Monday, October 31, 2016

Homeschool Co-op Week 10

This ended up being a very Montessori-ish week! If there's something I touch on which you want me to explain further, just type a comment and I'll respond.

We had our final week of outdoor yoga with our very talented Yoga teacher, whom we will miss very much!!!!

Continued The Adventures of Maya the Bee by Waldemar Bonsels as our read aloud (I want to just say... I had NO idea this had been made into a movie!)

Continued Handwork projects and ASL and Farm Day

Completed Parts of the Biome nomenclature booklets (, then went depeer into the Energy component of the biome. We experienced The First Great Lesson, followed by some lessons on the Parts of the Globe, Climate Zones, and The Reason for the Seasons.

    I have pages on my website for my Lending Library, and the Montessori page gives a ton of suggested resources for the Five Great Lessons, the most Waldorf-y of all Montessori lessons.

    I can't tell you the entire story in this little space but I can share some of my favorite parts.

    There are several great demonstrations for this lesson! In the first, you fill a black balloon with silver confetti stars using a funnel, then blow up the balloon. You keep the balloon and a pin hidden under your silk. I used the starry night silk because I just can't resist. It's so perfect for this!

    When you prick the balloon the stars fly all over the classroom! The Great Lessons are intended to be impressionistic and not too heavy on the science... yet scientifically accurate in a simplified way. The idea of something coming from a great nothing-something is one of the greatest mysteries!

    The teacher lights a candle to show that light now exists, then collects the stars (with eager help from children -- be prepared to lose a few stars to pockets) and places them in a large clear bowl of water. Because of surface tension, the stars will slowly be drawn together to form galaxies. It's pretty cool!

    Another popular demonstration shows how heavier particles fell to the center of the earth, medium heavy particles fell a little less deeply, and light particles floated on the top. Take a large jar with a lid and into it dramatically pour a large quantity of water which has been dyed blue, then a quantity of honey (which will sink and spread out to cover the bottom of the jar), then a quanitity of vegetable oil (which will float on the top). Even though all of the hot liquid melty rock which was our earth at its beginning seemed to be the same, some of the particles were heavier, some medium-heavy, some light. Over time they separated out into layers. Screw on the lid and pass the jar around and let the children shake it up vigorously. Then set it down and watch it settle. It won't take long.

    I also had a piece of pumice from my hike up Mt. Vesuvius many years ago. It was great fun to hand around! You could really see that gasses escaped from volcanoes as well as the solid material which cooled to form rock. Those gasses contained hydrogen and oxygen which could become water. Of course, for millions of years that water which fell instantly evaporated back up into the air when it tried to land on the sizzling hot earth's crust. I used to have a great demonstration for this! I heated a little cast iron skillet on a hot plate and when we got to that part in the story, I would spritz the skillet with a little spray bottle of water. The drops would sizzle and immediately be gone. It was very effective!

    How life first came to be on earth is the story for another day... the Second Great Lesson.

    Several great follow up books for this First Great Lesson are

Our poem (a joke "haiku" which helped us practice counting syllables), math facts (Ghostie Numbers), and morning pages.

    one two three four five
    six se-ven eight nine ten e-
    le-ven twelve thir-teen

Ghostie Numbers is a wildly-popular Halloween math lesson I invented years ago which is actually algebra. I like students EARLY ON to understand that the equals sign does NOT mean "put the answer here." It means "is the same as." It is amazing how often kids are only given math problems which look like a + b = c. Or a - b = c.

If you only ever saw math presented that way, wouldn't you think the equals sign means "put the answer here."

I read an article from the National Council on Teaching Children Mathematics about this which was incredibly striking and which has always stuck with me. You can test this with your own child. Give a problem like 5 + 3 = ___ + 6.

Does your child write an eight in the blank? Lots of kids don't know what to do with the "+ 6" because it doesn't match any format they've ever seen before, so their strategy is to just completely ignore it.

We focus on two things in Ghostie Numbers: understanding that the equals sign means the two sides must balance, and checking your answer for reasonableness. (The concept is that one of the numbers is wearing his Halloween costume and you have to figure out what number is hiding underneath.) I have no problem with "guess and check." I only ask that once you've guessed, you think to yourself, does this feel reasonable? We did a few of these problems every day and the class got into animated discussions about how to solve them. I would put up two problems on the board, and people could choose which one they were interested in solving. They could use any manipulative of their choice, as well as scrap paper of course.

In the pictured problem "9 x 9 = ghostie + 44," it was interesting that my daughter was adamant that you solved it by adding 44 to 81. You can see that she went up and wrote that on the board below my original problem, because she was busy explaining her logic to her classmate and couldn't keep from jumping up to show him. It's wrong. But this is a great test for reasonableness.

