Friday, May 29, 2009

Educational Summary of our History Quest

We had a great time at the movie Tuesday. Also loved the Museum of American History. Immediately after we exited the Star Spangled Banner exhibit, there was a costumed reenactor portraying the building of the flag - We sat and watched (and TJ participated) as she described her life, how she had to work in the nearby malthouse to have enough room to build the huge flag - it's 42 feet fly (meaning wide in flag terms, who knew?). Very cool. TJ volunteered to help her place a star on the blue bunting. He also helped provide a few names of the 15 states represented by the 15 stars on the flag. They also had a very nice exhibit about the country at war - we didn't make it very far before someone needed to use the restroom, and someone else started complaining. That brings us to a discussion of the hazards of field trips.

Challenges to our 18 sites in 16 weeks plan:

1. Fatigue. I had no idea how exhausting some of these field trips would be. After spending all day at the National Mall, we are usually wiped out for a good day and a half. It was worse when we started (midwinter), since our bodies weren't used to all the walking (and my kids are run around the neighborhood every day kind of kids)! We have built up stamina as we progressed, (Tuesday, Emma didn't ask to be carried at all) but a big field trip makes the next school day quite a challenge because we're all grumpy and tired. I don't know how far away the buildings are from one another, but Tuesday it took us about 45 minutes to walk back from the Air and Space Museum to our truck in the parking garage right off the Mall. We were taking our time, granted, but it was still a long walk.

2. Related to number one - scheduled field trips break up the monotony of a week of math, grammar, music, etc. but they also affected our school routines. After a big field trip (particularly the out of town trips), it seemed to take a couple of days to get the kids back into the routine of school work. This doesn't mean I let them off the hook - it just means much more complaining and resistance from them.

3. Cost - we were able to foot the expenses for these trips, but they were significant at times. No matter how we go into town (metro or driving), it seems to take about 20 dollars. We found it was quicker to just drive in and pay to park, than to worry about the metro (2 dollars per person each way off-peak hours plus 4.50 for parking, and takes longer). If you don't pack a lunch, add that cost, if the kids want snacks or souveniers, add that cost. We almost always packed lunches, and limited both snacks and souveniers (mainly I picked up a couple of books to supplement our curriculum) and it was doable. But you have to plan ahead.

4. I thought my kids were just the right ages for this kind of experience. Now I'm thinking Emma and sometimes Nathan were a bit too young. Nathan learned a lot, but he fatigues easily and complained a lot. However, he appears to have retained information gained during field trips - at least the major points. He knows about Trenton, the Delaware river crossing, Yorktown, etc. We were able to get around the complaining if dad came along, or if our cousins were with us. This is a great help if you have some reticent kids.

So, What did they learn?

That's a really good question. It's hard to gage the answer, really. I have more empathy for teachers and test builders. I know my kids learned and experienced a lot, but I wasn't always sure what questions to ask to engage their knowledge and understanding. In the end, I went with lots of open-ended questions and fewer fact/date questions in a structured interview. I wrote down most of their responses - because they just couldn't supply in writing all the details I wanted.

Here's a summary

Emma: Emma was able to tell me the name of the first president of the United States (GW), and the author of the Declaration of Independence (TJ). Thomas Jefferson was her favorite person we studied because "he liked flowers." She remembered the names of a few field trips to talk about them, but I'm not sure she remembers the earliest field trips. At the time, she loved Mount Vernon, but describing the visit to her recently, she just looks at me funny. I do hope that she brings from the experience a love for adventuring and seeing new places, and learning new things.

Home school in general: Reading skills have improved - she can now tackle easy readers (level 1 books) and often read most of the words on the page. I think she's done well. She can do simple addition and subtraction using concrete objects to count. She seems to enjoy learning the notes on the piano, and playing simple pieces from our entry level piano book. I think she misses the social interaction with friends and teachers at school. At home, she gets lots of negative attention from her brothers, she could use a spot of positivity from people unrelated to her.

Nathan: Nathan's favorite field trips were Mount Vernon, the Franklin Institute, and Jamestowne.
TJ's were Franklin Institute, Jamestowne/Yorktown, and the Dinosaur & Caves IMAX movies we watched (at Museum of Natural History and Franklin Institute, respectively)

I asked both boys to describe what they think were the most significant events we studied that contributed to the success of the colonists and their eventual freedom. Nathan listed the Declaration of Independence - because "It showed our independence", the Battle of Yorktown, where the British surrendered, and the capture of Trenton - because he thought that the soldiers followed the Delaware river all the way to Yorktown (which is not true, but at least he got the fact that the Delaware river crossing was near Trenton).
TJ listed the Battle of Saratoga - because it brought the French to our aid, the Boston Massacre - because it made the Americans very, very (fighting) mad at the British, The battle of Cowpens - because it made us less afraid of Tarleton and the British, and Knox getting the guns from Ticonderoga - we took back Boston. Honestly, much of this information TJ learned from his own reading. The only battle sites we toured and learned about in some detail were Yorktown and Trenton. We did have some wonderful books that helped him learn at his own quick pace.

