Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I Love...

that Flurpee, my 7-year-old daughter, asks me how to sound out groups of letters instead of asking me to read the whole word to her. Unfortunately she's at the level where the reason she's asking is because she's already tried the standard pronunciation and the word itself is irregular. But it's obvious that she expects most letter combinations to make specific sounds. Yippee!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Free 2 Week Science Fiction Writing Class

CurrClick's free item of the week (once you sign up for their newsletter) is a free on-line course to write a science fiction story. It's open to all ages.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Virtual High School

I just found out about this internet-only school. It offers many, many courses for high school students (though it doesn't provide a degree). The Virtual High School, acredited through NYAAC, normally operates with more traditional schools that it partners with. The school joins the program and it's students can enroll in courses and the school provides a teacher or teachers to help present courses.

Luckily for homeschoolers, it seems that they also have an option for allowing homeschool students to participate as well. My mind always turns to cost when I learn of a new opportunity. Knowing that the Virtual High School's tuition is normally paid by a school, I wanted to find some information on price. I came across this page discussing tuition, but because the site isn't specifically geared toward homeschoolers, I can't be sure that the numbers quoted are the true tuition that a homeschool family would pay.

Virtual High School offers many different courses that would be difficult for a homeschooler to get on their own. Their classes are much more diverse than one would get at the local high school, like proto-engineering or business. The school was designed for smaller schools that did not have enough teachers or students to offer as much as they would like. The courses include honors and AP offerings. They also have a middle school program for gifted and talented middle schoolers. Many of the schools that use the Virtual High School are international schools that could be in many different nations.

The courses are run over the internet. One has to wonder how in-depth such a format can be. This page talks about the expectations for the work-levels. An AP level course may take 10-12 hours a week! A standard level course minimum requires logging in at least three times a week and six to eight hours of time. I cannot tell if they run a class, like a lecture or if the teacher uploads notes and homework and then answers questions.

If the tuition page is correct, then the price is about a half to a third of what a typical private college preparatory high school tuition is here in Connecticut (but I've never seen or heard of the insane--to me--level of college prep anywhere else). Some of the classes have definitely been influenced by the refiguring of college classes. A course entitle 'World War II through the eyes of Dr. Seuss' for the middle schoolers is an example. Some of the high school level courses are much more serious, mostly in science and writing. They are also currently offering advanced web design, animation and effects, and popular music.

Parents can find out more about the Virtual High School here. The high school offers a demonstration of the internet course.

Susan Boyle 1999

This is so good! If she does come out with a CD of standards, I would buy it and listen to it frequently.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Northeast Astronomy Forum & Telescope Show

The Northeast Astronomy Forum is held in southen New York state, near exit 15 of the New York state thruway (where 87 and 287 split)--close to the New Jersey state line. It is a quick drive from western Connecticut, northern New Jersey and, of course, southern New York.

The expo will take place on Saturday and Sunday, April 18th and 19th (next weekend). It's $20 for adults and kids 16 and under are free when accompanied by an adult. It sounds really interesting. The link includes an agenda that includes speakers, a 3D film, workshops on solar imaging or DSLR astrophotography (workshops require registration). The events and speakers include a lecture on purchasing a beginning telescope, the premiere of the documentary "Journey on Mars 3-D," amateur exoplanet discoveries from the editor of Sky & Telescope magazine, Citizen Scientist, the Interstellarum magazine editor with "Charles Messier: His Catalog and Objects in a New Light," and "Jets from Black Holes in Quasars."

There will be a number of telescope and related equipment vendors at the expo--lots for amatuers to drool over! They will also have mirror grinding demonstrations (!), educational activities for children, amateur telescope making display, and planetarium shows.

It looks like a lot of fun. My husband is planning to take Hanover and Flurpee, perhaps with a fellow astronomer friend. Perhaps he'll see you there!

Academy of Science and Technology #3

Roberta, at the Growing with Science blog, has the 3rd edition of the Academy of Science and Technology!

Please visit and learn something about how people are sharing science with youngsters!

