Saturday, March 26, 2016

Week Ending 27 March 2016

This has been a much more successful week in terms of the choices Miss 15 has made from her ornithology buffet course. She completed a set of three lessons entitled Evolution in Paradise from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Bird Sleuth programme. Then she started a unit Discovering the Ecological Role of Birds, part of the Birds Without Borders programme. The content in both of these units was solid and I loved the way they were based on, or integrated, real scientific research. Seeing how professional ornithologists conduct their research was fascinating. It certainly highlighted the hard work and patience essential for field work!

We've also been continuing to make observations of the Northern Royal Albatross chick. It's engrossing watching it grow, begin to explore the world outside the nest and learn to defend itself from curious/bullying adolescent birds.

As I wrote last week I had some reservations about the feedback Miss 15 received from an online essay course. Well, this week I found someone who is considering offering an essay marking service. Basically you will submit an essay your child has written and they will provide a written critique. While she fine tunes exactly how the service will operate she wanted a few essays to practise on. Perfect timing for me and I'm looking forward to receiving her feedback. It should give me more idea of the way I want to proceed with this year's writing course.

Algebra and ecology just hummed along nicely - four lessons and three classes respectively. Apart from driving her to class I have nothing to do with ecology and there is just the odd algebra problem each week that she needs help with. I'm almost out of a job - which is just as it should be.

Large parts of the weekend were spent in the kitchen - making hot cross buns and Easter eggs as well as processing all the bounty we've recently been given including peaches, cucumbers, quinces and hazelnuts.

We also spent some time in the garden tidying up and harvesting the last of our own produce.

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

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Week Ending 20 March 2016

It's been a fairly underwhelming week, with the academics being overshadowed in my thoughts by various family issues including another health problem for my mother. Hoping an appointment she has next month will shed some light on her problems and what can be done about them.

Miss 15 received the final feedback from her online essay course, all very positive which is great. But I'm left with very mixed feeling about the course. There was a lot of emphasis on brainstorming, planning and organizing all of which had to be done in a certain way before you could move on to the next assignment. Miss 15 railed against it, found it tedious and counter to the way she prefers to write. There may or may not have been some benefit in going through the process but I'm certain she won't utilize it in the future. Where I was hoping she would get a lot of feedback was after submitting the draft - comments about one section being good, asking for an expansion here, suggesting a stronger word choice there etc. And there was  none of that. Apparently she is such a strong writer there wasn't the need for many comments. I've now looked at her final essay (I deliberately had nothing to do with it until the course was over) and I would have made comments - not that the esaay is bad but there is always room for improvement. Perhaps I expect too much from Miss 15? Or perhaps this wasn't the right course for us? I really wanted her voice to be developed but I think this course focused more on process, technical form and accuracy. Something to ponder before I decide our next move.

She's still enjoying her university ecology course. This week there was a lecture on bird conservation, so a topic of particular interest to her. While she's at  lectures I occupy myself by walking and enjoying the rural ambience, working out on some nearby outdoor exercise equipment or sitting in the car reading.

Ornithology didn't go so smoothly this week. We'd planned on covering some material from the CK-12 site but when we started to use it we weren't impressed. The content was too basic and in some cases bordered on the inaccurate. We managed to salvage a couple of things but that was all. This is a buffet style course and just like an actual buffet you don't always like everything you try. We'll be giving something else a go next week!

Over the weekend we did take a big ornithology field trip which was fun, albeit too hot for my tastes. Our main destination was a lagoon about two hours away. A couple of harder to find species had recently been reported there. We managed to spot five Black-fronted Dotterels (which flew off just as we were getting the camera on them!) but not the Marsh Crake. We also tracked down another species on our wish list on the drive there.  On our way home we stopped at our favourite estuary where Miss 15 got her first view of a Black Stilt for the year. The horrendous wind put paid to our plans to hunt for another elusive species. All in all a success rate of about 50%. Not as good as we'd have liked but better than it could have been.

While this wasn't a bad week I'm hoping next week will be better. Mind you it will involve hot cross buns and chocolate so it should be!

Linking to Kris's Weekly Wrap-Up

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Week Ending 13 March 2016

This week has been marred by sickness. It's been going around the workplaces of both Miss 15 and Mr 18 so it isn't surprising that they've both succumbed. Nothing major, although Miss 15 did miss coaching and training one day. Enough to have them operating substantially below normal though.

As a result Miss 15's homeschooling was pretty lacklustre. She did complete her online essay course, 3 maths lessons and attended three ecology lectures. Ornithology took the biggest hit. No field trips this week and fairly minimal bookwork. She did begin a project pack on owls. It's on a pretty low level so we are beefing it up a bit, moving through it quickly and treating it as a little light interlude before we get back to heavier duty material this week.

