A writing game for all ages

Writing game

I don’t know how she does it. Every day Julie Bogart drops into my inbox yet another pearl of wisdom that makes our homeschool more fun. A game, an idea for stimulating big conversations, or simply words of encouragement reminding me to appreciate what’s going well in our homeschool, instead of worrying about what’s missing.

In last Sunday’s Daily Writing Tip, Julie suggested using the game Boggle to generate words to use in stories.

We don’t have Boggle, so I downloaded the free app Popwords to use instead.

How we played

First, we used Popwords to generate a list of words. We let J(9) spot the three-letter-words while C(10) and I searched for longer ones. I wrote all our words on a whiteboard.

When we had 15 words, we grabbed paper and pencils. We each set our own goal for how many words to  include in our piece of writing. J(9) decided on six words, C(10) thirteen, and I tried to use all of them.

The game was so much fun. We all smiled as we wrote, and giggled as we shared our writing. We created such different pieces of writing from the same set of words!

What we wrote

J(9) wrote a movie promo, which he read in his best “big movie” voiceover voice:

“It’s the sun trial – the kills of a pig in a wig … Coming out soon.”

C(10) made a vampire poem:

“I run from the pale animals who never see the sun

With their fangs glinting, ready for the kill

Theirs is the trial which inflicts awe

The dots of blood on the hen – no, pig

No human – yes, human, beware

They are everywhere

In the eggs, in your wig, at the gig

Everywhere.”

I wrote a silly story, which started:

“It all began the day I came home from my run to discover the hen, Suki, wearing a blonde wig. She’d been quite an ordinary chook when I left home as the sun was rising. And now here she was – dancing on the toaster, with the pig playing on Uncle Solomon’s banjo.”

Games at teatime

Fun writing games are always a hit in our house, and they’re by far the best way to inspire J(9) to pick up a pen. Over the last week we’ve got into a pleasant routine of meeting for afternoon tea while we play a game or enjoy a story. On Monday lunchtime we returned from a long weekend away, and I found myself ignoring the unpacking while I made scones to eat over a game of Consequences. I’m starting the school year as I mean to go on!

Where to find Brave Writer writing ideas

You can sign up for Brave Writer’s daily writing tips on the Brave Writer homepage. Julie has compiled her first set of tips into Daily Writing Tips: Volume 1 which can be downloaded for $4.99.  (I’m not affiliated to Brave Writer, I just love Julie’s gentle wisdom and want to share the inspiration with you.)

 What writing games does your family enjoy?

Do you have a favourite teatime snack?

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 I’m appreciatively linking up here:

The Home Ed Link Up #15 – Adventures in Home Education

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners

The Hip Homeschool Hop – Hip Homeschool Moms

7 Things We Learned Cruising the Mediterranean

 1. Venice really is at sea

Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley described Venice as “Ocean’s nursling.” But who knew that an 86,000 ton cruise ship could sail quite this close to it?

Grand Canal

Venice’s Grand Canal from our cruise ship

Venice by water jpg

J(9) enjoying Venice by Vaporetto (water bus)

St Mark's Square

Views of St Mark’s Square from sea and land

2. The Ancient Greeks knew their geometry10045759763 bea99fb81f z

Picture the Parthenon, the ancient temple on Athens’ Acropolis. What shape is it? If you’d asked me three weeks ago, I’d have said cuboid. But no! The Parthenon contains no right angles and no perpendicular lines.

Because the Parthenon perches on a hilltop, if it were cuboid it would look like its columns protruded outwards from the ground up. To counter this – and to make it look cuboid – the Parthenon is actually pyramidical. Yes, if you extended those columns way up into the blue Athenian sky, they would eventually meet. Clever, eh?

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The pyrimidical Parthenon

3. Earthquakes preserve cities

We’ve all heard of Pompeii, the Roman city buried (and preserved for posterity) by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. It had never occurred to me that earthquakes can also preserve civilisations for future generations. (I know. Doh.)

Even with less than 20 percent of the site excavated so far, the ancient (and earthquake-prone) city of Ephesus on the west coast of Turkey is the biggest Roman settlement uncovered in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The Great Theatre, Ephesus

The Great Theatre, Ephesus

The photo above shows the  25,000 person theatre in which Paul is said to have talked to the Ephesians about Christ. He was so persuasive that the local silversmith, who made his living selling idols of the Greek goddess Artemis, turned the city against Paul.

After Paul was exiled, he continued writing to the church at Ephesus; his Epistle to the Ephesians is recorded in the New Testament.

Great Theatre, Ephesus

C(10) and J(9) re-enacting a gladiator battle in the Great Theatre

4. What not to wear in a mosque

It was real hands feet-on learning for C(10) and J(9) as they took off their shoes to enter Istanbul’s Blue Mosque. C(10) also had to cover her shoulders, and adult women covered our heads.

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The 500-year-old Blue Mosque, still in popular use, gets its name from the thousands of hand-crafted blue mosaics adorning its interior

Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque is the only mosque in the world with six minarets (towers)

Blue Mosque

Chains hanging from the entryway to the Blue Mosque prevent anyone on horseback from entering

6. Hagia Sophia is now a museum

This version of the Hagia Sophia cathedral was built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 537 AD. Together with its two predecessors on the site, Hagia Sophia stood as the crowning jewel of the Eastern Orthodox Church for over a thousand years.