When I asked what they thought about the fact that both TJ and GW were slave holders, Nathan wrote "I know GW feed his slaves. Why didn't TJ free his? Maybe because he wanted his slaves to learn at his house, with all his books and stuff."
TJ said "I don't think it's good."

Side note: We didn't spend a lot of time talking about slavery or indentured servitude, but we did discuss these issues, and the fact that about 30-40%of the English heading for the Jamestowne colony prior to about 1770 were indentured servants. By 1770's, slave labor became readily available, and indentured servitude was on the decline. Slavery was a huge issue even in colonial times, and Thomas Jefferson condemned the practice in his original draft of the Declaration of Independence. (the section was deleted). He also attempted to end the practice as president, but failed by one vote. Slaves counted as 3/5 a person for purposes of determining how many congressional representatives were to be had in a particular state, according to the Constitution. While we didn't get to the civil war, I wanted the boys to have some understanding that the slavery issues was long and complicated and disagreements about the practice predated the civil war by 70 years. I also wanted them to understand that the quest for freedom and equality didn't end with the revolutionary war - at that point, women weren't allowed to vote (and didn't get that right for a long time). Slaves & indentured servants obviously weren't allowed to vote, and even children didn't have the same opportunities then. But it was an important beginning. See? Even mom learned something:)

I also asked which aspects of colonial life they would have liked and disliked most had they lived at that time. Liked: TJ said he would have liked not having to have a fishing license, no gun laws or restriction (he's a big field and stream reader, he's pretty current with gun legislation), easier to claim land. Nathan said "riding horses, peace with the indians".

Disliked: TJ: "Lots of poverty. I would not have liked lack of hygiene (bathing), (lack of) medical knowledge, toilet knowledge." I think he had a pretty clear picture about what life was like then:) Nathan just wrote: "British" and "Slavery".

I loved that both boys seemed to understand some of the critical issues facing the army at Valley Forge. I asked, why do you think the soldiers perservered? Both said "Because they had a taste of freedom." This was a line from a reading about Von Steuben, and how he adjusted his training to be most effective with the Americans.

I asked if they had read about a time when it seemed likely God intervened in behalf of the colonists (hey, it's homeschool, I can mix religious questions in!) Nathan thought maybe the Delaware River crossing was one example. TJ thought it was when Baron Von Steuben and the French came to America's aid.

Nathan's 3-4 favorite people we studied were Ben Franklin - because he was a scientist, sent Von Steuben to Washington, and found electricity in lightning, George Washington-he was brave, led an army into Trenton, took over Yorktown, and crossed the Delaware in a big thunderstorm; and Thomas Jefferson - author of the Declaration of Independence, he wanted people to research and learn how to read, and he hated the British.
TJ's favorites were: Daniel Morgan - "because he whipped Banister Tarleton (the meanest man in America)", was thoughtful, a woodsman, and a rifleman. Francis Marion - Because "He drove BT nuts," and he was deceptive, smart, and sneaky. Lafayette - because he was "cool", one of the first French to come help us, calm under pressure, Washington's favorite General - shared an emotional bond with Washington.

I aksed how being a patriot child today compared with what it was like for Patriot children then. TJ responded: "Back then a lot more soldiers died in wars...There's not as high a risk that our dad would get hurt. (They're) Always gonna get scraped up, but getting hit or sick doesn't happen to everyone."

What have you liked about our study of colonial history? Nathan said "The colonists won! GW had so much bravery and trust in his troops, and his troops had so much bravery to fight when they were outnumbered." TJ said "I get to hear about cool guys (and a few women)...lots of battles." Disliked: Nathan: "King George's taxes (those were stupid), so many patriots had gotten killed, or died from disease." TJ reported there just wasn't enough information for him. (And I seriously picked up nearly every educational children's book I found on the topic! - I'll have to give you our reading list!)

