real science for today's homeschooler

Take the Pluto Survey!

Take the Pluto Survey!

We all remember learning the nine planets of the solar system when we were in school. And just like that, there were only eight! Poor Pluto! In 2006 the IAU (International Astronomical Union) demoted Pluto to nothing more than a “dwarf planet” when another rocky body, similar to Pluto, was discovered beyond Neptune.

But, on September 18 Harvard University hosted a debate about the controversial classification of Pluto and it seems quite a case was made to reinstate Pluto back to its former planet status. Although you may have heard rumors that Pluto is now a planet again, the debate was informal and no official decision has been made. The IAU meets again in Honolulu, Hawaii in August, 2015 and no official change will be made before then, at the earliest. Still, the Harvard debate has stirred up quite a bit of emotions concerning Pluto!

I was very surprised to find that my students have very strong opinions concerning the fate of Pluto, with some believing it should be reinstated as the ninth planet of our solar system and some not. Which got me thinking . . . what a great topic to get kids involved in current events in science! So, I want to challenge you to get your kids involved. Encourage them to do some research on the pros and cons of classifying Pluto as a planet and come to their own decision. Once they have, please have them share their opinion through this one question survey. I’ll share the results of the survey when it looks like a clear winner has emerged! (The survey is completely anonymous and no information is collected other than the answer to the one survey question!)

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Cotton Cloud Model

Cotton Cloud Model

If you’re teaching your kids about the different types of clouds, have them make a model to show cloud structure and the different levels of the atmosphere where clouds form. Here’s a good website that covers the basics of cloud classification. There’s a good diagram of different types of clouds and the atmospheric levels in which they form. For younger children you might want to let them use the image as a guide for their model. Older children will find it more challenging to only research information about the structure and level of different types of clouds and then develop their own visual model.

Whichever option you choose, provide blue foam board, plenty of cotton balls, school glue, and markers. Challenge your child to plan their model before beginning. Discuss the need to arrange the cotton so that it represents the structure of different types of clouds. And, the need to plan ahead to divide the poster into sections to represent the different levels at which clouds form. A black marker can be used to darken the cotton of the “rain clouds.”

Extend the cloud lesson by taking the finished model outside on different days to identify clouds in the sky. The model will help children understand that they are actually looking up through three different levels of clouds.

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Bug Collection – Go Digital!

Bug Collection - Go Digital!

Remember having to do a “bug collection” project when you were in school? There is a lot of value in observing animals in their natural environment and learning how to identify them based on physical characteristics. But, is it really necessary to catch, kill, and mount them?

If your kids are afraid of crawly things or squeamish about killing live creatures, why not have them do a “virtual bug collection”? Armed with a digital camera, kids can hunt for insects in their natural environment. Teach them how to approach the insect slowly and quietly so they can get a close up snapshot. These pictures can then be used to study the physical characteristics to identify common names or even scientific names for older students.

You can either print out the digital photos and preserve their virtual insect collection in a notebook, or help them make a PowerPoint from their collection to incorporate a lesson in technology!

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