Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Montessori Pink Tower and Cuisenaire Rod Extensions for a Sixth-Grader

When Syd's sixth-grade Math Mammoth curriculum covered exponents, she and I (and her sister, on occasion...) did a lot of hands-on sensorial work with exponents. It's easy to forget that even bigger kids benefit from hands-on math, but when you set something down in front of them and watch them become totally immersed in it, you're unlikely to forget again.

Soon after seeing how invested Syd was in working all the Montessori pink tower extensions, and how quickly she moved through them, I asked her if she wanted to join me in creating some extensions for the pink tower and Cuisenaire rods. Both sets of manipulatives are keyed to the centimeter, and so we found that they worked quite well together!

Here are some of the combinations that Syd and I found:

For some reason, Syd really enjoyed making a pattern with the pink tower, and then repeating it with the Cuisenaire rods. It's none of my business why or what she's getting out of a particular experience--the fact that she's happily engaged and invested in her work is proof enough that there's something of value in it for her.
We made a log cabin quilt block!
You can play a lot with perspective when you explore these two materials together. Each Cuisenaire rod is only one centimeter wide, so many of the patterns are best seen looking straight down from above.

I thought that this diagonal patter that Syd made was extremely clever. You can see that she doesn't have it quite worked out in this photo, but I can tell that she's noticed that two pink tower blocks can share a Cuisenaire rod. 

I think she might be exploring along the same lines here, as she's omitted the centimeter cube that she was originally using to cap all the corners of her creations.

This was just a "play" day for us, but you could make this activity more academically rigorous, and in some cases cross-curricular, by adding more investigations to it:

  • Children could be the ones in charge of photographing their designs.
  • Children could diagram their designs on graph paper. To continue extending it, they could add photographs of the completed designs, write a description or instructions, hand-paste or use a graphic design program to make a book, and then bind that book themselves.
  • Children could use clip art versions of pink tower blocks and Cuisenaire rods in a graphic design program, designing patterns that are impossible to create in real life.
  • Children can design and perform STEM challenges, such as creating the tallest free-standing tower or the longest possible bridge with supports.
  • Combine these materials with the decanomial square to explore cubes, or add more pattern possibilities. Bonus points if you use foam core and/or foam sheets to make your decanomial square pieces one centimeter thick!
Most outside resources for these materials focus on extensions best suited for young children, but here are a couple that I've found that are sophisticated enough to intrigue an older child:

Monday, April 23, 2018

Homeschool Science: CK-12 Biology Chapter 7: From DNA to Protein Synthesis

The kids and I are using CK-12's 9th/10th grade Biology textbook as the spine for this year's biology curriculum--for Will, who is in the eighth grade but who is taking high school-level coursework, this will be recorded as Honors Biology on her transcript.

In addition to that textbook, we're using The Illustrated Guide to Home Biology Experiments as our lab manual, and of course we've got a plethora of other reading/viewing/listening resources and hands-on activities to enrich our study.

The kids read chapter 7 in sections, completing the questions at the end of each section. At the end of the chapter, they took the test (from the CK-12 Biology Quizzes and Tests book) with an open book.

For Section 7.1: DNA and RNA, Syd also watched the BrainPOP videos "DNA" and "RNA," while Will read the entries "DNA" and "The Double Helix" in The Biology Book, a terrific resource that adds historical context to the science that we study. I had Will watch "Lecture 6: The Double Helix" in Great Courses Biology: The Science of Life, but honestly, the lecture seemed even more dry than I'd first thought it was when I was previewing it, so I likely won't assign anymore of these lectures. There are several that do align with CK-12 Biology, though, if you think you can sit through them.

After reading about DNA, I challenged the kids to make models of DNA. They did the research, followed through with construction, and their DNA models, each very different from the other, both turned out great!

Honestly, I could have done DNA models for weeks! I've discovered that I am a BIG fan of crafty science.

The big hands-on activity that we did for this section was from The Illustrated Guide to Home Biology Experiments;extracting DNA from beef liver was quite the scientific adventure! Will needed two tries to get this procedure right, but she was able to work independently from the instructions. Syd needed a lot of guidance, but her Type-A fastidiousness meant that she also got a workable DNA extraction on her first try.

