Saturday, May 24, 2014

Geometry, Latin and Computer Programming

Today my family visited some long time friends.  They are actually my husbands' super nerd friends (think computer programmer/ security types who play role playing games).  The host is an adjunct professor who teaches intro. to programming at a local university.  We had a GREAT conversation about math, problem solving and computer programming.  We also talked about Moby Dick and the Count of Monte Cristo - NERDS!

This was his first full year of teaching and I am so inspired by his desire to help his students learn.  As all of them were talking, they agreed that geometry was the last math class they really enjoyed and the one that probably helped them the most in computer programming and other later logic courses.  The logical proofs taught them to break things down, work step by step and find the fewest steps to solve a problem.  It taught them the essentials of problem solving.

He said that his intro. classes were difficult to teach because most of his students don't understand the basics of logic and problem solving in math. They knew some formulas sure, but didn't see math as a set of tools for problem solving.  Without this fundamental piece it made programming, in a different language no less, very difficult. He is now searching for ways to help fill in that gap for his students.  

So, maybe a good understanding of geometric proofs (after students have played with geometric figures a lot - as Boole recommends) could prepare your students to be computer programmers!  It seems that Math Mammoth has a series of four geometry books for elementary students that focus on construction and playing with concepts.  Really, some simple manipulatives like tangrams, constructive triangles, angles and lines, geometric solids (for younger kids and older kids), pi and circles (check out way #3), and geoboards are fun ways to play with these ideas. Here are some geometry/ montessori pinterest boards, page 1, page 2 with even more ideas, lesson plans and Montessori geometry printables.  Maybe these are worth playing with over the summer and letting kids spend more time with them than we normally might.

Honestly, although my friend didn't understand my argument, I think that Latin could accomplish some of the same goals.  It is very logical, it teaches you that different languages require a different syntax and there is an exactness to Latin.

Another pet project is finding one of the simplest but most useful programming languages to teach his students.  Currently, they learn Java and the nerds discussed other potential program options.  He said that one of the best uses of minecraft might be to learn how to program new modules - when I got home there was a program that teaches just how to do that in Java (it is currently on sale at  If I had received the email yesterday, I wouldn't have known what it meant!  Today, I am educated!

Basically, I was very encouraged that focusing on math (especially geometry, which my son really enjoys) and Latin might produce some "real world" skills indirectly.  These are subjects worthy of study in and of themselves, but sometimes it is helpful to explain to people why dead languages and obscure math (like Euclid in his original form) are worth our time.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Charlotte Mason, Math and Mary Everest Boole

As everyone considers curricula for next year - I have been thinking about math.  I revisited MEP which is a great FREE program.  For now I think we will finish up miquon and then supplement with MEP.  My youngest might just start with MEP.  I have also been thinking about the "bigger picture" of math and making sure my kiddos are equipped for it.  Through a chain of events I was reading Sage Parnassus' blog and looking at her speakers for the upcoming conference (now there is a bunch worth being around as mentors). One of the biographies mentioned Mary Everest Boole as a contemporary of CM's who discussed math and science.  This caught my eye.  So, I have been reading her works (through google books) for the past few days.

First, Mary Everest Boole is the niece of the man that Mt. Everest is named after - he mathematical determined its height.  She was also married to a mathematician and his work became the basis of "the modern digital computer" (according to wikipedia).  He was her tutor before they were married.  She taught in many schools around England and one of the books below includes a lecture that she gave to the PNEU on developing the scientific mind.  She was a lady before her time.

I have skimmed and read parts of three of her books.

Lectures on the Logic of Arithmetic - This is a volume of short lesson to supplement any math course.  Her notes to teachers caution us to think about the way we introduce concepts like negative, zero and infinity. Each chapter is basically a story and lesson plan together to help students understand a basic math concept. She does use shillings and pounds - so you'd have to translate the concept.   Many of the lessons apply to studies in general and are good way to think about how children should be responsible for their own learning.

One of the key distinction she makes is that students need to be aware of what they really "know" in math (can explain) and what they have been "told" to believe.  She encourages students to keep a math notebook to write down what they really know - formulas, times tables, etc.  She believes that students should use these self made reference books as they work.

Philosophy and Fun in Algebra - The title itself is quite an undertaking!  This is written to older students, but could easily be used by teachers, to consider some of the underpinnings of algebra. The chapters are short and cover a variety of subjects and methods - math history, logic, role of the teacher, using sewing cards to teach math, literature, the Bible.  Her application of Bible stories might be a little heretical - but if an older child is reading it there is opportunity for discussion about it.

