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19 July 2017

Natural History Artists and Techniques

We've had such a lovely time learning from John Muir Laws that when that Natural History Illustration course asked people to share their local naturalist-artists that I thought I'd make a list, so that I can browse through them at my leisure. I'm hoping that some of them will also have teaching materials to look through, like he does. But just browsing their art would be fun, too.

Otto Wilhelm Thomé (1840-1925) - Cologne, Germany
Illustrations of the Zoology of South Africa
Jeannette Fournier - New Hampshire artist
Kathleen Marie Garness - Chicago Orchid artist
Jan Prentice - Connecticut
William D. Berry - from California, but did sketches in Alaska
Hye Woo Shin - from South Korea; I like her tree drawings
Lary Zach - Wildlife artist from Iowa
Angela Vaculik - artist from Ontario, Candad

Another resource recommended by the course is this set of measuring techniques. I've looked at one, and though I haven't had a chance to do any of the things they suggest, it looks like a good and useful exercise.

I love this quote that they included from DaVinci:

"Perspective is to painting what the bridle is to the horse, the rudder to a ship . . . There are three aspects to perspective. The first has to do with how the size of objects seems to diminish according to distance; the second, the manner in which colors change the farther away they are from the eye; the third defines how objects ought to be finished less carefully the farther away they are."
-Leonardo da Vinci

My first attempt at doing the homework for this course was a bird. Should have been a landscape... oops. But it's the best drawing I've done to date, so I'm still feeling pretty successful. I'm hoping to do some more with this, and to collect some more of the instructions to continue to work on after the course is finished, so that I can continue to improve. It's pretty exciting to see my work improving as much as it is.

18 July 2017

Mapelle Films: Trust Fund {Crew Review}

Trust Fund Movie

It's a bit of a change of pace to review a movie, rather than books or curricula! But Trust Fund has a fun homeschool connection: the cinematographer and producer, Isaac Alongi, was one of the early homeschoolers: he and his parents started homeschooling in 1982. He's now the talent behind Mapelle Films. So we watched Trust Fund.

It's a prodigal son - or in this case, prodigal daughter - story, and the framework of this beautiful parable (see Luke 15) is the anchor for the whole story. Reese, the younger, free spirited daughter of a successful publisher is feeling confined by her life, and the need to pay attention to basic mundane things... like having money in her account to pay her bills. Like paying her own rent or working. She's writing a book, and that should be enough "adulting" to cover everything. She doesn't get along very well with Audrey, the older sister, the perfect one who does everything "right".

Like so many girls from good families, Reese has "bad boy syndrome": the man she falls for is bad news: he's a member of an Italian crime family. Reese steals from the trust her late mother had set up for the girls and runs away to Italy, little realizing just how much trouble she's getting herself into. She comes within a hair's breath of ruining her life, but, fortunately for her, she's the heroine in a movie, and the parable has a happy ending! It's a fun chick flick: my husband was completely uninterested, and my oldest son was pretty ho-hum about it. I should have planned things better and had a girlfriend over to watch with me, but I didn't think of it in time. Even if my guys were unimpressed, I thought it was fun!

There's some cool things about this movie. The story, even though you know the basic outline because it's based on the parable, still keeps you guessing, and there's a couple of twists that I didn't see coming. And the pacing was different in a fun way: When, as an adult, I got my own copy of Disney's Cinderella, I was really surprised at how the style of the older movie is different from more recent ones: there's lots less changing of the camera angle, and there's more space in the movie to just enjoy, or to reflect. Trust Fund reminded me of that, just a little bit: the pace isn't as frantic as some of the newer movies. Maybe it's because we watch so much of action shows (the comic movies are big winners at our house), but this was a really nice change of pace. As far as the content, although she's run away with a boyfriend, and when she comes home there's another love interest, the movie is refreshingly free of bedroom scenes or anything of the sort. The only possible complaint as far as "too much skin" is that all the young women in the movie wear these (really cute) very short skirts... and that's it. That's the only content "advisory" that a parent might need to be aware of... and it's nothing! (I probably wouldn't even have noticed, if it wasn't for the fact that I strongly dislike wearing short skirts myself, so I kept thinking, "cute, but probably uncomfortable".) A movie with no content advisories whatsoever is a lovely change of pace! I also like the way that they follow the parable in that, when Reese comes home, the movie is only half done. The second half of the movie follows Audrey much more closely, and looks at her struggles to cope with Reese's decisions and her dad's responses... and the love interest that threatens to "replace" their mother in his heart. The father really is an amazing person. I had never before realized how super-human a parent would need to be, in order to respond the way that parable outlines. It's an interesting thing to ponder, as a parent. I'd never thought about the Prodigal Son as a lesson book on parenting... I see that passage a little differently now.

