Saturday, January 24, 2009

Pioneer Dialectic History Presentation

Can you guess who we are?





     I allowed the kids to choose whomever they wanted to represent from our most current era of historical study, 1826-1850.  My son was Davy Crockett.  He has had this planned for almost a year.  In fact when he saw the gun and powder horn at the historical reenactor's booth, he asked if he could have them for his birthday in preparation for this unit celebration.  My daughter was Narcissa Whitman.  I didn't represent a particular person in history this time.  I focused on directing...and ahem, laughing.  More on that in a bit. 

     We began by calling everyone to dinner, just like a good pioneer cook would.  I put my son in charge of this, since I knew he'd be hankerin' to make a bit of noise!  He banged on a pan with a spoon and yelled, "Come and get it!"  Everyone seemed surprised by the lack of formality.  Formality, for pioneers?  Are you kidding?  Make yourself at home and sit down to some grub! 





     We had rabbit (chicken) stew (to represent a meal cooked on the trail), sourdough bread (to represent the infamous bread from San Francisco ever since the Gold Rush days), apple cider, and peach pie (to represent a homey dessert once the pioneers got settled). 



     The children had decided they wanted to stay in character throughout the evening, just like they've seen Lafayette do at Colonial Williamsburg. They used information they learned from one of their electronic field trips to put their characterization together. I was excited that they wanted to do this and I didn't even have to talk them into it!  I supported them the whole way and just let them take the course they wanted to take with it.  Little did I know where the path would lead...

   During dinner, everyone started asking them questions.  My husband asked why pioneers moved West.  Ah, a great opportunity to discuss Manifest Destiny, dwindling land supplies that were no longer fertile, etc. As my son started explaining the lack of land in the East, he got onto the topic of large families and he emphasized that all families back then had 10-12 children.  That made my parents and husband laugh, as he sounded so definitive about it. 

     After talking about that awhile, they started asking my daughter about who she was, because they had never heard of Narcissa Whitman before.  She was a missionary who traveled from New York to Oregon with her husband, to minister to the American Indians.  My husband asked her how much help her children gave her, (after all, everyone had 10-12 children back then to help on the farm).  She was sort of stumped at that, not being used to doing a first person characterization.  She said she had only been married a short time when they set out for Oregon, then she had a baby, but the baby drowned in the river on the way.  She said this so matter of factly with such intensity that I couldn't help but laugh.  Trying to compose myself, I encouraged her to express some remorse, like she did when our cat Slipper died earlier last week.   As she was trying to process that I added, "Lafayette added lots of emotion to his presentation.  He didn't just say things matter of factly."  She got it then and you could tell she was trying to work that into her character.  At that time my husband asked her if she and her husband had tried to have anymore children.  (I choked when I heard that question!)  She thought a moment, then very matter of factly told him, "Well...no!" (as if why would they want to try to have more children?) That just did me in and I laughed and laughed some more.  Everyone else laughed too, except the kids who thought we were nuts! My dad told her she needed to have more children to attain that required 10-12 amount to help around the farm.  She sat there trying to figure that out and then very matter of factly said that she adopted 7 children.  At this point she was asked lots of questions about those 7 kids and they were teasing her about whether she ever got the 10-12 children.  Finally we composed ourselves, finished dinner, and went on with the program.  

     Whew!  Time for a little composure with musical compositions.  My daughter read the history of "My Country 'Tis of Thee",





which my son played it on the fife.





Then my son read the history of "The First Noel", 



which my daughter played on the piano.



Then my daughter read the history of "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" 



which my son played on the piano.



     Then the kids did the power point presentation, based on their recent research paper on the Comparison of American and Texan Independence.  My daughter had a couple of giggle points in here, when she discussed Lafayette, during rehearsals.  Whenever she mentioned Lafayette, she giggled, because she got to actually "meet" him at Colonial Williamsburg and he made our time there quite memorable when he called my son "the young historian."  (Actually she did a lot of giggling while at Colonial Williamsburg too.  I've heard that teenage girls do a lot of giggling.  I was relieved to hear it was a phase, because I can't imagine where she'd get the giggles from otherwise!)  She was still giggling when mentioning Lafayette during rehearsal Saturday, but she did a superb job that evening and got through the slide show without a single giggle!  (Those were to come later...)  I was willing to advance their power points for them but they wouldn't let me.  They insisted on doing everything themselves. 



      After the presentation, the floor was opened to questions and there was a lot of interesting discussion.  My parents had a lot of fun with the comparison with American and Texan Independence and threw in some of their own ideas. 
     Then the kids did their character interpretations.  There was one point my daughter was always giggling through during rehearsal, and that is the moment where "Narcissa" says she was pregnant and gave birth.  Once again that part made her giggle, reducing me to laughter that I tried in vain to supress while trying to keep my camera still. (Due to reaching maximum capacity in my photobucket account, and wishing to retain the free service, I've had to take out a lot of videos.)

