Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Journals Designed to Publish HS Research!

STEM mom describes JEI and JESS, both journals publish young researchers through a rigourous scientifically peer-reviewed process.

As you determine what final product you will have your student researchers complete, you may want to have them write their paper in a format to be submitted to a journal accepts papers from high school students. If you know from the beginning this is one of your goals, I would teach the documentation style of the specific to which students will be submitting. Having peer-edited (by scientists, not high school peers) journals is a wonderful way to provide your students with an authentic audience. As I learn about these, I will post them here on this page. As of now, I know of two. The Journal of Emerging Investigators (JEI), and Journal of Experimental Secondary Science (JESS). Below I've copied and pasted the website descriptions below, with my comments following.    

The Journal of Emerging Investigators

"The Journal of Emerging Investigators is an open-access journal that publishes original research written by middle and high school students in biological and physical science. JEI provides students, under the  guidance of a teacher or advisor, the opportunity to submit and gain feedback on original research and to publish their findings in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Because grade-school students often lack access to formal research institutions, we expect that the work submitted by students may come from classroom-based projects, science fair projects, or other forms of mentor-supervised research.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Play vs. Academics: Not a dichotomy

Don't you just love it when someone else is able to verbalize something you've been struggling with? That happened today when I read Amanda's post, Play vs. Academics. This article hit home in so many ways. As a formally trained educator (I’ve taught middle school up through graduate school) who has decided to homeschool, this dichotomy of formalized learning vs. play is at the heart of the issue of why my views of teaching and learning are changing.

Its was the last few sentences of her article that really hit it home for me: 
“In reality, a play-based education is not only more responsive and developmentally appropriate for young children, but it also teaches them not only how to answer, but how to think. Not just to recite, but to inquire. Not simply to complete worksheets, but to build connections. Academic content isn’t just taught, it’s meaningfully constructed.” 

I have been struggling with this because I'm working through what school at home is supposed to look like. I have to stop myself as I find cute worksheet and resources from all these wonderful teacher and homeschooling mom websites. (Which is why I love the name of Amanda's website, "Not Just Cute.") Cute graphics that have the purpose of keeping kids busy, it NOT what I want my homeschool to look like! This concept became crystalized for me after I bought a workbook that teaches “logic.” My 5-year old son was so bored, and I wondered, what’s the point? Sure he’s seated, has pencil in hand, and it looks like he’s in “school,” but that’s not learning. The concepts being taught in this workbook, are things our family talks about all the time, all day long, as we live our lives. And I believe learning in context of life is so much better than formalized learning. 

I am realizing that so much of what I learned, and enforced as a teacher isn’t the best way to teach, or to encourage student learning–Instead, its best for managing large number of students at varying levels. I'm having a hard time, with all sorts of regrets of how I taught all the students I've had in my 17 years of formal teaching career. And while I understand some of that is just what you have to do, its not what I want for my own kids! I want to raise thinkers, curious kids who know how to ask good questions, and be able to find reliable answers! 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Its about the Kernel!

Not to state the obvious, but the reason we plant corn kernels, is to get more kernels. And right now, although it may seem like the corn is "done" growing, there's a lot going on. Once the tassel emerges, pollination begins, and each little potential kernel, needs a whole lot of TLC. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that's what mother nature has planned right now. 

Well, corn is not doing well. The temperatures have been higher than normal (at least locally) and precipitation has been extremely low.  These are the averages for the entire state of Illinois, our temperatures have been much higher then the state average.  

This week
Ave. Temp

Our corn is turning brown, the soil is cracking, and our corn is looking anything but healthy. The moisture and corn conditions for the state are listed below.   

Topsoil moisture
80%  very short
Subsoil moisture
77% very short
Corn Conditions
36% very poor

These photos were taken July 20th, and although we have a single corn cob growing, there's no evidence of any others. (I'm honestly not sure how many cobs a plant is supposed to produce.) 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Modern Day Treasure Hunt

After printing off our "Summer Check List" from East Coast Mommy, my son was excited to get started. He loved that she left some blanks for us to fill in. I'm not sure where it came from, but Caleb's idea was to bury a treasure, and then make a map for Dad to follow when he gets home. So first he picked a spot in the back yard, and did his best to bury a plastic bag in which we had put money, but the ground is so dry and hard, this was not an easy task. 

