Creative Learning Connection

Educational Resources from a Veteran Homeschool Mom

The End of the Cassini Spacecraft

Next Post – Sept 25

First, a schedule change. I’ve been doing these posts weekly, each Friday since April. But now that my school year is about to start and my responsibilities are increasing, I’m going to change it to every other Monday, alternating it with the posts on my author’s website, www.CatherineJaime.com. So the next post on the www.CreativeLearningConnection.com blog should appear on Monday, September 25, and every two weeks after that.

Enjoying Astronomy

The Starburst Galaxy, Messier #94

I’ve mentioned here before (most recently during last week’s post) that I’m not an astronomer, not even a hobby astronomer (wonder if they call themselves that?). But I have been fascinated by astronomy for a long time.  I think I know enough about it to be dangerous! My sky knowledge is generally limited to being able to pick out three constellations – Orion and the Big and Small Dippers. I enjoy trying to watch meteor showers and eclipses (solar or lunar) when I get a chance. And I love looking at NASA photographs – especially of distant galaxies and other “Messier objects.” That may very well sum up the scientific portion of my astronomy knowledge. (Being a historian by nature, I do know a bit more about the history of astronomy, though it’s a topic I haven’t studied particularly recently, so no fair trying to test my knowledge there!)

The Heavens Declare His Glory

Pillars of Creation

As a creationist, I love the fact that the heavens show us the glory of God. So even though my academic knowledge of the subject is fairly low, my appreciation level is quite high. I have stood under the starry skies in various places throughout the world (something I try to do on every cruise ship I sail on), just to enjoy the magnificence of the view. I don’t have to be able to identify the flowers in a garden to appreciate their beauty and their Creator, and I don’t have to know a ton about what I’m seeing in the sky to appreciate its significance. In order to learn a little more about what I see, I often read the books and blog put out on the Classical Astronomy website. And I very much agree with his tagline – “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shewth His handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

Change of Plans, Again!

So, all of that is my very long introduction into what will probably be a fairly short post. (Though I have thought that before and been totally incorrect!) I actually had another post started for today, but once again the importance of the date changed my mind. (Earlier this week I redid my September 11th post on my author’s website, in order to honor the memory of those who had died on that date sixteen years earlier.)

Cassini Spacecraft

The Launch of the Cassini Spacecraft

Today’s change was for a vastly different type of event – the end of the mission for NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. While reading a local newspaper yesterday, I stumbled upon mention of this upcoming event and off I went to learn more.

Cassini’s journey to Saturn began with liftoff from Cape Canaveral in 1997. It ended today with an intentional descent into Saturn’s atmosphere. Cassini has been observing Saturn and its moons since it arrived in that area of our solar system in 2004.  It has been sending data and photographs back to NASA. And while at least most of the scientists at NASA interrupt that data as proof of evolution, creationists can agree to disagree with them. The more information NASA collects about our amazing galaxy, the more we see the hand of God!

The End of the Journey

Rings of Saturn from the Cassini Spacecraft

But whichever side of the creation/evolution you find yourself on, I can strongly encourage you to take a look at some of the wonderful images that can be found on www.NASA.gov. And with the end of the Cassini mission, they have put even more great resources on the site, including (but certainly not limited to):

A Plunge Towards Saturn

Overview of the Cassini Mission

As the Cassini spacecraft finished its twenty year journey of exploration, it was starting to run low on fuel. NASA scientists made the decision to turn the spacecraft towards Saturn so that it would end its days burning up in the atmosphere of Saturn, rather than risking a collision with one of Saturn’s moons. This morning the spacecraft did exactly that, plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere as had been planned.

If you have a few minutes, take a look at NASA’s website and enjoy the views!

Happy star-gazing!

Cathy

Psalm 8:1-9

Book Review: Eclipses Illustrated, Book 1, The Eclipse Experience

No, I’m not planning to turn this blog into a book review site, the last two posts notwithstanding. But this is another book I’ve been reading recently that can be enjoyed by anyone, but particularly homeschoolers.

And with the interest raised by the recent eclipse, now is a good time to enjoy it!

Starburst Galaxy Messier 94

Enjoying Astronomy

First, a disclaimer. I am not an astronomer by any stretch of the imagination. (In fact, when I taught astronomy, it was generally more under the guise of “The History of Astronomy.”) But astronomy fascinates me, as you might have guessed if you read my earlier post on Messier Objects.

Perseid Meteor Shower

Our view of the Perseid Meteor Shower didn’t look quite like this one (which is a 30 second timed delay anyway). But we could dream!

Not too long ago quite a few members of my family had been up too late playing card games and board games. When we were finishing up we realized that the Perseid Meteor Shower that we had been talking about earlier was about to start, so most of us moved out to the driveway and laid down to watch. We only got to glimpse a couple of meteors, before I gave up on the hard ground and headed to bed. But it was still fun to see the ones we did see.

99% v. Totality

And of course, there was the recent eclipse. I was not one of those who thought that being in an area of 99% coverage was going to be almost as good as being in totality. I have been subscribing to the “Classical Astronomy Update” newsletter for long enough to understand that the difference would be substantial.  And we live only 100 miles south of Nashville, so getting to an area of totality would not have been that difficult. (In fact, one of my sons and his wife did exactly that, and invited the rest of us to join them.) But it was a time of difficult choices – another son and his family (young children, too young to safely watch the eclipse) were visiting with us for just a short amount of time. They were departing the next day to head back overseas. So, I made the choice to stay home with them.

