Exploring Alternative Energy – Hydroelectric Dams

In STEM Club, we are immersed in energy resources presently – so a field trip to a hydroelectric dam is the perfect field trip.  Shasta Dam, the 2nd largest dam in the country (after Grand Coulee in Washington state) is in our backyard – so it is the perfect field trip.

Hydro DamsShasta Dam is a curved gravity dam across the Sacramento River in the northern part of the U.S. state of California, at the north end of the Sacramento Valley. Like another curved gravity dam (Hoover Dam), it was a continuous pour concrete project, and in its day, ranked as one of the great civil engineering feats of the world.  The dam is 602 ft (183 m) high and 3,460 ft (1,055 m) long, with a base width or thickness of 543 ft (165.5 m). The reservoir created behind Shasta Dam is known as Shasta Lake and is a popular recreational boating area.

generator at shasta dam

Hydroelectric power is universally known as one of the cleaned, most efficient and inexpensive ways to produce power. Hydroelectric power is electricity generated using falling water.  At Shasta Dam, as water races down pipes (penstocks) towards the power plant, that water is directed at the blades of a water wheel (turbine).

The turbine is coupled to an electric generator by a long shaft.  The generator consists of a large, spinning “rotor” and a stationary “stator”.  The outer ring of the rotor is made up of a series of electromagnets.  The stator is comprised of a series of copper coils.  As the rotor spins, its magnetic field induces a current in the stator’s windings thereby generating electricity.

The five generators at the Shasta Dam have recently been upgraded by the Bureau of Reclamation, replacing the turbine portion of each generator.  This increases the plant capacity to 710 megawatts, with each unit running at 142 megawatts.  Utilizing the latest technology in design, the new turbines are more energy efficient.

Our visit this past week to the dam was not our first.  We toured the Shasta Dam facilities when we first moved to California.  Even so, we all learned something new and enjoyed the experience.  One of the highlights was discovering that since the Shasta Dam is a curved gravity dam, we could hear our echo bounce back and forth when we yelled across the span.  Additionally, one our first tour, we were most impressed by the train tunnel – as my son was passionate about trains at that age.  He is now more impressed with engineering marvels and as a result, he stayed close to the tour guide the entire time asking many questions.

Minecraft Model Shasta DamWhen we returned home, he created a model of the dam in one of his Minecraft worlds. Proving once again that Minecraft is educational.  He is now brainstorming ideas to create a three dimensional model showing how electricity is generated and transmitted to our homes.

If you are interested in touring a dam in your area or simply learning about dams from the comfort of your home – I have created a FREE set of notebooking printables to guide you along on your study.  These printables are a small part of my newest mini-unit, Alternative Energy Resources: Hydroelectric Dams, a 13 page ebook available for purchase in my store. In the coming months, I will be releasing a complete curriculum for energy resources.

STEM Club: Cells – The Building Blocks of Life

Today’s STEM Club was a lot of fun; we made edible models of plant cells and though we got a little sticky, everyone was able to summarize the function of the cell organelles.  After we cleaned up, the kids were given the opportunity to make their own slides (onion skin and cheek cells) so they could observe real cells under a microscope.  At home, my own kiddos spent a little more time with the microscope, sketching and labeling the organelles they could identify under magnification. To aide in remembering the function of cell organelles, the kids also enjoyed creating an interactive tool for their science notebooks.

cell structure

Big Ideas

  • All organisms are composed of one or more cells.
  • Cells carry out important life functions including taking in nutrients and releasing materials, obtaining energy, and growing.

Background Information

All living beings are made up of cells. Some of them are made up of only one cell and others have many cells. Cells got their name from an Englishman named Robert Hooke in the year 1665. He first saw and named “cells” while he was experimenting with a new instrument we now call a “microscope.” For his experiment he cut very thin slices from cork. He looked at these slices under a microscope. He saw tiny box-like shapes. These tiny boxes reminded him of the plain small rooms that monks lived in called “cells”.

Look around at your house and the houses around you. They are made from smaller building materials such as wood, bricks and cement. So are the cars in the street and the bike you ride. In fact, everything is made from building blocks including living things. If you take a look at your home you will notice it is enclosed by outer walls. All cells are enclosed within something called a plasma membrane (sometimes called the cell membrane). The plasma membrane is not exactly the same thing as the wall in your house, but it does hold parts of a cell inside. These parts of the cell are what biologists call organelles (Latin for little organs).

