Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Call of the Wild.

Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was
brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tidewater dog, strong of muscle
and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego. Because men, groping in
the Arctic darkness, had found a yellow metal, and because steamship and
transportation companies were booming the find, thousands of men were rushing
into the Northland. These men wanted dogs, and the dogs they wanted were heavy
dogs, with strong muscles by which to toil, and furry coats to protect them from
the frost.
Decent research guide...scroll down.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

This is a landscape by E., who is taking art in middle school this year, along with private lessons twice a month, and a class in sumi-e beginning next week. It's a good idea...so we theorize...to go for broke where your student is truly interested. Learning technique, different approaches, ideas, methods...it can't hurt.

Thanks to so many for checking this site so often, and come back, because we'll start updating Judging From His Tracks soon.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Visit Desert Plume.

E. is taking a break through the beginning of August. Please check out Desert Plume, her art and manga page, and also look at her current interest--the phenomenon of artist trading cards.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Summer stats.

We love Triple A baseball, which in addition to being fun and relaxing is also a great way to keep the mind limber over the summer....you can keep a scorecard, learn the strategy of the game, and begin to grasp statistics.

Jack Cassel of the Round Round Express signed a game used ball right at the sweet spot. Players in the minor league are very approachable, pleasant folks...maybe the big ego comes with the big league.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia. All of them!

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Prince Caspian
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair
The Horse and His Boy
The Magician's Nephew
The Last Battle

As an end to her homeschool year, E. finished the complete Chronicles of Narnia. Here is a fine HarpersCollins reading guide to the entire series.

Here are some good reading comprehension quizzes; you can choose the level of difficulty. You might also want to take a look at this interesting piece by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker. And from Salon, a look by writer Laura Miller at why she thinks The Land of Oz is quite a bit less compelling than Narnia.

To all of you who homeschool and unschool your kids, have a wonderful summer! We'll certainly be updating this site as we proceed through June, July and August 2008, but this is the last day of our school-year program. Best wishes to all.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

His Dark Materials, part three.

E. has now completed The Amber Spyglass. If your home learner has also finished the trilogy, you might try these excellent reading review quizzes from BBC.

Also look at this teacher's guide from Random House that includes a lesson plan to The Golden Compass. And Scholastic has a helpful teacher's guide and lesson plan...please just ignore the advertisements on the page for the movie version.

Is Pullman's trilogy really the anti-Narnia? Here's an interesting take on that question.

Emma visited and interviewed several artists on the Eldorado Studio Tour today. She went with prepared questions and took notes, and we all had an amazingly pleasant day, in part thanks to the beautiful weather. Please visit our Santa Fe Journal blog for details.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

His Dark Materials, part two.

On the reading front, E. is continuing Philip Pullman's trilogy.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Industrial Revolution.

We're formulating a lesson plan connecting the Industrial Revolution conceptually from the Cranford era to the Civil War and will post it soon.
Image: Monet's Waterloo Bridge.

Pop-up free refresher sites.

Here is a site that mainly tests seventh grade math knowledge, but it has some good quizzes about geography. This is a completely free, nonprofit educational site run by a graduate student from University of New Hampshire.

This one tests subject/verb agreement.

The schwa sound from Quia.

Harcourt School spelling test. This gets a bit harder as you progress.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Golden Compass, first of a trilogy.

E. saw the movie first, but the 'His Dark Materials' trilogy by Philip Pullman really should be read. The first in the series is The Golden Compass and E. likes it very much. Here is a good HDM quiz. Themes: Be self reliant, loving toward other people, loyal. Again the power of truthfulness, loyalty, and individuality are central. (Golden Compass seems to us anti-authorian, rather than anti-Catholic, but be aware there is controversy about this.)

Here is an excellent Golden Compass lesson plan guide from Scholastic Books with emphasis on symbolism. Here is the lesson plan on characterization in the book.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell.

If you were to conjure up the book that is most dissimilar in setting, perspective, and outcomes to Oliver Twist, it might be Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. Her wonderful book has a sublime rendition in the BBC production.
Cranford is far removed from the fiction of Gaskell's contemporary, Charles Dickens, in that it describes idyllic domesticity in a quiet English village at a time when industry and poverty ran rampant in England's larger cities. However...

