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10 October 2019

Mobeus Math

The other day, this video came through my Facebook feed:

It was really interesting, but it was late, and I wanted to do it with the kids. So I waited until they were awake. And we got out the tape and scissors and colored scrapbook papers (which helped with seeing the different things that happened as we were cutting, and made it easier to understand than it is with his that are all one color. And we made all his shapes --plus, Dragon found one more, where it makes 4 tiny curved almost-squares. They are also a pretty interesting shape.

We got all these shapes from flat papers taped, and then cut apart. (Except the double mobeus at the top: that's one of the ones we've been cutting.)

Building it all with 3 kids plus me took a few minutes. But I think that it was well worth the time, for the work on patterns and predictions and everything else. Some very good mathematical thinking going on!

Then, we watched the explanation, to make sure that we'd understood all the different things, and the reasons WHY the paper did what it did. Math took well over an hour today, but it was lots of fun. Well worth it.

01 October 2019

Psalm 17: A Cry For Help

It's been almost two years since I wrote about the Psalms. There are a number of reasons for that. The biggest, I suspect, is that I just didn't get this Psalm, for all that I'd studied all the words, and I didn't really want to move on until I understood. So I reread it from time to time. And waited. Tonight, I ended up doing scripture study late with the kids, so rather than reading a chapter from each one's personal bookmark, I just picked something short: a Psalm. And the first one to come to mind was the one that I'm supposed to be "working on" (though it has remained a mystery) for this Psalm Project: Psalm 17.

Suddenly, I could hardly see the page for the tears. All the mystery was unexpectedly cleared up: this Psalm is a cry against injustice, perpetrated by someone irresistibly stronger. It's the plea of someone who is powerless to change the choices of those who are stronger, better positioned, more powerful, and who needs Divine Help to survive.

It says "A Prayer of David", and I can almost see him: he used to be a hero, the king's favorite son-in-law, savior and darling of the people, slayer of Goliath. Anointed by the prophet. And then the king lost his ever-loving mind. So there David is: in a cave. Scrambling for food. Deprived of wife and family. Grieving for priests who died for his sake. Hunted from place to place like a beast. Still desperately trying to protect his people from their enemies. All through no fault of his own. (See 1 Sam. 17-27)

21 September 2019

How to Really Learn a Language

Though languages are required subjects, and most Americans study a foreign language for several years in school, relatively few of us can actually speak or read the languages we studied. Over the past several years, I've given a lot of thought of how to really learn a language. I've tried a number of approaches, ranging from regular classroom instruction, online classes such as Mango and DuoLingo, a variety of flashcard systems, and an increasing variety of for-natives-by-natives materials. I've also read a variety of things from a variety of people discussing the best ways to learn languages. There are a number of themes that come out as I've read things and these things seem to be born out in my experience as I've made real and consistent progress toward becoming really conversational in my adopted language.  I've come to the conclusion: Typical classroom instruction is simply not enough. To learn a language is a project that is bigger and deeper and wider than you can possibly cover in your average class. 

If you think about English, it's like an ocean. We are constantly immersed: the conversations around us, the signs, the inserts in the packages we buy, the people we talk to, the books and music and other media we listen to --most of it is all English all the time. The level of exposure, the number of hours we hear in a year, the number of words we meet in a day... it's staggering.

But we think that we can learn a new language with a few minutes from an online lesson.
20 minutes. Check.
Marked that box.
Learned my language for the day.

Odds are good that, whatever lessons you use, a sizable portion of the lesson itself is English explanations. So not even the whole 20 minutes (or however long) is going to be in the new language.

This is not enough.
To learn a language is to embrace a culture.

A serious effort at learning a language will change you. It will change your home, introduce new music, new books, new sounds, new smells and flavors. It will probably gradually impact the things you hang on your walls, the way that you decorate. It will change the way you think; literally give you new ways to shape the thoughts you think, ways that you cannot think with English alone. It will teach you new ways to understand the world. Offer new relationships.

It's a remarkable thing, learning new ways to think about the world is, and to get this remarkable blessing, you must put forth significant effort, sustained, over a significant period of time.

Learning a language is much easier with a community -even a very small community- of people to speak with, but in the age of the Internet, if you are willing to go the extra mile, you can go very far without any Real Local Humans to speak to, if you must, as long as there is enough media online.

One of the secrets that parents who successfully pass heritage languages to children they are raising far from their family's homeland is this: mass exposure. Multiple hours per day where they are interacting with their children in the heritage language. One of the adult learners that I read about talked about listening to 10,000 hours of his new language. I am currently about 100 pages into a goal to read 10,000 pages in Japanese. (I'm reading comic books, for the most part, with lots of help from my phone's dictionary. But I'll get better and read more "respectable" things after I get further into the project.) It's the mass of exposure that the classes miss. If, in the course of a school year, you have a 30 minute lesson on your language every day, even calculating generously, assuming that the entire time is all in the new language, at the end of the year you've only accumulated about 90 hours of exposure.

