Monday, February 23, 2015

Week Ending 22 February 2015

This working week was thankfully much more settled than last with no major interruptions. Both kids work steadily. They covered Western and Northern Europe in geography as well as looking at map projections. Mr 17 has started investigating Great Britain for politics and is looking at game construction in economics. His maths lesson have been concentrating on geometry and the quadratic equations. Miss 14 studied  forces for physics, reviewed first and second declension nouns in Latin, and surveyed Ancient Greek art for art history. Her maths lessons seem to be emphasising order or operations. She's about half way through The Book Thief for literature and enjoying the unit study type approach taken by the Moving Beyond the Pages study guide that we are using. We also finished reading Hamlet aloud and watched another movie version. This one starred Mel Gibson and we enjoyed it far more than the Kenneth Branagh version we watched previously.  In some ways it was a less is more approach to costume, setting, even scene selection which let the story shine through more - at least in our opinion.

The weekend on the other hand was all kinds of crazy. Mr 17 had a camp which was meant to be all weekend but his work commitments meant he arrived late and then left early (as in 6am) and then went back in the afternoon to help pack up. Thank goodness his friend with the full licence was also going and was happy to accommodate Mr 17's needs. I certainly wouldn't have been collecting him at 6am - I would have had to leave home close to 5am!

Camp tradition demands at least one leader's car be pranked. Mr 17 was up at 1:30am to assist with this effort!

On Friday night the girls, dh and I went into town and ate dinner at the Friday night food truck market. Good vibe and some great food.  Miss 14 and I took part in an all bird count at a local lake on Saturday. Thankfully the section we got this year had fewer birds than last year's (counting gets a bit tedious when you have several flocks of between 800-1000 birds) and we did pick up two new species for the year. On the down side it felt like more walking and the weather was a lot less pleasant than forecast. On Sunday Miss 14 had a trampoline leadership/coaching course. Since it was right across town and they needed transporting between venues I stayed over all day and fitted in some walking around a wetland (spotting the Glossy Ibis which has just returned for the season) and along the beach. The second part of the course involved an aerial obstacle course which she thoroughly enjoyed and managed to complete uninjured - dh attended last year and came home with a massive cut the length of his shin. She has no idea how he managed it.

Clearly Miss 14 doesn't have a fear of heights!
Linking up with Kris's Weekly Wrap-Up

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fortnight Ending 15 January 2015

Our first two weeks back in high-tide structured learning mode have been exceptionally busy, trying to get back into the swing of formal learning while fitting in new part-time jobs (the kids, not me) and trying to keep up with other fun things as well. I feel like I'm nearly ready for a holiday, but I'm hoping this coming week will be quieter which should help stop my head spinning a little.

As well as getting to grips with her new courses Miss 14 has had the local birding branch's newsletter to publish. Typos and technical difficulties abounded, taking up more of our first week than was ideal. But the newsletter has finally gone out and there is a two month break before she gets to do it all over again! She also decided to apply for admission to an ornithology field camp for teens. She is officially too young but several people suggested she apply anyway. We're hopeful that she may get accepted, especially if the course does not fill with those aged 16 and over. While the application wasn't lengthy it still took time. She also completed her submission for the group logbook for last month's field course. Miss 14 has now started work on the small regional column for our national birding magazine. Hopefully that will only take a day or two because she also needs to prepare a short talk on her experiences at the field course for the next meeting of our local birding group. And that is in ten days time. Gulp!

Mr 17 meanwhile had been trying to fit his academic work around a variety of social activities. Sadly, for him, his three best friends are all a year older than him and have completed their final year at school. While they've all got different plans for this year they all currently have more spare time than he has, and I'm not sure he's managing his time wisely. Hopefully this issue will settle down soon as their various courses and jobs come on stream. He also worked some extra shifts and some longer shifts which didn't exactly assist with completing school work. Still he has a plan to get back on track this coming week. So long as he does I'll happily chalk this fortnight up as a learning experience.

