Friday, March 30, 2007

U.S. History: Remember the Maine!

This year we're finishing U.S. History and at the Spanish-American War. We're using this period to look at the biography of Teddy Roosevelt as well as the role of media and war. Last year, our kids looked at the Maine mystery and debated whether they thought the explosion was a deliberate act of terrorism or an unfortunate accident given the faulty design of the ship. They came to their conclusions by examining primary source material and engineering maps of the U.S.S. Maine here.

Remember the Maine- Spanish-American War
Yellow Journalism at Thinkquest

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Poem: If, by Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

--Rudyard Kipling

Besides being the author of Just So Stories and Jungle Book, Kipling was influential in the formation of the Boy Scouts and wrote the Boy Scouts Patrol Song.

If, by Rudyard Kipling
Kipling and the Scouts

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ancient Philosophers: Diogenes the Cynic

Diogenes the Cynic (4th century, B.C.)had a sharp tongue and led a bohemian life living on the streets of Athens. Today, he is most known for his clever maxims and retorts to the great men and famous personalities of his time.

The term cynic comes from kynikos, the adjective form of kyon, meaning dog, and in ancient times it was applied to a loose group of philosophers who believed in living their life to maximize freedom, self-sufficiency, and reason.

Though on the surface that may not sound unreasonable, Diogenes followed his ideas to the extreme, refusing to conform to conventional standards of decency (hindered his freedom), and was famous for his shameless and eccentric behavior (he lived in a barrel, subsisted on a diet of onions, crude behavior). Diogenes is often mentioned as an extreme vision of Socratic wisdom because he actually valued reason - he came to his lifestyle by following reason and not any other motivation, to its ultimate conclusion. He sought to destroy social conventions (including family life) as a way to a more "natural" existence, and his most famous quotes often seek to deflate the powerful. A few Diogenes stories...

One sunny day, apparently Alexander the Great came to speak to him. He offer to grant him any request, and Diogenes replied, "Stand out of my light."

When Plato defined man as a featherless biped, Diogenes plucked a chicken, brought it into the forum and held it up, shouting, "Here is Plato's man!"

When asked by someone how he could become famous, Diogenes answered, "By worrying as little as possible about fame."

In modern times, we may encounter some philosophers of Diogenes' ilk, though usually not taken to his extreme. Some of the ascetism of Diogenes has been compared to Zen buddhism, and within political philosophy, it's been said that Cynics originated the concept of anarchy. Echoes of Diogenes may still be seen among today's intellectual cynics and deconstructivists, and some trend-watchers have called our present times "The Age of Cynicism."

From Wikipedia, "Typically, the modern cynic is greatly skeptical of social norms..and tend to questions the validity of much popular belief, morality, and wisdom." The present era is "sometimes described as an Age of Cynicism. Generally, subscribers to this view believe that cynicism is understandable...Journalistic articles frequently employ a cynical viewpoint, and few mass-market newspapers or magazines advocate an alternative viewpoint such as Stoicism or hedonism."

Discussion Questions about Diogenes: Who was he and when did he live? Do you find anything to admire about Diogenes? Is there anything you condemn? Plato described Diogenes as "Socrates gone mad." For a progymnasmata exercise, support or attack this statement. Would this be an encomium or invective? Do you see any Diogenes-type thinking today?

Diogenes of Sinope at Wikipedia
Diogenes at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Cynicism at Wikipedia
Cynicism in Generation X and Y
Progymnasmata: Encomium
Progymnastmata: Vituperation or Invective

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Free Latin Books at Google Books

I've been enjoying browsing through Google Books now that more full-text books have been loaded to their site. For beginning Latin students, the Elementary Prose exercises can be fun practice or a useful place for finding quotes or phrases suitable for memory or copywork journals. By grouping short phrases under chapters such as comparisons, adjectives, verbs active or passive, this book can also help a child recognize common word groupings, a help for beginning translators.

For late beginner-intermediate students, the Latin Elegaic Verse book looked nifty- it has Latin elegies chosen for their ease of translating by relative beginners. The book includes "Verse Rules for Beginners" and hints for many of the poems for ways in which certain words could be translated.

Elementary Latin prose exercises - Google Books
Elementary Exercises in Latin Elegaic Verse

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Classical Science: Telling Time with the Sun

Time to run outside in the sun!

