Friday, June 29, 2012

Cooking and some homeschool stuff!

We have put your suggestions (and those from the ubiquitous Facebook) to good use and have made lots of yummy lemony things! Because everybody should learn to cook, I got Wombat Girl in on the act, and we whipped up a scrumptious lemon syrup cake (recipe here!). 'Twas very yummy and disappeared mightily fast!

Learning those all important baking skills

Fresh out of the oven

The recipe said wait until it had cooled down...we didn't!
We have also enjoyed Middle Eastern Lemon Chicken and a "meatless Monday" Silverbeet and Lentil Soup (I added a can of chickpeas instead of the second can of lentils and also stirred through a little sour cream). Wombat Girl ate two bowls! I am also going to do some preserved lemons (because they are trendy, and all that).

What's that you say? This is supposed to be a homeschool blog? Oh well, yes. I supposed we should do some "school". We got back into the swing of things this week - Wombat Girl freely admits she missed doing school work (because, yanno, she couldn't do it by herself...). Video Boy was good without it!

After my sojourn marking writing, I felt maybe we should be doing writing on a more regular basis and maybe incorporate a little more formal study of grammar and sentence structure and the like. I came across Excellence in Writing on April's blog Learning Alongside. In particular I liked their e-books (can't be bothered for stuff to come over by mail!) and their Rockets, Radar and Robotics Technology-Based Writing, which is a good intro to their style of work. I'm a bit naughty and didn't buy all the DVDs and other stuff that goes with it, but I'm sure we'll be able to muddle our way through.

We did the first exercise on note-taking and key word outlines. No tears! A minor miracle! So I'm hopeful that we will be able to incorporate some of this into our 'program' (like I have it all planned out...).

Look Ma! No tears!
We have also been doing a bit of bookwork to reinforce the geometry DVDs in maths that the kids have been watching in my absence. Ripping through angle sum of a triangle, exterior angles of triangles and angle sum of polygons. I use a combination of bits of Maths Quest textbooks (which I have on PDF), Enrich-e-matics and Extension Mathematics (the lower secondary edition is currently out of print, but the middle secondary one is available). And the kids have fun making up their own problems and solving them (nerds!).

The textbook has links to the Cabri geometry software,
which brings some of this stuff to life 
Nerd boy adding up angles in an octagon!
We have also started on this years Murder Under the Microscope! I worked on this in a past life and have enrolled the kids as a team. For those who aren't aware, it is an environmental "crime" game where you have to identify the victim (dead animal), villian (cause) and the location of the crime scence (what catchment). We got started and did some background research on accidents and how they might impact on a catchment. We created a mindmap to track our thoughts:

I also scored some bargains at Aldi, which the kids have benefited from. First up was a you-beaut version of Marble Run, including gears! Wombat Girl has wanted to investigate gears for a while now (and I will search out some good kits to do that properly) so she really enjoyed putting it all together and Video Boy dragged himself away from YouTube to join in the fun too:

Check out all that cooperative learning!

They also had Zoobs on sale! We added 250 pieces to our measly collection and the kids covered some more floor space with constructions. It was interesting to see how their approach varied - Video Boy loved following the instructions to create cars etc and Wombat Girl loved seeing the patterns in things and creating her own version of DNA.

And finally our trampoline bit the dust. Admittedly it is well-used and exposed 24/7 to corroding sea air. It basically fell apart and was beyond repair. Luckily Kmart is having it's annual big toy sale (for which the kids are finally too old for most of the plastic junk) and had tramps on sale! We don't use the super-safe bubble-wrapped enclosure because we prefer to let our kids live on the edge, but we now have some very happy jumpers and as a bonus for me (and the neighbours) this one is squeek-free.

