Science Milestones: A New Astronomy with Johannes Kepler

Each month, I like to share a post celebrating the accomplishments of a scientist whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives. To honor the work of these amazing people, I provide a little peak into their life and share an unschool-style learning guides or unit study to guide you and your children on a path of discovery.

This month, I chose to honor the Johannes Kepler, who lived in an era when there was no clear distinction between astronomy and astrology. There was, however, a strong division between astronomy (a branch of mathematics within the liberal arts) and physics (a branch of natural philosophy).

Science Milestones: A New Astronomy with Johannes Kepler @EvaVarga.netJohannes Kepler

In 1596, the German astronomer published his first important work on astronomy, Mysterium Cosmographicum (The Cosmographic Mystery). As well as defending the heliocentric model of the universe previously proposed by Copernicus in 1543.

Kepler explained the orbits of the known planets around the Sun in geometric terms in an attempt to unravel “God’s mysterious plan of the universe.” To do this, he dow upon the classical notion of the “harmony of the spheres” which he linked to the five Platonic solids – octahedron, icosahedron, dodecahedron, tetrahedron, and cube.

Science Milestones: A New Astronomy with Johannes Kepler @EvaVarga.net

The Platonic solids, when inscribed in spheres and nested inside one another in order, correspond to the orbits of the planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

In 1619, he published Harmonices Mundi (The Harmony of the World) wherein he stated his third law of planetary motion. He described the relationship between a planet’s distance from the Sun and the time taken to orbit around it as well as the speed of the planet at any time in that orbit.

Biography

Science Milestones: Johannes KeplerKepler was born in the small town of Weil der Stadt in the Swabia region of Germany and moved to nearby Leonberg with his parents in 1576. His father was a mercenary soldier and his mother, the daughter of an innkeeper. Johannes was their first child.

When Johannes was just five, his father left home for the last time and is believed to have died in the war in the Netherlands. As a child, Kepler lived with his mother in his grandfather’s inn. He tells us that he used to help by serving in the inn.

Kepler’s early education was in a local school and then at a nearby seminary. Intending to be ordained he went on to enroll at the University of Tübingen, a bastion of Lutheran orthodoxy.

Throughout his life, Kepler was a profoundly religious man. All his writings contain numerous references to God, and he saw his work as a fulfilment of his Christian duty to understand the works of God.

At Tübingen Kepler was taught astronomy by one of the leading astronomers of the day, Michael Mästlin. The curriculum was of course, geocentric astronomy, in which all seven planets – Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – moved around the Earth, their positions against the fixed stars being calculated by combining circular motions.

This system was more or less in accord with current Aristotelian notions of physics, though there were certain difficulties. However, it seems that on the whole astronomers were content to carry on calculating positions of planets and leave it to natural philosophers to worry about whether the mathematical models corresponded to physical mechanisms. Kepler did not take this attitude. His earliest published work, Mysterium Cosmographicum, proposed to consider the actual paths of the planets, not the circles used to construct them.

 “I am satisfied…to guard the gates of the temple in which Copernicus makes sacrifices at the high altar.” ~ Johannes Kepler

Kepler was one of the few pupils to whom Mästlin chose to teach more advanced astronomy by introducing them to the new, heliocentric cosmological system of Copernicus. Kepler seems to have accepted almost instantly that the Copernican system was physically true.

Soon after moving to Regensburg in 1630, he became seriously ill with fever and on November 15 he died.

Bring it Home

What are Kepler’s three laws of planetary motion? How were his ideas viewed by his contemporaries?

Learn more about star polyhedra, discovered by Kepler in 1619 and prominently featured in the architecture of European churches.

Build models of the five Platonic solids; consider The Finnish Craft of Himmeli or Paper Models of Polyhedra.

Research the epitaph inscribed on his gravestone (sadly swept away in the Thirty Years War):

I used to measure the heavens,
now I shall measure the shadows of the earth.
Although my soul was from heaven,
the shadow of my body lies here.

 

Science Milestones

Visit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.

Interested in learning about others who were born in the month of January? Hop over to Birthday Lessons in December to read posts by other iHomeschool Network bloggers.

Science Task Cards: Engage, Excite, & Enrich Student Learning

As teachers and parents, aren’t we always looking for methods to get students to be critical thinkers and inquirers? As home educators, many of us also strive to develop traits of independent learners. Students who are capable of seeking out knowledge on their own. Students eager to learn the skills they need to be successful in their chosen career path.

