Monday, August 4, 2014

Rocks, Minerals and the Rock Cycle

Educational Innovations Rock Collection Educational Kit

Rocks and Minerals are such wonderful things for kids to collect.  They practice observation skills, learn some science and geologic vocabulary (which helps them with their reading), and it helps get them outside finding the rocks they wish to collect.  Here are some great resources for getting kids excited about Geology.

First, an introductory kit is particularly nice to have.  One can make their own sorting chart similar to the one shown above, but then you also have to find the rocks to go with it.  Instead, I purchased the kit pictured above (and cut out the egg carton bottom) from Educational Innovations at  Such a kit allows kids to look at the features geologists commonly use to distinguish one rock or mineral type from another and introduces them to such properties as cleavage (where a rock shears and breaks away from another), hardness and color.  Once they've established the skills using the introductory kit, it isn't hard to expand outward to rocks they find elsewhere.

DK Publishers: Eyewitness Rock and Mineral as well as Eyewitness Crystal and Gem  are wonderful visual resource for kids to learn the basics with.  I love this series of books and have yet to find a DK eyewitness book I didn't like.  Apparently DK also offers project books and between the fact that I trust these publishers at this point and that on first glance the project book for rocks and minerals also looks great, I'll recommend it here despite not having actually used it myself (I hope to in the future though). 

Reader's Digest Series: How the Earth Works  This is another one of those book series I love.  The particular book listed here, is not specifically about rock collecting.  However, it is full of geologic information and includes important things to know about rocks such as the rock cycle.  Each page layout has at least one experiment or demonstration you can try with your kids - most pages have two or three.  All of the activities use relatively easy to find materials and the visuals help understanding how to complete the project while the text describes the scientific phenomenon the activity is illustrating.  Plus, the layout of the book welcomes all types of readers to it with it's clear graphics and minimal and concise texts.

Peterson's Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals  Of course if you plan on getting serious about rock collecting, a field guide will be needed.  Although Peterson's guides are not designed for kids, they are pretty simple to use and contain a vast array of photos with simple descriptions which will help kids grow their vocabularies and identify the rocks and minerals they find.

 A Rock is Lively  I discovered Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long through their book, A Seed is sleepy and had loved reading Hutts poems while pouring over Long's gorgeous illustrations in all of their books since.  A Rock is lively did not disappoint.  The text is sweet, concise and accurate while the illustrations are so accurately made you almost feel you have the rocks in hand, yet you are also looking at a piece of artwork - something not quite so accurate as to feel like a photograph.

Rocks in His Head This picture book is a sweet biography of the author's father, who is a geologist.  What was nice about the story for us was that bits of history with which Alice is somewhat familiar are alluded to as the father lives through early and mid-century events of the twentieth century.  The truth of the story about how life takes us from one thing to the next, but we all have our separate passions as well is great for kids to see.  It can take a long time for our avocations to meet with our vocations. 

Video Resources

Bill Nye Rocks and Minerals The ever goofy and fun Bill Nye makes Rocks and minerals memorable through his silly antics, advertisement spoofs and crazy music videos.

The Rock Cycle  Two and a half minutes long, this video summarizes the basics of the Rock Cycle quickly - a good introduction.

Make me  This one takes a minute to get down to it, but as it is designed to present the information to elementary aged kids, it is clear and simple.  The order in which the information is presented is also the clearest way for kids to really understand all the parts of the rock cycle.

Activities and Other Resources

Mining Matters: The Rock Cycle This is a fabulous activity that clearly shows how the three major rock categories are distinguished from one another.  The activity is designed for young elementary school students, but I'd do it with middle school students as well.

Science Kids: Rocks, Minerals and Soil  As your kids play around with the rock tester, they learn the characteristics of important rocks and minerals such as granite and talc (which they refer to as chalk).  Proper terminology is not used through-out so to test for cleavage, kids are asked, "does it split?"  This feature can be a good thing for very young kids, but does not stretch vocabulary for the more advanced kids.  Conceptually and informationaly a good activity.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Colonial America

When  I began the daunting task of preparing a deep and complete unit on Colonial America to use centering around Felicity, I didn't know how lacking my own education had been.  I know a lot of my education of Colonial America focused on the Pilgrims and what would become the thirteen revolutionary British Colonies, and I'd bet I'm not alone.   However, because the focus had been on Plymouth, Jamestown and then the Revolutionary War Period in my own education, I found I had some gigantic holes in my understanding of what Colonial America really was.   With Alice, I endeavored to cover this (quite long) portion of US history more fully which has meant forgoing Felicity for the time being and covering the earlier colonization as its own unit first, then covering the Seven Years War, and finishing with the Revolutionary War Years.  Here was my justification for making that decision and what we did as "Pre-Felicity America" or The Early Colonies.

