Tuesday, August 28, 2012

On the Road Again

Alaska Highway - scale of the immensity & extremes the builders of this road had to face
Recently the newspaper the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner did a story on the celebration of the 70th birthday of the Alaska Highway. Our last post was about road tripping and had my gears greased about how many direction you could go with a road theme. Here's a few more to add to the list...
How was the road system started where you live? 
Did it follow old dog mushing trails, old native hunting trails? 
How was it built? 
Who built it? 
Was there controversy over putting some roads in your community in?  
Comparing road systems is also interesting - do the roads follow the contour of the land or are they in a rigid grid formation? 
The history of trails and roads is actually quite fascinating and will prove to teach a lot of concepts from history, physics to economics, and in an integrated way!
In preparation for our next trip I came across this great little find. We'll be exploring the art of navigation further with our 3 year old as we make our way around Florida doing the great-grandparent tour with the new baby. He's already has a great functioning knowledge... it helps that his dad has a degree in geography and cartography!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Road Trips & Summer's End

As summer dwindles down and you're trying to squeeze in that last road trip before the buses start rolling, there are some great lessons to learn that only being in the backseat of the family's vehicle can provide.

Content Areas:
  • Geography - employ your child as the navigator... or at least the assistant navigator, involve and engage them with the map
  • Science - meteorology - notice the weather in your different locations. Is that weather typical for that region? Why?
  • Economy - stop by the local Chamber of Commerce in each town you visit. Discus what drives the economy in each area - coal? fishing? corn? car manufacturing?
  • Writing - have your child keep a journal during the travel. If you have small children model the journal process for them - or let them dictate what they want to record and remember from the adventure.
  • Literacy - collect books based or written by authors from the area you are visiting. Complement your Local Library with a Travel Library. This is a great way to connect learners with books and deepen their comprehension. These books are favorite bed time stories and are a great way to spark fond memories and conversations.
  • Math - figure out your average travel stats... how many miles are you driving or hiking or biking a day? What's your average speed.
  • Astronomy - one of my favorite games as a child was to pick a celestial landmark on our car rides at night and try to follow it with my eyes for as long as I could. Have a discussion about why the stars move.
  • Art - have your child document the trip with drawings or photography

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Centers at the Beach

Whether you are a homeschooling parent or a classroom teacher, centers are something you are probably familiar with. At home or in the classroom you might already set up stations for your children to rotate through. Typically stations are hands on activities that are short and sweet ways to allow your learners to experience a concept in a tactile way. Centers or stations also typically follow a theme. Today at the beach I noticed a whole gamut of mini lessons and examples of fundamental earth science principals. Our motto "Teach Locally, Learn Globally" exemplifies the broader microcosm, macrocosm relationship. The beach at low tide provides a mecca of microcosms to study to gain knowledge of bigger happenings in the world.

Tide Pools: 

Let's start with tide pools, they are a very simple contained ecosystem at low tide, that at high tide become part of the larger ecosystem - the cove, or even broader, the ocean. Studying a tide pool is like putting a microscope on the bigger happenings of the ocean. Focusing on how each of the organisms interact with one another illustrates how concepts such as food chains, symbiotic and parasitic relationships work.

River Formation:

Looking to runoff on beaches or even after a storm on the side of the road one can see the life story of a river. What takes thousands of years can happen in hours, even minutes. Learners can watch streams of rainwater begin to meander and braid themselves. Watching what glacier melt has taken so long to do and which can only be seen from an airplane on the larger scale. Simply taking bucket of water and releasing at the top of the beach allowing the water to head downhill toward the ocean can usually reenact the phenomena. Taking a video camera and creating a movie back at home or school would be a great way to integrate media into the lesson, by creating a documentary about the life cycle of a river.

A braided river from the air.

Rain run off on the beach

While at the beach for the day take measurements of the waterline to determine how much the tide changes. This is easier to mention when the tide is receding than when it is coming in because you can make lines in the sand that don't get washed away. Have the students use a tide chart before hand to figure out when the best day for the field trip should be.