If you would like to host, let me know here.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Dissection Class--Pictures Included

I enrolled Hanover and Flurpee in a nature class this year. I do not usually enroll in outside classes. The time commitment between driving and class-time is usually too much out of my school day. So the class had better fit in with our educational goals and not take up too much of our school time. Not to mention cost! Many classes are $150 or more for two or three months and some as high as $250 for a semester--well outside of our already stretched budget. This nature class was a generally good fit and because the class runs once a month, budget friendly.

This particular class had a bird dissection scheduled. This was quite controversial among the parents since the age range of the class was 2nd grade to 5th grade. We were concerned with our kids being as squeamish as we were! Personally, I was hoping my kids would be OK with doing the dissection because I would much rather they do it with a knowledgeable teacher than have me fumble through it with them in three years.

Many of the parents were talking about letting their kids opt out. I decided I would tell my kids that the class was about looking inside of a bird and not mention that they could skip it. Not because I would have forced them to go through it if they were very uncomfortable, but I wanted them to have the basic understanding that this was what was going to happen. If they had turned green or cried, I certainly would have allowed them to sit it out.

Neither happened. In fact, not a single kid, not even the young ones, was too squeamish to participate. Some were very eager! The object of the dissection was an immature red-tailed hawk. That was exciting for the adults as well as the kids. The bird had been starving when it found its way to the nature center and once it died back in October, they put it in the freezer. So the kids were not dissecting a preserved specimen, but a fresh, once it was defrosted (I find that really amusing), body.

The teacher first talked about red-tailed hawks in general. This nature center has a lot of taxidermy, and they passed around various parts (like wings and feet) from previously unfortunate birds. He spoke about its claws, eyesight, sound, size, and speed. He compared the wing to the wing from a plane. They showed how powerful the bird's wings were by using an actual wing and letting the kids feel how much wind it caused when it was flapped.

It was finally time to bring out the bird to be dissected. The bird was placed in a fairly large, deep tray with paper lining the bottom. There was no odor. The kids donned gloves and safety glasses. Because there was only one specimen, the children each took turns in different parts of the dissection. They lined up. The first part of the dissection involved removing the wings. So the first and second kids helped cut the wings off of the body. The teacher then spent some time ripping out feathers (which was very difficult--now I know why chicken carcasses are dipped in boiling water before stripping off the feathers--here is a pic of a skinned red-tailed hawk that I happened to find in a Google search.). The next students got to cut open the skin of the chest. More feather ripping.

I hope you will forgive the quality of the images below (whether they are too low res and out-of-focus for your tastes, or if they show too much!). I used my cell phone camera.

Hanover, picture below, first separated the skin from the flight muscles (breast) underneath.

Isn't the teacher brave? He's letting these kids use the scalpel and scissors with his whole body within arm's reach.

Then Hanover used scissors to cut through the ribs.

It's hard work to finish cutting and pulling out the breast plate!

Once the breast plate is removed, we can see the heart.

Here is Flurpee getting ready to cut out the heart. Dead give-away that she's going to be a heart-breaker. (Too many bad jokes?)

And again with the scalpel in the hands of someone who has only been cutting her own meat for a year.

The instructor finishes the removal of the heart (Flurpee was having a hard time using the scissors with those large gloves). Once the heart was out of the body, the instructor cut it in half so we could see that it was open inside.

Then Flurpee helped cut out the liver.

The instructor showed us the gallbladder attached to the brown liver (a small green bump). He also showed us how the pink trachea, which had ribbing along its length, split to go into each lung. The lungs were a dark pink. He took out the trachea and showed us where the hawk makes noise. After the trachea was removed, we could see the esophagus, which was a flat, flexible tube, and traced it's path into the gizzard and stomach. He removed the stomach and we could see the intestines unravel and stretch to quite a length.

It was a great experience. I found myself more fascinated than many of the kids. All I could remember from frog dissection in 6th grade was not being able to differentiate any of the organs. This time it was quite easy. I am so glad that my kids were able to participate.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Objectivist Round Up

Titanic Deck Chairs has the latest!

Science and Technology Blog Carnival Submissions!

Get ready to send in your submissions for the next Academy of Science and Technology! Let's make it easy to find great posts that help teachers, parents, and homeschoolers ignite the love of science and technology in kids. Whether you have a lesson, have a kit that you've used, read a book for kids or about kids and science, you have something other people want to know about.

