Monthly Archives: November 2013

A Desert Sunset, Moonrise, Moonset and Sunrise

"Then, when the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared..."   (Homer, The Odyssey)

“Then, when the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared…” (Homer, The Odyssey)

Fall is here, and that means camping season with my son’s Boy Scout troop has begun.  For our first outing the troop headed east, to the Wind Caves in Anza Borrego State Park, about 100 miles east of San Diego.  We were due to set out early Saturday morning and stay overnight.  Wednesday and Thursday were absolutely gorgeous in San Diego, sunny and warm, perfect weather.  Then on Friday the clouds rolled in.  And I’m thinking, of course, it’s going to rain.  Because we are going camping.

Saturday arrived, cold and overcast.  We hopped in the cars and headed east.  This is the view from my friend Tony’s windshield, as we were making our way over the Laguna Mountains.

Rain.windsheildFoggy, rainy, and an outside temperature in the 40’s.  I was having a flashback to a desert camping trip the troop did last year.  The view out the windshield on our way out then was not rain, but snow (see post  If you look very carefully in the last panel above, through the raindrops, you can see a bit of clear sky.  And if you can believe it, in about 20 minutes we were out of the rain and fog, with blue skies and sunshine overhead as we hit the desert floor.

In tiny Octillo Wells, just across from the airport, we turned right down Split Mountain Road.  The road lived up to its name.  It quickly turned into a dirt road, that wound its way up Fish Creek Wash, in between two opposing cliffs of sedimentary rock.  On one side is Fish Creek Mountain and the other Vallecito Mountain. (For all photos in this post, double click on them for a larger view)

Split mountain.labeled

The geology was really interesting, with bulging, lifted layers of sedimentary rock pointing in all different directions.  There were huge boulders sandwiched into the layers at random places, some of which we drove directly under.  Hope you aren’t in the car underneath one of those boulders when it finally erodes its way out of the rock wall.

Bulging rock

We worked our way into the park, our destination the trail head for the Wind Caves.  The hike up to the wind caves is less than a mile, with an elevation gain of a few hundred feet.  We shouldered our packs, as we planned to spend the night sleeping in the caves, and headed up the trail.

Up trail

When we arrived at the Wind Caves it was a free for all, as everyone scrambled to find a cave.  Sam and Matthew, our two scouts, snagged this beauty for me and Tony.  Thanks boys!

The gang

The caves, tunnels, and alcoves have been eroded out a sandstone formation by the wind.  The scouts had endless fun scrambling around the caves, poking their heads out of holes, and even playing a moonlit game of hide and seek later that night.

Wind caves

The view out over the Anza Borrego desert was incredible.  Mountains in the distance, and in front of those the Carrizo Badlands, washes, and a formation called the Elephant Knees.  Here are a few panoramic pictures of the view looking out from the caves.  Matthew is posing in the bottom photo, looking like he is part of an ad campaign for the Boy Scouts.



Now for some geology!  Those flat hills in front of Matthew are called the Elephant Knees.  They, and the badlands and mudhills that we will hike out into later are the remains of a tropical sea that existed here from six million to under a half million years ago during the Pliocene and Pleistocene epochs.  The park has many fossils that illustrate the quite different habitat and life forms that used to live in what is now a desert.  The fossil record from the park includes many marine invertebrates (clams, oysters, sand dollars, sea urchins and corals) vertebrates (sharks, rays, bony fish, and baleen whales) as well as terrestrial vertebrates like mammoths.  The marine environments that were fossilized are part of the ‘Imperial Formation’, and are made up of shelves, reefs, beaches, and lagoons.  As the seas became more shallow over time, estuarine and brackish environments prevailed, and the Elephant Knees formation is made up of thick deposits of oysters and pecten shells from this ancient environment (thank you Wikipedia).

After lunch we headed out on what would turn out to be a 7 mile day hike out to Elephant Knees and back.  Andrew, Ted, and a few of the older scouts wanted to take the trail straight up the face.  Mr. H., our scoutmaster, opted to go around the back instead.  Have a mentioned how much I like our Scoutmaster?


