Saturday, September 16, 2017

Week Ending 17 September 2017

This week was the beginning of the end. It was also very nearly the end of Miss 16 and me as well. But more about that later.

The beginning of the end came via history. Miss 16 finished her history spine this week. The chapter was essentially a look at where the country is now and where it is likely to go next. I also had her complete an annotated map where she had to pick 10 places to put on a blank map and then include an annotation indicating their historical significance. And with that we decided that history was finished for the year. She'll be finishing other subjects in the next few weeks meaning the end of our formal homeschooling for the year and (depending on her decision regarding university) possibly the end of formal homeschooling - forever! I've been homeschooling for 20 years so it will be a big change.

For literature this week we focused on short stories, reading and analyzing several including E.M. Forester's The Other Side of the Hedge, The Summer of the White Horse by William Saroyan and James Joyce's Ivy Day in the Committee Room. Animal Behaviour was also straightforward, with a fun chapter looking at play - definitions, types, functions, endocrinological and neurological bases, plus a phylogenetic approach. Interesting stuff!

Statistics on the other hand was neither fun nor straightforward nor enjoyable. Linear regression we hate you with a passion! Miss 16 and I seriously thought it was going to be the death of us. Our programme has three sections and we typically do one per day. On Monday we struggled immensely - partly the problem was us, partly the programme and partly our technology - and gave up in disgust. On Tuesday we went with our birding group in the morning. When we got back we were both unreasonably tired so ended up wasting time online before Miss 16 had to head to work. And the evening is not a good time to tackle things requiring heavy duty brain power. So no statistics on Tuesday. Wednesday we made some progress with me getting some things (and thus being bale to help her figure them out) and other things clicking for her. On Thursday Mr 19 was actually able to explain a couple of things (he had a test on Wednesday night and needed all his time to study since he'd been sick the previous week and was a little behind schedule; I hadn't wanted to pick his brain any earlier) and we finally got to the end of the first section. The plan on Friday was to tackle one section in the morning and the other in the afternoon, along with finishing up bits and pieces from her other subjects. Friday morning ended up being a bust since she wanted to go to the gym to keep up with her new workout schedule, then she was asked to coach a preschool class. She was going to decline but since it would help out a friend she said yes. By the time she got home it was lunchtime. So we ended up doing one section in the early afternoon, then finished up some other stuff, before completing the remaining section in the late afternoon. And amazingly it went with hardly a hitch (our spreadsheet package had a glitch and refused to do what it has done before; we simply moved on) - funny how something is pretty simple when you know what you are doing!

Chocolate helped get us through statistics that week. It was either that or give in to Miss 16's suggestion of a stiff whisky! 


If it had been any other week we may have left some of the statistics until the weekend. But we had a pretty full weekend planned. On Saturday it was our birding group's monthly field trip. I keep forgetting I'm in charge of these now and when people ask exactly where we're going and what we can expect to see that I'm the one who is supposed to know the answers! For whatever reason not many people turned out on this trip but those that did had a good time. The weather was better than forecast, we saw some good birds and I didn't get us lost (always a danger when you head off the beaten track to a location you've never been before). Luckily Miss 16 got plenty of outdoor time on Saturday because on Sunday she was stuck indoors 7 hours judging at a trampoline competition.




Saturday, September 9, 2017

Fortnight Ending 10 September 2017

I'm having one of those spells where I understand why there aren't so many blogs about homeschooling high school. Simply saying we did another lesson of this and a couple of chapters from that just isn't very interesting, and high school doesn't lend itself nearly so well to cute photos which seem to be a requirement of  blogging these days. Hence, no post last week.

However, high school isn't always  boring textbook type stuff. This week statistics looked like this.



Which was vastly more interesting than last week's statistics, which looked like this.



Each unit of our stats course (Annenberg Learner's Against All Odds) starts with an activity that often has you gather your own data. This is frequently classroom oriented e.g. comparing shoe sizes of large groups of boys and girls, which doesn't really work at home. Luckily they also supply sample data so we mostly use that. But this week's activity involved comparing the colour distribution of different varieties of M&Ms, which was definitely something we could do. Nothing like adding a little enchanting pixie dust to the homeschool day when you can. Especially in a non-favoured subject. Once the M&Ms were sorted and the results tabled, Miss 16 proceeded to eat the data, which helped soften the pain of then having to do chi-square testing, which was the actual point of the exercise!