Ticket to Ride has become popular again and if Miss 14 and Mr 17 are both taking a break from studying at the same then they can normally be found playing a game or two at the dining room table.

Prior to the earthquakes we used to go swimming once a week. While regular large aftershocks were occurring nobody fancied risking it and then our two favourite pools were demolished. This meant the remaining pools were frequently crowded, which made the idea of swimming less attractive. So it turns out we haven't been swimming for five years! Miss 14 came to me last week and asked if we could please go, so this week we (Miss 20, Miss 14 and I) went. And (once I got the dreaded buying a new swimsuit task out of the way) it was great. The pool we picked is slightly out of the way but it wasn't crowded. So we'll see if we can start going swimming more regularly - perhaps once a fortnight.

Miss 14 and I watched the 1996 version of Hamlet, with Kenneth Branagh in the title role. Next week we plan to watch the 1990 version which stars Mel Gibson as Hamlet and we'll do a compare and contrast. We did find the 1996 version long and rather overdone in places. Hopefully we'll like the 1990 version better. We also continued reading the play aloud - just two scenes left to go.

We also fitted in four birding trips over the past fortnight. Some were surprisingly successful - distant views of two Australasian Bitterns  and our first sighting of a Gull-billed Tern this year - while others were simply frustrating - still no sign of the elusive Gray-Tailed Tattler and sunburn to boot (I obviously forgot to apply sunblock to one patch of skin).

Miss 20, Miss 14 and I braved the chill and  attended an outdoor performance of Macbeth (which we read last year) on Sunday evening. It ended up not being quite as cold as I'd planned for, although we were wearing several layers and wrapped ourselves in blankets later in the evening! Outdoor Shakespeare is a regular summer feature here but this was the first time the company has performed anything other than a comedy.  We thought it was generally well done - Miss 14 especially enjoyed all the blood - but I sometimes got distracted since I recognised some of the actors from roles they'd played previous years!

We've also been taking regular breaks outside to check on the state of our Monarch chrysalises. Plenty of butterflies have emerged this week.

We had drama with Basil over the weekend. He had five seizures in the space of a couple of hours which necessitated a trip to the after-hours vet, IV drip and other excitements. He was supposed to stay in overnight but once he was stabilised he became stressed and anxious, barking constantly. So, after checking we were okay with the plan, his owners collected him from the vet and dropped him back here. Luckily he has been fine ever since.

In amongst all this we've even managed to squeeze in a little academic work. Given everything else that has been going on it's perhaps fortunate that much of the material has been of an introductory and/or review nature.I think the academics will ramp up next week so I'm glad that (fingers crossed) everything else is settling down.

Linking up with the Weekly Wrap-Up .

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Our 2015 Plans: Trying to Balance Structure and Serendipity

I like Wikipedia's definition of serendipity - "a fortunate happenstance" or "a pleasant surprise". When I look back at 2014 some of the best learning  happened as a result of things that weren't originally planned. I'm thinking especially of Miss 14's MOOC's , especially Animal Behaviour, and Mr 17's  economics essay, not to mention the learning involved in caring for Basil, the Boxer dog we are fostering until his owners' home is rebuilt. But there were plenty of other great serendipitous moments as well - helping educate the public about Monarch butterflies, being a Mystery Class, and numerous trips, opportunities and sightings that have resulted from the interest Miss 14 and I have in birding.

At the start of last year we made homeschooling plans and most of those were actually completed. Certainly they were an important, even crucial part of the learning that happened in 2014. But they were not the whole of it. In fact if they had been our year would have been considerably poorer.

As I began to plan for this year I was very aware that I needed to get the balance right. For us, if we don't have plans nothing much seems to happen. And while the formal part of our learning - the textbooks and lesson plans - aren't always the most exciting or the most liked (maths I'm thinking of you here) they are necessary. But I was also aware that if I planned too much I wouldn't leave enough time and space for us to take advantage of  serendipitous opportunities when they arise. It's one of the reasons I struggle with Miss 14's involvement in competitive trampolining. The regular training schedule really limits our freedom. Now that everyone (except me) has a paid job with regular hours that limits us as well.

