Sunday 29 November 2020

The Brother Cadfael Series by Ellis Peters

 Ellis Peters was the nom de plume of Edith Mary Pargeter (1913-1995). I started reading her Brother Cadfael series of Mediaeval whodunnits set in England in the 12th Century about fifteen years ago. They are best read in order, although I haven't done so as the books are not always easy to find here.

Cadfael, originally from Wales, had turned Benedictine monk after life as a soldier and sailor and was well versed in the ways of the world. The earlier books elaborate on this and introduce some characters such as Hugh Beringar - the deputy sheriff and Cadfael’s close friend; Abbot Radulfus and others who re-appear in subsequent books.

The Leper of Saint Giles was written in 1981 and is the Fifth Chronicle of the series. The story is set in the year 1139 when King Stephen was on the throne.

‘He had seen battles, too, in his time in the world, as far afield as Acre and Ascalon and Jerusalem in the first Crusade, and witnessed deaths crueller than disease, and heathen kinder than Christians, and he knew leprosies of the heart and ulcers of the soul worse than any of these he poulticed and lanced with his herbal medicines.’

When visiting the leprosy hospital at Saint Giles to restock their medical supplies, Cadfael arrives just as preparations for a noble wedding are in progress. He witnesses the bridegroom, Huon de Domville, arrive with his entourage. Domville is a shrewd, malevolent man, and quite a bit older than his intended young bride. 

The young woman rides in later, accompanied by her uncle and his wife, her guardians after her father died. Cadfael recognised her as the granddaughter of a famous knight who had fought in the Crusades. It was also obvious to Cadfael that the young girl had had no say in the matter of her marriage and discovers that the girl is secretly in love with one of Domville's squires.

Before the marriage could take place, two deaths occur and Cadfael uses his position and his past to help discover a murderer, absolve an innocent man, uncover a mystery, and unite two lovers.

The Leper of Saint Giles is a satisfying mystery and a tale of treachery with the unique twists and turns that are the hallmark of Ellis Peters.

The Virgin in the Ice is the sixth chronicle in the Cadfael series and was written in 1982. This book reveals a piece of Cadfael's past that should be read before going on to subsequent books. I won't say too much about this book but it could almost be called a thriller.

In the year 1139 King Stephen is on the throne but his cousin, Empress Maude, daughter of Henry I, has an equal claim to the throne. A civil war (the Anarchy) results and refugees have fled from Worcester, the scene of the latest conflict.

Among the refugees are a boy of thirteen, his seventeen year old sister, and a young Benedictine nun. They were known to have been  seeking refuge at Shrewsbury Abbey where Brother Cadfael resides but they fail to arrive. A monk of Cadfael's order is found near death from wounds inflicted by persons unknown and Brother Cadfael is drawn into both mysteries.

This is a gripping book with many false trails and intertwining plots. I thought there was just a wee bit of contrivance and overdone coincidence towards the end but Ellis Peters can get away with it. Her descriptive writing is a pleasure to read and her ability to draw the reader into the wintery, bleak atmosphere of the England of Mediaeval times adds to the appeal of these books.

As Cadfael reflects on his younger days and his time as a soldier in the Holy Land twenty-six years earlier he observes,

'In a land at war with may take it as certain that order breaks down, and savagery breaks out.'

The Virgin in the Ice covers a brutal period of English history and portrays the hardships that fall upon the common people when leadership forgets them. '...where royal kinsfolk are tearing each other for a crown, lesser men will ride the time for their own gain, without scruple or mercy.'

Sunday 22 November 2020

A Charlotte Mason Highschool: In-between Years 10 & 11

Last month I wrote a post about our Year 10 studies. I'm now thinking about and making plans for Year 11 which Hails won't be starting until next year after a Christmas break. Now, for the interim, we are keeping up with cello lessons and exam preparation for her final exam in the first half of next year.

We started Novare General Biology, a new science curriculum, which I wrote about here and will continue that for the rest of the year and into next. This has inspired an interest in microscopy. We have an average, inexpensive sort of microscope but it has an attachment for a mobile phone so you may photograph what you're observing. This has been a big plus as Hails has an interest in photography and it's easy for everyone else to have a look without adjusting everything each time.

Microbehunter on YouTube has some great videos on all things related to microscopes and microscopy, including some good advice on choosing one suited to your situation (you don't need to spend a lot of money!!) and we've been watching these. He has also reviewed and highly recommends 'The Microbe Hunters,' by Paul de Kruif, a classic book on the major discoveries of the microscopic world that Ambleside Online uses for Years 8 to 11. 

Other books for our interim time:

Economix by Michael Goodwin; Illustrated by Dan E. Burr - we've had this for a few years and my next youngest, who is studying Economics at university, recommended his younger sister read it. It's a light, fun, graphic book on the economy - how economic forces affect you and have shaped history. My husband loves watching the nightly financial news and after reading this book Hails said, 'Now I understand what they're talking about!'

War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy - this is her slow read, which isn't her usual style, but she's reading a bit most days and once she was a few chapters in she started to enjoy it. 

World War I: The Rest of the Story and How it Affects You Today by Richard J. Maybury - an interesting perspective on wars and history. This book is followed by his book on World War II which we will use next year also. 

Discretionary Reading:

Escape or Die, The Dam Busters, The Great Escape, and Reach for the Sky by Paul Brickhill (WWII)

We Die Alone by David Howarth (WWII)

The Venetian Affair by Helen MacInnes

Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour - a superb book, written by a Palestinian Christian

Nemesis by Agatha Christie

Raw sugar crystals

Something new that I've taken on is working with My Homeschool, an Australian Charlotte Mason Inspired homeschooling curriculum that provides a complete curriculum from Kindergarten up to Year 9 and registration assistance for Australian families all over the country. It was started in 2017 by Michelle Morrow and during this Covid year it has expanded to serve about 600 families. I've been helping to run homeschooling workshops on the Charlotte Mason method via Zoom and just love doing it! 

Tuesday 17 November 2020

Novare General Biology - Review & Giveaway!

Classical Academic Press has added Novare Science and Math to their already excellent educational offerings. I received a copy of Novare General Biology for review purposes and have been using it with my 15-year-old daughter. The book was published this year and is so up to date that it contains an appendix about Covid-19.

The first thing that I noticed was the exceptional quality of the book itself. It is more compact than an average textbook, and is lovely to handle with a sturdy, soft-touch cover and smyth-sewn bindings. The inside is uncluttered with an elegant font and high-quality photographs and diagrams.

Co-authored by Heather Ayala and Katie Rogstad, two home educators with science degrees who are involved in teaching secondary homeschool co-op science classes, it is designed to be used with students in Years 9 to 12 and assumes that they have not yet done courses in high school biology or chemistry.

‘Novare’ is a Latin word that means ‘to renew’ or ‘to begin again,’ and Novare’s whole science curriculum is intent upon transforming how science is taught so that students master and retain what they have learned. As a Charlotte Mason educator I was delighted to read how they do this:

By stressing that science should always begin with Wonder. People usually do not care about what they do not love, and they do not love what they do not know about. Nature study is encouraged to nourish this love and the curriculum offers ideas for activities such as carrying out a Phenology Study throughout the year. Charlotte Mason observed that, 

‘Where science does not teach a child to wonder and admire it has perhaps no educative value.’ 

By emphasizing Mastery - Novare embeds review and accountability into each of the chapters for material that has already been learned. Their emphasis on quality over quantity allows the student to be given the right amount of work to learn deeply. There is no cramming and learning just to pass a test.

By Integration - English language skills are integrated into science, lab results are written from scratch rather than filling in the blanks. Science isn’t isolated from everything else; historical connections enhance the understanding of science as a process. Learning should not be compartmentalized because education is the science of relationships. Scientists, their theories and discoveries are covered along with technical content. 

Kingdom - we help our students to see the fingerprints of God revealed in nature. Science has a role in leading us towards truth, goodness and beauty. 

‘We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and 'spiritual' life of our students, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.’

General Biology contains 12 Chapters that cover the study of life, atoms and molecules, the cell and the cell cycle, genetics, classification, fungi and plants, animals, human organ systems, ecology and evolution. (see their FAQ’s for more information on how they approach this topic) 

There are also three Appendices:

• Units, Unit Conversions, Significant Digits, and Scientific Notation

• Reference Data - includes measurements and Physical Constants

• The Coronavirus

A feature of the book that I liked is the 'Hmm...Interesting' sections that highlight something connected with the topic in the chapter. For example, when discussing the cell, one of these highlights explains how antibiotics work. Another feature was recommending a living book such as 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' for further reading.

Additional Resources

The Apprentice’s Companion for General Biology - this is designed to accompany the text and includes experiments, lab journal, field notebook, nature notebook ideas, a commonplace book, images of art, poems, and quotes by scientists and naturalists. At the time of writing this review The Apprentice Companion is only available as a download and due to unforeseen delays is incomplete. Chapters will be added to the digital downloads as they are ready and hard copies should be available next year. The Apprentice Companion really enhances the main text and contains information required to implement the practical aspects of the curriculum so I consider it a necessary and excellent resource. 

Digital Resources for General Biology - this includes teacher's notes, planning tools, information about preparing solutions, time requirements, supply substitutions - everything you need whether you are teaching an individual or a group. It also contains photos obtained during pilot runs of the experiments and assessment documentation.

There are some things you will need to complete this curriculum, the most expensive item being a Compound Light Microscope. A digital thermometer and scales and prepared microscope slides (make your own instructions are included) are also required. Novare have used everyday materials where possible to make the experiments manageable e.g. eggs previously left to soak in vinegar are used to demonstrate osmosis. The downloads include a list of materials required for the lab activities and links to a supplier should you wish to purchase items not found in grocery stores.

I asked my daughter to share what she liked about Novare General Biology and this was her reply:

"It doesn’t write down to you, but is still very understandable. The book is thorough and you actually learn and remember things because of how the subject is taught. It’s very interesting and I like the way concepts are explained. There is even a section on Covid-19 which explains it well. I like that it encourages nature study and that it prioritizes quality over quantity. The whole book is very well written."

In Summary

Novare General Biology is a very professional but accessible curriculum for high school students. The  authors recognize that some students can handle more than others therefore teachers should feel free to cut some material from the chapters if necessary.

It is very refreshing to have access to a solid science course that prioritizes wonder and seeks to integrate the humanities into the study of science. Charlotte Mason educators will find this curriculum suits the method. It is challenging, has plenty of hands-on involvement, and is flexible enough to be used with an individual student or in a group situation. Although we've only completed a few of the experiments at the time of writing this review, I think the labs in Novare Biology seem do-able at home. The Chemistry and Physics courses look like they require more in the way of scientific equipment. 

There is a support group for Novare Science on FB where you may post questions about the different courses and lab activities.

If you would like to win a copy of Novare General Biology with its accompanying digital resources:

1) Leave a comment below telling me why you would like to win, or, what aspect of Biology interests you most
2) Enter via this Mailerite link
3) You may also enter via Instagram

The Giveaway closes on the 27th November and the winner will be announced a few days after that.

*Only those living in the contiguous USA are eligible to enter*

Updated: 28/11/2020

Thanks to all who entered & congratulations to Emma who has won the giveaway. 

Tuesday 10 November 2020

Charlotte Mason Highschool: Handicrafts

"Creativity is not just for artists. Subjects like design and technology, music, art and drama are vitally important for children to develop imagination and resourcefulness, resilience, problem-solving, team-working and technical skills...These are the skills which will enable young people to navigate the changing workplace of the future and stay ahead of the robots, not exam grades." 

The quote above is from an article written two years ago. In the same article a professor who teaches surgery to medical students said that young people need to have a more rounded education, including creative and artistic subjects, where they learn to use their hands. He has noticed a decline in the manual dexterity (muscle memory) of students over the past decade and that it is a big problem for surgeons who need craftsmanship as well as academic knowledge. Students have become "less competent and less confident" in using their hands.

"We have students who have very high exam grades but lack tactile general knowledge."

Handiwork is just as important in the highschool years as it is with younger children. The beauty of working with the hands, whether it be woodwork, felting, patchwork, metal work, or any other type of material, is that it provides a respite for mental work and acts as a pressure release valve for the person whose time is mostly spent studying. It brings balance by working with an entirely different set of skills.

A young person of highschool age also has a wider range of handiwork available to them. They are capable of using tools that a younger child would find difficult to handle and they have a greater awareness of the safety issues involved (hopefully!). There are also more options for lessons. 

Last weekend Hails attended an all day adult workshop on drypoint printing, a form of Intaglio printing. The teacher was quite happy to include her in the group even though she's only 15 years old after I'd chatted to her. The class was a small group of five students she enjoyed the workshop so much that we've registered her for another class on Mosaics early next year. I asked her to do a written narration on the drypoint technique and this is what she wrote: 

Drypoint is a print making technique. By a print I mean an artwork that has gone through a printing press. The materials used in drypoint are a piece of acetate and a special needle with a very sharp, tiny point. Usually a reference image is printed out and placed under the acetate, then the artist traces the image onto the plate with the needle. It makes a very annoying, squeaky sound, as the needle is actually scratching into the acetate. A special drypoint ink is scraped over the top of the plate, forcing the ink into the cuts. Then the ink on the surface is rubbed off and you can see the image start to show up, as the ink is in all the scratches. Then both sides of the acetate are rubbed again to remove any excess ink, and it’s ready to print. The printing press is basically a machine with a large steel roller in the middle to force the ink down onto the paper which sits on a large printing plate underneath the roller. The acetate is placed cut side up on the printing plate, and a piece of paper that has been soaked in water is placed on top. Then three layers of thick, felt-like material is put on top of the printing plate, and it’s time to roll it through. Printing presses have a lever on the side to roll the plate underneath the roller and out the other side. Sometimes the acetate has to be rolled through a second time because not enough ink has been pressed onto the paper. 

When the image has fully transferred to the paper, you take it off the printing press and leave it to dry. Usually you have to make a few copies of the image before it turns out to your satisfaction, because if you leave too much ink on the plate, the image will be smudged, and if you don’t leave enough, the image is too light. 

The composition of the image or drawing is also important. As mentioned before, the image is usually traced onto the acetate, but it can also be drawn freehand. That is probably not wise unless you’ve been doing it for a while, because every scratch you make is going to show up on the image, and if you make a mistake, it’s very obvious.

After experimenting and trying to get the right balance of ink etc., she chose the picture above to frame. 

The workshop also included Lino (relief) printing which is quite different. There's a good explanation of Lino Printing here. 

Charlotte Mason recognised the importance of manual dexterity. Her method stresses relationships; that children need living books and 'things' - handiwork, manual skills, nature walks...and so the teaching and practice of handicrafts should be continued all the way through highschool.

'...we know that the human hand is a wonderful and exquisite instrument to be used in a hundred movements exacting delicacy, direction and force; every such movement is a cause of joy as it leads to the pleasure of execution and the triumph of success. We begin to understand this and make some efforts to train the young in the deft handling of tools and the practice of handicrafts.' - A Philosophy of Education.