A week in the life of a British homeschooling family – Monday

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Sometimes I think my family takes the homeschooling truism, “there’s no such thing as a typical day” to extremes.

On a mythical “normal Monday” we would work through our short homeschooling routine, read a story or play a game over afternoon teatime, and go for a walk with our dogs. There would be no egg throwing, and definitely no rollercoasters.

But as “normal” is never likely to happen, and since this time last year I enjoyed participating in a “Week in my life” blog hop, I thought it might be fun to record the same week this year.

8:00AM

I get up, let the plumber in, and make porridge. (The plumber doesn’t come every day. Only when 9-year-old boys use their bedroom radiator as a launchpad.)

9:00AM

We’re expecting friends to arrive at around 10:00AM, so we get to work promptly on our daily maths and English routine.

First, I do buddy maths with J(9).

Then after a quick jump around, he does some “French dictation”. This is a Brave Writer idea, designed to introduce children to dictation.

J maths

Next, buddy maths with C(10). She usually uses Ed Zaccaro too, but occasionally we work through British materials instead, to check for gaps and reassure C(10) that she’s on track.

C maths

10:00AM

No sign of our friends, so we head to our local park with the dogs.

Park

11:00AM

Pancake time. I dictate an excerpt from Catching Fire to C(10) while I make the batter. She’s using Brave Writer’s Boomerang this year.

C(10) writes beautifully, but dictation is proving very useful for picking up and dealing painlessly with small errors. Today’s passage gave us the opportunity to discuss how “too” and “to” are used.

Pancakes and dictation

We eat our pancakes while reading about James VI in The Story of the World vol 2. C(10) has been learning about this period in her homeschool group, so she entertains J(9) and I with extra details.

12:00PM

C(10) practises guitar. She and I are both working towards classical guitar grade 5 exams this year.

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While we’re making pancakes, C(10) tells me about an interesting demonstration involving eggs and inertia that she’s been watching on Veritasium. Somehow this ends up in an “experiment” involving throwing eggs  at our garden wall. (We’ve been picking egg-shell off the dogs all afternoon.)

Egg throwing

1:00PM

Our friends arrive! (Loraine, I love your timekeeping. We wouldn’t have had nearly such a productive day if you’d come earlier.)

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3:00PM

Because our day hasn’t been quite busy enough, after our friends leave we decide to head to a local theme park. Seriously though… We save up grocery store points to buy annual passes which cover the three big theme parks near us, and our coupon for C(10)’s pass is about to expire.

While we’re there we have to go on a few rollercoasters, of course.

Stealth

Can you see C(10) there on the right?

J(9) is so excited that by next spring when the parks reopen, he’ll be tall enough to go on this one, which C(10) rides on her own this time.

6:00PM Tacos for dinner. My guitar practice, then off to the gym for half an hour on the cross-trainer while C(10) does in her karate class.

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Thank you to my lovely friends who commented on my Spain post yesterday. I promise I shall reply to you all tomorrow!

How was your day?

Perhaps you’d like to share a normal (ha!) day in your homeschooling life?

Planning a Spanish Adventure

Planning a Spanish Homeschool Adventure

Then

My rucksack was heavy on my back as I knocked tentatively on the door of the Cappucinas hostel in Granada, Spain. I’d spoken with the proprietress on the telephone a few days earlier but my Spanish – self-taught from a BBC book over the preceding few months – wasn’t strong enough for me to be sure whether I’d actually booked a room for the night.

An elderly Señora wearing a white cotton nightgown greeted me with mild surprise. She ushered me in, showed me to a bedroom, and disappeared back to bed. I never did find out whether or not she’d been expecting me.

I was 22 years old. I had £300 saved from my summer job, and a piece of paper certifying that I could teach English as a foreign language. In exactly one year I was due to start work in London as a commercial lawyer. I didn’t know a single person in Spain, and I had no job lined up.

How intrepid we were back in those pre-internet days!

