Leaders & Innovators

Looking North

Our Canadian Unit: the 49th parallel propels us into action – While reading about Canadian provinces, and we came across this:  British Colombia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba border the United States along the 49th parallel north. WHAT???????? It was like our alarm clock clanged!  It was obviously time to learn about parallels, longitude, latitude and the like.  So, two books to the rescue:  we’re reading through the scholarly and quite fascinating “Longitude” by Dava Sobel, and “Maphead” by Ken Jennings is on deck.  BTW, “Wow Canada!” by Vivien Bowers is proving to be an excellent resource.

olivia 3

Fiction Fun – We were sorry to finish two entertaining books this past week: our 10th Tom Gates book, “Top of the Class (nearly)” by the utterly imaginative Liz Pichon (gosh we love those Tom Gates books) and a revisit read of Gordon Korman’s insightful “Schooled” (important read).  We’ve just begun “Olivia Bean Trivia Queen”, written by Donna Gephart, a new author for us. So far: YAY!

Reporting in on our Buffalo Bill unit:
– We have just finished “Presenting Buffalo Bill” –  We’ve impressed ourselves by absorbing the material of Candace Fleming’s long, brilliantly researched book.  We probably learned EVERYTHING about this over-the-top man,  a LOT about the myth of the “wild west”, and a BIT about some unsettling American government policies of the late 18th century.
– A side note:  Buffalo Bill fits the profile –  My son and I have studied many “larger than life” individuals whose impact has been significant.  To a person, the greater the achievement, the more glaring the personal deficit(s) (vocab).  William Cody fits the profile.  Poor Bill – literally POOR BILL – had no concept of money management.  Although this is a comparatively benign (vocab) deficit, how could his friends and family not shudder in horror as he plunged unthinkable quantities of money into one ill-advised investment after another.  Oh Bill!

canadian geese

Farmer Brown and the Canadian Geese story problem – Farmer Brown loves the honking sound of Canadian Geese as they fly over his ranch, migrating south for the winter or back north for the summer.  He was interested to read that a town in Kansas counted 1,800 geese as year-round residents, their number increasing to 18,000 every winter.  A percentage increase of what?  A. 10%      B. 100%      C. 1,000%  (answer at bottom of post)

Back to our Canada studies:  WE DID NOT SEE THIS COMING – Here we are knee deep into our unit on the Canadian provinces, learning about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Calgary Stampede, the Canadian Shield, poutine, puffins, prairie dogs – lovely, lovely, lovely and then, WHOA: smack in the middle of Canada, in the province of Manitoba: THE NARCISSE SNAKE DENS.  SNAKE DENS!!!!  We had to drop everything, find out more and look at GROSS WRIGGLING PHOTOS.  OK, here is the deal: every spring and fall, thousands and thousands of red-sided garter snakes congregate for a three week mating frenzy.

narcisse snake dens

Last night’s music:  A HISSY FIT – we pretended that the director of the Narcisse Snake Dens phoned and pleaded with us to plan a program of background music for the slithering sweethearts:

snakes

  • “Dance of the Seven Veils” from Richard Strauss’ one act opera, “Salome”, which premiered in 1905 (but was banned in London until 1907 for being WAY too steamy) (my son doesn’t need to know this).  This piece masterfully scores the out of control fever of the snake pits (thank you timpani) with the sinuous gliding of the snakes over and under each other (thank you snake charmy oboes).  This performance by the Philharmonic Orchestra of Santiago, conducted by Paolo Bortolameolli is SUPERB. TONS of energy:

  • “Blue Tango” by Leroy Anderson, composed in 1951.  We just laugh and laugh through this whole piece.  This is the go-to sassy music for a garter snake meet and greet:

  • We anthropomorphized (vocab) the snakes and imagined two snakes eyeing each other from opposite sides of the crowded and heaving den – and their hearts connect (we are laughing so hard) to “Some Enchanted Evening” from Rogers and Hammerstein’s 1949 “South Pacific” production:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer: C. 1,000% increase)

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Rootin’ Tootin’

 

Required Reading – We are nearly through “Presenting Buffalo Bill – The Man Who Invented the Wild West” (Candace Fleming).  Wow.  This should be adjunct reading for any history course that covers the late 19th century.

