Lawrence Hall of Science :: Field Trip

One of the greatest joys of homeschooling is our flexible schedule.  Because we are not tied to a school schedule, we are free to join the kids’ father when he has conferences and work out of town.  Recently, a business meeting brought him to Oakland and we tagged along.  This not only ensures we get to spend quality time together – but it also allows us to explore new areas that we may not otherwise get to see.

On this trip, we ventured off the freeway via the local streets to take in the container ship port (from afar) and Chinatown.  After San Francisco, Oakland’s Chinatown is relatively small but we were able to browse several markets and bring home a box of moon cakes for the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival.

Lawrence Hall of Science

Thereafter, we drove up to the Berkeley campus to explore the Lawrence Hall of Science.  The Lawrence Hall of Science is UC Berkeley’s public science center.  It has been providing parents, kids, and educators with opportunities to engage with science since 1968.  Read on to discover a sampling of the science activities in which we were engaged.

Design, Build and Test

Numerous exhibits allowed us to explore the science of engineering and solve real-world challenges. Here are just a few of the activities we enjoyed:

  • Create our own flying machine and test it in a wind tube
  • Explore what it takes to get a roller coaster over a hill or through a loop
  • Make balls over in midair using the power of air pressure

Explore the World of Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is used by engineers and scientists, and it’s also used in the fabric of your jeans, the fur on your teddy bear, and the smartphones in your pocket!  The nanotechnology exhibit provided us with a chance to:

  • Zoom in and see what our favorite everyday objects look like magnified.
  • Find out how tall we are in nanometers.
  • Play with smaller and smaller magnetic materials and watch how they act!
  • Discover how geckos stick to walls and how gravity affects tiny objects.
  • See how a butterfly can produce a beautiful color on its wings without pigments using natural nanotechnology.
  • Learn about people who work in the field and how they got interested in the science.
  • Explore how nanotechnology and nano experiments can affect our future.

Explore Forces That Shape the Bay

In this exhibit, we were able to experience the geologic forces that shaped—and continue to reshape—our home, and enjoy a panoramic view of the entire bay. The activities in which we immersed ourselves included:

  • Riding a earthquake simulators
  • Set erosion in motion at a hands-on erosion table
  • Scoping out the bay with powerful telescopes
  • Controlling the water flow from the simulated Sierra Nevada
  • Learning how the San Francisco Bay has developed in 10,000 years
  • Look closer at all kinds of rock with the exhibit rock guide

Tide Pools & OIMB

In July, we spent a few days at the Oregon coast whereby we had an opportunity to explore many of my favorite natural habitats as well as visit the campus of Oregon Institute of Marine Biology where I spent two summers inundating myself in a multitude of graduate courses when I was teaching for North Bend Schools.  It was fun to show the kids the classrooms and labs on campus … and as summer classes were in full swing, we were also able to see numerous invertebrates on the water table as well as a live octopus in the holding tank.
We spent a few hours on the docks as well – both in Bandon and in Charleston – doing a little belly science.  We were delighted to find numerous sea slugs meandering about – my favorite little invertebrate!  While crabbing with dad, we were not successful in catching any Dungeness of legal size or sex, thus we opted to bring home a few we purchased from a local fisherman.
We tried our hand at clamming and fishing as well – but again, we were not successful.  Oh well.  We are learning.  🙂  We checked up on my dad’s new neighbor – a beaver – and spent a leisurely afternoon letterboxing and agate collecting near the jetty.
Another day, we drove out to Cape Arago to do some tide-pooling.  It wasn’t quite the minus tide we’d hoped for but we were not surprised to see two OIMB vans and thereby a class of college students undertaking their own investigations.  I was delighted at the variety of organisms we were able to see – when I had taken the kids to the tide pools a couple of years ago, we had opted to go to Sunset Bay and discovered it was significantly more barren due to the easy access and thus more foot traffic by the public.  What stood out to me the most were the numerous chitons – mossy, leather, and gumboot chitons were everywhere!  More than I recall from the summers when I was an OIMB student.
Buddy most enjoyed catching the small shore crabs – many were quite elusive, perhaps thankfully so as they were larger and their pinch much stronger.  🙂  It was a wonderful morning and their journal entries showed.  I will post their sketches when they finish – they have the basic outlines but wanted to add color but haven’t gotten around to it just yet.

Scavenger Hunt in San Francisco

I am continually amazed by the creativity of our new Mandarin tutor.  He is always coming up with innovative ways to keep the kiddos excited about learning another language – particularly when it comes to rote memorization or review of vocabulary.  He loves technology and frequently integrates the use of the iPad.  He has shared with us many fun new apps for Mandarin.  Most recently, he and #1 spent their instructional time texting one another back and forth.  It was impressive to see how much more comfortable she was conversing in this way.
Last week, we had an opportunity to go to San Francisco – one of our favorite cities.  In anticipation of this trip, he  devised a scavenger hunt to engage the kids as we explored Chinatown.  #1 was expected to do all of the “Must-do” assignments as well as 3 “Optional” assignments.  #2 was expected to do only 3 of the “Optional” assignments.  
San Francisco Chinatown Scavenger Hunt – Click on it to enlarge

To further integrate their assignment into our homeschool activities, I requested that they each complete the tasks on their own blog.  Here are links to their completed work:

#2 – not yet finished
Please consider popping over to their blogs and leaving a comment for each of them.  They love to hear from their readers and it sparks them to want to write more.  🙂