So, all in all, I'm pleased with what they have learned. I think I'm most excited that the children have been so enthusiastic about the material. I think TJ in particular has developed a thirst for historical knowledge. He's certainly able to pick up a lot from his independent readings - he just needs interesting, appropriate books. That may be the challenge for me in the future. For me, the experience has been fantastic. I have loved reading and learning right along with the children. The more I learn, the more I appreciate how miraculous it was that the patriots were victorious. They were outnumbered, barely trained, out gunned, unsupplied, and in every way out matched. Only through herculean and inspired efforts were they able to prevail. Makes you think about the significance of personal freedom as motivation, and the importance of visionary leaders like George Washington. To me it also seems that God had a hand in this struggle, that he encouraged the cause of freedom here. He inspired leaders, he supported the troops, he planted the desire for liberty and justice. I hope we as a nation can always have Him on our side.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pictures Weeks 1-8

Nathan at the Korean War Memorial

Tired kids after running up the stairs at the Lincoln Memorial

WWII Memorial

Week 8, Cherry Blossom Festival

Washington Monument from the Tidal Basin

Thomas Jefferson Memorial from the Tidal Basin

Week 7, the Franklin Institute, with Aunt Erin and cousins Sam and James

Building Mars Rovers at the Franklin Institute

The Foucault Pendulum

Mom and TJ with Ben

Our trip to Trenton, still week 7

The Delaware Crossing site

The old Barracks Museum, Trenton

Leesylvania State Park, dipping our feet in the Potomac, Week 6

The National Zoo, Week 5 Giant Pizza Play area

Giant Panda eating bamboo

What should we see first?

The Pope-Leighey House, Week 4

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Week 3

Lunar Lander

Mount Vernon Educational Room, Wouldn't they make some fine colonial children? Week 1

Stables at Mount Vernon

A sideways glance at Mount Vernon

Our first field trip, we can hardly wait!

Monday, May 25, 2009

More Homeschooling updates

OK, we're finally to May! These are our most recent trips:

Week 12 - Monticello

We have friends living in Charlottesville, so it seemed like a good idea to visit with them and have a field trip too. Monticello is stunning (and we've been some amazing places this spring). Well, we drove up and promptly locked our keys in the truck (which really didn't start off the day on the right foot). Luckily, our friends are AAA members, and made a phone call to get everything righted so we could enjoy ourselves. Monticello is Italian for "little hill", and the home itself does sit up on a hilltop. At the bottom of the hill is a complex of museums, gift shop, cafe, children's educational room, etc. - all recently built, lots of green technology. Tracy took pictures of the buildings themselves, they were so beautiful. We hung out with the kids in the educational room, where they could play and learn - one tool/toy was a replica of Jefferson's Polygraph machine - essentially a machine with two styluses (I have no idea what the correct plural form is for stylus) you write with one and the other makes an exact copy. That's one reason we know so much about TJ, he kept copies of the letters he wrote. He also had a clock that could tell the days of the week. Anyway, then we jumped in the shuttle van that takes you to the top of the hill where you tour the house. You would have to see the view, it's remarkable. The foyer is full of Native American artifacts, courtesy of the Lewis and Clark expedition. We also saw his library (he loved to read - and in fact donated his personal library to the country - his personal collection formed the basis for the Library of Congress. Saw his room, dining room, a couple of sitting rooms, a guest room. He also built large patios on both sides of the house where they held parties and dancing. Like other patriots I've read about, he died in debt, and Monticello and many of his possessions were sold after he died, I believe. He was an avid horticulturalist, and huge gardens lined one side of the house - probably 2 football fields worth of vegetable gardens. We walked down the hill and saw the family grave site. Jefferson was specific about his tombstone - he wanted only three things noted: That he was the author of the Declaration of Independence, the author of the Virginia statute of religious freedom, and the founder of the University of Virginia. Believed strongly that public education was critical to the continuation of a free society, and from what I've read so far, he wasn't overly fond of many of the organized religions of his day, though he was a spiritual man. In the biography I've been reading (well, slowly leafing through), apparently he at one time went through the New Testament and compiled all of the sayings and teachings of Jesus - basically cut and pasted them to study Christianity at its purest. Thomas Jefferson seems a bit more complicated a man than Washington. We came away from Mount Vernon feeling like we really understood the type of man GW was, the many virtues he possessed that made him a great leader, etc. But seeing Monticello didn't completely make clear who this man was (though he seemed to be good at everything from music to educational pursuits to gardening). An enigma of sorts, I guess. Must finish book, I guess. It was a great trip, and it was so nice to see our friends:)

