Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dollygirl's Grade Six: School for Thursday

What did we do for school on the 31st?

Started with Proverbs 31, since you hardly ever get a month with 31 days!

Chapter Two of Crystal Mountain.

Augustus Caesar's World:  "Antony and Cleopatra."  Wow, this is some storytelling!  Right down to how much Cleopatra admired Mark Antony's muscles.  Not sure which historian Ms. Foster drew that from.  Anyway, Dollygirl appeared to enjoy it, and she used toys and props to dramatize the chapter afterwards.  I noticed that she included a lot of little details from the chapter, such as Cleopatra's slaves waking her up the morning after her first "dinner date" with Mark Antony, and the fact that she was in an unusually buoyant mood.  Dollygirl had her Cleopatra wake up singing about "spring is coming," something that's understandable around here on dark, wet days...spring can't come too fast.

Archimedes and the Door of Science:  the second half of the chapter on "King Hiero's Crown."  This part of the chapter was about water displacement, and we did the suggested experiment using big and small containers, a wooden block, and a kitchen scale. Also, Mr. Fixit showed Dollygirl his automotive hydrometer (also called a hygrometer), and told her a story about a friend of his who bought a used car when they were in high school.  Mr. Fixit suggested that they should check the antifreeze, and offered his hydrometer, but his friend shrugged it off.  When the weather froze--so did the engine.  Oops.

Key to Decimals:  Just one word problem, about sports averages.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Dollygirl's Grade Six: School for Wednesday

Dollygirl did the basketball-scores page and a page about batting averages in Key to Decimals.

We read the first chapter of Crystal Mountain, by Belle Dorman Rugh.  I read this out loud a few years ago, but Dollygirl doesn't remember it, so we're starting it again.

The Story of Greece: Chapter 40, "Darius Demands Earth and Water," Chapter 41, "The Battle of Marathon," and whatever Chapter 42 is called, about the events after the battle, the strange last days of General Miltiades, and the death of king Darius.  I wrote all the people and place names on an old blackboard we have, and starred the really important ones.  I also printed out a map of the battlefield that showed where the left, right and centre parts of the Greek army were headed; since this (particularly the problem of them being short-handed in the centre) was mentioned during the story, it helped to be able to show it on a very simply drawn map.  I think Charlotte Mason might have approved of that one.

Highlight of reading about Marathon?  You might think it would be the collapse of Philippides, but I think Dollygirl found more interest in the idea of the Greeks crashing down the hill, hardly able to stop, and more or less smashing into the Persians.  We have a fair-sized hill in our back yard, and Dollygirl has done her fair share of crashing down it (on foot or sled).
So, to this day, when friend meets friend, the word of salute
Is still “Rejoice!” his word which brought rejoicing indeed.
So is Pheidippides happy forever, the noble strong man
Who could race like a god, bear the face of a god, whom a god loved so well,
He saw the land saved he had helped to save, and was suffered to tell
Such tidings, yet never decline, but, gloriously as he began,
So to end gloriously, once to shout, thereafter be mute:
“Athens is saved!” Pheidippides dies in the shout for his meed. -- Robert Browning

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Dollygirl's Grade Six: Tuesday School Plans

Math: Key to Decimals, Book 4; section on Averages. It makes perfect sense to put this section into a workbook on decimals, because so much of the arithmetic you do with averages turns into decimals! The book also includes some bar graph averaging. I will probably assign a page of word problems ("Averages in Sports") as homework. (These are the same sample pages you can download here.)

Readaloud: The Pushcart War, chapters 34-36. (End of the book!)

Roman history review:  watch this video, but just from about 18 minutes on, the parts about Brutus and Cassius (mostly in good taste--Leon Garfield wrote the screenplay--but it's not for little ones):

Augustus Caesar's World:  "Antony and Octavian Divide the World." We also read the next section, "Horace and the Country Mouse."

