Saturday, October 29, 2016

Weekly Wrap-Up Week 8: Halloween, Pumpkin Patches and Cinquains

Last week was mainly about Halloween but we did manage to get some school done, despite the excitement.

Vicki is on the last unit of Evan Moor Spell & Write Grade 5.  We will move on to the Grade 6 book which is the last in the series and then we are done with Spelling except for corrections in writing. This is by far the subject she is having the least trouble with this year.

This weeks lesson included writing some Cinquains about food.

Cheesy, Orange
Sticky, Stretchy, HOT
Hot on my tongue

She has been continuing to struggle with math, writing, and even literature now.  She seems to get tired (and very cranky) easily, which leads to being careless.  I'm going to encourage her to take a break in the middle of her binder work to do her hour of reading or her hour of screen free.  Hopefully this will help.  I also may start sitting with her for more of her work.

Vicki is still working through Little House on the Prairie during her assigned reading time.   At bedtime, she's been reading on the Epic books app and has read through 12 of Big Nate books.

Squidy continued to work on ratios in MM and algebra in Zaccaro.   He's doing very well with both, I think partially because both are very logical at this stage.

For assigned reading this week, he read My Side of the Mountain, The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, and started Prince Caspian.  His bedtime reading in Epic has moved on from Big Nate to Garfield and Peanuts comics, a couple Timmy Failure, and some Minecraft stories.

Eventually I will be pulling some of their assigned reading from Epic.

Last week was, of course, all about Halloween.   We finally made our trip out to the Pumpkin Patch to pick out our pumpkins.  This year, Vicki wanted to carve her pumpkin while Squidy wanted to paint his like Charmander.

It was a beautiful, but windy day when we headed out.

First we hit the corn maze.  Squidy took off at a run and played hide and seek the whole time, while Vicki and I "searched" for him at a much more leisurely pace.

Then, we picked our pumpkins.  My rule has always been the kids had to be able to pick up their own pumpkins.  :-)  Anything bigger is a family pumpkin.  Well, Vicki was able to pick up her 21 pound pumpkin all by herself.

Squidy went much smaller.

When we got home, Daddy and Vicki got to carving.

At first, she tried to remove the guts with a spoon, but soon found out it was better to just get right in there with your (gloved) hands.

Our finished products:

The kids also colored some wooden haunted houses from Michael's.  They came with three colors of paint and a paint brush but there were so many small areas to color, I thought it would work better with gel pens and fine tipped Sharpies.

We had our first Trunk or Treat on Friday night.  This year we decided to decorate a car as a Mad Scientist's Lab since our 4-H Club is the Mad STEM Scientists.   It was an EXTREMELY cold night.  Halloween is a weird time of year in NJ.  Some years it will be in the 70's, other years it's in the 30's.  Makes it very hard to plan costumes.

This year the kids dressed as Pokemon.

Vicki was a Gardevoir...

While Squidy was a Quagsire.

We have another Trunk or Treat down at the lake and, of course, Trick or Treating on Monday.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Weekly Wrap-up Week 7: Trilobites, Squishy Circuits, Algebra

Thanks to some life craziness, we had a short week of school.  We still managed to get quite a bit done though, so I'm not too upset.  I have to keep reminding myself that we are going back to a year-round schedule, just so we can take the time we need when things get crazy or we have something fun to do.

We had a meeting of our 4-H club this week.  We played with Squishy Circuits.  Squishy Circuits is a project from the Playful Learning Lab at the University of St. Thomas and allows children of all ages to play around with electronic circuits.   

We did circuits a couple of times last year.  First we tried to make flashlights. This didn't go so well.  It was very hard working with the bulbs, wires and tape to make good connections.  

We then made scribbling robots (or just jiggling robots). I made a few modifications, like buying battery holders with lead wires, and these worked MUCH better.  