One of our views through our little box camera

We certainly didn’t have the same experience as though who experienced totality, but we did enjoy our  experience as much as possible – going outside every fifteen minutes or so to check on the progress. We were happy to have been given two pairs of solar viewing glasses at the last minute (yes, I was one of those people who waited till the last minute to think of glasses, even though I knew better!). We also enjoyed looking at the eclipse through our special box camera.

As the eclipse was peaking for us, my son and I sat outside and enjoyed the remarkable drop in temperatures that had occurred over the hour or so since the eclipse had first begun. Again, not the total experience, but we enjoyed what he had.

A view of the eclipse on the way to totality.

Maybe Next Time

I don’t regret missing the total eclipse, but I’m very glad that not only my son and daughter-in-law got to see it, but also one of my sisters. In fact, my sister, Cheryl Holle, is the one who took the wonderful  eclipse pictures that I’ve included in today’s post – including the one that I used for the title image. I’m glad that they were all able to have the experience. AND I’m already starting to look ahead to the 2024 eclipse. God willing, I will get to see that one from somewhere that is experiencing totality.

Another one of Cheryl’s photos during the total eclipse

The Book Review, Finally

So, what does all of this have to do with a book review? I’m getting there, honestly. The same astronomer who writes the Classical Astronomy Updates (which I strongly recommend for anyone who wants to know more about “astronomy from a Biblical perspective”), Jay Ryan, also has his first two books in his “Eclipses Illustrated” series out. I haven’t bought the second one yet, but for a mere $2.99, I couldn’t resist getting the first one right away. Mr. Ryan does a great job of explaining how both solar and lunar eclipses happen, and gives some great information on upcoming eclipses.

Several of my Favorite Features/Quotes in Book 1

  • The illustrations throughout the book are wonderfully easy to understand.
  • Apparently the word “eclipse” means “to leave or abandon” (Who knew?)
  • Quote: “There are no surprises with eclipse prediction.” As many of us watch as the meteorologists are trying (generally only somewhat successful at best) to predict the paths of the current hurricanes, it’s interesting to me that eclipses can be so well predicted – even well into the future.
  • Mr. Ryan mentions the sad fact that many people will grow old without ever seeing a lunar eclipse (and those are much more common that solar eclipses, so that is sad!)
  • Because the sun is about 400 times larger than the moon, but also about 400 times further away from us, we get to experience total eclipses here on earth.

For all of the creationists reading this who want to learn more about the recent eclipse and future eclipses, I can strongly recommend this book: Eclipses Illustrated, Book 1, The Eclipse Experience. (Non-creationists might still enjoy it for the dates and history, but then it’s “read at your own risk.”)

Happy learning!

Cathy

Book Review – 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You

Book Review: 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke


First, I want to start with a quote that the author, Mr. Reinke, used from Charles Spurgeon: “The easiest work in the world is to find fault.” Mr. Reinke used that quote in the context of Chapter 11 – “We Become Harsh to One Another.” My goal is not to just find fault with Mr. Reinke’s book – I do have some positive things to say about it. But I also want to turn this quote back on the book as a mirror, because ultimately that was my biggest complaint with this book – I felt like much of it was just the author finding fault with smart phones and smart phone users.

Before I go further with my review, let me back up to why I found myself reading/listening to this book, and why I am offering this review on my homeschool website.

The Background

One of our church elders likes to tell us about good non-fiction books that he has discovered. I often read his recommendations and generally like them and learn from them. Last week’s recommendation was another interesting-sounding title that I wasn’t familiar with – 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You. I did what I do with the majority of books that catch my interest – I went to Audible and got the audio version of it – so I could listen to the book on my phone. I’m still mulling over the irony of that decision for this particular title, but I knew it was the best way for me to get to the book sooner rather than later.

I listened to most of the book during the week – while I was driving to swimming, driving to the airport in Nashville, and during down times on a family trip when the others were occupied). I like the fact that I can listen while I drive – that fact alone has allowed me to finish many great books in the last few years that I would not have had the time to read. (In fact, that was one of my first complaints about the book – Mr. Reinke went to great lengths to share the differences between reading a print version of something and reading the ebook version. But he completely ignored those of us who listen to books, which for some of us is our most frequent method of consuming books today.)

Because I listened to the book, I can tell you approximately how much time I initially spent with the book – just under seven hours. Was the book worth seven hours of my time? Definitely. Was it worth the price(s) that I paid? Yes, I would say so.  Did I agree with everything the author wrote? Not even close. But that isn’t ultimately my measure for whether a book was worth reading (or listening to).

I think the author makes some really good points about the way cell phones have invaded our lives in these modern times.  But I cannot agree with much of what he says, as hard as I might try.

Positive Points of the Book

The introduction was a little lengthy, but overall I liked his “Theology of Technology.” It’s good to be reminded that technology is not a new thing, nor strictly speaking a human invention. We have to give God credit for giving us the ability and the raw materials with which to invent things.

The breakfast area in our hotel this weekend might be showing us how far we’ve come with our addictions to our phones as a society!

It is also good for all of us who use smart phones to evaluate how we use our phones, or as the book’s description puts it “Do you control your phone or does your phone control you?” And the author does give many suggestions for how to determine that.

Another quote from the book that I agree with: “I do not have ‘time to kill’ – I have time to redeem.” This is a good thing for Christians to remember, particularly in regards to our use of technology. Putting that quote on our smart phones and our laptops would probably be a good reminder as we make decisions throughout our days.

Additionally, it is good to remember that Jesus commanded us to love God and to love our neighbors. How we use the tools in our life certainly fall under those commandments. I do agree with that fact, though I often got the impression that the author was balking at the idea that we could use our smart phones in the obedience of God’s commandments.

Negative Points of the Book

I think the author paints with too wide a brush. He describes extremes of smart phone usage as if that was the norm. And while I know there are many who do abuse the use of their phones, I don’t believe it to be the case that the majority do.  I’m spending the weekend out of state with my sisters and our mother. (We’re attending a family reunion tomorrow.) We’re all smart phone users to some degree (my mother, who is in her 80s, is much less so, not surprisingly), but I think it’s fair to state that none of us our controlled by our cell phones.

In fact, when I read the following quote aloud to my sisters, there was universal disagreement: “If we are honest, we use most of the time we spend on our phones for sharing jokes, GIFs, images, and videos, and for talking about sports, the weather, humor, and entertainment with our friends and family members.”

All three of us have children and grandchildren around the country and around the world. As a result, we all use our cell phones as a primary form of communication with them. No, we don’t necessarily use our devices to TALK to them, but we use texting, emailing, and WhatsApp to keep in touch with them. Most of our photo and video sharing is to keep up with the same kids and grandkids. While memory might be great for something you experience yourself (a point the author made when he seemed to dismiss the value of most digital photography), these videos and photos are what keep us in the loop with our families, and are something we are all extremely happy to have.

So, in answer to his question towards the end of the book, what should we do with our phones, rather than what can we do, for us as grandmothers and mothers, using them to help us keep connected to our families certainly falls in the should category.

Do I Recommend The Book?

So, after all that, do I recommend this book? To the right audience, yes. I think it could be really helpful for a family with teenagers (and/or adults) who are using smart phones. (Especially if some or all of said family members are overusing their phones.) My recommendation would be to read (or listen to) the book out-loud together, one chapter at a time. I can envision good conversations as families discuss the principles that Mr. Reinke presents. And in many cases, I can see it making a real difference, as family members evaluate how their phones really impact their daily lives! (Just keep in mind that everything he says is not going to apply to everyone!)

My Personal Usage

I do believe that for many of us, smart phones are a legitimate tool for many of us to use in our daily lives. Does my morning routine involve my cell phone? Yes, I willingly admit that it does. I check my emails, texts and WhatsApp almost as soon as my alarm goes off. (My phone has been on silent all night, and with family all over the world it is not infrequent to awake to messages.) I glance at my recent emails that aren’t from family, but seldom respond to them at that time, since I’m generally getting ready to get out the door for swimming.

One of the next things that I do is check the email that came in during the night from BibleGateway with the verse for the day. I always read the verse, and generally listen to the entire chapter that the verse is from.  My one real “time waste” at this time is also to check the Audible Daily Deal – I seldom purchase those, but I listen to enough Audible books that I like to see what the option is. (I have encountered countless great books through the Daily Deals that I would otherwise not have known about.)

If I’m by myself, I generally turn on music or push play on one of my current Audible books. One of those will generally be on until I join other family members or get where I’m going (again, many mornings I’m heading straight to the pool). My personal rule – I don’t listen to my phone when I’m around others, unless we are listening to something together. I seldom deviate from that rule!

Later in the day my phone gets used for communication, research, my calendar and to do list, and only rarely do I get on Facebook (usually to catch up with family members, or currently, to check in with a writers group that I’m involved with). I don’t play games, seldom watch videos, or do any of the other things Mr. Reinke mentions. Could I use other devices to set my alarms and do all of the above things? Sure. But why would I want to? Just like the laptop that I do most of my writing on, my phone is a very useful tool. I appreciate the ways that it can streamline my life. I will make no apologies for that. If my use of it becomes problematic, I will certainly reconsider, but at the moment, I am comfortable with my cell phone usage.

What is Your Usage?

But again, everyone who uses a smart phone would be well served to periodically do a reality check of how that usage is going. This book could a good tool to help make that check.

Happy learning!

Cathy

Making Meaningful Memories with Mock Trial

Our Extracurricular Activities

My personal favorite sport is volleyball!

With twelve children, it should not be surprising that my family has been involved in a lot of different activities: from a variety of sports (everything from soccer to rugby, lacrosse, volleyball, and more), to Scouts, Drama, and even a brief stint of 4-H. But amongst all the other wonderful extra-curricular activities that various ones participated in throughout their school years, there is only one that they all did at least once, and some as many as five or six times: Mock Trial (or Youth Judicial, as it is called in the program here in Alabama).

Mock Trial Pioneers

My oldest kids were on one of the first ever homeschool teams in the state of Texas, and four years later one of my sons started the first ever homeschool team in the state of Alabama. And we continued the Mock Trial teams through our homeschool group long after that son graduated from high school, college, and law school. If you count the early years when I was more of an advisor than a coach (my son served as the real coach for the first few years in Alabama), this will be my 21st year coaching high school Mock Trial.

Coaching Mock Trial

Of all the things I’ve done in the homeschool community I don’t think anything has brought me more joy than coaching Mock Trial. (Though, of course, in 20 years of doing this, it’s brought me a few aggravations as well. But compared to the positives, the negatives have been few and far between.)

Not Just for Future Lawyers

I’m very happy that all of my children (as well as three of my nieces and dozens of other homeschooled students) have been able to partake of this amazing activity. For those who want to become lawyers, it is practically a must. But even for the more numerous students who have no interest in going into law, it is an amazing experience! It helps students work on their public speaking skills as well as their logic and quick thinking.  And it introduces them to how our judicial system should work.

