Monday, March 27, 2017

Rethinking Learning Styles

Rethinking Learning Styles
Learning styles are quite the fashion among modern educational experts.

Parent-educators like to chat about which of their children prefer which style of learning, and how to tailor materials to the learning style of each of their children.

Public schools sometimes require their teachers to identify the learning style of each student as early as kindergarten, and demonstrate how pedagogical materials will be custom-fit to each child.

I take a different approach to learning styles, and here's why:

Imagine that at the beginning of preschool, we identified whether each student was right handed or left handed. Then we tailored all mechanical tasks to the preferred hand, and tied the non-preferred hand behind the student's back.

What would happen? The non-preferred hand would atrophy, and would not advance in skill at all. The preferred hand would also suffer, because we didn't allow it the assistance of the weaker hand.

When we tailor all of  a child's learning experiences to their strongest learning style, we also allow their other learning faculties to atrophy. And, the student will also learn less effectively than if they use several learning styles in cooperation with each other.

There are times in adult life when only one teaching method is available to us. Suppose you're at a restaurant in a foreign country where the waiter speaks no English, but the menu is bilingual. You probably don't want to say, "Sorry, I'm an auditory learner. I guess I'll starve now." If you're reading the subway map in a strange city, likewise, you don't want to say, "My visual-spatial skills aren't so good" - especially if you're in a dicey neighborhood. Your first day on the job, when you find out that your boss gives all her directions verbally, it's probably not the best time to announce, "Well, sorry, I just can't remember a THING unless you write it down for me!" When our children become adults, they will be greatly benefited if they are strong in several styles of learning.

To the best of my knowledge, not very much research has been done on learning styles. We don't know the answer to important questions like, "Are learning styles fixed at birth, or can one person have one learning style as a child, and a different learning style as an adult?" 

In life, we need to learn to strengthen the weak parts of our brains. 

The point of education, especially early education, is less the mastery of a huge body of facts than it is a time of building skills, strengthening brains, and learning to learn.

I first began to mull over how malleable the human brain was when I read Gifted Hands by Dr. Ben Carson, and he explained how as a brain surgeon, he witnessed children's brains growing and compensating for a traumatic loss of function in one of the brain's regions. 

The good news is that we can change our brains, as discussed in this TED talk:

If we exercise our learning muscles in ALL the learning styles, we can grow our learning muscles!

Here's a great article on teaching our kids to learn in areas that they don't easily master. 

Please take a minute to read it - it is SO worth your time! : )

The Difference Between Bad & Good Math Students

If a child listens to a lecture, takes notes, draws diagrams,  and reads along in the book, they're automatically using - and exercising -  several learning styles at once without even noticing.

Similarly, if a student watches a video of a learning song and sings along, and makes motions, while reading a the lyrics, they're automatically using several skills at once.

In both of the above instances, several skills of the brain are being strengthened at once - by working together.

But, when those assignments come up that aren't tailor-made to our learning styles, we need to "slog through" and master the materials - exercise our brains in thinking outside their comfort zones.

Where necessary, children need to be gradually taught to compensate for any persistent weaknesses (rather than having an adult do it for them) - they might learn to think of their own picture mnemonics, write their own songs, draw their own diagrams, or take notes on that audio lecture.

We can learn from studying learning styles and how they might enhance our teaching, but we can also greatly benefit from using the centuries-old, tried and true methods of education.

The good news is that we don't have to pick and choose - we can benefit from it all!

Edited April 2018:
This article may also be of interest, if you enjoy this topic. 

Edited October 2019:
More research is coming out on this topic. If you'd like more in-depth information, here are a couple of sources (I have not read them thoroughly, and neither endorse not reject their content, so caveat emptor

Blog post on the research behind learning styles
Professional Journal Article about Supporting Research

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Orthodox Christian Icon Alphabet

Orthodox Christian Icon Alphabet

Icons are a vital part of the Orthodox Christian Faith. They are one of the ways that we Orthodox Christians involve all of our senses in the worship of God. Much like a photograph of a someone we love, Icons provide a visual connection to the beloved that we can use to bring them to mind and feel closer to them.

It is often said that Icons were used for centuries to help often illiterate Christians, who were sometimes unable to read the Bible, to learn more about their faith.

But, in talking to modern people, I find that just as Christians of centuries past could not read the written word, often modern people do not know the artistic language that Icons are written in, and so cannot learn from them the things that our ancestors could learn. When I first became acquainted with Orthodox Christianity, I was truly puzzled when people said that illiterate people could learn from Icons - they seemed to me just as inscrutable as Arabic or Mandarin.