For a simple animation of how shadows vary with time and position of the sun, click here. The animation here shows you how to estimate the size of a very large object (like the Statue of Liberty or T Rex) by comparing shadows.

When Isaac Newton was a boy, he was interested in studying the patterns of how shadows moved. He eventually constructed many sundials around his house and could tell the time just by looking at the placement of shadows.

For a good background on telling the time by the sun, and a print-out template for one to make yourself, click on this NASA site. You'll have to determine your latitude before you can use the sundial accurately so that you can factor in the tilt of the earth and its curvature. There are many beautiful sundial pictures at Wikipedia.

Another device an ancient Roman could use was an horologium ex aqua, or water clock - that displayed the month and hour on a column of water. For more on how ancient Romans kept time, check here.

If you're wondering how a person in the Middle Ages might have been able to tell the time at night, they could have used a Star Clock that uses the pointers of the Big Dipper.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

It's Spring!

Finally some sunshine and everything is in bloom. Time to head outside and dig in the dirt! The Plants in Motion site has videos of time lapse photography showing blossoming flowers, twining Morning Glories spinning around looking for supports to grow on (check link under Nastic Movements), and other interesting biology videos (under Photomorphogenesis, check out the side-by-side videos of Sunflowers germinating in the dark vs. light). For lots of ideas and science about gardening with the kids, check out

Today's Spring Poem is from Emily Dickinson:

Spring is the Period
Express from God.
Among the other seasons
Himself abide,

But during March and April
None stir abroad
Without a cordial interview
With God.

Theophrastus, a pupil of Aristotle is often called the father of botany. Like all learned men of his day, he reflected and spoke widely on a wide range of topics (e.g. math, astronomy, rhetoric, politicis, religion, logic), and also worked to classify plants, tree, shrubs, and flowers.

Time Lapse Wikimedia
Journaling the Seasons at Eclectic Homeschooling / Spring Poems
Nature Journal Examples
Getting Started with a Nature Journal - Charlotte Mason

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Classical Homeschooling: Backing Our Way into Physics

I want to teach my kids to be good natural scientists. Physics always seemed to be a natural science to introduce early (even toddlers negotiate their physical world), but it's easier wished than done.

I remember Richard Feynman's writing about how his father first told him about physics principles from The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, " said, 'Say Pop, I noticed something: When I pull the wagon the ball rolls to the back of the wagon, and when I'm pulling it along and I suddenly stop, the ball rolls to the front of the wagon," and I says, 'why is that?' And he said, 'That nobody knows,' he said. 'The general principle is that things that are moving try to keep on moving and things that are standing still tend to stand still unless you push on them hard.' And he says, 'This tendency is called inertia but nobody knows why it's true.'" I like that approach because it gives knowledge with an appreciation for what also is unknown. But the problem is me. I also wish I knew as much about Nature as Anna Comstock (Handbook of Nature Study, but our natural teaching moments were more likely to be planned or science-lite, relying on what knowledge I happened to have available without looking it up in a book.

Physics is a tricky subject to teach for tweens or middle school students because it doesn't have to be as complex or rigorous as high school or college prep physics, but it also deserves more than elementary school level explanations. I had started off this year with the high school Conceptual Physics book, and we even spent some time with Conceptual Physical Sciences, but although our son could read the chapters and answer the questions, it wasn't helping him look at his natural surroundings more thoughtfully or think like a scientist. And it seemed a lot like work, rather than something that was intriguing or fun.

Recently we found this delightful site that has free online Classical Physics demonstrations. It's not enough to be a stand-alone curriculum, but it terrific for bring back the fun.

Though we covered Newton's Laws of Motion, we're now revisiting what we've learned, so that understand more about the historical context that drove Newton connect ideas about the movement of the planets, with movement on earth. In order to answer his questions in a specific way, had had to develop a new branch of mathematics (calculus) to test hypotheses about what laws could predict movement.

Newton's laws would allow others to design rockets, spaceships, and rollercoasters, predict the movements of golf balls, fluids, and neutrons in a nuclear reactor. As we collect links and for study notes, we'll post them on our blog.

I'm much happier with our current track in physics because I can see our children's curiosity and excitement returning, and they're getting a better experience for what the practice of science is - observing carefully, questioning, hypothesizing, making conclusions, and then recognizing what remains unknown.

