Wednesday, November 1, 2017

October Wrap-Up

I'm hoping to eventually get back to posting more often, but for now once a month is about all I can manage.  We are definitely keeping busy around here.

School is going well.  Squidy isn't appreciating the time he has to put in to Algebra.  He says it's not that it's hard, it's not that he doesn't understand it, he just finds it "tedious" and doesn't understand why he has to do so many problems.   He's doing Foerster's Algebra and it's a LOT of word problems.  Multi-part word problems.   I am spending a lot of time telling him how much time is typical for 7th grade (homeschooling or public schooling) and pointing out that he still has it pretty good.

Writing has consistently been our problem subject.   I like the idea of doing projects, ala Brave Writer, but while they are more likely to enjoy the projects, they need more actual instruction in the mechanics of writing.  We are giving Wordsmith (for Squidy) and Wordsmith Apprentice (for Vicki) a try.  It has a fun, creative, project-y feel to it but still offers incremental instruction.

We're still a little light on History.  We've been watching the Egypt episodes from the Great Courses  course - The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World.   We will do a few projects after we finish with Egypt.

On the other hand, the kids are doing a TON of science.  We were light on 4-H this month because our location was refinishing the floors and we had to cancel one meeting.  We did an activity on Acids and Bases for the session we did have. 

We started with a discussion of what is meant by pH and what are acids and bases.  pH is the scale that measures acidity/alkalinity. pH stands for potential Hydrogen.   If a substance produces more hydroxide (OH) molecules in solution, it is a base and is alkaline.  If a substance produces more Hydrogen (H) molecules in solution, it is an acid and is acidic. 

We then tested a variety of household substances for pH using two different methods:  cabbage indicator and litmus papers.  We tested citrate, baking soda, alka seltzer, borax (which had to be put into solution first), conditioner, dish detergent, ammonia, vinegar, diet coke, milk, tap water and well water.

I have also started offering science classes to local homeschoolers.  Vicki is taking two of my classes - Getting Messy with Science and Crime Scene Investigation, while Squidy is just taking the CSI class.

Messy Science began with a discussion of the Scientific Method and an experiment to determine what combination of soda and candy will produce the biggest release of carbon dioxide gas.  We compared 4 different sodas: Coke (sugar and caffeine), Diet Coke (artificial sweetener and caffeine), Sprite (sugar, no caffeine), and Seltzer (carbonated water); and 3 different candies: Mint Mentos, Mint Tic-Tacs, and Nerds.  In order to obtain measurable results, we used smaller bottles of soda, weighed out the same amount of each candy, and captured the released carbon dioxide gas into balloons, which we then measured to compare. 

Our hypothesis was that Mentos and Diet Coke would produce the most gas.  In this case, Coke and Nerds actually produced the most.  We discussed what effect the nucleation sites, size of individual candies, and mint flavoring seemed to have on our results.

Week 2 of Messy Science, we discussed Physical versus Chemical reactions.   We used acetone to dissolve styrofoam and made shapes out of the resulting "plastic".  We made Elephant Toothpaste by using yeast as a catalyst to convert Hydrogen Peroxide to water and Oxygen, and we made "plastic" by reacting warm milk with vinegar.  Vicki wanted to make sure the class lived up to it's name.  She's always liked getting hands-on with everything.

Our most recent class we did some Candy Chromatography in honor of Halloween. 

CSI started with the crime scene set-up. 

Mary was having dinner at home with her friend Susie, who works at a daycare center.  Also present were John, the chef who cooked the meal and Brian, Mary’s housekeeper who was doing laundry.
During the course of the evening, Mary’s jewels disappeared! 
You are Crime Scene Investigators who are tasked with processing the scene and solving the crime.

Your suspects include everyone who was present that night.

During the first class, they processed the crime scene.  Taking pictures, examining evidence, gathering trace evidence, swabbing "blood", and lifting fingerprints.

Our second class, we identified the unknown powder found at the scene by testing knowns with iodine, vinegar, and pH indicator.  Our unknown ended up being cornstarch, which could have come from Susie (cornstarch baby powder), or John the chef.

In addition to our group science activities, Squidy has continued working on getting the Nitrogen cycle started on his fish tank.  We weren't making much progress so ended purchasing some chemicals to help get it started.   Ghost shrimp and a snail were added over the weekend and we will be going soon to pick out his betta fish.

