Saturday, September 30, 2017

Week Ending 1 October 2017

Monday morning was unusual in that I had two meetings, both related to upcoming events that our birding group will be involved with. Luckily Miss 16 got on with some work (mostly animal behaviour I think) in my absence. Even though she could, I don't like the idea of her doing her all work alone; with no other siblings still being home schooled and no co-ops in the area it is my job to provide the needed academic interaction. As a result I like to watch and read along with her most of the time. In the afternoon we watched a Crash Course video on film production and read and discussed some essays and other short pieces related to themes from Divergent which she had reread recently, just for fun. I had stumbled across a pin linking to the Common Lit website. The pin led me to believe finding appropriate short pieces would be more straightforward than it actually was. Still it wasn't complicated and it was nice to be able to tie some "school" reading in with her pleasure reading. I did discover one section of the website that does specifically link various short pieces to novels in a "read this before the novel, read this after chapter 3, and this before you start chapter 11" kind of way. Since I was just about to start reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian and it was one of the novels covered by the site I gave it a go myself. I'd definitely recommend taking a look at Common Lit's Book Pairings if you want to tie in other types of literature with novels your teen is reading.

Tuesday was spent at home, leisurely working through some of Miss 16's work. The day was so leisurely I found an hour to relax, listen to a podcast and browse through a cookbook I'd borrowed from the library. Cookbooks are one of my  guilty pleasures. For literature I again went to Pinterest, pointed Miss 16 in the direction of the pin and told her to pick a couple of essays. We then discussed her reaction to them and how effective she thought they were.



On Wednesday we skipped school entirely in favour of going birding with a couple of friends at a nearby lake. A rare arctic migrant had been seen there  - so rare that one of our friends who is in his late 70s and a lifelong birder had never seen one in this country before - and we were obviously keen to track it down. We spent four hours scanning through flocks of small wading birds and kept getting distracted by a couple of birds that looked a little bit different from the others. In the end we concluded they were just slightly odd looking birds. We were walking back to the car,  resigned to heading home disappointed when our friend pointed and asked ,"What about those two?" and sure enough one was the Sanderling we were seeking.

On Thursday we hit the books again. For literature I pointed her in the direction of a list of essays every high school student should read.  Again this was on Pinterest - I've found it a great way of organising and storing ideas and resources. Once again I had her pick one and then tell me why someone would think every high schooler should read it, what she learnt about the world from it, and what stylistic elements it used that she could incorporate in her own writing. We headed out briefly for haircuts and also found some time to fit in some baking.

On Friday Miss 16 finished both her vocabulary and her animal behaviour. I discovered drafts of three (gulp!) papers she had emailed me that I'd forgotten to read, comment on and return for revision - bad homeschooling mother! Luckily they needed little to no work so she was able to get all three tidied up and completed. We had to take her budgie to the vet. He clearly wasn't well. The vet suspected a lung infection and said there wasn't really anything that could be done. We'd thought that would be the likely result and had already resigned ourselves to having him euthanized. By rights we would have tackled another essay or two for literature but I couldn't really see the point so I declared literature and therefore homeschool officially over for the year. I'm pretty sure we'll keep watching the film production course but 10 minutes once a week doesn't really seem like work. Instead of reading an essay or two for the sake of reading another essay or two we spent an enjoyable hour walking in the sunshine and birding at a local reserve.

Saturday and Sunday were both very quiet. Dh had to work both days, Miss 22 spent most of the time out with her boyfriend, while Mr 19 was busy working on an essay one day and at work in the bakery on the other. He did ask me to proof read a draft of his essay for him. I was impressed - pleasantly surprised. If you read my blog back in the days when he was still homeschooling you'd know how often I was pulling my hair out over his lack of effort and doubted whether university was the right path for him. Turns out my fears were unfounded. Obviously university deadlines are real and the grades are meaningful. Both more motivating than any I attempted with him! Given everyone else was out Miss 16 and I did a little birding one day, but mostly stayed at home relaxing and reading. October's going to be a busy month for us so a quiet weekend is probably a good thing. I finished Heart of Darkness which I did not enjoy and Celeste Ng's Little Fire's Everywhere, which I did enjoy. By the end of September I'd completed 126 books - only 12 in the last two months which is very slow going for me. But I have now completed all 12 of my picks for the Back to the Classics Challenge and just have three more to go for Popsugar's 2017 Reading Challenge

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Death of Ivan Ilyich

I found  Leo Tolstoy's novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich  a simple but thought provoking read, giving an insight into what might be going through the minds of those suffering from chronic, painful and/or terminal conditions. 

