Friday, January 30, 2015

School Cancelled on Account of Sunshine and Unseasonably High Temperatures

While the news has been reporting record snowfall, and winter storm warnings for the east coast...

...northern Montana has been experiencing a burst of spring-like, warm weather.  With plummeting temperatures, and more snow in the forecast for the days ahead...

...we decided to drop everything, and head outside to enjoy the warm winds...

...and sunshine.

We'll be back inside and ready to go this weekend, when winter returns.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Chocolate Peanut Butter Woven Heart Cookies

These aren't actually "woven" heart cookies.  In fact, they are really more of a patchwork cookie.  I had intended to weave them together...

...but it didn't turn out to be practical.  The dough kept breaking.  So, after cutting the pieces to match a woven heart pattern (copied off of Google images, though I'm not sure now from which site - there are a lot woven heart patterns to choose from), I ended up cutting the pieces apart...

...and piecing them back together into the checkerboard sort of pattern they would have had if they could have been woven together.

So, they aren't really woven hearts, but they are chocolate and peanut know..."two great tastes, that taste great together!"

Anyway, to make these, I experimented around, and found I could add peanut butter, and a little extra flour to our usual sugar cookie recipe to end up with peanut butter cookie dough, that could be rolled out and cut like sugar cookies.  To begin with I thought maybe I could just replace the butter with peanut butter, but then the dough (pictured in all the shots here) was too crumbly (although it baked up nicely, and tasted good).  Instead I ended up with the following.

Peanut Butter Sugar Cookies

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 stick of softened butter
1/2 cup of sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 and 1/4 cups of flour


Chocolate Sugar Cookies

1/4 cup of  unsweetened baker's cocoa
1/2 stick of softened butter
1/2 cup of sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 cup of flour

Mix the doughs separately, starting with the wet ingredients and the sugar.  Then, mix in the flour (and cocoa for the chocolate dough) slowly - stopping when the dough is dry enough to handle.  You might have to mix it
with your hands (rinsing often to keep the dough from sticking to your hands as you mix).  If you add all the flour and/or cocoa, and the dough still seems too sticky to roll out, place it in the fridge for a half an hour, or so, to let it firm up some, or add a little more flour, patting it in from the outside.

Roll the dough. Cut the shapes, and piece together the hearts on a greased cookie sheet.

Bake at 350° F for 13 minutes (in a preheated oven) until they just begin to brown at the edges.

Allow the cookies to cool thoroughly, before removing them from the pan to avoid breaking the pieces back apart.

Enjoy with a large glass of milk, and someone you love.  Sadly we were out of milk by the time the Man of the House made it home from work...which reminded us of another old, television commercial.

Apt, if not quite theologically correct.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sewing Card String Art Heart Pattern - Valentine's Math Meets Art

I used instructions for a sort of hybrid cardioid/concentric circle/string art heart from Math Craft, to map out a pattern in Paint for a sewing card craft for the girls.

After printing a few out, I taped them down (lightly, at the corners) to pieces of card stock, and "punched" out the holes with a thumb tack, followed by the sharp point of a pencil.

Then, I cut about three feet worth of yarn (the amount would vary, depending on the size of the print-out). I taped one end of the yarn to the back of the card stock, and threaded a darning needle onto the other, and gave the girls instructions... follow the numbers, sewing up, through from the back, on the odds...

...and down, through from the front, on the evens, being careful to pull all the yarn through.

When they got to the end, we removed the needle, tied the loose ends together on the back...

...tore away the paper, and decorated the card stock...

...with crayons for a finishing touch.

The project was a lot of fun, and easy enough for my 8 year old to do on her own, with only a little double checking of the numbers.  If string art isn't your thing, don't worry, I also made up a blank pattern (for myself, really)... play with in Paint.

Happy Valentines Day!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Valentine Math - Simple Steps into Multi-Step Problem Solving

Looking at the heart shaped tangram type puzzles, floating around this time of year, I spotted an easy opportunity to practice multi-step problem solving skills with my younger children (ages 8-11).

