Sunday, 20 May 2018

Project 35: Biology

This week's project made use of another one of the science sets we bought in Maplin's closing down sale (see earlier Electricity Master Lab), the Thames & Kosmos Kids First Biology Lab:
The lab is primarily a microscope, instruction booklet, blank slides and the tools you need to prepare slides. If I had one criticism of the set, it would be the limited number of pre-prepared slides; there's just the one with a sample of wool, silk, and cotton threads. Preparing slides is quite tricky, so it would be nice if there were a few more to look at.

As Solomon was covered in chickenpox we started the week with some Ted-Ed videos on cells and viruses, and how the immune system works. We then watched a video on microscopy and did a number of the suggested experiments, including:

Looking at some cells from a human mouth:
Daughter's cheek cells
and comparing bacon fat and meat:
Bacon fat (left), bacon meat (right)
We finished the week by watching a video about DNA, and did an experiment from Usborne's 100 Science Experiments to extract the DNA from an onion using washing up liquid, salt, and surgical spirits.
Equipment for extracting onion DNA
Next week's project: Poetry

Monday, 14 May 2018

Project 34: Dictionaries

Dictionaries were chosen as this week's project for a couple of reasons: 1) Solomon is at an age where he needs to start looking up spellings for himself, and 2) having been stuck inside for a week with chickenpox we wanted something with a nice trip out, and Dr Johnson's London house is easily accessible by train. Unfortunately, whilst the dictionary section of the work went well, two more of the children got chickenpox, so there was no big trip out.

We started the week with a trip to town, and Solomon picked his first dictionary, The Usborne Junior Illustrated English Dictionary. There was a good selection of dictionaries in the local Waterstones, with illustrated versions from Collins, Oxford and Usborne, each of which had versions for different age ranges. The Junior Illustrated version is aimed at ages seven to eleven, defines over 6,000 words, has 650 illustrations, and a selection of spelling tips and word origins scattered throughout. It's a nice accessible dictionary, and after watching What is a dictionary? Solomon practised looking up a random selection of different words. We also compared his new dictionary to some of the other dictionaries we have: Oxford Reference Dictionary, OED.com, Oxford Spanish Minidictionary, and a Dictionary of Trade Name Origins. 

We watched a video on where new words come from:

And after watching the video we got Solomon to create three new words, based on the three ways identified in the video. Solomon's words: 
  1. Dance-prance
    To describe when his sister is putting on one of her shows.
  2. Potnot
    To describe when his brother sits on the potty and doesn’t wee or poo.
  3. Krankgan
    To describe when you don’t want to play Minecraft when you’re feeling a bit poorly (derived from the German word Krank, meaning ill).
Similarly, we created a set of adjective and noun cards that could be put together to make new compound words, and discussed what the new words might means.
Cards for new compound words. 
We're not sure when we will get to Samuel Johnson's house, but as Solomon's dad is a bit of a Johnsonian, we undoubtedly will eventually and will update the blog post appropriately. 

Next week's project: Biology



Monday, 7 May 2018

Project 33: Ancient Greece

Solomon chose Ancient Greece as this week's project as he wanted to re-read The Wooden Horse and there hadn't been time when he had previously asked. Obviously there's a lot more to ancient Greece than that, and whereas with the Egyptian project you felt a week was enough, with the Greeks you were left feeling you'd barely scratched the surface. We were housebound (due to a case of the chicken pox), so we mostly focused on reading and watching videos.

We already had Usborne's Greek Myths collection, with versions of The Odyssey, Perseus and the Gorgon, Hercules the World’s Strongest Man, The Minotaur and The Wooden Horse, and these have always been loved by the children. There is, after all, a very good reason why these stories have lasted so many thousands of years, and Usborne is without doubt our favourite children's publisher. We supplemented this with some additional books from the library and also bought the Usborne's Ancient Greeks from their beginner series. The Usborne book was good because although it was simple, it allowed Solomon to get an overview of ancient Greek life in a single sitting.

Most of the videos we watched were from the TED-Ed channel, which had a wide range of videos on ancient Greek life (e.g., Athenian, Spartan), myths (e.g., Prometheus, Midas), and of course the Olympics. Solomon's favourite TED-Ed video of the week was one we watched in conjunction with reading Hercules and watching Jason and the Argonauts: What makes a hero?:
Solomon was also given a choice of watching either Jason and the Argonauts or Disney's Hercules this week, and whilst we expected him to pick Hercules, his interest was piqued by the skeleton battle in the trailer for Jason... This also turned out to be his favourite part of the film. Even in today's world steeped in computer graphics, the stop motion animation sequences hold their own.

