Sunday, March 15, 2009


Yesterday was the annual egg drop competition at Nauticus.

Ben's feeling miserable with his broken collarbone so he decided not to take part. Yesterday turned out to be a great lesson in actions having consequences. Shira won second place in the parachute drop and Ben is seriously bent out of shape that she won a gift card to the Discovery Store and he didn't.

I love teachable moments like this. Ben and I had a little chat about actions having consequences. He was convinced that this was only applicable when you did something bad. LOL. It was good to be able to demonstrate that inaction as well as action results in consequences. He decided to play instead of testing egg drop contraptions while his sister spent hours working on different solutions. She entered and won while he didn't.

I've been working with Shira on building her confidence. The child is a perfectionist and never thinks she does things well enough. She also always defers to everyone else and thinks that their efforts are better than her own.

Marc discovered that my little talks are paying off and that she'd been psyching herself the evening before the competition.

Shira's parachute was the cutest there. When she held it up to launch you could hear the collective, "Oooh's and Ahh's". Interesting choice of parachute for a a little Jewish kid don't you think? Shows you how well the dominate culture percolates into our thinking.

Shira's parachute landed closest to the target but lost first place because it weighed too much. She was thrilled with second place though and is already working on ideas to help her win next year.

We were convinced she'd win "Most Creative" but alas, it was not to be. A young girl who used more padding than I ever imagined was possible, won that category.

I took the above picture about half way through the unpacking process.

Padwan Shira

The highlight of Shira's trip to Hollywood Studios was being chosen to take part in a Star Wars Academy.

As you can well imagine, Ben was not impressed that she, and not he, was chosen. It's tough when children start to realize that life is not always fair.

Georgia Aquarium

In early January we visited the Georgia Aquarium with my cousin, Roy.

I have to say that this is a most impressive aquarium. However, the cognitive dissonance was almost too much for me.

When I think of aquariums, I think of quiet places filled with the sounds of moving water and lit by subdued lighting. This aquarium is as far from that as you can ever imagine. There is loud, obnoxious music spewing forth at decibels far too high for comfort and there are neon lights and bright colors everywhere.

Our little family became quite overwhelmed by all the stimulation outside of the exhibits.

Thankfully the exhibits were calmer and quieter. We made the mistake of visiting on a holiday Saturday. Thankfully, as is my wont, we were at the doors as they opened so we had a good few hours of quiet before the crowds hit.

I've never come across such knowledgeable and vibrant docents. I've trained the kids to always go up to docents and ask them questions. This way we find that we can almost guarantee private tours around facilities. This facility was no different. We made our way from docent to docent who were only too happy to impart all the encyclopedic knowledge about their areas of expertise.

Also, as usual, we arranged a behind the scenes tour and this was one of the best we've ever been on.

Our tour leader excelled at engaging young children.

As always the touch tanks were a hit.

My favorite part of the entire tour was being on a gantry above the whale shark tank.

This was my first visit to Atlanta and definitely not my last. Shira has asked that we go back to Atlanta in warmer weather so that we can do all the area museums. I've even joined an Atlanta area group, Homeschool Passport so that I can discover when all the homeschool days are. Hopefully we can combine a trip with lots of other homeschool activities.

I thought of taking the kids to the Coca Cola museum but seeing as my kids have never drunk soda and have no intention of ever drinking soda, I wonder if the museum will be a bust for them. I think that when they are older, I can talk about Coca Cola and American culture, but for now, I think it will be all lost on them.

Behind The Scenes at Epcot

Whenever we visit a museum or park, I try to arrange a behind the scenes tour for our family as my experience has shown that this greatly enhances the visit.

One of our favorite "rides" at Epcot is the "Living With The Land Boat Ride".

When we were at Epcot last September with my parents, I discovered all the behind the scenes tours you can take at Walt Disney World. The "Living with the Land" one is one of the few that Ben and Shira are old enough to do. This January, when my cousin was visiting from South Africa, we went to Epcot and did the Living with the Land Behind the scenes tour.