By the help of microscopes, there is nothing so small as to escape our inquiry; hence there is a new visible world discovered to the understanding. ~ Robert Hooke

If you look at very simple organisms, you will discover cells that have no defined nucleus (prokaryotes), others that have a nucleus and many organelles (eukaryotes), and cells that have hundreds of nuclei (multi-nucleated). Humans may have hundreds of types of cells.  The thing all cells have in common is that they are compartments surrounded by some type of membrane. The main purpose of a cell is to organize. Cells hold a variety of pieces and each cell has a different set of functions that are unique to each type of organism.

Cells are amazing. They are all made of similar building blocks but they do many different things depending on how they are programmed. Some cells carry oxygen to parts of our body. Other cells defend against invading bacteria and viruses. Some cells are used to carry oxygen through the blood (red blood cells) and others transmit signals through out the body like the signals from your hand to your brain when you touch something hot. Some cells can even convert the sun’s energy into food (photosynthesis). There are hundreds of jobs that cells can do. Cells also make other cells in a process called cell division – something other building blocks can not do.

Plant cells are easy to identify because they have a protective structure called a cell wall made of cellulose. Plants have the wall; animals do not. Plants also have cell organelles like the chloroplast (which contain green pigments or chlorophylls where photosynthesis takes place, giving plants their green color) and large water-filled vacuoles.

edible cells

Foldable

As the kids worked together to create an edible model of a plant cell, I distributed a handout that defined the role of the organelles in detail.  I also compared the cell organelles to a factory, giving a real life analogy for each cell function.  These descriptions were easier for the kids to remember.  As they worked, I walked around and ‘quizzed’ everyone on the role each organelle played in the cell function.  At the conclusion of the class, I distributed a diagram that labeled the cell parts and included small little flip books.  They were instructed to cut out and glue each into their notebook, numbering each to correspond to the diagram and handout.  If you would like these handouts, you may download them for free simply by subscribing. These printables will be included in the next Science Logic curriculum unit to be released soon.

Enrichment

  1. Observe onion cell and cheek cells under a microscope and sketch the cells you observe in your notebook.
  2. Create a model or poster of an animal cell.
  3. For a challenge, you may wish to try out this fun DNA extraction lab:  http://ucbiotech.org/resources/display/files/dna_extraction_from_strawberrie.pdf
  4. Research cell division (mitosis and meiosis) and create a flip book to illustrate the stages of cell division.
  5. Here are a few great websites to allow further exploration of cells:

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STEM Club: Goldfish Lab

I have been teaching a science course over the past few weeks for local homeschool kids.  Though the course is designed for upper elementary kids (the target age is that of my own kids), the level of science experience and background knowledge varies. The only unifying characteristics are that they all have an interest in science and a passion for learning.

As a result, I have been struggling to squeeze in as much content as I can in the 90 minute class time. As expected, each activity is rushed and I know that the kids aren’t digesting the content as well as they could.  I thereby decided to slow down and focus on quality rather than quantity.  Seems so simple now that I can hardly believe I didn’t take this approach from the beginning.  The goldfish lab that we did last week was the perfect lab with which to slow down and focus on quality observations and data collection.

goldfish lab

Our focus this week was on the vertebrate class – bony fish. Rather than spend any time in class taking notes, I encouraged the kids to complete the vertebrate animal chart on their own. I wanted to use class time for the hands-on activity – this was how I had envisioned the class to begin with.

Fish belong to a larger group of animals called chordates and they make up a special group or class of the vertebrates called Aves. The vast majority of fish belong to the superclass Osteichthyes, the Latin word for bony fish.  With this age group, however, I didn’t go into detail about the taxonomy.

Generally, a scientist would do research or make an observation in nature before deciding upon an experiment.  I had chosen the experimental question for the group to tie it in to our curriculum but also to provide an opportunity to teach the scientific method.  We thereby used our prior knowledge and past experiences to develop our own hypothesis (which I encouraged them to write down in their notebook without sharing with one another so as not to influence anyone).

Goldfish Lab

Experimental Question

How does the temperature of the water affect the gill beats of a fish?