Hagia Sophia - Istanbul

Hagia Sophia

When the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453, they were so impressed by Hagia Sophia that instead of destroying it, they added minarets and other Islamic features, and turned the church into a mosque.

In 1935 Kemal Ataturk – the founder of modern, secular Turkey – uncovered many of the church’s Christian decorations and converted the building into a museum.

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Me – excited to see the church we’ve read about so often in The Story of the World, with J(9) – a little weary after queuing in the heat to visit the Blue Mosque!

7. The Ionian Sea is very clear

Okay, this one is an even more shameless excuse than the rest of this post to flaunt a few holiday snaps. But can you blame me? The Greek Islands are rather gorgeous, don’t you think?

Santorini

C(10) and our cruise ship at Santorini

Kefalonia

Crystal clear sea at Kefalonia

Have you visited any new places recently?  What did you learn?

***

I’m appreciatively linking up here:

The Hip Homeschool Hop – Hip Homeschool Moms

The Home Ed Link Up  #15 – Adventures in Homeschool

Weekly Wrap-Up – Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Collage Friday – Homegrown Learners

Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop – All Done Monkey

History and Geography Meme#134 – All Things Beautiful

Seven Revealing Facts About Myself

mirror selfie

Thank you, Sue, for nominating me for a Very Inspiring Blogger Award! Sue’s grace, generosity and gentle wisdom shine through every post she writes on her blog, Stories of an Unschooling Family. She has been my biggest inspiration in our journey towards unschooling.

Very inspiring award1

I read Sue’s Seven Revealing Facts About Myself with the same joy I read everything she writes. When I came to the end of her post and saw that she’d nominated me, I was very honoured.

It was especially nice to be thought of by Sue because I’ve been offline most of this summer, enjoying beach and (extended) family time. I’m sure my blogging friends must think me very rude not commenting on their lovely blog posts. Tomorrow we leave from Venice on a European cruise with my husband’s family. I like cruises because you get to dress up in the evenings, which is something I rarely do. The photo above is from the last cruise my parents-in-law took us on. When we get home I’m looking forward to catching up with all my blogging friends again.

Here are my seven facts about myself:

* I wasn’t brought up in any religion but I’ve always believed in God. Seven years ago I discovered a teacher whose work resonates with me deeply.  I don’t go to church but I meditate every day. My faith is at the heart of everything I do, including how I raise my children.

* Two years ago I created another blog to write about more personal things, like my faith, but I’ve never posted there. One day I will have the courage to do so!

* I look and dress like an average English woman but in fact I am in a very small minority. I have an unusual faith, an unusual IQ, I unschool my kids and – despite being very gregarious – I am extremely introverted (I need lots of time by myself to recharge). My close friends tend to be intense extroverts who love me enough to keep phoning even though I rarely phone them.

Wedding

At my cousin’s wedding in July

* My ideal evening would be a meal and a glass of wine in a quiet restaurant with a good friend, leaping straight into joyful conversation about life, the universe and everything without any preliminary smalltalk. That would be once every fortnight or so. The other 13 nights I’d be at home on the sofa with my husband.

* I love walking my dogs on the beach while listening to loud music. Especially if it’s blowing a gale, when I can dance on the sand and sing out loud without anyone thinking I’m crazy.

Beach walk

Beach selfie taken on Tuesday – spot the ear muffs and the windswept hair!

* I love getting older. I’ve been happier every single year of my life. Last week I turned 44. Isn’t 44 a great number?

44th birthday

My 44th birthday last week (Left to right – my brother-law, husband, J(9), C(10), nephew, mum and sister.)

* I don’t think you’re ever too old to follow your dreams. As a child I longed to learn a musical instrument but my (single) mum never had the money for lessons. This year I took my very first music exam – grade 4 classical guitar. I passed with merit, and got six marks fewer than C(10) who took the same exam. I was glad it was that way round!

Here are the guidelines (it’s meant to be “rules” but I can’t bring myself to write rules on my blog. Probably just as well, as I’ve broken a few).

  • Thank and link to the amazing person who nominated you.
  • List the rules and display the award.
  • Share seven facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.
  • Proudly display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you.

Nominations. I am inspired by many homeschooling blogs. Sue already nominated several of my favourites. Here are a few of the others.

Phyllis from All Things Beautiful

Karen from Homeschool Girls

Carol from Learning With Boys

Prudence from Adventures in Home Schooling

Ingi from Defying Gravity

 

Thank you again, Sue, for nominating me. I’ve enjoyed writing this post!

 

Atomic Pancakes and the History of Oxygen

 

oxygen atoms kids

Did you know that scientists didn’t used to believe in oxygen? Oxygen in the air helps things to burn. But chemists used to think that anything that could be burned contained a mysterious element called phlogiston.

The element that weighed less than zero

Scientists thought that the red hot glow of a burning metal was evidence of phlogiston escaping. They even decided that, because metal weighs more after burning, phlogiston must weigh less than zero! (We now know that the extra weight comes from oxide that forms on metal when it’s heated.)

More phlogiston nonsense

Oxygen atom kidsJoseph Priestly (1733-1804) was the first scientist to trap oxygen – but he didn’t realise what he’d done. The phlogisticians thought that when they placed a burning candle under a glass, it gave off phlogiston until the air in the glass was completely saturated with phlogiston.

So when a candle burned even more brightly in the “air” Priestly collected, he reasoned that the air must not contain any phlogiston at all. He  called his oxygen sample “dephlogisticated air”!