Mapelle Films also has an interesting study guide to go with the movie. Honestly, I was more than a little skeptical about it: it's a movie... what're you supposed to "study"? But the study guide was thought-provoking. It's written from a Protestant point of view, and the study guide to me suggests it's been written from a "total depravity" understanding of human nature. Total depravity, which goes hand in hand with the idea of original sin, is a Protestant doctrine which holds that we are, fundamentally, wholly corrupt, unable to even attempt to follow Christ because of what they refer to as our "sin nature". LDS theology holds that we are responsibly for only our own sins and not for Adam's transgression, and that while we exist in a fallen world, we are, fundamentally, the children of God (Romans 8:16), and made in His image (Genesis 1:26-27), and being made in His image means that we are, at the core and in spite of the fall, fundamentally good and able to attempt to keep the commandments of our own will, though our imperfections in doing so mean that we must unavoidably rely upon the Savior's Grace. Still, even with these significant differences in theology, there was a lot in the study guide that was really thought provoking and beneficial to ponder. The makers of this movie have given long and careful thought to the parable that it's built upon, and they have a lot of insight to offer. These theological differences between Christian denominations in no way affect the movie; they only become apparent in reading the study guide.

There's also a companion volume -- you actually see it in the movie, which is kind of fun -- Love Was Near. It's recommended for girls age 12 and over, and since Peanut isn't even close, we didn't ask for that, but a number of the other reviews did, so if you're interested in the book or seeing other reviews, click the banner below:


Crew Disclaimer

Doctor Aviation {Crew Review}

Doctor Aviation

My kids, particularly Hero(10), who loves all things airplanes, were really excited when I told them we would have the opportunity to learn about aviation history while we review Doctor Aviation. It's a six-month aviation course that consists of 15 video lessons, each with an accompanying PDF with all kinds of extras: readings from a variety of books and magazines, YouTube videos, links to virtual tours, and suggestions for relevant places to visit if you happen to be local, as well as activities to do. We are doing it as an enrichment course, but there's enough here that you could easily do it for a high school full credit course, or as a continuing education project for adults. It's really flexible, though, and I've been able adapt and springboard off of the suggested activities for my younger kids as well, even though they are not at all the intended audience. I find the videos to be informative, with plenty for me to learn -- and they hold the attention of both Hero(10) and Dragon(7).

When you log in there's a nice dashboard that shows your current lesson and your progress through the course. It's easy to navigate; the video is at the top, with a list of right under it, and the PDF resources below that.

The lessons are all structured so that, first you learn about "Technical Trivia", where he explains the parts and pieces of aircraft, and how they work, then he covers "Notable Innovators" where he talks about major contributors to the field of aviation, and finally "Legendary Aircraft" where he covers particular airplanes. The videos are each about an hour long, and Dr. Aviation himself is easy to listen to and informative. He alternates between lecturing next to a small aircraft, and showing pictures of the planes and people that he's teaching about.

