Thursday, July 19, 2007

That Reminds Me of __________ Because . . .

Sometimes, related ideas take time to reveal their connections to me. In early June, I heard about a Go! Chart and the Charlotte Mason Conference and started implementing it immediately. It just hit me this week how the section of the chart in which we talk about what a story reminds us of is interrelated with trying to teach episodic memory ala Relationship Development Intervention.

On Tuesday, we worked with our Go! Chart. Pamela excels at tying a story into real-life situations, but not with other media (other stories, books, movies, songs, poems, etc.). The story was about a bird that fell out of its nest when the branch broke. A boy rescued the bird from a cat, hungering for a tasty morsel.

Sometimes, Pamela makes up real-life situations. In this case, Pamela says it reminds her of St. Cloud: we never saw a bird that fell out of a tree. Her flat face tells me she is inventing this yarn. I pointed toward the window and reminded her of a tree across the street from our house here in Carolina. The branch had broken and fallen to the ground. We found a baby chick and helped it get back on its feet and onto the grass, so it could hide and call for its mother. Notice how her face brightens at that memory! Then, I reminded her of the time a bird got into our house in Pennsylvania, which she remembers--I can tell by her lop-sided smile.

I tried to help her connect to literary memories by hinting about Dr. Seuss. However, she surpassed my expectations by remembering a Tennyson poem called A Cradle Song about a little birdie in a nest! In hindsight sharpened by the video clip, I pushed her to fast in trying to recall the poem. I wonder if it would have come to her had I shown more patience. Then, she remembered the book Are You My Mother? and started to stim, "You must", out of excitement and totally off topic.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Keep It Simple Stupid!

The good news is that I resurrected my "dead" computer. The bad news is that I missed the obvious and reformatted for no reason!

When the computer was acting up, I fell back into my typical troubleshooting procedures: when things are really bad, make a copy of important files (which I had done the day before) and reformat. At first, everything looked normal and the computer survived long enough to download and install one service pack. Then, the memory began dumping and rebooting again. It appeared to me that I had not changed a thing by reformatting. Frustrated, I shut it down and called it a loss.

The next day, I booted up the computer and tried again. It worked great for about fifteen minutes and began the dump and reboot thing! Then it hit me! The computer might be overheating. Then, I realized DUH--the fan was not working! I spent the morning experimenting to see if my hypothesis might hold water. I placed the laptop on an air conditioning vent and continued doing all of the Windows updates for my computer, checked my email, and surfed the Internet. The computer stayed cool, and it worked beautifully for several hours!

We decided to pay a little visit to the Geek Squad and find out how much it would be to replace the fan. Feeling smug, I told them to skip the diagnostic because I knew I had three hardware issues: the broken fan, three inoperable USB ports (two dead and one half-dead), and a broken sound jack. The friendly geek checked out the USB ports and told me they were not cracked, and it might be dust. In fact, he said dust might be clogging the fan, too! He pulled out some canned air and blew through the USB ports and the fan. That was all it took to fix all three USB ports! The fan did not respond, so Steve and I decided to let the Geek Squad to ship off my baby to Geek Central in Atlanta. We will have to survive at least ten days sans a 24/7 computer.

I felt fairly stupid overlooking such an obvious fix for my USB ports! However, I redeemed myself because I already knew what a Chill Mat was, which I am considering buying to extend the life of our laptop, which turned three years old last May. The friendly geek saw my Targus notebook backpack and asked me how I liked it. Maybe, he was just being nice, but I felt a little bit better.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Giving Up the Ghost

Have you ever read a wordless picture book like Noah's Ark by Peter Spier? Well, try reading my practically wordless blogpost called "Giving Up the Ghost: Or, I Know What You Did Last Night."

P.S. I am at my parent's house right now and will be at one of those mega electronics stores this weekend! Yes, I reformatted my laptop. No, it did not work unless you count dumping everything and rebooting every two minutes as acceptable.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Improving Reading Comprehension (Update #1)

I am starting to see the fruit of doing the reading comprehension model I described last month. We have applied the ideas I described for about three weeks. I will briefly recap each step. I place every sticky note on the appropriate spot in the Go! Chart! as we work. Sometimes, we break up this process over lunch, but she can do it all in one sitting (it helps that I let her choose where she wants to work):

