Creative Learning Connection

Educational Resources from a Veteran Homeschool Mom

More about Mock Trial

We won a top Lawyer and a top Witness award in TN

At the risk of writing a post that is only of potential interest to a small number of people, I wanted to discuss one of my favorite homeschool topics again – Mock Trial. I’m going to talk specifically about our upcoming experience here in Alabama’s Mock Trial competition, but Mock Trial is a program available for high school students across most of the United States. (We’ve actually competed in Texas and Tennessee, in addition to our more than twenty years here in Alabama.)

Six weeks ago I wrote a post about the enjoyment and value of Mock Trial, Making Meaningful Memories with Mock Trial. I spoke then about what Mock Trial has meant to my own family and to the dozens (maybe hundreds?) of students we’ve shared it with over the past two decades plus.

But, at this moment, as we work to put our teams together for what I expect to be my final stint at coaching Mock Trial I thought I would answer some of the questions about it that come up so often. (I have grown sons in the area who may take up the coaching responsibilities for our club in the nearish future, but after this year, it is time for me to retire.)

First, What is Mock Trial?

In Alabama it is actually called Youth Judicial, but we’ve always called it Mock Trial and that’s what it’s generally called elsewhere, so we’ll stick to that. Mock Trial is a state competition for high school students (generally from public and private schools, with a few homeschool teams sometimes sprinkled in for good measure). In most states Mock Trial is sponsored by the state bar association, but in Alabama it’s sponsored by the YMCA. In states with bigger programs, there are competitions where teams must qualify to go to the state event, but in Alabama we just have the one, large state-wide competition that happens each November in Montgomery.

What Happens at the Competition?

The coach in the middle (Me) flanked by two of my assistants.

We (my teams and related adults) drive together to Montgomery on Friday afternoon, so that we can get checked into our hotel rooms and prepare for the weekend’s events. More than 50 teams of six or more students compete that weekend, basically all day on Saturday and Sunday – generally in one of the courtrooms in the Federal Court House there in Montgomery. Teams usually have two or three trials on each of those days and then watch, as “jury members,” another two or three trials/day.

What Happens in a Trial?

Each trial is conducted like a smaller, more controlled, version of a real life trial. The courtroom is set up like in real life – complete with a judge and a bailiff (in Alabama those are also students), a jury, a Prosecution team and a Defense team.

After the judges give their introductory remarks, lawyers from each side give an Opening Statement of three minutes or less (Prosecution and then Defense). After Opening Statements have been given the Prosecution team calls each of its three witnesses, one at a time of course, directing each witness and then allowing the witness to be crossed.  Re-directs and re-crosses are allowed (and encouraged, at least by this coach!).

Then it’s time for Defense to tell their side of the story – calling up their three witnesses to each be directed and crossed.  During these directs and crosses lawyers are allowed to make objections if they so desire. (Hearsay and Relevance being two that we hear often down there.) Judges rule on each of the objections as they are made. (Often rather poorly in this coach’s perspective, but alas, they aren’t asking for my opinion on the matter!)

Once all six witnesses (three from each side) have had their turns on the witness stand, we hear Closing Arguments (each lasting 5 minutes or less) – first from Prosecution, then Defense, and then hopefully one last time from Prosecution. (Defense doesn’t get a chance at a rebuttal, just Prosecution.)

That’s the nuts and bolts of how the trials run.  After trials I like to go over my notes with my students, generally encouraging them, sometimes reminding them to “Speak up!” and occasionally pointing out small things they can work on for the next time.  We will have practiced many times before this, and this isn’t the time to make major changes to our process. They have it by then or they don’t. But sometimes there is a question about an unexpected objection, or a procedural difference that surprised us. I’m not a lawyer, so occasionally these questions stump me too, but generally my twenty plus years of Mock Trial experience will give me the information they are seeking.

What is the Commitment before the Competition?