Big Time Commitment

It’s not an easy extracurricular activity – it takes up several hours a week for about six weeks each fall. (At least in Alabama. In other states, the Mock Trial competition occurs later in the year.) We’ve gone up against teams that do tryouts for spots on their teams, but we’ve never felt the need to do that. In our twenty years of competing in Mock Trial in Alabama we only had try outs once – and that was when I had two students that both wanted to give the Opening Statement on their team. We had to settle that with a “write off.” But I’ve never had to turn down a high schooler who wanted to participate with us. (We’ve occasionally had to fill team spots with 7th or 8th graders, and I haven’t always had spots for younger siblings that have wanted to participate with us.)

How Badly Do We Want to Win?

We certainly don’t mind winning, and have accomplished seven first places in our twenty years, along with a reasonable number of second and third places. But we don’t go down to Montgomery determined to win at all costs. In fact, I’ve told my students I would rather them forget their facts on the witness stand, or miss an objection as a lawyer than to pull some of the cheap shots that we’ve seen some other teams pull.  Many years ago we had a trial that was so bad that I had to write a small booklet about the experience to help us all get through the emotional trauma. That booklet, A Trial of a Trial, now available on both Amazon and CurrClick, has since become a useful teaching tool for our new students and other new students in our area. But again, the good news is that experiences like that are rare.

A Great High School Experience to Try

If you have a chance to try Mock Trial or Youth Judicial with your students, I would strongly recommend it! I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Happy learning!

Cathy

Helping Students Enjoy Shakespeare

Where to Begin?

The neat thing about sharing Shakespeare with students is that there are so many ways to do it.  My favorite method is still to read an entire play aloud as a group, and as often as possible to combine that with watching a live performance of the play. Which is why I’ve finally decided to start this school year with The Taming of the Shrew: American Shakespeare Center’s traveling troupe will be performing it in our area in early February, so reading it this fall will make for a fuller experience for all of us. (By the way, the feature image for this post, as well as all of the other images except the last, are different scenes from The Taming of the Shrew.)

More Exciting Ideas

But after attending two different teacher/adult events in Staunton, Virginia (home of the American Shakespeare Center) I’m working on how to add a little variety to our readings.  Here are some of the ideas from their recent teachers seminar that I am considering adding to this fall’s lesson plans:

Walk Throughs

Read-Around

  • I’ve traditionally passed out specific parts to students, so that they can “own” a character throughout the play, but this year I’ll probably be trying the “read-around” method for at least some portions of the play. With that, one student just starts reading the first line in a scene and reads until they get to a stopping point – a period, semi-colon, colon, or question mark. Then the next student reads a line, and so forth. We tried it at the teachers seminar I was just at and I could see advantages to reading that way for some portions of a play – for example, when a character has a particularly long set of lines to read. I still plan to have characters assigned for much of our reading, but we can vary it this fall and see how it goes.

Embedded Stage Directions/Props

  • Embedded stage directions/props are interesting to pay attention to: Shakespeare gave very few actual stage directions in his plays. (“They fight” being one of his most popular.) But oftentimes directions are embedded into the lines of other characters – for instance, when one character tells another character to stand up. Or a prop might be mentioned when one character discusses the letter they are holding. Shakespeare didn’t need to write separate directions for those, he just included them within the lines of his characters. And often a single word tells us much: we can deduce that “this fellow” is closer to the speaker than “that fellow.”
  • At other times actors have decisions to make: When, in the first scene of Taming of the Shrew, does the Hostess leave, when her line is “I must go fetch the head-borough.”? Does she leave as she’s saying the line, or directly after saying it? And right after that, when the directions say that the Beggar “Falls asleep” – did he sit or lay down at some point before the next line is spoken? Again, interesting questions for students to consider.

Different Ways to Read a Line

  • It could also be helpful to have students slow down while reading certain portions and try various ways to say the same line. For instance, what different ways could Katherine say “Then God be blessed, it is the blessed sun.” in Act 4, Scene 6 of The Taming of the Shrew?

Who Are Lines Directed at?

  • And in other places students can consider who the actor would be addressing with his lines. Lines weren’t always directed at another actor; sometimes they were directed at various audience members. That is something that American Shakespeare Center actors do particularly well. If you have the privilege of seeing them with students, it could be fun to have the students watch for that. (As I mentioned, I look forward to watching them perform in Huntsville, Alabama in early February 2018, as they do each year.)

Prose versus Verse

  • Another exercise would be to have students determine whether a particular portion of a play is written in prose or verse. When each line starts with a capital letter, it is generally verse. Prose is written like you would expect to see regular sentences. With prose it can be helpful for students to see whether a character speaks in short sentences or run on sentences, and whether there are unfinished thoughts or questions are being asked. (If so, did anyone else complete the thought or answer the question?).
  • There was another exciting lesson on iambic pentameter at the seminar – but I’m going to have to see if I can explain it well enough to my students before I try explaining it here! Suffice it to say for now, that Shakespeare wrote his lines in a variety of different ways. 

What Would You Cut?

  • I also saw an interesting concept in the study guide about having students determine how they would make choices about cutting out some of Shakespeare’s lines in order to make the play fit into a set amount of time. (Something directors have to do regularly.) For instance, if they were all tasked with removing 10% of the lines from a scene, which ones would they individually want to remove, and what might they agree on as a group?

Choose Somewhere to Start

And those are just some of the exciting ways we learned to make experiencing Shakespeare with students even more exciting than I’ve already found it to be. The wonderful thing about these ideas and the ones I’ve shared in previous posts is that sharing Shakespeare doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

And while I still have a personal preference of having students experience plays all the way through from beginning to end, I know that doesn’t work into everyone’s schedules. My plan for the fall is to work many of these different ideas in as we read through our next play, but I can also see how some of them would be useful even if you just had the time to do a scene or two with students.  With Shakespeare, I may believe that more is generally better, but sometimes you just need a good place to start.

