Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Math That Makes You Squirm!

Stumbled upon this math resource last night while Christmas shopping and took a closer look.  I like what I see!  It's math with an edge, a squirmy, icky, slimy edge that I bet a few kids out there might cotton to - especially if those kids happen to be boys in the 9-14 age range. 

Hone your math skills by figuring out how much cow manure is produced in the U.S. over a certain period of time, how many times your blood vessels could be stretched between LA and New York, how many coffee cups worth of sweat is generated by certain activities..........how gross can it get?  Apparently kind of gross, but still, thought-provoking for the right child who also happens to enjoy a twisted sense of MATH.  Eeewww. 

Probably a good math match for a 5th, 6th or 7th grader who is looking to get kind of grossed out.  I think I might know a kid like that!  Have fun checking these out.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Passport to Culture

I just placed this game on my wish list.  I LOVE educational games and enjoy browsing for them and finding good prices for them. Occasionally you stumble upon a gem, and this game might be one of those.  It's great to learn about the countries of the world and figure out where they are located on the globe; it's even better to become acquainted with the people and cultures inhabiting all of those countries, don't you think? 

We are watching Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman take a motorcycle journey all the way down through Africa, 10,000 plus miles in their series called The Long Way Down.  Max occasionally joins us for an episode, but be warned, there is some stronger language and adult-isms scattered throughout the episodes.  It is a brilliant journey in that Charley and Ewan are learning about the people of Africa, their ways of daily life, their customs and rituals.  This is the part that I am most curious about and I find myself wanting to know more.  Right now (with respect to the episode we'll watch next) they are heading into Rwanda.  I am enjoying this nightly ritual and love it when we find a series we can watch, especially when we find one we can all watch together comfortably as a family.  Learning together!  That's a big part of homeschooling.

This game would serve to help satiate some of the curiosity one might feel about how people of other countries live:

From Amazon:  Race forward in international geography, history, and cultural knowledge! You'll learn a lot quickly, this game is your passport to culture, geography, languages, and fascinating world discoveries! Go beyond basic geography game knowledge and make connections to broader global thinking! Passport to Culture is the unique, exciting multi-cultural board game where players circle the globe, uncovering mysteries of our amazing world. Test your knowledge of world cultures from Andorra to Zimbabwe. Travel north, east, south or west, visiting all the countries in between. Challenge your CQ (Cultural Intelligence) with fascinating, fun-filled questions about people and places, food and drink, world treasures, greeting and gestures, pivotal historical events, customs and traditions.

I'm already having fun just thinking about playing this game and learning.  

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Intrepid Lurker, That's Me

We have done a fair amount of traveling over the past couple of months and boy, it feels nummy to be home.  We just returned from a week's excursion to Chicago, the Windy City, for a conference that my hubby attended.  Max and I tagged along to hit all of those magnificent museums and see what we could see.  I can honestly say that my bones are weary!  In the last three months we have seen Portland and Eugene, Oregon, Austin, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Chicago.  But we saw some school-worthy exhibits and learned a thing or two along the way.  One of the more interesting diversions we embarked upon was a small-scale study to determine the pattern of car honking in downtown Chicago.  We used a stop watch at various intervals and counted honks and sirens to see if there was any sort of universal pattern to man needing to get somewhere impatiently.  Fun!  The data didn't yield anything terribly exciting, but still, it was a nice segue into 'scientific observation'.  There are a lot of people in Chicago who honk their car horns, for reasons I don't quite fathom.  After awhile it became background noise.

We bagged the Shedd Aquarium, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Field Museum.  Oh, the Field Museum!!  Be still my heart when it comes to taxidermic and taxonomic dioramas.  The mammal and bird exhibit was unbelievable and enchanting, once we came to terms with the knowledge that the animals just on the other side of the glass were once living, breathing animals going about their animal business.  Until those diorama-building people came around.......  We squealed with delight over the baby animals and how carefully they had been preserved.  The hummingbirds really caught my attention.  Max ran from case to case and kept yelling, "MOM!  Come and look at this!"

