Friday, December 21, 2007

Legodiles at the Junior First Lego League Expo in Harrisonburg VA

The Legodiles attended the expo without one of our members, but those who were able to go had a wonderful time. Here are some pictures:

The team with their display and model:

Benny explaining solar power to the judge:

The team getting their trophies:

Happy team:

And in the van on the way home:

Sweet, smart little boys. They were charming, interesting, brilliant little people all day and we richly enjoyed the experience. :) Our next Expo will be in January with the full complement of members. We can't wait to show Shira how much fun it is.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

How to Build Gracious Collaborators

Our Lego League team is heading for the Expo in December. Today the model is done. The offshore platform, the gas processing plant, the gas company, the kitchen. And the pipes are in place. What's completely amazing is that all four children worked harmoniously on the same model. They did not fight over who got what partner, who worked on what structure, or what color bricks to use for the countertop. They were absolutely great. I was so proud, I almost exploded.

How was this accomplished? Well, the children we had to work with are exceptionally wonderful. They are all brilliant, opinionated, imaginative little people, and they do get on each other's nerves. When one of them gets a strong vision, they get very determined to follow it specifically, and it's hard for them to accommodate a partner. I did a little work to help them find their gracious behavior.

From the moment I knew that they were going to be working together all on the same 15 by 15 inch plate, I was worried about the conflict. So, for the last two meetings we worked in teams of two and practiced building the major structures: the kitchen and the offshore platform. First, both teams built the kitchen. Then, the next team, both teams built the platform. Breaking the team into partners for two builds meant that there were only two little heads bumping over that 15 by 15 plate, instead of four. Which gave us time to practice our gracious collaboration.

I am all about the vocabulary. I introduced the concept of "gracious collaboration" and dramatized, in a silly way, both examples of good collaboration and examples of rotten, dysfunctional collaboration. I had the children brainstorm situations that might arise in the building process where conflict could develop. First I demonstrated extremely ungracious behavior (which made them laugh) and we decided on gracious things to say. We wrote these down on the chalkboard. The children came up with three conflicts: two people want to do the same part of the work, the partners disagree about whether an idea is good or not, and the partners disagree about what to do next. They decided on three gracious utterances. The first two are ways to avoid conflict, and the third is a way to respond to someone else's graciousness:

"I hear your idea, but may I make a suggestion?"

"I defer to you."

"Thank you, dear partner. Let's do your idea next!"

We agreed that no one person should constantly be in charge of graciousness -- that it should switch by turns between the partners. If child A defers this time, then child B will defer next time. We talked about how you can only graciously defer if you trust that your partner will also graciously defer when it's his/her turn.

When we started the build, I had a sheet of little stickers in my hand. Every time I heard one of the children say something on the list, or some other improvised polite-itude, I would shriek with delight and gallop over and put a sticker on that child's hand. I didn't say it was a competition, and we didn't have a winner, but they did want to get a lot of stickers. And they did. I will shamelessly admit to making a big fat deal out of it -- at one point I clasped my forehead and claimed to be crying with joy over the politeness and the glorious teamwork.

After the practice, I was impressed with the children, but today was the toughest test. They passed with flying colors. I never would have thought that four children could be so nice to each other. Collaboration has been achieved. Go Legodiles!

Here's a video of the collaboration practice:

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My True Screw: A Physics Song for Learning about Screws

Another song about physics for elementary school!

Here's a link to the song sheet as a PDF:

Here are the lyrics:


A screw is a shaft with a helical groove
Or thread wound around it in a helical way
You use a screwdriver to make the screw move
Righty tighty, lefty loosey,” as Joshua would say

Screw Screw Screw!
Are you a true simple machine?Or are you just another helical inclined plane?

A screw translates torque into linear force
When you turn it, that’s torque but it doesn’t just spin
It also goes straight down — that’s linear of course
“What goes around goes down!” say the Silverberg twins


The drive of the screw is the slot in its top
Where you put the screwdriver to turn it around
It might be a cross, a line, square, or teardrop
“A proper tool for every job,” as Benny has found.


