Friday, February 15, 2013

Tangrams + Tolstoy = Total Awesomeness at Young Explorers - Block 3 Day 4

So sorry this post is delayed! I really try to have the blog post from Young Explorers up within 24 hours. I wasn't going to be able to get to it until Wednesday night, but after a day of fasting and not having my Tim's ...  I fell asleep shortly before 7pm.  On the couch. The best kind of nap. Except I didn't really wake up that evening at all. I guess those late nights catch up with you eventually. And, Tim's really does work to keep your energy up.

Here is the rundown for what we did this week.

1. Icebreaker
We did something a little different today. We all sat around the table and I introduced the idea of "Table Topics," like what we did in Toastmasters or Public Speaking courses. Got the stopwatch out and told the kids we'd give them a topic for which they had to try to speak about for 30 seconds. The topics were really simple and most of the kids volunteered their own topic - like whales, flowers, Star Wars, and I have to smile because one girl volunteered her own topic to be "New France." She gave a lovely history narration to us, so that girl's momma should be proud that her efforts are paying off.

2. Poetry - Two poems today
The kids wanted another silly poem, but I wanted to give them something a little deeper. So we did two.  The silly one? Be Glad Your Nose is on Your Face, by Jack Prelutsky. Very fun. Good rhyme and rhythm. Very silly.

The second one elicited much socratic discussion. We read Solitude, by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, an American poet. She wrote well over 500 poems, but this is her most famous. Here it is:

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow it's mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air.
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.

Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go.
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
Be sad, and you lose them all.
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
But alone you must drink life's gall.

Feast, and your halls are crowded;
Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a long and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain. 
I can't say I've ever actually studied this poem in school, but am familiar with the first 2 lines. We talked about it and did do a little bit of analysis, in the name of socratic work. I don't like to do analysis with kids this age because they aren't really ready for it and I don't want to kill the love. But there were some explanations to be made, and we found ourselves in the middle of a conversation about optimists and pessimists. Words that not many of the kids were familiar with, but they knew exactly what they mean. We wondered if there was any truth to the poem - and what is the role of community in supporting you through tough times.  Why does everyone leave after the funeral? Talked about that too.  Um, we went deep.

3. Composer - Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor

I recently picked up a copy of My First Classical Music Book, and it is just WONDERFUL.  Great pictures, comes with a CD of some of the most famous classical pieces in history.  Each page has a story of a composer as well as an instrument family. I chose our piece today from this book, Bach's most famous organ piece, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.  Have a listen here.  You'll know it right away, and the kids all thought the piece was a little spooky.  In other words, the piece has great tension! I think it might also be called the Dracula music.

Anyone else use this?

4. Socratic Discussion - Tolstoy's What Men Live By
We finished it!
And chatted about it. To summarize, the man Michael was really an angel sent down to earth to find out three "lessons," in the form of a human being.  

His first quest was to find out what dwells in man - "And I understood that in man dwells Love."

His second quest was to find out what is NOT given to man. - "It is not given to man to know his own needs."  This is referring to a man who wanted a pair of shoes to last a full year, but little did he know he was to die that evening. "I understood that God does not with men to live apart, and therefore he does not reveal to them what each one needs for himself; but he wishes them to live united, and therefore reveals to each of them what is necessary for all."

His third quest was to find out what men live by. - "I have now understood that though it seems to men that they live by care for themselves, in truth it is love alone by which they live. He who has love, is in God, and God is in him, for God is love."  And ain't that the truth!

5. Living Math - Tangrams and Math Stories
I realize that most of the kids have probably been exposed to tangram puzzles before. Tans are 7 wonderful, magic pieces that are cut from a square, and can be manipulated into thousands of different shapes and figures. Math logic at its finest and funnest! 

But I couldn't pass tangram puzzles by even if most of the kids had used them, and not all had. I rekindled the magic by reading them two great great great math readers.  I highly recommend them.  After reading the books we cut out our own tangram pieces and gave challenges to try and make certain shapes and figures.  The first, Three Pigs, One Wolf, and Seven Magic Shapes, is soooo funny. Its an offshoot of the original story but when the pigs leave home to find their fortune, they are given the 7 magic shapes. Which most intelligent pig will create something from the 7 shapes that saves her from the wolf? Why, the female pig of course.  Good news for her, she eventually meets the pig from the original story, the pig who built his house out of bricks, and they get married. What a match. LOL! This book actually comes with a laminated page with tans to cut out and play with. Good for all ages, but especially those early learners.

For the benefit of the older kids in the group, I read them Grandfather Tang's Story - A Tale Told With Tangrams. Highly highly recommend. Grandfather tells a story using the tan pieces; the story itself is from Chinese folklore, where two friends (fox fairies) keep trying to one-up each other by turning into different animals that can outrun each other, (made out of tans) but their friendship is put to the test and they find themselves in serious peril. Of course they choose the high road in the end.  A Very Engaging Story.  It also comes with tans to play with.

How many ways can you make a rectangle? 

Can you put it back together as a square?

I have to say that our tangram sets have gotten a lot of use over the years. They give a nice little mental math workout and help develop mathematical logic as well as thinking outside the box.  One of my toddler/preschooler's favorite toy is the Tangoes Jr. set.  It comes with big chunky magnetic tans and lots of card puzzles, with solutions on the back of each card.

Does anyone know of any good tangram puzzle apps? We looked briefly and there are several free ones, but hard to tell if they're worthy. And, frankly, we just don't let the kids do ipad or iphone to avoid mushbrain, but sometimes, when in a pinch or on a roadtrip to Arizona (heh heh), it would be nice to have a few apps that engage you to some educational degree. No?

That's all folks. No YE next week, taking a little break (its Family Day long weekend so I'm extending it). See you all in a couple of weeks then!

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