Is it reasonable that 9 x 9 is the same as 125 + 44???

No, of course not.

For the older children, whose problems were much more difficult, I talked about George Polya and his strategy of trying the same problem with littler numbers. You can solve them in your head if the numbers are small enough and figure out the correct answer quickly. Then, whatever steps you used to solve the problem with the small numbers are the correct steps to use for the larger numbers too. We had to do this when I gave them a problem which included fractions.

If you change the problem above to "2 x 2 = ghostie + 1", you can see that four is the same as ghostie + 1, which means that ghostie is 3. You subtract the one from four. Therefore, to return to the more difficult problem, you would subtract the 44 from 81.

A lively discussion always results from "Tell me step by step how you would solve this problem."

The other Halloween favorite in my classroom is the Haunted House of Speech. My co-teacher at my Montessori school taught me this lesson and I used my pictures of her classroom students doing this work as the basis for my own spooky house template. Students trace the template, then add details to their little hearts' content. The only stipulation is that you have to write down everything you add under the symbol for its part of speech. Naturally Montessori is unique in how it presents grammar, and the Grammar symbols are wonderful for visual-spatial and tactile learners! Once they know the symbols for the parts of speech, they can take any sentence or passage and symbolize it by stenciling and coloring in the appropriate symbols above each word. What a wonderful way to see at a glance how a sentence is put together and the job of each and every word!

You can buy lots of grammar materials but the stencil and colored pencils and a chart showing all of the symbols are all that is really needed.

My older students did some Halloween-Themed Fact and Opinion and Halloween Decimal Operations Word Problems. All operations with decimals are still really challenging for them, especially long multiplication and long division!

My Four Seasons / Poetry group wrote Autumn poetry, experimenting with haiku and acrostic poems. They have a few they wish to share in my next blog post. Nothing like an authentic audience to encourage people to polish and publish!

My Old Testament Stories group started with The Dreamer by Cynthia Rylant, a wonderfully written book which is based on the Judeo-Christian Creation story. It is luminously illustrated by Barry Moser. It's out of print and I haven't the foggiest idea why...

They then did a wet-on-dry watercolor painting of the great void which existed before anything was created. We painted outside and it was amazing to sit in the sunshine and listen to the birds singing and hear the sounds of life all around us and try to imagine what it would have been like if none of that existed and there was only nothingness.

I didn't articulate this but it was also interesting to juxtapose the scientific beginning of the universe story with the religious one. We are not studying the Old Testament as a religious study, but as a world mythology / cultural study. However, since the Creation is several days worth of painting, we can't help but compare it to the biomes work and the Montessori lessons as they unfold side by side.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Giant Ball of String - Arthur Geisert

Art/Handwork today focused on marbles. And although this story isn't really about marbles, it does have the idea of rolling every which way in it. So... we started with reading The Giant Ball of String by Arthur Geisert. This book is out of print but oh-so-clever and fun! The illustrations and the plot are both fabulous. Especially if your child has a mechanical mind!

We followed this with an Art project, a Nature walk, some snack time and bunny play time, and a Building project.

First, Marble Painting. We have great vintage ice cube trays that we use as paint palettes. We got out washable tempera in six colors, so I calculated six spaces for the original colors and then six spaces alotted for color mixing. She did color mixing in all 12 spaces... which was cool too.

Write the name and date on the back of your watercolor paper, then flip it over so you can do art on the clean side. Cheap watercolor paper is great for this. It's sturdy! DON'T blow through your stash of expensive Arches watercolor paper. Seriously. It's just paint and marbles, people!

Drop your marbles in the paint then pick them up and put them on your paper which is in the lid of a shoebox, or on some kind of rimmed tray. Tilt the box lid or tray and watch the marbles roll all around. So simple. So fun! Everyone wanted to do this project, up to -- and including -- my 14 year old. Keep a bunch of baby wipes handy and a small trashcan.

After awhile my student wanted to join the walking-the-baby-around-the-block-in-the-stroller activity and so we did that. Then she came up with the idea of collecting acorns and dropping them in paint to see if they rolled like the marbles do. (They don't. But it was worth trying.)

Snack time, petting the rabbit, walking the rabbit on his harness/leash around the yard.

Then we built a Modular Marble Maze. This was inspired by something I saw on Pinterest (below).

We used the box our diaper wipes refill packs came in. These boxes have little cutouts on the side to be carry handles. I set one on its side so the handles/holes were now on the top and the bottom instead of the sides. We cut off all of the flaps, we taped over the hole in the bottom, and we dropped a marble in the hole in the top. Naturally it fell straight down with a plunk!

