Thursday, March 28, 2013

Weight and Mass

I have a feeling Ramona Quimby grew up to be a scientist. Here are a couple of reasons why:

If Ramona drank lemonade through a straw, she blew into the straw as hard as she could to see what would happen.

"Ramona, what did you have to go and do a thing like that for?" Beezus demanded of her little sister, who was playing with her doll Bendix.
"To see what would happen," answered Ramona.
[After Ramona drops all the eggs, shells and all, into the cake batter and starts the mixer.]

Ramona knows that she doesn't just have brown eyes, that she really has brown and white eyes. She likes lizards, even imaginary ones like Ralph. She pretends to weigh herself at the grocery store (and proclaims that she weighs "fifty-eleven pounds.")

In Ramona's spirit of science and curiosity, we're going to learn about weight and mass today. What's the difference?

Mass is how much matter is in an object. You'll have the same amount of mass wherever you go or whatever you're doing. It changes a little any time matter goes in or out of your body--when you eat or go to the bathroom, and even a tiny bit when you breathe in and out. Because air and gas have mass too! If you measure with grams or kilograms, you're measuring mass.

Weight (often measured in pounds, but usually not "fifty-eleven pounds") is how much gravity is pulling on an object. It's related to mass, but they're not exactly the same. The more mass you have, the more you'll weigh, because gravity will pull on you more. But if you went someplace with less gravity, like the moon, your weight would change even though your mass stayed the same! You can find a fun weight calculator here that tells you your weight on the moon and many other planets. Try to predict before you put the number in--where would you weigh the most? Where do you think you'd weigh the least?

Now for the activity. You can make a balance easily by stringing two cups to each ends of a hanger. Put the hanger over a string or dowel, then start measuring! Use a small object like a paper clip as a unit of measure (paper clips actually have a mass of about 1 g) to find approximate masses of things like ping pong balls and pebbles. (This is a good one to demonstrate that greater volume doesn't always equal greater mass.) Gravity will pull harder on whichever side has the greater mass and the greater weight.

Have fun measuring weight and mass!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary

From Goodreads: Ramona Quimby is the youngest of all the famous characters in Mrs. Cleary's wonderful Henry Huggins stories. She is also far and away the most deadly. Readers of the earlier books will remember that Ramona has always been a menace to Beezus, her older sister, to Henry, and to his dog Ribsy. It is not that Ramona deliberately sets out to make trouble for other people. She simply has more imagination than is healthy for any one person.

In this book Ramona and her imagination really come into their own. Starting with a fairly mild encounter with the librarian, which is harder on Beezus than anyone else, Ramona goes from strength to strength, winding up by inviting her entire kindergarten class to a party at her home without mentioning it to her mother. The riot that ensues is probably the most hilarious episode in this extremely funny book, which proves that Mrs. Cleary's imagination is almost as lively as Ramona's.

My Two Cents: This is Cleary's only book that features Beezus as the main character, and while I love Beezus and identify with her, Ramona steals the show. It's easy to see why this little girl sparked a whole series, and why that series has been around since my mother was a little girl. Cleary's characters are absolutely endearing and her writing is timeless and lovely. And also hilarious.

Grade Level: 2-5

Additional Resources:
More to Read: 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Magnifying Glass Magic

In The Magic Half, Miri uses a magic lens to put things right. In this science activity, we'll explore with a not-so-magic lens called a magnifying glass, then use our lens to turn a picture upside-down and backwards!

Materials needed:
  • magnifying glass
  • white piece of paper or card stock
  • computer or TV screen in a dark room
First, examine your magnifying glass. As you feel from one edge of the lens to the other, it bumps out. This means it's a convex lens. (If it dipped in, it would be a concave lens. An easy way to remember this is that a concave lens is shaped sort of like a cave.) Use your magnifying glass to get a better look at book covers, sand, your hair--everything around you! Notice that the magnifying glass only works when you hold it fairly close to the object you're trying to observe.

So why does it make things look bigger? Because the lens is bending the light from whatever you're looking at. And since it's a convex lens, it makes the light bend outward, and your eye sees a bigger image. You can find more information about how lenses work at sites like Optics for Kids and Activities in Optics.

Now for our magic trick. Take your magnifying glass and a piece of white paper or cardstock to a dark room with a TV or computer screen in it. Hold the paper about 3 feet from the screen with the magnifying glass against it. Now slowly move the magnifying glass away from the paper and toward the screen. (All three things--screen, magnifying glass, and paper--should be parallel to each other.) When you get it to just the right distance, you'll see the image from your screen projected on the paper--but upside-down and backwards. It's magic! :)

If you're not satisfied to leave this as a magic trick (and why should you be?), there's a great explanation of how it works here. This is the same "magic that's happening in projectors and even inside your own eyes! (Yes, your eyes have convex lenses too!)

