Sunday, January 30, 2011

What is Poetry?

"To this extent poetry is a way of knowledge. It cannot be trusted always to bring us close to truth itself, but it can be trusted to show us the way the world is seen and felt by people created in God's image; fallen, yes; in error about the way things really are, yes; but human still and deserving of our understanding, our sympathy and our compassion."

--James Sire, _How to Read Slowly_

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Link Love

My daughter Aravis posted an essay to her blog. Yay! She is practicing her on-the-spot essay writing for the SAT, and this is my favorite one so far.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Facilitating Science Fair Projects

Science is a family affair.

The science fair is upon us, and after a week of endurance and back-to-the-drawing-board perseverance, the girls have officially completed their final reports and display boards. In celebration, I offer this intuitive look at the science fair process:

1) Start early. The day after the previous fair is the perfect time to begin. In fact, if your student can do an extension of the previous year's project, by all means encourage her to go that route. That way she will have a whole year's extra thought and data to sift through.

Or, you could do like us, and proclaim your good intentions from February to September, insist from September to November that you will start before Thanksgiving-- as library books gather dust on the shelf-- and end up performing experiments into the New Year.

2) Do research. The student should understand all concepts related to her area of focus BEFORE beginning the experimentation process. This will help her develop an accurate and precise hypothesis.

Or, you could do like us, and grudgingly slog through research as the necessary purgatory for entrance into the heaven of hands-on experimentation. I think "research first, experiments after," is a little backward for elementary school students and others who do not have an extensive science background. Of course they want to do the experiments first. Who cares what water flow is until you have seen its effects on the rate at which a string winds around a dowel? What does leavening really mean until you have watched batter being baked into bread? Why would you want a dry definition of translocation before you have actually seen colored water travel from the bottom of a vase up through the stem of a flower?

3) Have the student keep a log book of all research, and document each and every bit of experimentation. You never know when something you thought was minor will end up being significant.

Or, you could do like us, and begin with great expectations of real-time documentation, but discover while analyzing results that those little time-saving omissions ought to have been included in the log book. When this happens, you will sit down with your student over tea and discuss every second of research and experimentation-- and general family activity-- that went before, attempting to piece together significant information that will help the student analyze her data. This is a terrific lesson in the necessity of attention.

4) Gather all supplies before experimentation. Make that list, check it twice, and head to the store only once.

Or, you could do like us, and-- well, we manage fine in this area. Although some people may think that pizza, ice cream cones and "I love you" stickers are not absolutely necessary to the scientific process. But we do much better on major projects when we have treats sprinkled along the way.

5) Go over variables with your student. Encourage her to make as many of them constant as she can, so her experiment will be as fair as possible.

Or you can do like us, and realize that controlling variables is related to comprehending infinity. There is no end, and you can get obsessed with it. Are the materials at the exact same temperature every time, and is everything measured exactly the same, and is the environment exactly the same... in short, is everything exactly the same EXCEPT the part the student is testing? This is a good lesson in being thorough, as well as understanding limitations.

6) Watch over the experiment process and recommend adjustments as necessary. Often in the process of experimentation, the student will discover things she hadn't considered.

We adjust and adjust. There is ALWAYS something we haven't considered. Sometimes I can head off problems with Socratic questioning before experimentation starts, but often the experiments become long and drawn out with adjusting this or that. The girls generally start off enthusiastic and end irritated. Experience is a forceful teacher. But here's the funny thing: some of the most provoking and aggravating experiments end up being remembered as favorites. Just this year, Mariel told me her all-time favorite science project was her bird project of two years ago, but two years ago she was convinced she would never want to observe another bird again, ever.

7) Your student should plot data on graphs and charts, and take pictures. This will help her draw conclusions, and is also an effective way to communicate findings. She may need your help designing the spreadsheet.

Aravis is the only person at our house who truly understands Excel, so science fair season is frequently punctuated by cries of, "Aravis! Come look at this. I can't make it do right." She is the real chart-and-graph assistant, and is very patient with us.

8) Discuss the data and come to conclusions with your student. Did things go as expected? Why or why not?

I love discussing results so much that even after the kids have their final reports done, I often raise new points for discussion. A lot of times, they add to their projects-- either rewriting conclusions or performing just one more experiment-- based on a-ha moments generated by these discussions. They are not always pleased about this, although they usually want a re-do once they see a flaw. There is something so real about being involved in a process of discovery and finding out that you weren't rigorous enough for it to be considered science.

9) Be available as your student writes her final report and builds her board. She will need your help editing.

