Jelly Baby Wave Machine

Libby has been working her way through the Physics IGCSE course from Sam Martell and got to the section about waves. There are some excellent resources (see my other article on YouTube Videos) out there but nothing quite beats building a wave machine to explore the motion of waves directly. We went to the Bradford science fair a year or so ago and saw something there that we just had to have a got at building.

first wiggleIt’s basically a long piece of duct tape with bamboo skewers stuck to it and jelly babies stuck to  the skewers. When you suspend the tape and wiggle one of the skewers at one end it causes a transverse wave to propagate down the line. The waves will exhibit all the expected behaviours just like any wave does it’s just in a non-conventional medium! It’s perfect for playing with waves and you can eat the jelly babies afterwards if you want. It was pointed out that you don’t need to use jelly babies and the at something more permanent could be used and that is true but it’s not as engaging as making science edible, in my opinion. So if you fancy having a go, try following these instructions and take a look at the video we made on youtube (links are all below). So onwards…


First your going to need some basic equipment:

  1. A roll of duct tape long enough to do twice the length you’re planning.
  2. Bamboo skewers
  3. Jelly Babies (more than you think! as some get eaten)
  4. 2 metal rods or thick wood dowels for anchor points at each end.
  5. Tape measure
  6. Clamp stands or some way of suspending it at each end.
Jelly Baby Wave Machine

Our pile of kit

Our pile looks like this on the right.

Start by laying out the skewers on the tape, 5cm apart. Mark the middle of each stick and make sure you line up the middle of the stick with the middle of the tape and keep them perpendicular tot he tape.

Putting the sticks onto the tape

Putting the sticks onto the tape

Do it alongside a ruler and when you reach the end lay another stretch of duck tape over t he top of the skewers to keep them in place. We used a second role of tape and kept them both running continuously.

sticks on the tape  

Alex and Libby kept at the layout of sticks

two heads


centering the sticks

Cassie worked on marking the middle of the skewers. We anchored a metal bar at both ends

anchor pointAnd when we were done the whole tape was 4.5m long. We then rolled it up to make hanging easier.

rolling up the tape

Then using a couple of lab stands clamped to the kitchen bench and table…

first suspensionWe loaded the jelly babies. As we did so we noticed that  not all jelly babies are the same and this caused the sticks to start to hang lower on one side than the other so we went for colour pairs, putting only the same colour sweet on the same skewer. This seemed to balance things nicely.

spearing the jelly babiesOnce all the skewers had a jelly baby stuck on each end your done. Make sure it does not sag too much by pulling the ends out a bit.

first wiggleAnd give it its first wiggle by moving the end of a skewer at one on up and down to start a wave. The tension and weight of the set up will only want to go so fast, so as long as you’re not brutal with it, you can send a beautiful wave down the length and reflection at the other end will send it back.

Finally we made a video of the machine in action. It’s here on youtube.

Jelly Baby Wave Machine 

So I hope you have fun making your own and do email or leave comments letting us know how you got on.

IGCSE Physics revision videos

I just found this set of video’s on YouTube. The channel seems to cover both Edexcel and Cambridge IGCSE physics. Libby too a loo at he waves video today and said it really helped. Often it’s a case of having something explained by someone else who inevitably does it in a different manner or uses different phrases. This chaps bio says he is a Physics Teacher at Sherborne School, Dorset, UK. Anyway, hope it helps with the revision, teaching etc.

Ben Ryder – YouTube.

Liquid Land: legacies of oil and power

For my Bronze Art AwardsI had to make a review about an art exhibit, and if you go to this URL you will find it!

have fun reading it!

If you have the time please answer these questions and post up the answers. (Click the title above to take you to  this posts page and the comment box.)

1. How does the review make you feel about the people in the pictures? Do they make you feel sorry for them or sad that they live there? Or do they make you feel happy they got back to where they used to live?

2. What would you have done if you were in the Ukrainian women’s position?

3. How do you feel about her idea of using her father’s butterfly pictures in her “Liquid Land”?

4. Would you go and see the exhibit?

Thank you for your help!

Shortcuts & Digressions

Shortcuts & digressions is a collection of contemporary sculptures which contain with in them selves a story, mood or sense of being felt by the artist.

We went round Norwich castle were the exhibit was being shown while we were on holiday and I thought I would have a look. I especially liked:

  • You Can’t Touch This by John Frankland

A wall of laminated Polythene stretched across wooden frames. It is shiny, giving a modern feel. Like an office building in a city, with glass windows all the way up it. And yet the yellowy colour is more like a warehouse. Maybe it is a lift into a space ship? Can you see through it on the other side? the intrigues, like these, about it and what it is make you want to open the inset door like frames. Or even just touch it. To me it shows the future and the doors we may pass through.