For Section 7.2: Protein Synthesis, I wanted to make the process perfectly clear, so I relied on the same trick that I've used since they were toddlers--the hands-on model! The kids constructed this model of DNA to mRNA to ribosome to tRNA, and it was a comfy way to spend part of a rainy afternoon. After all, don't most kids do their best science snuggled up on Mom's bed?

On a different day, I had the kids practice transcription and translation using this Protein Synthesis and Translation activity from my favorite Teachers Pay Teachers seller, Amy Brown Science. It was a little spendy for a one-time activity--I mean, at $3.25 it's not *really* pricey, but I certainly am not going to budget to pay $3.25 for every lesson I ever do with the kids, you know? Might as well by an out-of-the box curriculum for that money! BUT I already know that Amy Brown Science is high quality, and this activity has the kids practice exactly what I want them to practice, and it's academically rigorous, AND I didn't have to make it up myself. 

$3.25 well spent in this case! 

I spent a LOT of time supplementing Sections 7.1 and 7.2, because the kids really need to understand DNA and the processes of transcription, translation, and protein synthesis. A deep understanding of molecular genetics is not optional! I spent a little less time supplementing Section 7.3, but I did want the kids to understand how the process can go wrong, so I found another Teachers Pay Teachers resource--a free one, this time!

The Genetic Mutations Scrabble Challenge is pretty brilliant--it uses Scrabble tiles and simple phrases to model how genetic mutations occur, and the types of genetic mutations that occur:

It was pretty quick and easy and the kids could both do it independently, but it also made the concept perfectly clear to both of them. This turned out to be an easy chapter to plan!

Only Will had a supplemental activity for Section 7.4: Regulation of Gene Expression. By this section, we'd spent a LOT of time on DNA through protein synthesis and both kids were ready to move on, so I had just Will view this presentation on Visualizing Gene-Expression Patterns, and even then only through Slide 8. Comparative biology is fascinating, but no need to dig in too deep when we're excited and ready to get going on the next chapter.

We watched two Crash Course videos during the course of this chapter:

We used several other resources to supplement this chapter:

Finally, here are some resources that I collected for this chapter, but that we did not use:
There's a smooth transition from this chapter to the next on heredity, and then we leave molecular biology and spend a good, long time on evolution!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Homeschool Biology: Extract and Visualize DNA from Beef Liver

The kids and I are using CK-12's 9th/10th grade Biology textbook as the spine for this year's biology curriculum--for Will, who is in the eighth grade but who is taking high school-level coursework, this will be recorded as Honors Biology on her transcript.

In addition to that textbook, we're using The Illustrated Guide to Home Biology Experiments as our lab manual, and of course we've got a plethora of other reading/viewing/listening resources and hands-on activities to enrich our study.

Extracting DNA from fruit is one of those go-to hands-on science stations that my kids have already done at oodles of programs and festivals (and in fact, just a couple of weeks after we did this lab, Syd attended a Girls in STEM conference one Saturday morning and lo and behold! One of their workshop activities was extracting DNA from strawberries!), so I wanted to make its iteration in the DNA chapter of our biology textbook more rigorous for these little DNA extraction experts.

Want roughly the same process as extracting DNA from fruit, but with a more involved and complicated procedure? Extract DNA from beef liver!

We followed the procedure from The Illustrated Guide to Home Biology Experiments for this, using beef liver from the local butcher shop. The process included a lot of excellent practice in making and staining slides (I still have not mastered the method of drawing stain underneath a slide cover using the corner of a paper towel) and using the microscope at different magnifications. The kids are still a little uncertain when they handle the microscope, mostly, I think, because they know how expensive and delicate it is, but after helping them run through this procedure, I feel like an old pro!

Look, everyone! Beef liver!

Syd, as you can tell, did not love mashing beef liver in a ceramic egg cup:

The coolest part of this procedure--though it's also tedious, I'll be honest--is determining the correct amount of sodium dodecyl sulfate to add to the strained beef and saline solution. The kids had to add a specific amount of sodium dodecyl sulfate to the strained beef and saline solution, make and stain a slide of that solution, and then observe it under the microscope, and then do it again. And again. And again. And again.