Other than that not a lot else stands out from the past two weeks. We've gone birding a couple of times - birdwise the main highlight was a wild turkey, attended our monthly birder's meeting, and have been busy organizing forthcoming birding adventures.  Miss 16 has also joined a gym. She's happy with her decision to retire from trampolining but was missing the regular exercise. She's had a couple of sessions with a personal trainer and is now good-to-go under her own steam. Dh, Miss 22 and Mr 19 have all been felled by flu like symptoms but have recovered fairly quickly which is good. Miss 16 and I are hoping to avoid it.




Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Science of Climate Change - A Review

When I was given the opportunity to review Blair Lee's The Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course I jumped at the chance, even though Miss 16 is on the older side for for this course. Why? One reason is the author herself. Blair is a qualified scientist, has taught at the college level and is a homeschooling parent. So she definitely knows her science (not all science courses are written or checked by people with a science qualification) and she knows the reality of homeschooling (no trying to adapt classroom activities and instruction for a home setting with just one student). Plus, we were already familiar with the quality of Blair's work, since Miss 16 used RSO Biology 2, which Blair wrote, back in 2014. The other reason is the topic itself. Climate change is such an important issue for everyone since it is affecting the world we live in right now, but it is especially important for someone like Miss 16 whose future plans are likely to involve studying and working in the fields of zoology, ecology or conservation. While we've read and talked about climate change Miss 16 has never formally or systematically studied it. This course was the perfect way to remedy this deficiency.

The Science of Climate Change is a short (the meat of the book is just 60 pages) but thorough course divided into four sections - 1.The Greenhouse Effect, 2.Global Warming, 3.Climate Change, and 4.What Can Be Done To Help?. We opted to complete each section in one session per week, but had I been using it with younger kids I would have opted for several shorter sessions per week. The format is easy to use. There's just one book with everything you need in it - text, answers and a supply list (most of it is common stuff you probably already have or is easy to find; I needed a packet of Kool Aid and some effervescent tablets but if you don't already have a thermometer you'll need to buy a couple). You simply open the book, read the text,  pause your reading to do the activities as they occur, then resume reading.

Overall, I was really impressed with this course. It did an excellent job of clearly, calmly and concisely laying out the facts relating to climate change in a systematic and logical fashion. The tone was conversational, perfectly pitched for the 8-13 year old group which I see as the target age range for the course, but not too young or babyish for older teens - or their parents! (If you've got younger kids I'm sure they'd be happy to join in for most of the work but there are some activities you might want to modify - I'd probably compile the 30 years of weather data for them or use the example that is in the appendix  and be prepared to help out with the analysis - or simply let them skip altogether). The text was well supported by illustrations, including plenty of diagrams illustrating and reinforcing what was in the text. The most important parts of the text are bolded, underlined or set apart in a box, so the parent can be sure to emphasize them. The full page illustrations at the end of each section are especially good at summarizing the key points of the section. Visual learners will surely appreciate all the diagrams and other illustrations, but if you have a child who is distracted by lots of colour and plenty of visuals they may find some pages a little "busy" -  you might want to read aloud to them and just show them the diagrams as needed.


Graphing the Concentration of Carbon Dioxide

One of the aspects I was most impressed with was the truly interactive nature of this course. So often science books involve reading a section, answering some comprehension questions and then completing an experiment. And courses that are touted as interactive often include many features that are simply gimmicky or busywork. Not this course. The text and activities are totally integrated and the activities seem designed to get the student interacting with the material in a meaningful and memorable way. Colouring pages can be just time fillers or busy work, but here the student colours part of the ocean around Greenland plus a graph showing the amount of certain products that can be made from recycled or unrecycled material using the same amount of energy. This is colouring with a purpose, designed to emphasize how much of the area used to be sea ice and the advantages of recycling. After reading about the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases students are asked to complete graphs showing concentrations of specific gases. There are two versions of this activity, a great way of catering for students of differing ages and abilities. Students learn about feedback loops then construct one of their own, read about how the fast rate of climate change makes it difficult for  for organisms to adapt then take part in a simple but fun activity (rolling a tennis ball/trying to avoid a rolling tennis ball) designed to model the principle that it is hard to avoid a fast moving event,  and read about radiation then observe it for themselves by putting a sheet of black paper in the sun. They also read about the increase in manufactured goods and the trend for food to be consumed a long way from where it is produced then check  their own home and supermarket for evidence of this. They don't just read about changes in weather over time; they gather and analyse weather data from their own area (not being in the US I thought we might need to pick an American city to call home in order to complete this activity, so I was happy to discover that the recommended website includes data from our city ). None of the activities are complicated, but they are varied, well integrated in the text and designed to reinforce it's key messages.