Day hikeWe made our way to the backside of the Elephant Knees and then up, up, up, past barrel cacti and creosote bushes.  The rock was pretty easy to walk on, it was grippy and sharp and all glued together.  The view from the top behind the Elephant Knees into the badlands was spectacular.  The Y-shaped wash you can see is on the map at the beginning of this post.


We hung out at the top for a bit.  We drank water, had some snacks (Ted brought Oreos!), the boys threw about a million rocks over the edge, and Mr. H. got out his binoculars.  We posed the boys for a photo near, but not too near, the edge.

The upper left panel shows the view back towards our camp at the Wind Caves.

The upper left panel shows the view back towards our camp at the Wind Caves.

Scouts on top of the Elephant Knees.

Scouts on top of the Elephant Knees.

Heading back

We got back to camp at around 4:30, and we set Matthew and Sam to cooking dinner, as they were working on finishing one of their rank requirements for 2nd Class.  They wanted to run off and play, but Tony and I insisted they cook while we still had daylight, which I hope is a camping lesson they remember.  Everything is easier when the sun is up!

As promised in the title to this post, a desert sunset.  It went down behind a bank of far away clouds.  Venus was amazingly bright, as the last light from the sun faded.

As promised in the title to this post, a desert sunset. The sun went down behind a bank of far away clouds. Venus was amazingly bright, as the last light from the sun faded.

After sunset, dinner, and the moonrise over the hills behind us, Mr. H. gathered the boys on top of one of the sandstone formations for a dramatic reading of Flash Gordon.  He found scripts from two old radio episodes on the internet, and we were all regaled by the adventures of Flash, the delectable Dale Arden, the evil Ming the Merciless, Flash’s friend Prince Thun the Lion Man of Mongo, and a host of other characters.

Listening to the adventures of Flash Gordon, under the desert moon.

Listening to the adventures of Flash Gordon, under the desert moon.

After Flash Gordon, the group scattered.  Some scouts started up a game of hide and seek under the light of the full moon.  It was amazingly bright, but running around, especially after hiking for 4 hours, was not on my itinerary.  The adults sat for awhile star gazing and chatting, then gradually headed off to bed.  I don’t sleep terribly well when I am camping, so I got to see sunset, moonrise, moonset (took the picture below from the snuggly comfort of my sleeping bag), and sunrise.  That has never happened to me before!


The setting moon.

And about 45 minutes later…


The rising sun lights up the mountains, behind which the moon just recently set.

Matt and Sam.sunrise


After breakfast we packed up, gathered for some final words and a group photo, and got ready to head back to civilization.

Group shot


Me and my favorite scout.

A line of scouts trekking out…

Trekking out

Until next time, we bid farewell to the quiet beauty of the desert.

Post Script

Mr. H. took this video as we drove into the desert.  It gives an idea of the wild scenery we enjoyed all weekend.

Also, Mr. H. took his GPS info and created this map and graph of our hike.

WindCaves-ElephantKnees hike

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Filed under Boy Scout Troop 985 Adventures, Family, Travel

Using Khan Academy to Teach Common Core Math Standards


If you aren’t already familiar with the Khan Academy, it is a free educational website which provides tutorials and practice problems in subjects such as mathematics, history, the sciences, economics, and computer programming.  It was founded by Sal Khan, who has baked a four tier advanced degree cake for himself (BS’s in math, electrical engineering, and computer science, and a masters in electrical engineering from MIT), frosted with a MBA from Harvard.  He has a real knack for teaching using discrete steps and examples in video microlectures, which he illustrates with a digital chalkboard and multicolored pens.  He has a very calm and mellifluous (now THAT’S a SAT word) voice, which comes in handy when a kid gets stressed out during a lesson!

The mathematics starts at 1+1=2, and go all the way up to advanced algebra, calculus, and geometry.  The other subjects tend to be mainly aimed at upper middle school, high school, and college students.  The purpose of this post is to get you started on using Khan Academy to supplement your child’s education, or if you are a teacher, to use it as a classroom resource.  The main focus will be on using Khan Academy to work on Common Core math standards for students in primary and secondary school.  Khan Academy has added new resources which make it easy for you as a parent or teacher to tie the work that a student does on the site to the Common Core math standards at his or her grade level.  This is a HUGE improvement in my opinion, as I always found it difficult to figure out what to have my children work on, and would come back sometimes to find them very frustrated, as they were working on concepts too far above their level.  This is no longer an issue, along with them working on subjects that were too easy.  Like Goldilocks, it is now easy peasy to get your math porridge JUST RIGHT!

This is a long post, with lots of screen grabs to illustrate the points I will be discussing.  If you click on any of the pictures, they will be magnified, which will make it easier to see the details.  I hope you find it helpful in utilizing this incredible (and did I mention FREE) resource to enhance your child’s learning.  I think parents and teachers will find that is great for tailoring lessons to children who are proficient, advanced, or struggling in math.  If you get tired halfway through reading it, get up, stretch, get some coffee and some of your kids’ Halloween candy, then head on back to learn all about it!

***Since I published this post Khan Academy has changed their dashboard a little bit, for the better I think.  Now you can go to “Learn” and under “Math” will find topics with videos and problem sets arranged by grade level.  Much easier to use!  My post does help with setting yourself up as a tutor, but there isn’t as much of a need to assign topics to students, as they are nicely packaged by grade now!

1.  Create an adult account

The first step is to create a Khan Academy account for yourself.  The web address is  Once you have an account you can log in directly through Khan Academy (which is what I do), or through Google or Facebook.  You need your own account, because this allows you to act as a coach for your children or students (as their coach you can direct them to content you would like them to work on).  Adults who log in are offered the option on the upper left of their home page to “Learn” or to “Coach”, kids/students only have the “Learn” option on their home page.  Here is a screen shot of my home page, notice the red arrow.  When you see my son’s homepage later, there will be no “Coach” section.


Even as an adult, you will be prompted to take the math pretest the first time you log in, as will your students.  This is very short, less than 10 questions, and is designed to figure out what you already know so those topics can be added to the list of ones you have mastered.   I mostly did it just to stop the prompts to take it.  You will also see a tally of points and badges you have earned (you get points just for joining and doing the pretest).  I am not setting a very good example, I only have 2,500!  More on points and badges later, I will quickly tell you that they are used as a reward system.  Also notice the Mission Progress grid with the colored grey and blue squares to the right on my home page.  This keeps track of you or your student’s progress in mastering all 548 topics in the World of Math.  Grey indicates no practice, lighter blue some practice, and dark blue mastery.

2.  Create student accounts

Remember that “Coach” tab on the upper left of my home page?  That’s where we are headed next, to set up student accounts.  If you click on that button you will see this page appear.  If you don’t see this window, make sure you are under the “Manage Students” section on the far left of the top menu bar.

Manage students

This is where you can create student accounts for the children you will coach or teach.  One way to add students is to click on the big green “Add new students” button.  When you do this you will be prompted to email students, so they can sign up with you as their coach.  This might be more useful for teachers.  I didn’t set up my accounts this way.  I created all of my student accounts under the “Students” tab on the far left.  If you click “Child accounts” you will be prompted to set up a new account.  You will need the child’s name, birthday, a user name (don’t use their full real name as their user name), and a password.  To make everything really simple for my kids and their friends that I set up accounts for, I made all their passwords identical.  That way no can ever say they can’t remember their password.  When dealing with crafty children, you must learn to be wily like a coyote!  Though in a classroom setting this might not be practical.  After you set up accounts, you can put the kids into classes, which I did with my set of middle schoolers.  One last bit of info on this page.  The “Settings” link is where you can change user names or passwords, should the need arise.

3.  Coach your students

After you have created accounts, it is time to pile on the work!  If you click on “Student Progress” on the upper menu bar it will take you to this page, which lists all the students that you have signed up to coach.  My son Sam is the last on the list, I will use him as my example.

My StudentsNow for a quick stroll through Sam’s account, to show you how to use the links to keep track of what work a student is doing and what recommendations you have made for him or her.  I will go over how to make recommendations next.  The page below is what you see when you click the “Skills” link.


This page shows the list of all the recommendations that you have made to a student. recsAnd this page shows the activity on the site for your student.

Sam.activityNow I’m sure you have noticed all of the wonderful recommendations Sam has, and are maybe even feeling a little jealous.  How can I get a beautiful list like that for MY students.  Well, since you asked…back to the page that lists my students!  Remember, you get here from your homepage by hitting the “Coach” button.  On the upper right is a very useful link called “Coach Resources”.

