Build A Cell game!

Hey, check this out!

Build-A-Cell from Spongelab.

Posted by on February 24th, 2018

RSO Biology: Model of a Cell

3D model of an animal cell

3D model of an animal cell

Objective: Make a 3D model of a cell
Constraints: 10 kids, 30 minutes of class time

Got it.

The original project required Sculpey, which you have to bake. I found a great alternative: Plastalina, an oil-based modeling clay. No baking required, and it doesn’t dry out.  A multi-color pack is super cheap, I got mine from Michaels.

Materials:
Ping Pong ball
small fishbowl
1 multi-color pack of plastalina
clear polymer “gems” from the floral section

  1. Hydrate the polymer gems. I dumped mine in a gallon ziploc bag with a couple of cups of water and let it go overnight. My package was probably only 2 teaspoons of crystals before hydrating. It takes a couple of hours before they reach full size, so I suggest doing this in advance. When they’re ready, put the polymers in the fishbowl but don’t put additional water in yet. This is your cytoplasm.
  2. Take your ping pong ball and cut out a wedge-shaped piece. Basically, turn him into Pac-man (mouth WIIIIDE open). This is your nuclear membrane, so you need a cutaway opening big enough to show the DNA inside.
  3. A note about plastalina: it’s pretty stiff when you open the package, but if you knead it for a while it becomes pliable. It also will roll really, really, thin, so don’t be afraid to spread it out. If you keep it too thick, your pieces will be too heavy. THAT BEING SAID: knead some blue plastalina and then cover the exterior of your ping pong ball with a thin layer.
  4. Using your RSO guide, start making the various organelles. An excellent illustration guide can be found here: Blausen Medical Guide. Repeat this chant: “The mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell.” (It comes up again later. A lot.)
  5. When all your cell bodies are made, start suspending them in your fishbowl. A chopstick or the handle of a paintbrush is very handy here, to help position everything where you want it. Those free ribosomes can be sneaky!
  6. Once you have everything positioned the way you want, start adding water to the fishbowl. When you’re done, it should look like your cell bodies are all suspended in cytoplasm. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and enjoy!

Advance prep for a coop group: gather your materials and hydrate the gems overnight.

Posted by on February 24th, 2018

Mutant Bunnies

Posted by on February 12th, 2018

RSO Biology, Week 1

Our homeschool coop is teen-oriented. I rashly volunteered to offer a biology class for the high school students, since I was going to have to teach bio to my own 9th grader anyhow – I figured it would be more fun in a group. Our coop kids are a good bunch, for the most part.

I’d heard that the Real Science Odyssey biology curriculum level 2 could be used for high school, and that the author had posted extensively about how to use it in a coop setting.  I have read both posts, figured I could make the curriculum work, and away we go.

All my students were responsible for purchasing their own copies of the curriculum.  Our coop tech guru magically got us access to Google Classroom, so I made weekly postings about reading assignments and what papers they would need for each class.

Lecture: Characteristics of Living Things

Materials: a decent microscope (more on that later)

Because this was our first week back, half the class was given over to general housekeeping before we could get started on the book.  The idea of what constitutes “living things” does vary somewhat – some things everyone agrees on, but others are subject to interpretation. Ask a room of scientists whether or not viruses are living things, and sit back to watch the feathers fly.

She has a plot study scheduled for this week, but we pushed it off in favor of getting to know the microscope. 

About that microscope: What you get is, of course, going to be dependent on your needs and your budget. Particularly the budget.  If you’re working with middle- or high-school level, though strongly advise against purchasing the cheap “kid” microscope kits, particularly if you have a student with a reasonable interest in science.  Look on eBay or surf Camel Camel Camel for a decent quality student microscope – they can be had for under $50, and are well worth the purchase.  I’ve had good luck with AmScope, but other brands like Omax or Celestron make good products as well.

