Book Recommendation: Frindle


posted by Gina

Author: Andrew Clements

Age Range: 5th and 6th Grade
This book is also an excellent choice for your high-level-reading 2nd/3rd Grader (or as a read-aloud for the same) and – dare I say it – can be appreciated and enjoyed well into middle school.  I read this book every time I need to feel really good about the world.

Genre: Realistic Fiction, School Story

Let’s Talk About This, Shall We?

I freaking love words.  During that long-ago year I blundered my way through teaching Kindergarten (we will not speak of this again), my favorite activity was teaching the kiddos a huge, impressive word, then hearing about their parents’ reactions when they used it casually in conversation.  (Nothing more hilarious than a 5 year old saying, “You know, Ms. Gina, I think a jacket would be superfluous today.”)

I keep lists of fun words, favorite words, other people’s favorite words (did you know that all Irish bartenders in New York will claim a swear word as their favorite? And that more people will choose ‘plethora’ than any other word?  It’s true).

This book is about words, a teacher who loves the dictionary, and a kid who wants to know why.  “Why do we call a pen a pen?” he asks, and, upon hearing the intriguing answer that, Latin roots aside, we just collectively agree that “pen” means what it does, decides to test this theory.   Continue reading “Book Recommendation: Frindle”

How to extract DNA from fruit the crazy easy way

©2012 Beret Olsen

posted by Beret

Age range:  8 and up

DNA is a fascinating realm to investigate, but one I assumed was out of my league…that is, until my nine-year-old heard about extracting DNA from strawberries and wanted to try it at home.

There are a variety of approaches outlined on the web, often calling for thermometers, holding baths, denatured alcohol, and/or soap containing a very particular agent (EDTA). We tried several approaches, using different recipes, brands, and timing, and were consistently and remarkably unsuccessful. We kept at it, though, and when we finally got the extraction procedure to work, it was embarrassing how easy it was.  Apparently the more intricate the process, the less likely you are to succeed.    Continue reading “How to extract DNA from fruit the crazy easy way”

Cabbage Juice Chemistry!

© Beret Olsen, 2012

posted by Beret

Age Range:  6 and up

Ah, chemistry.  How boring it can be when reduced to a textbook, a monotonous lecture, or a multiple choice test.  But chemistry has its roots in ancient alchemies–the attempts to make gold and elixirs for healing or immortality.

Watching my kids in action, I think there may be an innate drive to mix substances and solutions to create something new. They began brewing their own potions long before we read Harry Potter.  We started simply.  Whenever I cleaned out the cupboards or the refrigerator, I would give the girls a giant (and unbreakable) bowl, wooden spoons, and safety goggles, and send them out into the backyard to make some new concoction.  Stale or moldy food made for some pretty intriguing science projects.  I also had the girls throw in any candy they might find from the back of cupboards or old birthday goodie bags.  It was fun and got rid of a lot of junk.

When they tired of potions and wanted something more ‘scientificky’ to mix and do, I did a little research and discovered that juice made from a red cabbage is a natural indicator to determine whether a substance is acidic or basic.  The process is very simple and straightforward, and the results are colorful and satisfying.    Continue reading “Cabbage Juice Chemistry!”

Mummifying Chickens

A chicken mummy anointed, adorned, and nestled in its sarcophagus.     ©2012 Beret Olsen

posted by Gina

Age Range: 7 and up

Ancient Egypt is a topic that rarely fails to capture the imagination, whether a 2nd grader’s or a high school student’s.  The mythology is both beautiful and harsh, with enough romance and bloodthirst to satisfy young people across the interest spectrum.

In terms of an easy yet spectacular home project, nothing is more fabulous than a homemade mummy, whether the project comes at the end of a unit of study or opens the door to further reading and research.    Continue reading “Mummifying Chickens”