The Preparation of the Child for Science - This is the book that really got me going.  In it she reminds us that the study of biology is the study of life and if we study dead things we are studying necrology!  She has some strong opinions about keeping wonder in science.  She does make a short argument for Latin as a great basis for later science.  She also argues for allowing students to play around (under supervision) with carpentry because it is a great experiment in mathematical and scientific principles.  She advocates letting kids make bows and arrows to learn more about forces, parabolas, etc.  Basically, she is against stuffing kids full of science factoids for repetition and encourages them to go out and experiment for themselves with water, magnets, static electricity and the like so that they have some notion of what these concepts are.  She is looking to develop men who question and think about what they observe - what real scientists do.

Some of her most interesting comments surround Euclid.  She emphasizes that Euclid was meant for grown ups who were very familiar with geometric shapes.  Basically, it provided the logical explanation for what they already knew "poetically" about geometry.  She cautions against starting Euclid with students until they have played with geometric shapes for themselves - a lot!

In some ways, her approach made me think of some of the sensorial exercises in Montessori that are designed to give students a sense of shape, size, weight, texture, etc.  In fact, geometric solids are one of the works Montessori provides.

I have only read the first half of this book (philosophy) and will make comments on the second half (practice) once I have gone through it.  The second chapter of this book was an address to the PNEU.

Mrs. Boole's approach to science and math is refreshing, story based and encouraging.  They are not difficult reads and they are short.  They have helped me remember that science and math have to do with wonder and trying to explain real world phenomenon - not just about facts and memorization.   If you have a chance to look at them I'd love to hear what you think.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The May Tidal Wave

Well, I have not been posting much because May has just been a crazy month.  I didn't expect it to be but it has turned out that way.  Here are a few highlights:

 -    I was on the board of a small non profit for 8 years and this spring we closed our doors. Our final meeting was at the beginning of the month and now it's just a few details.  Our dedicated staff trained over 300 HVAC techs that helped their families lead better lives - we also ran a day care at one point but that closed it's doors a while ago.   I did spend one crazy summer running their elementary summer day camp!

-    One of my favorite local non profits is gearing up for their summer program and they are building character using the acronym GROW (Grit, Responsibility, Optimism and Wonder) with their elementary and middle school students.  They asked me to pull together some short stories that help display these characteristics. I will be doing a quick training on reading aloud with the staff and then handing over some type of read aloud packet for them to use with our inner city friends over the summer.

      Please let me know in the comments if you have suggestions for short (5 - 7 minute) read aloud stories. So far I am pulling from 50 Famous Stories, 30 More Famous Stories, The Little House Series and probably some of the Bill Bennett compilations!  I am looking for more stories about wonder -that's kind of a tough one. 

-    We are finishing off our school year.  Honestly, we just have a week of the "academic work" left but a lot more reading aloud to do.  That's fine though - we enjoy reading aloud and will finish up D'Aulaire's Norse Myths (my hubby and I are watching The Vikings - so it's come in really handy) and Robin Hood. We also have lots of car trips planned this summer so I am trying to figure out what we should listen to on tape (I can't read in a car).  Any suggestions for a 7 and 4 yo who are GREAT book listeners?  It's also been reasonable temperatures outside - mid 80s to low 90s - so we have been making excuses to get outdoors!

-   Our church is moving into a permanent building over the next two weeks - in the middle of downtown!  I am so excited!   I am part of the team that is trying to get to know our neighbors through neighborhood walks and we're throwing a "welcome" party at the end of the month.  A small affair with bouncy's, a petting zoo, food, a fire truck and mailers sent to 3000 homes - it should be fun.  Pray for us!

-    On top of that I am also co-registrar for Vacation Bible School (in early June).  This weekend was our first day and 29 kids signed up.  I think it's going to be a packed house.

-    You might recall that I inherited an elementary school library.  Well, it is homeschool book sale time around here so I am trying to organize everything for an upcoming sale on June 2nd at our CC location.  If you are local - PLEASE come look at all the books.  After getting about 6 boxes out of storage (I still need to pull the ones out of the garage) we are starting to get a grip on what we have (again).

