Monday, August 31, 2009

US History: People Arrive!

Here we have a picture of dedicated home schoolers, starting their mega unit on American history. Just kidding! But we are starting the Pre-Columban phase of our US History megaunit.

We've built two time lines. The big one runs from 20,000 BC to 3400 AD. At one inch per 100 years, it's about 20 feet long and wraps around 3 walls of the dining room. We also have an "exploded" time line between 1430 and 2000 AD which gives us a view of 10 years per inch.

Naturally, we're starting at the back! The best general estimate of when people crossed the Bering strait(see picture above) is 20,000-25,000 BC. Of course, some people think it was 40,000 BC, and we'll talk about that. Here is an excellent computer model showing the land bridge over time. I also saw an interesting theory that the people at the tip of South America (some 3,000 years later) had not crossed the land bridge, but come by boat from Polynesia and the like. It's hard to verify since, if they settled on the coast (as seafarers would), all the evidence is now many miles off the coast of South America, covered at the same time as the land bridge when all the glaciers melted.

We will be starting with the Story of America book, since it actually starts this far back. We will try to track the spread of people throughout the Americas with this amazing website. Did you know that , when they crossed the land bridge, the people couldn't move south (too many glaciers) for 5,000 years? Or that it refroze, forcing many humans into "refuges"?

We'll talk about the different tribes and maybe get in a visit to the Museum of the American Indian. I want to hit at least the Northwestern tribes, the Anasazi, Hopi, Pueblo, the Mississipi "mound builders," the Iroquois nation, and some of the tribes which lived in our area.

We will be buying corn tomorrow and stripping and drying the kernels to make "parched corn."

We will also make popcorn balls with maple syrup.

We will be doing some sand painting (although we may cheat and do it on clear contact paper) and making moccasins.

We also have a northwestern Indian village we can build. This may be our diorama for this section, but it depends on what catches the kid's interest.

We will probably spend a day or so on the Incas and Aztecs, although they are out of geographical range, the older kids are quite fascinated with them. BrainPop has some really nice movies on them.

And, of course, I hope we will make movies for you. I am planning to do a trial run tomorrow...

I am curious as to how long we will spend in each mini unit, it will depend on what amazes us, I suppose! I will keep you posted.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fine Young Cannibals

There is something a little disturbing about the way Choclo has responded to Oob's recent impertinent behavior. He comes running to me and asks with charming earnestness, "Mommy, can I eat Oob?"

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Best Laid Plans

So this was it: we were going to start up for real this week with our First Day of No School followed by the plunge into US history!

And then, last Thursday night, we got a stomach bug. Not bad as these things go, but Choclo was ill for three days. Then he was fine and, by Sunday afternoon, we (OK, I) started to think maybe it was just something he ate... WHAM! The other seven of us got it within 24 hours.

We are all fine by today, so, not too bad, but not the right way to start off the school year, either!

We've decided to construct our time lines this week, and do our First Day of No School tomorrow or Friday. We're sort of using the time to work up an appetite for the history project (and weed the garden/clean the furnace filters/paint the border in the girls' room, you know, all the projects we thought we'd get to over the summer). Maybe that's not such a bad plan, after all!

Especially since I retain the idea (from my youth) that any school done before Labor day is sort of cheating, anyway!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Customizable Bread

Realistically, I don't look up a recipe, I (or the kids) just do this:

4 c warm water
3 t salt
1 T oil or butter
1T yeast
7-9 c flour

You can add sugar, ground flax seed, soy flour, wheat germ, oats, potato flakes, honey, eggs, seeds, other flours, or anything else you can think of to this recipe in place of some of the flour.

Mix it all together, knead it 10 minutes, oil it and let it rise.
Shape it into a loaf, let it rise 30 minutes, then bake it 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees.

Things I've learned:

Skipping the oil will give you a lovely crackly crust, but it will stale quickly.

Adding some milk instead of water will give you a more tender, denser "crumb."

If you add a lot of stuff you need to use bread flour, or add gluten.

You can use left over breakfast oatmeal to make oat bread, and leftover mashed potatoes to make potato bread.

