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If you give a kid a piece of amber,

she is going to want her microscope to look for insects.
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And then she is going to have a million questions…
Topics of discussion that came up today, all because of a tiny piece of amber:

  • Jurassic Park (of course)
  • What is amber, exactly?
  • sap vs. resin
  • parts of a tree (xylem and phloem, etc)
  • respiration vs photosynthesis
  • how a tree grows
  • How plants protect themselves from pests
  • heart rot
  • why we use cloth napkins and dish towels vs paper
  • tree farms vs cutting forest trees
  • oxygen levels in air
  • life moving from ocean to land
  • how did whales end up back in the ocean?
  • blue-green algae
  • why do we need oxygen?
  • hyperventilation
  • ozone layer
  • sunburn
  • and probably more, but you get the idea.

I am so pleased and delighted that the wonderbox is continuing to do exactly what I had hoped it would do. And then some.


Our artist this month is the fascinating Belgian Surrealist, Rene Magritte. Here is my unexpected conversation when I introduced him to JBug:

Me: “This month I thought we’d look at art by Rene Magritte.”

JBug: “Oh, the guy with hat and the apple head.”

I showed her this picture:
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Me: “Is this who you mean?”

JBug: “Yes, that’s him”

Me: “How did you know that?”

JBug: “Oh, he’s in my Tin Tin comics.”

Well, there you go. Score another win for reading comic books as a valid educational option.

Anyway, after reading about the real Rene Magritte and looking at his art, we have two projects planned for this month based on his works.

The first is inspired by this work (and others like it)
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and imitates his use of silhouettes and patterns.

JBug will paint a background landscape, and then paint another piece of paper with a contrasting pattern, to fill her choice of animal silhouette to make her own version. Should be simple and straightforward, done in 2 days (day 1 for painting, dry overnight, day 2 for cutting and assembling). (I originally got the idea from here, but I decided to change it up quite a bit to allow JBug more choice in her work–choice of landscape, of pattern, of silhouette)

The second project is inspired by this work (and others like it):

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and will imitate Magritte’s use of repetition and self(?)-portraiture.

My idea is to somehow get a photo of JBug and let her manipulate it in multiple sizes and orientations to form a pattern which she will superimpose onto her choice of architectural background. Not sure how we will manage it yet, but it will likely involve some digital manipulation and multiple layers of printing. We shall see. Should be fun and challenging.

If anyone else would like to try their hand at either of these projects, I would love to see the results, so please share!

A box of wonders

Ah. We are finally settled in to our new home and have jumped back into schooling.  Thought I’d share our latest.

This is what I call a box of wonders, though JBug corrected me and said “No, Mom, it is a box of history.”

Either way, it’s pretty simple, really, just a wooden cigar box filled with things we have collected over the years, through our own explorations, bought from souvenir shops here and there, or received as gifts from generous relatives. There are fossil and recent shark teeth collected from beaches from Florida to NC, a fossil leaf I stumbled across while camping in Hope, Alaska. There’s also a few mineral samples including a gold nugget and some ulexite (aka TV rock), an ammonite and a trilobite fossil, some petrified mammoth ivory and a walrus tooth. In the back are some plastic fossil casts. Just random cool stuff.

I handed it to JBug this morning and she practically squealed with excitement. She couldn’t wait to start exploring all of the goodies inside.Some she had seen before, others were new to her. All of them were “so cool.”
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(This is a fossil shark tooth JBug found when we were visiting my brother in Beaufort, NC a few years ago.)

She decided the first thing she wanted to do was to identify all of the shark teeth. (We found a very useful website for that, btw.)

I helped her understand terms like “serrated” and “cusplets” when she asked, but otherwise just let her run with it.
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“Mom! I feel like a real scientist!” she squealed as she giddily made sketches and  noted details in her science notebook. (You can imagine how big my smile was when I heard that!)
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I kept my nose out of it (not easy, but vital), and she wrote down facts and things that she thought were important. No spell checking unless asked. Just a few tips suggested, as in underlining scientific names, measuring in metric, etc. to help her be more “scientific.” She printed up some pictures and glued them in.

She also added them to her timeline of life, which is filling up, slowly but surely.

This occupied her from mid-morning until well into the afternoon. And there is still a whole boxful of wonders history to explore.  Plus, she doesn’t know it yet, but I have a bunch of cool stuff still stashed away that I will be adding to the wonder box on random occasions. Including genuine dinosaur bone fragments(!!!!).

