Sunday, February 4, 2018

Odds & Ends & Updates of All Sorts

Here's what has been going on at my house this past week:

Virtue of the Week

Philosophy: Epicurus

    The big question for Tuesdays's session... Would Epicurus have had a credit card? We began by reading The Happy Owls by Celestino Piatti.

    I asked them,

    "Do you think this story might be about people and not about birds?"

    "Do the barnyard fowl think they're happy?"

    "How do the owls live their lives that makes them so happy?"

    The children responded that the two owls notice the small things like the spider weaving its webs to hold up the tired leaves in autumn, and they lived a simple simple life. One child asked me very quietly, "Is that where an owl is a symbol of intelligence?"

    Then we did a few of Marietta McCarty's discussion questions:

    "Do you know anyone you would describe as a happy person? How do you think this individual became happy?"

    "Describe times when you are unhappy. What are the causes of your unhappiness?"

    Two boys shared, one child about when his cat was attacked by dogs, and the other child about when his baby sister was in the hospital. I told them that the common thread between those experiences was the uncertainty. Not knowing what would happen... not knowing if everything was going to be okay... and I reminded them that Epicurus said the worst pain was mental fear. He said that instead of happiness being a quest to accumulate STUFF, the path to happiness to a quest to un-accumulate, to simplify, to free yourself from the heaviness of your worries. The path to happiness was clearing out everything except having your basic needs met.

    Epicurus does not define happiness as a state of constant bliss and joy. He defines it by saying what it is NOT. Happiness is the state of being without mental pain.

    I went on to say, "The barnyard fowl get mixed up about the difference between pleasure and happines. They think that happiness is being stuffed with lots to eat and drink and admiring the beauty of their wonderful feathers. Does anyone know what credit cards are?"

    Marietta McCarty's lesson plan ideas include the fact that many children have never seen a credit card statement and she suggests bringing some and passing them around. I thought this was brilliant!

    First I checked to see what the children in my group already knew, and found out that they all thought a credit card and a debit card were the same thing. So I showed them a huge box of Prismacolor pencils full to the brim, and explained that a debit card takes away what you already have in the bank. You take a pencil from your stash of pencils. They are there. They are real.

    Then I took the empty lid of the tin and laid it beside the full box. I told them that a credit card is where you DON'T have any money and you borrow some. There is NO MONEY THERE. The empty lid made this crystal clear.

    I also explained about interest. Interest is when you borrow a pencil from someone and when you return it you have to give them a second pencil too, for the privilege of borrowing the money. We talked about how people are so excited when they find out they can shop and shop... and sometimes they get into thinking like the barnyard fowl. I told them that there is a limit to how much you can borrow, and often when you borrow the money all the way up to the limit, a new credit card offer will arrive in the mail. So there's another empty lid next to the first one. And another. And another.

    I told them that credit card companies are happy to keep sending you offers because they are making a ton of money. Imagine if you had a business lending people pencils and having them give you back two for every one. Isn't it true that after a while you would have a WHOLE BUNCH of pencils???? They agreed.

    I told them that THEN the companies will change how many pencils you have to give back after borrowing one, as you get into more and more debt. Instead of having to give back two pencils for each one they borrow, they will send you a letter that says, "Oh, by the way, now for every pencil you borrow you have to give us four."

    I passed out a thick file folder of my old credit card statements and they were so interested in them. I showed them the line graph of my credit score (Discover does this) and how it has stayed the same, because I haven't paid off my debt. I showed them the packaging my Discover card came in and how it was so shiny and blue. I showed them a brand new card which was still on the paper and hadn't been taken off and activated and how tempting it looked. Then I showed them where the minimum is... how you can owe $2,500 but only have to pay $56. They were amazed!

    Then I showed them the box on the front of the statement which tells you how many years it will take to pay off your debt if you only pay the minimum and never buy anything more, and how much it will end up costing you.