We’ve met countless teams in Montgomery that have held tryouts for their teams and are going down with every intention of trying for the first place award. Many of them are serious to the point of obnoxiousness. We’ve never had anything against winning. (I lose track, but I think we’ve taken home nine first place awards in the twenty years we’ve done this, as well as numerous second and third places.) But I don’t go down there expecting or desiring that. I would rather take students who want to learn something, while having a reasonably good time at it. I’ve never gotten angry with a student who forgot the facts in their statement or who missed an objection. As long as my students are doing their best, and not cheating (something we see too much of in Montgomery), I am happy with them.

Since we have two teams we practice together once a week (on Wednesday mornings), and then each team practices at least one other time each week. (This year my Prosecution team also meets on Monday afternoons, and my Defense team has practices on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.) Most of my students make it to each of their team’s allotted practice times, but I do have one student who calls in from his home in Tennessee each time instead of making the lengthy drive, and we have another student who will miss most of the practices because of her school schedule.  As long as students are willing to do the work at home and are putting in the necessary time, we can work with almost any homeschooled student who wants to participate. (To simplify things for me, the coach and the advisor, teams have always been made exclusively of students from homeschooled families. That doesn’t prevent all problems, sadly, but it at least cuts down on them.)

What Does It Require to Be a Witness?

Witnesses have to spend much time on their own reading and getting very comfortable with their own witness statements. They are responsible for knowing all the little and not so little facts that their statement presents. (And a few of the witnesses, in this case our doctors, have to be familiar with one or more of the relevant exhibits.) As much as is possible, we actually have witnesses write out their own Direct questions and answers. That makes it easier on them, since witnesses must memorize their answers to the Direct questions (or at least the related facts, so they can easily answer those questions) and know their statements well enough to answer most any Cross questions that might get thrown at them. (Witnesses have no notes to help them when they take their seat in the Witness Stand.)

What is Required to be a Lawyer?

Lawyers on the other hand, can use notes if they want to. (It may drop their score by a point, but that’s not a point worth stressing about.) Before the competition, each lawyer has to write a series of questions for whichever witness they are going to be crossing. They also need to have at least a passing knowledge of the most common objections, particularly the ones they are most likely to hear on their questions or that they will most likely want to make. (Something we try to work on each practice to make it easier. But again, not something I stress about.) Additionally, one lawyer from each team has to write the Opening Statement and another lawyer has to write the Closing Argument. Again, lawyers have the privilege of being able to memorize their questions and speeches, or to use notes, whichever they prefer.

How Much Does All This Cost?

Sadly, this is the difficult part of the equation. Competing in Alabama’s Mock Trial Competition is not cheap! The YMCA charges each student $275 – and that only covers some of our costs (two of our nights in the hotel, a couple of our meals, and a t-shirt they may or may not want). On top of that, our additional expenses have risen to $125 per student – by the time we pay for our additional hotel costs, the extra meals, and our transportation to and from Montgomery. (And this is with the coaches and any other parents that want to attend paying their own expenses.)

Is Mock Trial Worth all this Time and Money?

Obviously, each family has to decide that for themselves, but more than twenty years ago I made the decision that yes, this was something we would invest the time and money into. (Fortunately it didn’t cost quite this much back then. Costs seem to rise annually.) And believe me, we have – I’ve taken as many as three of my own children to this at one time – having to pay for each of them and myself as the coach. And I’ve paid for the privilege of taking other people’s children for the last several years, since my last child graduated from the program.  So, yes, I know the costs and have been willing to pay them.

From this program I have seen countless students polish their public speaking skills as well as their logic and thinking skills. Every student who has participated with us has learned something in the process and the vast majority have thoroughly enjoyed it. Full disclosure – I had one daughter who did it one time to help out in an usual situation. She did not love it, but that has seldom been the case. And I’m sure she learned much in the process, even if she won’t admit it!

If you are looking for a lively way to introduce your students to our judicial system while at the same time helping them to hone their speaking and thinking skills, I can’t think of a better way than Mock Trial.

Happy learning!

