Saturday, November 19, 2011

Science Experiment: Erupting Volcano

This year for science we are doing Earth Science. I picked a curriculum that was a little above my 2nd graders level and a little below my 8th graders level so that we could work together. Two days a week we do science together. Day one we learn about a topic like say 'Earthquakes' and Day three we do an experiment pertaining to the subject. Days two, four and five my older son does extended work: more reading, research and writing.

This past week the topic was Volcanoes. Our experiment was of course to build and erupt a volcano. I'll be honest with you; I've never actual done one of these before. I never had to do one in school and as science was my least favorite subject in school, I had no desire to build one of these in my free time. So armed with instructions and intuition, we went to work on it. The good thing is that my oldest son loves science and building. So I mixed up some homemade play-doh and let the boys put it together over a small water bottle. I then assisted in the mixing of the ingredients to bring about the eruption (outside of course). We had a great time! And I think we might do it again sometime.

Recipe for homemade Play-doh:

Mix 6 cups of flour, 2 cups of salt, 4 tablespoons of cooking oil, and 2 cups of water in a large bowl. This will make a volcano the size of ours as we used ALL the dough. If you want something larger you will have to double or triple the recipe.

Instructions to build an erupting Volcano:
small drink bottle
60 ml water
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/4 cup vinegar
orange or red food coloring
few drops of detergent

After building your volcano, let it sit overnight to harden. You can also use clay or other material of choice. We built ours on a cookie sheet covered in wax paper. That made it easy to transport around as well as clean up. I advise you to do the eruption outside--just in case. Place water, soap, food coloring and vinegar into the drink bottle. Last you add the baking soda. The instructions we worked off of said to wrap the baking soda in tissue paper and then drop it into the bottle as the last step. I like this idea as it gives you a minute more to see the eruption take place. My advice would be to make sure the tissue paper is super thin to fit into the bottle. Then your volcano will erupt. Make sure to have your camera and video camera at the ready. Also, you can paint your volcano or decorate it to make it look like a real volcano with a city down below to be destroyed. Make it as fun as you like. We plan to make several adjustments when we repeat this experiment at some point in the future.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Workboxes Part 3: What's in them?

To finish off this series on Sue Patrick's Workbox system, I'll share what we put in them.

My 2nd grader uses the workboxes in the traditional sense as the author originally proposed they be used. We have a shoe rack and 12 plastic boxes on it.

Box 1 contains his Bible and his Bible workbook and the teacher's edition.
Box 2 contains either materials for history or science (we alternate days--2 days history/2 days science)
Box 3 contains reading and phonics materials.
Box 4 is the snack box. There is a sticker on the front which says 'Snack'. Sometimes I even put a snack inside the box.
Box 5 contains Math U See materials including DVD, worksheet and blocks.
Box 6 contains handwriting book and Explode the Code pages.
Box 7 contains the books for First Language Lessons and Writing with Ease.
Box 8 is the 'Fun' or 'Activity' box. This would hold materials for what some call 'Stations'. There might be a Lego set,  parts to a project like putting together a solar system mobile, puzzles, play-doh, educational games, wipe-off books. Really anything that you usually would not have time for during school year but wish you did. They take 20 minutes and then put it away. I include a timer.
Box 9 is the 'Lunch' box. We usually get done before lunch and so skip this box but just in case we have a slow day we can take a break and eat some lunch before finishing our last subjects.
Box 10 contains 'seat work'. I give my youngest a little bit of busy work because a.) he likes it and b.) it gives him something to do when I can't work with him at that moment. I put in what he needs for our math fact program and worksheets from an old 1st grade math book and Phonics book.
Box 11 contains whatever Read-Aloud book we are reading.
Box 12 contains instructions or materials for elective classes. Right now that is Typing and Latin.

This is what we are using in the workboxes this year. I hope it has been of help to those of you thinking about using the system. It has been a real godsend this year. We have been productive. The kids have been less whiny about their work because they know what they have to do and want to get done with the last box. Most of all they are becoming independent workers.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Workboxes Part 2: How We Use Them

Last time when I wrote about the Workbox system, I shared my decision to use it and where I went for information in understanding the system. Today I am going share how I implemented the system into our homeschool.

After doing much research, I had all kinds of possibilities circulating in my head about how I could put this theory into practice. I went to the store with ideas of what I hoped to find to use for my workboxes. To be honest I really couldn't find anything that would work without spending lots of money. So I decided for my oldest to use magazine holders and place them on his bookshelf in his bedroom. I had several plastic magazine holders of different sizes. I bought a set of the thick cardboard bankers boxes to give him a total of 12 boxes.