This will be Mr 17's last year of homeschooling. I've never knowingly homeschooled the final year before (Mr 22 and Miss 20 both ended up going to university early so we only found out about their final years once they were over). He's also the least academically inclined of my four and I'm possibly too aware of all we haven't done - and won't get to do since there is only so much that can be squeezed into one year. And Miss 14 could have as few as three more years left so I don't have much time left for a do-over if I don't get things right. My awareness of all the good things we could/should do is heightened. But being married to an economist means I'm very familiar with the concept of opportunity cost. Every hour spent studying one thing is an hour not available for other things - including serendipity.

So how to get the balance right? Clearly we need some planned courses. But not too many or we won't be able to take advantage of unplanned opportunities that present themselves. But not too few either, since I don't want to short-change the kids educationally (or any other way for that matter).

In the end I started with a list of skills I thought the kids needed to work on and then I asked them what areas they felt they needed to develop, what things they were interested in learning about and what things they were interested in doing (sports, work, scouting ... anything really) that might not fall under the academic umbrella. Then I tried to fold the skills into the content. This is what we have come up with so far. Of course, it is all subject to change.

Miss 14 should be getting seven additions to her transcript this year.

1. Algebra. Saxon Algebra 1. Not her favourite topic but we had Saxon on the shelf and it works as well as anything. I've been homeschooling long enough to know there is no such thing as the perfect curriculum. This is the one subject her father and I insisted on.

2. Introductory Physics . We're using Prentice Hall's Physical Science. This is a little on the light side but I've always struggled to find physics for this age level. Sadly Real Science Odyssey Physics Level 2 doesn't yet exist. I suspect it might be what I'm after. I can find plenty of stuff for younger kids, plenty for senior high school but nothing that is just what I want for this level. She isn't really keen on physics but picked it since she hasn't really done any for a few years and it is recommended for ornithology. I don't want to turn her off so decided underdone seems better than overdone. This book was already on our shelf (we're a little more budget conscious than normal this year since we have to move out of our home for a couple of months so it can finally have it's unsatisfactory earthquake repairs repaired and I know that won't be a cheap undertaking).

3. World Geography - I was lucky enough to find North Star Geography available for free online last year I think. So we're using it as our spine. (ETA. This ended up not working  for us. A Christian world view was strongly embedded throughout. I thought I could edit on the fly and make it work for us. Some chapters were fine. Others we couldn't use at all and had to find alternatives elsewhere. On the plus side it turned out to be a good lesson in critical thinking for my kids! If I had a a hard copy I would have found out earlier that this wouldn't work for us but I had digital files and I find them really hard to skim).

4. World Literature - I've selected a variety of twentieth century novels set in different locations around the world. I'm trying to schedule them so we read about an area as we study it in geography. Some we'll just read and discuss but others we'll go a bit more in depth with and maybe use a study guide. First up is The Book Thief (Northern and Western Europe) and we're using a study guide from Moving Beyond the Page - mainly because I wanted to try something new!

5. Shakespearean Literature - Last year we read ten plays as part of a MOOC (Shakespeare and his World) we enrolled in. This year we've enrolled in three other Shakespeare MOOCs (Shakespeare's Hamlet; Text, Performance and Culture, Much Ado about Nothing:in Performance and Shakespeare in the Community) that will cover five plays - three of them new to us. We'll also be attending two live performances. I didn't really plan this course. I simply saw some MOOCs we were interested in and then realised there was enough there for a course.

6. Latin - She's always enjoyed Latin and was keen to continue. Latin Grammar was already on our shelf (Mr 22 must have used it) and is by the same publisher as her previous Latin books. It looks like it reinforces and continues on from that material so it should be a good fit.

7. Art and Music History - This is a course I've designed for her. We'll be using The Annotated Mona Lisa and Art Investigator as our spines (again they were on the shelf), probably supplemented by library books for art. For music we're using part of a MOOC - Introduction to Classical Music.