      After that I said with a smile, "The floor is open to question and answers...even though many have already been asked during dinner."  Then we all started laughing again.  My mom did ask "Narcissa" if she got to see her 7 children grow up.  "Narcissa" looked at me for a prompt because she was portraying Narcissa a year before she and her family were massacred.  So to be in character, she does not know what happens in her future.  Even though we've discussed this previously in preparation for the evening, it simply isn't the same as thinking on your feet with unexpected questions before an audience.  I reminded her to think about how Lafayette answered these types of questions by hinting about his future, expressing what he would hope or feared or desired while sort of hinting at the facts of what would be.  So she thought a moment and said, "I hope we don't have any Indian massacres that could destroy the family."  Then everyone looked at me, and my mom asked, "Is there a place for us to go to for answers?"  I guess our guests weren't able to pick up the hints. Hmmmm...then I got an idea.  I told them we could do this like the Colonial Williamsburg Electronic Field Trips.  They always have a question and answer session with a few 18th century characters and 21st century historians.  I told them I'd represent the 21st century historian to back up the 19th century characters.  That allowed the kids to stay in character and merely to give hints as to the future and I gave the extra details. 

     Then it was my son's turn to do his character interpretation of Davy Crockett.  There was one part which is a quote that I told him, during rehearsal, that he really needed to memorize instead of referring to his note cards.  It is long and fun. Although I couldn't talk him into it when we were planning his character several weeks ago, he now agreed it had to be memorized.  Within about 30 minutes he knew it perfectly and with excellent expression.  He nailed it for every rehearsal since then. However, during the unit celebration, what can I say?  We were on a roll. Poor guy.  He was doomed. When he got to his quote, I did a bad thing.  I looked at my dad, who was trying to suppress a smile...because my son was just SO good and it is a really fun quote and you HAVE to smile.  Well that just set me off again and to my shame I started to giggle, my son started to giggle, and, sigh, all was lost.  Here it is...


 My son insisted we pause the camera and begin again from the top.  He really wanted to do it perfectly.  I tried to cover myself by saying we were laughing with Lafayette all the time and he never missed a beat!  He thought that was funny and was able to loosen up a bit. Take 2! Roll 'em!




By this time my batteries were running down so I apologized profusely (in between giggles) and told him if he got more batteries for me, we'd do another take. I was hoping the time it would take to do this would help us to compose ourselves.  Take 3! 




     Whew!  Well, now it was time for Q & A with Davy Crockett.  There were lots of questions here because we found some great stuff on Davy Crockett.  Having lived here in San Antonio most of our lives and having visited the Alamo umpteen times, I wondered how in the world to present Davy Crockett in a fresh way, so that everyone would not be bored?  Like my son said in his speech, Davy had no intention to fight in the Alamo.  He was fed up with politics due to the Indian Removal Act and decided to come to Texas to explore and eventually settle with his family.  Like Lafayette in Williamsburg presents his story on the eve of Yorktown, "Davy Crockett" wanted to tell his story on the eve of the Alamo, before he even arrives in Texas.  Everyone wanted to know how he ended up at the Alamo, so once again I became the 21st century historian after he gave excellent hints. I explained that of course when Davy arrived, there wasn't much he could do to avoid the fight for independence.  As it was, Santa Anna was on the march across Texas and all the settlers rightly feared for their lives. Santa Anna threatened "no quarter" which means no one they battled would be left to live.  The Runaway Scrape occured, where all the settlers fled East as quickly as they could.  It was impossible to live in Texas during this time and not be caught up on one side or the other. This was a life or death situation for all and daily life as they knew it was suspended in fear of Santa Anna.  It was a lot of fun for everyone to learn something new about our legendary "hometown" hero from Tennessee.

     Interestingly, my mom asked about the Compromise of 1850 (I forget how we got to that).  I exclaimed, "We just learned about that this week!"  In fact, the next thing that happened was the very thing I blogged about previous to this post.  My daughter emphasized with big eyes "that Mirabeau B. Lamar lived up to his name.  Guess what his name is?" Then her eyes got even bigger and she exclaimed, "Bonaparte!" Everyone started laughing.   

Then my daughter gave a recitation on Henry Wadsworth Longfellows' "The Village Blacksmith." 






Finally the kids shared the crafts they had made.  Here is my daughter's patchwork quilt.  It is hand pieced and hand quilted.  It is still a work in progress...

Here is her yarn doll...



Here is a cornhusk angel my son made...



