Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Setting Goals in Project-Based Homeschooling

A few weeks ago, I shared a little bit about my new role as a teacher-mentor under Project-Based Homeschooling. This week, I wanted to share how we have started incorporating basic goal-setting skills into our PBH journey.

Ideally, I would like to get to the point where the sprouts are able to set Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely goals-- usually abbreviated to SMART goals-- and be able to make a plan to reach them. However, I think that some of those concepts would be pretty abstract for my learners at their ages and experience levels. So, I have been trying approach their goal setting a little bit differently.

We have started discussing project goals at each of our monthly conferences. Once the sprouts give me a goal, such as building or sewing, we then talk about the steps we need to accomplish the goal. Usually, we generate a list of 3-5 specific actions that will help accomplish the goal. For example, when Second Sprout set her building goal, we felt that looking at library books, saving recyclable materials, and buying some new tools would help her reach that goal. At first, I would offer suggestions on possible steps, but I am gradually trying to step back from that and let the sprouts plan the steps themselves.

By the time we had our second round of conferences in November, the sprouts had a better idea of what to expect. Both of the older sprouts had a goal and some of their steps ready to go for our discussion. Second Sprout was interested in building with milk jugs, while First Sprout wanted to switch gears and study cats instead. However, I added a new component to their goal setting for these conferences-- they had to come up with an idea for sharing what they are learning. Second Sprout immediately suggested making a book of her creations, while First Sprout took much more conversation and thought to reach an idea. She eventually decided that she was interested in planning and hosting an art show of cat-themed works.

Now, I have to say that these goals sound incredibly awesome, but neither of the sprouts have followed through as of yet. Most of their Project Time has been spent on other pursuits, which is really crucial to their process of becoming self-directed learners. It's entirely possible that they will end up switching goals again at our next round of conferences. Practice is the key here.

And goodness knows that I haven't reached (or even started) all of the goals I ever set for myself.

I don't want everyone to think that we have perfected anything here. Rather, I want to share what we're doing and how it's going in case our experience might be useful to others. So, I'm okay if they don't start hitting their goals right off the bat. For me, it's all part of the process.

One thing I CAN do as they practice is model my own goal-setting skills. Currently, I have two projects going. One is Project-Based Homeschooling itself, as I try to navigate this new routine, conduct my research, and practice new skills. While I do (try to) make a habit of sharing this journey on the blog, it's maybe still a bit abstract for demonstrating the whole goal-setting process to the sprouts. So I created a second project for myself-- learning to crochet-- and set goals as well as steps I needed to get there. The sprouts got to see me skimming books and watching videos and creating samplers. They got to see my pull out stitches and puzzle over patterns and get impatient over interruptions. To be honest, I think they have been prouder of my accomplishments than even I am. They are rather fond of telling everyone they meet that "Mom is learning how to crochet-- she made that scarf all by herself!" I plan to keep working on my crochet and setting new goals for myself to keep this momentum going.

For the foreseeable future, I plan to continue working on our goal-setting skills in our conferences and through modeling the process. While we are not at the point of following through on independently-created SMART goals, we are practicing and learning a lot in the process.

Until next time,

Happy Learning!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Getting Started with Project-Based Homeschooling

At the beginning of our school year, I decided that I wanted to set some clear goals for learning. After a lot of thought,  I finally settled on: focus, persistence, asking questions, solving problems, and self-motivation. A few weeks into the year, we realized that the way we had been schooling wasn't working. The sprouts were distracted, bored, and annoyed with any sort of paperwork that I assigned. Even the projects I planned were often hit-or-miss. Anything that I gave them to do with a specific end product in mind resulted in disappointment and frustration.

So, I decided to step back. I retreated to stacks of books and internet forums. I chatted a lot with my husband and other homeschooling friends. I finally settled into reading Lori Pickert's Project-Based Homeschooling, and I had an epiphany. Workbooks, guided writing, and parent-led projects were not going to meet ANY of our learning goals for this year.

But Project-Based Homeschooling hits ALL of them.

I wasn't in a good space at the time to drop everything and switch to PBH, but I did start incorporating some open-ended Project Time into our day. Once I tied up some loose ends, we were able to incorporate still more Project Time. I tried to hang on to some of our routine school work those first few weeks, but it quickly became apparent that the more my sprouts directed their own learning, the less they wanted anything to do with what I was planning.

It's been hard for me to take, especially as a trained teacher. But I believe in my kids, and if they need a few weeks to immerse themselves in projects, then I can support that. Honestly, the holidays are huge distraction anyway, so I know they will learn a lot more by doing their own thing that they can fully focus on. Once the holidays are over, we can re-evaluate our school day and see what needs to be done.

