Saturday, February 6, 2016

Week Ending 7 February 2016

The academic part of our first week back at this homeschooling gig has gone reasonably smoothly. The first four lessons of Algebra 2 have been completed with no difficulties or no complaints. I wish I could say the same about the Expository Essay class from Fortuigence. It requires her to brainstorm and plan before writing and apparently Miss 15 does not like to do those things. Normally she just skips straight to the drafting. Since this course requires the planning to be submitted before she can acccess the next assignment she can't do that this time! At least the ornithology course is also going smoothly. She's currently got two things on the go. Firstly she is reading a biography about one of our leading ornithologists and will write either a report on him or a review of the book. Secondly she is engaging in some citizen science online, landmarking 3D scans of bird bills, which can then be used to understand how and why bird species diversified.

The landmarking is fiddly work. Luckily Miss 15 has the patience for it. I wouldn't!


We also discovered a bird cam of a Northern Royal Albatross chick and its parents. We've visited this colony so it has extra interest for us. We've been checking in just for fun but next week might do some more systematic observations. Since Miss 15's ecology and conservation class doesn't begin for another few weeks she's agreed to work through Coursera's Learning How to Learn. Mr 18 did it last year but it didn't fit into her schedule then. This year the timing is practically perfect. It lasts for four weeks and there are three weeks until the university class starts, so just one week of overlap.

Of course there is a lot more to our week than just academics. This week Miss 15 spent a lot of time chasing up copy, compiling, editing, formatting and otherwise trying to publish the latest edition of our regional birding newsletter. She also attended a day-long trampoline judging course - and spent many hours plowing through a technical manual in preparation for the course! Then there were her regular hours training and coaching, plus she got called in to coach three extra classes one day when the gym had an unexpected coaching crisis. Thank heavens for homeschool flexibility! One day mid-week was especially hot so in the middle of the day we took a quick trip to a local berry farm for some of their delicious freshly-made berry ice-creams. Another advantage of homeschooling flexibility!


One of the ways I take care of myself  (and set a good example to my kids as an added bonus) is by reading. This year I've decided to get more intentional with my reading and expand my literary horizons. As well as my Classics Club challenge which has been going on for just over a year I've taken on two other reading challenges this year- one from Modern Mrs Darcy and the other from Popsugar. One of the the books I'm reading this month is The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. I had selected it for my Classics Club Challenge and the Popsugar challenge includes a book of poetry so I'll count this for two lists. Normally I won't double count but this poetry collection is long!

  378 poems down - just another 1397 to go!

An exciting development for Miss 21 this week was that she booked the tickets for her trip to Europe. She leaves in three months!


We went to the market to buy a special treat for Basil and ended up coming home with a lemon custard croissant and a raspberry and white chocolate brownie as well! 

Our week ended on a sad note with the departure of Basil. After nearly two years his family's home is finally rebuilt and they are able to have him home with them. We are really happy for them but we'll miss him.


Linking up with the Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialised Homeschoolers.


Monday, February 1, 2016

Week Ending 31 January 2016 (This Year's Plan)

Miss 15 had another week of trampoline camp. While she was training all day I put the finishing touches on her homeschool plan for the year. What's interesting to me is what a loose plan it is. I seem to have returned to my homeschooling roots. I used to only plan loosely if at all,  but as I had more kids to factor into the equation I relied more on planning and curricula - the only way I could keep on track of four very different sets of needs! Now that I'm down to only homeschooling one it seems that I feel confident going with the flow once again.

This year Miss 15 will be doing 3 full year courses and two half year courses, which doesn't sound like a lot. However, I felt last year we did too many courses and this year I want to go deep rather than wide. Plus I looked at what she had done for the past couple of years and for fun tried to put it into a typical US transcript. Turns out she'd have 13 credits already - and that's not even including PE. With all her trampolining hours she could earn several credits every year except I keep that under the extra-curricular banner.

Anyway this year she'll be studying -

1. Algebra 2. We'll stick with Saxon, not because she loves it but because we haven't found anything else that she likes. This is the last level of maths that we require so she is looking forward to being done.
2. Ornithology - This is a buffet style course. I've amassed a wide variety of resources from a range of  places. She'll get to pick and choose from what's on offer,
3. Written Communication. - This is basically an essay writing course. She's starting with an online course from Fortuigence. Then we'll probably move to Bravewriter's Help for High School. After that it is up in the air but another online course is a possibility.
4. Applied Ecology and Conservation - This is a third year (gulp) university course that she has been invited to participate in. I'm a bit concerned it will be too much (a first year paper would be fine but third year?) but she is keen.
5. Child Labour in Victorian Britain - She'll do this in the second half of the year after the university course is finished. It'll probably be independent research and interdisciplinary in nature. It may well end up with a comparative focus as well perhaps looking at child labour today or in the United States in the 1920s.

