Friday, July 31, 2009

Success with Math-Teaching Textbooks

     It's that time of year again to order curriculum for the new school year!  Hmmmm, well we are not yet done with last school year, since we have been extra busy with our move from Texas to Virginia. Ordering curriculum is the furthest thing from my mind right now.  However we are winding down and I did promise to share how some of our new curriculums worked for us.

     Math has always been a torture around here, probably because I don't enjoy math. The kids tend to pick up on my interests.  Although I have tried to approach math positively, I'm afraid I didn't exude enough enthusiasm for the endeavor. (Alliteration is more fun.)

     We have always used A Beka math and as my daughter started ninth grade this past year, I knew I met my match. Even though I took honors math courses in high school, and the easiest math class I could take at Trinity University (a private college in San Antonio) was pre-calculus, I spent a ot of time with our neighbor who enjoyed math. He was getting his teaching degree in math and I used to babysit his daughters. I spent every evening at the kitchen table with him, bored out of my gourd, trying to understand, when his wife would tell him it was late and I had to go home. He would be stuck on one problem and his daughters would tell me later that he stayed up all night conquering that one math problem. Why?

    I heard a lot of great things about Teaching Textbooks at my Tapestry of Grace yahoo group (Although we all use the same history curriculum, we get very off topic at the main TLT group.  It is amazing the things I have learned there.) Anyway, there is usually one consistently positive comment about this curriculum, which is that it helps the kids who don't understand math to finally comprehend and even to embrace it. Hmmmm,  the embracing part sounds impossible. The consistent negative comment I've heard is that it is not enough meat for the math major.   (By the way, that comment is up to debate as I have met National Merit Scholars who used TT. Therefore I doubt that it's not meaty enough for preparation for college math majors.) No problem! My kids have no interest in majoring in the math or sciences, so they fit in the first group perfectly. We test drove the product at the homeschool fair last May and it was looking good. I ordered it and it arrived in a couple of weeks.  

    My son got the seventh grade math. It downloads onto the computer, which was easy to do. He was always my most resistant child to math, often gazing at the paper for hours instead of conquering. I tried the old fashioned method of only assigning odds or evens, I even gave him a choice, but he still took hours.  I knew he was quite capable because whenever we play board games he is the official score keeper and he can compute the scores well. 

     Even though I am not a fan of computer games, since they do not encourage brain development, I thought the cost/benefit analysis allowed for this math program. It was a huge success!  Two brothers have developed this program and use humor to make something tedious more interesting. My son worked out the math on paper, but plugged in the answer into the program and got instant feedback if he made a mistake or if it was correct.  He carried an A+ average throughout the year and some days he even did an extra lesson. Math was always completed within the alloted hour.

      Then we moved from Texas to Virginia. The program was installed on the hard drive of my son's desk top computer. We were taking my husband's laptop, but he was hesistant to install the math program on the laptop and let my son loose on it. Sometimes my kids change  settings and we needed this laptop to remain in contact with real estate agents, lenders and title companies in Texas and Virginia. What to do?  I did not want to put math aside until we moved into a house and got my son's desktop up and running. He'd lose the momentum of what he had learned. Also, how long would it take to move into a house and get our goods delivered?

     My son solved this problem by saying that he would do all of his work in the workbook and check his work with the answer key. I was dubious, knowing his history of losing focus and staring at a workbook page.  History repeats itself, as Patrick Henry always says, and what would make this time any different? Well, it was different! He completed the program, as scheduled, the beginning of April!  Teaching Textbooks had made math such a positive experience for him, that he was no longer dependent on a cute computer program with bells and whistles to conquer!  Yea!!!!!  

     How about my daughter? She did Algebra I this year. With Algebra I, you insert disks as needed into the computer, without downloading onto the hard drive.  There is a disk for the lesson and sample problems. Then she does the work in the book. Next she checks her work and any she missed she can insert a disk to explain those problems. I had tried to keep up with her Algebra I. For me it was a refresher course, but once we put our Texas house on the market, I was not able to continue. Thankfully, Teaching Textbooks is not dependent on me for success. She plugged away, missing a few days here and there due to busy days on the road traveling and house hunting,  and finished by the end of May.  She struggled a bit in the beginning. A few algebraic concepts threw her and she failed a few tests.  I'd have her study those parts and retest. Through most of the year she carried a B average but by the time we moved, she was making A's on her tests.  Part of her problem is that she was not asking for help when she hit weak spots. She just kept plugging along. Then she'd take the test and the very problems she missed in daily work were the same ones she missed on the test.

