Homeschooling Chemistry and Physics

August 20, 2020 at 3:43 am (Education, Recipes) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

This year at Atrium (my kiddo’s co-op), I’ve been teaching science with a bit more purpose than I did last year. Last year consisted of a lot of impromptu science articles and activities… when we were studying the bubonic plague in history, I covered fleas on rats, the plague, what modern day scientists said about it, and played a song from YouTube about it set to the tune of Hollaback Girl. In the spring we covered lots of random pollinator things, talked about bees and butterflies and the anatomy of a flower. We did black out poetry over articles I had printed. At some point in the year, I brought role polies and we talked about crustaceans and literally played with bugs in the driveway. We made terrariums. It was a hodge-podge of whetting the group’s appetite for the idea of studying science seriously, but was mostly exactly what you’d expect homeschool science to be: nature studies, crafts, songs, and critters.

The 2020-21 school year I was determined to do different—to do better.

Naturally, I started teaching what I consider the most difficult science of all the sciences: Chemistry & Physics. To a group of children that range between 5 and 13.

If you’re going to get serious about science, the studies of matter and energy are the way to go, right? Every time I prep for class I’m two parts terrified and one part giddy.

But today, I realized, I’m not failing them. And more than that, they seem to be enjoying themselves.

In our first two lessons, we covered matter. We talked about properties and how scientists use properties to describe matter. I started by describing that matter is anything that has volume and mass, but to say that then I had to describe what volume and mass really was. I sent them home with a white bread recipe. One of the fourth graders actually baked it over the weekend and was able to tell me all about how cool it was that the same ingredients can create something with a different amount of volume. I was so pleased. If only this one child understood volume because of a white bread recipe, then I felt I was already winning.

During that same first lesson I taught them about displacement and was delighted when my classically educated group of kids were able to participate in a retelling of Archimedes and the Goldsmith. Several kids shouted “Eureka!” along with me. If I wasn’t already sold on the trivium, that moment would have done it.

Density was when it got really fun. In Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics I found a lab with salt, water, two eggs, and two cups. Fill both cups with water about halfway. Dissolve a quarter cup of salt into one of the glasses. Have the kids announce their hypothesis on what might happen, then drop the eggs in their own glass. The egg in the salt water will float because the water is more dense than the egg when there is salt there, but the egg in the regular water will sink because the egg has more density. One of the kids was convinced it was because one of the eggs was bad and one of them was good, so another mom swapped them. The experiment won out!

After that we talked about buoyancy and made aluminum boats. (This lab was also found in Fulbright’s textbook.) Everyone had brought a casserole pan where we had blue dyed salt water and pennies sprinkled at the bottom of each. The goal was to make a boat that could float the most pennies without sinking. The kids loved playing pirates and stole each other’s pennies a lot in a spirit of imagination and fun. Our best ship held 176 pennies. Runner up had 173 before the ship started taking water. The take away: surface area helps.

On day two, the following week, we talked a lot about gold versus pyrite, how luster and hardness helps you identify matter.

The kiddo and I made playdough the day before and at the start of the lesson I put pieces of tree limbs, various garden and river rocks, aluminum foil, and the play dough out on the table. There were plenty of sensory aids for everyone to have their hands on something. Nearly everyone squished play dough in their hands for the duration of the lesson, which I thought was perfect as it helped explain the concept of malleability to the littlest ones and kept hands busy so their brains could focus.

My husband sent me to class with a giant magnet and we also discussed how magnetism can help you identify different materials. Everyone got a turn choosing a piece of junk I’d collected from around the house to try against the magnet.

Finally we wrapped up the day with a Mel Science Lab. I’m obsessed with our subscription and it was pretty cool seeing the kids get to do a more intense lab. I had the oldest kids in the group do work, two boiled water and we talked about the “rapid vaporization of a liquid using heat” because I love defining things while two others mixed up the chemicals and dropped in the pyrite samples. Fifteen minutes later, we had a small sample of Prussian Blue!

All in all, I’m pretty pleased how our class is going and I can’t wait to map out next week’s adventure. Because of the broad age range of kids and the desire to keep them all engaged and learning, I’m trying to maintain at least one craft oriented activity, some sensory aids, and a Mel Science Lab per gathering. If you have any ideas or advice, please leave a comment, I’d love to hear from the more experienced.

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Vikings!