Red pen is our friend, and we go through lots of printer ink and paper. I edit their final reports and they rewrite until we are all satisfied. Inevitably, someone will notice a lack of punctuation or spelling error or crumpled edge on the display board and have to remove a sheet of paper, fix it, and reglue. Occasionally, someone realizes she left out something major, like the hypothesis. (Not good.) The week before the fair, this happens numerous times, until we all agree NOT to look at the boards anymore. Because nobody's perfect, and that's okay. ;o)

10) Listen as your student practices her presentation.

Listen, question, applaud. Rinse and repeat. After the first couple of years of participation in science fair, I realized that there is no such thing as too much rehearsal, so now we just run the presentations every morning the week before the fair. (We don't do this all morning-- it only takes twenty to thirty minutes.) I ask the hardest questions I can in order to prepare them for judging. As Aravis has gotten older, this has gotten much tougher, because I just don't remember much high school science. I try to read all her research so I can be a challenging questioner.


I am not a science person, but I do imitate one for my girls. They may not grow into scientists, but they will understand the rigor and balance necessary to produce research that can actually be called science.

And we all feel really good when Mom finally says, "Done!" :D

Updated to add a quote brought to my attention by a Facebook friend. This pretty much sums it up:

"That's the whole problem with science. You've got a bunch of empiricists trying to describe things of unimaginable wonder."

— Bill Watterson, author of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Notes on Madam How and Lady Why: Ch. 5 The Ice-Plough

I have several 'favorites' within Charles Kingsley's book, and this chapter is one of them. Until I read it, I incoherently viewed glaciers as nebulous chunks of ice somehow related to mountains.

Just as rain is Madam How's gentle spade, glaciers are her ice-ploughs. Great imagery. :)

(Note: If you need the actual links in the body of the post, will you let me know in the comments? Otherwise, for the rest of the book I will embed links to make the posts tidier. Also, I have added the list of notes to my sidebar so previous chapters are easier to find.)

*Pictures of and information about limestone:

*Scrapes on rock (also called striations) caused by glacial activity:

*Rosenlaui Glacier in Switzerland:

*In 1891(?), the Rosenlaui Glacier melted more than it had done in many years and revealed Mr. Kingsley's piece of scraped limestone. (Page 99)

*Please note that it is now illegal to remove stones or other artifacts from many nature areas worldwide, although it was not in Mr. Kingsley's time.

*The rocks in Snowdon (Snowdonia Rocks) and lots of educational resources:

*Snowdon is in Wales.

*Picture of Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand:

*Arial view of the same glacier:

*More information than you ever wanted to know about glaciers:

*Uniformitarianism: Mr. Kingsley accepted the Theory of Evolution, and on page 100 he declares his uniformitarian position, "And so I treasure this, as a sign that Madam How's ways do not change nor her laws become broken; that, as that great philosopher Sir Charles Lyell will tell you, when you read his books, Madam How is making and unmaking the surface of the earth now, by exactly the same means as she was making and unmaking ages and ages since..." Uniformitarians believe that 'the present is the key to the past,' or all geological changes in the past occurred as the result of the same natural laws and processes that change the Earth's face today. This is where "millions of years" comes from in the Theory of Evolution.

*FYI: Young-Earth creation scientists generally take the position of Catastrophism, the idea that Earth's appearance is often altered by sudden, violent, possibly worldwide events (ie., Noah's flood). Some catastrophists do not believe that the present is necessarily the key to the past, but that past catastrophic events may even have changed the geological and climactic 'habits' of the Earth, which would explain why the geologic column is jumbled in some areas.

*Sir Charles Lyell: the foremost geologist in Kingsley's time. Lyell's book,_Principles of Geology_, popularized the uniformitarian viewpoint.

*Grinding whole mountains into plains (a glacial plain in Iceland):,_Iceland.jpg

*The Crimean Winter (pages 100-102): I think he is talking about a Crimea-like winter IN England. (Crimea is a republic near Ukraine on the Black Sea.) 1837-38 was a very severe winter for the British Isles, with many days of below-zero temperatures. The Thames River froze over.