Read more about the Academy here.

Submit an article here.

Look for the next Academy of Sci and Tech at The Growing with Science Blog!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Astronomy Light Presentation Live Blogging

This is a special class my husband presents during the astronomy class before he begins the talk about more advanced astronomy topics. I'll just be hitting the important topics (because I'm not actually in the class, but keeping the Filthy Little Moose from interfering). Refresh to see the latest. Most recent updates at the bottom.

7:15 Light is in waves. Light is caused by electro-magnetic activity. It has a wavelength. The wavelengths can be very small--on the order of micrometers, and can be very large.

7:20 Visible light wavelengths are about 0.4 micrometers at the violet end to 0.8 micrometers at the red end.

7:25 Combine red, green, and yellow light into white (-ish--depends on the strength of the each flashlight and the 'pureness' of the original light color. Close enough to be convincing.).

7:30 Show white light (from a projector) going through a prism and breaking into its spectrum.

7:35 The wavelength affects how much it is refracted in the prism.

7:40 Whenever light hits anything, some of the light gets reflected, some goes through.

7:43 A diffraction grating has microscopic lines carved into the glass of a mirror. It breaks light into its spectrum more effectively than a prism.

7:45 A prism could be made out of a pan of water tilted.

7:48 When light hits an object, it can be reflected (like a mirror), it can go through the object, or it can be absorbed. Does a demonstration with glass. Scattering also occurs, but that is close to reflection.

7:55 A demonstration of technology that keeps one color of light from going through glass.

8:00 The color of any object you look at is how much light is reflected, absorbed, or transmitted by that object. Put one color object in a different color light and it loses it's color.

8:03 The absorbed light has to 'go' somewhere. It gets changed into a different energy.

8:05 A red object in blue light looks grayish. In a red light it looks very red.

8:07 A white shirt will reflect any color, because the material is made to reflect all colors. A black material absorbs all the visible light and generates more heat from the absorption.

Filthy little Moose has just wondered down the hall. I wonder how long until I get the call to rescue the class from him.

8:10 Color is not IN the object. Color is in the light hitting the object. The wavelength affects how the object appears.

8:15 Moving into the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Much larger than what is visible to humans.

8:20 Smaller wavelengths are ultra-violet, x-ray, and gamma ray. Longer wavelengths include infrared.

Had to remove the babe from the midst of the class.

8:23 Young eyes, generally, are more sensitive than older eyes.

8:25 A digital camera is able to pick up more of the red spectrum than our eyes. They may be able to see an infrared signal that we use, and cannot see, everyday.

8:30 Infrared light is a great way to see warm things. People are a great example (hello, night vision?). Tree leaves radiate infrared radiation at night.

8:34 Pictures representing light wavelengths outside of the visible range are re-colored to represent data to people--those colors are not actual color because they are NOT in the visible light range.

8:36 A dying star might only be visible in the infrared. Jupiter gives off a lot of infrared.

8:38 Radio waves have wavelengths that start at a tenth of a mile and go up to about 60 miles. They are very low energy compared to visible light. Radio waves are NOT sound waves. They are light waves.

8:40 Radio waves are not blocked by the clouds. Radio waves go through walls. Rocks generally reflect radio waves. Demonstration of the reflection of radio waves.

8:43 Technical glitch trying to get the radio to the right station. Ah--all fixed.

8:46 So glad I bought myself a $30 radio transmitter to have my husband steal it and squirrel it away for years on end just so he can find it when it's time to do this particular presentation for the astronomy course. Hmph.

8:50 Lots of questions about what can stop microwaves. Is there some disaster I should know about?

8:53 Radio waves are used in astronomy. They go through clouds so radio astronomer don't have to worry about cloudy nights.

8:57 Cloudy Nights is also my husband's favorite amateur astronomer site.

9:00 Back to ultraviolet. A digital camera also detects ultraviolet better than humans.

9:03 Ultraviolet is so energetic that when it hits some objects, it causes those objects to reflect ultraviolet, but the objects also re-emit different wavelengths--thus changing the color of the object. Fluorescence.

9:08 Great fun showing everyday objects that fluoresce.

9:20 Looking at the sun's ultraviolet light is very interesting.

