Global Finals Update 4: Day Before Departure

Tomorrow, we will wake up at five in the morning and begin the LONG drive down to Tennessee for the Destination Imagination Global Finals.  Our bags are packed, our cds are burned, and the trailer, containing all the props the two teams have worked on for months, has been (laboriously) filled and hitched to the back of my Suburban.  I am driving five of the fourteen kids involved (four of my own and a nephew) as well as my youngest son, who is coming to cheer on his older siblings

 

Today, some team members helped to decorate the car.  This is a fun (and slightly messy) Destination Imagination tradition.  The kids made sure to include their team names, the state they will be representing (they will compete with teams from all over the country and the world) and their names.

 

 

 

Connecticut is traditionally a very small group at the Global Finals. Whereas states such as Texas or countries such as South Korea can send from 200-400 teams, this year only 4 teams will represent our humble state.  They are all homeschooled.  This is because news of this amazing competition has spread through the homeschooled community in Connecticut, not because the competition typically attracts homeschoolers; globally, homeschooled groups make up a minute portion of the teams competing, which are generally school sanctioned.  The teams representing Connecticut are:

Team I.C.E. (competing at the high school level in the fine arts and improvisational Challenges) (thats us)

SolarNauts (competing at the elementary school level in the science Challenge) (thats us too)

VisionQuest (competing at the middle school level in the fine arts Challenge)

Crazed Carrots (competing at the elementary school level in the community outreach Challenge)

We wish all teams the best of luck.

As for us, we’re ready to start our journey.

 

 

Global Finals Update 3: 3 Days to Departure

Today, the kids continued to prepare for Global Finals, which, almost unbelievably, is just a few more days away.

TEAM I.C.E.

Team I.C.E. had two skits (one planned and one improvisational) to rehearse for the two Challenges they will be competing in at Globals.  They worked through some improv scenarios and rehearsed their play a few times.  Because their strongest team member wasn’t there, they were unable to assemble their incredibly heavy backdrop, so they rehearsed without props.

SOLARNAUTS

The SolarNauts rehearsed their performance with props (no costumes) several times.  Parents and supporters watched to remind them how it feels to perform for a live audience.  Their teamwork was great; if anyone forgot a line, he could rely on his teammates to remind him.

You can see their work in various stages of development here  and here

Their rehearsal went great!  Everyone was proud of the hard work their kids put into this Challenge solution.

BOTH TEAMS

Time to assemble all their props…

…and pack the trailer!  I’ll have to drive 16 hours to the University of Tennessee with this enormous thing, which holds all the props both teams have worked so hard to create.

These boards, part of Team I.C.E.’s backdrop, are really heavy, so everyone works together.  If you’ve been following their progress, Team I.C.E. had a challenging (but fun) time making them.   If not, you can read about their experience here and  here

Finally, fifteen kids swim and play capture the flag.  Later on they’ll head to a friends’ house to enjoy an outdoor movie night, and then have a sleepover with both teammates and other friends.

After all that hard work, its good to enjoy a pizza dinner.

Global Finals Update 2: 5 Days to Departure

The kids are still busy polishing up their performances for the Destination Imagination Global Finals.  They’ve developed not only the acting, improvisational, prop and costume design and engineering skills that one would expect from a competition that centers on theater arts; the contest has also presented opportunities to develop teamwork and to learn to research effectively.

Team I.C.E.

This group of middle and high schoolers continued to research news articles.  They will need to know six team-chosen articles inside-out in order to succeed at the improvisational challenge, which requires not only on-the-spot thinking but also the ability to quickly develop a story based on previous knowledge of current events.  Choosing and learning about the articles is a team activity.

To help them assimilate the information, team I.C.E. identified major facts in each article and created flashcards for effective studying. Because they are pressed for time, the kids will study and rehearse as much as possible over the next few days, and will review their articles during the 16 hour car ride to Tennessee.

