Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Party

For our Halloween party, we had some fun with dry ice---ideas from here
When we were done we made root beer with the rest of the dry ice.

We did some Halloween music study and listened to:
Schubert's "Der Erlkonig" (there are some cool pictures inspired by this song---see here, herehere, and here
Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain (it's in one of Disney's "Fantasia" movies, here)
Saint-Saens' "Danse Macabre" (fun video here)

We also dipped caramel apples, which we haven't ever done before. It was fun. We used the recipe here, but I think my own caramel recipe would work better, so next time we'll do that. We'll also only dip as many apples as we can eat that day, as we found the apples significantly LESS good after a night in the fridge. The pretzel sticks kept well, though!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Amazing Arch (or, walking on eggs)

We did several demonstrations showing the strength of arches. One of the most interesting was when we stood on a carton of eggs! This shows the power of weight distribution among the different eggs, but also the way one arch directs the load out and downward, increasing its strength. We found instructions for this activity online (inspect the eggs for cracks first, turn them all facing the same direction, try to put your whole weight down evenly on the foot rather than on just your heel or something) but it still made us quite nervous! We started with Junie, just in case.
They didn't have to be too strong to hold this little pixie, so we worked our way up through the children all the way to Abe.
No breakage! Hooray!
I didn't want to participate, but the children insisted. And the eggs even supported me! Here is my surprised face.

We also tried to break these eggs by squeezing them (in plastic bags). In spite of our most strenuous efforts, they didn't break! Impressive.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


We spent our first day of this unit talking about pyramids and triangles. Of course, we covered the Great Pyramids in Egypt, but we also talked about modifications of that idea----the ziggurats, pyramids of the Inca and Maya, etc. I had to go somewhere in the middle of the day, so I told the boys to figure out how to make three-dimensional pyramids from paper while I was gone. They learned a lot from figuring that out all on their own---for example, that a polygonal base determines the number of triangular sides of the pyramid. They also learned how different sizes of triangles produced different pyramid heights (and/or gaps between sides, if they were irregular).

When I got back, we printed out a bunch of templates and made a whole city of pyramids. We found the templates at this great site---it has pdf's of all types of pyramids for you to fold. You can choose how many sides you want your pyramid to have. There are also all sorts of other polyhedra to print and make. Really fun.
We absolutely devoured David Macaulay books during this unit---he's one of our favorites. Pyramid, of course, was for this day.

Somebody made a step pyramid with blocks. There's a tomb under it (see the circular entrance near the bottom).

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Topaz Mountain Field Trip

Even though we had mostly finished our study of rocks and minerals, I wanted to squeeze in one more field trip before the weather got too cold or wet, and Topaz Mountain sounded like it would be really fun. But it was pretty far away, and it didn't sound like it would be as easy as our other field trips for just picking things up off the ground! You actually have to hunt for the topaz, and to know what you are looking for. So we waited for a day Sam could come with us!

We found directions to Topaz Mountain on the Utah Geological Survey site, but I liked these directions even better because they have little pictures to show you what the signs look like at each turn! Very helpful. That guy's site also has suggestions of what to bring and where to look for the topaz crystals.
We set off early in the morning. The sunrise was beautiful! We prepared the kids for the expedition by telling them how topaz was quite rare and we probably wouldn't find any---and if we did find some it would be VERY very lucky and surprising---but we were going to have fun even if we didn't find any! Low expectations are the secret to successful outings, I've found. :) And it was true, I didn't know if we'd be able to recognize the rhyolite that the topaz was in---or to break open any to find the crystals! Our Utah topaz is a lovely pink or brown color in its natural state, but after being exposed to sunlight for even a short time it becomes clear and colorless. I thought even the clear crystals would be pretty and was hoping we'd at least find some of those, but we had a picnic packed and we do love a long car ride, so it was going to be a fun day regardless.
There's a great site for collecting obsidian (the smooth rounded kind called "apache tears") only about seven miles away from Topaz Mountain, so we stopped there first. (I'll write about that in another post.) Then we slowly drove out the dirt road up to Topaz Mountain. It was pretty flat for the most part, but rocky, so we had to take it slow in our minivan! It was doable, though.

We weren't quite sure, in spite of our good directions, where to start looking at first. We hiked up a hill nearby and just started looking for veins in the rock that looked like crumbling mortar. Once we got started it was pretty easy to see what to look for. The topaz is embedded in this light-grey rhyolite:
And you can see the sort of porous parts that run through it. That's where you're most likely to find the crystals, I think.

It was pretty hard work chipping away at the rock, so mostly the older boys did it, but Daisy enjoyed having a hammer and chisel to bang some rocks with too.
Junie found a Juniper tree
It was a really windy day---not very cold, but so sandy that we kept our rock goggles on most of the time. I mostly stayed by the car with Marigold and Junie, and we could see a storm was coming, so we didn't want to get stuck out there with only muddy roads to get back on. It was really fun searching for the crystals, though---like a treasure hunt. Next time we will bring heavier-duty sledgehammers to break rock with, and we only had one chisel between us. But we had quite a bit of success just hunting for loose clear crystals among broken rock at the bottoms of the hills. It got way easier every time the sun came out, because you could see the crystals glinting in the sun. The rhyolite often had teeny-tiny crystals (too small to separate out) embedded all through parts of it, and it was very pretty in the sunlight.

