Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Carry Me Back.....Virginia

Honestly, I wasn't sure what to anticipate from Fredericksburg. That was my home base for this trip. I had read something about Battlefield Fredericksburg and Old Town Fredericksburg and figured I would check out those landmarks while we were there. Otherwise, I pre-planned to go to Monticello and the National Marine Corps Museum. The latter two had lessons I could print beforehand, review the questions, so that I can be prepared when I arrived to both places.

Now Vincent and I were reading about Thomas Jefferson prior to our trip. As always, I used Kids Discover and their lessons, BrainPOP, a video of Thomas Jefferson: Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything by Maira Kalman, and Suzanne Jurmain's book called Worst of Friends- Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the True Story of an American Feud, both I borrowed from my public library. The book is great because it does describe a friendship that crumbled and was pieced back together with time. Not every argument you have with a close friend has to be final.

Battlefield Fredericksburg belongs to the National Park Service which means they have the Junior Ranger program! They provide your child with an activity book that is like a scavenger hunt. Touring the area while finding the answers to the questions in the book. Once they complete the book, they get a badge. Love it. Vincent had front row seating on the history of the Civil War. It was amazing and depressing, especially the cemetery adjacent to the battlefield. 100,000 solders died here (both sides) more than any other during the war. Some had only numbers on the headstone.

In Old Towne, we visited Hugh Mercer's Apothecary. This is sort of like the doctor's office, outpatient surgery and pharmacy all in one. Some of it was plain old scary; yet, there were some practices we use today with herbs and oils. Vincent really got into this visit and there's a lot of stuff that is hands on which was great.

The National Marine Corps Museum is interactive and full of so much information and artifacts. Vincent's dad is a Marine and they even had a section of his unit who happened to be the fastest expeditionary force to invade a country in the USMC's history. If you don't have any military background, it's still impressive and a must see when you are in the area. In the link I included worksheets you can use to teach students about their visit or as a supplement in the classroom.

We hiked along the Rappahannock River since it was here that the Union crossed to get to the Confederates. But, did you know Cpt. John Smith was here too? He came from Jamestown, of course, and was the first to map out the area. He came across some Native Amercans, and well, had to turn back around. Check out the link.

Finally, we get to Monticello. Absolutely beautiful. It was cool to see his design and architectural inventions, his copy of the Declaration of Independence, how being the President was so unforgiving of an experience, he did not want it on his tombstone as an accomplishment. He loved his family and grandchildren. In the same hand, there is the slave area. There is a free app that explains the life of the slaves living in Monticello. It's a great tool for teaching what their life was like and how freedom was never a choice. The Monticello Classroom has a plethora of activities for kids and lessons for teachers.

We did have to stop in and have lunch at the Michie Tavern as well as pass by Jefferson's beloved UVA (link describes the University's history for kids).

Learning is endless especially in the state of Virginia.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Can't Touch Tesla

Nikola Tesla. A bit of a weird dude but a brilliant one.
When I did this lesson with my son, like all lessons, I learn a bit of truth that was held back from me in my learning. Tesla did a lot of amazing things and when learning about his life, I learned what an awful man Thomas Edison was back then. A polar opposite of what I thought was a great man was just a money hungry businessman.
He offered Tesla a huge bonus if he can figure out a way to make the transmission of electricity better. Well, Tesla, did just that and more. He invented a device, rotating magnetic field, that saved customers money by being more efficient, safe, and provided more power. Edison was having none of that. Turned down the invention and offered Tesla no money. Wow. As you can imagine, Tesla was livid. Tesla owned the patent on his invention so Edison could not steal it. After a few years, Westinghouse approached Tesla and electricity as we know it made history. Check out this link about the lighting of Chicago's World's Fair.

I used BrainPOP and it's worksheets for this lesson. Lately, I find myself using BrainPOP, KidsDiscover, and TEDEd for my lessons. It's always morphing but since my son responds well to it, I stick to it.

