Friday, 23 December 2011

We wish you a Merry Christmas!

We are going to take a break from studies -- about time!  This year's Christmas preparation has been under control in the sense that we have avoided the frenzy of Christmas rush and have not attempted to do every single Christmas activity available.

Instead, we have concentrated on a selected few Christmas activites, read a few books,

and made mince pies.  Once we have eaten home-made mince pies, that's it!  We're taking time off to be with family and friends.

Before we go, Tiger wishes everyone a very Merry Christmas:

We are going to wait for Father Christmas to show up now.  While we wait, it is probably sensible to get to know him a little better by watching the following documentary about how he has evolved through the years:

We wish everyone a very peaceful and joyous holiday with their family and loved ones.  See you in the new year!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Poinsettia

A gift from my mother-in-law
Not finding the mistletoe was somewhat disappointing, so we decided to do something about another plant that is very closely related to Christmas: the poinsettia.  It's such an interesting plant, in the sense that its leaves can have two different colours simultaneously.  For the longest time, I had thought that the red leaves (called bracts) were its flowers!

We first learnt more about the plant by watching the short clip here.

We then learned through observation.  I asked Tiger to identify the flowers and leaves of the poinsettia.  I was expecting him to make the same mistake as I had -- to think of the red leaves as flowers.  To my surprise, he actually knew the answers!  He said he got the clue to the answer when he saw a single leaf that was in the process of changing colour.

Our question and answer session then continued with the following questions, which helped to get Tiger thinking about nature's design:
- why are there different coloured leaves?
- where are the red leaves and green leaves positioned?
- why are they positioned as such?

Following that Tiger felt the leaves to learn about its texture.  While doing that, he discovered that the leaves oozed a milky liquid when broken.  The milky liquid was neither sticky nor smelly.  We later found out that the milky liquid was sap, which was another surprise because from our experience with tree sap, we had expected the liquid to be sticky but it was not.

To reinforce what we have learnt so far, I printed off the Poinsettia Booklet from here.  Since Tiger is in elementary grade, we skipped the preschool portions of the exercise and went directly to colouring in the parts of the plant, followed by putting the correct definition card under each part.

We continued our study of the poinsettia by reading about a Mexican legend of how the plant came about.  Tiger and I took turns to read the story, even though he can read well about his grade level.  Shared reading gave me the opportunity to correct any mispronounciation, and for us to discuss any interesting points that came up.

For our hands-on project, I was inspired by the mixed media project I saw here.  As usual, I improvised slightly from the original instructions:
1) The first step was to find a petal-shaped sponge.  I just took an unused washing up sponge from the kitchen, drew the petal shape then cut it out.

2) Then I let Tiger choose the colours he wanted to use and pour them into the tart tray.  We ran out of orange a little way into the project, so Tiger had the opportunity to practise some colour mixing with yellow and red.

Applying paint to petal-shaped sponge

Sponge printing in action

Halfway through printing, Tiger realised that the perspective of his prints and how it would show up in the final result was not correct -- the pot would be viewed from the side (see the first photo of this post) while the flowers would be viewed from the top.  Putting both together on a single sheet of paper would create an interestingly distorted view.

Bird's eye view of the poinsettia

3) As we let the poinsettia prints dry, Tiger cut out the flower pot shape from a gold card.  I found the original instructions for this part of the project to be unnecessarily complicated, so I simplified it by drawing 4 lines at the back of a piece of gold craft card.  All Tiger had to do was some straightforward cutting.

4) Next, cut a few small rectangular pieces from an art tissue paper.  Tiger chose green to represent the lower leaves but any colour is fine.  We wanted the leaves to be a little ruffled to look more natural, so Tiger scrunched up the tissue pieces in his palm before he opened them up then glued them onto the back of the 'pot'.

5) By this time, the sponge printing has dried so Tiger cut along the outline of the poinsettia prints to get an overall cut-out of the plant.

6) Tiger glued the gold pot and the poinsettia cut-out onto a big piece of black paper.  To add some festivity to his project, Tiger went over the outline of the plant with clear PVA glue before sprinkling glitter and confetti on them.

Here is the final result, note the distorted perspective which works well here:

This post is linked up to several blog hops, where you can visit to see what other homeschoolers have been busy with.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

No kisses this Christmas

December has been really cold and wet for us.  Most of the time the sky looked like this:

Since Christmas has been on our minds a lot, we decided to see whether we could find any mistletoes.

Given that Britain has a bumper crop of mistletoes this year, we were surprised at not being able to find any on our walk!  Not wanting to go home empty-handed, we decided to do more with the evergreen berries we did find.

First we observed the berries.  Both types of berries looked exactly the same.  Without the accompanying leaves, it would be extremely difficult to tell them apart.  The holly branch was obvious, but we did not know what the other plant was so out came our tree guide book.  Now we know: the other plant is appropriately called Firethorn.

Tiger decided to take his investigation a step further by peeling open the different berries.  We were both surprised to find, consistently, that the firethorn berry has only 1 seed inside while the holly berry has 3 seeds each.

What did we do with the plants after our nature study?  We used them to decorate our wreath!  Nothing like a bit of impromptu nature craft to appreciate the beauty of nature.

On hindsight, knowing that mistletoe is a parasitic plant, maybe it's just as well that we did not find any.  Who wants to kiss under a parasite, anyway?

