Saturday, February 18, 2017

Crafty Book Review: Once Upon a Piece of Paper

Although for most of the year Matt gives the children art lessons as part of our weekend time together, the early part of the year is NOT conducive to this--this morning, for example, he took Syd to ballet, then while she's there he's going to swing by the Girl Scout office and pick up another 900+ Girl Scout cookies, then go pick up Syd and take her straight to a cookie booth with another girl at the mall for two hours, then come home for two hours, then take both kids over to the next town over for a three-hour cookie booth, then drive home, get home around 10 pm, and put the kids straight to bed because we have another cookie booth at 10 am tomorrow. Meanwhile, Will is having some leisure time this morning before joining everyone for this evening's booth, and I am going to write this blog post and then spend the next twelve hours sewing Syd's Trashion/Refashion Show garment. And then I'm going to figure out the wattage of a strand of Christmas lights so I can do the math to calculate how many batteries I'll need to run them (don't let me forget to adjust for an 80% efficiency rate) so Syd can wear them as part of her garment. And then I'm gonna go make that happen.

You can see that we're a tad too busy this month for a leisurely afternoon of art instruction, so I've been intentionally incorporating experiential art lessons, the kind that are more focused on creativity than technique, into our school weeks. We've been getting an especial amount of use out of Once Upon a Piece of Paper, which I was given for free by a publicist. It doesn't intimidate Will, since it doesn't focus on drawing by hand (which she wrongly thinks that she's bad at), and it offers the scope for imagination that inspires Syd to go all-out in the crazy-detailed way that she enjoys.

We've made some of the projects more elaborate than the book asks for them to be, simply because they're so fun. This project, for instance, was simply meant to be a quick pass across three or so surfaces, to teach us that groupings often look very nice--

--but I pulled out some small canvases that I purchased at some time or other, and then we somehow all got really invested in our work. Instead of one quick swath of paint, Syd layered and overlapped and added many, many, MANY swaths--

--and that treasure trove of National Geographics that we scored at the public library's last book sale came in very handy, indeed:

 I made my nice little group composition--

--but the kids both really ran with the process and ended up with some super cool results:

We got so invested in doing the project our own way that we completely forgot to even peek into the pad of collage paper that comes with the book. Both kids remembered it for the ice cream project, though:

The project was mostly about making interesting and unusual paper combinations, and seeing how surprisingly well they tend to work together (using ice cream cones for this is pretty brilliant, because it turns out that EVERYTHING looks cute as an ice cream cone!), but Syd added an entire narrative to hers, and those awesome collage people?

She has never made anything like that before! I really love the woman at the top--Syd wants the red piece to be hair, but I think it looks exactly like a scarf. Syd also doesn't think that the blue figure at the bottom looks like a robot at ALL, but I do, and it cracks me up that there's a robot just casually downing some ice cream with all the other folks.

Considering that my goal for each art lesson is for Will to feel comfortable and confident being creative, and for Syd to learn a new skill or technique, I'd have to say that we didn't do too shabbily even without our Husband/Father Artist-in-Residence to guide us!

Friday, February 17, 2017

We're the Cotton Ball Fireball Fail Army

Only eleven more days left in February, and I haven't cracked yet! I've got 12 hours of cookie booths this weekend, with transportation and cookie stock micro-managed only slightly imperfectly; I have the muslins made for Syd's Trashion/Refashion Show garment, and all of the reclaimed fabrics ready to cut out and sew, AND a plan for the wearable twinkle lights; the kids are happily working their way through the last readings in the National Mythology Exam bibliography, with the understanding that they'll need to re-read them before the Tuesday test, AND I should have a lesson on test-taking strategies before then; school is otherwise progressing smoothly, even though I've given up our other units for the time being to focus on the NME, Science Fair, and the kids' regular daily work, AND even though their computer has been malfunctioning again and we've all been sharing my laptop for all of our various projects, meaning that sometimes I get left messages like this--

--both kids know exactly what they want to do for Thursday's Science Fair, and Syd even has her presentation written, AND Will has made the spare plaster of Paris volcano and the rocket candy fuses and should be ready for her first experiments tonight.

You'd never look at Will's Science Fair topics and think that she was anything but *that* kind of homeschooled kid. Last year's Exothermic Reactions was just a cover for learning about explosions, and led to us making a bunch of homemade smoke bombs of varying non-success. She again was given free reign this year, leading her to come up with the topic of Fire Volcano.

She wants to build a plaster of Paris volcano, then fill it with a variety of flammable materials, from the usual to the unusual, then burn them and see what happens.