Science Task Cards

Science Task Cards

Tasks cards are a wonderful stepping stone for middle school students to develop their independent learning skills – providing them with a framework to focus their search and just enough guidance to ensure success. Task cards are also a fantastic way to reinforce lessons, review difficult concepts, or provide extra practice for the struggling student.

Task cards are a great tool that any teacher can implement into their home or classroom. They are a full-proof method for getting every student involved in learning regardless of their ability level.

Task cards are generally open-ended and inquiry based questions that make for a great learning tool and help to create an engaging learning environment. The student reads each card, performs the task, and records his/her answer on an answer sheet, on notebook paper, or in their lab notebook. Students may be asked to create a Venn Diagram to compare and contrast, draw an illustration and label important parts, write a letter to a famous person, research a current event, or even take a stance on a controversial topic.

How & When Should I Use Task Cards?

1.  Stations or Centers – Use task cards as station or center activities through with students rotate. I have found it works best to allow students to move at their own pace and visit as many or as few stations as possible. They can even move through the centers with a partner if assistance is needed. This is a great way to engage students because they can move around, work at their own pace, and feel successful!

What is Science Notebooking @EvaVarga.net2. Homework Assignments –  Whether you offer each student the same task card or mix it up and provide them with different task cards of their choosing, task cards work well for  homework. It’s a great way to build excitement for a new unit. Whether you ask students to complete the assignment in their interactive science notebook or on a separate piece of paper to turn in the following day, task cards are fun. Here’s an example of a life science task card:

Life Science: Animals
Scientific Classification

  • Research & Define: vertebrates and invertebrates
  • List three vertebrates and three invertebrates
  • Make a poster of the following: mammal, reptile, amphibian, birds, fish
  • Include a caption for each and summarize each class

3. Assessments – Task cards can be used as a quick assessment of student understanding in the midst of a lesson. Many task card questions can be also used as a more in-depth research paper or project. Alternatively, task cards can be used as a way to review for a test – either individually, in small groups, or as a whole class review game.

4. Engaging Warm-up Activities – I love to use task cards in our STEM Club as an activity to get focused and settled as we wait for the other students to arrive. They may find the assignment on the white board or taped down to the table. They work alone or in pairs to answer the question and we discuss their answers when I’m ready to begin.

typesrocks5. Enrichment Activities – Task cards can be kept handy (perhaps in a basket) for early finishers. After students have completed a project, test, or independent assignment, they can enrich their understanding of the material by selecting a task card of their own choice.

Where Can I Buy Task Cards?

Geology Rocks! Activities and resources to enhance your geology lessons

Geology is an earth science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which they change. Often, it can also refer to the study of the solid features of any celestial body (such as the geology of our Moon or Jupiter).

The study of geology is not always easy. Admittedly, I have a hard time identifying rocks. I can generally determine to which of the three rock types the specimen my son finds on the shoreline belongs, but that is about the extent of my identification skill. It is a skill that certainly takes practice.

When teaching geology concepts, I generally focus on the processes of change like plate tectonics and erosion. I know I’m not alone so today, I share a variety of geology activities and resources that you can incorporate into your science curriculum.

Geology Rocks

Three types of rock:

Igneous rocks are formed when hot magma (melted rock) is rapidly cooled, either by hitting underground air pockets or by flowing from the mouth of a volcano as lava. Granite, obsidian, and pumice are all common examples of igneous rocks. Pumice is a very porous rock, because when the lava cooled, pockets of air were trapped inside. Because of all those air pockets, pumice can actually float!

Sedimentary rocks are formed by layers of sediment (dirt, rock particles, etc.) being mixed and compressed together for extended periods of time. Common examples of these rocks are limestone, sandstone, and shale. Sedimentary rocks often have lots of fossils in them because plants and animals get buried in the layers of sediment and turned into stone.

Metamorphic rocks are a combination of rock types, compressed together by high pressure and high heat. They usually have a more hard, grainy texture than the other two types. Schist, slate, and gneiss (pronounced like ‘nice’) are metamorphic rocks.

geology activities

Geology Activities

Science Milestones

My kids love history. I thereby incorporate history of science lessons throughout our science curriculum. Through biographies and non-fiction materials, students can learn about the work of geologists and the impact they have had on our world.

For example, Alfred Wegener is best known for his theory of continental drift. Yet his impact on our understanding of geology is so much more. He was he was also the first to describe the process by which most raindrops form.