Of course, this was exactly backwards. From The Mystery of the Periodic Table:

“The air Priestly thought was full of phlogiston was actually emptied of oxygen. The air he thought was entirely emptied of phlogiston, was actually full of oxygen.”

Goodbye phlogiston, hello oxygen

It was French scientist Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794) who finally sorted things out and put phlogiston in its rightful place (the history books). How did he do it?

Lavoisier wanted to find out what really happened when a metal was heated. Was something removed from the metal and released into the air (as the phlogisticians believed), or was the reverse true – was something removed from the air and drawn into the metal?

He had the genius idea of measuring the volume of gas in his apparatus before and after the metal was heated.  The result? Lavoisier found that when he heated metal, the volume of air around it decreased. Some of the air had combined with the metal!

Next, Lavoisier heated the specks that had formed on the metal and measured how much gas they gave off. Of course, it was the exact same amount as had left the air and gone into the metal previously.

Lavoisier had proved that neither phlogiston nor dephlogisticated air were real. He renamed dephlogisticated air, “oxygen”.

(Water + phlogiston) + (Water − phlogiston) = Water?

Even before Lavoisier’s breakthrough, scientists had begun to figure out that water was a combination of two separate things.

Henry Cavendish (1731-1810) had found that two parts of what he called”inflammable air” [hydrogen] combined with one part of “dephlogisticated air” [oxygen] made water.

But Cavendish’s inability to see beyond phlogiston got him in a bit of a pickle.

“He thought that inflammable air (hydrogen) was actually water plus phlogiston, and that dephlogisticated air (oxygen) was actually water minus phlogiston. What happens when you add water-plus-phlogiston to water-minus-phlogiston? The plus and minus phlogistons ‘cancel’ each other out, and you are left with only water!”

 The Mystery of the Periodic Table

Thankfully Lavoisier – debunker of phlogiston – was able to put things in order. He made water by sparking oxygen with some of Cavendish’s “inflammable air”.

Now that he had proved that phlogiston didn’t exist, Lavoisier realised that inflammable air must also be an element itself. He named this gas, “hydrogen” (Greek, for water-generator).

Atomic Pancakes

The French rewarded Lavoisier for his services to science by chopping off his head. (They were a bit guillotine-crazy back then.) We decided to honour the great scientist by making atomic pancakes.

You need

  • Pancake batter
  • White chocolate chip “protons”
  • Dark chocolate chips “neutrons”
  • Small sweets e.g. M&Ms (all the same colour) – “electrons”
  • Chocolate sauce (and a toothpick for spreading it into “orbits”)

(We actually used red and green grapes as protons and neutrons, but we struggled to fit them all into the nucleus of our oxygen atom.)

Oxygen atoms kids

Proton and neutron grapes, and white chocolate chip electrons

{See full instructions here.}

First, we made two small hydrogen pancakes.

Oxygen atoms kids

Hydrogen atom

Each hydrogen atom has one proton at its centre, and one electron orbiting the nucleus.

Then we made one big pancake for our oxygen atom.

Oxygen atoms kids

Oxygen atom

Oxygen has 8 protons and 8 neutrons in its nucleus.

Oxygen also has 8 electrons – one pair in its first orbit, and 2 more pairs in its second orbit. The second orbit also contains 2 single electrons.

To make our water molecule, we put the 2 small pancakes beside the large pancake, lining up the 2 sets of unpaired electrons.

Oxygen atoms kids

Water molecule

In reality, electrons are really far away from the protons and neutrons. If a proton were as big as a grape, you would need to walk an hour before you set down your electron!

Oxygen atoms kids

Putting electrons into orbit

After eating up our atomic pancakes, we moved onto making the real thing. Come back soon to find out how we made oxygen and hydrogen out of water!

Resources

The Mystery of the Periodic Table – A wonderful living book about the history of chemistry – a great read aloud for all ages.

CSIRO – Australia’s national science agency’s website. I came across atomic pancakes via their (free) Science by Email program.

Chemistry, a Volatile History – Fascinating BBC documentary series with a whole episode on the phlogiston blind-alley. We saw it a few years ago and would love to see it again. YouTube has clips. Please let me know if you find the whole thing available somewhere!

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I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Science Sunday at Adventures in Mommydom

After School Link Up at Planet Smartypants

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers

The Hip Homeschool Hop

The HomeEd Linkup Week 7 at Adventures in Home Schooling

Science Saturday at Suzy Homeschooler

 

{This post contains Amazon affiliate links.}

Why we love Edward Zaccaro more than Khan Academy

 

Favourite maths books jpg

If your kids want to use the same maths book every day for months, is it their curriculum? If so, I might have to stop writing about how we don’t use one. Because lately, both C(10) and J(9) have been reaching for Becoming a Problem Solving Genius every time I suggest maths.

Why my kids weren’t ready for these books 2 years ago

We used another of Ed Zaccaro’s books for a short while when C and J were 7 and 8. Why did we stop? I think it was a problem of timing, and attitude – my own and theirs. We’d spent two years lurching from one maths curriculum to another in search of something that could sustain their interest. We probably approached Primary Grade Challenge Math with a weary ennui not very conducive to success.

What’s changed

So what’s different now? Partly my kids are older, which means they can focus on trickier (more interesting) problems for longer. But I think it also has something to do with the maths playtime we’ve been enjoying for the last 14 months.