I see future giddiness for many days to come.

How about you? Think you could fill a wonderbox for your child (with shells, leaves, nuts, rocks, old bones, anything interesting your family has collected),point them to the guidebooks, then stand back and let them become “real scientists” for a time?  I guarantee it will be wonderful.

Breaking Rocks

Every once in a while you have a day that makes you sit back and say, “Yes! This is how good learning can be. How it should be.  How I wish it were every day.”
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If you want a day like that, just break out that box of geodes (or that neat experiment kit, or that model rocket, or that expensive art material tucked away in a cabinet). You know, the one you have stashed away, saved for just the right time that never seems to come…
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Quit holding back.. Bring  it out. Let it go.
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I promise, you will not regret it.
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Because what are you saving it for, if not for a day just like…

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New month, new board

I am doing something new this year, which is making a bulletin board for our monthly themes. (Now don’t hate. I have only one child to educate now, so I need to keep myself busy somehow.LOL!)

It’s a small board, nothing elaborate, just enough to serve my purpose, which is to display our monthly artist, literary element, and grammar topic.

Today marks a new month, so it was time to change out the board (which reminded me I hadn’t yet shared on my blog).

This month’s artist is Marc Chagall (last month was Louise Nevelson):

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Our literary element is “characterization” (last month was “setting”).  The photo is my little play-on-words. We call him our “literary elephant”.

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And our grammar focus is verbs this month (last month was nouns):

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I actually have the monthly literary elements and grammar topics planned out for the entire year. The artists have been chosen, too, I just have not yet ordered them by month. Going to play that one by ear.

It’s  not my usual style, but I am finding it a simple way to keep myself accountable. Seeing as it is right there in front of my face, it’s a little harder to just forget about it. Plus it gives me a chance to use my laminator and express my “inner public-school teacher” LOL!

How about you? Doing anything new to keep yourself on track this year?


Language Arts

For language arts this year JBug is doing a combination of the new Partnership Writing program from Bravewriter and writer’s notebook ideas I have gathered from around the web. We use Partnership Writing for monthly writing projects, and writers notebook to focus on mechanics, grammar, and literary elements. Plus JBug does a good bit of writing in her science notebook and her history timeline, so I think we have it well covered.

Partnership Writing has ten monthly writing projects that can be done in any order, and we started with the “Tall Tales” Lapbook project, tweaked, of course, to correspond with JBug’s other studies to become a “Creation Stories from Around the World” lapbook. Here are some pics of her finished product:

The cover, with Raven and Eagle from Alaska Native mythology:
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The inside:

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Some closer pics of some of the elements:

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Love the little chain of people popping out from the Australian Aboriginal god’s armpits!

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The skull book opens up into an entire illustrated storybook:

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Of course, what is a study of creation stories without including Genesis?

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This project has been a lot of fun and I look forward to doing more projects from Partnership Writing with JBug. I will post more about writers notebook soon, because it is going very well also.

This is JBug’s second assemblage project.
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It is based on a lesson plan from Dick Blick called “Rhythm in Layers” and though it was similar to her last assemblage project, it had enough variation going for it–the use of color and the ideas of rhythm and layering– to keep JBug interested. JBug worked quickly and efficiently through the project and finished it in 2 days.

The first day was mostly about arranging a pleasing composition–using neutral colored pieces to help focus on that element. Here is her work in progress after deciding on her composition:

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Then she decided on a color scheme and colored the pieces with a combination of markers, colored pencils, ink, and water colors. The next day she reassembled and glued it all together. Altogether a pleasing process, resulting in a nice piece of wall-worthy artwork.

I have to admit JBug got a bit angry at me at one point for “fiddling with” her art. She doesn’t care for my interference–in fact, cares for it less and less as she gets older and gains confidence in her own abilities. Though in my defense if I hadn’t been “fiddling with” her art she would have accidentally glued her piece to the table. Twice. Ahem. Still, I have to remember to keep my hands off and back off more and more, letting her fly on her own as much as she is capable. Isn’t that always the way, though? It’s a tough life lesson for me especially this week as I prepare to send Superboy off to college this weekend. Oh, how the time flies.

Anyway, her next scheduled project is another Louise Nevelson inspired piece, stacked boxes. Though I am thinking there’s a chance JBug has had her fill of assemblage at this point and ready to move on to something different. We will see.

I have a few requests for a blog post on our art plans this year, so I am very happy to share them with you.

