I'm So Blue-hoo-hoo Blue-hoo-hoo Blue-hoo-hoo-hoo!

"I'm so blue-hoo-hoo, blue-hoo-hoo, blue-hoo-hoo-hoo! I so blue I don't know what to do!"
         - Madame Blueberry (Veggie Tales)

It all started with a grubby door and a quart of paint. There's still a good bit of paint left, but my family is ready for me to lay off of the blue.

The door from our garage to the house gets more use than any other door in our house, and it far too quickly shows the residue from the hands (and paws/claws) that go in and out all day. So I got the bright idea of painting the door a dark color to make all that grime harder to see.

Enter Benjamin Moore's Hale Navy.

I don't have a "Before" picture of the door in all its grubby glory, but here's the "After":

But then I still had all this paint left, and something needed to happen to the kids' bathroom. Long ago we painted it with handprints (and one tiny footprint after baby #9 arrived later that summer.) Cute, but outdated. Still - Tim and I were not sure we could bring ourselves to paint over all those memories.

See the itty-bitty footprint on the far end? 

Kids' bath - Before

Definitely time for a change!

What about those cabinets? They'd had a hard life. Tim, as a woodworker, generally abhors painting cabinets. And my paint skills are, um, minimal. But considering their state, we decided it couldn't hurt too much. I put on two coats of oil-based primer, three coats of my good old Hale Navy and a few coats of poly on top.

Instead of obliterating ALL the handprints, we opted to keep the ones under the mirror. After finding me with paint dripping in my hair, Tim asked the girls to take over the wall painting (with Sherwin Williams "Crisp Linen.") We finished the cabinets off with white porcelain knobs to match the vanity top.


One of us thinks the paint on the cabinets made an improvement. The other of us doesn't. But we all like the new light fixture and fewer handprints.

At this point, I still had SO much paint left. Who'd have thought a quart of paint would go so far? And my school desk was a mess. Children had papered it with stickers and even postage stamps, painted it with dabs of nail polish, and it even looked like someone had done some teething on one of the drawer edges. Plus, it had those ugly pulls. Once again, it was deemed in such poor shape that even my paint skills couldn't make it worse.

Desk - Before!

 Desk - After!

Even better, Tim built dividers for the top drawers, adding immensely to the functionality. Now I no longer have to rummage around to find staples or erasers.

I've promised everyone that I'm done with the Hale Navy (for now anyway.) But these blue accents are making me anything but blue-hoo-hoo-hoo.

Turning Education Upside Down

©2013 Home Life, Inc. Originally published in Practical Homeschooling magazine. Used by permission.

Educational fads so often detract from real learning instead of achieve their lofty goals. Growing up in the shadows of a major university with an influential ed school, I endured my share of educational experiments including open classrooms and sensitivity training. But as I read about one of the latest wrinkles in education, the flipped classroom, I realized this one has true merit, and in fact already takes place in many homeschools.

Just what is this promising new idea? A flipped classroom marries frontline technology with old-fashioned tutoring. Think back to your high school Algebra I class. In mine the teacher, Mr. F., stood at the chalkboard each day and laboriously presented new concepts. Then he assigned homework practice problems, and if time remained, we reviewed the work from the previous day or watched basketball movies as Mr. F. was the b-ball coach. Kids who quickly grasped the new material surreptitiously worked on other homework during the deadly dull lectures (and basketball films), while other students left class still in a fog. The real learning usually came at home as we wrestled with problem sets.

Now turn this picture upside down. Instead of solving problems as homework, the students prepare for class by watching an instructional video or listening to a podcast at home. When they come to class next day, they work independently on math problems. In this scenario, the teacher acts as an academic coach, circulating through the classroom, assisting those who struggle and challenging those quickly mastering the subject. Occasionally the class might tackle some algebra projects involving real world applications or spend the class session playing math games. In other subject areas, flipping the classroom allows more time for hands-on activities or laboratory experiments.