The Play’s the Thing

For more details on these and many other great activities, I can highly recommend the American Shakespeare Center’s Study Guides.

I plan to report back later this fall after we’ve tried out some of these activities in class. Regardless of what we think of each one, I’m confident we’ll still agree with Hamlet that “The play’s the thing.” (Even if he was talking about catching the conscience of a king with it and we’re “merely” trying to immerse students in the wonderful world of Shakespeare!)

Hamlet

Happy learning!

Cathy

Never Stop Learning!

Beginning Another School Year

Depending on what part of the country you’re in, school has either just started or will likely start sometime in the next several weeks. (Having gone to school mostly in the North, the start of a school year belongs after Labor Day in my mind, and that’s generally how I structured my classes. But I know that not everyone has that amount of flexibility.)

But either way, starting a school year, like ending one, is a good time to reflect on the purpose of school.  Why do we do what we’re doing? What are we trying to accomplish? It might be better to ask and answer those types of questions before plunging into the “which curriculum will we be using this year?” questions.

Home Schooling vs. Home Educating

In my thirty-five years of educating my own children, I often used the term “home schooling” out of simplicity (since it’s the term most often used by the others involved in a similar journey), but in actuality, my focus was seldom on schooling my children. So why, you might ask, was I home schooling my children? Because I cared about the education my children received.  Even before our first child was born, my husband and I were researching what our educational options for each of them would be.

It’s not that students can’t receive a good education in a private or public school situation – many of them do. It’s not that there aren’t good teachers in those settings – many of them are. (Both my Mom and Dad were teachers at different times in their careers.  I respect the hard work done by them and the many other dedicated teachers out there.) And it’s not that every parent is cut out to be responsible for supervising the education of their own children – but I find that many of them are!

Defining “Education” and “School”

The Dictionary.com definition for education is “the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge; developing the powers of reasoning and judgement, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.”

Especially when we get to the “developing the powers of reasoning and judgement” portion of that definition, isn’t that a better description of what we’re trying to accomplish than their definition of school: “an institution where instruction is given.”

What’s the “Best Education”?

I never wanted my home to feel like an institution, and after I got started on my journey of educating my own children, I also didn’t want it to feel like a school. This wasn’t just about giving instruction! Helping my children receive their best education became my goal. Not someone else’s definition of “the best education” either – but what was best for each of them.

Love of Learning and Tools to Learn

Did I always accomplish my goals with them? Of course not. But my primary goals were to help give them a love of learning and the tools to learn. Now that they are all adults, I think it’s safe to say I was fairly successful in those goals.

Recently, independent of each other, two other adults made comments to me about learning. One said something to the effect of “she was tired of learning new things.” The second one was complaining about something he had never learned, as if he was now somehow too old to learn it.

Never Stop Learning

My response to the first person was that when we stop learning we stop living. May God always give us the desire to continue learning! And to the second person I pointed out that it would be better to say that he hadn’t had a chance to learn that particular thing yet.  He’s still alive, with a sound mind, and should certainly continue to learn new things!

My Retirement Goals

At sixty, I’m now semi-retired, with full retirement likely right around the corner. What retirement means to me is that I get to spend my time learning what I want to learn – which is an amazing freedom that I hope to fully take advantage of.  Of course, I spend much of my learning time on the history that goes with my current writing project (Leonardo da Vinci, at the moment). And this summer, as discussed in several recent posts, I’ve had the privilege of attending two Shakespeare events that have been lots of fun learning as well. (I do have much more to share about Shakespeare, but first I have to organize my notes. So those of you who don’t want to hear more about Shakespeare get another week off, and those that do, will have to wait another week, or go back and read the first, second, or third posts about that exciting subject.)

Learning to Draw

But of all the things I’m currently making time to learn, the drawing lessons I’ve been doing have to be the most fun.  I’ve wanted to learn to draw for a long time, but like anything else, it’s a task that takes time. This summer I’ve finally decided to make that time. I’ve been working out of several “learn to draw” books for about a month now. And I can actually see progress in my drawings. It’s very exciting.

The Time to Learn

So, please, take the time to learn. You won’t regret it. (And if you’re a homeschooling parent or classroom teacher, it’s a great thing to model for your kids/students!)

Happy learning!

Cathy

Photo Journals and Photo Pages

As much as I love Shakespeare (the topic of my last several blog posts), it’s time to change themes, at least for today. (Since I’m currently at the American Shakespeare Center‘s Summer Teacher Seminar, you would be right in guessing that next week’s topic will likely be back to Shakespeare.)  Travel is another big part of my life, and has been for my entire life – before, during and after homeschooling. In fact, one of the great things about homeschooling was that we could travel pretty much anytime we wanted, especially in the early years. (As my kids got older, school year travel did become a little more difficult, between co-op classes and the college schedules of my older children.)

Big Family Trips

But we still managed to take some amazing trips along the way – many of them with very educational themes. (Visiting Jamestown during its 400 year anniversary, following the Lewis and Clark Trail during its 200 year anniversary, and many trips to Washington D.C., to name just a few.)

Photo Journals

And then, when the younger children were getting older, we made several trips to Europe. (Those, I have to admit, were both educational and fun.) By then I was publishing books through CreateSpace with a fair amount of regularity. It didn’t take me long to decide that making photo journals would be a great way to remember our trips. (My version of scrapbooking these days.)

        

I made the first journals the way I’ve done all my paperbacks thus far – using Microsoft Word and then saving my final project as a pdf. I have found the results of doing that to be satisfactory, especially when I wanted to do just one or two pictures/page.  Below are samples of pages from a couple of my first photo journals.

