Experiential Science: Weather

My kids wanted to learn all about weather, so I cobbled together several resources to make a unit.  You may notice that we watch a lot of videos in this unit.  Not only are videos an engaging way of presenting some of the more abstract concepts related to weather (like air pressure and air currents), but my kids are thoroughly excited about watching videos related to anything at all lately, so any video I found was a win.  I tried to find a video or three (almost all short ones!) to go with each topic, but also a hands-on activity for every topic, as well.  Hopefully you’ll find plenty of fodder for exploring weather, whether you are a video-lover or not.

Much of my unit was based on this 3rd grade unit from the Williams College website, though I adapted the activities for home use.

We started our science unit by talking about water.  Since 71% of the earth is covered by water, it has a big impact on weather.  To emphasize just how much water there is on the earth, we used our big inflatable globe and tossed it from person to person, tallying how often the tip of our right thumb hit land and how often it was in water when we caught the globe.  Sure enough, we had seven “land” tallies and 18 “water” tallies. Continue reading

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Experiential Science: Flight, Part 2

This is the second installment of our lessons on flight.  You can read about our first portion (which covers the four forces of flight and kites) in this post.

Hot Air Balloons, Airships, and Parachutes

Next in the human flight story is the hot air balloon.  After reading Yasuda’s chapter on hot air balloons, airships, and parachutes, we tried creating our own hot air balloon.  We failed, but it was fun and exciting enough to be worth your effort, even if it doesn’t work.  Though Yasuda offered one option in her book, ‘Love objected to it because it relied on a hair dryer to work; he argued that it would confuse the matter by including blowing air in the process of causing the balloon to rise.  While modern balloonists may use fans to help initially fill their balloons, the blowing air is not the mechanism that causes the balloon to rise. Continue reading

Experiential Science: Flight, Part 1

The kids unanimously agreed that they wanted one of their next unit studies to be about flying.  As I began typing up all of the activities we’ve been doing, I realized that my post was getting super long, so I’ve once again separated our study into parts.  This first part will encompass our study of the four forces of flight and kites.  Our projects with hot air balloons, gliders, airplanes, and more will be coming soon.

I thought it would make the most sense to talk about the history of flight in chronological order.  Thankfully, I stumbled on Explore Flight! by Anita Yasuda.  The book starts with flight in nature–the inspiration for humans who wanted to fly–and ends with rockets.  Included are “25 great projects”–though I had issue with a few, particularly the ornithopter project, which was really just a glider with some added feathers.

Of course, I can’t just use one book and leave well enough alone, so I did quite a bit of supplementing and elaborating by using additional materials. Continue reading

Experiential Science: Earthquakes and Volcanoes (Earth, Part 3)

This is the third part of our unit on plate tectonics, the rock cycle, earthquakes, and volcanoes.  If you want to look at what we studied prior to this, here’s Earth: Part 1 (earth’s layers and plate tectonics) and Earth: Part 2 (the rock cycle).

Earthquakes

So now we were nearly up to the part the kids really wanted in the first place, but thankfully they were having so much fun that they sorta forgot that they’d never asked to learn all this other stuff.  (Besides, it’s foundational to their understanding the topic at hand!)  Since they now knew that earthquakes and volcanoes happen (mostly) at plate boundaries, it was time to study these phenomena in more detail. Continue reading

Experiential Science: Rock Cycle (Earth, Part 2)

This is the second part of a unit on plate tectonics, the rock cycle, earthquakes, and volcanoes.  In case you missed it, here’s my first post, covering the earth’s layers and plate tectonics (Earth, Part 1).

The Rock Cycle (and a quick study of rocks)

Since we were talking about moving plates, this seemed like a good time to add in a brief bit about moving rocks.  To make the rock cycle come alive, I once again pulled out some sweets!  Continue reading

Experiential Science: Earth’s Layers and Plate Tectonics (Earth, Part 1)

My kids all decided that they wanted to learn about volcanoes.  For whatever reason, this choice did not inspire me–perhaps because it left me thinking, “How on earth am I going to take six weeks to talk about volcanoes?!”  But the more I thought about it, the more interesting stuff there was that connected to the topic of volcanoes.  In fact, as I began writing about this unit study, I discovered that we hit so many topics and used so many resources that this post was becoming impossibly long, so I am breaking this into several smaller posts for sanity.  Stay tuned for more as I get it written!