Laying down is a yarn soldier with a musket that my son made.  He made a smaller cornhusk soldier and wove a tent for him to sleep in...



He made this whirligig...



Here are the books that were used for this unit including history, dialectic literature, rhetoric literature and rhetoric government.  There are also a few movies we watched.



    

     I hope that by sharing our bloopers, you too will be encouraged to have a little fun with history.  If things don't go as perfectly planned, just enjoy the moment and make a memory!  I'm glad my kids were able to laugh about it too.  The kids have a new appreciation for the actor/interpretors at Colonial Williamsburg who can stay in character during questioning and laughter. They learned to let loose and laugh at themselves. They learned to keep giving it their best effort.  And I think that we all learned that first person interpretation is a lot of fun!     

Friday, January 23, 2009

Texas Land Deals and Napoleonic Influence in Texas? From the Perspective of Kids...

     I had to laugh at some comments my kids have made while studying Texas. 

     One day my son chuckled and said, "Hey Mom, Stephen F. Austin was Texas' first real estate agent!"  Hmmmmm, well I never quite thought of it that way.  Stephen F. Austin was actually an empresario who contracted with the Spanish/Mexican government to bring Americans to live in Texas. 

     Then my daughter approached me another day with a laugh and this comment: "Mirabeau B. Lamar really lived up to his name when he tried to expand Texas into New Mexico!"  Mirabeau Lamar was the second president of Texas. Apparently when Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836, they thought they had rights to land as far west as New Mexico.   Lamar put this idea into action, by sending a group of men on the ill fated Texan Santa Fe Expedition. 

     Although Texas was its own country, they were in debt and had been seeking to become part of America.  But the northern states in the US Congress did not want Texas to enter the Union, because it would be a slave state. Eventually, Texas became part of America in 1845 as the 28th state. 

     Soon after, the Mexican American War began, partly because the Mexicans continued to insist they owned the land between the Rio Grande and Nueces River. It was interesting to read a few weeks ago that President Polk, on the other hand, was anxious to enter this war to fulfill the Manifest Destiny.

     Finally Mexico lost the war and gave up much of its land in the Southwest to America.  This week we studied the Compromise of 1850, which confused my kids.  So I found some interesting sites that are included here as links.  Did you know that Texas was even bigger than it is today?  This became part of a huge debate in the US Congress over how to deal with the new land aquired from Mexico and how they would eventually enter the Union.  The North wanted the new states to enter as free, whereas the South was fighting for the admission of slave states.  I asked the kids if they had ever noticed a different map of Texas with different boundary lines.  "Oh yes, it used to be bigger!" After four different proposals to redraw the Texas borders, Texas lost some land in today's Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico.  This was part of several concessions in the Compromise of 1850, that delayed the Civil War for ten years.  In return for giving up all that land, Texas got $10,000,000!  Finally, they had a little cash to pay off their debts! All of this (partly) because of a guy who lived up to his name...Mirabeau Bonaparte Lamar. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Farewell Slipper Kitty

     With great sorrow, we had to have our cat put to sleep last Monday.  We had adopted her from an animal shelter and from the best we could tell, she was entering her twentieth year.  She had been my constant companion; the children called her "Mom's Shadow".  She was extremely well behaved.  She was good with the kids, although she loved to terrorize them when they were smaller.  I wish I had more pictures of the really funny stuff.  Like the time I woke up and found yarn strung throughout the house.  She acted perfectly innocent, but I knew better!  She loved to play fetch.  Slipper especially enjoyed interrupting our school day.  Sometimes she had an uncanny knack for joining our history presentations (Ancient EgyptRenaissance) as a historical kitty right on cue!  A year ago she started her first person (I mean kitty) historical interpretation of Theodore Roosevelt.  She even liked to cuddle and listen to stories on Christmasy Silent Nights. To the very end, she was capable of warming our hearts and putting smiles on our faces.  Making the decision to put her to sleep was especially difficult because she continued to have a strong spirit, even though her body finally wore out.  The children kept asking how that could be possible.  I said it was love. 

     Anyone who has lost a pet, especially with children in the house, can imagine how the day went.  My husband felt like the bad guy for taking her to the vet.  My daughter let the tears flow.  My son was full of questions.  Lots of questions.  Difficult questions. Of course I've been weepy too. 

