2014-2015 A Homeschool Year in Review

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about our homeschool “style”.  I love the term Lucinda over at Navigating by Joy uses – “Us-schooling”.  We learn in a way that matches with our interests and opportunities.   We follow a pretty traditional approach to math and grammar while everything else is interest led (aka – unschooled).  Sometimes we join with a team or a class and have a particular topic to research.  Sometimes we follow rabbit trails – so a book about squids leads to several books about the entire cephalopod family followed by ocean mammals and then sharks.  So what does a year look like in our homeschool?

2014FieldtripsField Trips!

I love the freedom to take lots of field trips.  Experiential learning is an incredibly important aspect of our homeschool.

Our list for this year was long: Mammoth Cave, Corvette Factory Tour, Canal Fulton, COSI, Nat. History Museum – Mammoths & Mastadons, Cleveland Orchestra performances, TIMBER and Intergalactic Nemisis at Playhouse Square,  Cleveland Botanical Gardens with special LEGO exhibit, Airshow,  University of Pittsburg – Human Engineering Department, TechShop Tour, Pittsburg Science Center, Apple Farms, Beehive tour, Bourbon Distillery,  Maple Sugar processing, Great Lakes Science Center – Mythbusters Exhibit, and NASA Hubble Day

It’s impossible to pick a favorite field trip from this year.  I really wish I could have captured a picture of the boys’ faces during the Corvette Factory Tour.  They were so amazed by the enormity of the entire factory.  While a bourbon tour might seem a bit odd, it is a great chance to see a distillation column up close. (I think I may have spent 2 years sizing distillation columns before seeing an industrial sized one up close.)

2014SportsSports

The boys did the usual soccer teams.  This year they’ve really developed more ability to handle their bikes and we’ve been able to enjoy riding single track together.  The boys and I learned to ski / snowboard which greatly increased our enjoyment of the winter months.  The boys also took parkour classes during the winter.  Come spring we switched over to swim lessons and plan to continue swim during the summer.   This summer we will be checking out a boys gymnastics opportunity.  My goal is to keep them fit and active in the now, as well as discovering sports and activities that will keep them active throughout their lives.

2014ActivitiesTeams / Activities

In addition to their soccer teams the boys were on FIRST LEGO League (FLL) teams and a Science Olympiad team.   One of our favorite group classes is zoo class, which is typically twice each month.  We also joined the Geography Club which gives the kids an opportunity to make presentations to a peer group.  The kids from Science Olympiad enjoyed getting together so much, we formed a Science Club which typically includes an hour of an activity followed by an hour for socializing.

2014UnitStudiesUnit Studies

Some of our unit studies were on our own, while others were with FIRST LEGO League teams, and others were with Science Olympiad partners.   Our best integrated learning path started with the Percy Jackson book series, led us through Ancient Greek and Roman history, and finished with building catapults.

We did unit studies / projects on Atmospheric Science, the Power House, Bees (FLL), Catapults, Learning (FLL), Animal Tracking (SO), Aerodynamics (SO), Mousetrap Car (SO), Simple Machines (SO), Greek and Roman Mythology, Cells and the Maldives

Reading (including audiobooks)

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Heroes of Olympus, Chronicles of Prydain, The Once and Future King, Nature’s Children series,  Redwall, and a variety of non-fiction books related to our projects and unit studies.

Workbooks:

Singapore Math 4A and 4B and Growing with Grammar 4

Singapore Math 6A and 6B, Challenge Math, Growing with Grammar 5

2014Nature

Lastly, my favorite reason to homeschool – quality time in nature.  During our Mammoth Cave trip we also took some time to drive over to Cumberland Falls, KY, where we enjoyed a few days immersed in beautiful fall colors playing next to the river.  The large picture above is from a smaller waterfall just down the river from Cumberland Falls.  We visited Brandywine Falls in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park many times this year including when it was just a cascade of ice with barely a visible trickle of water.  On two separate occasions we found fossils while we were just out exploring parks.  We’ve spent time playing in creeks and watching butterflies.  Not every trip is exciting or different but over time we increase our knowledge and love of nature.

What was your year like?

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Weekly Wrap-up – Finishing the Year

WildflowersLast Friday we went on a wildflower hike with our science club. It was a nice hike, looking at flowers and chatting with friends.  We all had lunch together at the park amidst more chatting and playing.  It was one of the first really beautiful days to be outside which made it even more special.  I really appreciate this group of kids and parents.

