Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Thinking about Vietnam

One of my favorite blogs to read is this one. I think I love it so much because I love to hear about other parts of the world and hope some day to travel with my kids, even if we never actually bike across Europe or trek through Tunisia like this family does. Lately, they have been exploring Thailand, and this post in particular grabbed me. It's about the killing fields in Cambodia, and I realized how little I know about this part of the world and it's history. This, in spite of having had a stepfather who flew missions in the Vietnam war.

I went on a search of some books to help me educate myself and also possibly share with my kids, and I did find several. Coincidentally, my kids got their latest issue of Faces, and guess what it was about?
There is a great variety of information in here in small snippets. It's great overview of the country as it is now with a little bit about it's past.

The first book I read was in Juvenile Literature. I'm always going through the Juvenile Lit books for reading material for my daughter, so all of the books here will be books for kids. I do intend to delve into some more adult books on the subject soon (any suggestions?) but for now, here are some great kid-based resources.

 Inside Out and Back Again is an interesting book for several reasons. The writing is done in very narrow strips, and short, one page chapters that almost look like poetry. The perspective is of a young girl in Vietnam who finds herself a refugee and a transplant to a very different world; small town Louisiana. Her perspective on being a smart kid, an immigrant, is in itself illuminating, because there are so many things we take for granted in American culture that she found bewildering, and the local people assumed she was dumb because she couldn't speak English. Meanwhile, she missed so much from her home. I read this book in an afternoon and am very glad for it.

Another terrific kids chapter book is "Water Buffalo Days: Growing Up in Vietnam" by Huynh Quang Nhuong. It's an autobiography, and here is the most amazing thing about this book...

you fall in love with a water buffalo.

My kids were luke-warm about reading a book about a boy and a water buffalo, but trust me on this. It will grab you in unexpected ways. A marvelous read for young kids that illuminates rural life in the hills of Vietnam before the war.

Huynh Quang Nhuong also wrote The Land I Lost: Adventures of a Boy in Vietnam. I haven't read it yet, but it seems like some of the same stories but for an older audience. I did read a couple of reviews and it looks good.

Leaving Vietnam: The True Story of Tuan Ngo by Sarah Kilborne is a Ready-to-Read Level 3 kids book, which tells the true journey of a young refugee boy and his journey from Vietnam to America. The book describes the fear and extreme thirst and hunger they endured followed by months of uncertainty in refugee camps. For an early reader book, I found it to be surprisingly sad. At one point an old man goes crazy on the boat and tries to kill himself. I'm glad to for the truth of this story, but I also think parents should probably be aware of these situations when choosing reading material for their kids.

A flipped perspective comes from a book called When Heaven Fell by Carolyn Marsden. This chapter book for juvenile readers is told from the perspective of a poor young girl in modern Vietnam who gets a visit from a long lost relative from America. There is a value in seeing how the culture of her family works and how they live, and also the misguided expectations she and her family have about people in America. Judging by the American movies she's seen, all Americans are rich and dress in fancy clothes and have parties all of the time. Vietnamese history is also touched upon in a very gentle and personal way.

If you are looking for a picture book on this subject, a good one I found is called Going Home, Coming Home by Truong Tran. The story is printed in both Vietnamese and English and tells the story of a little Vietnamese-American girl who goes with her parents back to Vietnam for the first time to visit her relatives there. At first she is upset and angry about all the the "normal" things she can't have, but she comes to love her family and way of life in Vietnam as much as she loves her typical American life at home.

