Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sixth Grade Waldorf: Geology

Geology was a fun subject to explore! I thought it would be a snooze fest, but like most subjects, if you can discover some interesting bits and find a way to bring them to your child....well, that's the Waldorf way isn't it?

Sometimes I read through subject matter and think, "How in the world will I ever bring this to the Boy in an interesting manner?" Actually, I think that when preparing for most subjects— but some are more difficult in teasing out those interesting, important bits.

In preparation for this block, we visited Fairy Stone State Park in southern Virginia. "Fairy stones are staurolite, a combination of silica, iron and aluminum. Together, these minerals crystallize in twin form, accounting for the cross-like structure. Found only in rocks that have been subjected to great heat and pressure, the stones are most commonly shaped like St. Andrew's and Roman crosses."

We started the block off with learning some basics about the earth: various names the earth has been given (Mother Earth, Gaia, and the like; it's structure; continental shifts and drift; earthquakes and volcanoes.)

We explored crystals and crystalline shapes. On the first day of crystals I spread some salt crystals on black paper and we looked at each under a magnifying glass.  What a thrill when he discovered that table salt crystals are cubes!  We compared them to rock salt, sea salt, sugar and sand.

We then made crystals from super-saturated sugar water.

Salt Crystals

Sugar crystals....rock candy!

We followed crystals with Minerals and Elements and the combinations that! In this section we pretty much went by the Waldorf proverbial "book." We studied igneous rocks, namely granite, then sedimentary – limestone, and metamorphic – slate, marble, and quartzite. We spent a little extra time on quartz and quartzite as the Boy has always had a "thing" about quartz.

We finished by following up with caves, fossil fuels, and metals.

I know this isn't really descriptive of all we did, and so may not be really helpful. I used various resources to get through this block, mostly from my local library. I am not typically fond of DK books, but found, for this particular subject, they worked really well. Lots of pix of different types of rocks with short descriptions. I also downloaded some science articles from the Waldorf online library. I followed the Waldorf outline of which elements, rocks, etc. to highlight, but found my own resources to explore.

The one main item I purchased was a set of sample rocks from another home school family. Towards the end of the block, after we had delved into properties and "met" many of the rocks in their natural surroundings, I opened the samples and arranged them on our dining room table/school space as a centerpiece that the Boy could play with anytime.

We took a family trip to Massachusetts during this block and took advantage of a nearby geological wonder: Purgatory Chasm State Reservation, a massive exposed vein of granite. The area also produces quite a bit of the gem, beryl, of which we found a piece.
The Boy at Purgatory Chasm outside of Boston, Massachusetts

  I had meant to visit a local limestone quarry during this block, but the winter weather caught up with us making our autumn shorter than usual.

Fom Hatch to Harvest

We did it. After several years of raising chickens for eggs, then adding meat birds to the mix, we finally accomplished a self-sufficiency goal: hatching our own chicken eggs, raising them to adulthood, filling the freezer, and replenishing the laying stock. (Previously our meat birds and new layers were bought as day old chicks from a hatchery.)

It was a sometimes disappointing, but overall exciting process. And I feel so satisfied opening the freezer to see 14 lovely birds, knowing what they were fed, where they lived, and how they were handled.

What a blessing to have the confidence to serve safe, healthy chicken throughout the winter. No recalls. No added yuck. Just pastured, organically fed chicken. Woo hoo!

So, to recapture the process, let me begin at the beginning. Which in our case started with the chicken, not the egg.

We are raising several breeds, trying to find the right mixture of egg layer/meat bird to food conversion ratio. (The most meat and eggs for the least amount of grain food.) Leghorns are fantastic egg layers. But as meat birds they just aren't worth the trouble, averaging out at about 2.5 lbs at 20 weeks. On the other hand, Cornish x Rocks make lots of meat in just a few short weeks, but trying to get them to propagate their own species is a no go...they need to be artificially inseminated. Plus they are just plain gross frankenbirds. (In my opinion.)

