Friday, August 27, 2010

Caveman Math

In my last post about our viewing of Walking With Cavemen I forgot to mention something about it that had me thinking.

In, I think, the third episode the narrator pointed to some holes in the ground and commented that how our ancestor viewed those holes marked a huge departure from how every other animal on earth viewed those holes. See, those holes were tracks, prints in the dry soil left by some animal. No other animals sees them as such but we humans sure do. And, he went on, we (then and now) know which clouds for tell rain and understand the turn of the seasons. And why do we?

Before I answer that I'd like to add that to date, most of what I've seen in books in regards to the beginning of math seems to involve a picture of an ancient African stick marked with notches for counting or a story about a shepherd needing to count his goats. The impression being that math began with counting.

But look at these prints in the snow:

Why are those not just holes in the snow?

Maybe it's partly because they're a regular pattern. Maybe we can track the seasons because we understand the pattern.

And if we're talking patterns, aren't we talking math?

Now I'm not saying Homo erectus was capable of multiplication, just that mathematical thinking, if you can divorce math from counting, may have been around longer than Homo sapien and that mathematical thinking may be one of the fundamental things that first defined humans. As much as taming fire. As much as imagination.

Now I realize even as I type this that it's probably FAR from an original thought. It's just one of those personal epiphany things. I also realize Mr. Human Ancestor may have been relying on correlation with the tracks, seeing cat walk and seeing the prints left behind and putting two and two together...But then we're back to mathematical reasoning, aren't we? :D

Anyhow, probably the cough syrup talking but I thought I'd post it anyway.

Walking With Cavemen

A few days ago when we were talking about "cavemen" Harry had the wacky idea that they had cars. Cars? I think he must have caught a few episodes of The Flintstones at some point and it made a greater impression than it should have. Regardless, to give him a better portrait of what those cavemen might have looked like and to help our history studies I thought we'd take a look at BBC's Walking With Cavemen.

Not quite what I'd assumed from the title as it's not a series on Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, the traditional cavemen. It's actually a look at human evolution starting with Australopithecus afarensis and it's pretty darn good. Predictably there's lots of talk about sex and much nudity but given the subject matter that should be expected. None of us were bothered in the least.

It set off yesterday's activity with the cave paintings quite nicely as the last episode concludes with a caveman doing the thing that the narrator maintained was what truly made us human - using his imagination to paint scenes on a cave wall.

We enjoyed it (although since we watched all 4 episodes in one sitting Harry was a little antsy by the end of it) and Catherine has requested Walking With Prehistoric Beasts next. And I'm happy to report that Harry no longer thinks it possible that cavemen had cars.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cave Paintings Discovered in Basement!

This afternoon we followed up on our latest Story of the World chapters with a reading of the first two chapters of E.H. Gombrich's A Little History of the World (my review here - LOVE this book). Both dealt with prehistoric humans so in keeping with the theme we first looked at cave paintings on the internet and then grabbed some brushes and paint and headed for the basement.

While some parts of the basement walls are finished some are still bare cement. This makes them perfect for cave paintings! I poured out black, red, orange, yellow and white paints (in keeping with the colours we saw in the real cave paintings) and we got to work.

Catherine did an awesome job:

Harry had a whole story to go with his involving cavemen tumbling off waterfalls, mystical artifacts and a Beast God of Doom:

And here's the finished product:

My contributions are in the upper right hand corner: the gamer in red, the orange hand outline and our three pets. Harry's turned out great but I thought his creepy red handprints were fantastic. I LOVE Catherine's scene with the mammoth hunt on the bottom left. The three hunters have it backed up against a cliff while a fourth hunter is ready to drop a boulder on its head.

Tons of fun!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Unschooling Latin?

My daughter has been interested in learning Ancient Greek and Latin since forever. We've approached Greek in fits and starts because I haven't really found anything that seemed to work well. She worked through the Greek Hupogrammon years ago but that's just learning the alphabet. Beyond that there's not a whole lot of interesting Greek homeschooling stuff. Or rather, there's some but her real interest is Attic, not Koine or New Testament and in the homeschooling world that limits the already narrow options even more.

Latin has been easier. There are a ton of interesting programs. Ones that have caught my eye have been Lingua Latina and Cambridge Latin which seem more focused on getting a person reading the language from the get go rather then spending time memorizing stuff. The memorizing stuff is valuable but intimidating for a mom who only speaks English and a desperately tiny amount of French. But those two programs are rather pricey.

I ended up ordering Getting Started with Latin by William Linney. It's under $20 and everything I'd read about it seemed to be good. A gentle and not too rigourous introduction to the language. And it is. It's also great buckets of fun. So much fun that even Harry (now 8) loves to sit in while Catherine and I go through the lessons.

What's fun about GSWL for us is also the thing that would make it great for unschoolers. It's easy to do orally while flopped on the sofa eating nachos. I read a lesson, the kids play around with it, we go off on a tangent...It's in the same vein as the Michael Clay Thompson poetry and grammar materials I touted in an earlier post and Philosophy For Kids. Open the book, read a bit, discuss. Come away looking at things differently then before.

And you will look at things differently. Not just word roots and grammar. Shucks, when I learned that sum meant, I am, I couldn't stop thinking about the weight it seems to have in Latin as opposed to modern English - except when we use sum as a mathematical term. I am in English always seems to have to be followed by something while the mighty sum seems to be a statement in an of itself. Rather like how sum in math is a definitive state of all that came before so that, "I am both a sailor and a farmer," seems to just be a statement about what roles you play while, "Ego sum et nauta et agricola," seems to imply that you're the sum of those two roles.

And no, I have no idea if I've got the right impression on that or not. Probably not but it was still a fun thought and Linney's text inspired it.

For the unschooler it would be a great way to gently introduce Latin, to let them stick a toe in the water to see if there's an interest. If your child has an interest then it's a fantastic and inviting bridge to the more intensive programs.

At the very least, for $20 it makes fantastic strewing material!