I highly recommend the tour to all homeschooling parents. The educational aspect has just enough cookiness built in to make it a whole lot of fun for the kids.

They put growing pumpkins into Mickey Mouse molds and force the pumpkins into those shapes

They also do the same with cucumbers

My kids, the tomato eating fanatics, fell in love with the tomato tree.

Ben was fascinated by this brand new display of aquaculture combining with hydroponics

Did you know that they try to grow enough produce hydroponically to fulfill the needs of the table service restaurants?

Hampton Roads Tax Day Tea Party

I can't wait to take Ben and Shira to our local Tea Party on April 15 in Virginia Beach. They've learned all about the Boston Tea Party and were actively involved in campaigning to get Ron Paul onto the Republican ballot.

A blogger buddy, Rational Jenn took her kids to the Atlanta Tea Party and came under a fair bit of flack for doing so. I am stunned that people think that children should not be involved in political activism. Jenn writes a lucid argument for why they should be involved in activism.

What is happening in government right now is going to have a lasting effect on our children and their grandchildren. As the trustee of my children's future, I need to become active and as the recipients of their future, they need to be aware and active as well.

I was very active as a teen and young adult in the anti Apartheid movement and know well how disapproving non activists can be of those who stand up for their principles. Even though I benefited from Apartheid, I can live with my conscience as I was an active part in the movement to change it.

I want to be able to look my kids in the eye and tell them that I did what I could to ensure that (to paraphrase Jenn), their futures are not shackled by today's idiot politicians.

From Hampton Roads Tax Day Tea Party

Fed Up with High Taxes, Bloated Budgets, and Pork?
We are organizing a tax protest “tea party” to take place on April 15, 2009 at Central Plaza, Towne Center (across from Senator Webb’s Office) Virginia Beach, VA. This is a non-partisan event designed to be creative and effective. Our representatives are not listening to us on the bailout, TARP, the stimulus A.K.A. “porkulus” bill, and now the 3+ trillion dollar budget. We in effect have “taxation without representation”. Both major parties are to blame. Our children and grandchildren will pay the price with their future. Our country is being sold to foreign interests through bonds.

This has got to stop. Washington is on a spending orgy. ”Going forward” is become code for “we will do what we want, call it what we want, and give the public meaningless verbage about responsibility. Later. When it’s convenient for us”.

It doesn’t matter if you are a low-tax, fair-tax or flat tax supporter. Our country is on a tipping point. Our Founding Fathers were keenly aware of the addictive power of government and sought to limit it. They took a bold move and created a nation unlike any other in the history of the world. It’s a precious heritage. We need to protect it.

You can help. If you live in Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Norfolk, Newport News, Hampton, or anywhere in the state of Virginia, please join us! If you are on Facebook, join our group. Tell your friends, co-workers, peers, and family about what we are doing. Opt-in to our email list, so that we can keep you up to date about locations, times and other important details. When you opt-in, you will only receive emails about the Tax Day Tea Party. Hampton Roads Tax Day Tea Party is a non-partisan group, and not affiliated with any political party. We love our Country, our Constitution, and the Liberty that our Founding Fathers sought to create.

Thank you for being a part of the Hampton Roads Tax Day Tea Party. We have a voice - let’s use it!

Karen Miner Hurd
Coby D. Willard
Founders & Patriots
Hampton Roads Tax Day Tea Party (Karen) (Coby)

Earthbox gardening

I am a green thumb challenged homeschooler who has been cursed, um blessed, with two children who are desperate to grow things. After it cost me in excess of $200 per tomato last year I swore off ever growing vegetables again.

In my defense, we have little or no room in our backyard and what room we do have is severely sun challenged. Last year I tried growing veggies in containers in the tiny area that does receive sunlight but they required so much watering (at least twice a day), that our water bill shot up by over $100 a month. I don't quite know what I did wrong, but I got weird vegetables that were eaten by wild creatures before we got to pick them.