    After plenty of time to look at and discuss these things, I asked them, "Would Epicurus have had a credit card?" We all agreed NO. He would probably have had a debit card, because the money is really there. But he would never ever have had a credit card because it leads to so much mental anxiety and stress.

    We ended the session with another of Marietta's suggestions, to "have the children draw their own comic strips, complete with captions, that depict the simple pleasures of a balanced life."

Science Club: Botany

    Thursday's topic in Botany was Soil Science. We began by discussing all of the failed experiments to make a bean plant grow upside down. None of them survived. The ones planted in the watermelon and banana rotted; the one planted in the soda bottle got moldy from lack of air flow; the ones planted upside down in pots just died. We did have a control to compare them to, and it was a very tall and very happy baby bean plant with lots of new leaves.

    The children drew sketches of their plants versus the control plant in their science notebooks.

    I explained that you can't swap out a watermelon or a banana for soil and have the same results. And so we looked at what soil is made of. We read And the Good Brown Earth and I did two well-loved and tried and true Soil Science lessons:

    1. Four Components of Productive Soil
    (the link is to my previous blog post where I describe this lesson in detail; you will need 20 nickels, four index cards, four brown paper grocery bags, a jar of water, some rocks, and some dried leaves)

    2. The Apple Lesson
    (you will need a large apple, a sharp paring knife, and a cutting board). The link I've provided to The Apple Lesson is a simple one; you can go deeper and look at the limited resources in our oceans as well as on our land with this version if you have older students.

    Then I passed out empty gallon water jugs so they could each make a personal Milk Jug Composter to take home with them! And they bounced outside to collect some garden soil (so that it would have the proper bacteria in it; you can't use potting soil for this lesson) and then came back in and cut up some food scraps from my compost bowl for today (the apple from the apple lesson, clementine peels, and a tea bag). The link is to a handout with complete instructions.

    Finally, I gave them some time to design their new experiments. Again, these sketches go in the science notebook. I require a sketch and a materials list before I start bringing children materials. This makes it more efficient because they're not constantly changing their minds about what they need, and so I can help more people.

    I am really loving Asia Citro's book The Curious Kid's Science Book: 100+ Creative Hands-On Activities for Ages 4-8. I think it is awesome that she gives a challenge but they have to design their experiment. The two options I gave the group were 1) tweak your design for "Make a Plant Grow Down Instead of Up" (p.49) and try it again, or 2) "Design a Plant Maze" (p.33). For both we will need plenty of baby bean plants so we also started some more seedlings (two dried pinto beans in a folded over damp paper towel placed in a closed Ziploc bag and left on a warm sunny table for several days).

Science Club: Kitchen Chemistry

    Friday it was time for my teen Science Club, and we're just finishing up our first carbohydrate (sugar) with candy making! If you're planning this MLB, I strongly recommend the Seventh and Eighth Grade Chemistry blog post by The Parenting Passageway. We did a lesson last week to lead up today using readings from both David Mitchell's book The Wonders of Waldorf Chemistry: Notes from a Teacher's Notebook and Robert Wolke's book What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained.

    This week we began by reviewing the process for making palm sugar (from last week's video) and maple syrup by reading a chapter from Little House in the Big Woods, called "The Sugar Snow." Then we dove into exploring the candy making stages with The Cold Water Candy Test. My daughters have done this several times but never tire of playing with the candy as it cooks, especially the hard ball stage and the soft crack stage.

    We wanted to make a recipe so we picked Psychedelic Lollipops. I didn't want to mess with their experience of the afore-mentioned cold water candy test stages, so we left out the corn syrup the recipe calls for and just did our usual 1 cup sugar : 1/2 cup water. It went briskly through the stages until it hit hard crack, whereupon we dunked the pot into an ice bath for 20 seconds as the recipe requires, added 1/2 tsp lemon extract and some yellow food coloring, and began to pour the candy onto our prepared rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper and with several lollipop sticks lined up, waiting.