Science Careers

Learning about careers in science is another avenue by which students can learn about the work of geologists. My kids recently visited a hydrogeology office and talked with the engineers, water resource specialists, and geologists.

Orienteering

Orienteering is a family of sports that requires navigational skills using a topographical map and compass to navigate from point to point in diverse and usually unfamiliar terrain.

Field Trips & Site Visits

One of the best ways to learn about geology is through field excursions, especially when accompanied by resource specialists. Often national parks provide ranger talks on the geology of the park.

North-Star-GeographyDuring our week in the Galapagos, our guides interpreted the geology of the archipelago on a daily basis. Seeing evidence of the geological processes we had read about in North Star Geography solidified our understanding volcanic change, erosion, succession, and plate tectonics.

Reach out to the resource specialists at local agencies like the Forest Service and National Association of Conservation Districts to see if they might be willing to guide you on a field experience.

geology resourcesGeology Resources

Local Clubs

Many local communities have geology clubs that provide an opportunity to connect people who love to share what they know with others. Often local clubs will have an annual show or display – perhaps at a community center or public library.

Our local club collaborates with the community college and interpretive center to offer a monthly lecture series. Topics in the past have included The Tortoise and the Hare: Slow vs. Fast Earthquakes and Parks and Plates: How Earth’s Dynamic Forces Shape our National Parks.

Their passion for mineralogy and geology is contagious. I highly recommend you take advantage of their expertise for your homeschool co-op.

If rock collecting is a hobby you enjoy, consider joining a local rock club. It is a great way to increase your knowledge and get more enjoyment from your hobby.

Curriculum

There is a wide variety of geology curriculum available, some specifically written with homeschoolers in mind. 2015 was the Year of Soils and the USDA provided a wealth of activities and lesson plans to engage students in soil ecology.

The Kansas 4-H Geology Leader Notebook is a comprehensive set of lesson plans for 4-H geology project leaders.

Our Dynamic Earth

For hands-on geology lessons, check out Our Dynamic Earth is a 10 week hands-on earth science curriculum unit study on the geology of our Earth incorporating scientific inquiry and language arts applications. Available today!

 

The Pangea Puzzle, Ice Halos, & Raindrops: The Influence of Alfred Wegener

Ever since the continents were all mapped, people had noticed that many coastlines, like those of South America and Africa, looked as though they would fit together if they could be moved like puzzle pieces.

Alfred WegenerWith his revised publication of The Origin of Continents and Oceans in 1915 (originally published three years prior), Alfred Wegener was one of the first to suggest continental drift and plate tectonics. In his work, he described a ‘super-continent’ he called Pangaea had existed in the past, broke up starting 200 million years ago, and that the “pieces drifted” to their present positions. Citing similar ancient climates, rock structures, and fossil evidence.  [ Frank Taylor, an American scientist, had published a similar theory in 1910 but his work attracted little attention. ]

When continental drift was first proposed by Alfred Wegener in the early 1900s however, it was met with skepticism by the scientific community. The proposal remained controversial until the 1960s, when it became widely accepted over a fairly short period of time. Today, the theory of plate tectonics is key to the study of geology.

However, Wegener is not only the father of the theory of continental drift, he was also the first to describe the process by which most raindrops form. This process is now called the Wegener-Bergeron-Findeisen procedure.

The Pangea Puzzle, Ice Halos, & Raindrops: The Influence of Alfred Wegener @EvaVarga.net

Photo by Greg Clements (Field Studies in Greenland)

During Wegener’s lifetime the process by which cloud particles reach raindrop size was not known, but there was some idea how much rain, even during summer, began as snow in the clouds. In 1784, Benjamin Franklin had suggested this, and in 1904, Wilson A. Bentley, who spent a lifetime studying snow crystals and raindrops, found supporting evidence for the conjecture.

“Perhaps the only thing that saves science is the presence of mavericks in every generation.” ~ Alfred Wegener

In his 1911 publication, The Thermodynamics of the Atmosphere, Wegener noted that ice crystals invariably grow at the expense of super-cooled droplets because the crystals have a lower equilibrium vapor pressure. He then suggested that raindrops might result from this competition between ice crystals and super-cooled cloud droplets. Read more in the article Introducing Precipitation from the Eyewitness Companions: Weather from DK Publishing.