August 19, 2020 at 1:21 am (Education) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Kiddo is studying Early American History at co-op this year. So, naturally, we’re already super into it.

I thought we’d be diving into the Pilgrims or the Revolutionary War at the start, but the tutor has wisely chosen to go back and lay the ground work for the Americas with ALL the early explorers. At home, we study all the world’s history chronologically so we love that the course is being tackled this way, despite the fact that it means we’re back pedaling over things we studied this last year. Repetition is good, anyway.

Her homework was to read D’aulaire’s Leif the Lucky. We collect all D’aulaire’s work so both of us were pretty pleased with the assignment. Although we did get distracted and took a detoured into studying the Northern Lights, why they occur, what they look like, and why Leif might have thought he saw Odin riding a chariot through the sky.

We read the assigned pages, and then looked for more… we highly recommend listening to some Danheim while you study. I’m loving Janeway’s fictional depiction of Eric the Red and Leif Ericson, and Landmark books have never steered us wrong.

Click here for additional resources if you want to study this subject as well.

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Homeschooling During Covid

August 19, 2020 at 12:53 am (Education) (, , , )

We’ve always homeschooled, thank God. Educating this way has been the biggest blessing of our lives. Post-divorce, during single motherhood, it was the easiest way to spend the most amount of time with my kid while staying on top of her education. In homeschooling, a little bit of time goes a long way. As a public school graduate, the public system always seemed like for every second of education occurring, there were hours of waste. Homeschooling is efficient, we cover a lot of ground in less time.

“Play is the work of childhood,” and I want my kid to have lots of play time.

During the chaos of sheltering in place, school getting canceled, and whatnot, the only thing that changed for us was me going to work (I got laid off a few months before I was planning to quit), and attending our extra curricular activities. A good chunk of our daily lives looked the same, just more relaxed. Way more relaxed.

Now, in the midst of so many of our friends dealing with school district uncertainty, virtual public schooling, Zoom courses, and a plethora of other dramas–we’re going on with life business as usual. Our co-op is so small and cozy, and several members already recovered from Covid, so we still get to meet as usual.

So what does our Classical Homeschooling life look like?

At Home:

We started a formal Spelling curriculum last year, just using McGuffey’s Speller and memorizing wasn’t cutting it for us. The Workout Spelling books are fantastic and I highly recommend them.

We’re flying through Math-U-See Delta and using Singapore 3A on review days to keep all those math skills sharp. (We do math every day, year round: Math-U-See we maintain her appropriate grade level and Singapore we do the year before. She tested above grade level on her end of year CAT last year, so we think this routine works for us.) We finished the Mensa K-3 reading list this summer and have been plugging away at the 4-6 list and loving it.

As a family, we’re making a point to learn more recipes in the kitchen. I quit buying bread at the grocery store this month and am officially baking all our bread myself. Something I’ve always loved to do, but not had the time and energy to maintain doing it regularly. Now we both have a routine and baking and cooking has been a magical experience instead of a stressful one. She has to help with a minimum of one meal a week, next semester I’m increasing it to three. Hopefully by next year she’ll be making more things on her own, but as it stands if she goes to college with only what she knows now, she’ll be eating a lot of waffles and french toast.

She’s still working through the Botany science curriculum she started this summer in addition to helping me prep for the Introduction to Chemistry and Physics science class I teach at the co-op. We have a stockpile of MEL Science kits we can’t wait to dig into.

At Atrium:

The kid’s course load isn’t light, by any stretch of the imagination, but so far she’s loving it… Early American History, Critical Thinking & Logic, Introduction to Chemistry & Physics, Poetry, Writing & Rhetoric: Fables, Fix It Grammar, Song School Latin 2, Art, Kung Fu. (I’m teaching two Latin classes, the science class, and Kung Fu. Course load sharing with other moms is so fun, as every morning I get a well deserved coffee break while the other moms are “on deck.”)

Extra-curriculars:

So swimming was a great choice for us for 2020. Dipping kids in chlorine seems like a pretty safe choice and the kid swims like a fish now!

I’m not going to lie, I’m a tad envious of her piano lessons. She’s rocking them and composing music like there’s no tomorrow. She graduated the Let’s Play Music program amidst a pandemic and it was worth every penny and then some.

So, if you’re homeschooling this year for the first time ever and need help, message me. If you have ideas for things we’re covering, please share them! (Your favorite DIY science labs and dinner recipes are welcome!)

