Sunday, October 11, 2015

Teaching Kids About Evolution - Human Evolution

Evolution Unit Study

Lesson 9: Human Evolution

Becoming Human
Six million years ago chimps and humans shared a common ancestor. In the years in between then and today, numerous different human-like creatures lived on the planet. "Lucy," the name given to a 3.2 million year old fossil found in Africa was the species Austrolopitheaus Afarensis. From the waist down she was like a human, but from the waist up, her features were more ape-like. Living in a tropical rain forest, it is believed that some ape like creatures developed legs that enabled walking thus giving them an advantage over certain other apes.

This video describes several species of early humans which evolved from Austrolopitheaus Afarensis. Some of which lived only to evolve into other species and others of which died out. The traits common and unique between species closely related are explained in detail.

Neanderthal were a species of early human which lived at the same time as Homo Sapiens, 35,000 years ago. They lived primarily in Europe and western Asia and were well adapted to survive in the cold climate of the period. 

Neanderthal: Episode 1 - Evolution History Documentary showed the species living their lives. Separated into small family groups of 7-20 people, they lived in caves and ate mostly meat. They were great hunters, cared about members of their clan and rarely lived to the age of 40. 
(Don't let the video preview image scare you away from this one.) It is worth watching.

Neanderthal: Episode 1 - Evolution History Documentary

The video From Ape to Man followed the discoveries of different human like species during the 1800s and 1900s. When Charles Darwin wrote about his evolution theory, the scientific world didn't pay much attention. Several years later his ideas gained popularity and anthropologists began searching for "the missing link." At first scientists believed they would discover one species which would be a transition between humans and apes, but after several different discoveries, their ideas changed. Then, discoveries of different species of human-like creatures were found which were thought to have coexisted. Different from the first video, the perspective of this video follows discoveries and is another one worth viewing.

 Ape to Man: Evolution Documentary History Channel 

Birth of Civilization was a video which served as a good transition between the human portion of the evolution study and ancient history unit studies as it explained how people began living together in groups.
Birth of Civilization 


After learning about how humans evolved, the kids added pictures of ancient pre-historic species of human-like creatures to the timeline.

The were surprised to see how close to the top of the timeline the human-like creatures lived.

Adding them also made it clear that humans did not live at the same time as the dinosaurs, but did live at the same time as early three-toed horses, wooly mammoths and other early mammals.

Check out these great blogs full of educational activity ideas.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Antonio Gaudi Mosaics

We created Gaudi inspired mosaic pictures.

Antonio Gaudi, from Spain, was an architect who decorated his unique buildings with irregular shaped mosaic tiles. After reading about Gaudi on the internet, we followed this project from Art Escoela.

First a simple animal shape was drawn with a black marker.

Next, the animal was filled with colorful marker created tiles.

My oldest daughter hid a sun and a few houses in her mosaic. Can you see them?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Cenozoic Era Creatures

Evolution Unit Study

Lesson 8: Cenozoic Era Creatures

The first mammals evolved during the Mesozic Era, but after the mass extinction event which wiped out the dinosaurs, those mammals began to develop individual features. Horses, elephant, and hundreds of other mammals developed unique characteristics which enabled them to thrive. As the mammals continued to evolve, so did the reptiles and fish. Unique creatures such as turtles, lizards, and crocodiles became abundant. Grasslands spread across the land and with them mammals such as cattle and deer became equipped to survive in their new environment.


During the Cenozoic Era lesson, the kids learned to use the photo copier in order to create images for the timeline. This time they learned to use the internet and printer to accomplish the same thing.

First they searched the internet for images of creatures they wanted to place onto the timeline. Then they copied the images and pasted them into the program Inkscape. Inkscape is a graphic editing program which can be downloaded for free from the internet. In Inkscape, they resized their photos to fit onto one sheet of paper and then printed them out.

Although they didn't do much graphic editing within Inkscape, this simple exercise gave them exposure to the program and they learned how to find relevant graphics on the internet.

Cenozoic Era Videos

The Cenozoic Era also gave rise to human evolution which will be the subject of the next lesson. The last great ice age when the wooly mammoths and saber toothed cats ran wild was part of the Cenozoic Era as well as modern humans living today.

The following list of videos provide a good overview of how creatures evolved during the Cenozoic Era.

And the Mammals Laid Eggs
For much of history the continent of Australia was separated from the rest of the Earth's land mass. Therefore, the creatures which evolved in Australia are the most unique on the planet. Poison, pouches and combinations of features found now where else (platypus)....This video describes several Australian animals and their history of evolution.

