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23 February 2016

Commonplace Sampler: February

"When I go into my garden with a spade, and dig a bed, I feel such an exhilaration and health that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do for me what I should have been doing with my own hands."
-Ralph Waldo Emmerson, quoted in The Herbal Medicine-Maker's Handbook, p10

Early Spring
by Lord Alfred Teneson 
Once more the Heavenly Power
Makes all things new,
And domes the red-plow'd hills
With loving blue;
The blackbirds have their wills,
The throstles too.

Opens a door in heaven;
From skies of glass
A Jacob's ladder falls
On greening grass,
And o'er the mountain-walls
Young angels pass.

Before them fleets the shower,
And burst the buds,
And shine the level lands,
And flash the floods;
The stars are from their hands
Flung thro' the woods,

The woods with living airs
How softly fann'd,
Light airs from where the deep,
All down the sand,
Is breathing in his sleep,
Heard by the land.

O, follow, leaping blood,
The season's lure!
O heart, look down and up
Serene, secure,
Warm as the crocus cup,
Like snowdrops, pure!

Past, Future glimpse and fade
Thro' some slight spell,
A gleam from yonder vale,
Some far blue fell,
And sympathies, how frail,
In sound and smell!

Till at thy chuckled note,
Thou twinkling bird,
The fairy fancies range,
And, lightly stirr'd,
Ring little bells of change
From word to word.

For now the Heavenly Power
Makes all things new,
And thaws the cold, and fills
The flower with dew;
The blackbirds have their wills,
The poets too.

11 February 2016

On Classical Education: Make Haste Slowly

This post is part of a series:

Character is the True Aim
Cultivation of Godly Character
What is a Student? 
Make Haste Slowly (this post)
Much Not Many 
Ordered Affections
Repetition is the Mother of Memory
Embodied Learning
Songs Chants and Jingles
Wonder and Curiosity
Educational Virtues
By Teaching We Learn
Classical Education is Like a Table

The way that Dr. Perrin retells the story as he's chatting about the phrase Festina Lente, or "Make Haste Slowly", the tortoise is slow but constant, the hare fast but distracted. It is the hare's distraction that creates the possibility of the tortoise, but it still wouldn't have been enough to upset the race, had the tortoise not been moving steadily toward the goal the entire time. It was the constant, slow progress -even in the face of the impossible odds- that allowed the slow tortoise to beat the much faster hare. We can learn from this, and apply it to education as well as many other areas of our lives.

...but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in very many instances doth confound the wise. 
-Alma 37:6

Classical education does not fear or disdain the repetition necessary to gain mastery of the skills. It is patient practice of phonics, day after day, that polishes the understanding of reading, and hones the tools for attacking the difficult words the student will meet down the road. My boys are taking violin lessons, and our teacher shared this gem with Hero: "The slower you practice, the faster you learn." And they had this fantastic discusion on how rushing through the song doesn't allow real study, and so the process of mastering the music takes longer. It's the same way when studying martial arts: slow, careful movement during practice teaches far more than fast, sloppy work. My Mom used to give me grief about doing fast sloppy work cleaning up the kitchen -- and it took twice as long as just doing it right, because she'd make me go back and do it again. Charlotte Mason talked about the value of reading books slowly when she said,

"We hear of 'three books a week' as a usual thing and rather a matter of pride. But this, again, comes of our tendency to depreciate knowledge, and to lose sight of its alimentary character. If we perceive that knowledge, like bread, is necessary food, we see also that it must be taken in set portions, fitly combined, duly served, and at due intervals, in order to induce the digestive processes without which, knowledge, like meat, gives us labour rather than strength. (vol. 5, p. 382, quoted in Savoring Books)

Another way that we can make haste slowly is by making sure that we learn things in order- no skipping to "the good parts" over the fundamentals. It is the unglamorous time spent working on scales, exercises, and music theory that allows the budding musician to eventually achieve mastery of their instrument. This practice takes time, but to attempt to enter advanced repertoire without it will slow or stop progress altogether. The reader patiently works through the phonics lessons. A martial artist spends time working on basic exercises. A young mathematician works toward mastery of basic facts. In nearly every endeavor, the magic is in the fundamentals; you cannot skip the foundation and expect the structure to be sound.

