Friday, January 31, 2014

Snowbleck - Simple Snow Day Ratios

Ironically, while the eastern half of the country has been bracing against arctic blasts, Montana has been unseasonably warm.  We've had to make the most out of every snowflake.

So, today, with our latest flurry falling, but melting fast, I decided to extend the fun with a messy-play-meets-math-lesson type of activity - snowbleck - like oobleck, but made with snow instead of water.

The first step in making snowbleck is to collect, and melt a cup of well packed snow, to determine how much water it contains.

Our snow today contained 1/2 cup of water for every cup of snow.  A ratio of 1:1/2 snow to water (convenient for a simple lesson).

Oobleck is made with a 2:1 mixture of cornstarch and water.  We had 2 cups of cornstarch, so we needed one cup of water...

 ...or two cups of snow.

The girls mixed the snow with the cornstarch...

 ...melting it in their hands...

 ...transforming our math lesson, into a science lesson, into ooey-gooey fun.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Frosting Equivalent Fractions - Cookie Math

I've been trying to help my younger girls (ages 9 and 7) get a firm grasp on the concept of equivalent fractions.

We've watched videos, colored worksheets, played games, and read fraction themed story books.  But in our house, a lesson never feels complete until the cookies are baked, and in this case - frosted.

So, once again, I found myself rolling out batches of chocolate, and vanilla sugar cookie dough made from our usual recipe.  A (age 12) helped me slice apart drinking glass sized circles of dough, piecing them back together on the baking sheet in pretty alternating patterns of chocolate and vanilla halves, quarters, eighths, sixteenths, and combinations of them all.

Once they were baked, I served up an assortment of the fraction cookies to the younger girls, along with bags of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry frosting, with instructions to frost half of each of their cookies with vanilla, a quarter with chocolate, and a quarter with strawberry.

They piped on the frosting, making it easier to get where they wanted it, then smoothed it out with butter knives when they were finished.

I left them to complete the project pretty much on their own, so they could work out for themselves how much of each cookie was a half or a quarter.  It wasn't long before I heard them counting out, and very naturally dividing up the chocolate, and vanilla wedges of each cookie in order to frost the appropriate portions.

It was tempting to jump in with a bunch of leading questions - "How many eighths did you have to cover up to make a quarter?" "Did you notice the eighth is half the quarter, and the quarter is half the half?" - and that sort of thing.  The girls were working so comfortably, and so unconsciously with the fractions though, I decided to let the activity stand alone for rumination, that will hopefully lead to an aha! moment on another day.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Minecraft Cake with Canned Frosting

You've got to love Minecraft for working a simple, square cake right into the game.  It makes things so much easier for parents planning Minecraft parties.  I noticed most of the folks posting pictures of their cakes online, favor fondant over butter cream frosting.  While fondant does lend itself nicely to crisp lines, and a smooth finish - canned frosting (or homemade) is much simpler to work with, and a good deal less expensive - as well as being quite tasty.  And, as far as the Minecraft cake goes, it's totally doable.

Simple start with a square cake - bake one or two cake mixes worth of batter in two square pans, allow to cool slightly, and then put them together with a layer of frosting.  Freeze the cake, covered, overnight... eliminate the need for a crumb coating of frosting.  You might also want to slip strips of tinfoil under the bottom edges of the cake, to keep the plate clean, while you're frosting (both of those are old Martha Stewart tips).

Then, you can begin by piping the square pattern onto the sides of the cake, with vanilla frosting.  You don't have to get too fancy.  I used a resealable baggie with the corner snipped off for the piping pictured.

Continue piping to fill in the outline on the sides.  Blop a good dollop of frosting out on top, and smooth it out with a butter knife.

If you are making a yellow cake, then that might be all the frosting you need.  But, if your birthday child prefers chocolate cake, or you just really like frosting...

...fill in the bottom of the cake with a second piping bag of butter cream frosting.

Use kitchen shears to snip out a few fruit roll-up squares for the top of the cake.  Remove the tinfoil strips, allow a few hours of cake thawing time...

...and serve up with ice cream cut into quick cubes, and maybe...

...a candy filled Creeper, or two (a free paper craft found here).

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Pointillism for Children OR Five Minute Art Lesson

The children have been busy this week, sorting our big bucket of mixed up perler beads into bags, according to their shades.  Looking at the bowls full of shaded "pixels" of colors, I was reminded of the pointillistic paintings of the Impressionists. When I mentioned it to the children, I was surprised to find, that not only did they not remember anything about Seurat or Signac, they didn't remember our pencil stamp pointillism paintings, or even making pointillist sugar cookies.

Upon reflection, I realized a couple of years have passed in the meantime, and a quick review was probably in order - a very quick review, in our case, because it was already a busy week.  I pulled out James Mayhew's Katie's Sunday Afternoon, for the younger children...

...and brought up the museum clip from Ferris Bueller's Day Off for the teens - mainly just so I could have them ask, "What's the point of this?" and I could answer, "Pointillism...that's the point, and if you wait to more seconds, it will get to it." - maybe you have to have seen the movie to appreciate the clip.  Regardless, I made them watch it.

Anyway...then I printed out a Seurat coloring sheet from here, scanned it back into the computer, and opened it with the Paint program.  The original coloring sheet was an Adobe file, and I couldn't open it in Paint, which is why I printed it and scanned it back into the computer - but it's certainly possible there is an easier way.

With the coloring sheet opened in Paint in one window, I brought up the same painting through Google's Cultural Institute in another window, so we could zoom right into the fine details of the painting there, for the children to try to match with pencil dots of color on the coloring sheet - focusing in on one small detail, like a boat or a hat, at a time.

Viewing the painting in fine detail, allowed us to see how Seurat used the dots not only to blend colors, but also to create sunlight, shading, and a sense of movement.

Not too bad for a five minute review from the comforts of our living room.  Still, I'm thinking another batch of cookies might really bring it home.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Cardboard Tubes and Circles - Homemade Building Sets

Trace around an empty cardboard tube, to cut circles out of thin cardboard (such as an empty cereal box).

Cut four, evenly spaced, slits into the top and bottom of the tube, about as long as the radius of the cardboard circles... the circles will slip nicely into the slits.

Add more circles and tubes.

You might even want to cut some larger circles just for fun.  Really, more than half the fun of a homemade building set is engineering the pieces in the first place.

Then, you can build... to your heart's content, or until you run out of tubes and circles.

Because the tubes are light and hollow, unlike wooden blocks, it's even easier to build with them on carpeted and bumpy floors.

And when they all fall down, they're much quieter than blocks too.  Making them a good choice for building when Daddy is napping.

Sorry about the gloomy pictures, but we're finally getting some real snow - making for a lovely, if dark, winter's day.

It's great to be a homeschooler.