During that time we’ve approached maths from many different directions. We’ve used stories, videos, number talks, games, puzzles, and many, many hands-on activities. (Sue Elvis wrote a great post about approaching maths “backwards” in this way.) As a result, my kids no longer think maths is about procedures and drills. For them, it’s about solving puzzles. And they know that maths is everywhere, not just on the pages of an arithmetic workbook.

Problem Solving Genius

Why we love Becoming a Problem Solving Genius

The main reason Becoming a Problem Solving Genius is such a hit with my kids is simply that the problems are so interesting and varied.  On any single page there’s a delightfully wide range of different maths topics.

Yesterday, for example, J(9) worked through level 3 of the chapter on Venn Diagrams. The first three questions alone relate to (1) quadrilaterals, (2) triangles, and (3) prime numbers, none of which we’ve worked on recently.

Knowing how J(9) likes to find things out for himself, I showed him our Maths Dictionary, where he looked up rectangles, squares and rhombuses. He then grabbed the Geomag and created quadrilaterals according to the definitions he’d read.

For the triangles question, he decided to draw as many different types of triangles as he could think of and then try to categorise them, before he looked up the definitions of scalene, isosceles and equilateral.

When we got to the question on prime numbers, I showed J(9) the Sieve of Eratosthenes, after which he easily allocated the primes to their appropriate sets in the Venn Diagram.

Venn diagrams in Becoming a Problem solving genius

Most of the problems in Ed Zaccaro’s books involve arithmetic calculations, so I don’t worry about my children not practising the basic mathematical operations. Rather, they’re being used in a meaningful context. (C(10) uses Math Mammoth now and again to practise her long division, and when J(9) feels the need to practise specific skills I’ll offer him appropriate materials, too.)

C(10) loved the chapter in Becoming a Problem Solving Genius on logic. (So did J(9), but after enjoying his delightfully “creative” answers I made a mental note to return to the chapter in a year or so!) And they both loved “Don’t be fooled (Counterintuitive thinking)”.

Challenge Math

Our success with Becoming a Problem Solving Genius inspired me to pull our other Ed Zaccaro books off the shelf. J(9) was beginning to struggle with the higher levels of some topics, so we switched to Primary Grade Challenge Math to consolidate and fill gaps in topics like decimals, square roots and percentages.

Primary Grade Challenge Math

Then there is Challenge Math for the Elementary and Middle School Student, which is aimed at slightly older children. It, too, covers a huge variety of maths topics. I haven’t used Challenge Math with either of my kids yet, but I’m going to show it to C(10) soon. I think she’ll like it. The contents range from decimals, fractions, percents and area to acceleration, simultaneous equations and astronomy!

Challenge Math

From the back of the book:

“Difficult concepts in areas such as statistics, probability, trigonometry and calculus are explained in an easy to understand format using cartoons and drawings. This makes self-learning easy for both the child and any teacher whose math skills are a little rusty.”

Challenge Math for the Elementary and Middle School Student

(That’ll be me with the rusty maths skills and – despite A grades – total ignorance of what calculus, for example, is actually for. At school I learned to follow the procedure and move on. Understanding was, as far as I could tell, irrelevant.)

Khan Academy

In my last post I also promised to share our thoughts on Khan Academy maths.

What I like about Khan Academy

Khan Academy represents a massive step forward in open source learning. It makes maths education available to a many, many people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to it. And I’m sure it compares favourably to curricula people pay hundreds of pounds for.

It’s is a very flexible resource. You can choose to learn recreational math, or math by grade level, or a variety of skills at once, in World of Math. Or you can focus on higher level skills like trigonometry or geometry. It’s possible to switch between options at any time.

I like that you can level up multiple skills with Mastery Challenges. And the coach dashboard, which allows you to see what your students have been doing, is very sophisticated. You can see what lessons your student has completed, how long they took, what clues they had, whether they watched any videos, and how many attempts it took to get the right answer. (Although personally I feel a bit Big Brotherish when I do that. I prefer to just ask my kids what they’ve been doing. We can look at the “dashboard” together if it helps.)

Earlier this year I wondered if Khan Academy might be the ideal way for my autodidactic 9-year-old to learn maths. He agreed to give it a go, and at the same time I decided to use Khan myself to review what he’d be covering. I also thought it would be useful to look at what C(10) “ought” to be able to do (since we weren’t using a curriculum) and to brush up on my own maths skills.

Why Khan Academy didn’t work for my 9 year old

I used Khan Academy every evening for several weeks, and by the end I was in complete sympathy with J(9), who was grumbling about how boring it was. The material is dry, lacks context, and the problems involve the same sort of abstract, unlikely scenarios that have blighted maths textbooks for decades. This is not a living maths curriculum!

How I use Khan Academy

Having said that, I’m not completely discounting Khan Academy as a resource.

Firstly, I’m using it to review topics my children are learning. By working through their respective grade levels I can remind myself of what they “should” know and make a note to fill any gaps (including in my own skills!).

Secondly, the videos are useful when you want to quickly learn or review a specific concept.  For example, when C(10) was working out the area of rectangle recently, she wondered, “So how do we calculate the area of a triangle?” I remembered the formula half × base × height, but C(10) always wants to know “why?” and I wasn’t sure I could answer her. A short Khan Academy video gave me of the mathematical proof I was looking for and I was able to explain it to C(10).