All the kids ended up working extra hours earlier in the week, covering for workmates who were out sick. Mr 18's role expanded and he did a fair bit of hands-on baking (he's officially an assistant who packs, cleans and does customer service). He was pretty proud of his handiwork.

Our country is coming to the end of a process to decide whether or not we should change our existing flag. Our ballot papers arrived this week. It was Mr 18's first time voting. Miss 15 and I took the opportunity to read through the official material, plus some of the material from those on either side of the issue and analysed the various arguments and campaigns. Interestingly in our house we're split 50/50. Two of us favour keeping the existing flag and two want to switch to the alternative.

Dh and I attended a cultural festival over the weekend. A chance to view different cultural performances and sample a variety of ethnic food.

Miss 15 was well enough to attend a youth retreat for young coaches at her gym. By all accounts she had a good time, and hopefully learnt something that will help her be a better coach.

A shot taken by somebody else from last weekend's competition .

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

Monday, March 7, 2016

Brave Blogging: Fun with Math for Older Kids

Making maths fun when our children are younger doesn't seem too difficult. Plenty of great living books, manipulatives, games and hands on activities. But as they get older it is easy to resort to a textbook. We did. And some of my kids were fine with that, in fact some even liked it. Of the others though some loved maths and wanted more, others just needed something different - at least some of the time.

Once our child can read and follow instructions it is easy to expect them to work through a maths textbook by themselves while we get on with other things. For social learners this can be especially disconcerting. One solution is to play maths games together. It's still possible to find them for more advanced concepts. Here is Order of Operations Bingo for grades 6-8.  And one for Polygon Capture . Or consider getting them together to do maths with friends. Even if they aren't using the same book they could still work side by side and perhaps help each other out. Sometimes I've even done the maths lesson with a child. I'd work one problem and she'd work the next. Consider a Party School for maths. Pi Day provides a great excuse. And there are plenty of ideas on line. Here is just one site.

One of the problems with maths, especially in the upper levels is that it can seem abstract and irrelevant. Cue the cries of  "When will I ever use this stuff anyway?". It's great if you can find a maths connection to something your kids are really interested in.Google quickly turns up promising sites if your child is an art lover or a musician. I've got a trampolinist so the score sheets from competitions provide interesting data for statistical investigations. She's also a keen birder so problems like this appeal to her. If you are looking for ideas Yummy Math is a great site that provides topical problems, activities and explorations tied to the real world. Recent lessons have looked at the Oscars, Leap Year, and a giant Snickers bar among other topics. Illuminations also has some good real world problems.

Another problem with math is that it can get monotonous. It, more than any other subject, is where we are likely to pick one textbook and stick with it, using the same series for the bulk if not the entirety of our child's homeschooling life. Even if we follow that route (and I mostly did) there is no reason why you can't add in some alternative activities, or replace a lesson in the textbook with the same material taught in a different way from somewhere else. How about AlgeCaching, like geocaching but online and for Algebra 1, or a webquest for symmetry? The Actuarial Foundation has a series of free workbooks and other materials on topics including geometry, algebra and statistics. The Mathematical Enhancement Programme provides an entire set of maths resources for children aged from 6 through to high school aged. And all for free. Teachers Pay Teachers also has plenty of individual lessons available for free or at low cost - like this one on multiplying binomials.

If your child does  not understand the way a particular concept is taught in the textbook that can really suck the fun out of the subject. Khan Academy and YouTube are  good resources for finding alternative explanations.

Maths also has a reputation for being very black and white. In other words an answer is right or it is wrong. More open ended activities where there isn't necessarily one right answer but more of a focus on the process can help here. Family Math:The Middle School Years has lots of great activities and we also used resources from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction   - just click on the grade level, then instructional resources. The site has been reformatted since I used it but the Maths Stars and Problem Solving Decks look familiar. There's material for highschoolers too. Or try alternatives to the standard approach to basics like multiplication. Here's one approach and here's another.

For some kids, often those who love to read and write, maths can seem like a foreign territory where their preferred language (words) is rarely allowed.  Make sure you continue to use living books. One year I took the series Mathematicians are People Too plus it's sequel. I marked the birthdays of all the mathematicians on our calendar plus found an activity or two to go along with it e.g. we made and used a set of Napier's Bones on 4 April (the death day of John Napier since we couldn't find an exact day for his birth). One another occasion we read The Number Devil aloud and did an activity or two at the end of every chapter. Sadly the site I found a complete set of activities for the book no longer exists but a quick Google search will turn up plenty of options. Anything by Theoni Pappas is sure to be good .Her Mathematics Calendar or Math-A-Day book could fit into a Morning Time routine, or you could try Math Talk at Poetry Teatime. Consider a maths journal where they can write about concepts as they learn them. Or perhaps have your child orally teach a lesson to you.

