Saturday, September 27, 2008

Math switcharoo

I am extremely thankful that I didn't throw out our Mortenson Math materials when we moved. I nearly did. Then I almost did again last spring when I was cleaning. The third time was a couple of weeks ago when I was reorganizing our art supplies and scrapbooking drawers. Thursday I pulled them out again and said, "Ah, hah!" It is exactly the approach we need toward math, a Montessori way of learning. For two days running, my kids have thanked me for those books. They love math presented that way! Phenomenal!!! Granted, the books they are working right now are easy for them because it is a review, but it is teaching a whole different approach and habits toward math so it is necessary. Besides, it is showing them (for the first time in their lives) that they are good at math! That's worth a little bit of review. I was amazed at how quickly the boys remembered stuff when presented with these books again, but the best part was that it has evoked pleasant memories, not the typical groaning and complaining. Score!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


For what it's worth, here's my philosophy on education:

I have a responsibility to provide the opportunities my children need to learn that which is important for them to know. I have a responsibility to teach them the concepts they must understand. I have a responsibility to answer their questions at times and direct them to the answers at other times.

I do not have a responsibility to learn the stuff for them. That is my children's responsibility.

More importantly, I do not have to accept any blame for their unwillingness to study and learn their assignments. (Assuming of course that it has been presented in a way that they can grasp the concepts.)

So . . . as of today, I have created a system of charts to help them track their own progress and make sure that they progress in a timely fashion. The reward is that they will be able to do extracurricular things if they get their stuff done. "Stuff" refers to both household chores and schoolwork. They get it done, they get to do their own thing. They don't, and ...... oops.

If everyone completes their stuff in the week, they get a movie or computer time.

Bribery. It works. Much more pleasantly than yelling and screaming.

Friday, September 19, 2008

WARNING: Don't go here!

I just had a Trojan worm threaten my computer so I'm warning everyone off the site that seemed to cause it. It is www dot flexequity dot com. Don't go there!

I just received my bank statement with a flyer advertising their flex equity advantages. Being a curious person, I wanted to find out exactly what flex equity is since I've only had a vague idea about it. So I googled, "What is flex equity?" The second site listed (and the first one I selected) was the above site.

My computer almost immediately flashed into alarm mode, warning me a minute later that I had 3 instances of a Trojan worm. (Okay, my lack of knowledge is showing here--there were 3 lines of warnings that I think meant I had 3 places of attack.) I froze, knowing that if I touched anything I might be downloading a worm so I did the first safe thing that occurred to me. I called my husband. This is what he told me to do:

  1. Turn off my computer immediately by pressing and holding the power button.
  2. Unplug certain cords from internet access. Since I wasn't sure which cords to unplug, I pulled all the plugs from our router and modem that would come.
  3. Then, and only then, he told me to turn the computer back on (without reconnecting the cable or router.)
  4. I opened Windows normally and waited for it to fully load.
  5. Once it opened normally, I reconnected the modem and router.
Internet restored, but I'm feeling much less sure of looking things up on the 'net. What if this had happened to one of my kids? Would they have pressed the button to activate whatever it was the program wanted to download? Ugly. What if this had happened to my parents?

Of course, they probably wouldn't have been looking up anything remotely related to that topic. Does the saying, "Curiosity killed the cat," apply here?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

If you have time

Read this for an incredible lesson-in-a-post about keeping your eye on your destination. Beautifully put even though my first reaction was to be scared about her son's safety, but the visual for keeping your eye on what is important was amazingly on target.

And this for an ode to mothers. Awesome post on women.

Arachnoid (more pics-esp. at bottom)

Even though we are studying spiders, I really didn't intend to have such a large specimen outside the window to study. We're trying to figure out what kind of spider it is. Can you help us? Click here to view a picture. (This is the only not-out-of-focus picture.)

Here are some more pictures -- taken with my camera unfortunately, meaning they aren't in focus because I'm zoomed in so far. Point and shoots only do so much.

Another one:

Gotcha! These are two of the craft spiders we made at co-op. Much less scary!

Could this be it?

Added *much* later: I'm told this is an eastern orb spider.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Stream ecology

Highlight of today:

We went to the Watershed Community of the Ozarks at the Water Valley Mill Park today to learn about stream ecology by Aquatics Biologist, Mike Kromrey. That is, after we got good and lost and took 45 minutes extra to find it!