Week 13 - Valley Forge

Back to Philadelphia - Valley Forge had been on our list since the beginning, and we attended a special day for homeschoolers. There were probably close to 80 homeschoolers who showed up. We met at the welcome center, where a park service guide dressed as a colonial soldier lined the kids up and taught them a few basic drills. Then we marched to the top of the hill to see some of the sights. Valley Forge was a hill top (not a valley), so it was more easily defensible. the British never attacked - but GW had several redoubts built just in case. Again we learned about how these were built (the kids had seen this before at Yorktown). TJ was the only one of all the homeschoolers there who knew the earthenworks forts were called redoubts - go TJ! Anyway, then we marched on to the top where there were several of the cabins the kids could see. We split into smaller groups and learned about the clothing worn by the soldiers, what they ate, saw a replica of an outdoor bread oven, watched them fire the muskets, and learned more about army life. Then, just before the heavens opened and it started to pour down rain, we jumped into Aunt Erin's van and took a driving tour of the rest of the park. One of our favorite Revolutionary war stories was the story of Von Steuben training the American troops. We saw the parade field where he drilled the soldiers, with a statue commemorating his accomplishments. Cool.

That was going to be our last week. We were completely dead tired. At home we started to wrap up our discussion about revolutionary war era, and I asked the kids to think about some of the events they thought were critical to the Patriots' success. I even did a formal little interview to try to get a sense of their understanding and memory of events. I'll post about those results in a bit.

Week 14 - Leesylvania again -
This time we caught the visitor's center open, and spent a few minutes inside, mainly pestering the ranger about local animals (many of which TJ expressed a desire to shoot, which went over well, I'm sure).

Week 15 - Biking the George Washington Parkway

There is a lovely bike/jogging trail that goes the length of the George Washington parkway - from Mount Vernon to the Capital Building, I believe. We only biked a short portion of it, a little north of Mount Vernon. Again, we were right on the Potomac river. TJ stopped every hundred yards or so to look for a good fishing spot. At times we biked over marshy areas with wild iris. It was a cool, sunny day, perfect for riding. Right at our turn around point, Nathan wrecked. He had some major road burn to his elbow and knee, and screamed bloody murder. We were fortunate that two nice pedestrians rushed to our aid - one was a nurse, the other had a first aid kit in her car. Between the two of them, we soon had Nathan fixed up pretty well. He is his daddy's boy, and became really woozy as they were working on him. Then he was fighting mad. He actually walked about 100 feet ahead of me as I was walking his bike and scooter, which was good because then I couldn't hear him muttering about how he was never getting on a bike again, and how his day was ruined, etc...

That's it. Tomorrow is our final field trip - we're going to see the new Night at the Museum movie, at the Smithsonian museum! I downloaded a treasure hunting map so we can see some of the artifacts featured in the movie, then see the actual movie! How cool will that be? We will spend some time in the Museum of American History - we haven't been there yet, then maybe walk through the castle, and meander our way to the movie. Seems like a fitting end to our adventures.

I'm quite happy with all we've done. My sister and her children are coming to visit and sight see in a few weeks, and so we'll head back into the city to see more. We're trying to get tickets to see the White House (which have to be ordered months ahead of time) and the capital building. I'd also like to see the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the National Gallery, and I want to go up inside the Washington Monument. But hey, those are they only things on our original list that we haven't seen yet.

So, there are several logistical pointers I would give to anyone contemplating visiting these historical sites.
1 - Avoid weekends. The middle of the week was so much less crowded - the kids could see the museum artifacts, and I wasn't too paranoid they'd become separated from me and get lost. The one weekend we went in with our friends was completely crazy busy. Getting a stroller around the Museum of Natural History was nearly impossible.

2- Figure our parking in advance (particularly true for the National Mall). In DC, there is almost no free parking. The chances you can find a free parking spot are slim, unless you really plan a lot of driving around and waiting time.

3 - Understand traffic flow, and be careful about peak hours. For us, we used HOV lanes in and out of the city, which works very smoothly, even close to rush hour. But when there are no HOV lanes available, driving can be an absolute mess. Avoid trying to get anywhere Friday afternoons.

Homeschooling update

Wow. I can't believe I am so behind. Well, yes I can, actually....paperwork is not my strongest point. I meant to be all organized with this homeschool thing, to blog after each field trip - since I make the kids journal after each one.
We are now heading into probably our last week of school and last solo field trip. I planned to stop 3 weeks ago, because we were exhausted, but we have managed to get out of the house and have a couple of adventures close to home.

OK, week 6 - Leesylvania State Park

This is a beautiful park, close to home, on the banks of the Potomac River. There are hiking trails that lead to the site of some old homes. Lighthorse Harry Lee (father of Gen. Robert E. Lee) lived here, hence the name Leesylvania. There are the remains of an old Civil War redoubt. We'd already seen this, and were so tired, the kids basically hung out on a little strip of beach and gathered shells and made sand castles. We came back this past month and went through their visitors center.