Turkey with Dan and Eli

Italy with Dan and Sonia

Using PowerPoint for Photo Pages

Since then I’ve figured out that PowerPoint is easier to do picture pages in. After our recent cruise in Europe, I made my mom several collage pages through PowerPoint, enabling her to print several pages through Walmart’s photo shop.  One option now is to add the jpegs of those pages directly to a Word document for our next travel journal. One nice thing about using PowerPoint to make collages is that an 8 x 10 inch PowerPoint slide converts to a jpeg that will make a good quality 8 x 10 photo. (More on size concerns below.)


Using Canva for Photo Pages

Recently I was going to help a good friend make some photo collage pages. She liked the idea of being able to print them as 8 x 10s, like we had done for my mom. But, much to my dismay, I discovered that she didn’t have PowerPoint. I was stumped. I knew it was one way to make collages easily, but surely there were others as well. So I was off to find her another option. That’s when I remembered all the fun I was having using Canva’s website to make my cover images for my blog posts. Maybe it would work for collages too. Sure enough, there are some great templates on Canva with which to make collages. She was soon on her way to making several pages.

Fortunately we tried uploading her first 8 x 10 collage from Canva to Walmart before making additional ones. We discovered that for some reason those jpegs were not high enough quality to print as 8 x 10 photos. We increased the size of her Canva collages to 16 x 20 and those worked fine. Below are some examples of photo pages I made recently with Canva. Of all the picture pages I’ve made, these have definitely been the easiest!

  

Monday, on my other blog, I hope to go into details about the travel journals that I’ve been writing on and off since a trip from Panama to Massachusetts when I was nine-years-old. Those are a great way to have students involved in family travels. (And to expand on the educational value of such trips!)

Happy traveling and creating!

Cathy

Even More Shakespeare Fun

Okay, so this wasn’t quite the type of camp we had.

In last week’s posts (here and on CatherineJaime.com) I mentioned two of the many ways we experienced Shakespeare at the No Kidding Shakespeare camp I recently attended. A camp for adults, who knew?

My Methods for Sharing

Today I will share several others. But first, I want to reiterate a couple of things from my first post on Sharing Shakespeare: in the twenty years that I’ve taught Shakespeare I’ve settled into a fairly simple way of sharing Shakespeare with my students – passing out characters in order to read the plays aloud together, and watching the plays (live and on video). There are distinct advantages to both the reading and the watching, and over the years I’ve done both, sometimes starting with one and sometimes starting with the other. (Though last year I had an unusual group of students – they didn’t want to spend any of our class time watching plays – they were enjoying the reading too much! Since this group included a couple of young men with no prior experience reading Shakespeare, I was not going to argue!)

To Read Them All or Not To Read Them All

Enough Comedies, Tragedies, and Histories to last a LONG time!

Overall, I have found that method to be very successful – I have introduced countless students to the wonderful words of the Bard that way. And I certainly won’t be making any major changes this year. (The one year I tried a major shift got off to a really bad start, until I went back to the tried and true.) But what I do plan to do is work in a few of the activities we did at camp around our reading – starting or ending several class periods with an activity that relates to that week’s class. That will mean spending more time on one play, but I have no problem with that. Years ago we had a three and a half year push to read every one of Shakespeare’s plays aloud in class, but since then we’ve settled for making our way slowly through some of the best. (Reading each play was a great accomplishment, but it is certainly not for the faint of heart!)

Dramatic Activities with Shakespeare

But, with no further ado, here are some of the other neat activities we did at camp that I’m hoping to incorporate this fall:

Speaking Sculptures

For this activity we each received a line from a play and then had to walk around the stage reciting the line as we followed different instructions we were being given – walk faster, walk slower, speak the line faster, speak louder, those types of things. I think the idea there was for us to become comfortable with our line, and to experience it in different ways.

A scene from Much Ado

Then we paired off with the person closest to us. We were to instruct our partner to stand in a pose that somehow went with our line. The challenge was that we were not supposed to talk to our partners, nor touch them – we were supposed to get them into position with merely the suggestion of our hands. And I’m sure my students will give me the same blank looks that you’re trying to give me right about now. (It’s definitely something that’s easier to explain through showing than through words, so you’ll just have to take my word for this portion.) Once each partner was in position they were given the other’s line to speak. As half of the group stood as” speaking sculptures,” the other half wandered around and looked and listened. Then we swapped places and repeated the process.

“Forming” the sculpture was indeed a challenge. But it was interesting to wander around and listen to the different lines. I hadn’t recognized my own line or my partner’s line, but as I moved from sculpture to sculpture I did recognize some of the others as being from Much Ado About Nothing. It turned out all of them were from Much Ado. 

Introducing a Play?

A rendition of Taming of the Shrew

I’m thinking that might be a fun way to introduce whatever play we’re starting with this fall. (Sadly, I’m still deciding which one we’re going to do first – so many good ones to choose from – so I can’t start getting lines prepared for this quite yet.) One of the plays the American Shakespeare Center folks will be bringing to Huntsville in February is Taming of the Shrew, so it’s at least in the running for our first play of the semester, depending on how long ago we last read it.

Once I have our first play chosen, I can pick lines for the students to practice speaking and sculpting. I wonder if they’ll be able to figure out which play it is any faster than I did.  Time will tell!

Snapshots of a Scene

For another one of our activities we were broken into small groups, each with a portion of a different scene. Each group had the same number of people as their scene had characters.  As a group we had to choose five places from our scene that we could take “snapshots” of  – where we could  quickly “act” them out (more of a posed three-dimensional picture for each place.) The idea was to visually represent the highlights of our little scene.

I’ve never considered myself much of a drama person (I know, I know, I teach Shakespeare, but that’s different!). But I really enjoyed the various activities we did like this one.

