O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles. Psalms 43:3

And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith. D&C 88:118

The kids

The kids

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Trip to the Zoo

Last week we had a week off from co-op. I coordinated a trip to the zoo. We had so much fun. It was delightful to go with other families who were more interested in the experience then seeing everything. As we went from exhibit to exhibit, we listened to the kids. When a kid got really excited about a particular animal, we stopped to look. IMG_2018We had lunch in the grassy field and played all along the way. IMG_2021One of the great things was that some of the children who had not had a chance to really connect all this year and develop better friendships got that chance. IMG_2025We also took the opportunity to feed the penguins since I was doing a product review and we have been learning about penguins.IMG_1994IMG_1996IMG_1985IMG_1987

IMG_1992 Little One enjoyed the giraffes and the gorilla. He also had fun being pushed around by a slightly silly 12 year old brother.

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Curiosity Quest Videos- Schoolhouse Review

I remember when I was a kid in school, we always loved videos. Maybe it was because we just didn’t have to listen to the teacher, but I think we got something out of many of them too. Likewise, my children love to watch educational videos, especially those that tell how things are made or how things are made. When I was offered the chance to review two educational DVD sets from Curiosity Quest I was thrilled. I was sent both the DVD Combo Pack – Produce,  which contains Mushrooms, Cranberries, Orange Packing as well as the DVD Combo Pack - Swimmers of the Sea, which covers Sea Turtle Rescue, Penguins, and Salmon. Each combo pack DVD costs $24.95 and while Curiosity Quests targets ages 7-14, I found that my 4.5 year old really enjoyed them too.
 
Curiosity Quest, hosted by Joel Greene airs on around 100 PBS stations in the US. Each episode features Joel Greene answering a question sent in by a viewer. The answer is presented with hands on information on location. So, for example, if the question involves how something is made, the film crew will go to the manufacturer and ask questions and experience making that item. Each Curiosity Quest episode has a runtime of about 30 minutes.  During each episode, there are several interruptions to ask children and maybe an adult a question about the topic. These Q&A sessions are usually related to terminology and is followed by the correct answer given by the expert. Another insert piece is a “Fun Fact” where a child explains some slightly off-topic, interesting, or bizarre fact related to the quest. There are a couple of these inserted randomly throughout the episode. Curiosity Quest ReviewMushrooms- We love mushrooms in our home. Well, most of us do. Even those who don’t love mushrooms loved this video though. It was really neat to see how the mushrooms are grown and learn all about them. Some of the topics covered included the differences between white and Portobello mushrooms, how they are farmed, details about the scientific controls of humidity and temperature to facilitate commercial growth, what happens to imperfect mushrooms, how they are picked, and vocabulary related to mushrooms. After watching this video, my kids wanted to go make something with mushrooms to eat.

Cranberries- Fall isn’t fall without cranberries! What a fun video to share during the fall harvest. This video was very interesting.  For example, I never knew why cranberry bogs are full of water. Now I know (and it isn’t why I thought!) This video also covered everything from the harvest to how the cranberries are sorted, where the less than perfect berries go, and how berry bushes grow. Watching this video made us wish we had some fresh cranberries to make some sauce or bread from.

Orange Packing- From harvesting to the truck, this video went into great detail about the care taken to insure that the fruit sent to the store doesn’t decay as a result of the packing and handling process. It included details about how the pick, equipment they use, how they wash, treat, inspect, sort, and pack oranges for shipment.

Curiosity Quest ReviewSea Turtle Rescue- This was my least favorite video mostly because I wanted more in depth information on the rescue operation! This video seemed to skip around a lot and covered different types of turtles, diet, weight, why the turtles are being rehabilitated and how, types of fish hooks and injuries to turtles, anatomy, and how turtles hatch and the effects of light on baby turtles. It is really hard to cram so much in 30 minutes and this one left me wishing there was a full length feature on the turtle rescue facility. I guess some day we will just have to visit the facility on the other side of the US!

