Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Latest over at Crafting a Green World: Kids Can Upcycle

an article about NBA Green, which encourages kids to upcycle

and a round-up of upcycling projects for kids

In other news, we're again deep in the middle of fashion show season. The masking tape runway is on the living room floor, the giant chalk runway is on the basketball court, Syd and I are spending hours at rehearsals, and make-up, modeling, and dress-up play occupy much of that kid's free time. Seriously, I wouldn't be surprised if the mom of Syd's bestest little buddy doesn't allow her to come over here anymore if I send her home one more time wearing eyeliner. 

It's a lot of creative expression, though, and the processing of a big event--Syd's inspired, clearly, and gets a lot of enjoyment and fulfillment from the process (even if so much of the rehearsals involve so much tedious waiting around!). And my little fashion designer keeps leaving surprises like this one around for me to discover:

It's a very elegantly refashioned pony outfit, don't you agree?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Stop Motion Animation for Kids: Little Horse that is Walking

Cartooning is one of the elements of the Girl Scout Entertainment Technology badge for Juniors. This is why Will built her thaumotrope, and why she spent one happy morning creating this tiny little masterpiece of stop motion animation:


Both kids have played with stop motion animation their entire lives at one hands-on science museum or the other (off the top of my head, I could give you a list of the exhibits that seemingly EVERY hands-on science museum owns: stop motion animation station, fog tornado, giant bubble making, coin funnel, building block earthquake demonstration, etc.), but the ipad app, MyCreate, that Will used for this project is much more versatile and ripe with creative possibilities. Will did this particular project independently, while Syd and I were playing elsewhere, so I definitely need to set aside a few moments to teach Syd how to use the app, as well. As much as she plays with dolls and toy animals and building blocks, I think she'd LOVE this!

Other activities and resources that we've enjoyed while exploring the science and art of animation:
  • We watched all three Toy Story films films. The first one was part of activities for the Birthday Week fun patch, as the first full-length computer-animated film. As we watched that one, we made a point to notice and evaluate all the details of the animation. We watched Toy Story 2 directly after, and were immediately able to notice the improvements made in those details, and in other effects the animators were now able to achieve. Toy Story 3 didn't offer much visible improvement over Toy Story 2, but again, its improvement in animation quality over Toy Story was drastic.
  • We own a little zoetrope. Drawing the images for it is a little tricky, but if you do it just right, you can pop it into the zoetrope and watch your animation! 
  • The kids and I watched Nightmare before Christmas as an example of real stop motion animation done to perfection. 
  • We utilized the following books:


I'm actually not that pleased with the resources that I found; I would have liked something on the history of animation, and some more modern works about animation for children, perhaps with more hands-on project tutorials, biographies of cartoonists other than Disney, and something fictional.

Ah, well... at least library research is one of my favorite hobbies, so I'll just have to keep at it!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Work Plans for the Week of April 14, 2014:

MONDAY: Will's got her multiplication tables memorized well enough that I'm letting her move on with her math this week--I think she'll appreciate having the facts down, since she's immediately moving into multiplying large numbers. Syd's been tagging along with the multiplication memorization, even though her own math curriculum was more focused on weights and measures at the time, but now that I'm ready to plan a hands-on math activity that's NOT multiplication for her, she's finished that unit and has moved into multiplication! So today's hands-on math is once again multiplication in disguise; the kids have both done areas and arrays on graph paper before, but didn't love it, so for today I'm going to see if I can make it into a game and make it more fun.

Inexplicable car trouble (which comes, of COURSE, on the heels of inexplicable plumbing trouble and trying-to-buy-a-new-house trouble) means that we're missing our volunteer shift today, and normally I'd be stoked about the unexpected free time, but it's stormy outside, so that's a lot less fun. The storms also hint that we won't be waking up at 2:30 am tomorrow to watch our total lunar eclipse (or rather, we will be waking up, but then we'll be going back to bed, sorely disappointed, five minutes later), but we're still going to do our phases of the moon project and I'm still going to send the kids to bed early tonight. Little more free time for me, at least!

Keyboard with Mr. Hoffman and Latin with Song School Latin should finish off our work day nicely.

TUESDAY: Tuesday was a gorgeous day last week--you can always tell the gorgeous days of the previous week, because a couple of their school assignments always reappear this week! So although we did do a lot of basketball and pogo stick and climbing and flower picking and bird spotting last Tuesday, we've still got that Phylo deck and the penny experiment to do this Tuesday; at least it's not supposed to be gorgeous outside tomorrow, so perhaps they will indeed get done.

The kids are doing a project on Iceland for their homeschool's International Fair next month, and there's still a ton to do: report, map, perhaps a recipe or two, perhaps some glacier and geology science, perhaps an essay about the Icelandic horse, etc. My own personal chore for this project is to see if I can make a dry-erase tri-fold display board. Wouldn't that be handy, to use for every single fair the kids do every year? I certainly think so!

Math Mammoth and First Language Lessons (and our regular evening swimming date with friends, of course) should finish off that full Tuesday!

WEDNESDAY: Math Mammoth, horseback riding, aerial silks.

THURSDAY: The kids are trying out 4-H again this year, to see if they like it better now that they're a couple of years older. I like the idea of 4-H, but it all seems to revolve around the county fair, and since we'll be out of town for most of the county fair, I'm not sure that the program will end up appealing to or seeming relevant to the kids... we'll see, I guess.

Draw Write Now, Math Mammoth, Park Day, and the 4-H Horse Club meeting will give us a full Thursday.

FRIDAY: I should have switched art with one of these subjects, because as I look at Friday's schedule, I'm just now realizing that there's too much work to do. At least the kids enjoy all those subjects!

I've been sussing out some of the resources that the public schools use to teach Indiana history, so we'll be watching one of their documentaries on Native Americans for our Indiana unit. Behind the scenes, I'm working on figuring out a weekend trip to Serpent Mound, about four hours away from here (but only about two from Cincinnati!), for sometime in the near-ish future, but we will be visiting Cahokia next month, on our way back from watching my baby cousin's graduation, so I'm already excited about that.

Math class (fractions and pi were last week's topics), more work for the International Fair and Girl Scout badges, and The Story of the World (Hello, Assyria!), will finish off Friday's work.

SATURDAY/SUNDAY: Syd's not thrilled about having to miss the kids' monthly all-day nature class for Trashion/Refashion Show rehearsal (Matt and I are also not thrilled, since we like our once-a-month Saturdays without kids quite a lot), but she knew going in that it would be part of the deal. Will, however, will be happily grubbing around the woods all day Saturday. The weekend also holds a Roller Derby game, perhaps a trip to the indoor rock climbing facility, perhaps a hike, certainly basketball and garden work, and definitely a Family Movie Night.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Small Engineering

This may explain why Will is always injuring herself.

This is what I walked into the living room to find the other day:

Apparently she had slowly, with much effort, jacked our beaten-up yet very heavy couch up, book by book, until she could stick her head underneath it to look for a lost marble.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Tutorial: Make a Thaumotrope

Persistence of vision is the fun human physical flaw that makes animation work. The brain retains each image that it sees for just a fraction of a second longer than it sees it, so if you add on a new image as it's doing that, and another then a new image while the brain is retaining that last one, you have the illusion of motion: animation!

Will's been studying animation as part of her Entertainment Technology badge (it encompasses a huge conglomeration of subjects--basically every form of entertainment that uses technology), so when it was time for her to buckle down and make a gift for a buddy's birthday party, she chose to make him a thaumotrope.

A thaumotrope utilizes persistence of vision by having two separate images, one on each side of a piece of cardstock:
Will used this printable bird and cage thaumotrope.
Spin the cardstock quickly and persistence of vision makes the two images combine:

You can mimic the effect with your camera if you decrease the shutter speed, as you see above.

It's a neat little trick, isn't it? This project is actually on my list for an upcoming human biology unit study (after the dino dig, if I can ever tempt the kids away from experimental chemistry), since it exemplifies so much about the human eye and the brain. Using it to explore the history and science of animation hadn't even been on my radar until Will started studying those subjects.

Have I mentioned more or less than a thousand times previously how much I love the Girl Scouts?

As part of her gift, Will wrote out instructions for using the thaumotrope (sneaking in that writing practice!)--

--and then packaged it up in a pink Indianapolis Museum of Art gift shop bag--we're not real big on wrapping presents around here.

Other hands-on projects for this Entertainment Technology badge include stop-motion animation, two kinds of catapults, putting on stage makeup, programming something on Scratch, interviewing her Uncle, who works for Sony, building a theme park in RollerCoaster Tycoon, and making a ringtone for my phone. Will likes this badge a LOT!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Geocaching on the B-Line Trail

Geocaching is one of the skills that Will has taught herself since she began to free school. Using the Geocacher Girl Scout badge as inspiration, she figured out the concept, then how to use Geocaching.com to find geocaches, then how (with my ample help and lots of frustrated noises, because that thing is NOT intuitive!) to use our GPS receiver (it's an older model of Garmin eTrex) to program and track those geocaches.

I pointed her towards resources, I read the dang GPS receiver manual from cover to cover and then hit the user boards to troubleshoot when Will couldn't get the receiver to do what she wanted it to do (FINALLY I figured out that Geocaching.com's default GPS coordinates are listed in degrees, minutes and decimals, while our GPS receiver uses degrees, minutes, and seconds, although neither actually say that this is what they use nor mention that other conversions exist--ARGH!), and I planned outings to enable us to get to the geocaches that are further away from us than the park across the street, but mostly I just got out of her way and let her explore, work hard, and learn.

On a nice day last week, Will programmed the GPS receiver, we packed lunches and schoolwork and art supplies and reading material, and we biked over to our inter-city walking and biking trail, where several geocaches are hidden.

This trail, the B-Line, is a major foot, bike, and skate thoroughfare, and it's also got places to play--

--art to look at--

--and comfy green spots for two kids to do their math and grammar:

But most importantly, it has geocaches! Will took charge of the GPS receiver, and using it was an excellent hands-on lesson in estimating and measuring distances. It points the way to the next geocache, and states the distance either in miles to the hundredth place or in feet, and over the course of the couple of geocaches that we found, Will got much better at figuring out if we should get on our bikes or walk them, how far we should go before checking the GPS again, and when we were close enough for the kids to put down their bikes and start searching in earnest. 

It was my mistake not to look over the geocache listings as Will entered them into her receiver, since the receiver's accuracy ranges, but is often something like 20 or so feet; to really be able to find the actual geocache within that perimeter, you must figure out the clue, which none of us had read. It's a good thing, then, that Matt didn't have a photo shoot or meeting with a printer or a presentation that afternoon, since I called him at work, talked him through getting onto the geocaching site and finding the listings for our geocaches, and then made him read me the clue for each one. 

Thank goodness for those clues, too! Using the clue for one particular geocache, I led the girls to a big map on the trail, but then I, too, was stymied. It was Will who figured out that the map board had a hidden recess underneath, felt inside it, and found the geocache:

Here's me lying on my back in the dirt to show you what the geocache looks like. So cool, right?
 Fortunately, our second cache was easier to find--it was on the back of this sign:

One of the many nice things about our town is that it's so accessible to those without cars; after our geocaching adventures, we biked over to the hands-on science museum, and when that closed we biked to the library. I *did* have Matt pick us and our bikes up from the library on his way home from work, however, because biking home from the library with the kids is a special kind of hell in which I'm pretty sure they're going to die every second (does biking in traffic with kids make everyone break into a panic sweat? Gawd, it's terrifying!), but overall it was a fabulous day of bikes and picnics and sun and treasure hunting.

Perfect day, basically.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

My Latest: Gardening and the Apocalypse

It's Garden Week over at Crafting a Green World, and my latest two posts celebrate that with a tutorial for propagating the wandering Jew--




I also have a new writing job that's started this week! I now write weekly for Insteading on subjects that cover homesteading, survival skills, and post-Apocalyptic scenarios. I get to review my favorite post-Apocalypse and dystopian books and films--you might not know this, but post-Apocalyptic and dystopian fiction are BIG loves of mine--and I even get to write about my most favorite post-Apocalypse micro theme: ZOMBIES!!!

This week, I talk about the theme of cannibalism in fiction, and why this would be a very bad idea in reality, and I review the Susan Beth Pfeffer Moon Crash series:

Its dystopian society is feudalistic, which, as a former Medieval scholar in grad school, I am all about.

I like to think of myself as a writer along the lines of Virginia Woolf these days. In A Room of One's Own, she claims not only that every woman should have a room of one's own, but also that writers should write all kinds of things, not just fiction OR biographies OR blog posts, but all that and political essays and memoirs and poetry and non-fiction of all sorts. I don't completely have a room of my own (well, I sort of do, but it doesn't have any doors), so I mostly find myself writing in my chair at the living room table, a nosy neighborly view out the windows on two sides, in ear shot of all children wherever they might be shouting at each other, but I do write all kinds of things, especially if you agree that you can define "all kinds of things" as lesson plans, tutorials, essays on post-Apocalyptic themes, blog posts, and fanfiction.

Fanfiction is an especially noble genre, I'm sure you'll agree.

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