Cathy

The Educational Value of Travel

Traveling as a Child/Parent

Map Reading along the Lewis & Clark Trail

As a child, my family traveled more than most anyone I know, and I am very thankful to my parents for that. (Who knew that traveling across all of Central America and Mexico  to get from Panama to Massachusetts was so uncommon?) As a parent myself, I have worked hard to share that joy with my children, looking for every excuse to work in a road trip. (A family reunion in Montana? Let’s drive from Alabama – oh look we can drive to St. Louis and follow the Lewis and Clark Trail till we get there. Oh wait, you want to see the Pacific Ocean while “we’re so close”? Why not?)

Needless to say, as a homeschooler, I saw/see the educational value of travel, and have always been saddened to hear about others who are not so inclined. Most of my children learned their map reading skills as we crisscrossed the United States. They learned about animals up close and personal not only from the zoos and aquariums near where we lived, but also from countless ones we worked into our travels.

What an Amazing World!

A View of the Grand Canyon

It’s an amazing world out there and I’m glad I have been able to share much of it with my children/students. I’ve taken quite a few students to D.C. who had never traveled beyond the borders of our state. I’ve stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon and marveled with my children over how amazing it is.  And I’ve stood on the balcony of a cruise ship and taken in the vastness of the heavens and enjoyed the stars without number that we could see.

Inexpensive Travel

The beauty of traveling is that it doesn’t have to be expensive. My family has taken LOTS of people on a seemingly never ending supply of road trips – even when our budget felt stretched to the limit. When money is tight we tend to take more food with us for “picnic meals,” rather than eating out as often. We also look for cheaper overnight accommodations: everything from sleeping in our vehicle (we drove a customized 15 passenger van for 10 years), camping, or staying with family and friends (even when we maxed out with 13 of us we occasionally found people willing to put us up; and now, as we generally travel with a smaller number, those people are even easier to find).

Enjoy the Journey

We try to make the journey as important as the destination as often as we can. (Sadly, when time is a factor that isn’t always an option.) But when we have the flexibility to do so, we take our time getting from point A to point B, taking time to enjoy any number of special places we might have missed, or adding visits with family and friends who happen to be “along the way.” On our most recent trip we could have driven straight from home to Houston, Texas. But we took a couple of detours to visit family in Austin and McAllen – neither were particularly en route, but we had the time, and it was good to see family while we were “so close.”

Benefits of Travel

Another Lovely View of the Grand Canyon

One of the reasons I see the strong educational value of travel is the exposure to other cultures coupled with the geography, history, and nature found on trips. It is difficult to accomplish the same thing within the pages of a book. Even the best photos just don’t do justice to the Grand Canyon. And the experience of standing where Lewis and Clark stood, seeing the battlefield where men fought and died for freedom, or being in a courtroom where life changing legal decisions were made, cannot be equaled!

Memberships and Passes

Throughout our travels we always look for memberships and passes to purchase. Those have ranged from our National Park pass to memberships at many other types of places: art museums, aquariums, history museums and science museums, and zoos. All of those could then be used in additional places across the country. With a big family, it seldom took more than two visits for us to come out ahead with those, but even the smaller families I know have figured out the value of such investments! And it’s amazing what a “quick” stop at a zoo or a children’s museum can do to break up a long day of traveling!

Scavenger Hunts and More

Many places have great resources on their websites that can add to the educational value of a stop (scavenger hunts are an especially fun addition to a visit when those can be found). And the Junior Ranger programs available at most national parks we visited are among our favorite on-site resources.

Time for More Travel?

Regardless of your family size, your children’s ages, or your budget, I am confident that you can find a way to include more travel in your family’s weekly, monthly, or annual plans (even amazing day trips count!).

And when you go, be sure to incorporate photos, journals, and mapping skills into the trip; you will be able to work those into some of your post-trip fun and follow-up!

Happy traveling!

Cathy

We would love to hear some of the ways you’ve made traveling more fun, affordable, and/or educational for your family.

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

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