Adventures for Junior Paleontologists

I took my dino-loving kids to the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology. They have monthly Discovery Days and this month’s theme was Making Monsters: Science in Art. It was our first time to the museum and we instantly fell in love.

For $3 per person we received admission to the museum and got to participate in several awesome activities that blended science and art. We listened to a paleoartist, Brian Engh, talk about how he works with fossils and paleontologists to create the artistic renderings of what they believe the dinosaur looked like and the environment it lived in. What a cool job!

The first activity was about how to draw dinosaurs. We chose from several step-by-step drawing worksheets to sketch the dino of our choice. Next we cut out tangrams and arranged them on the page to create our own dinosaur. Then we chose from a selection of cut-out fossil body segments that we pieced together to create a new dinosaur. Finally, we were given a scavenger hunt list with different Pokémon characters. We had to find the fossil in the museum of the dinosaur that inspired each Pokémon character. Super cool. My Poke-fans loved this part.

  

The Alf is a fantastic location with imaginative hands-on activities that my junior paleontologists enjoyed. We will go back and I highly recommend it. Such a treat on a Saturday afternoon.

And because we can’t get enough fossils, we went to the Homeschool day at the La Brea Tar Pits a few days later. There were very few activities this time around so I was not as impressed, but homeschool day gives us a chance to go down into the Observation Pit which is usually closed unless you’re on a guided tour. We love it down there!

Resources for Junior Paleontologists:

 

 

 

New Pterosaur Exhibit at the Natural History Museum

Digital visualization of flying dinosaurs

Like most kids, my children have interests that pass. I thought dinosaurs and woolly mammoths would pass. I nurtured the interest like any good parent and expected the next year to bring a new love. And it did. We have added many new loves to our list, but one thing that has not passed is dinosaurs. In fact, it has grown into a love of paleontology and archaeology. A fascination that stays with us in a way that we are often pinched with the bug to find new ways to feed our fossil fire. Where can we dig? What can we watch? What’s in that rock?

This year we purchased an annual pass to the Natural History Museum, which also includes admission to the Tar Pits and the Page Museum, and the William S. Hart Museum. We were planning a trip anyway to explore, and we wanted to see the Mummies exhibit before it left so it made sense to just purchase the annual pass knowing we would get several uses out of it.

We’ve wondered what might take the place of the mummies that occupied the space downstairs near the cafe, and we were excited to learn of the Pterosaur exhibit. We were surprised through, that the exhibit is near the main member entrance and the space downstairs is still behind covered windows.

We entered the new exhibit on a member-only preview day so the crowds were limited once inside. It was sort of magical for us because we have such a polished appreciation for the age of dinosaurs and other creatures from long ago. We walked into rooms filled with fossils, and replicas, and informative plaques, and short films, and life-sized models of the Pterosaurs that once took to our skies. Some hover overhead, similar in size to the school bus in the parking lot. Some were smaller than your cat.

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There are interactive screens, like a video game, where you can dive for fish or hunt for bugs. My son loved that part. My daughter liked using the joystick to learn how the Pterosaurs used their wings to harness the wind during flight. I liked the room near the end with the Pterosaur replica soaring over the water. Such a beautiful display.

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I expected to pass through quickly, as my kids often do, jumping from one display to the next. But this one lasted. They took their time. They explored. They watched. They enjoyed. This one is definitely not to be missed.

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Exploring Route 395

route 395 cover

We recently went to Mammoth for a long weekend to see the snow. But some of the best parts of the trip were the places we stopped along the way. And the best part was that each of our stops was a mini science lesson.

