September 29, 2011

Computer Science

Just when I thought we had a bit of a schedule in place, we decided to add a whole new course of study. So I shaved 10 minutes off of each subject and shortened our previously leisurely lunch, and now Casia has a chance to learn all about computing.

She started showing an interest when a good friend of ours pointed her in the direction of a program called Scratch. It's a programming language developed by a group at MIT to make it easy for kids to create their own games, art and animations. Casia has been using it to create games for her brother and friends to play. From a layman's prospective, it seems like a great way to get a child interested in programming in a free, user friendly way. 

Naturally, when she'd run into a computer question, Casia didn't come to me. She'd head straight to the software engineer in the family, her daddy. She was getting comfortable with most of the functions, but she was running into problems of not being able to do specific things she wanted or having to repetitively add the same element over and over again. When she'd approach Jacob for help, he was very frustrated because he thought it was a very limited tool and felt like she should just learn a more useful programming language. After a few weeks of these discussions, he finally convinced her that she should learn some programming basics.

Thus, the new course of Computer Science has been added. Fortunately, this class is handled entirely by Jacob. He spends his lunch hour giving instructions. He does the planning, gives the tests, and assigns the homework. Casia couldn't be happier about all this. She loves learning how it all works. And I think she really loves having her daddy involved in her homeschooling. It's a great opportunity to learn from a different teacher with different strengths. It also gives her a greater understanding of what Jacob does for work. And Jacob is doing a great job. He's breaking it down for her and making it fun; it's no wonder it's become one of her favorite classes. I'm so proud of them both!

September 26, 2011

Chef Casia

As part of a unit on nutrition, Casia was given the assignment of planning, shopping for and making a whole day's worth of meals. She had to make healthy, well-balanced meals based on daily recommended guidelines.  

Here's her menu (with pictures, of course!):

Well, I forgot to get a picture of breakfast, but she made oatmeal with raisins and a side dish of fresh strawberries.

For lunch Casia made guacamole grilled steak sandwiches.

Casia making guacamole.

Casia grilling the steak.

Casia assembling her sandwich.

 For a snack, Casia made yogurt parfaits with graham crackers and fruit.

Garrett and Casia enjoying the snack.

And for dinner, Casia made baked honey chicken, a garden salad and three bean salad. I didn't get any pictures of the finished meal because I set the table for her and forgot (probably due to my hunger building as I smelled her yummy chicken baking!)

Casia preparing the raw chicken.

Making the sauce for the chicken.
Basting the chicken.

I might be a little biased here, as I think Casia's a pretty impressive kid, but this time, she out-did herself.  She really got into the project. She spent a lot of time picking meals that fit the nutritional requirements and allowed her to do most of the work. She helped with the shopping. She did an awesome job making all the meals and through it all she was loving it!

September 22, 2011

Jamestown Settlement

I have to admit it, history is my favorite subject. Casia loves it, too, and field trips are one of the best parts about homeschooling. Oh, sure, Casia had field trips while in public school, but never more than one per year. And they never allowed flexibility to check out the things she was most interested in, nor was there the time for her to ask her great multitude of questions. She relishes our field trips that are tailored to her whims and fancies. We spent almost an hour talking to a Pawhatan guide in the village because she was fascinated by the choices of rocks and how he made the weapons. She remarked, as we were returning home that day, how much she enjoyed being able to stay longer in some areas and move faster through others that didn't appeal to her. Casia said that she couldn't do that in her old school trips and paid me the compliment that mine are the best field trips ever. I love adding to the reasons to homeschool!

This year, learning early American history and living in Virginia, we have a wide variety of suitable field trip locations. Our first for this year was to the Jamestown Settlement. It's not the original site of Jamestown (the first permanent English settlement) but it is a re-creation of the site, complete with the fort, the ships and a Pawhatan Indian village. Historic Jamestown is the actual site of the first settlement and can also be visited. It is a current archaeological dig site, which is very cool in and of itself. Yet I choose the re-creation because I thought all the hands-on stuff would really appeal to Casia. We'll try to get out to Historic Jamestown another time. 

Our first stop in our visit was to the Pawhatan Village:

Casia learned that seven layered deer skins makes for a very comfy Pawhatan bed.

