Tuesday, December 30, 2008

National Treasure is a Terrific Movie!

     Each Christmas I usually purchase a handful of movies for the entire family.  Then in the evenings, we light the Christmas lights and the candles, I throw a blanket over my lap, kitty settles down on my lap, my daughter snuggles against me and the cat, my son hangs out with his dad in the recliner, and we enjoy a new movie each evening.  So far the best movie by far was the one I initially had the most doubts about.  

     When I saw it on the shelf, I was intrigued...secret clues to a hidden treasure (I like thinking games), Knights Templar (we studied them in school), Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington...ah, many of my favorite subjects!  I purchased it on the chance that this could be a great movie. We tend to prefer older movies, but the reviews I read on-line looked promising for this contemporary, yet original story line.  

     National Treasure was a hit for the entire family!  We were on the edge of our seats (poor kitty was on the edge of my lap) and we were trying to guess the clues.  When the Washington DC scenes were shown, we exclaimed with enthusiastic memories, "We were there!  I remember that!" as the action went to the White House, National Archives and the Library of Congress.  Scenes of and from the various memorials excited the kids.  They knew exactly where all of those places were, so they were able to feel more involved with the action!

     Although we've never been to Philadelphia, when the good guys were looking at the Declaration of Independence in the Assembly Room I thought, "Wow, just imagine...the last time the Declaration of Independence was in that room was over 200 years ago."  Well I no sooner thought that than the Nicholas Cage character took my very words out of my thoughts!  lol (And yes, I know that the Declaration of Independence used in the movie was a fascimile.  That is just how caught up in the movie I had gotten.  Even my kids were commenting during the movie that it wasn't the original.  We had seen the real Declaration of Independence at the National Archives last Aug and it is so badly faded, that it is difficult to read.  Also, it is too fragile to let loose in the streets like that!  The one in the movie was obviously not that fragile and it was easy to see the calligraphy. )

     After the movie my son took charge of the controls so that we could view the behind the scenes components.  One showed a different ending to the movie.  The director explained how they changed the ending, to get a different reaction from the audience.  I told the kids that even the professionals have to edit their work and keep their audience in mind.  This was a great application for writing skills.

     There were also lots of puzzles for us to solve and we had a lot of fun learning about the various methods of secret codes.  To our shock, by the time we were done, it was midnight!  Where did the time go?  We are usually in bed long before that!  lol

     I have discovered that there is a part 2, where they uncover information of Lincoln's assassination, using 18 missing pages from the diary of John Wilkes Booth.  Apparently, Mount Vernon has been hosting tours of National Treasure 2...I'm guessing that some of the scenes were shot at Mount Vernon. (That link for the tour may not be available much longer.  Apparently this tour ended Dec 28.  Oh how we would have loved to have done this tour!) The kids are already trying to puzzle out the connections in National Treasure 2!

     For Christmas, we had given my son a copy of George Washington Spymaster which has opportunities for the reader to decode secret messages throughout the book. Even one of my Lafayette books has an example of a coded message between Washington and Lafayette. I'm glad they explained the coding, because we never would have caught it. My son has so far flipped through his Spymaster book and seen some of the same examples he saw in National Treasure, that were actually used during the American Revolution. I think my son will enjoy that book, especially now that he's caught the excitement of National Treasure.    

Monday, December 22, 2008

We Might Move to Virginia!!!!!! Advice Needed!

     First I have to explode with the excitement...We might move to Virginia!!!!!  Woo hoo!  My husband is retiring on Jan 9 and he's been sending everyone his resume and networking.  We'd be very thankful for a job in Texas.  But I admit, I've also been praying for a job in Williamsburg because we love it there so much!  Okay, the family's excitement is probably fueled from my exuberance! LOL My husband has been looking in the area, but nothing.  =(  

     We've had a difficult time, emotionally, getting caught up in the Christmas festivities because of hardly a nibble of job offers for my husband, due to the economy. Then my husband called a few weeks ago and asked if NoVA was close enough to CW for me.  LOL  Of course it's close enough! 