The kids are still doing Tai Kwan Do as their main PE activity.  They had a belt test this month and are now Brown Belts!   

We've been struggling a little bit finding other PE activities.  Swimming lessons last year were such a total bust, both in the learning aspect and the exercise aspect, that we decided not to waste the money this year.  Too much waiting around, not enough actual swimming.  

The kids yoga at the Y, despite being advertised for ages 7 to 12, ended up mostly preschoolers.  Neither of the kids were comfortable in the class, and they weren't doing any actual yoga, just running around.  

We've done some hiking, Squidy takes a walk to the bus stop to meet the kids coming home from school each day, and we've dragged out the old Wii Fit to help us get through the colder weather.

Of course, since this is a wrap-up for October, we have lots of Halloween!

We started our Halloween activities with a trip to pick out pumpkins and check out a corn maze.  This maze was HUGE.  Squidy went off by himself for a little while and when we met back up 15 minutes later, he was done and ready to leave.  It took us another hour to find our way out.

It was a neat maze with activity stations, bridges and riddles but it was just too big unless you were super-excited about corn.   Previous years we've gone someplace closer to home that is about a 10th the size, but is big enough for the kids to go off and have an adventure, yet easy to get out of when you've had enough.  Lesson learned.

Squidy turned his pumpkin into an Elekin.

In a long tradition of picking out costumes that it is impossible to just buy at a store - Vicki dressed as Funtime Foxy and Squidy was a Decidueye.

We did a Mad Science lab at our local Trunk or Treat to advertise our 4-H Club and my science classes.  

The kids also enjoyed a party at TKD, and Trick or Treating around Gramma Kaye's house.  This year Squidy decided he was old enough to go T or T'ing by himself.  Since it's basically one street with a small cul-de-sac off one side, we agreed he could go alone.  Vicki and I did cross paths with him a couple of times.

A common theme with Squidy lately has been wanting to do things by himself, with friends if possible, but definitely without parents or siblings.  There aren't a lot of opportunities for him to get this independence but we are trying to offer it when we can.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

September Wrap-Up

We're starting to get into a decent routine with school and it no longer feels like we're still trying to figure things out.   Mostly.  Okay, maybe we're still working out history, science, art, music, writing, and health.  But math, literature, grammar, reading, PE and nature study are going great.

The kids start their morning with their one hour of required reading.   This allows them time to wake-up slowly, enjoying their morning chocolate milk.   Squidy is working his way through The Lord of the Rings, while Vicki is on the second book of The Mysterious Benedict Society.

Once the kids finish school, they usually have some time before they are allowed on screens.  We've been playing lots (and lots and lots) of board and card games.  Their favorites right now are Aggravation and Pokemon Headbanz (both birthday gifts), and the old favorite Uno.

 I got fed-up with chasing dice and having to get them away from the dog so now we use the "dice monster" to hold the dice.

We haven't started our formal nature study yet but we've taken quite a few nature walks.  We even managed to find a geocache that we couldn't locate last year.

I finally got brave enough to take the kids to the top of the Tourne.   We've gone there before but just on the lower paths, because I wasn't sure about tackling the route to the top which is steep and long.  We went with some friends (so another adult along just in case) and gave it a try.  It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be and there's a great view of NYC from up there.

We studied some mycology, both in our backyard and on our hikes....

and we did some caving.

Squidy has been doing some science as part of his 4-H project for this year.  He's been asking for a fish tank for his room for a while so we decided to finally get him one.   We are currently working on getting the Nitrogen cycle properly set-up, which involves lots of water testing.  He has been keeping records on the test results and once he gets his fish (a Betta), he will continue keeping records on its care.

We are continuing with our 4-H STEM club this year.  Our first meeting we worked on a cup stacking challenge, using rubber bands on strings to stack cups.   Because one of the set-ups used index cards between the layers, they were allowed to touch the strings and the index cards.  Vicki's group mainly used the string/rubber band set-up but it didn't take Squidy's team long to figure out to use the index cards like gloves to touch the cups.   They declared themselves "Team Loophole".

