~a month of unschool~ prefrontal cortex

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we spent a gloriously sunny january day riding a pony, driving plasma cars, tossing a football, and casting fishing poles with family-friends.

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quinn traced the map from the series we are reading: the guardians of ga’hoole by kathryn lasky. quinn is also reading star wars to me again, after a hiatus. he is working on handwriting, thanks to his reading teacher, particularly the magic c letters.

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every other tuesday, we have been running a farmers market at ols. it is pretty cool to watch the kids set up their stalls, selling anything from fortunes to hair and nail treatments, veterinary care for stuffed animals, and of course, lots of art projects. it is funny to see what happens to occur to kids to sell, and i thought the republicans quinn sold recently were the most amusing. he drew pictures of george w. bush and herbert hoover, and sold them for 2 or 4 beluga bucks, depending on the president. it is an easy way to get a snapshot of what a student is interested in at any given moment, and it’s true that quinn has been playing a lot of presidents games with the other kids.

as a spinoff of farmer’s market, the students voted that they would begin collecting taxes on income, a fixed 10% for everyone, no matter what your store configuration (we have some sole proprietors and some co-operatives). the kids get lots of practice figuring 10% and then they will get to decide what to spend their tax dollars on!

women’s rights figured into our social studies curriculum this month, which was very cool.

also potentially a social studies topic, quinn inquired about the navy seals (a good friend of his is very interested in the navy seals) and summed up what i explained to him with, “so they’re a baseball team that goes all over the place, right?”

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in science this month, we dissected the bird we brought back from our hike to big creek park. quinn is not too keen on the dissections, though he does like to look at the dead animals fully intact. he participated wholeheartedly in the discussion of the fossil record, not surprisingly. we made our own fossil imprints using plaster of paris and found natural objects (quinn chose a pinecone) and looked at fossils that quinn’s dad loaned us and that i had (mine are all from the beach here in oregon!) we also studied chemical reactions (we did this at after school program as well- the volcanic eruptions using simple acid/base reaction was a blast! ha. the kids had voted to delve more into rocks and soil than the human body, so these are just some of the outcomes of the path we set off on. once on the subject of the fossil record, the kids wanted to know more about evolution, and we did a fun project demonstrating how natural selection works. each student looked at a fish drawing that i made, and made a “copy” of said fish. the resulting generation of fish all had much in common with the original fish, but also some differences. then one fish survived to create the next generation of fish (i randomly drew from the pile) and all the students created the next generation by making as close a copy of this surviving fish. we repeated this process 4 times and by the end, our fish had changed noticeably!


we began a unit of study we are calling “mindful awareness” and began with an overview of several parts of the brain- the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in mindful behavior, and the amygdala, which, when it is in charge, tends not to lead to the most mindful behaviors (because it does important things like react if we touch a hot surface- we would get burned for sure if we waited until our pfc thought things through!) to practice mindfulness, each student wore a blindfold and several students would practice moving about the space in the middle of our circle, working hard not to collide with each other.

at after school program, we had a couple of awesome women come and teach drama to all of the kids, something quinn really enjoyed. they worked on theater tricks like making “machines” and using “stop” in a skit to re-write a story the way it should go. the students created their own skits on topics they felt were relevant to their lives, and then performed them for a group of parents!

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we had yet another snow storm, two in one winter, so crazy! more snow days spent at home playing with legos, drawing vikings and dragons.

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valentines day was fun at ols! we each made a bag for collecting our valentines, and quinn’s featured “jim, jake and jay” the “blues” birds of angry birds. it was fun to watch all the kids plopping goodies and cards into each others’ bags. a cozy day. quinn and i both made some valentines for some kids who spent valentines day in the hospital. this was an idea from one of our ols moms, whose daughter is a cancer survivor.

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quinn designed his own birthday cake, and i made it as close to his specifications as i could. his birthday parties were all learning experiences, of course!

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quinn did some building this month. he made a toolbox for himself at the children’s festival. he also began building his pinewood derby car, for a race he was invited to by our local adopted family. he is looking forward to the race, and did a great job of measuring, sawing, and sanding!

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this month chess was still a big focus for the students. quinn also has been making elaborate blocks structures, and magnatiles structures, all of which we find it much easier to let go of if we take a picture of them. (this is true for many of the kids!) outside, quinn gets involved in making up lots of interesting games, including the above mentioned presidents game, and another called “fortresses.”

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quinn’s birthday celebration at school happened to fall on our 100th day of school. quinn can be seen arranging o cereal on a 100 grid, getting ready to string them up for an edible necklace to wear. his expression in that image shows a bit about the two sides of him we saw on birthday day. he was just not quite himself, and while he enjoyed certain aspects of being the birthday boy, like eating cupcakes and being given special potions and ninja turtle cards, he had trouble with other ones, and we just let those ones slide by the wayside. turning 7 might just put too much pressure on a guy.


i managed not to take a lot of pictures of math lessons, but we did tons of math this month! we did a great lesson on pi=C/d, where the kids looked around the school for circles (cups, drums, rolls of tape…) and then practiced measuring both circumfrence and diameter, and then dividing C/d. we found pi!

i introduced quinn to the palindrome this month, and he really latched onto that and has been finding palindromes everywhere, both numerical and verbal.

he found one lesson on symmetry rather boring, so he opted to attend the olders’ lesson on parts of circle. he demonstrated that he grasped it all, pointing out arc, segment, tangent, radius, diameter, and circumfrence.

quinn officially joined khan academy and has been working on the beginnings of multiplication facts. very exciting!

he also has a fairly intuitive grasp of the number line, including negative numbers. he told me when he saw this date on the board: “february 3-7” that 3 minus 7  is negative four.

other fun math studies included stairs math (demonstrating the use of frog jumps for subtraction), fractions, fact families, and the difference between billions and millions (this came up during fossil record discussion and we watched the bill nye clip from the fossil episode where bill jumps into a silo full of popcorn kernels to illustrate billions!)



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