At the Museum of Science and Industry we toured the German U505 submarine that was captured in June, 1944.  That was the coolest thing - to poke around in that tiny space and try to imagine what the 59 German men must have felt during their tours of duty.  The history was palpable, especially as the tour guide described the events when the sub was commandeered by American troops that fateful day.  I kept thinking about the captain and the crewman (who subsequently was shot by the Americans in a gun fight) who had to climb the ladder up to the top hatch once the sub surfaced and face the Americans, what that must have been like.  Max was more interested in scoping out the bunks and trying to figure out how the men slept in those tiny places.  We both loved the experience.

After each romp through the museums, we always hit the museum stores to see what we could find.  That's when I turned into an intrepid lurker and slipped into the aisles to take notes in a notebook I keep stashed in my purse.  I found so many resources and filled a couple of pages worth to do some research on.  Museum store buyers do a good job of selecting out natural history/science/history resources that can be useful in a homeschool environment.  I also checked prices, knowing full well that there are ways around those higher prices.......like the library!

Over the next few weeks I'll post some of my findings.  We also found a very cool store in downtown Chicago called Marbles wherein the products are selected on the basis of their ability to stimulate your brain; intriguing games and puzzles, software and books.  I saw this particular book on the shelves and burst out with a giggle - of course, it had to be written into my notebook:

I Never Metaphor I Didn't Like: A Comprehensive Compilation of History's Greatest Analogies, Metaphors, and Similes

Probably more suitable for the adult audience, but gets high marks for cleverness

Oxymoronica: Paradoxical Wit & Wisdom From History's Greatest Wordsmiths

Ifferisms: An Anthology of Aphorisms That Begin with the Word "IF"

I'll try to post anything that's terribly interesting or worthwhile at looking into for your kids.  Hooray for museums and for museum stores!  

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Urban Farmstead

Munchie.  A two-week old Nigerian Dwarf goat and he's ours!

This has been the year of the FARM at our place.  We live on approximately 1/2 acre smack dab in the city, but not far from the local feed stores where I can stock up on chicken feed and other essentials that have become a part of our daily lives.  Something that has been cooking a long time in my brain is coming to fruition and I'm rather high on the experience!  In the spring we started a garden with three raised beds and a composter.  Check.  Lots of nummy food came out of those beds throughout the summer, food that forced me to expand my recipe repertoire and my cooking skills, which is a good thing.  We also signed up for the food boxes from an organic community garden here in town, so by all accounts, we were swimming in vegetables for many months. 

Next to follow were the chickens, which I've blogged about some.  It was an intense five week period of time while we finished the coop and fenced run and raised the little buggers into the five-month old sophisticated ladies they have become.  And yes, we have a resident rooster named Looster who so far has not annoyed our neighbors.  I keep checking with them to see if Looster is disturbing them and so far everyone has given me a good report.  I don't let the chickens out of their coop until 9 a.m. or so, and by then, everyone has toddled off to work.  Looster usually lets out three or four crows and is quiet through the rest of the day.  I sure hope that lasts.........good boy, Looster. 

Last week I came home after a visit to a farm where Max and I took a Barnyard Animals 101 class and announced to my husband that we are getting some goats.  As in I bought two baby goats!  After fifteen years being married to me, he didn't even bat an eye.  He even suggested we consider a milking doe so that we can make cheese and yogurts and enjoy what she has to offer.  Normally this would make me incredibly excited, but I need to understand all that is involved first.  A milking doe might be more than I can handle right now.

Max is over the moon about the two new babies.  We've been going to the farm to help bottle feed our two little guys and learn about their care before we bring them home.  We still need to build a pen in the barn and figure out a way to fence off the garden.  These guys will be neutered so they are called 'wethers' in the goat world.  Something we are learning along the way.

This is Chewie.  He's about a month old, so is slightly bigger than Munchie, but just as cute.  They are being well-socialized with lots of attention from all kinds of people during the day, which is great.  We also need to give some thought to how to keep them stimulated in our backyard by setting up some sort of obstacle course that they can climb all over on. 

I consider all of this farm stuff a part of homeschooling, because it's real and palpable, wonderful and practical.  The animals have served a very useful purpose for Max.  They are companions for him during the day and stress relievers when he needs a break from the math that is so heinous.  He takes regular breaks and heads out to the yard to commune with the critters and he comes back in refreshed and ready to tackle the next school thing.  We are both grateful for this urban farming experience.  Chores are fun!  Max's dad is getting a kick out of the antics of the animals, too. 