C(10), by the way, didn’t try Khan Academy. She was enjoying our buddy maths too much to contemplate giving it up.

Perhaps we’ll come back to Khan Academy when the children are older, but for now it’s not for us.

How about you? Have you tried Khan Academy or Mr Zaccaro’s books? What works best for your family? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Read more about how we do living maths here.

This post contains affiliate links. I purchased my own copies of all the books.

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I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

The Hip Homeschool Hop at Hip Homeschool Moms

 

How my autodidactic 9 year old is learning maths without a curriculum

Maths with an autodidactic 9 year old

In my last post I described J(9) as fiercely autodidactic, which makes me giggle because it’s so literally true. J(9) is bright, funny, creative – and very independent. When you add in the emotional regulation challenges that come with Sensory Processing Disorder, you have a child who keeps homeschooling life very interesting.

Like his sister, J(9) didn’t get on with any maths curriculum. We stopped looking for one that worked a long time ago. He happily joins C(10) and me for maths stories and hands-on activities, but until recently it was impossible to do one-to-one maths with J(9).

I’ve heard enough stories about unschooled kids and maths to know that he’ll get there in the end. J(9) has a natural aptitude for numbers – he knows most of the multiplication tables without ever having consciously learned them, for example. So I didn’t worry about his long-term future. But maths is fun, and I didn’t want him to miss out.

An obvious solution for someone who doesn’t like to be taught is to use a self-teaching curriculum. Unfortunately, J(9) finds these boring. I sympathise. It’s difficult to bring out the joy of real-world maths in a self-teaching curriculum aimed at 9-year-olds.

I thought, briefly, that Khan Academy might be an exception. I liked how its maths curriculum is laid out, and  the sophisticated way coaches can monitor pupils’  work. Unfortunately, Khan Academy didn’t work out for J(9). I’ll share more about that in my next post.

What to try next?

One of my favourite homeschool mum roles is detective. I love quietly observing my children, gathering clues about how I can support their learning.

I considered what I knew about J(9) and maths. He has strong spatial skills and likes playing with numbers. He’s easily bored, and to focus his mind he often needs to move his body. He loves puzzles and games – but if there’s one thing even more likely to trigger a meltdown than making a mistake, it’s losing at a game. We’re working on these challenges. I know about the importance of a growth mindset, and one day I hope that J(9) will see the value of mistakes, too.

In the meantime, I relied on my own growth mindset. I took everything I’d learned from each of our maths “failures” and just kept on trying new ways to work with J(9). It only occurred to me recently, looking back over the last few months, that we seem finally to have found our groove.

maths with an autodidact

The solution (for now)

What has evolved for us is an extremely relaxed version of the buddy maths I do with C(10). Maybe “relaxed” isn’t right word. “Mindful” might be a better description of my role in the process. Here’s how it looks in detail.

The book we use – J(9) chooses a book to work from (e.g. a maths story, or a source of problems). Every day for the last month he’s chosen Becoming a Problem Solving Genius: A Handbook of Math Strategies. (I’ll say more about why we love this book in my next post.)

Where we do maths – We take our book, together with whiteboards and markers, to the sofa.

Topic of the day – J(9) picks a chapter. We rarely follow books sequentially, though we often continue with the next level of problems in a topic we left off last time.

Time of think – One of us reads out a problem. Then I stay quiet and give J(9) time to think. I only offer hints  when he asks for them (I’ve learned this the hard way). Instead, I take deep breaths and remind myself that crawling under the sofa being a snake, or jumping on top of it like a monkey, helps him concentrate.

Writing things down – If I don’t instantly know the answer to a problem, I use a whiteboard to figure it out. J(9), ever independent, doesn’t look at my workings. His brain works differently from mine and he often mentally calculates things I can’t.

I don’t force him to write anything down, but he sees me doing so, and recently he’s started to make his own notes and diagrams when he solves more complex problems. I do my secret happy-dance when he does this, because representing problems in different ways is an important mathematical strategy. It also allows him to retrace his steps when he goes wrong. (And – less importantly – one day he’ll need to show his workings in exams.)

Dealing with mistakes – J(9) tells me his answer when he’s done. Whether I agree or disagree, I set my voice to neutral and ask, “How did you get that?” If he’s made an error, he often spots it as he explains his process. He can then change his answer, so he doesn’t feel like he’s got it “wrong”.

Occasionally, when we get different answers, I realise I’ve made a mistake. J(9) likes it when that happens.

If I’ve got the same answer via a different process, I ask J(9) if he’d like to hear how I did it. Then  I try to respect his answer! He’s gradually learning that one tends to make fewer mistakes using simpler processes, but if I’ve learned not try to foist a method on him.

And, I admit, there are still times when J(9) can’t see where he went wrong, doesn’t want to talk about it, and he ends the session early, frustrated. I’m learning not to get upset when that happens – it doesn’t negate the learning that’s gone before. We’ll come back to the topic another time, when he’s ready.

When are we done? – There’s no minimum time for our sessions or number of problems we do. We might do one question or thirty. J(9) is in control of his learning.

maths with my autodidact

The results (so far)

One-to-one maths with J(9) has transformed from something we both dreaded into an absolute pleasure (mostly).

I’m hopeful that our buddy maths routine will continue after we’ve exhausted the questions in Becoming a Problem-Solving Genius. Perhaps we’ll move on to Murderous Maths or try out one of the many great sources of maths videos.  I’ll let you know.

