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Entries in homeschooling (71)

Wednesday
Apr152015

Science in the field

Two more hikes for us this week...so far. This is our new science plan for the next season or two. And there's a science behind that decision, too. I have weekly calendars to keep our school journey on track. I actually started using them about five years ago when we were just getting started with the Five in a Row plan. At the time they were more about art projects than schooling, but they grew and changed quite a bit through the months, and then the years, going from a list of possible craft projects, to a list of books to read and chores to get done, and ultimately to a pretty detailed list of the homschooling things we tackled during a day.

I use the calendar not only for keeping track of where we are going what we plan to do in a week, but also as a means of recording what we have done. On the back side of every calendar I keep a sort of daily journal, tracking the amount of time we spend on subjects, the total amount of time we spent schooling during the week, and even the overall attitude we both have about them.

My initial goal in keeping the calendar and journal was to have, should Michigan homeschoolers ever be held accountable, a record of time spent on school and its subjects. But the calendar had a secondary, unforseen but fortuitous, benefit as well. Having all those details about time spent and, especially, our tempers and focus during that time, gave me a larger perspective that has been very, very helpful in tracking our study trends.

And spring, year after year, has been a terrible time for us to keep to a regular homeschool schedule.

Our usual schedule includes reading, researching, and writing, but in the spring we both struggle to sit long enough to do any of these things. Looking back at my notes ("no focus today!", "sooo grouchy about math!") this was obvious. So this year we formulated a new plan. Beginning with the warming of the earth, we are leaving behind our science books (never text books, always living learning books, but still books), and are entering the field to learn about the earth from the earth. We are still keeping to our other subjects, but on a diminshed schedule, allowing us to really focus on that outdoor science stuff right now: at least two hikes a week, more when we can. During this time we are keeping track of the progression of the spring awakening by visiting our favorite preserve weekly. And we are going to record the species we find during the bird migration. We are relating all of it to species identification, adaptations and evolution, the geology of the earth, and the general science of life. Biology, from several different aspects.

It's an exciting new project for us, and it's off to a great start.

This week, back at the Scio Woods Preserve, the frogs were much quieter, but the birds were much more active. We took a packed lunch and ate it at the pond with a Great Blue Heron, a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk, and a Belted Kingfisher. Later, we saw just about every woodpecker imaginable in our area, and noted an increased number of insects, which coincided with an increased number of snakes and butterflies. We also discussed the difficulty of identifying species in the field. In fact, with better pictures this week we were able to re-ID a species we saw first last week, but blurry pictures of other species provided a different kind of challenge.

My favorite part, though, as much as I love all the birds and the quiet of the woods, was the time spent visiting with my growing son. Sure, we visit all the time—discussion is a big part of our homeschooling plan—but this was a different kind of conversing, a sort of sharing of ideas and excitement, and that added a special warmth to the already bright spring day.

These are actually pictures from both of our mid-week hike days so far, including Scio Woods Preserve on April 14, and Dolph Nature Area and DeVine Nature Preserve on April 15.

Red-tailed Hawk, juvenile

Great Blue Heron

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

American Robin

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker talking to a Downey Woodpecker

Mourning Cloak

April 15, Dolph Nature Area

Common Garter, red morph

Turkey Vulture

Gray Squirrel, black morph

Red-winged Blackbird (in a not so graceful position)

Beaver evidence!

Eastern Phoebe

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

And how about some ID challenges? Not all of the bird pictures I post are in great focus. Have you ever tried to catch a moving target with a long range telephoto lens? To catch some of the birds, the extra zoom is necessary, but with the lens fully extended every shake of the camera shows, and the birds don't hold still long. So sometimes a blury shot is the best we can do, but usually it's better than nothing, even if it's truly a blury mess. We spotted a bird this weekend that I was sure was a unique sparrow, one I've seen at the same park in the past. The size was about right, and the basic color was the same, but once I got the extremely blury photo in front of me, a distinction appeared—instead of a small yellow stripe on either side of his head, this bird's entire top head was yellow. Putting together what we knew we had seen with the blury photo and a migration pattern timetable, we identified our mystery bird as a Golden-crowned Kinglet. So a blury photo is better than no photo at all.

Here are some "outtakes" that we worked with this week:

Here is our Golden-crowned Kinglet. It is one of several blury shots of this little guy that helped us figure him out.

This Belted Kingfisher is pretty easy to identify here, but still not the best species picture we could ask for.

Without both a front and a side shot this handsome fella is hard to ID. Last week all we had was a shot of his back and we named him a Veery, but with this blury yet convincing full frontal, we've decided he's either a Wood Thrush or Hermit Thrush.

Sunday
Apr122015

Spyro Tinker

Calvin received the Tinker Crate monthly science kits as a Christmas gift this year. Every month a box arrives that promises to keep him busy for hours on end, and so far they've been fun, fascinating, educational, and fairly vast in scope. We haven't even managed yet to explore all the different paths of learning each one offers, but we go back to them as new discoveries offer themselves.

Last month the kit was what I have been calling a mechanical spyro graph, although, as Calvin has pointed out, that isn't really what it is. It's a platform, to which he attached a motor and three markers. When he set the motor running it vibrated, as motors do, ever so slightly. And not much happened. But when he unbalanced the motor with a glob of clay, the vibration increased and sent the contraption shaking across a paper in a semi-predictable manner. When he moved the motor or the glob of clay, it changed that pattern. We had fun with alterations and predictions, but his favorite part of the kit this time, actually, was the artistic component. He loved the art it created, but he loved even more the art it let him create by using the motor's rotation instead to rotate paper discs, and the markers to color them.