Casia enjoyed being able to touch the beautiful animals skins.
This bear was gorgeous.

This bobcat was so soft!

Unlike a museum, everything in this village was meant
to be touched and examined. It was wonderful!
Casia's playing with the arrow (minus the arrowhead) she found in the quiver. 

Casia was sanding a stone down the old-fashioned way:
rubbing it in a stone basin filled with water and sand.
It was a very slow process.
 Our next stop was to the port:
One of three re-created ships in the port at Jamestown,
the Susan Constant had multiple decks to explore.
Casia got to learn where the passengers and crew slept (on the barrels),
who got their own rooms (the cook and the captain) and
how to tell a gun powder barrel from the rest
(they used copper instead of steel so it didn't spark.)

Cook's cabin. My favorite; he got his own room and he could snack between meals
(which numbered one per day!)
Casia is standing at the bow of the Susan Constant.
The Discovery and Godspeed are in the background.
We were able to go on those boats as well, but were limited to a tour of a deck.
Still worth it though to hear their stories.

They offered a cannon demonstration where Casia learned all about the benefits of breach artillery. 

Susan Constant from on board the Discovery.

Our last stop was in the re-created fort:

A building replica in the Jamestown fort.
Casia was very disappointed to find we were not allowed upstairs in any of the building.

Casia in the window of a house.

Casia at a writing desk.

Casia trying on her armor. She said it was heavy and uncomfortable.
The pointy stomach area that I thought was just a silly fashion
actually served to send arrows flying off to the side. 

Inside one of the roomier and well appointed houses.

That's Casia up there with her head peeping over the pulpit.

The Jamestown Settlement was a great field trip. It was very accessible to children, you could get through it in one visit (about four hours) and it was relatively inexpensive. It cost us $22.25 for the two of us and we packed our own lunches. The facilities were very nice, the guides knowledgeable and the atmosphere very inviting. 

September 19, 2011

Spices vs. Microbes

Casia switched from ancient civilizations to early American history this past spring. As a lead in, we studied various indigenous people of the Western hemisphere and early exploration and conquest by Europeans. To go along with this line of study, I found a couple of interesting articles on the big why behind the drive to explore. 

Since the acquisition of spices was such a major impetus, I found this interesting article on the subject and shared it with Casia. Spices: How the Search for Flavors Influenced Our World, written by Paul Freedman, examines the historical impact of the spice trade. In another article, What's So Hot about Spices?, by Gail Jarrow and Paul Sherman, the authors discuss the use of spices as food preservatives. This led me to the idea to combine some science and history and after a little Googling, I found this experiment:  Food Preservation.

I prepared some broth ahead of time. Casia then selected five spices: salt, pepper, sugar, cinnamon and allspice. She labeled the containers with the spice names, plus one for a control and the other labeled boiled.

She then added one cup of broth to each container followed by one teaspoon of the corresponding spice. No spices were added to the control or boiled containers.
 Casia stirred.
And then they were left without the lids on overnight in the kitchen. The next day, Casia covered all the containers except for the boiled. The boiled sample was first boiled and then left to cool for a few minutes and then covered. All containers were then left to sit for three days.

I asked Casia at the start of this lab to guess which containers would have the most microbe growth. This is what she predicted:

Most growth to least:  sugar, control, cinnamon, allspice, pepper, boiled and salt.

Now that the containers had been sitting for a few days, it was time to open them up. Casia did a great job with her lab write-up including a chart she made for her observations. She inspected each sample for smell, then with the unaided eye and then under the microscope. 

We decided that a good way to determine the amount of microbe growth would be to randomly select four areas under the microscope and then she would estimate what percent of the area that she saw under the microscope was covered in microbes. Then she averaged the four samples per container to come up with an overall estimate of microbe growth for that solution.

Casia got a lot of practice making her own slides for this lab. After six smelly containers (Casia claims the allspice solution still smelled 'yummy'), seven slides, 28 views under the microscope, and ten minutes to calculate and make a snazzy chart, Casia was ready to announce the winners in the spices vs. microbes.

Most growth to least:  sugar, control, cinnamon, pepper, allspice, boiled and salt.