Honestly, that isn't even everything - those are just the big things!  If you are local and interested in any of these events they are all free and open to the public (well, free to browse the books - it will cost if you buy 'em).  So, I haven't given up blogging - I just need to get some real world stuff done around here.  Plus, we are in the midst of watching a season of Psyche - which is one of my favorite shows.  Don't tell me about the ending - no spoilers!  (We probably should be watching the Spurs - but we just don't).  All of these things should be done by June 13th - so just a month to push through some crazy times.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Weekly Resource: Primer to Composition, Rhetoric and Literature

I realize that this week I said we'd cover more full fledged Latin curricula; however, I got sucked into google books this week.  I also ventured into Half Price Books (a serious temptation) and found one book on Composition and Rhetoric from 1917 for a dollar.  How can I pass that up?   I did wonder if it was on google books - and it is.  So you too can enjoy this great resource for FREE.

I was looking for something that gave the background to the way they used to approach writing, composition and rhetoric and this book delivers.  This book is so much more than that though!

Composition, Rhetoric and Literature a Four Year's Course for Secondary Schools
Book One: First and Second Years

From the Preface 

This book is based upon the belief that a human being learns by imitation, by repetition, and by challenge to increased exertion.   
It (this book) follows a special arrangement in presenting the subjects: Narration, Description, Exposition and Argumentation. 
 The overall goal
The subject is presented in the belief that what students need is not novelty and intellectual vaudeville, but sustained effort and the discipline which seeks to teach future citizens how to read appreciatively, how to think clearly, and how to express their ideas vividly, rationally, and with straightforward directness. 

Notes to the Teacher  

I.  Apportionment of Time.
First Year:  four recitations a week devoted to Rhetoric and Composition; one recitation to Literature
Second Year:  three recitations a week devoted to Rhetoric and Composition; two recitations to Literature
I think you see the pattern.
Writing Composition - It is expected that every student will write a theme every two weeks during his first two years, and one theme every week during his last two years in the secondary school.  (later he defines themes as short explorations of a topic)
In his suggestions on working with themes he includes these two:
The irksome task of rewriting themes should be insisted upon.
The corrections placed upon themes should be very definite, explicit and yet kindly. 
As regards corrections he says
The first criticism should, of course, be criticism of the arrangement of thought, and every student should be trained by constant vigilance to see unity, coherence, and emphasis in his compositions.  The student's success in the whole theme should be stated first, followed by detailed, specific criticism of faults in grammar, punctuation, diction, sentence structure, and paragraph structure.  (We are talking about high school students here.)
They also discuss reading aloud as a class and discussion and make the point
Training of the Imagination - Training of the visual imagination is something that becomes more and more important in these days when copious illustrations of books leaves little for this faculty to do.  
They end this section by focusing on how to help students best appreciate literature.  
An appreciation of the music of poetry, of melody and cadence, ought surely to be fostered during the early years when the ear is sensitive, for a large share of the enjoyment of literature depends upon the proper cultivation of the love of harmonious sound.  If the same poems are read frequently, they will stay in the memory as guides in the future for judging poetic measures.  Wordsworth's I wandered lonely as a cloud and The Solitary Reaper, Blake's Ah, Sunflower, Burns' A Red, Red Rose, Marlowe's The Passionate Shepherd, Ben Jonson's "Drink me to only with thine eyes," the Shakespeare songs, Herrick's "Her eyes the glow worm lend thee" and Keats' La Belle Dame Sans Merci, may be cited as poems possessed of special lyric beauty.  
I think that gives you a great idea of the depth and philosophy of the book,  The first part of the book focuses on the history of the English language, word usage, and grammar basics (with lots of details).  It moves into sentences, then paragraphs, letter writing and then into aspects of narratives (description, characterization, plot, etc.) and arguments. Examples are drawn from published authors to illustrate points. The authors then provide exercises to help students focus on that aspect of writing.

Although I don't think that I would hand this book over for a high schooler to move through on their own, it is an excellent resource.  It touches on practical and poetic aspects of writing and provides simple ways to help students grasp concepts illustrated.  It truly is a step by step guide and resource to help students learn all aspects of writing.  I have not been able to find the second book (year three and four) but honestly, this volume covers much more than most programs out there do.  

If you realize that you don't know much about poetry (like me) you might want to check out the book on Poetics (aimed at college students).  It is a quick introduction (40 pages or so) to meter, types of poems, images and figures in poetry, poetic forms and the like.  Again, each term also has an example from a published poet for reference.  I don't think we need to analyze poetry in depth with young children, but it is nice as an adult to have some sense of these categories and types.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Weekly Resource - Beginning Latin Programs

After thinking about it a little more I decided to cut the Latin programs into two large categories.  Last week, we talked about considering your family goals for Latin - anywhere from SAT prep to reading Latin texts as high school students.  There is no one right way - any work in Latin will help your child's vocabulary and work that includes the grammar will develop more systematic thinking and grit!  