While not exactly related to homeschool, E had his first Boy Scout camping trip over the weekend.  The weather was perfect for camping and he had a great time. While E was off at camp, C requested a trip with mom and dad to the art museum.  Sunday E returned from the camping trip and worked at the scout pasta dinner.

Water Balloon Catapult

This week was a finishing week.  We finished our standardized testing for the year.  E also finished his grammar book.  While we were finishing things, we also finished our first catapult and we’ve had a great time firing off water balloons.

IMG_1870We’ve essentially switched over to our summer schedule which typically means an hour or two of reading, math, and/or writing followed by time outside.  We were extra fortunate this week to have the chance to meet up with friends to take a short hike, wade in a creek, and play in a clay deposit.

Have you switched over to a summer schedule yet?  Is there much difference between your summer schedule and other times of year?

ON THE BOOKSHELF:

The Once and Future King (audio)

Nature’s Children: Snow Leopards

ON THE MENU

Salmon Filets with Corn on the Cob- I prefer to avoid the crowds on Mother’s Day and grill at home

Pulled Pork Sliders

Garden Veggie Soup

Stir Fry

Tikka Masala with Tofu and Chickpea

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Weekly Wrap-up – FABulous field trips and other creative pursuits

FIELD TRIP!!  Field trips are one of my absolute favorite things about homeschooling.  Field trips, individualized learning, treating kids with respect, building projects, time in nature – they are all my favorite things.

Last Friday we went to University of Pittsburgh to check out their Human Engineering Research Laboratories.  They work with the Veterans’ Administration to develop better assistive devises like wheelchairs, prosthetics, and orthotics.   It was great career exposure for the kids.  The combination of engineering with making a real difference in other people’s lives is a very appealing concept.

It just so happened there was also a place across the street called TechShop.  They were offering tours so we stopped in along with some friends who were also on the aforementioned HERL tour.  What a cool place!  It’s a FAB Lab on steroids.  They have the typical laser cutter/engravers, 3D printers, vinyl cutters and wood shop, but they also have a water jet cutter, a powder coat paint booth, welding, and CNC machines.  They also have a great textile station with embroidery and screen printing and a computer workshop area.   Check out the website and take a tour if you happen to live near one.

IMG_1835After lunch we headed over to the Carnegie Science Center.  It was such a short visit we only had time for the sports area, the traveling H2O exhibit and the shuttle lift.

IMG_1847This week we had the opportunity to attend a Cleveland Orchestra Education Concert.  The orchestra does a great job selecting the music for these concerts.  This one started with the Imperial March from Star Wars then moved on to classical composers like Vivaldi and Bach.  They also did a couple of American Jazz pieces before concluding with a part of the E.T. score.  The boys are really so so about going to the orchestra, but I just adore the chance to hear the orchestra perform.  I also love the architecture of Severance Hall.

After the performance we had lunch with friends and went through the “swords and knights” exhibit at the art museum.  We also went through the modern art section which is always fun.  The art museum is free which makes it easy to just pop in for a few minutes.  After the art museum we headed over to the Natural History Museum for about an hour before heading home so we could get ready for swim lessons.

Going on field trips means lots of time in the car so we listened to the first book of the Redwall series by Brian Jacques.  The story was very action packed and exciting.  If it had been a print edition, I would say it was a real page turner.  We listened to several hours of the story on Saturday and Sunday as well.  We will certainly be listening to more of the Redwall series during car trips this summer.

IMG_1857We had some good weather this week, which allowed us to work on our catapults.  They are almost complete, but on hold again while E is away on a camping trip this weekend.

Having the chance to visit so many creative spaces this week has been really invigorating.  I’m really looking forward to working on some creative projects this summer.

What fun projects are you planning for summer?

Weekly Wrap-Up WUH

A Weekly Wrapup

DSC_5252Mother Nature has given us a taste of spring and then yanked it back.

GoldfinchThis past weekend was absolutely beautiful.  We went for a family bike ride on some new single track.  It was a fairly short course yet very challenging.  E crashed into a tree, but was able to ride out.  (I don’t think I would have fared any better if I had tried to ride that bit.) We are all greatly anticipating our favorite familiar trails drying out enough to ride.  In the meantime it’s mostly paved stuff.  Last week we headed out at about 7 pm for a ride on the towpath and finished in the dark using our new lights.

