Thursday, March 31, 2011

Homeschool Expo: In Which We Once Again Display Our Geekiness

Last week was the local Homeschool Expo, which is a conference devoted to homeschooling. I usually avoid things like this like the plague, because the idea of voluntarily going to a place that is crowded, noisy, and involves lots of shopping makes me jittery (I also dislike going to the mall, particularly at Christmas). Plus at a conference you actually pay for the privilege of going through that particular hell.

But the kids' Musical Theater classes were presenting pieces from their productions -- Annabeth's group was doing 3 songs from Mary Poppins and Thalia's group was doing some numbers from You're a Good Man Charlie Brown -- during the Talent Show, so we HAD to go on Thursday night, which is the free night when all the vendor stands are set up and thus even MORE people come into the place to browse and buy. Gah.

Add to this that Thalia and Annabeth have never really been aware that the Homeschool Expo exists, so they were naturally curious as to what it's all about. I logged onto the Expo website to prove what a waste of time it all was and discovered, lo and behold, that Jim Weiss was going to be there. Yeah, Jim Weiss, whose audio books we've spent hours and hours and hours listening to -- THAT Jim Weiss. Thalia grew up listening to him tell stories via our stereo. And thus began the kids' campaign to go back to the Expo and hear him talk. Also, there was a seminar on high school that really did sound interesting once I actually LOOKED at the schedule rather than just simply dismissing it as silly. So we bought passes for the Friday and Saturday sessions.

And arrived Friday morning to hear Jim Weiss tell us about historical heroes. Amazing stuff. He spoke for an hour or so, without notes, pausing at one point to mention that he really hadn't planned this out -- he was just seeing where the stories went. Afterwards we left for lunch, and the kids spent some time pulling out our old cassette tapes from Chinaberry Books that had been our introduction to his storytelling years and years ago.

In the afternoon we went back. The kids went to a session in which Mr. Weiss was going to explain how to weave a story, although apparently he asked the kids whether they wanted to learn THAT or just have him tell more stories, and the kids voted for more stories (although I have the impression he did explain to them some of what he does). In the meantime, I learned about the various kinds of test that high school students can/should take.

The kids wanted to get some of the Greathall Production CDs before we left. I sort of wanted to wait until Saturday, but it was apparent that the stuff was selling like hotcakes. So we selected some to purchase. And I asked if I could snap a picture:

"You gotta know -- you're a rock star in our house!"

And went home with plans to return Saturday afternoon for his final talk. But, alas, the snow started falling after lunch, and we would've been slogging back to the Expo during the worst of the storm. So we stayed in our cozy home, secure with our stack of new CDs -- I'M SO GLAD I LISTENED TO THE KIDS ABOUT GOING AHEAD AND BUYING THEM FRIDAY!

We're thrilled that we met another one of our heroes -- seeing Rick Riordan last October was another one. What a banner year!

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Irish dance performances. Lots and lots of Irish dance performances. I stole these pictures from a friend's mobile uploads, by the way, because I've reached the point of Irish-dance-performance-photo overload, and rarely bother.

(The following is the photo we used to figure out that she took off her missing headband BEFORE we left ST. Clare's, by the way, so it's sort of like forensic evidence.)

And then 2 performances of Mary Poppins, with Annabeth in the role of Mary Poppins. Here she is telling Mr. Banks what's what.

And now we're mostly tired, and trying to catch up on the laundry.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Spontaneous Space and Aerospace class

Late one night it occurred to me that most of Annabeth's co op classes weren't meeting the next day due to various circumstances. Since I had an hour free during the time the science class met I emailed everyone and said I'd do an optional science class about space, which would dovetail with our family's trip to the planetarium. The main criteria for selecting activities was that they required almost no prep and almost no supplies since I didn't have time to mess with that sort of thing.

We started of by looking at the relative size of planets while we were in the classroom (I had the correct supplies for this around the house, and no one in the class was allergic to peanuts). Then we went outside to mark off how far apart the planets were, except we didn't have enough space to do it relative to the peppercorns, etc., so we pretended the sun was actually a half inch in diameter and used that as the number in this javascript . Various kids were holding index cards that had planet names, and they were standing practically shoulder-to-shoulder for the inner planets, then Jupiter, etc., had to go waaay down the parking lot. I thought it was a cool hands on demo that made good use of having a crowd of kids together.

