Pine Mountain Observatory :: Field Trip

As part of our Astronomy unit study, I enjoyed a field trip to the Pine Mountain Observatory in Eastern Oregon.  We arrived just before 9 p.m. and gathered in a tent for what we expected to be a short Stellarium presentation and question & answer session … turned out to be more than an hour, much of which was over the kids’ heads.  Here are a few of things he elaborated on in-depth:  right ascension, declination, black holes, gravitational lensing, xrays emitted above the event horizon, protons, electrons, fusion, etc.  The volunteer was very, very knowledgeable … he just didn’t know how to simplify the material for the kids.  Regardless, the kids were very well behaved … even my little Buddy surprised me.

From there, we walked up to the 32″ telescope (pictured above).  However, due to inclement weather, we were unable to view the night sky.  Instead, the volunteer spoke about the dynamics of the scope, about adaptive optics, and the role the PMO plays in the collection of data for astronomers worldwide.  He spoke for 30 minutes … it was very cold and very late … a few families left early … so I facilitated in moving us along to the 24″ telescope.  Again, the weather didn’t permit sky watching but here, another volunteer explained how the 24″ scope operated … he even moved it around and showed us how it was done in the past (manually with gauges) and presently (digitally with remotes).  The kids loved it when he opened the dome slightly and rotated the dome as well.

The second volunteer did a better job bringing it down to our level and spoke for less time.  Regardless, the kids had a great time and were captivated by the telescopes.  On the drive home, the skies cleared enough for the kids to see the stars.  MeiLi proclaimed enthusiastically, “I see the Big Dipper!  It’s the first constellation I’ve seen and know!”  They are already planning a return trip as soon as our weather is more predictable (it’s just been so strange this year).

Oregon Museum of Science & Industry :: Field Trip

A couple weeks ago, we the kiddos and I went to OMSI.  The kids had been since Buddy was just a baby … Sweetie only vaguely remembers it.  Presently there is a special exhibit on space exploration so it was the perfect opportunity.

Upon arrival, we spent an hour or so in the Life Science Hall … exploring hands-on activities that introduced the kids to nanotechnology.  During the second half of the twentieth century, scientists and engineers learned to observe, measure, and manipulate individual atoms and molecules. The areas of research related to this activity—known as nanoscience and nanotechnology—are leading to the creation of materials, processes, and technologies that many scientists believe will dramatically change our daily lives.

Their favorite exhibit was a large display of human fetuses whereby they could become more familiar with the different stages of human fetal development during all nine months of pregnancy.  One of my good friends is a doula and we’ve frequently talked about birth … the kids also request to hear their birth story regularly.

From there we spent time in the lab where visitors generally get the chance to hold and touch a variety of animals and insects.  This was not the case during our visit but we did get to observe.  I would have expected the kids to be intrigued by the animals we don’t have … snakes, a tarantula, a scorpion, walking sticks, turtles, etc. … but they spent most of the time observing the rats. Go figure.

They also enjoyed the earth science lab where they got their hands wet in the Watershed Lab. They created their own rivers and explored the microscopic world that supports us all.  In this area were several gallon jugs with varying amounts of sand to represent the different magnitudes of earthquakes.  We discussed the recent quakes and the damage that resulted in Haiti and Chile.

We were not able to get into the Paleontology Lab – much to our disappointment – as there was a special class taking place.  We did, however, get to explore the many exhibits on dinosaurs and prehistoric life.  This helped to make our previous studies more real for them.  Buddy still insists he would like to be a Paleontologist.

After we explored these permanent exhibits, we went down stairs to the OMNIMAX theater where we watched Hubble!  We then went to the planetarium for another show called Stars.  Both were very informative but went over Buddies head.  Sweetie really enjoyed them.

We concluded our trip exploring the temporary exhibit, Space: A Journey to Our Future.  This dynamic, multimedia exhibit looks back into the history of aeronautics and examines the many unknown questions of existence posed by future space exploration.  This was a lot of fun for me as it brought back many memories of the weeks I spent at Jet Propulsion Labs in Pasadena as participant of a NASA Education Workshop for teachers.

What surprised me was how much the kids had remembered from our previous reading – this always surprises me – images and models sparked their interest and thereby their narrations.  The kids most enjoyed the Gemini spacecraft replica.  They climbed aboard and announced, “I’m Buzz Aldrin!”  “I’m Neil Armstrong.  Mom you can be Mike Collins!”  Okay.

