An Epic Nature Study Fail

As I posted earlier in the week, we’re house sitting at Tiffany’s house in Nebraska this week.

Tiffany’s house is fabulous.  It’s roomy and relaxing, with lots of white.  This week, it also has lots of something else.

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Ants.  Not tiny little back yard ants, but impressively large, black ants who march along as if they are on very serious business.

Tiffany is a rather live-and-let-live kind of person.  She lets insects pretty much do what they want, and they pretty much leave her alone.  So she warned me that they had suddenly appeared last week and said that I could do what I wanted about them once they left but that she was just letting them be.

Well.

I was not fond of the ants.  They had the unfortunate habit of appearing on my arms or legs as I was cooking in the kitchen, which did not leave me feeling calm and peaceful.  They also intruded on my cooking area, which I did not take kindly to as I do a lot of cooking and do not like sharing the space with giant interloping insects.

Live and let live, though…

So I did what any homeschooling mama would do.  I googled for key words like “kids science make humane bug catcher” and such and came up with this.

So we made a bug catcher!  Brilliant, huh?

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Um, no……

First off, these ants are huge.  We’re pretty sure they’re carpenter ants because they are not the dainty little ants we’re used to seeing.  So when you put the straw next to them, you have to put it right next to them and you feel like you’re trying to squeeze a hippo into a pair of panty hose.

Second of all, even though there is gauze wrapped around the straw you suck through, it is extremely unnerving to try to suck up a large ant.  Your brain will try very hard to stop you.  It is also extremely hard to convince your 9 year old son to suck up a large ant, even if he is usually pretty fearless about weird, gross and otherwise bizarre challenges.

But poor Alex finally acquiesced and attempted to suck up the first subject.

Nothing.

Turns out that big ants are heavy, and you have to put the straw practically on top of them.  Okay….

So he did that, and voila!  An ant got sucked right in…. halfway through the straw, and he was busily running back out of it.  This resulted in me shouting, “You have to suck more!” and Alex giving a mighty suck and then a very annoyed face.

“It tastes awful!  It’s like lemon, but awful!” he scowled.

I assured him that was impossible and it was probably just an odor that had been in the straw or jar.  Nonetheless, he refused to suck up another ant.

I recruited Toria next, who was not too keen on the idea despite her usual gung-ho attitude about anything nature related.  Still, she gave it a go — And promptly gasped, gagged and started looking for places to spit.

She announced that she’d just got a mouthful of the worst taste she’d ever tasted.

A google search confirmed our suspicions, that ants release formic acid (the same chemical that stings when they bite you) when they believe they are under attack, like if you try to suck them through a straw into a mayonnaise jar.

Yep, both of my poor kids had basically huffed ant toxin.

We ended up with one very annoyed ant whom we released outside, and a house full of absolutely safe ants remaining, because none of us are about to use that contraption again.

Still, they’re almost all gone today.  Live and let live does work pretty well if you have the patience (and get good at flicking them to the ground with an index card).

The bug catcher project site is full of videos of kids who successfully made one of these things.  I guess we just got unlucky.

I’m pretty sure our days of making bug catchers are over, though.  Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Five Good Reads (and one bad joke)

Happy Thursday!  We woke today to find some of that pretty white stuff all over.  I’m not sure I’m ready for winter but at least it waited until after September.

On the agenda today:

  • Have Victoria take her online CAT.
  • Do algebra with Victoria.
  • Start poetry lessons with Anna.
  • Have the boys do math on Dreambox.
  • Play in the snow.
  • Watch the crash courses on world history and biology with the three “big” kids.  We love these!
  • Read aloud to lots of children from lots of things.
  • Clean, do laundry, cook, repeat.
  • Find time to write at least one or two articles.
  • Throw educational things at Anna.
  • Make gluten free cupcakes with the kids and decorate them with ridiculous amounts of colorful sprinkles.  Those who know me know that I’m generally a health food tyrant, so this is big.  🙂

Here’s five interesting things I thought I’d pass on from elsewhere….

  1. Arts education (specifically painting) dramatically improved kids’ performances in math and reading. I really wish we could all just embrace art for the many fabulous things art does for kids (emotional outlet, creativity, beauty, expression, fun…) but if it takes math scores to convince administrators that children should be allowed to create then I’ll still take it.  Click here for the article on Yahoo.
  2. Looking for great high school biology courses? I love this post on LaPaz Home Learning about biology! Cell and Molecular Biology for high school. I am intimidated by the sounds of it but would love to try it with my girls.  I’m also floored by this full biology curriculum by Quarks and Quirks but I know it’s out of my league for doing on my own.  🙂
  3. I shared a bunch of cool links recently on A Magical Homeschool on Facebook. Check the page for pictures and info about solar flares, the winners for the best micro pictures of the years (amazing stuff), make your own bubble pages and more.
  4. I’ve started a series on gifted children on my national AP column. So far there is Attachment parenting your gifted child and How to know if your child is gifted — and why it matters.  If you’re up for some more great reads on gifted kids, Is it a Cheetah? is a wonderful article about how GT kids can appear in the wrong settings (such as schools that don’t support them) and this is a wonderful article about gifted teens and existential dread.  If you have a gifted teen and have not read up on that subject, I highly recommend it before your world goes several shakes of upside down.  I also recently started a yahoo list for parents of gifted teens.  If you’re in that boat and want an invite, let me know.
  5. Lastly, here’s a roundup of a few of my recent homeschooling articles: Minnesota makes free online learning illegal and then Minnesota reverses decision on free education ban and for some fun social studies projects, check out Fabulous projects to get kids hooked on social studies (Star Trek history lessons and such!) and 10 Signs you’re doing something right as a homeschooler. There’s also Coursera offers hundreds of the world’s best college courses free and Free 52-week Western history video course offered online for some pretty fabulous freebies.

I started this entry this morning. Since then, I’ve had my computer crash, did algebra, made lunch, started laundry and a few dozen other things, and now I’m finally finishing it. At least it’s still Thursday!

And okay, that’s way more than five reads, but it’s sort of grouped into five categories!  😉

As promised, though, one really bad joke to finish off…

    A farmer wants to know how many sheep he has in his field, so he asks his border collie to count them.

    The dog runs into the field, counts them and runs back to the farmer.

    The farmer says, “How many?”

    The dog says, “40.”

    The farmer is surprised and says, “How can there be 40 – I only bought 38!”  

    The dog says, “I rounded them up.”

    🙂

    Stem Cells 101

    From Biocomicals (creative commons license).

    And from Ask Kids:

    What is the Definition of Stem Cells?

    Glad you asked…
    They do cause a lot of fuss. Basically stem cells are cells that don’t have a predetermined function. Which means they can become anything. They can also do repairs, because they are able to divide endlessly as long as the organism they are in continues to live. They are marvelous little things. You can find more information here: http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/…

    Here’s some stem cell research myths.

    And here’s a video that explains about stem cells, where they’re found, what they do and more…