The old, corroded trampoline

Oh and speaking of neighbours, our new ones have proven to be remarkably quiet and respectful. I've never been so happy to be wrong in all my life!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Some observations on arriving home

It's a good thing to go away - it makes you view the everyday with new eyes. It's easy to get "house blind" to all the good and not-so-good things at home:
  • The house is cluttered. After spending nearly four weeks in the near-hotel that my brother's house is, all our junk is a little overwhelming. I feel some decluttering coming on.
  • The dog is furrier and fatter than I remember him. But he is much more interactive than cats and I missed him more than I thought I would.
  • I love being able to look out the window. Whilst my brother's house is light and airy, it has no view. I like to watch the world go by (yes, I am a stick-beak).
  • The ocean is loud at night-time. But it smells lovely.
  • I really like hot showers. My brother's hot water was set to luke-warm to stop toddlers (which they don't have) from burning themselves. Ours is nice and HOT. But I much preferred their swanky new shower-heads over the pissy flow that comes from ours. Bring on a new bathroom (a girl can dream!).
  • I enjoyed spending time with my brother and his partner. Too often our visits are hurried and rushed. We had time to catch up, listen to daggy 80's music, watch musicals and go out to eat and drink. Noice.
  • I hate noisy neighbours. I loved coming home to the empty house next door. Until this afternoon when a bunch of p-platers in what appears to be their first share house moved in. Not happy Jan...
  • I missed my hubby. Not his lists of things to do or his laundry. But chatting with him about the mundane-ness of our days, bouncing ideas off him, watching TV snuggled up with him.
  • I totally missed homeschooling and being with my kids. I didn't miss their laundry, or reminding them to do things around the house, but I missed being with them, discussing things, interacting with them. I am soooo lucky that I get to do that.
Mount Iron-more still awaits me. I need to go grocery shopping. The kids need to go the dentist. The dog needs brushing and washing. All these things do not magically disappear. But it is good to be home again and enjoying my family.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


I am home again!

These last few weeks have been the longest I've spent away from home (maybe ever; certainly since having kids).

Having lived in lots of houses (at last count 12 since I met my husband; lots more over my entire lifetime), I think I have a pretty good handle on the difference between "house" and "home".

Home is where your people are. If you are a family, it's the unit base. The place you can come back to (even if the physical location changes from time to time). Perhaps you live by yourself - it's still where your family and friends visit, the location near your community.

Home is where you store your stuff, your things, your collected life paraphernalia. The things that make you, you. When you aren't at home, you bring some of your stuff with you (usually what you can shove into a suitcase or two), but it's not the same. Hotels are nice - because they don't have your clutter stuff strewn through them. But your stuff - your clothes, your books, your knick knacks, your pillow - that is good stuff.

Home is where you can be yourself. When we stay with others (even close family), we try to fit in with them. At home, we have our own routines, quirks and habits. And those things are OK or better yet, celebrated and revered at home.

Home truly is where the heart is. It's nice to go away for a bit, discover new things, new places, new stuff about yourself. But it's lovely to come home.

My goodness, it's good to be home :-)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Creative spelling test

I can't resist. I have come across some rather creative attempts to spell a variety of words in the last few weeks. It is amazing what you can piece together when you read the writing in context - we can usually pick out the remnants of a sentence from some letters scrawled together. But take those words out of context, and it can be a bit harder.

Let's see if you can decipher the following gems (answers at the bottom):
  • enjoibul
  • krer
  • menchend
  • helfyer
  • prefeshernel
  • aspeshilly
  • ikspirins
  • adsbtle soten
  • enifing
  • dilshersh
  • opertunerys
  • anafe
  • oppsions
  • exwizard
  • oldenuf
  • slekshen
  • cejest
  • enfusiasome
and these food/cooking related words:
  • pisser
  • disurt
  • buggers
  • lezzunyer
  • spededy bulinays (there were many, many variations on this)
  • snisal

How did you do???
  • enjoyable
  • career
  • mentioned 
  • healthier
  • professional
  • especially
  • experience
  • absolutely certain
  • anything
  • delicious
  • opportunities
  • enough
  • options
  • exquisite
  • old enough
  • selection
  • suggest
  • enthusiasm
  • pizza
  • dessert (not to be confused with desert)
  • burgers
  • lasagne
  • spaghetti bolognese
  • schnitzel

You'll be relieved to know (or maybe you don't give a toss, but humour me) that we mark each criteria independently - so if they are attempting to add some interesting words they score for vocabulary, even if they are spelt incorrectly. It is rare a kid is good at everything. Often they write well, have good sentence structure, can spell well, but can't punctuate to save their life. 

