In our explorations of Oregon this year, the Amethyst Kids are diving deep into geography by studying 10 sets of place names, in the spirit of deepening our sense of place: (1) Illinois Valley Place Names, (2) Oregon Mountain Ranges, (3) Oregon Rivers, (4) Oregon Tribal Nations, (5) Oregon Cities, (6) Oregon Counties ... and to recognize Oregon's place within larger spaces, (7) USA State Names, (8) USA Capital Names, (9) Canadian Provinces & Territories, and (10) Mexican States.
We quiz ourselves once each week, most intent upon measuring the growth of our knowledge from week to week. Most weeks are open-ended, with children choosing which geography set they'd like their memorization minds to encounter, although sometimes we will all focus on the same place names, working together towards remembering.
Memorizing facts isn't the most important piece of learning -- far from it -- yet it's still useful, and often exciting, to learn the names ascribed to places, or at least the names we tend to use today. Memorization is also an opportunity for the children to get to know their brains a bit more: If there are many ways to learn, such as writing it down, talking it out, singing it loud, dancing as we verbally repeat, quizzing our friends, flipping through flashcards, closing our eyes to visualize, and discussing it all ... well, then, which ways work best with my brain?
It all started last spring, when I drank too much coffee after school, found an exciting Periodic Table of the Elements curriculum, and decided to print ALL 80 PAGES. No matter that our curriculum didn't plan for Chemistry last spring, nor that we'd already booked ourselves with TMTDBSES (Too Much To Do Before School Ends Syndrome). I printed those pages anyway, hole-punched them into a binder, then waited for the molecule's moment.
Months went by. The new year began, and within two weeks we'd already reached critical TMTDBSES mode. Yet in October --- suddenly!! --- we were gifted with an open morning and science to teach. Well, why not now?
First, each child chose an element:
Then we created atomic structures from clay. Inside the nucleus of each atom are protons (with a positive electrical charge) and neutrons (with no electrical charge), and the kids picked two different colors to paint their protons and neutrons:
Our atomic nuclei will stay in the classroom, yet the electrons are experiencing a very different story! For, you see, we learned through our friend Bill Nye (the Science Guy) that if electrons were actually the size of our clay balls, they would actually be 500 meters away from the nucleus! (So, even though atoms and mostly made up of EMPTY SPACE between the nucleus and electrons, they give the appearance of being solid because the electrons are moving so, so, so, so fast around the atom --kind of like a ceiling fan that behaves like a solid when it moves quickly).
And because we are realistic-minded folks, we took a walk with our meter tool:
But we reached the end of the soccer field after only 150 meters! We "planted" our electrons ...
...with promises to return to walk the entire 500 meters (which will lead us from school grounds and into the Takilma community!).
For the third year in a row, the older elementary kids are making pen-pal friendships with kids in Ghana! Thanks to the Portland-based nonprofit Yo Ghana! for fostering relationships between students in the Pacific Northwest and Ghana.
As of "press time," we have written our first letters and are awaiting a reply!