But. Don't let that mass of time needed overwhelm you. You do NOT have to eat the elephant in one sitting to be successful! 

Turn on the (internet) radio.
Listen to the scriptures in your new language; it's really easy to switch languages in the app.
Find a food/travel/painting/whatever channel on YouTube.
Learn a folksong or hymn.
Listen to the news.
Try a yoga workout.
Listen to the same stuff over and over: repetition is important.

It doesn't matter if you don't understand at first. Keep up your book work --take that class, the one I said isn't enough. You'll learn the grammar there, and that will help. You'll get a start on some vocabulary there, and that will help. But do other things, too; don't let the class be your only contact with the language.

Babies are born with the capacity to distinguish all the sounds in all the languages. I have no idea how researchers figured that one out! But apparently, as they are exposed to the languages that are usual in their home, they gradually loose the unused sounds, and it's typical for adult learners to struggle to distinguish sounds that do not exist in their language. Japanese isn't that different from English, as far as sounds used, but I can remember distinctly when, after several years of listening to the language regularly, it was like my ear "tuned in" to the "station", and all the sudden I could hear more and distinguish more than I'd previously been able to. That was exciting! I am convinced that it's the mass of listening over time that did it: I try to make sure that I listen for at least a few minutes every single day.

One thing that happens is that I'll listen to something for a while, and then I'll find something else that catches my interest, and listen to that. Sometimes, I like to go back to old things that I haven't listened to in a while. Going back again later is fun because I've learned more since the last time, and I'll usually find that my comprehension is higher than it used to be: concrete evidence of improvement is often hard to come by, but if I understand more today than I did 6 months ago, that's clear evidence of progress!

To really learn a language, you'll need to gradually move some of your regular actives into that language.

One of the first ones I've moved into Japanese is my basic scripture reading. "Study projects" I still usually do in English. But my basic scripture reading, the one thing that I'm careful to never miss, but that I don't require to be long, is in Japanese. This was really hard at first! But with time and practice, it got better. Last fall, when President Nelson challenged us to read the whole Book of Mormon by the end of the year, I thought it was too much, too hard. I wasn't going to try, until the Holy Ghost suggested that it was possible. I finished a little late, but I finished. I really can do all things through Christ! So I moved that into Japanese. Now, I've started making little inroads into the New Testament. And scripture study in a second language is pretty amazing.

Sometimes, I do watercolor tutorials in Japanese. Even when my comprehension isn't awesome, because it's so visual, the tutorials are still helpful. And I learn a few words here and a few words there, which is how they accumulate. Some of my reading, I've moved into Japanese. Other than scripture, it's just fluff: even comic books count as self-education, if they're in your foreign language! We'll include a couple of hymns and folksongs in Japanese this year as part of school. One of the things that heritage families talk about is the importance of speaking the language in various different situations, otherwise their kids learn the words used around the house --but end up weak on the words at the grocery store or the park, for instance. So as your vocabulary grows, it's important to continually challenge yourself by seeking out new areas to explore.

Changing habitual ways of doing things takes time and requires intentional effort over a period of time. But building your language into your habits is critical to actually becoming bilingual. Happily, habits are built one decision, one action at a time. By small and simple things, great things -like learning a language- are accomplished. 

What will you do in your second language today?

02 September 2019

Charlotte Mason: A Thoroughly Christian Education

It is of utmost importance that our children should in the first place, be taught faith in God. This cannot be left out of our system of education. Every child in our midst should be taught how to obtain a knowledge of God, this should be the cornerstone and foundation of ALL education. 
-George Q Cannon, quoted in A Meeting With the Principle, p5 (emphasis added)

By the time that I was in middle school, I knew that there were parts of my life that were not supposed to touch: school was one world, and church was another world. They each had their own cultures, their own rules, their own groups of friends and acquaintances. I learned very early that the results of trying to blend the two worlds were at best, awkward. In high school when I was attending early morning Seminary, I used my scriptures before school at church, and then carried them to school with me so that I could take them home and have them in the evenings. It felt like carrying contraband, bringing my scriptures to school and putting them in my locker. It felt like cheating the few times I read them during lunch: I knew very well that the scriptures didn't belong in public, but especially not in school: the banishing of prayer from schools, practically, was the banishing of God. If I wanted to pray, it was going to have to be silent. (Later, I learned that it's technically more nuanced than that; but that's what I understood at the time.) He, and thus His word, was not welcome. Knowing that the scriptures were not welcome, it felt like I was risking Big Trouble to have them out or even have them at school at all.