This post is linked up to several blog hops, where you can visit to see what other homeschoolers have been busy with.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Math from China

Following our study of the Tang Dynasty, I thought it would be fun to extend our learning of China into this month's 'hands-on math' session by using the tangrams.  The 7-shaped puzzle is such a deceptively simple-looking tool to introduce many interesting mathematical concepts to children -- from the simplest identification of shapes to the more complex angles and rotation.

Tiger has played with the tangrams before in his preschool days in an exploratory way.  This time round we are using the tool in a more structured way.

First we made the tangrams ourselves, following the folding and cutting instructions here.  Although we have a set of wooden tangrams, making our own paper version of it gives Tiger a chance to practise his fine motor skills through folding and cutting.  More importantly, the exercise requires him to read the instructions and follow the steps carefully in order to get the correct shapes.

With the 7 shapes cut out, Tiger did some classification and grouping of the shapes, followed by learning the names of the specific shapes such as congruent triangles and parallelogram, which are new terms to him.

This was followed by some free exploration to find out for himself what the shapes can do, and how to combine shapes together to make another shape.

More learning for Tiger came about through trying to make the animals shapes shown here.  Tiger found the first few shapes to be challenging until he realised that (1) he had to turn some of the shapes in different directions, and (2) he had to look carefully at how the sides line up to determine whether he was using the correct sized triangles and whether he was lining the correct sides together.


Once Tiger had figured out the trick to making the shapes, he made the rest of the shapes very quickly.

Solving the animal puzzles gave him ideas to making his own pictures:

A dancing man
a sitting rabbit
A sitting man

A dog

Dog - version 2

Dog - version 3

A running man
It has been interesting for Tiger to see countless possibilities of forming different pictures using just 7 shapes.

This post is linked up to several blog hops, where you can visit to see what other homeschoolers have been busy with.

Monday, 19 December 2011

It's not all bad

Tiger's infection has taken quite a toll on his body, making him feel more lethargic than usual these days.  However, instead of feeling defeated by this nasty virus (or whatever it is that is causing the infection), we have decided to learn more about the antibiotics that Tiger has taken, penicillin:

Learning about the history and discovery of penicillin got us excited to conduct two more experiments to learn about the conditions that encourages mould growth.  What was different this time round was that Tiger was asked to make a prediction of the outcome for each experiment, and I explained to him that the scientific term for making a guess is called hypothesis.

He predicted correctly and could tell me the reasons behind his predictions, which were not far off from the intended results.  Tiger's explanations were derived from having casually observed food that had gone mouldy after a while.  It is amazing how much children learn just from daily observations and using their common sense.

(1) Effect of temperature on bacterial growth.

Day 0 - one jar to go into the fridge, the other remains at room temperature.
Day 1 - no difference
Day 4 - milk at room temperature (right) has turned bad.
Day 4 - bird's eye view of the foamy substance.
The 'foamy' substance was semi-solid, but it didn't smell bad.  It reminded me of curd that Miss Muffet ate.

(2) Food for mould

Day 0 - fresh coconut

Day 2 - not much happening on the outside

Day 2 - not much happening on the inside either
Day 7 - thin layer of mould growing on the husk
Day 7 - thick layer of cotton-like mould on the inside

The difference in amount of mould growth on the husk versus the coconut flesh really brought home the concept that mould is a type of fungus that has to get their food from a host. The husk being dry and hard provides less food material to the mould compared to the juicy flesh inside.

3) Best condition for penicillium growth

Day 0 - one bag for the fridge, the other at room temperature.  Both bags contained a damp cotton pad.

Day 7 - penicillium (green stuff on the right) growing on lemon from bag left at room temperature

We wanted to see what the penicillium looked like close up so we looked through it using our magnifying glass.  That did not show us any more detail than what we could see close up with our naked eyes.  We need a microscope!

We found the following silent movie to be very informative.  It tells about mould growth and the conditions that would encourage that.  The most fascinating part for us is to see the individual mould spores shown under the microscope, which we could not see using the magnifying glass:

Since we were growing all these mouldy stuff at home, another yucky experiment seemed to be in order.  So we investigated:
4) the effects of yeast on food decomposition

Day 0 - bag marked with 'Y' contains yeast
Day 1 - some decomposition taking place in both bags but not much difference between them

Day 4 - Banana in the bag marked 'Y' is visibly more decomposed, and felt much more squidgy.

The interesting part of this experiment (for me) was that Tiger did not predict the outcome correctly.  He had mistakenly thought of yeast as a preservative rather than a decomposer.  The error brought about an interesting discussion and new learning about the nature of yeast and its function in baking.

The experiment on decomposition of food led Tiger to wonder about digestion of food in the body and whether the process of food being broken down by stomach acids is similar to what we have observed in experiment (4).  We reckon they are similar.  I think we will come back to this topic when we study human biology a little later.

Meanwhile, I found another clip about food hygiene, which was relevant in terms of food processing, the spread of diseases and microscopic organisms.  It was interesting to watch and very informative, even though what Tiger had suffered from was a viral infection rather than food poisoning.

Having seen all the ugly side of moulds, I pointed out to Tiger that the uses of moulds aren't all bad.  Cheese, for example, is made from mould while alcohol is made from the process of fermentation with the help of yeasts.  Both processes are very similar to rotting, which sounds really disgusting.  However, the end product (after many more complicated steps) can be very delicious, for example the piece of 'Christmas cheese' that I have below:

White stilton with Grand Marnier, orange and redcurrant

This post is linked up to several blog hops, where you can visit to see what other homeschoolers have been busy with.
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