See? That's SUCH a homeschooled kid topic. But so what? It's not following the Scientific Method, exactly, but I've always thought that's forced too early, and that it takes the fun out of a lot of experiential learning. But what her topic IS is self-selected, and it interests her. It's made her enthusiastic about planning, and goal setting, and hand-building, and researching, and she's willing to write a presentation and build a display. These are activities that my kid is normally not enthusiastic about. She's also learning chemistry and physics, building her STEM skills and her practical life skills, and its made learning into an exciting adventure.

Shouldn't learning always be an exciting adventure?

I should tell you, though, that my Secret Mom Goal is to gently focus her presentation on Flammable Materials (that just happen to be tested in a Fire Volcano), with comparisons between the reactions of different materials to the same fuse, and recommendations about to properly store and dispose of flammable materials. Perhaps even a bit about first aid for burns? Maybe the formulas for some of the chemical reactions? We'll see...

Lofty goals aside, Will's first foray into research led her to the following discovery: "Mom, nail polish remover is highly flammable! Also, look at this video!"

The video stars a tween--who clearly, based on his nervous glances out of the room, should NOT be doing what he's doing--making a cotton ball fireball using nail polish remover and a lighter, and gently tossing it from hand to hand.

My Mom Response should have probably been horror and disapproval. Instead, without even looking away from the video, I shouted "SYD!!! Do you have any nail polish remover?!?"

Reader, she did. And I had cotton balls. We also had a lighter.

In other words, we were all set!

Well, except that it turns out that Will is more chicken than the chickens:

Fine. I'm more chicken than the chickens, too! Our demonstration quickly devolved into... ridiculousness. Just ridiculousness:

Thank goodness for Matt!

Will is bummed that we can't actually do live performances of any of her Fire Volcano experiments in the meeting room of the public library during the Science Fair, so even though the nail polish remover's real demonstration is going to be done tonight, on the driveway, inside the plaster of Paris volcano, I've told her that we might be able to swing taking some families outside the library onto the sidewalk and maybe demonstrating the cotton ball fireball there.

Of course, she'll have to actually be able to bring herself to actually do it by then...

Monday, February 13, 2017

Coloring Book Review: Draw and Color Your Way to a Younger Brain

From the title, I'd say that Draw and Color Your Way to a Younger Brain (which I received for free from a publicist), is meant for older folks, but it turns out that artsy little tweens also like it quite a lot.

This is now Syd's special coloring book, and she's obsessed with it. She doesn't even have to play by our usual house rule of photocopying what you want to color from the coloring book first, then coloring the copy--it's that important to her to color the originals, just as they are in the book.

The book is a lot like the kid-centric doodle books that Syd also loves, but with more detailed and less silly prompts. It has a lot of "finish this picture" prompts, but also ones that invite you to continue adding detail to an embellished picture, ones that invite you to draw the mirror image of a picture, and ones that ask you to color in the detailed images that adult coloring books are made of.

Here are some of Syd's most recent creations:
finish this picture

adult coloring

mirror drawing

and some more adult coloring that Syd clearly found VERY inspiring!

That last one, in particular, is so pretty that I think that I'm going to frame it for her room.

We've got a Spring Break road trip coming up in a month (and yes, I am counting down the days to it!), so part of my to-do list for the week includes hiding this book from Syd, so that when I whip it out at the start of our trip she'll still have plenty of pages to work on. This, and Junior Ranger books, and audiobooks, and travel Scrabble and Blokus should hopefully keep us entertained!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Homeschool Math: Archimedes and the Method of Exhaustion

With The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way as our spine, the kids and I have been working through a very interesting and hands-on history of math and science. We're using the Student's Quest Guide as a starting point for the hands-on activities, and then I add to them or supplement as needed.

That's exactly what we did with this activity on Archimedes, in which the kids were meant to model his method of approximating pi by calculating the perimeters of inscribed and circumscribed regular polygons for a circle.

Note: The Student's Quest Guide attributes the method of exhaustion to Aristotle, but that's a typo. It was Archimedes.

The Quest Guide had the kids working large-scale, with rope and a meter stick. We chose to also use a tape measure and a protractor triangle.

First the kids drew a large circle on the driveway, exactly the way they did for our sound measurement activity (but with chalk, not stomping in the snow), then drew its diameter, then measured a 90-degree angle from that diameter--

--then used that information to circumscribe a square:

To inscribe a square, you can use the diameters that you've already drawn, or, if you want your inscribed square to line up nicely, you can draw the diagonals of the circumscribed square. Find the points where those lines meet the perimeter of the triangle, and make those the vertices of your inscribed square:

To model Archimedes' method of approximating pi, measure the perimeter of both the circumscribed and inscribed squares and average them, and then divide that by the circle's diameter:

That answer is okay, but it's not terribly accurate, is it?

