Saturday, November 22, 2014

Unschooling Science - Rainbow, Birthday Candle, Emission Spectra

Science is one of the subjects we pretty much completely unschool.  We have a few science textbooks, and on occasion we read through them, just to be able to say we've "done science", but for the most part our science lessons and projects rise out of the moment.  Like, for instance, this weekend, when I spotted the package of ColorMagic colored flame candles, while shopping for supplies for yet another birthday party.

I tossed them in the cart, not for the party, but for a science experiment.  I wasn't really sure what sort of experiment, but I know enough about chemistry to know colored flames means burning different sorts of chemicals - and that reminded me vaguely of high school chemistry flame tests.

Flame tests were fun, but not something I've wanted to try out in our kitchen.  Check out this Sci Guys video, if you're not sure why not.  Something about burning toxic chemicals, and reactions hot enough to melt tables...and my own knowledge that I know just enough about chemistry to be really dangerous...and...well, you see.  But, birthday candles?  I can handle birthday candles. 

All I had to do was to figure out how to work them into a science lesson.

My first thought was to search for a "How It's Made" type of video for the candles, that would neatly, and quickly explain the science behind the candles - because it was a birthday weekend, and we were busy already.  Unfortunately, I didn't find one.  But, what I did find was a YouTuber discussing the candles, and how looking through a spectroscope confirmed his suspicions, that at least one of the candles was burning some sort of sodium compound.  Which brought me back to thinking about flame tests.

So, I built a very quick spectroscope, to test out if that would work with the candles, by cutting holes in the top and bottom lids of an empty cereal box, opposite each other, and covering one with a diffraction grating...

...or in this case, one the rainbow viewers from the top of a tube of last summer's Grab-A-Bubbles...

...and a couple of strips of tinfoil (it's supposed to be razor blades, but I didn't have any on hand), to form a slit over the hole on the other side, and sealing up any cracks that might let light in to the box with duct tape.  It was just coincidental, though appropriate that the only duct tape I could find was rainbow patterned...

...because when you aim the slit at a light source, like a window during the day, and look through the lens side, you see the emission spectrum (or rainbow) created by that light. A continuous spectrum from sunlight (where all the colors run into each other) because sunlight contains all the visible wavelengths of light (or something like that)...

...and a discontinuous spectrum for something like a compact fluorescent lamp (or light bulb), where the colors have gaps between them, because the bulb isn't emitting all the wavelengths of light...

...unlike LED light, that is much closer to natural sunlight.

While the children were busy looking through the spectroscope at the windows and light fixtures in the house, I was Googling and perusing high school texts (like this one, from WikiBooks), so I could throw words like continuous and discontinuous spectral emissions out, and sound like I knew what I was talking about.

Then I set up the candles...

...for the children to look at through the spectroscope and study.

Each burning chemical produces a different spectral emission (like a fingerprint).  It's one of the ways scientists can look at distant stars, and know from what sort of gases they are formed.

Burning different chemicals also produces different colored flames.  So, we looked up which chemicals produce the colors of flames we had, and then looked up the emission spectra for those chemicals, and compared that with what we saw when we were looking through our spectroscope.

A red flame (or pink) can be produced by burning lithium or strontium chloride.  Here is an official emission spectrum for lithium, pulled from Google images (sorry, but I had trouble finding the actual source)...

...and here is a dim (taking pictures of the inside of a cereal box is not always easy) picture of what we saw when looking at the red flame through our spectroscope.  What we actually saw was a lot brighter and more impressive, but even here you can see the similarities.

Sodium chloride creates a yellow flame.  The emission spectrum for sodium looks something like this...

..which our image did not match completely.  We were seeing more blue.

A green flame can be produced by burning cupric sulfate.  The emission spectrum for copper looks like...

...which wasn't far from what we saw.

Potassium chloride produces a purple flame.  The emission spectrum for potassium...

...shows more red than we were seeing.

A blue flame can be produced by burning cupric chloride.   The emission spectrum for copper looks like this...

...and what we saw is below.

After I posted all of these, I found a really good list of flame colors, chemicals, and emission spectra all in one place - here, so we might have to go back through them all.  At any rate, it was an interesting bit of supermarket science, with lots of follow-up potential if anyone ends up being interested.  As is usual for us though, we've already bounced on through several other life-related topics, and have dismantled our spectroscope until the topic comes around again.

As for the spectroscope, if you don't have a rainbow viewer, or diffraction grating handy, you can make a slightly more complicated version using a CD ( has easy to follow instructions for both types). 

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Thanksgiving Hymns - A Gilmore Girls Inspired Vocabulary Lesson

I was watching an episode of Gilmore Girls (now streaming on Netflix) when I came across a gem of a scene (warning for those of you who might watch it with little ears nearby - "hell" is used as a swear word in the clip) that totally inspired a pre-Thanksgiving, vocabulary study for this week.

