Thursday, June 12, 2008

My Son's Rewrite for the Editor of Magnum Opus

One of the great things about Institute for Excellence in Writing is that they have many great ways to inspire wonderful writers!  One of their terrific ideas is to choose one piece of writing at the end of each year to rewrite to utter perfection...a magnum opus.  In the last few years, they have made this idea more exciting.  IEW now offers a literary magazine by the name of Magnum Opus for IEW students to submit articles to be published.  Those who are published, apparently get cool prizes too.  Last autumn, my dc submitted some of their writing.  Although they were not printed in the magazine itself, they did get their names printed for having submitted a work.  Those who did not get printed in the magazine, got published on-line...except my dc.  I am certain they still have much to learn to reach that pinnacle of success.  

However, a few weeks ago, ds received snail mail from IEW.  It was the article about the early Greek Spartans he had submitted to Magnum Opus.  The editor had marked some suggestions for improvement.  She also wrote a lovely note telling him she enjoyed the piece, and asked him to rewrite it and send it back to her for the Magnum Opus!  Wow!  I'd have to pay dearly for a service to get editor's markings like that!  And an invite to resubmit!  I'm impressed! 

This was a valuable process for ds.  Of course the editor had some great ideas I had not considered.  In addition, she marked some of the same things I've been telling ds over and over that needs to be worked on.  In the process of rewriting for an editor, ds learned some valuable writing lessons.  The article has been strengthened and resubmitted.  Now we get to wait. =)

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Immersed in the American Revolution with Great Resources

We are currently studying our absolutely favorite time period in American history, the American Revolution.  We have had a wonderful time learning about key events leading up to this pivotal point of our history.  We have added extra books to our history reading list in order to study this period in depth.  Following, are some of our favorite resources. 

To aid us in our studies, is a wonderful book I purchased at the homeschool bookfair last year from HSLDA.  Why America is Free: A History of the Founding of a Republic  is an incredible book published by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association. The life of a colonial boy parallels the historical events of the 1700's.  The book begins with the typical day in the life of this boy who lives near Williamsburg, Virginia on a farm.   He takes care of the family flour mill while his father goes to fight in the French and Indian War with George Washington.  When the boy grows up, marries and has a family of his own, he is fighting in the American Revolution.  Later he will serve at the Constitutional Convention.  Of all of our books, this has been the definitive book of details of the whys surrounding the events of our country's search for liberty.  The book has simple and clear language with beautiful photographs and pictures.  While reading this book, we feel that we are there.  

We also started reading the biographies of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.  We've heard all the legends and read short stories, but never have we fully studied them.  Ben Franklin's Almanac is a great book that I am reading now for fun.  It's at a dialectic level and patterned after Poor Richard's Almanac with paragraphs that take only a part of a page to tell something about his life.  This is split into themes: early years, printer, public do-gooder, years in England during the French and Indian War, electrical studies, work on Declaration of Independence, amabassador to France, work on Constitution, etc.  This book is perfectly set up for those teaching UG and D children writing with IEW.  

We studied the different wars within the complex French and Indian War.  We read, Alone Yet Not Alone, a true story about two girls who were captured and their faith in God kept them whole while living among the Indians.  When the Forest Ran Red and George Washington's First War are award winning documentaries aimed at educating high school students about the little studied French and Indian War.  Filmed in several states in the Northeast on location, historical reenactors recreate the events.   Although we were all interested in the DVD's, 12yos was riveted to the screen. It was terrific to have the opportunity to take the events we had read about in a book and see it on screen in the proper setting (Northeastern Woodlands) with the people involved: French, Native Americans who looked very different from those we have seen on the Central Plains, British Redcoats, Scots in kilts, Virginia militia, colonists, and of course George Washington in his early years.  

Another favorite biography was that of Paul Revere.  Coinciding with our study of the Boston Tea Party we also read Johnny Tremain, then compared that to the Disney movie version (my all time favorite), which we love.  Both books were written by the same author, Esther Forbes. Also both were beautifully illustrated by Lynd Ward.  While reading Johnny Tremain, I told the dc to parallel the character traits of Johnny and Rab.  We read part I the week we studied the Boston Tea Party.  Then the following week, when we studied the Battles of Lexington and Concord, I told them to note the change in their characters, and to look for foreshadowing.  Because literary devices are not always found in juvenile literature, it was a treat to read Johnny Tremain from a literary perspective.  It is truely worthy of the Newberry Award. This book lends much to discussion.  