Posted by on September 12th, 2017

The dangers of Siri

Writing prompt: Disgruntled worker takes revenge by regularly sneaking into office of nemesis and using their voice activated remote controls to screw with their life (readjust household thermostat or lights, changing scheduled appointments, etc)

Posted by on June 8th, 2017

Cooking School for Kids: Chicken Paillard

Today’s menu: chicken sandwich wraps
Shopping list:
Chicken breasts
Panko bread crumbs
Egg whites
Salt, Pepper
cooking oil
lettuce/tomato/wrap filling other than your protein

Skill: paillard, touch testing meat for doneness, breading, panko crumbs

Kids seem to love chicken, so it would seem to be the obvious protein to teach. On the other hand, it can be frustrating as a teaching tool. The shape of a breast is incredibly uneven, sizing is unreliable. As a bonus, it’s the only food I can think of that, when cooked improperly, can be simultaneously raw AND overcooked. And what about cook time? A small breast can be done in 6 minutes, but a large one can take 6 minutes to a side.

So, let’s get to today’s lesson.

1) Uneven shape. The thickest part of a chicken breast can be as much as four times thicker than the thinnest portion. As a result, by the time the thickest part is safe to eat, the slender end may be approaching shoe leather. The fix: even out the thickness of the breast.

You will need:
a chicken breast
plastic cling wrap
something to pound with (I prefer a rolling pin, but you can use a small, heavy frying pan or an unopened can)

Directions:

Cut two pieces of plastic wrap, about 12″ to a side each. Place the chicken breast between the two pieces and gently strike with the pounding tool. I like to start at the thinner end and use the tool to gently “spread” the meat out as I go. Continue until the breast is an even 1/4 inch thickness all over.

2) Get the coating to stick. There are all kinds of recipes out there to “coat” a protein. Before I found this method, the crumbs didn’t stick well, and those that did always fell off when being moved. This one works.

You will need:
3 shallow dishes (pie plates or cake tins are good for this), containing:
1) 1/2 C flour, mixed with 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1/4 tsp garlic powder
2) 1 egg lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water
3) 1 C panko breadcrumbs mixed with 1/4 c grated parmesan cheese
4) A dish or tray to receive the chicken

Directions:
Important: once your chicken is pounded flat, pat both sides dry with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Dredge the chicken first in the seasoned flour, then the egg wash, then in the panko. Press the crumbs into the chicken to help adhere, then rest in your tray for 5-10 minutes (it gives the flour and egg “glue” time set up).

Don’t have panko? Or just hate to pay supermarket prices for them? Here’s a secret: Japanese restaurants don’t buy panko, either. They make them fresh for use each morning.

Panko bread crumbs:
Slice the crusts off 4 slices good white bread. Tear into quarter-size pieces and run through a food processor. Toast about 10 minutes at 325F, stirring regularly, and watch so they don’t burn.

Cooking:

If you have more than 2 chickens, heat the oven to 200 degrees and use to keep finished product warm.

Heat 2 Tbs cooking oil in a 12″ skillet. When the oil is shimmering, lay 2 breaded chickens in the pan and cook, about 4 minutes to a side. Transfer to a baking sheet and pop in the oven to keep warm while you cook the remaining chicken.

Once your chicken is finished, you can cut it into strips and fill your wraps.

Posted by on April 7th, 2017

Curriculum for Health, PreK-12

Health is one of those vague areas that is both broad and awkward. And how do you decide what to cover? Is health stuff like “brush your teeth and don’t eat what you find on the sidewalk”? Or is it “here’s how the heart works”? So many choices. I think it’s a good idea to get a good spine going, and then customize it to how it fits your family. Better to customize your faith component than have someone else tell you how to do it, I feel. But I’m weird that way.

A free, complete health curriculum – all the way to high school.

Posted by on April 5th, 2017

Cooking School for Kids: The Three Course Meal

Today’s menu:
Caprese salad, skillet pasta, lemon sorbet

Today’s concepts:
one-pot meal, menu planning, balancing your ingredients

When my son was little, the idea of making and serving a three course meal at home fascinated him. “Can we do that at home sometime?”

Sure we can, kiddo. Here goes:

Job 1: Skillet Pasta

I love this recipe because it’s so, so, so simple. Build a sauce by warming some minced garlic in olive oil, then adding a large can of crushed tomatoes and other seasonings. Here’s the brilliant part: instead of boiling the pasta separately, add 28 oz of water and bring to a simmer, then add the pasta directly to the pan. Simmer 15-20 minutes, stir in a handful of cheese, and you’re DONE. No extra pot of boiling water, no draining a giant pot of pasta. And as an added bonus, the pasta absorbs the flavors of your sauce as it simmers. A couple of cheats:

  • You can use a jar of sauce in place of crushed tomatoes.
  • You can drop in add-ins (pepperonis, meatballs, chunks of sausage) with the pasta, it will cook in the sauce
  • The original recipe tops the dish with shredded mozz and bakes 5-10 min to brown it. I skip this by simply topping with mozz and putting a lid on it, and letting it sit with the heat turned off for 5 minutes.