Perhaps the best outcome of our new way of doing maths is that J(9) is beginning to trust me as his learning mentor. I know he will always want to learn as independently as possible. As he gets older that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But I want him to know he can always come to me for help and support.

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I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

The Hip Homeschool Hop at Hip Homeschool Moms

The Home Ed Link Up week 4 at Adventures in Home Schooling

Unschooling Writing

unschooling writing

We’ve been homeschooling in very relaxed way this year. Surprisingly, I’ve probably put in more homeschooling “hours” than ever – unschooling is more parent-intensive than I’d anticipated. But both the children and I are thriving.

I’ve started dozens of blog posts about what we’ve been doing, so I thought I’d better get around to finishing one. I’ll start with sharing how C(10) and J(9) are learning how to write.

General approach to writing

I don’t require any writing as part of my children’s everyday learning. Nor do we study grammar or spelling as separate subjects. I don’t teach them how to write five paragraph essays, but they love to debate ideas and make reasoned arguments. I never ask for written narrations, but after we read about the slave trade, or how Henry VIII broke with the Catholic church, for example, there’s plenty of spirited discussion. And we read and listen to so many fiction books together that we’re always comparing and contrasting plot structures, analysing character motivations and discussing the use of different viewpoints as we chat about the novels we’ve enjoyed.

Despite – or perhaps because of –  this, both C(10) and J(9) love to write. Here are some examples of the types of writing they’ve been doing recently.

Fan-fiction

C(10)’s passion for the Divergent books and movie has inspired a ton of learning. She spent most of April reading Divergent fan fiction, and last week she uploaded the first instalment of her own story to FanFiction.net. An hour later she excitedly announced that 28 people had read it. The following day she added another instalment. Readers left reviews. More people read it. Her story is now over 3000 words long. It’s had more than 1000 views, and it’s been followed and favourited by readers.

I contrast this encouraging, peer-supported writing environment with the writing opportunities I had when I was young. I wrote stories on subjects decided by my teachers. The stories were read and judged by the teachers alone. If a piece of writing happened to appeal to the teacher it might be published in the school magazine. (Mine never were. The teacher liked long descriptive paragraphs filled with adjectives and adverbs. That wasn’t my style.)

Writing, like any skill, improves with practice. C(10) knows her words are going to be read and appreciated by real people. She gets almost real-time feedback. No wonder she spends so much time writing!

Unschooling writing

Stories

C(10) has also just started writing a fantasy novel, “Circle of Fire”. (Actually a trilogy, apparently.) The title was inspired by this brilliant name generator site recently shared in Julie’s Daily Writing Tip.

C(10) is at the faltering ownership stage of writing – she often enjoys writing alongside an adult.  Not so long ago, the idea of that adult being me was met with a derisive snort. Then for a year she was mentored in writing by an adult friend of ours, until the friend moved away. So when C(10) recently asked if I could help her write a story “in the way that Gaynor used to” I did a little jig inside.

I like this flipped way of working. Instead of me teaching C(10), C(10) is showing me how to help her. “Okay, so now we set the timer and I do a free-write about the characters”, she says. “Now I read you what I’ve written and we talk about it.” It’s fun being part of her writing process.

Blog posts

J(9) has been writing, too.  He is fiercely autodidactic, so working in the same room as me when I’m busy doing something else suits him perfectly. When he saw me working with C(10) on her story the other day, he grabbed his computer and wrote a review of his favourite DS game on his blog, Video Game Reviewer.  When my attention is elsewhere J(9) can safely shoot questions at me – “How do you spell enough?” – without me getting carried away and subjecting him to an un-asked for spelling lesson (“What other words can you think of that end in -ough“?)

Unschooling Writing

J(9) working on a blog post

Mad Libs stories

“Shall we make up Mad Libs?” J(9) asks enthusiastically, several times a week. We all enjoy Mad Libs, so C(10) and I grab our computers and join J(9). We each write a few paragraphs on any theme we choose, leaving plenty of gaps.

Then we take turns eliciting from the others words to fill our gaps: “Adjective?”, “Verb?”, “Plural noun?”. Plenty of suggestions are offered for each missing word, and the writer selects their favourite. Then they share their story, usually several times, to much hilarity.

Unschooling writing

Writing a Mad Libs story

Copywork

All the writing I’ve mentioned so far is spontaneously initiated by the children. Copywork, meanwhile, is part of our routine. C(10) loves writing out her favourite poems, and paragraphs from books she loves. She does her copywork by hand, using colourful gel-pens.

Because J(9) struggles with the physical act of writing, I tend to forget that as he copies he is also learning how to spell, punctuate and use good grammar. Although he needs the practice, the laborious process of writing by hand makes it difficult for him to copy more than one short sentence at a time.

I think of his last blog post – beautifully conversational and funny, but with barely a comma or full-stop (period) in sight. “I wish there was spell-check for punctuation,” he said.

“Would you like to type out your copywork sometimes, instead of using a pencil?” I suggested. “That way you might be able to manage longer sentences … even paragraphs. You might remember to use full stops when you’re writing if you put them into your copywork.”

Copywork will help , but I expect J(9) will learn to punctuate when he feels the need, just as he taught himself to read and spell. He knows I’m eager to help whenever he needs me, but he needs to do things his way.