I have chosen what I think is a fun list of artists to study this year — I tried to get a good variety in there, from old masters to modern, to keep things fresh.  Here is the list of artists (in no particular order yet), with the plan being to cover one artist per month (or so), the exceptions being those marked with an asterisk (mostly folk artists), which will likely only take up a week’s time. I’ll also throw in a random project here and there just for kicks.

  • Louise Nevelson
  • Marc Chagall
  • Pablo Picasso
  • Alexander Calder
  • August Rodin
  • F. Hundertwasser
  • Rene Magritte
  • Alberto Giacometti
  • Vincent Van Gogh
  • Leonardo DaVinci

Folk Art

  • Jean Debuffet*
  • Jerome Couelle*
  • Alexandro Farto*
  • Lisa Kokin*
  • Slinkachu*
  • Huichol Nierikas* (not an artist, a style of Mexican folk art)

You may note a distinct lack of French impressionists. This is because we have pretty much done them to death in past years and this year I really wanted to expand JBug’s art horizons a bit with some more abstract art, some folk art, and some more obscure pieces from artists we’ve covered before.

I will try to come back and post links to projects for each artist, but some of them are projects I’ve made up myself, so in that case I will try to do a blog post about it (and link to that) in case anyone else wants to do them as well. In the mean time, many of the projects can be found on my Pinterest board.

But since JBug has already completed her first project, I’ll go ahead and share here.

This project was inspired by the assemblage art of Louise Nevelson, a Russian-born American sculptor known for her large, monochromatic wooden pieces, which were often composed of found objects.

We read about Nevelson and looked at some of her work to gain inspiration, and JBug had a great time gathering odds and ends to add to her piece. She also made a couple of pieces (including a face) out of Crayola Model Magic air-dry clay.

Once gathered, sorted, and arranged in a pleasing manner on a piece of scrap plywood, the pieces were carefully glued down using Gorilla wood glue and allowed to dry overnight.

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The next day a coat of flat white spray paint was sprayed evenly over all, allowed to dry overnight, and then a second coat was added.

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And this is the final result–a monochromatic assemblage piece.   JBug  very much enjoyed the whole process and she said she can see why Louise Nevelson like this kind of art. It’s great fun!

Our next two projects will also be assemblage pieces. One will be inspired by Nevelson’s stacked boxes wall art, and the other can be found here: Dick Blick Art Projects: Rhythm in Layers

And that is all I have for now. Check back later for more!

Having gone through most of American history up to modern times last year, this year we are starting JBug’s study of history all over again, from the beginning. The VERY beginning. As in starting at the Big Bang. (Which happens to coincide brilliantly with our Earth Science,which also starts with that topic).

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To track history, we have a lovely history timeline book from Homeschool in the Woods to work with. Trouble is, it starts (as most history timelines do), at about 5000BC, or the beginning of recorded history, aka “civilization.”  If we want to go further back, we will have to add in pages at the front. Luckily for us this timeline book allows for that, being a 3-hole punched binder-style book. Yay!

So, several things JBug will be adding to her timeline book:

A timeline from the big bang to present time: including formation of our sun, the earth, the moon, tectonic plate movements, the beginnings of life, the birth of Christ, among other cosmic events, appropriately scaled (to get a sense for the vastness of time and our relatively recent appearance).

A timeline of prehistoric life: including dinosaurs, beginnings of mammals, appearance and disappearances (extinction events) of various groups, asteroid impacts,  ice ages, etc.

A timeline of hominid evolution: the descent of man and all that.

A timeline of early man: his movements and migrations across continents and land bridges, etc and major developments such as agriculture, hunting methods, early culture, primitive art, all leading up to the very first civilizations.

A Genesis timeline: we will be looking at the Genesis account of creation and comparing it to the Big Bang, plus exploring creations myths from around the world.

For reference I have a bunch of sciency books and DVD’s from which she can glean basic information, dates, etc, plus I have found some pretty nifty new resources:
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DK Eyewitness Book of Prehistoric Life

This one should cover most of the basics to allow her to place any living things on her timeline.

The next two are really cool paleontology-themed books to help with her hominid timeline:

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Lucy Long Ago: uncovering the mystery of where we came from

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The Skull in the Rock: how a scientist, a boy, and Google Earth opened a new window on human origins

And this one to take a look at creation stories from all around the world:

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In the Beginning: Creation stories from around the world

So, big bang to first civilizations–Whew! That’s a lot of time to cover and should easily keep JBug busy for the year, don’t you think? I am really looking forward to exploring the really ancient past with JBug this year! I think it is going to be EPIC!