Today I received a notification that Green Alternatives, a neat little ecostore around the corner from me, is hosting an Earthbox Meet Up on Saturday, 21 March at 2pm.

The little blurb got me excited that perhaps my plant killing days aren't yet over.
"An EarthBox is ideal for aspiring and experienced gardeners that are tight on space or just enjoy having a controled environment for their fruits, veggies, and herbs.
The class will be taught by a local professor who currently uses about 30 EarthBoxes for his gardening. "

I just had to google Earthboxes and discovered that these little boxes are on casters that allow you to move the boxes to the light. They also have the watering problems solved.
The EarthBox's plastic cover drastically reduces the water evaporation rate and returns condensed water vapor to the potting mix. As the plants draw water from the reservoir, they consume only what they need to stay healthy. Plants cannot be over-watered or under-watered if the reservoir is kept full. The plastic cover also prevents fertilizer from being diluted or washed away by rain.

The Tobagan government is using Earthboxes to solve their food security problems.

If a country can use Earthboxes to ensure they grow enough vegetables for their country, perhaps I can grow just part of the Silverberg family's vegetable needs.

Earthbox also has an entire education site. You can purchase the earthbox, together with education manuals for different grades.

I had a look a the sample on their website for the 2-5th graders and it looks like it might be worthwhile.

The website says
The curriculum support of the complete edition provides 17 standards-based sequential lesson plans divided into 45 minute classroom periods that require 60 days to complete in their entirety. Elementary Sample Lesson Plan.pdf. The 60 day time-line includes the treatment intervals between the real time experiments, but the actual lessons can be completed in twenty-seven, 45 minute periods. Not all lessons are interconnected. Instructors can choose the lessons appropriate to their objectives to focus on individual goals.

They also have pared down educational programs.

I'm really excited about the possibility that I too can have tomatoes like this

or spinach like this

Who knew spinach grew on vines?

This looks promising for someone like me. Perhaps I could have a real veggie garden this year and educate the children at the same time. Is anyone interested in joining me at Green Alternatives on Saturday 21 March at 2pm to find out about Earthboxes?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Kim's Play Place: Academy of Science and Technology 1

I've been on a mission lately about finding a science curriculum for the kids. To this end I've been searching through all the homeschooling message boards to find information on science programs.

I couldn't get over the fact that more time is devoted by homeschoolers talking about history than about science. I suspect that Susan Wise Bauer and her "The Well Trained Mind" is to blame. She spawned an entire cult of homeschoolers who believe that history should be the backbone of their children's education.

Science seems to get short shrift.

I fully agree that history is vitally important in our children's education, but science is as well.

So much of the science programs that are on offer to the homeschoolers confuse religion and science. I hate that I have to read subtext to find out whether a so called science program teaches mythology or science.

I also become rather irate when science is not taught hierarchically and when children are taught concepts for which they do not have the requisite context.

I think I have a solution. I need to check on a few things and then if I am correct, I'll blog about it.

In the mean time it was a real treat to see that Kim from Kim's Play Space has started a science blog carnival called theAcademy of Science and Technology 1


Just heard a great quote, "Patience is just procrastination without the stress."

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Homeschool Showcase is up.

As usual, Kris has published another great edition of "The Homeschool Showcase"

I can't wait to make the origami boxes she featured.

Have fun with augmented reality.

Marc and the kids have just spent a few happy minutes playing with the digital hologram at the GE site.

Plug in your webcam, print out the graphic from the website and have fun with the digital hologram of the smart grid.

Math Fact Drill

Over the last few decades I've noticed a very worrying trend amongst math educators that downplays the importance of knowing math facts well enough that you don't have to think when asked one. I've seen arguments that suggest that calculators take the place of knowing math facts.

For a while, when I lived in South Africa, I tutored underprivileged high school junior and seniors in math. These were all strong students who wanted to go onto do something that required math in university. They were hamstrung by the poor math teaching they received in their schools.