Depending on how the year goes we may or may not add an ornithology credit. Or we may just keep it all under the extra-curricular banner.

At this stage Mr 17 has just four courses. I'm hoping we'll add something else later in the year - possibly some environmental science which he has expressed an interest in.

1. Advanced Mathematics - He likes Saxon and we already own it so a simple choice.

2. Game Theory - Economics is one of his favourite subjects and his dad's area of expertise. I think the textbook (Games, Strategies and Decision Making) came from dh's office. Dh is in charge of this one.

3. World Geography - He's using North Star as well. He didn't really know what he wanted to do this year but he liked geography and maps when he was younger so agreed to give this a try when I suggested it.

4. Comparative Politics - This is another course I've designed, although it is based on the AP course. We picked the text since it is available through our library system.

Linking to the 7th Annual "Not" Back-to-School Blog Hop: Curriculum Week

Monday, February 2, 2015

Our First Day Back

It's the first day of our 2015 academic year.  Mr 17 would be in his final year of high school and Miss 14 would I guess be grade 9 or 10. I don't pay a lot of attention to these things.

7:00am - I get up, feed the dog and cat and have breakfast. I go to make dh's lunch but he tells me he has decided to work form home today. So I go off to check emails and catch up on some blog reading. Being the start of the month there is plenty of new content over at The Homeschool Alliance. The reading on making thinking visible  looks great and I download it to read later. The monthly challenges on movie watching also have my brain ticking over. Since we are reading Hamlet right now comparing two different movie versions seems like a great pick but if I can find a good bird documentary we might do that as well. Just have to be careful not to try and do too much. It's called the One-Thing Principle for a reason!

8:30am - Start to think about taking the dog for a walk before it gets too hot. It feels like today could be a scorcher. Dh says he'll do it so I decide to do some gardening. Since the dog likes to drink from the watering can his absence is a perfect time to apply some liquid fertilizer. I also do some weeding and a little harvesting - fresh peas are such a sweet snack. Miss 14 is now up so I check in with her and let her know where I am if she needs help getting started. I hang the first load of laundry on the line.

9:45am - Miss 14 has finished her maths  (Saxon Algebra 1). She tells me she's marked it herself and everything was correct. We decide to start her Latin together since it is a new book (Latin Grammar) and a new concept. - phonetic spelling and pronunciation. We read together and then I guide her using a sort of Socratic method, checking her answers as we go. So frustrating when several of the answers directly contradict the method given in the text. Not sure if this is a mistake with the answers or the instructions. We proceed anyway. So long as she is following the directions given I'm happy for now but make a note to look online for further help. Somewhere in here Mr 17 gets up and asks for helping making a checklist of all the work he needs to do this week. I'm happy to oblige. I also find the dates of our academic terms for dh since he wants to compile a detailed schedule for Mr 17's economics - a course in game theory using Harrington's Games, Strategies, and Decision Making as the spine. Dh is an economist so it makes sense that he teach this subject.

10:45 am  - Mr 17 starts working through his maths (Saxon Advanced Mathematics)and Miss 14 makes a start on physics (Prentice Hall's Physical Science). She picked the subject herself (more because she felt she should do it - apparently it is important for ornithologists - than because she really wanted to),  but isn't really looking forward to it and wants to get it out of the way. I balance the cheque book and pay some bills.

11:30 am  - I go and mark Miss 14's physics. Marking without an answer key is not my favourite task. I remember when Miss 20 used this same book I had her write in the margin to her answer the page the relevant information was on. I might get Miss 14 to start doing this since it was a real time saver. Mr 17 marks his own maths and corrects an error. Miss 14 takes a break to do some reading before lunch. I make a spinach tart for dinner. Today is so hot we'll eat it cold and by making it now I won't have to squeeze it in amongst chauffeuring this afternoon. Mr 17 makes a start on his comparative politics course (one I've designed for him but based on AP material and using Kesselman etal's, Introduction to Comparative Politics as a spine) and reads an introduction to the material from the AP site.