Worth it, though, when you finally hit the sweet spot and the cell membrane breaks down. Syd described it this way: "The cells all exploded!" Indeed, it was pretty cool!

When the cells have "all exploded" you can gently and carefully introduce the chilled isopropanol into the solution--
Here you see beef liver and saline solution in several states--the one on the left has isopropanol introduced.
 --and you can see with your naked eyes when the DNA has precipitated out. Remind the kids of all the experimenting that you did with liquid density!

As a final step you can extract the DNA from this, make and stain a slide, and observe it under the microscope.

I won't tell you what it looks like, but it was so cool--in fact, everything under the microscope in this procedure was so cool!--that I spent a hundred bucks of my homeschool budget on a digital camera/video camera that's made to go with our microscope. 

The next time we explode a cell, we'll have photographic evidence!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Trashion/Refashion Show 2018: Medieval Maiden

This was the year that Syd not only designed but constructed her own complete garment for the Trashion/Refashion Show. I'd been threatening/promising her for years that the next year, she'd be on her own, but then the next year would roll around, she'd design some complicated garment, and before I knew it there I'd be, muscling together sequins and T-shirts and silk sheets at the sewing machine.

And then I formed a Girl Scout troop, and that troop decided to become, during the month of February, the Girl Scout Cookie War Machine, and I found myself instead spending eighty-hour weeks as the fixer for the world's largest girl-led business. I realized that I had to let go of also figuring out the construction of a child-designed outfit from unsuitable fabrics under the unflinching supervision of said child/tyrant.

So Syd did it alone this year. And it was amazing. For both of us, I think.

It was interesting to watch how Syd approached constructing her garment this year. Previously, she's only ever had to worry about the design itself--although she helped me sew and glue, she didn't have the responsibility of figuring out exactly HOW to make her design reality. This year, of course, she had ALL of that responsibility, and I noticed that she was instinctively more flexible and more adaptable, more experimental. She let the fabric guide her as much as she did her design, and I think that it shows in her final result. The completed Medieval Maiden garment certainly resembles her original design, but to me, having seen the skirt that she started with, it looks much more organic than our previous collaborations--it's not so much that she took this and that and the other thing and made something completely different with them, as we've done in previous years; more that she molded these things into something that works differently, but is still very much what it was in the beginning.

My favorite part of the entire process might be the photo shoot that I get to do for her application, especially if the weather is cooperating for a change. I have to include some required poses, but after that we just get to show off!

One of my favorite parts of Syd's garment is that when she's still, with her arms back, you can't see her wings.

Syd would tell you that the wings are made from the inner lining of the original skirt. I will tell you that they're actually made of pure drama.

The interesting thing about this skirt was that it had three layers, plus lots of embellishments to play with. Syd kept the outer layer as-is, although at the dress rehearsal she decided that it needed to be pinned up at the sides so that she wouldn't trip during spins. The inner layer of the skirt made the wings, and Syd used the waistband of the middle layer as her neckline, then cleverly split it down the back and tacked it in place where she wanted the stitching to stay. And that's how she made herself that open back!

In the detail images you can see all the pleating and embroidery leftover from the costuming.

It's important to me that a child's garment, even one meant to be seen on a fashion show runway, should welcome active movement--really, it should invite it. Syd, however, makes her design decisions without my input, so I was pleased to see that she incorporated so much of that ethic into her own garment. This dress is made to move!

And one last action shot that has the bonus of showing off our junky yard!

Syd also had the responsibility of caring for her garment until the show, which I guess explains this pic that I found on my phone of her cat sleeping on the dress, which is, of course, crumpled on the carpet. Sigh...

Eight years in, Syd and I are old pros at spending the day of the fashion show in the theater. We get to watch all of the other acts--

--eat some pizza (eight years in, Syd also has a LOT of opinions about how much pizza one should take from the craft services table in order to ensure that there's enough pizza for everyone, and we spent the rest of the afternoon after this discussing the specific ways in which she felt that some people were not observing this completely unwritten, made-up, and entirely in her head rule. Life with tweens!)--

--and touch up her hair and makeup. I still got to help with the hair, but my days of doing makeup are apparently over:

And then--it's showtime!