The kids got to scoop out aquatic life from the stream and began identifying and counting the various species of life. They learned about how streams in the Ozarks tend to "disappear" and go underground for awhile before reappearing. The stream we were in went about 1/4 mile down and then went into the limestone for about 2 miles. Incredible, huh?!

Mr. Kromrey also taught them the importance of keeping the watershed pure. Ever wonder what and where a watershed is? Answer: It's the ground that water soaks into and eventually travels into the rivers, lakes, and streams. He taught them some painless ways to conserve water while he was at it, like not watering sidewalks, along with turning off faucets while brushing teeth.

Oh, yes, the kids scooped up some very interesting aquatic life too. Glass--auto safety glass. Definitely belongs in a stream that goes directly into our drinking water, no? Loverly.

Of course, you can't put a bunch of kids in a stream without some very fun swimming time. The stream was actually fairly deep in places. The kids were freezing when they got out of the water because the stream has a spring at its head. The sun was warm with a cloudless sky too.

Great day!

Really fast note

Just wanted to leave a quick note before I start my day. Yesterday we met for co-op and learned about spiders (arachnids). To wrap up, the kids got to make some cute crafty brown recluse spiders.

Scratch that picture idea. My camera batteries died.

They made a string web which I don't have a picture of, studied some poetry, and learned some more about insect metamorphosis. Next week it's my turn to teach. I'll be hitting more of the Language Arts/Writing angle. Surprise, surprise!

After that, we went shopping. The boys only desperately needed some new pants! My daughter found a Halloween costume. Normally I believe in waiting until the last possible second so as to get the best possible sales, but this time I was a softy.

Last weekend, my boys got several medals at the NPTA Nationals. The only drawback was that they competed against each other so both couldn't take the gold. J-Dawg won a gold and bronze medal. The gold entered him in the Grand Champion for the Youth Male Underbelt competition. Men and women compete separately, and underbelt are those ranks under black belt. Steven was edged out of the grand championship round by a tiebreaker with his brother, but he won 2 silver medals of his own!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Sponges, jellyfish, and earthworms

We began our day looking up animals in the scriptures. The topical guide was helpful, but an old concordance I had was even better. We looked up "Animals" in the concordance (vs. going page by page through the topical guide) and found 30 or more. Then the kids each chose one animal and cut it out of a sponge. Once that was done, we found the properties of a sponge by putting it in water, squeezing it dry, dipping it in paint, stamping the animal on paper, and then looking up information about sponges via the internet. Great bridge from Bible to art to science, eh?

While we were on the net, we searched for pictures and information about jellyfish, the next invertebrate in the study list. J went and got his Wild Facts notebook and shared the pages on the Portuguese Man-o-War with the rest of us. Did you know it got its name from sailors that thought it looked like the Portuguese sailing vessel? That tells you a lot about how the animal moved! (It uses its umbrella as a sail on good days; on stormy days, it deflates the gas from the umbrella and sinks under the water's surface.)

Cool! Now I'm puzzling over dinner while letting the kids play with their K'nex amusement park.
(Added later: Check out this link for some cool Revolutionary era links.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Teaching English and arthropods

The other day I discovered that I really enjoy teaching English. This is the first time that I have unleashed myself from the workbooks and gone for it, drawing all over the white board of course. When I was in college completing my student teaching, I was pretty convinced that I would absolutely never teach school except to my own kids. I still don't think I'd like to take on high school and the associated challenges, but I love teaching writing! Enough so that I have a half-cocked idea to offer a class for homeschoolers in the area. (I certified in secondary ed so homeschooling is just starting to get fun for me!) I really like the Konos-in-a-box approach to teaching English.