Back inside we calculated their ages on other planets (I had taken in an iPad, but a laptop would've worked just fine, too), which they thought was an absolute riot. We also calculated my age and Thalia's (Thalia had come in to help, which was great because she's good with kids and loves astronomy, but bad because she was sick). We filled out worksheets about what we'd discussed so far. Then we discussed some of the then-current space news -- this was while Discovery was still at the International Space Station, and Captain Kirk had awoken the crew that morning. We mixed up some Tang to toast the occasion

(Really this picture is from supper that night because Annabeth was so enchanted by this whole thing that she drank gallons of Tang all week long.)

Actually we used Dixie cups to drink it in class, as I would've been seriously upset if any of the glasses had gotten broken. By the way, we can't remember where that carafe and glasses came from -- was it the grocery? Did you have to purchase Tang? Maybe the gas station? Also, whatever happened to all the BC glasses we had growing up?

Anyway, we still had time left in our hour, so we turned to the Junior Girl Scout badge book (of course -- you saw that coming, right? since this was a group of 3rd through 5th graders OF COURSE my favorite resource is going to be the Badge Book -- yeah, that book that GSUSA is getting rid of because they're idiots). We had already accomplished part of a couple of badges by discussing the space shuttle, so we used our worksheets to make paper airplanes (Aerospace badge activity #1) under the direction of Thalia, who is a GREAT maker of paper airplanes. Then we put on an air show with them (activity #9 of the same badge).

Once I got home I emailed the parents of the other Junior Girl Scout in the class and listed out how she could finish the Aerospace Badge on her own (e.g., make a glider, make a kite, visit an airport, etc.). Also, March is Women's History Month at NASA For Students, which makes it really easy to complete activity #10 Women Flying High in Space. I also suggested that they start the Sky Search badge while they were at it.

Overall, not bad for throwing together a lesson for a bunch of kids I didn't know in a couple of hours. If I'd had more time I would've done things differently, but I liked a lot of what we did.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


I had decided to teach crochet in the spring to our co-op knitting and crochet class because I like crochet better than knitting when the weather warms up.

By random chance it happened that some of the kids were ready to start learning right before Christmas break. So I got them started. This worked well from the standpoint of working one-on-one with them. I just whipped out crochet hooks and yarn, did a brief demo of finger crochet, showed them how to use a hook to accomplish the same thing, then worked on single crochet into that foundation chain. Much discussion ensued about WHERE TO PUT THE HOOK -- under both loops? Does it matter? Interesting to discover that one of the girls who already crochets was under the impression that it really doesn't matter.

Also, much discussion about HOW TO HOLD THE YARN. I was pretty low key about how they held their yarn for knitting, but for crochet it's nearly impossible if it isn't in the left hand (if you're crocheting with your right hand) and it REALLY REALLY NEEDS TO come around the index finger or some other designated spot ("But, see, my index finger is crooked, so I can't do it that way." "First of all, it's gliding around the finger, so whether or not your finger is crooked doesn't make a difference. Second of all, if you don't want to use your index finger you can use your middle finger, but you're going to have it coming around SOMETHING."). I'd say those 2 things are a MUST (left hand, coming around a finger) but someone somewhere probably does an awesome job crocheting one handed or somesuch -- never say never -- but for these kids in this situation, left hand and yarn around a finger is their best bet.

After Christmas I made little foundation chains for everyone to practice on so they didn't have to mess with that first row, which is the toughest row (just like knitting).

The last time I taught someone to crochet was a couple of years ago when Thalia was working on a Scout project. I showed her how its done, she did it ... the whole lesson took less than 5 minutes. This time, though, I discovered a whole slew of things people could get wrong or be confused about. I've now analyzed every single movement I make with the hook in an effort to explain it to others. Gah. I can see why crochet is taught after knitting in Waldorf schools -- the thought process is different, and some people don't make the leap.

I've told them several times that I want them to learn the basics of crochet, then they can go back to knitting, if desired. Or they can decide to never knit again in their lives, and just crochet. (Or they can ditch both, but only after the class is done for the year.)

Anyway, after our rocky start, observing that people needed a sense of direction like the dishcloths we did in our knitting segment, I decided to show them how to make granny squares. This was taught to those who were interested -- those who'd already selected a project and wanted to work on that were welcome to (one girl who already knows how to crochet extremely well is working on knitting a hat, although she sometimes pauses to help other students with the crochet). I used written directions with a photo (link is pdf). One girl instantly zipped one out, just looking at the photo. Others ... struggled. It was really a range of abilities. So the next week I took ina chart. This really helped a couple of people. Plus it's a good idea to teach how to crochet from a chart, and I wish I'd thought of it before.

Annabeth really took off with the granny squares after this, making up an idea for mitts

and a matching headband.