We finished the Chronicles of Prydain series.  I highly recommend these books.  There are five books in all, but they are fairly short.  The narration on the audio CDs is phenomenal.  We had great discussions comparing elements of the Chronicles with elements of Lord of the Rings.  Since both have roots in Welsh mythology, we have several books on hold at the library to learn more about the original stories.  According to Scholastic the reading levels vary from 5.5-6.5.

We have a more exciting week coming up with a field trip to the engineering department of a nearby university, a visit to a science center, and a trip to the orchestra.

A Morning in the Sugar Bush

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Even though the calendar indicated spring, ice still floated on the river.  Although a few days had been warmer this particular morning was cold and brisk.   The weather was right for maple sap to flow, below freezing at night and into the 40s or 50s during the day.IMG_1760

Our guide led us through the sugar bush, pointing out maple trees that were suitable for tapping.  Since this particular area is set up for educational purposes there were a variety of collection types – wooden buckets, metal buckets with lids, plastic bags, and tubing systems were all represented.IMG_1764

The tour focused on the history of maple sugaring from Native Americans through present day, so they also showed various methods used for concentrating the sap into syrup.  IMG_1766

E had a chance to demonstrate how children used yokes to balance the buckets of sap.  I can only imagine what hard work it would have been to collect enough sap to make syrup.  It takes roughly 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup and I’m sure any farm children working in the sugar bushes wanted to make sure every drop was turned into either syrup or sugar. IMG_1768

 

The kettle over the fire has been replaced by a more modern evaporator system, but finding the exact consistency seems to remain an art.

One of the talking points I found interesting was that maple sugar was a “free trade” sort of product at one time.  The cane sugars exported from the Caribbean almost always used slave labor, therefore maple sugar was the preferred sweetener of abolitionists.

Even though we’ve been on this sort of tour before it had been a few years.  Too often we think that because we’ve done something once it isn’t worth doing again, but I frequently find the kids are processing things on a new level or at least challenging themselves to remember their past experience.

Special thanks to the Cleveland Metroparks and Rocky River Reservation for offering this tour and to NEST Homeschool group for organizing our group outing.

 

Real Spring

IMG_1795We were walking in the woods last week when we heard them, spring peepers and wood frogs.  It’s one of the most beautiful sounds on earth.  When the peepers and wood frogs emerge and sing their mating calls, a person can’t help but feel the hope and renewal of spring.

IMG_1803As we were walking my son said, “There should be two first days of spring.  The equinox and the day the peepers come out.”

It doesn’t look like much.  The trees are still bare.  Only the earliest plants are pushing their way up through the soil.  BUT the air is warming up.

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Many of the local park services are hosting night hike visits to vernal pools.  During night hours the spring peepers can be absolutely deafening.  It’s amazing to me that a creature barely larger than my thumbnail can emit such piercing call.  For just a few days the yellow spotted salamanders come above ground to mate in the pools before heading back to their holes for another year.

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We found this super cool fossil next to a creek the other day.  The shell filled with mud and sand that solidified.  It’s amazing the things we find and the deep learning that takes place when we have time to just explore.

 

 

Engineers Week – Part 1

Engineers WeekMy favorite tradition in our homeschool is celebrating Engineers Week.  Last year we tried celebrating a different type of engineering each day.  This year we decided to focus on one project.

Over the years I’ve found weapons are a great avenue for my boys to learn about history.  The evolution of technology and weapons is helpful for placing events in chronological order.  It’s amazing how intertwined technological advancements are with military conquest.  Sometimes armies are just better at utilizing new technologies, but quite frequently research is funded solely for military purposes.

I thought you might be interested to see part of our learning path for this semester.  I mapped out the paths that were relevant to our current project.  It’s purposefully a bit messy to illustrate the non-linear nature of interest led learning.

Catapult Map.001

Given our current interest in ancient history, we decided our project should have something to do with onagers or ballista. (Trust me before having boys I had no idea what the difference was between a trebaucht and catapult.  I certainly would not have been able to correctly describe a ballista or onager.)   A search of the library system lead me to The Art of Catapults.  I placed a hold but we weren’t able to pick it up until Tuesday.  That left us a bit short on planning and build time during our official Engineers Week.  No big deal we will just continue into next week.