As soon as we started doing the course, a couple of things started happening in our family. One is that a large percent of the many Lego creations that my boys turned out since we started the review are airplanes. As they'd learn about things, this would be incorporated into increasingly realistic replicas, limited more by the pieces available than anything else: the kids clearly understand what they're doing well enough that it could have been better if they'd had the parts. The other lovely result is the boys, in addition to devouring the materials from the course, would look at all kinds of additional aviation documentaries on YouTube in their free time. I love it when learning inspires enough enthusiasm that the kids seek out more on their own! There has definitely been a lot of self-directed learning that has expanded and explored on these topics.

In addition to the videos, the PDFs for each lesson also always includes recommended books for further reading. This was one area where the course really shines. While my boys love airplanes, and want to know all about how they work, I've always been content that they do work. But the books recommended include several biographies, of notable aviators, and I love those. So this course has a fair amount to offer, even if you're not really into airplanes, because the people around airplanes are really interesting people, and the books I've read have been very interesting. Hero is a strong reader, so in addition to watching the videos, I've had him choose several books from the suggestions to read. Hero and I didn't always read the same ones, but he's also been very happy with the titles he chose. Keeping the videos at the pace of his reading has slowed things to somewhat less than the intended schedule, so we will probably not do the readings for all the units in order to see all the videos before our subscription runs out, but it's been very beneficial to him to do the readings that he has done. Although our library has occasionally not had the exact titles recommended, we've been able to find ones by the same author, or on topics that we would not have explored if we hadn't had the book list to help me know what to look for. Finding Dragon a few age appropriate titles on the same topics has also been easy, even though these are not included in the materials.

In addition to additional reading material, the PDFs also include activities that you can do. One of the ones that I would like to do with the kids, but haven't yet, is to chalk out the outline of the Wright Flyer on the ground in order to get an appreciation of the scale the Flyer was built on. It's too large to draw on our driveway, and I haven't made it up to the church to borrow the parking lot, but I think that's a really cool way to bring home the scale of the thing. There are also additional resources for finding videos, websites, and virtual tours related to the lesson topics. For the high school or adult learner, you could really go quite in-depth with the materials provided.

Feeling, as I do, that education ought to be thoroughly Christian, there are a number of things I appreciate about this course. Dr. Aviation does not shy away from mentioning God and His involvement in history. Perhaps it is because I grew up with education and faith so strictly compartmentalized by the strong anti-religion taboos in public schools, but I always appreciate it when He is acknowledged as naturally as occasionally is the case in these videos. After reading the recommended McCullough biography on the Wright Brothers, I was as much or more impressed by their character as I was by their genius, and have added that one to my wish list as one I would like to add to our home library. The videos have also emphasized the positive character of other aviators. It's nice that my kids can learn about aviation, but I love that the course is holding up such great role models for my kids; character is the true aim of education.

This course has been great for us. It's extremely adaptable to meet the needs of a wide range of ages, and my kids hang on every word.

If you want to read more reviews of the Doctor Aviation program -some Crew members used as a high school credit- click the banner below.


Crew Disclaimer

10 July 2017

Make-a-State {Crew Review}

Home School in the Woods has several Activity Packs, as well as the Project Passport that we reviewed previously, and many other offerings, but this time we've been given the Make-a-State Activity to review which was perfect timing for us: I had planned to do some work with Hero this year for Wisconsin state history. In addition to having Hero(10) do this lapbook, I also am doing it with Dragon(6), and even Peanut(4) is enjoying the coloring, cutting, and gluing -- because she is Big, like her brothers; ask her and see. Happily, while they are learning about our State, she is getting some nice practice in on her fine motor skills. It's a win all around. 