Have you heard of Archimedes
He perfected a wonderful screw
To lift water or an object up
Like a golf ball, or a hot turnip

A screw inside a pipe
Is a screw of a mechanical type
A screw with a point on one end
Is a fastener screw, my dearest friend

Note: There are specific names in the song, which obviously would have to be changed to your children's names. To replace "The Silverberg Twins" with one name (if you don't have twins in your group) just say "says Rudolph again" or whatever name you need.

And here's the video, in which I completely bargled the lyrics, but as long as I have children to jump on my head and correct me, who cares:

Monday, November 26, 2007

Flat Sadie Has Hair

Long ago, in a unit study far away, we made "blank kids" that we decorated with labels for body parts, bones and organs. Here's my post about this anatomy lesson. While Benny labelled his, but Sadie befriended hers. We called her "Flat Sadie" and dressed her in Sadie's clothes. She sat around, waiting for someone merciful to give her some hair.

So, for a year, Flat Benny has been lounging around upstairs and flat Sadie has been bemoaning her baldness. This week I'm for some reason motivated to clear off some unfinished things on my sewing table, and one of those things is represented by a single ball of very pink yarn that Sadie picked out a few months ago for Flat Sadie's hair.

If you have sewed on doll hair, you know what a pain in the rhinoceros it is. If you haven't, may you never have to go through this kind of agony. Yarn by yarn, stitch by stitch, I forged the chains I wear, Ebeneezer. And then, it was half done, and Sadie said, in her tiny little high mousey voice, "But Mommy, I want Fwat Sadie to have haiw just like ME. With a ponytaiw!" So, she got a ponytail.

The baby's happy. Did I mention that she gave up her binky? Yeah, she could pretty much ask for ice cream at every meal and get it, this week.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Are you kidding me?

Living here in a firmly red state, we don't see a lot of political ads. I don't think I've seen one single ad for a presidential candidate. In a way, it's a drag, living here in Republicania, but the lack of political ads is really a blessing. I saw this one on YouTube today:

Really? Huckchuckfacts? HUCK CHUCK FACTS?

I'm all for having a sense of humor. I am. Especially in politics. But this is amazing. I'd like to send out a request, to the universe, at this time.

Dear Universe,

Please let the republican nominee be Mr. Huckabee. And please let the democratic nominee be Hillary Clinton. Those of us who have a dispassionate interest in dramatic elections would be truly grateful.


I mean, can you imagine? Can you imagine???

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Enchanted with Bunnies

We went to see "Enchanted." It was, by far, the best movie I have seen in a long time. Delightful. Funny, sweet, charming, inspiring, exciting, and dear. The performance delivered by Amy Adams (who played Giselle, the animated princess who comes to real life New York City) was amazing. I can't think of another actress who could have put out this kind of joy, this kind of untrammeled cheer and goodness, without it seeming tongue in cheek or artificial. She was amazing. A joy to behold. The whole thing was wonderful. We all loved it, laughed, beamed, and cheered. This was Disney animation poking fun at itself, and it was sweet, silly, and good-natured poking. It made the Shrek trilogy seem kind of snarky and mean. They even put in a big green ogre and he was a nice ogre. And... to top it all off... it was a musical. SIGH. Beauty.

After the movie, we went here:

Yes, the pet store. Because someone has given up her binkies:

Someone who is now the proud owner of a rabbit:

The rabbit, need I point out, is also the proud owner of a purple cage and pink fluffy bedding. Which she has pooped on. Many times. Her name is "Giselle."

Friday, November 23, 2007

To Join or Not to Join

I joined Blogging Chicks about a month ago. Blogging Chicks is a very large blog network, and when you join it, your link gets added to the blogroll that's mandatory on all members' blogs. When I say that I "joined" I mean that I emailed the owner on September 22 asking for the code to put her blogroll on the sidebar of this blog. She sent me the code on October 18, and I added it over there on the right, aware that it might even be "a few weeks" before I got added to the list. I didn't think about it too much, but periodically I would check it and notice that I wasn't on it yet. Well, whatever; we're all busy, right?