     Now, here's the part where we start to hyperventilate.  We had never tried to find a job in the DC area.  We know that is EXPENSIVE and CROWDED!  But it is a job, my husband would have an opportunity to do a job that he excels at, and it's 2.5 hours, minus the traffic, from Colonial Williamsburg!  We could put our season passes to great use!  Woo hoo!!!  My brother thought it was cool that we'd be near a lot of Civil War history.  Well, yes, but I'm not the Civil War buff that he is.  I am an American Revolution buff! We'd not only be close to CW, but also Mount Vernon, Montpelier, Monticello...why we'd even finally get to visit Poplar Forest!  Oh, and the opportunity to see all the other places in DC and Maryland and Virginia we haven't had a chance to visit yet.  I've told the kids about the beautiful Virginia capitol building in Richmond, they want to see that.  There is Yorktown and Jamestown.  There is Chincoteague!  Seasons, ocean, mountains...I could go on and on and on.

     But the expense.  gulp  My husband interviewed Christmas Eve and there is another interview forthcoming.  Salary has not yet been discussed.  This is where we could use some advice.  I know there are some Virginia people who have stopped by my blog.  ;)  What do you think we should look for in the way of salary to make ends meet?  You can e-mail me privately, the link is in my right sidebar.  Thank you so much for any tips! 

Friday, December 19, 2008

Oh my Goodness! Guess Who Sent us a Package!!!!!

'Tis the season to receive packages.  The doorbell rang.  I peeked outside the window and there was the USPS truck. I went downstairs, opened the door and found this...



Hmmmmmm, who could possibly have sent this????? 



Colonial Williamsburg????  I thought back to my mental list and checked it twice...I was certain I had received everything I had ordered from Colonial Williamsburg.  They were already gift wrapped and under the tree.  Then I looked more closely at the mailing label and saw this...



How in the world do I type the sound for:  "deep intake of breath"...???  I was stunned!  I was speechless! Colonial Williamsburg is my favorite place in the whole wide world!!!!! I want to visit there again!  I want to live there! I want to work there!  (I bet none of you had ever guessed that!)  I was sooooooo excited! I called to the kids and told them we got a gift from Colonial Williamsburg!  They got bubbly with anticipation! We opened the tube and found a lovely letter from the Education Outreach Department. 



We've been privileged to be able to do the Colonial Williamsburg Electronic Field Trips which my kids really get into! My son asked for a special costume just so he could portray the Marquis de Lafayette...



 and my daughter was one of the "baggage" at Yorktown, who wrote a letter home of the experience.  



Reaching further into the tube, we pulled out a poster size copy of the Stone version of The Declaration of Independence with activities!



Even Lafayette got a rare copy of this document!    



Monday, December 15, 2008

Secret Sister 2008 from Maryland

It's Secret Sister time again. This year I sent a gift to Texas, to a town up the road from me.  I received a box from Nicolea in Maryland! I received a lovely Willow Tree ornament, where she holds a book. That is so representative of both me and all of my Secret Sisters, since we use a lot of books in our homeschooling! I love this ornament! Sadly, I never got a return on my message from my SS. She has been very quiet on the yahoo group too, only 2 posts...ever. Part of the fun is getting to know our SS. I'm sure she's super busy, so this means a lot that she took the time to find a lovely ornament and send it to me.

101_1632



Colonial Williamsburg Electronic Field Trip: "Making History Live"

     Colonial Williamsburg's newest field trip, "Making History Live" has been a wonderful experience!  (Thanks to Homeschool Buyer's Co-op, these are now made available to homeschoolers at a reasonable price!) While we were in Colonial Williamsburg experiencing Revolutionary City last summer, we spent a lot of time asking questions amongst ourselves, wishing we could ask the actor/interpreters:  What is their background?  Actor...historian..both?  How many parts DO they portray?  How do they remember all of their lines for multiple character portrayals?  How long have they been doing this?  "Making History Live" allowed us at a peak behind the scenes! 

     "Making History Live" teaches first person interpretation through the African American history program at Colonial Williamsburg.  We began the week by listening to this week's podcast about the African American evening music program.  This was extremely interesting, learning about the importance of music to the enslaved, and how they used it to communicate messages secretly to one another.  Because we are currently studying an era of history that includes American slavery, this information has been timely to our studies.  