In the clip above, a couple of non-Christian, and apparently non-church going band members are trying to work through some of the more difficult or archaic wording of a hymn they will be performing at a "gig".  The show's writers picked a doozy of a hymn with "A Mighty Fortress is Our God".  Not all hymns are as difficult to translate into the modern vernacular.

However, it made me realize how much SAT type vocabulary I had picked up on the Sunday mornings of my childhood, paraphrasing verses out of the King James during Sunday school, and then singing hymns during the service.  Today's unchurched, or chorus singing congregations are missing out on a whole wealth of language learning, along with some beautiful opportunities to harmonize (check out the YouTube clip for "I Sing Th'Almighty Power of God" below).

I've been looking for ways to keep the children focused in on Thanksgiving, this week, and to keep us from skipping over it altogether, in a rush of Christmas planning - so a little hymn study was just what we needed.

I pulled out our old Baptize Hymnal, turned to the topical index (another good academic exercise for children) and located the six Thanksgiving themed hymns, that I pulled together for a vocabulary study below.  This week, I hope to have the children:
  • read through each hymn, clicking on the underlined words, and then choosing the appropriate definition to fit the context (highlighting the living and evolving nature of the English language)
  • listen to each hymn by clicking on the YouTube links (promoting good pronunciation)
  • get to know the words through exercises on, with lists I created there (spelling and vocabulary building)
  • and hopefully paraphrase one or more of the hymns in modern English (like in the clip above), or write an additional verse in the style of the original author, to perform for us on Thanksgiving Day (free holiday entertainment)

We Gather Together 
 Listen to the song on Youtube
Author: Unknown Translator: Theodore Baker Tune: Kremser
Quizlet study words

1 We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing;
he chastens and hastens his will to make known;
the wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own.

2 Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
ordaining, maintaining his kingdom divine;
so from the beginning the fight we were winning;
thou, Lord, wast at our side; all glory be thine!

3 We all do extol thee, thou leader triumphant,
and pray that thou still our defender wilt be.
Let thy congregation escape tribulation;
thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

Come, Ye Thankful People, Come
 Listen to the song on YouTube.
Author: Henry Alford Tune: St. George's Windsor
 Quizlet Study Words

1 Come, ye thankful people, come,
raise the song of harvest home;
all is safely gathered in,
ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide
for our wants to be supplied;
come to God's own temple, come,
raise the song of harvest home.

2 All the world is God's own field,
fruit as praise to God we yield;
wheat and tares together sown
are to joy or sorrow grown;
first the blade and then the ear,
then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we
wholesome grain and pure may be.

3 For the Lord our God shall come,
and shall take the harvest home;
from the field shall in that day
all offenses purge away,
giving angels charge at last
in the fire the tares to cast;
but the fruitful ears to store
in the garner evermore.

4 Even so, Lord, quickly come,
bring thy final harvest home;
gather thou thy people in,
free from sorrow, free from sin,
there, forever purified,
in thy presence to abide;
come, with all thine angels, come,
raise the glorious harvest home.

O Lord of Heaven and Earth and Sea
 Listen to the song on Youtube.
Author: Christopher Wordsworth  Tune: Almsgiving
Quizlet Study Words

1. O Lord of Heav’n and earth and sea,
To Thee all praise and glory be;
How shall we show our love to Thee,
Who givest all?

2. The golden sunshine, vernal air,
Sweet flowers and fruits, Thy love declare;
Where harvests ripen, Thou art there,
Who givest all.

3. For peaceful homes and healthful days,
For all the blessings earth displays,
We owe Thee thankfulness and praise,
Who givest all.

4. Thou didst not spare Thine only Son,
But gav’st Him for a world undone,
And freely, with that blessèd One,
Thou givest all.

5. Thou giv’st the Spirit’s blessèd dower,
Spirit of life and love and power,
And dost His sevenfold graces shower
Upon us all.

6. For souls redeemed, for sins forgiv’n,
For means of grace and hopes of Heav’n,
Father, all praise to Thee be giv’n,
Who givest all.

7. We lose what on ourselves we spend,
We have as treasure without end
Whatever, Lord, to Thee we lend,
Who givest all.

8. Whatever, Lord, we lend to Thee,
Repaid a thousand-fold will be;
Then gladly will we give to Thee
Who givest all.

9. To Thee, from whom we all derive
Our life, our gifts, our power to give:
O may we ever with Thee live,
Who givest all.

I Sing Th'Almighty Power of God
Listen to the song on Youtube.
Author:  Isaac Watts
Quizlet Study Words

1 We sing the mighty power of God
that made the mountains rise,
that spread the flowing seas abroad
and built the lofty skies.
We sing the wisdom that ordained
the sun to rule the day;
the moon shines full at his command,
and all the stars obey.

2 We sing the goodness of the Lord
that filled the earth with food;
he formed the creatures with his word
and then pronounced them good.
Lord, how your wonders are displayed,
where'er we turn our eyes,
if we survey the ground we tread
or gaze upon the skies.