One of the first hurtles students hit in high school geometry is the switch over from simple equations to multi-step problem solving.  This transition can be made easier by introducing younger children (long before they reach high school geometry) to the concept in simple ways through puzzles, or games, using the math they already know, or can easily grasp.

So, back to the tangram - if you ask a child to find the area of a heart shape, like the one below, they will most likely be stumped.

It is not one of the usual shapes found in math books.  There is no simple formula for the area of heart. 

So, we come to the first step of multi-step problem solving, determining what we already know.  Depending on the age of the children, they will probably know the formal for finding the area of a square.

length x width = area

They might also know how to find the area of a triangle.

1/2 base x height = area

And, most will be able to put the two together to find the area of a right trapezoid (even if they don't know what it's called, or realize they have just taken a baby step into the kind of  problem solving we're talking about).

Once they've mastered the trapezoid, finding the area of a parallelogram should be a snap.

height x base = area

 Some children will even already know the formula for the area of a circle.  If they don't, they can learn it pretty easily, even if they don't fully understand its meaning.  It might be a good time to pull out Cindy Neuschwander's Sir Cumference books.

πr² = area

So, that's what we know.   Be what we need to know is the area of a heart.

? = area

How can we use what we know, to find out what we need to know?  That's where the tangram comes into play.  By matching the colors of the shapes within the tangram to the shapes the children already know how to solve for area, the problem becomes simple.

And hopefully, at this point, children will be able to see on their own, that for this particular heart, the problem can be solved with fewer steps, as well.

We will do each of the steps above, with paper cut-out of the shapes, too.  Just to add an element of familiar, hands on learning to the process.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Do Cats Have Belly Buttons? Another Breakfast Conversation

A (age 13, one morning at breakfast) - Do cats have belly buttons?

Me (looking up from my coffee, not quite awake) - What?

A - When we were at Grandma's last summer N (their cousin) was drawing pictures of cats, and she gave them all belly buttons.

G - (age 15, chiming in) - M (N's older sister) said cats don't have belly buttons.

A - So, do they?

Me - I have no idea.  I suppose they might...(looking toward the Man of the House for support)?

The Man of the House - They've got to get food from their mothers somehow, so they must.  But, would they have just one placenta for the entire litter, or one for each kitten?

D (age 12) - What's a placenta?

Me (firing up the computer, figuring I'd better get this one right, reading the search list, and paraphrasing Wikipedia, while wishing I had not just looked at an image of a placenta over breakfast) - It's an organ that connects the unborn baby to the mother through the umbilical cord, so the baby can receive food and oxygen, and cycle out waste

I decide in deference to breakfast, not to mention, that in some cultures placentas are eaten, and give the Man of the House "a look" just in case his train of thought is running in the same direction.  The "yuck" he mouths back, tells me we're on the same track.

A (oblivious to our exchange) - But what about cats?  Do they have belly buttons?

D (age 12) - Wait!  If all mammals have belly buttons, does that mean that whales have them, too?

T (age 17, groans)
Me (ignoring T, and typing a new search) -

Yes, whales do have belly buttons.

In fact whales, dolphins and porpoises are all born with belly buttons.

Whales are marine mammals and like “almost” all mammals one of the characteristics they share in common with land mammals is giving birth to live young.

Making a mental note to check the library for a copy of the Scholastic picture book I just saw on the search page, I stumble into the kitchen for a second cup of coffee, before one of the younger children thinks to ask what happens to the umbilical cord, or how babies get into their mothers in the first place...

...when D, looking out the window, yells, "Kestrel!"

And, I'm saved...until lunch.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Similac's Campaign Against the Mommy Wars

Talk about pulling on the heart strings!

The whole concept of my first leaving home (emotionally if not physically) must be getting to me more than I realized.  I was totally tearing up by the end of this ad.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Looking into the Pros and Cons of Online College/University Studies

T (age 17) will be starting his first college class, next week.

