Thursday, December 31, 2009

Coming Out of Hibernation

12 quarts a cooking

11 pairs a mailing

10 chapters areading

9 days ashaming

8 thousand alighting

7 Pam gifts awrapping

6 books ahearing

5 times to sing

4 strings a strumming

3 baked cakes

2 cute babies
and Pamela at the pretty, fake tree

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Original Research on the Teaching of Spanish

In her first book, Charlotte Mason discusses the teaching of a child's first foreign language through the ear first!
The child should never see French words in print until he has learned to say them with as much ease and readiness as if they were English. The desire to give printed combinations of letters the sounds they would bear in English words is the real cause of our national difficulty in pronouncing French. Again, the child's vocabulary should increase steadily, say, at the rate of half a dozen words a day. Think of fifteen hundred words in a year! The child who has that number of words, and knows how to apply them, can speak French. (Volume 1, page 302)

Pamela is a visual learner with a history of severe auditory processing issues and aphasia. I was very skeptical about teaching Spanish without the printed word, much less at a rate of a dozen words per day. Last month, I described how I overcame my doubt of ear only methods when Pamela learned new Spanish words without seeing them in print. I alluded to mulling through Phase II of our experiments with Spanish and, today, I will reveal our new plan.

At first, I feared we were reinventing the wheel. Rosetta Stone works like the series mentioned by Gouin. The software shows the printed sentences, which is what I am trying to avoid! Lara, a Texan homeschooler interested in Charlotte Mason's ideas, highly recommends Rosetta Stone, but she too is supplementing with the idea of Gouin's series. I would like to hold off on pricey software until we have gotten Spanish into Pamela's ear (and mine). The Easy Spanish claims to follow Mason and Gouin but relies on the printed word in the first year of learning Spanish.

In Gouin's method, you teach language in a series of sentences about a topic familiar to the child: usually, a process somebody does or a pattern from nature. He called these "the series" which could be everything from the growth of a plant to the grinding of corn in a mill, or making as sandwich as Lara suggests. Charlotte Mason wrote,
You think the thing out in the order of time and natural sequence; you get the right verbs, nouns, and such epithets as are necessary, follow suit, and in amazingly few sentences, very short sentences too, connected by 'and,' you have said all that is essential to the subject. The whole thing is a constant surprise, like the children's game which unearths the most extraordinary and out-of-the-way thing you can think of by means of a dozen or so questions. . . You really learn to think in the new language, because you have no more than vague impressions about these acts or facts in your mother tongue. You order your thoughts in the new language, and, having done so, the words which express these are an inalienable possession. Volume 1 page 303-304

Steve is a native speaker of Spanish, but he is also un hombre de negocios (a businessman). He works long hours and travels often enough to be inconsistent in teaching Pamela Spanish. I brainstormed a way to scaffold him and make the most efficient use of his time. Here is the process:

I wrote a series about Steve in English. I tried to think of words that Pamela would easily recognize: coffee (café), computer (computadora), five miles (cinco millas), pants (pantalones), and gray car (automóvil gris):
Steve is my father. He is a businessman. He gets up early. He drinks coffee. He works on the computer. He runs five miles. He takes a shower. He wears a shirt and pants. He drives to the office in a gray car.

Then, I translated it into butchered Spanish with the help of babelish and cleaned up what I knew to be wrong (too many pronouns which are not needed in the subject of Spanish sentences). I emailed a copy to Steve, which he edited very quickly and emailed back:
Steve es mi papá. Él es un hombre de negocios. Se levanta temprano. Toma el café. Trabaja en la computadora. Corre cinco millas. Se toma una ducha. Usa una camisa y pantalones. Maneja a la oficina en un automóvil gris.

Before Steve left for work one morning, I grabbed the video camera. I filmed us going back and forth through the series. I read a sentence in Spanish to him so he would have the exact script and he repeated it. We went through the entire series in less than five minutes.

I took some pictures and loaded them into Windows Movie Maker (which I use often to edit RDI videos). I pulled the audio from the film of Steve saying the sentences and married Steve's oral sentences (which I edited to repeat twice with a long pause) to the pictures. The following video was our virtual Steve to help us practice 10 minutes a day while he was at work or in Chile or China or upstairs taking a nap!