I hope to expand our compost pile next year and maybe plant some fruit trees, too.  Max's learning can't be tabulated in a grade book for this project; it goes deeper than that, I think.  His mom might be a little crazy, but she's crazy about the good stuff - baby goats!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Immerse Yourself in Another Language

Max says he wants to learn how to speak Japanese.  Sounds good to me!  We were at Costco yesterday and found some immersion software and I remembered reading about it on another homeschooling blog.  Rosetta Stone, of course, is the most expensive form of language program out there currently, but their price tag is ridiculous.  $600-700?????  I don't care how great they say their product is - that's too much cash to lay out.  If I was an international business person and needed to learn Dutch for a project and if my company agreed to pay for the Rosetta Stone software, then I might go a long with it.  But maybe not - I think it's wrong to pay those kinds of outlier prices and assist in justifying them.  I like the kind of karma where something is offered out of the idea of it being the right thing to do, not because it will make money.

Besides that, sitting in front of your computer with software is probably not going to increase your fluency all that much; you'd be better off attending classes or going to the country and diving into the culture to pick up the language.  Learning a new language is difficult and it takes a long time, not just a few intensive sit-ins in front of your computer.  Seeing that we're in the fifth grade, though, this software is a good fit. 

This package was $25 yesterday, a cost I could swallow without feeling any bitterness toward the manufacturer.  We played with it last night and Max really enjoyed it, mainly because you can record yourself as you pronounce words and listen to the playback alongside a fluent speaker.  It was fun!  He worked on learning the names of colors, numbers and some basic phrases.  He played with it again today out of his own volition, which is great.  Out of the offerings we found at Costco, Max picked the software to teach him Spanish.  We live in New Mexico, his cousins speak Spanish, he has friends that speak Spanish, so Spanish it is for now.  Japanese can come later if he wishes to have a go at it.

There are interactive games to play, words and phrases to practice, colorful pictures, two helpful fluent speakers who always have the same expressions on their faces, but when you get something right one of them says, "Si!" enthusiastically and her face lights up.  Maybe the Rosetta Stone speakers have faces that change expression more often, maybe that's why they charge $700?

Levels 1, 2 & 3.  Not that we're expecting to be able to speak fluently, but exposure to another language is a very good thing.  I think an introduction to Latin or Greek would be good, too, to help us nail down the origins of our language.  There are several fun ways to learn Latin, one of which I have blogged about in the past: A Mouse's Guide to Latin.  It's over on my old blog on Wordpress.

Instant Immersion has all kinds of languages to choose from.  Lots of homeschooling families really like this format.  So far, so fun!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Just What the Doctor Ordered - ROADTRIP!

Last week I was feeling out-of-sorts about a couple of off days we had while homeschooling.  I should just pipe down, because in the whole scheme of things, a couple of days doesn't really register.  They just make me pause to assess, so maybe they are worthwhile in that respect.  I don't know, but what I DO know, is that life sends you subtle signals and tells you when to HIT THE ROAD!  Which we did!  We took off on an adventure to Phoenix for the weekend to see what we could see and do.

Here's Max and Dad at the Desert Botanical Gardens being dwarfed by the very tall cacti.  We loved the Saguaro cacti and learned a little about them.  It was a gorgeous day amongst all of those prickly things; some of them looked fuzzy enough to hug, but we knew better.  I had a good time with the camera and later stayed up into the wee hours artifying some of the images I took.  I am planning on doing some bigger art fairs next year, so need some material with which to stock my booth.  Max basically ran wild throughout the gardens while we traipsed behind.

In the afternoon we visited Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West in Scottsdale and took a tour of the grounds and structures.  I was in the middle of reading Loving Frank by Nancy Horan and eating up every morsel of FLW's history, some of it fictionalized, but based on the culture of the early 1900's, especially focusing on the pressing issues of women then.  Dad and Max were game to visit Taliesin West and we all walked away with a much greater appreciation of Mr. Wright's influence on ways we can think about buildings we live in and the spaces in them.  Max is nuts for Legos and other building systems right along with millions of other children; he absorbed much of the tour in his own way, perhaps with a better understanding of what architects do.  I thought it was ultra cool.