Hypothesis

Answer the experimental question based upon what you know.  As you answer the question, provide a reason or explanation for your answer.  Why do you think the gills will beast faster/slower?

Materials

  • goldfish
  • small jar or glass beaker
  • larger beaker or container in which the small beaker will fit
  • thermometer
  • water
  • stopwatch
  • lab worksheet free download (optional)

Procedure

  1. Place the fish in a small jar. Record the temperature of the water in your notebook.  (Room Temp)
  2. Count the number of gill beats for 1 minute.
  3. Repeat step #2 twice more.  Find the average number of gill beats for room temperature.
  4. Add ice water to the larger beaker. Place the small jar into the larger container.
  5. After a few minutes, record the temperature of the water in your notebook.  (Cold)
  6. Repeat step #2 and #3.  Find the average number of gill beats for cold temperature.
  7. Discard the ice water – perhaps you have a plant you could water?
  8. Add warm water (it doesn’t need to be hot, just enough to raise the temperature of the small beaker a few degrees) to the larger beaker. Place the small jar into the larger container.
  9. After a few minutes, record the temperature of the water in your notebook.  (Warm)
  10. Repeat step #2 and #3.  Find the average number of gill beats for warm temperature.

Data

Record your data as you proceed in your notebook.  You may wish to create a table with a column for each trial and one for the average.

Conclusion

Look at your data and reflect on your experimental question.  Did the results surprise you?  What new questions do you have? Are there any possible errors? How could you improve this experiment if you were to do it again?

 

Those that complete the goldfish lab at home — please share your data by leaving a comment.  If we pool our data together, we can increase our sample size and thereby have a stronger conclusion.

Discovering China: The Super Skyline of Shanghai

discovering chinaWelcome back!  I hope you are enjoying your city by city tour of China.  If you are just joining us, I am delighted you are here.  We recently returned from a three-week family holiday in China. This is the seventh of ten posts whereby I introduce you to the culture of China through our eyes.

Teeming with international high-rollers, glittery skyscrapers and construction cranes, China’s sophisticated capital of business, Shanghai, wouldn’t seem a welcoming place for children at first glance. But it won’t take long to discover that with its many parks, markets and museums, Shanghai can captivate all ages.

Shanghai is a great city for kids to explore, from the top of the pink Oriental Pearl TV Tower overlooking the skyline, to classical Chinese gardens and zig-zag bridges, to boats on the Huangpu River, there’s always something new to see. You’ll also find Shanghai is a crossroads – the largest port in China, the city is hopping with a unique blend of old and new, east and west, Europe and Asia, the latest high-tech innovations and oldest traditions.

Maglev

Despite the crowds (the population of Shanghai is 17 million), the city is relatively crime-free. Taxis are cheap, and the subway is easy to navigate. In fact, transportation is part of the fun, which begins as soon as you land. From the Pudong International Airport, about 30 miles east of the city, you can catch the 267-mile-per-hour German-engineered Maglev, or magnetic levitation, train. It’s a scenery-blurring, eight-minute hurtle to the edge of town. One-way trips are 50 yuan, about $6.40 at 7.85 yuan to the dollar, or 40 yuan with a same-day airline ticket. From the Maglev’s terminus at Longyang Lu, you can take a taxi or the subway to the city center.

discover shanghaiYuYuan

As early as the 15th century, the heart of Shanghai was the Yu Yuan (Yu Garden) area.  From the Yu Yuan’s zigzag bridge, children can toss fish food (2 yuan a bag) into a murky pond, and the water will roil with red and gold carp and red-eared slider turtles.

This Ming Dynasty walled garden of pavilions, willows and rocks has been overshadowed by its bazaar, a labyrinth of kiosks and specialty shops overhung by swooping, Ming-style tile roofs. Here, you can buy chopsticks, silk pajamas, wigs, American fast food, guitars, kites and fermented tofu (we had tried this at the home of our tutor and knew to avoid it – sorry, Shaun), among many other items. Merchants demonstrate everything from bubble-blowers to Chinese yo-yos; others beckon passersby to sample tea and gelato.

