Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Blow, Wind, Blow!

We decided to extend our weather observation from last week by looking more closely into various aspects of the storm more closely.

First, we looked at wind.


Then we opened the two (I don't know why we have two, but we do) boxes of weather experiment kit and built a better rain gauge than the one we made last year, as well as two anemometers.


Why two anemometers?  Well, because the manual one is obviously not good enough so we had to build a fancier, bulb-lighting one.

video

We soon realised that the low-tech one is a lot more practical, because we could stick it in the middle of the lawn and watch the wind cups turn while we had to run out into the blistering wind to put the bulb-lightning one to good use... The lesson for us is obviously not to be seduced by flashing lights.

We then looked into the very sudden, few minutes of strong wind and thunderstorm last week and found that it might have been part of the mini tornado that took place in Harrow, Wales, and Cornwall.


Now, that explains the strange weather!  Even though UK does not normally get the full strength tornadoes like the ones in America,


we have been getting increasing numbers of them year-on-year.  Apparently, there was a sizeable occurrence in Birmingham ten years ago:


So what causes a tornado to form?


 The following documentary does a really good job of explaining it:


Inspired, we conducted a few very simple experiments to help us understand convection currents (the interaction between warm air and cold air that happens in thunderstorms) a little better.


For the first experiment, we filled a glass tray with tap water.  When the water is completely still, we put a few coloured ice cubes at one end and pour a few drops of red food colouring at the other end.  The aim is to observe that the warmer colour (red) rises to the surface of the water while the colder colour (blue) sinks to the bottom.

The second experiment is to simulate the convection cycle to show the movement of warm and cold water that is similar to the interaction between air masses with different temperatures.


Basically what we did was to fill a large jar with cold water, and a plastic cup with very hot water mixed with red colouring.  The plastic cup was then covered with cling film which was held in place by a rubber band.  The plastic cup was lowered carefully into the jar before a slit was made to the cling film with a sharp knife to allow the coloured water (hot) to rise through the cooler water.

video

After a while, the hot water will cool down and move back closer together, then drift down through the larger jar's water.  This movement shows that hot air rises and cool air falls.  It's very straightforward, isn't it?



Just for fun, we made our own super-easy-to-make mini tornado in a jar.

video



This post is linked up to:
  1. Science Sunday: What You Have Been Doing
  2. Hip Homeschool Hop - 1/27/15
  3. History and Geography Meme: Feudalism and Manorialism
  4. Collage Friday: A Typical Week in Foundations
  5. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one with sunshine, emerging routines, and vocabulary cards
  6. My Week in Review #22

Friday, 23 January 2015

A Walk Around Town

One of the many advantages of learning history in the UK is that it is very well preserved everywhere.  While we are currently learning about the Victorians through books


and a documentary,


we are able to take a Victorian-themed guided walk in a historic town, St. Albans, where we can see the various Victorian architecture and buildings while learning the interesting historical development of the town in Victorian times.


Just by living in the UK and observing what's around, most people would be able to recognise Victorian red brick buildings but it was still helpful to have our guide point out a few interesting historical facts about various places.

  1. a typical Victorian angular, red brick building.
  2. a Victorian school building that now a small infant school.
  3. a disused Victorian hat-making factory.
  4. a disused Victorian railway signaling station.
  5. a still-in-use church build in the Victorian times.

There were more to see in and around the town park.

  1. the drinking fountain that was installed in 1894.
  2. the pavillion in the middle of the park where people could sit and rest, or where small-scale performances could be put up.
  3. a horse-racing viewing gallery built by a Victorian aristocrat to entertain his friends and relations.  The horse-racing field in front of the gallery was converted to a cricket ground in the 1970s.

Perhaps the most interesting building we came across on that day was that of the town hall.


The current office (photo 2) was built an extension to the annex of a Victorian prison.  The original Victorian iron railings of the prison building (photo 1) were very visible and well preserved.  The town hall was guarded by a 1840-built, 32-pounder cannon suitably positioned right outside its front door.



This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 1/20/15
  2. History and Geography Meme #151
  3. Collage Friday: Homeschooling an 8th Grader
  4. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one with the first week of workbooks
  5. My Week in Review #21

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

It's Wild Out Here!

When we started our Calendar of Firsts, I expected our lists of sightings to thin out quickly and they sure did, when compared to our initial records.  From our lists in the past week:


  • a flurry of snow
video

  • lightning
  • thunderstorm
  • hail storm
video

 Listen to the noise and see how much hail accumulated on the window sill!

video

  • very strong wind
video

  • iced-over water droplets by 5pm
video


All quite wild (by UK standard), if you ask me.