Week 7 - Philadelphia: Trenton Old Barracks, Washington Crossing Site, and the Franklin Institute

Stayed with Aunt Erin and Uncle John for a couple of days. The first day, the kids and I drove to Trenton and went through the Old Barracks Museum - The colony of New Jersey had errected the barracks during the French and Indian war to house british troops, and there were some hessians staying there during the battle of Trenton. It was a bit expensive, but a great tour! A costumed interpretor showed us through the building and spent a lot of time telling us exactly how the battle of Trenton went down. No, the Hessian troops were not drunk. They were trained soldiers, and would not have shirked their responsibilities so completely. Washington's forces were victorious because they had a greater number of soldiers, had some element of surprise, and had the better plan. Also, the hessians had failed to errect redoubts or fortifications to which they could have retreated when the conflict started. So they had nowhere to run once Washington showed up. It was really a great military victory for the colonies. After the town was captured by the rebel forces, Washington turned it into a military hospital. He had the troops innoculated for small pox. There was a small surgical room there where another costumed interpretor told us all about the medical practices of the day, including how exactly they went about the small pox vaccinations. When he got around to explaining about trephining (drilling a hole in a person's skull to decrease pressure after a head injury), TJ stood up, pale and woozy and told us he was ready to leave. My own knees were feeling a bit weak. I guess you can sometimes get too much information....

We then drove by the Washington Crossing site - didn't go through any of the visitors centers but took some pictures. The Delaware river is quite wide at that point. They certainly wouldn't have been able to ford it on horses or foot. It was impressive to think about what that place would have looked like with big chunks of ice floating around in the middle of a Nor'easter. Not a place I would have wanted to be.

The next day we went to the Franklin Institute - this was one of the kids' favorites. There's a rotunda with a large marble statue of Ben Franklin, and many of his well known quotes are flashed on the sides of the room. Walking past the rotunda you go into the science museum - there's a wing about the human body with a giant heart you can climb through following the path that the blood takes as it is circulated through the heart and lungs. There's a giant foucalt's pendulum that hangs the length of the 3 or 4 story staircase, with domino-like pegs around it that it gradually knocks down during the course of the day as it is acted upon by the rotation of the earth. We also went into a wing called Newton's loft, with different hands-on physics experiements about light, force, momentum, etc. Very cool! Saw an IMAX movie - Amazing Caves.

Week 8 - Cherry Blossom Festival at the National Mall

We'd already been to the mall a couple of times to see the museums, but I just couldn't help coming down when the cherry trees were in bloom. This was probably one of my favorite days. The cherry trees were a gift from Japan, and the majority of them surround the tidal basin, to the Southwest of the Washington Monument. We strolled around the sidewalk along the tidal basin, which was covered in pink blossoms, and when the wind blew, pink petals fell like snow. It was amazing. We rented a paddle boat and spent an hour eating our lunch and paddling around the tidal basin. Saw the Thomas Jefferson memorial from the water. Watched the planes coming in overhead (there's an airport close by). Even saw a few white house helicopters fly by. After our time was up, we continued west and saw the WWII memorial, which was very impressive, walked along the reflecting pool, and to the Lincoln Memorial. Then back to the truck via the Korean war memorial with the granite wall that reads "Freedom is not free". For our synthesis project we wrote haikus about our field trip. Here are a couple:

Emma: Trees are pink and white
Far away, the flowers, red
They looked like popcorn.

TJ: Paddle boats are fun
But if you monkey around
You will surely flip.

Nathan: Paddle boats are fun
For they have interest in mind
They energize me.

Me: Cascading snowflakes
Sunrise-colored, fluttering
Trees sing welcome spring.

So, I gave them the first line (and Emma a little more help), but I thought they did well!

Week 9: Annapolis

Annapolis is a beautiful town. There is a nice historic section with a couple of museums right along the dock. We spent a little time wandering around a museum, then walked to the Naval Academy and saw the chapel there. The kids fell in love with the Naval Academy. Budding Navy seals, they tell me. Then we took a quick boat tour of the harbor and saw the seaside of the Naval academy, almost to the place where the river meets the chesapeake bay. Came back and walked up to the historic capital building - the oldest continuously used capital building in the U.S. It was a little funny to be walking in the same door as several people in suits were using. Annapolis was actually the nation's capital for a few months. This was the place where Washington resigned his commission. Saw the room, heard the story about why that event was significant - in most countries in Europe, the victorious military commander would become the leader of the government - declare himself king. Washington certainly had the public support if he had wanted that. But I believe he had a vision of a country founded on freedom. So he resigned his commission as commander of the patriot forces and put the power back in the hands of the elected government. As we were leaving, saw the original of one of the famous paintings portraying this event. Very cool.