Bund

Shanghai’s lifeline to the sea, the Huangpu River, also divides the city into Puxi, its older, western part, and Pudong, the more recently developed, flashier section. Pudong’s riverfront promenade is ideal for strolls, flying kites and views of the Bund, a stretch of early 20th-century European edifices. The hard-working Huangpu bustles with tugs, barges and freighters.

shanghaiNight Cruise on Huangu River

One of the best ways to spend a few hours in Shanghai is to take a Huang Pu River Tour. The boats depart along the Bund every half-hour and you can book short or longer tours. We opted for a night cruise which departed at dusk, when landmarks on both banks are illuminated. The tour boats take you up and down the river and you’ll see not only the fabulous architecture on either side of the river, you’ll also get to enjoy the traffic along the river – a sign of an economy in motion.

The Huang Pu River is a tributary of the Yangtze and there is plenty of traffic on it to prove its importance. You’ll see the magnificent building skylines on both the historic west side (the Bund), and the modern east side (Pudong) as well as the working area of coal boats filling barges and sending them downriver. It’s fun to see such lively river life as well as Shanghai’s amazing skyline.

Super Skyline

There’s a new building going up in Shanghai’s Pudong that is slated to be the tallest building in Shanghai and the second tallest in the world. Upon its completion, the building will stand approximately 632 meters (2,073 ft) high and will have 121 stories, with a total floor area of 380,000 m2 (4,090,000 sq ft).  The Shanghai Tower will be completed in 2014 but until then, you can take your kids up to the top of other towers in China, Jin Mao Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center. We chose The World Financial Center because of its a fabulous sky deck.

 

Engineering: World's Tallest Buildings Unit Study

Engineering: World’s Tallest Buildings Unit Study

To commemorate Shanghai and to the delight of my daughter who desires to be an environmental / architectural engineer, I have put together an Engineering Unit Study that is sure to captivate the hearts of young engineers the world over.

Suzhou is our destination tomorrow.  For me, our excursion to Suzhou was one of the highlights of our holiday in China.  Come back tomorrow to discover why. 

Autumn-Hopscotch-2013This post is part of the iHomeschool Network’s Autumn Hopscotch, a 10 day series of posts by over 40 different homeschool bloggers. You can visit the hopscotch home page at iHN for ideas and inspiration in topics like Art for All Ages: Tips & Tutorials. There are literally hundreds of posts now compiled for you!

All 10 days of Discovering China will be linked to one landing page.  Bookmark it for reference!

 

Discovering China: Leshan and the Giant Buddha

discovering chinaZǎochenhǎo (早晨好) !  I’m delighted you are following along with us as we tour China, city by city.  We recently returned from a three-week family holiday in China. This is the sixth of ten posts whereby I introduce you to the culture of China through our eyes. Our focus today is the Buddhist influence in China and our visit to the Dàfó (Giant Buddha) in Leshan.

Leshan  乐山 

About 120 km (75 mi) from Chengdu, Leshan translates literally to Happy mountain. It is  located at the confluence of the Minjaing, Qingyijiang, and Dadu rivers, on the southwestern fringe of the Red Basin.   We took the bus from Chengdu to Leshan (about 2 hours).

Buddhism has flourished in China since ancient times and has played an enormous role in shaping the mindset of the Chinese people, affecting their aesthetics, politics, literature, philosophy and medicine.  Scholars classify Chinese Buddhism into 7-15 schools (most commonly 10).  Perhaps the greatest Buddhist influence occurred during the Tang Dynasty, evident in the many scripture-filled caves and structures surviving from this period.

Giant Buddha 大佛

The Leshan Giant Buddha (乐山大佛) was built during the Tang Dynasty (618–907AD). It is carved out of a cliff face that lies at the confluence of the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi rivers in the southern part of Sichuan province, near the city of Leshan. The stone sculpture faces Mount Emei, with the rivers flowing below his feet. It is the largest stone Buddha in the world and it is by far the tallest pre-modern statue in the world.

Leshan Giant BuddhaConstruction was started in 713, led by a Chinese monk named Haitong. He hoped that the Buddha would calm the turbulent waters that plagued the shipping vessels traveling down the river. When funding for the project was threatened, he is said to have gouged out his own eyes to show his piety and sincerity. Apparently the massive construction resulted in so much stone being removed from the cliff face and deposited into the river below that the currents were indeed altered by the statue, making the waters safe for passing ships.

