Friday, December 21, 2012

Home for the Holidays

Our holiday break started Wednesday.  I'm not entirely sure how long we will take off.  Last year we ended up adding an extra week to our planned Christmas vacation, so it could end up being longer than I think.  The holidays are so hectic, I can't really say I'm doing much resting while we aren't actively schooling.  So extra time off is always good.

My birthday also falls in the week prior to Christmas.  This year I am turning 40.  It still surprises me when I look in a mirror and find I am not the 16 year old me I expect to see.  To celebrate, I planned my own little party.  My two sons, daughter and her husband, my husband and I all went to see The Hobbit in 3D at the IMAX theater today.  Afterwards, we went for dinner at the Cracker Barrel restaurant.  Tomorrow I will have to get back to serious holiday preparation.  But tonight it's nice to know there are no lessons to plan, no workbooks to correct and no science experiments to organize. 

I won't be posting for the next two weeks, so have a happy holiday season and I hope to see you back here in 2013!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Time Well Spent

pie chart guilt
Saturday has traditionally been the one day a week the boys have unlimited computer time.  On days we are schooling, they can't use the computers for games or watch videos that I haven't assigned, until after their school work is finished.  They rarely finish school work before 5pm.  When you add in the time we spend eating supper, potential away from home evenings, and bed time prep beginning no later than 9:30pm, they really aren't racking up that many hours most days.

But then comes the weekend.

My children are two very different individuals.  EM has generally been up with the sun most of his life.  JT will sleep until I drag him out of bed.  But on Saturdays, they share a mission.  EM sets his alarm and, with JT's permission, wakes him up so they can squeeze as many hours of computer gaming as possible into one day. 

I sleep in and am happy to let them interact with glowing screens.

Saturday evening, around 8pm, we were having a discussion about the number of hours they had wasted (my word) on screens that day.  They were trying to argue that they hadn't spent most of the day in front of their computers.  I started drawing a pie chart to prove them wrong.  The green sections in the picture represent time spent either playing computer games, using the Wii, or watching videos.  We don't have television service in our home, so it's only what we own that they can watch.  But they weren't watching documentaries on Saturday.  They were watching the Three Stooges.  So they can't even try to argue that was educational.  When they saw the percentage of time they had spent on computers was nearly double the time they had spent on other activities that day, they made the wise decision to spend their last waking hour playing with LEGOs.  They also planned to wake up early Sunday, before we needed to get ready for church, so they could spend more time playing together with the LEGOs...not on computers.

Ah, the clarity that cold, hard data can give. 

But...computers also played an important role in creativity this week.  It all started when JT got in trouble for picking on his brother and lost his computer privileges for the day.  During the desperation of withdrawal, he had to come up with a way to be allowed to touch his computer...even if it meant in an educational sort of way.  When they lose privileges as punishment, we do allow them to continue to use computers for schooling.  Otherwise, they might not regret the loss quite so much.  Playing the system, JT knew if he told us he needed to work on a project, he might be able to fill his need for computer interaction.

ready for battle
LEGO armies are a familiar sight in my home.  Both boys must have rooms with tardis-like capabilities, otherwise the volume of LEGOs they own could not possibly fit in a small bedroom.  Usually, there is at least one battle going on in the middle of someone's floor.  Conquering armies travel from one room to the other.  When I'm not feeling especially prone to tidiness, they even end up in other rooms.  The games they create are elaborate, with point systems and more rules than any normal human can keep straight.  They are also big fans of Pokemon and have regularly played the card game together.  They haven't branched out into other collectible card games yet, thankfully for my credit card bill, but they love the concept of these types of games.  This week JT decided to make his own game using his LEGOs for inspiration.

rough draft
JT created a few different characters from his LEGOs.  Then he employed EM, the photographer of the two, to take a few pictures for him.  JT then asked if he could use the computer to make his template for the cards.  Up until now, whenever he came up with an idea for a card game, he always wanted to draw them by hand.  I'd suggest making templates to simplify the process, but he didn't want to invest the time learning to use PaintShop Pro.  Having to choose between using computers to design his cards and having no computer time made him suddenly see the light.  He asked for a little help from his dad getting the pictures into the program.  From there he quickly created a sheet of cards for a test run on the game.  A couple days later he had a full deck ready.  They have played the game several times and it seems to work well.  Soon he will make a few grammar corrections on the cards and reprint them on card stock instead of regular printer paper.