Archimedes and the Door of Science:  "Archimedes and King Hiero's Crown"
1.  Read to yourself:  pages 54 to the top of page 60.
2.  Narrate orally.
3.  Read together:  pages 60-61.
4.  Find a pencil stub between 2 and 3 inches long, and get a glass of water and a bottle of rubbing alcohol.  Do the experiment on page 62.
5.  Read together:  pages 63-64 (first half of the page), which explains about hydrometers.

For extra credit:  read this article about whether or not the Eureka story really happened...or at least happened as the legend says.

Monday, January 28, 2013

What's on the school menu? Voles and pukak snow

It's a snow day in this part of the world.  Elementary school buses aren't running, end-of-semester high school exams are postponed by a day (giving Ponytails an extra day to study), and Dollygirl's best friend in the neighbourhood has the day off from her private school.  It isn't a beautiful, sunny snow day either; it's kind of a messy, wicked-looking, might have freezing rain kind of snow day.  But it's okay for playing inside...or not having exams.

So what's up for school today?  This morning we read a chapter of Walking with Bilbo; a couple of chapters of The Pushcart War; and Dollygirl is doing two pages about rounding off in Key to Decimals.  Then she's going over to her friend's house to play until lunch.

After lunch, we'll have chapters 38 and 39 from The Story of Greece, about the destruction of Sardis and the death of Histiaeus.
When Aristagoras reached Sparta he tried to tempt the king to help the Ionians by telling him of the wealth he might gain for himself. After Artaphernes was conquered at Sardis it would, he said, be an easy matter to go to Susa and seize the treasures of the great king. He then showed Cleomenes a thing he had never seen before—a map engraved in bronze. Aristagoras pointed out to him all the countries he might make his own if he would aid the Ionians in their revolt.

The king listened and looked, then he dismissed the Greek, promising to think over the matter. In three days he sent for Aristagoras and asked him how long it took to journey from Ionia to Susa.

"Three months," answered the messenger.

"O stranger," then said Cleomenes, "depart from Sparta before the sun goes down; thou art no friend to the Lacedaemonians when thou seekest to lead them three months' journey from the sea."
For Natural History:  a section from Jamie Bastedo's Falling for Snow.  I will probably assign some of the section as copywork or dictation.
Whether living on the shoulder of Alaska's Mount McKinley or in an engineered forest in Bavaria, small mammals dwelling under the snow depend on pukak, that warm, moist, loose layer of crystals that hugs the earth.  If the snowcover is deep enough, they may be virtually immune to predation by foxes, owls, or weasels.  Thus ensconced all winter, a vole, lemming, mouse, or shrew can effortlessly maneuver through its maze of corridors, stopping at a food cache for a nibble of berries, checking its many sentry posts at the edge of its territory, or visiting a nest chamber to groom its fur and steal a quick nap.  Never mind the bitter winds and cold snaps and predators that trouble surface-dwellers.  For these furry little critters, life is good down under.
And, I think, maybe a craft or art project for the rest of the day.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

What books changed your life in 2012?

Mama Squirrel's responses to the Book Quiz posted on The Common Room this week
What was the best new (to you) author you discovered last year?
Probably Ellis Peters.  I started reading a couple of the Brother Cadfael books from The Apprentice's bookshelf when I was book-bored one night, and then I picked up more of them at the thrift store...

What was your favorite new (to you) series?

I read through almost the entire Brother Cadfael series. And several Dorothy L. Sayers mysteries I had never read. And several Rumpole of the Bailey books.

Book that made you cry?

I don't cry much over books, but I liked Sarah's Cottage, by D.E. Stevenson. I suspect we might be distantly related (D.E. Stevenson, I mean, not Sarah), but I'd have to ask my genealogist aunt about that.

Book that made you laugh out loud?

John Mortimer's Rumpole stories.

Book that totally changed your perspective on something?

I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What it Was, by Barbara Sher.

Best homeschool(ing) book?

The Big What Now Book of Learning Styles, by Carol Barnier.

Worst book that you managed to finish?