*A painting of the frozen Thames from the 1600s. This is not the same freeze Kingsley is talking about, but it is the same river:

*There was a cool weather period in Europe, known as the Little Ice Age, from the 1300s to the late 1800s/early 1900s. Kingsley doesn't speak of this, but it seems relevant to me:

*A portion of Perito Merino Glacier falls in Argentina:

*Sounds aboard an ice-breaker ship:

*_Frost and Fire_, by John Francis Campbell, is available on Google Books:

*The weight of ice and snow can damage trees:

*Worst snowstorms in U.S. history. Be sure to scroll down and look at the picture of the Knickerbocker Snowstorm, in which a movie theater roof collapsed under the weight of 20 inches of snow:

*Esquimaux in Arctic regions: Yupik, Inuit and Aleutians, also known as Eskimos, traditionally live in Siberia, Alaska, North Canada and Greenland. (scroll for pictures)

*definition of glacier (page 104): "...a river of ice, fed by a lake of snow. The lake from which it springs is the eternal snow-field which stretches for miles and miles along the mountain tops, fed continually by fresh snow-storms falling from the sky. That snow slides off into the valleys hour by hour, and as it rushes down is ground and pounded, and thawed and frozen again into a sticky paste of ice, which flows slowly but surely till it reaches the warm valley at the mountain foot, and there melts bit by bit."


*glacial river carrying silt (rock flour) into a lake:



*A discussion of the Ice Age at Answers in Genesis, which also contains some good pictures and diagrams of ice flow:

Ice Cream Earth

Cornflower and I did this fun project yesterday. The lime sherbet is the Earth's crust, the chocolate with chocolate chips is the mantle, the vanilla is the outer core and the strawberry is the inner core.

This project is one of the reasons my kids enjoy Explore His Earth by Ann Voskamp. She always provides a few "too fun to resist excursions" at the end of chapters. We usually don't do them, but this one begs to be done. :)

Snowman by Cornflower

Just look at that face.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

A Taste of the Warrior Poet's Offerings

My dear husband wrote this poem as a Christmas present for me, and since today I am alternately throwing him under the bus and praising him to high heaven, I thought I would share it. This poem makes me embarrassed, but here goes:

The Pedestal Is For Your Gray Matter

The sunrise comes and sunset goes
Tides always have their ebbs & flows
It is tough to quantify how much it grows
Or predicting how much the spring wind blows

Perpetually featured, predominantly
Is the feature you use so brilliantly
I marvel at times how preponderantly
Your mind is used intelligently

It may sound odd but it’s very true
When I compare our brains it makes me blue
Some may question this union of two
But at least I was smart enough to marry you

So just to finally set the record straight
I enjoy all the thoughts that you create
You’ve never been a Petruchio’s Kate
Or one who might too easily capitulate

I will admit to you in all actuality
I revel in its fine functionality
Proud you’ve never needed to alter reality
Thankful you tolerate my abnormality

Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly
Girls need chocolate and guys need pie
One thing is certain and I can’t deny:
I will love your big brain ‘til the day I die

Delight and Educational Accountability, or Why Two Are Better Than One

This morning I sit in a silent house, knowing I need to wake the kids so they can work on science fair experiments, and wanting this early-morning quiet to continue indefinitely. I love thinking things through in the morning. I need at least an hour and a half-- uninterrupted-- to do it in.

This past week was our first week back after Christmas break. As I was planning our new term over Christmas, I optimistically thought we might be able to add composer and artist study back to the program, and maybe even finish the Plutarch we started before life got crazy in October. We are halfway through it. We really ought to finish the thing. It is Cornflower's first year reading Plutarch with us, and other stuff is interfering. I do not like that state of affairs.

We are not adding composer and artist study this term. We may finish the Plutarch after the science fair. Curse the science fair... er, did I say that? I mean, science fair is a terrific opportunity for the kids, but I really did not think we had room for it this year. I throw my beloved Warrior Poet under the bus in explaining why we are still doing it: he insisted we do the fair because actual science people judge the kids' projects. He is right. I know he is. But for some reason none of us are enthusiastic about it this year, and that makes it hard.

WP does not mind being thrown under the bus. He is willing to be the bad guy and insist we do what we ought even when we would rather be doing plays and Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott and leaving math and science in the dust. In fact, as I begin planning every school year, which he leaves pretty much up to me, I remind him of his duty as Bad Cop and ask him to keep me in check lest I run amuck with my own interests and delights. He sits with me and prioritizes the different subjects/courses/books and explains what he thinks is most important for the kids to focus on. This works marvellously well for us in terms of discipline. This year, our general school priorities list looked like this:

Fine Arts

It is a remarkable list in that math appears sixth and English appears fourth. (And homemaking is in a very lonely last place! How about that?) In previous lists, the top three have always been Bible-Math-English. WP feels very strongly about history and civics right now, and the AO/HEO curriculum certainly focuses intently on those two areas.

Which brings Plutarch to mind once again. But we'll read him after the science fair.