     When my husband came home from the vet, we gathered on the couch and talked about...well...I don't know what.  My husband recalled the kids squeezing the stuffing out of the cat, like Peter Rabbit that we used to read to the kids.  I had to think about that a moment then I realized what he meant. He was actually thinking of The Velveteen Rabbit, one of my favorite children's books.  We no longer have the book, since it eventually fell apart.  I told the family what I recalled of the story.  The Velveteen Rabbit was a stuffed animal.  In the nursery, the Velveteen Rabbit asked the rocking horse how a toy becomes real.  "Oh a toy is real when all of it's fur is rubbed off like mine.  The boy has made me real." "Ahhh," thought the rabbit, as he looked upon the worn old horse.  The Velveteen Rabbit hoped that one day he too would become real.  The boy played with the rabbit every day.  One day, the rabbit realized much of his fur had been worn off.  Oh, he was delighted.  Now he was real.  Then for a period of time, he did not get to play with the boy.  He found out that the boy was very sick and actually near death, so none of the toys were being played with.  One day, the nurse got the rabbit and laid him in bed with the sick boy.  Oh how hot the boy was.  Raging hot. But the rabbit did not care.  He loved the boy and hoped that by being near him he could comfort the boy in his illness.  One day the fever broke and the boy was getting better.  At that time, the doctor told the nurse that she had to burn all of the bedding and everything that was in the bed, to kill the dangerously contagious germs.  Into the burn pile the Velveteen Rabbit was tossed.  As the fire was being lit, a fairy came down and rescued the rabbit.  She set him down on the lawn and told him to try out his new legs, for now he was real because of the boy's love for him. At that moment tears and cries of sorrow broke out from my family.  While we dab our tears, perhaps you'd like to share some of the happy memories we have of Slipper kitty.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Colonial Williamsburg Electronic Field Trip: In Pursuit of Science

     Our historical adventures with the award winning Colonial Williamsburg Electronic Field Trip took us down a scientific path this month.  My kids enjoyed it immensely.  The presentation of material built on the very things they have been learning in their daily science studies. 

     Monday we went over the historical background of the Age of Enlightenment.  Then the kids played the interactive games at the EFT website.  After each game, they watched the video, then the question and answer session with CW historians from a few years ago when this premiered. 

     The story line is reminiscent of my own son.  Whenever I send him to complete a task, I may not see him for hours because he had to investigate something.  When he is not examining something, he is asking questions.  Scores of questions, tons of questions, millions of questions!  Daniel, the colonial boy in the movie, is no different.

     In the story, it is 1769 in Williamsburg, and 11 year old Daniel is sent on errands to the shoemaker and the printer and must return in time to join his family on the last ferry across the river to home.  Well this is an inquisitive boy.  On the way to the cobbler, Daniel helps to put out a fire by filling buckets of water for the fire truck.  Now covered from head to toe with soot, he hurries on to the shoemaker to fulfill the first errand when he hears the bells strike in the distance. 

     At the shoemaker Daniel asks tons of questions about the water glass magnifier.  Eventually, he collects the shoes and runs to the print shop.  On the way he sees the fire engine getting cleaned and stops to ask a ton of questions about how it works.  After a demonstration there Daniel hears the bells strike and hurries on to the printer.  At the printer, he asks tons more questions about how the printing press works. 

     In the second part of the movie, Daniel helps a gentleman, John Page, calculate the transit of Venus. John Page really did live in the area.  Because he had wealth, he was able to indulge his interests in astronomy. To explain the transit of Venus, he used an orrery.  It was interesting to see how the sextant and special lenses in the gorgeous telescope were used to obtain necessary information to track the transit of Venus. 

     In the third part of the movie, Daniel is five years older, attending the College of William and Mary.  The teacher is Professor James Madison, cousin to the future President James Madison.  Historically, Professor Madison had attended the college and later taught Natural Philosophy there. In fact, he eventually became president of the college. Professor Madison conducted several experiments, many of which explained some of the principles that were learned in the earlier part of the movie.  On each day of class, Daniel arrived late because he had had yet another inquisitive adventure.  

     The three on-line activities were great.  In the first one, we were given different scenarios and we had to choose the most Enlightened, scientific choice for each.  In the second one, Benjamin Franklin explained how he conducted some experiments regarding electricity, which we could duplicate on the screen.  Then we had to record our results.  The third one was my favorite.  John Page explained that we could help select the four best papers for publication, which would be sent to the scientific society in England. He explained the types of things to look for to choose truely beneficial research that would advance science. We got to listen to several different men explain their theories and research (if they actually did any).  We rated each one.  At the end, we chose the four best.   For each of those, we wrote an introduction into the book on the computer.  After the publication arrived in England, an 18th century Englishman appeared on the screen and thanked us for our valuable contribution for the cause of science.  We each did these activities separately, at our computers.  Afterwards, we had a Socratic Discussion on the last activity.  We discussed which papers we selected to send to England.  It was helpful to hear why the kids chose the ones they did, yet not others. Two were obviously the best and some were obviously poor choices.  But they got stuck on the other ones.  I helped them to see why some choices were better than others.  It was fun to hear the "Ohhhhhhs."  Yes, they were enlightened by these activities!