"... for all its frills and teacups Cranford does not shy from the
grim realities of life in Victorian England -- a man's life is threatened
because the doctor does not have enough candles by which to operate; little
coughs give way to fatal fevers; and women, of course, are at the financial
mercy of their inheritance or marriage." Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times

And the ladies' uncertain finances are a crucial aspect of the novel's conclusion.

Cranford is peopled by unmarried or widowed women who live happily in each other's society, and the story reflects to an almost revolutionary degree (for its time) the power of female friendship. The book began as a series of related stories published in Household Words, a magazine published by Dickens. Set in 1842, the story is rich with little scenes of gentle humor, such as how best to eat an orange, or the very funny tale of the cat and the lace collar. It makes a good comparison/contrast subject with any of the works of Jane Austen, in the sense that marriage is Austen's driving force but something of a nuisance to Gaskell.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hijinks on the high seas.

No lesson plan for this one, and no reading comprehension quiz, because they'll get it, don't worry. This is an amusing diversion...Sea Legs by British author Alex Shearer ... simply a good, funny kids’ book about twins who stow away on a cruise ship.

To have one’s sea legs is to be able to walk calmly and steadily on a tossing ship, or to become accustomed to a new or strange situation.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Animal Farm as a way to grasp allegory and satire.

George Orwell's warning about the dangers of Communism: Animal Farm.

E. is reading this novella, published in 1945, for a local teen book group. We are not going to study the Russian Revolution this year, so instead we will consider the book as satire (of Soviet totalitarianism, Marxism, worker exploitation) and allegory. This link provides a point-by-point look at what each character in the book symbolizes in relation to the figures of the Russian Revolution, when viewing the novella as a satirical allegory of early 2oth-century Russia and Soviet totalitarianism.
Here is a link to a solid lesson plan on the novella. This NEH link on Allegory and the Art of Persuasion is top-notch.

Here is a google books link to the Signet edition text. And to review reading comprehension, here is a 25-question quiz about the book's plot.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Presentation at Los Alamos lab.

E. presented her Project GUTS ecosystems data and program on sharks, fish and plankton yesterday. Here's a link. She also observed presentations on topics including earthquakes and spread of viruses, which she found particularly interesting. One of the purposes of the GUTS program is to provide a bridge to the Supercomputing challenge when the kids are older. She did very well and we're really proud of her.

Monday, April 21, 2008

My Boy Jack, a poem by Rudyard Kipling.

Here is a good site to begin studying the Great War's influence on contemporary literature.

This evening we watched on PBS the wrenching account of Rudyard and Carrie Kipling's devastation at the loss of their son John in the Battle of Loos, September 1915.

My Boy Jack

'Have you news of my boy Jack?'
Not this tide.
'When d'you think that he'll come back?'
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

'Has any one else had word of him?'
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

'Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?'
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind--
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

April is National Poetry Month. For more information, visit the Academy of American Poets.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Baseball lesson plans.

Yes, that's right. The best involve geography, mathematics and history. And the Science of Baseball is a great site.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Meals on Wheels in Santa Fe.

Just a post to restate our ongoing commitment to Meals on Wheels. We pick up the meals at the Ken and Patty Adam Senior Center in Eldorado, where the remarkable chef is Robert Lujan, whom E. enjoys talking to every time we stop by. She investigates his industrial kitchen, asks questions, and learns a little something from his culinary abilities. This week we added two new people to our delivery list. Here is an article from the local paper about the center.

Examining the killer angels.

We are studying the Civil War.

To examine the three-day battle of Gettysburg, we recommend reading Killer Angels and then viewing the movie Gettysburg. The special emphasis on the formidable Union officer Joshua Chamberlain at Little Round Top, and then the catastrophic outcome of Pickett's Charge, provide a centered way to grasp what can easily become an overwhelming subject.
Chamberlain might make the subject of an essay about heroism, and what it truly entails, for we throw that word around a lot in this society.

To begin, if you think you know a great deal about the Civil War, can you pass this fourth grade Jeopardy-style quiz?

Monday, April 7, 2008

At this moment, I agree with this list of ten books it isn't possible to live without, and hope you may get some reading ideas for your seventh grader from it. We'll provide our own list soon.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A tall wall, a wide gate.

Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Here we continue from the entry below. Our trip to Nogales, Mexico through the border crossing, an informal interview with a family member who is a Border Patrol Agent, and a thorough discussion of immigration, illegal immigration, and the rights and duties of citizenship has been extremely beneficial in opening the eyes of our seventh grader to the depth and breadth of these matters. The often-unmentioned complicity of businesses and corporate interests in hiring illegal immigrants as "cheap labor" is part of this rubric.