If a child, or a non-Orthodox adult looks at an Icon, they nearly always ask "What does this picture mean?" just as one might ask when browsing the family photograph album, "Who is this, Mom?"

I'm writing this Icon Alphabet to provide a few beginner's pointers to the language of Icons, for adults and children alike. These are the things that I share with adult friends and with my young daughter to aid in understanding Icons - not a professional academic treatise. There are many very advanced & profound books on the language of Icons, but this is a beginner's Primer with a few basics - it is not perfect, and I'm sure it leaves out many important details.

Remember that Icons have Tradition rather than laws that govern their creation, so you will always find exceptions to these "rules."

I am Greek Orthodox, so a few of these pointers relate to the Greek language specifically. If the Icon you are looking at has Russian or English written words, things will be a little different.

These pictures were taken in Cyprus at various Churches and monasteries; at Holy Trinity St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Cincinnati Ohio; or at Three Hierarchs Greek Orthodox Church in Champaign, Illinois. A few are from private collections or books.

The Icon Alphabet

A - Agios or Agia. 

If you are looking at an Icon of one person (as opposed to a complex scene), you will usually see Ο Αγιος - which means "The Saint" - male, or Η Αγια - which means "The Saint" - female - in the upper left corner of the Icon as you face the Icon. (The word for "Saint" in Greek and the word for "Holy" are the same - so it can alternately mean "The Holy .  .  .")

B - Blue or Red.  

Blue is the color of Divinity or the Heavens in Icons. Red is the color of Humanity. You will often notice that Christ and the Virgin Mary wearing both colors. Partly this is because the colors are complementary and eye catching but it also tells us that Christ, being Divine, "put on Humanity" and the Virgin Mary, being human "Put on Christ."

C- Cross. 

If you see someone holding small Cross in their hand, it indicates that they are a Martyr.


D - Door or Cave

A small, dark door or cave in an Icon often represents the darkness of this world.

Here in the Descent of the Holy Spirit Icon, you can see the "King of this World" (notice the lack of a Halo) in the Darkness of the World

St. John depicted with an Eagle on a Pulpit

E - Evangelists. 

The writers of the Four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke & John are called the "Four Evangelists." Each Evangelist has his own Symbol (from Ezekiel & Revelation). Matthew if often represented by an Man (or Angel), Mark by a Lion, Luke by an Ox and John by an Eagle. When you see these symbols in Icons, perhaps around a Pulpit or around the dome of a Church, they often refer to the Evangelists.

St. Mark Depicted with a Lion on a Pulpit

F - Frown. 

Smiling for pictures is a new phenomenon. Often the faces in Icons look serious, peaceful, or even frowning, since their Subjects are dealing with serious matters. This is especially seen in Icons of Christ that depict His role as Judge. Small children might say "Why does he (or she) look angry?" But the Saints are not angry in their pictures, merely serious or peaceful.

G - Golden. 

The background of Icons is often Golden - this shows the beauty of Eternity.

Gold in Icons is the Color of Eternity

H - Head, Hair & Halo. 

A Halo indicates Christ or a Saint - someone Holy. Holy people face the viewer so that we can look into their eyes- those who are not Saints are often shown in profile. Their hair is not realistic, but stylized - either to show a life of order & peace, or in the case of some ascetic Saints (like St. Mary of Egypt, John the Baptist, or St. Onouphrios) unkempt in an oddly geometric way to demonstrate their unpampered life of repentance.

Birth of the Theotokos - notice that some have halos and others don't

I - Indoor scenes 

Indoor scenes are often depicted as in front of a disproportionately small building with surreal lines. Sometimes there are two small buildings with a cloth canopy draped between the buildings to indicate indoor space.

This scene of the Mystical Supper, or the Last Supper, took place indoors.

J - There is no letter J in Greek. 

Words that English speakers think of as starting with J usually start with I in Greek - Jesus is abbreviated IC (letters corresponding to "JS" in English). "Jews" can be shortened to I, as on the Cross inscription "INBI" (INBI are the Greek letters indicating "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews") (See Letter "O" for Icon Illustration)

K - Kiss. 

We Orthodox Christians often kiss Icons to show our respect for the person in the Icon - much like we might kiss the photograph of a relative who had been called away to war. 

L - Lines. 

The lines on Icons are different from other pictures. Hair and clothing are geometrically arranged.

M - Mouth & Nose. 

The mouth and nose of Saints are modestly proportioned (regardless of the actual physical features the Saint depicted may have had in life). This shows that they are not governed by their sense of taste or smell on this earth, but rather are focused on "the odor of sanctity" and upon heavenly things rather than on self-indulgent things.