A glimpse at our project space (formerly known as the dining room).

In the meantime, I will probably be just as busy as the sprouts. One of the great things about Project-Based Homeschooling is that I'm not entirely out of the picture; my job just looks a lot different. Here are a few things I have been working on to facilitate the sprouts' project work:

1) Provide an organized, well-stocked work space

This "job" came pretty easily, since I have always worked to make art supplies, craft materials, and learning tools accessible to the sprouts. It's a bit tricky to fit everything in our dining room where we have our project space, However, I really like having our work space centrally located and integrated heavily with our regular life.

2) Document their learning

This one is a little trickier since I don't have the patience to write long, detailed records each day, but I'm not entirely sure that's necessary. Instead, I have continued my habit of taking anecdotal notes and photographing the sprouts' work into a dedicated "project notebook" that I make visible to them. I also keep a book list, quotes, and other snippets of ideas in my notebook for later reference.

3) Practice what I preach

Modeling is a powerful yet under-utilized tool in education. I once read that "children will do as you do before they do as you say," and this is especially true with PBH. In this spirit, I have actually started my own project-- learning to crochet. I have tried to make my learning steps (goal-setting, research, practice, mistakes, more practice, more goal setting) visible to the sprouts. I like to think that the more I learn and self-motivate in their presence, the more they will pick up on those habits as well.

4) Be a good listener

One of the practices I wanted to implement when we started PBH is conferencing. I was used to having conferences with parents and conferences with students in the classroom, but it never really occurred to me to have conferences with my own kids. I think I just kind of assumed that I was present enough to already know what they would say. To some extent that was true, but I was really taking away their agency by making that assumption. We have had two sets of conferences now (one at a time, at the local bakery, just for fun) and the sprouts are thriving on the undivided attention and opportunity to communicate their needs. We get to talk about what is and is not working, how they want me (if they want me) to assist with projects, and set goals for what they want to do. Knowing that I'm listening, focused, and taking notes has been really meaningful to the sprouts.

5) Give them time

We are still working to make Project Time a part of our everyday life, but it's not always going to happen on my schedule. Even though we didn't plan Project Time specifically over the Thanksgiving holiday, we often found the sprouts working on their projects anyway. My husband remarked on how First Sprout was up and working on her projects first thing in the morning a few times. As a planner, this can be challenging for me. I want to be present during their projects, but I know that it's really important for them to be independent and work on their own time tables. So, I am working on finding a balance of setting aside specific Project Time for me to be present and available to help. Then the sprouts always have the opportunity to work on their projects independently and spontaneously, knowing that I maybe be busy doing something else and unable to help. The important thing is that they have the time to think their own thoughts, to dream their own dreams, to plan their own plans.

Overall, I have really been enjoying Project-Based Homeschooling, even if it has meant changing the way we do things. In some ways, it feels a lot more like summer when the sprouts were much more self-directed. It will be interesting to see how it goes as we gain more experience and more learning into the process. It's important to me that they know it is a process, and we will make mistakes. But we can learn just as much (if not more) from the mistakes as we will from the successes.

Until next time,

Happy Learning!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Art Theme, Week 8 (Space)

We made it to the last week of our art theme-- huzzah! It was a really fun theme, but it was also challenging to finish because our homeschool day is undergoing a major shift toward more child-directed and project-based learning. The upshot of sticking through all eight elements of art is that we have a great foundation in how to discuss art moving forward.

For our final week, we focused on the element of Space, which involves creating the illusion of depth on a flat surface. First Sprout did a great job looking through pieces of artwork and finding the different techniques that could be used (to be honest, Second Sprout pretty much tuned out here-- probably a good sign that she wasn't ready for it). We also really enjoyed looking at the works of Mary Cassatt and talking about how she revolutionized art by painting pictures of women and children going about their ordinary lives. First Sprout is starting to pick up the threads on this sort of historical context, which is exciting for me.

We finished our "Art Smart" anchor chart, painted with perspective, and experimented with a new-to-us medium of chalk pastels. The sprouts LOVED blending with the chalk pastels, and I have a feeling it is going to be a new fan favorite. The only challenge was making sure that no one blew chalk dust everywhere, so I had to make that a one-and-done rule to keep everyone's lungs healthy. Without further adieu, I'm going to share a bunch of pictures from our adventures in art this week.

First Sprout's independently initiated painting using techniques of perspective. The dots in the background are people in the distance compared to the larger person up close.

Third Sprout loved the bright colors and new texture of chalk pastels.

