Tuesday, December 22, 2009

So Many Topics, So Few Complete Thoughts

From the "what's boiling in my brain that I want to formalize but need to get a lot more time to think about" files:

The context is missing and if you have already read the posts to which I refer, it would help a lot.

From Rational Jenn and Amy Mossoff: The rewards debate. According to the way Jenn reports it (not having read the book myself, and not likely to), Kohn describes rewards as I've usually seen bribes defined--going so far as to include grades and salary. I have always thought of grades and salary as having a feedback aspect. You know you are doing your job well as defined by the people who are in charge of making sure things stay on track (those who have a larger context than yourself) based on what grade/salary you receive. I was thinking of behavior charts and tokens of achievement (rewards) in a similar way lately. The goal is set and charting how well one is doing towards achieving that goal in a concrete, perceptible way is a tried-and-true way of knowing how well it is going as one works to a larger goal. A lot of behavior therapy uses these kinds of techniques.

I'm still trying to figure the whole thing out (with a pen-pal, thanks!), but that's a little part I've been playing with at this moment.

Manners (Amy's "The Little Things" again): Why have rules that curtail children's fun indoors? So the kids don't break themselves or valuable/dangerous items. I added recently: also because I want my children to be able to have good manners in most situations they find themselves in and to have those manners be automatic, not a constant struggle.

Homeschooling: No longer. From Leonard Peikoff's lecture on the Philosophy of Education: "Education is the systematic development of the conceptual faculty." Systematic being the keyword here. I found my schooling took a serious hit once I became the mother of a toddler. I always knew it was a possibility, but I was unable to continue schooling in the appropriate manner and nor could I parent my toddler well when I was consistently brushing him off to see to the educational needs of my two school-aged children. I could have gone on floating from one thing to another and taking much of our education in a catch-as-catch-can manner, but it wasn't really educating. It may have been learning but it fell short of the definition I was trying to abide by. There are so many other reasons, but that is the first and foremost.

Those are some of the things I have floating around in my brain. I would like to blog about my decision to stop homeschooling (for myself as well as any curious bystanders). The rewards issue is going to wait until I get some more thinking done and feedback.

And this post is a perfect example of why I haven't blogged in a while. It's a bit like my brain right now--disjointed and full of incomplete thoughts.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


It's been a while. Tersely, my computer crashed with the science pics I was going to post and then I got fed up. There. And I wanted more of a real life. I find that I am a slow enough writer that composing a blog post that was not just hit-and-run was taking a lot of time--usually very late in the evening.

Now that the computer is put back together (grateful to hubby for his work), I want to post an update. I am no longer homeschooling both of my school-age girls. About a month ago I decided to enroll my 10 1/2 year-old, Hanover, in public school.

I would like to discuss how that decision happened, and the results in later posts. In short, I am comfortable (for now) with the outcome.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Science: Magnetism Demonstration

There are a number of typical ways of showing magnetic lines of force. I purchased some iron filings from an education store in my area (buying them on-line proved slightly tricky). In order to show lines of force I placed about 2 tablespoons (not measured, guesstimated) in a plastic sleeve protector and then taped the top shut.

The tape is even harder to see than I thought.

Paper underneath makes it easier to see.

The high-powered magnet has north and south on its round faces. The filings align themselves quickly to wrap around the edge. The magnet is so strong that the iron filings are lifting the plastic up.

The bar magnet has north and south clearly marked. The lines of force are seen (though less strongly) arcing from one end to the other.

Fairly simple and a good demonstration for kids.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

More Candle Science: Carbon Dioxide and Combustion

These are the materials: vinegar and baking soda, and a lit candle (any candle will do!).

The vinegar and baking soda react to produce carbon dioxide gas (carbonic acid in the old days).

Important facts about carbon dioxide that are demonstrated: carbon dioxide will not support combustion and it is heavier than air.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Science: Exploring Some Aspects of Combustion

For this demonstration we used a birthday candle mounted in a glass bowl. To get the candle to stand up I melted the bottom to leave a small puddle of wax and then pressed the candle into it. Then I filled the bowl about half-way with water.

It is no surprise that the candle goes out. You can also see the condensation of water vapor (another by product of combustion) by the fog on the inside of the glass. What may be surprising is what happens afterward.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

More and Less Foliage

And now for LESS foliage (the hair cut):

Who is that kid? He must be about three years-old! Makes me think of military marches for some reason....

Friday, October 09, 2009

Homeschool Tip: Notebook Reconstruction

Here are the ubiquitous notebooks all homeschoolers probably have--since they go on sale for about 10 cents every year during back-to-school. I bought enough to cover each kid in each subject and more. And they used them, kind of. They used them one week and then misplaced them and got another. The trouble was that they would write the subjects on the cover and refuse to use it for anything else.

By the time I had four "Hanover Math" notebooks, I was feeling rather annoyed. I did not buy any for this year insisting that I would MAKE them use the old ones. Easier said than done (as always). And then I was irked to see that the new cheap notebooks had great, fun designs on them now. I wanted fun notebooks like that! But I knew it would be a waste.

I did find a way to have fun-looking notebooks AND get the girls to use up the ones they had already labeled with one solution. A notebook makeover. All it took was some scrapbook paper (I have enough of that hanging around so free to me) and a glue stick. I spread a generous amount of glue over the notebook cover and then glued on the scrapbook paper. After pressing it down well all around, I trimmed the edges to match the notebook cover. The darker designs keep the black permanent marker from showing through. The notebooks look much nicer, the kids enjoyed picking out the design to 'personalize' it, and now they are a blank slate for whatever topic needs one.