Gilbert House :: Field Trip

Last week, we accompanied DH on a business trip to Salem.  While there, the kiddos and I ventured out to explore some of the more well-known attractions, A.C. Gilbert House and the Salem’s Riverfront CarouselThe hands-on children’s museum offers year-round fun with indoor & outdoor interactive exhibits that promote learning through play. 
As it was raining intermittently while we were there, we took advantage of the indoor exhibits and explored the outdoor climbing structures later in the afternoon.  This strategy served us well for another reason. Upon our arrival, a few school groups were there and it was rather crowded outside.  By the time we had finished exploring the indoor exhibits, the school groups had departed and we then had the structures to ourselves.

Coincidentally, it was also Cinco de Mayo so there were several learning stations set up to allow kids to learn a little about Mexico.  Sweetie created a flag of our southern neighbor with her hand – I thought this was quite clever.  She also made a maraca with recycled materials and barley. They both enjoyed making fresh tortillas.

The indoor exhibits are divided amongst three historic buildings.  In the Rockenfield House, we explored the Village Grocery, Recollections, the River Room, and A Child’s Trip to China.  Sweetie enjoyed the China room, of course.  She impressed a couple of other moms who were there as she was writing Chinese characters on the slate tablet.  Buddy played restaurant and served me a steaming hot bowl of Phở (a Vietnamese dish, but my favorite).
The Gilbert House hosts the Bubble Room, Body Basics, Brazilian Rainforest Theater, and Undersea Cave of Frozen Critters.  There is also a room here called Go Figure with 6 giant books with headphones to listen to the story.  Each book has a fun, hands-on activity and information on the math connections for the adult.  My kiddos weren’t too impressed with the books – I suppose we enjoy cuddling up with books and this exhibit felt a little formal.  By far, the kids most enjoyed the Bubble Room whereby we explored bubbles and even enclosed ourselves inside a bubble wall.  The Cave of Frozen Critters was very cool – but my photography skills were highly lacking – or perhaps it was just my camera. 
Lastly, the Parrish House is where you’ll find Dinostories and the Imagination Station.  This was by far Buddy’s favorite place – and mine.  Along the walls was a timeline telling about the life of AC Gilbert. After graduating from Yale with a degree in medicine and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault, AC Gilbert created the Erector Set. 
He later marketed a variety of other educational toys ranging from American Flyer trains to Mysto Magic sets, chemistry and telegraph sets. With his toys, Gilbert hoped to combine fun with an understanding and appreciation of science. Gilbert realized that a child needed playthings that would encourage creative expression and satisfy a natural curiosity about the world.  [Buddy insists this is the train set he wants now – if only I can find one on eBay!]
At the time of his death, AC Gilbert held more than 150 patents for his inventions and is hailed as the Man Who Saved Christmas.  During WWII, when the government wanted to prohibit the manufacturing of toys and ban the purchase of toys (“Buy war bonds!”), he brought a number of his toys to Congress and petitioned that toys were needed for morale.  Soon after his presentation began, the men present began playing with his toys and within 3 hours agreed and allowed him to continue.
Lastly the,

Paleo Lands Institute :: Field Trip

What a fabulous day! We departed home at 7 a.m. for the drive to Fossil. Despite a few setbacks, we arrived safe and sound just after 10 a.m. where we met with Will Boettner, the Executive Director of the Oregon Paleo Lands Institute. After introductions and a stop in the necessary or lu, we drove the short distance to Wheeler High School whereby we listened to a volunteer as she explained a little about the geology of the area and what we could expect to find.

The fossil beds were formed 30 million years ago when volcanic ash fell during the formation of the present day Western Cascade Range. The ash was washed into the lake basin along with leaves and other plant material, level after level piling up. The ash preserved the leaves long enough for impressions to form under the pressure of the overlying layers.
paleo lands instituteAbout 35 species of plants, most of them belonging to genera that are no longer native to the Pacific Northwest, are found there. The most common plants are alder, maple, beech, dawn redwood and pine in what appears to represent a deciduous hardwood forest. This implies, according to Will Boettner, that the climate at that time was much more moist and more temperate than is presently the case in the shrub steppe and savannah of today.

We spent about an hour ‘excavating’ in the shale behind the high school. Everyone was successful in finding fossils. I was delighted with how intrigued the kiddos were as they diligently picked up piece after piece of shale in hopes of finding a little treasure preserved between the layers. Prior to departing, we were able to browse the many fossil samples that have been found previously, including several amphibians and fish species.

We took a break for lunch … whereby Will shared more about his experiences, the geology of the John Day Basin, and about the community of Fossil. We then proceeded southwest to the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds for a guided nature walk through a canyon.

It was a delightful walk. Everyone was entranced by one thing or another. We all had an opportunity to ask questions and explore the region more closely. We saw first hand how the layers of sediment had built up over millions of years and how the rocks formations had changed over time due to weathering. We talked about the impact man has had on the water table in just the past 150 years or so… changing the once temperate, deciduous forest to the dry scrub land of today (mostly Juniper and Sagebrush). Everyone walked away with a new awareness and appreciation of the natural history of our region.

