Personal ponderings from a natural night-owl!

Archive for June, 2012

Turning a Lamb Into a Lion

Those of you who know me or follow this blog from way back know that I make cakes, mostly for my kids’ birthdays. My cakes are pretty extravagant. One year it was an Amazon bowling cake. Another year it was a three-dimensional barn cake complete with animals. I’ve even made an anaconda cake and last year, Hogwarts! I even made a turkey cake for some friends and bassoon and snare drum cakes cakes for my sister’s wedding shower! This year’s assignment was for my girls’ Narnia birthday party, so I thought a cake of Aslan would be in order.

I wanted to use a pan I already had, so I turned to my lamb cake pan. I knew I needed some additional dimensional elements to turn the lamb into a lion, and I assumed I would use fondant, as I have before. But after our trip to the Crayola factory in Easton, PA a few weeks ago, my brilliant almost-11-year-old suggested something different: Crayola’s model magic! So I created ears, a tail, and front paws from the easily available, easy to color, and very non-toxic stuff a few days before cake decorating day and set it to dry.

There was only one website I found that used the lamb cake pan to create a lion and though it was cute, it wasn’t the look I was hoping to create. I used two other websites for inspiration and got to work.

First came the cake baking. It started like this.

The next step was to frost the front legs. I intended to leave the model magic it’s own color, but as I worked, I realized that it made more sense to frost it to match. You can see the tail laid out as well, showing the original color of the model majic after we tinted the base yellow color with brown and orange marker.

We are already looking more lion-like! Note the white on the fronts of the paws. This was one of the little details that really made a difference later on. You can still see a bit of the yellow of the model magic showing through at this point.

Next I finished frosting the rest of the body. I frosted flat because I knew the texture would come mostly from the mane later on. I used a toothpick to drag an outline of the back haunches, which I will fill-in later with a contrasting frosting color.

Next came the lion ears. I frosted them with white on the inside and tawny on the outside. Because the model magic is so LIGHT when it dries, I was able to “glue” the ears on with frosting – no toothpicks needed! Interestingly, the lamb ears essentially disappear when the lion ears are added. The lamb pan ears become part of the mane later on. I also added frosting to the tail and some white for the muzzle on this step. At this point, I was a bit alarmed because it looked so much like a house-cat. But hey, what’s a lion but a big, wild house-cat, right?

Next, it was time for the mane. I used a #2 decorating tip to pull from the face back. I noticed that lions’ faces are heart-shaped, so I outlines that shape with a toothpick before I started. I intended to cover the ears all along, so I dragged over them. I also didn’t worry about connecting the disparate mane pieces or how curvy they were. I just had fun with it! I did continue the mane over onto the back of the head, most of the way down.

I was happy with the mane, but in retrospect, I would build out with frosting the space between the right lion ear and the lamb ear from the mold, just to avoid that weird in-cut. But one of my FAVORITE parts was using the same decorating tip to pull the tail. I had already curved the model magic upward and let it dry leaning against an upside-down glass custard cup, but when I added the tail hair, it really made the cake look great!

Finally it was time to attend to the face and paw details. I have come a long way artistically as a result of my older

daughter’s private art lessons! I ran back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room studying her latest painting of a cat for eye and muzzle details, and I think it paid off! I also used the same #2 tip to pull claws of black out of the white part of the paw. They curved just perfectly all on their own (thank you, gravity).

Finally, I added the finishing touches of the girls’ names and ages, as well as an appropriate lion-ly happy “biRRRRthday” greeting and voila! Meet Aslan, the Narnia birthday lion.

A Day in the Life of an Online Public School Student

Back in some other post, I promised you a glimpse into one of our “typical days” at online public school. I didn’t realize at that time how hard that promise would be to fulfill! The truth is that what constitutes a “typical day” for us varies widely and depends on many variables, but I’ll do the best I can.

My typical day starts between 6:00 and 6:30 am when I get up to help my 10 year old get ready for her carpool. She attends the “brick and mortar” Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts in Akron. She needs to be out the door between 6:45 and 7:00 am. If my online public school kid Emily were attending Stow public school, her day would start then, too, so she could catch the bus at 7:20. But since there is no bus to catch, Emily usually doesn’t get up until 8:30 or 9:00 am!

She comes down in her pajamas, plops down on her end of the couch, checks her email, Google calendar, and the Tween Tribune for news, then gets right to work on school using the personal netbook she received for Christmas in 2010. On days when she has an online class, she’ll put her headset on and log in to attend – usually still in her pajamas. Sometimes I’ll hear her talking as she verbally answers a question the teacher has posed; sometimes I’ll see her typing – either to her teacher or to one of her friends. (They can’t usually chat online in class during the class, but they sometimes use Google Chat to get around that restriction!) When there is no online class, she usually checks the lesson online but gets right to work with her “old-fashioned” textbook and workbook.

Only about 30% to 50% of Emily’s school work is done at the computer. The rest is traditional textbook reading, taking notes, comprehension questions, practice math problems, hands-on science labs or art projects, and the same kind of work kids at “brick and mortar” schools bring home to do as homework. If she has a question about anything, I am usually available for consultation. If I happen to be running errands, doing carpool, or meeting a friend for breakfast, she will put that subject aside and work on something else until I get back.

After each subject, Emily puts her written work in the middle of the couch and lets me know it’s ready to be assessed. Sometimes she has typed out a paper using Google Docs, so she’ll share the document with me via email. After I check the work and provide feedback, there is usually an online assessment in the curriculum which she cannot take until I log into the assessment screen with my personal name and password. When she has completed a block of work, she records the time she spent on that subject in a small notebook she keeps on the end table, writing down start and end times.

Assessments are frequent and often short – usually at the end of every lesson in the unit and often only 5 questions long. There are mid- and end-unit assessments which are longer, more like traditional brick and mortar tests. The curriculum also has an end-of-unit review lesson built in. OHVA requires students to achieve at least 80% on every assessment to consider it passed. With a 5 question assessment, this means that she can miss one question which is supposed to ensure mastery of the material. HOWEVER – we agreed as a family at the beginning of the school year to a minimum acceptable score of 90%. In cases where it’s a 5 question assessment, she must get them ALL right. Often this happens on the first time; sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, she and I review the material together and talk about what was missed and why. Sometimes she will re-assess right away and sometimes she will do some more reading or practicing to master the skill before assessing later that day or the next.

After an hour or 90 minutes of work, she’ll take a stretch break, have some breakfast, brush her teeth, comb her hair, and maybe get dressed. If no one is coming over and we aren’t going anywhere, she might stay in her pajamas all day! Then it’s back to work for another hour or so. Some days she has art instruction for her school curriculum. On those days, our artist neighbor comes over for an hour and they go together the basement to work on a hands’ on project. She will take her computer down so they can reference the online lesson material while they work.

Usually after art, it’s time for lunch. She makes her own lunch – usually leftovers from dinner the night before. After lunch, she might get back to school work or she might practice piano while the house is quiet. Sometimes we have an outing, like a hike or a bowling get-together with school friends. It depends on the day and what we’ve scheduled!

On a typical day at home, Emily will usually spend several more hours with the curriculum at some point in the afternoon or evening. Two days a week she has additional independent art sessions where she works on her oil painting in the afternoon. Again, our artist neighbor and her art teacher comes to our house and they head to the basement for two hours to work at the easel. I am in and out of the basement as needed doing laundry, or just peeking in to see how things are going. One day a week she has piano lessons in the afternoon.  In the fall she was in a horseback riding class; during winter, there was weekly skiing; and in the spring she took ice-skating lessons. She also enjoyed monthly bowling outings with her friends. (We are required by state law to participate in an average of one to two hours a week of organized physical activity to fulfill our physical education requirements.)

Interestingly, Emily’s school work schedule is not too “out of the box”. Because her sister and dad are home on the weekends, those days are allocated mostly to fun family time, play dates with friends, family field trips, or simply to relaxation. Although she will often work on school in the evenings during the week when her sister is doing homework, this time is often spent to make up for time taken for something fun during the day like a field trip or physical activity.

At some point every evening, I sit down to look over the afternoon’s work, then she and I sit down and go over what was accomplished during the day and what she plans to work on the following day. The last thing I do each day is record her attendance into the online system based on the notes she herself took through-out the day. Although the OLS (online learning system) has some pretty good tracking and charting capability, we still maintain our own dynamic Google Spreadsheet where we track all sorts of stats on lesson completion, hours worked, percentage of progression through the curriculum, etc…. I love the sense that we are working as a team and that I am intimately in touch with what she’s learning, struggling to master, or interested in knowing more about. The focus is DEFINITELY on the learning and the standards are high – yet she seems to love those aspects of her education most of the time.

Did you notice what is NOT part of her typical day? She watches no television in an average week and rarely spends time on the telephone. When she relaxes, she plays computer games or Wii games, goes outside, chats online with friends, does art, reads a book for fun, or plays with the dog. She has time to help with household chores sometimes when I need a hand unloading groceries, making dinner, or cleaning up. This is one area where online school definitely trumps brick & mortar school – education and learning is an integrated part of everyday life instead of something that happens just “at school.”

And THAT is the “typical” day in the life of this online public school student!

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