Week 10
This was househunting week. We drove all over looking at houses. We were seriously exhausted. We had also spent 3 hours in traffic coming home from Annapolis. It was awful. You have to respect and plan around the freeway system here or it will bite you. I think I actually composed a traffic haiku, I'll have to find it. Anyway, this week was spring break for the neighborhood kids, so we had kind of an easy week as well. We did go see a movie - Monsters vs. Aliens. Can't really justfiy that as an educational experience, though.

Week 11. This was a big week. Tracy came with us, we left Tuesday morning after making sure all the initial paperwork and our offer on a new house was completed. Drove to Williamsburg. Wandered around the town a little. This was a differently organized place than I'd ever seen. Historic Williamsburg is a collection of colonial era homes that were rebuilt (only a couple of structures were existing after fires and the moving of the capital to Richmond) based on the original plan of the town. You purchase tickets that allow you to enter some of the historic buildings (some I think are even private residences) and the rebuilt Governor's palace. It was furnished as it when Lord Dunmore (the last british appointed governor) lived there. We wandered around to get a feel for the place that afternoon, then went back to our hotel to rest. The next morning we went to Yorktown, and spent the morning touring the National Park service park and museum there, with the rebuilt redoubts and seige lines. We went into the town itself and ate lunch at a cute little place in the historic part of the town. That afternoon we came back into Williamsburg and toured the Governor's palace, with it's very impressive wood and marble entryway. There were hundreds of swords, muskets, and pistols lining the walls. An impressive show of force. The tulips were blooming in the gardens. Saw the live production in the streets that portrayed different events that occurred in the town - such as when the british took the town, and Benedict Arnold came in and lectured the residents about the british terms. There was a discussion about religious freedom between two ministers, some discussion between slaves about who would fight for the british (who promised freedom to any slaves who fought on their side). The next morning we drove to Jamestowne - the National Park - I can't say enough about how beautiful it was at all these places - the dogwood trees were in bloom, everything was green - you can see why early settlers thought they had landed in the garden of eden. Were part of a great forest service tour that talked about the early history of Jamestowne, saw the archeologists there on site digging (they found an artifact while we were there - a handle of a small tool). Our park service guide talked about the founding of the house of burgesses in 1619 - the first representational government here (predating the pilgrims by a year). talked about the drought that was likely present for many of the early years of the colony, and contributed to the problems between the settlers and the powhatan indians and the poor survival rate of the colonists. It was fantastic - very memorable to be hearing about the problems they faced there at the site. It was a beautiful spring day, but windy and cold, and one could easily imagine the natural challenges faced by the settlers. On the way from the visitor's center, we walked on an elevated walkway across the swamp to get to the landing site and site of the first fort. I hear it's still nasty during the summer with biting flies. Saw the rebuilt, operating glass blowing site. Awesome.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Homeschooling update

We are greater than one third of the way through our 18 sites in 18 weeks program. I can't believe how quickly time flies! I really truthfully thought I'd be able to blog more regularly, but with all the kids at home, my time is limited. So, here is another update about the most recent sites we've visited.

Week 3: Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
This week we experimented with an alternate way into the city. We drove to a metro site and rode the metro in. I haven't been on a metro for several years, and trying to figure out the smart cards (we had two - thanks Matt and Mary!) and get us all on the train before it left was a bit of a mess. I didn't find out until we were coming home that each child needed their own card. Anyway, we did make it there and home all right. Metro trips off peak ran about two dollars a person each way, with an additional $4.50 parking fee. The trip took a little longer, too. All in all, I'm not sure it's the best option for transportation while gas is as inexpensive as it is.
Enough about logistics - the museum was fantastic! They'd changed it since I'd been there in college. There were so many highlights - the original Wright flyer was definately one of them! There was a whole Wright exhibit. Did you know that one of the brothers even played the mandolin? We also saw a moon rock, one of the lunar landers (they built more than one), a planetarium show about the stars visible in the winter/early spring. Another exhibit showed how things fly, and was a series of experments dealing with air pressure and wing shape. Nathan's favorite was a tube of blowing air that kept a small beach ball "floating". The faster air moves, the lower the pressure. The higher pressure outside the blowing column of air kept the ball floating. At least, I think that's how it went. With a plane, the wings are shaped so that the air travelling over a wing moves more quickly than air travelling under a wing, creating lower pressure and lift. There was a museum employee who relayed a story told to him by a high school science teacher who attempted a similar experiement in his classroom with a leafblower and a softball. The leafblower shot the softball through the ceiling panels and into an adjacent class! Science moral: Don't try this at home!
The other exhibit we loved had to do with telescopes and the study of light from space. There were all sorts of fancy gadgets - spectrometers (look at different light waves), and even an infared camera. The kids spent several minutes in front of it looking at their own heat signatures. Very cool. This is definately a place we'll want to bring relatives and friends who visit.

