Friday, 29 November 2013

Looking Ahead to December

I feel as though I've been running since September, and I feel I need to slow down and take a breather.  Traditionally I would plan lots of activities for the month of December to take us nicely to Christmas.  This year, I don't feel that I have the energy to repeat the advent activities that we did last year, so I am going to have a slightly more relaxed December this year by not taking on ambitious new projects this time of the year.

Having said this, we aren't going to sit around doing nothing -- although that will probably be nice for a change -- we're just going to not try to do 24 different activities in December.  Plans are not concrete yet, but here is what I am thinking of at the moment, in addition to continuing with a few ongoing projects:

1.  Christmas-related literature
Reading a Christmas-related book and enjoying some activities related to it has become one of our family's traditions in December.  One year we looked at The Legend of the Poinsettia.  For two years running we looked at The Nutcracker.  This year's book selection is A Christmas Carol.

2. Food, Crafts, and Gifts
These three items come together for us in December.  I always encourage Tiger to make his own Christmas cards and bake his own foodie gifts for people.  At a time of rampant consumerism, I'd like Tiger to understand that the true value of a gift has more to do with the sincere efforts of the giver/maker rather than with the monetary value attached to commerical products.

Besides making things for others, we will also spend some time making simple crafts to keep ourselves amused.  Nothing too fancy or complicated.  I am still getting ideas from last year's craft activities, such as the Christmas lanterns, the paper chains, and maybe sewing a few simple tree ornaments.

3.  Friends and Family
We have an exceedingly busy social calendar this December, thanks to a number of new homeschooling friends we've made, as well as plans to see some old friends as well.  Tiger and I are out and about so often that it's hard to imagine having a more active social life, but it seems that way only because we used to spend December more inwardly focused on our own little family.  This year, my mother-in-law is in charge of Christmas celebrations so there will be a big three-day family gathering from Christmas eve to Boxing Day with plenty of time with immediate and extended family.  Free from the responsibility of planning and preparing Christmas Lunch, I am able to accept invitations to enjoy the jovial company of our friends, homeschooling and otherwise.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Entertaining and Educational - Paper Houses
  2. Hip Homeschool Hop - 12/3/2013

Thursday, 21 November 2013


During our visit to the Tower of London, we saw a reenactor dressed up as a medieval priest who gave us an overview of the history of the Tower as a royal palace, a prison, and a fortress.  A full-sized replica trebuchet was on site to demonstrate the power of this medieval siedge weapon.  It took five adults to launch the trebuchet.

The trebuchet is of special interest because the weapon has been traced back to being first used by Edward I during his siege of Stirling Castle.

While Tiger and I discussed about medieval siege weapons, I was given a quick education by Tiger of the differences between a trebuchet and a mangonel.  If your knowledge of medieval weaponry is like mine, i.e. that you think all catapulting machines work in the same way, you will benefit (as I have) from watching the two clips below:

1) Trebuchet

2) Mangonel

We learn much about the trebuchet from the following clip:

Why do we want to know so much about the trebuchet?  The main reason is that Tiger is passionate about everything that has to do with warfares and weaponry, historical and otherwise.  After hours of listening and watching experts talk about this medieval war machine, we decided it was time to build one ourselves.

It took us a few days to put the trebuchet together...

and when it was fully assembled, all of us thought it looked beautiful!

Naturally, we had to test whether it to see how good it is.

Unfortunately, our first few attempts at launching the trebuchet didn't go too smoothly.

The projectile either didn't go in an arc path, or was trapped in the launch net, or was launched backwards (gasp!).  It was slightly frustrating to have to work out what went wrong.  Not wanting to give up now, after we had spent so much time putting the model together, we pressed on with more tweaking, taking into consideration the following factors that might affect the success of our launch:
  • tension of string
  • length of string
  • weight of projectile
  • size of projectile
  • weight of counter-weight load
It's very exciting when it finally worked!


Tiger spent the rest of the day trying to break the record for the longest distance the projectile would go.  So far, his record is at 17 feet.

When we heard that Warwick Castle has the world's largest working trebuchet, we had to go and see it at work!

Check out the size of these real, medieval trebuchet balls made of solid stone!

