Saturday, March 23, 2019

Life on Mars?

This week in Science Club was all about Mars. Next week we will conclude our trips to the planets (visiting Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn), and then we will move on to the constellations. After learning about stars and other heavenly bodies, we will end the year with the Periodic Table of the Elements. This is by student request, so it is always subject to change if their interests shift.

We have been following a structure for our planetary visits, but this one went a bit deeper because I had so many materials available on the topic of Mars. After all, it is a planet we have a lot of information on! It's also a planet which is often touted as an option for both extra-terrestrial life and future human habitation, so I felt it warranted a deeper look. Here is what we did:

First, we "blasted off" and arrived on Mars, and I welcomed the class as their intergalactic tour guide.

I read them the planet poem from Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars by Douglas Florian.

I read them the information on the origins of the planet's name from Kingdom of the Sun: A Book of the Planets by Jacqueline Mitton. We also learned the origins of the names of the two moons of Mars, which are Phobos and Deimos. These are the Greek words for Fear and Terror. Phobos and Deimos were the two horses which pulled the chariot of the god of war!

We divided up our various classroom resources and looked through them to find interesting facts about the planet which we wanted to share. We used The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Space & Space Exploration: Discovering the Secrets of the Universe as well as the cards for Mars, Phobos, and Deimos in The Photographic Deck of the Solar System.

We read two books titled Life on Mars. The first Life on Mars book was fiction and gently humorous.

The second Life on Mars book was nonfiction and had interesting pictures of the different equipment we've sent to Mars (successfully).

There were many pictures of, and pictures taken from, various robot spacecraft as well as rovers:

    Mariner 4 (1964) on page 13
    Mariner 6 and Mariner 7 (1969) on page 13
    Mariner 9 (1971) on page 13
    Viking 1 and Viking 2 (1976) on page 15
    Spirit and Opportunity (2004) on pages 18-19
    Phoenix (2008) on page 23
    Curiosity (2012) on page 25

This book was a wonderful follow up to our previous session, with special guest Dr. Scott Hamilton-Brehm, who spoke with us in depth about microbes.

As an early reader, the book summarized a lot of information in an easy-to-understand way. Life on Mars was also interesting because it was written in 2016 and spoke in its final pages about ExoMars: "ExoMars is a new mission to Mars. 'Exo' is short for 'exobiology,' which is the study of alien life. An ExoMars rover will look underground for signs of life, below the reach of dangerous sun rays. The rover will drill down more than six feet. Maybe life is safe there. The rover is scheduled to leave for Mars in 2018."

Immediately upon finishing that book, I was able to show the class two newspaper articles which I clipped from the paper back in November 2018. The spacecraft, named InSight, was in all the papers then!

    Mars revisited: NASA spacecraft days away from risky landing
    Wednesday, November 21, 2018

    Landing was 'flawless': InSight will conduct geological experiments, test planet's 'wobble'
    Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The articles explain that InSight is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. It was NASA's eighth successful landing at Mars since the 1976 Viking probes. (The international success rate for all Mars-bound spacecraft is just 40%.) The articles also said that the Curiosity rover is still on the move on the surface of Mars.

According to, the Opportunity rover stopped communicating with Earth after a severe Mars-wide dust storm blanketed its location in June 2018. After over a thousand failed tries, NASA has decided to stop communication attempts with the rover. You can go to and click on up-to-date information on InSight as well as all the current, past, and future Mars projects. NASA will send the next Mars rover in 2020.

We were nearly ready to go to our Mars art project, but first I wanted to share two persuasive essays about life on Mars from the book of essays Breakfast on Mars and 37 Other Delectable Essays: Your Favorite Authors Take A Stab at the Dreaded Essay Assignment. This is a book I just got for Becca, who is in eighth grade. It is hilarious. Famous authors were given standard elementary and middle school essay prompts. Given the chance to respond to them, they were able to take boring prompts and turn them into interesting and well-crafted writing. They are great fun to read and it is nice to have good examples of essays to look at when you are teaching writing!

Children's book writer Chris Higgins was given the following essay prompt:

    Persuasive Essay
    Make an argument in favor of something you care about. Then make a convincing counterargument addressing that same topic.