And I think it is particularly appropriate that these notebooks are being used (if notes are needed) for their art history class.

Much improved!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Fabulous Fall

I swore I wouldn't forget my camera when we went apple picking this year. What did I do? Of course I forgot the camera. I am really happy that I have a camera phone now. Though the pics aren't great, I am glad I have them!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Science for Middle Schoolers and Older

There is nothing I hate more than a science curriculum that states "these experiments are absolutely safe." First, BORING! Second, some science IS dangerous and these kids are old enough to deal with it. The homeschooling curriculums have one hand tied behind their backs because some parents become very hands-off at these more advanced levels so the kids need to be able to do most things on their own and because homes lack some of the essential equipment for chemical experiments like hoods and fire-proof chemical storage.

So when a curriculum spends the introductory paragraph explaining how safe it is, I tend to tune out.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

It's Your Weekly Dose of Reason

For the New Intellectual

Once Upon America

Last week must have been a library theme. While Hanover, my older daughter, was reading this American historical fiction, Flurpee was given a choice of another American historical fiction series. Ironically, this series, Once Upon America, is a more difficult read than the one given to my 10 year old.

These books encompass many different eras in American History, like the Dear America series. Yet, they are geared to a younger audience and a younger reader. The books are about as thick as the Magic Tree House series. And like the Magic Tree House books, they are illustrated. Yet, from the few I perused, the language is richer and the intellect of the child is challenged more. I have always felt the Magic Tree House was most appropriate for 2nd graders and I personally did not find the language rewarding at all and could not really imagine a slightly older child getting a lot out of them. These books, even at about the same size, are much more well written in my opinion. I would not hesitate to recommend them to older kids up to 4th and 5th grade.

The history addressed is serious and there are less punches pulled than with the Hannah of Fairfield trilogy. The subject matter also makes them more appropriate for older kids as well. The book about Pearl Harbor addresses some issues of racism since the main character is best friends with a boy of Japanese descent along with describing the events of the bombing. The books cover the depression, the beginning of the labor movement, women's suffrage, poor treatment of Native Americans, the assassination of Kennedy, and the Oregan trail along with more. People the characters know will be killed, murdered, or commit suicide. Concepts clearly geared to an older audience. Not all of the stories include such macabre scenes and there are plenty to choose from.

I would put these books into a category of books that would please older readers without being a huge strain on their reading ability. I know teachers are often looking for books that will get older kids with lower-level reading abilities interested, and I think these books would easily fit that bill. They would also be a less-painful or time-consuming option for those kids who might look at a 200 page historical fiction novel with dread even if their reading level could support it. I would consider these for the historical topics covered because I would not want my kids wallowing in some of the more depressing topics for as long as would be necessary in the thicker books.

Story-wise, the books are short, and as you would expect some of the story-telling suffers. To fit the history, some books may not have even pacing and the character development may be flat. While they may introduce the history, they may not be a compelling narrative. I am realizing that I know very little of what is available when it comes to children's literature, but this may be acceptable if nothing else fits the bill for the reading level or the interest.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Library Sale Score!

This is a close up of one of my book shelves. The entire shelf is full of Facts on File science experiment binders. I have Junior Environmental Activities on File, Earth Science Experiments on File, Science Experiments on File, More Science Experiments on File, Junior Science on File, Junior Science Experiments on File, Janice VanCleave's Science Experiment Sourcebook, Nature Projects on File, and Charts on File on that shelf. I have been regularly checking out Science Experiments on File from my local library. While there are still the usual experiments that teach very little, it has some very good demonstrations (I especially like the ones for stalagmites and classification). If there are still a good portion of the experiments that I wouldn't use, why is this such a score? Because I got all of the binders in a box for $6. Yep--$6!

As an example, the Junior Science Experiments on File has experiments for kindergarteners through 6th grade. Safety guidelines, basic skills, physical sciences, life sciences, earth science, and teachers' hints are grouped separately. i've included a couple of examples. The life science example with the celery is a great lower elementary (K through 3) activity especially when the different colored water is used. The pulley demonstrates appropriately a simple machine and gives a point of comparison by moving to a set up using two pulleys. A great experiment for upper elementary (3 to 6).

I would not claim that these books are great. There are just as many (if not more) experiments that I would not bother with as there are those that I like, but the ones I like I like a lot. They are generally more useful than those found on-line. I like the included data table examples and the directions are clear. The experiments do not demand massive expenditures. The equipment is what one would expect to use for any general science.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Visit to Long Island Sound

I have really enjoyed having my kids in a nature program run by Two Coyotes Wilderness School. It is a bit more academic than some other programs, including ones run by the same group, which I enjoy. This was a place we learned about through the program, Silver Sands State Park on Long Island Sound. Being a Jersey girl, this was my first trip to the sound.

There was a boardwalk to cross the salt marsh to get to the shore. I took a few pictures of the view of the walk out.

Here are three birds sitting on top of the marsh.

This is the land bridge out to the island. It is only accessible at low tide, but the island is closed currently due to some bird.

A seagull breaking open lunch.

Some silver sand evident inbetween the copious rocks.

The bird, of course, is only in the water behind the baby.

So many shells!