My Students.2If you head into this portion of the website, you will find lots of information on supporting students using Khan Academy, including videos explaining how to coach!  You can get the scoop from the real experts here.  In this post I am just going to focus on the Common Core resources link.

Common core resources

This link takes you to the page below.  Click on Common Core map next.


Which will take you to this page.  Click on this purple link to get to the map page.


The address for the page is, if you want to bookmark it.  So here we are, at the Common Core map.  This is a VERY USEFUL page!  On the left is a menu where you can select the grade level.  After you do, a list of the Common Core standards, along with the topics/exercises on Khan Academy that correspond to those standards appears.  I used the application Preview to take screen grabs of this list, which was helpful when I entered the recommendations into the students’ accounts.  Some topics cover more than one standard, so you may see a topic listed two or even three times.  So copy and paste, do a screen grab, write them down, or if you are a memorization champion, just stare at them for a minute.  We are going to need this information to proceed.


We are heading back to “Coach”, then “Student Progress”, then we are going to select Sam’s account, and we should see this page again.  Click on the blue “Make a recommendation”link, which leads to an searchable list of Khan Academy topics.  This is where you will use the list we got from the Common Core standards page to find the topics you want recommend to your student.  The “Make a recommendation” tab is also available under any of the top menu tabs (Skills, Videos, etc).


When you get to the recommendations page, type in the first few letters of a topic, like “mea..” for “measuring angles”, into the search box.  You will see an alphabetical list of topics pop up that start with those letters (this is why it is important to have the grade level list to work from, so you know what to type in to find a particular lesson).  Click on the box of the topic or topics from the list you would like to recommend, and then hit the green “Recommend to your student” button on the lower right.  You did it!  You have recommended a lesson.  Keep going, add a few at a time, or throw in the whole list like I did.  If the kid complains, pull out a hardship story from your childhood.  Here’s mine that I use on my kids (true story, BTW).  “When I was in middle school in Wisconsin, I had to walk over a mile to get there.  One day in January I forgot my hat.  Walking home that afternoon I got frostbite in both of my ears.”  Makes having a list of 30 or so topics in Khan Academy seem like small potatoes.

Make a rec.2

4.  How students use Khan Academy.

So now that the accounts are all set up, and the recommendations made, let’s get down to the nitty gritty of kids learning stuff.  The first time a child logs in they will be prompted to take a very short pretest, which will cause some topic boxes in their Math Mission Progress grid to be colored in (the grid is on right hand side of Sam’s homepage).  As your student practices topics and masters them, the boxes on this grid will go from grey, to light blue, to dark blue.  The student’s homepage will display the recommendations you have made, and even before you make any Khan Academy will put in recommendations based on the results of your student’s pretest.  You can also see what topics were recently done, how many points and badges have been earned (still not ready to tell you exactly what these are), and also whether a mastery challenge is available.  Mastery challenges are mixed reviews of topics students have already practiced.  After a topic is practiced in a mastery challenge, the square for that topic turns darker blue, and after it is mastered it is dark blue.

Sam's homepage

So what happens when a child clicks on a recommended topic?  Glad you asked.  Below is the problems page for Multi-digit division.  A practice problem shows up on the left, the answer input box is on the right.  If a student gets stuck, there are two options.  One is to ask for a hint, the second is to go to the video tutorial on the topic, where the problem is explained and demonstrated.  To go on to the next topic, a student needs to get 5 in a row correct, also know as “Five and Alive”!  It makes kids howl when they get 4 in a row and then miss, like Sam did below, because then they have to start over.  Clicking the “Check Answer” box on number five is always nerve racking.

Sam.problem page

When Sam sits down to do Khan Academy, I usually ask him to do a mastery challenge and two to three new topics.  He can sometimes finish a topic in 5 minutes, sometimes it takes him 20.  What makes him interested in doing math on the site?  A few things.  One is that it is on the computer, because, like most kids he loves electronics.  There are also rewards built into the site.  One is energy points.  Students earn them by watching videos and doing problems.  As you accumulate points, you can use them to change your avatar on the site.  The generic leaf avatar is the one that everyone starts with.  You can change the color, but to get one of the other cool avatars you need an increasing number of points.  You get to the avatar choice window from your homepage.  Click on your name and beginning leaf avatar on the upper left, then click on the leaf, and the page below will appear.  At the beginning only the leaf avatars can be chosen; Sam has all three levels to choose from because he has over 50,000 points.

choose avatar

The other reward system is made up of badges, the listing for them can be accessed on the upper right of the homepage.  Students earn various badges for working on the site.  Sam’s meteorite badges are show below.


Finally, there is much more to the Khan Academy site than just math.  My son loves the computer programming tutorial, and has spent a lot of time plugging away at that.  All the other topics are found under the “Learn” tab on the upper left.


I know it is hard to believe, but I think this never ending post has finally come to an end.  It has taken so long to get through that your children are probably adults by now, but you can always use all the wonderful knowledge you have gained here to tutor your grandchildren.

Have fun learning!


Images in header taken from,,, (breadpig).  You can order your own “Yes We Khan” poster seen in the post header from zazzle!

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Protected: Matt and Vanessa – 2gethah 4evah

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San Diego Halloween – 2013

Halloween 2013

“Mom, how many days left until Halloween?”

I don’t know how many times I have answered that question over the past two weeks.  My daughter Emma has been very excited about Halloween.  The candy.  Her vampire costume.  Running around at night.  Well, the countdown is over, along with Halloween.  At least until next year!

Check out the photos of our night of trick or treating in Tierrasanta.  We got together a gang of kids and went up and down and around our street.  We stopped at the Haunted House that Doug puts up at the end of our street.  We stared in amazement, as we do every year, at the Crazy House around the corner.  The kids are old enough that the adults get to chat and catch up, while the kids collect their candy.  They are even old enough now not to whine at how heavy their bags are!  Ahh, these truly are the salad days.  M+M and Laffy Taffy salad that is!


Emma and Sam in our traditional "Sit in front of the door picture" that always starts out our night.

Emma and Sam in our traditional “Sit in front of the door picture” that always starts out our night.

Gang in our graveyard.

Gang in our graveyard.

Kids with our neighbors

Kids with our neighbors

Annie and Zoraida dressed up as Tony and Rich.  Complete with disguised cocktail.  "What this?  This is just a big, wholesome glass of pure water."

Annie and Zoraida dressed up as Tony and Rich. Complete with disguised cocktail. “What this? This is just a big, wholesome glass of pure water.”

Mo and Leslie at the door of the Haunted House!

Mo and Leslie at the door of the Haunted House!

Rat having dinner.  Funny, Doug didn't offer US dismembered limb, all we got was candy.

Rat having dinner. Funny, Doug didn’t offer US dismembered limb.  All we got was candy.

Annie tries to resuscitate the guy in the coffin.  She said this ALWAYS works with Tony.

Annie tries to resuscitate the guy in the coffin. She said this ALWAYS works with Tony.

Kids inside the Haunted House.  Dropping spiders, and shaking trees, and grabbing hands, OH MY!

Kids inside the Haunted House. Dropping spiders, and shaking trees, and grabbing hands, OH MY!

Emma wrote this caption.  "Here I am rising from my grave to get my revenge on those who are still living."

Emma wrote this caption. “Here I am rising from my grave to get my revenge on those who are still living.”

Half of our gang departs, off to chocolatey-er pastures.

Half of our gang departs, off to chocolatey-er pastures.

...while we head around the corner to the Crazy House.  These people LOVE Halloween, and their decorations are beyond belief.

…while we head around the corner to the Crazy House. These people LOVE Halloween, and their decorations are beyond belief.

Before we head in Blake tries to kill J.D.  All the decorations must be getting to him.

Before we head in Blake tries to kill J.D. All the decorations must be getting to him.

Crazy House.3

Bloody werewolf and hanging pirate ghost.

Werewolves and zombie babies.

Werewolves and zombie babies.

Just hanging out at the Crazy House.

Just hanging out at the Crazy House.

Gal pals and psycho killer guy.

Gal pals and psycho killer guy.

Tired, thirsty, heavy bags of candy.  Our work here is done...

Tired, thirsty, heavy bags of candy. Our work here is done…


Filed under Tierrasanta Tattler