  • Untitled Stile (teenaged version) by Adam Chodzko

Bright blue gloss paint on a wooden stile. There are dents in the wood as if it has seen ware before, and the paint has given it a new lease of life, made a new. Though the stile then seems strange, urging you to go over, like one of life’s little obstacles. It reminds me of walks in the dales with my family, but also of passing from one place to another as with a real stile you must pass over, but you may not see the place your in again.


  • Climbing Around My Room by Lucy Gunning

A video of a journey, it starts and ends in exactly the same place and is on a continuous loop. It focuses on a young woman in a bright red dress as she climbs around a room empty save the few furnishing on which she climbs. The footage shows a journey, but also presents the childish nature in which we see things from a point of view were there are no risks present in our minds. It is the journey of a childish figure in the small world of a child. I like the concept of this piece, but at the time I didn’t really understand what it was trying to say.

  • Ego Geometria Sum VIII: The Horse Aged 11 by Helen Chadwick

A wooden box with pictures of ancient crumbling pillars on its sloped sides. It looks like a small gymnastics horsebox or a child’s desk. The top has a picture of a child’s fingers resting as if to open a toy box, and pictures of stationary like it is a desk. Its colours, that of old photos, and the broken pillars on its side, and the other images, present a sad sort of remembrance of childhood, when things were new and unweather beaten. Over all it had a rather sad feel to it.

I Liked seeing a different style of art, as I have not seen a lot of contempory sculpture before. There was a written explanation, often quite lengthy, for each of the sculptures telling you what the artist was meaning, however I could not always see or feel it, so they just seemed odd.

I think I have learnt that often, everyday objects can present a completely new meaning if removed from their ordinary place and set in front of you, making you think.

Results Day -round one!

So it is a HUGE CONGRATULATIONS to Cassie after her exam results came through yesterday.

A* in Maths, A* in Biology and A in Chemistry!!!

Well done! We know you deserved it because we know how much work you did to become comfortable enough with the subjects to be confident at answering those exam questions.
It is also, of course, really nice to see that working otherwise than in school can give you just as good results as the more usual school route. Basically our Home Education is working!!!

I also want to say that the school we are doing the exams through has been great, with the exams officer emailing Cassie’s results to us at 7:10 am, so we had no long wait to build up nervousness! I have already thanked her, and we shall be contacting them in September to arrange round two.

That is another point, of course. This is just round one for Cassie, and the first round for all of us as a family. Cassie has already started her English Language and English Literature courses, this time a correspondence course with Catherine Mooney, and is beginning to study physics. I think her achievements so far stand her in good stead, she knows what it takes to get what she wants. Libby is now looking at how much of her maths book is left to finish before she can sit the exams too. So, onwards and upwards for us all!!!

After the rain…

The rain has thoroughly soaked the garden and totally filled both of our water butts, so no worries anymore about draughts! Now we just have to get out there and get tidying up the plants, harvesting fruit and maybe sowing a bit for whatever is next.
At the moment there is a constant flow of courgettes, potatoes whenever we need them and raspberries, red currants and gooseberries in need of picking. The peas, lettuce and carrots are still coming, although we are passed the best. I should be sowing more lettuces, but there is always something else happening, so they will have to wait!
It is fun having potatoes in the garden, although they only supply us for a few weeks of the year. I think it is one of those important lessons for the kids on where food comes from, and there is always excitement to see how many, and how big, the potatoes are lurking under the plants. For the past few years we have taken part in the Potato Council scheme for schools and home educators of primary age kids. Once you register, they will send you grow packs of two types of potato to try, with full instructions. All you need is a bit of space, sun and some compost.

Home Education when ill!

What a week! Last weekend I injured my knee, and although at first I muddled through I ended up having to rest it pretty constantly. This is the sort of thing that really effects home education. Being ill in a normal job just means that you stay at home, but when you are supposed to be guiding and organising kids work there is a certain feeling that when you stop, they stop! I tell myself that we will catch up with things, and that learning is not a rigidly linear event, but I usually do badly at convincing myself. All in all, I always feel guilty when I get ill.
Luckily we have Neale at home at the moment, so he was able to do a lot of the stuff. Plus it is “not school holidays” so our work schedule is cut down. And the girls are working much more at their own rate, with only a few pointed questions getting them involved in their courses. I am still desperate to get back to it, I am missing the cooking and garden too.