I generally tutored algebra and trig and discovered pretty quickly that they were also hamstrung by the fact that they couldn't easily find factors and common denominators.

My first action became going back to basics. I become a tyrant about math fact drills. I expected all my students to be able to give me the answers to the 1-12 times tables (and the divisions), squares of 1-20 and square roots of a long list of numbers within seconds of my asking them. I wanted these things to be automatic. I didn't want anyone having to think what 17+22 was, I wanted them to immediately know it was 39.

Without a single exception, all my students started excelling at their higher level math once they had their math facts down pat and we'd done some basic tutoring on methodology.

I had almost forgotten about all this until I started homeschooling my own kids. I have twins who love math and who want to scream ahead in the syllabus. I have no doubt in my mind at all that they could cope with the concepts of beginning algebra right now. The problem is that they'd be frustrated by their slowness in math facts.

I've spent the last year looking for tools to drill math facts.

We've done pages upon pages of written problems. There are a host of different free worksheet webpages, but the one I used most often was

Whenever I added a timer to them, Shira fell apart. I struggled to keep Ben focused. Shira would complete her worksheets in record time, as long as there was no timer, Ben could do it, but became bored.

We tried games at, Timez Attack, the river crossing game at AHA Math, flash cards and mom asking questions while we drive.

Flash cards and mom asking worked well but it took up too much of my time. I tried having each child quiz the other but it ended up in too many tears.

We discovered that the computer games helped the children learn new math facts but didn't do much for speed. Both my kids hated Timez Attack. I was surprised at that because I had only read great reviews. I realized that since we're not a video gaming family, my kids were becoming too frustrated learning how to play the game. They just wanted to focus on the facts and the extraneous activities were driving them crazy.

Before I forget, we also had a subscription to Big Math Time. This worked really well for addition and subtraction of small numbers but it fell apart for us on multiplication, division and addition and subtraction of large numbers because of the strange way they had the kids show the carrying.

About a month ago a fellow homeschooler reminded me about FlashMaster. She'd used it with her children and was convinced that it would solve my issues.

I am so glad I listened to her and bought two for my kids.

My only complaint is that I didn't buy them sooner.

Our goal is for the children to do the "timed flash cards" so fast that it takes them less than 1.5 seconds per problem.

Every morning, my kids know to do 20-30 min on the FlashMaster while I make breakfast and feed the dogs. Each child competes against his/her self. This is a BIG deal in our overly competitive household. I love anything that takes the focus off competing with a sibling and onto competing with one's self.

I love how I can go into each unit and see how the children are doing on their problems. It's also useful that besides the standard, 1+3=?, 4-3=?. 3x4=? etc, you can also do things like, 32/?=4 or 3+?=12.

Last week I sat down and quickly taught the kids the basics of the next few things we are going to learn in math; long division, factorization, lowest common denominators, factor reduction, improper fractions and mixed numbers. I have two children who are champing at the bit. They are desperate to sink their teeth into meatier math. I can see that they understand the concepts but I know that if I let them loose on this math without automaticity of their math facts they'll become disheartened because everything will take too long to do.

it's wonderful, now they have incentive to work on their math drill. They know what exciting math is just around the corner but that they are not going to be let loose on it until they can do anything, in 1.5 seconds, that the FlashMaster throws at them.

The FlashMaster has made my life so easy. The children can practice math drill while we're driving, waiting on a sibling at an extramural activity or anytime I so wish.

Monday, March 2, 2009

What are you doing for Pi Day?

Celebrate Pi Day!

Pi, Greek letter (), is the symbol for the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Pi = 3.1415926535... Pi Day is celebrated by math enthusiasts around the world on March 14th.

Read about Pi Day here

We'll start off the day by rereading, Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi

Will have to think on some other things to do. Part of the day we'll be participating in an Egg Drop Competition at Nauticus. We missed the one at the Virginia Air and Space Museum this weekend so I am adamant we won't miss the one at Nauticus. I've been planning my contraption for an entire year and can't wait to let it drop.