Job 2: While the skillet is going, Caprese salad gave us an opportunity to practice knife skills, and learn a new trick – how to chiffonade basil. (Roll it up lengthwise, cut in 1/4″ intervals. You’ll end up with a pile of beautiful little basil ribbons.) When I asked them to arrange alternating tomato and mozzarella slices on their plates, most of the class went for the haute cuisine look – stacked straight up. One student wisely took into account the But How Do You Eat It? and went for artful but easy.

While the pasta was simmering, we began discussions on how to pick dishes for a multi-course meal. Everyone was familiar with the idea of appetizer, main course, and dessert, but then I asked, based on what we’ve already cooked in this series of lessons, what they would select for each slot?

One student immediately selected his greatest hits – cheesy garlic bread and pasta. Ooh, and souffle. Okay, I said, but let’s look at what you’re really serving: starch and fat (garlic bread), starch and fat (pasta), some starch, a little more fat (souffle). Where’s the veg? And then there’s also the time consideration.

While cheese and starch are all well and good, it can be overwhelming for three courses. If you finished off the meal with tiramisu, your guests would go into a starch-induced coma in record time. That is, if they made it that far – heavy app, heavy main, heavy dessert. So, we looked at our lunch:

Appetizer: caprese salad. A few slices of cool cheese and ripe tomato, with a little basil to keep it fresh. Not too heavy, but gets your appetite going.
Main course: skillet pasta. Hearty, warm, filling.
Dessert: A scoop of lemon sorbet. Good as a palate cleanser after a heavy, rich dish, and light enough to finish off the meal. I also figure since they’re cooking two out of three courses, they can take a shortcut on the last. (They also took teeny basil leaves to garnish the sorbet.)

I sent everyone home with a shopping bag that contained a jar of sauce, a box of pasta, a few cloves of garlic, and a directive to cook for their families. Best homework ever.

Posted by on April 3rd, 2017

Cooking School for Kids: Tips for Roasting Vegetables

Roasting vegetables is pretty hands-off, for a hearty side dish. Thicker, heavier vegetables will take longer to roast than those with a lot of water in them – but you can roast them in stages, so everybody eventually comes out at the same time.

The procedure couldn’t be simpler.

  • Cut your vegetables into evenly-sized pieces
  • Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and toss to coat
  • Lay out on a baking sheet.
  • Roast until done.

That’s it. Basically. (But I also like to give it a squeeze of lemon before serving.)

Things to remember:

  • Roast similar things together: Check the roasting times. Cauliflower and broccoli get along great; tomatoes and carrots, not so much
  • Similar also means size: Cut your pieces into even sizes. Also, smaller pieces will roast faster than larger ones.
  • You can roast in stages: hardest veggies first, pop in the softer, thinner ones later
  • Don’t crowd the veggies: crowding = steaming. Distribute them over two trays if necessary
  • Don’t skimp on the oil: don’t drown it, but remember you need the oil to help achieve roastedness

Vegetable roasting times:

information from The Kitchn

Root vegetables (beets, potatoes, carrots): 30 to 45 minutes, depending on how small you cut them
Winter squash (butternut squash, acorn squash): 20 to 60 minutes, depending on how small you cut them
Crucifers (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts): 15 to 25 minutes
Soft vegetables (zucchini, summer squash, bell peppers): 10 to 20 minutes
Thin vegetables (asparagus, green beans): 10 to 20 minutes
Onions: 30 to 45 minutes, depending on how crispy you like them
Tomatoes: 15 to 20 minutes

Posted by on April 3rd, 2017

Teen and Family programs at the National Gallery of Art

Today’s cool thing: student and family programs (all the way up to teen art studio programs) at the National Gallery of Art. Check out the menu on the left side of the page; there are 1-hour guided programs for smaller children that include a docent, a story, examining one work of art, and a hands-on activity. Plus, the children are given a notebook to work in for the program.

For older kids, there are teen programs that include workshops, films, and behind the scene and volunteer opportunities.

Posted by on April 3rd, 2017