We were glad we had brought little containers to put our crystals in, because they are easy to drop and, in the dust, very hard to find again! A container with a screw-on lid is very useful.

Finally it was time to go, so we reluctantly packed up and headed out, with the stormy wind getting stronger and stronger as we drove! We saw lots of tumbleweeds.
We stopped to eat our picnic in one of those tiny towns we'd passed on the way. The trees were whipping in the wind!
Seb played with this piece of styrofoam that was blowing around
Brrr! We were glad we'd left for Topaz Mountain early enough to get our collecting done!

When we got home and could clean and really examine our crystals, it was so exciting! They were so beautiful! We had found some of the pink ones and we liked those best of all, but the clear ones were great too. I read that topaz are often used for fake "diamond" jewelry because they are so clear and sparkly.
Some of our very favorites were these that Abe and Sam found when they split open this rock. They are too delicate to remove from the rhyolite matrix, but I like them just as they are. You can see the perfect hexagonal crystal shape of the one on the far left. Gorgeous!
We definitely would like to go back to this site on a warmer and sunnier day, with more chisels, when there's no approaching storm and we can really take our time hunting and sorting through all the rocks. We are already planning it for next Spring! But we felt so lucky to have found some topaz (even some pink topaz!) and to have had such an adventurous day. We love where we live!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Collecting Obsidian (Apache Tears) near Topaz Mountain

If you're going to look for topaz at Topaz Mountain, it's totally worth going a few miles farther to find obsidian at this site. Awesome JDan, whoever he is, has directions here---you basically just drive 7 miles past the turnoff to Topaz Mountain. Supposedly there is lots of obsidian in the Black Rock Desert, but when we visited Pahvant Butte Volcano we didn't see any, so this was very exciting. Especially these "Apache Tears," which have been stream-polished and are therefore quite shiny and rounded and beautiful.
Such beautiful views! There is truly nothing for miles around. Another reason I was glad to have Sam along for this trip!
It was even windier here than at the topaz site---probably because we were exposed up on the top of the hills. We thought we might blow away!

Once you start looking, you can find the little Apache Tears everywhere!

They are all over the ground on this hill.

Here are some of the obsidian pieces. They are so pretty and shiny! We are polishing some in our rock tumbler right now and I will update this with how they turn out. (UPDATE: the post is here.) But even just stream-polished, they are lovely and we had such fun collecting them!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Architecture Homeschool Unit and Lesson Plan

This picture is so tiny! Hopefully you can read it if you click to enlarge.*
I've been wanting to do an Architecture Unit for a long time. But even though I'd been thinking about it for so long, it was really hard for me to figure out how to organize it. Should I just do a chronological overview? Should I go by country? Or by architectural principle?

I finally settled on kind of a mixture of things. I really wanted to talk about the structural and engineering principles behind the architecture---why things are built the way they are---because that was one of the big things I knew the boys are interested in. But the historical and cultural context adds so much too! So I divided the first couple weeks up by structural principles: pyramids and triangles, post-and-beam construction, arches--->domes, cantilevers, etc. With each of those principles we also talked about famous structures that used that principle.

Once we had an understanding of the basic structural ideas, we went through history and talked about the different eras and how each was either reacting against, or enlarging upon, the technologies and customs that came before it. We talked about how and why different cultures have produced different types of architecture. We touched on a few famous architects and Sam also taught a great class on perspective drawing.

We also spent a whole week on bridges and a whole week on skyscrapers, since they encompass so many styles and eras (and since I knew that was where much interest lay). :)

That makes this one of our longer units, but it was really fascinating and I feel like we could have gone on even longer. There were some projects I had pinned (here's the Pinterest Board) that we didn't even get to do, so I'm sure we will be revisiting Architecture again in the future. And I'm sure we'll meet some of our old friends (the Millau Viaduct, the Taj Mahal, the Chrysler Building, etc.) again as we learn about other aspects of history and science.

*Updated to add better views of this chart, since it's really small and hard-to-read above. Click each section to enlarge:

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Miscellaneous rock stuff

This is "the NCC," as Sebby fondly referred to it. That stands for "Natural Crystal Cave." He worked on this cave for days, and then led tours of it in the dark with a flashlight.

Sam taught a class on how to draw rocks. He talked about cross-hatching and shadows. Seb drew a rock covered with crystals.

Everybody made rock collections for this unit. We keep them in these big egg cartons. The egg cartons work nicely because you can stack them two or three high if you have lots of rocks (and if you eat lots of eggs, which we do).

I got these posters here and we LOVE them. They are on the bulletin board right by our kitchen table, and I don't think a meal has gone by in the past two months where someone hasn't referred to them in some way. The boys all memorized the Mohs Scale without even trying to.

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