Another aspect of this course that impressed me is the way that aspects of the practice and methodology of science are woven into the content. Scientists use maths and the course includes simple calculations plus a brief introduction to scientific notation as well as practice using it. Sheets for experiments get the student to form a hypothesis, accurately record their observations, then provide questions to guide them towards appropriate and meaningful conclusions. One experiment, investigating the effect of water temperature on the solubility of carbon dioxide had the students collect data from three trials not just one, a good demonstration of the point that scientists do not just rely on one observation or data point. When students are given data to graph, they are prompted to ask where it came from (in this case NOAA), since it is vital to know exactly where data comes from and be able to check how it was gathered.

Experimenting with the solubility of carbon dioxide in water of different temperature

I liked the way that no prior knowledge was assumed. If your child doesn't already know about atoms and molecules, you can still use this course with them because a simple definition is included in the text. Likewise the scientific method is simply and quickly explained. If you've already covered this you can use it for review, but if not it is a good basic introduction to the foundation of all good science. I also like the fact that it isn't assumed that children can't understand seemingly technical concepts and processes. Infrared spectroscopy is explained in a straight forward manner so students can understand how it is used to determine concentrations of greenhouse gases in air trapped millions of years ago.

Climate change can be a depressing topic and I think it is counterproductive, wrong and even harmful to teach children that their future is doomed because of it, or to leave them thinking that it is an issue that only adults can solve. The Science of Climate Change does not fall into this trap. Instead the last section lays out a lot of simple actions that children and their families can start doing right now, and points out that if everyone does their bit we can limit the scale and impact of climate change. As  a bonus 20% of the profit from this book is being donated to groups educating others about global warming and climate change.

Seeing the Greenhouse Effect in action - comparing temperatures of enclosed and unenclosed spaces.
The Science of Climate Change was not 100% perfect for us. I don't think I've ever found something that is! I would like to have seen more examples and case studies in the section on climate change, so that students would get a more concrete idea how people, animals and plants are being affected. Also, many of the suggested solutions were somewhat simplistic, and/or not without problems of their own. For instance, as a keen birder Miss 16 is very aware of the adverse effects of solar and wind power, especially on migratory birds. However, these reservations are minor, partly a result of Miss 16's age, and easily rectified. For instance I could have her write a research paper on the impact of climate change on birds!

Overall, I wholeheartedly recommend The Science of Climate Change. It is topically relevant, engagingly written, easy to implement and use, and full of a variety of well-integrated meaningful activities. Most importantly it is scientifically accurate and reliable. You should definitely plan to include it in your science programme, especially if your kids are in the middle school range.

If you'd like to learn more or want to buy the course (available as an actual book or an ebook - great for those of us overseas since it avoids postage costs and delivery and delays) just visit the website.

Disclosure: I received this book for free in return for an honest, unbiased review. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Week Ending 27 August 2017

Without any excitement-causing eclipse in this part of the world, our week was mostly routine and unremarkable. Miss 16 completed all her planned work by Thursday so on Friday I suggested a trip to our local art gallery. I was especially keen to see the Henri Matisse:Jazz exhibit, featuring his famous colour cutouts. We studied Matisse, including the cutouts, several years ago so it was great to actually see them ourselves.







The gallery paired his work with cutouts by local artists.





I was also interested to see the exhibit featuring work by Len Lye, a New Zealand artist well known for his kinetic sculptures. Sadly photos don't do justice to the colour or movement, let alone the sound!





Paintings featuring local landscapes caught our eye.



As did work by English optical artist Bridget Reilly.



Miss 16 was taken by the irony, sarcasm  and satire of  piece which commented on ways to make a name for yourself as an artist. Plus the crocheted five little piggies!


Meanwhile my eyes kept getting drawn back to a triptych looking at our colonial history.





On Saturday it was our bird group's monthly field trip which  is now my responsibility to organise and lead. We headed to a lagoon about an hour and a half north of the city. Earlier in the year drought meant that the lagoon totally dried up. All the native eels had to be rescued and relocated. After a wet winter we wanted to see what the water level was like and whether the birds had returned. Plenty of water in the lagoon and pretty  much all the waterfowl species we would have expected but in much lower numbers than previously. This area is known as a hot spot for one particular type of goose. Luckily one put in an appearance since three members of our group hadn't seen one in the wild before. On our return  trip we took a coastal route and made a few stops to observe seabirds and waders. All in all it was a pretty good day.