12:00 noon - Lunch is leftover meats and salads from last night's family barbecue. My mother-in-law bought pavlova and we manage to divide the leftovers three way. Miss 14, Mr 17 and Miss 20 are happy. Dessert is not common around here and dessert for lunch is a very rare thing indeed! Over lunch we have a few interesting conversations based on what was in the newspaper. Topics include the misuse of statistics and how not to conduct your love life (you don't want to know about the reported incident which prompted that one!). Miss 14 disappears off to the computer to work on her geography (North Star Geography).

1:15pm - Miss 14 and I begin to read Act 2 scene 2 from Hamlet. It's a long one so we decide to split it in two. We'll finish it tonight or tomorrow when we'll also start working through this week's lesson from our current MOOC  - Hamlet: Text, Performance and Culture.  Mr 17 is doing some more work on comparative politics and viewing an online segment. Once he's done he helps me with the dishes. I wash, he dries and we chat about his job, nutrition and various other things.

2pm - Miss 14 makes a start on literature. This year I've designed a World Literature course for her. I've tied the novels to the areas she'll be studying in geography.  First up is  The Book Thief  and I bought a guide from Moving Beyond the Page for it because I'd always be keen to try some of their resources but we'd never got around to it before. Before she starts reading there are a couple of pre-reading activities to do - a brief overview of Word War II and an introduction to the author. It takes her longer than I expected. Not sure if I underestimated, if she is going too in- depth with her answers, or whether her energy levels are flagging due to the heat and this being our first day back. Mr 17 does his geography (he's using North Star as well).

3pm - Mr 17 hops on his bike and heads off to work. Miss 14 and I get in the car and drive to the gym for her first day of work. She was helping out with this class in a volunteer capacity at the end of last year so she should be fine.

3:30pm  - I arrive home and unpack the few items I picked up from the supermarket. Then I read the article on thinking I downloaded this morning plus a book of Roget and his thesaurus that needs to be returned to the library. I also order a movie version of Hamlet from the library, prepare the vegetables for dinner and bring in the laundry.

5pm -  I leave to collect Miss 14. Her first day's paid coaching has gone well - apart from a little girl from a gym class who latched on to Miss 14 and wanted to go with her for trampolining instead of with her own coach for gymnastics! We made a quick stop off at the library on the way home.

7pm  - Dinner is over. Miss 14 finishes off the last of her literature. She made herself a timetable for the year and has just realised that she made Monday her heaviest work day - and it is the day she has to leave earliest in the afternoon! Not the greatest plan but at least she is free to change it if she wants. Mr 17 arrives home from work early. Turns out he is more efficient at cleaning up than his predecessor and once the cleaning is done he is free to leave - hence his earlier than expected arrival. I whizz up two cans of berries that I have frozen in the freezer. This fast, cooling sorbet goes down a treat.

8pm  - It is slightly cooler so I go for a walk and take the dog with me. Dh joins us.Miss 14 spends some time putting the finishing touches on the local branch newsletter for the Ornithology Society. When I get back she asks me to look it over so she can distribute it tomorrow. This is only her second edition as editor but it looks great.

9:30pm  - Miss 14 is in her room reading. Mr 17 is in his room - possibly skyping or texting friends. He may well reappear later to see if dh wants to watch an episode of Band of Brothers with him. They are currently rewatching the series. I decide to head off to bed and read.

All in all our first day back in high tide, structured mode has been relatively smooth and quite a successful one. No major hiccups which is great.

Linking up with Simple Homeschool's Share Your Homeschool Day 2015 .

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Week Ending 1 February 2015

The last week of our - admittedly lengthy - summer break. I'm not sure about the kids but I don't feel ready to start back into our high-tide, formal homeschooling phase. However, on Monday that is exactly what we shall be doing whether or not I feel ready!

Some highlights of the week.

* I progressively felt better. The vertigo has been at bay long enough that I feel safe driving again which is very liberating for me. I was getting very sick of the sight of my own four walls.