Next day we did something unconventional.  We attended our first NASCAR race at Phoenix International Raceway!!  Along with 100,000 other crazy folks.  I won't comment much other than to say that parts of the experience were really neat - like when they fired up their engines!  That was worth the whole trip right there.  So physical and guttural - highly satisfying.  After that we put in our ear plugs and around lap twenty, I pulled out my FLW book and commenced with reading.  Dad and Max enjoyed the wildness of the race; I paid attention during the last few laps or whenever anything unusual happened. 

Reflections of Race Day
(we are all in this picture - can you see us?)

Can't say that we'll ever attend another race, but it was an interesting event with an interesting fan base :). 

We returned home yesterday a bit more refreshed.  No school work done today other than some reading; Max hung out with his dad and we worked on projects around the house.  The two of them even fixed the washing machine (thank you!) 

Maybe this is just part of the rhythm of homeschooling.  It's November.  We've been at it for ten weeks or so.  Maybe it's like a frequency node or something, a lull, a changing of the 'guard' sort of thing.  I'm fascinated with stuff like this, by the way, fascinated by the universality of our lives.  How they do ebb and flow according to some rules of physics or logic or whatever, depending on your beliefs, and how we can find commonality in that process.  I tend to power down the engines during the winter months, so I'm likely beginning that process emotionally.  

I'm interested to hear your thoughts about the cycles of homeschooling, what your days/months/years are like as you work with your kids.     


Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Waters Sometimes Get Choppy.

My day started out with a rousing ring of the telephone some distance from our bed this morning at 7:30a.m.  I was so tightly wound up in the covers that I couldn't fight my way out to get to the phone in time; I picked it up only to hear the classic click and dial tone drone.  Out of sorts I stood there and wondered if this droning in my ear was going to effectively set the tone for the day.  And yes it did!  Do you have days like this?  The days that shake to a different rhythm other than the one you'd hope to create for the duration of your awake time?  Gah.  I should have stayed curled up in bed a bit longer, phone call be damned.  Unfortunately it was a call telling me that the carpet installers would arrive at my house within the next 20 minutes.  Barely time to brush my teeth and get the dogs situated outside so they wouldn't cause a ruckus or run out the front door toward their destiny of trouble.  And this would be the morning of utter bedhead, too - unruly, sticking up everywhere.  I do think I saw a flash of alarm in the carpet installer's face when I opened the door.

Three hours later we had new carpet in the family room.  Pristine, without a pee spot anywhere!  I did mention those dogs with troubled destinies, didn't I?  One weighs six pounds and can't quite muster the energy to tell me that she has to go outside RIGHT NOW.  It's an ongoing touch point between her and I that we struggle with.  Even if I leash her to me and take her everywhere with me in the house, she's so darn short that by the time I look down, there's a nice little yellow puddle glistening beside her and she's turned her tiny attention to something else.  She's a Chihuahua with a bladder that needs some sort of on/off valve installed.

Max and I tried to get some school stuff done while the new carpet was being set down.  It didn't go well at all.  I was edgy from my bumpy start to the day, I was monitoring the very small dog that was mentioned for signs of wayward behavior (you know, Chihuahua stuff like biting, growling, pant-bottom tugging), and Max was refusing to write out the multi-digit multiplication problems that Teaching Textbooks was throwing at him; hence he was getting the majority of them wrong and was working himself up into a lather.  Our whole morning felt like a tug of war of epic proportions as I was encouraging him to use the gift of paper to solve the problems.  He continued to hold fast to the well-known fact that kids don't need math to survive.  I countered with a problem he may be faced with in the not-too-distant future of how he would divvy up his allowance money to purchase the game he's been eyeing for several weeks.  No response - just frustration roiling across his face.  We were each other's barometer's today, like a really bad storm and its low pressure system rolling in.  It just did not flow!

Yesterday was choppy, too.  We had several appointments to attend to - two doc appointments and then a drum lesson.  I sometimes resent appointments because they break up the day in such a way that we get all off balance and disrupted.  I feel like we can't start something new without being interrupted shortly, so why start?  I long for those quiet afternoon stretches where we are content to hang out, maybe read together, play a game or work on a project of some sort. 