     After listening to the podcast, we previewed the movie, "Making History Live."  This was almost like a stroll down memory lane, since we got to meet some of these people during Revolutionary City last summer. 






     We learned not only about the music of the slaves, but also how the actor/interpreters prepare for a performance.  We got to go behind the scenes and see the development of the scripts for Revolutionary City!  We got to see various types of rehearsals.  Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse was the message that we got.  That was great because I am often reminding my kids of the actor/interpreters when they have to study, study, study!  Now they know I'm not making this up!  ;) We also got a peek into the costume department, which helps to bring a character to life.  We were taken into the library, where actor/interpreters choose specific books to help them further their research into their character.  Obviously, this accounts for why the characters are able to answer the vast variety of questions we ask as visitors!  It also reflects how they can portray their characters with great depth.  Previewing the movie was a terrific opportunity, because I was able to pause the video when needed, to help the kids capture details that they were missing.  This was great preparation for the live broadcast that would be aired on Thursday.  

     Then the kids did a terrific on-line activity.  There were three puzzles, one for Thomas Jefferson and two for two different slaves.  Each puzzle piece was a either a primary source or a secondary source relevant to that person. 



The kids had to read that portion of the document and answer the question related to it. In essence, they were learning how clues can be gleaned for the actor/interpreters from these documents.



If they answered the question correctly, the puzzle piece went to the correct place in the puzzle.  After the puzzle was complete, the puzzle came to life! My husband was really intrigued by this when the kids told him and he had to check it out for himself!    

      The next day we compared third person interpretation with first person interpretation.  My kids thought they understood the difference, until I asked them to give me an example of each from our recent trip to Colonial Williamsburg.  My son thought that when Lafayette talked about George Washington, that was third person.  I can see how he would think that, but no.  Lafayette was still in first person when he talked about George Washington, because the actor was talking about George Washington as if he was Lafayette. 




Third person interpretation is typically what happens in the trades, when the tradespeople, though dressed in 18th century costume, talk to us in knowledge of the 21st century. 

     Next, the kids took the interactive tour of Colonial Williamsburg.  Even though they've been there before, I knew they would learn a few new things by researching the town.  After all, actor/interpreters need to know the setting for their characterization.  After spending some time at the site, each of the kids gave a tour of their favorite location.  My dd chose the beautiful Governor's Palace



 whereas my son chose the noisy Magazine.  And of course, the web site had a noisy cannon there, which he loved!



     At this point, I pulled up a podcast from July 7, 2005, "Instructor of Interpreters."  I thought it would be helpful, even inspiring to the kids, to hear how the actor/interpreters go to a 10 day school at CW to learn to engage with the audience and do first person interpretation.  I really wanted the kids to understand that the actor/interpreters put a lot of time into preparation before they go on stage.  

     Next, the kids began their task of creating their own first person interpretation, using some of the same methods used by the actor/interpreters of Colonial Williamsburg!  There were several pairs of biography cards to choose from.  My daughter decided to be Ann Wager and my son decided to portray Robert Carter Nicholas.  The first step was to study their own card, and then to introduce themselves, as their characters, to each other. This sort of confused my kids at first, since they expected to jump right in to the first person interpretation immediately.  I like the fact that this complex process was broken down into manageable steps.  This gave them an opportunity to learn the basic facts of their character and practice verbalizing that on a small scale.  



     The next step was to study the two pages provided in the teacher's packet on the King's English. 



 Some of these we were familiar with, from our previous visit. The kids thought it funny that they would be expected to incorporate some of this into their presentation.  However, this is culturally relevant to their character portrayals.  After reviewing and studying the page, they once again role played their characters.  This time, however, they greeted each other using the King's English, then explained who they were.



     After lunch, we listened to a great podcast from November 26, 2007, "Playing the Part." This got very specific about how the actor/interpreters portraying Benjamin Franklin and John Adams for a previous Electronic Field Trip research and develop their characters.  It is so much fun to go behind the scenes.  Every time we hear about research, research, research!  My kids' *love* that!  LOL At least they know they are not alone in the research department! 

