Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Summer Plans

As this academic year winds down (this week is our last week!), my girls are busy planning for the summer.  My oldest DD is planning to finish her book (and write much fan fiction) as well as work on her sailing techniques.  My youngest DD is fascinated with atlases and maps right now (at this moment she is reading an atlas and studying the index) so she told me today she's going to create her own atlas over the summer.  My 3rd DD has a broken arm, which is clouding her excitement for anything and everything right now.  And my 2nd DD has so many plans and interests, it would be impossible to list them all here.  As for myself, I'm looking forward to cleaning out the "school" room (which is really an all-purpose room at this point) and setting it up to function better for us in the future.  I'm also taking two classes over the summer - hopefully these will get my mind functioning academically before I start graduate school this fall.  And of course, we are all looking forward to hiking, camping, swimming (when the cast comes off for DD#3), and general fun!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Week 34

Oh wow.  Just writing "Week 34" gets me excited.  Why?
Because we do 36 weeks of school ... and we're on Week 34!  Yippee!

I must admit that the closer we get to the end of the year, the more I feel like skipping school.  Yes, I have spring fever.  I remember this feeling from my school days, and apparently age does nothing to mitigate the incredible urge to throw away the books.

So why not do that? Why not just stop?

Great questions.  And I'm sure for many people this would be fine. In fact, I know people for whom this is the approach to life.  But I'm not one to quit at the finish.  And the projects and lessons in the last two weeks are often the most fun and the ones that bring everything together.

I'm all for skipping meaningless, filler projects.  Or modifying to suit my needs.  But that's not what I'm talking about.  I am talking about seeing things through to the end.  I feel like finishing something "all the way" is a great lesson for the girls and provides a tremendous sense of accomplishment.  I never look back with happiness on something I almost finished (e.g., a baby quilt sitting in my sewing box).  But even when something was difficult and seemed hard, I always feel good if I see it through to the end (e.g., finishing a marathon). And so it is with our school year.

Plus, we're doing lots of cool stuff - and I'm excited to see how the girls do as we round the finish.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Science in Action: Airfoils

Understanding Flight

My middle DDs (5th grade)  had fun today learning about the relationship between air pressure and speed as well as some rudimentary mechanics of flight.  Making a simple airfoil is a great way to demonstrate these principles.  I love science, but I don't love making it hard for kids to understand by introducing complex ideas either too early or in ways which aren't clear.  This experiment keeps it simple.  I try to keep explanations straightforward and in this case the toughest part for them to grasp was why the air speed and its relation to pressure.  We focused on the the very basic concept of the air taking the same time to travel a longer distance as well as the idea that the side with more pressure will push against the side with less pressure (creating lift). Here are some simple instructions:

Create a Simple Airfoil
  1. Fold a stiff sheet of paper in slightly less than half so that the top 'half' curves.  Secure to the bottom 'half' with tape.
  2. In the middle of the fold, punch a hole through both layers.  
  3. Insert a short straw (cut a regular length straw in half) through both holes.
  4. Thread a string through the straw, leaving about 6-8 inches on each side.
  5. Wrap the string around your fingers and hold taut so that the straw is vertical and the curved half of the paper is on top.
  6. Create air movement: run, spin in a circle, or blast the airfoil with a hairdryer.
  7. Observe the airfoils climb up the string!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Math ... Advice Needed!