First Sprout's still life in chalk pastels. She chose the subject independently.

Second Sprout's still life in chalk pastels (she liked First Sprout's idea and replicated it in her own style).

Everyone hard at work exploring their new art tools.

Saving the least exciting for last, here's a look at our final "Art Smart" anchor chart.

Thanks for sticking with me for the last few weeks of our Art Theme. It's been a lot of fun and very informative, but it's definitely time for us to take what we've learned and move forward. We are devoting more of our school day toward Project-Based learning, which the sprouts and I are really excited about. Although I had considered using this week to wrap-up and do a "final" sort of art project, the sprouts have fully-embraced Project-Based Homeschooling and taken up their own things. First Sprout is immersed in designing and sewing doll clothes, while Second Sprout has embraced building. I am mostly tasked with sitting back, observing, and recording the proceedings. That sort of active watching is challenging for me, but I know it will be worth it in the long run to give the sprouts some more independence.

Eventually I hope to have some more things to share about our journey with PBH, but the weekly blog posts will probably cool for awhile. Until next time,

Happy Learning!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Art Theme, Week 7 (Form)

We are nearing the end of our Art Theme, and thankfully we've managed to maintain our interest! First Sprout is back to enjoying the projects a lot more, especially since I've loosened my expectations and allowed her more freedom to simply explore the materials. For week 7, we took a look at the art element of Form and the work of artist Andy Warhol.

We were fortunate enough to find a neat book at the library featuring work of many artists contemporary with Warhol. (I believe that it was titled Art In the Time of Andy Warhol.) It had a wonderful array of painting, sculpture, photography, and performance art that were perfect for us to use in our discussion on form. We also read Josefina by Jeannette Winter, which is gorgeous book about Josefina Aguilar, a real-life Mexican folk-artist who sculpts and paints clay figures. We were inspired by Josefina to work with some air-dry modeling clay.

Later in the week, we looped back to Warhol with a narrower focus on some of his pop art prints. I found this super cool activity from Seeds Network that uses highlighters over top of printed photographs to re-create some of the funky, pop-art vibe of Warhol's work. I printed photos of each of the kids out on cardstock and let them go to town. It was lots of fun!

Lighter-colored markers and highlighters were great tools for the pop-art photo project.

First Sprout shares her funky, finished photo.

Second Sprout works to fill in her big blocks of space with color.

Overall we had a great week with our Art Theme (although some of our other subjects were still tough!). This will probably be the last theme that I plan for awhile since I want to give the sprouts an opportunity to explore some more Project-Based learning and self-directed studies. I'm excited to be moving in a new direction, but the planner in me is completely anxious. I know that Project-Based Homeschooling will be a big learning experience for all of us, and I'm super motivated by pouring over Camp Creek Blog for ideas. The sprouts have already been kicking around plans for what they want to study next, so I might be able to start sharing some of that process soon. In the meantime, we are on to our last (official) week of Art Theme by learning about the element of Space and the works of Mary Cassatt. We make have a wrap-up project or two for the following week to give us some closure, but we should be ready to move on by November. Ch-ch-changes ahead.

Until next time,

Happy Learning!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Art Theme, Week 6 (Texture)

We did indeed end up taking a week off in between parts 5 and 6 of our Art Theme; however, it wasn't quite the relaxing break I had anticipated. As usual, life threw us a curve ball and we would have needed the week off to handle things anyway. But rather than take a second week break, I decided that perhaps we were better off trying to press forward and wrap things up before we switched gears.

So last week, we continued learning about the art element Texture and the works of Wassily Kandinsky. I actually ended up creating my own book of photographs showing texture as a way to expand the sprouts' vocabulary beyond "bumpy" and "smooth." It ended up being a great photographic exercise that left me feeling a bit like one of my children's book idols, Tana Hoban.

After introducing the idea of texture and vocabulary, we used a macro lens attachment for my smart phone to go on a "texture hunt." The sprouts searched throughout the house for items with really interesting textures that we could photograph up close with the lens. The results were stunning, and we ended up printing the photographs the same afternoon.

First Sprout's macro photography of a dress-up dragon cloak.
Second Sprout's macro photography of a bean bag.

We also learned about the work of Wassily Kandinsky through viewing his art and reading The Noisy Paintbox by Barb Rosenstock (with illustrations by Mary GandPre!). The idea of painting what you feel rather than painting what you see seemed to resonate with First Sprout especially. She ended up being motivated to draw a Kandinksy-inspired work right away.