A wetter, "slack" dough will give you big holes inside - lovely when toasted, or for "artisan" bread.

You can bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, as long as you don't have much sugar in the dough.

Dough is fully kneaded when it passes the "windowpane" test. Stretch a small amount of dough to form a flat "window." If you can see light through it, you pass, if it tears and looks ragged, you need to knead...

If you can't manage to knead it enough to make it really smooth and elastic, let it rise twice and the yeast will do it for you.

If you're pressed for time, you can put a loaf that has mostly risen (20 minutes) into a cold oven and it will finish rising as the oven heats up.

If you have time, the slower the rise, the more flavor. An overnight rise in the fridge (just slip it in a gallon ziplock bag) will give you fantastic bread - try baking it at 400 degrees and you'll get the best crust ever!

Spraying the crust with water right before you bake will give you a crisp crust with the best rise.

Buttering the crust when it comes out gives you a soft crust that kids love! (This tip courtesy of Klenda!)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Favorite Bread Recipes - and Books!

A friend just asked for my favorite bread recipe. I think I mentioned that we've made all of our own bread since I left work when Mxyl was born. That's a lot of bread recipes! How to choose? She relented and let me choose a sweet and a savory recipe.

I could eat this every day and not get tired of it. This is from Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads which I got out of the library enough times that I eventually bought it! There aren't any eggs in it, it's from a B & B in Egg Harbor, Michigan. The weird rising pattern gives it a lovely texture.

Egg Harbor Bread
3 T sugar
1 T salt
2 1/2 c warm water
2 T soft (even melted is OK) butter
5-6 c bread flour
2T instant yeast

Dissolve the sugar, salt and yeast in the water. Add the butter. Stir in 3 c of flour and mix until absolutely smooth (100 strokes by hand, 2 minutes by mixer). Add flour 1/2 c at a time. Knead 10 minutes. This can also be done in a food processor if you have a plastic dough blade), add ingredients in the same order and process 60 seconds instead of kneading.
The secret to this dough is that it rises 5 times (but only for a total of 1 1/2 hours). You punch it down after 30 minutes, then again every 15 minutes for an hour. Then you shape it into loaves and let it rise again until doubled (45 or 50 minutes). Then bake at 400 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. I often let it rise in the pans for 30 minutes, put it in the cold oven and then turn it up to 400.

This is heaven for breakfast. We often have it Christmas or Easter morning. It's from the same book. I actually like a lot of recipes from Beard on Bread (another library find), but these are my absolute favorites!

Orange Cinnamon Swirl Bread
6 c bread flour
2 T instant yeast
1/2 c sugar
1 1/2 t salt
1 1/4 c warm milk
1/4 c soft butter
1 T grated orange peel
3/4 c orange juice (or 3 T frozen concentrate with some warm water added)
1 egg room temperature
Filling: 1 T cinnamon mixed with 1/2 c sugar
Frosting: 1 c powdered sugar
1 t vanilla
4 t orange juice

Mix 2 c of flour with the rest of the dry ingredients. Add the warm milk and mix until smooth. Add the butter, orange peel, OJ, and egg. Mix well, then start adding flour 1/4 c at a time. Knead 8 minutes (or use food processor). Let rise one hour, then preheat oven to 375 degrees. Punch down the dough and gently pat it into a 15'' by 7" rectangle (you may need to let it rest 5 or 10 minutes for the gluten to relax). Sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar and roll up, sealing the end with a little water. Bake, seam side down in a greased loaf pan at 375 for 10 minutes, then turn down the heat to 325 and bake for 20 more minutes. After they cool, mix up the frosting and frost! It doesn't keep well because of the egg in the batter, but I bet you could give a loaf as a gift, freeze it (before you frost it), or make fabulous french toast from the other loaf! I usually make it the night before I want it.

I would also just like to add that the book I learned the most from was Crust and Crumb. It explained so much of the science of bread making that I was able to design my own recipes, even though I don't generally use the recipes from that book. Even if you just like to eat really good bread, it's a deeply satisfying read! Tomorrow, I'll post some of what I learned from it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Guest Blog by Klenda: Here and There

We built rockets for launch at NASA Goddard. If you click you can see the details of our rockets. Unfortunately, the launch was scrubbed on account of rain right after we took the picture!

