Friday, September 23, 2016

Classics Club 31: Journey ot the Centre of the Earth

I found Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth  a quick and  relatively engaging read. It tells the story Professor Lindenbrock, a mad German, scientist, who discovers an old manuscript giving directions to the centre of the earth. Of course he must attempt the trip himself, and convinces his very reluctant nephew, the novel's narrator Axel, to accompany him.

As I was reading I couldn't help noticing many parallels to Moby Dick, which I read last month. The lead-up in both novels is slow with lengthy preparations for the actual journey. The narrator is not the instigator of the adventure. In both cases the leader is a very obsessive personality, and despite being adventure novels both feature an awful lot  of travel tedium. I enjoyed this one more though, at least partly because of the differences. Journey to the Centre of the Earth was shorter since Verne mostly stuck to telling his story. Also, the obsessive leader of this adventure actually featured  in most of its retelling which made for a more interesting narrative. Another key difference is that everyone survives this adventure - not that a happy ending is a prerequisite for literature to be enjoyable.

Some aspects of the novel have not aged well. It is hard to imagine the awe and wonder the original readers might have felt when they read this account of what could be at the centre of the earth. With our greater scientific knowledge  such accounts simply read as inaccurate impossibilities.  Thankfully other facets - the plight of Axel who becomes separated from his fellow travellers or the ongoing conflict between the gung-ho professor and his more risk averse nephew - have lost nothing  in the 150 years+ since the novel was first published.

This was my science fiction pick for the Back to the Classics Challenge.

Week Ending 25 September 2016

This was the week I officially declared our homeschooling year over. Given that most of Miss 15's courses don't have textbooks or outlines or any sort of formal guidelines deciding when we were "done" came down to a gut decision.

Algebra 2 did have a textbook and at the start of the week seven lessons remained. The majority of those covered geometric proofs and the lessons were poorly taught in my opinion. So we completed the non-proof lessons and then I searched online for some lessons that covered the geometry material and we used that instead.

In her child labour course she had investigated the issues in two distinct historical periods and then looked at the issues involved with child labour today. That seems a nice, tidy package to me. Her interest is sated and to do more would just be to do more for the sake of doing more. I doubt huge amounts of extra knowledge or insight would be gained. In other words this course feels done.

We dabbled a little in oology this week and closely examined a chicken egg.

Ornithology was a buffet course and I had gathered far more resources than we'd ever use. So it isn't surprising that we haven't done "everything". But the goal was never to do everything but simply to let Miss 15 pick what interested her. And she's done a lot - read living books, attended lectures and workshops by experts, covered topics like anatomy, evolution, ethography, conservation and phylogeny, conducted plenty of observations, completed a lot of field work including assignments from university level courses, taken part in some citizen science projects, learnt about statistical analysis, and a whole lot more. Since birding is a passion I know she'll continue to learn in this area. But I'm equally confident that even if she did nothing else bird-related ever again that the work she has completed this year is more than worthy of a highschool credit. So ornithology is also officially done.

I only had vague plans for Miss 15's writing course this year. I had hoped she'd do two online courses but she didn't especially enjoy or benefit from the first one, and the second one just felt way too pricey. So we mostly did our own thing. She ended up producing  eight major pieces of work including a book review, an expository essay, a scientific critique, a persuasive essay, a scientific research paper plus several smaller pieces, many for actual publications. She also worked through several writing exercises, chiefly from Help for High School. Since I'm all about quality rather than quantity this feels sufficient. I've also been reminded that trying to force Miss 15 to write following someone else's guidelines, especially  regarding process,  is more likely to result in complaints than a quality product! I know she was exposed to some new ideas and techniques, but it has to be up to her which if any she applies to her future writing. While her writing could always improve (whose couldn't?) I believe Miss 15 could competently write a university level essay and undertake whatever writing might be required in the adult world, even if we never do any more writing instruction. Consequently I'm happy to declare this course is also complete.