For the past two years we have worked with New Hampshire Reds, Barred Plymouth Rocks, and Ameracaunas. So that is what we hatched. (I tried some Leghorn eggs, too, but only had one hatch and grow to Ameracauna Leghorn mixed rooster.)

I'll not go into too much detail about incubation — there's lots of info on the web about incubating eggs. But here are some of the highlights:

I collected the eggs over 8 days, placing them in cartons then putting the cartons in a cooler in my basement. One end of the cooler was propped up on a brick. Two or three times a day I switched the position of the cooler, simulating the rotating that a mama hen would do. Simultaneously, I started up the incubator to get it warmed up and at a consistent temperature.


Let me just say that my incubator sucks. It is one of those square styrofoam jobs, about 15 years old. A friend gave it to me, for which I am grateful, but it still sucks. It is hard to regulate the temperature, and there is no humidity gauge. So, I went to my local hardware store and bought a thermometer/humidistat, in addition to using the included mercury-style thermometer.  After a few days the temperature finally hit 99.5 steadily. Time to add the eggs.

The eggs were situated in the egg turner, which is in the incubator. I really didn't want to have to hand turn the eggs several times a day. Mostly because that means opening the incubator, and mine is so hard to regulate. One thing I learned
 — put the incubator in a place that has a constant temperature. In February my house warms nicely during the day, but gets pretty cold at night, since we use a woodstove. My basement proved to have the steadiest, albeit coolest, temperature.

On day 10 I candled the eggs. (Yes, I had to open the incubator!) I made a homemade candler with a toilet paper tube and a bright Christmas tree bulb. As I candled I marked my observation in a notebook. Any egg I thought was not developing received a penciled "x" across its shell. Everything you read tells you that unfertilized eggs could potentially explode in the incubator, but since I am new at this, I put everything back whether I thought it was growing an embryo or not. (My percentage of "guesses" was about 80% correct...determined at hatch.)

And then I left them alone for 11 more days, just checking to make sure the temp and humidity were ok.

And finally...they hatched. And I left them alone for a day, although I spent many hours just watching.

After removing the chicks to a brooder, I completed the very unpleasant task of opening any unhatched eggs (After leaving them go for another 2 days, just in case.) It was gross work, but I wanted to see 1) how correct I was at candling and 2) what stage the chicks stopped developing so I could adjust whatever was needed.

Cute and Fuzzy

I found that I did a decent job of candling, erring on the side of thinking there was something growing when there was not, rather than thinking it was a dead egg when it was live. I now know that in the future I can remove any eggs that I define as "nothing is growing" without too much fear of throwing out a live egg.

I also learned that the embryos stopped developing at various stages. It seemed that the majority died either right before hatch or in late development but not feathered yet. My research has led me to lots of possible conclusions, but nothing definitive.

After two weeks, the chicks were moved out to the brooder in our garage, where they had much more room to grow. And eventually, as the weather warmed, they were moved to an outdoor coop to fatten up on grass and bugs and yummy (to them) tidbits. At that time, I did a basic evaluation, noting which birds I might want to keep and which would go.

Barred Rocks

I evaluated again at 16 weeks, whittling down the keeper list. It was at this time that I realized the Barred Plymouth Rocks were putting on size faster than the other breeds. After much discussion we decided to get rid of all the New Hampshire Reds. We were starting to have difficulty with the rooster attacking us and his hens. And their laying:food ratio was not as good as the Rocks. I wanted to keep the Leghorns, because they are the best layers; and the Ameracaunas for their lovely blue-green eggs; and the Barred Rocks as they proved the best meat birds of my flock. The Reds could go. (Please note: the particular strains of Rocks and Reds that I have may be different than those of someone else, so their results may be different.)

At 20 weeks we separated out the keepers (5 hens and one rooster) and the remainder were packed up for a road trip to the butcher.

Average weight after dressing was 3.5 pounds, with one 2.5 pounder at the low end and a 7.5 pounder at the high end.

Joad Longshanks, the Ameracauna/Leghorn mix and his Leghorn harem.