* I spent time looking over employment contracts for both Mr 17 and Miss 14. When they were babies I didn't imagine the day when my parenting duties would include checking their employment contracts. He started  a part-time job at a supermarket bakery this week and seems to be mostly enjoying it so far - despite the slightly silly  customers, including one who asked for a sample of what they had been told was the last loaf of its type. Mr 17 obliged but then the customer got grumpy when there was no longer a full loaf for them to buy. Miss 14 starts a very, very part-time trampoline coaching position on Monday. That means I'll be the only member of the family not actually earning any income.

* Mr 17 resigned from his paper delivery round. It had previously been Mr 22's round before that so it's been "in the family" for over ten years. The manager actually gave Mr 17 a "golden handshake" (a couple of movie passes) as thanks for his lengthy and reliable service.

* The coordinator of the ornithology field course sent the photos he had taken of Miss 14. It was great to see her working with the birds, instead of just the photos she took of others.

Scared Kingfisher and Bar-Tailed Godwits.

* I put the finishing touches to Miss 14's homeschooling plans. She wanted to do something on art and/or music history and appreciation. I've finally come up with a rough outline combining some resources we already owned with some online resources. It's a fairly broad guideline and we may well depart from it but I find if we don't at least start with a plan nothing much happens.

* I'm finally making progress with Mr 17's courses. He wanted something to do with comparative politics. I thought it would be easy to find resources given it is an AP subject but I struggled to find what I was after let alone envisage a way of pulling everything together into a coherent whole. Finally today I found a site where the teacher had his whole course planned out, week by week with handouts and readings included. Brilliant! Now I can subtract what we don't want (an AP level course is probably more than Mr 17 wants) and substitute/add in other resources and ideas that I like.

* A rare gull has possibly been sighted in the city. Miss 14 and I went to check it out. We didn't find it (but neither has anybody else) so we observed these immature terns and gulls instead.

* The first part of the Downton Abbey Christmas special was on television. I'm not as big a fan as I was. Some of the more recent story lines seem a bit far-fetched and overly melodramatic for my taste. But I do still enjoy it and it's fun spending time with both the girls together.

* Lots of reading. I finished Jane Smiley's Some Luck and The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion. Love the way that last one gets the reader inside the head of a rather quirky character. Miss 14 finished Walk in My Shoes about Afghani refugees in Australia. She was also reading Kate Milford's Greenglass House.

* Miss 14 and I have begun reading Hamlet aloud - one scene per day (two if they are short). We've just started a new MOOC - Shakespeare's Hamlet: Text, Performance and Culture which we're enjoying so far. We have another couple of Shakespeare MOOCs planned for this year. Along with what we did last year there will be more than enough for a high school credit - Shakespearean Drama or perhaps Shakespearean Literature if we read a few sonnets.

* Dh, Miss 14, Miss 20 and I spent a couple of pleasant hours exploring the city centre today. First up was Solidarity Grid , a public art installation of street lamps from around the world. Some cities have beautiful street lamps while others seem functional only. A couple made us think we could go to Narnia!

Then we checked our progress on the deconstruction/reconstruction of the city centre.

Plenty of empty sites had fencing and signs advising what will be built there. One construction site  had these duck sculptures floating in its flooded foundations - not a place I'd have thought to look for public art.

We also checked out some of the Gap Filler sites - temporary uses of lots that are waiting to be rebuilt.

Sadly nobody was using the Dance-o- Mat. If we'd had an iPod with us we could have connected it to the washing machine, popped in a coin and had our music play loudly for us to dance to. The Dance-o-Mat currently shares a site with Tree Houses for Swamp Dwellers.

The fact that there are so many empty lots around means the sides and backs of many buildings, which are normally hidden, are in full view. They provide a great canvas for artists and there is some great street art to be seen.

I especially love this one - the way the artist has integrated the art with the crumbling outside of the building. I think this is being rebuilt and/or restored.

Since it was hot cooling gelatos were a perfect end to the morning. No photos though - we were too busy eating them before they melted!

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