Penguins- This video was really cute. The Penguins video talked about the habitat, diet, history, behavior, anatomy and bone structure, and nesting of the Penguins. There were so many facts packed into a super short 30 minutes. After watching this video, we extended our penguin study by watching a longer documentary on penguins, reading books, and finally visiting the penguin exhibit at the zoo. There, the kids got to feed penguins. The whole time we stood in line, my children were reciting facts they had learned from the video to their friends. IMG_1985IMG_1996

Salmon- I love salmon- but only wild caught. This video included some great camera shots showing the natural and hatchery spawning grounds. There were many terms and details included about how salmon live, what they eat, where they migrate to, how they find their way back to their spawning ground, why hatcheries are built, and differences between different species of salmon. The salmon hatchery in my area is not open for public tour this time of year, but this video is perfect fodder for a unit study on salmon or other fish.

All of the Curiosity Quest videos were fun and engaging. The interruptions for Q&A with kids and adults were not my style, but they didn’t prevent me from wanting to watch another episode. All of my children enjoyed them as well. I think the Curiosity Quest videos are a great resource for further exploration on a topic. They are designed to encourage questions and since they don’t give all the details about a topic, they leave room for plenty of further study and exploration. Click to read Crew Reviews

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

It is the Heart that Counts- Right?

There was a big mudslide about an hour north of our house that killed more than 30 people and devastated homes, roads, highways, and a community. One of the sisters in our ward at church has been helping in the cleanup efforts. She sought to organize a cleaning supply drive because when a disaster hits, people generally think food, which is great, but the real need, after talking to the Red Cross was cleaning supplies. So, with a Facebook post and email to the leaders of the various organizations in the church, the hope was to put together 500 cleaning kits. Last night. The catch was that if we could gather all the supplies by last night, Amazon would ship the supplies to the victims to arrive today. So, off we trudged to assist in the compilation efforts. B and I want our children to see service as valuable and to be quick to serve. After all, “…when ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God.”

So we got to the church at the appointed time and no one knew what was going on. The sweet sister who was running this wasn’t there and we couldn’t find the Mormon Helping Hands vests so we could collect donations. Finally, after 45 minutes, we figured it out and headed out to the store to see if we could collect donations. Nope- to ask for donations you must call the corporate office. Too bad that we didn’t know that earlier (although the organizer did) or we could have been very successful. Ok, go buy our own donation and head back to the church. By now the sorting had been done and there wasn’t much for our kids to do so we headed home.

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Part of me wanted to be upset because if this had been a tad more organized it could have been even more meaningful and impacted more lives for good, but then I reflect on this and realize that even the small effort is what is measured by the Lord. My children gave up their recreation in an attempt to do good in the world. That is more important than numbers and whether or not this was a super well organized event. I hope that while it wasn’t perfect, it impacted them for good and someday they will remember that we step in and assist where we can.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Supercharged Science- Schoolhouse Review

Supercharged eScience Review
Last year, when I had Little One, I was blessed with a fabulous opportunity to review an online science program from Supercharged Science. It allowed B to maintain some normalcy in our schedule and teach the children for a change. It also provided fodder for my science classes this past fall in addition to being my children’s favorite science resource. Supercharged Science has made many improvements to their website over the past year, and since I was offered an extension on my membership, I get to review the K-12  e-Science Premium Membership again and tell you more about it.

Supercharged eScience ReviewI have come to realize this year that knowledge isn’t the only key to a great teacher. Passion is a major component. Not only is Aurora Lipper incredibly qualified, but her enthusiasm for everything she teaches is contagious. She started teaching children science in an effort to increase enthusiasm as students entered the university. She has taught many science camps and many children through her science programs.