Both  my children choose their own copywork. Sometimes I strew resources, like websites with quotes from their favourite books. Or I buy kindle copies of their favourite audiobooks, like Anne of Green Gables or the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy series. Often I do copywork alongside them – writing out great literature is always inspiring.

What are your children’s favourite ways to write?

For more writing inspiration, see 5 Writing Games Your Kids Will Love.

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I’m appreciatively linking up with:

Weekly Wrap-up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

The Hip Homeschool Hop

The science of how candles burn

Science how candles burn

If you blow out a candle and then put a lighted match close to the wick (but not touching it), the wick will re-light. Most of us intuitively know this, but have you ever wondered why?

This week we did two simple experiments investigating the science of how candles burn. Both come from a free online Kitchen Chemistry course we’re enjoying.

Experiment 1 – Lighting gaseous wax

What you need

  • Candle
  • Match or lighter

What you do

Light the candle. Notice how you have to hold the match very close to the wick for a second or two before it ignites. Allow the candle to burn for a few minutes. As it burns, observe what happens to the wax.

Now blow out the candle and quickly hold a lighted match near the wick. This time the wick should easily ignite, even without the flame actually touching it.

Repeat the process a few times, experimenting with how far away from the wick you hold the match.

Science how candles burn

Lighting a candle by holding a flame near the wick

What’s happening?

When you light the candle, the solid wax melts and liquid wax is drawn up the wick. As the candle gets hotter, the liquid wax evaporates into a gas. This gaseous wax burns in the oxygen of the air.

The gaseous wax remains in the air after you blow out the candle. If you hold a lighted match near the hot wick, the wax ignites and the flame spreads to the wick. If you allow the candle to burn for long enough that it produces a visible white vapour when you blow it out, you can light the vapour from above.

Experiment 2 – Soot on a spoon

What you need

  • Lighted candle
  • Metal spoon

What you do

Briefly hold the spoon in the candle flame. Remove it and observe what you see on the spoon.

You should see black soot. You may also see a tiny bit of wax. (Don’t worry, it all washes off.)

science how candles burn

Holding a metal spoon in a candle flame

What’s happening?

As the candle burns, solid wax becomes liquid and then evaporates to become a gas. The gaseous wax burns in oxygen to produce water, carbon dioxide, heat and light.

The burning candle also produces carbon, in the form of the black soot we see on the spoon.  It is glowing soot that causes the candle give out light.

If there were enough oxygen to burn all the wax, only carbon dioxide and water would be produced and the flame would be blue, like in a gas burner.

The small amount of wax on the spoon is the unburnt gaseous wax which has condensed on the cold spoon and turned back into solid wax.

Golden gas and solid methane

These experiments are an interesting way to explore states of matter. My kids were surprised to discover that every element can exist as a solid, liquid and a gas.

C(10) wondered if gold can be a gas. The answer is yes – gold boils and evaporates at 2,800°C.  And solid gold becomes a liquid at just over 1000°C.

Meanwhile J(9) wanted to know if gaseous bodily emissions can take solid form (and if so could we google photos). He phrased it differently, as you can imagine. This led us to the fascinating topic of solid methane, a source of fuel which exists in very cold conditions at the bottom of the ocean and at the poles.

science how candles burn

Frozen methane bubbles: U.S. Geological Survey

Trick re-lighting candles

We also wondered how trick birthday candles work –  the ones that re-light by themselves after you blow them out.

The “magic” ingredient is usually magnesium in the candle’s wick. When the candle is burning, the magnesium is shielded by the liquid wax being drawn up the wick. But after the candle has been extinguished, the wick is no longer hot enough to draw up the liquid wax. The magnesium is exposed to the wick, which is hot enough to ignite the magnesium The burning magnesium in turn ignites the gaseous wax.  This article explains the process very clearly.

Apparently you can see tiny flecks of magnesium going off around the glowing ember of re-lighting candles.  I’ve ordered some so we can observe this for ourselves.

Further Resources

Scientist Michael Faraday gave a series of children’s lectures about the chemistry of candles at the Royal Science how candles burnInstitution, London in 1860. You can read an abridged version here.

How does a candle work?  (How Stuff Works)

The Mystery of the Periodic Table is a wonderful living book about the history of chemistry. This week we read about the discovery of oxygen, which was the perfect background to our experiments.

Kitchen Chemistry  Free online course from the University of East Anglia. (Runs until 26 May 2014.)

Main photo credit: Windliest

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I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Science for Kids at Adventures in Mommydom

After School Linky at The Educators’ Spin On It

The Hip-Homeschool Hop

Wonderful Wednesdays at Solagratiamom

Weekly Wrap-up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners

The Sunday Showcase at Mom to 2 Posh Lil Divas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easter Holidays

Photo  Version 3

We had a fabulous Easter break. The weather was mild and sunny. Not hot, but temperatures of about 16C (60F) didn’t stop my kids getting wet at every opportunity.

River swing collage jpg

We discovered this idyllic spot at the end of last summer. It’s 5 minutes from where we live so we will be going there a lot this year (Not exactly sure why I numbered these photos. I’m sure you can figure out what’s going on)

Birthday Collage

J(8) became J(9)

(1) This birthday banner was inspired by the Colwell Crew – thanks Angie,  J(9) loved it.