9:22 Talking about x-rays. NO demonstrations. That makes everyone happy. X-ray wavelengths are very high energy. Black holes give off x-rays.

The Bamm Bamm is still awake. All because I wanted to live blog this!

9:30 And it's over! The students were all troopers.


One of the birthday parties I had for my kids that was the most fun was the Pirate Party! We got refrigerator boxes from a local appliance store, cut open the top and painted pirate ships on the sides. We divided the kids into groups of two and gave them cheap plastic golf balls (like wiffle balls they were hollow on the inside) spray painted black to use as cannon balls to hurl at each other's ships. We counted how many ended up in each ship at the end of a certain amount of time and the team with the most had to "walk the plank", a balance beam we had made that we placed in between the two ships. We also had a treasure hunt with riddles and an oversize map that my husband ran through with the kdis and they all worked together to solve the riddles and run to the next clue. We hung fishing net from the shrubs with fish and shells stuck in it and paper parrots from the trees.

I'm a big fan of 'mood' music, so I sea and pirate songs (thanks, Captain Bogg and Salty--Scurvy!) playing loudly in the background during the whole party. Aside from Mojo Nixon Pirate Radio, here was one of my favorites (I found a program that allowed me to silence impolite words):

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Inside the Mind of a College Admissions Officer

Joanne Jacobs quotes an article discussing what a college admissions officer is looking for. I found it really surprising. She also discusses her impressions while doing college interviews.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Thinking of the Girls and Taking them Seriously

I learned something the other day that really set me back on my heels. I asked a fellow homeschooler about her plans for her older daughter. The daughter is getting to be high school age and all of us homeschoolers are always curious about whether someone is going to homeschool through high school. So I asked, busy-body that I am, what her plans were for high school and how she was planning for college for the daughter.

"I'm more concerned about college for the boys. The girls are just going to get married." was the reply. Wow. Talk about culture shock. Never had I considered that a family would still consider marriage their daughter's highest goal. While I hope my children get married and I have lots of grandchildren to dote over, I recognize those are my hopes and I will not impose them on my children. My highest goal for my children, girls and boy, are to be independent, thinking, adults who make choices they have determined support their values and help them achieve the tools they need. In this case I would like to limit myself to pointing out two situations that the mother in this case may not have considered.

While I would not consider myself a modern-day feminist, I am so pleased that I entered the workforce after so many other women had made it more likely to see women working outside of the home and in traditionally male careers. It is easy for us younger women to forget how women were often poor hiring choices because they were just marking time until marriage or pregnancy.

It's ironic, also, that we forget that working mothers have long been a part of our history. The difficulty mentioned above was more common to professional careers. Many poor women would be employed in unskilled or semi-skilled labor in factories. The kind of jobs that offer long hours, low pay, uncomfortable work environment, and little or no benefits. Many of the unskilled factory laborer jobs are no longer available. Entering the work force without training means having a harder time finding a job, and even if a job is available it is unlikely to support a home and family.

Why do I care? What bothers me so much about girls being left without the means to support themselves or a family? Although an uncommon occurrence, domestic abuse still occurs. Women may still be emotionally and physically abused in a relationship. I'm sure none of us can imagine marrying a man who would turn abusive. Certainly, many women who were abused did not knowingly marry a cruel husband. Unfortunately, it can still happen. Without a skill, these women will be even more dependent on their abusive spouses. Domestic abuse can undermine every woman's self-esteem, no matter what training or education they may have. Once a woman is finally at a point where she recognizes her life, her sanity, or the lives and minds of her children require her to leave that situation, knowing that she has an ability may make a difference in feeling that she can change her life for the better.

Perhaps the mothers assume that the children can come home to them. I can't imagine a family turning away their daughter in a time of need. I can, however, imagine a daughter choosing not to burden her parents with her and her children's presence. I can also imagine the parents being unable to accommodate an influx of kids. And, in the most unfortunate circumstance, no longer being around when the daughter needs that kind of support. So while we can hope to help, it is always better to teach someone, especially our children who rely on us to prepare them to fend for themselves in adulthood, to be able to rely on themselves.