It was interesting to run this plan (plus all the non-academic plans that will be a crucial part of the year) through the "enchanted education for teens" lens (This is one of my favourite Periscopes by Julie Bogart - part 1 here and part 2 here).  Is there a B-HAG? (Sure is - it's trampoline related) Is there room for experimentation? Is there room for risky thinking? Plenty of leaving the house? A range of mentors/teachers? A range of delivery methods?  Are we preparing for university if she wants to go?Are we moving at her pace not some pre-determined pace which says since she is 15 she should be doing x, y and z? Is there risk and adventure? (Lots of that mainly outside of academics with possibly  four week long trips away from home  for birding and trampolining - including one overseas jaunt.) Are we supporting her as she takes on challenges of her choice? Have we got a routine which leaves room to follow inspiration as it strikes? Overall I thought our plans covered all the bases. I've just made a note to encourage her risky thinking . A couple of the courses are ripe for "Big Juicy Conversations". I just have to make sure they happen!

Only a couple of other things of note during the week.

* We had another earthquake. The first for a while and even though it was only of a moderate magnitude it's location meant we felt it reasonably strongly and it came as such a surprise. Scientists had warned that there would be aftershocks for years to come but it is easy to forget. My adrenaline was rushing for several hours afterwards! Mind you I'm not good with earthquakes.

* Mr 18 and Miss 21 have both been educating themselves on retirement savings plans - making sure they are happy with with where their money is going  in terms of risk, rate of return, ethics etc

* We ended up with a bonus week with this guy.



His family have finally moved into their rebuilt home and he was meant to go too. But a couple of issues came up so he is with us for one more week. We'll be sure to make the most of him. After nearly two years we are going to miss him.




Saturday, January 30, 2016

Classics Club 24: An Ideal Husband



Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband opens with a social gathering at the home of Sir Robert Chiltern, a prominent politician, and his wife Lady Gertrude. At the gathering an unexpected guest  Mrs Cheveley, an enemy of Lady Gertrude's from their school days, attempts to blackmail Sir Robert. The rest of the play deals with how the blackmailing plot is ultimately resolved. Lots of witty repartee, mistaken identities, misunderstandings, crosses and double crosses, even a marriage proposal are involved before  the eventual happy ending - for everyone except the villainous Mrs Cheveley that is.

This is a great rollicking read with many similarities to Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, which opened just a month after An Ideal Husband. Both feature extremely witty dialogue, filled with paradoxes and irony, at least one dandy (a not so subtle representation of the playwright himself), and a clash between conservative Victorian mores and a more modern view. In addition both reflect on the nature of marriage and the relationship between men and women.

Much has changed from the period this play was written and set in, and this play is clearly a comedy. Yet after reading it I found myself pondering a serious question, still as applicable today as ever. To what extent can we expect our politicians and other public figures to be "ideal" and to what extent is it fair to take such people down for indiscretions committed in their youth?



Saturday, January 23, 2016

Week Ending 24 January 2016

This week has been all about trampolining for Miss 15. It was the first week of a two week training camp - 8:30am-3:30pm five days a week. After no training for a nearly a month she was pretty tired - not to mention stiff and sore - especially early in the week - but very happy to be back. On Friday afternoon the whole squad went to the pool for swimming and hydro sliding. A perfect end to the week, especially since the temperature was 32 degrees Celsius (nearly 90 Fahrenheit) which is really hot for us.

Homemade tropical ice blocks and raspberry spiders (floats to my North American readers) are perfect on the hot summer days  which finally arrived in the latter stages of this week.

While she was busy bouncing I spent hours on the computer. I've picked up another MOOC (crazy I know) so I've got four on the go. Thankfully one finishes this coming week - four is definitely too many. I also spent time on homeschool planning. It feels so strange only having one child left to focus on. Just got the fine tuning to finish this week.

Mr 18 got his cricket in this weekend. Last week's game was rained out. Sadly he didn't have a good game and his team lost too. Hopefully there will be better performances this coming week.



He spent most of the week working - picking up as many extra shifts as he can since once university starts next month he'll be more limited in the time he can devote to money making! He also spent lots of time helping Mr 23 look for a car to buy. I don't think they've had any luck yet.

Miss 15 and I did fit in a spot of birding. One afternoon we drove to our favourite estuary and despite bad light managed to add four birds to our list this year. And the other afternoon I heard an unusual call in our front yard.



When I went to investigate I discovered this gorgeous Redpoll calling loudly from a tree. We sometimes see Redpolls near our place but this is only the second or third time we've spotted one actually in our yard.

