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Digital Blue Days

Last spring the currently-visiting Ontario grandmother gave us some cash in lieu of Christmas and birthday gifts for educational or recreational supplies. We bought a basketball hoop with part of it. A month or so ago a friend gave a great review of the the Digital Blue QX3 microscope. We were really impressed with the images she showed, so we went ahead and ordered our own. It arrived yesterday, while the aforementioned grandmother was still visiting. It was a great mail day. Not only did the microscope arrive, but a new issue of Boomerang AudioMagaizine showed up, and so did Erin’s new (oblong! grown-up!) half-size violin case. The microscope excitement trumped everything, though.

It was a cinch to install. It connects to the PC by USB cable. The software is dead simple. Everything shows up on the computer monitor. There are three optical magnification levels: 10X, 60X and 200X. The illumination is USB-powered with a top and/or bottom LED. They’re automatically adjusted by the software (with manual over-ride). The image quality is excellent. The optical unit comes off the stand so that it is possible to examine arm hairs, fingerprints, eyeball veins and nose hairs in detail :-P. The kids spent all day gathering specimens, comparing, zooming in, viewing, saving images, gathering more specimens. I’m really impressed with the ease of use and image quality for a unit that costs < $50 US. Amazing really.

Sophie was examining some bits of printed scrapbooking paper with the microscope and then diverged into an interesting little side-project. She cut a couple of dozen bits of paper about 2″ x 4″, folded them in half and then cut a variety of shapes out of the folds. She ended up with a ‘collection’ of shapes with one axis of symmetry which she was very intrigued by. As time went on she got very good at predicting what the shape would be when unfolded.

Noah wrote a bit of a story on his own, with no prompting, yesterday morning. He’s never done that before, at least not in the last couple of years, not since he became and independent reader. He hs mentioned a couple of time that “I don’t have the skills I need to write.” I asked him what he meant… whether he was concerned about handwriting or spelling or punctuation. He said it was spelling. I reassured him that lots of reading and lots of writing would help him learn to spell. I said that if he wanted to do some work specifically on spelling with me, I would help, but that I was pretty sure his spelling would come along if he wanted to just do some writing. So it was interesting that he asked for help spelling a couple of words but was comfortable working most of the spelling out on his own. He did pretty darn well. It was only 5 or 6 sentences, but there were words like “bother” and “before” and “party” and “pickle” and “hasn’t” and they were all correctly spelled without help.

Everyone did their practising fairly cheerfully and thoroughly. The kids watched a bit of Olympic diving with their dad. Noah asked some questions about China and expressed an interest in learning more about it and maybe visiting some day. I mentioned that the latest Boomerang has an article about China’s economic and political changes.

Just before bed last night Erin discovered the sheet music to “Puck” by Edvard Grieg in a stack of old piano music we had. She’s mentioned several times since the summer school that it was a piece that she really liked; another student was working on it. The piece is on the Royal Conservatory of Canada’s Grade 8 syllabus. Erin is nominally Grade 6, although some of the supplementary pieces she’s learning are Grade 7 or 8 level. She sat down this morning and spent the better part of an hour working on it and made incredible progress with it. She will probably have the notes learned and most of it up to tempo within a week. I hope her teacher is okay with her learning ahead on her own like this.

Noah created and taught to Sophie a simple five-finger bass line accompaniment to the first 8 bars of one of his new piano pieces. They had fun ‘performing a duet’ for both Grandma’s. Tonight they’ve been teaching Fiona to ‘perform’ i.e. to climb up on the piano bench, bang some keys, climb back down and take a bow.

A week or so ago I found a file on one of the computers that Erin had forgotten to delete or transfer over to her secret bedroom laptop. She’s so private about her creative writing that I eventually turned an ancient laptop over to her. It’s good for nothing but word-processing and listening to music CD’s, which she does sometimes for hours on end. Anyway, she accidentally left this file on one of the computers I use, and I found it. I was really impressed. I hadn’t read anything she’d written in 18 months or more. I e-mailed it to a friend who is a writer/editor by profession and has sort of been my unschooling mentor for the past half dozen years. She wrote back:

“This is extraordinary writing . . . really extraordinary writing.

Extraordinary for anyone of any age, never mind a 10-year-old. I’ve evaluated manuscripts for publishers, and also edited my share of children’s novels and chapter books for small publishers, and I haven’t often seen stuff of this quality.

One thing that is so very striking about it is the rhythmic quality of the

prose, and how that rhythm carries the meaning of the text.”

I thought it was very good, but I don’t have much of a frame of reference, and felt that my parental pride was probably colouring my judgement. I was really struck by my friend’s reaction.

Here’s a little snippet from the file I found:

Nyre, the girl from Wen Revned, the girl of the green eyes, the girl of the black hair, the daughter of the right-hand man to the queen, would grow up to be the Signseeker, the greatest of the Eightfold, and yet she didn’t know. No humans can see what is ahead of them. And yet she, Nyre, the Sweetie of the Orchard, as fair as spring herself as just released from Winter’s grip, would be able to do it, the first of all humanity to do so. At eleven years old, Nyre’s hair was as glossy as placid water, and her eyes were the colour of the forest.[snip]

It was a sunny afternoon when Nyre met Louappe, and Nyre was out by the fountain staring at the reflection of the apple tree in the water. Nyre idly watched the branches of the apple tree sway in the cool breeze. The lilting sound of her brother’s pipe drifted into the courtyard. He was playing Syh Mugden. The mysterious and melancholy music of the Biekall Pipe made her feel strangely drowsy. She saw a figure pass into the shade of the apple tree. Papa? No, it wasn’t Papa. She was too sleepy. She closed her eyes for a moment, and then the drowsiness passed. The man under the tree, wasn’t Papa. That was for sure.

I wish I could confess I’d found the file and tell her how impressed I am, how impressed our friend is. But Erin would be mortified and might even stop writing. It would be a huge betrayal to her. She’s intensely private about her writing, presumably because it’s so important to her, because she takes it so seriously and it therefore makes her vulnerable. My guess is that by age 12 or 13 she’ll be ready for a bit of sharing. I think it’ll take some more maturity of self-concept and just general maturity. I do hope she learns to share her obvious talent. Still, I need to remind myself that she’s only 10. It’s probably a good thing that she is growing her own writer’s voice free from her meddlesome mother’s tendency to micro-manage.

Today we drove the visiting grandmother to the airport. On the way back we listened to our Boomerang issue which we all enjoyed. There was a great D-Day storytelling segment that brought me to tears (not a good thing while driving!). I stopped for a coffee when Fiona got fussy. She got out of the van and proceeded to run through all the rather deep puddles. She was delighted. Fortunately she had spent part of the morning engaging in her favourite pasttime of dressing herself in multiple layers of clothing. We simply peeled off the top two layers of pants and one pair of shorts to discover the shorts beneath were still dry.






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