The charm of the Buddha lies not only in its size but also in its architectural artistry. There are 1,021 buns in the Buddha’s coiled hair. These have been skillfully embedded in the head. The skill is so wonderful that the 1,021 buns seem integral to the whole. Another architectural highlight is the drainage system. Incorporated into the Leshan Giant Buddha when it was built, it is still in working order. It includes drainage pipes carved into various places on the body, to carry away the water after the rains so as to reduce weathering.

It’s possible to walk from top to bottom (and back up again) along a staircase carved in the wall overlooking the Buddha. A popular activity near the head is for people to have their photo taken “touching” the nose or sticking their finger in the ear of the buddha, supposedly for good luck. Behind the Buddha’s head, you can step into the cave that Haitong took shelter in while he oversaw the construction of the Buddha.

Giant Buddha LeshanThere was a moderately large crowd visiting on the day we visited; we walked down to the feet among them. Then we walked back up the other side – to the grumbling of the kiddos who were both tired of the stairs and getting hungry. There’s no food to be found in the park so we departed.

It took some time to hail a taxi, we were even getting a little worried, but one arrived soon enough and we returned to the bus station.  We enjoyed a delicious bowl of noodles at a small restaurant near the station before returning to Chengdu in the evening.

proverbs thumbI have created a couple of notebooking pages to correspond with today’s post.  The first is a list of Chinese Proverbs that you may find inspirational.  You may wish to have your children create small posters to illustrate a proverb or two. The second is a chart to compare / contrast the World’s Religions.  I first created this when my children and I were studying ancient times and though they were young at the time, we found it very interesting.

We are off to Shanghai tomorrow. Shanghai is a huge city – there is so much to see and do but I’ve condensed it into one post. You won’t want to miss it for I’ve created a fun activity sure to be a hit with young engineers.

Autumn-Hopscotch-2013This post is part of the iHomeschool Network’s Autumn Hopscotch, a 10 day series of posts by over 40 different homeschool bloggers. You can visit the hopscotch home page at iHN for ideas and inspiration in topics like Great Science Books and Early American History for Kids. There are literally hundreds of posts now compiled for you!

All 10 days of Discovering China will be linked to one landing page.  Bookmark it for reference!

STEM Club: The Plant Kingdom

The focus for STEM Club this week is The Plant Kingdom or kingdom Plantae.  Plants, also called green plants or viridiplantae in Latin, are multicellular organisms.  The cell walls contain cellulose and generally, plants obtain most of their energy from sunlight via photosynthesis using chlorophyll contained in chloroplasts, hence the green color.

Getting Started

After reviewing their work from the previous week (see Scientific Classification), I began the lesson with a fun activity to get them comfortable using their observation skills, Forest Mystery Bags.  Each pair of students was given a brown paper bag of materials collected in the forest.  They were instructed to reach in and to make a list of the bag’s contents using only their sense of touch.  After several minutes, the contents were revealed and we discussed any surprises –> an elk tooth and a wood chip with beaver teeth marks.

plant kingdom foldableThe Plant Kingdom 

We discussed how scientists use a variety of characteristics (seed bearing or spore bearing, vascular or non-vascular, etc.) to further divide the kingdom Plantae into smaller divisions.  I then shared with them a poster showing the five plant divisions: angiosperms (flowering plants), gymnosperms (conifers), ferns & horsetails, mosses, and liverworts & hornworts.

They were instructed to take notes, sketching a simple key in their interactive notebooks (I had a sample on the overhead). Thereafter, we practiced identifying a few common trees using a dichotomous key.  I brought along a number of leaf samples and a small collection of seeds and cones and provided time for the kids to sketch a few in their notebooks.  Sweetie and Buddy shared their nature journals with the other students and we encouraged them to begin a similar journal themselves.

Similarly, when the kids asked if they could keep the elk teeth and cones, I told them about our Cabinet of Curiosities.  “You can start one of you own,” I encouraged.  “You can begin with a simple egg carton. Over time, your collection will grow.  Collect things of interest to you.  Seeds, cones, feathers, stones, and insects are just a few ideas.”

Foldable

Before I dismissed the class, I shared with them the new foldable for their interactive science notebook, Types of Plants (pictured above). Click on the link here to download a copy for yourselves.  As before, if you use this foldable yourself, please share it with me.  I would love to see your kids’ work when they have finished.  You can post a link in the comments or feel free to email me a digital picture of their work.