Varying the Tempo

Another time we were in similar small groups with a different short passage. We were instructed to start by reading aloud our passage (adding limited movements if we wanted). Then  we had to read it again several times, varying the tempo and emphasis of individual portions as we read. We could see (or actually, hear) what the small changes we made to our reading did for the overall feeling of our section.

Using These in Class

I don’t want to turn my Shakespeare classes into acting classes – plenty of others already offer those. I want to keep my emphasis on reading and enjoying Shakespeare. But I can see how these types of activities, sprinkled sporadically amongst our readings could add a new dimension to our Shakespeare understanding and enjoyment.

More to Come

I’m not sure if I’ve shared about all of the great activities we did at camp yet. (I still haven’t gotten home, unpacked from that trip, and relocated my notes!) But either way I should have more to share within a week or two. I’m planning to go back to Staunton to attend their Teacher Seminar. in early August. Hey, we’re on a roll here! Maybe by then I can nail down which play(s) we’ll be tackling this fall and start figuring out where to work in these various, fun activities.

Actors before Hamlet

In the meantime, if you are already planning to share Shakespeare with your (older) students next year, I hope these different ideas are helpful. And if you’re aren’t, maybe you could reconsider. Overall, I’m a big fan of middle school and high school students spending lots of time with Shakespeare, but not so keen on younger students being exposed to his work. Adult themes permeate these plays, and I don’t see the benefit of sharing those with our youngsters quite yet, but maybe that’s just me. Some of my students have enjoyed Shakespeare with me for as many as four or five years. (What can I say, I don’t think they can get too much Shakespeare!)

Remember, as Hamlet said so many years ago, “The play’s the thing.”

Happy reading!

Cathy

More Fun with Shakespeare

Learning to Love Shakespeare

How many characters do you recognize from Sir John Gilbert’s painting, “The Plays of Shakespeare”?

As I mentioned in a post a couple of weeks ago, I have grown to love Shakespeare over the last two decades. Teaching it, reading it, watching it, or even just listening to it, can all make me extremely happy. And as a teacher who started teaching Shakespeare with a very sad amount of prior experience, I have spent much time researching the subject as well.  I’ve listened to lectures from the Great Courses on Shakespeare and collected and read a fair amount of books as well.

Shakespeare Experience for Adults

But until last week there was something I had never done connected to Shakespeare – I had never been to any type of teachers’ workshop or other such event with a Shakespeare theme.  It’s kind of sad to think that for more than a decade I’ve been attending teachers’ workshops on other topics of interest to me (the U.S. Constitution, Civil Rights, and Economics to name just a few), but had never managed to attend one on Shakespeare.

Okay, so even adults can have fun!

And now that I’ve attended my first, I hope there will be many more to come! My first in-person event  wasn’t technically a teachers’ workshop, and didn’t include only teachers – it was a camp for adults – the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp put on by the American Shakespeare Center, to be exact. But much of what we did there will be very useful for those of us who do teach Shakespeare.

Fun with Shakespeare

Earlier in the week I mentioned some of the fun things we did at camp in a post entitled Creativity Comes in Many Forms (on www.CatherineJaime.com). But in that post I didn’t go into most of the actual Shakespeare-related activities we did – several of which I’m hoping to incorporate into this year’s Shakespeare classes. (Yes, I know, I’ve officially retired from homeschooling after 35 years and from running a homeschool center after almost 14 years. But that doesn’t mean I’m quite ready to give up teaching Shakespeare. We’re returning to where we started – classes in my living room.)

Boydell Shakespeare Prints

Our first activity of the week involved pictures – black and white engravings of paintings from different Shakespeare plays. Several years ago I had put together one of my art appreciation books on Shakespeare – and had actually used a few of these prints, but I hadn’t realized how many of them there were in this magnificent collection, painted for the Boydell Shakespare Gallery in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Pictures/Scenes from Shakespeare

A Boydell print – do you recognize this play? Answers at the bottom of the post.

It was a fun activity, if a bit overwhelming at first. We had 27 prints on the walls and tables of the room, numbered, 1 -27 (of course). And then we had 27 short passages from different plays printed on several sheets. They were lettered A to Z, plus an AA. We were tasked with identifying which scenes went with which pictures. Extra points if we could identify which plays they were from. Some members of our group even managed Act and Scene numbers – way beyond my Shakespeare knowledge there! But I did go in on the scene sheets and identify almost every play the scenes were from. (I think I was missing 3 names out of the 27.) And I could probably have told you on most of them whether they were from the first half of the play or the second half – but beyond that, not a chance.

My first mistake was not transferring the names of the plays right to our answer sheet. Instead I started trying to identify the pictures, and only wrote the names down as I was putting the letters with the right numbers. Consequently, I only got 32 of the total 54 points possible. (Putting me about 4th in a group of almost 20. Not too shabby for someone with no formal training in the subject.) Had I written in all the play names I knew (and not mixed up As You Like It with All’s Well that Ends Well – something I’m forever doing for some odd reason – though probably not after this!) I would have ended up with more like 40 or more points. Oh well, it was still fun to do.

I think many of my students would recognize the play this picture represents.

Our Variation of the Activity

In fact, the activity was so much fun, I think I’ll start this fall’s Shakespeare classes with a variation of it. I think trying to match scenes, names, and paintings all at the same time would be too much for most of my students, and I find, at least with the students I’ve had in recent years, that they do better with group activities than individual ones.

Identifying Scenes

For my students I plan to divide them into groups (probably of 4 or 5 students in each group, depending on this year’s class size). I will try to make sure my groups contain a mixture of Shakespeare newbies and Shakespeare veterans.

