Reading and reading strategies are on my mind right now because of a course I am taking about teaching reading in the content areas. The course goes towards maintaining my certification.

I spent all of my school learning years reading every textbook like a novel. That is a whole lot of years reading from front to back with a useless highlighter in my hand.

Then I spent my years as a teacher using textbooks very little. I suppose I figured that based on my own experience, reading assignments wouldn’t necessarily be useful.

I’ve only just begun with this reading course, but it is clear that I never had training like this when I was originally certified. Never did we discuss how to improve comprehension or learn strategies that would help students search out and retain information from a text.

I am one of those people who likes school and thinks doing a little homework is a great way to spend an afternoon. If I am annoyed by realizing that I missed out on reading skills, what about those who suffer through school?

Perhaps in a future post, I’ll write about specific things I’ve learned, but I’m curious about where students, parents, and teachers in the school system are with with this.

Who knew that one is not supposed to read the entire book?

Do teachers teach reading strategies now?

If so, does it happen at all age levels?

Or are the kids still reading front to back with highlighters?


I like it when a little information from chemistry class can add a layer of depth to something that seems ordinary and unworthy of notice.  A melting ice cube falls into this category rather nicely.

My favorite behind-the-scenes fact about melting (and freezing, boiling, etc.) is that the temperature stays the same while the change is happening. That is a very cool little fact, because to explain it you have to go one more step and consider molecules, atoms and their motion. How does heat affect a molecule?

With some household items and a thermometer, you can gather some data in your kitchen that will demonstrate for yourself and the kids that while the ice cube is melting the temperature stays the same.

The experimental procedure is at the end of this post, but the basic idea is to freeze the bulb of a thermometer into a pan of water.

Preparing ice cube

(Focus on the set up here, and not what’s in my freezer!)

The ice cube will be the size of the pan, and the thermometer will record the temperature at the middle of the ice cube. Melt the ice cube at low heat. Record the temperature of the ice every 30 seconds until the ice is completely melted.

Yes, we actually did this:

Ice cube - Kelly taking data

I had help, but I think Plum refused to be photographed so there would be no evidence that she was involved.

Here is what you will notice while you are taking data:

Near 0 degrees Celcius (or 32 degrees Fahrenheit) you will record the same temperature for several minutes.

At this point, recording the data might get even more boring. Back when I taught high school, I could tell when students got to the melting point because they would start yelling out, “The thermometer is stuck!” or “Is it broken?!”

Here is what the data looks like on a graph:

Graph - ice cube

Starting at the bottom left of this graph, the temperature of the ice cube starts to rise from the heat of the stove. Then the temperature tapers off and stays constant while the ice melts. After that, the liquid water rises in temperature.

Why does the temperature stay the same while the ice cube melts if the pan is still on the heat?

Think of the solid ice cube for a moment. All of the water molecules are packed together in an orderly way so that the positive areas of one molecule can be near the negative areas of another. Positive and negative attract. This organization makes it a solid. Any single molecule would need extra energy to separate itself from the postitive and negative charges of the nearby molecules. You can feel this when you pull apart two magnets.

Temperature measures motion.

Although each molecule is locked into position, it is still able to vibrate or rotate in place. The temperature gives you an idea of how fast molecules are vibrating, rotating, or moving. As heat from the stove warms the ice cube, the frozen water molecules vibrate more and the temperature rises. Eventually there is enough energy for the molecules to overcome the force of attraction that holds them in place as a solid. That is melting. During melting, the extra energy that is available to the molecules is used to overcome their attractions to each other and convert from solid to liquid. The heat energy is not used to increase their motion, so the temperature on the thermometer stays the same.

Once the water molecules are all in liquid form, the heat of the stove causes them to move faster, so the temperature rises.

The key moment in this activity comes when people get annoyed that the temperature is not changing. The fact that the thermometer comes to a halt always seems to elicit a response. It’s an opening for discussion.

The frustrating part about coming to conclusions is that you cannot see the molecules in action, so you have to take what you know about ice and water, look at the data, think about what might be going on at the molecular level, and do some research. If nothing else, this actvity is a good lesson in data recording; we spent about an hour recording temperatures.

Main ideas

  • Molecules are always in motion.
  • Temperature measures their motion.
  • Applying heat to molecules can make them move faster.
  • If there is enough heat energy, the molecules overcome their attractions to each other and reorganize.
  • The reorganization is called phase change, in this case, melting.

Experimental Procedure

It is much easier to take the data for this experiment with two people.


  • ThermometerThermometer (Preferably a nice tall one that has a range from roughly -20 to 100 degrees Celcius)
  • Small sauce pan
  • Stopwatch (or method of measuring in seconds and minutes)
  • String
  • Duct tape
  • Space in the freezer
  • Tap water
  • Data table with two columns: Time (s) and Temperature (C). Write in the times before you start with intervals of 30 seconds (0:00, 0:30, 1:00, 1:30, etc). Our times went up to 65:00.
  • Lots of graph paper or a spreadsheet program

Ice cube data table


Day 1

  1. Taped thermometerFill the saucepan almost to the top with water and put it on a shelf in the freezer. There should be enough space above the pan to suspend the thermometer. I used the rack above my saucepan to tape the thermometer into place.
  2. Use the duct tape to attach the thermometer to the rack above the saucepan so that the height of the thermometer bulb is in the middle of the water. Don’t let it rest on the bottom of the pan.
  3. Attach string to the top of the thermometer. It will be used during the melting to keep the thermometer in place while the ice cube melts and moves around.