He wrote, and we read

    Breakfast on Mars: Why We Should Colonize the Red Planet
    (Part 1, Argument)

    Robots Only: Why We Shouldn't Colonize Mars
    (Part 2, Counterargument)

We debated which essay we found the most convincing. The class settled on the group decision that we should not try to colonize Mars and should instead try to take better care of our own planet.

We went to the art room and drew an illustration of the planet using chalk pastels, so that our Mars art would have the appropriately dusty look.

And, lastly, we calculated the scale (distance from the planet to our Sun in km / 162,500,000) and then measured and placed the planet card at the appropriate spot along the Solar System String. The distance from Mars to the Sun, by our scale, was exactly 1 meter and 40 centimeters. So, if you are familiar with my home, Mars is near the clock by the front door.

This post contains affiliate links to materials I truly use for homeschooling. Qualifying purchases provide me with revenue. Thank you for your support!

Books with BIG Ideas

Maria Montessori said that children ages 6-9 love BIG ideas.

That's why each school year begins on the first day of school with the First Great Lesson, the Big Bang, and takes the children through the entire beginnings of life on our planet (all of evolution from ooze to us), then on to early humans, ancient civilizations, and the conceptualization of both written language and mathematics. All in the first few months of the school year.

That's why the children do multiplication to the hundred millions place in first grade, using the Checkerboard and Colored Bead Bars and Number Tiles as the hands-on material so that these huge problems are accessible to them.

Dr. Montessori felt that we could and should meet children where they are, take them where they want to go, and not talk down to them.

Side Note:
I once had a parent of an eight year old express concern because her child didn't seem to be outgrowing picture books. I told her that picture books are completely appropriate for him, for her, for me, and for everyone! And anybody who watches me teach or reads my blog or website knows that I use lots of picture books in my teaching. They are wonderful and universal.

So I've been struck lately by what feels to me like a proliferation of picture books covering Big Ideas. Maybe it's the Common Core's emphasis on teaching children to read non-fiction. Maybe it's because children in a digital age are more used to taking in their information visually instead of just verbally. But it does seem like there are so many lovely new picture books which go deeply into advanced topics. They are rich and content heavy... truly created for older childen and not for the preschool child.

Here are just a few that come to mind. Please share your favorites!!!

Really Big Numbers

by Richard Evan Schwartz

A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars

by Seth Fishman

The Street Beneath My Feet

by Charlotte Gullain

The Skies Above My Eyes

by Charlotte Gullain

When the Whales Walked:
And Other Incredible Evolutionary Journeys

by Dougal Dixon

The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth:
Understanding Our World and Its Ecosystems

by Rachel Ignotofsky

This post contains affiliate links to materials I truly use for homeschooling. Qualifying purchases provide me with revenue. Thank you for your support!

Friday, March 22, 2019

Tall Tales & U.S. Geography Week 1

We are into our second major Language Arts topic for the year and the students are vey excited to have their brand new yellow main lesson books!

To provide a background for our study of American Tall Tales I will also be incorporating some lessons in U.S. Geography.

Here are some quick bullet points as to what we are doing in the classroom. For more details on this main lesson block, please visit my Tall Tales page.

Monday, March 18

Tuesday, March 19

Thursday, March 21

Friday, March 22

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The Root Children Circle, Week 1

In the Waldorf tradition, kindergarten children learn long elaborate Circles, doing them for several weeks. We have been building up our capacity for focus of attention, as well as memorization of verses and movements, and will now be practicing and repeating the same Circle movement journeys & adventures over the course of a two week span. Here are a few notes from our first week working with a Circle developed by Laurie Clark and inspired by the 1906 book The Story of the Root Children by Sibylle von Olfers.

We continued with our Songs, Verses & Movement for classroom routines.

Circle Time Introduction


Updating the sunny Nature table with all of my houseplants and some Spring nature figures... reading the sweet story which will inspire our Circle for the next two weeks... working hard in the vegetable garden removing weeds and hauling them over to the compost pile with wagon and wheelbarrow, digging merrily, mending the fence, and organizing the tools in the tool shed!


Playing with marble mazes in the morning... adding freshly cut daffodils to the Nature table... continued joyful work in the vegetable garden... our first time through The Root Children Circle with silver bell and golden wool ball.


Building tremendous structures with blocks, then silks, then all of the cushions from both sofas... making our first collaborative Fruit Salad in honor of the First Day of Spring... planting personal Dish Gardens in beautiful blue ceramic dishes donated by a family. Thank you!