     Then we read short biographies of several 18th century scientists.  I had the kids each select one for their project this week. The project was completely different from anything they had ever done before.  It was a display board.  It required light writing, which was great due to our having been busy with life on top of having recently completed a research paper.  Surprisingly, my daughter did not choose the lady scientist from Italy.  Instead, she was inspired by Carolus Linnaeus, due to her interest in plants. 



My son decided to further research Edmund Halley. 



     They worked on these display boards primarily on Thursday, in between the live broadcasts.  On Electronic Field Trip days we spend the day working on the projects, as if we were on a real field trip.  This has turned out to be a wonderful break from the regular schedule while reviewing basic skills and learning new things.  The kids always anticipate these days with enthusiasm.

     We watched the morning live broadcast on our local public television station.  I only recently discovered this option.  If you check your local listings, perhaps you can view one of these field trips and see how wonderful they are for yourself!  Then you can enroll with Homeschool Buyers Co-op at an affordable price for all of the wonderful activities that go with the program!  Because our local station only aired the morning broadcast, we watched the afternoon's live broadcast on-line. 



     For the question and answer session, we got to hear from historical interpreters portraying Professor James Madison and John Page, and 2 modern scientists/historians from the College of William and Mary.  One child asked if Ben Franklin knew he could be electrocuted if he wasn't careful.  Before John Page could answer, my son exclaimed "the turkey!"  Yes, John Page told the infamous story of how Ben Franklin electrified a turkey to cook it for tender meat, only to get electrocuted himself.   Another great question was how these experiments were funded.  The general answer was that experiments back then had to be funded from one's own wealth.  In the morning, John Page added his own personal experience, of having purchased his special telescope which he highly prized.  That same question was asked in the afternoon and again John Page answered, this time saying that he purchased his expensive telescope "much to his wife's chagrin."  I had a feeling there was a bit of 21st century experience to that answer!   Another child brought up a question about man landing on the moon, something that John Page could not imagine!  The kids loved it all! 

     My kids each thought of great questions to e-mail to Daniel.  We've been wondering who would actually answer the questions for Daniel.  Surely, an adult would be fielding the historically scientific questions.  My daughter e-mailed this: "If someone were to go to college in the eighteenth century to be trained as a scientist, what kind of classes would he have to take?"   The reply was extremely informative and interesting and full of fun 18th century language!  A few hours later my son e-mailed his question.  "Somewhere I read that a bolt of lightening is seven times hotter than the sun's surface.  Even if a bolt of lightening is not that hot, what prevents a lightning rod from melting in the extreme heat of a lightening bolt?  The rod is after all only copper." The answer he received was also extremely interesting and informative, and using much of the same style as my daughter had received.  We had a lot of fun reading this answer!  As I read it out loud, I got this feeling that I knew who wrote it.  As I was considering this, my daughter exclaimed my very thoughts, "I think I know who Daniel is!  It's Professor James Madison!"   The e-mails sounded so much like him!  Well, there is no way to test the evidence. But the data we collected was that he began her e-mail, "Mistress _____________, A very interesting query," whereas he began my son's, "Master ____________, a very worthy query..."  Also words that ended the e-mail like, "I trust..." were in both.  Although the words in between varied, we can just hear Professor James Madison saying the words.  Alas, we'll never be able to prove our theory. However like a good puzzle, it was fun to try to figure out!

     Over the weekend, the kids completed their projects and rehearsed their presentations.  They asked if they could wear their costumes when they gave their presentations to their dad!  I got my son's everyday Colonial costume out of one closet, then from the other closet I got his Lafayette costume where I keep his Renaissance/Colonial shirt. While I was taking his shirt off the hangar that holds his Lafayette costume, he got a big grin and thanked me for being a great seamstress.  Awwwwww...... (I'm really not a great seamstress.  I have so much to learn.  But I am touched that the kids enjoy doing the costumes.  Someone once asked me if the kids appreciate all the sewing of costumes that I do for them.  Yes, they do!  And  I think the Lafayette costume is my son's favorite.)

     I had an easel for them to prop their boards on, but they actually felt more comfortable with holding the display boards themselves.  We have had extremely busy lives the last few weeks so they did not have this information memorized, even though they had learned it well.  My intent was not to push for perfection, but instead to give them practice in public speaking.  Doing these field trips once a month is giving us seven more opportunities for them to practice public speaking in a fun way.  It is definitely paying off.  My daughter has had some learning delays while growing up, and this afternoon I marveled at how well composed her presentation was!

     I did very little to help them with the display boards.  Instead I encouraged them to consider the audience. They've been in the audience for Revolutionary City at Colonial Williamsburg. What did they enjoy about that?  I challenged them to transfer that to their presentations.  What type of information would the audience want to hear?  How would the audience like to have it presented to them?   Although dubious at first, they rose to the challenge and did an excellent job!  My husband was impressed!