Science is not meant to be a tedious experience. Science should be fun and encourage discovery. Done correctly, science is a much beloved subject of children of all personality types. Aurora Lipper does it right! She doesn’t give a formulaic experiment, ask the student to copy the directions in a notebook or on a lab write-up sheet and then repeat. Instead, she demonstrates some or all of an experiment just enough to pique a child’s interest as well as give them enough tools to do the experiment correctly. Sometimes she does show the whole thing, but leaves the students with questions to answer for themselves. Either way, I have found that my kids like to watch her videos and most of the time they can’t wait to try it themselves. They even get a little testy when I don’t have all the materials to do an experiment.

Mrs. Lipper recommends doing the experiment and getting a child excited to learn about a topic and then introducing the why. In my experience, this is the best way to teach science to children of all ages. Get them excited and then figure out why. Without a reason to know why, a child really doesn’t care. In order to facilitate the why, e-Science has readings, advanced readings for the topic, as well as comment sections attached to each experiment. These  comment sections are a great place to ask questions about an experiment. The questions people ask are answered right there in the comments. I have found this feature helpful on several occasions when I was trying to figure out an experiment. It also saved me from making some mistakes a few times. Additionally, you can email questions any time. Customer service is fabulous.

In total, there are 20 topics plus several bonus topics including science fair experiments, “Math Magic,” and in the summer time e-Summer camp. Having used e-Science over the summer, I can say that the e-Summer camp is a lot of fun since it includes many of the really exciting experiments that don’t require a lot of prep work. During most of the year, the e-camp section doesn’t have much listed, but when it does, it is a great resource for quick interest sparks. When a new member signs up, initially they are only given access to the first few topics. Every month, more topics are opened to the user. If there is a specific topic you are interested in, that you don’t have access to, you can email in and they will open up access for you. Each topic is packed with experiments for all ages. Many of the “K-8” experiments provide a really good foundation for the advanced lessons. The advanced materials contain more complicated experiments which may include more finesse, more materials, more patience, or sometimes more dangerous materials. Most of the advanced material is in the topics of advanced chemistry, astrophysics, alternative energy, electronics, and some physics.

New this year is a grade level guide. It contains some experiments in each grade level K-8 that correlate with national standards and Mrs. Lipper’s experience. Not all of the experiments for a topic are listed in a given grade. For someone concerned with keeping up with grade level, this might be a great feature. For me personally, I didn’t pay much attention to it. We looked at the list of topics and then picked something that sounded interesting and then picked some videos and experiments to do. We do a lot of hopping around from topic to topic as our interest dictates. Sometimes we spend a long time on a topic  (we have done almost all the experiments in units 1 and 2)  and only a little bit in other topics. I have sampled from almost every unit.

Depending on the unit, most of the materials needed to do the experiments can be found at home. Sometimes, like the experiments on electricity, you will need to purchase some additional materials. A shopping list for each unit is available on the website. This link has all the lists in reverse order so click on the topic you are interested in on the right sidebar. In the cases of less common materials, the list will link to a location the item is available online. This is very helpful for finding the right materials.

Once you narrow down to the topic you are going to study, there is a short intro video as well as the experiment videos, readings, and exercises. The exercises are questions about the unit to answer. Some families might find this helpful when they are doing an entire unit. I personally don’t use this in my home, but when I was teaching middle school students at our co-op, on occasion I used some of the exercises to help them pay attention to key areas. Most of the time, we watched the intro video followed by various experiment videos, but other times, I watched the video and then taught the lesson myself. I love the way Mrs. Lipper teaches though, so I usually let her do the talking.

Over the past year, I have found that e-Science really excels at all the physical sciences. The experiments are thoughtful, engaging, and often unique. I like to use e-Science as a piece of my magic learning box or group learning time. I love browsing the videos to find something interesting to do with my girls. I frequently use the search box on the website and while I don’t always come up with what I think I ought to come up with, I am never disappointed at the lack of possibilities. One example of how I used Supercharged Science recently was the other day when we were learning about soap making. I did a search for soap in the search box and found an experiment about microwaving ivory soap. We learned what would happen if we microwaved ivory soap by watching the video. In our home, we don’t have a microwave so that video helped my girls understand a little better why we don’t have one. It also gave them an opportunity to see what the soap would do and why. Then we made laundry soap crystals, which was one of the other results of my search efforts. April 2014_0638April 2014_0641April 2014_0583