Squishy Circuits was even easier.   Because I would have somewhere between 10 and 20 kids for the meeting, instead of making a million batches of the conductive dough I bought Play-doh.  Regular old Play-doh is conductive since it is basically flour, water, salt and coloring.   I did make the insulating dough out of flour, sugar, and distilled water.  I didn't color the insulating dough so it would be easy to distinguish it from the play-doh. 

Now, I originally intended to do this activity at a previous meeting.  We were going to use Play-doh, insulating dough, battery packs (left over from our robots) and Christmas lights.   It's a good thing I always do a demonstration project before our meetings because it didn't work! 

Didn't my pumpkin look cool?  

My theory was that there was too much resistance in the dough for the Christmas lights to work.   The resistivity is why Squishy Circuits works so well with LEDs but connecting them directly to battery packs would cause them to pop.   I ordered a variety of LED lights from Amazon and tested out my circuits again.  This time they worked great!   I did find that they worked MUCH better with four AA batteries, rather than two so I had the kids hook two battery packs together as part of their circuit.

I made up a lab sheet using the last few pages of the classroom guide from St. Thomas that walked the kids through exploring the traits of the conductive and insulating doughs, and then they were able to design their own project.

We had some great designs with lights everywhere!

Vicki also did a presentation on Trilobites at our meeting. This was a big deal for her because she generally does not like to talk in front of groups.  She used pictures from our visit to the American Museum of Natural History, and had all her facts written on notecards.  

School went pretty well this week.   

Both kids are doing okay with their new writing journals.  I am offering some comments and hints on writing in full sentences and paragraph format.  

Vicki wrote a paragraph about Why I Like Fall:

     This is why I like Fall.  All the multicolored leaves are pretty.  The big leaf piles are great for jumping into and 4-H is back in session!  There are so many reasons to like fall.  I hope you have a great one.

Vicki moved on to estimating in Math Mammoth, which she is finding much easier.

The allure of Mosdos is wearing off.  She is still enjoying the stories but her answers to the workbook questions, especially those requiring more than a quick answer, are getting a little lazy.    The one word answers are bad enough but there's also the occasional "I got nothing".   We discussed a few of these answers and I made it clear that she needed to show a little more effort or she would be getting extra assignments.

She is still working through Little House on the Prairie.

Squidy is doing really well with the algebra section of Zaccaro Challenge Math.  So far he's needed help with one or two questions in each section and some of that is just paying attention to the set-up.

He is working on graphing of equations in Math Mammoth and is finding it pretty easy, and is still LOVING the logic chapters in Beast Academy.  He used to do Sudoku problems all the time so that section is super-easy so far.

He doesn't enjoy Mosdos as much as Vicki does but is putting (slightly) more effort into his answers in the workbook.

He's having some fun with the writing prompts I'm providing.  This week he had to Create an advertisement for a haunted house.  (I found many of the prompts on Pinterest.)

     Want to be scared silly in a land of horrors?  Come to GHOST DOOM, a ride through a house guaranteed to scare you.  With ghosts, ghouls and Middle School Teachers!

Next week we'll be doing some Halloween activities, making costumes, and preparing for the TWO Trunk or Treats we are participating in.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Weekly Wrap-up Week 6: AMNH, Prehistory, and Writing Troubles

I still don't quite feel like we have a good routine going, but I feel like we are on our way so I guess that's progress.

Our big highlight for this week was finishing up our Prehistory/Evolution study with a trip into NYC to the American Museum of Natural History.  Details on that can be seen here (or you can just scroll to the post right before this one).

We had a few struggles this week.

I put aside the Spectrum Writing for both kids, at least for now.  Both levels started with different kinds of paragraphs and how to improve paragraphs by adding more detail.  Unfortunately it seems both kids need more work on how to write a basic paragraph.  I pulled out a couple of composition books, wrote some notes in the beginning about how to write a good sentence and how to write a basic paragraph.  Each day I will provide a writing prompt for them to work from.  In the past, this type of journal writing was not corrected or graded.  These will be reviewed, corrected and discussed with them.  Not every prompt will be a paragraph and some will be fun lists or charts.