The reason I joined Blogging Chicks was to improve my site's ranking on things like Google's PageRank and TTLB. I suppose I could say it was to make friends, to find cool new blogs, to belong in a more meaningful way to the blogosphere, etc. But mostly, it was to boost my linkage. Today, I took that blogroll off my blog for two reasons. One was that I went and checked out the Blogging Chicks site, and the owner has announced that due to school pressures she won't be adding anyone until the 16th of December. The other was because I checked out the page rank of some of the sites on the blogroll, and they're not better than mine. I don't need help to get a page rank of 3. In fact, having a wagonload of outgoing links can actually harm your ranking with some engines.

I know a lot of blogs that have what looks like thousands of links, both via blogrolls and also in handmade lists. I wonder how valuable some of these mega-blogrolls really are. I think I'm done with the big blogrolls, for now. I mean the ones that are generated by a third party and then called up by a script to appear on all the member blogs. On the other hand, I am going to work on my links list and develop a handmade blogroll of sites that I visit regularly, as well as those that link to me. I appreciate and reciprocate links, and I want to work on that aspect of this site. Now that I have a functional site index, I need a good links list.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Levers La La La: A Science Learning Song to Teach about Levers and Simple Machines

Preparing to teach Benny's Lego League team about levers, I realized that I myself knew nothing about levers. I vaguely recalled that a crowbar is one, and that force times distance equals knit one purl two Francis Bacon. Beyond that, I was in the dark. When I was 18, I took a class called University Physics, where these things were probably discussed. OR maybe not. The people in my class may have all been well beyond the study of simple machines. Maybe I was too, at the time.

What I chiefly remember about University Physics was that I was in the middle of trying to get my school to boycott table grapes and thereby save the world from injustice. I'm pretty sure I missed a few labs and maybe even the final. I got an A the first semester, a B the second semester, and from there things got really bad and I ended up an English major. I'm sure my physics professor wanted to crack my head like a nut on several occasions. I was a terrible student. Really terrible in an epic, timeless way. Rotten. At the time, calculus was giving me hives.

Anyway, now that I have two bright young students on my roster and am no longer so completely absorbed in electric guitars and oppressed peoples, I went to the library and learned about levers. And, because I am me, I wrote a song about it to teach this info to the children.

Here is a link to a PDF of the song sheet lyrics:

Here are the lyrics:


In a first class lever, the fulcrum is between
The force and the mighty load
Which might be water or a kid named Jean
You use a first class lever to paddle a canoe
A seesaw or a scissors or the
Shoehorn in your shoe

Your load is so heavy and your fulcrum is fixed
If I apply some force today
We can lever all your troubles away

That's not all the levers we've got
Let's give the second class lever a shot

In a second class lever the force is at one end
The fulcrum's at the other end
The load is in the middle but the bar won't bend
A door is a second class lever, and a wheelbarrow's one too
If you like to use a nutcracker
Try lever number two!


That's not all the levers we've got
Let's give the third class lever a shot

In a third class lever it's the fulcrum, then the force
Then the load on the other side
Which might be an apple or a stick or a horse
Your arms are third class levers, your legs are levers too
And shovels, slings, and spoons
When you use them to fling food.


And here is a video of the Legodiles (plus one extra little brother) singing the lever song:

Here's my chance to publicly apologize to Dr. Fulcher for being a rotten student. Homeschooling a seven-year-old is a perfect chance to start over on physics, and this time I'm paying attention.

Interested in more Little Blue Ideas? Try the Idea Box for homeschooling ideas and more.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Hidden Mickeys: An Obsessive Child's Dream

In all Disney movies and in many rides and buildings at Disney theme parks, deviously clever animators have hidden "secret" occurences of the shape of Mickey Mouse's head in silhouette -- either the three circles of head and ears, or a profile. Sometimes these little secrets are very very subtle, like a tiny knothole on one of the trees at the entrance to the Peter Pan ride, or a miniscule mousey embellishment on Madame Leota's cart outside the Haunted Mansion. Some are more obvious, like the mouse-head-shaped constellation in the movie "Lion King 1 1/2" or the Mickey shaped leaves on a vine in Small World.