The arrival of spring is another factor leading us to end our formal homeschooling and move into a more low-tide learning phase.
Essentially her four main courses all feel finished. Conveniently this is also the last week of the official school term and Miss 15 will be out of town next week so we'd be taking break anyway. There are still a couple of weeks to go in her MOOC on slapstick in the movies so we'll finish that up when she gets home - not that watching and discussing slapstick really feels like work.

When I declare that our homeschooling year is over what I really mean is our formal, structured, high-tide, and somewhat parent-led learning is over. There will undoubtedly still be plenty of learning for the remainder of the year. It's just likely to be low-tide, child led,  unstructured and less formal.

Linking to the Weekly Wrap-Up over at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Fortnight Ending 18 September 2016

Academically it has been a productive couple of weeks.

* Miss 15 finished the Introduction to Animal Behaviour  MOOC. As well as watching the lectures she was busy working on her assignment. She conducted an experiment to monitor the food choices of garden birds and see whether they matched predictions she made based on a theoretical model. They didn't!  But that was fine. It was a great learning experience, not to mention the opportunity to practice correct protocols for scientific writing. Once her report was submitted she then had to peer review the work of four of her course mates.

Animal Behaviour was an unexpected,  recent addition to our studies but it has been a highlight, and a great extension to her interest in ornithology.

*The course on slapstick in the movies is injecting some light relief into our days. We started with silent movies last week - think Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd - before analyzing the transition to talkies this week. This isn't really my genre but I'm learning a lot since I'm watching alongside Miss 15. The course is a little frustrating since the workload varies from week to week, and is released in a piecemeal fashion rather than in one chunk at the at start of the week. Planning is difficult but we're coping so far.

Nothing like Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd to lighten a heavy homeschool day.

* She's on the final stretch with Algebra 2 but it has been slow going as logarithms have been tripping her up. The highlight of my week was being able to figure out where she was going wrong with one type of problem and explain it in a way she understood!

Miss 15 is definitely "anti" when it comes to logarithms!

* Miss 15 finished a section on child labour in the Progressive era by drafting a speech to Congress outlining her recommended approach to the issue. She's now researching present day child labour issues in developing countries. She did  note the irony of having to stop research so she could get ready to go to work herself!

Basil's family is home from holiday so we've farewelled him for now.
* In ornithology she has been researching senses in birds and prepared a PowerPoint presentation on taste. We also took a group field trip to a small local reserve. I ended up waiting in the car. The good thing about this reserve is how much you can see from the car park. The highlight was two Grey Ducks who, due to interbreeding with Mallard Ducks, are becoming rare. I don't think we saw a single one all last year.

Linking to the Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Week Ending 4 September 2016

This was a good week for birding for Miss 15 with three trips. At the start of the week we made a trip to my favourite estuary. Many of the waders which wintered elsewhere are starting to return but the highlight for us was undoubtedly a White-winged Black Tern in breeding plumage. This species is rare in these parts. While we've seen a couple before this was the first we'd seen in breeding plumage. It was pretty spectacular looking, although small and trickier to spot than we were anticipating.

Later in the week Miss 15 went out birding with friends who varied in age from more than 4 times her age to nearly 6 times her age! They went out to a spot where a large number of waders, including several rarer species had been seen earlier in the week. When they went very few waders were around and none of the rarer ones. Still it was a lovely day and Miss 15 did see a Gull-billed Tern - her first for the year.
These two terns were the highlight of the birding week.
The following day we went to our local estuary. It was Global Shorebird Day and birders all over the world were attempting to spot as many of the world's shorebirds as possible. Sadly we didn't have a lot of luck (and I started to feel sick so we cut out trip short) but it was another lovely day to be outdoors.