For the younger one, I followed Sue Patrick's advice to the tee about how to set up the workboxes. Up in my attic, I had a shoe rack that holds 12 plastic boxes. I only had to buy four more boxes which were $1 each at Walmart. So this ended up costing me very little money. Now for those of you with limited space and several students, I can see why you would chose something else. I had a spot for one show rack in our school room.

One of the resources at The Comprehensive Workbox site (post at the bottom of the page) had the little labels, charts and numbers created for you in bright colors. All you have to do is print them out on a color printer, laminate them and cut them out. Then get some of those small round velcro pieces (avaliable at Walmart in the sewing area). Put the bottom portion of the velcro on each box and on their chart. The top part of the velcro on the numbers. Each morning the numbers start on the box and when the box is completed, the number is transferred to the chart.

Each evening, I try to fill their boxes for the day. Now I have already completed daily lesson plans for the entire year. On a clipboard, I have taken the first page from each subject (it covers 6 weeks of school) for each child. Then I just have to carry around the clipboard. It also makes it easy to fill their boxes as I flip the page and see what needs to go in each box.

When a student completes a box during the day, he removes the number on the box and puts it on his chart which I have attached to a cabinet beside his desk. Then if he has a finished loose paper, it goes into the tray. Otherwise, the books go back into the box. More than likely we will need them again tomorrow. Now Sue Patrick suggests having a large tub and putting everything from the boxes completed through the day into the tub and stacking the boxes themselves together. Then when you refill the box for tomorrow you have everything there. To me it was more of a time saver to leave the boxes on the shelf and put the books and supplies back in the box.

We have been using the Workbox System for four weeks now and I have to say for both my 2nd grader and my 8th grader it has been a huge success. I chose to use this system for a couple of reasons. I am already a planner. So this wasn't about getting me organized and teaching more with ease. For us, this system works because it gets everything together we need for the day in each subject ahead of time, so we are saving time. The boys are working more independently in certain subjects which is a goal we have. They are able to skip to other subjects when mom is working with brother instead of waiting around when mom is free. For my oldest son, it has encouraged him to get up early and start school an hour before breakfast on his own thereby finishing school earlier.

Next time, I'll share what we put in the boxes.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sue Patrick Workbox System--The Beginning

Somehow summer vacation has faded into the sunset. As it  has for many of you, the beginning of our school year has arrived. Lesson plans have been made, curriculum purchased (or created), supplies acquired, and our school area organized. It was about six days until our scheduled first day of school that I had this wild idea to implement the Sue Patrick Workbox system into our school. Now I live in North Carolina very close to where the creator of this system, Sue Patrick, lives. I’ve heard those in our homeschool support group talk about using the workbox system. In fact, Sue was at our bookfair this past July and gave several seminars explaining her system, but I was unable to attend the seminars. In fact, I didn’t even think I was that interested in her system at the time.
I believe what started it all was trying to figure out how to get my oldest son organized and able to work in a bit more streamlined fashion while communicating to him what he should be working on independently. I had purchased a planner for him. I tried writing out what he needed to do on a daily basis and it just wasn’t working for me. Hmm,what to do? Time was running out before our start date. Then while cleaning up the school room, I came to the goody bag from the bookfair and again reviewed the materials from Sue Patrick. It got me thinking. Hmm, maybe...
In short, what is the workbox system? The workbox system as developed by Sue Patrick is a way of setting up your school and going through all your work in an organized way with your subjects broken down into easily accomplished tasks. Everything needed for each assignment/subject is placed in one plastic shoebox/workbox and the student works through each box until he is done for the day. I’ll go into more detail in the next blog. 
The first thing I did was visit Sue’s website. It gives you some basic information on what the whole workbox system is all about and ordering information for her book which explains everything fully. In purchasing it, you are also allowed to log into her website for free downloads which are helpful in setting up your own workboxes. Well, I knew I didn’t have time to read her book. I wanted to have everything set up in the next couple days. Thank goodness for the homeschool blogosphere. (I am planning to attend a seminar later this month and buy the book eventually.)
I began searching blogs. Homeschool moms who blog are wonderful. They want to share what they’ve learned and share pictures. This was especially helpful in figuring out the practical side of setting up the workbox system in our own home. How could I feasibly put this together in a matter of days for low cost in the space we had? Well, with the inspiration in these blogs I came up an idea that works for both my 8th grader and my 2nd grader.
If you are considering the Workbox system, I would advise you to look at some blogs too. Here is a great place to start. This is a collection of blogs explaining the workbox system and how it worked for them. This page also has some downloads made by homeschool moms to use with the system. Very helpful!
Next Time--I’ll share how we implemented the system into our school.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Math-u-See: Curriculum Review