(1) Study the title and picture. Predict what might happen in the story. I record her ideas on a sticky note.
(2) Read the word list found after the table of contents. Predict what might happen in the story. I record her ideas on a sticky note.
(3) Tell me what words support her predictions. I record these words on a sticky note.
(4) Read the story aloud.
(5) Read a question and answer script I wrote to maintain already mastered syntax because the primer's syntax is too simple. First, I read the questions, and she reads the answers. Next, we swap roles. Then, I ask the questions and she answers them without peeking at anything.
(6) We break up the story into beginning, middle, and end. We figure out one big picture idea for the beginning, middle, and end. I write her ideas on three separate sticky notes.
(7) Orally narrate the story while I film. While she does other things, I write the story on sticky notes, putting literal understanding on one note and interpretation on another. Some day, I will have her help me do this.
(8) She does her copywork, written narration, and dictation plus worksheet activities that belonging practice, comparative sentences, looking at a picture and writing her own questions and answers, syntax-focused questions, and sequencing pictures.
(9) We go back to her predictions. I read them and she tells me if they are true or false.
(10) She makes connections between the story and her life or other stories. I record them on a sticky note. The syntax is "__________ reminds me of __________ because . . ."
(11) While she works, I type up the original narration in Excel, one sentence per cell. I print it and cut it up into strips. I add blanks in sentences to "improve" them: adjectives, objects, prepositional phrases, etc. She sorts the strips by beginning, middle, and end. Then, she fills in the blanks and fixes any syntax mistakes. Finally, we make changes based upon order, such as using "a/an/some" when something is first mentioned and then going to "the" for all other references to it. Another improvement is we replace the subject with pronouns to avoid too much repetition. Basically, I model for her how to read your own writing and improve it. She has not internalized all of this as you will see, but I do see better narrations.
(12) Usually, I film her doing one final narration. This time I had her write her narration and here it is:

I asked Pamela to read her written narration aloud to me and you can bet I spotlighted it through the big smiles on my face, a cheery congratulations, and a hug. Later, her dad read the story aloud to her, while she watched him carefully. When he looked up at her and smiled as he read, Pamela's smile got wider and prouder. She clearly knew what a wonderful accomplishment this was.

Let me give you some comparisons. Pamela's narration contained sixteen sentences, and made only three minor syntax errors. All of her facts, sequencing, and inferences are accurate. Pamela wrote the following narration last month, the day before I left for the Charlotte Mason conference. While Pamela made no syntax errors, the sequencing in her narration did not match the actual story and the animals had been drinking water, not eating.

Back in 2004/2005, the children wrote in journals. Pamela did many "backdated" entries for fun. We had not worked on any verbs except for has/wants/sees/is/are. You can see how unsure she is about verbs and has some odd syntax. Her paragraphs are very short. Another sample entry to narrate one day in her life was, "Mommy is dropped of the dogs in Monks Corner. Mommy can picked up Daddy."

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Road Less Traveled Part III

Our next destination was Vicksburg National Military Park. We stopped at the visitor center, where we viewed an orientation film that summarized the siege at Vicksburg in less than eighteen minutes. Abraham Lincoln recognized the importance of Vicksburg, "Vicksburg is the key! The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket . . . We can take all the northern ports of the Confederacy, and they can defy us from Vicksburg."

An exciting narration of the heroics of Commander David Dixon Porter tickled the hearts of two naval officers in the audience (Steve and I). While General Ulysses Grant marched his forces down to staging area Hard Times, Louisiana, Commander Porter stealthily floated seven gunboats and three supply-laden troop transports past Vicksburg on April 16, 1863, a clear, moonless night. The fact they lost one boat and only thirteen men sustained wounds was miraculous because nothing passed the eagle eyes of the Confederates guarding the Mississippi River from the high bluffs of Vicksburg. Porter and his crew hugged the enemy shore so closely they could hear rebel commanders barking out orders as they floated right under Confederate cannons. A few days later, six more gunboats repeated this feat. For his actions before and during the siege of Vicksburg, Porter received a promotion to Rear Admiral on July 4, 1863, the day Vicksburg surrendered to the Union. After the war ended, Admiral Porter served as Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy for four years. Officer's Row (where high-ranking officers at the Naval Academy live today) is on Porter Road, named after Admiral Porter.

The map to the left shows General Grant's campaign to obliterate reinforcements to Vicksburg and to storm this Confederate stronghold in one massive attack. He accomplished his first objective by wiping out defenses in Port Gibson, Raymond, Jackson, Champion Hill, and Big Black River Bridge in less than three weeks, a blistering rate when you consider the distance and other factors. Vicksburg, perched on above rolling hills and bluffs, proved more challenging than Grant anticipated: his first two assaults on May 19 and May 22 failed, so he opted for a siege that lasted 38 days. General John Pemberton surrendered on July 4, 1863, hence the timing of this post!

