Monthly Archives: March 2013

Geometry, Naturally.

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Two of our girls are currently studying geometry, so they are all about shapes right now. Walking by a fence the other day brought on comments from Darragh about parallel lines, a sidewalk stone evoked observations of perpendicular sides and right angles, and we just measured the perimeter of our cheese and crackers at snack time!
But the best one yet, I think, was a recent trip to Malham Cove in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The place itself is beautiful; you walk across sheep-manicured fields and descend into a valley flanked by an 80 metre high curved limestone crag formed by a waterfall after the last ice age. It’s when you climb up to the top that the geometry happens; it is covered by limestone “pavement”, and is one of the few places in the world you can see this pattern of fissured rock known as clints and grykes. The actual lumps of limestone (clints) are shaped by deep fissures (grykes) formed by the flow of water from Malham Tarn, and deepened by the slightly acidic rainfall. Liah pointed out, and then jumped on, a trail of triangles, parallelograms, kites, trapezoids, squares and rectangles – not because I asked her to, just because she noticed, and we had the shared experience of learning the names of these shapes earlier in the week. So much more fun than drawing them on dot paper, and well worth my two days of very stiff calf muscles…

I guess geometry is perhaps the easiest math to make “real” for students, but I wonder if they would be making this many real-life observations if we hadn’t actually shared this learning with them? Roadschooling is giving us a unique opportunity – because we are so in tune with what our kids are learning, we can help make it relevant for them. And sometimes we don’t even have to help – it just happens naturally. In nature, even!

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I can feel those sore calves coming on!

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And did I mention scenes from Harry Potter Deathly Hallows were filmed here?

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The Pencil Museum. Yes, that’s what I said.

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I’m back in The Lake District again. Because I couldn’t leave it without telling you about the Cumberland Pencil Museum. Don’t scoff – it’s really interesting. Yes, it is.
So, on a cold and rainy afternoon in Keswick, when we don’t really feel like hiking, we decide to try out this place. It’s exterior is pretty uninspiring, just on the edge of the town centre with the actual pencil factory as its backdrop. And when we first go in, it doesn’t seem that much better, really. But we pay our entrance fees, and the kids are offered a quiz to complete as well as a sketching contest to do on the way around, and we are off and running. We go through into the first room, which turns out to be the only room, and I wonder how long we will actually be able to stay out of the rain – it doesn’t seem like it will take more than half an hour to get around everything.
I am wrong.
The kids explore the first display and learn about graphite mining and the actual process of making a pencil, spurred on to learn more by the quiz they have been given. Legend has it that after a huge storm in the area, Borrowdale farmers discovered a black material under some uprooted trees which turned out to be graphite. And the rest is history. A cottage industry materialized, and eventually led to the UKs first pencil factory in 1832. Then we look at the way coloured pencils are made, which is actually pretty fascinating. In fact, the whole place is pretty fascinating.
And because we are not in a rush to get back out into the rain, we explore it in great detail. We see the jewel encrusted pencil made for the Queen’s recent jubilee. We watch a video of how Raymond Briggs created his famous Snowman animated stories with Lakeland coloured pencils. And perhaps the most interesting of all, the WWII exhibit which tells the tale of when the craftsmen at this pencil museum were commissioned by MI 9 to create a pencil the looked at functioned like a regular pencil, but that contained a tiny compass in the eraser, which could also be unscrewed to reveal a map of Germany!

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The other great thing about this museum (besides the Guiness Book’s largest pencil in the world) was the fact that little tables full of different types of coloured pencils and watercolour pencils were scattered around, and you could just sit and draw or paint, something most of us would never take the time to do. And when we had finished looking around, there was the Techniques Room, filled with even more art supplies and video tutorials so we could have a crack at some of the more impressive techniques. The kids spent at least an hour in here while we enjoyed a nice cup of tea in the cafe, which also had art supplies on the tables!
And at the end, when all that was left was the gift shop, all those fabulous art supplies were available for sale!
And yes, I do see the connection there, but surely buying fabulous art supplies is ok, right? I mean, it is educational.
And creative.
And useful.
We did buy, and I am happy to say, those supplies made painters of us all. Inspired by the beautiful surroundings of The Lakes, we became artists. Really. We did.

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by Mairi

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by Darragh

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NOT a Theme Park

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We recently drove down to Warner Bros Studios in London to celebrate our daughter’s 14th birthday with a Harry Potter Studio Tour. This was a much anticipated visit, one she’s been waiting for ever since they opened about a year ago. In fact, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, the only two places she really wanted to visit during our year of travel were this one and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Florida. So, we finally booked our tickets, which seemed to me to be very expensive, and rose at the crack of dawn for the three hour drive.
Six and a half hours later, as we were leaving, those tickets felt like a bargain. And when I think how much we will be paying next month to visit Universal Studios, they seem like even more of a bargain! This is no theme park recreation of your favourite Harry Potter locations. This is the real thing. The place where the young Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint spent a vast amount of their childhoods, where all eight movies were filmed, where the almost-life-sized model of Hogwarts was designed and built, where the sets were lovingly created in an unprecedented amount of detail, and where the magical creatures of the wizard world came to life. Here, you can see the philosopher’s stone, stroll down Diagon Alley, and say hello to the hippogryph. You can examine the shelves in Snape’s Potions classroom, see the dishes washing themselves in the Weasley’s kitchen, and fly a broomstick against a green screen while watching yourself chase the golden snitch in a Quidditch match. You can even visit the backlot to see the massive Knight Bus, created by welding a few London double deckers together somehow and painting them purple, have a little rest in Mr Weasley’s flying Ford Anglia, and knock on the door of 4 Privet Drive.
But the tour isn’t just about the excitement of standing where Harry stood. It is an incredibly informative glimpse into film-making in general. Looking at the makeup tables and racks upon racks of costumes, the creature shop and all the prosthetic goblin faces and realistic feathered beasts, the graphic design department with its technical drawings and enough concept art to fill the Louvre, and the special effects where they tried prototype after prototype to get the flying cars and brooms just right – it is inspiring. It made me want to work in one of these departments. The possibilities for a creative mind are endless, and this place is a great way to showcase all that. It was, unexpectedly, one of the most exciting and educational field trips we’ve taken in England!
Of course, the tour did end with the obligatory overpriced gift shop, but even that was entertaining. I think the Wizarding World in Florida will pale in comparison.

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Superfan

I am sure that as I write this, there are many parents lining up for hours with their eleven year old daughters (even after a particularly late and indulgent night out), waiting to catch a glimpse of Justin Beiber or Harry Stiles, or some other teen sensation, giving up their time and sanity so their super-fan child can hold onto the memory of a fleeting encounter with their idol. And maybe even get an autograph or a picture to solidify the experience…
I did this on Saturday morning with my eleven year old daughter. But it was not The Beebs who inspired our three hour wait, although he is, in fact, in the country touring at the moment. Nor was it those cute little Simon Cowell prodigies, One Direction. Nope. Who did we stand in line for, jostling and sometimes perhaps even shoving a tiny bit to get a good view of the microphone so we’d be able to see him? And after the “performance”, frantically try to determine which of the queues to join for the best chance of an autograph?
David Attenborough. Yes, the 86 year old, slightly disheveled, silver-haired face and voice of natural history. The man who has been bringing exotic places like Africa, Antartica, and The Galapagos into our living rooms for the past 25 years.
And she did get to see him, and listen to him speak for five whole minutes. And we did pick the right line-up, so she was one of the last of the few that were able to say a quick hello and get an autograph and photo. She had written to Sir David a few months ago telling him of her love of animals, her concerns about the environment and how it might affect them, and about how she makes little mini documentaries on her iPod, inspired by the hours spent watching documentaries like Planet Earth, and The Blue Planet. She did receive a lovely response from his daughter as he was overseas filming, but now she has her letter signed personally by the man himself.
The wait was so worth it.

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