The battle is about to begin.
It always amazes me how the boys work so much harder on a project that they have designed on their own.  I know that's the way it's supposed to work, but my traditional school thinking wants them to be just as committed to writing an essay that I assigned as they are to creating some incredible bit of work from their own imaginations.  If I can just push those voices screaming, "They'll never make it to college if you let them spend all their time playing games," to the back of my mind a little more often, maybe they'd manage to get a valuable education.

Plus, it won't hurt if they keep losing their computer privileges from time to time.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Expected Results

good idea
The problems we have had this week in science have been almost entirely my fault.  I did not spend enough time preparing for the hands-on portion of our study.  In the past, I have found that a quick check to be sure we had all of the necessary items for any experiments or demonstrations was enough to guarantee successful activities.

Nope.  Not this week.

My first mistake was changing from our favorite tried and true science guru, Janice VanCleave, to something unfamiliar.  While the Photon U book appeals to our sense of humor and desire for quick and easy demonstrations of scientific concepts, it does not seem to produce the same level of learning for my boys.  Also, out of the five experiments we tried, only two gave anything close to the kind of results we were expecting.  With the Janice VanCleave series, we have had a few experiments fizzle in the past, but it has been a very rare occurrence.

fudged data
Our first lesson in the light portion of our current science unit focused on the different colors that make up visible light.  To demonstrate that each color has a different wave length, the Photon U book had an activity called stretching rainbows.  We had six different colors of thread representing six colors in the visible light portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.  The directions were to line up the thread along its corresponding wave on the diagram, then cut the thread.  When we had a sample of each, we were to lay out the threads and compare the lengths.  This idea sounded fun when I quickly paged through the book a few weeks ago.  In reality, you have no idea how difficult it is to keep a piece of thread in place well enough to get accurate length pieces to compare!  In the end, JT's blue thread was much longer than his indigo, so he trimmed a bit off to get the desired result.  That is really not what I want to be teaching them about science.  We do NOT want to alter our data to meet our expected results!  I should have spent the time and tried it myself before handing the assignment over to the boys.  Hindsight is 20/20, right?

I guess I forgot that bit before we moved on to our next lesson.

Lenses were the next topic we covered.  The book had a nice little model of a lens you could make using cardboard, tape, and saran wrap.  Once you cut a round hole in your cardboard square, you covered the hole with saran wrap, secured it with the tape, and added water until you had a lens.  Trying to get the perfect amount of water on that piece of saran wrap, that kept getting too wrinkly to see through, also turned out to be a bit of a flop.  EM did enjoy pipetting water all over the classroom, so I guess it wasn't a total loss.

romantic candle light experiment
Our last attempt at using the book came yesterday.  Looking at how our eyes interpret images and use light was actually clearly demonstrated with this activity.  We filled a glass candle holder with water, placed a candle about 10 cm away and observed the upside-down flame on the piece of paper held another 10cm behind.  However, the table we were to fill out in the book was unclear and not really much of an addition to what we were learning.  Mostly it just confused us.  We decided to scrap that part and instead played with our display for a bit on our own.  I had an old bottle of corn syrup in my science supply cupboard, dated 2009, that we deemed sufficiently aged for such an experiment.  We replaced the water with corn syrup and observed how the reflection seemed clearer with the thicker liquid.

close up
Overall, the boys still learned some things about light this week.  It would have been a much smoother journey had I taken the time to try out each experiment on my own in advance.  Sometimes I know I rush through my prep time, hoping the magic homeschooling moments will carry me through.  Many times they do. But, being a good scientist, I can't fudge the data when they don't.