And let me say here for my non-American friends, that in the States "college" and "university" are used pretty much interchangeably.  There are differences between the two, but not to the extent there are in some other countries - such as Canada, for instance.  I will use college here, but am referring equally to colleges and universities.

He is able to begin his collegiate career with one class, in February, because he has chosen to work through his first two years of school - online.

Steps leading to an online college.

We pretty much knew all along that T was college bound, so there were no real surprises there.  His decision to attend school online was unexpected, and a recent development.  Up until this winter, we had not really even considered online college as a serious option.  In fact, part of the impetus of our most recent move was to put us within easy driving distance of a larger number of brick and mortar schools.

First though, I should backup, and give a little history.

I have a bachelors degree, and come from a very pro-college family.  My folks have combinations of bachelors and masters degrees. Among my siblings and their spouses, four hold doctorates, two of us have bachelors, and another three have associates degrees.

The Man of the House, who supports our largish family comfortably, through a career he really enjoys, did not go to college, and comes from a family with a "take it or leave it" sort of attitude towards higher education.  Neither of his parents attended college, his father served a four year stint in the Navy, receiving job training that way, and his sister, who also supports herself well, in a career she loves, has an associates degree.

Given our experiences, we have always encouraged all of the children to seriously consider higher education, but not insisted on it.  It's not always easy to work your way up in a career, without a college degree, but it is certainly possible.  And, we have seen time and time again, that a college degree is not always a guaranteed ticket to a career.  With that said though, as I've already state, T's choice to pursue higher education didn't really come as a surprise.  He is not the most academically inclined person you could meet, but his interests for careers tend to be more of the behind-a-desk-degree-needing variety.

So, this fall, we helped him locate a test center, signed him up for the SAT exam, and started sifting through school websites, determining degree programs, and admission requirements.

In the running were a couple of schools north of the border.  In fact, they were more than in the running, they were topping his list, but with one big drawback - T being an American citizen would not be able to work while attending school Canada.

We have 6 children.  Starting two years from now, assuming we continue on as we are, and if they all decide to go on to college, we can presumably look forward to 10 years of paying for two college students at once, capped on either end by a two year period of paying for only one.  Given that we will still be incurring expenses for little incidentals such as braces, our house, and hopefully a retirement fund - even in the light of scholarships and financial aid, we will need the children to be working and contributing to their education, as well.

And so, knowing that he preferred the Canadian schools, but needed to be able to continue working, and realistically, that he preferred to stay in town in able to form some relationships, and familiarity with our new home, before heading out, we started looking at what the two schools had to offer for distance education.  In the process, we also realized by looking into online programs, many schools we had not considered, because of their locations, were now available to T again.

Then came the real boon.  Not only could T attend a foreign school, while keeping his local employment, but the costs of online school were significantly lower than the what we had been looking at for brick and mortar attendance.  Right off the bat, you can drop the expenses for institutional room and board, and campus fees.  But overall, the cost of tuition for online classes is significantly lower, too.  In fact, when T finally settled on a school, and a program, and we calculated the costs, we were pleasantly surprised.  He can easily cover his tuition completely on his own, with what he is banking from his part time job, leaving him spending money, and a growing car fund.

The Pros and Cons of Online College.

Once I started announcing T's decision to friends and family, and having conversations very reminiscent of when we had announced our decision to homeschool, my type-A personality kicked in with concerns.  We were looking at the benefits, but I was sure (mainly because a couple of my college professor siblings had pointed out a few) that there were also drawbacks to be considered.  I started searching out websites, and picking brains, and came up with a list of pros and cons to consider.