Fossil Falls

Located on the east side of the 395 off of Cinder Road, Fossil Falls is the byproduct of volcanic activity and a rushing river. Thousands of years ago, the nearby cinder cone erupted, splattering the surrounding desert with lava and rock. As the lava poured into the Owens River, the rushing water sculpted and polished the rock. Today, with the flow of Owens River diverted and Owens lake now dry, all that remains is the fossil of what was once a majestic waterfall. Stone cliffs and ballasts and holes bored out of the center of giant rocks show years of erosion and is truly amazing to see in person. Photos do not capture the depth or the detail that you find at Fossil Falls.

fossil falls from above

There is a small parking lot with restrooms at the trail head. It is a short hike from the parking lot, maybe half a mile. It is rocky though so wear appropriate shoes. Also, this is not the place to let your kids run free. Little ones should be kept close and supervised at all times. There are steep drop-offs, and it’s a long way down. Lots of holes in the rocks so watch your step!

fossil falls.jpg

Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns

You can read the history of the Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns here. It’s located off 395 just north of Cartago. There is a small Historical Landmark sign on the road. When you turn onto the road you will see the commemorative plaque, but you can not see the kilns from this location. You must continue down the road about one mile to see the kilns. They are surrounded by a fence now, but it is interesting to look at and think about the history and the changes that were made to the landscape because of the gold rush, the mines, and the kilns. An area that once featured a flowing river and plentiful trees is now barren and dry. Just past the kilns is a passageway through the hillside but we did not drive that direction to further explore the area, so I’m not sure what lies beyond the kilns. Although it was interesting to see, it felt a little creepy out there.

cottonwood charcoal kilns

Hot Creek Geological Site

This was my second favorite stop and I wish that we could have spent an entire day exploring this area. You can read all the details about Hot Creek here. We saw and explored the main stretch from the photo but there are trails along the gorge that go much further than we were able to discover given our time-frame. But the warm water and the blue-green algae and knowing the background of the ancient volcano piqued my interest and the scenery was stunning. I will go back here and spend time exploring. There are restrooms in the main parking lot, although they weren’t pretty when we visited and only two of six were open. The walk down was a bit steep so wear appropriate shoes for this one.

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hot creek 3

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Mt. Whitney Hatchery

My husband loves fishing and so we are often subjected to trips to area fish hatcheries. Not so bad when they have the quarter machines to get food to feed the fish, but sometimes a trip to the fish hatchery can be less than amusing. Our third and final fish hatchery for this trip was the Mt. Whitney Hatchery (yes, I did say third). Fortunately, this was the most exciting hatchery we’ve been to. The Mt. Whitney hatchery is no longer operational, but some areas are still open to visitors. The hatchery is located on an alluvial fan and receives a lot of natural mud flow from the nearby mountains. The hatchery and several of the buildings were destroyed years ago and the rainbow trout were killed, so the hatchery function was shut down. However, this is one of the most stunning hatcheries you’ll find complete with fish pond, castle, and fish food machines. I’m not lying when I say there were some seriously large trout in that pond. Check it out if you are ever out that way. Pack a lunch, it’s a great spot for a picnic. The visitors center slash museum is open from April through September. Unfortunately we were there in March so we didn’t get to go inside but it’s still worth the stop. Learn more about the Hatchery here.

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What’s your favorite side trip on your way to Mammoth? Share your hot-spots!

 

 

 

Our Book List: Reference Books We Love

reference books

One of the things that we have an abundance of is reference books. Dictionaries, encyclopedias, and subject specific reference guides are some of our most used books. And the benefits extend beyond homeschool. Every student should have access to reference books that are easy to read and understand. Our reference books help us fully understand concepts and subjects we aren’t familiar with. This year I expect we’ll be using our reference books even more as we get into more difficult subjects. I’ve even got a list of books that I’ll be ordering to add to our collection. Here is the short list of the essential reference guides that every elementary student should have.

Illustrated Dictionary – 288 pages with over 1000 illustrations. Inside the Illustrated Dictionary you’ll find a user’s guide, parts of speech and their roles in forming sentences, hints and guidelines for writing and spelling, and a brief history of the English language.

