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Teaching Mary Science....
Becky Laughlin, 6/3/2010

Becky Laughlin has just completed her 10th grade year of homeschooling, and is now one of my evaluation students. I was so delighted to read this major paper of hers this year, sharing about how she planned out her younger sister Mary's science program for the year. This was a fabulous leadership project for Becky-- and a wonderful year of very active science learning for Mary! I wanted others to be able to learn about this family 'co-op' program-- you just may have a very skilled teacher to help you out with your younger kids living right under your own roof! Becky also received a credit for learning about teaching this year. -- Susan Richman, Editor PA Homeschoolers

     This summer we decided that I would take over teaching science to my little sister, Mary, for the year.  The main book I used was from the elementary Apologia series.  Although half of the book was on birds, it also covered flying bats, flying dinosaurs, and insects.  In addition to the zoology book, we used a wide variety of books and videos from our home and local library.  Doing such a variety of projects and activities made it easy for me to enjoy teaching a subject I love anyway, and it showed Mary, who started the year thinking all subjects would be hard and boring, that science can be quite interesting and even fun. 

     We did a variety of experiments and activities that where suggested in the zoology book.  One example was called the pup experiment.  The point of this experiment was to show how hard it is for a bat to find her one baby among hundreds in a dark cave.  For our experiment, Mary only had to find one scent from around twenty.  We gathered cotton balls, put some different scents on them, and then Mary picked one to be her "pup".  I blindfolded her and she had to sniff each cotton ball until she found the one that was hers.  Mary sniffed her "pup" several times before she decided it was correct.  Another experiment dealing with bat senses was to show why bats have big ears.  We got a piece of paper and rolled it up into a cone shape.  Mary put it up to her ear as I talked.  The sound was much louder with the cone.  

          One of our favorite experiments was called the Lazarus experiment.  The name comes from the biblical figure Lazarus who died and was brought back to life again by Jesus.  We found an ant and put it in a bowl with water.  Using a spoon, we held it underwater for a few minutes till we thought it was dead.  After spooning the "dead" ant out of the water and onto a paper towel, we put a little bit of salt on it and then blew the salt back off (softly, so the ant wouldn't blow away!)  After about five minutes the ant "came back to life" and we put it outside again.  Mary learned that bugs can survive underground and during heavy rains because they can close spiracles, or little holes, in their abdomens.  Since it was a Lazarus experiment I included a little bible study with it. 

          Mary is a very creative person.  She won't throw anything away because every piece of cloth, cardboard or candy wrapper is seen as a potential house for her toy animals, clothes for her dolls, or jewels in a crown.  So I made sure she had a chance to be creative.  Besides drawing birds and bees, she did a variety of activity sheets in which she colored, cut and pasted from the Giant Science Resource Book.  They fell into several categories which you will see examples of.  The first category was parts of something, such as the parts of an egg.  The second group was a number of sheets on life cycles which Mary particularly enjoyed.  Our example here is the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly.  Finally, she did a couple of sheets on types of animals, such as the different types of bats, and comparisons, such as that between butterflies and moths.

     Everyone in the family enjoys going on field trips whether for school or just to get out.  We did several field trips for Mary's science this year.   The Aviary was an obvious choice for a place to visit a variety of birds as we completed our bird study.  We've enjoyed this trip before, but this time we were fortunate enough to see two live shows.  We arrived during the outside FlightZone bird show .  It was extra crowded since that day at the Aviary was free to the public, but we were able to rush over and find seats.  The keepers let some of their vultures and horned owls out to fly over the crowd which was really cool.  They also got volunteers from the audience to hold sticks with food on the end for the birds to fly by and eat.  After visiting the exhibits, we made our way into the main bird sanctuary for the bird feeding presentation.  After everyone was seated, a keeper came into the room with a cart of food.  He told us a little bit about some of the birds in that room and at the same time started to line up some seeds on the railing for two yellow birds.  Then another keeper came in and told us some interesting facts too.  One of the most memorable parts of the show was the girl holding food up to birds which swooped down and snatched it out of her hand.  She also threw the food up in the air and the birds flew down from nowhere it seemed to catch it. 

     The bat house at the Pittsburgh Zoo, home to many fruit bats, was our field trip for bats. After being inside the bat house for a little while we saw a baby bat that wasn't moving.  We got worried about it and decided to tell someone, but just before we did, a young boy noticed the little bat as well.  He left and got his dad, who is the bat keeper, and brought him in.  The keeper took the bat and looked at it to see what was wrong with it.  He also seemed concerned, but after a minute the bat started to fly around and acted as if nothing had happened.  With a sigh of relief we left the bat house to finish our zoo day.

     We all agree that the butterfly house is the highlight of Phipps Conservatory.  We've visited there each year since the butterfly house was opened.  Walking into the butterfly house is like walking into another world.  Butterflies from around the world are flying up high near the glass ceiling and down low inches from landing on you.  Along the side of the path are boxes of all different kinds of chrysalises at different stages from newly made to just emerging.  There is always one kind of butterfly there with tiger striped wings.  A favorite of ours is the Julia with orange colored wings.  It appears so light and delicate.  The monarchs and many other species of butterflies that call this butterfly house their home have a truly amazing place to live.