Another aspect of being unskilled in a marriage has more to do with keeping a family together. In most families the husband it still expected to be the primary earner, there are circumstances that may require the wife to re-enter the workforce. I have seen a number of families where the husband has lost his job. A woman who is skilled or well-educated may be able to replace enough (if not more) of the lost income and still allow a parent to stay home. If her priority is still to stay with the children, she is more likely to be able to earn enough part-time to help. There are some jobs that are flexible enough to allow a woman to work from home or even after hours without requiring a large time commitment. This could be a permanent change or just something that allows the family to weather a rough patch intact.

Ultimately, I feel it can only improve a woman's chances in life to be fully prepared to take care of herself and her family through bringing home a paycheck. Even if she chooses to dedicate her life as a stay-at-home-mother, I believe having a choice is the most important part. Being well-educated enough to support a career (especially with a college education or even college preparatory) will benefit a dedicated wife and mother in a myriad of ways; choosing medical care for her children or choosing educational options for example. Many people without a college education do these things quite competently and many people with a college education mess it up. Less education requires a larger learning curve that I feel is easier to address as part of a generalized curriculum as a young adult. More education is better.

Older children need to become responsible for their own choices as they get older, as well. In my opinion, adults can help those choices be the ones that properly prepare them for life on their own when we emphasize education and training for a career (in trades or professionally) for all of our children.

The How and Why Wonder Book of Chemistry Synopsis

I got an old book at a booksale titled "The How and Why Wonder Book of Chemistry." It first gives a history of alchemy (since alchemists were the first actual chemists). It talks about how the Ancient Greeks thought everything was made from the four elements: Earth, Air, Fire, Water. etc.

Here are the topics covered:

What is matter? Anything the has weight and can be seen or touched, like a book, ice cream, air, water, moon, stars. There are things that are not matter: heat, radio waves, ideas, and feelings for instance.

What are the three states of matter? Can something change from one state to another? Matter can be solid, liquid, and gas. (We'll introduce colloids later, right?) Showing ice, to water, to steam is a great way to show matter changing state. Dry ice with hot water poured over it is a great way to show a solid changing to gas. The bubbles in soda or sparkling water are another example of carbon dioxide gas.

What is a chemical element? A part so simple it cannot be divided into simpler parts. No matter how much alchemists tried to break some metals down even further, they saw that they never changed. Gold, silver, copper, iron, lead, tin are examples.

What are chemical compounds? Compounds are made by putting together chemical elements. Most things are compounds. Salt, water, vinegar, sugar, chalk are all compounds. Water is made from hydrogen and oxygen. But those two things alone won't make water. Chemical compounds usually use special means of combination. In the case of 2 parts hydrogen and 1 part oxygen, electricity can be applied and the resulting explosion allows the hydrogen and oxygen to combine to form water. We could see carbon dioxide forming when combining vinegar and baking soda by putting some vinegar in the bottom of a water bottle, putting some baking soda in a balloon, and fastening it onto the bottle top. Once it was on, we tipped up the balloon and as the two reacted, the balloon started to inflate with the carbon dioxide gas. The book goes on to talk about how some elements join so easily with other elements that they are hard to find in their 'pure' form, while others hardly ever react.

The next topic covered in the book are atoms and molecules. There is a pretty typical, incredible (and I mean that literally here since it cannot possibly be understood just from the description) size given. Molecules are made by atoms joining together--either with the same element or even hundreds of other atoms from different elements. Chemical compounds are made of molecules.

How do atoms combine? Atoms are attracted to each other like tiny magnets. Atoms can join in different combinations and in different patterns (a nice point to make). Some important arrangement patterns are atoms in a long line, a chain, or atoms in a circle, a ring.

What is a mixture? Take a handful of sugar and a handful of marbles and put them in a jar and then shake the jar up. Is this the same as a compound? No. Mixtures can be easily separated. In the case of salt water, the salt can be separated out by evaporating away the water. Compounds require a chemical reaction to be broken back into their constituent elements and that is a much more involved process.

How do chemists form new compounds? Different materials may each be dissolved in liquids and then the liquids could be mixed together.

