Category Archives: Science

Friday’s Photo

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White Swan and Her Eggs

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Filed under Charlotte Mason, Nature, photography, Science

Owl Puke!

Owl Puke BookYes, you read that right – Owl Puke. The technical name would be Owl Pellet, or something much more refined, but this title got your attention, yes?

I recently attended the 2009  Homeschool Conference in the lower mainland of our province. This was their second year however, in a new venue, and even though there was less to take home (vendors brought less merchandise due to space constraints), there were still a few goodies to find. That said, I think I’ll be making the trip to BCHEC conference in Kelowna next year. However, I digress – so back to my finds.

My youngest daughter is a birding (and owl) enthusiast, so when I saw this little package labeled Owl Puke, I couldn’t resist. The kit comes with a dissecting tray, a nifty little book, and a sterilized owl pellet. The fun starts when you get to carefully take apart a most disgusting intriguing little owl pellet and look for the remnants of the sorry little rodent creature who fatefully became this owl’s lunch. What kid wouldn’t love that? Okay, so I wouldn’t touch it, but I didn’t let on. I have, inadvertently passed on some of my own fears to my children in the past, so I carefully concealed my disgust and put on my best enthusiastic face. It seemed to work – in fact, she couldn’t wait to get started.

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Taking apart owl puke, however, takes time and patience to carefully extract teeny tiny little bones, then sort and clean them. But the fun doesn’t stop there. No, after sorting out the sorry remains in this owl’s lunchbox, the kids can reconstruct the skeletons, and then identify the ill fated victim. For your scientific pleasure, I have included a diagram of the skeletal system of a friendly rodent in your neighborhood. Just print it off, then have the kids glue the bones right on top, or mimic the shape on their own piece of construction paper.

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If you wish to conduct this experiment on your own, it’s advised that you acquire only sterilized owl pellets as unsterilized pellets can contain nasty germs. Sterilized pellets can be ordered online at www.hawkquest.org. Needless to say, if you have a young owl or birding enthusiast in your household, I can highly recommend this little kit, it scores high on the Yuck -O-Meter, is suitable for grades 2 – 12, takes more than one afternoon to complete, and is educational money well spent!

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Friday’s Photo

killdeer spotted on our nature walk. She was using all her antics to lure us away from her babies.

Killdeer spotted on our nature walk. She was using all her antics to lure us away from her babies.

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Birds of a Feather….

bird-count-button01Birds of a feather stick together. That’s right – the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society are asking families, students, and people of all ages to help make an important contribution to conservation. Come join the12th annual Great Backyard Bird Count(GBBC), February 13-16, 2009. 

“The Great Backyard Bird Count benefits both birds and people. It’s a great example of citizen science: Anyone who can identify even a few species can contribute to the body of knowledge that is used to inform conservation efforts to protect birds and biodiversity,” said Audubon Education VP, Judy Braus. “Families, teachers, children and all those who take part in GBBC get a chance to improve their observation skills, enjoy nature, and have a great time counting for fun, counting for the future.”

Simply dust off those bird feeders and fill them up – then for as little as 15 minutes a day – observe the feeders and identify which species are showing up for a little winter snack. You can participate in just one or all four days of the count. Then record your sightings each day online at www.birdcount.org. GBBC provides many helpful resources, and Cornell provides a great online bird guide to assist those who may be without a good field guide for their region. For more information about the Great Backyard Bird Count, visit their site here.

So go on, get out those binoculars, stock your feeders, empower your children and come join us in the count!

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I Lichen You Very Much!

Well, this whole new enthusiasm thing seems to be contagious! Today we went for another nature walk, but this time our group of young botonists grew from two to seven! This time we ventured a little further from home, to a local city park. We were on the hunt for birds, but the kids were so enthusiastic that this new kind of exploring knew no limits. With sketch books in hand the kids seemed to have inherent abilities to spot things often overlooked and unseen by the unobservant eye. There seemed to be a lot of attention drawn to plants, fungus and trees.

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Stones were lifted, ferns overturned, moss inspected and a few unusual lichens were discovered. Lichens are rather interesting to observe as they are neither plant; nor a distinct fungus, but a kind of blend of fungus, alga, and sometimes a type of bacteria. Each is dependent on the other for survival and together they form this very unique organism that thrives in our BC rain forests.