First Sprout's Kandinsky-inspired artwork.
I had originally planned to try this Circles in Felt activity, but it turned out that regular old markers ended up taking precedence that day. It's a super neat idea though (and what a way to tie texture and Kandinsky together!) so I think I'll keep it in my pocket for a snowy day.

Next up, we are going to explore the element of Form and the works of Andy Warhol. The following week, we will be wrapping up with the element of Space and the art of Mary Cassatt. It's hard to believe that we are so close to finishing our thematic study of art and the first 9 weeks of school!

Until next time,

Happy Learning!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Art Theme, Week 5 (Pattern)

I've seen Pattern on some lists of art elements but not others. I decided to include it because: (1) it also hits math standards, and (2) it seemed like a good fit for our studies of Alma W. Thomas this week.

If I'm really, really honest though, it was a rough week for our art unit. I'm not sure if the theme is wearing thin, if I'm directing things too much, or if it was just one of those random off-weeks.

Some of the challenges started with planning. As it turns out, there is no children's literature based on Alma Thomas's work. I thought about writing my own thing but could not quite sort out how to go about that in time for our lesson. So I resorted to a brief bio and a digital gallery of her work, which didn't hook the kids at all.

We also did an art project, based on this awesome post I found.

I had visions of these beautiful, colorful mosaics with all of the white spaces filled in with bright paint chips.

I gathered beautiful paint chips, cut them into random shapes, and sorted them by color.

I made glue sponges.

Paint chips and glue sponges!

And when I shared all of this with the sprouts, their reaction was "meh." They felt that the glue was too messy and the pieces were too small and this project was taking too long.

Second Sprout's paint compact chip collage.

They still made some cool artwork and experimented with a new medium, but it wasn't quite the result I had envisioned. And therein lies the problem. I went into this project with too many expectations and too much investment. The sprouts have their own ideas and their own tastes that didn't mesh with mine. Which is all perfectly normal and (usually) perfectly fine, but just so happened to bum me out this time. A lot.

Third Sprout's cool paint chip collage.

Thankfully, I don't think this particular frustration affected the kids. And in the grand scheme of things, this is a very mild thing to be frustrated about. But we had an off week in general, and the only day everyone was really happy was the day we took off to celebrate the autumn equinox. So we're going to take a break from our Art Theme next week and see if that improves everyone's perspective on things. I'm always so grateful that we have the flexibility to pause and breathe when we need it.

After our break, I think we'll try to pick back up with our theme by studying Vasily Kandinsky and the element of Texture. I'm hoping that the sprouts will enjoy the change of pace-- I know I will! Until next time,

Happy Learning!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Autumnal Equinox 2015

Fall is pretty much my favorite season. I love the weather, the clothes, the food, the colors, the holidays.

Everything about fall is amazing.

So we are making it an annual tradition to take our break from our usual school routine to celebrate the first day of fall. Last year, we took a walk on a nature trail to make observations and enjoy the signs of a changing season. This year, we are sticking closer to home, but we are still marking the changes anyway.

First Sprout designed and sewed her own felt owl.

First Sprout's super sweet felt owl, named Pumpkin Pie.

Second Sprout enjoys coloring our cool art pages.

Zucchini bread was baked and devoured.

And our Halloween fall decorations are hung.

All-in-all it's been a successful day, and it's scarcely even lunch time. We have lots of time left for going outside and playing in the afternoon. I know for a fact that we have black walnuts to pick up out of the yard, and we might have just enough leaves on the ground for a moderately-sized leaf pile. It never ceases to amaze me how much still happens even on our "slow" days. I'm looking forward to tucking in and enjoying more slow days in the months ahead.

Happy Fall!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Art Theme, Week 4 (Shape)

So far, we have covered Color, Line, and Value as part of our Art Theme. Last week, we also added Shape to our repertoire of art elements, and we studied the work of Jackson Pollack. It ended up being one of the more fun (and messy) weeks so far!

I introduced the elements of Shape through a few read alouds (most notably, Tana Hoban's Shapes Shapes Shapes). We talked about regular shapes and irregular-- or organic-- shapes. We also read about the process of action painting while reading Action Jackson by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan. Then we incorporated the element of Shape into some action paintings of our own.

Our first project for the week was to create circle prints. We used a variety of circular objects from the recycling bin and our junk pile as the media for painting. The sprouts' favorite tools were probably the cardboard rolls wrapped in bubble wrap. Using an old cd for printing was also very popular. It ended up being a great way to explore how regular shapes could still be used to make dynamic artworks. The project was extraordinarily messy-- because, well, action art-- but it was also extraordinarily fun. We ended up with a few prints that I will seriously frame!

A selections of tools that we used for creating circle prints.