Level I - Latin for Vocabulary 

At this level we have programs and games that focus on Latin roots for words.

Caesar's English I and II by Michael Clay Thompson Press - This series is meant for 4th and 5th graders - but can easily be scaled up for older children.  These texts are actually the vocabulary portion of a full orbed language arts program which includes vocabulary, grammar, composition and poetics.  I do think that you can just use this vocabulary module by itself if you'd like.  These texts actually connect Spanish, Latin and English together - so if you are primarily pursuing Spanish and just want to look into some Latin roots this might be a great resource for you.

English From the Roots Up - This text subtitle is "help for reading, writing, spelling and S.A.T. scores".  There you have it.  It looks at root words in Latin and Greek and is a text for helping middle and high school students master these roots.  This does not lead to a formal study of Latin in any way - but it will give you some vocabulary background.

Rummy Roots and More Roots - Actually a card game to help you playfully learn Latin root words. There are several levels of play with the same deck of cards so it can serve a wide age range of students.

Word Up by Compass Classroom -  This is a brand new video series to help teach Latin and Greek roots.  It is meant for older elementary students and introduces 20 roots.  It is brought to you by the same people who do Visual Latin and will be available this summer.

Level II - Introductory Latin 

These programs are not full orbed programs but provide a gentle introduction into the basics of Latin.  They are meant as an introduction to some basic concepts in Latin  - vocabulary, conjugation, and declension. The more recent programs do recommend other programs that you can use if you desire to continue your studies.

Getting Started With Latin - This program was designed just for homeschoolers who wanted a gentle introduction to Latin.  It introduces one word each lesson and a new grammar concept for 134 lessons.  I don't think any lesson has more than 10 questions to answer.  I have heard of mom's doing this with their children aloud.  His website has many resources and mp3 versions of each lesson so that you can hear the Latin spoken correctly (in both ecclesiastical and classical).   The author has now completed the "next step" in Latin which is a free online class using Linney's Latin (it is available from google books or Amazon).   He also provides many links to items that support the study of Caesar's Gallic Wars.

I Speak Latin - This program is designed for late elementary students and uses the total physical response method of teaching.  It does not focus on grammar based learning - instead it uses activity and picture flash cards to help students learn vocabulary.  The text lays out exactly what the teacher should say (there is also mp3 audio companions on the website) to the student during the lesson.  Each lesson is designed to take about 20 minutes.  He recommends two lessons a week.  He actually recommends Getting Started With Latin (above) as a next step after his curriculum for younger students.  This might be a great way to get active boys engaged in speaking and playing with Latin concepts but don't expect them to memorize declensions or conjugations with this series.

Junior Latin: Book One - Google books has a plethora of old Latin books (as you can imagine).  I particularly like this one for practicing nouns and adjectives.  It provides lots of examples and practice for using declensions.  This book introduces a few verbs for the sake of making sentences but does not teach conjugations.  If you are using another program and just want more practice with declensions - this is where I would turn.  The introduction in this book is also helpful in summing up the link between Latin and English grammar and some thoughts about how to learn Latin. I have yet to find a corresponding verb book.

That's it for now.  I know there are many more programs out there - these are just some of the ones I have more experience with.  If you have tried or seen any feel free to leave them in the comments! Next week we will look at programs that are designed for multiple years of study.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The God Who Sees

I think that's what most mom's long for - a God who sees.  One who sees the sleepless nights, hears the hurt, shares in the joy and sees what is really happening.

I am always reminded that God does see the lonely, unsure, rejected, outcast mother.  He does it in Genesis 16 and again in 21.  In chapter 16, Hagar was thrown out by Sarai when she became pregnant - despite it being Sarai's grand plan to help God out.  When Hagar was in the desert an Angel came and proclaimed that Ishamel (God hears) would be a tough man, but was in God's care.  God sent Hagar back to Abram and Sarai. In the midst of that Hagar calls God "the one who sees".   He found her in the desert when she was deserted.

What you may not recall is that Hagar and Ishmael get thrown out AGAIN!  When Isaac is weaned Sarah demands that they be thrown out -for good - and Abraham consents.  Remember, Hagar did not ask for this son - this was the son born of Abram and Sarai's own "plan".  God took a little time in fulfilling his promise (25 years or so) and they became a little bit anxious.  Really, Hagar is suffering because of their sin - doesn't God see that?