Thank you to Will Boettner of Oregon Paleo Lands Institute for providing such a wonderful learning opportunity for us all.

“Do what you can
with what you have,
where you are.”

~ Theodore Roosevelt

Becoming a Junior Ranger at Haleakala National Park

While we were in Maui, Sweetie completed several activities at the Haleakala National Park to become a Junior Ranger. When we arrived, the ranger at the counter gave her a booklet and explained that for her age, she would need to complete 4 booklet activities (as there were no talks scheduled for the time we were there). The activities we selected were:

#1 What is Wilderness?
Whereby she learned about what activities are permitted in the wilderness area.

#2 Who is Native to Hawai’i?
Whereby she learned about the species that are native to Hawai’i and those that are not.

#3 What Animals Live Here?
Whereby she learned about habitats.

#4 Where is the Volcano?
Whereby she learned about volcanic rocks.

#5 Ancient Ways and Words for Today
Whereby she learned two Hawaiian words: malama ‘aina (to respect and care for the land) and alu like mai (pull together, work together)

Upon completion of the activities, Sweetie sat down with a ranger and was interviewed about what she had learned. I videotaped the interview and hope to post it here as soon as I can figure out how to download it off the video camera. During the interview, Sweetie described to her what she had learned about invasive species before our arrival. “I want to go to a luau so that I can eat bad pig!” (We didn’t explain to her that the kahlua pig isn’t likely the wild pig that is destroying the forests.)

Sweetie also told her about a snail that she had helped get across a trail so that it wouldn’t get stepped on. The ranger asked us to describe the snail and in doing so, we learned that based upon it’s size and color, it was likely the invasive African Cannibalistic Snail. “The native tree snails are found higher in elevation.” Sweetie was distraught, “Oh no! I should have stepped on it then!” The ranger got a chuckle out of that.

Most National Park Service sites that have a Junior Ranger program award participants a plastic badge for completing the program. Some award a patch; a few award a lapel pin. Some do both. Haleakala awarded a badge. However, they had patches available for purchase so we bought one as they are our preference. As she completes future Junior Ranger programs, I’ll make a banner for her to display her badges & patches.

Click here for more information about the National Parks Junior Ranger program. Another very informative site was created by a teen… Sam Maslow’s Junior Ranger Site.

Lions Tigers & Bears, Oh My! Our Wildlife Safari Field Trip

I have very fond memories of visiting the Wildlife Safari when I was a little girl. I was thereby very excited to share the experience with my own children. We arrived Friday just before 11 a.m. and proceeded to drive through the park. Immediately, animals were visible all around us. Though we were able to see all the animals relatively well, most were not very active due to the heat.

Preceeding our visit, I attempted to contact the education department to inquire about possible pre-visit activities and field booklets they may provide for school children. Unfortunately, no one returned my calls. I thereby had to create our own activity books. Sweetie was focused and worked diligently on completing the pages – she even collected observation data to help us to answer the question, “How often do elephants interact?”

Buddy, on the other hand, was focused on another objective, “When we go to Grandma and Papa’s? I’m ready to go now. How much longer? It’s been a long time.” He makes me laugh! Whenever we go anywhere, he is very anxious and filled with excitement and anticipation. No sooner do we arrive and he is ready to depart for the next adventure.

Throughout the park, they allow you to have your windows rolled down to take photographs. The only area that this is restricted is in the bear habitat. They even have a guy on patrol watching for would be violators! As I am taking photos from the passenger window, DH rationalizes that it must be okay to roll the windows down since the bears are playing with one another some distance away.

As he does so, the patrol guy announces over the loud speaker,”Keep your windows rolled up in the bear habitat!” Busted! I think DH felt a little silly for breaking the rules… we quickly moved on to the next area.

Sweetie enjoyed the safari as much as I predicted she would. She spent most of the evening drawing pictures of the animals that she had observed. I was a little disappointed with the facilities. The park was opened in 1973 and it is very obvious that the buildings and structures are dated.

I was surprised that there were limited number of ‘Ranger Talks’ and opportunities to learn more. We basically observed the animals from a distance, nothing more. No signage. No talks. No docents or volunteers anywhere!

It is unfortunate that the region doesn’t have a stronger economic base with which to support their endeavors with fund raising and private donations. Gives me things to mull over and discuss with my Roots & Shoots group in the near future.

 

On a related note, we are going to be focusing on vertebrate animals in our science studies over the next couple of months. I generally start with inverts… but since we had an opportunity to go on safari, I figured it was a good kick-off.