     It could be argued that I should manage her daily work more closely. However she is of the age that she needs to be less dependent on me and learn how to narrow down her own weak spots.  This is what she'll need to do in college when I'm not around, so she might as well learn it now. Furthermore, since she wants to be a teacher, learning this skill now will help her pinpoint weak spots with her students.  Over the year she basically learned how to study and her scores improved.

     Yes, I'd say that TeachingTextbooks is a success!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Costume for American Naval Officer Oliver Hazard Perry

My son's costume for  our early 19th century history presentation was inspired by a souvenir he purchased when we were at Colonial Williamsburg on vacation a month before we started this unit.  He had no idea who he wanted to be, but he knew it had to center around a bosun's whistle.  Since the era studied for was 1801-1825, we were thinking he might be someone from the War of 1812.  But who? The week we actually studied the war, when I learned of the incredible victory of Oliver Hazard Perry, I had a feeling my son would want to be this character!  That's exactly who he decided to be!  (The bosun whistle is around his neck.  I'd take a close up picture of the actual one right now but my camera is broken.)



     The Oliver Hazard Perry costume was the most difficult costume I had made for him up to that time.  Actually parts of it were easy. He wore buff colored school uniform pants and stuffed the legs into the boots he had made for his Robin Hood costume. He had a white shirt, the infamous ruffly musketeer/colonial shirt was still in fashion. However, after looking at pictures of Perry, my son would need a cravat.  Hmmmm, how in the world are those things tied?  I found this site which gave us some ideas.  I analyzed pictures of actors at Colonial Williamsburg who wear cravats. They are all done differently.  After much agonizing research,  we settled on an easy look without worrying about a historical method.  Since everyone wore it differently, maybe it didn't matter?  Basically I used a wide strip of white cotton fabric, about 6" wide.  I merely ripped the fabric by hand down the lenghtwise salvage.  To save time in my busy schedule, I didn't even hem it. We experimented until we got a look that seemed to work. We tucked it in well enough so that no one would know it hadn't been hemmed.  (Shhh, don't tell.)



      The jacket, itself, was easy because I had a pattern for it.  However the embellishment was the challenge. He needed gold buttons, gold trim and gold epaulettes. I used ideas from pictures, then simplified a bit. I did enough for effect.The epaulettes was the most difficult, because I could not find directions on how to make a nice set. After analyzing pictures of Perry, I couldn't see the entire epaulette well enough to form a plan to make them.  I pulled out our vacation pictures from Colonial Williamsburg to analyze the epaulettes of the generals. Fortunately we happened to have a few good shots of the epaulettes to be able to form a plan.

     First I took sturdy cardstock and cut them to a length and width to fit proportionally on my son's shoulders.  Then I found a curved object, like these coasters, to trace a line for the curve...



...at the end of each epaulette.



I centered them on top of gold fabric that my son approved for the project...



The clothespins held down the edges while the glue dried.



 Because this type of fringe easily ravels, I taped off the ends.



Since it looked sparse, I doubled it by folding it in half. The pictures of Perry show thicker trim, but I made this costume in proportion to my son's small body. Also, thick fringe would have been more difficult to manipulate for the epaulettes. 



I used double stick tape on the shoulder of the coat...



then laid the fringe on the tape, sandwiching it so I could sew it on with tiny stitches hidden under the cardstock base.



     My son made his hat, using pictures as inspiration. This is merely cardboard, tape and paint. He is quite the artist, isn't he?



The sword is an enhanced version of the plain musketeer sword he had made.  He used a picture of Lafayette's sword, whom he met at CW, for inspiration. In fact, he asked Lafayette about his sword one day and Lafayette unsheathed it to show it off. (Now I can't find a picture of Lafayette with the fancy handled sword.  Perhaps it was someone elses sword that looked like that?) That obviously made an impression on my son. Isn't the sword great?  My son does these projects behind my back. I am usually surprised when we put the costumes on the day of our unit celebrations, when everything comes together.   

     If you're going to go to the work to make a great historical costume for your kids, then don't forget a few simple props to help them bring their story to life.  Oliver Hazard Perry is infamous for this flag...



     We had read about this and wanted to make it as historically accurate as possible.  I found a picture of the actual flag that can be seen at the US Naval Academy. (Now that we're living on the East Coast we need to visit!) I think I did the letters free hand.



Then I traced them backwards onto fusible web.  Next I cut out the letters, positioned them onto the flag, and then ironed them on.



    Next my son needed the infamous Oliver Hazard Perry letter, which became a prop into a play-like scene that opened our unit celebration.