We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and 'spiritual' life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.
-Charlotte Mason, 6:xxxi

As we considered if we wanted to homeschool, religious instruction was never something that came up: it never even occurred to me at that point. I knew that some people educated at home for religious reasons, but I did not understand it. Our first reasons had to do with academics and social concerns revolving around bullying and the like. At that time, I still largely thought of education and religion as belonging to completely separate spheres of my life, existing in completely different "buckets", the one mostly irrelevant to the other.

Danger lurks when we try to divide ourselves with expressions such as “my private life” or even “my best behavior.” If one tries to segment his or her life into such separate compartments, one will never rise to the full stature of one’s personal integrity—never to become all that his or her true self could be.
-Russell M Nelson, Let Your Faith Show, April 2014

Learning to allow my faith to intersect with education was disorienting. It should have been obvious, but it was years before I thought to include a prayer at the start of our day: I effectively brought the ban on prayer home with me, because it was so deeply ingrained in how I thought about how to learn. Early on we started to include memorizing scripture in our memory work. But even still, when we started using the Rod and Staff grammar series, published by a Mennonite press, which typically uses examples drawn from the Bible, it felt good --but also illicit: teaching "academic" subjects with "religious" examples and exercises was odd, and sometimes disorienting. I could see that the Spirit approved of, and was directing the integration of faith and education. But it was interacting with the taboos that I absorbed early and well, and it was sometimes uncomfortable. Still, we kept going and I kept trying new things and learning how to do it better. But there was so much more that I still had -have, no doubt- to learn. One of the kind women of Ambleside Online, knowing that I was participating in the 20 Principles study group, suggested that I skip to Charlotte Mason's 20th Principle: that education should be thoroughly Christian, and said that she thought it would help. She was right.

You ought not to teach even the alphabet or the multiplication tables without the Spirit of God.
-Brigham Young, quoted in Karl G. Maiser: A Biography

Miss Mason talked about education as "the handmaid of religion." A handmaid is a servant: she's saying that, when it's in its proper role, education serves religion. It's meant to broaden our sight, and point it toward Him. Education is not primarily an academic or economic activity; it's role is to assist us in developing a godly character.

A man may possess a profound knowledge of history and mathematics; he may be an authority in psychology, biology, or astronomy; he may know all the discovered truths pertaining to geology and natural science; but if he has not with this knowledge that nobility of soul which prompts him to deal justly with his fellow men, to practice virtue and holiness in personal life, he is not a truly educated man. Character is the aim of true education; and science, history, and literature are but means used to accomplish the desired end. Character is not the result of chance work but of continuous right thinking and right acting. True education seeks, then, to make men and women not only good mathematicians, proficient linguists, profound scientists, or brilliant literary lights, but also honest men, combined with virtue, temperance, and brotherly love-men and women who prize truth, justice, wisdom, benevolence, and self-control as the choicest acquisitions of a successful life."
-David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, pp. 440-441, emphasis added

Miss Mason referred to the "Great Recognition" that parents must come to: that all knowledge comes from God, and is part of one great whole of Truth. Any divisions within Truth are artificial constructs. Miss Mason uses a fresco depicting how it all comes from our Father. Brandy Vencel explained it this way:

It was as our own day, in which a big black marker has drawn a thick dividing line between the level which holds Thomas Aquinas enthroned with the Law, Gospels, and Prophets on either side, and the level which holds the areas of study. These areas of study are all well and good, we say, but what have they to do with God, and what has God to do with them?

This is nothing less than a failure to understand who God is, and what He is like.

Do we really think we would find ourselves studying grammar and arithmetic if such things did not originate in the mind of God Himself? And do we really think we can know anything without His grace giving us the insights we so desperately desire?
-Thoroughly Christian: CM's 20th Principle (emphasis original)

My first efforts at integrating faith and education were like most starting places: neither large nor impressive: we'd been working on memorizing scriptures even before my oldest was school age. When we "started school" this was recategorized to become part of "memory work" -and that was pretty much it. I had no idea what rich blessings it would bring us all to simply recite a handful of verses (nearly) every day. We also started reading the narrative passages of the Bible pretty early on.

This was a start, and gradually, as we got further into this homeschool journey, the original reasons started to diminish in importance, as I started to dimly grasp what a blessing it is to be able to pause and talk about the Gospel, about Christ, about Creation, as it comes up.