We will try again to launch next month.

We made a thread web in the boys' room (click to see). It's a shame we had to take it down, we were very proud of it.

We went down to the Bay to collect shark teeth. Zorg learned how to swim and I learned how to open my eyes under water. Very productive! We even found over two dozen shark's teeth.

The picture is of Choclo practicing being a little jellyfish.

We went to the Baltimore Museum of Industry. Choclo went head over heels over that crane, "Oh, look! It's a red crane, Momma!"

It was a great museum for kids. We took a tour and made lots of discoveries about how things are made. Hint: It's more complicated than it looks!

Today, we went to the Freer Gallery and saw the Peacock Room. Then we had lunch in the Moon Garden and had fun running through the sprinklers!

We've been having a great time!

We hope you are having a great time, too.

I hope to blog again soon!

Reverse Engineering History: What?

So, if you've figured out what you want your kids to get, and how you'll find out if they got it, the last step is the fun one: what will they do to learn it. Honestly, this where I used to start!

Of course, we'll read books. There are tons and tons of books on US History for every time section and every age level, and many of them include activities. Your best bet is to go to the library and just browse through stuff.

My girls like the American Girl series (except for Molly, the WWII character). We have picked up the entire set piecemeal at library sales for a quarter a book. Just keep a list of what you have/need! Alas, boys aren't into them. Understandably.

I love the book Cooking Up US History which gives recipes, activities, extensive book lists and other ideas. It's only flaw is that it stops after the Civil War and goes into regional specialties.

I love all the books by Carmella Van Vleet's Build It Yourself series. We'll be using her Ben Franklin book here.

You get the idea, I'm sure. I'll do more book list type stuff when we are actually in each mini unit.

Living near DC, I am hoping to go to a lot of historic sites. We can do day trips to DC, Philadelphia, and Gettysburg, for example.

For each period of time I want to do daily life stuff: cooking, clothing, survival, housing. What was it like to live then?

I'd also like to look at the main players of each time. We own a lot of historical biographies and I'd like for each kid to become an expert in different historical characters.

I am hoping to have a lot of dinner table discussion about the ideas and worldviews for each time: why did they make the decisions they did?

This blends into assessments, but I'd like to do drama as a way to integrate everything. I'd like the kids to create skits of various historical events (possibly also filmed).

This will probably be the last post on this for a while (we now return you to your regularly scheduled Oob pictures), at least until we actually start the mega unit.

Reverse Engineering History: How?

My next step is to figure out how I will know if the kids got what I wanted them to understand (assessment). In school that would mean tests and maybe a few reports or projects. Home Schooling we have a lot more options!

Because a central goal is for the kids to understand how history fits together, we will be doing 2 (or more) time lines. These will be on the wall for the length of the megaunit. One will be from 20,000 BC to the present, the other will be from around 1490 to the present.

We will also be making a time line of sorts out of dioramas which we will make for each smaller unit (Pre Columban, Colonial, Revolution, etc.). We will be keeping these in the museum (after we do something to make the door "little guy proof")! The ability to make and answer questions about the dioramas and time lines will be major assessments.

Then we have the wild and crazy idea: I have a cheap digital camcorder which I would like to use to have the Zoomlians make "how to" movies. The idea is that when we do cool projects, I can have a Zoomlian show how we did it, and explain it's significance. We'd then post the movie on You Tube and embed it back here in the blog.

There are a few tech hurdles there for me to figure out... But I'd like to give it a try!

Incidently, The Emperor informs me that the technical term for Reverse Engineering is Backwards Mapping (which may be more appropriate in a Social Studies unit).

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

US History Anchor Book(s)

Sorry! I meant to add the title after I had gone upstairs and gotten the book, so, of course, it left my mind the minute I left the computer!

The main book I will be using is A History of the United States. Amazon has it used for as low as $6.50.

That being said, I also have a book which is very similar, but was written for a younger audience. Tracy, I don't know how old Samuel is, but I believe this might be even better for him. This is Our Country Begins. Amazon has it for $5. This book has even more activity suggestions, so while the text is too simple for my older kids, I will mine this one for activities.