In our family we’ve had a real journey when it comes to the study of mathematics. We’ve used not one but six math programs in the seven years that we’ve homeschooled. Now let me open by explaining that I taught middle school math for three years in the Christian school. I’ve taught very bright students and those that struggle. Here I’m going to give you a little history so you will understand the relief at finding a math curriculum which finally worked for us. You might find yourself understand exactly our circumstance.

Our Mathematical History:
 In our first year of homeschooling, I bought the complete 1st grade Abeka curriculum. By the end of the second semester, we realized it just wasn’t working. So we switched to Alpha Omega LifePacs Math. In 2nd grade, we used Horizons Math and that seemed to be an okay fit for us. In third grade, I put my son on Bob Jones DVD school for all subjects. He did very well. We did it again in 4th grade and I could see him needing me more and more especially in math. For 5th grade, I went back to teaching him all subjects and we tried Abeka for math only since that is what I taught in the Christian school. The year went satisfactorily, but I knew he was struggling. There were days we had tears and math would take a couple hours. In sixth grade, we started the year with Teaching Textbooks. That lasted a semester. He absolutely hated it. So we stopped and he just studied math facts for all operations while I tried to figure out what to use next. That’s when I investigated Math-u-See.

Basics of Math-U-See:
Math-U-See was created by former math teacher, Steve Demme. It works well with all learning styles at all levels of math learning from the struggling student to the advanced. Math-u-See is mastery based vs. spiral. That means that in each level there is a focus covered in each book. The levels are set up as follows:

Primer (which is an introduction to mathematics. It is best suited for Pre-kindergarten to kindergarten level students.)
Alpha (simple addition and subtraction)
Beta (advanced addition and subtraction)
Gamma (multiplication)
Delta (division)
Epsilon (fractions)
Zeta (decimals and percents)

That covers the Elementary levels of Math.Then there are the usual high level math classes:

Algebra I
Algebra II

The elementary levels being set up as mastery can be used at different grades levels depending on the math level of the student. For example, a fifth grader would typically be in Epsilon, but a struggling ninth grader might be using it as well. There are no grades assigned to each level.

The Math-u-See system utilizes blocks in all levels of math even through the high school levels. These are very important and really make the Math-u-See experience different than other math programs. Most of us moms, dads and teachers were taught how to do math but not the whys about math. We were taught to think of math in an abstract manner. With this program students are taught to know the whys about math and with the blocks they learn math in a concrete way and then move into the abstract. It makes math much more understandable and (even more) it takes math concepts and rules and allows them to make sense so that memorization is not really necessary.

Teaching DVDs are included with the Teachers Manual. The idea is for the teacher to watch the DVDs and allow Mr. Demme to teach you the system of Math-u-See so that you can then teach your children. However, if you have children in the 3rd grade or above, it is completely acceptable to have them watch the DVDs with you and then you can go through the lesson together. If you have an even younger child who learns well through listening or watching, then you can view the DVDs together as well. They are a great learning tool.

Our personal experience:
I decided to give Math-u-See a try after a couple weeks of searching through other math programs. We decided to put our sixth grader into the Alpha level which can normally be used in the first grade. He moved through Alpha quickly starting in February and finishing it in April. Math now took us 20 to 30 minutes a day. He was not only finishing quicker but understanding more fully—really understanding how math works. He could now do mental math—figuring out computation in his head. The addition and subtractions facts were learned. Then we skipped to the Gamma level which teaches multiplication. He finished it that summer. This past year in seventh grade, he completed Delta (division) and Epsilon (fractions). This summer before 8th grade, we have been going through the Zeta book—decimals and percents. We should finish just in time to start the new school year and pre-Algebra, putting him on track for grade level. That’s a lot of math in 18 months.  This past year I put my 1st grader into Alpha. He is much more math minded than my older son, but he still did great with Math-u-See. No tears here.