I put the pictures and written sentences in Excel to help me practice with Pamela and keep track of what we have studied. One side has the pictures only with no written words, while the other side has sentences only. After a few days, I would read a sentence aloud in Spanish and let her pick the picture that went with the sentence. At no time do I have her view or read the printed sentences!

When she was ready, Steve did the same and we have a video of their interaction.

I was pleased at how much Pamela imitated her father in the video. Since my goal is to help get Spanish in our ears, I am not focused on speaking Spanish, which is the next step because we are trying to follow the progression of typical language progression as described in this paper. Any Spanish Pamela speaks right now is gravy and we will postpone any focus on combining words until we have a year of hearing Spanish under our belts.

Friday, November 27, 2009

To Eat or Not to Eat Part II: The Fungus Amoungus

We are getting close to catching up in the autumn series of the outdoor hour challenges. While we were able to enjoy the fruit of our labor with the butternut squash study, we absolutely cannot do literally with our fungus amoungus study. Last Monday, Pamela and I walked and found all sorts of fungi that we either collected or photographed. I was careful to photograph the six specimens we collected in situ for our study later.

Before and After Shots of Mushrooms on a Dead Stump

Big Bouquet of Mushrooms and Their Mat of Mycelium

Mushrooms in Pamela's Opa's Yard

On Wednesday, we finally got around to studying our bounty. Earlier, I studied the pages on fungi in the Comstock nature study book: the cap shapes and diagram of the parts of a mushroom were especially helpful. We watched a mesmerizing, time-lapsed photography you-tube clip of fungi. Then, we measured the size of the caps or balls we found. Pamela decided to measure the diameter in centimeters and, next week, she will calculate the circumferences for pre-algebra. We recorded those numbers on a math sheet for next week. I believe the six specimens were three mushrooms, two puffballs, and the button stage of a mushroom (it was white when we first picked it and went all gray sitting in a Ziploc bag in the laundry room).

Pamela sketched the parts of her favorite mushroom. We kept it simple because I was not able to pull up the threads of mycelium even though I had a knife. We can get more detailed down the road. She wrote her observations on the mushroom sheet printed out earlier. Then, Pamela recorded more detailed information about each fungi on a sheet I made like one from another blog.

We also tried our hand at watercolors. To inspire us with much loftier paintings well beyond our abilities, we looked at a couple of Beatrix Potter's fungi, which are stored at the very Ambleside museum that houses the Charlotte Mason archives. (Aside: the folks in deluged Cumbria need your prayers right now as they recover from floods. The Armitt flooded a bit but I believe the archives, which are being digitized thanks to grant money, are safe. It is not clear how Beatrix Potter's paintings fared . . . ) Quoting the Armitt, Beatrix Potter was quite the naturalist in her day,
Beatrix discovered the beauty of fungi at Dalguise, learning much about them from the local postman, Charles Mclntosh. She became knowledgeable about obscure species and studied their propagation. Eventually she had over 250 drawings of fungi, over 40 of different mosses and many microscope studies of the process of germination. Her theory on this process was presented in the form of a paper 'On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae' to the leading scientists of the day at a meeting of the Linnean Society, but though proved to be right in later years, it was not then considered tenable.

We painted our mushrooms in watercolor and, after making spore prints, we inked up the gills and stamped them on our pages.

Notebook Pages (Pamela First, Mine Last)

You may be wondering why my watercolor page looks so messy. In early October, I was inspired to do a page like I have seen in the notebooks of naturalists: details around the edges and a nice, large picture in the middle with some lovely writing. I carefully painted the leaf and seeds of the weeping mulberry in our backyard. One warm, sunny day, I was heading out, my arms loaded with my nature book water colors, prepared and ready to go. I tripped and the watercolors splattered all over my beautiful page! Disheartened, I have neglected my nature notebook ever since. When I was thinking about fungi, and how they feed on decomposing leaves and trees, I realized this page with what appears to be decomposing watercolors would be a perfect spot for my mushrooms.

Finally, on Wednesday, we prepared spore prints and did not uncover them until today. We tried it on both black and white paper because some spores are white. I think the effects are much prettier on white, and I think we shall try it directly on our nature notebook pages next time. We sprayed it with an acryclic fixative so the mushroom gunk would stick.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

To Eat or Not to Eat Part I: Nature Study at Thanksgiving

Because of our hectic fall, we missed out on hitting the pumpkin patch last month and, to my chagrin, I could not find any pumpkins for a pumpkin nature study. I read through the pages on pumpkin in the the Comstock Nature Study book for inspiration. We did the next best thing and studied another member of the squash family: butternut squash. We did an indoor outdoor challenge by studying the ripened fruit. For a practical application of what she is learning in pre-algebra, Pamela measured the circumference of the squash at its neck and its widest diameter, which she found to be 23.2 centimeters and 40.7 centimeters, and will calculate their diameters when we do math next week. I created my own nature journal sheet, not as fancy as what Barb usually does, but it worked for us. Pamela studied the fruit using her senses, and her observation that interested me most was that the squash smelled like carrots. With Thanksgiving looming, we decided to put the squash "fruit" to good use by roasting the seeds and making pudding.

We adapted a recipe for toasted pumpkin seeds to squash seeds. Scooping out the pulp with an ice cream scooper disgusted Pamela, so I pulled out the large seeds with my fingers. Since she disliked the sliminess, I gave Pamela a spatula, which she found awkward, so she finally dumped them onto the sheet. I loved her problem solving skills!

How did they taste? We had a hung jury. Had I not over-roasted them, I think they would have been quite tasty! We sampled the least crispy ones of the batch--Pamela found it nasty, but I think roasted squash seeds have potential, baring my tendency to lose track of the timer. Note: David has rightfully asked me not to burn the pizza on occasion . . .
The second thing we made with squash was pudding! I adapted a buttnernut squash pudding recipe by substituting coconut milk for the evaporated milk (the same trick I use for pumpkin pie) and brown sugar for white because I felt like it. Pamela helped me by squashing the squash and spooning it into the blender. I didn't mind doing the rest since we had accomplished so much with one squash. Does she still think butternut squash reminds her of carrots? Nope, she wrote on her sheet that it reminded her of P. P. . . . mmmmm . . . pumpkin pie . . .

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Acorns and Oaks Study

"Through cloud rifts the sunlight is streaming in floods to far depths of the wood. Retouching the velvet-leafed dogwood to crimson as vital as blood." Handbook of Nature Study

We took our first nature walk in ages last Friday and marveled at the beauty of the dogwoods, which Pamela likes to call redwoods. Nature study is something easy to skip, but, whenever we get back into the habit, we realized what was missing in our lives.

We had no problem finding acorns for this belated autumn series challenge. Our block is full of oaks. In fact, two tall willow oaks stand on the border of our property, on the neighbor's side. In the spring, yellow catkins color our driveway, while, in the fall, yellow leaves and acorns, which attract squirrels, blue jays, carolina wrens, and tufted titmice to our yard, leave clutter everywhere. Cars crossing the driveway leave a trail of smashed acorns the color of Cheeze-itz. We leisurely walked around several blocks near our home picking up acorns and leaves to journal at home.

Typical nature walks abound with opportunities for sharing joint attention and this walk was no exception. While Pamela was taking notes about an oak tree for her science folder, I noticed a visitor on the trunk. I said, "Pamela! I see a friend!"

"Where?" she asked.

I kept looking at the trunk and answered, "Right there on the bark. Don't you see our little friend."

Suddenly, she smiled and exclaimed, "A beetle!"

Animals are such swift creatures that Pamela finds it difficult to shift attention fast enough. I tried pointing out a hilarious action scene between a squirrel and mockingbird, but she missed it. So, I narrated what had happened for her. The hapless squirrel was madly scampering up the roof of a house with a mockingbird in hot pursuit. Just as the squirrel reached the apex, the mean jet jockey beaned it on the back of its head. The squirrel bounded over the roof like a muscle mobile bounding over a hill in a seventies car chase scene. If you do not believe it is possible, then you need to spend more time outdoors. Here is a video to prove my point!

We even discovered a bouquet mushrooms, neatly placed on a delicately woven mat of mycelium, which we will study next week for our fungus study.

Today, Pamela finished up her study, drawing an acorn on the notebook page, making leaf ink prints as suggested on page 642 of the Comstock book, and recording her ideas in her nature journal. While you may find it hard to see, Pamela drew the acorn in pencil and carefully made criss-cross lines for the texture of the saucer before she colored it with marker. She experimented with coloring her ink prints with marker.

The Comstock book suggested planting some acorns to see if they will sprout. Given my black thumb in cooking and gardening, there is very little chance of that!

Pamela recorded her thoughts in her nature journal and made these stunning ink prints. She decided what to write to reflect our walk.