And as any self-respecting pirate would do, he put an "X" to mark the spot. Then we worked backwards from our front door to the "X" and made a map. 

I refrained from correcting his map and allowed him to draw the house, hill, and the "X," and only helped him draw the bushes that we wanted to make Dad go through!  So the map wasn't pretty or accurate, but it was his own, and that was important to him. I suggested we flame the edges a bit, to make it look like an old map. Caleb wasn't at all sure about this...but we did it inside, over the sink so we could put out the flame quickly if we needed to. (With the drought, there was no way I would have flames outside.)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Our Illinois Corn in Early July

I'm not a farmer, although I live amongst corn. Some of you may know the phrase, "Knee high by fourth of July"? I've known that farmers want their corn much higher than that by early July, but I also know that having tassles by now is also not a good sign. Talk around here is that the corn is "stressed." Caleb I observed that as soon as the tassels came out, pollen (one of our vocab words) was falling down into the leaves. We also noticed that beetles were crawling all over the tassles, so we assumed they were our primary pollinator.  

In addition to tassels we also see one little baby silks sticking out in our corn. Caleb predicted that this will become our corn cobs. (Yeah!)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Baby Birds Used to Practice Observation Skills

Caleb, my 5 year old noticed on one of our walks that there was a nest on some outdoor stairs. When we went to investigate, we saw three baby blue robin eggs. So we made it a point every week, to visit and photograph their changes. We couldn't believe our luck that the nest location allowed us such a close and personal look into this bird's family life!     

In the photo below, we caught one of the parents feeding the babies! Caleb was very touched by this. We waited patiently for a chance to go visit the nest. 

Once we got up there, we saw three very hungry babies. Their eyes were not open yet, but they sensed our presence and were chirping very loud hoping to get some treats. 

Caleb very much wanted to feed them, but I assured him that his parents had the job covered! 

Making good observations begins with truly studying something, so our observations began with me just asking questions:
  • What color and shape are the baby's beaks?
  • What do you notice about the nest? Where do you think the materials came from?
  • What do you notice about the baby's face?

Monday, July 16, 2012

BioFilm Lab: Controlling Growth on Surfaces

Biofilm is the ability of bacteria to adhere to a surface, take up residence and wreck havoc on industry, our teeth, and our body. This lab has two parts one part where students engineer a bacteria collecting apparatus, and the second, a biology component where they study the amount of biofilm growth. Interested yet? I've been asked to guest post over at the Homeschool Scientist, and I'm excited to share with them this engineering/biology inquiry lab. To read the post, head on over and take a look!


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Defining STEM

Do a Google search to define the word "STEM" and even though the education acronym is gaining popularity, Google will list more "Stem cell" sites then "STEM" sites. However, the acronym "STEM" simply put, stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. However, the term is also vague enough that everyone is left to interpret it themselves.  

The acronym itself stands for a vast number of topics. The "S" in STEM stands for science. STEM research in science may include any combination of the following; chemistry, geology, ecology, biology, physics, health, or agriculture. The "T" in STEM stands for technology, which is interpreted differently  depending on who is using it. To some, technology refers to computer technology, computer programming, and computer science. Still others use technology to mean information, communication, transportation, manufacturing, or construction technologies. The "E" is for engineering, which refers to chemical, mechanical, electrical, civil, nuclear, or transportation engineering.  And lastly, the "M" in STEM refers to Mathematics. The "STE" would not be able to function without the "M." Mathematics is the tool by which the other disciplines in STEM accomplish their tasks.

Jonathan Gerlach wrote an article in the NSTA Reports titled, "STEM: Defying a Simple Definition" that compares how educators view STEM with how industry (those who will want to hire employees) view the term.  Until educators and industry are on the same page, its very possible school will (excuse me for the use of this word) continue to be irrelevant to student's lives. 

The term STEM is used by national politicians and is at the center of President Obama's Educate to Innovate campaign. Anyone talking about education reform uses the term STEM. Anyone looking for grant funding knows to include the term STEM. However, just as the saying goes, "There is nothing new under the sun," the term STEM, is seen by some as an attempt to repackage the same old dogma of an desperate government trying to reform its educational system. And in some ways I agree.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Solar Sock Ice Melting Competition

With the crazy heat the week of the fourth we had a friendly solar competition by putting ice into socks. Andrea over at No Doubt Learning, posted this idea, and I knew I just had to try it. She had a whole week of solar activities, and this one was my favorite.  She called it Colors and Heat

Each family member chose a sock (Caleb-pictured above) chose two, and we put 3 ice cubes in each sock and set them out in the sun. We each cheered for our own sock, I was thinking my black one would win, cuz, you know dark colors absorb more light that is then turned into heat. But... 