Here are her results:

Spices Salt Boiled All Spice Pepper Cinnamon Control Sugar
#1 15% 20% 10% 60% 40% 70% 70%
#2 5% 40% 50% 30% 90% 65% 80%
#3 30% 32% 5% 70% 2% 80% 60%
#4 10% 25% 90% 20% 50% 40% 70%
Average 15% 29% 39% 45% 45% 64% 70%

Casia's guess was really close! Her allspice and pepper were reversed. We both agreed that we we wouldn't want to consume any of the samples, as even the salt smelled foul. And with only four random samples per container, some with a range of more than 80%, she probably should have taken more sample views. But she was given only a couple of hours to complete this section of the lab. It also might have been interesting to see what would have happened had she combined multiple spices in a given sample. 

Overall, this lab was very easy to do (though a little smelly), used supplies I already had on hand and rated an awesome from Casia. 

September 14, 2011

Start of a New Year

I left off blogging abruptly last spring when everything got chaotic during the move. I continued homeschooling Casia for a couple more weeks, but then just gave up when my list of to-do's got bigger and her excitement about the move got too distracting. We picked it up again for a few weeks over the summer, but with a constant stream of visitors and activities, it seemed like more effort than it was worth trying to squeeze it in here and there.

So here we are, the second week in September, with one week under our belts in our second year of homeschooling. I think it is really interesting to see how both Casia and I have grown in our roles as student and teacher over the last year. 

The changes I've seen in Casia from the start of last year to the start of this year are huge. To begin with, her attitude has improved immensely. She's more accepting of my dual role as parent and teacher. She transitions from one activity to another more smoothly. And most importantly, her enthusiasm for learning has increased.

In addition, her ability to work independently has come a long, long way. Since she's technically in Middle School this year, I've incorporated a 'study hall' into the day's activities. It's the last hour of school before we go pick her brother up at the bus stop. She has a calendar of due dates and assignments, and anything she couldn't finish earlier in the day, she has that hour to complete it. If she doesn't have any assignments to work on, she can use the time to practice her violin or read. If it's not finished by the end of study hall, she has homework; a dreaded concept for her, so she becomes very motivated to use the time wisely. At the start of last year, when  she had a block of time for independent work, she would continually come back to me for guidance and reassurance. This year, I only see her if she has a question for me or if her work is complete. It's so reassuring to see her blossoming self-reliance.

Another area of growth for Casia is in her test taking and assignments. A year ago, she was interested in giving the most concise answers to get it done quickly. This year, she is much more deliberate. She takes her time and gives well thought out answers with a lot of detail. Overall, I feel she is in a much better place to begin the new school year than when we started last year. 

On my part, I think I am a lot more relaxed than last year. I'm still a person that thrives on a schedule, so I do make daily and weekly ones. The difference is, that this year, I don't get (as) frustrated when we can't keep on track. In fact, I've come to expect it. I also put more wiggle room in our plan to accommodate disruptions and to allow for added time on discussions that take us onto interesting tangents.

I think the biggest change in me this year is that I no longer really care what people think about the fact that I homeschool. Initially, I felt the need to explain why we were homeschooling. I felt like I had to convince people that it is a good option and in Casia's best interest. Now, frankly, I don't give a damn. I'm tired of explaining myself, only to find that people that are against the idea, still think I'm making a mistake. I'm tired of being asked how Casia's going to get the 'appropriate socialization' or how am I qualified to teach her what she needs to learn and how do I even know what she needs?

The academic success of homeschooling Casia is glaringly obvious to me. At nine years of age, currently in 6th grade, she is successfully working at the high school level in multiple subjects (something she was not allowed to do while in public school). She has many friends, is involved in team sports, is participating in various musical groups and has managed to make more acquaintances in our new neighborhood than even I have. She's a social person by nature and with the freedom to interact in the world around her (more freedom offered her than if she were confined to a brick and mortar school for seven hours a day), she is successfully navigating peer relationships and interactions with children of various ages. She will independently  place an order at the deli counter, call the local toy store to see if they have a product she desires and converse with adult neighbors about the new houses being built on the block. Socially, I think she is doing just fine.

With one year into this educational endeavor, I have become confident enough in my own judgement; I witness daily the academic and social opportunities that only homeschooling can offer; and I can see by the eager smiling face that greets me every morning, that this is definitely the right choice, the best choice for my daughter.