     The part of teaching Mary science that I enjoyed the most was the projects.  For Christmas several years ago, I received two gifts that teach bird calls.  The book of bird calls give facts about eight familiar birds and has buttons across the bottom that make their calls.  The other gift was a device called the Birdsong Identiflyer with cards that have ten different birds or frogs on each one.  Mary and I went outside in our front yard, and using both the book and device, got birds to call back to us.  Another project was observing an ant farm.  We've had a lot of ant farms over the years, however, the ants we got this time took awhile to figure out how to connect all their tunnels.  Ants normally live one to three months, but one of our ants got on the 'oldest ever' list, living for about six months. 

     Mary also enjoyed raising butterflies.  In the past we've gotten the caterpillars during warm weather, and I was able once to raise three generations from one batch of caterpillars.  This time, though, our butterflies weren't as active because our house was probably a little too cold for the them.  But we enjoyed having them around anyway.  In addition to our ordered caterpillars, we captured a few local butterflies and caterpillars.  We used nets and our hands to catch them, and we'd keep them for a day or two.  A few of the caterpillars we caught turned into chrysalises and eventually moths.  

     By far, the most memorable project this school year was raising quail.  Mom thought it would be a good experiment to do, so we ordered eight quail eggs in the mail and immediately put them in an incubator when they arrived.   We had to flip the eggs four times a day like a mama bird.  For two and a half weeks I (and occasionally Mary) got up at three o'clock in the morning to flip these tiny eggs.  Three or four days after they were supposed to hatch, we were thinking about just throwing the eggs away and count it as a failure.  But one Sunday morning mom came in and woke us up to tell us all of our hard work had paid off and we had a little chick in the incubator.  I don't remember us ever leaping out of bed so fast and running (more like stampeding) into the kitchen.  We took the little chick out of the incubator and put it into a box with food and water in the school room with a light to keep it warm.  We were sooo excited!!  We obviously had to name the little thing.  We didn't know how to tell whether it was a boy or girl, but Mary wanted it to be a girl.  So we decided on Esther. 

     After they dry off, chicks are so soft and fluffy!  All day Esther kept calling for someone to come in the room, because she was scared being in there all alone.  Her loneliness didn't last long, however, because early the next day another one hatched, Gideon.  We decided to switch back and forth between girl and boy names.  Mom named the chick Gideon since she liked that person in the bible.  At eleven o'clock in the morning we all witnessed one of the most magical moments ever, Naphtali's hatching.  We missed the other two chicks hatching because we weren't expecting them; however, we got to see Naphtali hatch from the first movement of the egg to her fully hatched and dried.  My older sister, Megan, named her Naphtali.  Naphtali was one of the twelve tribes of Israel, but Megan has always thought it would be a great girl's name.  With two more chicks in the box, Esther was happy...at least till her little brother and sister started to annoy her!  Gideon was a sickly little chick from the start and died the next morning.  We were all very sad, but none of us were as sad as Megan.  She had a break down and was a mess the rest of the day.  The next day things didn't get any better because our sweet little Naphtali followed her brother's example and died as well.  

     Thankfully Esther (and Megan) survived those first few days.  When Esther was about two weeks old she started to jump up pretty high and would soon be able to jump right out of her box.  We realized we would need something larger and more sturdy than the cardboard box she'd been living in.  Our dad is a great carpenter; he designed and built our kitchen.  He made a crate for Esther so we wouldn't lose her at night.  As she got older, she didn't need us as much and wouldn't snuggle with us as she once did, but we were proud parents, glad to see her so happy and healthy.   

     None of the other eggs hatched, so I decided to find out how well we did in caring for them.  Using gloves and a knife I slowly opened each egg to see how big each chick had gotten.  We discovered that we could have gotten possibly five out of the eight chicks.  They had died just before hatching.  When Esther was about five weeks old we got online to see if she was really a girl or not.  We happily found out that she was a girl and also found out that it isn't that uncommon to only get a couple of chicks to hatch and have a few die after hatching.  That made me feel a little better about losing the others.

     When Esther was exactly seven weeks old and an adult in quail years, we decided it was time to let her go.  We released her in a nearby park called Lynn Run.  We chose that state park because it's large, there is no hunting allowed, there's a nice stream and plenty of food.  We walked a little way down a trail and up a hill till we were all comfortable that she was far away from the people and center of the park.  We took her out of the crate, got a few pictures, and put her down to see if she liked her new home or not.  Esther seemed very happy there and even found a few worms to eat while we were standing there.  It was hard to leave Esther there alone but at least she survived to adulthood.  I still think about Esther and all the chicks and miss them a lot.  This is a project we'll look forward to doing again.

     Teaching Mary science was a good experiment for me and for her.  Mary discovered that there is some school that can be enjoyable, and I learned that teaching is fun.  I'm planning on doing Mary's science next year as well.  I can't imagine it being able to top this year, but I hope it will be just as good.    



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