I like to give each group a small white board and a dry erase marker to put their answers on. I’ll have the small scenes typed up and distributed in a package to each group. I’m going to have them take turns reading the scenes aloud. After a scene has been read, they can decide as a group if they know which play it’s from.

After each group has had sufficient time to consider and write their answer down, I’ll have each group read the answers out loud. I’ll keep score of team points on a separate white board. (I’ve used this format often in my classes, and find it works well. We’ve made it into a game of sorts, with just a slight edge of competitiveness. And this way, no one feels singled out if they don’t know many of the answers.) As each scene is identified, the groups will have a place to record the play name, to assist them with the next step.

Identifying Pictures

I considered using this print – most of my students would  definitely recognize the thumb biting insult.

After we go through all the scenes I’ll pull out the different paintings/engravings for them to look at. Each picture will match up with a different scene; basically like we did in our activity here in Staunton – the big difference being that the scenes will already have been identified.

I had planned to print copies of each of the pictures, but I’ve been putting them into PowerPoint, and I think it will be easier to just show the slides one at a time from the laptop. So we’ll probably do this like the first portion – with their small white boards for writing answers on.

My class periods are an hour and a half, and I can see this activity and related discussions spreading into most of that first period. But I think it will be a great way to start the semester – reviewing plays that many of them will already be familiar with, and introducing many others.

And if that sounds fun, but too much work to put together, have no fear – I’ve done all the pre-work for you. You can see the set, Shakespeare Activity: Matching Scenes and Pictures,  here on CurrClick.

More Activities to Come

I had planned to share about some of the other fun activities that we did last week at camp, but I can see that I will need to spread this over more than one blog post.

Happy learning! And remember, as Hamlet said, “The play’s the thing.”

Cathy

*Prints here are from the Tempest,  Othello, and Romeo and Juliet. (Too many characters to identify in the color painting at the top, sorry. )

Beginning to Homeschool by Breaking Down the Tasks

I decided to do something different this week – I’m writing my posts for both blogs (here and on www.CatherineJaime.com) on the same topic. But if you happen to read both, no worries, the posts are similar but still different.

The topic came to me last week when I was preparing for a trip with my oldest daughter. We got through the massive preparation list we had by breaking down the large list into smaller lists that we could tackle each day.

A Talk for New Homeschoolers

In the midst of those last hectic days before our trip I also gave a small talk for new homeschoolers. That was when the idea of writing two versions of this topic came to me. The homeschool mom I was primarily counseling seemed very overwhelmed by what lay ahead of her as she looked into homeschooling for the first time in the upcoming school year.

Breaking Down the Tasks of Homeschooling

While beginning to homeschool can be a daunting task, it helps to break it down into smaller pieces. Because we live in Alabama I will approach this from the perspective of an Alabama homeschooler, but the overall tasks would be similar for homeschoolers in any state.

 Philosophy of Education?

If you are beginning to homeschool, my suggestion for where you should begin may differ a bit from what others tell you.  I base my advice on 35 of years of homeschooling and more than 30 years of assisting other homeschoolers (20 of those here in Alabama). My thought is that new homeschoolers should first consider what their philosophy of education is. As you continue to homeschool your philosophy may change. But at the beginning, consider what you think is important. Are you looking for a cookie cutter education, what I would call “school at home”? Or are you wanting to focus more on a diversity of education? Do you think textbooks are critical or are you willing to look for other educational materials?  I speak in more depth about different philosophies in my short booklet on CurrClick – Philosophy of Education, and in a chapter of my homeschool book, Organized Ramblings.

Your Homeschool Package/Homeschool Covers

Once you have an idea of your philosophy, you can start thinking about what your homeschool package should look like – will you be focusing on textbooks or non-textbook alternatives? Hand in hand with that, as a new homeschooler in Alabama you will have to decide whether to join a cover or choose one of the other options. If I was still homeschooling I would still be in a cover group. Of all the options, it is the one that makes the most sense to me. But each homeschooler has to make that decision. Choosing a cover should go hand in hand with the decision of what your homeschool package will contain.

Decisions are not Irreversible

One of the things to keep in mind throughout all these decisions is that they are not irreversible. Homechool packages can be changed. Even homeschool groups can be changed. We were fortunate to have chosen a cover when we moved to Alabama that we were quite happy with. But many homeschoolers I knew during those two decades were not as fortunate the first (or sometimes second) time around. But changing covers was always an option for them.

First Tasks for Homeschoolers

So, all of a sudden that overwhelming task of starting to homeschool can be broken down to these three major  tasks: Figuring out your philosophy of education; choosing your homeschool package; and choosing your homeschool cover.

Your Loose Plan

From there I strongly recommend that homeschoolers (new or otherwise) make a very loose plan for the school year. Plans are important – but remember these are not plans that should be written with pen; they should be written in pencil. Changes are inevitable. Don’t fight them; it is better to embrace them as part of the journey.

Daily Plans or Weekly Plans?

Another decision you will want to make in conjunction with that plan is whether you want to make daily plans or weekly plans. Daily plans are likely the most common, but I preferred to make my plans on a weekly basis. I liked the flexibility that weekly plans gave me. Nothing fancy is really needed for keeping said plans – a Word document or a notebook with note paper both work just fine. But for those who prefer a slightly more formal place to put their lesson plans, I put together several easy and inexpensive options that have been very popular with many of the homeschoolers in our area.

          

From there it’s just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other – taking on each day/week as it comes up. Make the changes you need to make, and enjoy the journey!

Next year will be easier, and I really believe you can accomplish this.

Happy educating.
Cathy

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