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Winter with Dogs (and Cats)

March 23, 2020 at 10:28 pm (Education, Obituaries, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

With the arrival of Disney+ came the magic of Willem Dafoe as the infamous Leonhard Seppala, musher who put in the most miles during the Serum Run of Nome, Alaska. As a homeschool parent I have the luxury to put aside some school books to build educational unit studies on a whim. We spent weeks on sled dogs and illnesses, tundra and survivalism in harsh weather.

Kiddo read the Dog Diaries book featuring Togo. I read The Cruelest Miles by Gay and Laney Salisbury (phenomenal) as well as a novel called Dead Run by Michael Caruss (pretty good). We watched the movie together. We became smitten with a beautiful picture book by Robert J. Blake.

All the while our own dog was dying. We said goodbye to him as we ended our dogsled reading binge. Our best boy who was the greatest protector we’ve ever had. Named after Tahmoh Penikett’s character Karl C. Agathon on the Battlestar Galactica, Helo, our Siberian husky-pit bull-German Shepherd lived up to his name. Handsome, loving, and always ready to defend us from any threat, I’ve never had a better dog.

“Any man can make friends with any dog but it takes a long time and mutual trust and mutual forbearance and mutual appreciation to make a partnership. Not every dog is fit to be partner with a man; nor every man, I think, fit to be partner with a dog.” – Archdeacon Hudson Stuck

Helo was my greatest partner in getting my kiddo from age one to nine. I trained him to stay with her, he trailed her as she played in the yard and on playgrounds. He slept in the threshold of our doors, guarding us from the outside world as we dreamed. He loved his ball. He could never have been a sled dog like Balto and Togo, he neither had the build or the heart for it, too barrel chested for his smaller legs to support for long distances (he had a hard time keeping up with his mother who despite being much smaller could outrun him in speed and duration), but he was perfect for the job he was given: preserve and protect us from all threats.

Through all this studying of harsh winters, learning about famous dogs, and burying ours (he was nine)… we had the warmest winter I can remember in a long time and many, many cats…

Well, caterpillars.

Living in the lower coastal plains region of Texas means we have some tropical tendencies sweeping up from the Gulf of Mexico. It also means Monarch butterflies! We’ve raised quite a few in our pollinator garden, have ordered books, and plan to study them more in depth as we observe them more regularly through various seasons. The photos below are all from this winter.

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Fly, Fly Again

January 7, 2020 at 4:56 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Title: Fly, Fly Again

Authors: Katie Jaffe & Jennifer Lawson

Illustrator: Tammie Lyon

Genre: Children’s Storybook/ Picture Book

First and foremost, kiddo and I were blown away that Buzz Aldrin–THE BUZZ ALDRIN–wrote the foreword for this picture book. How cool is that? (My father, an engineer alum of the same university as Aldrin, was pretty impressed as well. Frequently, he reads my kiddo picture books and comments about how children’s publishing has “come a long way.”)

Reminiscent of The Questioneers series (of which we have every title!) by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, Jaffe and Lawson’s new book encourages critical thinking skills, creative wonder, and diligence to pursue dreams.

Kiddo loved the story, she’s nine, and still enjoys the magic of a children’s storybook even though she’s also reading chapter books now. She’s heard me quote “Try, Try Again” her whole life and learned to read on McGuffey’s which includes the poem in its reading exercises, so there was a genuine snicker when Hawk raised his feather and included the play on words, “If at first you don’t succeed, fly, fly again!”

“It is a great book, no one can doubt that. The airplane design [in the illustrations] is amazing. But you still can’t put that many people and pets into a wagon WITH a motor,” Kiddo told me. She is now monologuing design flaws, propellor safety, and superior ways to attempt this project. I think the book has done exactly its job: spiked STEM thinking.

Fly, Fly Again is a new favorite we plan to read often.

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Our Secret Country

November 16, 2019 at 4:47 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

“Most of us, I suppose, have a secret country but for most of us it is only an imaginary country. Edmund and Lucy were luckier than other people in that respect,” C. S. Lewis wrote in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

The thing is, the thing that C. S. Lewis as narrator doesn’t address, is that everyone who has ever read the Chronicles of Narnia series *does* have that country. We all visit some version of Narnia in our minds once we’ve been there once. And as it says in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia.” 