Here are some thoughts about the crossing. Here is the government's Citizenship and Immigration Services site (this used to be known as INS, or Immigration and Naturalization Services). Here is Discovery Education's excellent lesson plan site regarding immigration to the United States (grade level 6-8).

An essay question that may elicit surprising responses is:
What responsibility, if any, does our American government have to other citizens of the world?


Thursday, March 27, 2008

The state flower of Arizona.

We had a wonderful and educational trip to Tucson for spring break, and we'll cover many aspects of that trip, but let's begin with the state flower of Arizona...the saguaro cactus, pronounced sah-wa-ro. It's impossible to find the saguaro cactus above 3,400 feet because they thrive in intense heat. The giant of cacti is found only in the desert of Arizona and if anyone damages one there is a fine of $10,000 imposed because the saguaro is a protected species. When the saguaro reaches 75 years old it is at least 15 feet tall.

Here is an excellent site on the saguaro cactus. Here is a video from Arizona Game & Fish. Here is the Desert Museum's angle for kids. And here's the Nature Conservancy's interactive deserts quiz.

Spring break reading.

The Witches by Roald Dahl. A young boy and his Norwegian grandmother, who is an expert on witches, together try to foil a witches' plot to destroy the world's children by turning them into mice. The race is on for the hero to expose the witches before they dispose of him. E. loves all of Dahl's books and this is a scary, funny, imaginative classic. Here is a good lesson plan page. And here is a pretty tough quiz.

More spring break reading.

Summer's End by Audrey Coulumbis. The author's spare, strong writing style brings to life a difficult time in America. The summer Grace turns thirteen is when everything changes. The Vietnam War is raging, and Graces brother, Collin, is drafted. But Collin decides to take a stand and burn his draft card, igniting a war within the family. Grace suddenly finds herself bewildered and angry, thrust into a turbulent political climate. The war is everywhere, and Grace quickly learns that she cannot escape it, no matter how hard she tries. The first-person, present-tense narrative conveys powerful emotions with the simplest of words. Grace is jealous of her brother, misses him, and is mad at him, and it all rings true. She comes to realize that all choices are hard, and that while people you care about don't always do what you think is right, it is important that families stay together.

A Group of One by Rachna Gilmore. This site has excellent notes on the book; scroll down to the bottom for notes. The author has a very good website here.

Sliding Into Home by Dori Hillstad Butler. After she moves with her parents from Minneapolis to a small town in Iowa, 13-year-old baseball fanatic Joelle Cunningham cannot believe that she's not permitted to play on her new middle-school's baseball team. Convinced that girl's softball is not an adequate alternative to baseball, she starts a one-girl campaign to change the small town's rules, and her protest eventually expands into a community conflict that is televised on the local news. Determined Joelle is a fine protagonist. Readers will be caught not only by her drive to play ball and her willingness to take risks but also by her passionate commitment and the broadening vision that doesn't allow her to settle for just being the one female on an all-male team. Although there is only occasional play-by-play coverage of baseball games, the well-paced plot will engage readers, who will be moved by the story of a young teen who stands up for what she believes and goes after what she wants. Booklist.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Immigration and ethnic identity.

It is eye-opening to start here, with a quiz about the perceptions and realities at the center of the immigration debate. We're going to explore the history of immigration in America--a somewhat mindblowing concept, since America's entire history can be said to be one of immigration. But we'll start with turn-of-the-century immigrant New York via Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. This coming-of-age novel is a richly-plotted narrative about three generations in a poor but proud American family. The story provides a detailed, unsentimental portrait of urban life at the beginning of the twentieth century (the novel opens in 1912).

Some critics argue that many of the characters can be dismissed as stereotypes--which is to say, they exhibit quaint characteristics or pat qualities of either nobility or degeneracy. We'll answer if this is a fair criticism. Which characters are the most convincing? The least?

How does ethnic identity play itself out in the community?

And regarding symbolism: find three instances in which the tree is discussed. Does the tree always represents hope and perseverance? At different points does it also have other significations? How is the symbol used differently each time? How does it still represent the same idea?
Here are helpful links to lesson plans about immigration in specific relation to questions raised by this book:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Romeo and Juliet.

E. found the Franco Zeffirelli movie version of Romeo and Juliet to be an excellent inroad to the play. Click here for an online link to the text of the play.

