Saturday, July 23, 2011

Curriculum Resource: Discovering Music with Carol Reynolds

Today my son and I broke out some new curriculum I bought recently for this academic year.  It is a 13-hour DVD course entitled Discovering Music:  300 Years of Interaction in Western Music, Arts, History, and Culture.  It is a middle school/high school level course that relates music history to the political, religious, scientific, artistic, technological, and other cultural developments that shaped the composers and musicians of each succeeding era.

This is exactly how I like to study subjects.  I don't believe in examining each discipline in isolation; rather, I think you can understand them best when you cover them in relation to the other developments going on at the same time that effected them.  However, music history is one of my personal weaker points--I can do a much better job explaining literature and art, for example, in terms of what was going on in other realms at that historical period than I can do with music.  So I am glad to have this opportunity to fill in some of my ignorance as I take this course along with my son.

We did the first unit, which I think is a lot more "talky" and theoretical than the bulk of the course, because it is laying the foundations and explaining why we should study history via music and study music via history, etc.  But my son enjoyed it enough that he wanted to move onto the second unit right away.  This one also was setting up the big picture, rather than getting into the music itself too much, but we both learned quite a bit and are looking forward to the next session.

The course was developed by, and features, Dr. Carol Reynolds, an enthusiastic and experienced music history educator from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX.  She does a good job as a lively but easy to follow narrator of the course material, as well as playing a grand organ herself to demonstrate a piece of music written by Martin Luther (I never knew he wrote music along with all the other stuff he was up to in revolutionizing European Christianity).

This class is also perfect for us because it begins in the 15th century, but really focuses on Western history from the early 1600s to World War 1.  We have already studied World history up to that date, so I'm hoping we will have at least touched on all the major political, scientific, and large artistic movements covered in the DVDs.  That will allow him to concentrate on the new information about the music and hang that onto what we have already covered, as well as helping him get a better understanding of that history.

The curriculum isn't cheap, but you get a lot for it.  In addition to eight DVDs that contain over 13 hours of instruction, you receive a 236 page workbook and three professional quality CDs that contain the works discussed in the course to listen to on their own.  

We've only gotten started, but I'm impressed with the quality of the materials we've looked at so far.  My son is enjoying it, and I'm already learning stuff I never what else could you ask for from a curriculum?  But I'll give a more informed review of the curriculum in a future blog post once we have completed more of it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

My husband and I just got back from watching what is probably the movie of the year, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.  Like watching Toy Story 3 last summer, it was definitely a bittersweet experience.  Who wants the wonderful world of Harry Potter books and movies to come to an end?  But I have to say, if it has to end, I think they did an excellent job putting the series to rest with this movie.
(Note:  If, by some chance, you haven't read the book and don't want to know any spoilers, then stop reading here.  And I wouldn't advise trying to see the movie without reading the books, or at least seeing all the previous movies; I think you would be completely lost if you came in blind for this one.)

As always, the movies leave out so much about the nuances and the details and the relationships, and like all the movie before it, there were scenes from the book that I was really disappointed not to see in the film.  But the two medias are different, and we have to embrace them for their strengths, rather than complain about their weaknesses.  There were scenes that presented themselves much more dramatically on the screen than I had ever imagined when reading the book, such as the scenes that showed Hogwarts students being marched in en mass that was chillingly reminiscent of Nazism.

But I think this movie does a great job ending the series because it has that good old archetypal feel of inspiring heroes rising to the call and a pretty black and white good triumphing over evil.  By separating the last book into two movies, this last film shows everyone at their best.  Gone are the jealousies and petty behaviors that our three main protagonists exhibited at times in Deathly Hallow, Part 1(and in the previous books); they are brave and true and clever throughout this movie.  And even the bad guys are kind of at their best this time, gathering for a straight-out test of their strengths rather than the political maneuvering or the simpering, sneaky nastiness shown in the earlier films by characters such as Delores Umbridge or Wormtail.

But for me, I think this movie really works because after it all--after all the years of magic and fantastical creatures and flying sports and all the other imaginative flourishes J.K. Rowling has packed into her work--this movie really centers on the two things that make the Harry Potter books so outstanding:  story and characters.  The biggest scenes are not the one with CG effects or new imaginative animals (in fact, the ones that appear, such as giants and dragons and giant spiders and Cornish pixies have all been seen before), but the ones that complete the stories of all these people we've come to love over the years.  FINALLY, we get to hear Snape's story.  FINALLY, we discover Dumbledore's grand plan for Harry.  FINALLY, the obvious couple gets together.  FINALLY, the disrespected underdog has his big hero moment.  FINALLY... lots and lots of plot lines get tied together in a way that brings us to a very satisfied place about these characters that have been developing in our heads and in our hearts for over a decade.

And I have to say, I really like this movie because I can also see it as the Triumph of the Mothers.  When Hogwarts is preparing for attack, it isn't the Aurors or active leaders of the Order of the Phoenix (who have pretty much been men the whole way along, let's face it) who take charge, it is the "in loco parentis" grandmotherly-looking Minerva McGonagall.  It isn't the handsome and talented Sirius Black who defeats the horrible Bellatrix Lestrange, it is the frumpy, domestic, and usually sidelined Molly Weasley who battles Bellatrix to the death when she threatens Molly's only daughter.  And it is Narcissa Malfoy who helps set up Harry's surprising resurrection to his supporters at Hogwarts when she betrays Voldemort to ensure the protection of her son.

So this movie, like the book on which it is based, offers a lot of life lessons about love and friendship and loyalty and the things that are worth fighting for.  But I think it also offers one other key bit of advice:  Don't Mess with the Mamas!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Curriculum Resource: Where Does Pi Come From?

This evening I attended an absolutely fantastic webinar that was part of the Math 2.0 series that my friend Maria of Natural Math runs.  If you have a high school student (or even a middle schooler) taking Geometry, you and your child should check out the recording of this hour-plus educational lesson.

The session was called "Pi in July," and featured two mathematicians:  David Chandler, a mathematician who teaches at a California public charter school that supports homeschooling families and offers supplemental instruction to major high school math textbooks at Math Without Borders ; and Allison Krasnow, a mathematics teacher at Willard Middle School in Berkeley, CA.  The two have been working together to develop ways to explain to students where the number Pi actually comes from.

Chandler began by explaining, using geometry and especially the Pythagorean Theorem, how the approximation of the number Pi was originally derived by Archimedes in ancient Greece.   He started with a simple graphic that demonstrates why Pi is between 3 and 4, and not 10 or 7 or some other random number.  Krasnow then took his idea and modeled it in GeoGebra, a free open source software for creating geometric figures.   Finally, Chandler worked through the process that Archimedes used to figure out this key mathematical number--except that he used a spreadsheet to crunch the numbers up to millions of points.

I'm not doing the talk justice, but it really is a brilliant process.  My 12 year old son participated and was able to follow everything step by step, and really got the concept of why Pi is what it is.  I think that is so much better than when I learned geometry, when I was just given the value of Pi to plug into formulas with no idea where it came from or why I should believe it.

For more information on the webinar and the presenters, or to access the recording of this session, see the Pi in July page in Math 2.0.