This post is linked up to:
  1. History and Geography Meme #100
  2. Collage Friday - Boxes, Schoolwork & Squirrels
  3. Entertaining and Educational - Teaching Kids to Tie Their Shoes
  4. Weekly Wrap-up: The One with No Time
  5. Homeschool Mother's Journal {November 23, 2013}
  6. Hip Homeschool Hop - 11/26/2013

Friday, 15 November 2013

Overrun by Fractions

Most times, when we start on a topic of study, we find it very diffcult to draw a line under it and to move on to something else.  I mean, when does one decide that he/she has learnt enough to move on to the next topic?  I thought this week we would do a little bit of introduction to fractions then move to the next topic, but we ended up spending the entire week on it as we found more things to learn in fractions, e.g. applying the four operations to fractions, and converting between mixed numbers and improper fractions.

How did we end up doing more and more without intending to?  Well, it all came about because I thought it would be a good idea to have a little review of the basics:

That was all I wanted to do.  However, the last question in the clip above: Estimate 7/8 + 12/13 led Tiger to find out about conversions, which I explained using on a few pieces of paper.  Not very sophicated, I know, but the most basic tools are sometimes the most effective.

Once he has understood my explanations, Tiger wanted to try out some activities to test his own knowledge so I let him test himself here, but not before he has looked through the revision section and the activity section.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Entertaining and Educational - Chinese Shadow Puppets
  2. Collage Friday - The Best Apple Cake and Frog Guts!
  3. Weekly Wrap Up: The One with A Lot of Cat Talk
  4. The Homeschool Mother's Journal {November 16, 2013}
  5. Hip Homeschool Hop - 11/19/2013 

Thursday, 14 November 2013

All the Same

We first started looking at fractions about two years ago but hadn't formally done much about it until this week.

I like to introduce maths in a visual, concrete way, so I took out two manipulatives that have been tucked away in the cupboards from Tiger's preschool days and let him play around with them for a bit:

The Equivalency Cubes can also be used to teach concepts of of percentages and decimals.  The main purpose of them this week, however, is for Tiger to become familiar with the concept of equivalent fractions.

After Tiger has played with the cubes for a while, we started on our fraction activity.  I gave them three sheets of papers, each printed with three circles to be divided into smaller fractions.  For example, the first sheet consists of three circles that have been divided into halves by a line drawn through the centre of the circle.  The idea is to have the first circle remained as halves, and have the student further divide the other two circles into fourths and eighths.  The second set of circles are: thirds (already drawn), sixths, and twelves; the third set consists of: fifths (already drawn), tenths, and twentieths.

After the division of the circles into smaller fraction parts is done, Tiger cut them out and glued them onto a piece of construction paper (together with each circle's corresponding labels) to make "The Dangerous Fraction Garden", as Tiger puts it.  This step is not strictly necessary to learn the maths concept, but we wanted to have a laugh so we did it.

We then proceeded to understand Fractions of a Set.  Using the printed sheets of incremental stacks of 4x5 squares, we first determined the total of each set.  Then, we talked about how much one-fourth of each set would be -- this is quite simple, given that the sets are designed in four rows each.  Finally, from one-fourth of each set, Tiger could easily determine three-fourths of each set by multiplying by three.


When the colouring is done, we glued both sheets of paper together to have an overall view of all our three-fourths.  It provides a clear visual sense of what three-quarters of an incremental total looks like:

While Tiger has labelled under each set its non-simplified three-quarters fraction (15/20, 30/40, 45/60, 60/80, 75/100, 90/120), I showed him how to simplify them by finding the common factor of both numerator and denominator, so that each fraction eventually reduces to 3/4.

Tiger then worked through some of the problems in the Fractions section at Khan Academy.  We found the drills to be adequate for practice.

The word problems on fractions present an interesting way to apply what Tiger has learned so far, so that is well worth a try.  When he had enough of drills, he played the Fractions and Coins Game.

Finally, we also learned not to get too hung up about getting perfect scores, especially when in France:

This post is linked up to:
  1. Entertaining and Educational - Chinese Shadow Puppets
  2. Collage Friday - The Best Apple Cake and Frog Guts!
  3. Weekly Wrap Up: The One with A Lot of Cat Talk
  4. The Homeschool Mother's Journal {November 16, 2013}
  5. Hip Homeschool Hop - 11/19/2013

Monday, 11 November 2013

It's Simple, Really

I decided that we should get back to the basics of maths -- addition -- with the following simple exercise.