 A few months previous we had been on vacation to CW, where my son used money from grandparents to buy souvenirs. He purchased a historic quill and ink writing set that he was able to use for this project.  First we made the ink...



Then he sat down to write. On the notebook paper above his parchment paper, is the quote he will copy. (When done, we store the ink in a small jar.)





Then he sealed the note...



and stamped it.



  Ta da!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Experimental Garden and Colonial Children (mine and others) Working at the Colonial Nursery

That was the end of our opportunity to see African American programming on this special anniversary weekend. I wanted to enjoy some of the gardens, so we went to some off the Duke of Gloucester Street. We found the experimental garden that I had been looking for for the last couple of months. Now I don't remember why I knew about it, but I read about it somewhere! While here we met some chefs from one of the CW restaurants, gathering produce. We talked about how they were going to prepare the food. I was glad to know the produce would not go to waste.





 Then we went to the Colonial Garden and Nursery, because I wanted to see if they had a little plant I might want to plant in my little garden back home. I saw lots of terrific herbs (much better than I've seen in the local nurseries) and I've been hungry to cook with fresh herbs.  I have a terrific sunny window in the kitchen near the sink. The herbs were on sale and hopefully I can keep them growing throughout the winter. While there, one of the gardeners put my kids, and other kids, to work. He asked them how they water their garden at home. With a hose. A hose???? What's that? He took them to the well.



My son got to draw water...



...and then he used a yoke to carry the water to the garden. The gardener hooked a bucket to one side of the yoke while my daughter hooked a bucket to the other side of the yoke.



My daughter hauled water up, then reached over to grab the bucket to pour water into another bucket to carry to the garden. Whew! She was tired!



Then another gardener showed us something interesting about cotton. Do you know where cotton comes from?



It comes from this flower. I was surprised. I told this gardener that it looked like a hibiscus. She said cotton is in the hibiscus family. (Right now they are buds waiting to open.)





(sigh) It was the end of another wonderful weekend at CW. We made lots of new friends. We got to do special things. I want to live there. I want to work there. Perhaps...someday. (sigh)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Carriage Stop...and General Washington

Lunch. Trees. Botetourt Street. Carriages and horses. And... 

General Washington!



At one point, his horse came towards us. Well, we couldn't resist that! My son and I put our lunches down and went to meet his horse. You know that General Washington really did have a white horse, right? Do you know the horse's name? Do you know who gave him the horse?



Monday, July 27, 2009

Children's Activities at the Benjamin Powell House

Then we did some children's activities at the Powell House. My son colored a cannon print. He was never one to enjoy coloring books, preferring open ended play. But for some reason CW draws him in to coloring their prints.



Meanwhile my daughter and I played with a game of lettered dice. The dice were tumbled onto the table, and the letters that were showing were for us to try to make words with. We each got a slate and slate pencil to list as many words as we could possibly form from the dice. This is my slate...



There was a puzzle to put together...



While my son played jackstraw (like pick up sticks) and tops...



...my daughter and I played checkers. Finally my daughter said she felt cornered like Cornwallis at Yorktown! That must make me George Washington!



Saturday, July 25, 2009

Visiting the Cabinet Maker

While waiting for the African American Storytelling to begin at the Powell House, we strolled leisurely on Nicholson Street,. As we walked by the cabinet maker's shop, my  son suggested we go in. We hadn't toured that since 2008. When we walked in, someone was tuning the harpsichord.



My husband started talking to the cabinet maker about this piece of furniture. In the discussion, my husband asked if there were any secret compartments. "Well," the cabinet maker said, "they were fond of such things back then. Look for yourself." So my husband and son searched all the drawers and compartments...



...and what do you know? They each found secret compartments!



While they continued talking, I took the opportunity to play the harpsichord. I saw a doo-dad that I thought would hold music, but I couldn't figure out how it worked. So I just held music sheets I found in the pile in my left hand, while I played the melody with my right hand. Later, the cabinet maker noticed so he set up the doo-dad so I could play with both hands! Then my daughter took a turn to play. However, she is learning to play and all of the provided music was too difficult. Therefore, I took the opportunity to show her how to play the C major chord.



After my husband went in to the actual wood working area, the cabinet maker and I started talking about the harpsichord. I told him it had a very different feel from our piano. He showed me how it works. I knew that a piano strikes the strings whereas the harpsichord plucks the strings. He showed me exactly how this works. He had models of the apparatus at his desk. The plucking part comes from the quill, as in the end of the feather you can write with. Part of the mechanism is made with boar bristle, like hair from a type of pig. It works extremely well and endures well. It's amazing what they thought of back then. The cabinet maker shop actually makes these harpsichords to sell to the general public. 



