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: 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!