And another thing I have learnt (or learned - apparently both are OK - I always wondered about that) is that you can't judge a piece of writing on the handwriting. I have read brilliant pieces that were a bit difficult to decipher because of the appalling handwriting (bring on uni and computers for those kids!) and I have been presented with beautiful handwriting, but a banal attempt at the task. 

On that note, I have marked 1050 scripts, spent 27 nights away from home, had 20 takeaway/restaurant meals (despite the fact that I can, in fact, cook), and had about a billion cups of tea and coffee. Oh! And out of 208 markers, only 5 were not "out of range" (read 'accurate') on the control scripts - and one of them was little old me! A first-time marker, and a science teacher to boot! I'm pretty proud of myself.

I actually got to work with some lovely, lovely people, who I will miss when I go back home. But there is thankfully Facebook and maybe we will reunite next year.

But I've finished Naplan for this year and am headed back to normality (as soon as I can figure out what is normal anyway). See you there!

Friday, June 15, 2012

More mundane marking moaning

I'm still in Sydney. I've marked 957 scripts. We were scheduled to have finished today, but it looks like I'll still be marking on Sunday, Monday and probably/possibly/perhaps Tuesday.

My flu has been and gone. The family have been and gone. It bucketed skyloads of rain over Sydney while they were here, so the planned park visits/outings did not really eventuate. But hubby and I managed to pretend we were child-free and snuck out for breakfast...

Yum - spinach & feta crepe for me,
peanut butter and banana crepe for hubby

...a movie (Prometheus - not for kids! Graphic alien surgery!), and even a quiet beer (well, we had to shelter from the rain somewhere).

Cheers, big ears!

It was seriously wet out

I only had one day off and then had to go back to work. But we did get in a trip to a soggy park...

She's swingin' in the rain...just swingin' in the rain!
...and I took the family to my "home away from home" the Sushi Train, where the kids shocked me by eating raw fish and tuna (note to self- must take them out more often).


No one went hungry that night!

They have now departed the premises (taking their mess and snoring with them), leaving me in peace, with three ragdoll cats for company.

Rose, Coco and Mr Smith

I'm glad I've only got a few more days of marking left, because I'm seriously losing my mind (note the correct usage of "lose" not "loose"). I am drowning in a sea of mediocre writing (with the odd bit of high quality driftwood) - it's getting to me. I know, I know! Not unlike homeschooling, I chose this option, so I have no real recourse to whinge, but bear with me (and if I do this again next year, I promise to lay off the complaining and regale you with humorous cat anecdotes instead).

Maybe it's the fact that I keep reading about all these parents leaving their children unattended - they are either off napping, vacationing or even dying. To make matters worse, these callous bastards haven't even taught their offspring how to cook! How selfish. Now the poor things are all starving and dying all over the place. And if they do try their hand at breakfast/lunch/dinner, they are all burning their houses down.

I'm also concerned at the high numbers of school aged children abandoned and lost in the wilderness/jungle/bush without any supplies. But luckily we are teaching them how to slaughter the wildlife, and if they are clever, they know how to cook it and survive. Just as well. I'm a pretty good cook - I can see how killing and eating stuff in the wild would come naturally to me now. Just call me Bear Grylls.

Also worrying is the large numbers of fast-food outlets that require advanced cooking skills from our teenageers. Did you know that if you can't cook, then you can't get a job at McDonald's, KFC or Hungry Jacks? Me neither. So get cooking kids, because cutbacks have obviously meant no training budget for these corporations.

And were you aware that once you know how to cook, you never have to go to a restaurant or have takeaway ever again? And that henceforth, your menus will be filled with healthy, nutritious snacks? Or better yet, you have discovered a beautiful way to express your emotions through the fun and exciting combinations of flavours and ingredients? And here's me just dutifully following Jamie Oliver's instructions. Duh.