Image from homeschool-rewards.com
I feel like every year - or at least every other year - I face the same question: what program should I use for math?  Specifically this year, I'm considering algebra programs for my soon-to-be 8th-grade daughter.  Last spring, I struggled with pre-algebra versus 7th-grade math.  I ended up going with a 7th-grade math program. Why?  Two reasons:  (1) all my research led me to the conclusion that there is very little difference between pre-algebra and 7th-grade math; and (2) I already owned Oak Meadow Grade 7 math.  Now looking forward, I'm struggling again.  Here's the situation:

  • My daughter is currently using OM7 Math.  I've only graded her tests and reviews.  She is receiving a B- (83%).  Most of her mistakes are "sloppy errors" - I feel that if she weren't rushing to be finished with math (her least favorite subject) she'd easily have a B+/A- because she understands the concepts.  Overall, I've been happy with OM7.  I have nothing else with which to compare this level of math, but I'd say the style was a good fit.
  • I own OM8 Math.  I don't know for certain, but from the description I'm fairly sure this isn't either pre-algebra or algebra... what is it? Maybe it is an excellent program. I just can't tell. I can tell it's the same format we used this year, so I know what we'd be getting into and I know my DD liked the format.
  • In the past, we've used Teaching Textbooks, which my kids all enjoyed.  I've talked to some friends that used it this year with pre-algebra and algebra.  They are happy for the most part.  However, I'm not 100% sure this will be the right program for my DD12.  She fought me tooth-and-nail when she used TT for 6th grade math.
  • Last year I bookmarked Thinkwell.  This year I read up on it, checked out the reviews, tried the sample lessons.  It looks really good!  However, no one I know IRL has used this.  Not that that means the program isn't solid - I didn't know anyone that used either MBtP or OM and those are great programs.  But I'd like to get a better feel for the program before signing up. 
  • My DD does not love math.  She doesn't hate it, but I wouldn't say she's "math minded" or anything close.  She needs clear explanations.  She needs to have sufficient practice, but not be inundated with pages of worksheets (a la Saxon).   
I guess this leaves me with the following:
Oak Meadow Grade 8 vs. Teaching Textbooks (algebra) vs. Thinkwell (algebra)
Anyone out there have any advice or ideas? Anyone? :)  

Monday, May 6, 2013

Test Drive: Time4Writing

A few weeks ago, I posted about our experience using Time4Learning (click here to read about it).  Last week, a representative from Time4Writing, a program created by Time4Learning designed to help improve students' writing, and offered me the opportunity to try a writing courseIt couldn't have come at a better time - I had just been pondering how to help improve my fifth-grade daughter's academic writing over the summer break.  As such, I am excited to be using a summer writing program to reinforce our writing skills with Time4Writing. With the guidance of an online tutor, who is a certified teacher, we will be taking one of their eight-week online writing courses.  Come visit in a few weeks for a progress report.  I will be writing an in-progress review as well as a final review after my daughter finishes the course. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

American Girl Doll Projects: Molly McIntire

Having led (and co-led for the first two years) an American Girl Doll book and craft club for the past three years, I have been feeling like I should really post our projects more frequently.  If I knew how to post the discussion questions I write each month I would do that as well, simply to save someone else the effort!  But alas, for now photos of the craft project will have to do.  Of course, there are only two meetings left in the year and I doubt I'll be doing this for a fourth year.  Better late than never!

This week our group is discussing A Light in the Cellar: A Molly Mystery.  It was tough to come up with a project, partly because as I approach the end of the third year I've done a LOT of AG projects and partly because this book didn't lend itself to an obvious project. At least not one that we haven't already done.  But I pressed the Easy Button and checked the Molly craft book out of the library.  Lo and behold, the perfect project: Scottie Bookmarks.  These projects must meet the financial requirement (cheap), my requirement (not be total junk), and the time requirement (be something I can feasibly complete with a dozen+ girls in 30 minutes or less).  Check, check, and check!

Additionally, with the discussion questions I also assigned the girls take-home projects.  There were three options, and my youngest (8-year-old)daughter chose to create a model of the manor house featured in the story.  I think this would be a great project for ANY book that has an interesting building.  It's constructed from card stock and tape.  She colored the sides with crayon and colored pencil, and outlined all prominent features with a Sharpie.  She also added some 3-D bushes with extra card stock.  I especially like how she has a light on in the cellar, as the title suggests there should be. 

