Friday, May 20, 2011

Homeschool Mother's Journal 5/20/2011

In my life this week…
This week was a nice slow week. Little BBQ seems to be maturing in some ways. He helped me clean up this week without screaming and yelling which was a nice change. He also put himself down for a nap one day this week which is also a nice change since he usually does anything he can to stay awake. I know he is getting tired when he starts begging for carbohydrates. I made some pork broth and pressure canned it for later. I have been buys collecting up recipes that we want to try for canning this year.  This year we will be pressure canning on top of boiling water canning so this opens up options for us like canned corn and peas. I am really hoping that the tomatoes in my garden do well so I can have lots of canned tomatoes. I got paranoid of tomato blight this week and put down more nonfat dry milk and egg shells around the tomatoes to prevent tomato blight. I hear that tomato blight is really bad around here, so I want to try and prevent it if I can. My lettuce is growing like crazy. My European salad mix section looks like a fancy salad bar. One of my pea plants has its first flower on it, so that is exciting.  Little BBQ has also been building lots of houses which I really love seeing him being creative.

In our homeschool this week…
We have been doing lots of reading and working on our soroban abacus. Little BBQ seems to be more comfortable adding numbers up to 9 on the soroban, so next week we might try adding double digit numbers.
Places we’re going and people we’re seeing…
We didn’t go anywhere special this week except for the library which is always nice. We are very fortunate that the librarians are tolerant of Miss Bubbles running around the library sitting on all the big chairs while I get more books and Little listens to books on the computers. We also went to a garage sale today. For $13 we got Miss Bubbles some dresses in the next size up since she seems to be in a growth spurt. I was hoping to find her more outfits to sleep in, but we did not find any sleepers for her.
My favorite thing this week was…
My favorite thing this week was watching a movie with Dr. Lazy Palate last night. We haven’t had a lot of downtime together lately, so it was nice to just relax.
What’s working/not working for us…
I think we are finally falling into a rhythm that is working for us.
Homeschool questions/thoughts I have…
I am crossing my fingers that the warm weather stays.
A photo, video, link, or quote to share…
This is a random project that Little BBQ made for me. I allow him free access to art supplies, and he just randomly sat down and made this for me. I love when gets a random spurt of creativity.

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

Book: My Friends the Flowers

I love the flowers of spring. Spring this year is even more exciting because we are living in a new location, and that means new flowers. Last year Miss Bubbles was still little and could not tolerate being outside much, so we did only small chunks of time outside. This year Miss Bubbles is bigger, and we have a backyard, so we are spending lots of time outside. One of my favorite things that I did as a child was to press flowers and make collages out of them.

I decided that it was time to let Little BBQ enjoy this favorite past time of mine. Last week we picked flowers from the backyard, then we placed them between newspapers and put them under some heavy boxes. One week later we had some nicely pressed flowers. To give Little BBQ some inspiration we read the book, My Friends the Flowers. The book used a lot of personification to give personalities to the flowers. Then, in the back of the book there was a small identification guide for flowers. Most of the flowers in the back of the book we did not find in our backyard, but it was still fun to look at the pictures of the flowers.

After reading the book, I let Little BBQ make his collage. I was thinking that this was going to be a 2 dimensional project, but Little BBQ decided to stack the flowers individually on top of each other and glue them that way. It is funny sometimes how I envision an art project and how Little BBQ interprets the project in a completely different way.

Shibley Smiles

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Addition with a Soroban Abacus

Soroban Abacus; Shown is the number 123456789 (zero is represented with all the beads pushed toward the sides)
Early on I decided that I wanted to teach Little BBQ how to add using an abacus, so I always assumed that I was going to either buy or make an abacus with 10 beads per column since we use a base ten system in our society. However, when I started reading, Here's Looking at Euclid by Alex Bellos, I started to change my mind. He made some sound arguments that our brains can quickly differentiate between 1, 2, and 3 items but as we go higher in the number scale it becomes harder and harder for your brain to process more than three (p 14).

It seems that many ancient cultures understood this phenominon. You can see from the diagram below that the Chinese, Romans, and Idians all used dash marks for numbers 1, 2, and 3, but once you got past 3 they changed the symbol to another unqiue symbol in order to quickly distinguish the higher number (p 14).

Armed with this new found perspective I decided that an abacus with 10 beads did not make sense because Little BBQ would not be able to quickly distinguish the difference between 6 beads or 7 beads. I wanted the abacus to be an efficient tool for learning, and not a source of frustration. Many modern abacuses designed for children use brightly colored beads to distinguish the different numbers, but I still think that fewer beads will allow for faster processing.