So Hagar is thrown out again and this time she truly has no where to go.  Hagar becomes so desperate that she separates herself from her son so that she doesn't have to watch him die of hunger and thirst.  She was desperate, hopeless, crying.  And God heard her.  He saw her need and he told her through an angel that he would grant her provision for her and her son.  Remember, she is the mistake, the slave, the unwanted one. Shouldn't he just focus on the promised son and forget the slave girl and her illegitimate boy?

Why is the God of the universe still caring for her?

He calls to her, reminds her that He has a plan for her son and gives her what she needs - water.  He helps her to see the big picture (which brings hope) and the well (which brings direction).  He sees her and speaks to immediate need and the deep concern of her soul.  

Honestly, if God continues to care for the mistake, thrown out, try it on our own plans, how much more will he meet those whom he calls beloved?  

So, in the midst of your daily wondering - Does anyone care?  Does anyone see?  Does it matter?  I encourage you to remember that God sees.  Not like a judge and jury.  Rather, he knows right where you are and wants to provide vision and water for your soul.  He brings encouragement for your mom heart (I will make him into a great nation) and he provides practical details (see that well).

I hope that this week you find some encouragement in the God who sees (and hears).  He comes to those who cry out, who need to be seen, who long for him to be present.  Then listen - to music, to the Bible, to nature, to the voices of friends - is he speaking vision and provision for you?  Are you willing to get up and go to the well?

He sees you - regardless of how bleak your situation is - will you allow yourself to be seen and open yourself to what he has to say about the situation?

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Weekly Resource What Latin Program is Right for your family?

Everyone seems to be talking about planning for next year - I am still trying to make sure we are faithful to complete this year's tasks (we are a little behind on the read alouds around here).  I thought I would offer some thoughts on choosing a Latin path for your family.  In the most classical sense Latin or Greek or both would be one of the essential parts of your classical studies.  However, the reality is that not everyone wants to go down that route - for a variety of reasons.  Today, I will give you a few questions to ask yourself about what you hope to gain from language studies - particularly Latin.  Next week, we will look at some of the resources available to help you follow whatever path might work best for your family.  Trust me - there are tons of resources available - regardless of what your family is hoping to accomplish.  

So here are the questions to get you started? 

1.  What is your goal for your children?  Do you just want to help increase their SAT vocabulary? Do you want the to learn the structure and "discipline" of Latin? Do you see it as a base for them to learn other romance languages? Do you want them to better be able to connect with the Catholic church and it's Latin past? Do you just want to expose them to the language and have fun with it? Do you want them to eventually be able to read Latin authors in the original?  

2.  How much Latin do you (as a mom or dad) intend to learn?  Will you learn along with them?  Would you prefer a program that will teach it to them and you just help as needed (from a teacher's manual)?  Do you want to study ahead so that you can help make some wise curricular choices?    

3. Is Latin a long term study area or do you just want an introduction?  Is this something you are committed to trying long term?  Are you just wanting to try it out knowing that you might do something different next year?   

4. How much time do you want to spend on Latin during a typical week?   Do you want a lesson once or twice a week (with maybe some quick review of vocabulary)? Would you prefer a fuller program that expects daily lessons for about 30 minutes?    

5.  What is your budget?  In this game there are everything from online courses you can enroll in, to video courses that basically teach it for you to free google books that you can figure out and use on your own.  How much do you want to spend on this area of study? 

6.  Do you want to combine English grammar and Latin?  This can help cut down on overlap if you intend to spend a lot of time with Latin. 

7.  Do you want your Latin studies to tie in with other subjects - like History? 

8.  How old are your children?  With younger children it really is more about exposure and interest.  However, if you have older children you might be wondering if they can get credits for their work and how it looks on a transcript.  
If you want a quick overview of different approaches to teaching Latin (in general) there is a good article in the Memoria Press Summer edition (it is on page 4 and 5).  Obviously they are interested in promoting their own approach (grammar first) but it does explain the other paths well with examples of what programs use that approach.  Here is another thoughtful article about examining reasons for studying a language (written by the author of Getting Started with Latin).   

I am so happy that we are studying Latin at my house and my kids (although young) see it all around them already.  Hopefully these questions can help you get a good idea of what you'd like to do.  Next week, we will look at curricula that might help get you to your goal.