See what other great (and preferrably safe) things you can do with your magnifying glass!

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Magic Half by Annie Barrows

From Goodreads: Miri is the only single child in the middle of a family with two sets of twins--older brothers and younger sisters. When the family moves to an old farmhouse Miri accidentally travels back in time to 1935 only to discover Molly, a girl in need of a real family to call her own. A very satisfying classic-in-the-making, with spine-tingling moments, this is a delightful family-friendly middle grade time-slip novel.

My Two Cents: It's refreshing to see a time-traveling adventure story that's so heartfelt and feminine, one with equal parts history and magic. Miri is a sweet and sympathetic character who wants deeply to belong and to do what's right. And, of course, in the end, she's able to do both, in a very satisfying way.

Grade Level: 3-5

Additional Resources:
  • What are the odds of two pairs of twins in a family? Miri's dad says it's one in 8 million, but is that true? What are the odds of three? Read about a real mom with three sets of twins here.
  • Molly travels about 75 years into the future. What do you think the world would look like if you traveled 75 years into the future?
  • Molly lived in 1935, during the Great Depression. Learn more about the Great Depression here.
  • The attic room is like an octagon, or maybe a decagon. What's the difference? Learn all kinds of shape names here.
  • Miri sees some familiar books on the shelf--Little Women, Eight Cousins, Five Children and It. Were these books really published by 1935? Why do you think Annie Barrows mentions them in this book?
  • Miri finds some old magazines from 1935 in the bench seat and Molly's notebook comes out of an old copy of The Saturday Evening Post. See some of the 1935 covers here. Which one do you think the notebook came out of?

More to Read:
  • Another story of girls who discover something special in the attic of an old house: Palace Beautiful by Sarah DeFord Williams
  • A slightly spookier story of a girl who finds an alternate family in her house: Coraline by Neil Gaiman
  • More fun stories from Annie Barrows about two girls and their adventures: Ivy and Bean (series)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Exploration and Observation: Drum Talk

In Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, Steven is crazy about drumming. Rhythm and percussion are great ways to express yourself, and not just if you're a pro like Steven! I asked my fabulously talented friend Chelsea Gardner (who happens have a degree in music therapy) to give us a guest post this week, and she came up with a great one! And she even taught it to our kids, which you'll see in my first-ever blog video below. Take it away, Chelsea!

Objective: To teach rhythm through words that sound like drums. (Adapted from George Grant's Drum Talk)

Directions: Learn three “drum talk” words:  DOM, GHAGGIT, and CHICKA CHICKA. (If you know musical terms, DOM is equal to a half note, GHAGGIT is equal to two quarter notes, and CHICKA CHICKA is equal to four eighth notes. If you don't know musical terms, just know that each word should take up the same amount of time.) If I were writing it as a math equation, it would look like this: DOM=GHAGGIT=CHICKA CHICKA. Hopefully that makes sense!

You can do this activity with or without rhythm instruments, or you can make your own. I like to use drums, claves and shaker eggs for this activity, but if you don't have those things, you can use an empty oatmeal container or #10 can for a drum, two pencils or two wooden spoons or bang a sauce pan with a wooden spoon for claves, and an easter egg or any container filled with rice for a shaker. You can also use your body for body percussion: hit your chest with an open palm for the DOM sound, slap your thighs for the GHAGGIT sound, and snap your fingers for the CHICKA CHICKA sound, or whatever you would like!

First: Try saying the words and feeling their rhythm, then try having different people in your group or family say different words at the same time. If you have instruments, you can also play the rhythms as you say them. If you have instruments, try having the people with drums play the DOM rhythm, the people with claves or sticks play the GHAGGIT rhythm, and the people with shakers play the CHICKA CHICKA rhythm.

Second: Try putting together a pattern of 4 drum talk words, e.g. DOM, GHAGGIT, CHICKA CHICKA, GHAGGIT. Continue repeating that pattern. Have another person in the group come up with their own pattern of four words and try playing or saying them at the same time. If you have several siblings or friends doing this together, you can break the group into teams and each team can play the rhythm pattern together, or have each person come up with their own pattern of drum talk words and play or say them all together. 
The experts demonstrate the sounds DOM, DOM, CHICKA CHICKA, GHAGGIT on their instruments.
This is a fun family or group activity! Listen to the difference in the sound you are creating as you add instruments or sounds, or change the order of the rhythms. This requires listening to one another and working together, both skills every person needs!

Have fun!