We took a trip down to Augusta, GA, where we learned about the history of Augusta and how the Augusta Canal powers Augusta and the rest of GA today. There it was, in front of us, huge pipes coming in and going through generators and a diagram of the rotating magnetic field used to power the city. Tesla! It was so cool to make the connection. Vincent learned about hydroelectric power and was able to view, step by step, how it worked. Score!!

By the way, George Washington visited Augusta in 1791 and he suggested, back then, that the Savannah River should be turned into a canal. It took an Augusta native, Cummings, in 1845 to make that idea come to fruition.

Before Tesla died, he was figuring out wireless energy by using us, yep, as conductors. Unfortunately, he never wrote down his ideas just kept them in his head buried under soil.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Lights, Camera, Shakespeare!

"Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none."

There are hits and misses in my lessons. For example, the Marriage of Figaro, I thought, would be a good introduction to opera for Vincent. It's a comedy! Fail. We took him to the Lyric Opera in Chicago and he laughed for the first 45 min and then he was sleepy. He said it was too long and he couldn't understand anything. He was 9. I want to try again with Turandot in a few years. Right now, he replies, no.

Depaul University has a Theater School where they deliver performances for children. I've been meaning to take him, but it never worked out. This season they had Prospero's Storm based on William Shakespeare's The Tempest. For $10 a ticket, I couldn't beat it. I wasn't sure how I was going to introduce Shakespeare to him but I was hoping this might be my answer. 

We did it and he LOVED it! Whew! It was a vaudeville adaptation (so funny) and included puppets. 

What was even more exciting, is that the production included a lesson plan. Yep. I'm telling you; you don't need to spend a crazy amount of money on curriculum books and materials. It's all FREE online. 

After we did the lesson, we looked up William Shakespeare on BrainPOP. BrainPOP has additional lessons, quizzes, additional information, and mapping. 

Finally, I asked him to compare Shakespeare theater and his plays to Ancient Greece. We compared and contrasted the two. 

How do I come across this stuff? Googling and including yourself in a bunch of newsletters. I google children's theaters in Chicago; whatever theaters I come across that are interesting to me, I sign up for their email newsletters. I also "like" pages on Facebook such as TimeOut Chicago, Free Things to Do in Chicago with Kids, Chicago Parent, etc. I search per townships, park districts, colleges and universities, churches, and one event leads to information on another event. The trick is to look and sign up. Eventually, you will sit back and choose what you want to do and cater your lesson to that event. 

Play it again, Wynton

I was raised listening to all sorts of music: Salsa, big band, pop, rock, and classical. The latter played in our home most often because my dad loved it and my sister played it on the piano. She was one of those piano prodigies and listening to her play was amazing. I was lucky that she would cater the music to me like when she played the Tom & Jerry song (Hungarian Rhapsody) and she would either slow down or speed up the tempo while I raced back and forth down the hallway (I was 3).

My dad would play Chopin and I remember imagining that it sounded like a train going up a hill (Polonaise). He found that the piano was the most beautiful musical instrument. Additionally, he introduced me to the Glenn Miller and Count Basie (he would chat with the Count when he would visit the hotel my dad was managing in Miami Beach) Orchestra. That all stuck with me and til this day, I still listen to a variety of music but mostly the classics.

Moving to Chicago, I knew I wanted to expose my son to what I call real music; not just the Wiggles. Jazz was something I got into later in life and I love it. When I would play it on the radio, my son liked to listen to it. He liked the classics too but he leaned toward Jazz. I heard that the Count Basie Orchestra was playing with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Orchestra at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO). Hence my lesson.

This is a simple lesson that focuses on immersing the student in the arts.