Even though flipping is a hot new idea, it has much older antecedents. Decades ago teachers at Phillips Exeter Academy began testing a strategy called the Harkness Method, a precursor to the flipped classroom. With this model, students prepare at home via books and articles, and then come to class to participate in applications and round-table discussions (“Harkness”). The Harkness Method is still used today in a wide variety of settings and all types of classes, but the teachers using technology to “flip” have generally been math and science instructors. Two Colorado high school chemistry teachers, Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, began experimenting with the concept, discovering that the students became more engaged with the personal attention. Humorously, they and others began to refer to the traditional teacher as “the sage on the stage” while in a flipped classroom the teacher acts as “a guide on the side” (Bergman, et al).

Influential though Bergmann and Sams were in spreading the idea of flipped classrooms, the online Khan Academy is responsible for making the idea mainstream and for providing vast quantities of video lessons. In 2004 Salman Khan, then a hedge fund analyst with MIT degrees in electrical engineering, math, and computer science plus an MBA from Harvard, began tutoring his cousin in math via the internet. Soon he was posting the lessons on YouTube where their popularity exploded. Now his website, which has the goal of reinventing education, includes over 4000 short instructional video tutorials on math, physics, chemistry, economics, art history, civics, and more. But students can do much more than simply watch videos on the site. Many of the lessons also include practice modules, and students are rewarded for accuracy and speed in solving problems (Khan).

Interestingly, Khan says he knew right away his system would be useful for homeschoolers, but he didn't at first see the extent to which other teachers would use the site. Today teachers of all sorts are using Khan Academy lessons as part of their flipped classrooms. Fifth and seventh grade classrooms in Los Altos, CA piloted the Khan Academy for half of their math period, finding the computer instruction freed up time for activities such as math games and robot building (Gallagher). The Khan videos work best as extra practice or review, though, and should not comprise an entire curriculum, partly because they lack the breadth of a full course. My college freshman has found helpful videos to brush up some of his math skills while he's been taking calculus classes. (And I should mention that the Khan Academy makes a great way for a parent to get a rusty math brain back in shape or to acquire new material!)

Just what advantages do flipped teachers see? Many claim their students become more active learners and take increased responsibility for their education. Teachers often find they have more individual time with students, more guided practice, and more time for projects. Because much of the content is delivered via technology, when a student misses class or needs to review something, he can simply replay a lesson. Finally, students progress at their own pace, so learning becomes tailored to the needs of individual students, with the aim of mastery rather than a lock-step progression.

These benefits may sound familiar to homeschoolers, and in some ways, what we do at home often resembles a flipped classroom. Home educators rarely spend loads of time delivering lectures, and we are quick to seek out excellent means of imparting instruction, whether that is via online classes or quality classic books. We already provide our students with individualized programs and allow them to conquer material at their own pace. Our children typically receive a great deal of one-on-one instructional time. Since we already have non-traditional classrooms, is there anything homeschoolers can learn from the flipped class model?

First, we should consider why and how we use technology in our homeschools. Proponents of flipped classrooms argue that with their model technology, rather than depersonalizing education, actually increases face time between teacher and students. This philosophy can help homeschoolers maximize the way we use tech content. Video and online courses are a boon to busy homeschool parents teaching a number of children subjects at varying levels. But if we merely drop our children off in front of the computer, we're missing some of the best parts of teaching our children. Instead, when we do choose to use an online or video teacher, the technology can provide basic content, but then we can build from there, coming in at points of difficulty, encouraging in some areas, challenging in others. For these classes think of yourself as a personal tutor rather than a teacher.