Colonial America - A long period in history and a variety of colonies:

Colonial America existed as long as the US has at this point.  Jamestown was founded in 1607, but attempts had already been made even prior to Jamestown.  The Roanoke Settlement (established in 1585) may not have survived but it remains a part of the history that had influence on, and resonated with other settlers that followed as well as the population that already lived there at the time. 

Additionally, there was more cultural variety than we usually care to acknowledge.  Northern sites along the St. Lawrence river (that eventually would lead to the formation of Quebec) were already being explored by the French as early as 1535 and New Orleans along with many other French Settlements were established along the Mississippi River throughout the early and mid 1600's (about the same time New England was being formed - Plymouth was founded in 1620).  St Augustine Florida was originally founded as a Spanish colony in 1565 and Santa Fe (the first of many Spanish Missions in what is now the Southwest) was founded in 1610.   Even the Russians got involved with their colonization in Alaska (though admittedly many years later).

With the revolutionary war not even declared until 1776, covering life in Colonial America with your kids spans at least 150 years but it could be argued it spans closer to (over) 200 years depending on how you decide where that history starts.  Colonial America may also usually refer to the original 13 colonies (that were British). However, to give your kids an accurate idea of the influences in the building of this country, at least mentioning that France and Spain had colonies here too becomes a critical clarification for later events in US History.  Lastly, we cannot forget the colony of New Amsterdam (1609), now one of the biggest cities in the world (New York) and the fact that its foundation was mostly Dutch.

Key Objectives for the Units:

By the time we finish with Felicity, The Student Will:
  • Compare and Contrast Life in an Early British Colony, to life in the British Colonies just before the Revolution.
  • Compare and Contrast the attitudes of different Sovereigns toward their colonial citizens
  • Compare attitudes toward slavery, and the native population between French, Spanish and British colonies.

Specifically during the first Colonial Unit, The Student Will:

  • Be able to relate details about the founding of Jamestown and Plymouth colonies.
  • Understand that the settlers had an inaccurate impression of the number of villages and people that had lived on North America prior to their arrival because illness brought by explorers had decimated the native population and reduced it astonishingly before the arrival of permanent settlers.
  • Review how various tribes reacted to, and interacted with the three colonizing major powers and their settlers.
  • Name key leaders in the foundations of colonies such as Captain Smith, and Chief Powhatan, Tisquantum (also known as Squanto), Walter Raleigh, (and more) and identify a little about what they are each known for.
  • Describe the life of an early colonialist in New England, Jamestown, New Orleans and Santa Fe.
  • List the various reasons colonists left their homelands to come to the Americas.
  • Identify Key Locations on a Map of the Area.
  • Create a Timeline depicting important events.

 During the Mini Unit on The Seven Years War the Student Will:

  • Describe causes and outcomes of the French/Indian War and how it affected life in the British Colonies, as well as why the American Indians joined in the battle.
  • Describe a little bit about the daily life of a Frontiersman during this time period.
  • Identify Key locations on a Map of the area.
  • Add events of the Seven Years War to the already established Timeline from the prior Unit.  Events should at least include  and The First Treaty of Paris.

 During the Revolutionary Colonial Unit, The Student Will:

  • Describe what King George did for the colonies and why he felt it fair for them to pay taxes.
  • Describe why the colonists felt taxation was unfair.
  • Describe a day in the life of a colonialist in the north as well as one in the south.
  • Compare and Contrast differing attitudes toward slavery and toward the American Indian population that existed within the colonies.
  • Identify Key Locations on a Map of the Area.
  • Add events of the Seven Years War to the already established Timeline from the prior Unit.
  • Identify important leaders and courageous people in the political and real fight for independence such as King George William Frederik, Thomas Jefferson, John and Abigail Adams, Joseph Brant, Benjamin Franklin, Phillis Wheatley, Benjamin Banneker, George Washington, the Marquis De Lafayette, General Howe, and so on. . .
  • Describe key events, their causes and outcomes such as the The Boston Massacre, Boston Tea Party, The Siege of Boston, Meetings of the Continental Congress, Various Battles, Signing of the Declaration of Independence, The Second Treaty of Paris . . .