I gave Tiger a copy of a sheet printed with ones, tens, and hundreds boards.  The total of which is 999.  His task was to split the sum into four addends.  Very easy, isn't it?  That was what Tiger thought.

Before Tiger began, we had a quick review to make sure he understood the different terms (addends, sum).  I also showed him a quick example of how he was to split the sum into four addends (example on the bottom left)

As you can see from the photo above, Tiger split the total of 999 into four addends immediately (the example on the bottom right)

The next task is to cut out the printed sheet and use the arrays to form the addend in each section on the construction paper.  This was where Tiger realised that he had to consider the limitation set by the arrays, i.e. 9 ones, 9 tens, 9 hundreds.  With this limitation, the initial answer he gave (251, 199, 151, 398) could not work.  This made him work a little harder than merely throwing random numbers out to make the sum total.

After some struggle and when Tiger started showing signs of frustration, I suggested that thinking about place values and the limitation set by the arrays and having to split the sum total into four addends at the same time might help.  The light came on when I sketched the array on paper (see pencil mark below):

Once he saw the sketches, Tiger understood how to approach the problem.  There are a few ways to solve the problem.  Below is Tiger's solution:

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 11/12/2013
  2. Entertaining and Educational - Chinese Shadow Puppets
  3. Collage Friday - The Best Apple Cake and Frog Guts!
  4. Weekly Wrap Up: The One with A Lot of Cat Talk
  5. The Homeschool Mother's Journal {November 16, 2013}

Friday, 8 November 2013

The Magic of Roald Dahl

I'm not sure whether it's because of Halloween that has just passed or because we're approaching the end of the calendar year with longer nights, but there seems to be something quite magical about this time of the year.  It therefore seems natural to follow the magic that was started at the end of last month from our study of The Witches to get to know more about the world of Roald Dahl.

Although Tiger has read written by Roald Dahl several times, I still think we can do a little bit more with some of his books.

The one we picked was George's Marvellous Medicine.  There is no particular reason for choosing this book over any other of Roald Dahl's books, except because we were able to catch a theatre production of it in a nearby town:

Instead of making potions based on the book, Tiger found a group to do shared-reading and discussions with (very similar to a book club).

After the discussion, Tiger made the scene of grandma popping out of the roof using paper and a cereal box:

We find the following autobiographies to be particularly helpful for getting to know the author:

So is the following three-part documentary:

After working so hard to learn about someone, wouldn't it be a shame not to not follow up by going on a related field trip to, say, The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre?

The museum is as interesting inside as is the trail outside.

Inspirations for Roald Dahl's stories are dotted all around:

Replica of the interior of Roald Dahl's writing hut.

"Fantastic Mr. Fox"
"The Enormous Crocodile"

"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" - the door to the gallery is made to look and smell like chocolate bars!

The BFG's enormous sandal and the row of houses opposite the museum that was the inspiration for Sophie's house.  The BFG peered through one of the windows into Sophie's room.
"Boy" - Roald Dahl's autobiography of his childhood.
"Matilda" - We saw Miss Honey's classroom, the nearby library where Matilda went by herself to read, and the road sign that points to where her mother would have gone to play bingo every afternoon.
"Danny and the Champion of the World" - the petrol pump that Danny's dad would have used in his garage.
It is quite an amazing and magical museum for children, with many activity station to engage the children in their imagation and to encourage creative writing.  Tiger spent most of his time in the museum dressed up as a leopard, costume courtesy of the museum.

A short walking distance away is Roald Dahl's grave.  It is located at the top of a quiet hill, and has the BFG's footprints leading up to the grave stone.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Entertaining and Educational - Nov 8, 2013
  2. Collage Friday: 100 Boxes and a Comedy of Errors
  3. Weekly Wrap Up: Dates, Drivers, and Divergent
  4. The Homeschool Mother's Journal {November 9, 2013}
  5. Hip Homeschool Hop - 11/12/2013

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Out of Love

I'm falling out of love with Fred.