As we were getting ready to leave, I noticed the cabinet maker working on these gorgeous renderings.



He showed us some of the work...



 He said that they had been to Mount Vernon to study the scroll work on the mantel.



I told him we'd be back to check the progress. It is exciting that we can actually come back more often than once every several years to see projects in development.

Friday, July 24, 2009

King's Arms Tavern

During African American History weekend, we had dinner at the King's Arms Tavern! Each tavern is a bit different, with different menus and different standard fares! We have something favorite at each tavern.
We've been doing lots of tavern dining. I admit it is quite expensive, so we share plates.
Additionally we just moved to Virginia, my husband has a new job and he has hardly any vacation time, maybe a day or two. Therefore we visit Colonial Williamsburg which is only 2.5 miles away on the weekend! I am getting great hotel points for free nights. Also we are taking advantage of the opportunity to come to CW a lot! There are so many programs to see that we've never seen and I feel as though I've been deprived all these years! So, Colonial Williamsburg has been our summer vacation this year! 

Politics and Punchbowl Tour of Raleigh Tavern

While attending the African American Anniversary Programming weekend, we found an opportunity to do a tour we've never done before at the Raleigh Tavern. In 2004 we toured the downstairs with a group of actors.  



This time we got to tour the upstairs and downstairs for the "Politics and the Punchbowl" tour.  This tour used primary source documents, to see how far a day's wages would go in the tavern.  What a great and practical tour for kids! It makes the tour a bit more concrete! 



 After touring many of the rooms, we entered the Apollo Room. On the  tour we took here in the tavern in 2004, I failed my history. This time I redeemed myself, thanks to Revolutionary City! The guide asked us about the RC scene where Lord Dunmore got upset and did something to the politicians. What was it? I was able to answer that he disbanded the House of Burgesses for protesting the blockade in Boston. No longer able to meet in the Capital, they met here, in the Apollo Room. Imagine the history that took place in this very room with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry.
I was especially pleased when the guide asked if anyone was a Latin scholar and my kids tentatively raised their hands. The guide asked if any of them could read the saying over the fireplace. I said my daughter could...and she did! Thankfully he did the translating for us. I only recognized a few words. Perhaps my daughter recognized more.



Thursday, July 23, 2009

30th Anniversary African American Program at Colonial Williamsburg

     Celebrating 30 years of the African American program, Colonial Williamsburg provided yet another incredible weekend with many new programs that were new to us.  Arriving around 11am, our first stop was to pick up the weekly schedule and hopefully successfully book reservations for 3 weekend programs.  Yea, there was still room for us!  (However we are still trying to get reservations for the always full Bits and Bridles Tour.) Since it was close to lunch, we went to our favorite lunch spot, Botetourt Street where we get to see all the horses pass by under the quiet shade of the trees.  Meanwhile I marked up our schedule, trying to plan the events we'd want to see. I was focusing on as many African American events as we could possibly do. Any extra time we'd feel free to leisurely fill with whatever we wanted. Finally we were refreshed and ready to go!

     Our first official stop on the African American tour was the Peyton Randolph House. 



I have toured this house on different vacations, and always from different perspectives. This time primary source documents were used to show us the lives of the slaves who served this genteel family.



We were also given tags of various slaves in the household. As their story was told, we identified them with our tags, making it seem more real.  If nothing else, we at least remembered the life of the slave our tag represented.



For those who do not know Peyton Randolph, we were told that had he lived, he would have been a household name. He was president of the Second Continental Congress, but died of a stroke in early 1776. John Hancock became the new president of the Continental Congress, noticeably signing his name to the Declaration of Independence.



It is thought that if Peyton Randolph had lived, he ould have become the first president of the United States. He wielded that much influence in Virginia and later the other colonies/states.

We also looked at the inventory, to see the value of the slaves.

In the dining room, we talked about how the politics of the day were discussed between Peyton Randolph and other important men. Who overheard all of this? The slaves who tended the dinner. Many of them received a terrific education from working in this household. They were often more informed of the politics of the day than slaves of other households. The personal attendant to Peyton Randolph worked so closely to him, going into town with him on business, that he received an education in Latin and Greek. He later ran away to Philadelphia. Because he was mulatto, with red hair and fair skin, it is thought that he successfully passed as a white man, using the education he had received merely by being around Peyton Randolph.

  Outdoors there were many activities for the kids to experience the work the slaves had to do. Could they haul water without any spillins?