     After the podcast, I gave each of the kids worksheets from the teacher packet to develop a dialogue between their characters.  It was wonderful how the steps were broken down. First, they jotted down notes about the facts for their characters. By now, they had gotten quite familiar with the facts. 



Then they answered questions where they got to create a setting for their dialogue. This took a bit of time, as they had to create information, based on what would be historically accurate.  Then of course they had to work as a team and agree on the final decision.  We contrasted "historical context" with "historical perspective" and looked for opportunities to create perspective for their dialogue.



Then it was time for them to write the script. I had them study, once again, the King's English, to decide how to incorporate some of the phrases into their dialogue.



Finally it was time to actually write the script. They were greatly relieved when I told them I'd be their secretary.  I guided them through the dialogue, as I typed their ideas into the computer.  They basically came up with their own dialogue.  I merely asked questions to prompt and guide them through the process. We also did a little extra research on-line to develop their characters.  Then I printed out the dialogue and highlighted their parts.  Mine is on top and color coded to help me cue them as needed.   



     That evening, we read  some of the comments at the blog for the week at the EFT web site.  Some of the actor/interpreters, writers, and historians posted comments there and that was neat.  There was a great one posted by the actor/interpreter who portrays Patrick Henry, about his perspective of history as a kid!  It was a lot of fun for my kids to hear his perspectives. Like Patrick Henry, the actor/interpreter was quite inspiring! 

     Then my son left a question at the blog.  He asked what they do when the CW library gets too full from all of their resources.  He got a great answer!  Apart from the expected, "build a bigger library," he was also told how many of the primary and secondary source documents are going digital.  This is not only to make room for resources, but also to protect fragile documents from continued handling.  

     That night they e-mailed a Colonial Williamsburg perfomer.  We had no idea which one would answer, so we kept the questions generic.  My daugher asked, "For this Electronic Field Trip, I am working on a first-person interpretation for Ann Wager and my brother and I are having fun making a script for a play. This play went through many changes and rough drafts. How many rough drafts do you usually go through before saying that it's ready to go?" 

     My son asked, "Where do you get the inspiration for your first person interpretations?  I understand you put a lot of time into your research collecting facts, but what sort of ideas spark your interest, narrowing down your thesis?"      

     Before the live broadcast Thursday morning, my son got a wonderfully detailed reply from a man who portrays a British military engineer.  He is a 21st century engineer and explained how he got involved in interpretation.  It was fascinating.  He explained inspriration thoroughly from the perspective of working for a living history museum vs personal interest.  

     My son had been excitedly looking forward to the live broadcast all week! While we waited for the live broadcast to begin, my kids practiced their dialogue to memorize their lines.  Meanwhile I hooked up to the live feed and colonial Christmas music was playing.  How delightful! When the Christmas music finished, the kids excitedly took their seats to watch the live broadcast.





     There were three people available for the live Question and Answer, an actor/interpreter and two of the managers.  Each of them were featured in the "Making History Live" EFT and they performed a couple of the songs from the African American program, which was a lot of fun.The actor/interpreter answered questions as the actor and not the character, which was great!  This was a unique opportunity, because at Colonial Williamsburg, the actor/interpreters always stay in character.  Those who ask questions outside of that character usually get quite a bit of teasing!   To our surprise, my son's e-mail question was featured at the end of the morning broadcast and the actor who portrays Gowan Pamphlet answered that! 

     After the morning broadcast, we staged the dialogue in the living room.  I had them practice the courtesies that they learned when they were in CW.  







Since the kids had forgotten some of the technique, we looked up some vacation pictures to see how one of the actor/interpreters did it!





     Then the kids practiced with props.  They had memorized their lines well by that time, but the props threw them off.  That's the importance of dress rehearsal! I had them keep rehearsing with the props while I made lunch and they improved greatly in that short time!  Just like they saw in the EFT, "Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!" 

     After the afternoon live broadcast, they took their interpretations to the next level.  I gave each of them a "Character Score" sheet, which apparently the actor/interpreters at CW use to fully develop their character.  They did further research to understand and more fully develop their characters.  



     Then they wrote out an outline for a narrative, which they then wrote out as an essay.  An outline should be sufficient, but it seems to help my kids to write out their speeches, then make notecards.  The product is usually more well rounded and interesting. 