Two summers ago, we spent a few weeks working through the Life of Fred elementary series books A to G.  I wasn't overly keen about it in general but Tiger was tickled by its humour so we decided to keep the last three books (H to J) for this summer.

We worked on Book H a few weeks ago but I am even less impressed with it now than I was two summer ago.  The format of the book is still the same as before, the humour is still the same, so my guess is that the change in my opinion of this series is due to a combination of my increased leaning towards a "living maths" approach and an increased understanding of how Tiger learns.

Two instances in the book stood out for me: the first was when we made a pile of multiplication quiz cards based on Book H's suggestion, to be used at the beginning of each lesson/chapter as a quick mental review.  Making index cards to be used as pop quiz is a fine idea but it doesn't work for us for a few reasons:
  1. Tiger already knows his times tables so this step is redundant.
  2. There is no clear derivation of how a x b = c.  It becomes another bunch of maths facts to memorise, although the book takes a longwinded way of storytelling to have you memorise those facts.  I hate memorisation, as does Tiger.
  3. Tiger learned multiplication through understanding the relationships between quantities, rather than memorising sets of facts, so we are not thrilled about flashcards.

The second is how the book introduced long division.  While the reader gets a clear example of the steps to long division, the concept behind carrying and remainder isn't clearly explained.  I felt increasingly uncomfortable at teaching Tiger the steps to long division without having him understand why that is so.  The lesson became less of discovery and more about memorising a formula "first do this, then do that, followed by this".  Memorising yet again.  Sure, Tiger can now do long divisions on demand, but I am not happy that he is learning maths through memorising.

Some people might wonder why I am making a fuss here, given that Tiger has no problems doing long divisions whatsoever.  My objection is directed at the way it is being taught, that the method reminds me too much of rote learning, albeit a glamourised one.  I'm sure we can do better than this.

The remaining two books of the elementary series are being put to the back of the shelf.  We might use them next summer, or we might not.  We certainly aren't missing them.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Looking at the Weird Sisters

This term's drama study ties in well this year's Halloween theme of witches -- the children studied another Shakespearean work, Macbeth.

We first visited the V&A to attend a workshop on Elizabethan England, with an emphasis on the theatre at that time.  During the workshop, the children learned about the development of the Elizabethan theatre as well as become a rowdy audience member (true to the South Bank crowd back then).  They also got to experiment with Shakespearean language, make stage sound effects and dress up as a performer in Elizabethan ruff.  Most relevant to our own study is when the children, with the help of a reenactor, rehearsed and staged the witches' scene (Act 1 Scene 1) from Macbeth.

That was a good introduction to Shakespeare's work in general, but as we knew we were going to study Macbeth in drama class this term, we came home to listen to the entire play and read it to prepare ourselves better.  There is also a BBC animated version of the play, which Tiger did not enjoy as much as he did with a few other plays produced by the same team that he had watched:

Being taught by the same drama teacher, the format of this term's study is very similar to that of the class on The Tempest.  Besides drama skills, the four-day course also covered the following:
  • character analysis
  • historical context of the play
  • scene analysis
  • nuances of the Shakespearean language as spoken on stage
  • Shakespeare's dramatic techniques in context of how the play is divided into acts

We were extremely lucky to have caught one of the last performances of Macbeth at Shakespeare's Globe this season.

Macbeth, as with all Shakespearean plays, is highly complex in terms of its themes that weave together human nature, history, propaganda, beliefs, and drama.  I studied this play for my O-levels and thought I knew a lot about it back then (since I got an A* for the exam), yet I find myself looking at the play now at a different level from my teenage self, with a deeeper understanding of the complexities of any given situation.  As such, even though Tiger has read the unabridged text and knows the general theme of the story, he is not expected to have the same level of appreciation of the complexity of human nature as a more mature audience would have.  Lessons that come from life experiences cannot be rushed.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 11/5/2013
  2. Entertaining and Educational - Nov 8, 2013
  3. Collage Friday: 100 Boxes and a Comedy of Errors
  4. Weekly Wrap Up: Dates, Drivers, and Divergent
  5. The Homeschool Mother's Journal {November 9, 2013}
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