Children’s Encyclopedia  – 320 pages with over 1,500 images. Packed full of information and includes hands on activities and experiments plus downloadable images, quizzes and activity pages. Features all the world maps and flags with facts and records and over 600 hand-picked internet links for additional exploration.

Encyclopedia of World History – 416 pages of history from prehistoric times to the 21st century. Includes a 12,000 year illustrated timeline, over 100 maps, and amazing facts and illustrations. We use this as our history book and will be developing several lessons from it over the course of the year. This book also includes Usborne Quicklinks and additional links to hand-picked websites featuring information and activities related to in-text topics.

The Science Encyclopedia – 448 pages of science with over 140 experiments, activities and observations. Brilliant images throughout the book with information on everything from atoms to energy to plant life. Quizzes for each section are available in the back of the book plus additional Quicklinks and internet resources. We love this book and are using it as our science book this year.

First Illustrated Math Dictionary – This book clearly explains math concepts, breaking them down into the most basic elements and helping you understand math step-by-step. This is for the early grades from pre-k to 3rd or 4th grade and uses fun illustrations and easy to understand terminology. If you have a student who has a hard time in math, this book is for you. If your student is 2nd grade or above, consider the next level up: Illustrated Elementary Math Dictionary. Just as fun and just as helpful but geared for 8 and up.

The Quest for Curriculum

quest for curriculum

So the search is on. I am on a mission for the next two months to pin down the products I want to use to kick off our school year in September. I say kick off because we used a significant amount of our first grade curriculum by winter break last year. Now I have a better idea of the types of things I want to include, the things I can leave out, and what we will be able to add and vary throughout the year. For anyone considering homeschool or also searching for educational material for the upcoming school year, here are some of the choices I’ve got on my list, though I haven’t narrowed it down  to the finalists yet!

Language Arts:

All About Spelling – Last year we used level 2 so we’ll be moving on to level 3. This was one of our most enjoyable curriculum purchases. There are lots of little magnetic letters and word cards, but they make learning so tangible and interactive and easy to digest. Kids need to do more than listen to rules and read sight words and this set gave us lots of tools to work with. The pre-scripted teacher’s guide is also one of the easiest tools I had for first grade. All I had to do was pull it out, open it up, and we were ready for our lesson. We usually only needed about 20 minutes for a spelling lesson which is so doable any time of the day.

All About Reading – I’ve heard a lot of great things about the All About Reading program, and since I love the spelling side, I may try this out for my 4-year old.

Write Source – I like the way these are laid out to teach different writing traits and styles. I was going to purchase this last year but never got around to it. I hope to include it for our second grade studies.

 

Math:

Saxon Math by Houghton Mifflin – We used Saxon Math 1 for first grade and we purchased the manipulatives kit which we love and use often (read more about our math manipulatives here). I think we will end up using this program again but I’ve got a few others on my list that I may try in addition to this program.

Life of Fred – I’ve heard a lot of good things about this program and it takes a different approach to teaching math. Might be a fun twist to our traditional routine. Last year I tried to break our math studies up – using curriculum a few days while focusing on telling time, counting money, learning measurements, etc. – on other days. Life of Fred could be a fun alternative.

Math-U-See – Another program I have heard good things about. I haven’t done a lot of research into this one yet but I’ve got it on my short list.

 

Science:

Science Fusion –  This is the program we used last year and my son loved it. It comes with a work text that the student can write in plus online access to interactive online lessons, experiments, and additional printable worksheets and learning material. I liked the program but the only drawback was that I found it a bit difficult to navigate some of the online content and it took me a lot of time to get our lessons together because of this. Someone more savvy may find this program easier to use. We may go ahead an choose this program again for the simple fact that it was one of my sons favorite parts of school.