Quirky take-aways from this outstandingly researched book:

– William Cody did not like Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer…and after “Custer’s Last Stand” at Little Big Horn, Cody hired Sitting Bull (inspirational leader of the victorious Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho) to be part of his Wild West show.
– While the US Government sought to “Americanize” American Indians (passing laws forbidding traditional clothes, housing, religious practices, etc.), the Wild West show was partially responsible for keeping these customs alive – Buffalo Bill’s insistence upon authenticity meant his Pawnee, Cheyenne, and Lakota performers could wear their traditional clothing, speak their language, live in traditional dwellings, etc.
– When the Wild West performed in London, Queen Victoria broke a 26 year seclusion (lamenting the death of her husband, Prince Albert) to attend the show (and LOVED it).
– We are still marveling at William Cody’s energy and leadership skills:  managing 200+ performers (among which he was the central star OF COURSE), scores of horses, buffalo, elk, Texas steers, donkeys, deer, bears, full size wagons, a log cabin, a stagecoach, gigantic sets (vocab) and a brass band…not to mention food, accommodations, and travel arrangements.  We’re exhausted.
– William Cody was not a perfect person; he certainly had a handful of glaring deficits. But DARN IT, my son and I are fans!

canada

Map Happy – Our “find each USA state and color it in” map is complete.  My son looked forward to this activity every night; we would find the state in question, talk about its shape (Louisiana looks like a capital “L”, the Michigan “mitten”, etc.), and then ink in the state together.  We’ve now started on the Canadian map. Vivien Bowers’ most enjoyable book, “Wow Canada!” is providing background info as we color in each province and territory.

Funny, thought provoking, excellent read for us – we are in the midst of a fifth reading of our favorite Gordon Korman book, “Schooled”.  Such an original theme – a very centered, capable kid who has been raised in a defunct hippie commune is forced to matriculate into a public school.  A+.

doily

Fancy, Fancy, Fancy! Story Problem from Le Fictitious Local Diner – diner management has decided that a paper doily (vocab) under the condiments (vocab) on each table is a must.  There are 10 tables and 5 booths at the diner. Each table will get a fresh doily before both lunch and dinner services.  Will a case of 1,000 doilies be enough for one month?  If each case costs $7.00, how much should the diner budget for doilies for a year? (answers at bottom of post)

Rootin’ Tootin’ Music – we found rambunctious, fast paced, toe tappin’, hootin’ and hollerin’ music to help us imagine Buffalo Bill’s mightily successful Wild West extravaganza:

“Hoedown” from Aaron Copland’s “Rodeo” ballet, which premiered in 1942.  I think we feel intellectually elevated every time we listen to anything by Aaron Copland:

– The theme from the long-running TV show (1959-1973) “Bonanza”, orchestrated and arranged by David Rose and Billy May.  Voted by the Western Writers of America as one of the Top 100 Western Songs of All Time.  Is it THAT difficult to be in the top 100???  Why not TOP 10?  No matter – we love it:

– The theme from the 1960 American Western movie, “The Magnificent Seven”, composed by Elmer Bernstein.  We learned that Elmer Bernstein was NOT related to Leonard Bernstein (but they were friends), that he composed for loads and loads of movies, his scores were nominated for 14 Oscars (winning in 1967 for “Thoroughly Modern Millie”)…Back to “The Magnificent Seven” –  this classic was nominated for an academy award in 1961, but lost to “Exodus” (score composed by Ernest Gold).  Tough break.  BTW, this is a simply outstanding recording of the theme (but why the pineapple photo at the very beginning?):

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers: yes, and $84)

2016 – Gone, but not forgotten

2016-quiz

2016:  the year we learned more about –  the California Gold Rush, the insanely brilliant architecture of Gaudi, the work of bees, Eugene Bullard, homonyms, Hannibal, dwarf planets, George Washington Carver, patents, rodents, Rube Goldberg, computation involving triangles, etc, etc, etc.  Last night, my son took matching quiz that reviewed our academic studies from the past year, and earned an A+.  Good year.