A Cape Barren Goose 

For me one of the highlights was just a couple of minutes drive from home when I spotted a Barbary Dove perched on some power lines. One of my birding goals was to spot 100 different species in the year (100 isn't a high number by international standards but there aren't a large number of bird species in mainland New Zealand). I'd come close before but never reached the magic number. The dove was my 100th species this year so Miss 16 forgave me for my sudden command to stop - she was driving and first thought something was wrong!

The only other out of the ordinary event was Mr 19's car getting broken into on Saturday night/Sunday morning. Luckily nothing seems was taken and the ignition wasn't tampered with, so more an inconvenience than anything. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

White Fang

White Fang is part dog, part wolf - but predominantly wolf. He is born in the wilds of the Yukon and soon comes face to face with the harsh realities of life in this unforgiving environment. He is the only pup from the litter to survive, his father is killed and food is scarce. He finds himself irresistibly drawn to a human campsite and, lured by a more reliable source of food, surrenders his independence to Grey Beard who is a tough but fair master. Under the influence of alcohol Grey  Beard sells White Fang into a life of dog fighting with Beauty Smith. White Fang excels in what is literally a dog eat dog environment. Eventually however he meets his match and seems to face a certain death until he is rescued by Weedon Scott, who through kindness, firmness and unrelenting patience manages to rehabilitate White Fang. The pair move to Scott's family farm where. after a variety of mishaps, White Fang kills an escaped convict who has broken into the house intending to kill Scott's father.

The plot was relatively simple and the writing style plain and uncomplicated. Yet this was one of the  most difficult classics I've read. The reason is the sheer unrelenting brutality, savagery and barbarism. These episodes are not glorified; if anything the matter-of-fact way in which they are relayed highlights how unremarkable they are, which in turn reinforces the brutality. With the exception of some maternal care there is no love or kindness until the appearance of Weedon Scott. The hostile environment seems to leave no room for such "luxuries". It is telling that it is Scott, who does not permanently reside in the Yukon, who is willing and to stand up against the brutality of dog fighting and has the patience and kindness needed to curb White Fang's savage survival instincts.

White Fang explores themes such as freedom vs confinement, redemption, and the struggle for survival. It is an interesting counterpoint to London's The Call of the White but isn't recommended for readers of a tender disposition.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Fortnight Ending 20 August 2017

Here's a quick look at some of what we've been up to over the past fortnight. Some of it looks like "school" and some of it doesn't but it is all part of the tapestry of our days.


We've now added this course on American Cinema from Annenberg Media to Miss 16's Film Studies course. On the day we watched this episode the sun was streaming into the bedrooms, so we took my tablet in there, propped it up on some books, and basked in the warmth while we learnt more about the studio system in Hollywood, especially during the 1930s and 1940s.



A couple of weeks ago Miss 16 entered a competition by a local cafe to design a new designer shake. Her shake - a chocolate coconut combo - was one of the winners. Four of us went to the cafe one afternoon to enjoy one of her shakes for free before they were officially added to the menu this weekend.


She's working on vocabulary four times per week at the moment. I'm not entirely sure how necessary this is since she already has a strong vocabulary and reads widely. But we had these books on the shelf, it's only taking her about ten minutes per day, and she doesn't object. Dedicated vocabulary study can't hurt!


One of the great benefits of homeschooling is being able to tailor an education to the student's interests. This year Miss 16 is studying New Zealand history. One day she reads a chapter from the living book we are using as a spine. The following day I usually have a related activity or reading organised. One of the topics this week's chapter focused on was increasing levels of environmental consciousness. I then found an article in the New Zealand Journal Of History titled "Native Bird Protection, National Identity and the Rise of Preservation in New Zealand to 1914". The perfect way to tie history and one of her passions together!


We managed a couple of short local birding trips - one by ourselves and one with a small group. Plenty of Welcome Swallows resting on the reeds at one of the wetlands. At another we found them busy starting to build nests inside the bird hide.




The highlight of the trips for us was a pipit. They are not incredibly rare but we hadn't spotted one this year. We were hoping to see one at one of the wetlands but were out of luck. On the way home we got a text from one of our friends who'd been on the trip and knew we were looking for one. So we turned back and luckily it hadn't flown off.




We've moved on to Station Eleven for literature. At the moment I think we'll read it then discuss it using these questions. I'll add in stuff from the LitCharts site if its helpful.