Want to make it more accurate? Use a regular polygon with more sides!

It got a little crazy trying to do this out on the driveway with chalk and a tape measure, so we moved this activity indoors.

For this, you need a compass, protractor, ruler, and plenty of paper.

We repeated the exercise for inscribing and circumscribing a square, and I let the kids eyeball the circumscribed figures, rather than drawing a diameter to cross the middle and then measuring 90 degrees from it:

The measurements were okay, but not a good approximation of pi.

So we inscribed and circumscribed hexagons instead!

To inscribe a hexagon, draw your diameter, then measure 60 and 120 degrees and draw diameters at those angles.

To circumscribe a hexagon, add diameters drawn at 30 and 150 degrees:
I didn't give the children those instructions, and Syd LOATHED having to use trial-and-error. You can see she's got a few incorrect tries on paper there. Eventually, I told her the degree measurements, but Will was able to complete the task independently.
 Even though my circumscribed hexagon is somehow a little wonky, you can see that I got an approximation of 3.1--that's pretty darn good!

Will tried circumscribing and inscribing an octagon, but the answer wasn't anymore accurate, likely because more lines just means more places for human error. She was VERY impressed when I told her that Archimedes had used a 96-sided figure to make these calculations!

If you can visualize that 96-sided figure, you can see how the more sides you have, the more the figure resembles a circle. 

And that's how you can use a much, much, much more time-consuming method to calculate pi!

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Water Cycle at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis

Although it's been a while since we've been able to volunteer in the Paleo Lab, due to Victor's long illness and passing, I keep on the lookout for one-shot volunteer opportunities with the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, and as a whole it's been a rewarding strategy, as it encourages us to do things, primarily involving working with the young visitors, that we don't generally do in the Paleo Lab.

On this particular day, we were going to volunteer at the museum's After School Night, a special event just for children in various non-profit school-age programs around the city, and for the neighborhood's children (one of the best things about the Children's Museum is the deliberate interest that it takes in improving the quality of life of those who live in the surrounding neighborhood, an area of clear economic disparity compared to the rest of the city).

But of course if we're going to be in the museum anyway, we might as well go early to play!

And of course our first stop in the museum isn't even the museum proper, but the branch of the public library that lives in the museum:

How many other public libraries do YOU know that live inside a museum?

You might remember that we're doing a fast and loose meteorology unit currently, which means that we've been reviewing the water cycle. Remember our cloud in a jar demonstration?

It was just a happy coincidence, then, that most of our museum play happened to be related to that unit. First, as much as the kids miss the giant construction area that used to be in the old ScienceWorks exhibit, they LOVE the new, expansive water table, and they especially love it when they have it all to themselves!

Then, we timed it just right so that we were able to pop into a lesson in the SciencePort. These are always fun, but on this day, the theme was the water cycle, and the scientist had us play probably the funnest water cycle game that's ever been played (Incredible Journey, here). I especially loved this game because it dug into more than just the basics of the water cycle, covering how water is lodged in glaciers, in plants, in animals, in aquifers, etc.

The kids especially loved this game because it involved beads!

Okay, I especially loved this part, too, as you can tell when you see my own water cycle bracelet there at the bottom of the image. Every station had a different color of bead, and a die. You collected the bead for your station, then rolled the die to see where your water went next. At the end of the game, then, you had a record of everywhere your water had been. The die were loaded so that your water naturally went more often to the places where water more often is, so it was a surprisingly sophisticated model of the water cycle.

And yes, we did eventually get around to doing our actual volunteering:

By yet another happy coincidence, Dinosphere was the gallery of choice for After School Night, and we took over the perfect table for us, that of demonstrating and practicing with real paleontology tools. Well... the tools weren't *exactly* real, as you can't give small children clam shuckers and machetes and x-acto knives and Paleobond, but the experience was surprisingly close, and we were able to tell the children lots of additional details that we know from our experience at the dino dig. My favorite trick was to say, "Raise your hand if you've ever glued yourself to a fossil!" Will, Syd, and I would raise our hands, and all the children at our table would go "Wow!" and "Cool!" and "Awesome!" and such.

It was fun.