One cool thing about this packet is that it's very simple. Once we set it up, we just added a little bit to it a couple of times a week. There are 20 projects in all, plus instructions for assembling them into a very nice lapbook, but while that sounds huge, it doesn't feel huge, working on it. The kit that you receive from Homeschool in the Woods had materials for doing all 50 States, which is nice. When I was a kid, our family moved around, but I considered Utah to be our home. We had just moved to Wisconsin, and so when my 4th grade teacher announced that we were going to be learning about our "home state" I raised my hand and asked, "So, will I be learning about Utah? Because Wisconsin is not my home state." That was one of several times when that teacher did NOT smile at me; I had a difficult year that year. But if your family has similarly strong ties to several States, it would be a simple thing to use this Activity-Pak to learn about whichever States your interest draws you to, and at no extra cost for the additional States. In fact, because we do have a lot of family and church history that takes place in Utah, I'm considering asking the kids if they are interested in doing a second lapbook for Utah, when we have finished Wisconsin. There are several other States that our family has ties to that would be candidates for that kind of activity at some point, either in doing the whole project again, or in doing selected booklets.

 It's really easy to adapt to the various levels the kids are ready for: Peanut is primarily cutting and coloring, which is great for her fine motor skills and her need to be included when we do school. Dragon is getting his first exposure to some of the State trivia (our bird is a Robin, and our flower is a Wood Violet), and Hero is getting all that, plus he's getting practice at searching for information that he needs for this kind project: I'm having him do his own googling for most of the things, and helping him to figure out how to extract information from his search results: What are the biggest cities in the State? What was the population at the last census? Part of what I intend for him to gain from the activity is an increased ability to find this kind of information. Make-a-State's adaptivity is one of my favorite features about it.

Activity 7, the wildlife and plants of Wisconsin booklet (pictured left), is supposed to be printed front to back. My printer doesn't do that very well, and the instructions for how to do it are somewhat lacking on how the alignment ought to be, so putting that particular book together was something of a headache. We ended up printing two pages and gluing them back to front, and then assembling the booklet from there, rather than printing it doublesided. That being said, that booklet ended up being one of my favorites as the kids filled it out. I had the boys select and draw plants and animals from Wisconsin, and it was fun to see them draw on the things they have learned from our time doing nature study to fill this out. So far, this has been the only booklet that gave us trouble in assembly, and I've worked on 13 of the 20 included projects. All the rest of the instructions have been clear and easy to follow, and even the four year old can do a large amount of the cutting and assembly successfully.

Putting our own rivers on the State is challenging; I'm glad we don't have very many major rivers, and no mountains to try to depict! We ended up with some geographically suspect city placement, even with coaching on how to go about locating cities relative to several points on the border, but I feel like it was a good exercise anyway, and that even with some inaccuracy there's been good learning that went on here. It's also showed me that in our art instruction we need to talk about how to measure and look at some tricks to help my oldest be more aware of proportion. This is good information, and I really handn't suspected it before, so I'm glad that this project is set up the way that it is.

Lapbooks are, by nature, fiddly fussy projects. We don't do a lot of them for exactly that reason. I found that this worked better when we did a section once or twice a week, rather than when I tried to do several in a day. There's a lot of time spent in cutting and gluing. We used some of that time listening to an audio drama, and some of it listening to native drums, but by the middle of the lapbook, it still was feeling like a whole lot of cutting and pasting. However. I think that we did a better job of learning about our State than we would otherwise have done without this project. It really gave a lot of form and structure to "learn about Wisconsin", and they made it easy to know what things to look up. I've lived here most of my life, but in the process of filling out the little books with the kids I learned new things, too. I don't do a lot of lapbooks because they're a lot of fuss and a certain amount of busywork, but it really is a nice format for this kind of study. We need to learn about Wisconsin, and there's a lot of little disconnected bits of trivia that it's nice to know -- which seems less trivial when they're all connected in the lapbook. And the books are really cute as well as they come together. Homeschool in the Woods has even recently started offering À La Cart Projects, so that you can include just what interests you.

If you want to read more reviews of this and other Home School in the Woods' hands-on history products, click the banner below. There's other State lapbooks that are being shown, as well as a variety of American History packages, Old and New Testament materials, helps for composer and artist studies, and some really beautiful timelines that Crew members have been looking at so they can share their thoughts with you.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Crew Disclaimer

09 July 2017

Learning to Grow Apples

A kind stranger on a forum helped me to find several resources for learning how to better care for the apple trees that we put in the back yard. It will be good to know more about how to get them to bear well!