Thanks so much, Chelsea! Our kids honestly had such a great time doing this activity. We are all still chanting rhythms today. :)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Drums, Girls, & Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

From Goodreads: Thirteen-year-old Steven has a totally normal life: he plays drums in the All-Star Jazz band, has a crush on the hottest girl in the school, and is constantly annoyed by his five-year-old brother, Jeffrey. But when Jeffrey is diagnosed with leukemia, Steven's world is turned upside down. He is forced to deal with his brother's illness and his parents' attempts to keep the family in one piece. Salted with humor and peppered with devastating realities, DRUMS, GIRLS, AND DANGEROUS PIE is a heartwarming journey through a year in the life of a family in crisis.

My Two Cents: This book is a beautiful combination of humor and heart, one  that literally made me laugh and cry. Steven is such a believable and endearing main character. Readers will sympathize with him and care about him and, ultimately, grow with him. Steven's family and friends are all well-drawn, and each makes their own mistakes and plays a touching role in the overall story. This is a great book for boys (and girls), for musicians (and non-musicians), for any kid who likes to laugh and wants to care.

Grade Level: 4-7

Additional Resources:
  • Jordan Sonnenblick's website, including a curriculum guide for this book
  • Learn basic drum techniques with these video tutorials from an expert
  • Listen to some of the music from the book, like Cubana Be, Cubana Bop and Jump Jive an' Wail
  • When Steven wants to avoid thinking about something, he does a complex math problem in his head. Work through some complex math problems in your head! You can start with these.
  • Do your own fundraiser for a family in need, or for cancer research or a local children's hospital. There are ideas here and here to get you started.
More to Read:
  • Another (YA) story where the family is dealing with a younger sibling's health problem: Just One Wish by Jeanette Rallison
  •  Another kid who finds inner strength to save a member of his family with a little help from his friends: Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities by Mike Jung
  • Another book with a big brother who learns a lot from eventually looks up to a formerly-annoying little sibling: Smiles to Go by Jerry Spinelli

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Fizzy Lemonade!

Evan and Jessie make plenty of lemonade in The Lemonade War. Let's make some of our own and see if we can learn some chemistry at the same time!

Here's what you'll need:
  • Lemon juice (either from a bottle or from a real lemon)
  • Baking soda
  • Water
  • Sugar
  • drinking glass
  • spoon

First, pour 1/4 cup lemon juice (or all the juice you can squeeze out of your lemon) into the glass. Make note of how the lemon juice smells and looks and tastes all by itself. (As you'll notice in my picture, lime juice works equally well.) Add a tablespoon of water to the glass. Then add a pinch of baking soda to the glass. Check out all those bubbles! (You can try adding up to a tablespoon in another glass to watch more bubbles form, but it might not be edible afterward.)

So what's happening? The citric acid in the lemon juice is reacting with the baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to make the same bubbles you see in soda--carbon dioxide (plus some more water molecules.) Add the rest of your cup of water and stir it up.

What does it taste like now? Take a very, very small taste. What's missing? We have our lemon juice, water, and even some bubbles. So why does it taste so terrible? We're missing sugar (sucrose)! Add 1/4 cup sugar to your lemonade and stir until the sugar dissolves.

When a solid dissolves, its particles break up and spread themselves all through a liquid. But even though the sugar is disappearing, it's definitely still in there! Taste your lemonade for proof. :)

By the way, you can have more chemistry fun by checking out these tasty chemical reactions or by building all of the molecules linked above using this gumdrop molecule activity.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies

From Goodreads: Evan Treski is people-smart. He is good at talking with people, even grownups. His younger sister, Jessie, on the other hand, is math-smart—but not especially good at understanding people. She knows that feelings are her weakest subject. So when their lemonade war begins, there really is no telling who will win—and even more important, if their fight will ever end.

Here is a clever blend of humor and math fun. As it captures the one-of-a-kind bond between brother and sister, this poignant novel subtly explores how arguments can escalate beyond anyone’s intent.

My Two Cents: I loved the imperfect and realistic sibling relationship in this book and the way little bits of math and business were woven throughout. The alternating viewpoints help readers see both sides of the story really effectively, and the sibling relationship, with all its ups and downs, is really lovely foundation for all the fun and learning that takes place in the pages.

Grade Level: 3-5

Additional Resources:

More to Read:

Friday, March 1, 2013

March: Sibling Stories

First of all, the winner of February's giveaway is...Robin with an "i"! Robin, just let me know which of February's books you'd like and whether you'd like a paper copy or an ecopy.

Now that things are warming up and February is ending, we'll leave our ice and snow stories and turn to...

Sibling stories! There are so many great stories about brothers and sisters, and this month I'll feature four of them on the blog. We'll have a story about brothers, a story about sisters, and stories that feature both. And, of course, there will be fun science activities, both from me and from a couple of special guests. So keep checking back!

And as usual, all comments this month (including comments on this post) will be entered to win their choice of our March sibling books! (New followers get an automatic entry too.) And as a special bonus, you'll get to choose TWO books--one for you, and one for a classroom of your choice!