And don't forget to extend your child if maths is their thing. One approach is to skip grades or move through grade level material. Another approach is to supplement with extension material. The University of Waterloo's Problem of the Week was one resource that we used.

In a nutshell don't just rely on a maths textbook when your children get older. Certainly use one if you want or need to. I definitely did. But don't be a slave to it. Feel free to still use games, living books and hands-on manipulatives. Switch up the instructional material and method  - at least occasionally. Provide some real life examples, not to mention  extra challenges to those who are looking for it. Both math lovers and math haters will thank you.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Week Ending 6 March 2016

It's been a very busy weekend with a two day trampoline competition. The first day was spent watching and informally practising her judging skills. The second day was her day to compete. All went well - she won her section and was part of the top four from her club that won the team championship. Most importantly she's qualified for the national champs later in the year. Always good to get that out of the way early in the season.

It's really hard to get good photos of a trampoline routine - especially if you are using a bad phone camera!

The other main events this week were bird related. We had the first evening meeting of the year for our birding group. A members' night where people shared research results, photos, experiences, sound recordings plus other things they'd collected - feathers, nests and even the odd dead body!

We also took a field trip to the spot on the lake we didn't get to last week. Despite the very dry conditions we ended up seeing a variety of birds, including great views of Red-necked Stints moving into breeding plumage. The best views we've had of this species plus the largest number we've seen at any one time. Pretty sure they are gathering at the lake before they begin their long journey back to the northern hemisphere to breed.

Counting hundreds of small waders at the water's edge.

We had a couple of less than optimal days this week. An earthquake interrupted our sleep one night meaning we were below par the next day, and I was sick on another. Despite that  Miss 15 made steady progress on her regular work. She's continuing to enjoy the ecology class at the university, isn't hating maths (yet!) and has nearly completed the online essay course.

The university campus Miss 15 is spending time at does have some nice old buildings like the one above. Sadly her classes are in the less attractive, purely functional building below!

In addition to our regular ornithology work we watched a couple of short animated videos from TED Ed - one on migration and one on the evolution of feathers - and used this free worksheet to analyse the first one.

I continued to do plenty of reading. In February I finished ten books and in doing so fulfilled seven on the categories in Popsugar's 2016 Reading Challenge -  a New York Times bestseller (My Name is Lucy Barton), a book that is becoming a movie this year (Brooklyn), a book that you can finish in a day (Counting by 7s), a book that's more than 600 pages (The Brothers K), a book recommended by a family member (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), a book with a blue cover (Auggie and Me - I reread Wonder before reading this sequel so that makes two books with blue covers!) and a book of poetry (The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson). The first two were my favourites.

Linking Up with Kris's Weekly Wrap-Up.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Classics Club 25: The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

After reading The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson in one month I'm not sure I can recommend it. Not the book itself but the reading of it in one concentrated chunk. I believe that poems are best savoured in small mouthfuls and by reading Dickinson's entire work in one large gulp I denied myself this pleasure. It felt like most of the individual poems disappeared into the collection as a whole. The poems that I was already familiar tended to stand out and every now and again one particular poem did catch my attention. But as a whole the reading experience felt a little like the reverse of the old saying - while I was seeing the wood I missed most of the individual trees.

However, there were some advantages to this concentrated reading. I felt like I gained a good understanding of Dickinson's style and themes as a whole. If I was presented with a group of previously undiscovered poems by a variety of poets I'm confident I could correctly identify any written by Dickinson. When my children were younger we read a series of books about artists by Richard Muhlberger- What Makes a Monet a Monet? and the like. If someone were to publish a similar series about poets I feel  I could make a good fist of authoring the volume on Emily Dickinson! Short, lyric poems, often about nature or domestic affairs. Lots of imagery from nature and religion. A focus on love, death and immortality. It seems that the dash was her preferred punctuation mark and she tended to capitalise all nouns, not just those at the start of a line. For seemingly simple poems (short stanzas with short lines) her use of allegory, symbolism, metaphors from a wide variety of arenas makes them surprisingly dense. There is definitely more to them than first meets the eye.

While I enjoy Emily Dickinson's poems and recommend them if you're unfamiliar with her, I suggest using The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson as a resource to dip in and out of as the mood takes you. For me reading it in one chunk felt like work and took away much of the pleasure of the individual poems.