Now

Fast forward 22 years and I’m planning another Spanish adventure. I know from experience that the best way to learn a language is to spend time in a country where it’s spoken, so I’d always planned to take my kids abroad for a few months during their homeschooling years.

In my half-formed imaginings, my children would be teenagers and we’d be spending a long summer in rural France.

But over the last year, as friends have started to talk about their teens sitting exams, it’s dawned on me that instead of waiting, now might be the perfect time to go. And when C(10) expressed an interest in learning Spanish, I realised how much sense it made for her to learn a language I already speak.

We’ll start by going away for a month. My husband (who has to stay home for his work) is very supportive, but I don’t want to abandon him for an entire season. Four weeks is more like an extended holiday – enough time to immerse ourselves in the local culture, and to find out what we might do differently if we ever go for longer.

As for when to go… When you’re homeschooling in the northern hemisphere, what better time to head off for an adventure in sunnier climes than … February?

More on the practicalities of our forthcoming trip below. But first, here’s a glimpse of our first family trip to Spain, earlier this year.

A taste of Spain

Planning a Spanish homeschool adventure

We watched flamenco dancers stamp out passionate rhythms as we dined on tapas of manchego cheese, serrano ham, olives and almonds.

The children visited the Moorish palace, Granada’s Alhambra {the “h” is silent}, for the first time.

Planning a Spanish homeschool adventure

View of the Alhambra from Granada’s old town, the Albaicin

Back in 1992, entrance to the Alhambra was free on Sundays.  I spend many happy days within its intricately decorated walls and wandering through the lush gardens of the Generalife.

Alhambra collage jpg

Inside the Alhambra

 

View from the Alhambra

Views of Granada from the Alhambra

Granada also has a very modern side, as we discovered when we visited its science park.

Planning a Spanish Homeschool Adventure

Granada’s Parque de las Ciencias contains hundreds of indoor and outdoor hands-on exhibits. There’s even a tropical butterfly house.

Down on the Mediterranean coast, we enjoyed afternoon promenades along Nerja’s “balcony of Europe”.

Planning a homeschool Spanish Adventure

El Balcón de Europa, Nerja

And visited the famous Caves of Nerja, which are home to the world’s largest stalagmite, a towering 32 metres high!

Planning a homeschool Spanish Adventure

Las Cuevas de Nerja

 

Planning a month-long trip overseas – Practicalities

1. Where to go

Back in 1992 I chose to spend my gap year in Granada because a fifth of its population were university students. Granada is a beautiful city, but for my long trip with the children I want to go somewhere smaller, ideally on the coast.

While I was in Granada, a uni friend was teaching English 200 miles away in the town of El Puerto de Santa Maria, near Cádiz on the south-west coast of Spain. Granada is situated high up in the Sierra Nevada mountains – which makes for chilly winters. When I visited my friend, I basked in the warmth of El Puerto’s mild December air on my skin, and was entranced by the orange trees lining the pretty streets.

I’m hoping that El Puerto de Santa Maria will be the perfect setting for our February adventure. We’re visiting in a couple of weeks to check it out and to meet the staff at the local language school, a very well-organised outfit I’ve been emailing over the last few months.

3. Spanish and social life

As there won’t be many other non-Spanish children around in February, the language school have agreed to provide private Spanish classes for C(10) and J(9). And while they’re learning, I’ll be brushing up my own Spanish in adult group lessons.

The language school run a full social program which we’ll be welcome to participate in. And as the school also teach English, they’ll arrange for C(10) and J(9) to get together for intercambio with Spanish kids wanting to practise their English.

C(10) has been learning Spanish with me for several months. J(9) hasn’t shown much interest so far, but he’s looking forward to our trip.  Perhaps this kids’  phrasebook will inspire him to learn a few words of Spanish before we go.

Spanish phrase book

4. Homeschooling

The children will be learning heaps simply by being immersed in another culture for five weeks. But with our computers, whiteboards and Ed Zaccaro maths books we should also be able to continue learning in Spain as we do at home.

What we may lack in science and art supplies, I’m sure we’ll make up for in other learning opportunities!

5. How to get there

I know that for many people driving long distances is no big deal, but when you live in a country that’s 847 miles by road from one end to another, 1500 miles it’s a big road trip!

Financially, it would probably work out the same to fly. But when I balanced the cost and hassle of flying us all (including dogs) plus hiring a car for the month, against the convenience of taking our own car (filled to the roof rack, no doubt, with essential stuff, despite my best minimalist intentions), the road trip won.

Google Maps says it’s a 21.5 hour journey, which we’ll spread over 4 days. Here’s our route:

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Our route to Spain

We’ll make two overnight stops in France, and one in Spain. And we’ll listen to lots of audiobooks in between!

Then

The year I spent in Spain was one of the best of my life. I become fluent in Spanish, learned to dance Sevillanas (badly) and made friends from over a dozen different countries.

But more than that, creating a whole new life miles away from everyone I knew and loved helped me to grow in ways I could never have anticipated.

I came back so confident that after a few weeks working two jobs, I squeezed in another month travelling around Europe on my own before I began my law career. Perhaps I’ll write about that here one day.

Now

I’m so grateful to my younger self for having that adventure. If it weren’t for her, I probably wouldn’t be contemplating taking my tweens off to Spain now.

I know a month with their mother isn’t quite the same as a year on one’s own, but I’m hoping that the experience will give C(10) and J(9) a taste for adventure in other cultures.

J(9) wants to go to Japan and learn Japanese. That’s just slightly beyond my comfort zone right now, but never say never…!

***

Have you ever made a long road trip with kids?

Any tips for overnight stops in France or Spain?

Got any audiobook recommendations?

***

I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners

The Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Finishing Strong at Education Possible

The Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop at Marie’s Pastiche

History and Geography Meme at All Things Beautiful

Fun with Literary Devices – Opening Hooks

Literary elements for kids - the power of opening hooks

How do we teach our kids to write like their – and our – favourite authors? We can start by playing with some of the literary techniques successful writers use. One example is the opening hook.

C(10) and I learned about opening hooks a few years ago from The Arrow (a Brave Writer language arts program for 8 to 11 year olds).

I thought it might be fun to revisit opening hooks, this time involving J(9).

Setting up

We each brought to the table a pile of our favourite books. I quickly typed and printed a table listing the book titles.

Literary elements for kids - the power of opening hooks

I left space for us to give each opening hook a score out of 10

What we did

We took turns reading the first few lines of our chosen books. After each opening we discussed how effective it was in drawing us in to want to read more.  I like that there are no right answers in this exercise – a nine-year-old’s opinion is as valid as an adult’s.

What kind of books can you use?

I didn’t impose any rules about the type of books the children brought to the table. J(9) listens to lots of good quality audiobooks, but for actual print reading he likes series like Tom Gates and Wimpy Kid. (I’m just happy that he is reading and enjoying books. I know that eventually his visual reading skills will catch up.) Interestingly, we all gave J(9)’s “The Diary of Dennis the Menace” ten out of ten for its opening hook – the only book which received a perfect score from us all:

“This is the WORST day in the history of the universe ever … EVER!!! It’s so horrible I don’t think I can even write it down.”

The Diary of Dennis the Menace

J(9)’s other choices also scored highly. C(10) and I speculated later about how important it is that books for emerging boy readers have effective opening hooks!

Literary elements for kids - the power of opening hooks

Writing our own opening hooks

Next, we all wrote a few of our own opening hooks. Here’s one of C(10)’s:

“Alexander was falling. The wind tore at his hair and clothes and suddenly with a sickening thump he crashed to the ground.”

We played a verbal game of “opening hooks” later, on our dog walk. One person would make up a hook and then everyone took turns to continue the tale. We ended up with some very silly stories!

 

How does your favourite book begin?