Castle Dor, started by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and finished by Daphne Du Maurier. But two mysteries based on Sherlock Holmes and Josephine Tey came close for don't-bother-ness.

Book with the best surprise plot twist?

A Morbid Taste for Bones (the first Brother Cadfael book).

Best book-that-was-better-than-the-movie?

Our Man in Havana.  Although I like the movie too.

Most over-hyped book of the year?

I don't know!  I don't pay a lot of attention to hype.

Best Bibliovore recommendation of the year?

I don't use Bibliovore...I'm not even sure what it is.  I do read the NYT Book Review section, but most of the books in it scare me.

Book you have recommended to the most people this year?

Don't know.  Most people I know don't ask.

Best feel-good book of the year?

Don't know.

Best childrens/young adult book of the year?

In new books, I would vote for The Prairie Thief, but I am still waiting for our library to buy a copy.

Book you’ve been meaning to read for years and finally got to?

On The Art of Writing, and On The Art of Reading, both by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.

Read aloud that the family enjoyed the most?

The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure, by Hans Magnus Enzensberger.  Or possibly The HobbitThe Pushcart War doesn't count, because we're reading it right now.

Best cookbook/knitting/gardening/or other household how-to?

The 2012 Family Guide to Groceries under $250 a Month, by Liss Burnell.

Best non-fiction?

How to Read a Poem, and fall in love with poetry, by Edward Hirsch, but I'm not done it yet.

Best religion/theology/doctrine/philosophy?

The Mind of the Maker, by Dorothy L. Sayers. Also J.B., by Archibald MacLeish, and Walking with Bilbo, by Sarah Arthur.  And Spiritual Anorexia: How Contemporary Worship is Starving the Church, by Doug Erlandson.

Best political book?

Uncle Eric Talks About Personal, Career, and Financial Security, by Richard J. Maybury.  It's sort of political.

All-around best story of the year?

Not sure.


Monday, January 21, 2013

No more paper pizza: Philosophy of Education, Chapter Two

Do you like imaginary food?
In Towards a Philosophy of Education, Chapter 2, Charlotte Mason describes a teacher who is suddenly enlightened about the agile, hungry, wondrous minds of children.  He sees that he has been giving his students only "stale commonplaces."  He understands that they "hunger for knowledge, not for information."  And certainly he "would not invite a parcel of children to a Timon feast of smoke and lukewarm water."

Or paper pizza, playdough cookies, and lime punch made from a half-melted candle.  Such food is fun for dolls.  It made a great New Year's party for Dollygirl's dolls.  But human beings certainly couldn't make a meal of it.
Charlotte Mason says, “That which is born of the flesh, is flesh, we are told; but we have forgotten this great principle in our efforts at schooling children. We give them a 'play way' and play is altogether necessary and desirable but is not the avenue which leads to mind. We give them a fitting environment, which is again altogether desirable and, again, is not the way to mind. We teach them beautiful motion and we do well, for the body too must have its education; but we are not safe if we take these by-paths as approaches to mind.” In other words, we have found the road to caring for the needs of the physical body, and even the physical brain; but the “spiritual mind” (the whole non-physical person, not limited to a theological sense of spirituality) is quite a different creature.
"Our business is to give children the great ideas of life, of religion, history, science; but it is the ideas we must give, clothed upon with facts as they occur, and must leave the child to deal with these as he chooses.”

And if it doesn’t work? Then, says Charlotte Mason,  our error "is rather want of confidence in children.”


The teacher “bores his scholars with much talk.” We show them too many pictures. We try to read between the lines for them. We try to learn for them.

"This is how any child's mind works, and our concern is not to starve these fertile intelligences. They must have food in great abundance and variety."   We need to provide intellectual meat:  "History must afford its pageants, science its wonders, literature its intimacies, philosophy its speculations, religion its assurances to every man, and his education must have prepared him for wanderings in these realms of gold."  And real art: "pictures by great artists old and new....Perhaps we might secure at least a hundred lovely landscapes too,––sunsets, cloudscapes, starlight nights."  "To hear children of the slums 'telling' King Lear or Woodstock, by the hour if you will let them, or describing with minutest details Van Eyck's Adoration of the Lamb or Botticelli's Spring, is a surprise, a revelation. We take off our shoes from off our feet; we 'did not know it was in them,' whether we be their parents, their teachers or mere lookers-on. And with some feeling of awe upon us we shall be the better prepared to consider how and upon what children should be educated."