We have also been learning about ocean dwelling animals. We discovered a fascinating mimicking octopus through e-Science. We learned about coral as well. Some of the biology videos we watched are not produced by Supercharged Science. They may also be available off e-Science website, but e-Science brings them together so I don’t have to spend my time searching for the perfect video on that topic. I think that I far prefer the physical science units to the biological science units because I think the physical sciences is where Supercharged Science really excels. That said, the biological sciences are still well put together.

With Supercharged Science, there are two subscription plans. One is for K-8 and the other is for K-12. The K-8 costs $37 and the K-12 costs $57 per month. I know that $57 a month for a science subscription seems like a lot, but when I consider that e-Science is like having a professional science teacher in my living room as often as I want to teach my children high quality science, it is far cheaper than any other lessons I pay for. If you are at all interested in Supercharged Science, you can get a Free Copy of the Science Activity Video Series and Guidebook.or you can try e-Science for $1, either the K-8 lessons or the full program listed under 9-12.  The biggest difference between the plans is the 9-12 includes all the K-8 plus more advanced lessons, experiments, and readings.

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Victus Study Skills- Schoolhouse Review

Victus Study Skills Review
Learning how to learn effectively is an essential skill. Most people feel that knowing how to take tests is the epitome of proper study skills. Recently I was offered the chance to review the Student Workbook and Teacher Edition from Victus Study Skills System with Tiger. Tiger has been working very hard to master his time so he can maximize his learning time and leisure time. I must say that I am really proud of him in his efforts.
Victus Study Skills Review
The Victus Study Skills System is comprised of a Teacher’s edition and a Student workbook. It is intended for grades 5-12. The teacher’s manual costs $40 and each consumable student manual costs $20.  Victus Study Skills offers other products to assist in teaching their study skills system as well.
 
Victus is Latin for way of life. The program is designed to help students not only learn to take tests or take notes or read a book, but to do it in context of a personal purpose in life. Victus believes in four main concepts. 1. Zeal without knowledge is not good, but zeal with knowledge bears fruit, 2. Results come from the process, 3. Any System with all of its components must have an aim, or purpose, and 4. A unique and effective system of study has the greatest likelihood of aiding in success. Additionally, there are three cornerstones which each skill is set upon. These cornerstones are the questions of “Where am I now, Where do I want to be, and How do I get there?” The 10 lessons cover an introduction, learning strengths evaluation, mission and goal setting, time management technique, organizing a work environment, active reading, active listening, shorthand note taking, test taking, and review.
 
The Teacher’s Edition is set up as a guide to assist the teacher or parent in teaching the 10 lessons to the student over the course of 5 days. It is intended that each skill will take approximately 30 minutes to teach. I found that some took much less time than that. The teacher manual consists of an introductory section to teach the teacher about the system followed by the lessons and finally an an appendix with student views of the student appendix as well as a form for the teacher to create his or her own mission statement. The various skills should be integrated into the daily life and classroom of the student so that he or she can begin practicing the skills and making them part of his or her life.
 
The Student Manual consists of all the worksheets to be used with the teacher’s edition. It is not intended to stand alone, and without the teacher’s edition, it will not work. There is a self-study student manual available through Victus, but that is different than the one I am reviewing. The appendix includes additional resources for study skills which are not expressly taught in the teacher’s manual.