***

More Brave Writer-inspired language arts posts

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I’m appreciatively linking up here:

The Hip Homeschool Hop – Hip Homeschool Moms

The Home Ed Link Up – Adventures in Homeschool

Finishing Strong #34 – Education Possible

Collage Friday – Homegrown Learners

Weekly Wrap-Up – Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Chemistry for kids – How to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen using electrolysis

 

Electrolysis of water for kids

We’ve all been told that water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen. But how do we really know that? Can this wet substance that quenches our thirst and cools our bodies on hot summer days really be made up of two gases?

We tried to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen using electrolysis. We managed it after a series of experiments that left us with even more questions than we had before we started. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – curiosity is a great learning state!  (See the mysterious case of the missing oxygen, below.)

You can benefit from our mistakes and perform electrolysis the quick way.  Here’s how to split water into hydrogen and oxygen using electrolysis. Afterwards I’ll tell you about what we did first, which produced a different gas entirely.

How to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen

What you need

  • glass or plastic tub
  • 2 elastic bands
  • 2 test tubes (with lids if possible)
  • bicarb of soda (1 tbsp)
  • graphite pencil leads
  • water
  • battery (we used 6V, a bit like this one)
  • 2 pairs of crocodile clips
  • waterproof tape
Electrolysis of water for kids

Electrolysis apparatus

What you do

See this video for detailed set-up instructions – the elastic band arrangement keeps the test tubes in place perfectly.

If you can’t watch the video, here’s the gist of it: Connect one end of each crocodile clip to a piece of graphite, and the other to the battery. Secure the graphite ends to the bottom of the tub with the graphite sticking up, and place an inverted test tube over each piece of graphite (held in place by the elastic bands). Dissolve the bicarb of soda in the water and fill the tub. Finally, remove each test tube, fill it with the water, and carefully replace it over the graphite. Any gases collected during the electrolysis will replace the water in the tubes, so make sure there are no air bubbles.

What happens

Bubbles of gas quickly start to form at each electrode. More gas collects at the negative electrode (cathode) than at the positive (anode).

How to test your gases

When you’ve collected plenty of gas at each electrode, carefully put the lids on your test tubes (while they’re still underwater).

To test for hydrogen

We hypothesised that the gas at our (negative) cathode was (positively charged) hydrogen. Hydrogen is explosive. It won’t wreck your house in these quantities, but it will make a cool popping noise in the presence of a lighted splinter of wood. You can hear it in the video below.

 

To test for oxygen

We test for oxygen with a glowing splint. If enough oxygen is present, the splint rekindles. The gas we collected at our anode gave a brief glow which confirmed it to be oxygen, but after the excitement of the popping hydrogen, we were a bit disappointed. We produced much more oxygen later using a different method – see below for a video of our relighting splint.

How does electrolysis work?

During electrolysis, we pass an electric current through an ionic substance to break it down into simpler substances. Pure water doesn’t conduct electricity, so we need to add an electrolyte, like bicarbonate of soda. (You wouldn’t believe the number of websites that tell you to use salt. We tried it, and collected a completely different gas. More on that later.)

Hydrogen is positively charged in the H₂0 molecule, so it collects at the negative electrode. Oxygen is negatively charged, so it collects at the positively charged electrode.

Twice as much hydrogen as oxygen is produced, reflecting the molecular composition of water.

Electrolysis of Water

Credit – J Squish

Wikipedia has an excellent detailed explanation of the electrolysis of water.

The mysterious case of the missing oxygen

(Or, what happens when you use salt as an electrolyte.)

Before we successfully split water into hydrogen and oxygen using the method above, we tried adding salt to help our water conduct electricity. And not just a pinch of salt. I decided that if a little salt would help a bit, then a lot of salt would be even better. (It works for crystals, after all.)

We set up our electrolysis using the same apparatus as above but this time with a saturated salt solution.  And there we sat, eagerly looking for our bubbles of hydrogen and oxygen.