Second Sprout in action. This was a challenge she ended up really getting into.

First Sprout experimented with a lot of layering and color mixing for this project. It worked out well to use primary colors.

Our second project for the week was intended to use a different form of action painting that would result in more irregular shapes. I found this neat idea for using straws to blow paint across the page, so I though we'd give it a whirl. I should have paid more attention to the author's caveat on using tempera paints because we ended up not being able to blow the paint very well at all. Instead, we ended up improvising and using the straws in a more, um, direct fashion. We still got in some fun action painting but it wasn't quite the huge success we had hoped for.

Third Sprout mixes colors with a straw during our action painting project.

Second Sprout loves painting blocks of color.
Although the straw painting didn't work out as planned, it was still an opportunity for improvisation, which is completely valuable in it's own way. I think it's good for the sprouts to see that my ideas don't always go as planned! Next up, we will be studying the work of Alma W. Thomas and the element of Pattern. I'm looking forward to trying out some different media with the sprouts for Week 5, so please stay tuned. Until then,

Happy Learning!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Art Theme, Week 3 (Value)

It's hard to believe that we've already made it through the first three weeks of school. Hopefully the time is passing so quickly because we are having fun!

Our Art Theme is still going strong. Last week, we studied the element of Value and explored the work of Georgia O'Keefe. While reading My Name is Georgia by Jeannette Winter, the sprouts studied the illustrations for examples of Value (shades of a color from light to dark). We added a new item to our "Art Smart" anchor chart.

Our "Art Smart" anchor chart for week 3 of theme.

Then, we spent the remainder of the week looking at examples of Georgia O'Keefe's work and experimenting with using value on our own. It turned out to be a really natural pairing because there example of value EVERYWHERE in her work. For example, we used colored pencils to create value in a copy of Blue and Green Music.

First Sprout discovered that adjusting pressure of your strokes with colored pencils could change the value of colors.

Our other big activity was loosely based on this art project designed to emulate Georgia O'Keefe's style. Since I wanted to incorporate value into the lesson, I switched our medium from watercolors to tempera paint ( I still used our thick watercolor paper as a base though). I had First Sprout draw a big flower using permanent marker. Then, I had her choose a color for her flower and dab it on the outer edge of the petals. Next, I had her dab white at the flower's center and blend the two colors together. First Sprout had free reign with the background,so she chose to experiment with color mixing to create the perfect shade of green for the leaves.The result was was a really great Value painting in the style of Georgia O'Keefe.

Blending purple and white to create petals with value.
First Sprout's final product.

Second Sprout chose to do a different art project on this day, which was okay by me. Even though I want to encourage experimentation with the various art elements during our theme, I want art primarily to be something fun. First Sprout is at the point where she enjoys the challenges more, whereas Second Sprout would rather go her own way (most days). I am primarily introducing these concepts as a way to learn about artists and art, without exerting pressure to perform.

I'm definitely loving this Art Theme and all of the wonderful conversations and art works that are coming out of it. For week 4, we are going to learn about the element of Shape in art and explore the works of Jackson Pollack. The sprouts already know a little bit about action art, and they are super excited! Until next time,

Happy Learning!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Art Theme, Week 2 (Line)

Last week we continued our Art Theme with an exploration of Line and the works of Vincent Van Gogh.

We looked for ways to use line by reading the book Follow the Line to School by Laura Ljungkvist. We also added some examples of Line to our growing "Art Smart" anchor chart. Then, the sprouts used a crazy hair day prompt to experiment with the different types of line we discovered. As usual, they made the project their own, and it turned out even cooler than expected.

(From left) Second Sprout's "Crazy Hair Day" and First Sprout's "Crazy Hair Day."

To learn more about our artist of the week, we looked through a compendium of Van Gogh's work. We ended up being about to draw a lot of comparisons between Van Gogh's self-portraits and Frida Kahlo's self-portraits. We also read Vincent Van Gogh's Cat which is a super cool book written and illustrated by Second Grade students from East Washington Academy in Mucie, Indiana. I picked it up years ago at a Scholastic book sale, and it turned out to be a perfect read aloud for our art theme!

To incorporate our element of Line into a Van Gogh-inspired art project we used oil pastels to fill in a blank template of "The Starry Night". I encouraged the sprouts to fill in the spaces using lines rather than blocks of color (First Sprout was much more willing to experiment with this part of the assignment). The results were some really bright and beautiful "Starry Nights."

First Sprout experiments with swirly lines in her version of "The Starry Night."

Second Sprout's bright and bold rendition of "The Starry Night."