Houghton Mifflin Science – This is the other science program by Houghton Mifflin (also publishes Science Fusion) and we got the first grade set by mistake last year so I was able to see the difference between the two. This is more expensive but it has its benefits. For example, the printable materials and teacher resources come on a cd-rom that is much easier to navigate and you can quickly select and print the resources you want to use for the lessons. This is the same text that many schools use for their science curriculum and there is a homeschool version as well as a teacher’s version.

Apologia – This creation-based curriculum is on my short list. I like the areas of emphasis like botany, astronomy, and zoology.

 

Social Studies:

Harcourt Horizons – For first grade we did a little bit of everything for social studies. We didn’t have a specific curriculum to follow. I like the idea of having it all in one place when I want it, but being able to branch out when we are feeling adventurous. I’ve heard good things about this one so I may consider it for our 2nd grade studies.

 

What are your favorite curriculum programs to use? Do you buy specific and structured programs or do you use other resources? Please share your favorites (and your least favorites)!

Studying the Sky

studying the sky

Our science unit right now is Objects in the Sky. We use the Science Fusion program by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I included the link for visual reference. The book is an interactive work text that the student can write in and is functional on its own. However, if you want to get the most from this program, I recommend buying it from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt directly and getting set up with the online teacher component. With the online component you and your student will have access to online lessons, inquiries, and leveled readers. There are also printable vocabulary cards, additional inquiries, assessments, and so much more. We have really enjoyed using it this year.

Anyway, we’re studying the stars, moon, sun and general changes in the sky from day to night. The unit is short and doesn’t dive very deep into the astronomy aspect, which my son loves, so we are using some of the inquiry activities (there are lots of great inquiry activities for this unit, especially for first graders who are new to this topic) and adding a few of our own explorations.

My husband has been taking the kids out at night to look at the stars, and yesterday I printed up a constellation map. Today, my son is making his own constellation map by simply poking holes in a piece of black construction paper. He is trying to recreate Orion and adding a few of his own creations.

star map

I also found a great workbook on Education.com called Skywatchers. It has lots of cool information about constellations, astronomers, the planets, the moon and more. I’m a subscriber so I can print up as many workbooks as I want – just today I printed three new workbooks to use for our studies. I really like this site and I use it a lot to get study materials for both my preschooler and my first grader.

Here are a few books about astronomy that we are planning on adding to our collection (click on each book for detailed information about each title):

Astronomy and Space Sticker Book    Astronomy

Usborne Book of Astronomy & Space   Sun, Moon and Stars

What are some of your favorite astronomy-related activities?

Usborne Publishing Ltd. (UK) has no connection with these pages and does not sponsor or support their content.

Learning with Graphic Biographies

learning with graphic biographies

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We found a set of comic-style nonfiction books that are really cool. The Graphic Library books are published by Capstone Press and they have topics on everything ranging from the Vikings, to Colonial America, to the Titanic. They even have a science-themed set that covers biology, the environment, and so much more.

I like these because my son likes comics, but I only let him read the ones in the Sunday paper, these books, and the Dinosaurs series by Papercutz. Once in a while I let him get a graphic Garfield, but I like it best when he reads normal books. Still, I like to give him the opportunity to read books in a style that he enjoys, but I get the satisfaction of knowing that he is learning.

Since it’s Black History month, we’ll be grabbing a few about important people and events from this topic. There really are so many to choose from, but here are some that you may want to consider:

Martin Luther King, Jr.: Great Civil Rights Leader (Graphic Biographies)

Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad (Graphic History)

Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott (Graphic History)

Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion (Graphic History)

George Washington Carver: Ingenious Inventor (Graphic Biographies)

Matthew Henson: Arctic Adventurer (Graphic Biographies)

Wilma Rudolph: Olympic Track Star (Graphic Biographies)

Madam C. J. Walker and New Cosmetics (Inventions and Discovery)

Jackie Robinson: Baseball’s Great Pioneer (Graphic Biographies)

Martin Luther King Jr  Jackie robinson

rosa parks   matthew henson

 

Book Images courtesy of Amazon.com