The Super Bowl of Homeschooling.

To a homeschooler, there is nothing more thrilling than standardized achievement tests.

…Okay actually this is way too blanket a statement and is vastly over-applied.

To myself and my daughter and perhaps a few other homeschoolers, there is nothing more thrilling than standardized achievement tests.

I adored them every year when I was a kid. I looked forward to them with much excitement. I loved that my Mom took me to the store and let me pick out whatever snack my heart desired – she said I needed as much brain power as possible to help me to do well during my tests.

(10 out of 10 kids do best when they get to pick out their own snacks.)

And oh, the random snack I chose every year.

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Potato Sticks.

I don’t know why I picked these – I actually don’t remember eating them at any other time except for achievement tests, but they were my standardized snack of choice.

(Maybe it was peeling that plastic seal off that allowed the metal ring to pop off in such a satisfying way. Maybe it was the film of oil on every surface of the inside of the can. Maybe it was the closest thing I could get to Fries in a Can.)

Anyway. Between my beloved Potato Sticks (do they even still make those?), the delight of filling in rows and rows of bubbles, and having a few days in a classroom with other homeschoolers, testing season was the best.

And it thrills my heart to see my daughter find the same joys as I did.

She asks me at least once a month, “How much longer until achievement tests?”

And, with much excitement and glee, they arrived this week.

I of course let her pick out her own snacks. She went with these attractive looking creatures:

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Just as her mother before her, this is not something she normally eats, nor is it something she’s asked me to buy at any other time.

Also? They look like literal dog biscuits. So at least we share extremely questionable standardized snacking taste.

Anyway. She’s taking tests this week, and I’m proctoring tests (for a different grade), because if I’m not allowed to take standardized tests anymore, proctoring is second best. At least I get the joy of seeing other people scribble in beautiful little bubbles.

Right?

As such, I’ll be back next week, fresh off the oh-so-addictive high of helping little minds compare their smarts to all the other little minds out there in the world.

In the meantime, let’s discuss:

1. Did you love/like/hate standardized testing?

2. What unusual snack would you pick out today if you had a week of blissful multiple choice bubbling?

I think I’d go with Potato Sticks. For old time’s sake.

Hands-On History: Sloss Furnaces

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Sloss Furnaces, part of the reason for Birmingham’s existence, has always fascinated me – especially photographically. I’ve taken pictures of it for years, but have never truly explored it. I have left it so unexplored that I didn’t even realize they had a gorgeous visitor’s center, gift shop, and museum.

But naturally it was on our list of field trips for our history project, so when we made it to that point in history, I emailed to inquire about a tour. They have a premium tour which includes the opportunity to create an iron mold and watch iron being poured, so I quickly chose that option. Molten hot metal poured with children watching? For sure – we’re absolutely doing that.

We arrived on a gorgeous day – a perfect backdrop for the exciting photos I knew I’d get to take.

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Sloss Furnaces was a thriving pig iron producer opened in 1882, perfectly situated in the only place in the United States where all the ingredients needed to make iron lay within a thirty-mile radius.

The tour began, and despite our tour guide’s fantastic mannerisms, I might’ve gotten distracted by all the fabulous angles inside of Sloss to fully pay attention.

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I definitely caught some snippets about the terrible working conditions (deafness and death being side effects of employment), but the angles…

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We descended down some crazy narrow metal steps to the underground.

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I remember clearly that he explained what they used to cart back and forth in this tunnel, but … photographs.

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Obviously I need to redo this tour and not be allowed to take my camera along because everything he said was so very interesting and I don’t remember a single word of it.

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I am not fit to be a homeschool mom. I am the worst. And I have the photographs to prove it.

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(This is also Carla Jean’s fault for moving to Colorado because I can’t cheat off of her notes. Which makes me wonder how very much I cheated off her notes last semester…I am really not fit to be a teacher.)

After the riveting tour during which I learned so very much, we went inside the museum and watched a short film about turning Sloss into a National Historic Landmark. Most of Ali’s report (at the bottom) was gleaned from the video. So maybe she was distracted during the tour as well.

Then it was time for the mold making. They gave each of us pressed sand molds and tools for creating our designs.

