Sunday, 17 December 2017

Project 14: Programming in Scratch!

With the days getting colder it seemed a good time to stay in and learn a bit more about computers and coding, especially as Solomon hasn't done much programming since using Scratch Jr in Project 1.

We started by reminding ourselves of the computing and coding fundamentals with Usborne's lift-the-flap Computers and Coding, and Kids Get Coding: Algorithms & Bugs and Kids Get Coding: Learn to Program. We also used a computers and coding activity and sticker book. Usborne have been writing computer and coding books for kids since the 1980s, and I can't recommend them enough as an introduction to the topic. Nonetheless, combining Usborne books with books from another publisher allowed for the consolidation of certain ideas and concepts.

If you want to know what Usborne's computer coding books were like in the 1980s, they've made some of them available online as PDFs.

We used Usborne's Coding for Beginners using Scratch as the main focus of the week's project, working through the first few project's. Solomon's favourites so far have been: Dancing Sprites, and Boo!

Scratch was chosen as it's a drag-and-drop blocks programming language, and Coding for Beginners using Scratch provides a good introduction to the language with 15 increasingly complicated projects. We still have a number of projects left in the book, and some other Scratch programming project books, so we plan to incorporate coding into his regular weekly activities before introducing other languages later.

The problem these days is that with such a wide range of languages and tools available, it is difficult to choose which to introduce next. Our current thinking for next languages is:
- MakeCode For Minecraft
- AppInventor
- Python.

Next week's project: All About Christmas!

Monday, 11 December 2017

Project 13: Solomon's Family Tree

To coincide with a visit from his grandparents, Solomon explored his family tree.

We started the week by discussing some of the different sources for finding out about your ancestors, from asking people, through looking at books and newspapers, to official government records. We looked at some of the pictures in his great-grandmother's autobiography (pictured below), his great-great-grandfather's entry in Who's Who, and stories in national newspapers.
'Today Not Tomorrow' by the woman with the croaky voice.
He asked his grandparents a number of questions about who their mums and dads and brothers and sisters were, and we looked at how this information could be put into the family history software Gramps.

We also visited the local library and explored census records on (available for free in the library). Luckily someone had already created an extensive family tree that included some of his ancestors, so we could see lots of additional photographs and how big and complicated a family tree can quickly become.

Finally Solomon created his own self-portrait, to reflect on how all his ancestors have contributed to the creation of him.

Solomon's self portrait
The project also coincided with the first heavy snowfall in a couple of years, so there was also a new family member!
The family's snowman
Next week's project: Programming in Scratch!

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Project 12: Time and Calendars

After last week's exhausting excursion to Manchester, we picked a smaller project we could do from home this week: Time and Calendars. We did a lot of working on Solomon telling the time, learning his days of the week and months of the year, and why there are different seasons.

As well as the usual workbooks and encyclopaedia entries, we watched a couple of good videos about where the days of the weeks and months of the year got their names.

Solomon did a reusable sticker activity about the seasons, and picked a calendar for the coming year.
Reusable season stickers
Exploring the different calendars available in the shops Solomon established a number of criteria that he wanted his calendar to have. He decided it should be a family organiser, have big pictures, and show the phases of the moon. The calendar that fitted all the criteria was the Sooty one, so he picked that one despite having never seen the programme and there being a Minecraft one available!
2018 Sooty Calendar
Next week's project: Solomon's Family Tree

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Project 11: All about Lego!

As we were going to Manchester this week, we decided to make use of the Legoland Discovery Centre, and explore Lego a bit further.

We started the week by watching The Lego Story, an animated history of the Lego company, and exploring the large number of ways Lego bricks can be put together.

A maths professor has shown that there are 915,103,765 different ways of putting together six standard 2 X 4 Lego bricks, and we set to work exploring the 24 different ways 2 bricks can be put together (which is actually surprisingly tricky!).
24 ways of putting together 2 standard Lego bricks
Legoland Discovery Centre Manchester was a great day out that kept the kids entertained for hours, with rides, soft play, a 4D cinema, Lego miniland, and build zones. Solomon's favourite bits were the Kingdom Quest lazer gun ride and the 4D cinema that was showing a Nexo Knights' film.

In many ways it was more enjoyable than Legoland Windsor (which we visited last year). Whilst Windsor was good, there was much more walking, queuing, it felt less interactive, and you needed more than a day to get to see everything.

Legoland Discovery Centre Manchester

Lego City Builder  
Solomon's 'Master Model Builder' dog (£4 extra)

It's worth booking tickets to the discovery centre online for discount prices, and you can also take your own packed-lunch.  If we lived nearby we'd definitely have been tempted by the annual pass.

