It was a good week. We continued the new slightly more relaxed approach which seems to be working well for everyone. I think the day that best showed me how this can work for us was Tuesday. We started the day with chemistry. We’ve been working our way through Fizz, Bubble, Flash. I really like this book as it combines fun (and relatively simple) experiments with good solid explanations. It’s organized by groups of the periodic table which gives a nice overview for a beginning student. We’re using it as our main chemistry text along with the Basher science books and The Mystery of the Periodic Table.
This week brought us to the non-metals. One of the experiments was to look at how phosphorus can clean pennies. The instruction was to put some pennies into Coke and leave it overnight. One of the nice things about Fizz, Bubble, Flash is that it outlines the basic experiment and then gives some suggestions for kids who want to do more. We decided to put pennies into a variety of liquids and see what happened.
More later on what we learned from our experiment. While we were looking through our loose change for old pennies the boys became fascinated with the dates on the pennies. I would tell them things like “I was five when that penny was made.” Or “Neither Grandma or Pop were born when that penny was made.” They found that amazing. As we were doing this I remembered that John’s math lesson this week was on graphing and data. I realized we had the perfect opportunity for a fun way to review graphs. We put our pennies in piles by decades, counted them (a good chance for David to practice counting by 5’s), made a table and a bar graph.
That may not seem like a big deal but my natural instinct in these kinds of moments is to think that yes, the old penny thing is cool but we need to move on to SCHOOL. We aren’t getting things DONE. Being more intentionally relaxed helped me to see the moment for what it was, an opportunity to learn from something they were already interested in. By the time it was all over we had spent most of the morning on chemistry and math. And it was good.
So, back to those pennies. The next day we took them out of the liquids and looked at them. By far, the most impressive penny way one from 1942 that was almost completely cleaned by the Coke. Surprisingly to me, many of the other pennies were clean also. It turns out that any acid will clean the pennies and many of the things we used were acids. We were also surprised to see that one of the pennies in Coke didn’t get clean at all. A few quick searches on Google and we had the answer. Pennies made after 1982 are mostly zinc with just a thin copper coating. Those pennies don’t clean as well in acid as the acid can actually take off the copper and then damage the zinc.
A complaint I hear a lot from homeschoolers about doing science at home is that “the experiment didn’t work”. I can’t emphasize enough that science is just as much about the process as the product. There were some fundamental flaws in our experiment: we should have made sure all our pennies were made of the same material (no post 1982 pennies) and we should have taken photos or had some way of remembering just how dirty they were “before”. Although we tried to pick pennies that were all about equally dirty, it was hard to remember afterwards what they had looked like before and to really appreciate how clean they had gotten or if some liquids worked better than others at cleaning. However, we learned just as much from thinking about why our results were different than what we expected and thinking about how we could have better designed the experiment than we would have learned from a neat little demonstration that gave us the expected results.
One of the pennies we found was a 1942 wheat penny. The boys were fascinated by it and the different design so we took another rabbit trail and researched different pennies a bit. One thing we learned is that if you have an old penny that might be collectible you aren’t supposed to clean it, it makes it less valuable. We were all amazed to discover that a 1943 copper penny is worth $1,000,000 today! Luckily, our penny is only worth about 10 cents so we didn’t really do any harm by cleaning it.
This was also a week where we tried to single-handedly destroy the unsocialized homeschooler stereotype. On Thursday we had three friends over for most of the afternoon. There were five boys engaged in a massive water gun and hose battle and then in hours of Lego play. The Lego play continued on Friday when some other friends came over. I’m not entirely sure what they were doing but they called it “Lego world” and it involved the creation of various Lego money (the colored pieces with the paper in the picture above) and there was some buying and selling of Lego goods (weapons, special pieces, Lego man parts).
I’m actually fairly proactive about making sure the boys have time to play with friends. But this week was all relatively last minute. Unusually, three of our friends called separately to see if I could help out by watching their kids. I think in weeks prior to my new attempt at being more laidback I would have said yes but then I would have stressed about when we were going to DO SCHOOL. I would have probably nagged and tried to fit everything in earlier in the week (and not felt like we had time for chemistry or the penny rabbit trails). In the end, we got about the same amount of school done, but just at different times and in different ways. I was genuinely glad to have the chance to help out my friends and the boys were giddy over all the playtime with their friends. All in all, a good week.