Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Authors Week

This was a really fun week that I have hardly any pictures of! When I planned this, I was remembering the "Young Author's Conference" that we used to have when I was in Elementary School. You had to write and illustrate (and put together) your own book in order to be eligible. Once you had done that, you had the privilege of attending the all-day conference (while everyone else was slaving away in their regular classes!). You got to read/tell about your book to everyone else, and then there were writing workshops and guest authors, and you got to eat your lunch in the faculty room, and best of all there were donuts or some other refreshments at the end of the day! I remember it very fondly, as you can tell, and I wanted to find some way we could have a similarly fun experience with the writing process, start to finish. 

We did spend some time on basic story structure, but I also wanted to study some different authors' lives, so I read quite a few (meant-for-adults) biographies of children's book authors that we like. I picked the best ones (some were very depressing, and/or shocking---like Lewis Carroll! Goodness!) to summarize for the kids, and then we also found several shorter, meant-for-children biographies that I read to them. Nothing really stellar. "Biographies for children," as a genre, is clearly in need of some new talent. The ones I found were either cloyingly insipid ("Young Ted never did well in school, but once he just believed in himself he was stunningly successful!") or achingly dull ("After many years at Punch, an English Literary Magazine, Arthur became interested in theater criticism . . .").

Every day we worked on some new aspect of writing their stories. Daisy and Malachi insisted on being included, so they dictated their stories to me and I wrote them down. (Daisy is surprisingly attached to her book. She gets it out and pores over it, even by herself, every day, and loves to have it read to her.) 

By the end of the week (after much work---copying the final drafts took the most time, and I ended up typing the last few pages for even Abe and Seb, since I decided the point of this was not handwriting technique, though they did get several hours' worth of that), we were ready to bind our books! This was very, very exciting for the children. But when we went to the Kinko's/FedEx copy store, the guy told us it would be $19 to laminate and bind (simple spiral binding) ONE BOOK. What?!? We went to Stevenson's in Provo the next day instead, and did all four books for under $9, so let that be a lesson to you! :)
In order for us to have the full, Young-Author-y experience I was envisioning, however, our week needed a GUEST AUTHOR. Luckily, I had one in mind: our friend Kristen Randle. I had read some of her books when I was in high school, but I rediscovered her as an adult and liked her newer books even better (and even did a bit of editing for her). Best of all, I knew she was a fascinating person to talk to, and good with children. And she graciously agreed to come be our GUEST AUTHOR. Hooray!

And she was SO good. Warm and funny and down-to-earth. She taught the children all about the history of books---bookbinding---publication---the printing process---and a bunch of other things---and she helped them create a character and the bare bones of a plot which we were supposed to continue working on later. (And we will---though we haven't yet.) We were SO enthralled by her.
And of course, we had a delicious AUTHORS LUNCH, with fancy luncheon-type foods which we only have on special occasions and which the children helped me prepare: vegetable bars and artichoke dip and homemade hot cocoa in the crockpot.  So that made us all feel very fancy. All in all, it was a lovely week!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Plastic Bag Hot Air Balloon

We really wanted to try making our own hot air balloon from a plastic bag. There are a lot of different ways to do it, and tutorials. I thought this one looked most promising (the instructions are very detailed). There are 6 videos to watch. We almost, almost got our balloon to fly. It hovered for a moment. But it just wouldn't go all the way up. We tried it first with a dry-cleaning bag (it started to melt before getting very far up, though it did stand up) and then with a small trash can liner we got at church, but it must have still been too thick---or perhaps the folds on top needed to be smoothed out so they didn't get so hot (he shows this in one of the videos).

We would have tried again, but we had no more bags, no more candles, and no more time that day! But it was a really fun project, and not too difficult. The boys did all the measuring and taping/cutting of the straw frame, the foil, etc. by themselves, and I helped with attaching the candles to the foil. I read that you can use hot glue instead of melting the wax, and I think that would have worked better (the wax had a tendency to be unstable). There are other good troubleshooting suggestions on this main page also.
Candle platform
Measuring the bag
Attaching the "frame"
Ready to fly

We do have this on our list of things to do another time! I really think we can get it to work better, so next time I have to have something dry cleaned we'll give it another go!

We also might give one of these methods a try (there are several other tutorials like this one around), but because the heating apparatus is not attached, I'm not sure it would be as effective. Might be worth trying, though.
Fully inflated

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

[Since I already wrote a long post on the Balloon Fiesta for my other blog, and since I don't believe I have any other school-related observations to share, I'll just reproduce that post here:]
As I believe I've mentioned before, going to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta has always been something I've wanted to do, ever since we tried (and failed, due to windy conditions) to see it when I was three years old. I love hot air balloons! When at long last we planned this trip at the correct time of year, I was fully prepared for it to be cancelled due to wind or rain again. But we were hoping, hoping (and praying) that the weather would cooperate! The Friday was rainy and cold, but the Saturday and Sunday were bright and clear and lovely. We were so happy! It was everything we'd hoped, and even better. When the first balloons go up, it's still pretty dark outside, and as they turn on their burners, they light up like floating lanterns in the sky. These first balloons also have little lights floating from their baskets---tiny diamonds below them---see?
Then suddenly the sky starts turning pink, and you walk onto the field and you're surrounded by all these huge, breathing, billowing creatures. They sway uncertainly as they lurch upright, like a genie who's spent too long in his bottle and is feeling rather stiff. I love being in among the balloons. I think they seem friendly, even when they puff fire and make hraaaa! noises at you.
They rise up into the sky a few at a time at first, and then suddenly whole swarms of them are lifting off: stretching and straining upwards and finally breaking free of the earth.
There are lots of funny ones: floppy-trunked elephants and storks and clocks and penguins.

Those were a big hit with the children.

When the sun comes up, everything becomes, if possible, even more beautiful. Rainbow bubbles catching the sunlight!
They are mesmerizing.

I have experienced nothing like it. The sheer numbers . . . over 700 balloons, I think . . . and the way they loft so simultaneously into the sky around you. It's like you're underwater, watching the whole world float up past you to the surface. I can only imagine how cool it would be to lift off within that colored cloud.

We watched from a different viewpoint the next day. From that distance, there was less of the submerged-by-balloons feeling, but there was the sudden breathless surprise of seeing them suddenly foaming up out of the trees, surging out in waves like bubbles from a bubble machine.
And then spilling over the buildings and right over our heads.
Abe took this picture out the back window of the car. A flock of bright birds following us back to our hotel!
All the way back.

That night we went back to watch them glow again. No flying this time, but they stood in rows and blinked on and off like fireflies. It reminded me so much of the gas lamps that light Embassy Row in London---the sound of the gas hissing gently in the dark; the fuzzy edges of the light, so different from the starkness of fluorescence; the feeling of being in another time. It was beautiful.

There were fireworks to cap it all off; you can see that we are a family that enjoys fireworks. (Sort of embarrassing: need I be quite so stereotypically "ooh-and-ah"-ing?) (Though I do especially like Sebby's dumbfounded expression.) 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Albuquerque Box

While we were looking up the history of Albuquerque's Balloon Fiesta, we learned about something really interesting called the "Albuquerque Box." It's a wind/weather pattern that happens because of Albuquerque's geographical position. Basically, for this pattern to occur, you need very dry air, a small/enclosed valley, and a place where daytime warms and nighttime cools are widely disparate.

I'm not an expert on this, but as I understand it, when these conditions are right, the cold nighttime air falls down the mountains/mesas to lower elevations. As the sun comes up and starts to warm the upper air, it creates wind between the air layers that makes a strong air current in one direction (south, in this case). As the cold air moves south and away from the enclosing "walls" of mountain, it warms and moves upward in elevation. Another air current then forms, moving the opposite direction, back toward the enclosed valley. The warmer air then cools again, falls, and joins the other current moving south.

You can see why balloonists would like this phenomenon: when it is present, they can take off from one location (the balloon fiesta park, e.g.), fly at low altitude south for a while, and then, when they wish to return, go up higher to catch the "return trip" wind current right back to where they started!  No chase vehicles necessary. :) Of course, the Albuquerque Box doesn't occur all the time, but it's more common in Fall when the Balloon Fiesta takes place, and when it does occur, it makes for great ballooning, apparently! Interesting, eh?

Hot Air Balloon Unit

Hot air balloons (and gas balloons) have a pretty fascinating history. I knew there would be lots of related scientific principles to learn, but I didn't know about the use of balloons as the first "air force" in several wars, notably the Civil War. The book Lincoln's Flying Spies (Gail Jarrow) was really interesting. It was too long for me to read the whole thing to the children, but I read it all myself, and then read excerpts to them, and summarized other parts, and we looked at the pictures.

Of course the highlight of the unit was getting to see the hot air balloons at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, but we also really enjoyed the Balloon Museum there at the end of the launch field. There were a lot of hands-on activities, some of which we skipped because of the crowds, and we also liked seeing several historic balloons---ones used for transatlantic flight attempts, etc. I feel like it's kind of sad that, because of all the advantages airplanes have over balloons, the impetus to make passenger airships, etc., kind of fizzled out. Not that I don't like airplanes---but there's something so majestic and beautiful about a balloon. I'd love to ride in one of those big zeppelins or airships! :)

I was also just thinking how nice it is to have a usable vocabulary about various subjects. I don't care about knowing all the fancy jargon that only experts use, but it's just satisfying to be able to say (and have the children say), "Look, now the hot air is going through the skirt into the envelope!" rather than "Look at that flap part directing the air into the balloon part!" Or, "He opened the parachute valve!" instead of "The top flap thing is opening!" It's not that big of a deal, but I just like being more accurate and effective in our speech. And I like hearing the children use those words even when they are just playing with each other.

Here's a good overview of how balloons work:

Parts of a balloon:

A coloring page---no educational value, but it was fun to color rainbow balloons

We watched several videos of hot air balloons and balloon flights:

This one was cool (amazing scenery!):

This was also good:

And here is Daisy riding in the hot air balloon Abraham built for her! (that's my big exercise ball under the blanket on top) :)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Mesa Verde

Carlsbad Caverns is a tough act to follow, but during our cave unit, we also talked about humans' relationship with caves. Sam taught about cave symbolism and its religious significance for the Maya, and we looked at pictures of paintings found in the Lescaux Caves and others. And of course, we learned about the Anasazi people who carved out whole cities from the natural sandstone caves at Mesa Verde. We only had half a day, but it was time to take the easiest hike (many of the other hikes had ladders/climbs we didn't know if the littlest ones could negotiate) and drive around the mesa tops to see some of the sites from afar.
It was a beautiful warm Fall day. The leaves were changing colors and Daisy kept wanting her picture taken.

It is fascinating to be in these ancient places and think about the people that constructed them. I wish so much I could have a look at a day in their real lives. I wonder how accurate our conjectures are?
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