Andrew Pudewa tells a very interesting story about his time in Japan studying under Dr. Suzuki, and he tells the story of how in Eastern cultures, they take a whole different take on repetition, and how he saw this play out in the group violin lessons he had with Dr. Suzuki. He talks about a Japanese proverb: "10,000 times, and then begins understanding." All that practice allows you "do something so naturally you "don't have to think about it, see what it is you are doing." Mr. Pudewa tells the story of a new Austrailian student who came to Dr. Suzuki's class. Dr. Suzuki tells him to do a certain exercise with his bow 10,000 times. The next week, when that student was playing, Dr. Suzuki stopped him and re-demonstrated the bow exercise. "Did you do this? 10,000 times?" The Western student had taken this as hyperbole, but Mr. Pudewa says that the Japanese students would have taken it literally, and figured out how much time would need to be devoted to the project in order to do the exercise 10,000 times. That much work would have fundamentally transformed the student's bow usage. It's very interesting to watch this kind of idea play out in the Suzuki Method violin lessons Hero is taking, versus the more ordinary piano lessons I took as a kid. When I took lessons, I learned a song, passed it off, and typically never played it again. Hero, on the other hand, learns a song, often memorizes them, and then continues to review them. And it's interesting to see how this affects those old, "easy" songs that were already learned. And those songs give him a place to practice new skills on old, familiar music. In doing so, he continues to show incremental improvement on those "completed" songs. I don't think that he's even aware that it's happening.

After careful consideration, I'm breaking up our read-alouds, reading them relatively small portions. We've been reading Lord of the Rings for months now, and I frequently stop at cliff-hangers, deliberately. When we were reading Lamb's version of Taming of the Shrew, and they weren't ever satisfied with where I stoped in that one, either. This is deliberate. I want them to be hungry for more. I want them to be thinking about the stories in between our readings. I want them to have to do the work of remembering until the next time. I want them to have questions that they mull over. Things they wonder. This is a good thing.

"What is the act of thinking? To ask the questions! To ask the tough questions!"
-Andrew Pudewa, "What Are We Really Doing Here?"

Their questions need to be urgent enough, their curiosity strong enough, to carry them through the hard work of learning. It is interesting that Dr. Perrin spends several minutes talking about the importance of virtue in education. But upon further reflection, that makes sense. When progress is slow and incremental, as it typically is in education, then virtue becomes a critical element of success: work ethic, persistence, resilience, to name just a few, are necessary for the student to reach their full potential. All education is self education. Teachers can put a feast in front of the students, and entice them, but it is, in the end, the student who must do the work of learning. And it is work. In addition to learning to read, write, calculate, and all the other necessary skills and facts, the student must acquire enough virtue to see them through the vast project we call education, which, ideally, is a life-long pursuit and joy. The hare looses the race, not because he is incapable of winning, but because he lacks the self-discipline and constancy to carry him through the task.

Our culture, in so many ways, glamorizes the hare. Our movies switch angle every few seconds. It's remarkable how different the experience is, watching the original Star Wars movies, versus what it's like watching The Force Awakens. The long, contemplative spaces were almost disorienting to me when I watched the older movies, because I just wasn't accustomed to the older pacing. Current movies don't do that; they're often almost frantic by comparison. Our culture values the hare, not the tortoise. But it's the tortoise qualities that our children need (and that we need) in order to be successful at education, and at life.

Festina Lente.
Make haste slowly.
Little by little.
Consistent and lasting effort.
It's how progress happens.

Most Popular Posts of 2015

So, it's kind of fun to look at which posts got the most hits in the past year. Of everything that got posted, this is what the most people looked at:

7. Number seven was Marking My Scriptures, from the posts that I do for my Bible Study group (check the sidebar), where I shared some of the techniques I use for studying the scriptures.

6. Number six was Planning Early Modern History. I matched up church and family history with the second part of Story of the World volume 3.

5. The fifth most popular was On Classical Education: Cultivating Godly Character. I finally published this one in November, after working on it for several weeks. It's part of an ongoing series where I'm reading about - and then writing about - various aspects of what Classical Education is. This batch of posts are challenging to write, because it makes me take fuzzy thoughts and poke at them until they come into focus well enough to share, so it's gratifying that enough people have had a look to put it this far up the list!