After the film, we skipped the books and headed to the indoor exhibit, artifacts and static displays of a Confederate trench, Confederate hospital, field officer's tent, siege meal (actually more robust fare than described in Rifles for Waitie), and cave life. The cave fascinated me the most because people found it quite comfortable. The coolness of a cave would sound inviting on a hot summer day with no air conditioning. One baby was born there, and his parents named him William Siege Green. I found the weaponry interesting for the swords were not as fine as the one I carried at the Academy and the bayonets looked more like pikes than the thin knives we attached to our rifles. David and I both thought of Chips' comment about bayonets, "It seems to me a very vulgar way of killing people."

We then headed to the outdoor exhibit, manned by people in period costume, hot woolly long sleeves and all! One young lady impressed me with her knowledge of the cannon, cannon balls, and shells. She showed us a shell cut in half, crammed with small lead balls, which inflicted much more damage on entrenched soldiers than a single ball, however heavy. She clearly enjoyed sharing what she knew about the display. Draping canvas over bamboo to make a tent struck me as odd until we spotted a patch of wild bamboo growing on the grounds of the park.

Seated in the car, we next drove the sixteen-mile loop around the park, which took us through the battlefield, trenches (now softened into rolling hills by the years and covered in grass unless you get an aerial view). We carried with us a map, full of explanations for each stop of the tour. We got out of the car several times and even walked through Thayer's approach, dug by the Union after the second assault failed.

Monuments covered this park—not just big monuments representing each state, but little monuments representing a specific military unit from a specific state or commemorating a military leader. Our favorite monument is on the left: the monument to the United States Navy, the tallest monument in the park, of course. ("Go Navy! Beat Army!") The most unique monument was Kansas, which was a drive-by for us, so we did not photograph it! I had no idea what the symbolism of the three circles meant until I found it online: the top and bottom circles represent unity before and after the war, while the broken circle in the middle represents the Union torn asunder by war.

We snapped more monument pictures at the beginning of the tour. After awhile, monument fatigue seeps into your brain and your eyes zone out. It reminds me of when we walked through a Salvador Dali exhibit and David wearily quipped, "Well, if you've seen one Dali, you've seen them all!" To the left is the Minnesota monument to peace, which just celebrated the 100th anniversary of its placement. Below are three shots of the Wisconsin memorial, which I found spectacular! Oddly, the granite used in this monument did not travel from the granite state (Minnesota), but rather South Carolina!

We did not have time to tour Vicksburg National Cemetery, but did photograph it. The cemetery holds the remains of 17,000 Union soldiers, 13,000 unknown. About 5,000 Confederate soldiers, originally buried behind Confederate lines, now rest in a separate cemetery called Soldier's Rest Cemetery. Confederate soldiers did not qualify for burial in national cemeteries.

Finally, we reached what Steve and I agreed was the surprise hit of the tour. Lurking beneath the tent is an ironclad gunboat, not a model, but the real deal! Before we explored it, we toured the museum and learned that the USS Cairo, a City Class gunboat, sank on a cold December morning in 1862. The Cairo, the lead boat of a small flotilla along the Yazoo River (north of Vicksburg), struck an electrically detonated torpedo, a first in history. Lieutenant Commander Selfridge must have had his crew well trained for no lives were lost even thought the ship sank in only twelve minutes.

A hundred years later, work began to retrieve the ironclad from her watery grave. The thick layer of silt covering the wreck preserved the Cairo and her artifacts, except for the wood. Workers restored every item pulled out of the Yazoo River. Everything you can imagine--cutlery, dishes, hooks, block and tackle, shoes, combs, watches, etc.--are now on display at the USS Cairo Museum. One brave soul sampled hot sauce found in a bottle from the gunboat and found it aged to perfection.

Then we walked onboard the boat. Former main propulsion assistant on a destroyer, Steve found the five steam drums fascinating. They were quite small compared to a modern ship, nor did they produce much pressure, only 120 psi. On modern ships, the steam pressure is so high it will cut a hole in you if you are unfortunate enough to be near a leak. We saw the capstan, the armor plating, the wheels, the keel, the thirteen guns, and rudder. Steve, who also spent four years as a shipbuilder in the Navy, found the whole construction fascinating.