Antique Apples for Modern Orchards

A Grower's Guide to Organic Apples

Growing Apples in Wisconsin

Apple Pest Management for Home Gardeners

Apples and How to Grow Them

The Apple Grower

There's a lot to learn about it -- I'm looking forward to getting started.

03 July 2017

Natural History Illustration

There's this Natural History Illustration course going on, and I'm trying it out. I think it's going to be lots of fun. They recommended getting a few of the fancy pencils - the HB, 2B, different types of softness fancy ones, and I did, and this time they actually make sense to me. That's fun. So I'm starting to play with them. Nothing fancy yet, just doodling around to get to know the new toys.

I like them.

I'm looking forward to being able to do my nature journal better. That has become one of my favorite parts of homeschooling, and an important part of some of my self-education projects, and I'm excited to be learning to do it better, so it's an even better asset to my learning than it already is.

01 July 2017

Commonplace Book: June

A commonplace is a traditional self-education tool: as you read, grab a notebook. Write down things that embody Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Write down notable quotes, with or without your own thoughts about them. Write down the questions you have as a result of the text you are reading. You will find the book becomes a record of your own growth, and it becomes a touchstone for memory of things you have studied in the past. These are a selection of the passages that I've included in my commonplace book this month:

Passion does not arrive on a videotape or on a CD; passion is personal. Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart.
-Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv, 158

We mothers have a lot of details to manage, a lot of responsibilities on our plates, whether or not we homeschool.  ...After all, in the end --and even in the middle-- life isn't really about getting it done. It's about serving, loving, and caring for others. We want to do so faithfully, day in and day out.
-Mystie Winckler, Simplified Organization

How strange a checker-work of Providence is the life of man! And by what secret differing springs are the affections hurried about as differing circumstances present? Today we love what tomorrow we hate; today we seek what tomorrow we shun; today we desire what tomorrow we fear; nay, even tremble at the apprehensions of... Such is the uneven state of human life. And it afforded me a great many curious speculations afterward, when I had a little recovered from my first surprise; I considered that this was the station of life the infinitely wise and good providence of God had determined for me; that as I could  not foresee what  the ends of Divine wisdom might be in all this, so I was not to dispute His sovereignty, who, as I was His creature, had an undoubted right by creation to govern and dispose of me absolutely as He thought fit; and who, as I was a creature who had offended Him, had likewise a judicial right to condemn me to what punishment He thought fit; and it was my part to submit to bear His indignation, because I had sinned against Him.
-Robinson Crusoe, 245-246

But it's never too late to be wise...
-Robinson Crusoe, 275

It was characteristic of all his family, Wilbur said, to be able to see the weak points of anything. This was not always a "desirable quality," he added, "as it makes us too conservative for successful businessmen, and limits our friendships to a very limited circle."
-The Wright Brothers, David McCullough, 79

Their nephew Milton, who as a boy was often hanging about the [Wright] brothers, would one day write, "History was being made in their bicycle shop and in their home, but the making was so obscured by the commonplace that I did not recognize it until many years later."
-The Wright Brothers, David McCullough, 113

The best dividends on labor invested have invariably come from seeking more knowledge rather than more power.
-Orville and Wilbur Wright, quoted in The Wright Brothers, David McCullough, 125

24 June 2017

Aviation Learning and Play

Hero(10) loves airplanes. He has for a while now. So he's really enjoying the assignments that I'm giving him from the Doctor Aviation program that we're working on for one of next month's reviews. I love that he's extending the learning into his free time, and so are the younger kids. The boys are having such a good time that they're going beyond what I've asked for, and they're building stuff in their freetime that's based on what they're learning. I love it when that happens. Hero's was very specifically modeled on one of the real airplanes that he's been learning about; Dragon(6) modeled his on Hero's. Gotta love the intersection of learning and play.


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