(2) & (4) J(9) asked for a cake based on his Minecraft skin so C(9) made him a delicious chocolate fudge cake topped with his Minecraft skin drawn using GIMP and printed on rice paper. (I’m not sure how edible printer ink is but mostly we peeled it off before we ate!)   (3) A birthday visit to Legoland.

Virgina Water collage

A lovely day out at Virginia Water. More paddling – and I was there too :-)

Beach collage jpg

Easter at the beach (1) C(10) enjoying the quiet beach early one morning (2) hunting for Easter Eggs

This week we’re easing into the summer term (UK schools don’t break up for summer until mid July). The way we homeschool, that doesn’t mean a huge change.

During “term time” there’s more reading aloud, board games and mulling over maths puzzles. I strew, and I suggest copywork and poetry tea. We do science experiments.

But on days like today when both my children are busy writing fan fiction on their computers, I feel so thankful we don’t have a set agenda and I can leave them to follow their inspiration while I share a few of my favourite memories with you.

I hope you had a wonderful Easter break, too.

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I’m appreciatively linking up with:

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Why do I blog?

Why do i blog

 Isn’t it awesome how we can find answers to almost any question our minds can dream up, just by typing a few words into google? I’m even more in awe that the answers mostly come from ordinary, unpaid people, who devote masses of spare time to creating beautiful, informative webpages.

I know some people blog as a business, but even if they make a few dollars from affiliate advertising, I suspect that most homeschool mum bloggers aren’t in it for the money.

Why then, I’ve often wondered, do they blog?

Some of my favourite bloggers have recently been answering that question. Claire kindly invited me to join in the fun. I’ve spent a  long time processing my thoughts.  I might never have got round to writing this at all had I not resolved to do so before reading anyone else’s responses – which I’m desperate to do!

Peeking into the blogosphere

When we made the leap of faith to homeschooling in 2010, I barely knew what a blog was. Ravenous for information about how children learn at home, I devoured every book I could find on the subject. I savoured every page of the wonderful Homeschooling-Ideas website. I even had Home Education Magazine shipped from the US.

 

But I didn’t know about the abundant source of  inspiration, support and practical wisdom provided continuously by real life parents sharing their homeschooling experiences on their blogs.

 

Looking back, it was like I was content looking at the posters pinned to the outside of a door, without having any inkling that the door was the entrance to the best library/science lab/art studio/playroom I’d ever known. Until, one day, I happened to lean on the door – and glimpsed the treasures within.

 

One of the first blogs I discovered was Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.
Each Friday I would eagerly visit Kris’s Weekly-Wrap Up and add dozens of blogs to my online treasure trove (aka Google Reader).

I will always be grateful to those wise, kind bloggers who, without even knowing of my existence, lovingly held my hand through that first wobbly year after I took my children out of school. (I know they didn’t know I existed because back then I wouldn’t have dared leave a comment, even if I’d known how.)

 

Joining the great conversation

It wasn’t until I discovered that a real-life homeschooling friend blogged that it occurred to me that real people (even British people!) had blogs too. With the help of my lovely tecky husband I created Navigating By Joy (inspired by my friend’s Navigating by the Stars).

 

For two years I wrote solely for the pleasure of writing, with no thought that anyone might be reading my words. Here’s my very first (very short) post.  
 
After a while, Google found my blog and for the first time I experienced the thrill of making a contribution to strangers. (Google thinks everyone who wants to build a model Celtic Roundhouse should visit this expert, which always makes me chuckle.)

 

Then in January 2013 I decided it was time to connect two of my favourite hobbies: reading homeschool blogs and writing my own.

I scanned Problogger for some tips about creating better posts. (The best thing I learned: focus on one idea per post.)  I figured out how to join link ups (here’s the first post I linked up). And finally I worked up the courage to show my appreciation for my favourite bloggers by leaving comments.

 

Recently a couple of other creative pursuits have been competing with blogging for my time. I’m taking a grade 4 classical guitar exam, learning German and brushing up my Spanish. I also find that being an unschooling mentor to my kids uses more creative energy than teaching them a curriculum.

 

So I’ve been posting less often, but I’m not going away.

 

I love being part of this homeschool blogging community. There are few things I enjoy more than linking up to one of my favourite blog hops, and then spending a happy evening visiting all my online friends and seeing what they’ve been up to. (Can you tell I’m an introvert?)

 

And the only thing as good as discovering a great resource via a friend’s blog is sharing a find of my own and having someone stop by and tell me how much they’ve enjoyed it.

 

Towards an educational tipping point

Free to learn 2

On a loftier note, I like making my own small contribution to what developmental psychologist Peter Gray calls the educational tipping point.
 
The goal of the Educational Tipping Point project is to encourage a critical mass of people to opt out of coercive schooling. The ultimate aim is to bring about a peaceful educational revolution following which everyone is free to choose a path of educational self-determination.

 

Gray’s Free to Learn is the best book I’ve ever read about how children learn, and I wouldn’t have come across it had it not been for a comment I left at Learning with Boys. (Did I mention how much I love the blogging network?)

 

Before homeschooling, I worked as a cognitive hypnotherapist. One day I’d like to use my coaching and therapy skills to empower more people to home educate, and to help people deal with issues that arise along the journey.

 

In the meantime, I’ll carry on posting here about what we do, because when I experience wonderful things, sharing just feels like the natural thing to do.

 

I’m not tagging anyone specifically, but if you feel inspired, I’d love to know: why do you blog?

 

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