The flipped model can also be used for teaching several grades at once at home. In our family we study history with a multi-age unit study curriculum. During the first part of the week the older children learn on their own by reading, researching, and creating projects while I work with the younger ones. My job with the older students is primarily as coach to help them make best use of resources and time, and they are becoming adept at self-learning. At the end of the week we come together to discuss what everyone has been discovering. Frequently the best sessions are those in which each child presents a topic of his choice via PowerPoint or other means. It is great fun to see the synergy develop as the children share what they have learned. Starting from their new knowledge, we can then delve more deeply into historical issues raised by their research. Using “class times” such as these to maximal advantage takes planning and preparation, but when I do set aside time to think this through, our weekly sessions are much richer.

Additionally, the inverted model of teaching offers some great applications for homeschool co-ops and hybrid schools. Earlier this year the young elementary students in my anatomy co-op dissected cow eyes. In preparation, I asked each family to watch a short Youtube video of a dissection in addition to reading about vision. Each of the ten children in my class came to co-op eager and ready to dig into their own cow eyes. I was amazed at how much they remembered from the video and how carefully these children performed their dissections with only minimal assistance. The short video preparation paid off in the smoothest class dissection I've ever led, and you can be sure I'll be flipping in this way in upcoming co-ops classes.

Time will ultimately tell whether flipped classrooms are a passing fad or a paradigm shift. For any teacher, flipping should be just one tool in the toolbox, to be used judiciously. So far, it seems to have more applications in STEM classes than in the humanities, though the older Harkness Method is still being used across the curriculum. The best flipped classrooms appear to combine direct instruction with more experiential and practical learning and require much teacher input. Making it work takes a thorough knowledge of the subject matter, excellent resources, and planning.

In many ways, the homeschool model already flips education on its head. The basic idea of having students first study something independently, via technology or a paper-and-ink book, and then discussing with us about what they are learning, pretty much sums up much of homeschooling. Still, examining how traditional schools use the flipped classroom model and considering applications in our quite different setting can help us as we re-think the best ways to teach our children and make the optimal use of current technologies.  

TheAmazing Harkness Philosophy." . Phillips Exeter Academy. Web. 30 Apr 2013.
      Bergmann, Jonathan, Jerry Overmeyer, and Brett Wilie. ""The Flipped Class: Myths vs.      
      Reality"." The Daily Riff. Web. 30 Apr 2013.

Gallagher, Alyssa. "Los Altos School District & Khan Academy ." Innovate, Create, Educate
     Los Altos School District , 2 Sept. 2012. Web. 30 Apr 2013.

Khan, Salman. Let's Use Video to Reinvent Education.2011. Video. TED. Web. 30 Apr 2013. 

Note: In the year+ since I wrote this piece, it has been interesting to see this concept of the flipped classroom becoming more and more prevalent. Peter, who has just finished his freshman year at Indiana University, had one math class that used the flipped model entirely and a business computing class which made some use of the idea. Both were very successful and seemed to make good use of both students' and instructors' time. 

Day By Day

"Sweet and Low" by Jessie Wilcox Smith

Years ago one of my favorite hymns became “Day by Day and With Each Passing Moment.” Since this was in the pre-Internet era, my future friends Google and Wiki weren’t around to provide a quick biography, but I imagined the hymn writer, Carolina Sandell Berg, was likely a busy mom as I was. Perhaps she had penned these words while rocking her youngest to sleep one night at the end of a weary day of caring for her brood. Because, of course, this song was one that I sometimes sang as I put a little one to sleep.

1. Day by day and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father's wise bestowment,
I've no cause for worry or for fear.
He whose heart is kind beyond all measure
Gives unto each day what He deems best--
Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.

I came to love the verse referenced in the second stanza, “As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,” which comes from Moses’ blessing to the tribe of Asher in Deuteronomy 33:25: "Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be" (KJV).

2. Ev'ry day the Lord Himself is near me
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear, and cheer me,
He whose name is Counselor and Pow'r.
The protection of His child and treasure
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
"As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,"
This the pledge to me He made.