Here is my son talking about Edmund Halley...

 

Here is my daughter presenting information on Carolus Linnaeus...



Then there was time for questions and answers...



     My kids had a blast stepping into the 18th century to learn a little Natural Philosophy! In fact, as I type this, it is twilight.  My son is taking out the recycling and has called us out to see the flash of light across the sky.  Ohhhhhh that's right!  A few nights ago he asked me if I had ever seen a comet, a shooting star, and the International Space Station.  Yes to all three!  Then he wanted to know the difference in how they looked.  Well tonight he had the moving light pegged as the ISS.  We all ran out front but sadly we weren't quite quick enough to see it.  However we did see Venus, the steady bright light in the sky.  Hopeful, we went to the backyard where the ISS crossed over.  We still couldn't see it, but my daughter saw a twinkling light in the sky.  Testing my son, I asked him what that was...a star! Good for him!   He knows the difference from the stars and planets when looking at the night sky! Now he wants me to look up the path of the ISS to confirm his sighting.  Excuse me while I work with Daniel, I mean my 21st century son!  International Space Station Sightings (He was right!  That was the ISS we had just missed!)  

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Announcing the 2009 Winner of the Local Geography Bee! Will He Go to Washington DC?

Congratulations to my son for winning the 2009 local Geography Bee!

Local Geography Bee winner!


The medal actually comes from the National Geography Bee in Washington DC.  At the link is a quiz for you to see where you stand!  ;)

Front of Geography Bee Medal

The local contests are competed in individual schools.  Because he is homeschooled, he competed with area homeschoolers from our city. 

Back of the Geography Bee medal 


     Since he won the school level competition, he got to stay and take a written test.  The winner from each school takes this 70 question test to qualify for the state competition in April. The best are chosen.  He won last year too, but did not qualify for state.  This year he thinks he did better on the written exam.  I told him that makes sense.  He's had another year to learn more geography and he now has experience under his belt.  =)  We'll know in March whether he qualifies for state. The winner of the state competition goes on to Washington DC in May. 

    

Friday, January 9, 2009

Socratically Making Discussions in the Laurens Family

I am often asked how to do a Socratic Discussion during history lessons.  Socratic Discussions originate with the Ancient Greek, Socrates, who instead of giving answers, drew the answers out of others by asking lots of questions.  This is the hallmark of our classical history curriculum and has revolutionized how my kids learn.  Instead of them passively tuning out while I lecture, I now actively engage them by asking lots of questions that force them to dig into their grey matter to dust off information they have previously read.  I help them to make connections and the result is that they get excited and they learn!  A case in point involves an interesting connection I made while preparing lessons on John Quincy Adams and the gag rule in the House of Representatives in 1837.

America's Founding Fathers had written into the First Ammendment to the Constitution, the right for citizens to petition Congress about concerns of importance to them...such as slavery.  Now that was a hot topic in the 1830's!  Although John Quincy Adams (aka Old Man Eloquent) was always willing to address the topic of slavery, the Southern plantation owners were not.  In fact, Henry Laurens Pinckney, a Congressman from South Carolina, wrote a resolution that petitions regarding slavery could not be addressed.  Named after him, the gag rule passed. For years, John Quincy Adams fought against this gag rule.

 I didn't even have to wait for official class time.  One day while in the van, I overheard the kids talking about the week's reading assignment.  I listened to them for a few minutes while I waited for them to make a certain connection on their own.  Hmmmm, it wasn't happening. Apparently, they needed a little Socratic nudge.

Me:  What was the name of the man who wrote the gag rule?

Son: Henry Laurens Pinckney.

Me:  Does that name sound familiar to you?

Son:  Pinckney?  Um...no.

Me:  How about the first two parts of the name?

Son:  Henry Laurens?

Daughter:  Oh, wasn't he in the Continental Congress?

Son:  Oh yeah.  That sounds vaguely familiar.

Me:  Yes, he was president of the Continental Congress during the American Revolution.  Do you remember the name of his son?

Son:  Oh...wait...don't tell me!  We learned about him in the Yorktown Electronic Field Trip.  John Laurens!

Me:  Yes.  Now do you remember any causes that he represented?

Son:  He fought too hard in battle.  Lafayette said that he did everything that he could to get killed.

Me:  That is true.  But John Laurens actually inspired Lafayette with a couple of his passions.  Do you remember anything for which he worked intensely?

Daughter:  He was an abolitionist!

Son:  Oh yeah.  He wanted slaves to fight in the war in return for their freedom.