The boys were so impressed with The Art of Catapults we ordered our own copy of the book within a few hours.  We decided to make a model sized wooden ballista for C and a pair of large PVC “Stone Thrower” catapults to launch water balloons at each other.

Catapult Parts

Wednesday we did the shopping which was a good experience for the boys.  They found all the pieces and loaded the carts.  They also loaded the car while I questioned my sanity.

I purchased a special PVC pipe cutting tool, which I managed to destroy it in just two cuts.  Then we used a saw.  The boys were somewhat helpful with the hacksaw, but it was taking forever.  My husband came home and hooked us up with his reciprocating saw.  Yeah, power tools for mom!  The cuts went much quicker on day two and we got about halfway finished cutting and dry fitting.

I’m hoping we will have things completed in a few days and enough warm weather to do some enjoyable testing.  I’ll keep you posted on how this project comes along.

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Homeschool Gratitude

I heart homeschoolThis was one of my “I LOVE homeschool” weeks.  We all have our times of vulnerability, but for every time like that there are so many others when I say, “YES!  I love my job and there is no place else I want to be at this point in our journey.”

What made it such a great week?

Individualized Learning – This is what we are all hoping for when we start homeschooling.  Unfortunately sometimes I get caught up in comparing what we are doing to traditional school.  This week I was really able to appreciate the unique characteristics of our environment and how those elements support learning and growth.

Science Olympiad Team – Several months ago one of the moms in a Facebook group asked if anyone would be interested in putting together a Science Olympiad team.  I’m so thankful for all the work she did.  I’m also thankful for the awesome mom who volunteered to coach Aerodynamics and Simple Machines.  Over the course of the last couple of months the boys learned so much. More importantly we made new friends who enjoy science and engineering and just as much as we do.

Geography Club – Another mom put together a Geography Club for homeschoolers.  Once a month we gather for the kids to do presentations and enjoy a potluck lunch.  Each month has a theme like desserts, rivers,  or countries on the equator and each family group presents on a different area.  The kids range in age from 4 year old helpers to 13 year olds.  The presentation can be anything the kids want,  so there are skits, power points, presentation boards and games.  It’s a very supportive environment, perfect for increasing the kids comfort with public speaking.

Testing – Lately my social media feed has been full of PARCC testing / common core backlash.   Out of curiosity, I took the practice English and Math tests my oldest would take if he were in public school.  To sum it up in one word – tedious.  I could see it being frustrating for some kids and exceedingly tedious for others.  Given – most standardized tests share those characteristics, but these really seemed to take it to a new level.  It may sound selfish, but I’m so thankful we aren’t part of the public school system and forced to take these.  When we started homeschooling our dyslexic son, it was so we could focus on doing the things that would truly be helpful for him instead of wasting time and energy fighting for the things he needed.  We also wanted to focus on learning instead of constant assessing.  I really feel a lot of empathy for the parents and teachers who are working to improve the system.  Most parents want more time to be spent on learning activities that are truly beneficial to the kids.

Milestones – Those learning to read days can be exhausting, especially with dyslexia, but they make certain moments so completely precious.  This week my son picked up a book he was interested in and read independently.  This isn’t the first time, but these moments really warm a homeschool mom’s heart.  His love of reading is intact!!

Achievements – I keep a spreadsheet of “school” hours for the entire school year.  This week we completed the 900 hours mandated in our homeschool notification.  It’s very freeing.  We still have some math and grammar to complete before the end of the year and there are lots of other projects on our “to do” list, but knowing our hours are complete feels good.  Beyond checking the box, it felt good to look at the mix of hours and think of all the things we get to do with our time.  There are so many valuable learning experiences outside the scope of traditional school.   I’m not sure how many hours we will have by the end of May, but I am confident we’ve spent plenty of hours on “core” subjects while fueling our interests with experiences and hands on learning opportunities.

Flexible schedules – The weather has been brutally cold here lately.  This week we had a few breaks where things were a little warmer and the kids were able to go outside and enjoy the sunshine.  We even went skiing one morning!  We still logged 30 hours of school.  I know some people act concerned when homeschoolers are out having fun while other kids are in school, but it is actually good preparation for white collar and independent work situations.  The work is always there.  You have to find ways to schedule your time to accomplish your goals, but make sure life isn’t completely taken over by work.  This is one of the major adjustments students have to make in college.  They’ve never had the ability to schedule their own time and it can be a difficult skill to learn.  I’m glad we are getting practice now.