I decided that a soroban abacus made the most sense. The soroban abacus uses five beads per column. By adding an extra horizontal line bisecting the columns you can quickly represnt the numbers 0-9 on one column. The soroban abacus was used between the seventh and nineth centuries in Japan to accomidate a new merchant class of people who needed to be able to quickly add numbers (p 40). To ease the transition between the abacus and the electronic world an abacus attached to an electronic calculator was sold in Japan for many years (p 41). Interestingly, addition is still quicker with an abacus than an electronic calculator since the answer to an addition problem is in front of you as soon as you  input the values while the calculator still needs to be told to process the information to come up with an answer (p 40). The efficiency of the abacus is probably why it is still a popular tool studied in Japan today by school children who form after school clubs to compete in adding a long series of numbers as quickly as possible using a soroban abacus (pp 40-41).

When a student becomes an soroban abacus master, he can move on to azan. Azan is a technique for visualizing a soroban abacus to quickly add numbers. Proficient pupils in azan can add a series of 15 numbers quicker than a person can use an abacus, pen and paper, or calculator. The catch is that each number is only shown for 0.2 seconds (p 42). That is hardly long enough to process the number on the screen. Azan students keep a visual soroban abacus in their head and when a new number is flashed the student visually moves the beads on the soroban abacus around in his head keeping a running tally of the sumation (p 42).

Interestingly, nueral imaging studies have shown that adding with soroban abacus stimulates areas of the brain that are associated with visuospatial processing while pen and paper addition stimulates areas of the brain that are associated with linguisting processing. In other words, the abacus uses the right side of the brain while the pen and paper method uses the left side of the brain. The soroban abacus is an excellent learning tool for visual students.

Want to really stimulate your brain? Some Japanses students can play shiritori while practicing azan (p 43). Shiritori is a word game where the first person says a word then the next person says a word that starts with the last syllable of the original word and then the first person makes a new word using the last syllable of the second word. The game continues on in this pattern. Bellos gives this demonstration of a young Japanese girl who is a soroban prodigy while she plays shiritori. In the demonstartion the girl is shown 30 three digit numbers during a 20 second time period while playing shiritori (p 43). Her shiritori dialogue with another student is shown in the text below

Gorira (gorilla)
Rappa (trumpet)
Panda (panda bear)
Dachou (ostrich)
Ushi (cow)
Shika (deer)
Karasu (crow)
Suzume (sparrow)
Medaka (killifish)
Kame (turtle)
Medama yaki (fried egg)

At the end of the 20 seconds the girl states that the summation of the 20 numbers is 17,602 (p 43).

Given the sucess of soroban abacus training, I have decided to teach Little BBQ addition using a soroban abacus. To make the experience more person for him, we made our own soroban abacus out of a card board box.


card board box, lid removed
knife or scissors


1. Have the student paint the card board box.
2. Decide how many columns you want the abacus to contain. Cut notches into the top and bottom flaps of the cardboard box equal distance apart for the set number of columns that you chose (we  made our abacus with nine colums all 3.2 cm apart).
3. Cut the string to stretch across each the box from one notch to the other. Place 5 beads on each string. Insert the string in the notches and tape the string to the box. Continue in this pattern until all the columns are finished.
4. Make two notches on the sides perpendicular to the columns. These notches should be close to the top of the box but far enough away from the edge so one bead can comfortably fit abvoe the string line. We decided to use a red string to distinguish this line from the columns in our soroban.
5. Insert the string in the notches perpendicular to the columns. Tape the string.

Posted on Tutorial Tuesday

All references are from the book:

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Homeschool Mother's Journal #17

In my life this week…
We had a lot of fun. We had 2 fires outside which both kids loved. Little BBQ climbed his first tree. We made pork broth to pressure can for later. I made gumbo for the first time with homemade sausage. I had my first garden harvest of some greens, and Miss Bubbles picked me some pretty flowers. Miss Bubbles is saying words like, “ball,” “more,” “thank you,” and “pizza.”
In our homeschool this week…

We made an abacus to learn addition. I love the visual method of an abacus. Little BBQ seems to be picking up counting with abacus quickly, so we are going to attempt addition with the abacus this week. We also found out that Little BBQ will be allowed to join the swim team this summer even though he is technically 6 months too young to join. He has been lap swimming since age 2 with me, so I am excited that he can finally practice with some kids closer to his age.
Places we’re going and people we’re seeing…
We went to Lake Michigan for mother’s day. It was wonderful. The beach was not too crowded yet, and we climbed on top of some sand dunes. We ate an excellent Italian restaurant. The rest of the week we stayed close to home to relax and enjoy the sunshine. Today we went to the farmers market where we got purple asparagus for $3.00, apple mint for $1.00, bok choy for $2.00, green asparagus for $3.00, raw milk for $4.00, and chocolate milk for $8.00.
My favorite thing this week was…
Mother’s day! It was a fun day. My family had been itching to go to the beach since we used to go for the day in April before spring break when we lived on the east coast, but the Midwest does not have any salt water beaches, and April was cold. It would have been nice to be able to spend more time in the water, but it was still a blast and the bugs were not out in full force yet.
Homeschool questions/thoughts I have…
I am in full planning mode for next year. We are taking a tour of the United States! We will be studying each state in depth. Since Little BBQ wants to be a chef, we will be making a recipe from each state that will be showcased on my cooking blog. I would like to know, is there anything unique that your state is known for or any unique recipes?
A photo, video, link, or quote to share…
The flowers Miss Bubbles picked for me.
The Homeschool Mother's Journal