     Saturday they tied up loose ends and then rehearsed, rehearsed, and rehearsed while I ran errands.  Sunday afternoon we staged their narratives and skits in the living room and they rehearsed, rehearsed, and rehearsed some more.  They were getting better!  At one point they asked, "Can I just rehearse this one little bit, instead of all of it?"  I reminded them of how wonderful the actor/interpreters are at CW.  Do they just rehearse one portion?  No.  The kids rehearsed one more time!

     Finally, they put on their costumes from previous opportunities.  Then they called Dad in to see their interpretations and ask questions.  Now I have a disclaimer.  My kids have put this together in 7 days, from research to presentation.  We learned that the actor/interpreters at CW can have 6 months to prepare their characters, if not more.  Of course the CW actor/interpreters are incredible, whereas my kids are learning!  But isn't that fun?  Wouldn't an opportunity to interpret characters in our history classes growing up have made school more fun? I encourage everyone to try this at home. Start small.  Take it step by step.  Each time they will get better.  And I can guarantee that the entire time they will have a blast! Now let the cameras roll!   

Here is my son's narrative of Robert Carter Nicholas.






Here is my daughter's narrative of Ann Wager.


 Here is their skit.




I enjoyed listening to my husband's reaction to the presentation.  It sounded as though he was being affected by some of the things he learned!

     Although my kids have represented historical characters many times for school, they learned lots of new things.  Even professionals research and rehearse daily!  They learned to develop a thesis for their character, in order to help the audience focus.  In addition, they learned to use hidden clues from the research to find a goal or problem for the character, to help the audience ask questions or be inspired to do more research on their own.  These are only a few elements that help to make for a more interesting presentation. Hopefully the audience will be on the edge of their seats, while my kids enhance their own skills in "Making History Live!"

Friday, December 12, 2008

"Lafayette, We are Here"...a Key to the Future

     It began with a key.  A simple, iron key.  It is prodigious compared to the keys of today. Previously used to unlock massive doors in the "fortress of despotism," in 2004 I first saw it prominently displayed in the central passage of Mount Vernon.  I was flabbergasted. What in the world was the key to the Bastille doing there? It was a gift from the Marquis de Lafayette, who led the National Guard in storming the notorious prison at the beginning of the French Revolution.  "It is a tribute which I owe as a son to my adoptive father, as an aid de camp to my general, as a missionary of liberty to its patriarch."  Can you imagine the emotion George Washington must have felt as he held this key in his hand?  Received by the young Frenchman whom he considered as a son, whom was instrumental in America winning the American Revolution, President Washington was obviously moved.  He had it showcased in a lovely glass case, above a picture of the Bastille, in the central passage of his lovely home.  He meant for the numerous visitors to his estate to see this.  What would it have been like to have been one of those visitors, to discuss with George Washington the meaning behind that key?  Designed to open prison doors for political prisoners in France, it is now showcased as an end to tyranny and the beginning of liberty that first struck its spark in America, and spread to France, and later to the rest of the world, like wildfire.  Thus began my search to further understand the man behind the gift of the key, the Marquis de Lafayette.

     I was fascinated to learn that as a teenager, he volunteered to serve under General George Washington and that he expected no pay for himself.  In fact, he spent his own money to supply the men in his regiment.  He was instrumental in influencing France to supply America with money, food, ammunition and weapons and providing America with the French Army and Navy to secure victory at Yorktown and the successful end to the American Revolution.   

     I marveled that he was an ardent abolitionist. He quite openly worked to persuade his friends, Washington, Jefferson, and others, to free their slaves.  Even William Wilberforce, the man who drove the English Parliament to bring an end to the slave trade, met with Lafayette in his home.  Lafayette established on the French colony of Cayenne, today's French Guiana, a plantation where he attempted to bring freedom to slaves. 

     I was touched when I learned that Lafayette fought for the freedoms of French Huguenots, even though France was a Catholic nation. 

     I was terribly saddened when I read that Lafayette had died and was buried next to his wife in Paris. His grave was covered with soil from America. An American flag was posted at his grave. During World War II, even the Germans did not disturb his grave or the flag. 