I always forget how stressful this month is until it sneaks up on me and smacks me on the head, so I'm always worried that the rigorous education that I try to stuff into my kids' brains suffers during this month, as I have more of my attention on the intricacies of Girl Scout cookie booth scheduling and Syd's Trashion/Refashion Show garment than on our weekly work plans. Days like this, however, reassure me. We didn't do math or grammar or review Greek and Roman deities, but we did listen to two hours of Al Capone Shines My Shoes, do some reading, review the water cycle, practice our pedagogy and people skills, and perform some service.

And I was home in time that night to rearrange cookie booth schedules, run the percentages for a Cookie Cupboard order, prepare a bank deposit to our troop account, and fall into bed with pizza, wine, a movie, and a heartburn pill.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Homeschool Math: Mathematical Map Coloring with Math Lab for Kids

We've had a lot of real-life learning this week. It's gone something like this:

  • Monday: Let's go watch a homeschool matinee of Hidden Figures with your friends, then talk about it excitedly for hours!
  • Wednesday: Let's go to the Children's Museum of Indianapolis and help children in the city's after-school programs explore some of the real tools used in paleontology!
  • Thursday: Let's have our Girl Scout troop over so that you can all collaborate upon the creation of two complete Girl Scout cookie booths!
  • Friday: Let's run our first Girl Scout cookie booth of the season! I bet you've forgotten how much work it will be!
Counting in all of our extracurriculars so far this week (ballet for Syd, Uzbek class for Will, two nights at fencing for me and Will, horseback riding for Will) and the fact that while I take Will to her extracurriculars, Matt is generally out delivering Girl Scout cookies with Syd, and we've really only reliably had time each day for math, and perhaps an interesting project or two. Fortunately, I've always got an interesting project or two up my sleeve (or rather written down in my planner...), so the kids have kept their brains in gear without succumbing so far to the stress that is my February.

One project that we've all been particularly enjoying is map coloring, of all things. I had no idea, until I received this free copy of Math Lab for Kids from a publicist, that map coloring is a genuine Mathematical Thing... but is IS! And I have rapidly become completely obsessed with it.

The point of map coloring is that no adjacent pieces can have the same color. We practiced that in the first lab--

--and also practiced the tenet that you should be able to color any map with only four colors:

It's kind of like a logic problem, because although it's possible, it's by no means guaranteed that you can just start blithely coloring away with your four colors and make it work. It takes planning, and a lot of figuring out, and plenty of trial and error.

The second lab made the process easier, because it taught us the greedy algorithm, which is an actual thing. Using the greedy algorithm, we were all able to correctly color a four-color map of the United States--

--on the first try!

Because I'm mean, I then made the kids label their maps with all of the state names. I was surprised, actually, at how many Syd could label from memory--those road trips have paid off!

We do a lot of map labeling for history and geography, so my new plan is to add this map coloring element to that work. The kids love it, and it sneaks in plenty of logic and fine motor practice--and the results are so pretty!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Homeschool Math: How to Model the Pythagorian Theorem with the Decanomial Square

Neither kid has yet studied the Pythagorean theorem in math, but they DID both study Pythagoras a couple of weeks ago, and what better way to bring him to life than to model his most famous theorem?

And fortunately, if you focus on the Pythagorean triples, the Pythagorean theorem is also actually really easy to model, and quite accessible to even a younger learner. To two kids who've studied area, square numbers, and triangles, it's a snap!

First, of course, you need to build the decanomial square:

Notice that Will starts with the square, then adds the matching pieces in descending order:

When those are all placed, she finds the next largest square and carries on:

It's also good to model your work on gridded centimeter paper. This makes the translation between model and equation much clearer:

Find the square whose side matches side a. That square is a squared. The square whose side matches side b is side b squared. The hypotenuse is c. Once you've got the squares in place, you can start to do the calculation:

You can either work the calculation first, or find the square whose side matches the hypotenuse first. Either way, your work should match:

Although that's the only Pythagorean triple that's modeled in whole pieces in the decanomial square, you can use the decanomial square and/or Base 10 blocks and Cuisenaire rods to piece together the squares of the larger Pythagorean triples:

And to prove that a squared plus b squared really does equal c squared, break down the blocks that make up a squared and b squared--

--and put those pieces on top of c squared. You'll have to puzzle them together a bit, but in the end, they should fit perfectly!

There are lots of other fun ways to model the Pythagorean theorem, although since they also mostly rely on the 3, 4, 5 Pythagorean triple, it can get tedious if you do too many of them with the kids. It's more fun to make larger square models of the other triples to test, or to use the Pythagorean theorem in real-life situations.

Here are some other resources that we've enjoyed:


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