Saturday
Apr042015

Lego airport

Before leaving for vacation I always try to get all the chores done, the house, clean, the important jobs taken care of. It's supposed to make the return to the norm easier on the other side. Why is it, then, that coming home from vacation is always such a mess? I'm sure that landing after midnight had a little to do with it this time, but by and large, it takes me at least a few days, if not a whole week, to recover from a week away. Only some of it is the laundry (how do we amass twice as much laundry per amount of time when we're away from home?), there's also the unpacking, and the vacuuming (because I do understand how the dog's shed twice as much hair per time when we're away), and just the reacclimating, I guess. And this time there was also wedding picture editing to get done, and a book sale to prepare for.

All this to say that, in spite of my careful planning to return to our regularly scheduled weekly activities by Wednesday, we didn't actually get to them until Saturday, and that's never regularly scheduled anyway. Calvin did practice the piano and complete the previous week's math, and we did get our chores done, but other than that you could call this our first try with unschooling. Wednesay and Thursday Calvin was pretty much on his own, and in that time he designed and built an airplane out of Legos. Then he added an airport. And to top it al off, he wrote of instructions for the project on his computer. All self driven. It was a fun experiment of sorts, but at the end of the two days we were both ready to return to our regularly scheduled program.

A designer at work...

A brand new passenger jet

(perhaps a flight I'd rather not be on)

I'll bet those passengers are thankful to be pulling up at the gate...

As the passengers disembark, let's get a good look at the pay phone in the airport. That's right, a pay phone.

After that flight, the first passengers into the gate stopped off at the pub to check out the rotating taps

A quick turnaround—the representative at the gate is already announcing boarding for the next flight

There they go, boarding via the jetway

Saturday
Feb282015

Bears

I thought I'd let Calvin write this one for me. I recently gave him an assignment practicing his creative writing style versus his academic writing style. The assignment included two short samples that are in response to the book Bears on Hemlock Mountain.

Creative writing: Describe a journey over the mountain:

I was sent on an errand; to go get the silver pan from our treasure chest at the top of the mountain. The mountain was tall, about 100 to 200 feet high. And some people said there was a monster on the mountain.

I sighed and looked up the mountian. It was a long way up. I put one foot in the side, then another, and then I started to climb.

The sun was just beginning to set. There was a beautiful sunset in progress. Oh, the purples and reds and greens and yellows weaving their way acorss the sky, traversing its giant blue field.

I was about halfway there when i heard a sound: CRACK! I whipped around to see what made the noise. I kept feeling more terrified every second. Almost there! I said to myself. Only ten feet left! I pulled myself up to the top of the mountain and then slowly let myself down into the cave that held our treasure chest.

The cave was dark. Really dark. I quickly rabbed the silver pan. Then I went to the slide hole. My dad had madea hole int he side of the cave that led onto really smooth snow. We called this the slide hole. I lowered myself onto the snow and WHEEEEE! I flew down the mountainside, going home.

 

Academic writing: Black Bears

Black bears are amazing. They are five feet at lenght, and they weight 300 pounds. They come in fur colors of black, brown, bluegray, and white. The colors bluegray and white, however, are rare.

Black bears aren't only amazing in just looks, they also do a lot of neat things. They will eat acorns, berries, branches, and honey. They climb trees very well. Some even makie their winter dens in trees. They live in mountains, forests, and swamps of the U.S.A., Canada, and Northern Mexico.

 

Friday
Feb272015

Things about which we do not speak: frustration

It is easy to believe, even for long stretches of time, that this life we've created is charmed and perfect. We love what we're doing, what we're exploring and researching, the books we're reading, the topics we're delving into. In part, that's the point. Homeschooling allows us the freedom to make that happen.

But the truth isn't at all that simple.Even the things you love become tedious at times, and that old adage, about anything worth doing or having is worth working for, is true.

Things often come easily to Calvin. Over the years it has become increasingly clear that he expects this, and when something isn't as easy as he expects, he becomes frustrated quickly. It's a common reaction for bright kids, but it's hard to watch. My go-to response has always been to applaud his struggle and use that old adage about the greatest things requiring greater work, but it usually falls on deaf ears. And why shouldn't it? The more I've thought about it, telling him that the things he struggles with are worth more only negates all the things he's learned easily in the past. And aside from nobody wanting their knowledge demeaned, the truth is that it's a lie, and kids can see right through lies.

And there's another important piece to the puzzle, too, the piece that adds color to the overall picture. Our feelings, our emotions, add color to our lives, and frustration is one of those emotions. In telling my son that he should revel in his struggles and award himself for hard-won feats I'd hoped to aleviate his frustration and avoid what is ultimately a painful and frustrating experience for myself as well. But that's the wrong lesson. Frustration is part of life. And while I'd like him to learn how to successfully work hard for his achievements, and to self-reward, it is just as important to me that he learn how to be frustrated and self soothe, or calm, then move forward.

So over the past few months we've changed our approach to frustration. It started with admitting that I had been wrong, followed with the admission that we all get frustrated (as if he hadn't seen me deal with frustration myself), and ended with what I hope will be the ultimate lesson: that the frustration matters less than what you do with or after it. But frustration response is habit forming, and it can take time to change bad habits. Around here our go-to response to frustration has been negativity, like grumbling, physical outbursts, or even giving up. So we introduced positive and negative jars: in the face of frustration, when we choose to respond in a positive way a pin goes in the positive jar, and vice versa. A positive reaction can be laughter, a reframing of goals, or simply walking away, but most importantly, it can come after an initial outburst, because expressing frustration is okay.