Wegener had hoped to document this process in real clouds, but other projects intervened and he never returned to the subject. Thus, it was left to Tor Bergeron and W. Findeisen to develop and prove the theory in the 1930s.

He also explained two rare ice crystal halo arcs that bear his name as well. Ice crystals often form in the frigid air just above the Greenland ice cap and can produce spectacular halos. In a 1926 article, Wegener explained two relatively rare arcs that appear opposite the sun and are now named in his honor.

Biography

The Pangea Puzzle: The Impact of Alfred Wegener @EvaVarga.netBorn in Berlin on November 1st, 1880, Alfred Wegener, was a German climatologist and geophysicist.

From an early age he took an interest in Greenland. He studied in Germany and Austria, receiving his PhD in astronomy in 1904. No sooner did he finish his dissertation than he dropped astronomy to study meteorology, the new science of weather.

At a time when the conquest of the North and South Pole began to enjoy enormous international public attention, Wegener made his first expedition to Greenland as the official meteorologist on a two-year Danish expedition in 1906.

Wegener experimented with kites and balloons, pioneering the use of balloons to track air circulation. That same year, he and his brother Kurt set a world record in an international balloon contest, flying 52 hours straight. When he returned he took up teaching meteorology at the University of Marburg.

He was the first to use kites and tethered balloons to study the polar atmosphere.

His fourth and final expedition was in 1930 as the leader of a major Danish expedition to Greenland. He celebrated his fiftieth birthday on November 1, but shortly afterwards the team got separated, and he was lost in a blizzard. His body was found halfway between the two camps.

The Pangea Puzzle: The Influence of Alfred Wegener @EvaVarga.netBring it Home

Science MilestonesVisit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.

Misconceptions in Geology and Meteorology

In a series of posts this week, I will be sharing 5 Misconceptions in Science and providing lessons and activities to help dispel these conceptual misunderstandings. Today’s post focuses on common misconceptions in geology and meteorology. I’ve selected to highlight just a few.

Misconceptions in Geology @EvaVarga.net

Common Sources of Misconceptions

You may be asking yourself, how do misconceptions take root in the first place? Misconceptions are formed by a variety of contributing factors.

  • Everyday language can cause misconceptions. For example, students may have seen their parents buy or administer “plant food” and so believe that plants need food to grow.
  • Lack of evidence leads students to form mistaken conclusions. Because students cannot see germs or microscopic organic materials without a microscope, they may not grasp the concept.
  • Word of mouth, the media, and speculation all spread misconceptions.
  • Confusion over concepts can create wrong impressions.

Misconceptions in Geology & Meteorology

MISCONCEPTION #3

The greenhouse effect is caused when gasses in the atmosphere behave as a blanket and trap radiation which is then re-radiated to the earth.

First let me clarify that the greenhouse effect and global warming are NOT the same thing. The greenhouse effect is the name applied to the process which causes the surface of the Earth to be warmer than it would have been in the absence of an atmosphere. Global warming is the name given to an expected increase in the magnitude of the greenhouse effect, whereby the surface of the Earth will amost inevitably become hotter than it is now.

I will be discussing the greenhouse effect in this post – not global warming.

The fact that Earth has an average surface temperature comfortably between the boiling point and freezing point of water, and thus is suitable for our sort of life, cannot be explained by simply suggesting that our planet orbits at just the right distance from the sun to absorb just the right amount of solar radiation.

Parts of our atmosphere act as an insulating blanket of just the right thickness, trapping sufficient solar energy to keep the global average temperature in a pleasant range. This ‘blanket’ is a collection of atmospheric gases called ‘greenhouse gases’ based on the idea that the gases also ‘trap’ heat similarly to the glass walls of a greenhouse.

These gases, mainly water vapor ( ), carbon dioxide (), methane (), and nitrous oxide (), all act as effective global insulators. To understand why, it’s important to understand a few basic facts about solar radiation and the structure of atmospheric gases.

The following activities will help your students better understand the concepts described above.

What is a Greenhouse?

What Factors Impact a Greenhouse?

5 Misconceptions in Science & How to Dispel Them @EvaVarga.net

Misconceptions in Science & How to Dispel Them

Misconceptions in Astronomy

Misconceptions in Chemistry & Physics 

Misconceptions in Biology

You might also be interested in my travel hopscotch,  Discovering Peru, where you’ll have the chance to win a travel guide of choice from DK Publishing.

My post is one of many hopscotch link-ups. Hop over and see what others are sharing.

