Saturday, March 28, 2009

Homeschooling update

We are greater than one third of the way through our 18 sites in 18 weeks program. I can't believe how quickly time flies! I really truthfully thought I'd be able to blog more regularly, but with all the kids at home, my time is limited. So, here is another update about the most recent sites we've visited.

Week 3: Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
This week we experimented with an alternate way into the city. We drove to a metro site and rode the metro in. I haven't been on a metro for several years, and trying to figure out the smart cards (we had two - thanks Matt and Mary!) and get us all on the train before it left was a bit of a mess. I didn't find out until we were coming home that each child needed their own card. Anyway, we did make it there and home all right. Metro trips off peak ran about two dollars a person each way, with an additional $4.50 parking fee. The trip took a little longer, too. All in all, I'm not sure it's the best option for transportation while gas is as inexpensive as it is.
Enough about logistics - the museum was fantastic! They'd changed it since I'd been there in college. There were so many highlights - the original Wright flyer was definately one of them! There was a whole Wright exhibit. Did you know that one of the brothers even played the mandolin? We also saw a moon rock, one of the lunar landers (they built more than one), a planetarium show about the stars visible in the winter/early spring. Another exhibit showed how things fly, and was a series of experments dealing with air pressure and wing shape. Nathan's favorite was a tube of blowing air that kept a small beach ball "floating". The faster air moves, the lower the pressure. The higher pressure outside the blowing column of air kept the ball floating. At least, I think that's how it went. With a plane, the wings are shaped so that the air travelling over a wing moves more quickly than air travelling under a wing, creating lower pressure and lift. There was a museum employee who relayed a story told to him by a high school science teacher who attempted a similar experiement in his classroom with a leafblower and a softball. The leafblower shot the softball through the ceiling panels and into an adjacent class! Science moral: Don't try this at home!
The other exhibit we loved had to do with telescopes and the study of light from space. There were all sorts of fancy gadgets - spectrometers (look at different light waves), and even an infared camera. The kids spent several minutes in front of it looking at their own heat signatures. Very cool. This is definately a place we'll want to bring relatives and friends who visit.

Week 4 - Frank Lloyd Wright Pope-Leighey home
This was a surprisingly interesting trip. We'd done some homework in advance - checked out a couple of books about him, his ideas about architecture, the time in which he lived. He was a very interesting guy, though I didn't share many details about his personal life with the kids. Maybe when they're older. So, by the time we went to see the house, they knew who he was and could appreciate the example of his work. The Pope-Leighey home was one of the small Usonian homes he designed. He believed his ideas could be used to build affordable homes as well as homes for the wealthy. This was built in 1941 for 7,000 dollars. Not bad. It's built on a concrete slab, uses radiant heating (so the floor is warm!). Flat cantilevered roof with overhanging carport. Cyprus wood and brick on outside and inside (he wanted "organic" materials, or materials from the earth). The cyprus wood was affixed to a plywood and tarpaper wall, which was not that thick or strong, so several bends in the walls helped to strengthen them. The walls actually don't support the roof - there were three brick corners or walls that do that (one being the fireplace). He designed the furniture too, mostly made from plywood, but beautiful and utilitarian. Instead of his famous art glass windows, he make wood cut out windows in what looks like native american inspired shapes. Our tour guide gave us about a 45 minute tour and talk (and tried not to freak out when the kids touched the furnishings). The home was moved to the site about 20 or 30 years ago for 700,000 dollars. It had been directly in the path of a proposed highway. We came home and tried a couple of experiments based on his physics - like attempting to support a book by placing blocks in various configurations under it (not at the four corners), and folding a piece of construction paper so that it will be strong enough to support a notebook (it works, try it!). Our synthesis project used different sizes of circles and squares to create a rug design for one of his homes. We looked at one of his rug designs as our idea and made our own. So cool.

Week 5: The National Zoo. Zoo admission: free, Parking: 20 bucks. We chose the nicest day of the week - it was supposed to reach 70 degrees! Saw the giant pandas, river otters, lions, a tiger, seals and sealions, Mexican Wolves, etc. Learned about bamboo. Learned a lot about conservation and pollution. There were great exhibits about how garbage ends up in the ocean, and how long it takes for the water to "break it down". Surprisingly, glass bottles last longest - 100,000 years? I think. Wool socks were 2-5 years. Everything else ranged between. We are avid recyclers, but makes you think about what more you can do. Also showed us how deconditioned we were. By the end of the day we were dragging our poor tired bodies up the hill to the car. The coolest thing - they had this place called the think tank - a separate experiment house for the orangutans - and connecting the think tank to the ape house was a series of 40 ft. towers with cables. When they feel like it, the orangutans climb up the cables and swing over to the think tank, where scientists do experiments with them (symbolic language and preferences). We didn't get to see them swing, or see any of the experiments, but we did see a video tape of one study about preferences. This was definately not your ordinary zoo.

We had friends from Texas who came to visit, and we took them into the city again that weekend. Saw a bit more of the Natural History Museum and found a parking garage where I can actually park my tall truck. Hooray! It may be 20 bucks, but this is a good solution to our transportation issues.

Ok, have to run make lunch for the kids. Will update about the next two weeks' trips later.