Me:  Precisely.  John Laurens inspired Lafayette to fight slavery.  Do you remember which state the Laurens family was from?

Son and Daughter:  (blank looks)

Me:  They were from South Carolina.  Henry Laurens, from the Continental Congress, owned a slave plantation there.  John Laurens was Henry Laurens Pinckney's uncle.  Do you remember when John Laurens died?

Son:  Yes, he died in a minor skirmish about a year after Yorktown.

Me:  That is correct.  Henry Laurens Pinckney was born several years after John Laurens' death.  Do you think, if John Laurens had lived longer, that he would have continued his work as an abolitionist within his family and even the nation?

     Wow, did that ever get the ball rolling!  The kids were now impassioned, full of lively opinions on the abolitionists vs slave owners and there was no way I could get a word in edge wise if I tried.  Mission accomplished

Monday, January 5, 2009

Homeschool Room Remodel-Done!

My husband finished the doors, the final part of the wall unit, over the holidays. 

 

I finally hung up the stars...



More of the doors...



The door on the right was an extra challenge.  That is where the CPU, router, etc, are housed.  The CPU in particular puts out so much heat, that my husband had planned on installing a fan.  However that did not work out.  A couple of weeks ago he asked me to think of a way to allow the heat to escape, yet have it look finished.  Oh that's easy!  Since I like French Country, the perfect solution was chicken wire!  He couldn't believe it.  However, he looked up his woodworking source on line and found chicken wire for installing in cabinet faces.  It would cost over $200!  He told me that chicken wire was too expensive to use, so how would I like a radiator cover instead.  Oh no, that's not French Country!  Besides, I knew how we could do this cheaply!  One, we could find a farmer and pay him a couple of dollars for chicken wire, or we could go to Lowes.  My husband decided to take me shopping at Lowes.  =)  First he took me through various options like plastics, grids, etc.  Oh no, we had to go to the garden section.  He still couldn't believe this!  In the garden section, we found a lovely roll of chicken wire for under $10.  Then I took him to the spray paint department.  After all, silver chicken wire would not work in our wall unit, when the accent color is bronze.  We bought a can of bronze spray paint for metals.  Now our wall unit looks even more French Country than it did before the chicken wire!  Project complete!

  

   



Actually, I must confess...in my husband's mind this project is not yet finished.  He is hoping that I will take some stain to antique and highlight all of the textures that he used in the project.  



  

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Revolutionary Real Estate Requests in Virginia

     We have been researching the price of houses, pending a possible move to Northern Virginia.  In the process, I have met some wonderful people from Virginia who have been helping us immensely in figuring out the cost of living of the area.  Their generosity in helping us figure out some details has encouraged us as we are reminded of fond times in the friendly state of Virginia.  While waiting out the job search process, I would like to thank everyone who has helped us out with great information!  =)

     In the meantime, we've been investigating real estate options on-line.  I've started teasing the kids, naming possible street names from prospective houses that I've found.  Would they like to live on Gloucester Street?  That was received with grins.  How about Ichabod Crane Avenue?  Apparently my son felt a need to interject at this point, with a big smile.  "You know what I'd like, Mom?  If we move to Virginia, I hope we move to a house on a street named after Lafayette.  If not Lafayette, then George Washington.  If not George Washington, then Patrick Henry."  Hmmmm, do Virginia real estate agents get that kind of wish list very often????

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Bringing in a New Year with Hope

     Tis the season to deck the halls with boughs of holly (we did that), troll the ancient Yuletide Carol (we've done that), strike the harp and join the chorus ( we've all be playing Christmas tunes on the piano)....and to catch the cold virus.  What, you're not familiar with that verse in "Deck the Halls?"  That's an original verse we made up, because I can't remember the last holiday season we've had where all of us has been healthy. Hmmmmm, it must have been in those days of yore...before children, God bless them!  lol  

     And here I thought we were doing so well, exercising daily, eating healthy, drinking fluids, keeping positive in the midst of uncertain times, but somehow those nasty cold viruses have a way of sneaking in.  My poor daughter was sick during Christmas but had excellent spiritis throughout, I was impressed.  But we finally all succombed to the nasty virus. So when everyone asks about our wonderful holidays, we aren't exactly in agreement.  lol  

     Yesterday, New Year's Eve arrived and the children were feeling better and anxious to get going on our annual game night hours early, even though their dad was at work.  Sure, I was happy to oblige, I had been looking forward to this fun time to get my mind off our uncertain future, and I was sort of hanging in there with the cold. 