We also got them to design their own Greek vases, and as Thursday was the local elections in the U.K. we compared ancient Greece's version of democracy with the one we have today.
Greek vases
Next week's project: Dictionaries

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Project 32: Board games

This week's project was board games, an opportunity to explore the history and variety of board games that have existed.

We started the week by watching a few videos on the history of board games:

Most of the week, however, was spent playing games! It's amazing to find how many board games you accumulate over the years, and also how long some of the bigger games can take. We played twenty different games over the week, and there are still dozens in the house we didn't get around to!

The board games we played can be broadly categorised into five groups: traditional abstract games, strategic games, roll-and-move games, word games, and family novelty games.

Traditional Abstract Games

  • Draughts: Capture all of your opponent's pieces.
  • Chess: Check-mate your opponent's king. 
  • Nine Men's Morris: Reduce your opponent down to 2 counters by making mills. 


Modern Strategic Games

  • Risk: Get rid of your opponent's pieces and conquer the world. 
  • Picture Tri-Ominoes: Be the first to get all of your tiles down. 
  • Ticket to Ride - First journey: Be the first to complete 6 routes. 
  • The London Board Game: Visit 6 destinations on the London Underground. 
  • Junior Scotland Yard: If you're the criminal you have to escape from the police 9 times; if you're the police you have to capture the criminal 3 times. 


Roll-and-Move Games

  • Bookchase: Collect 6 coloured books and return to the start. 
  • Payday: Get to the end with the most money. 
  • Despicable Me Monopoly: Bankrupt your opponent. 


Word Games

  • Junior Scrabble: Get the red dots by completing the most words. 
  • Upwords: Score as high as possible from making words. 


Novelty Family Game

  • Downfall: Get all your pieces to the bottom first. 
  • Guess Who: Be the first to guess who your opponent is. 
  • Hungry Hungry Hippos: Eat the most marbles. 
  • Connect 4 Flip: Get 4 counters in a row.
  • Stay Alive: Get all your opponent's marbles down the holes.
  • Pop-up Pirate: Put your swords in a barrel and not have the pirate pop up. 
  • Splatter Face: Not have cream splattered in your face. 

The Best: Risk

Despite a single game lasting 2.5 hrs, Solomon declared this to be his favourite game of the week. In fact, he requested that we allow more time next time we play so that we can have two games. Unsurprisingly, as Solomon is only 5 and Risk is for ages 10 and above, we played this as a team.

The Worst: Splatter Face

Splatter Face was the only game of the week that was actually disliked. It was bought by his grandmother as a present, and after sitting at the back of the cupboard for a couple of months it seemed the ideal opportunity to bring it out. Solomon, however, is far too sensible and refused to play it, leaving it to me and his 3 year old sister for the first (and last) game. I'm not too sure what she expected, but she quickly lost the first game and screamed the house down as the whipped cream was splattered into her face. This, in turn, set the 2 year old screaming, and the game was quickly relegated to the charity shop. 

Why this game (and variations) is so popular is a total mystery. 

Special Mention: Nine Men's Morris

Nine Men's Morris was the surprise find of the week. A traditional 3-in-a-row game that has been around thousands of years, it's simple enough to be played anywhere but complex enough to be interesting beyond the noughts-and-cross (tic-tac-toe). We have plans to make our own cloth board to keep at the bottom of the bag when we're out and about. 

Solomon's Ranking

We got Solomon to order the games from best to worst - although beyond the best couple and the worst one, there's probably not much in it. For example, Ticket to Ride - First Journey was only ranked 10th, despite being Solomon's favourite game 3 months ago (this is probably mostly due to a combination of familiarity and his preference for the full version - which if we'd played he says would have been ranked 3rd).

  1. Risk
  2. Bookchase
  3. Downfall
  4. Payday
  5. Guess Who
  6. Draughts (Checkers)
  7. Junior Scrabble
  8. Hungry Hungry Hippos
  9. Picture Tri-Ominoes
  10. Ticket to Ride - First Journey
  11. Connect 4 Flip
  12. Chess
  13. Stay Alive
  14. Pop-Up Pirate
  15. Upwords
  16. Despicable Me Monopoly
  17. Nine Men's Morris
  18. The London Board Game
  19. Junior Scotland Yard
  20. Splatter Face
Undoubtedly it's a list that will see a lot of movement over the years as the novelty of some games wears off, and he learns to appreciate the subtlety of others. If he still prefers Hungry Hungry Hippos over Chess in 10 years then I think we can conclude home education has been a total failure!


