Friday, March 18, 2011

Our Thoughts are With Japan

One of the best aspects of homeschooling is the ability to change our focus whenever we want to: this week, the current tragic events in Japan seemed more relevant than Ancient Greece, Mozart, and sound waves. I felt it was important to put the current crisis in context, so I put together a small unit study on Japan.

A quick trip to the library yielded some research material:

Before we started reading, I asked the kids what came to mind when they thought of Japan: of course their first answers were earthquakes and tsunamis. But after some thinking, they named sushi, Hello Kitty, sumi-e painting and anime characters. The National Geographic book above has great maps, and we were able to locate Sendai, Tokyo, and the epicenter of the earthquake. (We also went to google maps to get an idea of where the shifting plates of the Ring of Fire are located.) We Live in Japan has good cultural information, and describes the daily activities of several Japanese children.

We also read about wildlife unique to Japan's remote islands, like the Bonin flying fox, and the iriomote cat.

Warning signs for Iriomote cat

I found it interesting that they celebrate the spring cherry blossoms much like we celebrate the fall foliage here.

Himeji cherry blossoms

We also watched a few interesting videos. I'm sure I don't need to show you any footage of the destruction and devastation, but we did look at appropriate news coverage, including ABC's explanation of what happened to the nuclear reactor. I didn't let the kids watch the horrifying personal stories--I think that would be too much for them--but we did see lots of scenes of damage and destruction. There are also some amazing before and after photos here.

Japan has such an amazing culture. One of my favorite videos is of a peaceful tea ceremony:

We had already planned a roll-your-own-sushi party with some friends a couple of weeks ago. Of course we had no idea at the time that Japan would be reeling from a series of disastrous events, so it was a bit more solemn than we had originally planned. We said a prayer for the Japanese people before we sat down to our Japanese meal:

To make a sushi roll, you get a sheet of nori...

Spread the rice and other ingredients of your choice:

I believe this one had asparagus, seared scallops, hot sauce and Japanese mayo.

Then you slice the roll. Our homemade rolls aren't as pretty as the ones you get in restaurants, but they were still delicious.

So, kids, tell me something you learned about Japan this week.

In the shinto religion, the land is sacred.

Japan has mountains, beaches, and forests. There are big, modern cities and also peaceful, natural places.

Japan has some unique wildlife, like snow monkeys and a rare cat.

Why does Japan have unusual wildlife?

For one thing, there are islands. So they were isolated.

What do the Japanese people like to eat?

Seafood, fish, vegetables, rice.

Why do the Japanese eat a lot of seafood?

Because it's an island. There are a lot of places to fish. Everywhere you go, there is a coast!

What is that word, that means a string of islands?


Why do they use nuclear energy there?

They don't have coal mines and oil wells there.

Would you ever want to live in Japan?

Dude: I would. If it wasn't right now.
Super: I don't think I would because I'd always be worried about natural disasters.

Visiting Japan has been on my "someday" list for a long time, but I have to admit, I kind of agree with Super. I feel very fortunate that we don't live in an earthquake zone.

The tragedy in Japan is a reminder for us all that life is fragile and sacred, and that it comes with no guarantees. So never forget what is truly important, and enjoy your loved ones. We are praying for you, Japan.

Mt. Fuji

Saturday, March 5, 2011

How do we hEAR?

What's round, tiny and delicate, and vibrates like a...

Need more hints? If pressure builds up behind it, the Eustachian tubes help relieve the pressure. If the pressure gets too great...

Uh-oh! Hopefully that won't cause permanent damage!

We've been trying out our very first Konos unit study: ears and sound. We learned the parts of the ear: pinnae; auditory canal; eardrum, anvil, hammer and stirrup; semicircular canals; cochlea; and auditory nerves.

Then we attached the parts of our "ears" to this "brain." (Our patient is really hard-headed! Ha! Ha!) We used a variety of household stuff for the different parts. Playmobil toys worked well for the tiny bones, and of course we used shells for the cochlea.

Attaching the auditory nerves to the brain. The patient remained stony-faced through the entire procedure. (Sorry.)

And here is "Rocky" with his new ears, complete with earwax glands. (By the way, what should you never, ever do, kids? Stick something in your ear! You do NOT want a perforated eardrum!)

Sometimes ears don't work the way they should. Some people are born with ear problems. Sometimes we do things that damage our hearing, like listening to LOUD music. Sometimes kids get a lot of ear infections and need to have tiny tubes put in their eardrums. There are lots of images online if you want to see what they look like (surprisingly colorful!)

Actor C J Jones has some interesting things to say about being deaf. (Note: the h-word is used once.)

And this is a sweet and interesting video:

We checked out books about Helen Keller, Alexander Graham Bell, and Beethoven to read over the weekend. Next week we'll learn about how animals use sound waves to communicate.

We enjoyed learning about our ears. Hope you had a great week, too!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Memory Game

The kids and I played a fun concentration/memory game today. We each arranged a tray of random objects from around the house.

The others had thirty seconds to look at the tray, then turn away from it and name all the objects on the tray.

The kids had NO problem naming everything, and they could even answer questions like "What color was the marker?" and "What numbers did the dice show?"

I did OK, but I found that I couldn't get past seven objects before I started forgetting!

In other news...

We really like Hands-On Equations.

Our gorgeous downy woodpecker visits us nearly every morning.
(Sometimes we see the female, too, but she's shyer.)

And the sap is rising in our aspen trees! Hooray!