A lesson in anatomy

Our home education group plans a session on anatomy. Each family chooses an area to research. My eldest son is very definite in his choice for us: "Joints and Muscles", he declares.

It can be difficult to get the boys to write, but I am beginning to insist. "I want it to be the best that you can do," I say. The eldest begins, but it is sloppy work. He starts again. He and his brother draw beautiful diagrams of the knee and hip joints, muscle cells. They write facts and information. The younger works very slowly and precisely, the elder rather more haphazardly. Their work is so different, yet both do well. We then construct 'arms' out of toilet rolls with tennis ball elbows and rubber band muscles. The models move and show how muscles - here the biceps and triceps - work in pairs.

My youngest son, listening in to all this learning, studies his Lego Bionicles (robots). He notices and point out to me all the ball-and-socket joints. We talk about how these joints move and where the ball and socket joints are on our bodies.

At our group meet-up, each family presents their work. My sons are eager to go first. Despite all their research, they have not planned the presentation at all. It is rather waffly and the audience cannot really see their carefully drawn illustrations. Eldest brother is very dominant, though the younger two chip in. There is no shyness, no embarrassment. They are keen and stand up and speak confidently to the group.

Other presentations follow. Some involve Mum, some read a lot of information, some use question and answer format. There are X-rays of bones to look at. One girl gives all the children a card with the name of a part of the ear on it. She lines them up from pinna to brain and shows us how sound travels through the system. Another group show us how to measure lung capacity using a lemonade bottle and a straw. There is a length of string which represents the length of the intestine. There are some wonderful visual aids and pictures used. There is so much information. And not nearly enough time.

We drive home, and I ask the boys how they thought their work had gone. They are pleased, but we begin to discuss the presentation, what we liked about what others had done, how we might plan it better next time.

The next day, as an evaluative process, I have the boys plan the presentation and I video it. It is much better. They make larger visual aids, and plan what they are going to say. When they watch it back, they critique it themselves. Middle son realises he is blocking the pictures with his body, and talking with his back to the audience. They can't see or hear him. It is a valuable exercise, and next time we will do a better presentation!