Since we are still working on Ancients this year, but we haven't done much over the summer, we are reviewing what we've done so far (Paleolithic, Mesopotamia) by watching the first few episodes of The Great Courses - The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World, and reading through our DK Ancient Civilizations book.  We will start on Egypt in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

What Are We Doing?

We have made lots and lots of changes for our new school year.  The kids are getting older (Squidy is in 7th grade!?!?!), things that worked for years aren't working anymore, and we seem to have (finally!) found a set-up that should work for the long-term.

First, our set-up.  The kids have been doing most of their work using storage clipboards sitting on the couch or chairs.  While this worked for some things, for others (like Geometry using a compass), it was not an easy way to function.    The kids had a table with their computers on it, side-by-side, and theoretically the keyboards could slide under the monitors and they would have a space to work.  But this really wasn't a lot of room.  We bought a second table to put on the opposite side of the living room and now each kid has a table that is 1/2 their computer and 1/2 an open workspace.  Much much better workspace for school.  Each of them has a 3 cube shelf next to their table to hold all their school books and notebooks.

I also finally have my own desk, where I can plan school, 4-H, Sunday School, science classes I'm teaching, and all the other fun stuff I do!

So, what kind of school are the kids doing this year?   We've made a few changes which resulted in a lot more of their work being done with textbooks (part of the reason a better workspace was needed) and less being done with worksheets.


Squidy is doing Algebra I (!!!) using Foerster's Algebra.  So far it's going well and he's finding it pretty simple.   We're combining it with Interactive Notebooks to use as a reference guide.  He's using the 7th and 8th grade notebooks, which covers most of his Algebra text.

He is also finishing up Hands-On Geometry, using Prodigy to practice math facts, and Code Combat to learn coding.

Vicki was really struggling with Math Mammoth last year.  The pages were too busy and the writing too small for her.  Even knowing she didn't have to do all the problems didn't help.  We ended up giving MathUSee Gamma a try since I thought she needed extra reinforcement with multiplication.   This ended up being too easy and she didn't like doing the same thing over and over and over again.  We are finishing up MUS because she does need the extra practice, but we are using Scott Foresman enVision Math as her primary program.  

We used the 4th grade workbook for a little while last year as reinforcement because we were able to access the textbook and videos through our local public school.  The set-up worked well so we're going to give the whole program a try this year.  I bought a used textbook from Amazon, as well as the workbook, and so far it's working great.  This program is colorful, spiral, and has good explanations.   The only hitch came when I forgot to tell Vicki that she didn't need to write in the textbook and she got upset at the lack of space to put answers.  

 I didn't even realize that there was a homeschool version of this program available.  

Vicki is also using Interactive Notebooks, grades 4 and 5 cover her text, and Prodigy for extra practice.


We are using Mosdos Press Literature again this year.

Squidy is using Jade, while Vicki is using Pearl.  This actually skips a level for Vicki but I decided she could handle Pearl, which Squidy did last year so we already had it, when it looked like Mosdos wasn't going to be available.   I decided against the workbooks this year and instead we are using a literature Interactive Notebook I bought from Teachers-Pay-Teachers, combined with going through the vocabulary in each story and a few questions from the end of the story.   Vicki loves doing the IN, while Squidy doesn't care for cut and color so I'm allowing him to just write the information in his notebook.

We are also going to try a literature unit from Moving Beyond the Page.  I bought the guide for A Wrinkle In Time, and we will go through it together when the kids finish their current reads.


For writing, we will continue with Write On! and do some BraveWriter projects.


We will continue with History Odyssey Ancients Level 2.  We will be adding some Great Courses to our plan.


Science is going to be units this year.   We are continuing with our 4-H STEM Club twice a month, I will be teaching other science classes that the kids will participate in, we have Spangler science club kits that we still need to work through, Vicki is going to do a Marine Biology project for 4-H, Squidy is doing a fish tank project (setting up the nitrogen cycle, water testing, etc.) for 4-H, we will be doing twice weekly nature study, and we might do some work from the Big Fat Science Notebook.


For health we are going to work on Internet Safety, nutrition, exercise, and development.


We are going to continue with Getting Started with Spanish, along with some Interactive Notebook stuff.

Physical Education

We are continuing with Tai Kwan Do and yoga.  We are also doing more hiking, and will try to go at least once a week to lap swimming.  We have stopped swim lessons since the kids weren't really learning anything new.