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This was SO MUCH FUN. And made me wish I had more artistic abilities.

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After we all finished our molds, they were loaded onto a trolley and carted off to these workers, who were casually maintaining the fire as red-hot iron slag dripped out of their container, as it’s supposed to.

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Never have caution signs had such a justified existence.

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The best part of my entire month was when they took the vat of liquid iron and began pouring it into the molds. Watching and photographing the splashing fire made me beyond ecstatic.

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…And totally creeped Noah out. But did I comfort my kid? No. I was too busy watching volcano being poured.

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While we waited for our iron castings to cool a degree or two, we studied the forge’s various collectibles.

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Clearly people had been having fun.

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My kind of fun.

Sloss Furnaces170308f-Sloss-FurnacessThose eyes…so turquoise. That skull…so melted.

The cart arrived with our creations, and the kids enjoyed trying to find their pieces. (Except one of our kids, who refused to claim his piece, insisting that his would NOT have looked like that.)

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Ali, who had worked hard to write mirror-image letters in her mold, was quite proud of how her piece came out. And amazed at how heavy it was.

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It was a most fantastic field trip, even though I totally failed at knowledge retention. I’ll be sure my report card reflects such.

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Here’s Ali’s report:

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The Genesis of A Palette.

An update to my last post, about the discovery of my children’s Grapheme-Color Synesthesia…it probably won’t make much sense if you haven’t read that post first.

A couple of nights ago as I was lying in bed, I finally remembered what app Noah had played most when he was learning his letters – Starfall. I wanted to get up right then and check out what color the letters were, but I was also half asleep and dreaming of blue and pink Bs.

The next morning, I pulled it up.

This is the first screen of the app – you can tap on each letter, and it takes you through different learning screens that are unique to each letter, but the color of the letter stays the same as the front screen throughout the program.

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I went and grabbed the chart he’d made the day before and began counting matches on my fingers.

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A – match. B – match. C – match. D – match. E – match. F – match. G – match. H was the first letter that didn’t match exactly to what Noah had mapped out. I abandoned the plan of counting the matches and just started counting the non-matches on my fingers.

Then, because I’m the geek that is totally overanalyzing my child for fun and amusement, I made a spreadsheet.

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 4.41.14 PMGreen = exact match; blue = near match, red = no match.

17 out of 26 letters matched exactly. 21 out of 26 letters matched or near-matched. And if you count purple/red a near-match, 24 out of 26 matched.

This was no coincidence. I had found the origins of his letter palette.

I do not think the app could have caused his brain to attach so specifically to associating color and letters (and certainly not numbers, since this app didn’t teach numbers – I haven’t yet remembered what app he used early on with numbers) – I think the synesthesia is caused by something specifically about his brain (studies have shown that synesthetes have more gray matter in their brains – ironic, huh?) – but I do think that this app provided him the basis of his color beliefs.

His Color Theology, if you will.

Noah came in the room and looked over my shoulder while I was “playing” on his iPad. Without hesitation, he listed off the letters that didn’t match. Or, in his words, that “they got wrong.”

“R is wrong. It should be purple. They have H as blue but it’s red. M should be brown. L should be green. X should be red.”

I don’t know why I spent all that time comparing and counting and spreadsheeting when he could’ve told me the differences in five seconds, but it was another realization in how quickly his brain picks up on those patterns as compared to mine.

I continued my exploration of the app to try and get clarity on the two letters that are two colors – B (blue and pink) and F (purple and blue.)

The B in the app is blue, but when you click it, it flashes to red.

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Or is that a reddish-pink?

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The F – “blue and purple” – was much more obvious. The letter is purple, and the background on every screen is blue.

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As far as E (he had told me “the uppercase is yellow, but the lowercase is orange”), the letter was written on a yellow background…and the letters on the Exit and Enter sign are yellow…it was close enough for me.

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I triumphantly cheered the app, treasuring it as if it were my own personal Rosetta Stone in understanding my seriously weird kid.

Note: I do think Ali has synesthesia as well, but not nearly to the extreme of Noah’s – and she’s also not as resolute in her determination of CORRECT colors. He is absolutely convinced that the colors are right or wrong – there is no room for error.