Monday, 13 February 2017

Chemical History of a Candle: bonus experiment

We are reading Michael Faraday's Six Lectures for the chemistry component of a Year 9 science class. As you can surmise from the title of the book, there is a lot of candle burning going on.

The experiments involve close observation of the flame and usually involves its going out in different situations using up many matches in the process of relighting the candle often.  One student casually wondered how matches work so I assigned that question as homework.

When we reconvened the following week, the students' narrations then led to wondering if all matches were the same? So we decided to find out and set up an experiment using different kinds of matches.

Surprisingly, I had 8 different types of matches on hand: ones with turquoise match heads, black, white or pink match heads, red with white tips of various sizes and matches with cardboard sticks from souvenir matchbooks.  We used the same igniter for each strike to keep that consistent.

The students decided what they could observe that might distinguish matches from each other: What does it smell like when it first burns? or when it is first put out? What colour is the flame and the smoke? How big is the flame?

One thing usually leads to another and investigations usually lead to more questions.  They wondered if the different colours were just a dye on top of the usually red phosphorus match head or its true colour.  They first put it under a microscope to examine the match head and then started scraping off layers of the colour to see how it was constructed.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Backyard Nature Study - Ants

I'd like to suggest a very close-to-home nature study you can do whether you are in an urban setting with lots of concrete about, or not enough energy or time to give up the afternoon for a road trip to a nature area or trail, or interested in a longer study of live creatures right in your home.

It's the ant farm. Ants are readily available and if you insist that there are none around, empty a bit of sugar onto your counter and you will be rewarded with a slew of them.  A less intrusive idea would be to leave a sticky mess of candy outside and check it in a day or so.

I went to the dollar store and purchased a glass spaghetti jar and a plastic water bottle.  Anything that fits inside one of the other leaving a narrow gap between them will work. Have your children find some dirt and fill up that gap.

We punched holes in the lid with a hammer and nail. The problem was that the holes were large enough for ants to pass through.  Not good.  We closed them again with tape and made smaller holes.  The best idea is to capture large ants!

Go out and find those ants. The easiest idea is to find an ant hill, dig deep around it then have everyone scoop like crazy with soup spoons. Ants scatter quickly! Make sure you get ants and eggs.  The jackpot would be to have found a queen ant. You can also look under rocks and patio stones.


Once your ant farm has been filled dirt, eggs and ants, make a heavy paper cover to put around the outside of it to give those ants the underground feeling.  Add a sweet snack for them and a cotton ball soaked in water for their drink.


You can slide off the paper sleeve for a bit every day to see what the ants have been up to.  

In their nature notebooks, have your children mark the progress of the tunnels, where the nests are built and how many eggs are stored or hatched. 

Charlotte Mason wants us to make entries into our nature notebooks including painting and notes about what we observe.  The ant farm gives an opportunity to spend time studying the same creature over a longer time period. This is part of what she called 'special studies'.

"They are expected to do a great deal of out-of-door work in which they are assisted by The Changing Year, admirable month by month studies of what is to be seen out-of-doors. They keep records and drawings in a Nature Note Book and make special studies of their own for the particular season with drawings and notes." (Mason, Volume 6, p. 219)
Older students can include a daily chart recording the increasing lengths of the trails and the number of the eggs and ants.  You can see how nature study is the precursor for science study.  This is what J. H. Fabre was famous for: close observation of small creatures over long periods of time.  Fabre not only recognized the insects he studied but he knew them and their ways.  This is your opportunity to know about ants.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The Best Part

This summer has been relatively dry.  Dry enough that the grass on my front lawn is a disappointing shade of dead but in the back yard, where the lawn is shaded with large trees, it is green. The kind of green that does not come from newly laid sod but from dandelion leaves, creeping charlie and clover.  And since there hasn’t been enough rain the few stubborn blades of grass have not grown high enough to warrant a pass of the mower.  So my backyard has swaths of flowering clover. 
And that clover is host to hundreds of honey bees.

So much good can come from just letting it be. 
Some would call that lazy. But truly, let the lawn go in the spring and it will be covered in dandelions and swarming with bees and the first butterflies and beetles and flies. Then the clover over the summer and voila! Nature happily taking up residence in your very own backyard. No intervention and manipulation required, just restraint from weeding and feeding and mowing and spraying. ‘Cause, really, all that would be left are manicured but barren blades of grass with literally no life in it.

Much like what Charlotte Mason calls Masterly Inactivity.  No need for manicured lesson plans and long lectures but just living books and things in the hands of a child and voila! Ideas and questions will sprout to be examined and narrated. Mason says, “We ought to do so much for our children, and are able to do so much for them, that we begin to think everything rests with us and that we should never intermit for a moment our conscious action on the young minds and hearts about us. Our endeavours become fussy and restless. We are too much with our children, ‘late and soon.’ We try to dominate them too much, even when we fail to govern, and we are unable to perceive that wise and purposeful letting alone is the best part of education.”

Purposeful letting alone allows your yard, your children’s education, an opportunity to be rife with life.

Not fussing nor restless but watching bees pollinate while lying in the grass.