Before I found these books, I had planned to use The Story of America, a National Geographic Picture Atlas, which Amazon has as low as $1.50. My copy is from 1992. This one is just beautifully laid out with plentiful beautiful pictures. I will still draw a great deal from this one for the pictures and maps. There are many many pictures and only a few maps, so I'm not sure why they call it an atlas. Still, it's a lovely book!

By the way, I couldn't deal with all the pictureless posts, so I retrofitted them with random US History photos. I particularly like the black and white one: its a historical reenactment of the sewing of the first flag, staged in 1915!

Reverse Engineering History: Why?

One of the great things about being married to a really excellent (professional) teacher, is getting to learn theories of education. A big one for me is Reverse Engineering. The idea is to think about what you want to end up with as specifically as possible, then work out how to get that.

The first step for me is always the question, "Why are we learning about this?" (Hint: "Because we have to. "doesn't work). In the case of US History, my answers were:

1. To understand the principles on which our nation was founded and how we have applied and misapplied them and the consequences of those decisions.

2. To understand who we are and where we came from as Americans (which develops into: so we can understand why we do things the way we do).

3.To see the commonalities and differences in the lives of people throughout history in a way that makes those people and times real to the kids.

4. To see US history as one continuous story that they are part of.

I talked this over with my friend, Fr. Mark. He's one defense away from his doctorate in History. He suggested that the real importance of learning History was to observe the consequences of decisions and learn from them. For example, the decision to permit slavery was a horrifically immoral choice that had consequences which are still echoing today.

I really agree with that as a primary reason to learn history, so I ended up selecting a Catholic history of the US as my "anchor" book. Not only does it present history as a series of moral choices, but it also presents it in a more holistic way. I grew up in NJ, and US history started with the English colonies. From that perspective, the rest of the US is simply an outgrowth of those colonies, never mind about the Spanish or the French colonies that would make up more than half the present country. Oh, yeah, and there were some people here before the colonists...

This text looks at the French and Spanish colonies alongside the English. In fact, it goes back to the Crusades and the rise of the Enlightenment as the impetus for colonization. Very interesting! It meshes very well with our World History units.

Next post, I'd like to talk about the next step in Reverse Engineering: How will you know if it worked?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Remembering the Alamo, Kind of...

With all the trips and day trips this summer, I am feeling a nice combination of really relaxed and jazzed to start up again. I've been working up a mega unit that I've had in the back of my head for the past few years.

This is the year for US History! We're going to try for the whole shebang from crossing the Bering strait to today!

It's funny to see how much of teaching comes from things I didn't like about my education. I couldn't stand the way my schools did history: they chopped it up into unrelated times so that I never got a good idea of how it all fit together. I came away with the general idea that there was a Revolutionary War, then some time later a Civil War, and somewhere in there was a French and Indian War (Wrong! It was an indirect cause of the Revolution!) and the War of 1812 when Teddy Roosevelt charged up San Juan Hill and saved the Alamo... (Let's just pass over that one).

I guess it was less a general idea and more a tangle of separate stories, all of which happened "Once upon a time."

We're hoping to avoid that with the Zoomlians! More details soon!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I (heart) My Printer

We've done a lot of museums and day trips lately, and it's caused a bit of an explosion in Choclo's imaginative play.

First it was the Baltimore Aquarium. "I a little fish, Mommy! I'm black and I have black stripes. I love you, Mommy fish!" So sweet!

Then he learned how to snort. Loudly. "I a little pig, Mommy! You a BIG pig! I love you, Mommy pig!" Maybe a little less sweet...

And this week, we took a turn for the Kafka-esk. "I a little printer, Mommy! I love you, Mommy printer!" Yes, he means a computer printer.

What could I do? I fed sheets of paper down his back.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


I finally got around to sorting out and posting my favorite home school websites by category! There they are on the right, down where the single list used to be.

Now I know why it took me so long to get around to it: it took forever!

And why were all my science sites good but most of my social studies sites had vanished? Must be those fly-by-night history types!!