Meaningful volunteer opportunities – I enjoy that homeschooling gives me the time and flexibility to work on projects that are meaningful to me.  I’ve gotten involved in a group that is supporting the growth of FIRST LEGO League in our area.  It’s great to be able to contribute to increasing STEM learning.

We started this homeschool journey four years ago as an experiment.  Every year things change a little.  We find more and more experiences we enjoy and groups that fit us well.  Things are always changing, but each year I grow more and more thankful that we took the path less travelled.

 

 

 

What Went By : Elementary Science Olympiad

Today I’m focusing on resources to help you prepare for the “What Went By” event at an Elementary Science Olympiad.  If you have a child interested in animals and nature you will enjoy this list as well.
Wild Tracks! by Jim Arnosky is a fantastic resource.  It may look like a child’s picture book from the outside, but it is full of helpful information and LIFE-SIZE Prints.  Kids will learn that hoofed animals walk and run on their toes and wildcats use the same tracks over and over again, however this book stays away from scientific terms such as digitigrade and direct register.  Instead it is written in a friendly, digestible form perfect for independent learning even at younger ages.  The tracks examined are mostly common mammals of North America.

Animal Tracks and Signs by Jinny Johnson from National Geographic is another great resource.  The foreward does a nice job of explaining reasons a person may want to identify animal signs and tracks. The introduction provides a great list of scientific vocabulary terms that are useful for a young biologist and covered by the “What Went By” event.  The pictures of scat are very useful as most books don’t include color pictures of scat.  The scope of this book is very broad and contains information about animals from all over the world.

The Nature Series: Science on Tracking Expedition kit is also useful for kids interested in learning more about animal tracking.  The focus of this kit is purely tracking.  It comes with plaster of paris for making your own cast in nature or from the supplied molds.The matching cards that come with this kit are useful for memorizing different track attributes.  If you are creative you can create

National Geographic has a teacher’s guide that is pretty helpful when it comes to identifying scat.  We thought about doing the candy scat project, but decided we didn’t want to solidify those associations in our brains.

Our local natural history museum had a teacher’s resource kit that was very helpful.  You may want to check with your state conservation department or local park system to see if they have any kits available for loan.

In addition to the resources listed above, we found local nature centers did classes specifically about animal tracking with Science Olympiad preparation in mind.   These classes yielded some helpful hints we didn’t find in the books.

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Perhaps the best preparation was just spending lots of time outdoors with an eye toward animal signs.

Mousetrap Car : Elementary Science Olympiad

This year our homeschool group put together a Science Olympiad team for the first time.  We were competing in the 4th to 6th grade division.

Our task was to design a car power completely by a mousetrap that would go EXACTLY 10 meters.  Every mm short OR long of 10 m would result in points.  Teams also gave a time estimate for completing a run.  Points were given for the difference between predicted time and actual time.  Keeping the centerline of the track between the wheels was worth a -20 point bonus.  The goal was to have the LEAST number of points.

IMG_1658The boys came up with an original design that works quite well.  The chaise is made entirely of LEGO Technic pieces.  The drive wheels are CD’s with LEGO pieces taped to them to allow for attachment to the axles.  Balloons increase the friction on the cds to prevent spinning. The final design uses florist wire to attach the mousetrap to the chaise.  A K’nex rod is taped to mousetrap as an extension rod.  The final design used the wheels shown, but without the tires.

THE GOOD NEWS:

This mousetrap car was quite capable of going more than 10 m.

THE BAD NEWS:

After a lot of trials on different flooring surfaces the boys thought they had the right distance figured out.  For some reason their results at the competition didn’t match what they had the day before.

NOTES:

Adjustments to the pull string length seemed the most reliable way of adjusting the travel distance.  A shorter pull string traveled shorter distances.

We tried a braking system, but our design was hard to set and tangled too easily.

I was really pleased that the boys came up with a design that was completely original.  It made the project a lot more fun and interesting.

Using LEGO pieces limited the axle length.  A larger width would have made it easier to earn the centerline bonus, but their design did earn the centerline bonus on one of its two runs.

Almost all the cars at the competition used the same design,  a rectangle of basswood with four cd wheels and threaded axles.  They used a longer extension arm that was pinned down when the mousetrap was set.  The result was they could leave the string attached to the axle and self brake.