both love playing with these things.

We saw many, many 3D printers. It seems to be the technology of the moment.

Some students from NC State had rigged a "hot wire" that cut through styrofoam like it was nothing. Strangely fascinating to do.

Bike racing. Wait for the green light and peddle like mad!

Costumes for geeks.

My son found a Space Shuttle simulator. It had sound, lights, vibration and lots of cool buttons to push, flip or turn. It also had video and a joystick. Outside was a panel for "Mission Control". I think the maker was possibly showing it to see if anyone wanted to pay him to make them one.

The guy around the corner from this made puppets. They were SO COOL!

Meanwhile, my daughter really loves to spend time, lots of time, at particular tables making things. Last year she went right to the comic book table and made a little black and white comic book which took her almost a half an hour to do. This year she ended up at a table called "MAY DIT". First she made some word-find puzzles that she printed out, and then she made a sign that was then printed onto sticky vinyl and cut out. The sign is now stuck to her bedroom door.

Many people in our local homeschool group have gotten heavily into First Lego League. We have a group called Wake Robotics which has been expanding and is now trying to drum up money to move into a new space. They had a very large interactive space this year to both demonstrate some of the robots that were built this year and to showcase some fun activities for kids of all ages.

We discovered something called MaKey MaKey's, which are little kits you can order to do fun little activities with electronics. This one uses potatoes to play whack-a-mole. Also on my buying list are Snap Circuits and possibly littleBits. They both give kids some experience with building electronics and understanding how energy flows and how things are built... though my husband is more in favor of a good old fashioned radio set.

What's a good Geek-fest without a few robots? We had both real and imagined.

Robot hockey... my son's favorite thing. Too bad we didn't get there soon enough to get his name on the list to drive one. Competitions started on the hour throughout the day.
Also, a tesla coil.

Video games, both old and new. I think this one is called Frogger? Remember it from the arcade days.:/

 Homemade hovercraft rides.

 On the historical and sci-fi end of things, there was the Society for Creative Anachronism doing spinning and calligraphy. We had guys dressed up in Medieval costumes doing sword demonstrations, and we had the Steampunk aficionados showing off some of their costume and set creations.

Arts and crafts included paper creations, textiles, fairy doors and homes, knitting and weaving, jewelry creations, and my favorite, glass blowing.

This was a fascinating mix of art and science. Glass creations made to order, often for scientific purposes. It was so fun to watch. 

There were way more displayers than what I have mentioned here, of course. This post is too long as it is, and we didn't even see many of the tables. 

If you have a Maker Fair in you area, I highly recommend taking a day to explore. There are so many things to see and discover.