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 Teaching Textbooks has worked for us.

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 allotted hour. (Finally!)

Then we moved from Texas to Virginia.It would be impossible for him to use his desktop for the CDs.

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!  

Meanwhile my daughter 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 chance to see how the program worked, as well as being a refresher course. However, 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. Despite missing a few days here and there due to busy days on the road traveling and house hunting, she 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 Teaching Textbooks 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 and Playing the Harpsichord

 When we walked entered the Cabinetmaker Shop, someone was tuning the harpsichord.



"Are there 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.



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

After dinner, we attended our first evening program: Jumping the Broom. 

Alas, we were asked not to take pictures of the program. 

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, facing 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. 
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. Then we had to dance back to our original positions, without touching each other. 
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!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Military History and a Walk with General Washington!

After lunch at Shields Tavern, we went to the Arts Museum since the day became quite wet and drippy. (Note: This is sunny because it was taken the Friday before. We needed our umbrellas this day.)  Shown below is the Public Hospital of 1773.



 While my family toured the furniture section (my husband is a cabinetmaker by hobby),  I went into the room of the battle flags that Tarleton had taken. This display will be gone in a few weeks. When I first saw them, the room had several people. This time I was the only one there.  In the silence and stillness,  I reflected and contemplated on the emotions of the men carrying this flag, from the moment they entered into battle with hope...to the feeling of despair at losing it to Tarleton, if any of them survived the battle. 

Then we went to the Palace Garden. It was rainy so my husband suggested we do something else, thinking General Washington would not show up in the rain. But what if he does? We went and even though there was a small crowd of us, General Washington arrived and entertained our queries.



Because there were so few of us due to the weather, we each got to ask a lot of questions. Even I got brave enough to ask several questions of him, primarily to help keep the ball rolling, fueling the audience to ask more questions. Thankfully we had studied the battles he fought in the year before. I was a bit scared to ask. What if I ask a dumb question. However he gave me one or two nods for an especially great query! 
After the official Q&A, the actor stepped down from the stage, and answered more questions as the actor. This is always interesting and my husband and son asked lots of questions. Before long I realized we were the only ones left with him...and we were walking with him in the gardens!!!  I'm not quite sure how it happened, as this is rare, but talking to the actor (I was listening to my husband and son talk to him) seemed so natural. When guests started coming out of the Governor's Palace, they got excited and started taking pictures. I have never been on this end of the picture taking and I quickly stepped out of the way so they could have their photos of General Washington. General Washington! We were walking in the garden with General Washington! What a memorable way to end our Fourth of July weekend!