February 24, 2011

Grateful Journals

I've been struggling a bit lately with attitude from Casia. She's not nasty, or rude, or even defiant; she's just, well,  negative. I think, in general, people tend to lean towards having either a positive or negative disposition. I, myself, tend to be a tad on the negative side. I know this about myself. I have for years referred to myself as an optimistic pessimist (hoping for the best, but expecting the worst). So it shouldn't be a surprise that I see this in my child, but it is so frustrating dealing with it!

I think things have gotten worse since the move. Or maybe since we first started talking about relocating a year ago. Maybe it's just an age thing. Casia seems content with the move, she even says she is happy here and I think we are all adjusting well, but this negativity keeps popping up. So while I had been pondering this over the last few weeks, I came across this article in the Wall Street Journal, Thank You. No, Thank You.

Basically, it talks about how much happier, healthier and successful people are when they are grateful. It also suggests that you can develop these feelings of appreciation by keeping a daily journal. This article really spoke to me and I realized that this is just what Casia and I need to chase away our negative feelings. We are going to start our own Grateful Journals. So today, while at the store, I picked up a couple of pretty journaling books and tomorrow, we will both write something that we are thankful for in them. I hope to keep this up for several weeks, or even months. Casia and I are hoping to see a positive change in the way we feel and even in the way we interact with each other and the rest of the family. 

February 17, 2011

Onion Osmosis

In our first microscope lab, Casia was given unknown samples of hair from family members and had to use the microscope to compare them to known samples and attempt to identify them. She learned the parts of the microscope, how to place a slide on the stage and how to adjust the magnification and focus. In the end, she wasn't able to correctly identify more than one sample, but she had fun and learned to use her microscope.

In this lab, Casia got a chance to do an experiment under the microscope. I was looking for an interesting way to demonstrate osmosis and ran across this: Onion Osmosis Lab

I started by peeling a thin layer of onion and placing it on the slide. I then stained the onion with tincture of iodine (CAUTION- this makes a big mess if you spill it, which I learned the hard way in this lab...) and placed a cover over the sample. Casia then found a nice section of the onion that showed an entire cell. It was very exciting for her because after having studied cell structures, she was able to identify many of it's parts. We are fortunate enough to have a microscope with a camera attached, but I still made Casia draw a picture of what she saw. Below, I've included the pictures from her microscope.

Initial onion cells under the microscope at 10x magnification.

In the next step Casia placed a small piece of paper towel on one side of the slide cover. On the opposite side of the slide cover I dropped salt water, using a medicine dropper. I'd never used this technique before, but it was really neat to see the paper towel absorb the iodine and the salt water be drawn in to replace it.  Unfortunately, we didn't see a change in the cells even after a few minutes. I thought it might have been because I didn't have enough fluid under the slide, so I removed the slide cover and dropped more salt water directly onto the onion. This is what we saw: the cell membranes shrunk in response to losing water from osmosis. 

Onion cell after adding salt water.

Overall, I think it was a pretty easy lab to execute (minus the iodine mishap) and recommend it. Casia has gotten very interested in cell biology, so I'm sure we'll have more exciting microscope labs in the near future.

February 16, 2011

Periodic Pillow Case

I love getting a chance to combine an art project with another subject and I was fortunate enough to find this wonderful idea of making a periodic table pillow case to coincide with Casia learning about atoms, elements and molecules. I got the idea and instructions from Ellen McHenry's Basement Workshop; it even includes a template.

Ms. McHenry's pattern is four 8.5"x11" pieces of paper with a blank periodic table on it. You just print it out, trim the edges where they meet, line them up and tape them together. I also choose to cut Hydrogen from her top central location and move it back over above Lithium. Then I had Casia copy the atomic symbols and atomic numbers, first in pencil and then again with a black magic marker. Casia got to choose which of her six fabric markers colors would represent which group of elements. Seven markers would have been preferable, then she could have separated her alkali metals from her alkali earth metals, but I didn't feel like going through the added effort of getting another fabric marker just for this project.

I used a white pillow case (pre-washed) and placed the paper periodic table inside, centered and pinned. Then I used three plastic place mats under the periodic table but still inside the pillow, just in case the markers bled through. I then helped Casia by drawing the boxes in the colors she indicated because they weren't as easy to see through the pillow case as I had hoped. I then set Casia to work filling in all the boxes with the corresponding element information.

This is how it looked when she was finished, although we're not quite done yet. When todays work has dried, I will re-wash the pillow case and then Casia can trace over the radio active elements with my very cool, glow-in-the-dark fabric marker for a final finishing touch. 