Instead, the white baby sock won. We didn't go too much into the science of it, as it was just a friendly family game, and one that will help us remember how hot it was this summer! 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Wind Farm, Changing the Landscape

Well the landscape is changing, literally.  We used to have an unobstructed country sunset view, but now that a Wind Farm is going up several miles away, our sunsets have added silhouettes.  

We decided to take a family field trip one evening to go check out these enormous machines, and the machines used to assemble them. You just have no idea how big they are until you are right next to it.

Have you seen them transport pieces of these wind turbines? A single blade is carried on a specialized truck and when you pass it in your car, you can't help but be struck by its size.  Essentially there are several components to a wind turbine; the tower, the nacelle (box near the top that holds the gears and electrical components), and the sails (blades). 

Even in my photos, you loose the scale of it all. The sails are constructed on the ground before being hoisted up with the biggest crane I've ever seen.  

I don't know the exact model of these wind turbines, but from the research I've done, from tip to tip, it covers a vertical airspace of about an acre, if not more, and tip-to-tip speeds of around 150 mph. Here's one of my husband and son next to the hub where the sails connect. Getting the perspective now?    

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Making Nature Boats to Float in the River

As a motivator to go on a nature walk, I found this idea to make boats out of natural materials--a nut for the hull, sticks for the masts, and leaves for the sails from the Disney Family Fun Go site. So along with all the regular hiking materials, I packed playdough (to support the mast). My 5 year old, was on board. 

Here we are collecting the nuts to use as hulls for our boats. 

Here's a photo of all of our materials collected. We chose several types of leaves, discussing as we went which leaves might be the best sails. When I try activities like this, I try to casually ask question to get Caleb thinking. Here are just a few examples:
  • Why do you think that leaf will make the best sail?
  • What would be the best way to put the stick through the leaf?

We thought the height and width of the leaf would make a difference. Then we also determined that the thickness of the leaf mattered as well. Some of our specimens went limp once we threaded them through our stick (mast).   

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Mat Man-Handwriting without Tears


After researching a bit about handwriting, I decided I would give Handwriting Without Tears a try. I will be writing an entirely different post about why we are enjoying it so much, but for now, I wanted to introduce you to "Mat Man." This guy is used as a tool to teach shapes, and to give children body awareness. There is a Mat Man song, on the "Get Set For School" CD to go along with the building of this character.

One of the manipulative tools you can purchase to go with Handwriting Without Tears are 26 large wooden letters; 8 big lines, 6 little lines, 6 big curves, and 6 little curves. In the Teacher's Guide, they describe many ways these wood pieces can be used. Primarily it is for play and considered pre-writing, for preschool students.  The set is expensive, and although my husband is a wood worker, we decided not to make them out of wood. But for less than a dollar, I bought a piece of foam board, used the template provided on page 84 of the Teacher's Guide, and cut them out myself with a xacto knife. 


The next step was make a few of the Mat Man accessories, like nose, eyes, and hands. (The heart in the photo is just felt I had cut out for another project.) Page 40 of the Teacher's Guide included a template for these pieces, so I just copied them onto cardstock, and laminated them. But water caps or other odds and ends would work just as nicely. You should notice however, that I have 2 left hands...a detail that doesn't matter at this point!

At first I just played the song and put together Mat Man as the lyrics told me to.

 Mat Man has:

  • ... 1 head so that he can think
  • ... 2 eyes so he can see
  • ... 1 nose so he can smell
  • ... 1 mouth so he can eat
  • ... 2 ears so he can hear
  • ... 1 body to hold what is inside (heart, lungs, stomach)
  • ... 2 arms so that he can reach
  • ... 2 hands to that he can clap
  • ... 2 legs so that he can stand
  • ... 2 feet so that he can walk

Caleb listened intently the first time, watching as Mat Man slowly came together. Then asked to do it himself. So he mixed up the pieces and asked me to start the song. Here's the video of his first time assembling Mat Man.