 Pinch of Everything Activities and Lessons

Watch for these lesson plans and activity instructions in the coming months as I post descriptions and instructions about what we do and where to find further resources.

Online Resources

History World - The French Colonies in North America  A brief description of French Exploration and Settlement in North America.

The Virtual Museum of New France offers a view of what life in a Northern French Colony would have been like and has pages relating to exploration into the interior of the United States (they made it all the way to the Rockies before Lewis and Clark did, also in search of a water passage across the continent.

21 California Missions While there were also missions outside of California, this site provides information about life in a Spanish Mission, as well as Life for the population that already lived nearby at the time of the missions. 

The National Park Service offers Quite a bit of text information about the Dutch Colony at New York as well as Revolutionary War sites in the area.

Virtual Jamestown Interactive Maps, Panoramic Views, and a host of things to check out.  This would be a good site for an online scavenger hunt with your kids.

PBS Colonial House was something Alice, her dad and I all really enjoyed watching together.  The project set up a location where modern people had to live as thought they were settlers to the New England colonies back in the 1600's  religious concerns, sexism, racism, illness, food and exhaustion are all a part of the discussion in the months they spend trying to live as the pilgrims did.  The heading link takes you to the PBS home page about the series, but if you click on the teachers link you will also find lesson plans and activities related to learning more about the time period.  Although it is possible to watch on You Tube, navigating all the parts and episodes correctly and completely can be difficult.  We were able to order the whole series to be sent to us through Netflix, or you can purchase the series through PBS.

Office of the Historian  The French/Indian War/Seven Years War, its causes and how it would lead to the discontent and Revolutionary War is summed up in this article.  Good back-ground knowledge for the educator.

PBS The War that Made America The PBS series about the French and Indian War really does a good job of presenting the French, British and American Indian involvement, reasons for being involved, atrocities, mistakes and victories.  It is intended for an older audience and includes graphic visuals.  Watch on You Tube

Interactives is a History Map of the United States.  You can see which countries had colonies where, or set a map showing where different American Indian Tribes were originally located.  Among other things.  If you click through the colonists maps, you get a pretty good idea of how much land each country originally claimed to hold and how relatively small the British Colonies were in comparison to the space settled by the French and Spanish.  Then, finish it off by taking the interactive quiz including the lightning round!

The American Revolutionary War - This site offers a timeline of events and battles, pages addressing causes and the role of slavery in the British Colonies and the war and offers all of this alongside images of paintings depicting events and people of the time.  This is a good one for the instructor to go over before hand and choose a few screen shots to highlight, or set up a research scavenger hunt, if you are working with elementary kids so it doesn't become overwhelming.

The American Revolution - comprehensive in regard to the revolution, it has links to resources, lists of battles, important people and documents.  It even has a list of helpful videos to watch.  Intended for high school and adults, it was a good resource for me to go through in preparation for Alice's lessons.

Liberty's Kids  Not only is this cartoon series exciting and educational on its own, but there is a host of related materials for parents and teachers too.  You could introduce your kids to the Revolutionary Period in United States History with this website and cartoon series alone.  For Cartoon Viewing Click Here

The Little Prince

The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery is one of those classics that if you did not read, you've at least heard about.  During our road trip last year, Alice was introduced to it by listening to the 70th anniversary audio book edition narrated by Viggo Mortensen.  Mortensen's calm portrayal of The Little Prince is almost too soothing for listening while driving and yet he exudes the deep emotions folded into the story in a way I think very few people could.  I highly recommend it if you can get your hands on it.

We listened to the story as a pleasant part of our journey to occupy our minds while driving through vast expanses of generally the same view, so for this novel, I required little more than listening and a little discussion.  However, I found the guides linked below to include great questions for discussion, or novel ideas for approaching the book with children.  I may even have Alice revisit the story once again this year so we can try some of these activities. 

The Novel Guide 

The Best Notes Summary Sheets

Great Performances from PBS Lesson Guide

Teaching Children Philosophy

The Little Prince Game Room

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Today's Native Americans (Kaya Lessons Series)

Native Americans still live and work among us today, but your kids may not realize it because they expect the stereotypical dress of the plains Indians from the early 1800's.  This series of lessons is an integral part of the Native American Story - Today's Native Americans.  I tried to incorporate the idea that every culture grows and changes over time throughout all our lessons.  For example, in the dolls activities, I made sure we also read about the people who make the dolls today. 
but here are some specific additional ideas.

A Simple Conversation - What is in a Name?