The Evolution of Humans 
Each creature alive today has unique features which has enabled it to survive. Hammerhead sharks have heads unlike other animals. This video explores how the shape of various creatures has given them an advantage which has ensured their survival.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

German Pretzels

Now that we are back in America many people have asked how will the kids keep up their German? Well it is a challenge.

As soon as we moved back to America, my oldest took the CLEP exam for German. She was two questions away from a perfect score and earned herself 12 college credits. I'm thrilled. Now that she is fluent, I want her to retain the skill. So keeping up with German is a language priority.

Here are a few ways the kids are staying connected.

All three kids are still doing DuoLingo and loving it. DuoLingo allows language students to follow each other and earn points. So in addition to sending my husband messages, they have personal goals to keep their streak going as long as possible. In other words, if they spend 15 minutes or so per day on DuoLingo, they keep their streak going, if they miss a day, the counter resets. To keep their streaks alive, they even practice on Saturdays and Sundays.

DuoLingo is an easy way to stay connected, but there are a few other languages opportunities we have found. My oldest made a connection with a local German exchange student and asked her if she likes to eat schnitzel und Pommes? We purchased lots of books in German at all different levels, so the kids can read in German at home. There are books available in German on the internet. My daughter enjoyed some of Aesop's Fables through The Baldwin Project. We purchased music in German and you can too through iTunes. Deltev Jocker and Rolf Zuckowski are two artist that produce nice kids music in German.

Last, but not least, my daughter is cooking in German. Cooking in German is actually quite different than cooking in America. In addition to the written instructions being in a different language, measurements are different. Americans normally use cups to measure ingredients such as flour, but German recipes tend to measure ingredients by weight.

We all miss eating German pretzels. They were available at every corner bakery all across the country. We became addicted. Although, big soft pretzels are sold in America, they are just not the same. In fact they don't even come close to German pretzels. First, German pretzels tend to be dry, not buttery, cold, not hot, and eaten plain, not with mustard. Parents often purchase several of them and carry them in a paper bag as snacks for kids when they are on the go. Pretzels are much more common snack foods than fruit snacks, chips or granola bars. In fact, pretzels are a staple food and they became a staple for us too.

Once we were in America, I emailed my landlord, in German, and asked her to send a pretzel recipe. My daughter eagerly read, translated and baked pretzels.

They were pretty good, the technique still needs to be perfected so they really taste "German" but it was an excellent start.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Dinosaur Extinction

Evolution Unit Study

Lesson 7: We learned about the asteroid impact which ended the Cretaceous Period.

Scientists divide historic time into three eras; Paleozoic, Mesozic and Cenozic. Each era is further divided into periods. At the end of each era and period extinct events wiped out life. The extinction events which occurred at the end of each era were much more devastating to existing life. After each extinction event  new and different life forms were allowed flourish.

The first major extinction event began with a complete freeze of the Earth and happened at the beginning of the Paleozoic Era. The second mass extinction event occurred between the Paleozoic and Mesozic Eras and was brought on by a massive volcanic eruption in Sibera. The final mass extinction event was caused by an asteroid impact at the end of the Mesozic Era. 

Today it is widely accepted that 65 million years ago an asteroid struck our planet and wiped out  most life on Earth including the dinosaurs. The video below tells the story.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

College Credit at Home

Homeschooled kids often get a head start by earning college credits while still in high school. Since my oldest is 14 and very advanced in math I've spent several months researching this topic. Today many options are available for earning college credit thereby greatly reducing the cost of a college degree.

Here are three main ways to earn credit.

AP, CLEP and DSST are three different types of tests which can be taken and are accepted by universities. AP, or advanced placement exams are commonly offered by high schools which teach advanced classes such as calculus, English and history. CLEP exams cover many subjects typically taught during the first year of college such as American Literature, Foreign Language, Economics, Chemistry, Humanities, and Calculus. DSST exams tend to cover topics more typically gained through on the job experience such as business and computing.

Most undergraduate programs accept around one years worth of credits, or 32 credits total. They pick and choose which credits from exams they will accept. Sometimes they change their policies, and not all universities accept the same exams. That being said, passing a foreign language exam can earn potential undergraduates a whopping 12 credits. Passing most other exams result in 3 to 6 credits depending on the exam and score. Many universities like to limit the amount of credits accepted by testing to ensure students are capable of learning through more traditional classroom methods. So the bottom line is, testing can be an efficient way to skip ahead, but if the end university is known, it's best to double check with them in advance to see what credits they will accept.

