This week, we had the incredible opportunity to study coastal ecosystems first hand at Camp Sewee, in Awendaw, SC. We spent three days exploring four different coastal areas. On our first day, we took a 40-minute boat ride to one of the barrier islands. There we saw all kinds of wildlife, including Stone Crabs, Hermit Crabs, Spider Crabs, and Square-Backed Crabs. We also saw lots of Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns.
On the second day, we went down to the docks to investigate marine life. We caught five Blue Crabs (all male and very feisty). Everyone loved holding these swimming crabs by their swimmerets. The students also learned to cast shrimping nets and crab nets. Later, we looked at Oysters, Sea Squirts, Sea Grapes, Bryozoans, and Barnacles that were growing on a block suspended in the water, and then we collected our own specimens of these "fouling" creatures to look at more closely under a microscope.
Next, we walked over to see the Salt Marsh. This was a very mucky area that smelled of sulphur. It was teeming with Fiddler Crabs, which burrow in the ground and eat the detritus (decaying matter). They scoop out the mud in little balls, and then when the tide comes back in, they use the mud balls to cork themselves in their holes. We also saw lots of Periwinkle Snails and conducted an experiment to see whether they prefer the upper, middle, or lower salt marshes by counting how many we saw in one square meter in each area.
We visited another area of salt marsh to study the grasses (and the edible Pickle Weed). The children chased and caught lots of Fiddler Crabs and played in the mud as they watched the tide coming back in. Several even tried raw oysters straight from the rake!
Back at camp, our counselors kept us busy playing games, singing campfire songs, and doing team-building exercises. A good time was had by all, as evidenced by the request to come back next year before we could even get out of the parking lot!
Camp Sewee is run by Clemson University's Youth Learning Institute and will run camps all summer.
Last week, students in Forms 1 and 2 worked with Mrs. Andy Smith to explore the concepts of perimeter, area, and volume. They measured lots of things! How many linoleum tiles did it take to cover the floor in our room? Do we have enough border to make frames around each of the prints in our James Whistler gallery in the hall? If we wanted to paint the room, how much paint would we need? If one quart of paint covers 100 square feet, would it be better to buy quarts or gallons? (We had to check the prices at Lowe's for that!) Of course, while we are working on reasoning and concepts, we can't let our facts get rusty. Games make multiplication practice fun!
Our high schoolers continue to develop strong math reasoning through the use of the Interactive Mathematics Program (http://mathimp.org/). This program integrates arithmetic, algebra, geometry, pre-calculus, and statistics using problems that look a lot like brain teasers. The logic is that it does no good to memorize an algorithm and practice it forty or fifty times (as in traditional math programs) if the student cannot reason when to use it in real life. Here is a sample problem (from p. 276 of Book 1):
Three travelers met one night along the Overland Trail. The decided to have dinner together. Sam had seven cans of beans to contribute and Kara contributed five cans of beans. Jock didn't have any beans, but the three cooked up what they had. Each ate the same amount. After dinner, Jock offered the 84 cents in his pocket and said that the other two could divide it up in an appropriate way. The all agreed that in this way everyone would have contributed a fair share to the dinner. Jock thought that Kara's share of the money should be 35 cents, but Sam and Kara convinced him that this was wrong.
1. Explain why Jock might have thought that Kara's share was 35 cents.
2. Then explain what Kara's correct share should be.
We had several visitors at school this week. Paola, our Spanish immersion teacher, brought three of her friends to teach us a game from South America that we could use to practice our Spanish. On Friday, Ginger Hicks (Sarah's aunt) came to share with us about her travels. Ms. Hicks is the COO for an environmental agency that aids corporations in preventing and cleaning up disasters like the BP oil spill. Since our Form 3 and 4 students have been studying the Himalayan region in geography, Ms. Hicks brought pictures from her trip to the base camp at Mt. Everest. She shared her experiences in Tibet and talked about the culture there.
After Ms. Hick's talk, we all grabbed our fishing gear and walked over to the lake at Gardner Webb to meet our new friends from the Fishing Club. Some of these students are competitive anglers, and others fish for recreation. They took time to show students who were new to fishing how to bait and cast. It was wonderful to spend the afternoon outside!
It was another active week at Willow Tree! We began with a special challenge:
Nature Study Challenge: Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find as many different specimens as you can on the lawn of the school. No flower beds, no meadow, no woods. Just the mowed part of the lawn. You know, the part where you play ball, where it's just grass, where there isn't anything interesting?
Believe it or not, we found 37 different types of plants growing just on the lawn! There were 6 types with yellow flowers, 6 with white, and 6 with purple/blue, and lots that were not flowering. Some groups snagged azaleas and magnolia leaves, but these were easily spotted and discarded. The plants were sorted and pressed, and now our task is to identify as many as we can to make a school wildflower field guide.
We also have our own "Space Race" (of sorts) going on. Students are working in groups to design and create balloon rockets based on what they have learned about force. On Thursday, they built prototypes and tested them. Now, it's back to work to improve those designs so that the rockets will go faster, longer.
On Friday, we went to Muscadine Ridge Alpaca Farm in Gaffney, SC. The Wurster family taught us all about raising alpacas. Alpacas were brought to the United States from South America in the 1980s. These guys had just been sheared last week. The fleece is used in a variety of ways, depending on the part of the body from which it came. It is longest along the back, so this fleece is used to make fine, soft yarn for things like scarves. The neck and belly fleece is a bit shorter, so it is used to make yarn for rugs. Fleece that comes from anywhere else is too short to be spun, so the Wursters allowed us to put it into suet feeders for the birds to take to line their nests. Did you know that alpaca manure is some of the best fertilizer you can put on your garden? It doesn't even need to be composted! You can put it right on the plants, and they will not burn. Another interesting fact is that alpacas have no natural defenses. For protection, they need to be placed in a fence with herding animals like donkeys or, preferably, llamas. Whenever a threat is present, one llama will herd the alpacas into a safe place while the other stands its ground, and then both will fight off the predator. They have even been known to kill mountain lions!
Oh, so much has happened since the last blog! For one thing, we just finished creating the most beautiful, rich, nourishing high school course of study. We are very proud to be able to offer a high school program that is totally unique--one that is both incredibly rigorous and delightful. Be sure to watch for changes to the high school page coming soon, and plan to attend the high school information meeting on May 16 at 6:30 to find out more!
We are also gearing up for this Saturday's yard sale! If you have items to donate, please bring them to 241 Lawhon Street between 3:00-5:00 through Thursday, or 3:00-8:00 on Friday. And don't forget to come out to shop Saturday between 8:00-12:00. The proceeds of this fundraiser will help us go to Camp Sewee in Awendaw, SC next month to study marine biology and coastal ecosystems. We can't wait to get down there! Our elementary children noted today that it is good that they are reading Pagoo by Holling C. Holling to get ready for the trip. And, of course, our weekly nature studies have already helped us develop good habits of observation and making field notes. The week before Spring Break, we got to study Ethan's chicks as we read about them in Comstock's Handbook of Nature Study. We decided it is much easier to draw things that will sit still!
But chicks are not the only visitors we have had recently. Megan Hoyt came from Charlotte one afternoon to talk to us about the life and work of Frederic Chopin, this term's composer. She told us all about how very shy he was, and how he was able to express his feelings through his piano music in a way that he could not by using words. We learned that, although he was from Poland, he spent much of his adult life in Paris at the same time that the impressionists were painting there. Since he was famous in his own lifetime, we all wondered if he was friends with any of the painters we have studied. Maybe we will find out as we continue to read his biography. It was obvious to the students that Chopin's music is very different from other composers we have studied, such as Bach and Handel. And this is for good reason: Bach and Handel lived during the Enlightenment Period, when the pervading ideas were more formal and rigid. Chopin composed during the Romantic Period, and so his music is much more flowing and emotional. Megan taught us about rhythm, and since Chopin often composed waltzes, she also demonstrated the basic steps for us. Then we all walked over to the sanctuary for a treat. Our resident concert pianist, Dr. Cindy Swicegood, played a private mini-concert as she taught us about arpeggios through Chopin's Etudes, or study pieces.
We even got to watch cartoons! Classical music shows up in some of the most unexpected places!
On the last day before Spring Break, we took a trip to Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens in Gastonia. It was stunning! First, we walked through the orchid house. There were lots of unusual specimens in there, and everyone took their time investigating every corner. Then, we each picked one or two favorites to sketch in our nature notebooks. It is always fun to see what connections the children will make to their reading. As we strolled through the formal gardens, one student spied two statues of little girls and exclaimed, "Oh, no! Medusa has been here!" Then we enjoyed a short hike down to the lake. We saw a tree that looked like what we imagined Sam's tree in Jean Craighead George's My Side of the Mountain would have looked like. That was very exciting. As the first signs of Spring were just peeking out, we all agreed that we should definitely take another trip to Daniel Stowe when school starts back next year to see what it looks like in full bloom.
All that has been said about 'sight-seeing' and 'picture painting,' the little French talk, and observations to be noted in the family diary, belongs just as much to winter weather as to summer; and there is no end to the things to be seen and noted. The party come across a big tree which they judge, from its build, to be an oak––down it goes in the diary; and when the leaves are out, the children come again to see if they are right. Many birds come into view the more freely in the cold weather that they are driven forth in search of food.
On Friday, we bundled up and went to Broad River Greenway. The only green came from the American Holly trees and the Mountain Laurel, but the leafless landscape made it easier to notice and watch the birds. Among the other specimens found by students were fresh water clams and a spectacular turkey-tail mushroom. We also enjoyed looking at a tree trunk that has apparently been used as a scratching post by a rather large cat!
When we got back to school, we continued our outdoor classroom day by making houses for some of our school neighbors, Eastern Bluebirds. We see these guys almost every day flying around the school yard, so we thought we would invite them to just move in. We hope they will raise their families here this spring. Now, maybe we need to think about additions to our school garden to make them feel even more at home.
Willow Tree parent/board member, Dr. Philip Swicegood, came bearing hand and power tools, and the students eagerly gathered around to learn to use them. They traced the patterns and cut them out, and then nailed the pieces together and painted the finished houses. We screwed hinges on the top in hopes that we will get to peek in and see eggs soon, and so that we can clean out the houses at the end of the season. Our Outdoor Classroom day was cold, but it was lots of fun!
In Home Education (1925), Charlotte Mason describes nature study:
"The method of this sort of instruction is shown in Evenings at Home, where 'Eyes and No-eyes' go for a walk. No-eyes comes home bored; he has seen nothing, been interested in nothing: while Eyes is all agog to discuss a hundred things that have interested him. As I have already tried to point out, to get this sort of instruction for himself is simply the nature of a child: the business of the parent is to afford him abundant and varied opportunities, and to direct his observations, so that, knowing little of the principles of scientific classification, he is, unconsciously, furnishing himself with the materials for such classification. It is needless to repeat what has already been said on this subject; but, indeed, the future of the man or woman depends very largely on the store of real knowledge gathered, and the habits of intelligent observation acquired, by the child. 'Think you,' says Mr. Herbert Spencer, 'that the rounded rock marked with parallel scratches calls up as much poetry in an ignorant mind as in the mind of the geologist, who knows that over this rock a glacier slid a million of years ago? The truth is, that those who have never entered on scientific pursuits are blind to most of the poetry by which they are surrounded. Whoever has not in youth collected plants and insects, knows not half the halo of interest which lanes and hedgerows can assume' (Mason, 1925, p. 265-266)."
I love this description of science as poetry; too often in our culture the sciences and the arts are artificially separated, with the "serious" subject of science squeezing out the "soft" arts. But I digress. The Evenings at Home to which she referred was written by John Aiken, Anna Barbauld, and Joseph Adams. This is a delightful book for parents who want to take an active role in educating their children. It is available for free on Google Books here. Take a moment to ponder what the authors say about seeing:
"But so it is--One man walks through the world with his eyes open, and another with them shut; and upon this difference depends all the superiority of knowledge the one acquires over the other. I have known sailors who have been in all quarters of the world, and could tell you nothing but the signs of the tippling houses they frequented in different ports and the quality of the liquor. On the other hand, a Franklin could not cross the channel without making some observation useful to mankind. While many a vacant, thoughtless youth is whirled throughout Europe without gaining a single idea worth crossing the street for, the observing eyes and inquiring mind find matter of improvement and delight in every ramble in town or country (Aiken, Barbauld, & Adams, 1839, p. 248)."
I laughed to myself yesterday, thinking back to our very first nature walk last year. Then, the students walked very quickly--as if the path was leading them somewhere, and then some were disappointed to just turn around and go back. What was the point of that? They talked loudly to one another, not even paying attention to what was around them. Some children had spent lots of time outside exploring before they came to Willow Tree, and those students did "see" things. Other children had to learn, very slowly over the course of an entire school year, to enjoy being outdoors and to take delight in seeing.
Our nature walk at Broad River Greenway yesterday was an entirely different experience. We could hardly go three feet before someone was exclaiming, "Ooh! Look at this!" or "Mrs. Spencer, come here!" And then there was the surprising directive that came from one of last year's "indoor" kids, "Shhh! Please don't talk during the walk. We need to listen to the sounds of nature." Apparently, our eyes--and our ears--have been opened.
"At a former meeting of the British Association, the President lamented that the progress of science was greatly hindered by the fact that we no longer have field naturalists--close observers of Nature as she is. A literary journal made a lamentable remark thereupon. It is all written in books, said this journal, so we have no longer any need to go to Nature herself. Now the knowledge of Nature which we get out of books is not real knowledge; the use of books is, to help the young student to verify facts he has already seen for himself. Let us, before all things, be Nature-lovers; intimate acquaintance with every natural object within his reach is the first, and, possibly, the best part of a child's education. For himself, all his life long, he will be soothed by 'The breathing balm, The silence and the calm, Of mute, insensate things.'"
(Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, p. 261)
In the above quote, Mason alludes to Wordsworth's poem, Three Years She Grew, which can be read in its entirety here. She knew what modern researchers like Richard Louv (author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle) are now saying: Nature is, indeed, a "healing blam." Louv writes that the disconnectedness from nature that is so common today in both adults and children has led to increases in obesity, anxiety, depression, and ADHD. But even more, removal of ourselves from nature takes us out of the Garden for which we were created. In stopping to breathe in the beauty of God's stunning handiwork, as the children in the picture above are doing, we feel nourished in spirit and are compelled to turn our faces to Him who clothes the lilies of the field.
On Friday, we had the wonderful opportunity of not only nourishing our spirits by spending the day in an exquisite landscape and hiking the Appalachian Trail, but also volunteering to do real scientific research at Big Bald Banding Station. We got to observe mainly the Tennessee Warbler. These little guys spent the summer in the Boreal Forests of Canada, and are now migrating to Central America.
This is a very different experience than learning from reading about bird migration in a book (or, worse, in a textbook) or watching a Discovery video. These students now have an intimate relationship with these creatures that they would never have had otherwise. Spending time in the field is helping these children become naturalists. It gives them joy, as expressed in the van on the way back to school in one child's comment, "This was the best day EVER!" It feeds their spirit, as evidenced in the top picture, in which the students just had to stop to drink in the view. And it is a very solid foundation for science learning, since they are participating in an authentic research project, observing, describing, and collecting and interpreting data.
The Big Bald Banding Project will continue for the next six weeks. If you are interested in helping as a volunteer or, even better, taking your children to volunteer, please visit their website at http://bigbaldbanding.org/.
This week, Willow Tree students were busy, busy, busy. We finished the first act of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and began learning basic yoga positions. We drew floor plans of our homes and labeled them in Latin. We practiced reciting the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson and Edward Lear. We rehearsed prepositions in Spanish and listened to a new Spanish folk tale. We recorded events from our history reading onto our class timelines and into our personal Books of Centuries. In science, we created journals and learned how to record and interpret data. In the pictures below, students are playing with Newton's Laws of Motion using different types of balls.
This afternoon, we took advantage of the sunshine to clean out the garden bed we build last year. The kale had gone to seed, so we will probably see baby kale plants very soon. We had to deal with a colony of fire ants that had decided to move into the loose, rich soil. We also found other species that had made our garden home, including stink bugs, spiders, and an enormous larvae. Once the bed was cleared, we built a new compost bin using pallets. This is where we will dispose of our compost-able lunch leftovers. Students will take turns turning and watering the pile each week. Once our outdoor projects were completed, we came inside to decide what to plant next week in our fall/winter garden.
We are terribly excited about our next outdoor adventure! Next Friday, we will travel to Mars Hill, NC to participate in the research at Big Bald Banding Station! This is where volunteer scientists capture, study, and release song birds and raptors. They use the data to track populations and migration patterns. This is going to be a wonderful experience for our kids!
Last week we challenged ourselves in several different ways. First, we spent an afternoon at the Broyhill Adventure Course. After getting harnessed up and conducting a safety check, the students were coached to a height of their choice on the tower. Some children chose to start small and allow their courage to build gradually, while others went straight to the top and were then lowered down by their ropes. It was scary, but there was a great sense of personal accomplishment when those fears were overcome! The children also got to experience the giant swing and conduct some team-building exercises. It was evident that they have grown in their ability to work together since the beginning of the year. They really listened to one another and respected each others' ideas. They also did a great job supporting one another in challenging themselves without pressuring one another to do more than they were comfortable with.
We also challenged ourselves in our school work. Up until this point, our Spanish classes have focused on oral conversation. Last week, we added literary language by listening to the story, Tres Cerditos, or The Three Little Pigs, and then illustrating it in book form. The books do not contain an English translation, so the students had to use their illustrations to explain what was happening. Literary language is much different (and much more complex!) than conversational language. In addition to Spanish, our students also study Latin. Our Latin book is based on the history if Pompeii, ending with the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. It happened that their science study coincided with this through the study of volcanoes. Of course, we had to make one!
Finally, we went to South Mountains State Park for the third time this year. We decided early in the year that we would visit the same place through the seasons and note the changes. Through these trips, the students have learned to identify trees, insects, fish, diseases, and parasites. They have also learned about the mountain and river ecosystems through direct contact. We may have some future park rangers at our school, but our main goal is to make ours a school of naturalists--to foster a love of creation that will lead to good stewardship of our Father's world.
We have been away for a few weeks to give our Lead Teacher time to finish writing her doctoral dissertation, but we are back now and looking forward to sharing lots of exciting things with you for the rest of the school year! This blog post will help readers catch up on a few of the things that have been happening around the school. First, our Form 1 students learned to subtract 4-digit numbers with trading! This video shows their first attempt, and it really demonstrates what a strong understanding they have of number and place value. They were not told which side to start on or to carry numbers. But it is very clear that all the hands-on activities have really helped them understand this concept!
Next, we had kittens! Graymalkin is a neighborhood cat that showed up the first week of school. Every day, she would come and sit on the back stoop and wait for the children to come out to play. When it came time for her to have her kittens, she chose to share the experience with us. When we came in on Thursday morning, Graymalkin was obviously looking for a place to kit. We found a box and some old towels for her, and she moved in. On Friday morning, there were two kittens, one of which did not make it. Over the course of the day, she delivered three more. Since then, she has not moved them from the box on the back stoop. She even lets the children hold them! At three weeks old, they now have their eyes open and are scampering about a bit.
On our last Outdoor Classroom day, we went to a farm belonging to one of our families to explore and work a little in the garden.