4. The fourth most popular post of 2015 was Watercolor Instructions, where I gathered up a collection of links and things that the nice ladies of Ambleside Online had recommended. I have finally started getting somewhere with those. I painted this detail from Norman Rockwell's Runaway after reading about drybrushing in one of their recommended resources. And most or all of what went into the January Watercolor Challenge (it's linked on the sidebar) comes from that batch of resources, too. There is process. 

3. Number three was New Games, where I shared some games we were trying for both math and Japanese. The math game worked really well, and we used that one quite a lot. The Japanese game, much less so. We played that a few times, then moved on.

2. Number two was Day in the Life. I went through and wrote down just about everything that we did, for about 24 hours. These are fun posts to write; I'm glad that somebody was looking at it!

1. Aaand... the most popular post was Herb Class, where I wrote about the class I took last February, and how we integrated it into our nature study. It was a fun class; I'm glad that I took it -- but I'm surprised that it was the most popular post this year!

Commonplace Sampler: January

"This is Saint Paul's magnum opus. Here we see him at his greatest as a constructive thinker and theologian. The epistle to the Romans is the complete  and mature expression of the apostle's main doctrines, which it unfolds in due order and proportion, and combines into an organic whole. No other New Testament writing, except the epistle to the Hebrews, approaches so nearly the character of a doctrinal treatise. For the purposes of systematic theology, it is the most important book in the Bible. More than any other, it has determined the course of Christian thought in its most fruitful epochs; its texts and definitions have been the battleground of momentous conflicts in the history of the Church.
-Bruce R. McConkie, quoted in From Saul to Paul, p145

Teaching the Gospel in the Savior's Way:
  • Prepare to Teach
  • Help us Discover the Gospel
  • Invite us to Act
  • Let us Teach
  • Love us

The true mark of a gospel-centered teacher is not to create disciples of one’s own, but to lead one’s students to the Lord and His prophets.
-Four Attributes of an Influential Teacher


Ultimately we are punished quite as much by our sins as we are for them.
-Boyd K Packer, Teach Ye Diligently, 224

01 February 2016

More Number Squares

The MEP lesson plans suggested that our Number Square activity should take about nine minutes in a classroom setting. Hero and I have gotten a good deal more milage out of it than that so far! Because the plans said that it was a short activity, I had additional math work ready to go when we started it, but that work sat on the fridge for several days while we played and explored these squares.

The first day, I showed him how to do the activity, using a 3x3 square and the word ONE. Then, we worked together to do a 4x4 square with the word MORE. By the end of that, he had the idea, and I was just watching while he figured things out. Next, he did a 5x5 with his name. That one was more difficult, because he hadn't yet realized that working systematically will make his life much easier. I think this might be the first problem he's run into where working systematically mattered - the activity would have been a success just for that discovery, I think. (There's pictures showing our work in the first post.) For each square, we figured out an equation suggested by the book:


That was as far as we got the first day. I was intrigued, so I played with a 6x6 square that evening, which we talked about the next day. My own weakness with numbers had lead me to misidentify this as an activity working with square numbers, so I started out trying to show him square numbers on our Cuisenaire Rods... which didn't match up. I love the way that I get to (re)learn along with the kids. I never understood how math was related to patterns until I started doing math things with Hero, and it's pretty exciting to me to see how these things fit together. He got to watch me be confused and then work it out -- which is not a bad thing. And looking at the Rods was cool.

I don't know that I'd ever really seen an exponential relationship laid out and made touchable like that. We started out building long skinny towers, and later Hero added the blocked versions as we were starting to run out of space on the table.

Because it meant we were able to use our hundreds flats, the blocked versions allowed us to go even larger (we added another after the photo was taken) without running out of pieces. I was pleasantly surprised at how far our Rods went. That was as far as we got the second day, building the answers to the equations we'd built. I'm not sure if Hero feels like messing around with this anymore, but I am planning to play with at least one more set. We've done a 7 letter word set, which makes 32 solutions. I want to play with an 8-letter word, giving 64 solutions, and see if I can predict what the equation will be. And there's some cool patterns in how the letters fall on the graph that I'm intrigued by. I don't know if Hero's interest is strong enough to keep him engaged at a third sitting for our "9 minute" activity (that would bring us to around 1.5 hours), but if he is, there's plenty to play with still. 

Math is pretty amazing. 
How come nobody ever told me about playing with numbers?!


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