2. Community College
Many undergraduate university programs will accept up to 64 transfer credits, or credits earned at another accredited institution. That means students could either take two years worth of classes at a community college, or one year of classes combined with 32 testing credits to begin an undergraduate program as a junior. Since community colleges tend to be cheaper than universities and testing cheaper than community college, this combination is an excellent way to save money on education.

Accreditation is key. There are many colleges offering classes, but not all are accredited. Again, if the university or final degree program is known, then it's best to check with that institution as to whether or not the credits earned at the community college will be accepted. If the final degree program is still being decided, checking the regional accreditation is a good idea. Here's a web link to help verify accreditation.

3. On-line College
Now that the internet has grown by leaps and bounds, many students are obtaining on-line degrees. Thomas Edison State College, Excelsior College and Charter Oaks State College are three big on-line degree institutions. What's really neat about several of the on-line programs is that students can earn a degree almost entirely through testing. They tend to accept most testing credits and even offer tests similar to course final exams which if passed, are another route for earning credit.

Students can learn at home, take AP, CLEP and DSST exams, then select an on-line school and degree program. From there, the students can study the material required by the degree program, enroll, take several tests  and wind up with a degree, or enroll and take the courses on-line to complete the program.

Accredited degrees are normally accepted by universities. Therefore, if the student were to earn an on-line degree and then begin a second degree at a university, depending on the similarity of the degrees, as much as three years worth of classes could be eliminated.

Just like the numerous options for educating elementary, junior high and high school level children there are many options for college level as well. The ideal scenario would be to know the final destination university and degree program and then select a testing/community college/on-line option to feed into it. Without knowing the final goal, much progress can still be made. Just remember, each university sets its own rules. The important thing is to look for accreditation.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Mesozic Era Creatures

Evolution Unit Study

Lesson 6: We watched videos about pterosaurs, dinosaurs and Mesozic Era sea creatures of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods and added Mesozic Era creatures to our timeline.

The Mesozic Era was the time of the dinosaurs. It can be broken into three time periods; Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous. The first flowering plants, marine reptiles, flying dinosaurs and first small dinosaurs evolved during the Triassic. During the Jurassic Pterosaurs were abundant. The Cretaceous gave rise to the first sharks, birds evolved and dinosaurs such as triceratops, and t-rex roamed the land. Mammals also made their first apearence during the Mesozic.

Miracle Planet Part 4, Extinction and Rebirth describes how volcano eruptions lead to a change in composition of the Earth's atmosphere. Among other elements, oxygen levels first rose and then fell dramatically to around 10%. The video explains how one change led to another such as the unique formation of mammal rib cages. In early species the rib cage completely surrounded the chest, but in later species, the ribs only surrounded the upper chest much like our ribs do today.

This list of videos provides a good overview of the creatures which lived during the Mesozic Era.

Largest flying Creature Ever - Pterosaurs Documentary
Scientists try to replicate pterosaur flight in this National Geographic video. Full of computer animation, this video describes different types of pterosaurs, typical pterosaur characteristics such as huge a breast bone, and landing tactics.

Dinosaurs Part 1 Extreme Survivors (Full Documentary)
Sauroposeidon were a species of long necked dinosaur which laid numerous small eggs. It's believed that the parents abandoned their babies (500 per season) and let them fend for themselves. T-Rex dinosaurs, on the other hand, are believed to have been devoted parents. This video explores different species of dinosaurs and their behavior characteristics.

Extreme Dinosaurs
Long neck dinosaurs, abounded during the Jurassic. During the Cretaceous the t-rex preyed upon creatures. It is believed that these two species didn't live at the same time. This video explores the possibility of a dinosaur even bigger than t-rex discovered in South America - giganatosaurus, living at the same time as the giant Argentinosaurus, the largest plant eater. While exploring the theory, scientists examine evidence that suggests these species of large dinosaurs may have lived in family groups.

Sea Monsters - A Prehistoric Adventure
While dinosaurs roamed the land, the seas teamed with life. This National Geographic video gives a historical fiction account of a dolichorhynchops (a pre-historic dolfin which lived during the late Cretaceous.) Following the dolichorhynchops and her brother as they journey through life, the video introduces several other sea creatures of the late Cretaceous.


After learning about different Mesozic Era creatures the kids added images to the timeline.

 Searching through books, they located creatures and sketched them for the timeline.

 They also photocopied creatures and cut them out for the timeline.

(cutting out a dinosaur for the timeline)


To see more of our evolution lessons, please visit our Science Page.

Check out these great blogs full of educational activity ideas. 
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