Here is a thorough reading comprehension quiz and a good link to an English teacher's study guide, quote quizzes, and review sheets about the play, aimed at 9th grade level.

This is a strong reading comprehension review quiz about Romeo and Juliet. Here is the Thinkquest background and review of the play.

Inundate, posterity, gadding, headstrong, solace martyred, invocation, chide, perchance, shrived, unwieldy, naught, intercession, presaage...

Here is a link for vocabulary review (ninth grade level).

One of E's favorite books ever is Matilda by Roald Dahl, a story that bears re-reading. Here are some good lesson plan and quiz links:

RoaldDahlFans.com has a good reading comprehension quiz.

The Roald Dahl official website is a good place to find literate quizzes and homeschool activities. When you get there, click on the Roald Dahl folder, then "Tips for Teachers."

If your home learner liked both the book and the movie version of Matilda, this is a good site (PDF) to explore.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

History of the Iditarod.

After hoping for a wintry blast of snow, once again our altitude only got a paltry two inches of the quickly meltable variety, so we are packing the snowshoes away and heading instead for vicarious snow thrills by studying the history of the Iditarod dogsled race from Anchorage to Nome. The aspect that kids ask about first usually has to do with the brave dog Balto; you'll have to scroll a little more than halfway down for his inspiring story.

Studying the Iditarod is a good way in to: geography of Alaska, history of the gold rush, and methods of dealing with disease outbreaks--such as diptheria--in the early part of the century. Here is a helpful list of terminology related to the grueling 1,150 mile race. We also enjoy canine blogger Zuma's reports from the trail. And, also from the official Iditarod site is a list of children's and other books about the race.

If you are interested in lesson plans from a teacher on the trail, click here. I'm specifying the links because these are the least ad-infested ones we could find from the main site.
To track progress of the mushers, go to the main site and click on current standings. Go DeeDee!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

This week we're reading and discussing books and poetry of E's choice. For instance, E. has been sharing with her younger sister how much she enjoys Shel Silverstein's books. And we are beginning--because E. wants to--our first play: Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Much more on that soon.

Alice in Wonderland.

This week E. is choosing her own books, and she loved Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. This is a very good reading comprehension quiz for AiW, and is targeted perfectly for seventh or eighth graders.

We enjoyed our own Wonderland today, too. We took a long hike and when we got good and tired, we went to the library. It was a wonderful day.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Raven.

To get E. thinking about the different elements of meaning in a poem, we began to discuss rhythm and meter today. The three poems chosen--and this worked well, so I recommend them as a unit--are The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe; The Land of Counterpane by Robert Louis Stevenson (quite a stark contrast in tone to Poe, as well); and Sonnet 73 ("That time of year thou may'st in be behold") by William Shakespeare.

Begin with The Raven. As a method to convey the way that rhythm enhances meaning, consider having your home learner select a stanza and practice reading it aloud until--through inflection, diction, and, yes, drama--the student "gets" what Poe is saying and how he is doing so. It's helpful to use this poem as a start because the rhythm and meter replicate the idea of the bird 'rapping' and 'tapping' and saying 'nevermore.' It is easier for the student to grasp the elusive connection between "sound" and "meaning" than in more subtle uses of meter.

This is a practical look at rhythm and meter, including a very good quiz.

Here are some other useful links:

The University of Delaware has great Poe online resources.

A sound modern side-by-side reading of Sonnet 73.

Rhythm, meter and scansion made easy.

Here is a recitation of The Raven by actor Christopher Walken.
And here is an excellent science site about the lore of ravens, including lesson plans.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Life Adventurous.

There's no science class (Project GUTS) today, so we are reading Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows. First published in 1908, The Wind in the Willows remains a well-loved children’s classic.

For Wind, we think the definitive illlustrations are by E. H. Shepard (he's pictured above). We discovered this weekend that the 1948 David Lean production of Oliver Twist based makeup and costumes on Cruikshank's illustrations for the original edition of the book, and also served as the narrative basis for the musical Oliver!, in many cases line for line. Shepard also did the original renditions of the characters in A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh books.

We are going to explore all the usual elements, and also use the text to talk about...pantheism. If you've read the story, you'll know why.

Here's a thorough reading comprehension quiz.

And these are some thematic questions we are considering:
  • What are wayfarers? Are we all wayfarers?
  • Select any passage where the author shows Toad up to his tricks. Note how Grahame handles the material to give pleasure without, at the same time, granting approval. Discuss the passage.
  • What does the wind symbolize?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Bridge to Terabithia.