Dig it!

For those following along on my earth science course, this post adds some details on the simulated archeology/paleontology dig I have planned to supplement the sections on dinosaurs, fossils, and finding the earth’s age.

First off, this has turned into a scheduling nightmare for me, as it turns out we will likely not be moving to Dillingham (a tiny, charming village on the coast of Bristol Bay on the Alaska Peninsula) until late September or early October, which is when I was thinking of doing this activity. I originally thought we would be moved and settled by then. No such luck.

This is further complicated by the fact that here in Fairbanks we will have frozen solid ground by then (and snow likely as well).

I’m going to have to bump up my timeline considerably or do some major re-shuffling of the order I do things in order to get it done here in Fairbanks before the freeze.

And though none of this affects you guys( you are not tied to my schedule and can plan as you please) those of you in early-winter regions may want to think about how the weather may affect your dig and get to it pronto before cold weather becomes a factor. It’s just too rich of an activity to leave out due to poor planning.

Now, on to the details.

A similated dig is where the teacher sets up a site, pre-filled with strategically placed artifacts to be discovered by the student. There are many ways this can be done, but the important thing is that the student digs in a realistic, careful, authentic way, layer-by-horizontal layer, recording data as he/she goes. The dig should be set up so that the student uncovers artifacts that have been arranged in such a way as to relate to one another to tell a story. A straight archeological dig will have remnants of a human inhabitation: pottery, arrowheads, burned wood, beads, etc., all consistent with one particular culture and time (ie don’t mix Greek pottery with Amerindian arrowheads, etc). Decide ahead of time on the culture (perhaps tied in with your history studies?) and build the dig accordingly.

Digs are ideally set up in the ground (how I hope to do it) or if that is not feasible, can be done in a large container of some sort like a sandbox, kiddie pool, or large plastic container(one of those under-the-bed storage boxes comes to mind). Smaller-scale digs have even been done successfully in plastic shoe boxes. The important thing is that the dirt be removed by the child in layers, uncovering rather than digging up artifacts. Tip: Sand is not the best material to use because items tend to shift as the child digs and their relationships to one another are lost.

Digs can be single-layer, or multi-layer. In a multi-layer dig, artifacts should be arranged so that they rest in layers according to age, with the oldest items on the bottom, newest on top. Ideally the dirt would be visually or texturally distinct from layer to layer to help the child distinguish them, and to give further authenticity to the dig. Add potting soil to darken a layer, a bit of sand to change the texture of a layer, etc.

Artifacts can be genuine or artificial (perhaps made from clay) or I have even seen laminated cut-out pictures of artifacts sucessfully used in place of the real thing. Maybe even a combination of a few real pieces mixed with artificial ones.

In my dig there will be three to four distinct layers.

On the bottom will be the paleo layer, containing some real fossils I purchased online as well as a few I have collected over the years. This may actually be 2 or more layers, depending on whether I decide to get that detailed or not.

In the middle will be an Ice Age layer, containing some fossilized mammoth bone, dolphin vertebra, walrus ivory and tooth, fossilized wood, and some amber.

The top layer will be the Alaska Native layer, with some beads (both glass and caribou bone) salmon bones, clam shells,  moose hide, and some burned alder wood (used to smoke salmon) as well as anything else I can come up with.

Artifacts are the fun part, so get creative with these! Fossils, both real and artificial, can be ordered in kits online (I got this one) or made from clay (terra cotta sculpey makes wonderful fossils, in fact we made some ourselves a few years back that turned out great.) Pottery (check yard sales or thrift stores) can be broken and placed so that the student can find the pieces and “restore” the piece like a real curator.

I also have a really super cool fake T-Rex scale model that I have yet to decide if I am going to add to the dig or do as a seperate project. If I add it, it will be the only fake thing in the dig, but would also be so cool. Maybe even so cool that it overshadows the real fossils? I don’t know. What do you think, add it or no?

Anyways, there are a million and one ways to go about all of this. You just have to find the way that will work for you. I encourage you to think big and go for it!

There are a few websites with excellent info that can help, so I will pass them along to you.

Archeological Institute of America: Lesson Plans: Simulated Digs

Basics of Archeology for Simulated Dig users

Archeology in the Classroom

Hope that helps!

Feel free to ask any clarifying questions!


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