Vicki is struggling a little bit with math.  Mostly from not paying attention to what's being asked or trying to rush through it.  When she misses problems in Math Mammoth, I've been giving her an extra page of similar problems to practice.  MM does provide extra practice problems but I've just been writing a few on a blank sheet of paper. She worked on Order of Operations and Bar Graphs this week.  Order of operations, she understands the concept fine but every third or fourth problem, she would just ignore it completely.  Doing bar graphs she got upset over the size of the grid provided in the workbook.  Anything she has trouble with, we work through together.  I am wondering if the busy pages of MM are part of the problem.  She seems to get overwhelmed just looking at them, and I've seen people complain about 4th grade taking a jump in the amount of text per page.   If the problems persist, we may have to look at different options.

She read the last of our Prehistory books - We, Who Discovered Natural Selection, and Billions of Years, Amazing Changes this week, as well as started on Little House on the Prairie after finishing Redwall.

Squidy is doing really well with pre-algebra.  He sailing through Math Mammoth, is really enjoying Zaccaro Challenge, and likes Jousting Armadillos okay.   He's LOVING the Beast Academy logic puzzle sections in 4B the most.  

He finished reading The Secret Garden, as well as the selections for Prehistory, this week.   One I had him read but didn't give to Vicki was DK The Human Story.  He found it disturbing, especially the parts at the end about manipulating DNA.  I thought it might be too much for Vicki.   As I was doing some reorganizing this week, I had put all his and Vicki's upcoming reading selections into one basket.  He went to get something new to read and chose Mr. Popper's Penguins and The Mouse and the Motorcycle.  Both are selections he read a few years ago and were meant to be only on Vicki's list, but I decided to just let him go ahead and reread them to give him a break after some of the heavier books.

One of the writing prompts for this week was "Write a paragraph telling your favorite things about Fall".  His paragraph:

     These are my favorite things about Fall.  Actually, to be honest, it's a bland month.  It gets colder yet no snow, school starts up again, and plants begin to die.  Still, Fall is a pretty....COOL month!  *BaDumTss**

Not exactly what I was looking for but it is a paragraph.

Wrapping up Prehistory/Evolution: Field Trip to AMNH

We took a trip into New York City to the American Museum of Natural History to finish off our study of Prehistory/Evolution.  We are lucky to live close enough that we can go into the city for a day trip.

Since this was an "official" school trip, I wanted to make sure the kids paid extra attention to the exhibits (and I was really annoyed the last time we went to a museum and they did nothing but rush through).  So, I did some Google-ing and found some resources they could use as we walked around the museum.  I pulled some questions from a scavenger hunt site (just those about dinosaurs) and also printed out the educational materials available on the AMNH website.  They had great materials for the Hall of Human Origins exhibit, and the Dinosaurs Among Us special exhibit.

They brought along their storage clipboards to use during the trip. Vicki managed to leave hers behind twice but both times remembered fairly quickly and was able to run back and grab it.

Squidy added drawings to his answers.

The questions definitely served their purpose.  The kids were much more deliberate about looking at the exhibits and reading the informational signs.

Trilobites are Vicki's favorites.  Ever since I rehung our Charlie's Playhouse timeline, she's been fascinated with them.  She did a poster for the 4-H Fair over the summer and will be doing a presentation at an upcoming meeting.

Did you know you can actually find stuffed trilobites (and hallucigenia and pteryglotus and dunkleosteus) on Amazon?  Christmas Presents!

The kids weren't really thrilled with the Hall of Human Origins. Vicki found the skeletons and most of the dioramas "creepy".  She was still able to answer some of the questions on her worksheet but unfortunately for her, we had to walk through the hall twice since we had to retrace our steps after visiting the meteorite and gems/mineral halls.

We had afternoon tickets for the Dinosaurs Among Us exhibit.  It would have been better if we had done this earlier in the day because by that time they were getting tired and were ready to head home.

I'm planning to head back again when we start studying habitats, and possibly take a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to visit their Greek, Roman and Egyptian exhibits as we go through Ancient History.