Miss 16 has never really enjoyed maths and was delighted to be finished last year since Algebra 2 is the highest level we require. However, she intends studying zoology or ecology or the like at university level. Not only will statistics be useful but all courses she's looked at require at least one statistics paper as part of the degree. So she is willingly working through a statistics course 3 or 4 times per week this year in preparation.


One of the local council has just released a new draft plan relating to the management of coastal areas. They've held a couple of public consultation/public engagement type events. Since several areas are havens for bird life our bird group was invited to be part of this. Miss 16 helped set up our displays and talked to the public about bird life in the area.

As always there's been stuff I didn't capture on camera - often because I wasn't there. Although not training or competing at the moment, Miss 16 is still involved in trampolining. She coaches for six hours per week and spent eight hours one day judging at a local competition. Judging all day is more tiring than competing apparently! She also worked on animal behaviour - just imagine her at a desk taking notes from a textbook and you'll have a good image of how that looked!

Linking to the Weekly Wrap-Up and Homeschool Highlights.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Look Back at my Classics Club Challenge

Now that my 50 book Classics Club challenge is over it feels like time to step back and reflect.

Overall I enjoyed the challenge and am glad I did it. It certainly got me reading more classics than I had been, led me to be more intentional about my reading in general, and exposed me to many works I might never have got to otherwise. Some books were more difficult than others - either for reasons of language and writing style, or due to the subject matter. But challenge is not a bad thing,  I feel richer for having read them and don't regret any of them, even though I can't imagine wanting to read some of them again. The pacing of one book every four to six weeks felt doable, without forcing me to give up other reading. I wanted to read more classics but I didn't want to give up more contemporary titles. I ended up completing the challenge more quickly than planned but I wouldn't have wanted to commit to that in advance, if that makes sense.

Not wanting to commit too far in advance relates to the one aspect of the challenge that I didn't enjoy - having to select all 50 titles at the outset. I picked 50 at the outset but stated even then that I doubted I'd actually read all of them. In fact 13 of my original titles have not yet been completed, even though I say I've completed the challenge. I ended up reading 13 other classics instead. There are several reasons for this. One of them is tied to the fact that I homeschool. If Miss 16 read a classic I read it too so we could discuss it together. I also got bogged down part way through, then discovered another classics challenge - Karen's Back to the Classics Challenge which has you read up to 12 classics per year in a variety of sub categories. This was just the reset I needed, but not all of my original picks could fit into the categories over there so I substituted freely. I was more committed to the idea of 50 classics than any particular title. And not all of the 13 unread  titles will remain unread. I've actually already completed The Death of Ivan Ilyich, but have yet to post a review; I'm going to collect Crime and Punishment from the library this evening and have The Handmaids Tale on hold - although there is a lengthy waiting list. I also plan to tackle Heart of Darkness or Dante's Inferno before year's end. Others probably won't be read. My experience with Emily Dickinson taught me that I don't enjoy reading large poetry collections in one chunk. I may well read some poems by Robert Frost but definitely not his complete works. And right now Birdsong doesn't appeal to me. That may change of course.

As for the books I did read, two titles I'd never even heard of before tackling the challenge - The Dollmaker  and The Makioka Sisters - turned out to be among my favourites. Some books I appreciated without necessarily enjoying  (Mrs Dalloway) while some I simply didn't like at all (sorry Moby Dick). Most of course were somewhere in between. Some of the classics felt a little dated to me (The Martian Chronicles, Journey to the Centre of the Earth) but still had something to offer even though I wasn't getting the full experience of reading them soon after they'd been published. Others,  sadly, were still all too relevant today ( A Raisin in the Sun). I discovered I normally enjoyed strong female characters ( The Woman in White's Marian and Mina from Dracula), while I struggled to engage with works dominated by passive women (Lucy in Villette) or unpleasant, rather than merely flawed, men (The Odyssey). Sometimes I felt overly long descriptive or discursive sections interrupted the narrative flow and interrupted my enjoyment (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) but other times they added positively to my reading experience (Charles Dickens - mostly!). Beautiful, lyrical writing always appealed (Rebecca) but I could also appreciate the more spartan style in Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea.

Now that I've finished this 50 book challenge I intend to keep classics as a regular part of my reading diet. I doubt I'll complete another 50 book Classics Club challenge though - too difficult to have to select another 50 titles upfront! I've still got some Shakespeare that I want to tackle - can't believe I haven't got to King Lear yet - and more Dickens is definitely on the cards as well. Other than that we shall see what turns up. This blog has serendipity in its title for a reason!