Max was the wise one today.  I couldn't get my ducks lined up, so he said he wanted to take a break, get the frustration out, and go down to entertain the chickens in the yard.  It was the perfect suggestion and it helped us reset ourselves.  When he came back in, the carpet dude was on his merry way and we had this great expanse of new carpet to play with.  Max grabbed some blankets, we threw down the couch cushions and lallygagged on the floor, learning about the 1920's, the stock market crash, and the depression with a little reading from his online history class.  I was unable to explain to him how the economy or the stock market works, much like I am unable to housetrain a tiny Chihuahua.  I told him he'd have to wait for a college economics class to get those questions answered!

Then it was time to clean out part of the coop, feed everybody and suit up for the karate studio.  I also vacuumed and put together a desk that needed some assembly.  Groceries need to be procured, as do a few other items before we take off on a road trip which is quickly approaching; something my husband wants to do, so we're going with for the ride. 

I guess what I'm trying to say is some days I'm rattled when it comes to getting any school work done.  And then I get rattled about being rattled.  What I really need is a nap followed by a tall glass of iced green tea and some dark chocolate - that would set me on a positive course, again.  I'll need to grab those items when we go shopping for groceries tomorrow.

The best I can do is all I can do.  Truth be told I'm a first-born-over-achiever-perfectionist-type who is trying very hard to recover from fate.  When I'm uptight, it passes right to Max.  Free range learning sounds blissful and I'm trying to let go so that my compass points in that direction.  Little by little and honestly, some days are so great they make up for the choppy ones. 

How do you cope with responsibilities outside of homeschooling?  Are you able to go with the flow as to whatever each day brings?  Are you real or robot??  Just kidding.  I'm curious about how homeschooling parents deal with interruptions during the day, how you set up your schedule, or do you just wing it?  We have two weekly appointments, drum and karate.  The occasional haircut (although, Max said he'd be willing to cut his own hair if I let him??????), doc appointment, vet run, chicken feed gathering mission, house cleaning effort, phone call from girl friend that turns into a saga for which I am unprepared and ill-equipped.

Anyway, just coming off of a choppy day and wondering.  Set boundaries.  A little planning goes a long way.  More dark chocolate at the ready.  Chihuahua in her kennel when I can't watch her every move.  Hey, I think I'm getting the hang of this!  Just another day in the homeschooling adventure.  A day when I wonder if we're doing enough and what is enough, what does that mean.  Reverting back to some deep fears that are unfounded, but based on the way I was schooled.  Wrong way to think.  Off to bed - just letting off some steam.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Jason Project and Other Secular Science Curricula

I feel like we've got history more than covered this year; in fact, that's pretty much all we've been doing lately!  Learning about the pioneers and Westward expansion has been the focus for the past two weeks and it's been fun.  We really enjoyed watching PBS's Frontier House project on DVD and we're still reading the Little House on the Prairie series along with several other books. 

Math is also covered with the Teaching Textbooks curriculum; Max is doing one lesson a day and it's going well.  Math has become less of an antagonist this year and for that I am glad.  It hasn't exactly morphed into something warm and fuzzy, but it's less angst-inducing and we can actually mention it's name without tectonic shifts affecting our equilibrium.  We're doing some creative writing using the CTT program (Connect the Thoughts), some spelling, and lots of reading.  Music consists of drum lessons this year and he's getting plenty of physical activity with karate lessons twice a week and weekly meetups with neighborhood kids to romp.

Nine weeks into the school year and I am feeling at a bit of a loss about SCIENCE.  Science sometimes gets put on the back burner due to the amount of preparation and materials it can require in a homeschool setting.  I hear this a lot and concur, because that's exactly what is happening to us right now.  Science is one of Max's favorite subjects, though, precisely because of the experiments and the getting messy part!  Last year we played around with this Brown Paper School book:

We also tackled quite a bit of science within the various unit studies we did like the unit on prehistoric man (evolution based), whales and dolphins, etc.  If you'd like to see those unit studies, click on the Unit Studies link on the left side of the blog and you'll find them there.