     The youngest gets to choose the first game.  The winner writes their name in the lid next to the year.  It has been fun adding to this list each year and seeing who has won in years past.  In the beginning, I used to win most of the games. Now you know why I like this evening so much!  =)  However a couple of years ago my then 11 year old son won every game!  Of course he was ecstatic and I was chagrined.  I consoled myself by telling myself I must be a very good teacher.  lol  In reality though, he was born with a brilliant mind!  It has little to do with me!  Last year my husband won most of the games as I recall.  Before my son became so brilliant, my daughter won quite a few.  We never know how these nights will turn out!  

     My son picked the first game, Life.  Sure, let's get that one out of the way!  LOL  I do not like this game.  I always go to college and end up with the worst salary.  Hmmmm, isn't that true in the life of teachers anyway?  When I went to college all my friends told me I was too smart to be a teacher.  I should become a doctor or lawyer instead.  But I suppose I was a glutton for poverty.  I became a teacher and now homeschool.  I do lots of volunteer type stuff as a teacher now and my husband is aggressively suggesting ideas for me to make money at this! Perhaps I could teach Latin over the internet.  I don't think so.  I am learning Latin, even though I own a Latin curriculum yahoo group to help other homeschool moms.  Whenever they ask a question, they really stretch my brain, but it has always been for the best.  Well,  surprise, surprise, I won the game.  I started with the lowest salary, but had an opportunity to trade salary's.  So I switched my $20,000 for my son's $100,000.  He didn't mind, because he knows he will soon land on the same space (he always does) and would get it back.  Well don't you know he landed on that space before I even had a chance to earn a paycheck!  The sweet child took pity on me so he traded with his sister instead and took her $80,000 salary.  That is the only reason I won this game.  



     I picked my favorite game next, Scrabble!  This used to be the game I always won, but my kids are getting pretty good at this, so I suggested a challenge.  How about we use words specific to Colonial Williamsburg?  They now have a new feature, "The Word of the Day" and we could reference that for the game.  My kids said no way.  sigh  LOL  They referenced the dictionary the entire game, even during their turn.  Even though this is against the official rules, I'd rather they learn and play well and not get discouraged.  My daughter did a terrific job playing big words!  My son would find words in the dictionary that he wasn't quite sure of the meaning but played them anyway. lol  He was in the lead until the end, when I snuck in some additional letters to other words.  That gave him the idea to do the same.  I won this game.  I think the kids did a great job, because in the end we each had only 1-3 letters left.  



     During this game my husband came home feeling awful and went straight to bed for a nap.  By the time he awoke, this game was over and I got our festive snacks ready for dinner.  Tamales are festive around here so we enjoy them for Christmas Eve and New Years Eve.  We settled down to snacks and enjoyed an old movie, Bachelor Mother with Ginger Rogers and David Niven which takes place during New Years.  The kids begged to see this funny movie.

     Then I picked the Colonial Williamsburg game, because I knew it was one of my daughter's favorites.  My husband did play this game with us, though he didn't know how long he'd last.  The kids had more fun than ever with this game.  Thanks to our wonderful time with Revolutionary City, they got every question correct!  My son won!



     My son picked Blokus next.  I love this game because it's a thinking game.  But due to the colds, none of us were in top strategic form.  This wasn't our best layout of tiles.  Nevertheless, my son did the best and he won!



     By this time, my husband went to bed.  It was about 10pm and I really wanted to go to bed too.  I had had little sleep the last few nights and I was getting a headache to boot.  But the kids were eager to stay up until midnight, so I tried my best to hang on.  My son picked Yahtzee next, which I won.  I was surprised, because my daughter got 2-3 Yahtzees.  My head was hurting too much to double check her math, but she is better at quick adding than I am, especially when I have a cold and a headache.  At this point I was just letting the kids do whatever and I was following their lead.



     Unbelievably to my son, I picked Jenga next. I thought this could finish out the night and help me to stay awake and somewhat focused.  You have to strategically take out blocks and place them on top, without letting the tower fall.  We never got the tower to go as high as usual.  There were extremely aggressive architects this year.



     Finally, it was close to midnight.  We watched the celebrations in downtown San Antonio.  The Tower of America is the focal point, where the #9 rides up the elevator to the top and then 2009 appears with a fireworks show. We heard a few fireworks in our neighborhood, but it was the quietest New Years ever in the 9 years we've lived here.  Our first year here was the noisiest. Back then we were not yet part of the city limits and my husband was in Korea.  The kids and cat and I were terrified.  I think we were the only ones who did not pop fireworks.  It felt like WWIII.  That is what led to this tradition of playing games.  Fireworks would go off all night, the kids were scared, and we'd let them stay up, because it would only escalate once midnight arrived.  It's turned out to be a fun tradition, even during illness.  This particular New Years also seems to foreshadow the coming year.  We have no idea what the future holds, as my husband will soon retire and is currently job hunting.  Even though we aren't enthusiastic about our uncertain future, we are going into this with hope.