Looking through our list for the week, I asked Tiger to choose what he would like to draw.  His first choice was to draw the hail storm, which both of us thought was the most interesting thing that happened, weather-wise.  However, I could not find any instruction to draw hail storms, so we settled for capturing the essence of the sudden flashes of lightning in the middle of the week and the thunderstorm that followed immediately afterwards.


As you can see from our entries below, we have taken a fair bit of artistic licence with our Calendar of Firsts.  Our entries probably won't pass the rigourous test of 'Charlotte Mason-style authenticity' (to whom the idea of Calendar of Firsts has been attributed) but doing it our own way has kept our interests up and more importantly, made us feel happy that we have remained true to our (my son's and my) uniquely defiant, non-conformist selves.  I realise that we will probably never become flag-bearers for anyone else's system, no matter how much we admire or are inspired by it.  Luckily, we are very comfortable with adding our personal touches to things/methods so what you see is more of a norm than an exception here!


As before, we noted the first sightings of nature occurrences in our books.  At the end of the week, we chose one or two items from that week's list to draw.  The first item we drew was the lightning, because that the most dramatic natural phenomenon for the week - this says it all, doesn't it?  We actually lead rather placid lives.


Then, Tiger wanted to draw some trees on fire, although we didn't see that happen here, thankfully.  By his logic, lightnight sometimes strikes trees which causes trees to catch fire, so drawing flames would be a suitably relevant addition to our entries:


The last thing we drew was the "Bang!" graphic.  Obviously, any self-respecting real, serious artist would not draw sounds in his/her drawings, but we are not that serious around here so it's ok to add visual sounds to our drawings, and we did hear the loud cracking noise of thunder so I'd consider the visuals as our attempt at a realistic representation of what we heard:


For someone who is looking to replicate exactly the Charlotte Mason-style Calendar of Firsts, our example here would probably 'lead you astray', so to speak.  However, it is an approach that keeps us interested and brings us joy, so it works for us.




This post is linked up to:
  1. Science Sunday #12
  2. Hip Homeschool Hop - 1/20/15
  3. The Virtual Refrigerator
  4. History and Geography Meme: Introduction to the Middle Ages
  5. Collage Friday: Homeschooling an 8th Grader
  6. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one with the first week of workbooks
  7. My Week in Review #21

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Getting a Little Help From Mr. Tolkien

"Mum, may I use your computer to do some research on an aircraft?  I'm writing a mini essay and I need to know a specific detail about this aircraft,"  Tiger asked me a few days ago.

Wow, the boy wants to write an essay?!  Under such unbelievable circumstance, of course I let him use the computer for as long as he liked.  It turned out that he only needed five minutes.

I saw Tiger scribbling down some notes as he said to me, "Writing notes in the margins is a really good idea!"

We have not done as much formal writing as I would like to have so I was curious about where Tiger has learnt that idea from.

"I learnt it from Mr. Tolkien," was his reply.

"Which Mr. Tolkien?"  I pursued.

Tiger said very matter-of-factly, "J.R.R. Tolkien who wrote The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and all the rest of the books I've been reading."


Seeing that I still had a puzzled look on my face, Tiger pointed to a book on the bookshelf and explained, "I finished reading this book last week, and it explains Tolkien's writing process.  He wrote a lot of notes in margins."


I see.

Later that evening, Tiger showed me what he has written on the A4 page.  I am not at liberty to show that piece of writing here so I can only describe it: it is a short paragraph explaining the history of the Hawker Hunter, complete with hand-drawn illustrations showing the plane at various angles, both front view and side view.

I am not surprised at the illustrations since Tiger has been practising his drawing.


I am somewhat surprised at the coherence of his writing, as well as the motivation and tips that he has picked up from his reading of Tolkien's work.  For a boy who strongly prefers to direct his own learning, it is absolutely within expectation for Tiger to pick his own teacher.  I am very glad to see that his years of reading good books have helped to form his ability to identify excellence and beauty in writing.  I can't think of anyone who is more qualified for the job of a writing mentor than Mr. Tolkien is, can you?

Friday, 16 January 2015

Queen Victoria and Her Empire

Two summers ago, we spent a day visiting Queen Victoria's holiday home, Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight.