Advice in using math u see:
Math-u-See books are divided into 30 lessons with a test after every lesson, four unit tests divided through the level and a final exam. Within each lesson, there are seven pages to be completed (A-F plus test). Do you need to complete all those math pages? Absolutely not. Pages A-C cover the same new material. Pages D-F are called systematic review and include the new lesson material as well as review material. With my younger son, we did math only four days a week. We viewed the lesson on Monday and did the A paper. Tuesday we did the B paper, Wednesday we moved to the D paper and Thursday he took the test. If I found that he needed more review, we could take another day to do so. My older son who was moving through the lower levels at a much quicker pace might do the Lesson and A paper on one day, the D paper the next and the test the third day. Then we started the next lesson. This is all to say that you, the parent and teacher, can decide how much time you need to take for each lesson.

Make sure to purchse the blocks (both sets). They are imperative to this math system and used through all the levels. There are other manipulatives used in the upper elementary levels which can also be purchased to demonstrate those concrete methods of teaching things like fractions and decimals which we adults never had as students.

One other thing is that it is very easy to purchase used Math-u-See items and to sell your used items. Look for a local place to sell used curriculum or there are several online places to buy and sell including a special Math-u-See Yahoo group.

Visit the website to learn more about Math-U-See . There are video segments to watch and sample pages to view from the books.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tomorrow is Fresh with No Mistakes...

The Good ‘Ole Summer Time. Time for refreshing watermelon, lazy days on the beach and even the sound of the cicadas. Summer is also when many homeschool teachers are preparing for the next school year. (Although, it is tempting to just relax on that beach.) During this period, when things slow down a bit is the best time to evaluate the previous year. What worked and what didn’t. It’s easy to become frustrated, disillusioned and even fearful when the school year didn’t meet expectations. Questions fill your head: ‘Am I doing a good job, are my kids learning, have we done enough, should I put them into a traditional school next year?’

First of all, take a deep breath. Exhale. All teachers have doubts in themselves whether they teach in a traditional school or a homeschool. Life happens. Maybe you had a baby this year; discovered one of your children had a learning disability or a serious illness; had a death in the family or experienced a move. All of these things and many more reasons can disrupt the whole flow of your school year. I repeat…Breathe.

I love that line from Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery: ‘Tomorrow is fresh with no mistakes in it (yet).’ That really is something you have to internalize as you evaluate your previous year. Don’t be too hard on yourself. If last year didn’t go as planned…get in line. We’ve all been there. But in being a homeschooler we have flexibility on when and what we teach. If you didn’t get as much history or grammar in this year, then that can be a focus in the next year. If you plan to homeschool through high school, you have plenty of time to get everything covered. Even if you only plan to stay home one more year, that is still one more year to address the areas that need special care.


First, make a list of everything that worked well. Those are the things you will most likely stay with next year. If your 1st grader did well in one particular phonics program then you should stay with it. If, on the other hand, it didn’t work; you may need to search for something different.

Then make a list of those things that didn’t work for you. Those are the areas that you need to make a change in. Talk with friends in your homeschool support group. More than likely they will have ideas for you to check out. Visit some of the online homeschool curriculum groups. Post a question. No doubt you will get lots of advice and help.

After that, put together some yearly goals specific to each child. This doesn’t just have to cover academics but also spiritual, emotional and social aspects as well. If you have goals you are more likely to reach some or all of them. When you just have a vague notion in your head, it may stay just that…vague and wishful but not concrete and affecting your school.

Next, consider which subjects you will cover. Did you have too many topics to cover everyday so that you didn’t have enough time to tackle the hard or struggling subjects? Maybe you didn’t cover enough subjects. Asses which exact subjects you wish to cover with each child and try to combine the grades together as much as you can if you have multiple children.

Plan. As much as you can, plan out your days. Give your older ones a list of all they need to finish for the day. This keeps them on task with a goal to attain. The more you plan, the more of a chance you have of actually fulfilling your yearly goals.

Finally, think about your schedule. Sometimes life gets in the way day after day and that should be a clue that your schedule isn’t working. If you have younger and older children, schedule the older ones to work on independent work while you work with the younger ones in reading. And keep in mind that the schedule which worked during the 1st quarter may not be what you need nine weeks later, so adjust and change as needed.

Tomorrow is fresh with no mistakes in it. It’s a lovely thought isn’t it? Of course, what we do each day does affect tomorrow; but we can’t get bogged down by yesterdays and what ifs. Instead, we have to keep learning and assessing for the future.