1809: What Went So Right

1809:  Brilliant Work, Moms! 

lincoln    darwin    mendelssohn    poe

Abraham Lincoln, born February 12, 1809
Charles Darwin, born February 12, 1809
Felix Mendelssohn, born February 3, 1809
Edgar Allan Poe, born January 19, 1809

We are currently studying:
Louis Braille, born January 4, 1809

braille bio

My son and I decided to learn about Louis Braille (1809 – 1852) and we struck gold with the extraordinarily well researched book, “Louis Braille – A Touch of Genius”, by C. Michael Mellor.  Almost scrapbook in style and continually captivating: 

  • photographs, vintage illustrations, postage stamps, transcribed letters, sidebars of historical significance, examples of reading systems for the visually impaired
  • Louis Braille’s family and the tragic mishap that left him blind at age 3
  • comprehensive information about the Institute for the Blind in Paris, France – the only school for the blind in all of Europe at the time – where Louis was enrolled at age 10  
    • innovations/controversies of each headmaster 
    • school curriculum – education, job training, and music.  We learned that in addition to being an outstanding student, Louis was a prize winning cello player and also earned a side income by playing the organ   
  • Louis Braille’s contributions:
    • the raised 6-dot cell code (at age 15)(!!!) that is now, worldwide, called “braille”
    • a device that allowed for written communication between the visually impaired and the sighted (the first dot-matrix printer) 
    • a raised dot system for reading music 

Louis Braille passed away at age 43 of tuberculosis.  We finished the book heartened and heartbroken.

More talk about Louis Braille – When I texted superb educator, Jill R.A., that my son and I were in the midst of a study unit on Louis Braille, she texted back:

Oh! I love that! Louis Braille is a hero of mine so I tell everybody about him!  My title is Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI).  I am an itinerant (good vocab word) teacher which means I travel to wherever blind and visually impaired students are, which may be at home, day care, or schools.  Some TVI’s teach in a classroom at a blind school,  but I see students that attend public schools and are attending general ed classes.  I also work with students from birth up to age 21. I generally consult with teachers and help them understand how to best teach the student who is visually Impaired.  However,  I have braille students who I meet with at least 3 times a week for braille lessons. I even have a few babies who will be braille readers and I meet with them and their parents for pre-braille activities to get their little fingers ready and sensitive to feel the dots.  We will play in rice and beans and pick out different things.   We also start “looking” at books really early so that they know to feel for the dots. It’s a fantastic job!”

Look at the variety of braille learning tools that  Jill R.A. sent to augment our unit (I told you she was superb):

braille tools

Poe Poems – my son and I explored two lengthy poems by 1809 birthday boy, Edgar Allan Poe:  his  happiness-to-misery blueprint in “The Bells” (1849) and the tortured loneliness pervasive in “The Raven” (1845).  So gorgeously composed, each word so fastidiously selected, but YIKES.

beatnik style

Poetry Night at Le Fictitious Local Diner – The diner recently hosted a 1950’s “Beatnik” style poetry reading night.  Patrons were encouraged to  dress beatnik style (cool, man, cool) and arrive ready to recite a poem.  There were prizes for the best and worst outfits, best and worst poems, and best and worst poem delivery.  Well!  The diner was overwhelmed by the turn out!  150 people showed up and 80% were in costume, and 20% were brave enough to recite a poem.

1- How many patrons arrived in costume?
a).  16     b).  80     c).  100     d).  120

2- How many patrons recited a poem?
a).  20     b).  30     c).  50     d).  75

3- What percentage of the entire attending crowd received a prize?
a).  4%     b).  6%     c).  20%     d).  50%

4- Should poetry night be an annual event at the diner? (answers at bottom of post)

Mendelssohn Music – we celebrated another 1809 birthday boy (this one with a brighter point of view than Poe) by listening to three of our favorite pieces by Felix Mendelssohn – 

  • Overture to Midsummer Night’s Dream, composed 1826.  So very clever.  An excellent performance by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (where Mendelssohn served as a very beloved Music Director from 1835 – 1847):

  • Symphony No. 4 (“The Italian”), movement 1, composed in 1833.  Happy, breezy.  A glossy smooth performance under the baton of Metropolitan Orchestra (Sydney, Australia) conductor, Sarah-Grace Williams:

  • Violin Concerto in E minor, finale, composed 1844.  This is the movement that my son and I call “the cat and mouse movement”….lots of brisk “advance/retreat”.  This is an old recording, but we are mesmerized by the precision that Itzhak Perlman brings to this performance:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  1) d.  120,  2) b. 30,  3)  a. 4%,  4)  Yes, of course!)

Imagine That

Back to Kansas – Last night we finished reading “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, but we weren’t ready to put the book away until we discussed the concept of IMAGINATION.  We defined imagination (forming mental images of things not perceived by the senses) (then we had to discuss the definition) and we acknowledged the relentless imagination of author L. Frank Baum:  winged monkeys, a magical golden cap, a tin man, a country of movable china figurines, Winkies, Munchkins, Quadlings, and on and on.  We thought Baum’s imagination well matched with the imagination of contemporary illustrator, Olimpia Zagnoli. Enjoying all aspects of this book was such a worthy use of our time.

 cat mouse      oz book      cyclone

Math Surprise – A few nights ago my son had to multiply 9 x 16 and I was stunned by the speed with which he arrived at the answer.  Like in 0 seconds.  Was this a fluke?  Was my hand guiding his answer?  Last night, I set up multiplication and division problems that were difficult enough for me to have to figure out ahead of time.  I used a multiple-choice format on his iPad, so I would not be directing his hand.  He again answered swiftly and correctly, calculating in his head.  The bummer here is that if he is a bright as I think he is, this will place me as the WEAKEST INTELLECTUAL LINK in our family. DRAT.


Last night’s “Farmer Brown Story Problem” revolved around Farmer Brown’s idea to store snowballs in his large freezer (with the intention of bringing them out for surprise treats on the Fourth of July).  We had to review the concept of cubic feet.  We figured out how many snowballs would fit into one cubic foot and then it was easy to calculate how many snowballs would fit into Farmer Brown’s 18 cubic foot freezer.

Poems of Tribute – last night we acknowledged the 7th anniversary of my father (my son’s grandfather) passing on, by reading a few poems that honored this really neat man.

  - the kind of grandfather that would take a kid fishing -

– the kind of grandfather that would take a kid fishing –

  • Because he loved deep-sea fishing, we read “Sea Fever” by John Masefield
  • Because he grew up in San Francisco, we read “Fog” by Carl Sandburg
  • Because this seemed like a message a grandfather would give to his grandson, we read “If” by Rudyard Kipling

Music of Tribute – we selected melodies that would have pleased my son’s grandfather .

  • Because he was a UC Berkeley alum, we listened to “Fight for California”

  • Because he had been an Army engineer during WWII, we listened to “The Army Song”

  • Because we needed to say goodbye again, we listened to “Ashokan Farewell” by Jay Ungar

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH