Monday, October 24, 2011

I see...

We've had a couple of interesting weeks here. Video Boy has inherited his mother's shocking vision - he has myopia (commonly known as short-sightedness or near-sightedness). It occurs when the eyes focus light in front of the retina, leading to unfocussed vision.

Close up is usually OK, but distance vision is pretty fuzzy:

For me, even the couple would have been blurry! I was "medically blind" which meant I got my optometrist fees covered by Medicare (yay!).

So, Video Boy has had glasses for a couple of years now - he has broken one pair and then lost the replacement pair (grrr) and so for a couple of months, his world has looked like the picture on the right...and he was squinting to watch TV, read signs, pretty much all the time.

So, we went off to the optometrist last week to get us some new glasses!

The optometrist is up on all the latest research - with Wombat Girl, we bought a software program with special "lenses" and she had to do a practice session every afternoon to stop her tracking problem, and it worked really well and her vision is near perfect now. So, after testing VB's eyes and found them to be significantly worse, he suggested we try orthokeratology. This was discovered by "accident" - the user wears a form of hard contact lens overnight and wakes up being able to see (after taking them out)!

Basically, the contact lens "reshapes" the cells over the cornea during sleep, effectively flattening the cornea (in much the same way as lasik eye surgery does - I've had this done, which is how I can see now) and allowing clear vision.

The advantages of this system are that the lens is worn during sleep, minimising discomfort during the day; Video Boy can't lose or break his glasses (he could of course lose a contact, but this is much less likely); and the biggie - studies have shown that orthokeratology prevents further deterioration of vision.

So, he had a trial of the lenses last week, but they weren't quite spot on, so this week he had another set. I was worried that he wasn't going to be able to do this - it was quite freaky for him at first and tears did ensue (along with grumbles of "why can't I just wear glasses??"). But he is a real pro at putting them in and taking them out now and I'm reasonably confident that my $1400 will be money well spent.

Video Boy removing his contacts with a little suction cup thingy...

As all good homeschoolers do, we used this as an opportunity to research the anatomy of the eye! I have a fabulous book from my science teaching days called Anatomy Colouring In - it is the bomb of human anatomy!  It really helps to understand the nitty gritty of such about any part of the human body you care to name. We did the eye sheet:

We also watched an episode of Scope called Things That See (available from iTunes) and also the omnipresent Bill Nye the Science Guy:

Then it was off to Exploratorium, where you can learn more about eyes and that has the BEST instructions for cow eye dissection! So if you are brave, watch the video. If you are even braver, try it at home!

It had to be done. I called the local abbatoir and ordered some cows eyes. Got some local homeschoolers together, and in the name of science, very carefully and respectfully dissected cows eyes (don't look if you're squeamish):

Note the "glow" of the reflected flash in the tapetum lucidum,
 which allows the cow to see at night (and how we go spotlighting)
Wombat Girl doesn't look impressed with her Mum's surgical skills!
Eye with muscles still attached compared
to one where they have been removed
Note the (severed) optic nerve -
which is technically an extension of the brain
Great work Video Boy!
The text underneath the lens reads "not for the faint-hearted"!!!
Corneal half, iris, retinal half
Have a look at Video Boy's face!
View through the cornea - note the horizontal cut
where we extracted the liquid aqueous humour

I also found the best images of eyes on the web! And while I'm at it, some fabulous optical illusions - our eyes playing tricks on us!

And the good news for Video Boy is that playing video games and reading lots does not cause myopia - nah, it's the staying inside that does it! Actually the optometrist recommended he spend more time outdoors which is why we chuck him off the computer periodically and say "go jump on the trampoline".

My Mum also joined in the theme, and had a cataract operation last week, where they removed the lens and put in an artificial one.

And finally, I also found the best images of eyes on the web! And some fabulous optical illusions - our eyes playing tricks on us! Finally, can you name the animal the images of the eyes come from below? Answers in the comments section soon!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Perceiving beauty

I received an email this morning from a dear friend (who I've never actually met, but have emailed since 1998!):


In Washington , DC , at a Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, this man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, approximately 2,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After about 3 minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule. 

 About 4 minutes later:

The violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

At 6 minutes:

A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

At 10 minutes:

A 3-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time. This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent - without exception - forced their children to move on quickly.

At 45 minutes:

The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

After 1 hour:

He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed and no one applauded. There was no recognition at all.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold-out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.


So, apparently this is a true story (I did my due diligence) - it was originally published in the Washington Post and the full article is definitely worth reading.

A couple of interesting quotes from the original article made me stop and think:

There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were all represented in all three groups. But the behaviour of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.

What are we really teaching our kids? How is it they recognise beauty and talent, yet we recognise busy and "must-do"? How much can we learn from our kids?

The other quote was:

If we can't take the time out of our lives to stay a moment and listen to one of the best musicians on Earth play some of the best music ever written; if the surge of modern life so overpowers us that we are deaf and blind to something like that -- then what else are we missing?

What else are we missing??? So, maybe, just for today, stop and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us. Listen to beautiful music. Look at beautiful art. Breathe in the smells of nature (all of them!). Feel the touch of another human's skin. Savour the food and drink you love. Perceive beauty all around you in all its forms. Because life indeed does have an expiry date.

Monday, October 17, 2011

On ya bike!

Dutifully not running. Stretching and foam rolling. Exercise biking (30 minutes - 17.46km - 606 calories).

Note the sweat towel - no facecloth for me!
 No - I bring out the  big guns!
But it's not the same (insert whining sound here....)!!!

What would you rather look at? Sausage legs...

Can you see the drops of sweat on the bike?
 Or the ocean!

Yep. Me too. Never mind...won't be long!

Liebster Blog Award!

Well, in the comments section of my last post, the lovely, gorgeous (well, I assume she is of gorgeous spirit - I don't think I've ever seen a photo, so I'm not in a position to comment on her looks!) April, at Educating April, nominated Defying Gravity for a Liebster Blog Award. Wow. My first award!

What's the Liebster Blog Awards, I hear you ask?? Well, I kinda asked the same thing!

The Liebster Blog Award started (sometime in the recent past) in Germany (presumably by some dude named Liebster) to encourage traffic to hidden gems of blogs (yeah, like mine! - with 300 followers or less). So it is an award you receive, but also an award you give (share the love kinda thing). If you receive a Liebster Blog Award you are asked to choose 3-5 other bloggers and link back to the blogger that gave you the award.

I like to think that value of "awards" like these is not growing your list of followers, but gettting to know other bloggers who might not be well known, yet have a lot to share. It's about building a community :-)

Here is what April had to say about Defying Gravity:

This blog is about an Australian family homeschooling two exceptionally gifted children. It is interesting to read how Ingi educates her children and caters for their individual needs. Also I am very fond of this blog as it opened my eyes to a world that I did not know existed but which is now very much a part of our lives.

Thank you so much for those kind words April! It means a lot to me that you enjoy my words and our journey. And I'm presuming you are talking about discovering the wonderful world of gifted children and how homeschooling can benefit them!

So, for those I am about to award, I would like to point out there is no obligation to continue this award. If this is not your cup of tea, don't panic! I would like to award the Liebster Blog Award to....
  1. dkjsv05 at Our Journey 'Round the Mulberry Bush - this lovely lady has been homeschooling for a couple of years and started out very much in the Steiner/Waldorf school of thought. Over time she has explored new ways of learning for her two girls, and is now proudly calling herself a radical unschooler. I love her "Little Comments" posts - those beautiful moments that slip away if you don't pay enough attention and I love her bravery for forging a new learning path for her family.
  2. Jo at Unbounded Ocean is my latest find! She is an ecologist who is currently living in South Australia, radically unschooling her son Kai. I love her links, her embracing of technology, her love of Harry Potter and Twilight and just the fact that it's an Australian family choosing the road less taken and loving it.
  3. Another Australian is the amazing Helena at Loving to Learn. First of all, I love her words - she writes beautifully and I'm not ashamed to admit often brings me to tears. Second of all I love her family - a boy and a girl who seem not that dissimilar to mine. Third of all, I love that she shares everything - the good, the bad the wobbly. She is such an inspiration to me and I know one day we will meet in real life, when all the stars and moons align!
  4. Mona over at Life With Intensity has my son's doppleganger! Gifted plus sensory issues equals full-on! I love her descriptions of life with her son and how she has spent the time to work out what works for them.
  5. And I am very much enjoying MamaTea at the Hmmm...schooling Mum - I just love her spot-on observations of life, learning and homeschooling. Nice pics and funny words - what's not to like?
So, if you haven't already, head on over and check out these blogs - you won't regret it, I promise!!!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The crinkly bits

Did I mention we are going on a cruise? In two weeks time we'll be sailing off toward New Zealand! Can you tell I'm a bit excited?

Anyway, we are using this upcoming holiday as a starting point for some cool homeschool activities.

First up, I got the kids to write a paragraph about fjords and how they are formed.

I think in this age of information overload, one of the most important skills is to be able to find relevant, reliable sources of secondary information and then be able to put that together in a logical, readable way that achieves the writing goal.

The other thing I want my kids to be able to do is use technology. Rather than associate writing with the tedious (for them) process of handwriting, I let them use word processing to write. They can copy and paste, but the text must be properly referenced and support their ideas. They have to do a bibliography.

They quite enjoyed the process and Video Boy especially enjoyed including references to Slartibartfast and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy!

We then got out our Mapping the World By Heart maps, which do not include detailed maps of New Zealand, but does have a Pacific map, which includes Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, and south Pacific Islands.

Wombat Girl took great delight in explaining it all to her Dad:

They are now busily working cooperatively on preparing a Powerpoint presentation on New Zealand facts:

  • government
  • population
  • cities
  • money
  • languages
  • religion
  • agricultural and industrial products
  • major export and imports
  • ethnic groups
They are working really well together and I haven't heard one peep of complaining!!

We might also do some research on food (cooking time!), music (and put together a NZ playlist on iTunes) and language.

So we have English, Geography, Technology, and Music all covered for the next couple of weeks (as their mother excitedly counts down the days until I don't have to do any housework or cooking!!).

This will be us again in 2 short weeks!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


I love TED. The talks are on so many different topics, so full of passionate people, inspiring ideas. I found the Steve Jobs video on TED. It really helped me through a very sad and confusing time - thank you Steve.

My latest TED discovery is Peter Benson's talk on How Youth Thrive.

As a mother of two exceptionally gifted children, this topic is close to my heart. Here I have two amazing children (well, all children are amazing, aren't they?) who have such "potential". Their IQ's are nearly off the chart. But what does that mean for them and their lives??

What do I want for them? To be happy? (whatever that means). To earn lots of money? To have high flying jobs? To have lots of friends?

None of that really matters - what I want is for them to thrive. I want them to have a spark, a spirit about them. Be passionate about their lives. Do something meaningful (for them).

The path that we were on - school, commuting, rushing - was taking the spark out of my children's lives. My son in particular was spark-less - he was the opposite of sparkly. How sad that a boy that is capable of so much (thought, imagination, learning, joyfulness) was reduced to a sad little pile, more often than not curled up against the world around him. Even my girl was losing her sparkle - she was beginning to doubt herself and lose her sense of joy.

So for us, this year has been less about getting the academics right (although that has been part of it) and more about finding the spark - what makes us tick, what floats our boat, what puts us on the path to fulfilling lives. We are getting there - no doubt we are much more relaxed, happy, interested and joyful than we were this time last year. I hope that by ditching the school system that did not work for my kids on so many levels,  and replacing it with something other than "school at home", I provide them with opportunity to fire up that spark.

It's a beautiful thing to watch :-)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Models, waves, particles, cats, prizes and sheep

Holidays are over kiddies!! We started this morning by continuing to work through our Physics booklet. This morning we talked about the wave model. According to "The Little Book of Scientific Principles, Theories & Things", a model is:

A mathematical or visual picture of a particular set of phenomena. A mathematical model consists of equations and step-by-step rules that reflect what happens in a real event. A physical model represents a real object. A model is never perfect and scientists continually update their models on the basis of new observations.

So the wave model is is an idea that enables us to describe everyday phenomena such as light or sound in a way that we can understand (e.g. water waves). With us so far?

We then started to talk about how later on, it would get more complicated and we would start to get into Quantum Physics.

"But isn't Quantum Physics about time?" asked Video Boy.

"Well, not really - it's about how things behave at the very, very small level (like atoms, or photons)" I replied.

So we had a brief discussion about wave-particle model/duality (which wasn't in the booklet, but we went there anyway).  One Minute Physics has a great video to explain how light (and other electro-magnetic "waves") also behave as particles:

And then we looked at Part 2:

So things at the very small level act as two things at the same time, and depends on probability. "You know, like Schrodinger's Cat!" I piped up.