For starters, have your kids discuss the concept with you.  Just what the group of people who are descended from those that lived here before settlement by explorers from other continents is controversial, American Indian, Native American. . . Each tribe had its own name, its own word a word like "American" that in the language of that group of people meant, "us - those that live here and believe approximately what we believe, celebrate similar holidays and practice similar traditions."  The idea that the population of people descended from those that lived here before European "discovery" has different and contrasting views on what to be called was eye-opening to Alice.  We read the article "American Indian" or "Native American" together and broke it down and talked about its meaning paragraph by paragraph.

I then had Alice try to figure out what our family should be called if we were to be given a name that described our ethnic AND cultural background.  Any answer she came up with, I had a retort about why it didn't really work.  White would usually fit in terms of filling out a paper, but it doesn't really describe where we come from or our cultural background at all.  Biologically, she is both British and Scottish, but it isn't as though my family or my husbands really held on to any of the cultural aspects of the people of these places.  The person I know as my grandmother (though she is not so biologically) is Norwegian and is first generation immigrant, so culturally I relate more with this European heritage than I would the Scottish or British-Norman side of the family.  Alice is a sixth generation American on all other sides of the family and culturally, we can hardly even call ourselves European anymore.  Additionally, her father was raised in a large city, while I was raised in a fairly rural community.  I grew up around boats and on the coast, her Dad visited beaches, but it was certainly not a daily (or even monthly) part of his up-bringing.  You can see how I made sure it was pretty tough for Alice to "name" us by anything that would typically be used.

We then took a look at her dolls map and her American Indian "passport" in which she recorded information about six different tribes, traditional dress, housing, foods etc.  I posed this question, "Now, if you were asked to name all of these people with only one name that described who they are as a group, could you do it accurately?"  Of course the answer was no because they are made up of different cultures - some as different as Greeks and Norwegians, Turks and Japanese, or Kenyans and Ghanaians  their only commonality is that they reside on the same continent.  No similar language, different histories.  Additionally, they live in vastly different environments so traditionally have different ways of dressing, eating and interacting with the world around them . . . Then we took a look at how different the world is today for a Norwegian from what it was in the 1700's.  I asked, so would how a modern American Indian also see the world differently today from the way his great, great, great grandparents would see it?  Would Sacagawea's great, great grandchildren still dress the way she did?  I followed the conversation up by having Alice take a brief look at Fritz Scholder, Jim Thorpe, Maria Tallchief and Will Rogers.

Native Americans in the United States Population Study:

For a little geography, have students find each of the following states on an outline map and color in the ten states with the Largest Number of Native Americans.  Then, have students identify which tribes traditionally live/lived in that state.  They should also identify any reservations in the region and see if they can find patterns in the data.

Original Resource

For a great table and graphing lesson try Education World.

Read Some Books and Watch Some Movies:

This booklist of literature depicting American Indians in modern day situations and a question guide to use after reading are both part of this lesson plan from Read, Write, Think.  Since I do not have a whole classroom full of kids any longer, I did not follow the lesson plan exactly but will enjoy offering the gist of it up for Alice as part of the literature list we will be studying this year.

The PBS series: We Shall Remain includes the Incident at Wounded Knee (which took place in 1973).  Additionally, the videos include bonus features that have film footage created by modern American Indians as part of the "Reel Native" project.  The videos often feel a bit like a "day in the life of" styled documentary, but range dramatically in style, tone, and subject matter.  Preview them before showing, but many are completely usable even with elementary kids and interesting, informative, and exactly what needs to be shared.


  Include the American Indian Perspective and Experience in All History Units:

Part of the problem with presenting a unit that is a "American Indian" unit is that it continues the separation of "us" and "them."   For Alice, the continued question of the role of this group of people in our shared history will continue to come up again and again through-out our history studies.  For example, when learning about life in the colonies, we watched Colonial House which included the issue as it was faced at the time as well as modern day perspectives on it from the members of the colonial settlement reenactment group as well as modern American Natives that helped in the reenactments of encounters settlers had with natives (the whole thing took place on reservation land kindly placed on loan for the purpose of the project).   (code talkers during WWI and WWII, Indian Country Diaries, List of Congress People, and Billy Frank Jr. are just a few examples of resources out there about disparate aspects of history and even today's politics that can be touched on in this way).  It is in this way I hope to truly and completely dispel the idea of the American Indian as a thing of the past and replace it with the idea of neighbors with different backgrounds sharing in different parts of our history and our modern day experience together.