People get obsessed about hidden Mickeys. People argue about whether something is or is not a real hidden Mickey. Is it a hidden Mickey if it's just part of the decor? Is it a hidden Mickey if it's an accidental grouping of three bubbles in a scene with a million bubbles? Obviously, the animator or set designer had to be doing it on purpose, for it to "count," and usually you can tell if something is intentionally hidden or not. Sometimes not though. Difficult to decipher. Plenty of people on the internet are trying though. Google "Hidden Mickey" and you'll find lots of people claiming to have seen Mickey in the clouds, or in a lemon they just cut in half, or in Cinderella's pupils, and more people telling them they're just experiencing wishful thinking.

I like the idea. The Disney people leave lots of little portals open into their secret magic world, which is really not secret, and not magical. It's fun to pretend it is though, and little breezes from open portals make it more enticing and mysterious. Finding hidden Mickeys gives you an insider feeling, a way to identify yourself as "in the know" and separate from the sweaty masses around you. It's another way that you can embrace the manipulation that Disney lays out for you -- enjoy it, examine it, and think about it -- but don't think too hard.

Last year, Benny collected a few hidden Mickey pins, but he didn't really get the whole mystery and intrigue of it all. This year he got it, BAD. On the way down, the kids were watching Lion King 1 1/2 and Benny found seven hidden Mickeys, almost accidentally. He found the first one without knowing what he was looking for, and then after I explained to him what they were, he found six more. He was hooked. Dan bought him a book called "Hidden Mickeys," which gives hints to finding the little suckers, and he found many. Many in the book, many not in the book, many that I privately thought were just naturally occurring shapes, and many that I was amazed he had noticed.

It was fun, it provided a whole other layer to his experience, and it was interesting for the adults in the family too. I highly recommend turning your little acutely "noticing" child onto the search for Hidden Mickeys. You can start with the DVDs you already have. For example... did you know that in the concert scene at the beginning of "The Little Mermaid," Goofy and Mickey and Donald can be seen in the audience of merpeople? Go on -- look. You know you want to!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Goodbye Magic Kingdom

Today was our last day in the parks. For the first hour, we had the place practically to ourselves, but then it became incredibly crowded, and we were so glad we'd jumped around to all the rides we really wanted, while it was still lonely and fast. Also, we used a lot of fast passes and rider switch passes. Benny was on an urgent hunt for Hidden Mickeys, assisted by his guidebook:

Here he is finding on in the Snow White ride's entrance:

The Haunted Mansion line was longer than we've ever seen it. Here's Benny pretending to be afraid of the line:

As for Sadie, she was just happy to be on the carousel:

The coming week is going to be huge here. I'm glad we're on our way home today. We're going to stop at the Lego Imagination Center in Downtown Disney and also the Build Your Own My Little Pony kiosk in the big toy store there. Both of those experiences were highly recommended to me during the last week by other parents. After that we're on our way home. Not a moment too soon -- I think we all need a week to recuperate.

Benny at Woody's cowboy camp:

It was a fun week, but an exhausting experience being led around by two adorable children with boundless energy and a wealth of interesting ideas for what to do next.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Mickey's Christmastime is Christmas at Christmastime Holiday Party

I can't remember the song from the parade, but I do recall the word "Christmas" being used once or twice. Or forty times. It was a cute parade. Benny stood right in the front and waved vigorously at every dancer, every character, every vehicle driver -- everything that could potentially have waved back. Then he'd come vaulting over to us and say, "I will now list the names of people who have paid attention to me from the parade: Alice from Wonderland" and then he'd vault back to his spot.

He and Sadie dressed like Woody and Jessie:

They were so cute it was making me faint:

The lines were so short! We rode Goofy's Barnstormer a dozen times *without getting off the ride* because there weren't enough people waiting to warrant them evacuating the whole train. Benny and Sadie sat together in the front car, and she screamed enthusiastically all the way around, every time. It was hilarious, and I also cried because there they were, sitting together in the front car, just like real people.