E. finished reading The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson when we were stopping to do some errands at a local market. When I opened the rear door so she could get out, she just sat, eyes red. She needed to be alone with her grief for a while. Let me just say that E. is not a kid who emotes very much, although she is connected deeply to emotional truth. So as we recommend this book, we also must mention that it is a difficult story about friendship and loss. It is based on a true event; here is an NPR interview with the author that elaborates upon that.
Here is a multiple choice quiz on the book.
Here is another from kidspoint.org.
This is a good source of lesson plans for the book (scroll down to Instructional Plan). One intriguing question raised here is to read the lyrics to Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water", listen to the song, and consider this: How is the bridge over troubled water in the song like the bridge to Terabithia in the book? Who else in the book besides Jess and Leslie might the song lyrics fit?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Miracle Worker

We watched The Miracle Worker this weekend and were reminded what an outstanding movie (and screenplay) it is. Here are two good quizzes about the plot: from Quia and from, oddly enough, funtrivia.com.

Here is a good site about sign language. And here you can see words in Braille to understand more how reading by touch works.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Cartography and geography.

Working for Meals on Wheels proceeds apace and the experience continues to be an eye-opening one. But it's not only the humanity that is educational for E.

She has also become an expert map reader, as this is a tricky, sprawling community to get around in. Add the pressure of needing to get warm lunches swiftly to the people on your list. E. is great at this.

We want to reiterate an excellent site for geographical knowledge, and that is the GeoBee page of nationalgeographic.com. Each day, there is a new 10-question quiz. If your student works to answer all the questions once (always have a world map and a U.S. map handy), the opportunities for further exploration of topics raised by the questions is immense. You can use the topics as a free-for-all lesson plan; yesterday one of the subjects that riveted E. had to do with the Caspian Sea. Just go with it!

A useful approach is to go through the questions once and if a couple are missed, repeat the whole test a second time to reinforce correct answers. This is a great resource!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Here are civics and U.S. government questions ranging from grade six to eight. If your home learner can do well on these tests, he or she will be in good shape in this subject area. This is an excellent overall civics test (multiple choice) that can also serve as a helpful study guide.

Oliver Twist study guide links.

As we finish up our study of Oliver Twist, E. is intrigued about Dickens' own story, about his father's time in debtor's prison and his own traumatic experience working in the blacking factory.
Based on elements of his biography, this is a productive essay question: List the characters in Oliver Twist who do not live in poverty. What does each character see when they look at Oliver? How does their judgment and treatment of Oliver reflect who they are, what they believe, and what their values are?

Also, is the criminal underworld better or worse than the workhouse? What does Oliver find in his first days living in Fagin's den that he has never known before? What does Dickens believe is the relationship between poverty and criminality? What do you think the relationship is today?

Is Nancy a heroic figure? Why does she return to Bill?

Since the publication of Oliver Twist, many readers have had difficulty understanding Nancy's fidelity to the brutal Bill Sikes. Did you find it natural or unnatural? Probable or improbable? Read Dickens's Preface, written for the 1841 edition of the novel. How does he defend the character he created? Paraphrase his argument and respond to it. Here are biographical facts about Charles Dickens that may help you directly relate his story to the story of Oliver Twist.

It's fascinating to read about the fervor with which people greeted each new chapter from Dickens' serialized fiction, and a good place to begin is the dramatic response to each section of The Olde Curiousity Shoppe that arrived on American shores describing the fate of Little Nell.
There are many ways to bring alive this wonderful author for a modern young reader.
Here is a decent SparkNotes quiz about the novel. For contextual studies, this is a very good site about British newspapers during the novel's era.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

"Yes we can."

What a perfect moment in history to teach presidential politics. Although he is not our choice for President, we accompanied Aunt Barbara to a rally for Barack Obama at Santa Fe Community College. He has a certain something in person that we hadn't detected on television. And, of course, he is an excellent orator; E. appreciated his inclusive message. (I'm fairly sure we were asked to sit on the stage with him because our family is a vivid example of diversity.)
Now we are exploring the concepts of "Super Tuesday," the nomination process, and assignment of delegates.
Try this civics test for starters. And when you get enough correct answers on this civics quiz, you get to... Fling the Teacher. Warning to parents: this site does have a slight tilt towards being "liberal" or "progressive" regarding immigration.