So we began to cut and tape in place some cardboard pieces (starting with the flaps I had cut off, but I also helpfully had bought some new cloth diapers and one arrived today so we had that cardboard from Amazon) and toilet paper and paper towel tubes. After each addition we dropped a marble in the top and checked to see how its path was coming along. When we had a design she liked, we painted the entire inside and outside with our leftover marble maze paint. Why let all that good mixed paint go to waste?

Then I had my most genius idea of all time. Or, at least of Sunday, Nov. 30th. We buy refill boxes of wipes constantly. And each of these boxes is, naturally, the exact same size. Meaning that the handles/holes will always line up. So, in other words, each time I use up one of these boxes of refills, we can make another marble run inside it and then stack all of the modular components on one another in any order and drop a marble in the top and watch it take the entire path down, dropping from the end hole in one box directly into the start hole in the box below. I love the idea of making a marble run which is several stories high, yet can be disassembled and reassembled with ease. Won't this be fabulous!!!

And thanks to that art/handwork family... who brought me five beautiful white roses, a huge pile of burr oak acorn caps, and a little yellow button to add to my button collection. :-)

By the way, The Giant Ball of String lends itself to all kinds of follow up work, from collecting pieces of string to make a giant ball, to lighting paper on fire with a magnifying glass, to building a dam, water wheel, sluice, or windmill!

set of three magnifying glasses for the classroom

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Woody, Hazel & Little Pip - Elsa Beskow

I've started teaching a few Art/Handwork classes during the school year for those kids who worked with me over the summer and wanted to keep going. The easiest way for me to share these is to title the blog posts with the title of the book we read each session. The Art/Handwork sessions are always organized around a story.

Our first Autumn session was today. Our lovely little Autumn story was:

Woody, Hazel and Little Pip

by Elsa Beskow

First, we made Pumpkin-Pie Smoothies, leaving out the chai to make it more kid-friendly (chai has caffeine). My student loved it and carefully copied down the recipe on an index card to take home and share with mom.

Next, we took half of the leftover pumpkin in the can and made No-Cook Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pie Play Clay. (Edible, for those of you with todders.)

Then, we read Woody, Hazel and Little Pip. Some good follow-ups to this story would be fashioning a basket and pulley set-up in a tree outside in your yard, or making leaf boats with large leaves and toothpicks and floating them down a stream. We picked to do a nature walk around the block to identify different kinds of trees and search for their seeds, and to find the oak trees and pick up a bowlful of acorn caps.

Then, we made Acorn Cap Jewels. These are gorgeous and so easy! Simply choose your nicest acorn caps, color the insides with nice fresh juicy markers (we found our Crayola Aged Up Adult Coloring 12ct Fine Line Markers worked better than the ones from our Mindware coloring book sets), set them in a bed of dried pinto beans in a shallow casserole dish (you could also use rice), and fill the caps to the brim with Elmer's glue.

These are supposed to take 48 hours to dry completely and they end up lusciously-colored, glossy and bright.

My Early Art & Sensory Pinterest page

Our photos of this project in progress:

My student came up with the lovely idea of drawing a large oak tree with watercolor pencils, then glueing the finished acorn cap jewels onto the branches of the tree, and framing it to give as a Christmas present. So we got some watercolor paper and chose a frame and cut the paper to size. Then she tested all of the pencils on wet paper and on dry paper (they can produce different shades when wet vs. dry). And she ended up deciding on her preferred drawing/painting techinque, which was ignoring the watercolor brush and simply dipping the tip of the pencil into her jar of water to give an intense pigment layer to her paper. Next week we will glue the acorn caps onto her artwork.

We ended with eating some bell pepper slices for snack, brushing the rabbit, and playing outside on this beautiful day!

This morning, before the Art/Handwork class, Leah and Becca and I went and walked the labyrinth. Then they went hiking at Giant City State Park and stopped and played at Castle Park as well. Really, it was so pretty outside, any activity would have felt special!

Zac LOVES Castle Park and Giant City! We've gotten some great photos!

Giant City State Park is, cooincidentally, a great place to find acorn caps. Right outside the visitor center there stands a group of HUGE burr oak trees, which have the most amazing acorn caps of all time. You can just pick them up off the ground and fill your pockets like a trick-or-treater hoarding candy. Not only do they have the special frilly edges, they are ENORMOUS. Here's a picture. The acorns on the left are the regular size. The ones on the right are from Giant City State Park. And the quarter is in there for scale.

You can get these on Etsy (like at the botanicallampshades Etsy shop) if you love love them.

Quercus macrocarpa

I can't wait to make dolls next week with these amazing acorn caps as the hats!!!!