So here I am, thirty-five, living in the magical world of Narnia as my daughter reads through the series for about the third or fourth time, but this time we’re reading it alongside our homeschool co-op. It is such a treat watching children enjoy the magic of Narnia, and furthermore bask in its magical glory with them.

Mr. Tumnus

The Chronicles of Narnia is a well known allegory of the Christian faith set in a fantasy world. Good and evil are clearly define, deadly sins and how they creep into our psyche, how unchecked they fester and change who we are. The stories enthrall children and adults alike, who have a thirst for the eternal, who long for the otherworldly aspect of our universe, the spiritual war that goes on every day unseen to the naked eye, but experienced in living color when you step through the Professor’s “Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe.”

Turkish Delights

We’ve been reading the books together and discussing them book club style with children ranging from 7 to 13 and moms from 27 to 50. At the close of book two, we took a Narnia party break, complete with homemade snowflakes (the kids got to learn about hexagonal snowflake patterns and how to recreate them with computer paper and a pair of scissors), try Turkish delights for the first time (and marvel at why Edmund would basically sell his soul for such an awful dessert), and pose in costume under a welcoming Narnia sign and the iconic lamppost (artistic cardboard craftsmanship compliments of my impressive fiancé, kiddo spray painted it black herself).

Queen Susan

Of course, in my typical fashion, I had to read “grown up” books in addition to re-reading the original stories. Because C. S. Lewis made such an imprint on society, there are more literary criticism books about Narnia than there are Narnia books. Most of them written by Christians. However, I found one written by a non-Christian which greatly intrigued me.

The Magician’s Book is an in-depth critical analysis of the Chronicles of Narnia. As much memoir in content as literary analysis, Miller chronicles her own relationship with Narnia and includes insightful conversational commentary by other big name writers of many faiths (Neil Gaiman being one of my favorites). I enjoyed her perspective a great deal and though I was saddened that Aslan the lion did not aid in her understanding the nature of Christ, that she did not come to understand God’s love through Lewis’s fantastical depiction of it.

Still, reading Miller’s work led me down a rabbit trail I’m happy to tumble through, and I’ve already lined up all sorts of other books regarding C. S. Lewis and Narnia to read during the rest of our Narnia journey. Join us. We start Horse and His Boy next and are reading The World According to Narnia by Jonathan Rogers as we go. We plan to finish all seven Narnia books by the end of the school year.

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From a Book Lover

September 15, 2019 at 2:49 pm (Education, Guest Blogger, Reviews) (, , , , )

An unnamed Guest Blogger allowed me to share this…

I have always been a fan of EB White’s children’s books. This is a great biography of him and is beautifully illustrated, too. EB White truly respected children as persons. Here is one of my favorite passages from the book:

“Much of what he wrote was not for children, yet many consider Charlotte’s Web not only White’s magnum opus but one of the best children’s books ever written. Did EB White ever wish he’d written a masterpiece for adults? His stepson Roger Angell said that the thought would not have occurred to him. Andy (EB White) once said, “Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth….. Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words and they backhand them over the net.”

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Back to School…

August 14, 2019 at 4:25 am (Education) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Well, actually, we never left.

History in the hammock.

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King’s List

August 6, 2019 at 5:20 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

As a classical homeschool mom, I encounter many lists, I don’t always remember their sources, and often I add to them. One list is my “Chronological Order of People to Cover,” scrawled out in a yellow, college-ruled, spiral notebook that I picked up for some ridiculously inexpensive price (11 cents sounds about right) at a school supply clearance sale post Labor Day. There’s a sloppy box around my ineloquent title, and my initial attempt at writing neatly at the top of the page, beginning with:

“Cheops, pharaoh of Egypt 2700-2675 BC

epic Gilgamesh legend by 2600 BC, written 2100

Hammurabi 1750 BC

Hatshepsut 1480 BC

Tutankhamen 1355 BC…

the list goes on, until I reach King David 1000 BC”

King David is often skipped over when you consult secular lists, after all he’s not just known as the King of the Israelites, he’s the scrawny kid on the felt boards in your Sunday School class who killed a giant with a slingshot.

It’s true that those most interested in King David’s existence would be those studying Judaism or Christianity, as there are not many references to his historical presence outside those sources. But it is also interesting that he appears in the Quran, as well as the Tel Dan Stele, a stone with Aramaic writings regarding the battle history and reign of King Hazel from the 840’s. In Hazael’s account of his rule and victories, he includes an account of having killed a man of the House of David.

