Sunday 29 July 2018

Project 44: Mario

This week Solomon was given free rein on choosing a project, and (unsurprisingly) he decided to focus on one of his favourite pastimes: playing computer games. More specifically, the character of Mario (or Mario Mario depending on which side you favour in the naming debate). Obviously Mario is a bit less academic than the previous week's Project 43: Museums, but it was a great opportunity to explore both the evolution of the character and how it interacts with the wider cultural environment. 

We started by watching a short video on the history of Mario, from his first appearance as Jumpman in Donkey Kong through to modern incarnations in 3D worlds. As the Donkey Kong game was originally supposed to be a Popeye game (with Bluto as Donkey Kong, and Popeye as Mario) it was also an opportunity to introduce the kids to Popeye cartoons.

As well as playing Mario games we watched two films this week that gave a bit more cultural context to the games. The Wizard is a 1980s film that is less about product placement and more an advert for Nintendo games consoles, and it also introduced the game Super Mario Bros. 3 to the world.

We also watched The King of Kong: a fistful of quarters the classic video game documentary, that has received renewed attention this year with Billy Mitchell being stripped of his world record scores. As any child brought up on the exploratory world of Mario Odyssey quickly realises: old arcade games are hard!
Solomon also did a couple of craft activities. He drew Mario, both in pixels and freehand, and also made the Nintendo Labo motorbike to play Mario Kart with on the Switch. 
Mario Mario

We bought the Nintendo Labo Variety Kit when it first came out, and whilst they are a great way of demonstrating the potential of sensors and computers, the projects can be quite fiddly and take a while so you have to block out quite a bit of time to do them. 

Next week's project: the weather

Monday 23 July 2018

Project 43: Museums

For the last week of the school year (albeit not for the home education year) we decided to look more closely at the subject of museums. This gave us the opportunity to:
  1. Visit museums we'd missed on previous projects.
  2. Visit the big national museums before they filled up with school children on holiday.
We started the week with a couple of videos about what a museum is, and their history:
We also looked at how museums are adapting to the digital age with things like Google Arts and Culture, and 3D digitisations of objects such as the Lewis chess set:

We managed to squeeze in seven museum visits this week! We visited Railworld and Peterborough Museum:

We visited the Cartoon Museum and Dr. Johnson's House in London (which we had meant to visit for Project 40: Cartoons and Project 34: Dictionaries). 
And finally, we visited the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, and the V&A (which had a small Beano exhibition on):

Solomon's favourite bits were: reading the pile of Beanos in the Cartoon Museum, the Beano exhibition in the V&A, and the public educator stands at the Natural History Museum, where he got to explore some rocks and dinosaur bones.

We also introduced Solomon to the idea of a cabinet of curiosities, and got him to create his own museum of interesting items:
Solomon's Museum Collection
His is a mixed collection of objects, from a little Star Wars figure he found on the street to a piece of bark from the park where his sister scraped her knee. There is still some spare room in the museum, and the idea is that once it's full he replaces objects when he finds things that are even more interesting. He's currently digging out some gemstones from a kit he got from the science museum, and he plans to add one of those when he finds one.
Excavation kit: Gemstone Dig
We also finally got around to creating an ongoing Big List of Museums we've taken the kids to.

Next week's project: Mario Mario.

Sunday 15 July 2018

Project 42: The Stone Age

We had signed up Solomon to a home education natural learning workshop on the Stone Age, and decided to supplement this with a few other activities to make it the focus of this week's project.

The workshop at Ferry Meadows involved shelter building and fire making. Solomon preferred the shelter building to the fire making, as the fire making was a bit tricky - which is probably a good thing as we're in the middle of a heat wave.

Making shelters and fire at Ferry Meadows
We supplemented the workshop by reading Stone Age in the DK findout series, and watched the BBC Story of Britain videos about the middle stone age (below) and new stone age.

We got Stone Age as part of a series of books we bought when doing Project 28: Dinosaurs. It's the perfect level for Solomon, and covers everything from day to day life, to beliefs, making tools, and mammoths.

TED-Ed have created a 360° animation about cave paintings, so we downloaded Google Cardboard and bought a decorate and play virtual reality viewer for the kids to watch it with. Calibrating the viewer was a bit trickier than I'd expected, but we got there eventually. The kids really enjoyed exploring 360 videos, as well as decorating the viewer (albeit with non-stone age pictures).

Decorate & Play VR Viewer
Next week: Museums!

Sunday 8 July 2018

Project 41: Britain

Project 41 was a double project/holiday: two weeks travelling around Great Britain by train with an All Line Rover ticket, from Thurso (the northern most station) to Penzance (the southern most station). Unsurprisingly there were plenty of opportunities for teachable moments along the way, whether visiting local museums, sharing a train with Prince Charles, or just looking at the objects we saw along the way. 

We visited three local museums and a gallery over the two weeks - we had planned to visit more, but the train travel didn't always go to plan. The McManus gallery and museum ( in Dundee is currently renamed the McMenace in celebration of 80 years of the Beano, and after discovering the Beano in the previous week's project on comics Solomon has been obsessed with it.  
We visited the Caithness Horizons Museum and Art Gallery in Thurso (, with it's exhibitions on nuclear research, local wildlife, and medieval stones. 
Skinnet and Ulbster stones at Thurso Museum
Finally, we visited Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery ( Unfortunately we only had an hour to look around, and despite the ticket seller assuring us that was plenty of time, it was a bit of a rush as there was lots to do and see, with plenty of hands-on activities for the kids. It currently has a big exhibition on the Titanic, but as with many museums where you have to pay, it was very very quiet. Although the 3rd class cabins on the Titanic are often compared unfavourably with Titanic's 1st class, you can't help but see the similarities with the modern sleeper carriages we were on. 

Caledonian Sleeper or Titanic 3rd Class
We also visited MOMA Machynlleth, after an unexpected change on the train. Unfortunately for a museum of modern art, the modern art gallery was closed! 
Just MO
As well as the museums and galleries, there was also a host of public objects and art works that provoked discussion along the way. From prehistoric henges and public walks, to scientists, writers and fictional characters. 
Balfarg Henge and Offa's Dyke Walk

Charles Darwin and Geoffrey Chaucer
Desperate Dan and Paddington Bear
You can't travel the country on 39 trains without at least one picture of a train, and our favourite train trip was Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog ( on a narrow gauge steam engine.
The 'David Lloyd George' on the Ffestiniog Railway.
Obviously there's too much to be covered in a single blog post, and we're thinking about writing up the whole trip as a book, current working title: How not to travel Britain by Train.

Next week's project: The Stone Age