Don't even get me started on the creative spelling...

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Tips from an "expert"

As of yesterday, I had marked a smidge over 550 'scripts' in the Writing component of NAPLAN. That's a lot of reading persuasive writing/expositions/discussions. I'd like to think that puts me in a reasonably unique position to comment on what makes good writing - or even easier, what NOT to do!

It is pretty obvious that many kids are much more familiar with spoken English than written English and that this is responsible for a lot of the errors I see. While English is an evolving language, the point of writing is effective communication and the more "correct" you are, the easier it is for readers to read what you have written.

So without further ado, here is Ingi's Guide To Common Errors in Writing:
  • There is no word "alot". It does not exist (except perhaps in some people's imagination). I think what they are trying to write is "a lot" (note the space). And before you Grammar Police comment, they are not referring to the verb "allot" either. I am rather annoyed that we have been told to ignore this as an error when marking, as it is sooooo common.
  • "Could of"/"should of"/"would of"/"must of" - these are unfortunately all incorrect. The ear hears "would've" as "would of". It is, in fact, a contraction of "would have". Ditto all the others.
  • Similarly, there is no such word as "themselfs". It is a misspelling of "themselves".
  • If one more kid writes "I'm gonna", I'm "going to" hurt something! Ditto for the close relation "gunna". 
  • "I reckon" that there may be a lot of other ways to start a sentence which is an opinion.
  • In fact, there may be "heaps more" ways.
  • Quite a few ways, "and stuff".
  • Think about what you are writing/have written - does it makes sense? For instance "if you starve, you could die. Or worse." Please tell me what might be worse than dying of starvation?
  • "There" - is a place or idea (look at the food over there!). "They're" - is a contraction for "they are" (they're going to starve to death). "Their" is possessive (their kids are starving).
  • Definitely remember how to spell "definitely" (not "definately" - I stand accused of this one!!!).
  • Apparently multiple exclamation marks are redundant!!! But not on blogs :-)
  • i think Everyone should at least Try to use A Capital letter at the Start of a sentence and not throughout except for Pronouns full stops or commas or other punctuation marks also help us Work Out what youre trying To Say as well 
  • Now of course, there is room for a little conversational tone (especially on a blog!), but in formal exams, not all conversational phrases are appropriate. In addition, we are not texting here people!  (hi i'm Ingi and i'm gonna tell u about why i think everyone should cook - whattya reckon?).
 I do try to proof read my posts to make sure I haven't written "write" instead of "right" or some other silly error which will make me look like a dufus, but I'm sure I'm not always super-attentive. Feel free to Grammar Police me in the comments if you ever find an error (but be nice, I cry easily!).

There are many more out there and many great websites to point them out (the Oatmeal does a great job, but not for young kids or the easily offended). These are just the more common errors/irritating phrases I have come across in the last couple of weeks. 

I have one more week of marking to go - not sure if we (the 208 teachers they have employed) will get through all the scripts (240,000 odd) by then. Not sure what will happen if we don't. I will share with you that out of those 208, only 41 teachers have not been more than 2 marks away from the head markers on the common scripts - and I'm one of them!! Super accurate marker I am! Which I'm pretty happy about, because I am not a Primary teacher or English teacher and it's my first time marking. 

I have to wade through a lot more "I strongly agrees", "firstly/secondly/thirdly" (and sometimes "forthy/fifly/sixly/sevenly/ately" as well!). In conclusion, I strongly agree that it may be a long week ahead! But the family is coming to visit tomorrow night for a few days (yay!) and my cold/flu is on the improve, despite the pounding my social life is giving it, so things are on the up!

Monday, June 04, 2012



According to the Urban Dictionary, "blech" is digusting, yucky, horrid, gross. Just how I feel.

Apparently it is also sheet metal placed over stovetops by Jews observing the Sabbath. See? You learn something new everyday.

The joy of spending my days surrounded by 200 other bodies, in air-conditioned comfort, accompanied by stair-rails (never hold the stair rails) and communal bathroom doors that you must pull to get out after you've washed your hands has morphed into some virus thingy.