There are many aspects of Victus Study Skills that I really like. The biggest and most important is that Victus Study Skills attempts to teach vital skills in context and with purpose. The goal of Victus Study Skills is not to teach how to take a test, how to read a textbook, and how to take notes. Those are important skills that are taught, but the goal is to teach a lifestyle- one that will propel the student to be better. Furthermore, I really liked that in the   the teacher is encouraged to go through and do some of the same activities as the students including writing their own mission statement, working on their own time management, and practicing their own note taking. Teachers who do the work of a student are better mentors to their students.  Our favorite part was the first couple of lessons which taught about time management, mission, and how to live in accordance with one’s values. The reason this was our favorite part is because it was the most applicable to Tiger’s life at this time. I also like the lesson on note taking because explaining the value of shorthand to a student and giving some tips on how to write in a shortened form was very well done.

I felt a little ill-equipped to teach directly from the manual though. As I attempted to follow the lesson plan, I kept feeling like there was something missing. The introduction encourages the teacher to have an activity or something to assist in the lessons and sometimes those were provided, but sometimes they were not. Some of the activities provided would have worked much better in a group setting, either co-op or a classroom. Also, I didn’t feel like every lesson gave enough detail about what was being taught to be taught effectively by me. I just finished teaching a 4 week time management class to middle and high schoolers at our co-op and I found myself pulling a lot from all the research and work I did on that class to teach the first couple of lessons. If I had not had that experience, I would have really struggled with the first couple of lessons.

Additionally, right now, Tiger doesn’t take tests or read textbooks and while he does need to work on note taking, he has been doing pretty well in this regard. Yes, he can do some of the skills of reading for comprehension in a classic work or biography, but some of those steps need to be modified. I would have liked to have seen a little more information on practical application for the reading model outside of textbooks. The other thing I didn’t really like were the fill in the blank worksheets. The way the teacher’s manual was set up, there weren’t any guiding questions to help the student figure out the answers. Short of reading the sentences and inserting the answers I wasn’t sure what to do. Since I am anti-busywork worksheets, I wasn’t too thrilled with this approach. I would have found it more helpful to have a little more information on guiding a discussion in the lessons. The irony is that the teacher’s manual was very wide open with minimal explanations and yet the at times the instructions to discovery were too confining for Tiger. For example the learning strengths activity wanted him to rank things as equal, all, or nothing. He had some that were slightly more than others and he wanted to adjust the scoring. I couldn’t see a reason for the instructions to be so confining so I changed the instructions for him.  The next issue was once he discovered his primary learning strength, I didn’t really understand how he was to apply that knowledge to the subsequent lessons. Was it just personal knowledge? I felt like we were hanging on a branch waiting to see somewhere to jump to. The last thing that Tiger and I found cumbersome was sometimes in a lesson I would ask him to turn to a page, skipping several pages, and then turn back several pages to do the previous worksheet. I think having the pages in order would have been more effective and less confusing. Several times Tiger asked me why I was making him back up. It felt disorderly to us.

Ultimately, I think this course has huge potential, but the whole time I was using it, I felt that something was missing. I think it would be a better fit for someone who was used to a more traditional fill  in the blank type schooling method or a family where testing was more common in the middle school years. I think it could have been a better fit for my family if I had had more assistance with understanding the vision for each individual lesson. While I don’t often follow scripts of scripted lessons, they do help me to understand the progression of teaching. While Victus recommends this for grades 5+, I think I would recommend this for 7th grade and up. Click to read Crew Reviews

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Monday, April 7, 2014

National Park in the City

When I think of National Parks, I always think of places like Zion’s or Mount Rainier, or Yosemite. I never thought that a small building in the middle of the city would be a National Park… but I found one. Thanks to a project that Tiger needed to do for WI, Pumpkin Pie, Tiger, and I ventured into downtown Seattle to the Klondike Gold Rush museum. Inside, there are artifacts and displays about the Klondike Gold Rush and its impact on Seattle. March 2013_0295

We learned about what goods were needed, how people lived, biographies of several gold rush individuals and families, including the founder of Nordstrom’s, and how they mined the gold. At various locations within the museum, there were places to take rubbings and emboss a “passport”. Pumpkin Pie enjoyed that. March 2013_0297