I felt like it was another successful week for our Art Theme, since I have heard the sprouts discussing color and line outside of our theme time. I am really looking forward to exploring the element of Value and the work of Georgia O' Keefe for Week 3. Stay tuned for a post on that next week, and until then...

Happy Learning!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Art Theme, Week 1 (Color)

I managed to make it back for a post this week! Small victories, amiright?

I wanted to start-- and hopefully finish-- a series over the next few weeks describing some of the projects we are doing for our current thematic unit on Art. We got into doing a lot of art projects over the summer, and I wanted to keep that momentum going into the school year. I also wanted to find a way to introduce famous artists and bring in some exploration on the elements of art. Our art theme has the added bonus of requiring lots of the fine-motor practice Second Sprout needs for Kindergarten without miles of piles of worksheets.

We kicked off the first week of our new Art Theme by exploring color. I read a neat tutorial that recommended using old, washable markers to create homemade, liquid watercolors. I thought we'd clean out the marker bin and use the primary colors to create and mix our own set of watercolor paints.

Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh was the perfect read-aloud for color mixing.
The color mixing was a huge success, but unfortunately, I accidentally thinned the watercolors out just a bit too much. They were still completely usable, but the colors were very subtle and the kids got frustrated with the muted palette. We'll know what to do differently next time!

The second component of our Art Theme for the week was learning about the work of Frida Kahlo. We read the book Frida by Jonah Winter, and we studied several of her self-portraits. While we looked at her self-portraits, we came up with a list of characteristics that made them interesting. Here are the three big ideas we came away with:

1) Frida filled the page, whether it was with her whole body, her upper body, or her face.
2) Frida used lots of detail.
3) Frida used lots of color.

Our culminating project for the week as a self-portrait incorporating the things we had noticed from Frida Kahlo's paintings.It tied in nicely with our discussion of color, and the kids really enjoyed experimenting with the vibrancy of watercolor pencils for their portraits. We loved the results so much! The sprouts are more than happy to lead their portfolios with the self-portraits, which was all part of my evil plan exactly what I was hoping for all along.

First Sprout's self-portrait (watercolor pencil and dot marker on watercolor paper).

Second Sprout's self-portrait (watercolor pencil and dot marker on watercolor paper).

This week (which will be next week's post), we are enjoying learning about the element of line and the works of artist Vincent van Gogh. Until then,

Happy Learning!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

And We're Back

It's been a long while since I wrote a post. Life put a lot on my plate, and I needed a break from blogging to work through it all.

The good news is that homeschooling, at least, is still going strong.

We are "back to school" as of Monday and winding up slowly. First Sprout is in 2nd grade this year, and Second Sprout is a Kindergartner-- whoa! It's a little daunting to be teaching both of bigger sprouts this year, but I am excited to be getting more face-to-face time with my middle child.

One thing I want to do differently this year is spend more time noticing and encouraging certain dispositions in my children. These are the qualities that I think will be helpful no matter where they are or what they are learning or who they are learning from. I spent a lot of time this summer mulling over what qualities I want to cultivate in my sprouts, and I came up with this list:

1) Focus: The ability to attend to a specific task without giving into distraction
2) Persistence: Trying a task repeatedly even when it is difficult or the outcome is unexpected
3) Asking Questions: Thinking critically about a situation, identifying gaps in your own knowledge or understanding, and then figuring out where to get that information
4) Self-Motivation: Learning because you want to and not because you have to
5) Problem Solving: Identifying problems and thinking about how to handle them in a productive way

Since I needed a nice way to post these characteristics for personal reference, I created a simple little poster to hang in our school area. I am hoping that this will help keep the qualities at the front of my mind so that I can reinforce them when I see them. The sprouts already think of themselves as problem solvers because of this strategy, so I know that pointing out the characteristics as they naturally occur will reinforce and strengthen these abilities.

If you'd like a copy of this PDF, I have made it available (for free) here.

Hopefully, things will be calming down for the foreseeable future as we get back into our school routine. I don't want to make any promises regarding a blogging schedule though, because, life. Until next time (whenever that may be),

Happy Learning!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Doubles Addition Facts

It's been awhile since I posted, but we've still been super busy with school. We've been experimenting with some new ways of doing things and trying to find a new rhythm. Winter was hard for all of us, but the sun is shining again and we are (slowly) thawing.

The improvement in weather-- and attitudes-- means that we are turning corners. Math was hard for us last month because of a few factors:

1) Our text started moving FAST.

2) We were trying to memorize FACTS.

3) Math was suddenly NO FUN for First Sprout, unless it was also easy.