Morning Creativity from My Little One

Garrett is often left to his own devices in the morning before his bus leaves for school. In that two hours, I try to spend at least half an hour reading, talking or playing a game with him. The rest of the time he is expected to entertain himself quietly. Today he asked for some paper to draw a picture. When he was done, he asked for colored pencils to 'add some color'. This is what he drew:

"My Family" by Garrett
age 5

This is his best drawing to date and I praised him for all the hard work he did adding details and coloring neatly. Garrett explained to me that the picture is our family and the clouds spelled out our names: Mom, Dad, Casia and Garrett. He told me that there is a story to go along with the picture and began to tell it to me. I stopped him just long enough for me to run and get a piece of paper so I could write it down. Here is his story, it's short and sweet:

My Family

    Once upon a time, there was a mom and a dad. The mom was a beautiful butterfly and the dad was a big tortoise. And then they had a baby seed. She loved to roll around but then one day she buried herself. When she grew into a beautiful flower, they had a baby bee, but he couldn't fly yet. When he was ten months old he could fly, and then they were a big family.

By this time, we had to stop so he could get ready for school. I asked him if I could put it on my blog and he got so excited that I wanted to share his picture and story, he was beaming with pride. At the bus stop, he informed me that there was more to the story. I'm really enjoying this buddy creativity from my usually rough and tumble little boy.

February 14, 2011

Papyrus Flop

Before our move, Casia was studying Ancient Egypt. We read lots of books, saw some movies, and attempted to mummify a chicken. Unfortunately, we had to move before we were able to see the end results of that project and sadly our papyrus making efforts failed miserably as well. 

We had bought this convenient kit from the art museum while on a field trip to look at Egyptian artifacts. We followed the step-by-step instructions, but couldn't make it work. I hadn't intended to include it in the blog, but then reconsidered; even in our failures we learn something.

The first step was to soak the strips in room temperature water for 3 days.

They floated, so we had to weigh them down.
After soaking them, Casia used a rolling pin to flatten them.
She needed my help because she wasn't able to put enough
force on them to really squeeze out the water.
Then we placed them in clean water and soaked again for another 3 days.

Notice the change from the narrower pieces at the beginning.
She rolled (with help) and soaked them a second time.

After repeating the process a couple more times, the papyrus
finally was ready (it sunk in the water on its own).
The next step was to overlap them and lay a second layer perpendicular to the first.

Casia had a waterproof place-mat on the table, 
with several layers of newspaper underneath to absorb the water.

She covered them with another layer of newspaper and then rolled them one last time.

Casia then piled heavy books on top of the papyrus. 
She replaced the newspaper after a couple of hours. 

After a day under the weight, we had expected to have a small piece of homemade papyrus. Instead, none of the pieces actually stuck together and we had a bunch of flat pieces of papyrus stems. This all happened within a couple of weeks before our moving day. That is about the time when I started wildly running through the house packing everything that didn't move. It got to the point where if someone laid a book or other item on a table for too long, I'd snatch it up and put it into a box. I heard Casia say to Garrett once while I was exiting the room, "We better not sit here too long, Garrett, or she might pack us up, too." 

So the dried out papyrus pieces got packed; maybe to be revisited again or maybe not. At first we were both disappointed with the failure. But looking back, it was a good lesson for both of us; to remember that these projects that we attempt and the topics we cover, they are about the process and not the product. The ultimate goal is to learn through the experience, not end up with a finished craft project for the scrapbook. 

We had spent two to three months studying mummies and mythology, pyramids and pharaohs, and the geography, culture, and history of ancient Egypt. I felt like we'd exhausted her interest in Egypt. We've now turned our attention to the next area of study: Ancient Greece.

February 13, 2011

Secret Ingredient Revealed

As a follow-up to Casia's previous experiment in Basic Chemistry, we did another activity from the National Science Center, Find the Fizz. This time, I let Casia make the red cabbage juice (pH indicator).

Casia tore one red cabbage leaf into small pieces and
placed them into a large measuring cup.

She added a cup of boiling water.

Then she tasted it. Unsurprisingly, it tasted like cabbage.

After a couple of minutes it changed to a blueish-purplish color.

The purpose of this lab is for the student to identify the ingredient, in addition to baking soda, that makes up baking powder. This lab builds on the previous one where various common baking ingredients were combined with water, vinegar, red cabbage juice and iodine and reactions were observed and recorded.

To begin, Casia placed 1/8 tsp. of flour, cornstarch and cream of tartar into their own labeled cups. She added 2 tsp. of water in each cup and stirred. Then she labeled 4 cups with the following: vinegar, flour, cornstarch and cream of tartar. She then poured 1 tsp. of the previously prepared red cabbage juice into each cup. Next, she used an eye dropper to place a few drops of the vinegar into the cup labeled vinegar; a few drops of the flour solution into the flour cup; and so on for the cornstarch and cream of tartar. 

The vinegar turned pink indicating an acid.

Cream of tartar was the only other ingredient that turned pink. 

Casia learned from the previous lab that when she added water to baking soda, no reaction was observed. But when she added vinegar to baking soda, it fizzed, releasing carbon dioxide. When she added water to baking powder, however, she also observed fizzing. Since cream of tartar was the only solution to turn pink like the vinegar, she concluded that the other ingredient in baking powder is cream of tartar. When the baking soda (the base) and cream of tartar (the acid) are added to water, a reaction occurs releasing carbon dioxide. 