Next up I plan to teach how to crochet amigurumi. I've had Annabeth giving it a try. We started out using patterns from Amigurumi World because I thought it was nice that you could make so many different animals from the same basic shape. Annabeth made a pink cat to try out the directions for me, since she's a beginner.

She did okay with it, but it occurred to me that some people in the class are going to really struggle -- they question each time they have to put the hook in a different stitch, they are somewhat unable to count rows and stitches, they question everything. I'm more the sort to say, "give it a whirl and see what happens, and if it isn't right rip it out and try again," but some people are so intense you'd think we're building nuclear reactors out of crochet; they're so wound up about whether they about doing everything EXACTLY RIGHT whilst concurrently unwilling to take responsibility for putting their crochet hook in the wrong stitch. Ack. It's exhausting to think about.

So I decided to do the Lion Brand egg cozy, which has less shaping and doesn't use safety eyes (a whole 'nuther potential for heartache, since once you put safety eyes in they're STUCK and can't be moved). This guy is festooning a plastic Easter egg, so he's tilty. Plus I sewed his ears on crooked, which I thought was sort of jaunty.

I used part of a cotton ball for the tail.

In the meantime, Annabeth pondered what she now knew about crochet ovoid shapes, and pondered one of her classmate's desire to crochet baby booties, and made up a pattern:

We need to take them next door to see how they work on baby feet.

She also made up a pattern for slippers for herself (another classmate wanted to find a pattern for slippers):

See, this is what is fun about crochet -- early in the game you can just mess around and make up your own stuff, assuming you're willing to accept the risk of make a total mess. I hope others in the class try designing their own stuff, too. I decided to take in some swatches so they could see the difference between, say, single crochet (on top) and double crochet (on bottom) and start to think about how they drape differently, how they curl, how would they work -- all handy things to know when designing, or, for that matter, deciding whether or not to crochet a particular pattern.

In the meantime, Thalia was inspired to use the Amigurumi World pattern for a pear

which she named George. I thought it should be named Malcolm (after Malcolm Reed on Star Trek Enterprise, of course).

And I've been working on more crochet collars for the Choreography Team dresses

which I've also taken in to class to show the kids. Again, perhaps it will inspire someone to try something new. Crochet is such a HUGE subject, and there are so many things to try. Too bad we don't have time to try them all.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Junior Girl Scout Making It Matter Badge

Annabeth has been working on this badge for a while now --back in January we made polymers and looked at ball bearings (activities 1, 2, and 4), we used one of our Snap Circuit sets to make various door chimes and alarms (activity 3).

Today we worked on activity 8, Base-ic Facts.

We chopped up red cabbage

and poured boiling water over it, then let it cool for 10-15 minutes.

We then used the water as a pH indicator. It turned blue with a base (baking soda in water)

and red with an acid (vinegar).

Then we tried mixing the 2

and once it stopped fizzing we got it back to its original purple.

Although after it sat for awhile it turned blue again.

We were having so much fun we started rummaging around the house for other stuff we could test.

Left to right: Windex, baking soda, fingernail polish remover (almost the exact color of the control cup above it), vinegar, Zevia lemon-lime soda.

So. Much. Fun. I was a little nervous about pulling out the Big Guns of cleaners, like ammonia and bleach. But guess what -- when I picked up Thalia after her classes this afternoon I asked her, "so what did you do today?"

"Chopped up red cabbage, and used it to test pH of various stuff, like toilet bowl cleaner, ammonia, lemonade ...."

Then, to finish up the badge, Annabeth took a look at CAD (activity #10). Since she's currently interested in architecture, we looked at YouTube videos showing how CAD is used in architecture, interior design, and landscaping. We found dozens of tutorials and adverts for various CAD programs -- it's a goldmine of examples.

And another science badge done. Just in time, too, since GSUSA is retiring all of the science badges over the next several months. I'm hoping they're replacing them with something awesomely cool made in conjunction with, say, Society of Women Engineers, featuring even more hands-on projects like we've been enjoying. Realistically, though, I expect to see a bunch of insipid "imagine a world made only of girls" (a phrase to that effect is in one of the new Journeys, prompting Thalia to rather acidly ask, "wouldn't that world die out in about a generation?" -- yep, science at its finest, GSUSA!) Not to imply that GSUSA is making a mistake by getting rid of the cool parts of the scouting program and instead filling it with twaddle and drivel the kids make fun of, but, um, well ... ahem, I'm just glad we get a chance to work on this stuff while we can still have fun while earning badges.

EDITED TO ADD: Okay, I was just looking at the list of discontinued badges, and this one isn't listed after all. Several (most?) of the science badges are being discontinued, but this one has made the cut. For now.