Hopcotch2015

STEM Club: What Lives in Our Soil?

Soil is rarely devoid of life. Soil which supports plant life is teeming with many soil organisms, the majority of which are too small to see. Some examples of soil organisms are fungi, bacteria, nematodes, diatoms (algae), earthworms, ants, centipedes, millipedes, beetles, snails, and slugs. All these soil creatures and more make up the soil community. In STEM Club, we sought to discover for ourselves, what lives in our soils?

Most fungi and bacteria are supported by relationships with plant roots, so they stay close to plants. Any creatures that live on fungi and bacteria also stay close to the roots. Other larger herbivores, like beetles, ants, centipedes, and termites, feed closer to the surface where more plant debris is located.Therefore most soil creatures live within a few inches of soil closest to their food sources.

STEM Club: What Lives in Our Soils @EvaVarga.netThis community of organisms is deeply involved in the soil food web. It’s basically a recycling program, where plant and animal residues are broken down by a chain of soil consumers (nematodes, bacteria, fungi, mites, earthworms, etc), who are then consumed by birds and other mammals, cycling carbon and essential nutrients.

Soil protects soil organisms from harsh sun, wind and, rain, while still providing air, water, and nutrients essential to life. When soil organisms break down plant and animal debris they change the structure of the soil. Creatures like earthworms break down larger vegetative clumps into smaller clumps of organic matter, making the soil structure finer. In a good plant debris-based soil, the actions of earthworm, as well as the amount of organic matter, greatly increases the soil’s ability to hold nutrients and water, as well as structure (pores).

Soil lacking in oxygen, water, and organic matter would be very bare and devoid of biodiversity. The area would consist only of a few, very specific kinds of soil organisms and specific plants that could tolerate these challenging environmental conditions.

What Lives in Our Soil?

Can you think of any other examples of food webs? What are some reasons why a soil would not have a layer of organic matter or humus near the surface? What would be some environmental strategies to remedy such a soil? What would happen if a group from the soil food web (fungi, animals, plants, insects, earthworms) suddenly disappeared?

STEM Club: What Lives in Our Soil? @EvaVarga.netThe goal of this activity is to discover what lives in soil. Students will select a location to collect a soil sample, return to the classroom, and thereby note a variety of characteristics of the soil (moisture content, texture, color, etc.).

Materials

  • Small shovel(s) or trowel(s)
  • 1-liter plastic freezer bags
  • Plastic jars
  • Magnifying glasses
  • Permanent marker
  • Journals
  • Map of school grounds, town, or county (geographically and by elevation)

Procedure

1. Preparation :: Take note of locations that the students would be interested in taking samples from. Be sure to have a variety of locations:

  • Garden or flower bed
  • Wooded area
  • Near a parking lot
  • Near a sidewalk
  • Turf (grassy area)

Have a table in the classroom or other open space ready for observing soils. If students will be drying soil, you’ll need a place where soils can be left for several days
Have students draw a map of the school grounds.

2. Digging Soil :: At each selected area, have students:

  • Observe location and vegetation
  • Describe location and vegetation orally
  • Write about location and vegetation in journals
  • Use trowel or shovel to collect several clumps of soil
  • Place soil in freezer bags

3. Observations :: Place soil samples on table or other open space. Divide students into groups and distribute one soil sample bag per group. Observe characteristics of the soil
which may include:

  • Gravel
  • Rocks
  • Sand
  • Earthworms
  • Ants
  • Other soil creatures
  • Color
  • Moisture
  • Texture

4. Record observations by location on chart (sample below). Predict from chart which soils might be best for growing crops.

STEM Club: Soils Are Alive @EvaVarga.net

Extension Activities

  • Develop an inquiry project to further investigate your prediction in step 4.
  • Choose a soil organism and write an expository paragraph (include: name, appearance, role, supporting details, and conclusion).
  • Think of three animals that live in the soil and the homes they build. Students draw a soil community that includes small creatures, creatures above the soil, and plants.
  • Create an informative poster to illustrate the soil food webs (include at least five trophic levels).

You can learn more about the activities we undertook in STEM Club here:

Soil Ecology Activities for Middle School

Cycles and Ecosystems {Free Printable}

Rain Gardens & Composting

Soils Support Agriculture: Ideas to Integrate Writing

Let’s Get Dirty: Soil Horizons & Particle Size

Let’s Get Dirty: Life in the Mud