  1. Greater flexibility - Instead of having classes at set times and days, in many cases lectures can be watched online, or listened to, at the students convenience.  Classes can be scheduled around work and family obligations, instead of the other way around. 
  2. Convenience - Again, in many cases, a student can choose when they want to start a class, rather than waiting for the semester to officially commence.
  3. Can set your own pace for learning - While some classes do still have set time schedules, and all have an eventual deadline for completion, many classes allow students to move faster if they wish.  Instead of taking six months, a class might be completed in 4 months.  In fact, some schools even offer a discount on the next class if you complete one early.
  4. Introverts might be more likely to speak up and ask questions in an email format - The online format allows for slow introspection, and time for thorough formulation of an idea, before it is written onto a chat board, or into an email, as opposed to the quick blurting out of an idea or question, before the professor moves onto the next thought or topic.  This type of communication suits some personalities better than others.
  5. Fewer pressures of limited space - Student numbers are not limited by classroom space, and classes are not limited by classroom availability.
  6. Lower costs - in tuition and on campus expenses - parking, room and board, club fees.
  7. Availability - Not only are classes ready when you want them, but potentially, if you can't find the class you want at your chosen school, you could easily transfer in a credit from another school, without changing physical locations.
  8. Continual access to lectures - Can't make out your notes? No problem! Just re-watch that bit of the lecture.  As long as you are enrolled in the class, you can watch the lectures as many times as you like.
  9. Innovations and advancing technology - From video chatting, to message boards, setting up files in the correct format, to taking online quizzes, distance courses are utilizing the latest in technology, and an online student gains a natural familiarity with it.
  10. Lack of in class distractions - No person chewing gum loudly behind you, or sniffing every thirty seconds.  If someone is bothering you at home, you can simply pick up your computer, and move to another room.

  1. Isolation - Anyone used to homeschooling is familiar with this objection.  While isolation can be an issue for students studying on their own, it does not have to be.  There are plenty of community and church clubs and events to keep a student connected in with people, but you do have to go looking for them.
  2. Requires self motivation - Again, something homeschoolers are already familiar with.  Although, I'm thinking that brick and mortar schools also require some self-motivation.  I don't remember any early morning wake up calls from my college professors, no one walked me to class, or held my hand while I researched papers.  It was simply expected the work would be done according to the syllabus.  That much works the same for online classes.
  3. Limited interaction with professors - While it is true, you cannot stand chatting with professors in the hallway after class, or corner them in their offices with a quick question.  You can email them, or call them in their offices.  Most likely you will have a distance office representative to run on campus interference for you, if you can't get through to a professor as well.
  4. No extracurricular campus activities - This is very much like the isolation argument.  And it is true, you won't have football games to cheer at, or chapels to attend.  In the end it really depends on your purpose for attending college in the first place, as to how much this one will matter to you.
  5. Stigma - Thanks to a "Sally Struthers' school of all things ridiculous" perception still lingering from the days before distance learning had really taken hold in the accredited schools, there is a sense that this kind of learning isn't "real college".  However, if the school, and program are accredited then this is completely a false perception (though one you will still face).  A transcript, and diploma from an online degree program looks identical to what you receive if you attend classes on campus.  It is the same degree.
  6. Lack of financial aid - Distance programs are not always eligible for financial aid, because of their reduced cost.  We found that the reduction in tuition more than made up for the lack.
  7. Natural technology problems - Even under the best of circumstances, internet connections can be lost, computers malfunction, and printers jam.  There are bound to be some frustrations along the way.  Imagine loosing your connection in the middle of a midterm exam - will you be allowed to restart it?  These are things to find out before you sign up for your first class, and to be prepared for.
  8. Not getting out - experiencing new places - This con could also be applied to attending local colleges.  It is true that you will not have the experience of loading up all your belongings and heading off for an in-dorm adventure with your buddies.  That does not mean you can't join with a short term volunteer organization, or simply travel on your own, along the way.  Going away to college is not the only door out of the house.
  9. Degrees are limited - This one is simply true.  In all of the schools we looked at, there were far more degree options being offered on campus than through the distance program.  Hopefully this will change with time.  However, in the meantime, there are still a number of online degrees to choose from, and even if the degree you're seeking cannot be completed online - the basic core classes can.
  10. Not able to ask questions in the moment - If the professor says something that puzzles or outrages you, you will not be able to ask for instant clarification.  However, sometimes by listening, instead of speaking, you manage to learn more.  And, not always being able to say what you're thinking, the moment you think it, is a good thing.  Given the rest of the lecture, and time to research and consider, a more complete question or objection might be presented to the professor through an email or chat board.
  11. Professors cannot tell if they are “getting through” - A professor lecturing at you through a computer screen will not be able to see your confused look, or glazed eyes, and modify his approach in the moment.
  12. It’s new to professors, and not all of them are comfortable with it - Just because a professor is teaching an online class, it does not mean he or she appreciates the format, or understands the technology necessary to make it work.  Educators are often slow to embrace change, especially when the change can bring additional work for them along with it.  Many have very strong opinions about the importance of in class participation.
For us the pros seem to outweigh the cons.  I was not a "joiner" on campus in my college days.  I found my social interactions away from campus, and would have enjoyed my classes a good deal more at my own pace, and apart from distraction.  However, there is a difference between liking an idea, and living with the concept in reality.  I hope to review these pros and cons again after T has had a chance to try out a few classes, and has some feedback to offer.