Next week's project: Ancient Greece.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Project 31: Minecraft and Redstone

At Solomon's instigation we explored Minecraft and redstone (Minecraft's answer to electronics) a bit further this week.

Solomon has quite an extensive library of Minecraft books, and we tried building a couple of items out of the Minecraft Guide to Redstone, adding them to his ongoing Minecraft castle.  Unfortunately, whilst the armour swapper we built at one end of the castle wall worked well, when we tried to build an elevator at the other end it kept shooting off into the sky! We think the problem was that to get an observer block facing in the right direction on the Switch we had to mine the redstone below it, and when the redstone was replaced it triggered the observer. We'll see if we can find a workaround, but it may be that the elevator is something we have to create on the PC instead.

Minecraft Armour Swapper
We bought the Minecraft Windows 10 edition specifically for this week's project so that Solomon could try programming with MakeCode for Minecraft. MakeCode for Minecraft is a drag and drop blocks programming language for interacting with Minecraft (specifically the Windows 10 or Education editions). It is easy to use, and Solomon loved it - undoubtedly his favourite form of programming so far. If you have a child who likes Minecraft, and you want to encourage programming, this is a great option. We stuck to the simple tutorials, but there are even lesson plans available for introducing more complex ideas such as artificial intelligence.

MakeCode for Minecraft
We didn't just want Solomon stuck in front of a computer screen all week, so we also got him and his sister to make some Minecraft mosaic masks.
'Alex' and 'Ender Dragon' Mosaic Masks
Next week's project: Board games!

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Project 30: Electricity!

We bought a few science kits in the Maplin closing down sale, and Solomon chose to use the electricity kit for this week's project.

The Thames & Kosmos Electricity Master Lab (I think it cost about £70 in the shop) consists of 88 pieces that are used in 119 experiments. It starts with simple circuits with light bulbs and slowly builds up to introduce diodes, resisters, potentiometers, transformers, and a myriad of other components.
119 electricity experiments
The kit is designed for 10 years and up, but Solomon didn't have any trouble putting together the circuits. They don't clip together as easily as something like LittleBits, however, and his father managed to accidentally bend the connector on the meter. It bent back easily enough, but we're a bit wary of that particular connection point now, thinking it may break at some future point.

Unsurprisingly, with 119 experiments, we didn't work our way through all of them. We finished the first 3 sections (37 experiments): current flows in a circle; measuring the invisible; and mysterious magnetic forces. Solomon's favourite part was the magnets, so he's looking forward to the next section when we return to it, electric current and magnetism make a great team.

In an attempt to have a more craft-focused activity, we also made conductivity testing bugs from Usborne's 100 Science Experiments. It was a nice little project, although struggling to get clean connections served as a reminder of how much easier electronics kit can be!
Conductivity testing bugs

As well as the usual BBC videos on the topic, there was also a really good Royal Institute video which kept them engaged throughout: Zap, Crackle, and Pop - The story of electricity. 



Next week's project: Minecraft and Redstone (which Solomon insists builds upon his electricity work).

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Project 29: Easter and Spring

This week's project ran Sunday-to-Sunday rather than the usual Monday-to-Sunday so that we could couple together Easter and Spring, and make use of some of the activities that have been organized locally for the school holidays. 

As may be expected, we started Easter Sunday with the usual chocolate eggs, an Easter egg hunt, and explained to all the children why Christians celebrate Easter with a couple of picture books The Story of Easter and The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross. The Story of Easter is better for the Easter story, The Garden... is better for the wider biblical context. We also made some chocolate nests and made and decorated our own Easter eggs.
Chocolate nests
Home-made and decorated chocolate eggs
Peterborough cathedral had a number of Easter craft activities going on this week, and Solomon made an Easter bonnet and wreath. It's the first time that we'd been to Becket's Tea Room, and as it's a really nice space we stayed for lunch. Unfortunately the service and food wasn't as good as the space.
Making Easter bonnets
Later in the week we went to the Green Backyard, a local community garden, where another home educator had organized an Easter egg hunt. This was followed by a 'family gardening' session, where the children did some weeding, planting, and made bird scarers to take home. It was the first time we'd been to the Green Backyard, but we will definitely be returning as everyone had a great time. We also finally got around to buying some seeds and planting our own veg patches, and made use of our new bird scarers.
Bird scarers over our veg patches


Next week's project: Electricity!