Finally, when we got home, Solomon and his sister designed their own mini-figures. We'll update the post when the figures arrive!
As always with our weekly projects, there was much more that we wanted to do, but at least with Lego we know we'll be returning to it time and time again for years to come!

Next week's project: Time and Calendars!

UPDATE (16/12/2017)
The Lego Doodlefigs have arrived! The figures only took 3 days to arrive after the scanned images were sent off, it just took us a while to get around to scanning the images. The figures look good but come out quite pale, so it might be better to use felt-tips rather than crayons.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Project 10: Puppets and Theatre

As Norwich Puppet Theatre had a home education workshop this week, we decided to take Solomon along, and look at puppets and the theatre more widely - although in the end there was so much on puppets there wasn't really time to consider wider ideas about theatre.

Solomon really enjoyed the Curious Characters workshop at the Puppet Theatre, and created his own puppet: 'Honk Honk'. The workshop lasted two hours, and parents could either go-and-come-back or wait in the foyer area. As it was Solomon's first event without parental supervision we decided to wait, enjoy the reasonably priced coffee and snacks, and admire the puppets on display.
Puppets to admire at the Puppet Theatre
'Honk Honk'
At home we explored the different sorts of puppets that people use, and some of the different sorts of puppets we had in our house.
Some of the puppets in our house
Solomon really enjoyed watching Punch & Judy, and the great thing these days is there are so many versions of the show available online. 

Punch & Judy Online also has a host of resources and worksheets available, and Solomon used a worksheet to create his own Punch & Judy characters. 
Punch and Judy stick puppets
We also managed to create a Mr Punch shadow puppet, and learned that shadow puppets are far more difficult (& painful) than they look!
Mr Punch shadow puppet
Next week's project: All about Lego!

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Project 9: Cycling and Road Safety

This week was all about cycling and road safety, with the primary aim being to get Solomon out on his bike and the stabilisers off. It was coupled with a wider discussion on road safety and road traffic signs.

The UK government's Think! Education web site has a host of resources and activities for children to learn about road safety. It's suitable from pre-school through to the end of primary education.

We also watched some of the many Green Cross Code public information films that have been shown over the years, from Tufty through to the rather bleak Tim Burton-esque modern incarnations. Solomon's favourites were the ones with the Green Cross Code man, he may have been influenced by being told that the actor also played the part of Darth Vader in Star Wars.

Going on a road sign hunt turned out to be very popular, especially with his younger sister who now wants to take out the highway code every time we go out.

His cycling has come on leaps and bounds this week, as he put in his diary "I wobbled and wobbled, but I didn't fall off". There's still work to do, but we're really glad we finally got around to it. We've also been enjoying, on the cycling theme, Solomon reading "The Boy who Biked the World", written by a man who really did cycle the world! The first book covers the boy's trip from England to South Africa, and as well as a good story it is a great introduction to geography and different cultures.

Next week's project: Puppets and Theatre.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Project 8: Space and the Planets

Usborne's Children's Encyclopedia  has a nice big section on space and the planets, with plenty of links to online video content, so we used that as a starting point for learning about space and the planets. We also discussed how the planets and space appear in the arts, from the science fiction of the Alien X reading series to Holst's Planets.

As the big trip of the week was to the National Space Centre in Leicester, we decided to watch the 1980s classic film 'SpaceCamp' beforehand. SpaceCamp is a film about a group of kids at a NASA space camp who are accidentally blasted into space. It was a good film for provoking questions: How would you feel if you were blasted into space? Would you turn off the autopilot to save the injured adult? But the language was surprisingly strong for a PG and it seems likely it would be rated at least a 12 now.

The National Space Centre was really good for kids with lots to see and do. The only downside was it was really busy with school groups, but as the National Space Centre tickets last for the whole year we will be visiting again.
National Space Centre, Leicester.
As well as rockets, a planetarium, and an astronaut's toilet, there were many interactive exhibits to help you learn about space and the planets. One of the more memorably of which demonstrated how the weight of a tin of beans varied on the different planets.
Baked beans at the National Space Centre
For Solomon's space and planets 'craft' activities he did a Melissa & Doug Sticker by Number and a Micro Rockets kit we had at the back of the cupboard.
Sticker by Number
The sticker by number set went down surprisingly well, so we're trying him with a paint by stickers set next on zoo animals.

The Micro Rockets kit included some cardboard rockets with a catapult launcher and some materials for creating a mobile of the solar system.
Cardboard rockets ready for launch
Solar system mobile
We got Dad's old telescope out to look at the moon more closely, but unfortunately the sky this week was either filled with clouds or fireworks! We will try again soon.

Next week's project: Cycling and road safety.