I started by making a list of topics I wanted to hit, as well as the order I thought most logical, and then I went hunting for resources.  I hit the jackpot when I stumbled on the American Red Cross Masters of Disaster materials.  For our purposes, I settled on the Level Two earthquake-themed materials, but the site was so cool that I linked you to the main page (apparently hosted by PBS, despite the differing address listed on the materials) so you could admire all of the topic options.

Earth’s Layers and Plate Tectonics

cake

This was the only aspect of our study I actually remembered to photograph.  It was also delicious.

Using the Masters of Disaster downloadable packet (link in above paragraph), we started by studying the makeup of the earth, reading about its layers and graphing the depth of each.  The packet suggested an Earth’s Layers cake, but I couldn’t settle for their simple setup; I had to go all-out with a DIY Earth’s Layers Cake that I crafted. Continue reading

Earth’s Layers Cake: The Low-Tech, DIY Version

cakeMy kids wanted to study volcanoes.  I was totally uninspired by volcanoes, but I thought I’d run with it, perhaps expanding the study to include plate tectonics and the rock cycle so we’d have a bit more to talk about.  While I was searching for inspiration, I ran across the idea of having a cake to show Earth’s layers.  “Great!” thought I.  “Sign me up and show me how!”  (I’m a sucker for anything edible–particularly if it’s sweet!)  Unfortunately, everyone doing this project seemed to have round bakeware–cake pop molds of varying sizes, round-bottomed oven-safe mixing bowls.  Not I.  And, since I am disinclined to shell out that kind of money for the props to make one cool snack, I thought I’d look for my own way.

My creation doesn’t have perfectly-nested spheres (in fact, the outer core seems to spike into the mantle in a couple of places!), but it definitely has the layers, and–most important of all–it got the point across and thrilled my kids.  In case you want to try it, here’s what I did:

Supplies: White or yellow cake mix/recipe, chocolate frosting, white frosting, food coloring, multiple bowls for separating/mixing colors, two 8″ or 9″ round cake pans, large spoons, two cookie cutters (round is ideal–I didn’t have round), cake decorating set

1. I used a generic white cake mix (yellow would be fine, too–I use the yolks, so mine isn’t truly white).  After mixing the ingredients, I separated the mix into three bowls: a small one that I colored yellow, a medium one that I colored orange, and a large one that I colored reddish.  Make sure the mix is pretty colorful, since the color will be less concentrated once the cake poofs up during baking.  (Too much food coloring tastes bitter, though, so don’t go overboard.)

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2. First, I placed a cookie cutter in the center of each pan.  The first one I filled with a dollop of yellow (inner core).  I spooned pink (mantle) around the edges of that pan and filled the space between with orange (outer core).  In the second pan, I filled the cookie cutter with orange (outer core–to cover the inner core from the first pan) and poured pink (mantle) all around it, reserving a small amount of the pink for the next step.

 

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3. Then I removed the cookie cutters, covered the dollop of outer core in the second pan with a layer of mantle, and popped both pans in the oven.  (The first pan–with all three layers–had less batter, but both seemed to cook fine.)

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4. When the cake was out of the oven and cool, I used a small amount of runny white frosting (I warmed mine to make it thinner) to glue the layers together.  The three-colored layer went on the bottom, capped by the layer that’s mostly mantle.  Make sure the little bit of outer core is on the bottom of the top layer–you wouldn’t want to have your mantle and outer core reversed!  Next, I used a very thin layer of chocolate frosting to represent the lithosphere.

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5. This gray represented the solid rock of the crust.  I wanted to make it clear that even the oceans have crust beneath them.  Yes, I know the crust is included in the lithosphere, but the Red Cross/PBS material (more on that later) we’re using talks of them separately, so I just followed their lead.  I used really runny frosting so I could make a very thin layer.  (After all, this is already the second frosting layer, and I still had more to go!)  The generic brand frosting I use wins for runniness!  My gray, FYI, is made from a red/green mixture.  If I remember right, it was two red drops and three green.

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6. Time to add the thicker continental crust parts and fill the oceans!  This time I thickened the frosting slightly with about a cup of confectioner’s sugar to the tub.  I wanted it just stiff enough to hold some texture, but still soft enough to spread in a thin layer.  Since we’re also studying the Middle Ages right now, I decided to do a rough map of Europe.  (Very rough.)  I rarely use the frosting tips as intended; I used the star tip loosely for a textured water look, but for the land I just did a rough outline with a tip and then spread the green around with my knife.)

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The finished product!  Of course, you can’t really tell how many layers of frosting went into this (except when eating it!), but if the kids watch or help, they’ll get every detail of the process.  And the finished result was enough to spark their glee, so I’d consider this one a win!