Matthew Henry says that this verse is a promise which also applies to all the spiritual seed of Abraham, and that:
God will wisely proportion their graces and comforts to the services and sufferings he calls them out to. Have they work appointed them? They shall have strength to do it. Have they burdens appointed them? They shall have strength to bear them; and never be tempted above that they are able. Faithful is he that has thus promised, and hath caused us to hope in this promise.

Much later I learned that my speculation on Miss (yes, not Mrs.) Berg’s life had fallen pretty far from the mark. Here's the true story, with thanks to another one of my newer friends, Hymnopedia. Paralyzed when she was 12, Carolina (Lina) Sandell Berg became a woman of great faith. Fourteen years later she was taking a trip with her pastor father when the boat they were on lurched, causing her father to be thrown overboard and drowned. Among the fourteen hymns that came from her pen in response to her grief is "Day by Day." Though Lina’s difficulties and toils were so different than mine, our needs are very much the same. Praise God that He daily provides for His children exactly what we need -- including strength as each day requires.

3. Help me then in eve'ry tribulation
So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith's sweet consolation
Offered me within Thy holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
E'er to take, as from a father's hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
Till I reach the promised land.

Co-op Book Club, 2013-2014 (Part II)

Book Club semester II, 2013-1014

See Part I here

Book Club 2012-2013 here

Our co-op is called Learning Around the World, and our literature selections from various locales reflect that theme. During the second semester we read books which took place in Spain, India, North Africa, and an oceangoing adventure. 

January: Stories of Don Quixote (James Baldwin) 

You've heard the saying, "Tilting at Windmills." But do you (and your children) know what this peculiar phrase means and where it originated? Even if you do, you should check out this retelling of Cervantes' Don Quixote written for children by James Baldwin.

James Baldwin (1841-1925) was a Hoosier teacher, author and editor who wrote numerous books for children on everything from mythology to biography to literature. According to The Baldwin Project, at one time about half the books used in U.S. schools were either written or edited by Mr. Baldwin. We enjoyed  Stories of Don Quixote, a highly readable version for children.

For something different, our Book Club activity for this selection was a dramatization of two of the chapters in the book, "The Adventure of the Monks" and "The Lost Helmet." Each of the families had brought costumes and props that we thought might be helpful, and we cobbled together outfits for all the characters. Our Book Club lead mom wrote a script based on these selections and modified to fit the number of boys (6) and girls (2) in our group, and then the kids performed it as a readers' theatre for another group of children.

Coach with two lovely princesses in need of rescue (or not!)

Don Quixote (before he sadly lost his helmet)

Even with a very short time for rehearsal, the kids pulled off a nice performance, and the audience enjoyed Cervantes' humor in these vignettes.

February: Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (Jean Lee Latham) 

This month we read the 1956 Newbery winner, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch. This book tells the inspiring true story of Nathaniel Bowditch, a mostly self-taught navigator and mathematician whose seminal book The American Practical Navigator is still in print  more than 200 years after it was first published.  
As the children entered class, they heard sea chanties playing, and then they settled in for a good discussion of the book, talking about some of the characteristics that helped Nat to achieve his goals even when events seemed to conspire against him. Who (or what) was the antagonist? the children debated among themselves. Was it nature?  Nevil Maskelyne who had an alternative method for calculating longitude at sea? Clouds which made taking lunar calculations so difficult? (This is the kind of discussion that seems to happen almost without any prompting as time goes on and the kids get used to thinking about these kinds of questions. It is pretty exciting watching them argue for their point of view and sometimes changing their opinions to something they hadn't thought about previously. )

Anyway, after sitting for a while, it was time for some action, so we moved to the gym. Our church's gym (aka sanctuary) conveniently has a concrete floor which is laid out in a large grid pattern. Perfect for a game of "Longitude/Latitude!"  