The major sticking point was when our text introduced doubles addition facts (2+2=4, 3+3+6, etc.) and then immediately tried to springboard into near doubles facts (2+3=5, or 2+3=2+2+1). We were still focused on learning the original facts and weren't ready to move on yet, so I stopped what we were doing to re-evaluate the situation. After a lovely chat with some of my teacher friends and family on Facebook, I had a few new ideas on how to proceed.

One thing I decided to do was to make some posters for the doubles addition facts to create a visual reference. I wanted something that would be interesting to First Sprout, and I settled on bugs. Using a combination of hand-drawing and digital-editing, I created this set of Bug Posters for us.

Three legs plus three legs equals six legs.

I printed out the uncolored posters, and let First Sprout customize the colors to make it hands on and personalized. Drawing and coloring the facts helped them to click into place, and we started using the pictures to help us remember. Now, whenever we see 4+4, we think about the number of legs on a spider while 7+7 is the number of legs on a roly poly. It ended up making a frustrating memorization exercise a lot of fun!

Perfect for spring!

Once we have our visual reference in place, we moved on to games and other visual ways to reinforce the concept, such as graphing. It's nice to know that we can improvise and slow down when needed to really get a handle on our content. We're moving on to other math topics now, confident in our ability to tackle tough challenges together.

Until next time,

Happy Learning!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Once Upon a Word Problem

I am going to keep my post short and sweet this week. I just wanted to let everyone know that I have a new product up in my Teachers Pay Teachers store; it's called Once Upon a Word Problem. This is a small packet (6 pages) of word problems for single-digit addition and subtraction that feature fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters.

I created this product to give First Sprout some additional practice in solving word problems. I also wanted the problems to be open ended so that I could see what strategies get used the most, since our textbook generally requires a specific strategy for each chapter. When I was teaching last year, I would use my students' names to create customized word problems, but I don't have many names to choose from this year. I thought the storybook characters would be a fun way to add familiarity and variety.

Also, since Microsoft has gutted clip art, this packet features my own graphics. It took some extra time, but I really enjoy how the product feels so much more like mine. I have a feeling that I will be using my own graphics a lot more in the future.

Until next time...

Happy Learning!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Making Old Crayons New Again

The sprouts and I needed to put a little color in our world to counteract the winter blahs today. Thankfully, I have been saving old bits of broken crayons and the random crayons kids get at restaurants that I can't stand to waste. I have also been hanging on to this nifty tutorial from Instructables that shows you how to melt old crayons down into a muffin pan to create funky, new-to-you crayon discs.

The things you will need

  • old, broken, and / or random crayons
  • a melting apparatus, such as a muffin pan or mini-muffin pan (NOTE: I chose to use a silicone pan that we keep only for crafting-- theoretically the crayons are non-toxic, but I personally wouldn't chance ruining a good baking pan)
  • a jelly roll pan  or other shallow, oven-safe dish to catch potential drips
  • your oven, pre-heated to 275 degrees Fahrenheit
  • oven mitts
  • wooden skewer (optional)
  • your freezer
  • little helpers (optional)

Step 1: Prep 

Gather your tired, your poor, your huddled crayons. Peel the papers off and break them up (if necessary) into chunks that are the right size for your chosen melting apparatus. Fill the cups well in a mini-muffin pan since the chunks will melt down into cups. A regular muffin pan provides some more leeway. Since we have been talking about states of matter, this was a great opportunity to discuss the properties of the solid versus liquid crayons!
Nearly three years worth of random crayons. I don't recommend saving crayons for this long because we ran out of steam long before they all got peeled.

Step 2: Melt

Pop your prepped muffin pan into the oven pan at 275 degrees Fahrenheit and let them melt for about 15-20 minutes. Watch them carefully, as different brands and types of crayons will melt at different rates. If there are some crayons popping up at odd angles or floating weirdly, you can use a bamboo skewer to poke them down again.
Little helpers can be involved with the prepping stage. Peeling paper off of crayons comes naturally to some kids (ahem... Second Sprout). In general, it's a good fine-motor activity for preschoolers and up.

Step 3: Cool

When all of the crayons look melted, use your oven mitts to carefully remove them and place them on a safe surface to cool (like a trivet or a wire rack). Allow them to cool at room temperature for 20-25 minutes, or until they look fairly solid throughout (no jiggling when you tap the pan). At that point, the pan can be put into the freezer to cool for an additional 5-10 minutes. When they are ready, pop them out of the pan and enjoy!
Our finished product! We easily had enough crayons for another batch, so we will probably be making more again soon.