     America in turn honored Lafayette when he died.  They mourned for 30 days and draped Congress in black. John Quincy Adams, known as Old Man Eloquent, gave a lengthy eulogy and encouraged making Lafayette's name known to future generations.  Towns, schools, counties, and streets across the country were named after him.  Probably each of us has a nearby location in memory of Lafayette. La Grange, Texas is located in Fayette County.   La Grange was the name of one of Lafayette's homes.  In a small Alsatian town not far from where we live, there is a street

 



 and a shop



that bears his name.  



     The other day some books about Lafayette arrived that I had ordered from Mount Vernon.  The kids were so excited, that they stopped their afternoon history reading to skim the books and look at all the pictures and captions with me.   We had so much fun catching tidbits of new information about Lafayette. 

     Then I got teary eyed.   When Lafayette was imprisioned during the French Revolution, President George Washington and Congress collected $24,424 that would have been equal to the pay Lafayette never received during the American Revolution, since he was a volunteer, to ransom his release from prison.  (Wow, what a George Bailey moment!) Actually, this was a drop in the bucket compared to the amount that Lafayette contributed to the American Revolution out of his own pocket. 

     However, I was most moved, when I read about World War I, where all of Europe was pulled into war.  France was houndered by Germany.  Eventually, America entered the war and arrived in force to the great hope of France.  After arriving in Paris, General Pershing and his aide, Col Stanton, visited Lafayette's grave, where Col Stanton declared, "Lafayette, we are here!" 

     If I had read that in isolation in a history book somewhere, and perhaps I have in my school past, it would have meant nothing to me.  Yet in context of having studied extensively Lafayette's contributions to American Independence, I was moved.  Every time I read a fascinating new fact about Lafayette, I excitedly tell my family.  When I built up the WWI story to my husband over dinner the other night, even he was moved emotionally by imagining the scene. 

     Our current school studies are moving us into the 1840's.  Sadly, this means we are leaving an era of our Founding Fathers and their contributions to American Independence.  If I understand correctly, from what I have read, even Lafayette is considered a Founding Father of America!   I have been saddened during our studies, after reading of the death of each one: Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, and now Lafayette.  My husband teases me about this, but he also smiles because he understands where I am coming from.  I have been powerfully moved by these men, who were Providentially used at their time in history, to set the ball of Independence in motion.  Of them all, Lafayette has intrigued me the most. 

     My husband sometimes talks of us visiting Europe someday.  If we ever do, I hope we can go to France.  There are many things I'd like to see there, but the first would be a stop by Lafayette's grave. If I ever get to go there, I know I will be completely moved as I reflect on his impact on the world.  I know that personally, I will never impact the world like he did.  Yet as a teacher, I have the opportunity to touch the future, to show others that their future is influenced by the past.  As I teach, I am impacted by what I myself have learned. I will never view French or American history the same way again. I will never think of Independence the same way again.  I will never look at a map, with Lafayette's name all over it, the same way again.  I will never see the American or the French flag the same way again.  And to think, it all began with...a key.  

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My Son the Science Whiz

My son surprised me the other week.  Actually, what's new?  ;)  He told me that when he gets done with a science lesson early, he goes to the web site to try to answer the Question of the Week.  He submits this to Dr. Wylie, the author of the curriculum. Apparently he's been doing this for several weeks!  Hmmmm, how did he do this without my knowledge????  While sitting here keeping an "eye on him" I'm usually engrossed in Latin, history, researching costumes, etc. Obviously, I get really engrossed with my work.  ;)  Thankfully, Apologia has a great web site so he already knew that was an approved web site for him to surf.  He informed me that for the first few weeks he got e-mails from Dr. Wylie, kindly telling him that his answers to the Question of the Week were wrong, but Dr. Wylie encouraged him to keep trying. 

These questions are not easy.  At least not to me, ahem, who took honors college prep science classes in high school.  My son likes to forward these to me so I can try to answer them.  Hmmmm.....

Here's one of them:

Suppose you are sitting down to a spicy dinner made by someone who knows a bit about chemistry. She tells you that she has made two spicy-hot entrees for you: one with a spice that has a lot of fat-soluble chemicals and one with a spice that has very few fat-soluble chemicals. She wants you to tell her which entrée contains which type of spice.