    We poured a regular sized lollipop and a teeny tiny one and then the sugar began to cool and harden in our pot.

    This is where we realized why the recipe calls for putting the candy immediately into a heat safe container, like a Pyrex measuring cup. We put as much of it as we could into the Pyrex cup and then re-warmed it a bit on the stove to loosen it and put scraped the remaining candy into the Pyrex cup. Then we looked at the recipe and found that it calls for warming the candy in the microwave if it begins to get hard (they have you mix and pour several colors so that the lollipops are wildly swirly... thus the "Psychedellic"). We tried this but it never got soft again. It was clearly at the 100% sugar stage and it was crystallized just like regular granulated sugar.

    We gave up, gave the teeny lollipop to Zac, and the girls decided they could share the one full-size lollipop by each eating a portion, and that they could snack on the chunks of grandulated sugar as well.

    We sat down to relax and I read them the follow-up chapter from Laura Ingalls Wilder's book. This one is called "Dance at Grandpa's."

    As we read the chapter, we realized that the book was describing the very candy making stages we had just gone through!

    The girls decided that the stage that Laura called "waxing" was hard ball stage. The book describes stirring and cooking the maple sap until it "waxes" and you can pour it into a pan of cold snow and it will harden to make a soft chewy candy.

    Then, lo and behold, just when Grandma is out-jigging Uncle George, the maple syrup begins "graining" and everyone brings dishes as fast as they can and they pour it in and it cools to be maple sugar. We realized that they were describing the hard crack stage and that this is exactly what we had done, except that instead of starting with sap, we started with sugar, turned it into syrup, and turned it back into sugar. Lovely yellow lemon-flavored sugar.

    It was a satisfying ending and the girls used their last few minutes to begin the rough drafts for the Science binders.

    It wasn't until a few days later that I realized that the corn syrup is probably added to the lollipop recipe to KEEP it from graining! For our purposes, however, the experiment was a successful one.

Handwork Hangout

    Candlemas was Friday, and so the logical choice for our Handwork skill this week was candlemaking! All Year Round: Christian Calendar of Celebrations has quite a nice section on Candlemas:

    p.27 Candlemas

    p.28 Floating Candles

    p.29 Walnut Candle Boats

    p.29 Sand Candle

    p.30 Earth Candle

    p.30 Water-dip candles

    They also suggest adding some flower fairies to the Nature table this time of year and give patterns for Snowdrop, Primrose, and Crocus.

    We started by reading Summer Is... by Charlotte Zolotow. I like the 1967 edition with illustrations by Janet Archer.

    Rolled Candles
    We made rolled beeswax candles from my Magic Cabin kits (Brights and Pastels) while my trusty Juicy Juice cans of hardened beeswax warmed up in a large pot of simmering water. You NEVER EVER warm beeswax with direct heat! I've re-used these sturdy cans for years. We had one can with a small amount of blue/purple and a can full of undyed golden beeswax.

    Sand Candles
    Next the children went outside with flower pots and filled their flower pots with damp sand. They used a hard plastic ball the size of a tennis ball to make indentations in their sand. We poked three "legs" in with the end of a wooden spoon. Then we added the wicks (with weights on the end), poured in the blue/purple wax, and laid two chopsticks on the pots to make sure the wicks would stay up and not float or fall over. Tomorrow morning we will take the sand candles out of the sand. Note: they must stand on a plate when you burn them.

    Earth Candles
    Then the children went back outside and found the perfect spot in the butterfly garden for our Earth Candle. They dug the hole while I watched the pot on the stove, since the golden beeswax still was melting. Natalie and her friend came back in and got a ball of wick, tied a washer on one end, and went back outside with a pair of scissors to look for a long stick. They tied the other end of the wick to the long stick and laid the long stick over the hole with the wick inside it. This stick holds the wick in place while the candle hardens.