It would be possible to go all out with something like this, but of course she waited until the night before. She did have plenty of help figuring out how to create this, but I believe now that we've been through the process once she will be able to do it again with less help (figuring out the triangles is tricky!).


Thursday, May 2, 2013


This month Secular Homeschool Community has partnered with Oak Meadow to offer an amazing giveaway - a chance to win the curriculum package of your choice (grades pK-8).  

Click here to read the details on how to enter.  And while you're over at SHC, register and become a member!  It's free!

And just in case you don't win, Oak Meadow is currently having their annual Spring Sale - 10% off of the price of enrollment, 20% off of curriculum and resources.

Good luck!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

From the Bookshelves....

Family Audiobook
Our journey with The Chronicles of Prydain continues and we are now listening to the fourth book in the series, Taran Wanderer.  I believe this series is definitely one better listened to than read as the narrator is one of my all-time favorites. 

Dad's nightstand
My husband is still slugging along through the second book in the Game of Thrones series.  He also listened to the audiobook How to Talk to Anyone, by Leil Lowndes.  He described it to me in such a way that I had to listen myself.  I found it hilarious.  I confess that for anyone who has a hard time making conversation, the book's tips are probably helpful.  Not being that kind of person, I found it to be full of rather obvious "tips and tricks."  However, I will agree that it made me think about some areas in which my daughters could improve.

Mom's collection
Where to begin?  I have read so many books in the past month that it's hard to choose.  I promise to narrow it down to only one... but which one?  Hmmm.  I will look to the last book I've read, which is Defending Jacob by William Landay.  Literally, I just finished this novel.  I started reading Defending Jacob last night while I was waiting for the rice in the rice cooker to finish.  And I was hooked.  Going into the book, I was skeptical because I heard from numerous friends and acquaintances that is was "very good."  One trusted friend (and fellow bibliophile), when asked about it, just looked at me and went, "Oh! Yes!" with raised eyebrows and an excited look.  But often I am disappointed after such hype.  Not this time.  I can't say I was totally surprised by this book, but I can say I was totally enthralled with it.  Worth reading.  It's not going to win the Pulitzer, but if you are looking for an interesting summer read go for it. 

As for me, it's hard to choose just one of DD12's books.  I will settle for her most recent academic read: Zlata's Diary by Zlata Filipovic.  This nonfiction work tells the story of the Bosnian conflict from the eyes of eleven-year-old Zlata.  It is an excellent read in that the pictures painted by the narrative do far more to bring the reality and complexity of the war to life for children than simply reading about Sarajevo in a text or newspaper.  I highly recommend this book for adults and children ages 12+. 

As part of an ongoing library book club, my DD11 just read Lost and Found by Andrew Clements. Though the book is a bit of an "easy read" for her, she enjoyed it immensely.  Probably because much of the story focuses on the main characters (twin boys) having crushes on the girls they meet at their new school.  In my opinion, this book is "okay" - not great, not terrible, not one of my favorite Clements books, but okay. In the opinion of my daughters (three of the four have read it), it's a wonderful book and they can't wait to go to the discussion today - so for a reluctant reader, and perhaps especially for 11- or 12-year-old boys, it would be a fun book.

Ah, the graphic novel.  Not something I have ever been able to get excited about.  I wasn't a comic book fan as a kid, and the graphic novel is so close to the comic book that I just don't get it.  I am a reader that likes to imagine my own visuals, not have them done for me.  My DD9, however, LOVES graphic novels. She devours them.  She is currently (or should I say concurrently?) reading books 4, 5 and 6 in the Nancy Drew graphic novel collection.  Sigh.

Last, but certainly not least, my little one just finished reading an American girl mystery: The Light in the Cellar.  As leader of an American Girl book club, I have read countless AG books.  So many, in fact, that I have tried to block most of them out.  That being said, I do think these books are good books for kids in that they are interesting and provide a bit of historical information.  In addition, the books provide excellent starting points for conversation or future study.  This book would be a good supplement to any study or World War II and life on the home front.