Linking up with Kris's Weekly Wrap-Up.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Week Ending 17 January 2016

It feels like this is the last week of our admittedly lengthy summer break. Not because we are hitting the books next week but because Miss 15 starts a two week all-day trampoline training camp. And that of course puts lots of constraints on what we can do and when we can do it. And as soon as there are lots of things on the calendar the feeling of freedom that I associate with summer just goes.

Sadly the weather this week was decidedly unsummery but the girls and I did visit an outdoor exercise park. Obviously I used muscles that I don't normally since I was stiff for a couple of days afterwards. This park is close to Miss 15's gym and there is another park close by with a better range of exercise equipment. So Miss 21 and I are planning to make regular visits to one park or another after we drop Miss 15 at training. So long as it fits with Miss 21's work schedule that is.




A lot of the rest of the week has been spent indoors




playing games,





and doing puzzles in the newspaper.


There has also been lots of reading. I finished four books this week. My favourite was definitely What She Knew (alternatively titled Burnt Paper Sky - I didn't know it had two titles and was initially somewhat surprised when a book I didn't order turned up for me at the library). I passed it on to Miss 21 and she confessed she stayed up until 1:30am because she couldn't stop reading.

I've also spent a lot of time in front of the computer since I enrolled in three MOOCs that all overlap. Not sure if I'll stick with them all or not since, as yet at least, I'm not in love with any of them but I'm enjoying them enough to continue if I can find the time. For anyone who's interested the courses are In the Night Sky:Orion, (I'm familiar with Orion which is just as well since each night I go outside to find it the clouds are covering it) Environmental Humanities:Remaking Nature (I'm partly checking this out in case Miss 15 is interested - so far I think it might be a bit vague, abstract and theoretical for her but I'll stick with it and see) and Exploring English;Shakespeare (this one is designed for ESL students so bits of it are not relevant but it covers a play we'll be seeing next month - and I was in the mood for some Shakespeare).

The good news is that Mr 18 has been admitted to university. He received his admittance via email and didn't bother to tell me for a couple of days. He didn't think it was a big deal since he was supremely confident he would be admitted. I was reasonably confident, but since we skipped the state qualifications that would have guaranteed admission I was not taking it for granted. Just pleased he finally got around to informing me!

Linking up with the Weekly Wrap-Up over at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Week Ending 10 January 2016

We started the week off with a trip to the art gallery. This was a major event since the gallery just reopened before Christmas after being shut for nearly five years as a result of the earthquakes. Initially it was taken over for Civil Defence purposes and the rescue and recovery operations were run from the gallery for six months. A subsequent large earthquake  caused more damage and major repairs were required before the gallery could finally be reopened. So it was an especially enjoyable visit, looking at old favourites as well as new and visiting works.

My favourite piece was a newly donated, cubist inspired depiction of kauri tress by New Zealand artist Colin McCahon.


Miss 15 favoured more conventional landscapes and portraits, while dh liked another cubist inspired work. None of of us were fans of much of the modern art but we all enjoyed the exhibit on wood engraving and were intrigued by the fantasy landscape created from sugar.



Miss 15 and I have been making an effort to get plenty of birding in before trampolining and homeschooling impinge on our time. One of the spots we visited this week was the botanic gardens. As well as the birds we also enjoyed some of the sculptures. I especially like the way the sculpture tree trunk blends in with the foliage of the real trees so it is hard to tell what is natural and what is man-made.

We spent a large amount of time birding at various spots yesterday, including my favourite estuary. Already this year we've seen more than half the species I saw last year (Miss 15 saw more since she went on a couple of trips and different locations tend to mean different birds).  Compared to other parts of the world we have relatively few bird species and many of them are few in number and only found in a few areas, meaning unless you can travel a lot you won't see a large variety of species. So we  need to find ways to keep the birding interesting without the lure of new and interesting species to spot. Or else find a travel budget!

The rest of the week has been spent cleaning (both the girls decided to do major cleaning and decluttering in their rooms, they then did Mr 18's room for him), reading (I finished four books this week including The Yonahlosse Riding Camp for Girls and The Green Road), movie watching (dh and Miss 15 are on a Harry Potter re watch marathon), gardening, and cooking (I've resolved to make sure my cookbook addiction is somewhat productive  and am committed to trying at least one new recipe each week - this week I managed three; my favourite was an Asian Noodle and Cabbage Slaw). I also spent an afternoon catching up with a friend whom I haven't seen in too long.

Linking up with the Weekly Wrap-up over at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.



Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Ten+ Ways We Studied Geography

One of the key principles which Julie Bogart from Bravewriter advocates is the One Thing Principle  - basically pick one thing, focus on it and do it really well. Over at the Homeschool Alliance she provides monthly suggestions for that one thing. This month the suggestion is Countries and Continents. I doubt we'll be engaging with this one thing. After an entire year of geography in 2015 I think Miss 15 is "done" with this line of study for now!