What happened? Well, plenty at our cathode. Gas quickly began to fill the test tube.  We tested it and discovered it was hydrogen. And at the positive electrode? Not one single bubble of gas! What had happened to the oxygen from our water molecules?

I did a bit of research overnight.

It seems that during the electrolysis of sodium chloride (salt) solution, sodium chloride breaks down at the positive electrode to form chlorine gas and sodium hydroxide solution. (Click the link for a more detailed explanation.) Chlorine dissolves easily in water, so won’t collect as a gas until the solution is saturated and can absorb no more chlorine.

So if our positive electrode was busy attracting chlorine, and hydrogen was collecting at the cathode … what had happened to the oxygen? Or to the sodium from our sodium chloride (NaCl), for that matter?  According to the chemists, the sodium and oxygen combine to make sodium hydroxide solution. Further investigation was called for.

We’d left our apparatus set up – disconnected from the battery – overnight.  We decided to examine it for clues.

Further investigations

What changes had taken place as a result of electrolysis?
Our salt solution had turned a brownish colour. Was this dissolved chlorine? Broken down graphite? Corroded  crocodile clip (which had been attached to the anode)?

Electrolysis of water for kids

Changes as a result of electrolysis

Filtering the solution.
Some of our positive electrode (anode) broke down, leaving black bits in the solution. We use graphite in electrolysis because it is an inert (non-reactive) metal, but perhaps the large amounts of chlorine we produced had caused it to react? We filtered the brown solution to see if any insoluble bits remained. They didn’t. But we did notice some white spots on the filter paper – the chlorine produced at our positive electrode must have bleached the paper!

Electrolysis of water for kids

Bleached filter paper

Electrolysis of water for kids

After electrolysis our solution was slightly acidic

Testing the pH of the solution
We hypothesised that the solution would be slightly alkali due to the sodium hydroxide. But when we tested it, we found the opposite. It was slightly acidic – like chlorine. We guessed this meant the solution must contain more chlorine than hydroxide.

More fun with oxygen

I’m going slightly off topic here, but I promised to say how we created enough oxygen to successfully test for it. We got the idea from going to The Magic of Oxygen show at the Royal Institution. I’d love to share with you one of the demonstrations we saw there.

The presenters asked me if they could borrow a £10 note from me – and then they set fire to it! Here’s a video of my flaming money.

 

Not long afterwards the scientists returned my £10 note – completely undamaged. The trick was the scientists first soaked the money in alcohol. The alcohol burning in oxygen produces heat, light, carbon dioxide and water. The temperature the alcohol burns at is too low to evaporate the water, so the water protects the note from burning.

Electrolysis of water for kids

Unharmed £10 note

The Magic of Oxygen scientists also demonstrated how to make “elephant toothpaste” by breaking down hydrogen peroxide. We remembered how we once made our own elephant toothpaste. When we got home we decided to make elephant toothpaste again, and use a glowing splint to test for oxygen gas.

Electrolysis of water for kids

Making elephant toothpaste

When you place a glowing splint into oxygen, the splint re-lights.

 

Why this is my favourite way to do homeschool science

As you can tell, this was not the the kind of homeschool science demonstration where mum knows exactly what’s going to happen and why. I studied chemistry until I was sixteen – nearly thirty years ago!  I didn’t know the answers to many of the questions generated by these experiments.

But not knowing what would happen made me curious and inspired to learn more, and the children were definitely caught up in my excitement. And I’m glad we made the “mistake” of using salt as an electrolyte first, because if we hadn’t we would have missed out on some very cool science!

Have you done any fun science recently?

Have you ever investigated a case of missing oxygen?

***

I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Weekly Wrap-Up – Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers
Collage Friday – Homegrown Learners
The Home Ed Link Up #16 – Adventures in Home Education
Science Sunday – Adventures in Mommydom
Finishing Strong – Starts at Eight

The Hip Homeschool Hop – Hip Homeschool Moms

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?

***

 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 – Marie’s Pastiche

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!

***

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

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