We ARE reading Shakespeare this term. When the Warrior Poet and I had our priorities powwow this summer, I convinced him to let me have an hour every week to read something aloud that I just really wanted to share with the kids. I had done this very cool reading plan that juxtaposed three each of Jane Austen novels, Shakespeare plays and Plutarch Lives in a rotation that I thought might spur discussion of certain character traits. But then he pointed out that the kids were already going to be doing quite a lot of fine arts with their theater group and orchestra and musical instrument lessons, which eliminated Shakespeare; and he thought three Austen novels read aloud in one school year was too many, so Miss Jane was dropped; and that left Plutarch.

After much discussion, he agreed that I could have two half-hours per week to read ONE Jane Austen, and because Plutarch is shorter, we could read him once per week. We finished Northanger Abbey before Christmas (we voraciously read for the entire half-hour each session, and put off discussion until we had free time), and I am putting The Merchant of Venice in its place-- with WP permission ;)-- because Aravis and Mariel and I have the opportunity to see it performed on stage in Chicago this spring. (Woo-hoo! Fun.) We have never seen Shakespeare on stage before. Aravis and I read MoV in a past year, but this is Cornflower's and Mariel's first time to experience it.

WP is letting us skimp on the Plutarch because of the science fair.

It is very comforting to have an educational accountability partner, even when it is not comfortable. Weird.

At the beginning of the school year, I also had a really neat plan (taken from an AO mom who majored in art) for studying art history, which we have never studied properly. But because of the music and theater stuff, that got put off indefinitely. Cornflower is doing artist study in her every-other-week co-op class, and Mariel is reading Jansen's Story of Painting on her own, and I keep the current artist's paintings up on my desktop background for us to see, but that is all.

Mostly we do math and grammar. Grr.

Just kidding. We do lots of other things too, and I make sure we get our Bible and enrichment reading (Merchant of Venice currently) at the very beginning of the day-- and whatever else I find that I consider 'of the moment'-- but after that it is math and grammar. That math really gets us sometimes. The grammar doesn't take as long, but my younger two need a lot more reinforcement than Aravis did, so we analyze two or three sentences every day, and do our studied dictation twice per week. Aravis is also practicing the SAT essay, so we do that twice per week.

We aren't skimping on history or civics, either: Aravis is learning how our government works through her reading of the events and discussions leading up to and through the Civil War; Mariel is studying the roots of American government by reading about the development of English Common Law in the Middle Ages; Cornflower is in the midst of the American Revolution. Mariel has also expressed interest in art that delivers political commentary, and is beginning to try her hand at it, interestingly enough. I want to sign her up for some 'basics of art' lessons. Maybe this summer.

Next fall, we are going to Washington, D.C. on a family trip, so I am beginning to tailor our civics and history lessons toward that goal. WP is proud. ;oD

Note: He is not called the Warrior Poet for nothin'. Visit the Warrior Poet's blog and read his poetry!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011


Here it is Wednesday, and I still haven't done the MHLW notes. As a result, we are working on other science stuff this afternoon (it's not difficult to find other stuff to do with the science fair looming) and I will work on the notes this weekend. Look at me rolling with the flow. ;oD

Monday, January 03, 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For

"The world is made up of a number of people and they rarely think alike. In the long run, this seems a very wise provision. A government of and by and for one single part of the entire community cannot possibly survive."

--Hendrick Van Loon, The Story of Mankind, page 290.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Anyone Out There?

Well, I made it almost entirely through Christmas break without helping the kids on their science fair projects or writing the Madam How and Lady Why notes. I spent most of this past week at the DPS, which has in place a remarkable system of avoidance and noninformation for unsuspecting citizens who think they are going to receive civilized treatment.

Nevertheless, as Aravis said in a recent FB status update, we have vanquished the Circumlocution Office and forced it to yield up her drivers license. Rather, she did most of the vanquishing. I really just drove her there and provided moral support and advice and a vehicle for the road test.

So we can cross "get Aravis' license" off the to-do list. But needless to say, waiting in line for hours at the DPS seriously ate into my free time this week. I have several five-finger exercises written for the scales-and-arpeggios book, and I cleaned out our master closet, but that's it. We had a relaxing time over New Year's, mostly recovering from DPS-related shell-shock.

So. We'll see what gets done today and tomorrow. I wanted to at least let folks know that I didn't get to the MHLW notes.

*(The title of this post refers to the fact that I haven't gotten many comments lately. Would you leave a comment if you feel comfortable doing so? I'd like to see how many readers I have. I once had a site counter, but I lost my login info and the site-counter website refused me access when I redesigned my layout and lost the icon, and I haven't had the time nor the inclination to set another one up. So would you leave a comment? Thanks.)