I found a lovely listing of children's books about Vietnam here. Some I have not read yet, so take a look if you want more ideas. There are also books on Vietnamese stories and wildlife, but I'll leave that for another post. Also, if you have good suggestions, please comment. I'd love to add to this list.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Another math resource: Dragon Box

Some wonderful people on a math list I lurk on pointed me to a rather fun math app you can get for your computer, iPad or iPhone. The game is called Dragon Box and it purports to teach basic algebra ideas. I thought to myself, "Why not? It's only $6." We downloaded it and my son got started on it the next day and had conquered the whole app inside of two hours. I'm pretty sure this is not normal, and I'm not sure what he got out of it, but he did manage to figure out the picture/letter/number equations. Since he is only 9, I figure at the very least he will have a good base for when we do cover algebra. My daughter is working on it now. It's taking her a bit longer, but I thought I would share this resource in case it's something your kids might benefit from. It's clever math fun that doesn't seem to be math at all.

If you want to know more, there is a really great article about it from Wired magazine here.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Random Math Video Fun

I've come across a few fun math items this week thanks to friends and various lists that I would love to share.

The first is a really funny video about the history of numbers done by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame. It's called "Story of 1" and I have my friend Laura to thank for this. My kids loved it. It's about an hour long.

Incidentally, if you are interested in covering the history of math and science, a great curriculum resource is "Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way" by Joy Hakum. My daughter took a co-op class using this book last year. They also used the workbook and did many of the activities as a group. She complained through the whole thing, but I must say that she continues to refer back to this book many months later and those stories and concepts really stuck. It's a treasury of science and math history.

Another thing that keeps coming back to my radar are these videos by Vihart. They are just a lot of fun. Here is one on triangles:

Another one we like is "Infinity Elephants"

Separately, someone re-posted this TED talk by John Bennett, which basically says that most kids don't need higher math and High School math should just consist of thinking games. I'm not sure I agree with him, but it's an entertaining talk.

Who says math can't be fun?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Grandfather Mountain

This place is kinda like a mountain theme park. Hey, there are mountains all around you for free, but if you want to pay $18 per adult and $8 a kid, we will let you drive up this one and walk across our bridge!!!

Ok, so it wasn't that bad, but that is pretty much what I was expecting. On our way home from our camping trip we decided to stop in and see what this place was all about. I mean, so many people have mentioned it, and we were in the area, it seemed like we aught to go ahead and see what was there.

Grandfather Mountain is right off of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Linville, NC. Believe it or not, until 2008 it was a privately owned mountain. That year the State was finally able to purchase 2,600 acres and now that portion of the mountain is Grandfather Mountain State Park. If you choose to enter from the park side (the "back country area") you can hike it for free. The "attractions" portion doesn't conform to the State Park mission statement, so it is now a non-profit operation. All I can say is, it must take a lot of money to feed the animals and maintain the bridge... or maybe it's the audio disks they give every visitor.

When you enter you get an audio disk to play as you drive up the mountain. It wasn't too bad, and it does have a lot of good information about the history and geology of the area.

We stopped at the picnic area near the base for lunch, which was very nice. It had trash cans, grills, picnic tables and some great climbing rocks.

As you wind farther up, you pass some really big boulders, one of which is called Split Rock. It's a great example of a metamorphic conglomerate and they have a good geology lesson here.

A little farther on is the Nature Museum and the animal exhibits.
I was somewhat unimpressed with the museum. It does have a very nice collection of rocks and gems. There are models of some different kinds of plants, mushrooms and animals, and a model of the mountain, but nothing very real or comprehensive. There is a large cafeteria and gift shop here.

The zoo area has some native animals to view. The bears used to be fed by visitors and so are permanent residents now. They were clearly begging, but very cute I must say.

There were some otters and a few other animals. I wouldn't call it a full zoo.

All along the way are some spectacular views and hiking trails for those who care to actually get out of their cars. A summary of the trails can be found here.

We parked in the Trails Parking Area and took the Bridge Trail to the top. It's only a .4 mile trail and it switchbacks through a very pretty rocky mixed hardwood forest to the top. It's a good climb, and you should be aware that most everything on the mountain, even the Nature Center is pretty vertical. It would be hard for handicapped persons, but they could certainly ride to the top, listen to the audio and take in the view.