Friday, May 6, 2011

Homeschool Mother's Journal #15 & 16

I did not write up a review of last week, so this week I am going to include a reflection of this week and last week.

In my life this week…

Last week was spent recovering from Dr. Lazy Palate's overseas trip where he came back sick. We got to visit some friend's on their farm. The boys got to play together, and I picked up a half a pig. Over the weekend we decided to take a trip to Indianapolis to have some good quality family time. We visited the Indiana Medical History Museum which was a lot of fun. The museum turned out to be a hidden gem; I would recommend that anyone visit this museum.

The boys on the farm

This week, one of our vehicles had "catastrophic brake failure." These are not words that you want to hear your mechanic utter under any circumstances. The brakes failed while Dr. Lazy Palate was driving to work. Thankfully, he was able to get the vehicle to a repair place without hitting anything or breaking any traffic laws. The even better news is that the cost to completely replace the breaks was less than we had anticipated, so that was a sigh of relief on all fronts. At home the kids and I worked on expanding the garden to plant 12 tomato plants. I still need to further expand the garden to hold another 6 tomato plants and 6 bell pepper plants.

In our homeschool this week…

We have been focusing on reading and playing outside whenever possible. We have been digging for earth worms and making observations. We have been painting with pine needles and letting Miss Bubbles have her first painting experience. I have been research methods for teaching math. I have been making close observations about Little BBQ to understand how he learns, so I can prepare myself to teach him math.

Places we’re going and people we’re seeing…

We went to the our friend's farm and the Indiana Medical History Museum last week. This week we stayed close to home since we only had 1 vehicle. We did, however, find a beautiful blue robin's egg in our backyard which was an unexpected treat.

My favorite thing this week was…

My favorite thing last week was visiting the Indiana Medical History Museum. My favorite thing this week was painting with pine needles. I enjoyed watching Little BBQ explore using the unusual paintbrush.

What’s working/not working for us…

I think things are really tranquil in our lives right now which is great considering how stressful things could have turned out.

Homeschool questions/thoughts I have…

I am grateful that the week ended on a positive note.

A photo, video, link, or quote to share…

I want to share a blog post from my friend. She is a very inspiring person. Her and her husband are building their own small house on their farm. I am impressed with her hard work, dedication, and ingenuity. She gives tips on how to frugally build your own house.

Painting with Pine Needles

We are trying to incorporate more outdoor art in our days since it is finally becoming nice outside. This week I decided to let the kids paint outside. Little BBQ painted with pine needles and Miss Bubbles had her finger painting experience. Little BBQ was apprehensive to use pine needles as his paint brush at first. He he looked at me kind of funny when I told him that we were going to paint with the pine needles. I showed him on a piece of paper how I painted with pine needles, then he got really into painting with the pine needles. He experimented with a splatter painting technique, and he experimented with using the needles like a regular paint brush. It was fun to watch him experiment and create.

Miss Bubbles did not grasp the concept that I gave her paint to paint on the paper. Instead she mainly painted herself even I took her paint filled finger and placed it on the paper. She preferred to be a living piece of art instead. She really had an interest in painting her knees. I was also thankful that I decided to take off her dress and put a disposable diaper on her since she got so messy, but it was fun. After she painted herself, she got distracted and wanted to run through the grass in the yard. I love warm spring days when we can freely explore art and nature.
Miss Bubbles
The Finished Product

Monday, May 2, 2011

Field Trip: Indiana Medical History Museum

Our family decided randomly to take a day to trip to Indianapolis to visit the Indiana Medical History Museum, and we are glad that we did. The museum is nestled in a rougher part of Indianapolis. In fact when we were driving there we were wondering if we wrote down the directions wrong or if we got the wrong address, but sure enough the museum was actually there inside of a fenced in property on a run down side of Indy. The museum is housed in an old pathology building built in 1895. The building was part of the very large Central Indiana Hospital for the Insane that at one point treated between 3,000-3,500 people at one time.

The museum costs $5 for adults, $1 for children 6-18, free for children under 6, and $3 for university students. The museum is open from 10 am – 4 pm Thursday through Saturday with the last guided tour starting at 3 pm. Group tours of 10 or more are allowed on Wednesday-Saturdays if scheduled in advance. Everyone who enters the museum will receive a guided tour because the museum curators do not allow people to walk around by themselves. The museum was well worth the money. There are many artifacts and the curators know a lot of information and are more than willing to share what they know.
The museum mainly houses pathology equipment, but it does house some other medical related artifacts like an infant iron lung or negative pressure ventilator to treat polio (poliomyelitis) when patients become paralyzed and are unable to breath by themselves.

infant iron lung

The building also houses a seated auditorium where medical students listened to lectures. Older medical institutions had standing lecture halls where students would stand while listening to medical lectures.


Once a person enters the pathology building, they had already passed away, and they were there to have their body dissected to determine the cause of death and to perform any research. A body would be placed on an exam table that was tilted slightly so any fluids released during the examination would drain off the table and onto the floor. The fluids would eventually find their way to the drain in the floor. The fluids would be released directly into the city sewage. During the examination, the physician would speak his notes into a pipe that lead upstairs for another person to take his notes during the procedure. During the early 1900s, there were no standards about record keeping; so many notes are missing a patient’s gender, age, and cause of death (all records are sealed due to HIPPA so no records can be browsed at the museum).  

dissecting table
The physicians who worked at the pathology building did tremendous amounts of work. These physicians had to be some of the hardest working and skilled people that I have ever seen. The quality of their slides is impeccable. Their preserved brains are in fantastic condition. Many of the medical instruments were hand cranked. Today we take a few tubes and plop it into a centrifuge that has controlled temperature settings, speed setting, and time settings. Many of the centrifuges in the early 20th century were hand cranked. The museums curators hypothesize that psychiatric patients would come down and help hand crank the instruments in exchange for minimum wage.
During the early 20th century in Indiana, psychiatric patients were wards of the state. Their medical care and meals were all paid. If the patients worked in the hospital, then they also received minimum wage. The curators noted that most of the “mentally ill” were not ill in the same way that we envision mentally ill today. Most of the patients were overwhelmed with their situations. For most patients, if they did not grow enough food, then their family died. This is a stressor that is unknown to most of America today. Patients who entered the hospital in the early 1900s were rehabilitated mentally and were also given the opportunity to learn a new skill or earn money as a patient to help their families. Patients would learn bread baking, clerical work, and other skills.
Looking at the medical equipment, you can really appreciate how far we have come in the medical field. Cryostats are used to slice tissue into equal sized slices so they can be mounted on slides. A modern cryostat has a light and a temperature setting. You can take your time when slicing your tissue. In the early 1900s the cryostat has to be sharpened by hand. Then it had become cold. The curators hypothesized that the instrument was made cold by placing it in a freezer. The tissue sample had to be frozen as well and mounted on a piece of paraffin. Then, the tissue sample was sliced very quickly before the instrument warmed up too much and the sample turned to mush. Working a cryostat was a work of art. A single cryostat had over 1000 page manual on the operation and maintenance of the instrument. Whole medical school lectures covered the topic. The curators hypothesized that the physicians that worked at the pathology building had figured out ways to put down on the number of steps suggested in the manuals because they felt that there were physically too many slides and samples documented to be done by the book. Once the sample was placed on a slide, it was died with many of the same procedures that we use today. Physicians back then even worked under hoods like we do today. Of course our hoods have advanced filtration devices mounted on top to keep harmful chemicals out of the air supply. Once the sample was dyed and the cover slip glued on, the sample can last almost indefinitely. The slides were analyzed under microscopes. These microscopes have no light source, so the samples were analyzed by sunny windows.

tissue samples

One of the interesting things that the curators learned from reading the physician’s notes and records is that they felt like they were missing something. These physicians were beginning to understand the role of genetics in mental illness. The first question that a patient was asked upon checking into Central Indiana Hospital for the Insane was about family history. The patients could site many generations of people in their family that had trouble with mental illness. These reoccurring patterns intrigued the physicians but they were unable to come up with any coherent hypothesis. Sadly, the records of these patients that could help us better understand the genetics of mental illness have been sealed since the enactment HIPAA (health insurance portability and accountability act). Previously in Indiana, medical records could be used for research purposes after 70 years of date of death, but now these historical records have been sealed up and no one can see them so all that is left is the personal journals of the physicians who worked at the pathology building. I think this is an unintended consequence of HIPAA that has lasting effects.
If you are every in Indianapolis, then I encourage you to visit the Medical History Museum of Indiana. It is an intriguing museum that is off the well beaten path.

Other photos of items of interest


real skeletons

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