I'm miles and weeks from home. And I'm sick. Not happy Jan (for my overseas visitors, see here for the ad that spawned that Aussie saying). Just thought I'd share.

The way many of the markers were coughing and spluttering up lungs this afternoon, I would imagine if anyone manages to escape the dreaded lurgy they have immune systems made of steel. Just don't touch the handrails.

That is all for today. I'm off to the chemist to get some Codral. So I can soldier on and all that.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

The difficult task of writing

"True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, as those who move easiest have learned to dance" ~ Alexander Pope.

Oh how true this is!

I have now been marking the 2012 NAPLAN Writing task for over a week. I have read and marked nearly 200 "scripts" - attempts by Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 students across NSW to answer the question:

"Should everyone learn to cook?"

This was the prompt for this year's persuasive writing task, where the writer is required to convince the reader of their point of view. I actually think this a rather important 'text type' to learn - in my very optimistic plan for homeschooling, I stated confidently "our writing program will emphasize skills in expository and persuasive writing, including the process of draft development, revision and editing". Thankfully I have a few more months before I have to achieve that goal! But the point is, being able to craft a persuasive text, exposition, discussion or academic essay is something I believe is a real skill and worth pursuing.

In the NAPLAN exam, the kids had 5 minutes to plan their response, 30 minutes to write it and 5 minutes to edit it. We mark according to 10 different criteria:
  1. audience
  2. text structure
  3. ideas
  4. persuasive devices
  5. vocabulary
  6. cohesion
  7. paragraphing
  8. sentence structure
  9. punctuation
  10. spelling
If you want more detail (because it's riveting stuff!) you can actually view/download our marking guide here. This is our bible for marking and mine has lots of annotations and comments scribbled in it now. If you happen to have a child who did NAPLAN, you'll be glad to know we try really, really hard to be consistent in our marking. We have a common control script each day, to ensure everyone is on the right track and our Senior Markers and Group Leaders review random scripts we have marked through the day, giving us feedback if we need it.

You'll also be glad to know we try really, really hard to see the good in the attempts. I have to say, this experience is really opening my eyes to just what a difficult task this writing thing is. It is very much a developmental thing - I have probably only read one really well written, well crafted script. I have also read a few clever attempts, but they usually include some clumsy sentences, dodgy ideas, or bad spelling, which kind of puts a dampener on things. But there are some gorgeous ideas and attempts at persuasion, which frequently have us showing the marker next to us.

Particularly it seems for some of our younger writers, there are some common "themes" that seem to appear over and over (and over and over). I put these up in the spirit of learning (and some of them are so cute):
  • I strongly believe that everyone should learn to cook because if your mum and dad die, and you didn't learn how to cook, you would starve. Or even worse, you might have to eat fruit.
  • Firstly, everyone should learn to cook because if mum and dad are working, you could come home and whip yourself up a snack (like a chocolate cake) or even make breakfast, lunch and dinner and give mum a break (because dad never cooks).
  • Secondly, everyone should learn to cook because one day, if you get stranded in the jungle (because there is so much jungle in Australia) if you don't know how to cook you might have meat, but you could die because you can't cook it and you might get a disease.
  • Thirdly, everyone should learn to cook because one day you can go on TV like Masterchef, and get your own restaurant or have your own food products and get really rich, because chefs get paid heaps of money.
  • In conclusion, everyone shouldn't learn to cook because if everyone does their own cooking, then all those chefs would have nowhere to work and the cooking shops would be very crowded and we might run out of ingredients.
The thing that stands out for me is how hard (almost all) of these kids are trying. They may not be always successful (although the head marker does inform me that the homeschooled kids do very well in writing!), but they try their little hearts out. The other thing that strikes me is how important their families are to them. There are lots of "awww" moments in my work. Not everyone will be a great writer, but at least they are learning to put their thoughts on paper and many of them are finding their "voice". Who knows? Maybe one day they may even have a blog!!

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"...