Today I shared a website with my kids on arthropods. Warning: it takes evolution as fact clear back to the idea that all things came from one or two animals, but it also has a great illustration of what makes an arthropod an arthropod. The two parts are separate so you don't have to go to the evolutionary part. The link I gave starts at the "What is an arthropod?" section. The evolution part precedes it. I believe in a creator, and I believe he guided the process very carefully but since he hasn't filled in the details himself, I'm not going say he couldn't have used evolution when it was appropriate. However, the idea that everything came from one or two animals is ludicrous in my opinion. Especially given the command he gave to the animals to multiply and replenish the earth after their own kind. Cross two dogs of different breeds and you get a . . . dog. Not something else. If you cross a lab with a collie, you will get . . . a mutt. Cross enough mutts, and another breed of dog will emerge. Since animals obey our Father's commands, the idea of one kind (such as a dog) crossing with another kind (such as a cat) to make another kind (something else) simply makes no sense. Unless man gets involved and corrupts an animal, that would never happen.

Off the philosophizing, there are 5 things that must be present in order for an animal to be classified as an arthropod, and the website has an interactive display showing each characteristic. Then I drew out the kingdom, phylum, etc. in a diagram. For fun, I compared a bear to a lobster and charted it out. (They share the kingdom of Animalia and that's it.) Thanks to Wikipedia and its convenient classification list on each animal, it was easy. Wikipedia and me? We're buds.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Thumbs down for My Brother Sam is Dead

Today I waited for my daughter at our church's Primary activity. They have a quarterly activity that is just a fun time for the children to fellowship with each other. While I was waiting, I read the book, My Brother Sam is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier & Christopher Collier. It is a rather slow read, written in a dispassionate voice.

It takes place in Redding, Connecticut which was primarily a Tory town. The father was anti-war, and he brooked no argument from his sons on any issue. (The book hints at an interesting event in the father's life but did not develop it.) When his oldest son comes home from Yale wearing the uniform of Captain Benedict Arnold's troops, he forbids him to go and they get in a fight over it. The younger son is around 10, although I'm not sure his age is ever revealed. His friend is 10 though.

The main point of the story, as explained by the authors, was to show that war, and the reasons for it (any war), is very complicated. The final message (again by their own words in the afterword) was to leave an anti-war message. Since the storyteller in the book was the boy, it revealed the confusion in his mind as to what was occurring. That was the main success of the book, I think.

As I read the book, I became concerned that my children would not be interested in it because the voice is very passive, a retelling of something long since gone and of no great import. Excuse me? The Revolutionary War shaped our nation--it was of great import to all sides. England took a terrible loss, leading to their decline as the world power, our nation was formed, and our government and people were shaped by it. As this book attempted to show, nearly everyone was impacted in some way or other.

I began to seriously object to the book when at a chapter when Sam has left his post and come back to see the neighbor girl, Betsy. She suddenly appears to have been a love interest but not one his parents have any knowledge of. Normally, they would have been very accommodating of her being at their tavern/store, but they were not. They didn't seem to approve or disapprove of her as they would have a girlfriend. This particular setting is one where Sam is sitting on the ground with Betsy. Interesting. Wouldn't it have been difficult for her to have sat on the ground in the clothing she would likely have been wearing?

A short while later, Tim (the younger brother) sets out to take a message that is presumably a spy message from a Tory to someone in a town quite a distance away. Far enough that it would take 5 hours there and 5 hours back. He's doing it on the sly, and the person he is doing it for knows he does not have his father's approval. Again, would that really have happened? The gentleman was respected in the community as was Tim's father. Both were Tory.

On the way, he meets up with Betsy who is also going that way to see Sam. That caused me a bit of a jump, because a young lady of 15 would not typically have been free long enough to make a 10-hour journey alone. No parent would have allowed it, nor would the work at home have allowed her enough time to be gone that long. Had there been a pressing reason, someone would have been with her for protection. There were known soldiers in the area, and 15-year-old girls would hardly have been safe on a lonely road with only occasional farmhouses along the way.

Betsy overpowers Tim to get the letter, but not without explicit profanity using the Father's name quite a lot. No young lady of decent upbringing would have used such language in that day, nor would Tim have calmly accepted it as status quo. He would have been shocked by it. From that point on, that type of language was used occasionally by the authors. Unfortunately, you hear it all the time today but not then. Certainly not by women who were of respectable families.

The authors make a slight apology for the language in an afterword type of chapter explaining how much of the book is true. They pretend that we really don't know exactly how the characters would have spoken. I found that interesting because a great deal is known about the etiquette, manners, and language of each region so I believe they simply did not want to take the time to research it more fully. Other authors have. Their main purpose seems to have been delivering an anti-war message.