 The sprouts are loving the bright colors, and the co-mingling of art and science is always a lot of fun. Since these are inexpensive to make and easy for the sprouts to help with, I am thinking that we'll be whipping another batch to share as Valentines for our home school group.

Happy Learning!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Planning Some Winter Fun

We are back into the swing of school after a wonderful holiday break. We are in process of wrapping up old business, assessing progress and planning for the second half of our school year.

With the frigid weather, First Sprout has been showing a lot of interest in the science of snow. I sat down with some resource books and the internet to plan out a few ideas for a cross-curricular unit. I tried to fancy up my notes a little bit so that I could share them here in a friendly, printable format.

This photograph does not adequately convey the snow or the cold that is happening right now.

I didn't go into a lot of detail on materials or procedures on the print out, but here's a more detailed description of what we're planning:

*solid, liquid and gas balloons*

I found a really neat blog post from A Day in First Grade that helps children to identify the states of matter and distinguish the characteristics of solids, liquids and gasses using balloons. The idea is to fill two balloons with water and freeze one. Then, fill up a third balloon with air. Children can then observe and compare the three balloons to introduce and reinforce science vocabulary.

*ice melt observations*

This activity will help children explore the question; "What happens when frozen water is warmed slowly?" Since many children have seen ice melt before, this activity provides and opportunity to slow down and use science processes such as prediction, data collection (measurement), recording observations with pictures, and drawing conclusions. Children can also compare how ice melts in air versus water, if you are so inclined. 

*boiling ice*

I found this idea in Dad's Awesome Book of Science Experiments by Mike Adamick, which was one of my husband's Christmas presents. It's a great book, and I plan to use it as a school resource since dads shouldn't get to have all the science fun. This activity helps children explore; "What happens when frozen water is warmed rapidly?" The basic idea is to freeze water dyed with food coloring in an ice cube tray. When you ice cubes are ready, boil a pot of water, add the ice, and watch what happens. This would be a natural progression from watching ice melt because you can compare and contrast what happens when the ice is warmed up rapidly rather than gradually. (Obviously requires constant adult supervision.)

*make it snow*

So, there were quite a few videos circulating last year of people throwing boiling water into very cold air to make instant snow. It seems cool, BUT I plan to be very very careful when trying this because a lot of people also got burned trying it out. If you have a safe place to try it, protected from the wind, that won't potentially harm any passersby, then it would be a really neat experiment to try. Otherwise, this one might just be better to check out on video. This activity helps to explore: "What happens when boiling water is cooled rapidly?" It can also be useful for addressing science process skills such as making predictions, observing reactions, and recording results. (Again, this one requires constant adult supervision. Please be careful!)

*Read aloud: Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs-Martin*

Snowflake Bentley is the kid-friendly biography of Wilson A. Bentley, a photographer and scientist who devoted his life to studying the structure of snowflakes. It's a great book for tying mathematics, art, and history into a winter unit.

*snowflake observations*

I pulled this activity from The Kids' Science Book by Robert Hirschfeld and Nancy White, and it is pretty simple. The idea is to take a piece of black paper and a magnifying glass outside on a snowy day. As snowflakes, land on the paper, children can use a magnifying glass to get a closer look. It's a great opportunity to practice observation and it ties in beautifully with Snowflake Bentley!

*paper snowflakes*

Explore symmetry and geometry with this classic winter art project. There are tons of tutorials and guides available on how to make snowflakes with paper. The two most helpful tricks I've discovered are starting with square (or circular paper) and folding it into sixths (fold it in half first, then into thirds). This results in a more realistic hexagonal structure that can be tied into your observations and reading.

*snow painting*

Make the snow your canvas by putting dyed water into squeeze (or spray) bottles and painting the snow. I haven't personally tried this one out yet, but I am hoping to review color mixing by starting with the primary colors (red, yellow, blue) and seeing what we can create from there.

*Read aloud: 100 Snowmen by Jennifer Arena*

This book is super cute and chock-full of math. The snowmen are outside playing, and the book playfully leads you through a series of math sentences building to a grand total of 100. It's a great way to play with math, and you can challenge your children to see if they can create a different way of proving the math correct.

*How to build a snowman*

I wanted to include a writing project with our winter unit, and it seems like a good opportunity to practice informational writing. Children can create a list of needed materials (independently or with help via shared writing) and then plan out the steps for building a snowman. Of course, this is a good excuse to get out and build some snowmen for... umm... educational purposes. Kids need background knowledge, after all. I am planning on creating templates for this project and more "how to" writing projects since I think they are a fun take on informational writing-- please stay tuned for more!

Until next time, I hope you all are staying warm!

Happy Learning!