N - Name. 

The name of the Icon is often written on it in Greek. If it is a single saint, "St. Basil" for instance, you will see the Saint's name in your upper right as you face the picture. If it is a scene (like Christmas or the Resurrection), it might have the name of the event written across the top of the Icon, "The Birth of Christ" for example. Keep in mind, that because of the shortage of writing space in ancient times, the Byzantines devised a lot of compact writing forms which are still with us today. This makes letters look like they are squeezed together - for instance the Greek Letters "NT" are nearly always written together rather than separately. And, some abbreviations are standard on Icons.

O - Ο ΩΝ ( or Ο ων). 

In the Halo around the head of Christ, you will almost always see the Greek Letters "Ο ΩΝ" this says "The One Who Is" - to indicate the Divinity of Christ from Exodus 3:14

P - Perspective & Profile. 

Surprisingly for the western viewer - the perspective in Icons is reversed - the viewer is "in the distance" not the background of the picture. This sometimes gives one the feeling of looking through the wrong end of a telescope. And, if you see someone portrayed in Profile, this sometimes indicates that they are not a Saint. For instance, if you see the Soldiers arresting Christ, they will usually be portrayed in profile.

Notice in this Icon of the Mystical Supper, Judas is portrayed in Profile, without a Halo.

Q - Queens, Kings, Emperors & Empresses wear Crowns.

That includes "The King of this World" If you see someone wearing a crown, this indicates Royal status (many Saints were also Royal - King David for instance) but - be warned - "The King of this World" - is also depicted with a Crown. You can often recognize him from his lack of a Halo.

St. Constantine, an Emperor, and his Mother, St. Helen are depicted with Crowns consistent with their royal status.

R - Reality portrayed is Eternal, not Temporal. 

Faces are peaceful, golden backgrounds show eternity, physical features are refined and geometrical. Heads of the beheaded are restored (notably in the Icon of St. John the Baptist - in which he is shown whole, but also holding his severed head in a charger). All of this shows a reality greater than that of the present world.

S - Suffering is rarely depicted on Icons. 

Often Saints are depicted with peaceful faces, even when undergoing great suffering. Most of the Icons of Christ Crucified depict Christ with a peaceful, not suffering face.

T - Time

Several events can be displayed on one Icon, even if they take place at different times. For the modern viewer, this is somewhat similar to a graphic novel (what we used to call "comic books" back in the day). Notably, in the Christmas Icon we see Joseph wrestling with his doubts, the newly born Jesus in his Manger, the newly born Jesus getting his first bath, the Magi journeying, and the Shepherds adoring - all in the same Icon. These events were not concurrent, but are all depicted together in one Icon.

U - Unmercenaries.  

Unmercenaries were those with medical skills or healing gifts who used those skills and gifts without requiring pay.

St. Panteleimon was an Unmercenary - seen here with his box of medicines

V - Virgin Mary. 

The Virgin Mary is usually depicted with three stars on her veil - one on her right shoulder, one on her left shoulder, and one on her brow. These stars indicate her Virginity before, during and after the Birth of Christ (often, you can only see two of the three stars, since the Baby Jesus is always in her arms, and therefore in front of one of her shoulders). Around her we see the letters ΜΡ θου - The abbreviation for "Mother of God" - indicating that Jesus was TRULY God in the flesh and that she was His Mother (not indicating, as some mistakenly think these words mean, that she preexisted and created God the Father). The Virgin Mary (often called the Theotokos or Panagia) is usually not depicted alone in Icons, but always with her Son.

W - Window to Kingdom. 

We see Icons as a little window in which we can glimpse into the Kingdom of God. They're not an object of worship, but we do show them great respect, similar to what we show to our Bibles or to the Cross.

X - Often the First initial of Christ

If you see the letter "X" in Greek, it is the first letter of the name "Christ" (it does not make the same sound as the English letter X, but more like a soft CH. See Icon of Christ at the letter B)

St. Andrew's Cross is also X-shaped and is seen in his Icon.

St. Andrew is Shown with an X-Shaped Cross

Y - Young children 

Children are depicted with small bodies, but with mature faces. Again, this shows the eternal reality depicted in Icons - we must become as little Children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Holy Family, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph & Sts. Joachim & Anna

Z - Zoo Animals & Props. 

Often an Icon will have an animal or another item depicted that will help you call to mind the story of the Saint if you are already familiar with it. For instance, St. Gerasimos is normally depicted with his Lion, and St. Catherine is sometimes depicted with the "wheel" upon which she was tortured, but miraculously saved from harm.