A seemingly simple accident - falling while hanging curtains - leads to an undiagnosed but painful condition, and eventually the death of Ivan Ilyich.  He is not a stoic, uncomplaining patient, but rather one who struggles to deal with his physical and emotional distress. He lived what would be considered a good life (sensible, although not happy, marriage; plus a respectable career in which he managed to advance through the ranks), so doesn't believe he deserves the suffering he endures. Ilyich eventually finds relief, both physical and spiritual,with a servant named Gerasim. Gerasim doesn't fear death and shows Ilyich the compassion and tenderness which his wife does not. Through discussions with Gerasim, Ilych comes to believe that he has not led an authentic life, filled with compassion and sympathy, but rather an artificial one filled with self-interest. His belief that he has found the true meaning of life allows him to die peacefully, filled with live for his family.

The copy which I read was bound with  A Confession, a short autobiographical work covering Tolstoy's depression, his failed search for the meaning of life through the works on major philosophers, and his eventual acceptance of religious faith. Tolstoy's beliefs as outlined in A Confession, clearly influenced his subsequent work such as The Death of Ivan Ilyich. As such A Confession was an interesting read but it was too didactic for my tastes.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Week Ending 24 September 2017

Somewhat to our surprise we ended up finishing up another couple of things this week. We thought we were starting our second to last statistics lesson but when we looked ahead we discovered the final lesson was not really a lesson at all; just a short video summarizing the course. So Miss 16 opted to fit it in this week, so as to be done with statistics. The actual lesson was on ANOVAs. Our spreadsheet package couldn't do them but Mr 19 soon found a free add-on that took care of them for us. Once we had that the work was simple and straightforward, a vast improvement on last week.

Miss 16 felt the need to celebrate the end of statistics and I agreed a visit to a bakery across town, famous for its amazing donuts, was in order. Since they normally sell out by mid-morning we opted to go early, before we had actually completed statistics. I knew she would get the work done but what I hadn't factored in was that we both seemed to be suffering from a sugar coma and it took us a lot longer to round up the required energy and enthusiasm to actually watch the final video. Still she did manage it, much later in the day, and  the donuts were delicious (brandy snap and salted caramel for her; custard square cheesecake for me)  - well worth the sugar-induced slump!






We also finished the unit on American Cinema. The videos were about an hour long and we were watching two per week. It turns out the last three videos in the series are only 30  minutes each so Miss 16 decided to rejig her schedule for the week so she could get them finished.

For literature we spent the week focused on poetry. It's not her favourite and I knew there was no way to cover everything. So I gathered every poetry related resource from the shelves, went through them all and came up with a list of what we could do. Then I gave the list to her and let her pick and choose. While she did a chapter on imagery from Sound and Sense she preferred the approach of Lightning Literature and did units on rhyme, meter and figurative language from the two levels we had on the shelf. The unit on meter was hilarious as all the figuring out stressed from unstressed syllables had us joking about poor stressed students! I doubt she'll use it again and I know some people feel that such analysis sucks all the pleasure out of poetry. It might if you had to do it for every single poem you read. But at least she's been exposed to the concept, if only in a small way.

Apart from homeschooling she managed to fit in some movie watching (Mocking Jay Part 2 and La La Land), some extra hours at work (it was badge testing time for the recreational athletes which can be a big undertaking; she spent a couple of hours on Sunday helping assess some of the trampolinists), plus a couple of birding trips, checking out the migratory waders that are returning from the northern hemisphere. We spent several hours at one lake trudging through miles of mud and water. There were always more interesting looking birds  in the distance to lure us to venture just a bit further! We expect to be stiff and sore tomorrow but it was worth it since we saw a bigger variety of species than we expected.

Yesterday was the national election - the first Mr 19 has been able to vote in. Since neither main party received a majority we'll have to wait for all the special votes to be counted plus coalition talks to pan out before we know who will be leading the country for the next three years. Always lots of good discussion around election time - what party and candidate we are all voting for (different members of the family often vote in different ways), what policies are especially important to us, what logical fallacies we spot in the campaign materials, the advantages and disadvantages of our voting system, and now, how the coalition process will pan out. This was also the weekend we switched to daylight savings time. It always takes a while adjusting. Neither of my teens are morning people and were both bemoaning early work starts (8 am for one; 8:30 am for the other) on top of an hour's lost sleep.

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.