I spent part of the weekend researching secular science curricula and found several to choose from.  Here's a short list of some of the offerings I examined and I'll tell you in a minute what I picked out to try:

Supercharged Science with Aurora Lipper
Looks fantastic!!  Needs some prep work and shopping for materials.  Covers the physical sciences only at this point, but they are working on a life sciences curriculum.  This is the kind of program that you can turn your kids loose on and many parents do.  Aurora is a fantastic teacher, emphasis on fantastic.  Watch a couple of her videos to get a feel for her personality.  Tons of experiments to do at home, which is why kids love it.  Big concepts.  You can sign up for a 30-day FREE trial, which we did.  I feel a little overwhelmed with this program right now, so the timing isn't right.  For sixth grade science next year, this may be just the ticket!

R.E.A.L. Science by Pandia Press
Textbook'ish.  Worksheet-based.  Not really to Max's liking, I don't think, but they have a try-before-you-buy program where you can download part of a unit and try it out for a few weeks.  Based on a classical education style, which is definitely not a fit.  I am not that attracted to this program, so will table it.

Real Science 4 Kids 
Not truly a secular curriculum, which is something I'm looking for.  The author is a chemist by profession, so this is a chemistry-based program - that's fine.  A lot of parents like this program and have run with it as their kids seem to be happy and learning a lot.  A little on the expensive side, too, I thought.

Oak Meadow Science
Again, text-booky.  Just not a fit.  Max does not like worksheets or textbooks and I can't blame him.  Just not his style of learning.  I didn't spend too much time looking at it, so really shouldn't comment too much about it.  Working off of initial impressions.

Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding
by Bernard Nebel, Ph.D.

This is a strong contender for several reasons.  Even though it is written for the K-2 audience, it has vast applications beyond that age group.  It contains a wealth of knowledge about science from a man who can see the big picture, which is something I very much admire.  People comment on how organized Dr. Nebel is in his approach to science; he paints a remarkable foundation of science, one that can be built upon for a long time to come.  Dr. Nebel has a fan base!  This would require some tangential materials, but it might be fun to expand upon what is written and make it our own.

Joy Hakim's Story of Science Series

This gets fabulous reviews.  I read a few pages of the books on Amazon and have a feeling this won't interest Max just yet.  It's a little involved.  Maybe we could try reading it together, but part of the idea for this year was to encourage him to become more of an independent learner!  I would consider this one for middle school science, though.  He might be ready for it then.

The Jason Project
Drum roll..........this is it!  We're starting tomorrow to see how it goes.  Work with real field scientists vicariously as they research tectonic fury (geology), weather (monster storms), ecology (resilient planet), and sustainable energy (infinite potential).  The curriculum is FREE and is available in downloadable PDF's or as interactive videos and projects online, which is the route we'll choose.  We've watched the overview videos to be introduced to each subject and Max is mulling over which mission he wants to embark upon.  The scientists hail from National Geographic, NASA, the Smithsonian, Oak Ridge National Labs, National Energy Technology Laboratory, etc.  This project is spearheaded by Dr. Robert Ballard, an explorer with National Geographic; he discovered the wreckage of the RMS Titanic.  He has assembled credible researchers and made a very exciting program for children.  This looks to be fun on many levels!

So, there's a weekend of research and I'm sure I've just barely scratched the surface.  If you are aware of other programs, please comment.  

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Cartoon Histories

Something fun just arrived today via Amazon used.  We frequent a local bookstore as well as the library system as much as possible (and thanks for the establishment of that system goes to Mr. Ben Franklin!).  We've made great use of the inter-library hold option wherein we can have the books we need sent from different branches to your closest one, but I can't help but hold on to a fondness for Amazon and it's used marketplace.  Here's what came today:

Perfect for this year and for years to come, since we're focusing on early American history right now, poking around into the recesses of our past. A few pages in and I'm already chuckling - he makes learning about history way fun! Thanks, Mr. Gonick.  The drawings are worth the purchase alone - great characterizations who emote in delightful ways.

I discovered the whimsical, hilarious, catty nature of Larry Gonick last year in another one of his cartoon anthologies, the Cartoon History of the Universe.  If you happen to be a secular homeschooler, this tome should have a designated place of honor on your shelves (he starts off the history of the universe with the big bang theory).  Reading it will tickle your funny bones in all the right places.  We read parts of it last year together.  One of these days I'll make a point of working through it all the way and will save the rest for Max to take in when he is older.  Gonick's books serve as a delightful introduction to the whole of a subject, leaving plenty of room for digging deeper if you like. 