However it did get me thinking about all the ways we've tackled geography over the years. While Miss 15 and Mr 18 both have Geography listed on their high school transcript neither of their older siblings did. We did cover plenty of geography though,especially in the middle school years, in many different ways. Here, in no particular order, are ten of my favourites.

1. Mystery Class - A fabulous 10 week online treasure hunt to find ten mystery locations based on changes to their photoperiod plus other clues. My kids have participated several times and the two youngest had the opportunity to actually be one the mystery classes.


2. Integrating geography with other subjects - Two history programmes that we used fairly extensively - Story of the World and History Odyssey - integrated a variety of geography, especially mapwork. Science (in the form of geology) has huge overlaps with geography. Art and music can be big components of culture which is another important aspect of geography.




3. Postcard Exchanges - We've participated in a variety. Using a yahoo group - I think it was this one - we twice managed to collect a postcard from each of the 50 states. I know many people have trouble getting the full set. Being outside the United States was probably an advantage for us since the novelty of getting a card from New Zealand meant people were more than willing to trade with us! When the cards arrived we'd take the opportunity to do a little more research about each state. More recently we signed up to Postcrossing and mentioned Miss 15' s interest in birds. Result - postcards featuring birds from all over the world and a spur to learn a bit more about the bird and the country. Stamps and coins could be used in a similar way.




4. Flat Travellers - We made flat friends and sent them around the world using this yahoo group. I see there are Facebook pages now. Most (but not all) of our travellers arrived safely home with a written journal, photos and a variety of souvenirs from their travels. We hosted plenty of Flat Travellers too, showing them around out city and teaching them a little about our county. Geography doesn't just mean learning about other countries. It includes learning about your own part of the world too.

5. Workbooks - These aren't normally seen as exciting but they can get the job done and some kids (including some of mine) actually like them. We often used workbooks in unconventional ways. One winter a child and I were regularly waiting in the car for an hour while another child was in an activity. I filled a folder with pages from a range of workbooks (including geography ones) and she could pick and choose what to do and could use wipe off markers (since the pages were in page protectors) or window markers on the car windows. I'm sure the different location and different writing implement made the workbook pages more alluring. Some workbooks are more like puzzle books and my kids did them for fun. One year we used a 5 minute practice book, chopped up the questions and out them in a jar. At dinner we'd all - parents too - pull out a question and work together (if need be) to come up with the answer. We sometimes did the same thing with flashcards.

6. Board and card games. There's a big variety of these, more so than when my kids were younger. Apart from playing games you can also design your own. Or add to an existing game. One game we owned was National Geographic's Mystery Voyage. There was a picture clue and you rolled dice to travel around the board collecting other clues about the pictured place. The winner was the first person to correctly guess the location. My kids found pictures of locations they liked and then made their own clue cards to go along with them.



7. Computer games and apps. - Last year we used Lizard Point and Seterra to help us memorize the locations of all the countries in the world. Memrise has a variety of geography related courses as well. The daily GeoBee quiz is another that we used.



8. Magazine Subscriptions - We subscribed to Faces for a number of years. The kids were always eager to devour it when it arrived.



9. Maps and globes - One year we put up a large blank map of the world on our wall. Several times a week we'd mark a country, city or feature on it. Sometimes the trigger was a book we were reading, sometimes it was something in the news. One year we used our globe and inspired by a blog post from Melissa Wiley moved our Mr Putty to whatever place we had just read or heard about. It is important to use both maps and globes since the world looks very different on each. Try and use a variety of maps with different scales and projections as well. Just having them up on the wall in a heavily used area leads to lots of unintentional learning. We've had maps in the bathroom and in the dining room for this reason.



10. Field Trips - Overseas travel would have been nice but that hasn't been in the budget! Still our city runs a variety of events that gives us an insight into other cultures. If we are out of town we make sure to stop and see first hand any special land forms or other features. And of course a road trip is a great chance to practice map reading skills.






Plus, a couple of extra ideas I couldn't leave out.

10A. Books and movies- We read fiction and watched movies set in a variety of different countries, we used cookbooks to make dishes from other countries, we read non-fiction books and viewed documentaries about other countries and the people who lived there, we skimmed through atlases and I had a guide book on hand to browse through and refer to if I wanted some inspiration on how to add more geography to our homeschooling days.


10B. Lappacks and Notebooking. At various times the children have researched a country of their choice and we've used lappacks and notebooking pages to record their learning. There doesn't have to be much writing which can be a bonus for younger kids or reluctant writers. We've used purchased ones, made our own, and sometimes combined elements of each.


 Linking up at iHomeschool Network's Top Ten Tuesdays.