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If you are considering making nature walks a regular part of your homeschool journey, I’d highly recommend taking along a few field guides to help out your young botanists in their discoveries. I have a variety of field guides that we own on insects, flowers, trees, and birds. The Lone Pine and Usborne field guides are great for children, but if you have older students you may want to look for something a little more in depth. The library is a good place to “try before you buy” so to speak. I recently ordered the Hand Book of Nature Study. This book was originally published in 1911 and is very thorough – after all plants haven’t changed much in the last hundred years. It is available to view online, but it’s a little tedious trying to make an 800+ page online book usable in reality, but don’t let me sway you – have a look. This gem of a book can be overwhelming without understanding the purpose of the thing. This little quote sums it up:

“The chief aim of this volume is to encourage investigation rather than to give information.” – Handbook of Nature Study

I recently found a blog featuring this very book and who’s purpose is dedicated to encourage those interested in using it. Once our book arrives I hope to participate in the weekly Outdoor Hour Challenge  featured on this blog. In the interim, I will leave you with this quote:

Nature observation is enhanced by sketching what is seen: “To look at it is something, but its spirit will not come at once; you must look long enough, with a child’s forgetfulness of time. Gazing for long, though, becomes tedious; you begin to think of the dinner-hour. But to draw it is to caress it; all the difference between staring at a kitten and stroking it; between watching a game and playing it. That is why it is worth learning to draw.” [from this Parents’ Review article]

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A Winter Nature Walk

junco01Well, after taking my first dose of my newly prescribed fresh enthusiasm, we had a fantastic day! We did many things differently, enough to write a few new posts about, but the highlight of the day was taking off outside and reacquainting ourselves with “the nature walk”.  Armed with notebooks, pencils, binoculars and field guides we set off to the nearest park like setting (which happened to be the local dog park) we could walk to. I was confident; however, that we would find at least a few things worth observingMallard Duck. To my surprise, we noticed many things. The first thing we spotted, or heard I should say, were some little birds chirping among the brambles. After waiting and watching for a few minutes we spotted a male and female Dark Eyed Junco – and when they were startled and took cover for the brambles we realized that there were in fact many of them in the trees, their camouflaging was simply doing what it was designed to do!
Though we couldn’t spot any blossoms, we did see evidence of new spring growth preparing to make it’s near appearance. Branches were sprouting new shoots, which in turn were displaying new buds. Not knowing what kind of tree we were inspecting, we took a small twig with tiny little pine cones home to look up later. I was quite skeptical that we would actually discover what said tree was, due to the very small piece of evidence and lack of leaves on the tree, but I’m now confident that we were  in fact observing a Mountain Alder.

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After continuing on, my youngest daughter spotted a male and female duck doing what appeared to be a little house  keeping. She was eager to draw her findings right there on the bridge. Later on that evening, after dinner was said and done, the girls were happy to complete their nature drawings which later transpired into an art activity that the three of us enjoyed together.

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Overall, a little walk that took less than 30 minutes, turned out to be a unique, diversified, and entertaining learning experience – one that I can’t wait to do again.

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Fun with Electronics!

electronics-kitYou might think that electronics is not a subject that could be enjoyed by a fourth grader, but this post might just change your mind. I too, was a sceptic. Even though I have daughters who are not afraid of getting dirty, or exploring the world of insects and reptilians, I was sure that electronics might have to wait ’til eight grade. However, to my surprise I came across this nifty little electronics kit titled non other than: Fun with Electronics.

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The kit is comprised of a cardboard “workbench”, 52 springs, and various electronic components such as transformers, various capacitors, resistors, transistors, diodes and the like. The kids can (and did) put the entire workbench and all the components together themselves with relative ease. Once the workbench is complete, there are 25 different circuits the kids can build on the bench in order to create various electronic projects, including sound, touch, and light activated switches. Following instructions is critical though, and the ability to troubleshoot a problem circuit or locate a missing connection is necessary and requires much patience. Over all, the projects are quick and rewarding, and if the kids are able to follow verbal instructions well, you can sit and read the circuit patterns to the kids while they go to work and connect it. You can even do so while drinking your coffee – really.

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You may be wondering: Okay, that sounds cool, but I have kids in different grade levels and I simply don’t have time for all these separate little projects. Believe me, I had thought of that too. Which is why this year I have taken a different approach to science. I have two girls in grades 4 and 6 with two different sets of learning outcomes for science. If your kids are old enough, consider teaching the same subject to both grades. This electronics kit was purchased to meet 6th grade learning outcomes, and it happens to be something that my fourth grader is very much into. So, as a result, my fourth grader ends up ahead by meeting these 6th grade learning outcomes ahead of schedule – freeing 6th grade science for well, whatever she may fancy. Even though many of us are enrolled, it is possible to find the scholastic freedom that is familiar to many registered home learners.

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