Week 4 - Frank Lloyd Wright Pope-Leighey home
This was a surprisingly interesting trip. We'd done some homework in advance - checked out a couple of books about him, his ideas about architecture, the time in which he lived. He was a very interesting guy, though I didn't share many details about his personal life with the kids. Maybe when they're older. So, by the time we went to see the house, they knew who he was and could appreciate the example of his work. The Pope-Leighey home was one of the small Usonian homes he designed. He believed his ideas could be used to build affordable homes as well as homes for the wealthy. This was built in 1941 for 7,000 dollars. Not bad. It's built on a concrete slab, uses radiant heating (so the floor is warm!). Flat cantilevered roof with overhanging carport. Cyprus wood and brick on outside and inside (he wanted "organic" materials, or materials from the earth). The cyprus wood was affixed to a plywood and tarpaper wall, which was not that thick or strong, so several bends in the walls helped to strengthen them. The walls actually don't support the roof - there were three brick corners or walls that do that (one being the fireplace). He designed the furniture too, mostly made from plywood, but beautiful and utilitarian. Instead of his famous art glass windows, he make wood cut out windows in what looks like native american inspired shapes. Our tour guide gave us about a 45 minute tour and talk (and tried not to freak out when the kids touched the furnishings). The home was moved to the site about 20 or 30 years ago for 700,000 dollars. It had been directly in the path of a proposed highway. We came home and tried a couple of experiments based on his physics - like attempting to support a book by placing blocks in various configurations under it (not at the four corners), and folding a piece of construction paper so that it will be strong enough to support a notebook (it works, try it!). Our synthesis project used different sizes of circles and squares to create a rug design for one of his homes. We looked at one of his rug designs as our idea and made our own. So cool.

Week 5: The National Zoo. Zoo admission: free, Parking: 20 bucks. We chose the nicest day of the week - it was supposed to reach 70 degrees! Saw the giant pandas, river otters, lions, a tiger, seals and sealions, Mexican Wolves, etc. Learned about bamboo. Learned a lot about conservation and pollution. There were great exhibits about how garbage ends up in the ocean, and how long it takes for the water to "break it down". Surprisingly, glass bottles last longest - 100,000 years? I think. Wool socks were 2-5 years. Everything else ranged between. We are avid recyclers, but makes you think about what more you can do. Also showed us how deconditioned we were. By the end of the day we were dragging our poor tired bodies up the hill to the car. The coolest thing - they had this place called the think tank - a separate experiment house for the orangutans - and connecting the think tank to the ape house was a series of 40 ft. towers with cables. When they feel like it, the orangutans climb up the cables and swing over to the think tank, where scientists do experiments with them (symbolic language and preferences). We didn't get to see them swing, or see any of the experiments, but we did see a video tape of one study about preferences. This was definately not your ordinary zoo.

We had friends from Texas who came to visit, and we took them into the city again that weekend. Saw a bit more of the Natural History Museum and found a parking garage where I can actually park my tall truck. Hooray! It may be 20 bucks, but this is a good solution to our transportation issues.

Ok, have to run make lunch for the kids. Will update about the next two weeks' trips later.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

homeschooling update

I really meant to give a brief weekly update, but here two weeks have passed and I only have a few minutes. I guess I'll just have to hit the high points.
Highpoint 1: Mount Vernon. That was just the coolest place! I went in expecting to get to tour the home and walk around the grounds and see a few boring exhibits. It was so much better. The tour of the home went quickly - a bit too quickly, I think the guides are used to shuttling people in and out of there quickly, so they really only opened up if they were asked questions. TJ asked about a small play cannon in GW's library - turns out ship captains navigating the Potomac often shot their cannons (or whatever the equivalent was for non-military vessels) as they passed Mt. Vernon out of respect for GW. So he'd take his little cannon and fire back. He also had a key to the Bastille (french prison) given to him by someone (I forgot that part) who respected his role in obtaining the freedom of his people. But the educational experience, that was really cool. They had all kinds of multimedia exhibits - an age regression on the plaster mask GW made when he was alive, so there are a few life size likenesses that show how he looked as a younger man. Then there was the revolutionary battle movie where it actually snowed in the theatre, the playroom for the kids with a Mount Vernon doll house and colonial costumes and an educational resource room for teachers. They counted me as a homeschool mom and loaded me up with lesson plans and activities. So, after you finish with the educational experience, there is this innocuous looking hallway that talks about the history of the preservation of Mount Vernon, which started by a group of women in the 1850's. I think they are called the Mount Vernon Ladies Society or Association, or something like that. A woman from South Carolina figured that if the men could draft the Constitution, the women could save Mt. Vernon. Knowing civil war was iminent, she put together a committee from 12 different states, so most states and many people were represented. Together they raised 200,000 dollars (in 1850!!!!). They purchased the mansion from the Washington family and started the preservation process. So, about 1910, guess who designed and installed the first electric lighting system? Thomas Edison. Seriously! And Henry Ford brought them their first fire truck and made sure fire hydrants were present on the property. The Ford Foundation has been a supporter ever since. Apparently, this was the beginning of efforts to preserve our historic buildings and sites. I guess it's only fitting that we started there.
We had a great time! We'd done enough prep work before hand that the kids were familiar with GW and what was going on at the time, and could use the experience to really expand their understanding. Ok, well Emma thought the coolest part was seeing a pair of his dentures...
For a synthesis project, we talked about the qualities that made GW a good leader, and gave some examples. Then we discussed how the people wanted to honor GW after his death and designed and built a monument for him. The kids designed and built their own monuments (TJ and Emma). Nathan chose another option and made a beautiful drawing of Mt. Vernon.