I love history. I love archeology. Maybe one day I’ll do more with these loves than read a lot of books, maybe not. But this bit of history found on a basalt stone is enough for me to remember that the history of God’s chosen people is a history worth studying by all people, whether you believe in religion or not. The Old Testament, archeology, all of these things are stories and evidence that point to the good news of Jesus Christ and why He’s available for ALL people to accept. All of these people are relevant pieces to the giant web of life and affect religion and politics today.

During my separation from my ex-husband I read a Beth Moore study called David: 90 Days with a Heart Like His. It was my first Beth Moore study, despite being from the bible belt of Houston. I found it comforting, captivating even. During my latest revival of the ancient history cycle with my kiddo, I read David: A Man of Passion & Destiny by Charles R. Swindoll and I found it both theologically and spiritually educational.

Beth Moore’s study, as you can imagine, goes into all the great things we think about David. All the things that truly help us see why he was called a man after God’s own heart. Swindoll does a better job of addressing his sins, the parts of him that make us wonder how this man could possibly be considered a man after God’s own heart. Swindoll addresses what a non-believer might get hung up on: David was a warlord, adulterer, possibly a rapist (depending on how you view the story of Bathsheba), he wasn’t a great father, he had many wives and his household fell to shame and scandal more than once. But David always got back up again. He always repented of his sin, looked to the Lord, and asked how to fix it.

As a history enthusiast, my immediate reaction is to find more sources and do more research on this man. I know his heart, as presented by the bible and Christian commentaries, but I want to know his world. Naturally I made some requests from the library and pulled out a few choice titles from my boxes of ancient history books… yes, boxes – plural – of ancient history books, that I own. I have a bit of a book problem and a perpetually insatiable curious mind. However, I’m still lacking the focus to choose one particular thing to study, fancy degrees, and access to fabulous antiquarian documents.

First up, Robert Alter’s Ancient Israel. I invite you to join me, if you’re interested.

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Gilgamesh

July 26, 2019 at 4:47 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

If you’re studying ancient history in chronological order, sometime after you’ve read the Book of Genesis, it’s really fun to dive into Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh is an epic poem most kids have to read in high school or early college for literature classes, originally written in Akkadian. It’s a mythological adventure about a real Sumerian king documented in history, who, like many kings of old, became a legend passed down through the ages, the truth of his life distorted and lost to deification.

Ludmilla Zeman has a fantastic children’s picture book trilogy that I find to be the best starting point for learning about Gilgamesh. It is consistent with most translations and full of beautiful illustrations. When kiddo was small and we were studying ancient history the first time around, we checked these out from the library over and over again. She loved them. This time I bought them, brand new. They’re worth every penny.

I picked up used copies of the epic for myself. I was disappointed to discover that every translation available was a translation of a translation. I know its ignorant to expect to read direct translations of the Old Babylonian tablets when you pick up a Penguin trade paperback, but I did. I went back to the store after reading through David Ferry’s pretty version and N.K. Sandar’s better translation, looking for something closer to Andrew George’s 2003 version – or better yet, George Smith’s 1870’s version! To no avail. Everyone wants new and better more modern ways to tell the tale, while I bemoan my inability to read archaic clay tablets I’d never get my hands on anyway.

I was hoping to find a cool cartoon on the tale for us to watch together, desiring a repeat of the experience we had when we studied Beowulf in 2016 (YouTube had an amazing cartoon rendition of Beowulf featuring the voice of Joseph Fiennes at the time…). All I found were some not so kid friendly “cliff notes” style videos of people walking students through what it was all about so they wouldn’t have to read the book themselves.

Attention all animators: Please provide a kid appropriate Gilgamesh cartoon, featuring an oddly famous actor of the 90’s of my choice. Thanks.

Gilgamesh is neat. I love the beautiful picture books we own. I will be the parent that makes sure she reads poem and doesn’t watch internet video summaries when she’s older. But I’m not in love with it the way I am with The Iliad and Beowulf. I think it may be the insincerity of it all. It feels obvious that it was a legend born of puffing up the ego of a king and his people. It takes Noah’s ark and twists it, I love reading confirmation that many regions of the world had a major flood, I’m saddened when the details are distorted and inconsistent, making heroes of those who weren’t and forgetting the one man who did obey.

Maybe I’ll love it when I finally get my hands on one of the George translations…

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