We have studied the great orator Patrick Henry, listening to the Colonial Williamsburg interpreter give his famous "Give Me Liberty" speech.  We got to meet this interpreter when we were in CW a few years ago.  In fact, that is when we first became delighted with this forefather.  We arrived in CW in the afternoon and had time to buy our tickets for the week and watch the movie, Williamsburg-The Story of a Patriot.  This movie is about a fictional character (who represents the typical gentleman plantation owner near Williamsburg) who must choose between Britain or colonial rights.  He leaves for Williamsburg to attend the House of Burgesses.  When he arrives, he meets Col George Washington, the outspoken Patrick Henry, the quiet Thomas Jefferson, etc.  The meeting of the House of Burgesses is abruptly ended by the Provincial Governor because they are speaking out against the Townshend Acts of 1767.  The movie accurately showcases key events in the unfolding drama of the decision for independence in 1776.  I bought a copy of the movie knowing we'd be watching it several more times for school.  While visiting Williamsburg, "Patrick Henry"  gave the "Liberty or Death" speech by special request in the gardens behind the Governor's Palace.  By the end of the speech, I was ready to join the militia!  There are some interesting interviews with this actor where he talks about this speech and how he is delighted that the audience is always spellbound.  DS is currently memorizing the final paragraph of this speech.

Due to a busy schedule, we expanded our history to allow time for our in depth study. We spent an entire week on the Declaration of Independence.  We listened to Colonial Williamsburg interpreter, Thomas Jefferson read the Declaration of Independence aloud.  We also began our biography of Thomas Jefferson.  We learned about the committee of 5 men that was formed to write the declaration.  Of them, three were the most influential. Thomas Jefferson did the writing because he was well liked, had great rhetorical skills and had already proven himself in writing clearly about the problems with England.  John Adams was instrumental in keeping things moving along, when the other delegates kept stalling the issues.  Benjamin Franklin's humor kept the seriousness of the business at hand from getting too heavy.  I'm not sure if this is true but we read that one of the reasons they did not want him to write the declaration, was because the delegates feared he'd throw in a few jokes in this monumentous and important document! 

We accessed The Declaration of Independence on line at the Charters of Freedom.  There is terrific information here, as well as an interactive opportunity to sign one's own name to the important document!  One gets to choose their handwriting style and then type in their name.  When "submit" is clicked, a warning comes up, that all signers of this document will be considered traitors and could be hung.  Want to proceed?  We did this activity a few years ago. The warning immobilized my dc who in terrifying manner, seriously pondered whether they should sign their names to the document.  At that time dd could not sign it.  This time they had no fear.  But it gave us time to talk what these men actually did when they signed the Declaration.  They risked their very lives and fortunes.  Included are biographies of the signers and what happened to them during the war.

This week we are studying all the battles from Saratoga to Yorktown.  Our literature book this week is a gem given to me by my MIL.  It is an autographed copy of Guns on the Heights.  It is the story of a Quaker family during the Battle of Saratoga.  The British tried to control the entire Hudson River system extending from Canada into New York, hoping to block New England from the Southern Colonies. I've been to the battlefield and have overlooked the mighty Hudson from the bluffs above. I've seen for myself how the Hudson was strategic. Although the Continental Army had been struggling, the Battle of Saratoga was a major victory, largely due to that scoundrel Benedict Arnold!  We've also been reading the biography of Benedict Arnold and no wonder he became a traitor!  Today, one will not see his name on any monument.  But at the Saratoga Battlefield, is good deeds are mentioned but are nameless on a monument.  Also at West Point, where he served and nearly turned over to the enemy, there is a plaque to him as to all the other generals who served there, but it is nameless.  How sad for a man who was greedy, selfish and prideful.  Anyway, Saratoga became the turning point in the war and that caused other countries like France to join in the war effort against England.

Fri night we watched the movie, Drums Along the MohawkStarring Henry Fonda and Claudette Cobert, the movie was made in 1939.  I couldn't believe how young Henry Fonda looked!  Gil marries Lana, a wealthy young lady with social upbringing from Albany, NY, in 1776.  They move west along the Mohawk.  They deal with Indian uprisings, prompted by the British.  We were delighted to see the German General Herkimer whom we read about in the Battle of Oriskany this week!      

Another terrific biography we have been reading is about "the boy" Lafayette.  I remember when we were at Mount Vernon a few years ago he was mentioned by the tour guides with great fondness.  Now I can see why. 

This afternoon as we discussed the Battle of Yorktown, we listened to Colonial Williamsburg's "George Washington" being interviewed about the upcoming Battle of Yorktown.  


It is with sadness that we are closing out our study of the American Revolution.  We hope to culminate these studies by making a trip to Colonial Williamsburg in August.  Last time we visited, I failed to uphold my end of a patriotic argument with an actor in Raleigh Tavern, who didn't care one way or the other about the possibility of revolution.  He could always move with the theater company to one of the islands, Jamaica I think. I was so angry that I've worked for the last 4 years to redeem myself by learning as much as I can and teaching my kids as much as I can. This time when we go to CW, if I run into that actor, I hope I know my history better to uphold my patriotic viewpoint! Also CW has a new program called Revolutionary City where we can meet the citizens as they debate revolution.  I can't wait for my kids to meet them and engage with them in hopefully a powerful and memorable way.  Stay tuned!