So, according to quantum physics, a cat could be both dead and alive, but it is the viewing of it that causes it to take a particular course of action. Our friend Professor Poliakoff from the University of Nottingham and Periodic Table of Videos fame explains it in more detail:

And my The Little Book of Scientific Principles, Theories & Things book further explains that Erwin Schrodinger (1887-1961) was awarded the 1933 Nobel Prize for Physics for his work on wave mechanics and his Equation that describes the changing wave pattern of a particle such as an electron in an atom. The solution of the equation gives the probability of finding the particle at a particular place and now forms the basis of the electron cloud model of the atom!

And speaking of Nobel Prizes for Physics, an Australian scientist Brian Schmidt (well, he was American, but emigrated out here and now works at Australian National University in Canberra) with some other guys (that don't work in Australia!) have won the 2011 prize for their ground-breaking work on the universe expanding faster (not slower) and dark energy:

By a strange co-incidence, Brian Schmidt worked with one of the other guys on the University of Nottingham Schrondinger's Cat video (and he apparently makes a nice drop of wine too :-)

Now that you are all up on your quantum physics and Nobel prize winners, I'll leave you with Video Boy's idea of what would happen if you tried Schrodinger's experiment with a sheep...(who like to chew stuff)....

I don't know who's learning more here, me or the kids :-) Gotta love homeschooling!

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Birthday girl!

I'm running a little late, but it was Wombat Girl's birthday this week. My baby girl is 11 years old! She was so excited, not for the presents, but just for the occasion of being another year older. My, how they do grow up:

Brand new...
1 year old
2 years old
3 years old
4 years old
5 years old
6 years old
7 years old
8 years old
9 years old

10 years old
11 years old 
Happy birthday my beautiful girl - how I am loving watching you grow up :-) 

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

A screen free day!

We have a lot of technology in our house. Now as a disclaimer, I should let you know that we own an electronics shop and therefore get our technology at wholesale prices and it's handy to know about technology so we can sell it well in the shop. Let's have a quick look at what we have (I'm scared...):

  • One 50" plasma TV upstairs in the loungeroom
  • One 64cm CRT TV downstairs in the rumpus
  • Playstation 3 upstairs (with Play TV to record TV shows) which doubles as our Blu-Ray DVD player
  • Wii (usually upstairs)
  • Playstation 2 downstairs
  • 3DS
  • DSi
  • DSlite
  • iPad
  • two iPhone 4's
  • iPod Touch
  • two desktop PC's (one for hubby, one that doesn't really work anymore)
  • laptop (mine!)
  • netbook (Video Boy's)
  • plus assorted digital cameras, video printers, mp3 players, hard drives with videos on them, amplifier, and enough assorted cables to open an electronics store!

Now while I've been trying to embrace a more "unschool" approach to our learning, I wouldn't go so far to say that we gone completely radical unschool. While I am trying to say "yes" more often, my hubby is still probably more toward the authoritative end of the parenting spectrum. The amount of time Video Boy spends playing video games and watching YouTube videos about video games bothers him.

I talked to Video Boy about limits. He agreed that he often lost track of time and found it hard to stop playing/watching. I mentioned Computer Time that a fellow blogger had recommended. He said he would like that and actually nagged me to set it up. So, now he has a set time he can go on, a limited time in one sitting, a set time to finish up - he likes knowing in advance what the boundaries are.

Except hubby changed the boundaries! Yesterday after not seeing Video Boy all morning, he found him under his covers with the netbook. He wasn't happy - 11am, no breakfast, not dressed, no teeth cleaned. All hell broke loose - and much temper-losing from hubby and tears from Video Boy ensued. A "screen-free day" was declared by hubby! (now - personally - I don't care what time VB gets up or if he wants to spend the day in his jammies - especially during holidays. But it bugs the crap out of hubby).

And so - Screen Free Day it was!

A game of Zeuss on the Loose! 

Constructing and demonstrating Marble Run

Learning and playing Go

Lots of piano practice for Wombat Girl
Playing PDQ

Playing with cardboard boxes and (long forgotten) kitchen equipment

Getting outside on the Zoingo Boingos and bikes
For a day that started out tense and tearful, we all agreed it was a pretty fun day and that maybe we should plan a few more "screen free days", just to balance things out a bit more :-)

Embroidery Project - Blue Butterfly

I downloaded this pattern as a PDF from Hoop Embroidery Co on Esty as my first attempt at the technique known as "thread painting"...