This practice was to prove valuable later.



They polished buckles...



hung up clothes...



and swept oyster shells off the path.



Then we followed the junior fife and drum corps from the capital to the palace. How could we resist? We thought they played exceptionally well that day, surprising us with a different ending from what we were used to.



Then we went to one of the tours we had reserved tickets for. "In Their Own Words," is a walking tour through the historic area, where primary source documents are used to help us understand the attempts and struggles some of the slaves went through in attempting freedom. This tour continues to be offered, so be sure to check it out! In fact, you can listen to a podcast about it from May 18, 2009.



After dinner, we went to our first evening program. This was part of the African American programming, called "Jumping the Broom." This is a bit mature for children. Some of the content was emotionally difficult and I was torn apart. We were asked not to take pictures of the program. I wish I could have taken a picture of the couple jumping the broom. Here is a group picture afterwards.



After the couple jumped the broom, we celebrated with dancing! The men played the drums while the guests split into men and women. We faced each other. The men were led by the groom and the women were led by the bride. The women danced in unison owards the men, then just as we got close, we danced back to our original positions. Then the men did the same, dancing in unison towards the women with their special moves, and then danced back. We took turns doing this, each time with different moves. It was a contest to see who was best. My husband was dancing across from me. At the end, the men and women danced at the same time, up to each other and then around each other. So I joined the women in dancing our unique moves, towards the men, and then I danced around my husband. Then we had to dance back to our original positions, without touching each other. Well my husband was enjoying this so much he wanted to touch me and dance back with me! A few of the men did this with their wives too! We were all laughing and the women won! We had the best moves, no instruction was needed, we merely followed the bride (she was really good), and we followed the rules. The men, on the other hand, needed word pictures from the groom to do their dances, and didn't follow the rules! It was a blast!

We arrived for "Storytelling and the African American Oral Tradition" to find a big surprise. The CWF was videotaping! My husband talked to one of the directors and we don't know when this will be available for viewing, but it will be on the CW website. I'll let you know when it is available. This program was great! The speakers alternated between a 21st century lady who told stories that had been passed down through her family...



...and an 18th century man who told of stories of the era. One of the stories he told was of "The Combustible Woman."  I looked at the kids and we started laughing. Two weeks ago we were in the apothecary and I was asking about treatment for my sore leg muscle. When camphor was recommended, my daughter burst out laughing and said, "Oh no, Mom! Remember "The Combustible Woman?" You can hear him tell this story on a podcast dated September 15, 2008.  In fact, you can hear stories in one of the evening programs, "Listen My Children."



We were encouraged to record our own family histories at the museum. "Story Keepers" was a special program throughout the day for kids to interview family members and record memories on a CD to take home. There were even questions provided for prompts. We ran out of time to do this.

Our next African American program to attend, "Freedom to Slavery," was at the Milliner Shop. Alexander Purdie, owner of the gazette, came to prepare us for the unusual story.



In short, Royal Governor Lord Dunmore had told the Shawnee Indians to return all the property they had stolen over the years. An African American had been freely living with the Shawnee, married a man of the tribe, and together they had two children. In hopes that her children would remain free by her choice, she decided to return willingly to slavery.  The scene opens with the milliner...



...when a genteel lady walks in with her slave, who is dressed like a Shawnee.  The lady wants the milliner...



...to help her outfit her slave in "decent" clothing.



When the milliner and the lady go to the back of the store, the milliner's slave talks to the Shawnee woman. The milliner's slave is shocked to see the Indian woman, who is actually an African American. Not understanding the woman's story at first, her heart finally softens.



The next African American program was at the Courthouse, where once again, video taping was taking place! This is the first time I saw a "real" 18th century trial in the Courthouse. I've attended other programming where some of us (never me) qualify to be on the jury. My husband is the only one in our family who ever qualifies. Do you know why? (I could not take any pictures inside.) The scene was highly dramatic and not suitable for young children. My kids were old enough to handle the material, which once again generated some good discussion. I was in tears by the end of the trial. At the end, one of the men, who prosecuted the slave for killing her master, stepped outside with us to answer any of our questions. During the trial I had heard that his name was Benjamin Waller. Once outdoors, I asked him if Waller Street (behind the Capital) was named after him. Yes! I also asked what the slave's daughter's involvement was in this crime. (The slave's daughter otherwise figured prominently in the trial.) He said they don't know. This scene was developed from primary source documents from an actual 18th century trial. They stick as much as possible to the primary source document in the scene, and anything they need to add, they do so out of what would logically fit in the era.