3 There's not a plant or flower below
but makes your glories known,
and clouds arise and tempests blow
by order from your throne;
while all that borrows life from you
is ever in your care,
and everywhere that we can be,
you, God, are present there.

Count Your Blessings, Name Them One by One
Listen to the song on Youtube.
Author:  Johnson Oatman  Tune: Blessings
Quizlet Study Words

1 When upon life's billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done;
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

2 Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, ev'ry doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by. [Refrain]

3 When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings, money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high. [Refrain]

4 So, amid the conflict, whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey's end. [Refrain]

For the Beauty of the Earth
Listen to the song on Youtube.
Author: Folliott Sanford Pierpoint  Tune: DIX
Quizlet Study Words

1 For the beauty of the earth,
for the glory of the skies,
for the love which from our birth
over and around us lies.

Christ, our Lord, to you we raise
this, our hymn of grateful praise.

2 For the wonder of each hour
of the day and of the night,
hill and vale and tree and flower,
sun and moon and stars of light, [Refrain ]

3 For the joy of human love,
brother, sister, parent, child,
friends on earth, and friends above,
for all gentle thoughts and mild, [Refrain]

4 For yourself, best gift divine,
to the world so freely given,
agent of God's grand design:
peace on earth and joy in heaven. [Refrain]

What's your favorite Thanksgiving hymn?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday Science - Footprints in the Snow

Other than the bunny in our basement window well, we haven't seen a lot of wildlife in our new neighborhood.  So, it was a pleasant surprise, after a late evening snowfall, to wake up to a yard full of animal tracks.

A quick investigation told quite a story.  "Our" rabbit...

...or some rabbit, anyway, although out of sight, has clearly not gone away...

...but instead, has been frolicking, digging for grass, and generally going everywhere in our yard (although it does seem to be only one set of prints)...

...under the bicycles...

...behind the heat pump...

...and out the other side, to rest for a while under our dryer vent...

...from where he/she could have watched the passing deer...

...the four of them, who came in twos from a field behind our house...

...before joining together... cross the street, out front, as a group...

...paying no attention at all, to the little bird watching from the shadows under the eaves...

...or the family- oblivious, and sleeping through the night.

Linked with Science Sunday at All Things Beautiful.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Thanksgiving Patchwork Grid Art for Elementary Ages

This project is similar to the sidewalk chalk grid art we tried out in the summer, just brought indoors, and overhauled for Thanksgiving.  So, instead of drawing out a large grid on the patio (or using the blank grid that printed with the template), I cut sheets of red, yellow, brown, and orange construction paper into 6'' squares for the children to draw on.

I printed a grid art turkey template from Activity Village...

...flipped it over, and labeled it with letter and number coordinates...

...before cutting it apart...

...and giving the pieces to the girls to reproduce on the squares of constructions paper.  Before they started drawing, they labeled the square they were working on, by writing the letter and number coordinates on the back of the construction paper square to match the grid square, then flipping their two pieces over, being sure to keep the coordinates in the top right hand corner of the back of each square.

They drew the lines on each square in pencil first...

...and then, when they were satisfied that they had them right, they traced over the lines with brown markers.

They discovered it was easier to draw the lines onto the larger sheets of paper if...

...they folded each of the pieces into quarters, first.

When they had all the squares drawn...

...I taped them up onto a wall, to reveal the picture.  The lines didn't all match up perfectly...

...but the end result was perfectly adorable (in my opinion, anyway).

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Gingerbread Men Shaped Padded Envelope Poppers

The first real "sticking" snow of the season...

...means it's gingerbread men time at our house.

When the children were tiny we'd have a Gingerbread Man unit study.  Now, we pretty much settle for decorating the cookies, with maybe a story, and quick craft thrown in for the younger children.  I love how every year there's a new version of the old story to be found.  Our favorite this year (actually from 2009, but new to us) is "The Gingerbread Girl" written and performed by Jim Rule and Friends, and not to be confused with the picture book by Lisa Campbell Ernst (also a good story).

As to the craft, I lucked out, and had a grad gift for T delivered in a bubble wrap lined envelope instead of a box, so we could stick with our "keeping fall simple" theme, and re-use another old idea - padded envelope poppers.

I cut the bag open, then traced around a cookie cutter on the paper, and cut out gingerbread men...

...for the children to decorate...

...and pop.  Making for an extremely simple craft, and a toy to boot.  Who doesn't like to pop bubble wrap?  In fact, the teens were a little miffed I didn't save any for them.  I guess I know what I'll put in their stockings come Christmas.

A few tips: 
  • Popping bubble wrap attached to a paper envelope is a little different than popping regular bubble wrap.  You have to place your thumb and fingers just right - and use more force.  It might be difficult for small children (it probably represents some kind of choking/suffocation hazard, too - so be careful).
  • Some packing envelopes have bubble wrap that pops easier than others.  It's a good idea to test it out, before cutting the shapes.
  • I was worried that washable marker used to decorate the shapes, would come off on the children's hands while popping the bubble wrap.  But, allowed to dry completely, the marker did not come off the paper.