Day 2

  1. Have the data table and stop watch ready.
  2. Turn the stove on low. If electric, allow it to heat up so that the temperature is constant. Leave the stove at the same setting throughout the process.
  3. Carefully get the pan out of the freezer and put it on the stove.
  4. Take the first temperature measurement and start the stopwatch immediately.
  5. Record the temperature every 30 seconds. A good method is to have one person keep their eyes on the thermometer and stopwatch, ready to call out the temperature measurements. The other should write them down on the data table.
  6. Use duct tape to attach the thermometer string to a cabinet directly above the saucepan. Ideally the string will keep the thermometer at the same height and in the same general spot in the pan as the ice starts to melt.
  7. Get comfortable and record the temperature every thirty seconds until all of the ice is melted or until any remaining ice floats across the pan away from the thermometer.
  8. Enter the data into a spreadsheet program and plot a graph (chart) with it.

I like the Impressionists at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.  And every once in a while, I like to take a look at Thomas Cole’s “The Voyage of Life.” However they are in opposite sections of the building, and a person can get tired taking in all of the art in between.

When we started going on lots of field trips as new homeschoolers in 2003, we figured out a way to view some art with the kids and roll in some other activities, too.

I shouldn’t claim it was only for the kids.  I never was one for going through every single room of a museum. The only thing I can remember from school museum field trips is my bag lunch that had a soda can wrapped in aluminum foil. So the plan we came up with works very well for me.

Here’s what the kids and I do for fun at the National Gallery of Art:

Step 1.  Take a handful of change because there are a couple of fountains in the building. Enjoy the seasonal flowers they have placed around the fountains and make a whole lot of wishes.

Step 2. Pick one section of art to visit and go enjoy it.

Step 3. Promise yourselves gelato as a reward after you’ve viewed that section.  You’ll be tired from standing and walking, so you’ll deserve it.  The gelato counter is downstairs outside the cafeteria, between the west and east buildings (near the gift shop).  Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s GELATO!

Step 4. Enjoy the neat looking waterfall that you can see through the glass wall near the cafeteria.

NGA waterfall

Step 5.  Ride the moving sidewalk. As a parent, you might be tempted to sit on the benches at one end and let your kids ride it alone and walk back a few times. I say go for it.  Our kids recommend that any unaccompanied minors keep a straight, serious face for this part. Something that says, “I’m erudite and I belong here.” Otherwise the guards waiting at the other end lecture them about fooling on the moving sidewalk. Frosty, our eldest, further recommends walking over to the nearest painting and staring at it meaningfully for a few seconds to throw the guards off even more.

NGA moving sidewalk

Step 6. This step can be done throughout your entire museum visit. It’s called “Count the Exposed Body Parts.” Ahem. Yes, those body parts. Everyone’s already looking at them secretly anyway, so you might as well count them. I’ll leave the counting method up to you. I can only advise ahead of time that you keep score with discretion. It’s embarrassing when your child screams out, “That’s 17 butt cheeks!” (In our defense, this game only started after the girls reached the mature ages of 11 and 8.)

And there you have it.  Have fun so that everyone wants to go back.

P.S. Thomas Cole painted two versions of “The Voyage of Life.” The other is in the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, NY.  My mother and I think it’s the better version. And it’s right up the road from the Saranac Brewery that has a tour and samples.

First day of school a couple of years ago.

First day of school a couple of years ago.

We are a homeschooling family, and we live right across the street from our local elementary school. This means that we are aware of lots of public school activities like the Halloween Parade, Kite Day, Tie Dye Day, and Slip and Slide Day. Today is the first day of school in our county, so the street was lined with cars this morning and things were busy outside the window.

This is the first year that I have not been ultra-prepared for starting school with the girls. Usually by now I’ve purchased supplies and a planner. I’ve mapped out curricula. I’ve typed up some lessons. I’ve made resolutions about schedules and goals. Not this year.

It’s nice to be a little more relaxed about things. My eldest daughter, who goes by Frosty the Snowkid on this blog, has been enrolled in Keystone Middle School since January. We’re very pleased with how she’s doing there. They are more demanding in a traditional way which matches her academic inclinations. Keystone requires lots of reading, writing, and research, which she likes. If I were in the mood to make resolutions about her homeschooling year, I would say that I need to work on supplementing her experience with hands on activities (field trips, microscopes, etc.).

My younger daughter, a.k.a. Plum, announced last spring that she wants to be unschooled. Who am I to stand in her way? She is not of the same temperament as her sister, plus I’m less nervous about homeschooling her at any given grade since I’ve already been through it once. Maybe a more relaxed attitude will do away with the tantrums we both have on days when math goes horribly wrong.

Unschooling or not, I am declaring this Wednesday, the 26th as our first day of school. And about the only certain plan I have involves buying new dry erase markers.