I also explained to her that there is sometimes cornstarch added in as well, as a filler, which is why in the previous lab she found the baking powder reacted with the iodine- because there was some cornstarch in it as well. 

As a finish up to the lab, Casia took a sip of the vinegar. She been at this since she was about four years old, sneaking sips of the Easter egg dye because she loves the taste of vinegar!

February 7, 2011

Basic Chemistry

This year, Casia is studying Biology for science. We started with the scientific process, then she learned about evolution, followed by taxonomy. But before we could dive into cells and cell structure, Casia needed to learn some chemistry. 

Casia was familiar with the terms atom and molecule, but she really didn't have a good understanding of them. So we started there. She learned about the components of an atom, what elements are, what the periodic table is, and how molecules are formed. She learned about the three dimensional nature of molecules and how they interact with each other in chemical reactions. 

We followed this week long lesson up with a really fun lab I found on the website for The National Science Center. They entitled it "Mystery Powder". It's essentially a qualitative analysis (always one of my favorite types of chemistry labs!) with baking ingredients. It was really easy to set up and clean up and Casia had a blast!

To start, we gathered all necessary ingredients:
  • baking powder 
  • baking soda
  • cornstarch
  • cream of tartar
  • tincture of iodine
  • vinegar
  • red cabbage juice
  • two copies of the chart (off the National Science Center website)
  • pencil
  • permanent marker
  • measuring spoons
  • wax paper
  • medicine droppers
  • nine cups.

After gathering all the supplies, Casia was able to follow the step-by-step instructions with little help from me, which was good, because I was trying to take pictures of the process.

To set up the experiment, Casia labeled the disposable cups with each of the following: baking soda, baking powder, cornstarch, cream of tartar and mystery powder. She filled all but the the mystery powder with a teaspoon of the appropriate substance. She then left the room and I selected one of the substances and placed a teaspoon of it in the mystery powder cup.

Before we started with the actual experiment, I saw Casia examining the the mystery powder, trying to see if she could identify it right away. Part of me wanted to discourage this because it would make the lab less fun and interesting. The other part of me wanted to encourage her to explore. The latter part won and she began to eliminate 'suspects' right away. She said that the mystery powder had a very different texture than the baking soda. She described the baking soda as looking like salt, while all the others all looked like flour. She also said that the cream of tartar rolled into clumps unlike the baking powder, cornstarch and mystery powder, but the cornstarch clumped differently. So based on a visual inspection, she made her guess that the mystery powder was baking powder. I refused to validate (I wanted to keep the suspense going!)

She then went on to smell and taste each sample. For smell, the mystery powder was most like baking powder, and a little like cream of tartar, even less like baking soda and nothing like cornstarch. She stated that the baking powder and mystery powder tasted exactly the same. She mentioned also that it tasted slightly like baking soda and then a bit less like cream of tartar, but nothing like cornstarch (and then she asked if she could eat more of the cornstarch!) I still refused to confirm or deny her suspicions that the mystery powder was baking powder, so we moved on with the experiment.

She then taped her testing chart on a plastic place-mat and taped a piece of wax paper over the top of it. 

Next, she scooped 1/8 teaspoon of each substance, for each of their four boxes in their own column. She ended up with four little piles of each substance.

Casia then started with the water, dropping a few drops onto each pile of each substance in the water row. Then she watched what happened. I had her record her observations on her observation chart.

The mystery powder started to bubble (just like the baking powder) when she dropped water onto it.

Next, she dropped a few drops of vinegar on each substance. On the baking powder and mystery powder she noticed a small amount of fizzing, but with the baking soda, she got a BIG fizz. Casia said she had expected that because she has seen many 'volcanoes' at science fairs with baking soda and vinegar.

The third row was for Iodine. The baking soda and cream of tartar turned an orange color. The cornstarch, baking powder and mystery powder turned a purple-black color (indicating the presence of a starch).

Casia was very interested in the changed consistency of the substances, so I gave her some Q-tips to play with them.

I had prepared the red cabbage juice earlier that morning, but in retrospect, should have left it for her to make. It was very easy: I filled a large measuring cup with one red cabbage leaf, torn into little bits, then added two cups of boiling water. It was ready after about 10 minutes, maybe less (I wasn't really paying that much attention to it since I was also making breakfast.)

In the last row, she added a few drops of red cabbage juice to each substance. The baking soda turned blue (base), cornstarch turned purple (neutral), cream of tartar turned pink (acid) and the baking soda and mystery powder fizzed and turned a very pale blue. 

In the end, Casia correctly identified the mystery powder as baking powder. 

Although we talked to some extent about the chemistry going on in this experiment, I delayed explaining to Casia that baking powder is actually a mixture of baking soda, cream of tartar and some cornstarch, because the very next day we conducted another experiment.... "Find the Fizz" by The National Science Center (determine the mystery ingredient in baking powder).