For each round, one child was "it" and they were blindfolded. Quickly the other children took a blanket which represented an island and moved it to some location in the gym. The goal for "It" was to find the island before time (3 minutes) was up. The child was told the latitude of the island, but not the longitude. The child started by encountering a hurricane (spinning by an adult) and then set off. Every time he or she reached a different latitude (one of the horizontal lines), the rest of the kids would shout the number of the latitude. However, somewhere on the same latitude as the island, a pirate was waiting. The pirate was not allowed to move from his spot, but he could reach out and try to tag the sailor before he reached the island. If the sailor was tagged, he had to eat hardtack. (One of our sailors ended with a bloody mouth from the very HARDtack.) If the sailor successfully reached the island, he was able to enjoy a treat of oranges.

Extra: For adults, a wonderful, short book to go with this study is Longitude by Dava Sobel. And a children's book which tells the same story is Sea Clocks: The Story of Longitude by Louise Borden.        

March: Just So Stories and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (Rudyard Kipling)

Everyone read "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi", but the children were able to choose which Just So Stories they read. This made discussion a bit different, and we focused Kipling's background plus some of the characteristics we saw in Kipling's writing, especially his wonderfully creative use of language and his delightful characters. 
Then we had the joy of having a beloved woman in our congregation talk to the children about her experiences growing up in India in the mid-20th century. She had fascinating stories and objects to show the kids, and she was also able to tell us about a fellow classmate of hers who has gone on to become a world-renowned snake expert. Snakes were much on our minds after reading Rikki-Tikki-Tavi!

After reading Kipling, we challenged the children to write and illustrate their own Just-So-Like stories which they brought to later co-op meetings. Each one incorporated aspects of Kipling's style and were delightful to hear. One of the moms assembled all of the tales into a book she titled Just Like Just So Stories and reproduced for each student as a keepsake.

April: Star of Light (Patricia St. John) and Book Club Finale 

Patricia St. John was a missionary in Morocco for many years. When her mother's health began to fail, she returned to England to care for her, and she found time to write many books for a young audience. Many of my children have greatly enjoyed Miss St. John's fiction, and Star of Light is no exception.

Because of the Christian themes of this book, the children discussed how an author goes about writing an evangelistic story. Where did she succeed and where did she miss the mark? Interesting thoughts from the readers!

Instead of doing activities based solely on this book, our Book Club mom crafted a brilliant treasure hunt which served as a review of ALL the books from the past two years of Book Club. She had the children solving crazy riddles and puzzles, running in and out of the church, and generally putting their noggins to work to reach the final goal.
Putting heads together

To read each clue the kids had to solve a puzzle based on one of the books

He's trying to retrieve a key from a bowl of water - no hands allowed

The group consensus? Book Club was so much fun, we should continue during the summer! So we are meeting twice over these months. I'll post on those events in a month or so!

Co-op Book Club 2013-2014 (Part I)

Liquid nitrogen -water volcano/ Krakatoa simulation.
Book? William Pene du Bois' Twenty-One Balloons, of course!

We've had another year of rip-roaring good learning with our homeschool co-op. Twice a month we've been studying world geography and learning about the history of cartography with the fantabulous Mapping the World With Art curriculum. Maybe some day I'll do a full review of that program. It definitely ranks as the best new (to me at any rate) homeschool resource I've seen in a long time.

But as terrific as the Mapping program is, I think pretty much everyone's favorite co-ops were our monthly Book Club days. I posted here about what we read and did last year.  We followed a similar format this year with the kids who ranged from 9-13.  And again the younger children also had Book Club weeks using Five in a Row materials. My friend, Heather U., led Book Club for the older ones and came up with all the terrific ideas I'm about to describe.

Each child read the book selection at home or listened to it read by a parent or audio reader. We began each session with a discussion about the book. Heather usually would bring in some interesting information about the author and his or her background. Animated conversations almost always took place as the kids talked about why they did or didn't like a particular book, about how the author handled Christian themes, and much more. It's thrilling to watch the energy that comes when a group of young people have read the same book and want to talk about what they have experienced. If you try this, be patient at first. But as the kids become more familiar with one another and how to talk about books, I think you'll find they really get into it. Often an hour easily passes in this part of co-op.