St. Gerasimos and his Lion (pardon the blur)

For More Information about Icons:

My favorite introductory book - suitable for older children as well as beginner adults:

The Story of Icons by Hallick  

 If you're a Christian who wonders if Icons are Biblical (a link with a free article):

No Graven Image by Fr. Jack Sparks 

More academic books for those who want to delve more deeply:

 Theology of the Icon by Ouspensky 

The Icon, Window on the Kingdom by Quenot 

This is a helpful blog on reading Icons

Icon Reader - this is a great post on how to identify the 12 Disciples

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Upcycling the Vinegar Jug

If you use vinegar to clean, you probably have at least a little concern for the environment. Which
probably means that you don't enjoy throwing the empty gallon jug in the trash when you're done with it.

I've found several practical uses for my empty vinegar gallon containers. This way you can get one or more additional good uses out of them before tossing them!

I have two ways to cut them - with the handle and without.

For the with-the-handle model - cut an opening where I put the blue line (label may be removed if you like): 

1) Store toys that might leak, such as Bubbles for blowing or Poster Paints. Not only does this prevent accidents, but it also makes a handy carrying caddy.

2) Cleaning supplies caddy and storage. Once again - easy carrying and leakage prevention.

3) Toilet Brush caddy. At my dollar store, I can buy toilet brushes for $1. or the ones with their own storage caddy for $3. At a fancier store, I could spend a lot more. I buy the $1. brushes, and keep them in my vinegar jug caddy. An added advantage? If I need to move it, there's a handle and I don't have to touch anything gross. And, when it all gets too yucky, it can just go in the trash!

4) Tie-dye basin.

5) Campground toiletries tote: Do you need to take the shampoo, washcloth, soap & conditioner down to a shower facility? Pop them into your adapted vinegar jug. You may want to poke some holes in the bottom for drainage, depending on the conditions.

For the handle-free model - just cut where I put the dotted line:

1) Use as a bucket for yucky cleaning jobs. When you're done cleaning, it can go in the trash.

2) Temporary or short term pet dish. Make sure you're pet isn't the sort to gnaw on the edge and choke. And, check for sharp edges.

3) Picnic serving bowls. No need to lug dirty bowls home if you don't want to.

4) Bubble solution tray for dipping those large bubble wands.

5) To catch drips under a leaking pipe under the sink.

6) Use as a defrosting container in the fridge, when defrosting foods that might leak (such as those frozen in zippered storage bags)

7) A no-need-to-clean mixing bowl - again perfect for camping or travel.

8) Doll swimming pool.

9) Container for sensory play - like with shaving cream. 

10) An impromptu sickness or nausea basin.

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Monday, March 6, 2017

Math: Fun Homeschool Video Day

Math Fun Homeschool Videos
Of all the standard subjects, it seems that Math requires the most memory work. Thank goodness,
there are lots of fun videos to help!

We use these songs to make our lunchtime & sick days more productive, as well as for a little fun here and there as needed.

Unfortunately, on Youtube the commercials aren't targeted to the audience, and sometimes very inappropriate things are shown. Which means that there are times that I've had a h0rr0r film ad (or other junk I'd rather not see) pop up right before a preschool video with puppets. For this reason, and because I like to be sure that junk in general isn't coming into our school day while I'm folding laundry, I save the videos to a desk top folder for convenience.  And, if a favorite video is "taken down," we still have it. It's also nice if the internet crashes while we're doing school : )

I like this site for saving my videos - it's free and I've never had any trouble from it.  (ETA: as of Oct 2017, I discovered a problem in this site, and no longer recommend it without reservation - use it at your own risk)

If you like this, check out the others in this series
Video Day: Science  
Video Day: History & Geography
Video Day: English

Math Homeschool Fun Video Day

The Measurement Song:

Triangular Triangles by Bazillions

Perimeter around the Area by Bazillions

Math Classical Conversations weeks 13-24, Geometry Formulas (or Formulae, if you prefer), Measurement Equivalents, etc

Gallon Man Song (Liquid Measurement Equivalents)

PEMDAS (Order of Operations song)

Skip Count by 12's Song

And, of course, we practice our own songs on

Divisibility Rules


Multiplication Quick Tricks (See February 13, 2016 Post)

Also, we use this CD for Skip Counting numbers 2-10. Even though I'm cheap, I found it money well-spent ; )

But, it's also available on Youtube (audio only):










Addition Facts Songs

Pi Song

Circle Song

And some fun Statistics Basics

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