Education which leaves out God is destitute of all true value. Satan is aware of the great power which a true system of education gives to the people. He is, therefore, opposed to such a system. He knows full well that a generation trained in all true knowledge cannot be lead by him, as they would if their education were neglected. He therefore stirs up all the agencies under his control to do everything in their power to defeat the purposes of God in regard to the education of our children.
-George Q. Cannon, Juvenile Instructor, 15 Apr 1890

But even when we were including scripture and speaking freely of our Father in Heaven, even then that is not as big, not a thorough as Miss Mason thought was needed for an education to thoroughly Christian. She talks about how "God ...is Himself, personally, the Imparter of knowledge, the Instructor of youth, the Inspirier of genius": it all comes from Him in the first place. To attempt to teach anything without acknowledging that it comes from Him is much like the rod that shakes itself: completely out of order.  Education is the doorway through which we have the opportunity to become acquainted with His works, His thoughts, His ways: it's the passage that leads us to become like He is.

This post is part of a series. Feel free to visit the series index for more thoughts on the Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles of Education.

02 August 2019

Commonplace: July 2019

A sample from my commonplace book, and brief instructions for how to keep one.

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. This is what Mother Culture is all about: self-directed, conscious self-education.


One reader is better than another in proportion as he is capable of a greater range of activity in reading and exerts more effort. He is better if he demands more of himself and of the text before him.
-How to Read a Book, Adler, p5


It is poignantly symbolic that "blood [came] from every pore" as Jesus suffered in Gethsemane, the place of the olive press. To produce olive oil in the Savior's time, olives were first crushed by rolling a large stone over them. The resulting "mash" was placed in soft, loosely woven baskets, which were piled on upon another. Their weight expressed the first and finest oil. Then added stress was applied by placing a large beam or log on top of the stacked baskets, producing more oil. Finally, to draw out the very last drops, the beam was weighted with stones on one end to create the maximum, crushing pressure. And yes, the oil is blood red as it first flows out.
-D. Todd Christopherson, Abide in My Love, Oct 2016

01 August 2019

Principled Education: Ideas

I've been taking a look at Teaching in the Branches again, where Miss Mason lays out a couple of foundational principles of education. It's obvious that she must have spent a great deal of time, not only teaching, but also thinking about teaching: these three principles really are foundational, but like all profound truths, it's pretty easy to go along for a long time without ever really being aware that they're there. The fact that she not only recognizes that education stands on these things, but can also put it into words so clearly, I suspect is the reflection of a great deal of work and thought and time on her part. Which fits with what we know of her, and is why there's a whole educational movement that takes its name from her. But as I'm thinking about it this morning, it makes me think what a truly remarkable teacher she was.

She talks about Authority, which I blogged about last time, and she threatens to talk about Habits, but doesn't actually get to it in the time allotted, and she also talks about Ideas.

In the matter of the Ideas that inspire the virtuous life, we miss much by our laissez-aller way of taking things for granted.
-Charlotte Mason, Teaching in the Branches

The leading brethren of the Church have, many times, spoken to this same goal of education as a means for leading the student to the virtuous life.

The Church stands for education. The very purpose of its organization is to promulgate truth among men. Members of the Church are admonished to acquire learning by study, and also by faith and prayer, to seek after everything that is virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy. In this seeking after, they are not confined to narrow limits of dogma or creed, but are free to launch into the realm of the infinite.
But gaining knowledge is one thing, and applying it, quite another. Wisdom is the right application of knowledge, and true education—the education for which the Church stands—is the application of knowledge to the development of a noble and God-like character. 
-President David O. McKay,  Moral and Spiritual Values in Education, April 1968

So again, as I outlined this section of the lecture, I found that Miss Mason had offered several specific techniques for coming at the principle that she's getting at:

30 July 2019

Principled Education: Authority

It's interesting: this is the third time that I've read Miss Mason's Teaching in the Branches, which is an essay Charlotte Mason read at one of their meetings about the principles that their schools run on. The second time through, I felt like I'd entirely missed the point the first time. And this time, while I do think it would be going a bit far to say I'd missed the point the second time, I do think that I was still unclear on it --in spite of having pulled out 14 points in an "outline" of sorts of the essay. But she says right out, near the beginning, what the three main principles she thinks they ought to be attending to are:

(1) The recognition of authority as a fundamental principle, as universal and as inevitable in the moral world as is that of gravitation in the physical; 
(2) The recognition of the physical basis of habits and of the important part which the formation of habits plays in education; 
(3) The recognition of the vital character and inspiring power of ideas. 
-Charlotte Mason, Teaching in the Branches

The idea, at the time, was that the local groups running the schools affiliated with Miss Mason would get together and have lectures or other presentations on various aspects of these ideas. Now, for me, the idea is to consider the principles that our homeschool runs upon, and to put some thought into working out how that looks in practice in my home. Turns out, it's a topic well worth revisiting, repeatedly.


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