Question:
Using only what you have at the dinner table, how would you identify which entrée has which spice?"

Hmmmmmm, I had no idea.  My son, however, said that the correct answer is..."mix both entees with a fatty food item on the plate SEPARATELY and then see which tastes the spiciest."

He was correct!  He has also gotten the next two correct as well.  The student who gets the most correct answers in a 12 week period gets to choose a cool prize.  I appreciate curriculums/programs like this that encourage kids to learn more and enjoy school.  Even though he plans to become a lawyer, and not a scientist, he is having a lot of fun! 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Incredible Inflatable, Deflatable Egg

My daughter had a fascinating experiment last week.  She was going to study osmosis with an egg, vinegar, karo corn syrup and distilled water.  I couldn't imagine what the process would involve.  When I took Biology I in high school, we used dialysis tubing filled with corn syrup and tied off, then soaked in a tub of water.  Apologia's Biology  is great.  It's thorough in content, yet uses everyday items around the house to conduct experiements. 

First my daughter got an egg from the refrigerator and put it in a cup full of vinegar and let it sit for 24 hours.  After 24 hours, the shell dissolved and the egg inflated by 1/2"! On the left is a regular egg from the refrigerator and on the right is the inflated egg.



 After she carefully rinsed off the wiggly egg and measured and recorded the circumferance...

 

she put it in a cup full of karo corn syrup and left that for 24 hours.  Imagine our shock when we discovered this!



She carefully took it out, rinsed it and measured the circumferance.  It was much smaller in circumferance.  Then she placed it in a cup of distilled water for 24 hours.  The egg plumped up again!



Isn't that an incredible way to learn osmosis?!


Friday, December 5, 2008

Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, John Adams, Meriweather Lewis and Lafayette

     While searching for living history ideas to teach my children, I stumbled upon Poplar Forest.  This gorgeous home was designed by Thomas Jefferson and was his retreat.   Each year Poplar Forest tapes a "Conversations on Democracy" with Thomas Jefferson (played by the Colonial Williamsburg's Thomas Jefferson)



and another historical person of his era. These are taped before an audience of junior high students who get to ask questions. There are also lesson plans and a bibliography and puzzles available for each conversation at the web site.  I have been able to e-mail Poplar Forest and borrow 2 conversations each month. 

     In October, we got to see the Conversation in Democracy featuring Aaron Burr and John Adams.  We had studied Aaron Burr earlier this school year.  We learned about the contested election of 1800.  Burr ran as Jefferson's vice president, yet tied with him for the presidency.  The House of Representatives was deadlocked for quite some time in resolving the tie, until Alexander Hamilton wielded his influence. We learned about the duel between Burr and Hamilton (Hamilton died) and Burr's apparent attempt to establish himself monarch of the west.  The conversation between Jefferson and Burr at times became a bit gnarly.  My children booed Burr and cheered Jefferson.  I think they were still under the influence of Revolutionary City , where we got to engage with characters of the past in Colonial Williamsburg last summer.  It was interesting to hear Jefferson and Burr each describe how they homeschooled their daughters.  As I recall, the word "homeschool" was used in the conversation.  There are details on that in the lesson plans at Poplar Forest.   

     We also spent some time studying the friendship between Jefferson and Adams.  We watched the PBS special on John and Abigail Adams   and Jefferson and Adams: A Stageplay.  These prepared the kids for the Poplar Forest conversation.  Jefferson and Adams were great friends until politcal differences divided them during their presidencies.  After they retired to private life, they resumed communication through letters and renewed their friendship.  Interestingly, they died hours apart on the same day, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1826.  During the conversation, we got to see their respect for each other, their differences, and their attempt to reconcile their disagreements.  We distinctly saw their differences in personality.  Jefferson, ever the gentleman, patiently listened.  Adams, however, well known for his choleric temperament, dared to interrupt Jefferson more than once!  The kids loved the reality!  