    When the golden beeswax was melted, we went outside and poured it right into the hole. It was a gorgeous amber color against the rich dark earth. We loved the effect so much that we grabbed a dish filled with earth, brought it indoors, quickly made a hole in it, and put in a wick and poured in a candle. Now we have an Earth Candle inside!

    As soon as we finished our Earth Candles it began to snow. So I guess it isn't quite Spring yet...

Current Main Lesson: Math Fun

    We have just wrapped up a short two week block called "Math Fun: Puzzles and Games." I originally developed this as a second grade Waldorf main lesson block but I realized very quickly that it can work for many ages! For one thing, the spatial puzzles with matches and coins (like Turn the Fish) appeal to all ages and my older kids wanted to try to solve them too. For another, my older students who are working on Ratios and Algebra are solving problems which look a lot like math puzzles! So it was a general all-purpose topic. Jamie York has Ratios as the main math topic for seventh grade and we've been working our way through his seventh grade workbook this year. I also have one older child in the eighth grade workbook.

    Jamie York also strongly recommends puzzles and games for older students and has put together a really nice book for grades 4 - 12.

    I've put ALL of the puzzle and game notes on my website and I'll make a follow-up blog post with photos so you can see The Dice Game and The Crocodile Game in action. "Ghostie Numbers" is a reference to how I like to introduce Algebra and I've written about it before in this blog.

    My brand-new Roman Numerals box from Hello Wood ($44.00) also arrived in time for Math Fun, and solving problems in Roman Numerals is very much like a game! I used Denise Schmandt-Besserat's The History of Counting to introduce the topic. I've also listed some PDFs of Roman Numeral worksheets on my website.

    My class was very excited on Friday when we tested out Yahtzee and I decided that I would allow it on the shelf as an educational game! You don't need much to play this... just five dice, the rules, and the special scorecards (see the links below). It's great for computation and helping students gain a beginning sense of probability:

    Yahtzee rules (PDF)

    Yahtzee scorecard (PDF)

Essay Writing

    My oldest group continues to work on Essay Writing, which we have been doing for several weeks. They wrote definition essays on leadership; I passed out the topic on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In keeping with our discussion of the Civil Rights Movement, on the day they presented their essays to one another the older children -- and ONLY the older children -- listened to an astounding interview on NPR's Fresh Air with Little Rock Nine member Melba Pattillo Beals.

    We then began to look more deeply at writing thesis statements, using lesson 2 from The Elegant Essay.

    We looked at this further with a Learning to Write a Summary activity, and viewed a short TED talk on The Hidden Power of Smiling.

    We then looked at the power of sketchnotes by watching a fantastic TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson, Changing Education Paradigms, with sketchnotes by RSA ANIMATE. I gave the students a Sketchnotes Prewriting Activity to complete for the chapter book we just finished reading, Surviving the Applewhites. The goal here is for them to come up with their own essay topic AND thesis statement based on their sketchnotes. Rough drafts of these essays are due on Monday.

    We did a fun lesson to look further at one of our rubric categories, Voice. It's on page 182 of Creating Writers Through 6-Trait Writing Assessment and Instruction. I read three quotes to the students and they had to figure out which one was Jerry Seinfeld, which one was Ernest Hemingway, and which one was Dr. Phil.

    Conventions is also a category on our rubric, and students struggle with the finer points of punctuation. We have also been reviewing editing, including taking a Punctuation Test for pre-assessment, editing samples of other students' written work and finding punctuation and capitalization errors, and doing Stacey Lloyd's very nice set of punctuation worksheets.

Next Week

Our new main lesson block is World Geography: Africa.

Our new philosopher for Happiness is Charlotte Joko Beck.

Our new Botany topic is Bacteria.

Our new carbohydrate for Kitchen Chemistry is Starch.

Our new Handwork skill is Wet Felting.

This post contains affiliate links to the materials I actually use for homeschooling. I hope you find them helpful. Thank you for your support!

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