Dunsmuir Railroad Days

This past weekend, we surprised the kids with an impromptu excursion in Dunsmuir that coincided with the annual Dunsmuir Railroad Days.  It was a great family getaway, delighting everyone.  I was even a little surprised with how much #1 enjoyed our accommodations.  The photo here shows her reaction as we pulled into the resort.   We stayed in the Southern Pacific caboose shown below.  As we settled in, #2 exclaimed, “This is my dream!”  as he quickly dropped his bag and ran outside to begin exploring the grounds.  
In its golden era, Dunsmuir was once an important, thriving railroad community. Formerly named “Pusher”, this was the spot where additional locomotives were added onto the trains, to “push” them up the steep grade to Mt. Shasta. In 1968, the Murphy family, local descendents of pioneering railroaders, decided to collect and preserve the old rail era, by transforming rail cars into beautifully renovated units. A collection of cabooses, flat cars and box cars were acquired and work was started. “Murphy’s Pond” a popular swimming pond was the first phase of the project. In the years following, additional cabooses were transformed into motel units as well as a swimming pool and spa which completed the project. The Murphy Family still proudly owns and actively operates this family business.

After a quick picnic dinner, we drove into Dunsmuir for a quick tour of the quaint town.  We checked out a few of the train cars and marveled at the roundhouse.  We were excited to learn that the following day, we could climb aboard the engine as it went turned around on the turn-table.  We returned to our caboose later that evening and enjoyed a soak in the spa.  We met a kind gentleman from San Francisco with whom we exchanged stories of our travels and adventures.  We can’t wait to check out some of the places he recommended to us. 

On Saturday, we returned downtown to further partake in the festivities.  The kids participated in a Little Mister and Little Miss Engineer contest – whereby #1 brought home a trophy for her age group.  Sadly,  public speaking has never been #2’s strong suit and he competed against a 9 year old returning champion.  He earned 2nd place and was given a ribbon – but he was in tears.  A good learning experience nonetheless. 

A highlight was the Speeder Car ride up the track.  Speeder Cars, otherwise known as railway motor cars, werformerly used on railroads around the world by track inspectors and work crews to move quickly to and from work sites.  Although it is slow compared to a train or car, it is called speeder because it is faster than the human-powered vehicle that predates them.
Speeder cars were replaced in the 1990s with pickup trucks with flanged wheels.  Now Speeders are collected by hobbyists who refurbish them and use them for short excursions and outings.   

Annular Eclipse 2012

Yesterday, an annular eclipse of the sun was visible to the United States and a narrow path across the northern Hemisphere. We were delighted to have the opportunity to observe the eclipse – and even better – we did so with an awesome group of Letterboxers.

Featherhead with Green Tortuga as he gives a mini astronomy lesson

We met at Hog Plateau – an area inundated with letterboxes.  However, due to the heat (it was nearly 100 degrees), we opted to save the quest for another time.  Instead, we spent the evening exchanging signature stamps with our new Letterboxing friends, catching up with friends whom we had met previously, and seeking out the special event boxes – some hidden in plain site, others (travelers) required little sleuthing.

Featherhead with Lady Marmalade
A few of us observing the eclipse
Team Academia Celestia – Maersk, Makita, & Featherhead

Solar eclipses happen all over the globe all the time, but this was the first in the continental U.S. in more than 18 years.  An annular eclipse is a “ring of fire” solar eclipse. A total eclipse is when the moon’s shadow completely covers the sun and makes it dark during the day. This eclipse will cover about 85% of the sun leaving a visible ring.

Our dynamic host, Green Tortuga, captured this image of the eclipse through his telescope. Thanks again for putting this together for us.  It was a fabulous evening!

Whiskeytown Waterfall Challenge

One of my new favorite places is Whiskeytown National Recreation Area.  Within the park, are four wonderful waterfalls, accessible year-round.  The National Park Service, in an effort to promote a healthy lifestyle and get families outside, encourages visitors to take part in a waterfall challenge.  You can download their colorful waterfall passport (or use a nature journal of your own) to document your visit to each of the falls.  Along the trail to each of the falls is a metal pedestal with a relief carving perfect for crayon rubbings.  If you are taking part in the challenge, you are asked to do a rubbing at each of the waterfalls.  Visitors who complete the challenge are awarded a free “I Walked the Falls” bandana.

Crystal Creek Falls
Crystal Creek Falls

Crystal Creek Falls is the only “man-made” waterfall in the park. When the Central Valley Project was designed in the 1920s, an important component was the diversion of a large portion of the Trinity River to Whiskeytown Lake and from there to the Sacramento River. A 17-mile tunnel was excavated to transport the water underground from Trinity Dam to Carr Powerhouse and the tailings were dumped in the area near Crystal Creek Falls.  When it is necessary to shut down Carr Powerhouse for maintenance or to enter the tunnel for cleaning, the valve is turned and the excess water from the tunnel spills into Crystal Creek.  When the overflow structure was built, the Bureau of Reclamation rerouted Crystal Creek. The creek was moved about 50 feet to the left to make a shortcut over the cliff, creating this picturesque waterfall.

Whiskeytown Falls

For over 40 years this 220-foot waterfall was only a secret to the few that knew it existed. For a variety of reasons, some people decided not to share the falls’ existence with others. Today, people from all over the world have heard about the hidden secret.

Brandy Creek Falls
Brandy Creek is noted for five large cascading falls that sweep down across the polished granite rock in the upper box canyon. Upper Brandy Creek Falls plunge in a unique split formation through the steep vertical walls. The trail to the falls was improved in 2005 with hand-hewn rock steps and a metal railing to help hikers safely reach the top of the waterfall. 
Boulder Creek Falls

At over 138 feet high, Boulder Creek Falls was thought to be the tallest waterfall in the park until Whiskeytown Falls was re-discovered in fall of 2004.  The three cascades of Boulder Creek Falls are tucked into a dark, shaded box canyon filled with moss and ferns.