     In November, we got to see Meriweather Lewis.  This was a lot of fun.  The actor who portrayed Lewis is a former school teacher and that showed.  He was extremely interesting and engaging. He made Jefferson smile a lot! He had tons of show and tell, of course, since Lewis shipped to Jefferson many artifacts from his journey west.  Whenever the kids asked questions, Lewis usually had some object to show them. Since I sew a lot of costumes, and my son is always challenging me with the historical characters he wants to portray, I especially liked it when Lewis stood up to explain his uniform.     

     We also got to see Lafayette.  We met this actor last summer in Colonial Williamsburg, as he portrayed Lafayette there. 



However in CW, the time frame is September 1781, right before the Battle of Yorktown.  Therefore, we can only ask him questions up to that time. During the Poplar Forest conversation, it is much later and the kids were able to ask questions about the Declaration of the Rights of Man, the French Revolution and his grand tour of America in 1824.  Since we are huge Lafayette fans, this was fun to learn more information.  It was a lot of fun to watch Jefferson heap praise on Lafayette, because that was precisely the kind of guy Lafayette was.  He did so much for our country, and attempted so much for his own country of France.  One girl asked what they considered to be their greatest contributions.  I thought I knew what Jefferson would say, because they are written on his tombstone (at his request).  However, to my surprise, he said marrying his wife was the greatest achievement of his life!  What a great example to kids.  And of course, how can the Marquis follow up but to say the same thing?  lol 

     I had previewed the tape after everyone went to bed one night, because I was preparing lessons for the various revolutions in Europe in 1830.  I was wondering if any of this would be discussed in the conversations. My kids were upset to discover that I had already previewed the tape without them.  They asked me tons of questions but I didn't want to give anything away.  This was the one tape they were especially looking forward to.  But I did tell them hints, such as there is a really funny moment in there, a particular comment from Lafayette to Jefferson. Sure enough, when we all watched the tape, everyone was laughing when it came!

     At the end they were asked to sum things up, and one thing I found interesting was that Lafayette talked about never giving up and always striving for your goals.  His country of France never did achieve the type of freedom America had, despite all his efforts. After all, France's background of history was vastly different from America's.  Lafayette was a moderate seeking reform for the peasants in the French Revolution and when the Reign of Terror took over, he had to flee for his life.  He was put in an Austrian prison.  His wife was also imprisoned in Paris and was destined for the guillotine. Through the efforts of George Washington, Lafayette and his wife survived that awful time, although other family members were sadly guillotined.  When he was eventually released, he did not support Napoleon.  When Napoleon was eventually conquered, the Congress of Vienna put Louis XVIII on the throne.  He was a moderate who gave up.  His brother Charles X took over and was an absolute monarch. Everything the Republic of France fought for was lost.  Eventually, Lafayette supported the July Revolution of 1830 where Charles X was overthrown.  Lafayette was so respected by the people of France, he could have become president.  He thought long and hard about this.  After having experienced the Reign of Terror, he had to admit the people of France might need a bit more control.  As a result he supported a limited monarchy and helped to put Louis Philippe, the Duke of Orleans, on the throne. He was called the people's king, because he was to rule in favor of the people.  However, in time, he became more controlling.  When one of the kids asked Lafayette about these things, he said France has always strived for independence.  My daughter, who does high school work, has been studying the Romantic Era in the early 19th century.  Striving was a theme in Romantic works.  We've read portions of Goethe's Faust where Faust was always striving to achieve good.  We are finishing Les Miserables this week and Jean Valjean is always striving to become a better person.  Striving does seem to accurately reflect the actions of the people of France as their government constantly changed in this era. 

     We did some of the Lafayette activities on the web site.  Some are quotes from critics of Lafayette.  They angered my kids!  My kids rebutted each critic.  Interestingly, I felt that the critics did more to praise the integrity of Lafayette than discredit him.  Another activity was to pretend that Jefferson and Lafayette were going to interview with you for different jobs.  Which would you hire for each job?  I thought the kids made excellent choices, based on the details they had learned about each man.  We also discovered that one of the ships on which Lafayette sailed is currently being recreated in France, using 18th century building methods. The link is at the Poplar Forest lesson plans. 

     We have really enjoyed learning more history through first person interpretations at Poplar Forest.  It brings the pages of the books we read to life and makes history more real and applicable!  Thank you to all at Poplar Forest who have worked on these projects, contributing to a fun learning experience!