Some of the materials you may need for a day of centers at the beach are:
  • tide chart
  • field journals to record data/observations, draw diagrams and take notes etc...
  • color pencils to sketch observations 
  • measuring tape for measuring tide change
  • buckets & scoops to collect specimens and samples
  • magnifying glasses
  • portable microscopes if available or you can take samples back home or to school
  • marine life field guides for identifying species 
  • camera with video
  • clip boards 
  • towels

What other activities or centers could you do during a field trip to the beach?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Cut Flowers

I found this gem of a quote by J.W. Gardner recently

Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.

According to Wikipedia - John William Gardner, (October 8, 1912–February 16, 2002) was Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson. Many of his quotes and writings I've discovered are very much in accordance with Dewey and the fundamental beliefs of place-based education. I wonder what he would think of No Child Left Behind? His passing came as it was just really starting to take root and begin to transform the nations schools into what they have become today.

Salmonberries - Field Notes from Kodiak

My family and I have been thoroughly enjoying our extended stay in Kodiak this summer! We've explored mountains, beaches, rivers and the ocean. I was worried about not being able to go berry picking this year in my favorite spot back home outside of Anchorage. Kodiak has proved to be even better! I may not be able to move back!

My favorite part of the year is always berry picking season! It's in my blood, literally. My father is half Finnish, making me a quarter and the Finns are avid berry pickers as their climate is very similar to Alaska. Even those who immigrated to the US, kept up this tradition. My great grandmother owned a blueberry farm in southern New Hampshire. My grandfather made sure to have a bounty of blueberry bushes on his own property. My dad grew up picking berries at my Great Grandma Liimatainen's farm.

Alaska is a land where people take the utmost pride in their ability to subsist of the land. So be careful when you ask someone where their favorite blueberry spot is... they may lead you astray. Like favorite hunting grounds and fishing holes, we guard our berry picking spots with great secrecy, only to be shared with family or close friends.

My little forager.
This year was a new first for me in my long line of years picking the wild fruit... Salmonberries! What is a salmonberry you might ask. Well it is a beefed up close relative to the raspberry. The leaves and stems are very reminiscent of the raspberry, but the flower is big and bright pink. You can take the flower off the stem and suck the sweet fragrant nectar from it, much like you would with honeysuckle. The berries themselves are again much like the raspberry, with the same fruit structure, but much larger. They change in color from green, to orange to a deep blood red when ripe and are called salmonberries because they look strikingly like salmon roe (eggs). Not quite as sweet as their cousins, they make for the best pie I've ever had! They are great for making jam, sauces, wine and ice cream too.

Due to the cold, very snowy winter, they were a little later in their ripening this year. While my family was on one of our almost nightly walks on the docks, checking out the fishing boats and more importantly the new sailboats in from all over the world, I overheard a funny conversation between two burly fishermen getting their nets ready for their next run. They were cursing up a storm, when one stops and says "Hey what's up with the salmonberries this year? But this f*&%$ing time last year I was f#%^@ing making jam!" It seemed so comical to me that such a rough and tumble guy would be swearing and talking about one of the most historically domestic tasks. Even cussing, giant, weathered men have a soft side.

While the fisherman like salmonberries, so too do many of the birds. It is amusing to watch them after they've gorged themselves on the fruit, then try to take off and fly, markedly larger than when they had first landed. Flying much lower to the ground they take a while to gain altitude.

While at storytime at the local library, the children's librarian read a great story about berries, harnessing the many connections and experiences the children have with them this time of year. The craft to go along with the story was to make a berry bucket, complete with bells, so you can easily locate your child and in Kodiak hopefully warn the bears of your presence, as they love berries too. If only Sal in Blueberries for Sal had a berry bucket with bells... ah but then there wouldn't have been a good story to tell.

Here are the materials needed for the bucket:
  • a yogurt container with lid
  • hole puncher
  • yarn
  • pipecleaners
  • bells
  • stickers to decorate
Here's a link to my berry season post last year with a variety of lesson ideas, activities and books that focus on berry picking: Blueberry Buddies and Lessons from the Land.