macaulay-book

New book!  For Christmas, a special aunt and uncle sent my son David Macaulay’s classic, “The Way Things Work”.  This is obviously a mechanical engineering book lurking behind precise illustrations and hilarious examples.  This past week, we became experts on “the inclined plane” and “the lever”.  (In 2016, we learned a lot from Macauley’s books on “The Toilet” and “The Mill”, so we should emerge MENSA-worthy if we can absorb everything this comprehensive book offers.)

electricity

Story Problem from Le Fictitious Local Diner – The diner spent a lot of money on electricity in 2016; management is reviewing usage to see if they can cut back (perhaps a weekly “dining by candle-light” event might make a teeny dent in the diner’s electrical consumption).  To make decisions, management needs some facts:  if the diner was open 6 days a week, how many days in 2016 were they using electricity?  If the cooks were at the diner from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m., how many hours last year was the diner using electricity? (story problem answers at bottom of post)

2016

Music Listening in 2016 – My son and I welcomed an additional 85 classical (in the broadest sense) pieces into our iPod library this past year.  Last night, I presented a list of our fave 10 of these compositions and then my son picked his top three for listening.

10 pieces we first listened to in 2016 –

Ave Maria – Arcadelt
Banjoland Buffoonery – Kirkhope
Brandenberg Concerto No. 3 – Bach
Harp Concerto in A major – Dittersdorf
Organ Symphony, finale – Saint-Saens
Persian March – Strauss
Sailing By – Binge
String Quartet No. 2, scherzo – Borodin
The Anvil Chorus (Il Trovatore) – Verdi
Toccata in A major – Paradisi

music-faves-2016

My son’s selections for last night’s listening –

“Banjoland Buffoonery”, composed in 1998 by Grant Kirkhope for the Nintendo 64 video game, “Banjo-Kazooie”.  A short piece, packed with rollicking fun, AND an excellent (and accessible for the likes of my son and myself) example of theme and variation:

“Persian March”, composed by Johann Strauss II, in 1864.   My son cannot stop his toes from tapping to this marvelously exotic march (expertly played by a Polish youth orchestra) (SO heartening to witness excellence in youth):

“Sailing By”, written by Ronald Binge in 1963 and used by BBC Radio to introduce the late shipping forcast.  This sweet,  slumberous waltz gets our vote for most soothing lullaby.  When we just cannot deal with one more thing, THIS is our music:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers: 1) 312 days 2) 5,304 hours)

Quandary

Here is the quandary (vocab):  I do not like reading to my son about man’s inhumanity to man; he has enough to deal with without trying to grasp the perplexing notion of cruelty.  HOWEVER, the “Wicked History” series books are so well written, organized, researched, and crazy fascinating – we can’t stay away.

leopold-book-cover

We just finished the book on BAD BAD King Leopold II of Belgium (1835-1909); and he was indefensibly bad – Hitler and Stalin BAD.  There were passages in the book describing atrocities under his leadership of the “Congo Free State” (his PERSONAL colony) so barbaric, that while reading aloud to my son, I had to skip over paragraph after paragraph.
On the plus side:
– we learned a LOT about what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo and came away fascinated
– we added to our hero list:  George Washington Williams (a journalist), Edmund Morel (a most alert shipping clerk) and Roger Casement (a British consul). These men brought the brutal policies of Congo Free State administrators to world wide attention and censure (vocab)
– AND Leopold II died with just about everyone (well, maybe everyone) despising him. (ridiculously small consolation)

amazon-pic himalayan-pic

from “The Wonder Garden” book by Williams and Broom – stunning

The subject matter gets a LOT happier, but DRAT:  we just hate it when a good book ends. We loved EVERY page of “The Wonder Garden” by Kristjana S. Williams and Jenny Broom; luscious illustrations accompanied by solidly interesting facts.  This startlingly beautiful book showcases animals of five distinct habitats around the world. We were familiar with the Amazon Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, but we really hadn’t read anything about the Black Forest, the Chihuahuan Dessert or the Himalayan Mountains.  This delicious book is SO on our “read-it-again list”.