Miss 15 has  a surprising fondness for slapstick comedy. When I discovered a MOOC on slapstick movies I was pretty confident she'd be keen to add it to her schedule. It'll make a fun addition to an English course. We aren't actually doing any English this year but a previous course was a bit light because I 'stole' some Shakespeare from it to add to some other Shakespeare we did later. Having an entire Shakespeare course made sense and I was sure we'd fill the gap in the first English course somehow. This fits the bill nicely and it is uniquely her.

The week ended with a trampoline competition - a smaller one but the last before the National Champs at the end of the month. It was Miss 15's chance to compete her new routine which (finally) includes a half-out (a double somersault with a half turn for the uninitiated) She's taken forever to gain this skill. Training had been going well all week but on Friday everything turned bad - so bad her coach suggested she train on Saturday which is normally her off day! So she was pretty nervous before the competition as she had no idea whether she'd actually complete the routine. Thankfully she made it through and amazingly enough managed to win - albeit by a very small margin. Now three weeks of hard work to fine tune that routine before Nationals.

For me another highlight of the week was the spring-like weather. Whenever I step outside I'm delighted by the fragrance from my Daphne bush and I've also enjoyed watching the Monarch butterflies flit around. Some have even been laying eggs.

Signs of spring.

Linking to the Weekly Wrap-Up over at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Week Ending 28 August 2016

A mostly uneventful week. I did manage to get out birding with Miss 15 early in the week. While I wasn't at my best ( and neither was the birding) it was good to actually be out and enjoy the sea air.

Our gate has a conveniently located knothole. Perfect for Basil to watch all our comings and goings from. He likes going in the car but isn't the best birding companion!

Most of the week was spent plugging away at bookwork. Miss 15 has opted to up her maths lessons from 4 to 5 per week in the hope of being done by the end of September. Algebra 2 is the highest level of maths that we require and to say she is looking forward to being finished is an understatement! I'm hoping to entice her into some statistics since I think it will serve her well in university and beyond (she's likely to pursue zoology/ecology/animal behaviour or the like), but it will ultimately be her choice.She also worked through another couple of chapters of BraveWriter's Help for High School, three sections of our history unit, and completed three sections from the spine we are using for bird anatomy.

Homemade Cinnamon Scrolls were the perfect addition to a cold, miserable day . Hopefully it was winter's last hurrah and spring will soon be with us.

The highlight of our bookwork was the Animal Behaviour MOOC. This week was all about animal communication. We've done a few MOOCs over the years and they've generally all been highlights. Obviously I should aim to include more in our future. However, it can be hard to plan with MOOCs since they are  not always advertised far in advance. I'm glad we were able to fit this one into our schedule despite only becoming aware of it just before it started. One advantage to not over-filling our year with academics is the ability to easily take advantage of opportunities like this when they arise.
Plenty of reading this week.

In other news Mr 24 can now officially be referred to as Dr since he successfully passed the oral defense of his PhD thesis. It's in the field of computational chemistry and I'll admit to not fully understanding what he has been doing for the last few years! He was still plagued by laryngitis and his voice only just held out but he is officially finished.  We're really proud of him and all the hard work he has put in over the years to get this far.

Linking to Kris's Weekly Wrap-Up.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Classics Club 30: Moby Dick

I am pleased to have finished reading Moby Dick but I can't say I actually enjoyed reading it. It wasn't the length or the nineteenth century writing style that  I disliked. Rather I found the novel as a whole boring, which surprised me given it is an adventure story  (I am counting it as such for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016) which has revenge as one of its main themes.

I think there are several reason why I found the Great American Novel boring. The first, and probably least important reason is that Melville spends a long time just setting the story up. Several chapters are devoted to background, making it hard to get into the story since initially there isn't really one. The second is probably an accurate reflection of a whaler's life - long stretches of fairly hum-drum sailing punctuated by bursts of frantic excitement as a whale is spotted, pursued, killed and then processed. The third, and most frustrating for me as a reader, is that the author frequently interrupts the narrative flow with lengthy passages on the history of whaling, encyclopedic entries on different types of whales, and seemingly unrelated accounts of events that occurred on other whaling boats. Some background is fine, even necessary, but Melville provides way too much - at least for my taste.

As I read I wondered what the novel would have been like had it been told from Ahab's point of view. He was the one driving the action, the one obsessed by revenge, and yet he is mainly just a shadowy figure. I suspect I might have enjoyed the story more had there been more of Ahab in it. He was certainly central in some of the scenes - such as his meeting with Captain Boomer - which I enjoyed and found most compelling.

One positive for me was the the quality of the writing. Gems like
The warmly cool, clear, ringing, perfumed, overflowing, redundant days, were, as crystal goblets of Persian sherbet, heaped up - flaked up, with with rose-water snow
 It was a beautiful, bounteous,  blue day; the spangled sea calm and cool, and flatly stretching away, all round, to the horizon, like gold-beater's skin hammered out to the extremest

  helped make up for having to slog through many pages that I found dreary in the extreme.

Week Ending 21 August 2016

Overall this has been a pretty good week. Conveniently I managed to find at least one highlight each day!

* The chicken pie I planned for dinner on Monday night  led to a great lab session. We used our chicken to review the parts of a bird and to examine the feather tracts. Most of the chicken was then converted into pie but we saved one wing for a dissection. Lots of fun identifying bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments, observing which muscles did what job, and then comparing a chicken wing to a human arm. I wasn't able to find the perfect resource to guide us so based what we did on a few lesson plans that I found online. This one, this one and this one were among the most helpful.

* On Tuesday Basil moved back for a three week stay while the adults in his family enjoy an overseas trip. We're loving having him back (well our cat is not) even though he has even more health issues than when we last cared for him. We are hoping is cancer does not make a speedy progression over the next few weeks.

Basil feeling sleepy at the end of the day.

* Miss 15 finally got to go on a birding field trip on Wednesday. It seems like such a long time since I've been able to take her out. She joined some members of our birding group on a short ramble just out of town. I managed to drive her out there and someone dropped her at a bus stop so she could bus home. It was the first time she's used the buses by herself and she had to change bus mid-journey. Strange to think she's flown alone before she has used a city bus. Mind you we don't really use the buses since they aren't convenient for where we need to go. In fact I think I've only taken her on a bus once. It was just for fun and she would have been four. The weather was cool for the bird ramble and there weren't a lot of birds to be seen but she did enjoy getting out.

* We had fun with this quiz  on Thursday, discovering which bird we were most like.. One of us was a Great Blue Heron; the other, much to her consternation, was a Mallard.

Miss 15 and I. But can you guess who's who?

* Dh celebrated a significant birthday on Friday - one of those ones ending with a zero!

* Miss 15 was able to attend another birding field trip on Saturday.This time they went to a local wildlife park to look at the native birds on display. Next month one of the staff will be giving a talk on how these birds are cared for in captivity. The highlight for Miss 15 was a behind the scenes look at a kiwi incubating an egg. Only three of them got to see this and only then because the kiwi concerned is an especially chilled and mellow one, not likely to be bothered by the brief disturbance. While there she took the chance to have a look at some of the other animals. She also got to add a new species to her bird list for the year - a Cape Barren Goose who is not a resident but likes to hang out anyway.

On Saturday we also had a visit from Mr 24. He's suffering from laryngitis and has the oral defence of his PhD thesis next week!

*On Sunday Miss 15 finally completed her application for a university summer science camp. It's been half done for a while but sort of hanging over her - I don't think she likes selling herself - so it's great to have it finished. Now we just have to hope that she gets accepted and in the programme of her choice (zoology). In the evening she watched Allegiant . She had wanted to see on the big screen but it closed before she made it so she's been looking forward to the DVD release. Sadly she was disappointed since the movie version departed from the book in a major and fairly significant way.

Linking with the Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers' Weekly Wrap-Up.