Here's the video, if you'd prefer the full audience experience:

This is the first year that I did not have to step on stage AT ALL. I was a little sad when I realized that this meant that I wouldn't have the same backstage time with Syd--we're quite fond of our silent backstage dance parties!--but otherwise, the stage is not somewhere that I currently feel called to be. I was happy to watch her shine from my seat safely in the audience:

And look at her shine. Always, afterwards, I ask her if she's glad that it's over. Always, she tells me that she wishes she was still onstage:

We'll be back again next year, I guess!

P.S. You can always find WIP pics and discussions from these and all my other weird projects on my Craft Knife Facebook page.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Nashville is Country Music

In between the science and history--and the doughnuts!--we did the sightseeing in Nashville that *I* really wanted to do:

The country music!

The Country Music Hall of Fame is thorough enough that you can go without having any real prior knowledge of country music and come away with a good understanding of its history and its momentous people, places, and things, but it's a real treat to go when you DO know country music, because you get to see stuff from all of your favorite musicians!

Two of Loretta Lynn's Grammies

Loretta Lynn actually made this dress herself when she was a kid. Sissy Spacek wore it in Coal Miner's Daughter.

I called the kids over to read this blurb from the museum's excellent History of Country Music display. "Barbara Allen" is the first song we learned for our Folk Music study!

I love Minnie Pearl so much that I can't even stand it. Even as a kid, I always thought that she was the funniest person, and as a kid who was baffled by fashion and the way that all the other girls managed to look cute in their clothes, I remember noting that Minnie Pearl did not dress cute, and it was awesome.

Here is one view of one of Elvis' cars. It had a TV in the back!

I entered a state of fangirl bliss when I saw this, the cornfield from the Hee-Haw set, with the costumes of some of the characters!

handwritten rough draft, with edits, of "American Pie"

one of Johnny Cash's guitars! He has his own museum in Nashville, so there weren't many of his artifacts here at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Here is Minnie Pearl's plaque in the Hall of Fame.

To keep the kids entertained, there was a scavenger hunt that they could complete to earn a small prize from the museum, and I had them work on earning the Country Music Hall of Fame's fun patch for Girl Scouts. They had to pick and research a musician, then find their plaque. Here is Syd with her pick, Emmylou Harris.

We didn't go to the newer Grand Ole Opry location in Opry Mills (although we DID go to Opry Mills Mall to buy Syd some Crocs and visit the Bass Pro Shop), but instead to the Ryman Auditorium.

I also love Roy Acuff.

The Ryman Auditorium has a fascinating history, and it's interesting to tour.

Part of what makes it special is the fact that after serving as an iconic venue for decades, it was abandoned for further decades, and almost demolished before people came together to save and restore it. Here's part of the balcony that informed the restoration--can you see the hand-stenciled embellishments under the top layers of paint?

They made sure to include it in the restoration:

Here's the stage, so important that when the Grande Ole Opry later moved to their new location, they cut out a piece of it and put it front and center on their new stage so that musicians could still perform on it.

I'm not going to lie--I was VERY offended that you could only take a photo of yourself in front of the stage by paying extra. Seems a bit grabby-fisted to me, as you've already paid admission to get in, AND they don't advertise beforehand that they're going to grabby-fist you, but ah, well. This free photo, not nearly as nice, will have to do.

 But of course you haven't really done the Ryman if you haven't been to a concert there. And what better concert to go to than the Grand Ole Opry itself?

I was worried that the kids would be bored, but they seemed to have a fine time. And the Gatlin Brothers were there, with Larry Gatlin emceeing the show. The Gatlin Brothers only really had one big country music hit, but we must have had some eight-tracks of their gospel music or something, because somehow I'm very familiar with them. 

We didn't do everything that I wanted to do in Nashville--the kids took one look at the tourist crowds on Broadway and made sure that I understood that we would NOT being going into any of these honky-tonks, my desire to listen to live music be damned, and somehow we managed to not eat any hot chicken, either--but we managed to fill three days with activities that kids and adults enjoyed.

As part of our folk music study this year, here are some resources on The Grande Old Opry, Nashville, and the history of country music that we've enjoyed:

Scenes from the Grand Ole Opry Through the Decades (Use the Grand Ole Opry's YouTube page to find current videos)

Other Resources


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