As we climbed, we could hear a thunderstorm rolling in. As the rumbling got closer we made it to the upper parking lot and the "Mile High Swinging Bridge". You should know that it's "a mile high" from sea level, not the ground below. It's also good to know that there is a lightning rod on it, but I still thought it was probably a bad idea to be walking across a metal bridge to a granite rocky outcrop in a thunderstorm. We managed to explore it and hike back down to the car before the rain hit.

Spectacular views, nice trails, very neat bridge. Worth the entrance fee? I'll let you decide.

If you want to know more about the history of Grandfather Mountain, you can find it all in this book: Grandfather Mountain: A Profile.

This week...

This week has been one heck of a miss-mash of stuff. Here's just a sampler...

I managed to salvage some produce from our garden before the aphids and cabbage worms ate it all. Guess I'll give it a break and try it again with the kale and lettuce in a week or two.

My daughter started her riding lessons for the Fall.

We also started back with our Spanish and Piano teachers this week for the new school year. My son in particular is not too happy about this, "Here we go again." he says.

My daughter actually said this to me one day this week, "I don't want to go anywhere." I can't believe that came out of her mouth. This child has never said such a thing like that to me before! Could this possibly be an exact opposite twin switched when I was not looking?

We went to Lazy Daze, the annual Arts and Crafts fair in Downtown Cary. This is a huge fair that occurs every year and a great place to go to see artisans of all kinds and find one-of-a-kind items. We've been so many times, we almost decided to skip it, but we did trek down there to peruse the stalls. We got some good food, and took in a little entertainment. The weather was mercifully nice. Last year it was cancelled on account of a hurricane and the year before it was in the 100s.

Here's my handsome guy.

On Tuesday we went to the NC Museum of Natural Science Homeschool Day. It's a day where they offer various classes to homeschoolers of all ages. You have to pre-register and pay a fee. Unfortunately, they make you sign up for classes after you get there, and the line was out the door. This event was sold out, so you get an idea about the demand for this sort of thing. There were two sessions, but we only were able to stay for the first and didn't get both of the classes we wanted. Still, it was well worth it.

The new wing, by the way, is pretty neat. I'm so excited about the new laboratories and exhibits. It's a terrific resource. If you just want to go exploring for free you can head down there and spend the day, or you can sign up for their Family science classes (filling up fast). These are in addition to the Student Programs that they continue to offer. A good overview of everything they offer can be found here.

As a 10 and up kid, Jessi was able to take a class in a real laboratory about laboratory techniques (pipetting, measuring, what things are called, how to use a microscope...) and with our favorite teacher too, Mr. Bob.

Noah had to settle for a class on the planets and constellations, but he got to be the sun for a while and view some neat animals while reviewing the information we know about the solar system, the names of the constellations and some of the stories behind them.

At home, I am happy to say we continued to get a good bit of schoolwork done, and Noah even dragged out the "Tin Can Robot Kit" that has been sitting in my office for a year. I actually have two of these and Jessi did hers the next day. This little project was a good study in two different personalities. Noah really enjoyed the process. He loved screwing in the little bitty screws with a small screw driver. For him it was about completing the project and making something. The kid likes details. I still can't figure out why he doesn't like Legos.
My daughter pulled her kit out, immediately decided what it's name was gonna be and told me a whole story about how the robot came into to being and what kind of robot it would be. When it came to putting the little delicate pieces together, however, she completely melted down. Not a detail kind of nitty gritty person this kid. For her it's all about stories and characters. Probably not going to be an engineer.
They both also had their testing day in karate class. Noah earned his second stripe on his black/brown belt. The next step is Junior Black belt, and that will be in December. Jessi is one step behind him.

You might notice the hairdo on the female unit. This is a sign that the two have them have been on an Avatar: The Last Airbender anime cartoon binge the past two weeks. Turns out you can stream the whole series on Netflix. We seem to go from one fantasy world to the next. Ah well, at least it fits in with the whole karate thing.:)