We finally come to properly studying the Victorian period this time round.   There is so much to learn about this period that I foresee us spending much of this term learning about the various aspects of this significangt time in history.

We started learning about Queen Victoria through various books and documentaries.


Having had some idea of the Victorian times, we looked through some source information on Queen Victoria before I asked Tiger to write a short narration from a two-page spread from our copy of History: The Definitive Visual Guide, and to practise tracing the map of the UK using the relevant outline map from this book.  The idea for map tracing comes from another homeschooling family.  Tiger really enjoys drawing maps so the activity is a good fit for him.  We have since made map tracing a regular activity.


One of the most significant aspects of Queen Victoria's reign was her enormous empire.


We attended a one-day workshop on The Impact of Empire, with the morning session starting at the Museum of London where the children were introduced to how the British empire developed from the Roman times to the Victorian times.


This was followed by an afternoon session at the Museum of London Docklands where the focus of the session became one of trade across the empire and the lives of sailors (mostly from India) living in the Docklands at that time.



This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 1/13/15
  2. History & Geography Meme # 149
  3. My Week in Review #20
  4. Collage Friday - Homeschool Moms: Are We Equipped to Handle the Hard?
  5. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one with the major curriculum change

Friday, 9 January 2015

New Year Firsts


After two weeks of complete rest, and a wonderful New Year's Day breakfast, I thought everyone would be as eager as I was to get back to work.  Apparently not.

Monday was a flop.  I tried to get our routine back in order and was met with a mutiny whereby I was told that it was very unreasonable to start lessons on the first Monday of the first week in a new year.  With such a start, the rest of that day was pretty much a gonner.   I was furious, to be it mildly, but there was very little I could do to force the issue, without causing a permanent damage to our relationship, so I directed my excess energy at tidying up the living room and Tiger's bedroom instead. Well, at least something positive (clean rooms) came out of a negative situation!



Tuesday was not any better, for a different reason.  Tiger was (more) ready to start work but our boiler broke down that day, which meant we had neither hot water nor central heating.  It was one of those timely experiences (since we are studying the Victorians) that we would rather not have, especially when outside looked like this:


The plumber was only available the following day.  With the temperature inside the house being not much higher than outside, and feeling rather ridiculous walking around the house in three or four layers of clothes to keep ourselves warm (just like the Victorians), we decided we might as well be outside.


The rest of the week (or what was left of it) was spent mostly outdoors, observing nature.  It was my way of easing ourselves back to a full workload -- hopefully, that means next week -- and to get reconnected back to ourselves and with nature.


Nature study was sorely lacking last term because I thought we would concentrate on other aspects of science.  I did not think that we would miss it too much, but all of us felt less grounded for not being in nature enough in the past few months.  This year I want to be more intentional about making more time for nature study.

With that in mind, as well as being influenced by a book that I have been reading, I introduced Tiger to the idea of keeping a Calendar of Firsts, which is a list of things that we record as we observe them for the first time in nature.  The idea is that, after a consistent practice of doing this over a number of years, the child would begin to develop an awareness for, or start to identify, certain patterns in nature.  In the middle of this page is a clear example of a Calendar of  Firsts.  Ours are less fancy -- we used the simple slim week-to-view diary that can be bought from anywhere that sells stationery.


Our process for this is very similar to that of keeping a nature journal:
Step 1: take a walk or look out of the window;



Step 2: identify on the spot the plants and animals that are familiar to us;

  1. mallard
  2. moorhen
  3. coot
  4. budding snowdrops
  5. Canada goose
  6. berry-bearing holly
  7. budding crocus

Step 3: take photographs of those that we don't know of;

A few unusual guests at the pond.

  • Photos 1 and 2: These two birds are obviously related to the mallards, but we cannot be sure of their specific names, although we are guessing that they might be a male Gadwell (photo 1) and a female Gadwell (photo 2).
  • Photo 3: The tufted ducks are seldom seen at the pond but there were more than 10 when we visited.  Also very unusual were the hundreds of common gulls there
  • Photo 4: We saw a lone Egyptian goose for the first time.  Its markings are unmistakable, now that we know what it is.


Step 4: identify them at home using guide books or the RSPB bird identifier;



Step 5: put an entry in the Calendar of Firsts.


It started off as a simple list, and the photos above show our record for the past nine days (since January 1st).  Tiger's list and my list are slightly different since our rule is to only record things that we have actually seen/heard by ourselves rather than listing down what someone else has seen.  For example, Tiger saw a Yellowhammer out of his bedroom window this morning, but I did not, so it is on his list and not on mine.

Our lists look very full because it is the beginning of the year, and we are listing everything we see or hear for the first time this year.  I expect our list to thin out as the weeks go by, but it is still amazing to note how much wildlife there are around us, if we actually take notice:

Once we completed our list for each two-page spread, I thought our pages would look prettier with drawings on.  For each spread, I let Tiger choose which animal or plant from the list to draw.  He choose ducks and robin.  Not wanting to turn this into a full-blown nature journaling exercise, we decided to keep our drawing time to under 10 minutes each, by following along the video:



While I drew my pictures in the spaces in my Calendar of Firsts, Tiger drew his in a separate sketchbook:


To each his own is the name of the game, especially around here.


This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 1/6/15
  2. Virtual Refrigerator
  3. My Week in Review #19
  4. Collage Friday: Learning About the Civil War
  5. Weekly Wrap-Up: The One with all the Painting
  6. Science Sunday #11: Vegetative Reproduction
  7. Keeping Company: January Link-Up

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

The Time In-Between

What did we do in-between Christmas and New Year?  We went to... (surprise, surprise!) the IWM London!  Only because it's the kind of place we would go when we don't know what to do with ourselves.


The IWM was reopened last summer to coincide with the First World War Centenary but for whatever reason we have not been there until now.  I must admit that we were not too impressed with the immeidate exhibits at the first instance, only because we have been to places choked full of military exhibits.  However, we went back two more times (that's right, we clocked three visits to the IWM London in the space of two weeks) and were increasingly impressed with the layout as well as the content of the museum, especially the newly opened First World War galleries, which has a long queue outside everytime we were there.


There is so much to see that we will definitely have to go back for more!  While we were there, we visited the Horrible Histories: Spies temporary exhibition before it closed.


My overall impression of this particular exhibition is that it was very entertaining.  The curator obviously tried to present a realistic view of the life of spies in WWII, with all its glory (e.g. the secret weapons) and gore (that spies had to kill innocent people in the process of completing their missions) while not losing the draw for young children.

There have been some controversies around the related series of books lately with regards to them being a cause of children's trivialised view of English history.  While I have let Tiger read all of the Horrible Histories books, we did it with the understanding that:
  1. they would not be his main or only source of history learning;
  2. they are just entertainment; and
  3. he would only read them in the summer, and he completed the whole series three summers ago; and
  4. to be able to appreciate the humour behind the serious topics, one needs to have a solid knowledge of the actual historical accounts.
I probably would not rely on this series as the sole source of history for Tiger, in the same way that I would not dream of teaching history based on the Blackadder series even though I think the people behind the series are exceptionally clever to be able to pull the comedy off.


Besides running to the south of London three times, we spent the last two weeks of 2014 not doing anything that is remotely academic.  It was  a time for all of us to take a complete rest and to do whatever we fancied.  During that period, Tiger spent a lot of time drawing mostly military vehicles, especially fighter jets and dogfight scenes.  He has been sketching from aircraft photos from his library of books and stills from dogfight documentaries.


In his usual autodidatic way, Tiger has been very focused on teaching himself to draw the subjects that interest him.  In my plan for this year, I have hoped to focus on developing our drawing skills but Tiger has told me decidedly that he is not interested to draw still life, the subject that is often covered in beginners' drawing courses, so I have not pushed the matter too hard, except to provide him with the necessary drawing materials and reference books when he asked for them.


Learning in this way, he has since filled out two A2 sketch books (30 pages each) with his numerous drawings and his very recent drawings show much improvement from those in the first pages of his first sketch book.

His latest interest lies in drawing people and faces so I got hold of this little book in which the illustrator's style is very similar to Tiger's early attempts at drawing people.  He has been doing some of the exercises in the book each night before bed with much enthusiasm.


I noted a few things while observing how Tiger goes about teaching himself to draw:
  • that he does not require anybody's permission to start learning;
  • that he does not feel he needs to wait for anybody to come along to teach him;
  • that he knows when he needs more instructions - "I think I can do with a book that shows me how to draw different tanks from start to finish."
  • that he knows what kind of help he needs - "Mum, can you get me a book on how to draw different people and faces?"

This child clearly shows signs of knowing how to learn.


This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 1/6/15
  2. My Week in Review #18
  3. Virtual Refrigerator
  4. Collage Friday: Learning About the Civil War
  5. Weekly Wrap-Up: The One with all the Painting
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