Sources for pros and cons:
Grantham University Blog
Campus Explorer
Education Portal
Florida National University
Money Crashers
Western Governors University

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Static Sticker, or How Not To Make A Static Flyer

So apparently, if you decide you want to make a Steve Spangler inspired Static Flyer (where a static electrically charged band of plastic bag is repelled by, and seems to float above, a static electrically charged balloon)...

...but decide to charge the band of bag and balloon with your hair, instead of the recommended cotton cloth...

...the bag band will be repelled by the balloon - but attracted to you.

Have I mentioned lately, how great it is to be a homeschooler?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Adding Touches of 12 to a 12th Birthday.

D's birthday was this week.

This year, for the first time, he didn't come to me weeks in advance with a picture from a magazine, or website, of the cake he wanted - the cake that usually sets the theme for his party.

Instead, he decided, turning a very grown-up twelve, he might just like a "normal" cake, with ice cream, and presents, but no party.

I was okay with that.  Given the number of birthday parties we have in a year, I was more than okay with that.  But still, I wanted to find ways to add little special reminders of his birthday, throughout the day, especially since we had to wait until T, and the the Man of the House were off work, for the presents and cake.

To begin with, I woke D up early (he's an early riser anyway, and didn't mind), so he could make a quick run to the store with me to pick out a dozen donuts for breakfast.  Donuts for breakfast are rare in our house, and  he was pretty pleased to be able to choose all 12 himself.  While we were at the store too, I picked up 12 quarters in change, for later in the day.

D is not a huge lover of party games, but I managed to disguise one, as a quick, time killing challenge, by giving my youngest three 12 balloons, and asking them how many they could keep in the air at once.

At lunch, to go with D's requested, grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, I added one apple, cut into 12 slices.

We picked T up shortly after lunch, and with the rest of the siblings in tow, set off on a quest to visit all of our local grocery stores, to see what treasure D could reap from the quarter machines, with the 12 quarters of change form the donuts.  The contents of the machines were lackluster, but the racing from store to store, and the tromping in out was a good bit of entertainment.

Then, it was time for the Man of the House to come home.  I really wanted to order a pizza with 12 toppings, but the pizza place website informed me that was too many toppings to allow for proper baking, and refused to take the order. Instead, the Man of the House volunteered to cook another of D's favorite dinners, before cake (decorated simply, with sequences of 12 M&Ms) and ice cream (with 12 different flavors to choose from).

While we were picking up the donuts in the morning, I noticed the pints of ice cream were on sale for a dollar each, and ask D if he'd like an ice cream shop style ice cream tasting, before the cake.  He was pretty thrilled with the idea.

When the time came, before we added the candles, and sang, I lined up the open cartons, in a single row, on the table.  Then, I gave each child 12 plastic spoons, and let them move, single file, past the cartons, taking a small sample from each, before choosing the one they wanted with their slice of cake.  It was a surprising lot of fun, and a wonderful way to end off a very special day.