Due to the nature of cartoon strips, he doesn't mince words and will cover a big event in history with just one fell sentence.  It's up to you to figure out more about the event if you wish.  I'm contented with the big picture view right now and will leave much of the nitty gritty to diehard historians (people I very much admire, by the way).  Here's what the Cartoon History of the Universe looks like:

You can't possibly cover history of the WHOLE universe in one book, so Mr. Gonick went to the trouble of writing more of them:

He has several other cartoon guides to varying subjects like physics, chemistry, and even.......

Yes, he does.  Read the reviews about it before passing judgement.  This will be an excellent resource when the hormones begin their mighty march during the teen years and I plan on purchasing it at that time.  It's factual, straightforward and spot-on about the subject we humans seem to have a hard time discussing sometimes.  Don't be shy about this one - it's not vulgar.  Just the facts, ma'am with a lot of Gonick-derived humor thrown in.

Larry Gonick has a unique ability to make us humans look at ourselves and see how silly we are sometimes.  Boy, can we be silly.  Hats off to anyone who can effectively illustrate the big picture - that's why I like this guy.  

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How to Teach Physics to Your Dog

I just had to share this one.  It's right up my alley because I simply crave this style of teaching; apparently others feel the same because it got a near-perfect all star rating on trusty old Amazon. 

Seriously, go check it out.  Admire the beautiful dog on the front (Miss Emmy) and read the back.  Take a gander at the reviews and then hit that wish list button.  We are a ways off from this book as it is a smidge elevated for an eleven year old, but then again, maybe not.  I love the concept, the highly unusual approach to teaching a heretofore cumbersome subject.  A read through this book will probably allow you a glimpse of the inner workings of Einstein's mind, among other genius physicists.  It's such an intriguing manner to approach a hefty topic; humor goes a LONG way here!  Emmy is a talking dog and she has all sorts of questions for her human pal, Chad.  He patiently explains things to her through the trained eye of a physicist and she begins to apply her new perspective to the world about her, with particular interest reserved for catching rabbits and tunneling through fences. 

Amazon also tells me that "Chad Orzel is Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Union College, where he carries out research in the field of Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics. His blog is renowned the world over for its humour and its clear explanations of complex principles of physics".  Must go take a look at his blog, too.

Stuff like this is golden.  It's on the 'hold' shelf in my brain as a terrific resource down the road.  And the search for others like it continues!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Not to be Missed. Free-Range Homeschooling

Not sure how this works, but it seems that one good thing leads to another, doesn't it?  No, I'm not talking about popping M&M's.  I'm pointing out what happens when you open the door to your worldview and let something new waltz in.  You plop it on your lap, hold it up, examine it carefully and intuition beckons you to try it on for size.  Sometimes the cut and color are perfect, as if it were truly made for you.  This, in turn, leads to more knocks at the door and before you know it, your worldview has experienced a major remodel.  I cherish this process in life, how serendipitous it seems, how vital it is to growth.  Change is GOOD.

Homeschooling is an unusual worldview unto itself, one that deserves to be held up and examined.  I wish deep in my bones that more parents would take a moment to try it on and see how it fits for their children.  Homeschooling is something that can be tailored to fit beautifully, remarkably.  Homeschooling can change lives for the better.  Oh gosh, I think I'm becoming the homeschooling zealot that I did not want to be!  Actually, I'm very good about keeping a lid on the boiling pot and not letting too much steam loose.  I just close my eyes and wish really hard about it for some kids that I meet along the way.

I am deep into the following book right now and cannot express how timely its arrival on my doorstep has been.  Silly, but I nod my head enthusiastically while I'm reading each paragraph and feel like breaking out all the highlighters in the house, just like in college.  The authors words ring true and crystal clear for me - they resonate deeply and are dancing a mighty jig with my beliefs about homeschooling.  Can you hear the clickety-clacking?

by Laura Grace Weldon

What caught me was the title:  Free Range Learning:  How Homeschooling Changes Everything.  That's where it began.  I learned about the book on a secular homeschooling website, http://www.secularhomeschool.com/.    Free and range are buzz words in my world lately.  I happen to be interested in the plight of chickens in the food industry and think they deserve better from humankind (kind in this context is an oxymoron, isn't it?)  Over the summer we've raised eleven chicks from the day-old stage to sixteen weeks and almost laying (another month or so before we see those eggs) and I made sure to give them ample space to do chicken stuff.  They peck the day away happily, at least what I would call happily.  Who knows how a chicken thinks, but the ladies seem about as happy as I can anthropomorphise them to be.  I like that they have freedom to move about and follow their avian instincts to their heart's content.  I like that they are not restricted to a tight structured way of life.  I know it is the right thing to do and that's why I do it.  My husband always says, "do the right thing and the right thing will happen".  That's a grand philosophy of life and I'll pull it from my back pocket as often as I am able.

So, I have happy chickens.  Which leads to thoughts about other areas in our life, like homeschooling.  Can this same idea be applied here?  Do I have a happy kid?  Not giddy, silly happy, but content, secure happy.  Not always happy, but happy much of the time.  Kids do need structure for a sense of security, this I believe; they also need it to keep them safe, no doubt.  Within those walls of structure though, can they be turned loose to follow their curiosities, their inclinations, their developing interests?  Can we parents back off and turn into guides rather than leaders?  Read what Laura Grace Weldon has written and give this concept some time to percolate.

Last year was a free-for-all learning fest.  We read about math, but didn't do much math.  We read umpteen books from the library about anything Max wanted to.  We played lots of games.  We did several unit studies based on his interests (all of which are detailed in the blog - click on the 'Unit Studies' link over there on the left), or what he thought he was interested in.  Sometimes after starting something he proved not to be so interested and we changed course.  We were all over the map and I have to admit that it went against my desires for a structured workbook curriculum and set-order-of-events type of schooling that I thought was the best course of action.  This was evidence of my schooling days rearing its ugly head, telling me that I was miles from my comfort zone without a GPS.  Things like drill work, worksheets, memorization, rote learning, outlines, flowcharts, deadlines, papers due, muckety muck.  How much of what I learned in that manner do I remember??  Very little, if any.  Yet, I worried about it constantly, if we were doing the right thing.  What if he had to go back to regular school?  What if he fell behind his public school peers in math?  What could I do given the fact that he hated to write things down, did not like to be faced with pen and paper unless it was to draw?  Should I force him to write against his will?  Was he playing me to try and assert some independence, or did he really not like to write?  What about multiplication?  Don't all fourth graders nail down their facts?  Would this mess him up considerably when we hit the algebra stage?

My mind was a raging battle unto itself.  How the heck did I know if what we were doing was beneficial?  I did know a few things.  I knew that he loved to be read to and would beg me to get the books out so he could build forts in the same room.  So, was this him just wanting to build forts?  We read some sixty books last year in that manner.  His vocabulary has improved dramatically and I experience a kind of jolt when I hear him use certain words - like, 'where the heck did he come up with that one?' jolt.  I saw his conceptualization and spatial realization of world geography improve considerably via some of the games we played.  I saw his anxieties about learning decrease and his curiosities increase.  I saw him relax into the rhythm of his days and read with cats sprawled across his lap.  I saw a well-rested child with much to content himself with.  Lo and behold, we were on to something!

But still my brain said, "he needs more structure.  He needs a curriculum to follow for next year."  Over the summer I found a curriculum that I thought suitable, and I still really like it.  It's the Connect the Thoughts curriculum and we are currently using pieces of it successfully.  He is also taking two online classes in history.  I find us slipping back into the way we did things last year, though - wanting to read more, play more games, explore more and head to the library, the museum, the zoo or wherever.  Maybe because it feels right.  Maybe because it's the right thing to do.  Maybe because free range leads to the right thing happening.

Ms. Weldon's book is just what the doctor ordered.  It is one of the most valuable contributions to the homeschooling movement that I have read to-date.  Please, if you can, get your hands on a copy and read it cover to cover.  Then read it again.  It may help change your worldview and then some.  Hooray for free range chickens, for free range learning, and for M&M's (which I'm eating right now mixed with salted cashews!)  Try that, too.       

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