The book then talks about taste (the importance of dissolving what is eaten in order to taste it), the discovery of phosphorous (urine and sand heated--and the book says they don't understand why he chose sand) and how it is necessary for health, that oxygen is the most abundat element and how it is isolated and how humans use oxygen in their bodies. The book also covers the hardness of diamonds, how graphite writes, making charcoal, where coal comes from and it's uses, and iron as an incredibly important element civilization, as well as steel. In a section of organic chemistry, the book covers why carbon molecules are so ubiquitous, plants and their food, chlorophyll as a catalyst (speeds up a chemical reaction without changing itself), the oxygen-carbon dioxide cycle, and proving that plants emit oxygen (an experiment is included). The book concludes by discussing some branches (at the time) of chemistry: agricultural and food chemistry, inorganic chemistry, biochemistry, and medical chemistry.

The final question in the book asks, "Is there still a need for new chemists today?" And the final concluding sentences: "Endless opportunities await the chemist to help make the world a more comfortable and more humane place in which to live. This is the noble purpose of chemistry."


From a question brought up in the comments:

The book is definitely meant for a young audience. I'd say around elementary age. Since my own kids are still in elementary, I haven't started collecting older texts yet. Though I did pick up a college chemistry textbook at a library sale.

The book was published in 1960, so the illustrations are four colors at best. Because it is meant for a younger audience, it includes illustrations on every page.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Laundry Elf

Flurpee has decided to make her laundry-hanger chore more interesting. About once a week (or when I'm in desperate need), the kids need to bring me the empty hangers from their closets. This is what I found after Flurpee brought hers:

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Round Up is Up

At Rational Jenn's, always a high quality experience!

Survived April Fools'

Was definitely tricked by this one, Expedia's flights to Mars--hope springs eternal!

100 Great Hoaxes for April Fools' Day.

Here are a couple I remember:

#4: The Taco Liberty Bell1996: The Taco Bell Corporation announced it had bought the Liberty Bell and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. Hundreds of outraged citizens called the National Historic Park in Philadelphia where the bell was housed to express their anger. Their nerves were only calmed when Taco Bell revealed, a few hours later, that it was all a practical joke. The best line of the day came when White House press secretary Mike McCurry was asked about the sale. Thinking on his feet, he responded that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold. It would now be known, he said, as the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial.

#7: Alabama Changes the Value of Pi1998: The April 1998 issue of the New Mexicans for Science and Reason newsletter contained an article claiming that the Alabama state legislature had voted to change the value of the mathematical constant pi from 3.14159 to the 'Biblical value' of 3.0. Soon the article made its way onto the internet, and then it rapidly spread around the world, forwarded by email. It only became apparent how far the article had spread when the Alabama legislature began receiving hundreds of calls from people protesting the legislation. The original article, which was intended as a parody of legislative attempts to circumscribe the teaching of evolution, was written by physicist Mark Boslough.

#73: The Origin of April Fool’s DayIn 1983 the Associated Press reported that the mystery of the origin of April Fool's Day had finally been solved. Joseph Boskin, a History professor at Boston University, had discovered that the celebration had begun during the Roman empire when a court jester had boasted to Emperor Constantine that the fools and jesters of the court could rule the kingdom better than the Emperor could. In response, Constantine had decreed that the court fools would be given a chance to prove this boast, and he set aside one day of the year upon which a fool would rule the kingdom. The first year Constantine appointed a jester named Kugel as ruler, and Kugel immediately decreed that only the absurd would be allowed in the kingdom on that day. Therefore the tradition of April Fools was born. News media throughout the country reprinted the Associated Press story. But what the AP reporter who had interviewed Professor Boskin for the story hadn't realized was that Boskin was lying. Not a word of the story was true, which Boskin admitted a few weeks later. Boston University issued a statement apologizing for the joke, and many papers published corrections.

#88: Bank Teller FeesIn 1999 the Savings Bank of Rockville placed an ad in the Connecticut Journal-Inquirer announcing that it would soon begin charging a $5 fee to customers who visited a live teller. The ad, which appeared on March 31, claimed that the fee was necessary in order to provide, "professional, caring and superior customer service." Although the ad was a joke, many customers failed to recognize it as such. One woman reportedly closed her account because of it. The bank then ran a second ad revealing that the initial ad was a joke. The bank manager commented that the first ad ironically "commits us to not charging such fees."