That's her teaser for the next chapter.  How and upon what?  If textbooks, lectures, and our own good intentions are so much paper pizza, then what is the real food we should be serving?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Want to read some Harper's Young People?

"Oliver sat down on one of the books, took another on his lap, reveling in the dust, and began to look at it.  It turned out to be the bound volume of a magazine called Harper's Young People, published in the year 1887.  The book was mildewed, some of its pages were glued together by years of damp, and its green cover had been gnawed by mice, but it exuded the indescribably delicious odor of all ancient books; better still, it was full of the pictures and adventures of the children of that other world...A world where girls wore sashes and long hair, and boys wore long stockings and button boots, and the horses which pulled the trolley cars wore straw hats."--Elizabeth Enright, The Four-Story Mistake

Want to read some Harper's Young People, sans mildew and mice?  Check it out on Google Books.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

First-week-back school thoughts

So how are the winter school plans working out so far (after two days)?

Best resource we have right now:  a backyard full of snow.  Snow forts!  Snow digging!  Snow sliding!  After a dark, bleak, and mostly snowless December, a cold but bright week with lots of snow definitely feels like a new start for January.

Best books so far:  Augustus Caesar's World, which we had just started before the holidays; and The Pushcart War, which we're reading together as well.  A couple of the others, I'm not sure yet, or we haven't actually started.  Ponytails and I read Augustus Caesar's World two years ago, so I remember it pretty well, but I'm still impressed at Genevieve Foster's ability to bring some potentially dry and hard-to-tell-apart characters to life.  It's not every writer who could handle introducing Cicero and even manage to include some of his backstory in a convincing way...although he's basically her Voltaire (from George Washington's World) in a toga.  I photocopied the two character pages from the first pages of Part One, and gave them to Dollygirl to colour while I read a few sections today.  (I notice she spent most of her time colouring Cleopatra and Octavia, the only women on the pages.)

Best idea for a short project:  make a coupon clipper booklet on the topic of Ancient Greece, while reading through a small stack of daily-life-type books.  The Apprentice did this years ago for a study of the Romans...I still remember the ads for "toga dry cleaning" and a "private academy for boys--we promise not to beat them too hard."

Best math question:  there's a photograph of a man in a hard hat standing beside the business end of what looks like a giant mechanical shovel, or something to chew things up anyway.  Estimating the size of the man, determine the scale of the photograph, and use the scale to figure out how wide the shovel actually is.  (It turned out to be about twelve feet wide, if the man was about six feet tall.  Although we had to figure that in centimeters.)  Bonus question:  what do you think the piece of machinery is?

It turned out to be one of these--only a contemporary version. A gravel pit shovel!

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Gaining Financial Momentum in the New Year: A Canadian View by Mr. Fixit

If I were to have a list of New Year’s resolutions pertaining to financial health for 2013, it would be for amusement only, because it is the steps taken in the past and the planning over months, years and decades that really determine your overall financial health in the new year. Just for fun, here is my list:

--Debt is a four letter word, so don’t use it unless a bus runs over your toes.

--Run your household like a business that makes a profit, which is invested in the future.

--Know your habits, both bad and good, by keeping track of expenditures; this helps you plan for the future.

--It’s not what you earn, it’s what you burn! Don’t light cigars with hundred dollar bills, because smoking is bad for you.  Besides, hundred dollar bills are made of plastic which emits toxins during combustion.

