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Monday, February 25, 2013

World Trade Center Bombing - 20 Years Later

September 11... 

Everyone remembers this as the day that the World Trade Center was bombed in New York.

February 26... 

The World Trade Center was bombed in New York... but people seem to forget this day.

20 years ago, though, there were six people who were killed and over 1,000 people who were injured when the World Trade Center was attacked. This could have easily been 9/11 - only 8 years earlier. In fact, the goal of the attack was that the first tower would topple and take down the second tower. Thankfully, the plan failed and only blew a hole into the parking garage.

On site, security has stated that they thought a breaker went out. Power was lost to the building and they were unaware that a bomb had gone off. They soon realized what had transpired and men and women rushed to the scene. New York fire fighters, police officers, and civilians joined in to rescue, as they would do again.

This day should never be forgotten, nor the lives of those lost. John DiGiovanni, Stephen A. Knapp, William Macko, Robert Kirkpatrick, Wilfredo Mercado and Monica Rodriguez Smith (who was also pregnant at the time and scheduled to start maternity leave the following day)... We remember all of you.

1993 Word Trade Center Bombing - Eric Ascalon

There will be a ceremony and a moment of silence held today @ 12:18 EST. Our home will be joining in and thinking about the souls that perished that day, the people who were hurt, and the families of everyone involved.

This day is important to be taught to our kids as one to remember side by side with 9/11.
The names of those killed in the Feb. 26, 1993 bombing will be included with the National Sept. 11 Memorial and will share a spot with those that also perished on the 9/11 attack.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Science at Home

"Don't limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in a different time." 

~Rabindranath Tagore

Our children are born onto a precipice of education, learning and experience. Utilizing the tools that are available outside of the classroom allows for them to learn in a way that was not seen before at home. While some households may spend the time to purchase lengthy science kits, high priced curriculum, and partake in complicated projects, there is still something to be said for exploring the world around us and finding learning through every day venues.

One of the greatest advancements in education for our children is the fact that that science and technological learning is so easy to get our hands on. It no longer has to be expensive. It doesn't have to be complicated. In fact, if you live in decently populated area with a city nearby, chances are that there is going to be a science or space museum that will allow your child to explore the subject ad nauseum without any additional purchases at home. However, if you are like some of us, we like to bring the science home with us. Doing so no longer has to be pricey or inconvenient though thanks to simple products like 2 litre bottles. Don't get me wrong, there is a place for bunson burners and microscopes, but simple experiments are easy to do without all of the hullabaloo.

In fact, here are a number of science lessons that we've tried in the recent years that worked out quite well from the kitchen table.

The Water Race:

(1) 2-litre bottle for each participant or
team; stopwatch for each participant or team; paper
and pencils; water, sink or basin

Fill the 2-litre bottle with water. Record prediction
of how quickly the bottle can be emptied of all the
water on a piece of paper. Without squeezing the
sides of the bottle or swirling the water, empty the
bottle into a sink or basin. Using the stopwatch,
time how long it takes to empty out all of the water.

Repeat this experiment three times to be sure the
data are accurate.

Fill the bottle to the same level as before. Give the
bottle a swirl. Time how long it takes to empty the
swirling water out. Repeat three times.
Discussion: How close was your prediction?

Explanation:  The action of swirling the water in the bottle
while pouring creates a vortex, which looks like a tornado in a
bottle. The opening of the vortex allows water to flow out of
the bottle while air molecules move upward into the bottle.
Without the vortex, the water and air molecules have to

Tornado in a Bottle

(2) 2 liter bottles for each participant or
team; tube connector; water; optional glitter, beads,
small plastic animals, trees, houses, etc.

Fill one bottle 2/3 full of water. Screw on the tube
connector to the bottle of water and then screw an
empty bottle on top. Flip over the bottles and again
observe how the water moves from one bottle to
another. Then swirl the bottle with water in it and
watch as the tornado is created. Add some of the
above items and create your own vortex or tornado.
Observe the vortex and answer these questions:

Where were the plastic houses, beads or
animals before you swirled the water?

Where did they move when the vortex was

What similarities are there between the
vortex created in the bottle and a real

What other variations can you come

What if you use more or less water?

Does it make a difference if the water is hot or cold?

Explanation: A vortex is defined as “a whirling liquid.”
When swirling the water it causes the liquids to travel in a
spiral. As the water swirls in the experiment above it moves
the houses, beads, glitter etc. These items will move at
different speeds depending on where they are in the vortex.
This is similar to a tornado. A tornado is defined as “a violent
destructive whirling wind.” It is a rotating column of air
ranging in width. Air and water droplets create a tornado.
The water droplets form condensation, which is the visible

Liquid Fireworks
Water is denser than oil and the two will always separate from each other. Since food coloring is made mostly of water, it will drop through the oil and finally disperse into the water. This experiment produces "liquid fireworks."
  • Baby oil
  • Small bottle or small plastic prescription vial
  • Tablespoon
  • Two-liter bottle with top 7.5 cm removed (save this part to use as a funnel)
  • Water
  1. Place 1 tablespoon of baby oil into the small bottle or plastic prescription vial.
  2. Add 2-3 drops of each different food coloring into the bottle or vial (example: 2-3 drops of red, 2-3 drops of blue, 2-3 drops of green and 2-3 drops of yellow).
  3. Secure the lid and shake until the all the ingredients have mixed together.
  4. Fill the two-liter bottle almost full with tap water.
  5. Pour the food coloring and baby oil mixture from the small bottle through the funnel and into the container of water.
  6. Observe the interactions of the liquids.
When the bubbles sink, their oil coating rises back to the surface. The color seems to disappear because the drops of coloring are not powerful enough to change the color of the water.

Bubble Machine
Bubbles can be a thin, ball-shaped film of liquid that has a gas trapped inside. Air inside the bubble pushes outward against the watery "skin." Simultaneously, Earth's atmosphere pushes inward on the outside of the liquid "skin." This equal balance of two forces creates a shape with boundaries at an equal distance from the center and produces only one shape – a sphere. Here's a fun way to make bubbles.
  • Medium-size bowl
  • Water
  • Blue or green liquid dishwashing soap
  • Granulated white sugar
  • Top half of a two-liter soda bottle (cut to resemble a funnel without the cap)
  • Teaspoon
  1. Fill the medium-size bowl halfway with water.
  2. Add several squirts of liquid dish soap and one teaspoon of sugar to the water.
  3. Stir the mixture thoroughly and vigorously until small bubbles appear. Add more liquid soap if needed.
  4. Dip the nozzle of the funnel into the soap solution. Lift it up and blow through the large opening toward the inside of the nozzle. If no bubbles appeared, repeat and/or add more liquid soap to the bowl of water.
  5. Dip the large open end of the funnel into the soap solution and blow through the nozzle.
Which end of the funnel produced the best bubbles?

Waltzing Raisins
Drop raisins into a bottle of clear-colored soda and watch them rise, fall and hover for several minutes. This experiment is what I call "variation on a theme."
  • Two-liter soda bottle
  • Water
  • Vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Box of raisins
  • Tablespoon
  1. Fill the two-liter bottle half-full of water.
  2. Add 4 tablespoons of vinegar and 3 tablespoons of baking soda into the water. (You'll observe a chemical reaction as vinegar and baking soda interact – carbon dioxide bubbles will be produced.)
  3. Drop a few raisins into the bottle of water. The raisins may sink at first, but will "waltz" around soon thereafter.
The vinegar and baking soda produce carbon dioxide bubbles, which gather under the raisins until there's enough to make the raisins rise to the surface. When the raisins reach the surface, the bubbles burst, causing the raisins to sink. The process of lift-and-sink may repeat several times.

Density of liquids
Water molecules are constantly in motion. This bouncing and bumping of molecules is called "diffusion," which also occurs in gases and solids. Diffusion in our air causes fragrances to spread all around a room (i.e., flowers, cologne, cooking odors, etc.).
  • water
  • food coloring
  • scissors
  • two-liter plastic bottle
  1. Cut the top 7.5 cm off the bottle.
  2. Fill the bottle about 3/4 full with water.
  3. Carefully drop 5-7 droplets of food coloring into the bottle of water.
  4. Observe how the food coloring falls to the bottom of the bottle, leaving peculiar trails.
  5. Let the bottle sit undisturbed for a few hours. What happened to the trails?
 Homemade lava lamp
Years ago, lava lamps were the coolest devices to own! For hours one could easily sit and stare at the colorful globs as they slowly moved up, down, fused together and separated into extraordinary shapes. What were these bizarre globs?
  • two-liter plastic bottle
  • vegetable oil
  • food coloring
  • water
Soda bottle lava lamp
  1. Pour vegetable oil into the bottle until it is 1/3 full.
  2. Add 3-4 drops of food coloring.
  3. Carefully fill the bottle the rest of the way with water and tighten the cap.
  4. Allow enough time for the water and oil to separate.
  5. Slowly rock the bottle back and forth and observe the wave action.
  6. Slowly tip the bottle until it is upside down and observe the same lava lamp effect.
Water is denser than oil. This makes water stay on the bottom of the container while oil "oozes" to the top. Changing the temperature of these liquids has interesting effects, too!

Lung simulator
Your spongy, elastic and expandable lungs are located in your chest cavity and protected by a strong rib cage. When you inhale, the diaphragm and intercostal muscles contract and expand the chest cavity. This expansion lowers the pressure in the chest cavity below the outside air pressure, draws air in through the airways and inflates the lungs. To exhale, the diaphragm and intercostal muscles relax, air flows out and the chest cavity gets smaller. This decrease in volume of the cavity increases the pressure in the chest cavity, which is higher than the outside air pressure. High-pressure air from the lungs then flows out of the airways to the outside low-pressure air.
  • 10" to 12" party balloon
  • punch balloon
  • two-liter plastic bottle with the bottom cut off
  • rubber band
  • cellophane tape
  1. Cut the nozzle end off the punch balloon and slip it over the bottom of the plastic bottle, leaving a little slack. Secure the punch balloon with cellophane tape. (The punch balloon represents the diaphragm.)
  2. By holding onto the nozzle of a balloon, stuff the remainder of the balloon through the bottle's mouth.
  3. Secure the party balloon's nozzle around the mouth of the bottle with a rubber band. (The balloon represents the lungs and the bottle represents the chest cavity.)
  4. Pull down on the punch balloon (diaphragm) and observe what happens to the balloon (lungs) inside the bottle! Release the diaphragm.
  5. Push the diaphragm into the bottle and carefully observe what happens to the other balloon (lung).

    ( Many of these were found at - a great resource that we have found for our own projects at home)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Every Day Is Different

So, I was talking to my friend about homeschooling the other day and she mentioned that she didn't understand how I did it. She conveyed an interest but at the same time mentioned how she would go absolutely crazy being home all day with her kids. I always laugh when interested parents think that homeschooling would be any different than when the kids are in school. I mean, when your kids are in any other kind of school aren't there difficulties? Personally, the few times when my older son was in school I found that it was WAY more difficult. I had to deal with teachers, administration, massive amounts of homework that didn't seem engaging or interesting, and the "friends" that came over. Frankly, give me the "hardships" of homeschooling ANY DAY over what parents have to deal with when it comes to carting the kids to school in the morning on a set time and having to stick to that schedule. I guess it just goes to show that each family has their own definition of what works.

Then I think about my own day. My family gets up when they have had enough sleep, for the most part. Tristan would probably sleep all day if you let him... so I guess really, I get as much sleep as I need. I wake him up when I get up. But once we get up, we eat, and we get started on our day. Sure, I have a schedule in mind but I don't stick to it if something comes up. All that is on my mind is providing a learning environment where he is going to get experience and educated. There are days where I want to pull out my hair. Those are the days we take apart the car or go on a hike. It's called practical learning. I never will get what is supposed to be learned in a classroom that can't be learned in day to day life. But hey, that's just me.

When I am asked what I do all day, I can't ever give a simple answer. I can't say that day to day we do lessons or that we sit from this time to this time. I can say that we spend a solid 6 hours doing something. I can say that sometimes "school" happens on the weekends. I can say that I don't count summer or winter break as time off. Learning is possible at all times - even on vacation. I don't encourage turning the brain off. I don't offer down time. Even movie night constitutes merit. Work and play go hand in hand. Every day looks different.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Grading Grudges

Homeschooling our kids means that we educate them away from an established school... but most any homeschooling parent I know will tell you that a large part of their children's education does not happen in the home. Education can come in many forms and the glory of homeschool is that if you so choose, you can forgo standardized testing in lieu of actual life experiences. While there are those parents out there that saddle up with curriculum and weekly vocab tests, there are also a large number of us that use unschooling and modified curricula to educate our kids on life. How can you grade that?

My family lives in a home where we also help to care for other children that are not our own. My sister in law works out of the city a lot and so we also help her with her son. It's a bit difficult at times simply because her son goes to public high school and my two kids are here at home with my husband and I. It is a markedly different environment for education and I must say, it's an interesting sight to be in the middle of two different eduction systems on similarly aged children. While my nephew is a couple of years older than my son, the stuff they work on for school work is not all that different. This is not to say that my son is some uber genius. Quite to the contrary. My oldest is just an average kid that likes to explore. He has his own lesson plans and can learn at his own place. It just so happens that he likes science and math, but with a mother who has a BA in English Lit that he is forced to do more reading than he would like at times.

I don't do grades at the house. I think they are silly. I have worked for corporate America and I currently run my own business. In neither environment did I ever receive a grade for my work. While it is true that in corporate America, I did get reviews... it was more like a communication from my employer on what my strengths and weaknesses were. I never got a letter or a number that defined my work. That being the case, I have never bothered to label my own kid's learning that way. I am a staunch believer in that school and education should be done for the desire to learn, to be present in one's life, to help foster a sense of societal responsibility, and to propel ones interest to knowledge and experience. How can you put a letter or number on that???

On the other hand, since we have moved in to our current situation, there is so much focus on grades. My own husband and I have even gotten caught up in it. I mean, what else can a parent or guardian of a public school child know regarding their kids' education without a grade? It's not like you can talk to the teachers and check in on your child. Oh wait, you can. This is what leads to my own frustration. When I try to talk to the teachers, they invariably refer back to the grade that the student was given. A few teachers have been willing to work with us, seeing that we were interested in helping our nephew to succeed, but most of them simply said that our nephew wasn't doing the work well enough or at all. It is all foreign and I feel like I am walking around the in the dark. I'm the blind leading the blind. Truth is, I am ill-equipped to help a kid get good grades in school, especially since I think that their rubrics are so silly. At the root, I am biased.

Watching these two students struggle with their learning, my bias also leads me to see the difference in learning. My nephew doesn't much care for school. He doesn't really seem to give a hoot whether he gets n A or a D. I have asked him how he feels about class and if he needs help, but he'll tell you himself that he is going through the motions. I have brought up homeschooling with him and he has no interest. He wants to be with his friends. I am sure this is the teenaged angst of a high schooler talking. Still, I am not in the market to push him into doing something that he doesn't want to do. That still leaves me with the quandary... how do I get him to take his schooling seriously.

I wonder if there is a way to unleash that joy of learning that I see with many homeschoolers and instill it in a publicly schooled child? Can I make it so grades are less important? Society feels that those public school grades are important. Colleges are going to refer back to those grades. Nope, I don't think I can wipe that slate. So I wonder again, how can I change this up?

I mean, I don't not grade my own children, I just do it differently. I don't know how I would even begin to apply it to a child that is not homeschooled. I come to think that perhaps this is a good life lesson on my own grading skills. One day my own son will have to prove his worth to a college if he chooses to go. I know how to set up his portfolio for college and we work on SAT and ACT testing skills, even at the age of 12, so that some day he is going to know how to do it.  I tend to like the atmosphere of the house without fear of the dreaded report card. Finding a balance between this has to be possible, but I have yet to find out how. For the mean time, I am going to trust that each boy knows his own path and that they are old enough to be responsible for their education. You can't make anyone learn who doesn't want to and berating for lack of trying or poor grades has never gotten anyone anywhere. I just keep telling myself that as I bang my own psyche on the proverbial brick wall.

Man, I've got a headache!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Happy Birthday to My Hero: Mary Leakey

Happy Birthday Mary Leakey! 

She's one of my own personal heroes and looking back she and her husband not only propelled my own interest in physical anthropology, she also influenced my decision to home school. I know... I'm a dork. When I was 13 I found the book, "Origins" by Louis Leakey. I was absorbed and couldn't get enough. I then read "Origins Reconsidered" and 'Making of Mankind". I've read both 'Origin' books over and over through the years and after writing this post would probably read it again.

What I took away in my early teen brain was that this woman followed through along side her husband, traveled around the world, and didn't allow childbirth to stop her. The Leakey's raised their children on anthropological digs and followed their own rules regarding the scientific community a number of times. They seemed like scientific rock stars and I wanted to be just like them.

When I first started going to college, I had already determined that I would be an anthropologist someday. I let my own self down when I got pregnant and realized that having a child and planning to complete college by going to Berkley was probably not going to work for me. However, I realized that it didn't have to stop my dreams.

When my son was old enough to go to school, Mary Leakey was one of my own examples of women who could work and tailor an education for a child. She was known to be an artistic and articulate woman. She was not only the wife that followed her husband to Africa, even though it was his own desire to dig in Olduvai Gorge, which is located in now Tanzania. She had previous archaeological experience and it was in the field that she met Louis Leakey and the dynamic-anthropological duo came forth.

Mary brought her own skills to the table and was a large part of Louis' success. After three years of courtship, they were married and then moved to Africa. While in Africa she made her own discoveries of Proconsul africanu and Australopithecus boisei. With her husband, Team Leakey made other discoveries including Homo habilis, nearly a 2 million year old find. Their own discoveries together allowed for advancements in anthropology and archeology. She continued to search for the past even after Louis died and found one of the only signs of habitation of bipedal hominids in Tanzania as well as links to the past by fossils evidence.

There is bound to be more that the woman did, but this is what I remember from my own readings over time. She was an amazing woman before her time and created a niche in the field where women were allowed, but not nearly as well-received. She paved the way for Jane Goodall, who worked with her on her own groundbreaking studies.

For me, I probably would be homeschooling. Maybe. Maybe not? I always referred back to her as my own initial spark for homeschooling. At a young age she was my model of the woman who could do it all. So today, 100 years after her birth I say thank you and Happy Birthday.

If you would like to learn more about the Leakey's the Mary Leakey Foundation continues her legacy.