I don’t consider myself a shoe person, but in the area that talked about the aftermath of the Gold Rush, there was a display about the beginnings of Nordstrom’s. Apparently, it started out as a shoe store that went national and eventually became a department store. No wonder they always have a great variety of shoes! The display of shoes was beautiful. I think I want those green boots! Pumpkin Pie loved the shoes.  March 2013_0298

March 2013_0299Just around the corner from the Klondike Gold Rush museum, is the Waterfall Park in the city. It is a small corner of a building with a waterfall, little tables and chairs, and beautiful garden. It has a sign that says that this park was built to commemorate the 100 year anniversary or the founding of UPS in that very spot. I had no idea that UPS was started in Seattle! March 2013_0301March 2013_0302

To end our field trip into the city, Tiger, Pumpkin Pie and I partook of some yummy chocolate. Smile

Thursday, April 3, 2014

I Can Read the Book at Home

I have been sitting on this post to finish up for several months. As B and I were talking about education, he said, “I can read the book at home!” and then he went on to tell me about how he had some professors who merely regurgitated the readings and others who lit a fire in class and sent them home to read. I think B sums up what I have been pondering and experiencing lately. Let me explain.

We belong to a small co-op which operates on principles of Leadership Education. We believe in Inspire not Require and Time not Content. I have been pondering these principles a lot lately. Add to that, I have been taking a course on How to Mentor from Oliver DeMille recently. In the first lesson he speaks a lot on the importance of time in small groups or with the mentor is to be changed NOT to receive information. Through a culmination of events, I must say, I surprise myself by agreeing 100%. There was a time when I wouldn’t have agreed with that- after all, class was the time to learn something! Now, I believe class time is the opportunity, especially in the Love of Learning and early Scholar phases to get a fire lit and send them home for more learning (this is NOT otherwise known as homework!)

Some people really struggle with this- if they are not being fed content, how will they learn what they need to learn? I believe that through experience and lighting a fire of love for a topic the child will then have a motivation to go read more on it. For example, I just finished teaching a science class. It was hands on and I would classify it as more of a lab class than a lecture class. Indeed I only spent maybe 5-10 minutes or so talking to the kids as a group. In the time I was talking, I was asking for LOTS of input, showing small demonstrations, and giving the instructions for their experiences for the day. Even with my middle school class, it was NOT the time to lecture on the formula for acceleration or demonstrate how to calculate the force needed to move an object. My class was the opportunity to give the children experiences to teach them HOW Newton’s laws work, WHAT inertia is, WHAT thermal energy is and how it works in the world, etc. I looked for small opportunities throughout class to ask WHY? and get the children to ponder and come up with answers as to WHY something happened. My methods were accomplishing my goals. After a class on Newton’s 3 laws, one of the girls was reported to have gone home and spend time researching who Newton was, what his laws meant, and more. Other children related things they learned in my class to classes they took the next term. Still others asked me to teach more since they had learned so much and loved doing it.

Another example, Tiger and Butterfly are in a history class. When one thinks history class one usually thinks teacher at the front imparting the facts, dates, and other information. Instead, the children have been given a motivational system. They all started class sitting on the floor as “slaves” and through work outside of class, they can earn the privilege to sit on a cushion, sit in a chair, be given a glass of water with their chair, receive a scepter…. etc until they earn the privilege of being pharaoh. Most children will not attain the rank of pharaoh as it requires a huge amount of outside class work, but all are capable of it! During class, the mentors present an activity. This might be presented with a bit of background information as well as instructions for the activity. Also during class, the children present the things they have discovered or read about during the week. Each presentation earns a point on their journey towards pharaoh. I am not concerned with them not filling in the maps and being told all the details of a civilization because through the motivational system as well as the inspiration that comes from exposure without much information, they are coming home excited to explore more. They will get the other details reading at home.

Indeed, as B experienced in science labs at the university, class was not the time for the teacher to regurgitate the readings, as B said, “I can read the book at home.” Class is the time to give the students what can’t be done at home on their own or what might be more difficult to do on their own.