My wife and I have a daughter in her second year of university, another in high school and a third in grade six. We had lots of pressures and many changes in 2012, the biggest being my retiring from full time work to pursue self employment. Does this sound brave, foolish or insane? Not really; it was planned for years ago by utilizing the “run your house as a business” principle and the “invest in the future" principle.  During years of high income, RSP’s were maxxed, the house paid down, and child tax credit invested in RESP’s. We couldn’t see the future any clearer than Mr. Magoo without his glasses, but knew there would be challenges. Out of this grew a cycle where in January of each year the profit from our household was invested in an RSP, which was used as a tax credit to get back the tax we paid in the previous tax year during tax season in March. It worked something like this: we invested $5000 in our RSP, which generated a $3800 tax refund, which meant a $5000 investment only cost us $1200.

Those who qualify for Canada child tax benefit and other government incentives which were designed to help families save for the future can use this money to invest. Maxxing out the RSP as previously mentioned also lowers your net income tax and qualifies you for a larger share of these programs. This money, which in its peak years would average over $800 a month, was invested in an RESP, which has allowed our daughter to pay tuition and other costs without borrowing money.

In recent years we have also taken advantage of Tax Free Savings Accounts to save money for emergencies and in lieu of life or disability insurance. Purchasing benefits can be a drain for those who are self employed, are contractors, or are working for a company which has no benefits. Again, it sounds insane, but having a year’s worth of income stockpiled to be used in an emergency without meeting some institution’s rules of eligibility while you are in dire straits is a good feeling. Most years this was accomplished on less than $40,000 a year in family income.

Now running your house as a profitable business takes some patience, and understanding that you will not drive the newest, most luxurious car. Some of your household effects will be from garage sales and thrift stores, and your decorating may be back in style as "post modernist machine age era mid century retro" several times over.  Spend your money on things that retain their value or increase in value such as a home, education, antiques, and items that earn money because they are used as tools. In other words, durable goods. Non-durable goods that drop in value the minute you leave the store, such as big screen TVs, game systems, luxury items, and fancy cars, are a sinkhole and are often regretted after purchase. Most of these items can be picked up slightly used and not too far out of date at a fraction of what they cost originally.

Take a look at where you want to be this year, next year, even in twenty years; and start gaining financial momentum using some of these principles, which I can explain in more detail in future articles.

Linked from Festival of Frugality #370.  Linked from the Nerdy Finance Carnival #21: Trillion Dollar Coin Edition.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Marva Collins and a war of words

An early scene in the 1981 film "The Marva Collins Story" shows various classes in a large inner-city school.  Teachers and students are struggling over behaviour issues and little is getting done.  In Marva's class, a girl is reciting the funeral oration from Julius Caesar, and Marva (played by Cicely Tyson) reminds the class that they must not allow themselves to be swayed by rhetoric or pushed around by others' words, but that they should think for themselves.  Suddenly a fire alarm rings (something that is later said to be a regular interruption).  Marva tells her class to stay seated, and goes out into the hall; kids are pouring down the stairs and there's a teacher screaming at the boy who pulled the fire alarm.  She goes back to her class and says that if the children want to go outside they can, but that since it was obviously a false alarm, she is just going to get back to work because she has a "lot of teaching to do."

Thus illustrating the lesson louder than any fire bell.

Has anyone asked the real Marva what she thinks about the Common Curriculum guidelines, as described recently on the Common Room?  They shouldn't have to wonder.

And at least one academic would agree with her:
"The University of Arkansas’ Sandra Stotsky argues that an emphasis on informational texts actually prevents children from acquiring “a rich understanding and use of the English language” and “may lead to a decreased capacity for analytical thinking.” Dry government documents such as those recommended in the Common Core’s are “hardly the kind of material to exhibit ambiguity, subtlety, and irony,” she observes."--Why all the cool kids are reading Executive Order 13423, by Lindsey M. Burke, December 27, 2012,
As for the homeschoolers--are you going to let yourselves be pushed around by a little old fire alarm?  (Said with a Marva Collins inflection.) Back to work, there's a lot of teaching to do.

Linked from the Carnival of Homeschooling at NerdFamily Blog.