Computers and the Internet For Your Homeschool (Unschool) Curriculum - Continued
Karen M. Gibson
Here is a sampling of recent interests and finds:
Art – All the great museums of the world now have web sites you can visit, and they are easily found with any search engine. I would rather relate to you the ways that my children have been able to express their artistic abilities through the medium of the computer.
Most computers come with some sort of paint program pre-installed; we have Microsoft’s Paintbrush. For my middle son, when he was much younger, working the mouse was much easier than holding a pencil or a paintbrush, and he would spend hours working with Paintbrush, creating all kinds of wonders.
Many photographers are finding an outlet for their creativity on the Internet. There are many web sites where you can submit pictures, both for publication and contests. You can also order your own pictures to be developed and stored online. We are currently getting the last several years worth of film developed and, in addition to getting the regular photos, we are also choosing to be able to view them online with the option of downloading them to our computer. With a photo-editing program, like Microsoft’s Picture It!, you can use those pictures in any number of ways – creating greeting cards, calendars, collages, etc.
I view web site development is a form of art, in addition to being computer technology. You must have a clear picture in your mind of the effect you desire and the form your site will take to communicate your message. Whether you learn HTML or use one of the WYSIWYG programs (What You See Is What You Get), such as Netscape’s Composer, creating a website uses many forms of artistry, from the interaction of text and graphics to creating graphics and backgrounds. From experience, though, it is just as easy to learn the actual HTML as it is to learn to use the WYSIWYG programs, and far less limiting in the long run. There are many Internet web sites that offer tutorials, free downloads of html editors, free clip art, and whatever other help and assistance a web designer might need. Here are just a very few we have used:
Another invaluable resource is Ann Zeise’s Homeschooling Webmasters email list. Here’s Ann’s description: “The Homeschooling Webmasters list is for anyone currently maintaining a website that is primarily centered around information for the homeschooling community. Those working on a new homeschooling website are also welcome. The discussion is primarily technical.” Even if you are not building a homeschooling site, just listening in on the discussions that occur can be very helpful. To subscribe to this list, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/hswm/.
History/Civics – Age of Empires is a series of computer games that have sparked a great deal of interest and research into varied historical time periods, methods of warfare, and individuals, such as Alexander the Great, for all of my children.
The Internet is also a great place to find information about governments. Kat has always been interested in politics and during the last presidential race she signed up to receive press releases and other information from the various presidential camps and also researched and wrote articles on the various candidates. In the past, she has researched and written articles on the federal government, which were then posted up on GiggleFish (a website designed for and created by children, which is no longer in operation).
Math – I am always looking for new math software that will engage my children. Here are a few that have been successful most recently.
Chefren’s Pyramid and Cheops’ Pyramid – these are very challenging games. The website where they are located, Interactive Mathematics Miscellany and Puzzles, is also full of information. You can read a Review of Chefren's Pyramid in the Resources section of this website. (Author's note: 11/01/06 - Chefren's Pyramid and Cheops Pyramid can now be found for sale at Tool Factory. The Cut-The-Knot.org website still offers a wide array of math games and information.)
Zoombinis Logical Journey remains ever popular with my children. (Author's note: 02/10/08 - My children began playing this game at around age nine. They still play it at twenty-three!)
Our newest find is Gazillionaire (developed by LavaMind). The web site describes it as “a cross between Monopoly set in outer space and Wall Street in wonderland. It’s a wild, intergalactic game of business strategy.” You can download a shareware, limited version of it to try it out first. Even the demo version can be played to a complete end, though, and will give your children hours of entertainment and enjoyment, along with learning some very basic principles of business.
Zapitalism and Profitania are also available in this series of business strategy software games. Unfortunately, there is no demo version of these, but if they are as fun and engaging as Gazillionaire, they will be well worth the investment.
BrikWars is a game that provides practice using computational skills. All the instructions are downloadable from the web site and can be played using only plastic building bricks and dice.
Software is not the only way math is experienced here. David loves to play with spreadsheets and the scientific calculator on the computer. Programming languages also require a large amount of math knowledge, logical thinking, and linear sequencing. If your child thinks very logically, programming may appeal to him. The BASIC programming language is fairly simple to learn. David is currently learning C++ Programming (an object-oriented programming language used for software engineering and graphics), slowly, as it suits him.
The Internet is also used for Math research; for example, finding out what a certain symbol means, locating a math formula, or just researching math history. Useful sites include:
Copyright August 2001
Originally published in the September/October 2001 issue of HELM (Home Education Learning Magazine)