Week 2: This week's field trip was the Museum of Natural History on the Mall. I attempted to drive there. If you know the area, you know this was mistake number one. all the parking garage attendants waved me off (the LC is too tall). We drove around for an hour until we found a parking spot. That didn't put any of us in the best of humors. But still, it's so exciting to actually be there. We parked in front of the Washington Monument, bought a big pretzel in one of the little snack shops, and the kids chased the pidgeons. The dinosaur fossils were great too. Hit of the trip was the 3-D Imax movie about dinosaurs of patagonia. I think TJ could have wandered around for hours, Nathan, Emma and I were done pretty quickly, though. We did see the hope diamond. Our synthesis project for week two was to draw and name your own dinosaur - describe it's characteristics, habitat, food, etc. TJ really got into it and called my sister because he wanted his dinosaur to have a latin name. We tried several different variations and came up with Oculocalumniacapprofundus Baca Raptor (or false eye thick headed fruit thief). Chewbaca Raptor, for short.

Next week, Air and Space Museum - we may try to actually go up into the Washington Monument as well. We'll see.

A few notes on homeschooling. Some days it works - like Friday. Great day, kids got right to work. But some days are not so great. It's very hard to resist the urge to play, and to realize that home school is not just an excuse to stay home and play. But I think as we go, there will be more good days and fewer not so good days. Already, the kids are taking to music well. I've been teaching Nathan and Emma some basic piano. They love that they are starting to learn some simple songs and like to play them independently. TJ is playing recorder. He has a whole book of recorder songs and hopes to get proficient enough to switch to a fife and play during Tracy's reenactments (Spanish American war era).
Well, time to sign off. will recap next week.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

18 sites in 18 weeks

"The only school I want to get into is a school of crappie*." TJ

18 sites in 18 weeks

We are about to embark on our first (and probably only) homeschooling adventure. We have moved yet again, and yet again during the middle of the school year. This makes 4 (count them, 4) elementary schools in 4 different states for TJ, my 4th grader; 3 for Nathan, and really, 3 for Emma too - counting the 6 months of pre-K at the elementary school in KY.

We are also planning on moving this summer - finding a home to buy in the area, which would involve a change of schools again for fall. The kids really hate changing schools. They have been so positive and proactive during this move, but school really gets them down. It takes so long for the teachers to figure them out - what they need, what they don't need, etc. It's very frustrating. So, it seems like the perfect time to try this little experiment.

But really, the most convincing reason for me is that we are living on the East coast, in an area rich with colonial/early American history. Why not learn that by actually visiting these historical sites in person? Wouldn't that be so cool? So, that's our semester theme - 18 sites in 18 weeks. We'll do some pre-reading beforehand, so that we have a frame of reference for the information we'll learn on site. Take vocabulary and spelling words that are topic specific, and lift as much curriculum or educational development from the historical site websites for before and after discussion/projects. I've ordered some math and grammar workbooks so the kids can work at individually appropriate levels. I'm thinking about Spanish, too. Anyone with any recommendations for me? The kids had some exposure to Spanish at their school in KY. They loved it. We'll probably also do some music at home. Emma and Nathan will start piano, TJ can do recorder (he already spent 3 painful years studying piano). Science and fine art sites will be included in our list of 18. I really want to minimize busy work, though. Maybe the kids will figure out that learning isn't about drudgery, it can be fun.

If we can have some good family bonding time as well, I won't complain:)

Wish us luck!

*(for non-anglers, crappie is a fish)