In lieu of Stone Soup, our children have asked that they bring in a fruit each Thursday in Spring, so that we may either make fruit salad or smoothies. Today we simply tossed the juicy fresh fruit with strawberry Greek yogurt and it was delicious. Here was our list of group contributions this week:

strawberry yogurt

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Montessori Third Great Lesson - Notes

Montessori teachers for Lower Elementary -- and I'm no exception -- casually toss off references to the Great Lessons all the time. "Oh, that's part of the Fourth Great Lesson." It used to drive me crazy when I was new and couldn't tell them apart, and other veteran teachers would do that. Now I talk like that and don't even notice. They're as familiar to me as breathing!

There are tons of comments about the Six Montessori Great Lessons sprinkled all throughout the 1500+ posts in my blog. They are done every year in Lower Elementary (mixed age class, ages 6-9). So here I'm trying to assemble some more precise, and chronological, notes since I am currently going through them more slowly one-on-one with tutoring clients.

This post is a continuation of my previous two; I have each of the Great Lessons as a tag in my blog posts so you can search for ideas that way; I also have book suggestions on my website under My Montessori Library.

Montessori First Great Lesson - How the Earth and Universe Came to Be

Montessori Second Great Lesson - How Life Came to Be

The Third Great Lesson topic is How Humans Came to Be. In older resources it is also sometimes referred to as The Coming of Man.

week 1
recall the Tree of Life wooden puzzle and fact file cards from Waseca Biomes

read Grandmother Fish: A Child's First Book of Evolution by Jonathan Tweet

lay out The Human Evolution Card Set from Clocca Concepts

overlay and compare shape of tracing paper skulls (traced from the book Early Humans by Michelle Breyer)

    Ape skull, page 111
    Australopithecus skull, page 112
    Homo Habilis skull, page 122
    Homo Erectus skull, page 129
    Neandertal skull, page 145
    Cro-Magnon and Modern Human skull, page 154

hold and compare weight of jars of rice, set out tracing paper skulls and rice jars by the correct hominid cards on the Human Evolution Card timeline

    dried rice in half gallons jars to show the capacity of the brain, labeled as follows (1 cc is approximately equal to 1 mL rice)

    Australopithecus 500 cc

    Homo Habilis 800 cc

    Homo Erectus 1100 cc

    Homo Sapiens 1500 cc

watch the awesome human migration map Journey of Mankind: The Peopling of the World from The Bradshaw Foundation (for me this only works on Firefox, but it's definitely worth the hassle of downloading another browser)

week 2
recall the Human Evolution card timeline, tracing paper skulls, and rice jars

tell the story of The Coming of Man with artifacts

  • oyster shell
  • deer antlers
  • rabbit skin
  • koala fur and leather drawstring pouch
  • pine needle baskets
  • shell buttons
  • wheat stalks

play the Hunters and Gatherers Simulation Game from Early Humans, pages 133-140

week 3
recall the Hunter-Gatherer Simulation Game, draft two page spread for MLB

add termite mound construction paper collage illustration inspired by artwork in insectlopedia by Douglas Florian and Animal Architects: Amazing Animals Who Build Their Homes by Julio Antonio Blasco and Daniel Nassar

week 4
recall early human nomadic life, do "A Look at Terra Amata" activity from Early Humans, pages 130-131

review the green dots on the Journey of Mankind map, do agriculture experiments with plant items of your choice (thoroughly moisten a paper towel, fold in half and place a possible seed inside, place in a ziploc bag and zip shut, set in a warm and summy spot, check periodically for germination)

    we chose:

    orange seed
    wheat berries
    grains of black forbidden rice
    grains of white arborio rice
    grains of brown ride

week 5
open ziploc bags and look at results of seed experiments

add Terra Amata activity artwork and words of explanation to MLB

read When Cave Men Painted by Norman Bate

make cave art on pastel paper with willow charcoal and chalk pastels

week 6
recall cave art, watch Lascaux Cave Paintings - Virtual Tour on Vimeo and watch for the exact cave painting from the story When Cave Men Painted

add cave art and words of explanation to MLB

Note: I don't yet own this but my next purchase towards this lesson is the Paleolithic Stone Tool Kit from Clocca Concepts ($125.00).

This post contains affiliate links to materials I truly use for homeschooling. Qualifying purchases provide me with revenue. Thank you for your support!