Art awards and heatwave


We have been working with a home education group in a local gallery to enter for the Bronze Art Award, which requires entrants to visit exhibitions, take part in art workshops, discover and describe an art hero and pass on art skills. All elements need documenting, and then putting together in a portfolio. Friday was an art workshop combining a couple of “passing on art skills” sessions with a check through portfolios to make sure everyone was nearly finished. Both girls are entering for the award so this meant a hasty run round collating pages and deciding on a book format for the finished product. Cassie had most to do, as she put off starting until after her recent exams were finished.

We also wanted to get it all done by Thursday lunch time so as to join another home ed family by the river Wharfe, for an afternoon of swimming in the heat! I had to sit on the bank with baby Sam, whilst Neale took the kids into the river, but we did get to splash our feet to cool down. Everyone had wetsuits, which allowed them to mess about in the water for longer, and it only took a little while in the sun before folk were hot enough for another dip in the cool river. Being able to take advantage of the quiet midweeks is a huge bonus of home education. We get quite used to visiting empty parks, museums and galleries, so that busy weekends and school holidays, when you have to queue for things, can be a bit disappointing.

The workshop also went well. It was hotter on Friday, but we were in the nice air-conditioned gallery then, and had the memory of the lush, sunny riverside to bolster us against the day in the city. Now the girls have a few weeks to finish their portfolios before our next session, and the hot weather goes on.

Our Educational philosophy and daily routine

There are different styles of home education, some folk adhere to strict timetables, with a wide range of subjects, others adopt educational styles available in more exclusive private schools like Steiner or Montessori, whilst a large portion of the home ed community dabble in autonomous learning, that is, a totally child led approach. The key thing home elders can usually agree on is that the educational style has to fit with the child and family involved. For some parents autonomous learning is too much of a leap of faith that nothing will get missed, whilst for a child removed from school due to unhappy circumstances the strict “school at home” could leave them no better off than they were. It is important for parents who have made the decision to home educate to consider their child carefully to see what will work best. And it must be remembered that the style can change! Autonomous primary school learning can give way to strict courses leading to qualifications quite naturally when a child is ready.
For us, as for many, a hybrid approach has worked well. Our days start with a quite formal session doing Maths or English from workbooks and textbooks. I have to be fully available for this ready to assist as required. There is no fixed time for this session, although I try to keep it under an hour to minimise fidgeting, as people finish exercises at different rates. After a break the work steps down a gear, the younger two may work on the computer, or do some games or activity with me whilst the older two tackle something from a correspondence course, or towards a project. Then we all gather for lunch.
After lunch is cleared up, and some steam has been let off, or we have gone for a walk or something, the afternoon tends to be time to get creative. We do art or play games, cook or they may monopolise me or their dad into some experiments. Cassie, and increasingly Libby, may also get encouraged into doing an hour or so of her studies, and I try to be available, if needed, for feedback or understanding. Often the boys will disappear for chunks of the afternoon to embark on epic adventures with various toys, sometimes Libby joins them.
Everything comes to a halt around 4pm because of minecraft! This is the time their friends are also available to play, so it allows a little social contact too. I can then sort out tea without too much distraction.
As you can see our day becomes less and less structured, and there is lots of room for changes depending upon current activities. We have found this balance works well for those days we do not have other activities outside the house. When we are going out, we can usually fit the formal session in first, especially the girls, but it can be difficult to get stuck into anything after being out and about. This is probably because I am more of a morning worker, and I am sure it would be different for other families.
A final comment must be included before you all get a rosy picture of idilic organisation… very few days follow my plan exactly! Home education requires a lot of give and take, especially with more than one child, but having a guideline keeps you sane, and gives you something to fall back on when things get too chaotic

Doing My Exams

Exams_kitI have recently sat my I/GCSEs for Chemistry, Biology and Maths. It was a very different experience to anything I am used to, and I found that there was a lot of revision I had to do, although reading through a revision guide for each topic helped a lot, it reminded me of what I had already learnt. You don’t want to take ages over reminding yourself, but doing it in short sessions with quick breaks helps loads, so you don’t waste the time you have. I also did a lot of past papers so I could see what I had remembered and it meant I know what sort of questions and answers appear on most papers. Somethings I only know from doing the past papers. Writing out crib sheets on what you need to remember the most, to focus your last minute revision, is a good idea too.

Just before each exam I didn’t really feel nervous, not until I sat down and the reality caught up with me. Some people can get quite anxious about an exam, but it doesn’t matter what other people think, you just have to be calm and do your best. All the examiners involved were kind and willing to help. I was usually in the same room as a few A-level students taking their exams, so it was a bit quieter than being with lots of other students all dong the same as you. It is strange sitting an exam, especially if you have not been in that situation before. Every sound is magnified in the quiet, but everything going on around you is irrelevant, only your own work matters.

Now that I have finished my exams I do feel a sense of relief, but doing them really gave purpose to what I had been learning before. And now I just have to wait for my results!

Time lapse frog spawn

One other idea that we tried out a while ago involved frog spawn. The kids had done the usual trip to their grandma’s pond and collected some frogspawn. The idea being you watch it hatch out and then release it back to the pond it came from. We thought it would be an interesting idea to set up a camera and take a timelapse of the process. It’s not hard. A home computer,a webcam and some inexpensive or free software usually is enough. We set this up in the kitchen with a fluorescent light and left it for about a week, taking one photo every 30 minutes. The result is quite stunning.

We uploaded it to youtube and you can see it here.

Alfalfa sprouting

OK, so I couldn’t resist posting this on. Using a webcam microscope attachment we took a timelapse of an alfalfa seed germinaring over night. The whole experiment took 36 hours and was shot on low magnification. Let me know what you think.



Mushroom and onions

I thought it woud help to see the sort of image that you can capture with a reasonable priced microscope at home with basic kit. So here are a couple of photos.

Onion Skin

First is the classic onion skin as mentioned earlier: It’s taken on a microscope-webcam set up.

Onion skin.

Onion skin.

The webcam fits in place of the objective lens that you normally look through so you don’t get  the same picture as you can see when you loo through the scope. However it does give a good reliable and easily used set up. Resulting in a rather nice”text book image”.

Mushroom Spores

The next shot was taken using a regular digital camera pointing down the scope through the objective lens used to view the image. This tends to give almost exactly what the observer can see if they look directly down the scope.

Mushroom spores

Mushroom spores


Both images were easy to obtain and Alex (aged 10 at the time) was able to do most of the work himself with some supervision. We spent quite some time looking at different things under the microscope and quite often get it out to examine something that one of the kids have found in the garden or on a walk etc.

If you need any suggestions or have questions leave a comment and I’ll see what I can do to answer. I’m not an expert, just a parent trying to give my kids the chance to look a things in a different way.


We’ve tried a few from the basic plastic ones just to get you interested in what you can see to a little more expensive and capable of some quite reasonable reproductions of those text book photos like the “Onion Skin” slide. It’s like all things, you get what you pay for and I wish I had paid a little more in the beginning, rather then keep trying cheaper models in the hope of finding the right one. You don’t want to be spending time sorting the optics, the student’s will get restless and move off and you will have wasted time and money.

These are some scopes that look like they fit the bill from low end and mid range. I’ve also added a couple of items that are basically pre-prepared slides. These already have specimens on glass so all you have to do is up them on the microscope stage and view them. No hassle and a great way to get started.

Halfway through her exams

Halfway through her exams and I am pleased with the way Cassie is dealing with exams. We are doing past papers nearly every day, marking and reviewing them together to see how she is performing in the time and what she needs to look again at. Right now I am concerned that her maths has got a bit rusty whilst she concentrated on biology and chemistry, but we have time to polish things, so we’re still feeling pleased. Cassie actually left her first exam ( chemistry) a little early, because she felt she had finished!
We are, of course, looking forward to finishing and being able to do something else. I want to tackle some of my projects left on hold (sewing mainly), and Cassie says she wants to do some art and writing for her art award. She also wants to start English, so she can be more creative than she has been!


Exam time approaches

At present we are approaching the first of these qualification hurdles, with Cassie due to sit IGCSEs in Chemistry and Biology, and GCSE in Maths this summer. She is doing really well, but having no experience of exams makes it a bit daunting -for me if not for her. It is also hard not to see these exams as a test of HE in general. If she were in school I think she would be top stream, expected to achieve high marks. But without the whole exam culture of schools will she be able to match their performances? Have we let her down by choosing this lifestyle? I do know that she is a very different person to the general institutional teenager, and I am very proud of her efforts as she grasps the exam challenge. She is genuinely interested in her subjects, especially biology, not just practised in answering exam question. If she is not happy with her results we can always resit, and the second time round will be enlightened by having done it once.

Approaching Exams

Hello. As the stay at home parent, I have always had the main responsibility for organising our home education, as much as that is ever possible! We are now approaching the first real test of our choices to home educate, the qualifications. As we are quite traditional parents this does lead us to GCSEs. Although there are a range of equivalent possibilities, GCSEs are widely recognised and understood outside academia.