This book could have done a better job of a) engaging the reader, and b) developing the people--they were shells. The authors had to tell us that Tim had grown up because of his increased responsibilities because they didn't show it. I do not understand why it was awarded the Newberry Honor Book award, but there are quite a few of recent years that have mystified me.

Another book I recommend much more highly for the targeted readers, showing the Tory viewpoint much more completely is Dear America: Love Thy Neighbor: The Tory Diary of Prudence Emerson, Green Marsh, Massachusetts, 1774. This was a much more complete portrayal from a Tory.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch

I'm still catching up on all the reading I should have done before I graduated from high school, let alone college! We have recently received a bunch of new books, some purchased one because of fond memories, some because they were highly recommended for historical studies.

One of the latter was the book, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, by Jean Lee Latham. It received the Newberry Award. I never realized that this book is about a real person. Okay, so mathematics was something I did, not something I thrived on doing. Nathaniel Bowditch was incredibly accomplished; he revolutionized the world of navigation. I believe this book is historical fiction, and an excellent example of it too!

One of my favorite parts is in the chapter titled Lunars and Moonlight. Mr. Derby, Captain Prince, and Nat Bowditch are discussing President Washington's address in his Eighth Annual Message to Congress when Mr. Derby reads some passages he had marked in his copy of the newspaper:

"To an active external Commerce, the protection of a Naval force is indispensable . . .
. . . it is in our experience that the most sincere Neutrality [to both England and France] is not a sufficient guard against the depredations of Nations at War. To secure respect to a Neutral Flag, requires a Naval force, organized, and ready to vindicate it from insult or aggression. This may even prevent the necessity of going to War."
This passage jumped out at me because it is such wise counsel, even for our times.

I'm excited to introduce my kids to this book. I think we'll start it as a read aloud. Hopefully the kids will snatch it while I'm not looking! The one thing I noticed is that it is worth graphing the characters as you read it. I got a little lost on who was who. I'll lay it out as I read it to my kids. I think a strength of it is that it incites the reader to study more and learn more on a wider variety of subjects. Nat Bowditch used his time wisely and learned all he could so he was ready when opportunities came. Wonderful counsel for anyone who is a student, no matter what the age.

Another book I just finished was Watch for a Tall White Sail, by Margaret E. Bell. It takes place in Alaska in the late 1800s. It is a wonderful romantic fictional tale and one I loved as a teen. However, I don't think I'll read it to my boys. They might surprise me and enjoy it, but I think we have other books that they'll enjoy more! :-) I still love romantic novels with no foul language, no profane use of of the Lord's name, just boy meets girl set in adventure. The way romances should be. One day my daughter will enjoy it too.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day meme

I saw this on another blog and decided to do it. Heck, I'm still up at an unreasonable hour so my judgement could be cloudy. It's in honor of Labor Day and is about...well, labor. And not the kind you get a day off for, either. Check out Rocks in My Dryer for more.

How long were your labors?

Kid #1 and 2 (twins), 2 days. From about 8:00 a.m. one day to 6:30 p.m. the next
Kid #3, 8 or 9 hours

How did you know you were in labor?

Kid #1 and 2, I went in to be induced.
Kid #2, I had contractions during night although they weren't very strong.

Where did you deliver?

At a hospital.


Had 2 epidurals for my twins. The first one wore off. Tried to do #3 naturally but fought the contractions too hard. My husband finally suggested I try the drugs. Otherwise, I might still be there!


None. Doctor number one was a trouper. He knew I didn't want a C-section so he kept watch over me closely but allowed me to go through with it. Twin B presented breech. He wanted to take no chances with him getting twisted so brought him down immediately after Twin A was born. No incidents.

Who delivered?

Doctors. I loved my first one, but was turned off by the newer practice of multiple doctors in the office for my little girl. It was really scary to me that my least favorite one might deliver my baby. When we first called in, she was the one on call. Thankfully, she was not by the time we got to the hospital. I may have been better off with her though; the one that delivered my daughter did not make a good enough episiotomy (sp?). I kept trying to tell her the baby would be big; she didn't believe me and I paid dearly for it!