And then we move on to book related activities! This is so much fun! (OK, I'll grant you, part of the reason I love this so much is that I get to go along for the ride, but I don't have a part in the planning and preparation!) Here's a look at what we've done this past school year:

September: Twenty-One Balloons, William Pene du Bois

Starting off with a bang, and to tie in with our geography theme, we read The Twenty-One Balloons, a hilarious book which takes place on Krakatoa and ends with a cataclysmic eruption.

But my youngest sons are going to forever link this book in their minds with blowing up trashcans full of water. Because, thanks to one of the chemistry professor fathers, we had a large flask of liquid nitrogen to play around with. Liquid N2 is super cold (it boils at −321 °F) and super cool to experiment with.

Liquid N2 (inside 2l bottle)  + warm water (trashcan) → KABLAM!!!

We knew this Book Club was going to be hard to follow

 (Google "liquid nitrogen trashcan rocket" for info if you want to replicate this.) 

What to do with extra liquid N2? We scrambled around for ice cream ingredients and came up with coffee creamer and chocolate syrup. Instantly frozen with the liq. nitrogen - delicious!

For this month, we split our Book Club into boys and girls. The girls read Maud Hart Lovelace's sweet tale of friendship at the turn of the last century, Betsy-Tacy. For Book Club they dressed up and had a lovely tea party.

  Girls - Betsy-Tacy (Maud Hart Lovelace)

 Boys - Red Hugh Prince of Donegal (Robert T. Reilly)

The boys enjoyed a more violent tale, Red Hugh: Prince of Donegal, which tells the true story of Red Hugh O'Donnell and his daring escape from Dublin Castle. The boys watched Disney's version of the tale and ate popcorn, not at all daintily.

November: House of Arden (E. Nesbit) 

E. Nesbit wrote some of the most laugh-out-loud hilarous fantasy books ever. The House of Arden involves time travel, and the reader will do best when he either knows his British history or has access to a resource such as Our Island Story (H. E. Marshall.)

In search for a lost family treasure, Edred Arden and his sister, Elfrida, step back into different eras with the help of a little creature called a Mouldiwarp.

To summon the crotchety Mouldiwarp, the children have to create poems such as this one:

"Arden, Arden, Arden,
Lawn and castle and garden;
Daisies and grass and wallflowers gold–
Mouldiwarp, come out of the mould."

(Edred and Elfrida aren't the best poets you've ever read.)

The challenge for our Book Club members? Write a poem to summon the Mouldiwarp.

I'm sorry to say I didn't collect the results, but I can tell you they were every bit as amusing as the ones in the book. And I have never seen 9-12 year olds, particularly boys, so excited about composing poetry.              

That's what kept us busy during the fall. Look for Part II (spring semester) coming soon and Part III (summer) in a month or so.

Grand Beauties!

Sweet grandgirls recently at Spring Mill State Park

Beauty #3 with Auntie Faith (who's lovely, too!)

But then...

... a little encounter with a mud puddle

Two Sweet Annies in the Spring Mill Pioneer Garden

Morning Prayer

Yesterday was quite a day – a botched paint job (as Tim kindly put it:”Painting isn't your gifting, dear”) - a 16th birthday – friends for dinner – a car accident with one of our teen drivers totaling his car– unavoidable meetings in the evening meaning I never even saw one of our guests. Crazy, crazy day.

Each day has it's own troubles; there's no telling what today will bring. Here's a morning prayer I found recently in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. Oh, may I do His will this day with cheerfulness.

O God, the King eternal, who dividest the day from darkness, and turnest the shadow of death into the morning; 

Drive far off from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep thy law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that having done thy will with cheerfulness while it was day, we may, when the night cometh, rejoice to give thee thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen