real science for today's homeschooler

What is my Ecological Footprint?

What is my Ecological Footprint?

Our children have a very egocentric view of life and, through limited life experience, they typically assume everyone has the same type of lifestyle as they do. While we talk a lot about conservation, how do we really measure up to other people? As you study ecology and conservation with your child, go online with them to take one of two Ecological Footprint Quizzes to reveal the size of your family’s ecological footprint. The first EFQ is very visual and fairly basic and simple and would be the best for younger children. The second EFQ is more in depth and would be great for older children.

The results that come up from the first quiz will reveal several interesting facts . . . and they may surprise you! How many acres of land are needed to sustain your lifestyle? How does that compare to the average person? If everyone had the same lifestyle as you, how many earths would we need to survive? The second quiz gives results about the number of earths needed to sustain you, and a breakdown of what areas of your lifestyle are consuming the most natural resources.

The first quiz is provided by an organization called “The Global Footprint Network” and the second by “The Center for Sustainable Ecology.” Besides the quizzes you can also find a good bit of information on conservation at either website. The quizzes are definitely eye-opening and can lead to some great discussions about protecting the environment and conservation of natural resources.

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Growing Crystals with Common Chemicals

Growing Crystals with Common Chemicals

Crystal growing is a fun activity for kids and it is relevant to several areas of science, such as chemistry, as well as mineral formation in geology. Schools often use commercial chemicals to grow crystals in the classroom, and these chemicals can be difficult, if not impossible, to purchase as an individual. Here are a few household chemicals that can be used to grow crystals at home:

Aluminum potassium sulfate (alum) can be purchased in the spices area of the grocery store. This alum is not pure, and crystals do sometimes turn out small. Purchasing a more expensive brand will often grow better crystals, but alum is fairly expensive.

Sodium borate (borax) can be purchased in the laundry section of many stores.

Calcium chloride can be purchased at home improvement stores and stores that sell chemicals for swimming pools. Even at a specialty store, this is a fairly inexpensive chemical to purchase.

Copper sulfate is the ingredient in products used to kill roots in sewer lines. You can find this at home improvement stores. Moderately expensive, but a container goes a long way. This chemical makes very large, beautiful blue crystals and is a favorite for crystal growing. But, do be careful with storage of the crystals as the chemical is poisonous and it can be mistaken for candy by young children!

Magnesium sulfate (epsom salts) can be purchased at a drug store or the pharmacy section of the grocery store. It’s fairly inexpensive.

Sodium chloride (table salt) grows very nice cubic crystals.

Sucrose (table sugar) is used to make “rock candy” crystals. There are quite a few recipes on the internet for making rock candy, and it is a favorite to make. However, these are the hardest crystals to grow, and it can be messy! I’ve tried this using several different methods and have never been very successful. If anyone has a good recipe and growing technique for making rock candy, please post! 🙂

How to grow crystals:

The trick is to make a supersaturated solution of the chemical. It’s best to start with distilled water, which can be purchased by the gallon at the grocery. Heat the water, slowly add the chemical, and stir until completely dissolved. In order to make a supersaturated solution, the water needs to be very hot and you have to dissolve as much of the chemical as possible. Continue to add the chemical a little at a time, dissolving thoroughly before adding more. When you finally reach the point where no more chemical will dissolve, pour the hot solution into the container you’ll use to grow the crystals. You can also add a little food coloring if you want to make colored crystals. Don’t add too much as you don’t want to dilute the solution.

It’s important to use a container with very smooth inside surfaces, like glass. Also, be sure to only pour in the solution that is completely dissolved. Let the undissolved chemicals settle to the bottom of the original container and don’t transfer the last bit of solution. Finally, suspend a string into the crystal growing solution to give your crystals something to grow around, and leave undisturbed. Depending on the chemical used, crystals usually begin to form within hours, but may take several days to grow larger.

Safety:

Take care with the finished crystals and store them appropriately. Copper sulfate crystals are especially poisonous if ingested. Whatever chemical you use, do read the product label for safety precautions. The same precautions should be taken with the finished crystals! Remember, many candies are made to look like crystals and small children may not be able to tell the difference.

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Making Rocks Fun!

Making Rocks Fun!

Okay, I have to admit, rocks sound boring to most people. But here’s a way to get kids interested in the topic of rocks and minerals!

Kids (and adults) love to find treasure. Purchase a bag of “mining rough” and you have a ready-made treasure hunt for your kids. Mining rough is the left over material generated by the mining process. To a mine that recovers and sells gemstones, it isn’t cost effective to spend time going through the left over material to pull out the small gemstones. They bag it “as is” and sell it at very reasonable prices. Going through the bag is literally a treasure hunt and you can find some very nice samples of amethyst, crystal quartz, and other gemstones including small samples of rubies and emeralds. Nothing that’s really worth much money, but pieces that will excite your kids!

There are many mines that sell this “mining rough,” but here’s a link to the one I order from: Cold River Mining Company. They do sell wholesale, but this link will take you to their “store” where you can buy individual bags. If you have a cave attraction nearby, you can probably purchase bags of mining rough there.

You’ll also need a sieve to separate the dirt from the larger rock and mineral specimens. You can purchase one from the mine, but it’s much cheaper to make your own. I would suggest getting a 1-foot x 1-foot piece of window screen to use as a sieve. The fiberglass screen works much better than the aluminum wire screen. The cut ends of the aluminum around the edges can puncture the skin!

The mining rough is dirt and rock straight out of the ground, so it can be messy. This is a great outdoor activity when the weather’s nice! Put the kids in their bathing suit or old clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and wet.

Here’s how to mine for gemstone treasure:

1. While your child holds the screen, add a small amount of mining rough to the center of the screen.
2. Spray the rough with a garden hose set on a low setting. The dirt will wash off revealing the rocks and minerals. (You can also dip the screen in a bucket of water, but the garden hose is much more fun!)
3. Collect the large pieces from the screen and let them dry.
4. The bags of mining rough usually come with an identification guide that kids can use to identify their gemstone treasures.

Be sure to explain to your budding geologists that gemstones are rocks and minerals that formed deep inside the Earth. Because the Earth is always moving and changing, sometimes these rocks and minerals get pushed up close enough to the surface for us to dig them up.

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