Last night my son took a simple matching location-to-fact quiz and then we paired up one piece of music with each habitat.

habitat-quiz

Music to remind us of five living wonders of our world:
– The Amazon Rain Forest – hosting around 1,500 species of birds, Camille Saint-Saens’ “The Aviary” (from his “Carnival of the Animals”, 1886) was an obvious selection.  The music is prefaced by an Ogden Nash poem read by Roger Moore.  Elegant:

– The Great Barrier Reef – again, from Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals”:  “The Aquarium”. Gloriously haunting music provides a backdrop for the world’s largest living structure (however, as beautiful as this linked video is, “The Aquarium” takes up only the first 2.5 minutes; the carnival’s donkey and the cuckoo movements follow, for some unknown reason):

– The Black Forest – the habitat for not only the world’s largest owls, but also the setting for several fairy tales from the brothers Grimm.  My son and I listened to “Evening Prayer” from the opera “Hansel and Gretel”, composed by Englebert Humperdinck in 1893.  We twiddled our fingers during the three minute LONG introduction; however once we got to the meat of the composition we enjoyed possibly the most comforting lullaby ever:

SIDEBAR:  another Englebert Humperdinck??? we followed Humperdinck’s “Evening Prayer” with a short discussion of British pop star (of the ’60’s and ’70’s) Englebert Humperdinck (but really Arnold George Dorsey) (obviously NO relation to the composer of the late 1800’s).  My UCLA college room-mate, J’nette, warbled a mocking version of  Humperdinck’s giant hit “Release Me” throughout our undergrad years, so I made my unappreciative son endure a trip down memory lane:

– The Chihuahuan Desert – Well, first of all, we had no idea where the Chihuahuan Desert was (southern parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and northern parts of Mexico) and we are practically living in it!  We felt the second movement (the “Largo” movement) of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” evoked the loneliness, uncertainty, and the grandeur of this habitat:

– and finally, The Himalayan Mountains – we paired “the rooftop of the world” with  “Approaching the Summit” composed by genius genius genius John Williams for the 1997 movie “Seven Years in Tibet”.  We could hear how this music captures themes – majestic and mysterious – from both sides of the Himalayan Mountains (India and China):

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(The story problems from this week seemed painfully frivolous after reading about the human suffering provoked by King Leopold II.  I just couldn’t post any of them.)

26 Candles!

candles

My son celebrated his birthday this past week!  Among the wrapped presents, two spectacular books:

wonder-garden-book

“Star Talk” by astrophysicist and consummate showman, Neil deGrasse Tyson.  So far – tremendously engrossing; last night we read about why astronauts grow taller in space (due to lack of gravity) (and apparently this is NOT good for bone density), the night before we learned how long it would take to travel to Mars via current space travel technology. (3 years).  Full of quirky facts and explanations, this is exactly the type of book we like to spend time with.

“The Wonder Garden” by Kristjana S. Williams and Jenny Broom focuses upon animal life in five distinct habitats (vocab) around the world.  We are in the middle of the Amazon Rain Forest (located it on the new globe/another birthday present!) chapter.  Gross fact from last night: the green anaconda NEVER STOPS GROWING.  Ewww ewww ewww.  Aside from that, this book is a jewel. The obsessively decorative artwork is first rate, the book is well written and the excellent research is apparent.  Learning materials were NOT this captivating when I was in school.

horseshoe

Story problem – Farmer Brown recycles used horseshoes!  Farmer Brown has 6 horses and is filling up a barrel with used horseshoes.  He has found a craftsman who would like to purchase the horseshoes and turn them into “good luck” wall art items.  If each horse gets fitted for new shoes every other month, how many used shoes will Farmer Brown have in the barrel at the end of a year?  If he is able to sell the used shoes to the craftsman for $10 each, how much money will he collect by the end of a year?  If it costs $125 to shoe one horse, how many horses could be shod from the money earned from selling the old shoes? (answers at bottom of post)

blacksmith

Speaking of horseshoes – our poem for the evening was “The Village Blacksmith” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1840), which led us to look at and talk about anvils (vocab) and bellows (vocab), which led us to our music theme:

Plink, clank, plink – the anvil as musical instrument!  What a most satisfactory listening experience:

anvil

The Anvil Chorus from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera of 1853, “Il Trovatore” (The Troubadour).  This song of the gypsies praises hard work, good wine, and gypsy women.  For my son, I emphasized the hard work and the unique sound of the sledge hammer hitting the anvil, and sort of didn’t mention the good wine and gypsy women.  Outstanding production:

The Feuerfest (fireproof) Polka, composed in 1869 by Josef Strauss, brother of waltz king, Johann Strauss II.  This is probably one of our top ten favorite classical pieces; we like to anticipate each anvil clang.  In this linked video Mariss Jansons conducts the Vienna Philharmonic WHILE “playing” the hammers and anvil.  Adorable, and kind of spellbinding.

– Finally, “Heigh Ho” from Disney’s 1937 blockbuster, “Snow White”.  Music by Frank Churchill, words by Larry Morey.  Anvil plinking all over the place.

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers: 144,   $1,440,   11 horses)

Talking in Circles

magician-with-rings

Circles Circles Circles:  geometry review – my son knows the vocabulary of circles (radius, diameter, circumference and the concept of π) and can now find the circumference and area of a circle if given the measurement of the radius.  We are able to work in the abstract, but we’ve done our share of figuring circumference and area of of pizzas, pies, and crop circles.

crop-circle-star     crop-circle

Crop Circles!  Inspired by the “intergalactics” in “Gabby Duran and the Unsittables” – a clever, original, great read for us by Elise Allen and Daryle Conners (and now we are reading “Gabby Duran – Troll Control” – get this!  A GIFT FROM ONE OF THE AUTHORS!!!! ), we wondered if there was proof of space aliens visiting planet Earth, so we took a bit of time to read up on crop circles (yay Wikipedia!) and view an array of photos.  Well, my son learned the definition of “HOAX”, but rather than be disappointed that the crop circles were not evidence of visitors from the far beyond, we decided to be mightily impressed by the precision artistry yielded by the wide brush of a tractor.  Wow.

crop-circle-simple

Farmer Brown’s Crop Circle (story problem) – Farmer Brown has revved up the John Deere tractor and crafted a crop circle in the middle of his wheat field as a fun destination for his Halloween hay-rides.  If the radius of his crop circle measures 100 feet, is the area of the circle larger or smaller than one acre (43,560 square feet)?   If the horses pull the hay-ride wagon along the entire edge of the crop circle, how many feet will they cover?  If Farmer Brown takes a photo of everybody in the center of his crop circle wearing alien masks will this be awesome? (answers at bottom of post)

hannibal-coins

Circling Back – We finished our Hannibal unit and here is what it boiled down to:  in 218 BC, from Carthage (the northern-most tip of Africa), Hannibal led his soldiers, horses, and elephants northwest to the Iberian peninsula, east over the Alps, south to Rome, and finally ended up, full circle, back in Carthage and guess what?  After 17 years of fighting, ravaging countless villages, and 720,000 soldiers dead: nothing gained.  NOTHING.

We needed music that reflected despair and regret for the families ruined by Hannibal’s insane drive to obliterate the Roman Republic.

  • “Adagio in G minor for Strings and Organ” by Tomaso Albinoni.  MUSIC CONTROVERSY:  although the piece is attributed to Albinoni, who wrote fragments of the composition in the early 1700s, apparently Remo Giazotto actually pulled the piece together in 1958.  This funereal work has been used in over 25 movies;  sort of the go-to music for weepiness.  This performance is outstanding:

  • “Serenade” by Franz Schubert, finished in 1828, just one month before Schubert passed away (SYPHILIS) (OH DEAR).  No one can be cheered by this somber waltz of death – and take a gander at this semi-creepy, gloom-filled film clip:

  • “Symphony No. 3 in F major”, movement III, by Johannas Brahms, composed in 1883. Searingly sad.  Monumentally beautiful.  (Insider note:  this movement served as inspiration for Carlos Santana’s 1999 piece, “Love of My Life”):

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers: smaller, 628 feet, YES this will be the highlight of the evening)