Book- Moving to Higher Ground by Wynton Marsalis
CD- Blood on the Fields by Wynton Marsalis
CD- The Best of Count Basie Orchestra
DVD- Marsalis on Music
Wikipedia- Wynton Marsalis & Count Basie
Tickets to show

Utilizing Wikipedia, we learned about the lives of Marsalis & Count Basie. Additionally, we learned that Marsalis is the only Jazz musician to win a Pulitzer Prize (as well as many other awards) for his CD Blood on the Fields. Furthermore, I found information on an educational series he created called Marsalis on Music.

I love public libraries. I requested the CD Blood on the Fields, the educational series, a book Marsalis authored called Moving to Higher Ground and a CD on Count Basie music.

While I waited for these items to become available, we went to see the bands play at the CSO. It was a phenomenal performance. I explained to my son that he was listening to jazz played by legends. Vincent plays the trumpet so he watched how Marsalis played it and knew that what he was doing with ease was really hard. Great show!

We watched From Souza to Satchmo: The Wind Band & the Jazz Band from Chapter 3 of the series. You can choose to watch all of the chapters or one. Depends on your kid. We learned about the history of Jazz from Marsalis himself, the different beats compared to the Wind Band, and the meaning of Jazz music.

I played on occasion the music CDs and we would talk about it. Did you like that song? Why or why not? We learned that Jazz is a conversation between instruments on the same subject. Blood on the Fields, we discussed, was a conversation about slavery, hardship, and struggle. It was not something you tap your feet to or dance. Count Basie was more upbeat and happy.

I read Moving to Higher Ground and discussed what I was reading with Vincent about Marsalis' life and love for Jazz music.

Finally, we reviewed everything we learned about Jazz and he narrated it to me because he would later present it to his dad.

Additional Materials:
Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!
Jazz ABZ: An A to Z collection of Jazz Portraits
To a Young Jazz Musician: Letters from the Road


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Greeks in the House!

Ancient Greece.
Exhibits at museums usually guide my lessons. Check out a current or upcoming exhibit if you are out of ideas, and that should help you. The Field Museum has an amazing exhibit on Ancient Greece that is partnered by the National Hellenic Museum. Once I heard about that, my brain went on overdrive.
These are the materials I used for my lesson (most of the books I requested from the public library):

  • Ancient Greece Kids Discover online
  • Kids Discover Ancient Greece Lesson Plan- Vocabulary
  • How They Made Things Work! The Greeks by Richard Platt
  • Ancient Greeks by Joe Fullman
  • 100 Facts Ancient Greece by Miles Kelly
  • Classic Greek Architecture: The Construction of the Modern by Alexander Tzonis & Phoebe Fiannisi
  • Ancient Greece Revealed Book by Peter Chrisp*
  • Looked up Plato's quotes and talked about what they mean
The lesson took about over a week including the field trip to the museum. It turns out his previous school was going there so I arranged to meet up with them on the same day to visit the exhibit.
Last year, we did a lesson on Archimedes and of course he was mentioned repeatedly in the lesson. We reviewed what he had learned in the past and if there was something new in what we were reading about it. There is a lot of discussion in our lessons. We tend to stop because Vincent wants to talk about something we are reading and come up with his own conclusions. 

On his own, he decided to make a pulley system with Legos (again, it haunts me sometimes) with the guide of the Richard Platt book (above):

During the lessons, I try to connect the past with our current life today. For example, we ate at a Greek Restaurant and we noticed that the Ancient Greek diet was reflected in the menu. Since we live in the mecca of architecture, I point out buildings that reflect the Greek Revival designs. Sometimes, he will point them out to me before I can say anything. Vincent's dad gave him a lesson on the Greece's current economy. What struggles they have and why? What can they do to help their economy? I'm still waiting for a video I requested from the library about Rick Steve's Greece. I want to show him how it is like today. 

In the book, Classic Greek Architecture, we came across this page. Vincent talked about the diagrams and explained to me about what were the columns, stairs, walls (I had no clue) and spacing. It was pretty cool.

For our final lesson, Vincent came up with a Lego competition; V vs Mom&Dad. Following a diagram he created, we had less than 20 minutes to build it. It is a diagram of a Greek temple with a god or goddess in the center:

Blueprint of Diagram:

Mom & Dad's:

Vincent's (he happened to finish before the time and decided to build a name plate & added a worshipper):

Yep we suck. Oh well!!

*Great book that uses transparencies to show before and after. Also had items from the Greek exhibit at the Field Museum.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Cells in My Way!

One day Vincent was perusing through BrainPOP and came across cells. He decided he wanted to learn about cells in our body. He has taken an interest in nutrition and health and how the body needs certain elements to function.

This led me to come across Ponder Monster: What are Cells Anyway? by Jen Adair
What a great book! I actually got it free on Kindle Unlimited on my phone. We tried to view it on the iPad but it wasn't free on there (?) so we did what we could on the screen of my iPhone.

Jen Adair really breaks it down for me, oops, my son to understand. I can't lie. All these homegrown lessons I do with my son, I'm learning too. I don't remember learning anything throughout my grade school years & middle school years, so this is my opportunity to do it. It's actually fun!
Back to the book, the author came up with some great examples to understand each function of the cell. 
My son mentioned that one of his friends said that if we break a cell, we all die. 
I pointed out to him how many cells does he think I have on my finger? Millions. OK, so if one dies, will I die? Nope. 
Then, we talked about why a cell dies and we discussed about diseases like cancer. 
After the story was over, he began to come up with ways to possibly increase the number of lysosomes or make them stronger to fight off the diseases. This is good. You want your student to think outside of the box. Whether you can or you cannot, it's not for your to judge their ideas because the reality is we don't know. There have been so many advances in the healthcare field that are mind boggling. I am honest with Vincent and tell him I don't know but that he can study more about it and find out.  
For review, he had to name each part of the cell and its function. I would have him repeat it when he got it wrong until he got all the answers correct. We also cracked an egg and took a look at it to decipher it since eggs are the only cells we can see with the naked eye. 

The Day an Egg Solved the Mystery of  the Cell is a great supplemental lesson.
We also read and discussed how current research is using plant oils to attack cancer cells:

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Incas rock the Quipu!

I decided to include lessons I actually do with my son on here to help others come up with similar ideas that distance yourself from textbooks. There is so much information out there that textbooks are unnecessary unless your sick, or not in the mood, or your kid just wants to do it.

I love learning and I love it even more when I can learn with my buddy. Scientists are constantly obtaining new information that it evidently changes history. The Incas, as well as other civilizations from the Americas, was a topic I wanted Vincent to learn. Incas had a bigger empire than the Romans and were more organized and efficient. They created their own irrigation system to water their farmlands on the Andes mountains. That's right! They figured how to farm on a mountain. They had a courier system and accounting. It goes on and on.
To begin our lesson, I had picked up a video on the Incas from the library (one more suitable for children but that's not necessary). Kids Discover has a unit on the Incas as well as an Ipad app where they can have a 360 view of Machu Picchu.


This lesson can easily take up a week. For the math part of it, I focused on the Quipu, which the Incas used to account for people, animals, harvest, weapons, crime, taxes, etc. You will need different colored yarn to do it. We focused on the number of family members living on our block and their pets. For smaller children, they can do their immediate family; middle school students can do number of students in each subject or in a school; high school can do members of our federal or local government.  It's really neat. Here's more info on Quipu:



Other fun Inca crafts you can do are the weaving, popcorn (yep that was their treat), sculpting one of their animal artifacts in clay, and making or drawing a headdress.

Once we learn about the Aztecs and the Mayans, I'm taking Vincent to the Field Museum to view the artifacts of all three civilizations. You'll be surprised to find many local museums might have some exhibit on these fascinating empires. For example, the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, FL has a lovely Mayan exhibit.


Here's a great video on the Incas- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xR7of1Lkef0

*I forgot to mention that Vincent built a Inca building with Legos. Legos tend to be in a lot of our lessons.