Crazy Day

The emperor is out of state on a visit to a friend. He's actually only gone for a night and a day, but he is very much missed. In the interest of lightening the mood, we declared today to be Crazy Day.

The kids wore crazy clothes.

Oob isn't in that picture because he had found the bowl for the strawberry shortcakes in the kitchen.

No, he's not smiling; bowl licking is serious business!

Those strawberry shortcakes were the dessert we had for breakfast.

We also had dinner for lunch (dinosaur chicken nuggets, that's actually a pretty crazy concept by itself) and we'll have breakfast (pancakes) for dinner.

We then moved on to foot painting (instead of finger painting). Four 30' rolls of paper later, we had 120 feet of foot paintings! And very messy feet.

And we made chocolate chip cookies - they were crazy good!

The crazies got derailed for a while when we discovered that a new Book Worm Adventure had come out! Yeah, it is $20, but we've probably spent 50 hours on the last Book Worm Adventure (sample it here for free), and certain Zoomlians with serious spelling issues have improved dramatically...

In a little while we'll make finger people!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

No Good Answer

A little while back, we walked into church and noticed that the Knights of Columbus were there in full regalia. If you've never heard of them, they're a Catholic charitable society that does stuff for the Church as well as in their neighborhoods. They were doing some kind of honor guard thing that day, as I recall.

At any rate, when Leena saw them she got very excited. The burning (very loud) question was: "Why are they wearing pirate hats in church?"

Monday, August 3, 2009

Wave Theory

I think I finally understand how waves in the ocean are kinetic energy. I knew they were, of course, because all energy moves in waves, but I think I am only understanding now what I wanted to know when I was a kid: why waves get bigger as they move towards shore, and why they take the shape they do when they break.

Most waves are caused by wind, and wind is air pressure (air moving from an area of higher pressure to an area of lower pressure). This pressure presses on the deep water out in the ocean. Just like the wind on land comes in gusts, on the water it is also intermittent and each "push" causes waves.

The energy on this scale must be massive! This energy is distributed deep into the water (think of hydraulics: any pressure on part of an enclosed fluid is distributed so that you have the same pressure at all points. The ocean isn't enclosed, of course, but the wind pressure happens over such a wide area that there is a similar effect.) All that energy moves in a wave through the deep water, and since it is a large amount of energy in a large quantity of water, the wave at the top is small. As it nears land, the water the wave is moving though gets shallower and shallower, but you have (more or less) the same amount of energy moving through it.

The breakthrough thought for me was this: the wave is not the water, the wave is the energy moving through the water.

All that energy has to go somewhere, of course, and the wave tries to hold it's shape. When I see a wave rising up out of the ocean, I'm seeing the deep wave coming ashore holding onto as much water as it can in a fight against gravity. The wave breaks when gravity wins and dissipates that energy.

And where did that energy come from? The sun! Most wind (changes in air pressure) comes from the sun heating the atmosphere. When watching the waves, I am seeing transformed solar energy!

Thinking this all through gave me a new perspective on Creation: looking at waves on the ocean, I am seeing energy moving in the universe in a nearly raw form. It's amazing! It's like looking at God's fingerprints.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Beach Trip

We had a great time at the beach! The waves were a bit higher than usual - in the 4 to 6 foot range, so the time out in deeper water and "boogie boarding" was limited.

But playing in the surf was amazing!

And the big sandbox was terrific fun!

We made sand castles and sculptures and turned the girls into mermaids.

And got soaked when the waves rolled in.

We collected 5 kinds of seaweed, took them home and examined them in a large bowl. We weighted the stems down by weaving them into the tines of forks, then covered them with water. The kids were fascinated with the different colors, structures, air bladders, and textures. They spent a long time (in turns) making waves with their hands and watching the fronds move.

Someone left their toes lying around, but we remembered to pick them up before we left.

Grammy had rented a cozy beach house about a block and a half from the surf. Besides a nice yard, it had a great climbing tree (although you needed the clothesline to rappel down).

And we got to play "There were 6 in the bed and the little one said..ROLL OVER!"

And to complete the ultimate Zoomlian vacation...we played mini golf!