SolarNauts:

The SolarNauts also had to learn to research important topics.  This group of kids, all in elementary school, participated in the science challenge, which involved creating a skit about a possible future use of solar energy.  Their idea, the “Beam Machine” is a machine that can redirect solar energy from outer space directly to earth.  Today they worked on the Beam Machine.

Globals has everyone incredibly excited.  Our Team Connecticut tshirts and trading pins (each of the kids receives thirty to exchange for pins from other states and countries) arrived today. There’s a ton of planning, rehearsing, and packing left to do!  We will have 29 people in our group, including 14 team members, team managers, chaperones and supporters.

Motivating the Student: Powering the Quest for Scientific Knowledge

Motivating young students to search for difficult answers to complex scientific questions can seem like an insurmountable challenge.  HappyMess is sharing a detailed synopsis of our Solar Energy curriculum because we really saw an evolution in the minds of our young scientific team, The SolarNauts.

HappyMess has spent 9 months guiding a diverse group of 7 students through the process of scientific inquiry.  After reviewing our incremental steps we noticed that our success was partially due to the process.  Our team used a truly multi-disciplinary approach to arrive at their final goal:  a comprehensive (grade appropriate) understanding of the fundamentals of energy, solar energy in particular.  The steps are listed here in order of execution.

Competition The SolarNauts, our Elementary Destination Imagination team, are competing in the Science Challenge, The Solar Stage.  These (young) students are learning to do their own scientific research and writing, no easy task.  They are struggling to grasp concepts such as renewable vs. non-renewable energy sources, composition of fossil fuels, creation of electricity and the existential nature of energy itself.

The competition focuses their energies, gives them specific goals and really motivates the students.  They need to work as a team, be creative, scientifically accurate and be able to demonstrate their knowledge through a theatrical production.  They are motivated because it is fun to work as a group and they want to win.  These two factors make them determined to do their very best each time they are together.

Library We began our research the old-fashioned way, at the library.  The SolarNauts chose books on energy, renewable energy sources and experiments with light and electricity.  We read these books both as a group and individually.

Unexpected Favorite Book: The Day-Glo Brothers, by Chris Barton. This fascinating picture book tells the story of the Switzer brothers who, through a combination of hard luck and tenacity, discovered the chemical formula needed to create Day-Glo paint, thus changing the color of our world and leaving an indelible color imprint on the 1960’s.  We really recommend this book.  It is totally relevant, educational and motivating.  The Day-Glo Brothers shows how science can be entertaining, fun and useful in so many diverse ways.  It will change the way you look at color as it demonstrates the chemical changes that occur through exposure to sunlight.

Engineering Our next step in the process of scientific exploration was to attempt to build a solar powered toy car.  This task proved to be too difficult (delicate wiring to be done by tiny hands) but along the way the team was able to see for themselves how a solar panel would generate power which could travel through the wires to a small engine.  The solar powered engine moved gears, thus turning the wheels of the car, and causing it to “drive” across the floor.

Art As part of our understanding of light and illumination The SolarNauts created luminaries to experiment with the way light is displayed through color and how an image changes when it is lit by background and foreground lighting, seen in the light and seen in the dark.  To create the luminaries we used black card stock.  The children left the card stock “whole” but cut designs out from within the card stock, thus creating a negative space design.  They then filled the cutouts with tissue paper collages.  When the room is darkened and the luminaries are lit from behind only the tissue paper images are visible, thus creating a stained glass effect.  The results are quite striking and the kids were pleased.

Puppetry We studied shadow puppets as part of our further inquiry into light and illumination.  In this area our very Favorite Book is William and the Magic Ring by Laura Robinson, published by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  This is more than a book.  It is actually a spiral bound theater for your home.  The book describes itself as, “a shadow casting bedtime story.”  It comes complete with a flashlight.  Each page is a board that creates a shadow image on the wall of a darkened room.  The story tells the tale of a boy who is frightened by the shadows in his room only to discover later that they were made by ordinary parts of his bedroom.   We read this book, in the dark, repeatedly.  Then we got out our black paper and scissors and made our own shadow puppets.  It was a great lesson on light and dark and storytelling with a surprise ending.

Discussion Our team discussed solar energy.  The information was complicated and definitely required repeated exposure.   When we were together we read our science books aloud.  Each student had the opportunity to explain the reading to one another.  We studied energy from multiple angles and it was clear the students were still only slightly grasping the complicated topic.  We had a long way to go.

Internet What science project would be complete without Internet research?  We found multiple interactive websites on both solar energy and electricity.  Our two favorite solar energy websites were http://www.eia.gov/kids/energy.cfm?page=solar_home-basics and http://www.going-green-challenge.com/solar-energy-for-kids.html .

The electricity website we found most helpful was http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/gamesactivities/electricitycircuits.html .  This website allows students to build virtual electric circuits and turn lights off and on with the flip of a virtual switch.  The Internet proved to be a great resource for images of all sorts of solar powered vehicles and solar panels.  These images provided concrete pictures of both current and future solar technology and allowed our students to begin to visualize how the components of energy work together.  We were beginning to understand.

Power Point Presentation One of our (slightly older) team members created his own power point presentation to explain solar energy technology.  He then presented this information to the group, becoming a team teacher as well as a team member.  His confidence encouraged the other team members.  If he could learn it then so could they.  Our team returned to the Internet and began to excitedly find new images of solar technology and do further research on child-oriented science websites.  They were beginning to understand that the information existed and that they could find and understand it..

Interview One of our fathers has a career in the renewable energy sector and made himself available to discuss current solar technology. Our group came to understand the current limitations on use of solar power and solar panels.  They also were surprised to learn that their team “invention” of collecting photons in outer space and sending them to earth via solar energy beam was actually something that scientists are contemplating for the future!

Electric Circuitry One of our favorite tools for teaching about electricity and circuitry is the Snap Circuits set.  Bounce built countless small electronic devices from this set including a light, a doorbell and a little revolving helicopter that could spin and fly. This set really teaches the fundamentals of circuitry. You can follow the directions for building 100 projects or, as Bounce did, you can create your own projects once you understand the basics. Snap Circuits helped Bounce understand how the Electric Grid works.

Prototype Creation The SolarNauts designed the Beam Machine. This prototype of the future would be a working solar photon collecting station floating in outer space.  The Beam Machine would collect photons, convert them to thermal energy, then to electricity and ultimately send the electricity from the space station (Beam Machine) directly to earth’s electric grid via a high energy laser light beam.  They built their Beam Machine out of refrigerator boxes.  These boxes were covered with various recycled materials to create solar panels and photovoltaic cells.  Plastic water bottles turn water into steam, creating thermal energy.

Display Board At the center of the Beam Machine is a scientific display board. The team created this display board to demonstrate their understanding of current use of solar space technologies.  Many space stations currently collect photons to power their stations. Future technologies are anticipating the creation of “solar elevators” which will be able to transmit electricity from space to earth. The SolarNauts board highlights these ideas while also creating a clear portrayal of how their own design, the Beam Machine would work.  Team members later took this board to their respective schools and used it to teach other students about solar energy.

Field Trip No research project would be complete without a field trip. Our SolarNauts visited a local farm which is partially powered with solar energy. This farm uses solar panels to collect energy which is then converted to electricity. The farm typically creates about one third of its needed electricity. During the summer months the farm sometimes generates excess electricity.  Excess electricity is then sold to the electric company, through the electric grid.  The farm also uses solar power to create thermal energy to heat the solar hot water heater.

Eureka!  After months of studying, reading, discussing and building the kids finally understood!  They saw real solar panels, real electric panels, real thermal panels and they understood just how they all worked. The SolarNauts happily explained the science behind the hardware and the farmer was surprised by their knowledge.

This farm also creates its own biodiesel fuel from used vegetable oil.  The farmer gave a complete description of how he can power all his vehicles with old oil from restaurants’ French fry machines. The SolarNauts were very impressed that anything as disgusting as old vegetable oil could still be useful and good for the environment.

"I learned that chickens stink!"

 Of course, the best part of the trip was seeing all the animals.

 

Favorite Science Books After all our research and our many library books we finally stumbled upon our Favorite Energy Book, The Shocking Truth about Energy by Loreen Leedy.  If you read only one book on the subject it should be this one. The Shocking Truth about Energy is a captivating picture book that describes all the most salient scientific points in simple terms using appealing and educational illustrations. This small book told the whole story and reads like a bedtime story, not a book filled with “facts”.

Our second Favorite Science Book is Catch the Wind, Harness the Sun by Michael J. Caduto.  It gives simple explanations of complicated facts and is filled with surprising and simple experiments that will inspire your children.  Our favorite:  to better understand the impact of electricity in our modern world, Spend 24 Hours Without Using Electricity for Anything!  This is the type of simple experiment that has immediate meaning to children. Catch the Wind, Harness the Sun is filled with numerous, more complicated, but equally achievable experiments.  You and your students will certainly enjoy this book.

Writing Now it is time to put it all together. The competition actually calls for all this information to be put into the context of a theatrical presentation. That means writing a script. The SolarNauts divided this task with two members writing the script and a third member writing a theme song. Remaining members collaborated on an opening song to introduce the play and provide set up time. Writing the script required creatively integrating all the scientific knowledge while solving a fictional problem. We won’t tell you the whole plot here as we can’t reveal all our surprises while still competing, but the team managed to create a story which highlights the need for solar energy while also providing a solution to current solar energy inadequacies.

Mother Earth costumeTheater So now that the script is written and the team has learned all the words to the songs they are ready, almost.  SolarNauts now need to make their costumes, sets and props.  This is the fun part.  The team each made their own costumes, designing, gluing and examining themselves from every angle.  Everything they create must be done by themselves.  A component of this competition is that part of this play must be performed in the dark.  Yes, the dark.  The SolarNauts sprayed all the clothes with glow-in-the-dark paint so they would be visible in the dark. They covered lanterns with colored cellophane to create mood lighting. They used glow sticks and flashlights to illuminate their Beam Machine.  The youngest members of the team dressed in phosphorescent clothing and posed as “photons” while other orange-suited SolarNauts tried to “capture” them as an energy sources.  The play was ready to be performed.

Running down the road with the Beam Machine"We made it!"Teaching Our team never wants the final performance to be the dress rehearsal. With this in mind, rehearsing is a key component of the competition and performance process.  The SolarNauts received permission from the local nursery school to perform their play one time for each individual class.  After 6 performances, and many question and answer sessions The SolarNauts were set for the big time:  an evening parent performance to be followed by a pot-luck dinner party.  By this time The SolarNauts were confident in their performance and also articulate about their subject matter:  solar energy.

The 5 AM UHaul

State Competition The big day is finally here. But, are we worried?  Not a bit.  This team has researched, studied, learned, written, created, rehearsed and performed.  They re-glued a few broken props, did one trial run through of the performance and they were ready.  The stage was set and this time when the lights went off the team was truly in the DARK.  Their sets glowed, the flashlights illuminated the set and before we knew it the performance was flawlessly executed and the cast members were saying their final lines,  “We saved planet Earth just in TIME!”. Hooray!  Our goals are achieved.  The SolarNauts have really learned the material and are able to teach others!

SolarNauts discuss their Solution with AppraisersAnd The SolarNauts reached their goal! 

They are now this year’s State Champions!  Next stop Global Finals where they can compete with teams from around the world!

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is using as many different approaches as possible to allow our students to be inspired by their own education.

Color My World with Sunshine

We are studying the earth, the placement of the continents and the energy sources necessary to power our lives on planet earth.

Bounce, and his friends, have created their own world powered by an outer space solar energy gathering machine entitled “The Beam Machine.”

We started our study of the earth and the continents by doing numerous jigsaw puzzles.  As Bounce spent time with each puzzle he was able to recognize the variations in geography, topography, climate and lifestyle customary for each region.

 Adventure Bear proved to be particularly adept at puzzle making.  We like this puzzle series by Ravensburger (Family Puzzle #13 464 9).  The box contains 4 puzzles of earth, each with varying number of pieces and each mapping a different element:  animals, peoples, vegetation and politics.  When combined they form a composite view of our world.

 Next Bounce created his own map of the world.  He studied various Atlases and found that the world can be diagrammed in multiple ways, each showing a different aspect of planet earth.   Here he is studying time zones.

 Making a Bounce-sized map of South America gave him the opportunity to study every contour as well as the mountain regions, political divisions and river systems.  We like the Rand McNally Schoolhouse Intermediate edition of the World Atlas.

 

What study of geography would be complete without creating our own version of the world?  We used an old round tablecloth (plenty of pre-existing stains) as the “globe.”  Bounce drew the continents and then painted the land and the sea.

The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Let The Sun Shine In

Now that Bounce has the world in his hands, it is time for him to understand our energy resources.  After studying various fossils fuels and non-renewable energy sources, Bounce decided to concentrate on learning more about solar power.

Bounce created a poster board to illustrate current solar technology and also depict an alternative technology that could connect with current electric grids to enhance the use of solar power.

He included his luminaries to illuminate his life sized solar energy prototype.

Here is his world and electrified urban skyline powered by imaginary solar power technology, The Beam Machine.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

Nelson Mandela

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is imagining the impossible and building the dream in our minds and hearts.

Finding Creative Inspiration

Creative inspiration is a necessary ingredient for every part of life, but certainly needed when educating and inspiring children. We need to be creative in our approach so our students are engaged and we need to continually reinvent the lesson to maintain both their level of interest and our own.

thinker

So where do we find our creative inspiration? Our Happymess approach is usually to look at each lesson as part of an inter-disciplinary component.

We ask ourselves, "How does this one piece of learning fit into the giant puzzle of knowledge?" I typically try to find at least 3 different disciplines related to each individual subject. I try to surround our nugget of factual study with small pieces of art, history or literature that will make the "fact" seem more "real" to our aspiring student.

For example, when studying math we ask ourselves, "Why is this really necessary? Who has used this knowledge in the past?" "Why might we be interested in knowing this in the future?"

These type of questions quickly lead us to a study of history, both ancient and modern. We can look at the ancient Greek philosophers and mathematicians and learn how they studied the general principles of the world. We can study the lives of Euclid and Pythagoras and learn about the Euclidean algorithm for determining the greatest common divisor, or in Saxon Math terms, the greatest common factor (GCF). We study Pythagoras' theorem for determining the hypotenuse of a right triangle: a squared + b squared = c squared.

We see immediately that these are not merely formulas to be memorized. These are scientific principles that govern our natural world. These principles were observed by great minds of the past and were simplified into tangible equations.

So now as we commence our exercises we see that these Saxon math questions are part of an ancient dialogue. These questions have been asked, studied and answered for thousands of years. So "Why," our student wonders, "do we need to keep studying them?"

This is an excellent time to look at some current scientific uses for which these theorems can be helpful. They include use of GPS, navigating in outer space and measuring areas of a building or bridge for the purpose of construction.

Athena and I were recently purchasing tile for our kitchen. We went to several tile stores and were unable to determine the exact cost of the tile due to the lack of unit pricing. The salesperson was unable to provide us with a unit cost per square foot so that we could compare various prices of tile. After tap-tap-tapping repeatedly on her calculator she finally looked up sheepishly and said, "They just don't give us an app for that so I can't answer the question." Then she turned to Athena and said with a smile, "You see, that's why you have to study math in school." Athena just smiled back because she had already calculated the various sums in her head while pretending to study the ceiling.

We left the store thanking Pythagoras and his ancient friends for enabling us to get an honest price quote. Expanding the relevance of an otherwise "dry"

subject takes a creative approach but makes it much more fun to teach and much more entertaining to learn.

Where do we find our creative inspiration? We just keeping asking, "Why?" and "Who?" and "When?" each time we learn a new fact.

Let Me Count the Days: Homeschooling is searching to find the past and the future while struggling to understand the present.

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