BTW, the beautiful pictures above are from that wonderful MIT physicist and teacher, Harold Edgerton, who was able to stop time and provide surprising insights into the behaviors that previously were too fast to study.

Edgerton Golf Picture
Harold Edgerton Center
Edgerton Explorit Center
High Speed Visualization Lab...Cool Pictures

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Classical Writing Answers for Reluctant Writers - Inventio

For some students, often boys, there is nothing worse than to be confronted with an open-ended writing. Classical education to the rescue! The mistake of many modern language arts classes is to fail to provide these reluctant writers with a template for organizing their ideas.

Inventio (Latin, invention) is the first of the five canons of rhetoric. It is a method for discovery what one wants to say, or more specifically, an approach that can help a person find how or what points they want to argue. It can be used for debate, but also for finding topics for papers, projects, and of course, open-ended writing prompts.

Two important devicesare:

Topos or Topics
Common topoi: comparisons of similarity, difference, or degree, definitions of things, divisions of things (whole / part), cause and effect, "hard evidence" like statistics
Special topoi: concepts such as justice or injustice, truth, or virtue.

Stasis - Helpful for clarifying issues in a debate
Did something happen?
What is its nature?
What is its quality?
What actions should be taken?

For examples of Inventio in action, look here.

Inventio at Wikipedia
Inventio at Wiki
Stasis at Everyday Writer

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Happy Birthday, Bach!

"The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul." - Johann Sebastian Bach

"There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself." - Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach was born March 21, 1685, in Eisenach, Germany. Many consider him to be the greatest composer who ever lived. He was was from a very musical family, and was known to be feisty and stubborn, even as a child. Once got into terrible trouble with his older brother because he had found out J.S. had been raiding his brother's locked cabinet at night to copy (and secretly learn) a challenging piece of music that his brother had forbidden him because of its difficulty.

J.S. Bach would work very hard his whole life long composing music which at one had reached one cantata per week! (Cantatas were used as sermons in church services) Bach had also been given the job of teaching Latin to the schoolboys (in addition to composing and training the choirs), but he scraped together money to pay someone else to do this. For a beautiful excerpt of Bach's Dona Nobis Pacem (Give us Peace), click the button below.

Christian Century: Johann Sebastian Bach
Bach Biography
Bach's Dona Nobis Pachem
Bach Quotes

Ancient Heroes and Villians: The Wasted Gifts of Alcibiades

Today we read the story of Alcibiades in Our Young Folk's Plutarch at the Baldwin Project. He provides an excellent character study because he had much talent, potential, and wealth (and apparently natural endowment), but even as a youth, often acted as a scoundrel.

In many respects, it was amazing how many people could continue to pledge allegiance to him, but perhaps that is not so uncommon today. How often may many of us be mesmerized by beauty or brilliance, and make excuses to overlook a person's rudeness or conceit? I know it's not fair to blame teachers for all the bad behavior of their students, but I can't help thinking Socrates also had some contribution to Alcibiades' character. Humility wasn't Socrates' strongest suit.

Alcibiades at Baldwin Project

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Why Not Both? Science and Technology in a Classical Education

"This question, whether we should be taught the classics or the sc iences, seems to me, I confess, very like a dispute whether painters should cultivate drawing or colouring, or to use a more homely illustration, wehther a tailor should make coats or trousers. I can only reply by the question, why not both? Can anything deserve the name of a good education which does not include literature and sciene too? If there were no more to be said than that scientific education teach us to think, and literary education to express our thoughts, do we not require both?" - John Stuart Mill

In ancient times, the ideal education was lifelong and a mixture of philosophy, science, mathematics, rhetoric, and the arts. The wise men of antiquity sought to understand truth, human nature, and the natural world. In the modern times, though, classical education came under fire from modernizers who demanded more contemporary learning and application, with an expanded role for learning science, technology, and modern languages.

Today, the rifts have never been greater between faculties in the humanities and science and technology. With more information, has come more specialization, but that's why a truly broad grounding in science, technology, and classical humanities has never been more important. Today's scientists often have scant training in philosophy, history, or formal logic. As a result, they may not see their work or discoveries within a framework of human history; they may extrapolate too far from their scientific data, and not be able to fully consider the assumptions of their theories or recognize how some conclusions may be faulty. The fate of science and tech-weak classicists is even worse. They often can't begin to carry on a conversation in scientific or technical realms, let alone help consider conflicts and controversies, and help decide policy.

We recognize that a comprehensive grounding in the classics of classical education, and state-of-the-art science and technology, may beyond the grasp of all students, but for those who are able and interested, it is a worthy goal. A classical humanities education provides irreplaceable lessons in human thinking, leadership, and historical context that no other experience can provide. But a state-of-the-art science / tech education can also be indispensable in its provision of a comprehensive knowledge base and framework for understanding the specifics of our world as well as the possibilities for future innovation.

There are tremendous forces of change afoot with the globalization of information and knowledge workers through the Internet. Specialists in narrow fields will always be available, but broadly and rigorously-educated individuals, not.

For more reading about our ideas about education in the 21st Century, check out our Powerpoint (pdf file) here: Millennial Minds, and look at our Eide Neurolearning Blog posts on Trans-disciplinary learning and Education for a Flat World.

John Stuart Mill's Inaugural Address Delivered to the University of St. Andrews

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Spring Equinox Tomorrow - March 20, 2007

Tomorrow is the Vernal Equinox, or "Equal Night" - or what many note as the first day of Spring. The days will start to get longer after this, and the nights shorter. Because the sun will pass directly over the equator, days and nights will be of equal length all over the world during equinoxes. The official date of Easter is designated as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

Spring Equinox
Introduction to Astronomy - Vernal Equinox

Poetry: To a Schoolmaster (Martial)


Martial. Book X, lxii

Thou monarch of eight parts of speech,
Who sweep'st with birch a youngster's breech,
Oh! now awhile withhold your hand!
So may the trembling crop-hair'd band
Around your desk attentive hear,
And pay you love instead of fear;
So may yours ever be as full,
As writing or as dancing school.
The scorching dog-day is begun;
The harvest roasting in the sun;
Each Bridewell keeper, though requir'd
To use the lash, is too much tir'd.
Let ferula and rod together
Lie dormant, till the frosty weather.
Boys do improve enough in reason,
Who miss a fever in this season.

--John Hay

Handbook for Latin Clubs at

Friday, March 16, 2007

Classics Alive Today: Caesar and the War in Iraq

I found this LA Times article by accident, and it got me thinking about the asset of being able to see today's challenges with a full perspective that includes the past. Classical history seems to provide an unparalleled

Check out this LA Times editorial from a British Caesar historian who contemplates our current situation in Iraq.

Excerpt: "Even without 24-hour news and an international community watching his every move, Caesar was acutely aware of the need to win over public opinion. Each winter he produced an account of the year's campaign, designed to be read aloud and to thrill an audience of Romans."

Maybe you can shake up your discussions a bit at home thinking about how Caesar might have handled the Iraq war differently.

BTW please forward me any articles you come across that have this classical-contemporary bent...they don't have to be political; they could be about anything. I hope to post regularly - and these types of topics might provide good mulling opportunities for logic and rhetoric age students.

LA Times- Caesar: Diplomacy and Power

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Classics Alive

We're back from eastern Washington and will post on some of our latest adventures - but I am thoroughly enjoying Gilbert Highet's writings (Art of Teaching, Classical Tradition...)and his zest for bringing the lessons of past to life.

He rallied his students at Columbia with this quote, "These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves." He really lived out this principle. When called to serve in the British armed forces at the beginning of World War II, he served in British intelligence, poineering the preparation of psychological profiles of Nazi leaders such as Hitler, Goebbels, Goering, and Himmler, based on his psychoanalysis of Roman Emperors.

How easy it is for us novice teachers of classics to want to play it safe - and treat past works as lifeless paper - but if we and our students are to apply lessons of the past to the present, we can't be afraid to work with it, analyze, criticize, and synthesize.

Today at lunch, we listened to Rufus Fear's lecture on Caesar (Teaching Company - Famous Romans), and when we heard how Caesar used Crassus' money to strengthen his successful campaign as praetor, and the tensions growing between the thoughtful moral leader Cato and potential tyrants Caesar and Pompey, the analogies between our current political system seemed closer than ever. Often we assign students biographies of famous or favorite people, but it also might be instructive to study the corrupt and the fatally flawed. There are plenty of lessons to be learned here, too - and the same temptations exist today.

Gilbert Highet Quotes
Highet: Living Legacies

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

History of Science

Here are two excellent resources for History of Science-
The first is an online course History of Science to the 17th Century from the University of Oklahoma. It is a 15 week course with Internet links to background reading and primary sources (Ancient Babylonia, Ancient Greece), and quizzes (but no answers).

The second resource is: Engines of Our Ingenuity- with short articles that relate important discoveries in Science and Technology The best organized pages covere the Renaissance: Subtopics include, Invention of Printing, Natural Philosophy (Science and Math), Medicine and Anatomy, Architecture, Other Technology, Art, Music, and Theature, Renaissance Culture, and "Discovering The New World." The stories themselves are a little short, but they can be good starting points for further studies

The figure below is from the Engines story on Albrecht Durer. He studied in Italy and recast the artistic lessons learned there in the language of Euclidean geometry.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Monk's Day, Illuminated Manuscripts, and Book of Kells

In school, our daughter's 4th grade class has been studying the Middle Ages, and in order to understand more about life in the monastery, they had a Monk's Day, where they fasted (a little), wore simple Monk's clothes, took a vow of silence (broken a little), and devoted themselves to monastic devotions like singing and reading and copying Scripture. About a week later, she surprised me by telling me that that was one of her favorite days. Why? I asked - and she answered, "I loved doing the calligraphy. It was so beautiful."

One of their activities was to write verses from the Bible using calligraphy pens on parchment paper. Her teacher had copied a beautiful border onto the sheets and they meticulous hand-painted it in watercolors. They also stitched together the different pages with needle and thread.

Illuminated manuscripts are a beautiful legacy of medieval monasteries. One of the most remarkable is the Book of Kells, copied around 800 A.D. and tucked away in the monastery for safekeeping so it wouldn't be destroyed by Viking raiders.

We really are out of town now - we'll be back blogging later this week.

Book of Kells Images

Book of Kells, Austin College

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Thursday, March 8, 2007

Classical Education Ideas: Rewriting Aesop

We've been enjoying Dorothy Maclaren's Esopus Hodie and using it both as a Latin reader and regular Language Arts. For each Aesop's fable, there's a poem version to read in English, then a Latin version in prose. An exact English translation is on the following page, as well as vocabulary and short questions which about the fable that a student can answer in Latin. For example, for The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg, here's the first stanza from the poem:

"A goose called Anserella
lived a happy, quiet life
in a nest by a brook,
and her master too
her eggs each day to his wife"

This is followed by: "Olim (Once upon a time) agricola prosperus anserum feminam possedit. Anserella Aesopius Aurifabra (a goldsmith) ab amici appellata est..." The poems, drawings, and the translations are funny and cute.

This has now become a fun Friday tradition with us; we leave the harder grammar Latin for other days. Because we've been studying different poetic forms (iamb, anapest, etc.), we've also taken it as an opportunity to write a poem in a specific style.

Here's our son's Goose poem:

There was a farmer of old
Who once found an egg of gold
Said the farmer, "Oh my!"
"How lucky am I!"
"I'm rich as the stars in the sky!"

He took the egg to his wife.
They'd be rich for the rest of their life-
She stopped him altho',
And spoke to him low
More than one will we need 'til we crow-

"Let's think a little bit more,"
"How can we increase our score?"
"One egg is not much..."
"A trifle as such..."
"'Twould be clever to fill a whole hutch!"

"I think a plan have I now..."
"A way to better endow..."
"Let's cut up the bird,"
"Without saying a word,"
"And we'll be richer than anyone's heard!"

The goose, poor soul, she was slain,
But the farmer saw to his pain,
No gold was inside
They moaned and they cried!
"'Twould been better if we'd never had tried!"

Stumped for a rhyme? Here's a neat free online Rhyming Dictionary. Rhymes are organized according to end rhymes, beginning rhymes, etc. Other useful links: and a site for Aesop's Fables in Latin and English: Here's a site for Meter in Children's Poetry

We're going to be traveling for an Educators Conference in Pasco. We'll be back in the middle of next week, and post on Classical Education in the New Millennium, or why a Classical Education is a Ideal Preparation for a Flat World.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Poem: Pied Beauty, by Hopkins

GLORY be to God for dappled things
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Pied Beauty by Hopkins at Bartleby

Biography: Hopkins was a student at Oxford who won a rare double-first in "Classics" and "Greats". He became a Jesuit priest and took various occupations, including professor of Greek and Latin, and parish priest. He learned Welsh as an adult, and experimented with new poetic forms varying rhythms. He is among the top Victorian-era poets, though poems (included Pied Beauty) were published after his death.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Beyond Clapping for Credit - History Cards

When I was in college, there were many joke nick-names for courses, and one (Music Appreciation) was facetiously called "Clapping for Credit." As a homeschooler, it's incredibly easy to slip into a clapping-for-credit mode, and we've found that if we don't require some quizzing (narration ala Charlotte Mason, or otherwise), we have a student who seems to be familiar with a lot, but verbally able to describe little.

Recently we'd been enjoying Professor Rufus Fear's Famous Romans Series from the Teaching Company, but after finishing the first half of his lectures, we were a little alarmed by how little our guy could narrate back the salient points of the people and main events discussed in the course. I think it surprised him.

What we've added now (and seems to help) - are cards that we made to practice the names, people, and place.

On one side is the person or event, on the other, bullet points detailing key facts. Just a dressed up version of an index card. We had some punched out card stock, but regular card stock would also probably work fine. A blank template can be downloaded here.

This has worked out so well, we're going to use them for other subjects, too.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Classical Composition Techniques for Reluctant Writers - Progymnasmata

One of the aims of a classical education is to provide students with a mastery of thinking skills and persuasion so that they can critique what they've heard or read, reflect on and determine their beliefs, and communicate them persuasively to others.

Classical methods of composition have advantages over some contemporary practices because they encourage learning from good examples, provide incremental challenge, and expose children to examples of excellent writing at younger ages.

Students who are reluctant writers can exasperate themselves, their teachers, and their parents because it seems obvious that they are much brighter than their writing can convey. They may get very little down on paper, but be able say quite a lot with direct questioning or conversation. There are many reasons why children (and adults for that matter) are reluctant writers...but an apprentice model for instruction like the methods of classical composition might be just what is needed to overcome some of the blocks.

Classical composition usually incorporates a variety of activities:

1) writing by imitation
2) word study and variation
3) syntax study and variation, and
4) specific techniques of amplification.

For students overwhelmed by the task of answering open-ended questions, there were also rubrics that could be learned to help one identify issues or questions for discussion.

The exercises for young students in the ancient academy was called The Progymnasmata, or "before - exercises". In its simplest form, students would paraphrase and amplify a simple saying or story. For example, a classic exercise used Isocrate's saying, "The root of education is bitter, it's fruit sweet."

A common template for elaboration is:

1. Praise the speaker.
2. Paraphrase the saying.
3. Provide an example or analogy supporting the saying.
4. Say why the opposite is not true or good.
5. Praise ancient wisdom and wrap-up.

Before writing, students need to make sure they have some background information on the speaker (in order to know best to praise), and find words, phrases, and analogies that can be used in the paraphrase. One online reference that our kids like is It can often provide that elusive word or phrase, on the tip of one's tongue.

Here's one of our kid's:

Isocrates, master of rhetoric and education, once said that the basis of teaching is harsh, but the products are wonderful. A student struggles to organize huge amounts of facts though his brain may revolt and feel like quitting with every additional hour. Once, Albert Einstein toiled at his studies despite nearly failing mathematics. It took years, but eventually he succeeded in school and created the theory of relativity. Nowadays Einstein is often referred to as one of the greatest geniuses of all time. Learning is like a tree. First the ground needs to be prepared to receive the seed. Then, the plant needs to be watered, receive sunlight, and a gardener has to pull out weeds as it grows. Only then will it turn into a massive redwood. A fool without education may love the easiness of his days, but he will never have any great deeds. In the beginning, learning may be painful, but in the end, it is worth the struggle.

How about an example from antiquity?:

It is right to admire Isocrates for his art, for he gave it a most glorious name and proved its greatness by his practice of it; he made the art famous, he did not owe his fame to it. To go through the benefits he conferred on human life by giving laws to kings and advice to individuals would be too long; I will speak only of his wise saying on education.

'The lover of education,' he says, 'labours at first, but those labours end in profit.' That was his wise saying; and we shall show our admiration in what follows.

The lovers of education are enrolled with the leaders of education, whom it is fearful to approach though to desert them is foolish; fear always waits on boys, both when they are present and in anticipation. From teachers the attendants take over, fearful to behold, more fearful when inflicting punishment. Fear precedes the experience and punishment follows on fear. What the boys do wrong they punish; what the boys do well they take as a matter of course. Fathers are harsher than attendants, examining their ways, telling them to make progress, viewing the market-place with suspicion; and if punishment is needed they take no account of human nature. But by these experiences the boy, when he reaches adulthood, is crowned with virtue. But if someone, because he fears these things, flees from his teachers, absconds from his parents, avoids his attendants, he is utterly deprived of eloquence; along with his fear he has set aside eloquence. All these things swayed Isocrates' judgement when he called the root of education bitter.

For just as those who work the land laboriously sow the seed in the earth and gather the crops with greater joy, in the same way those who strive for education by their toil acquire the subsequent renown.

Consider Demosthenes' career, which was more devoted to toil than that of any orator and more glorious than that of any. So great was his commitment that he even deprived his head of its adornment, thinking the best adornment is that from virtue. And he devoted to toil what others devote to enjoyment.

For this reason one must admire Hesiod, who said that the road to virtue is hard but the summit easy [Works and Days 286-92], expressing the same wise judgement as Isocrates. For what Hesiod represented as a road Isocrates called the root; both disclosed the same opinion, though in different words.

Those who consider these points must admire Isocrates for his outstandingly wise saying on education. (Aphthonius)

Another example from ancient Greece can be found here: Libanius on Isocrates.

The beauty of this practice is that it encourages deep reading and reflection as well as practice in choosing and organizing words and sentences. Short quotes can be chosen from the Bible or Quotation pages fom the Internet like The Quotations Page.

Some terrific resources and online classes can be found at:,, and online schools like

We've seen this approach work well with a variety of students who were frustrated and having meltdowns over open-ended writing prompts. Many gifted dysgraphic may be in this boat, and the subject matter, with examples from antiquity - may especially pique their interest.

Classical Writing Pedagogy for Today's Student: Progymnasmata
Progymnasmata at Silvae Rhetoricae
Dysgraphia and Writing Pages at

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Friday, March 2, 2007

Amazing Grace and the Remarkable Mr. Wilberforce

If you haven't seen it yet, see the movie Amazing Grace, an inspiring movie about the life of William Wilberforce, an adult convert to Christianity who was elected to the British Parliament at 21, and who was instrumental in England's abolition of the slave trade. The movie does an excellent job of capturing the different facets and histories of this remarkable individual. The life of Wilberforce was not easy - he suffered personal crises regarding his his health, public ridicule by influential people, slander, humiliating defeats in the political process, even assassination attempts. His fire and persistence were truly amazing.

We couldn't find Wilberforce's texts online, but the first two chapters are available at the links below. Brock has just started Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery and I just found Wilberforce's Real Christianity: Discerning True Faith from False Beliefs and started to read. It's excellent and personally challenging. Excerpt:

"You might think that if you consider yourself a “good” person and are against “bad” things, your faith is adequate. The fact is, you might not be a Christian at all but simply a moral person. You might understand the Christianity our culture has adopted without understanding what constitutes authentic faith. You might know some of the basic facts about Christianity but have no idea how those facts should apply to your life."

For those who were interested in finding out more about what happened to Wilberforce where the movie left off, Wilberforce had 6 children, was apparently a great father (he considered his responsibilities as a father more important than his role in parliament), and a life-long happy marriage. Two of his sons became Anglican clergymen who converted to Catholicism- third son Samuel was famous for engaging Thomas Huxley on a debate regarding Darwin's On the Origin of Species at Oxford.

The life of William Pitt from the is also worth noting, we'll blog on him in a future post. Have a great weekend - we'll post about Classical Education and reluctant writers next week.

Peculiar Doctrines - Wilberforce
You have not labored in vain - Christian History
First Two Chapters of Wilberforce's Real Christianity
Amazing Grace - The Movie Site
Wilberforce Biography at the Wilberforce School

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Thursday, March 1, 2007

Surprise Snow - Aristotle, Mathematics, and Weather Prediction

I was going to blog on something else, but we had a surprise hail and snowstorm (?? in Seattle??- see some branches outside our window -->) so a change in plan!

There was no warning at all about this storm. How can we have such sophisticated technology, but miss something as big as this (our area is a confluence zone so we may get 4 to 6 inches)? Even Aristotle brooded about his failure to understand the patterns of weather: "But we must go on to collect the facts bearing on the origin of it, both those which raise no difficulties and those which seem paradoxical. Hail is ice, and water freezes in winter; yet hailstorms occur chiefly in spring and autumn and less often in the late summer, but rarely in winter and then only when the cold is less intense..."

Supposedly the Seattle area is particularly difficult to predict for snow and fog (Snow, Who Knows), so there are plenty of future research opportunities for budding weather or atmospheric scientists. On a different note, see how a mathematician used crocheting to realize a weather pattern based on Lorenz equations here.

Aristotle's Metereologica
Weather Forecasting Through the Ages
Mathematicians and the Weather
The Numbers Guy - Grading Weather Forecasts
Hailstone Pictures
Weather Map Lesson Plan at
Eide NL Blog: Snow Crystals and Snowflake Links

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Previous Latin Sayings of the Week

"Soli deo gloria." - For the glory of God alone.

Christus resurrexit! Vere resurrexit! - Christ is Risen! He is risen, indeed!

"Lex malla, lex nulla." - St. Thomas Aquinas
(A bad law is no law.)

"Cantantes licet usque (minus via laedit) eamus. " - Let us go singing as far as we go: the road will be less tedious.

"Caelitus mihi vires." - My strength is from heaven.

"Magnificat anima mea Dominum, et exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo Salvatore meo" - My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior (Luke 1:45)

In Omnibus Ipse Primatum Tenens “That in all things He (Christ) might have the preeminence.” (Colossians 1:16-18)

"Qui bene cantat bis orat." - He who sings well, prays twice - (St Augustine)

"Nos fecisti ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te." -
Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee. (St Augustine)

"Caelitus mihi vires
." - My strength is from heaven.

"Ubi caritas et amor Deus ibi est." - Where there is charity and love, God is there.

"Nisi credideritis, non intelligetis ."

Unless you will have believed, you will not understand. - St Augustine

"Deo vindice" - With God as Protector

"Credite amori vera dicenti." - Believe love speaking the truth. (St. Jerome)

De vitiis nostris scalam nobis facimus, si vitia ipsa calcamus." - If we tread our vices under feet, we make them a ladder to rise to higher things. (St. Augustine)

Dei gratia - By the grace of God

Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum. - The Word of the Lord Endures Forever.

"Est autem fides credere quod nondum vides; cuius fidei merces est videre quod credis." - Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe. (St. Augustine)

"Deo iuvante" - with God's help

"Ut In Omnibus Glorificetur Deus." - That God may be glorified in all things

"Pax vobiscum." Peace be with you.

"Jubilate Deo." Be joyful in the Lord.

"Ille vir, haud magna cum re, sed plenus fidei." He is a man, not of ample means, but full of good faith.

"Facit enim mihi magna qui potens est." - For He that is mighty does to me great things.

"Oremus semper pro invicem." - Let us ever pray for each other.

"Distrahit animum librorum multitudo." - Seneca
A multitude of books distracts the mind.

"Nullam est nunc dictum, quod sit non dictum prius." - Terence
There is nothing said now, that has not been said before.

"Nosce te ipsum." - Plato
Know thyself.

"Non mihi, non tibi, sed nobis" - Not for you, not for me, but for us.

"Primum non nocere." - First, do no harm (Hippocrates)

"Est autem fides credere quod nondum vides; cuius fidei merces est videre quod credis." - Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe. (St. Augustine)

"Deo iuvante" - with God's help

"Ut In Omnibus Glorificetur Deus." - That God may be glorified in all things

"Pax vobiscum." Peace be with you.

"Jubilate Deo." Be joyful in the Lord.

"Ille vir, haud magna cum re, sed plenus fidei." He is a man, not of ample means, but full of good faith.

"Facit enim mihi magna qui potens est." - For He that is mighty does to me great things.

"Oremus semper pro invicem." - Let us ever pray for each other.

"Distrahit animum librorum multitudo." - Seneca
A multitude of books distracts the mind.

"Nullam est nunc dictum, quod sit non dictum prius." - Terence
There is nothing said now, that has not been said before.

"Nosce te ipsum." - Plato
Know thyself.

"Non mihi, non tibi, sed nobis" - Not for you, not for me, but for us.

"Primum non nocere." - First, do no harm (Hippocrates)

"Dei plena sunt omnia." - Cicero (All things are full of God.)