Here are Sadie and Dan pulling into the docking thingy from the Tomorrowland Indy Speedway:

Here's Benny driving his car:

We also rode Small World, Peter Pan, Snow White, Haunted Mansion, and more -- whatever Sadie wanted. We saw the fireworks. We saw the parade. And when Sadie fell asleep, Dan and Benny rode Space Mountain until the park shut down at midnight.

On his way out of the ride on his last trip, Benny actually fell asleep on the moving walkway. He said he was going to take a rest and put his head down on the moving handrail, and then the people he had been talking to were suddenly getting no response. They told Dan he had fallen asleep, and sure enough, Dan had to wake him up. He loves Space Mountain.

The party was a good party. Hot chocolate and cookies, real fake snow falling all down Main Street USA, all the characters dressed up for winter, and Sadie actually interacted with a character (Goofy) for the very first time. And survived. Here she is on the spinning teacups:

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Back to NASA: Kennedy Space Center

We couldn't stay away. We are supernerds.

On the NASA tour bus:

Viewing the launchpad, currently all full of shuttle:

The shuttle crawls down this road from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pad at 1 mph. The whole thing is so heavy it "pulverizes" the road every time, and every time they have to rebuild the road.

Saturn V Rocket. Model below, real thing above:

Benny as Jupiter in the "Mad Mission to Mars" show:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Epcot Wednesday

I thought when we went to Epcot that we might have "been there, done that" last year, and that we could get quickly through Futureworld and arrive in the World Lagoon before sundown, for once. I was wrong.

Benny waiting for Test Track:

Cinderella and Dan at The Living Seas:

Benny and Dr. Nigel Channing:

Benny and Minnie:

Benny takes a great deal of joy in meeting the characters. He gets SO excited, it's almost mystifying. I haven't figured this out yet. The lady who was taking his picture here for the PhotoPass said, "That's the smile of a boy who's having the time of his life." Yes.

Cinderella operating a musical robot:

Dan and the kids playing a 3D "surgical training" game where you had to pick up and place organs and bones correctly on an operating table. Very cool.

Innoventions was fantastic -- much better than I remembered it. Here's Benny decorating some paper that he made at a little paper-making station:

Sadie building a robot:

After you build the robot, you run and jump on footpads to drive your robot through an obstacle course. Here are Sadie and Benny doing that:

By the time we got to the World Lagoon, it was dark already. It seems I didn't take any pictures there -- but the fireworks were fantastic, and we found a very good place to watch them this year. Hooray!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Animal Kingdom Tuesday

This morning I walked out of the condo and left my phone sitting on the counter. Therefore, the only pictures I have are on my real, actual camera which cannot be downloaded until we get home. I do have this to report: Benny rode the Everest Expedition seven times. Yes, seven times. All in the front row. He also rode the Kali River Rapids three times, and we did a whole bunch of other stuff that we hadn't done last year, as well as repeating our favorites. The lines were INCREDIBLY short. We walked straight on to Kilimanjaro Safari. Virtually no waiting on Expedition Everest for the last hour the park was open (that's when he went through twice). I love November in Disney World and I love homeschooling.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Magic Kingdom Monday

Happy children:

Princess ears:

Examining the Swiss Family Robinson's Tree House for examples of simple machines:

Aladdin's Carpetty Goodness:

Jungle Cruise:

Hello, Mary Poppins:

The lines today were fantastically short. Marvelous weather. Excellent time. Benny rode Space Mountain 5 times before 10:00AM. So, by that measure, this was the best day ever in the history of earth.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Kennedy Space Center

Here are some pictures from the Kennedy Space Center.

The Space Shuttle Simulator:

Satellite of Love (inside the old Atlantis):

IMAX in 3D:

Benny and a guy in an astronaut suit:

The children in an Apollo crew capsule:

Exercising our Latin:

Pretend lunar rover: