Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Projects Need Time

I am on a few Facebook groups for homeschooling high school and project based learning and as I browse through comments and links it seems that there is this notion that every project has to be BIG.  The big projects can be fun and they can be super impressive, but I find that the little projects are the ones that make an impact on our learning.
This fall I intentionally pared down our curriculum to two electives (Social Justice and Personal Finance) and kept our basic core (math, science, history, language arts) to allow us time to dig deep.  We are sticking to our one subject a day (in addition to math) and when the girls feel like they want to create something that ties into the subject at hand, I am doing my best to say yes.

For example, they are working on week #5 of Science Shephard: Meteorology, which seems like it should be a no-brainer in this house.  But Lilah really never realized the reason for seasons (the Earth’s tilt and it rotation around the sun).  After we watched the video explanation of this, I asked her if she wanted to do the paper mache project she has been talking about; making a globe.  I asked her to put an axis on it and the equator.  Suddenly science was F-U-N!  

This was done outside and the mess stayed outside.  The globe was set to dry in the sun.  It will take an entire day to dry.  Painting cannot be done the same day which means that we will not get an entire week’s worth of science lessons done in one day and this is okay.  I have to remind myself sometimes that it is quality over quantity.  I want her to understand this concept, not just check off the box for the week.  So we will wait for the paste to dry and she will spray it with my sealer to harden it a bit more and then she will paint.  It takes time to complete a project.  Time I have to allow for.

My mantra this year is NO UNFINISHED PROJECTS!  Last year many things were started but only a few were completed.  This year that will not happen.  Right now we are working on several “projects”
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Lapbook/Notebook
Lilah’s globe
Grace’s ongoing dog project (which is deserving of it’s own post)
Finishing up loose ends for our dinner at the homeless shelter.
Our quotation journals
Those are five big things.  It would be very easy to push aside the notebook since the girls are not that into it.  But this is one of those things that I would like to see completed, as it is their summary of the book and something I think they would like to look back upon.  The best projects are those you do not have to remind them about (like Grace’s dog book, or Lilah’s globe) but there are still some those that start strong (like the lapbook) but then fade in intensity.  The key is making them fun again to finish strong.  Sometimes that can mean we take our work out of the house to the library or to Starbucks and sometimes it means work when inspiration strikes, possibly at the expense of time spent on another content area. 

I am curious to see where project based learning takes us this year.  We have been moving in this direction all along but this year I finally feel like I have the confidence in myself and in our homeschool to let them go and explore and pursue their interests.  It helps maintain the balance that I need between my curriculum requirements and theirs.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Weekly Wrap Up: September 8th - How we are learning

Hours were spent making a fabric covered bulletin board.

Five years into this I now that if I push books and workbooks and rote memorization, the girls may do it for me, but it would be for me, not for them.  They need to strike a balance between what I need and what they need.  They gravitate towards project based learning.  Lilah always has and as Grace ages, she too, is taking a liking to it.  

Knitting while the girls are in pottery class with friends.  

One of the first things that people say about homeschooling is how much time their kids have to pursue friendship and interests and I have even said that once or twice when my kids were younger. Now that they are in middle school and high school, there is no surplus of extra time.  Our days are full.  Grace works two or three days a week and Lilah can fill two hours with crafting easily.  So we have to be intentional with our time. Which brings me back to the delicate dance of maintaining balance.  

Recommend this if you have the opportunity to see a screening.  

We do one main subject a week. Monday it was science.  We did a week’s worth of lessons in one day.  Tuesday we agreed that we would listen to history in the car on the way to and from riding lessons instead of our audiobook, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.  Wednesday we focus on writing and so on.  Math is done consistently.  We are doing math 3 or 4 days a week and it is going very well, or it will be once we get through double negatives.  Sometimes we work at night, like when we watched the first part of a social justice series (see below).  And sometimes we tie in what we do to the subject it fits best (the Two Coyotes movie event fit perfectly into our social justice elective). I don’t have many pictures of the work being accomplished so here is a little graphic of what we accomplished:
three lessons this week
completed week #3 and workbook (Earth Science - Meteorology) 
social justice (elective)
watched #1 of 6 parts: Seeking Social Justice by The Heritage Foundation, provided free of charge by Compass Classroom.

Attended the screening of Project Wild Thing hosted by Two Coyotes Wilderness School.  We agreed that social justice is identifying a need in a certain community and using your time and talents to affect a lasting change. This documentary was about affecting change in the lives of children and making nature as appealing as technology, thus increasing true happiness in his community.  
Grace worked on her dog project.  Lilah worked on her story from writing group.  Week #2 of writing group.  Completed a notebook page for Book of Centuries.
completed chapter 2.  We need to add additional chapters to our week given the length of our text.  My goal is 2 chapters a week, not one with a notebook page for each chapter.
Quote Project
On going.  One of my favorite projects of our new year.  Found a book my father gave me years and years ago:The Best of Success: A Treasury of Success Ideas compiled by Wynn Davis.  It is a treasure trove of wonderful quotations.  
Week #2 was interesting.  Lilah loves it and Grace is warming up to a full immersion class.  There is another homeschooled girl who is also in their pottery class and writing group.  They look forward to these opportunities to interact. They have already covered several chapters of their text and now need to incorporate daily practice time.
The girls are preparing for a field trip with their music teacher to the Steinway Studio where they will be allowed to play an excerpt of a piece on multiple pianos to learn to assess the sound quality.  The visit will end with the opportunity to play one piece on the 9’ Concert Grand.  They are beyond excited and both are working on polishing a piece to play.
Horseback Riding
Preparations are underway for Grace’s first horse show on the 21st. This week she had her first lesson as if she were in the show.  She will compete in beginners walk and trot. This upcoming week will have lots of activity with three riding lessons and time spent at the farm preparing the horses for competition.

Grace's favorite dogs from work.  She works on her project every day.  More to come on this!

Happy Birthday Mail from Keilee!

A massive 5 alarm factory fire near us.  Thankfully no lives were lost and given the scope of this fire, only a few houses were destroyed.  A horrible reminder on 9/11 how heroic first responders truly are.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Taking a Break from CNN

Even though we say the world is our classroom, right now this statement may not be a positive thing.  We have enjoyed CNN Student News but with beheadings, upgraded terror levels in the UK and the 9/11 anniversary, I made the executive decision to suspend our watching for a while.  
I did not cover current events until I was a senior in high school.  It was a senior-only seminar class and I enjoyed it.  There is a big difference between a 17 year old being able to absorb and understand the events taking place around the world and a 12 year old; especially a 12 year old whose father works in Manhattan and whose Grandmother and Uncle were in NYC on 9/11/01.
This may be seen as overprotective, isolating, and sticking my head in the sand, and I accept these criticisms that are often placed on families that control how much or how little information is presented to their children.  I’ll take that over a child who is anxious about her Dad going to work.
Our schedules are always shifting to accommodate our needs and honestly right now I prefer not beginning our day with the woes of the world.  I choose instead to focus on peace and love and joy and find as many examples of those things as possible to show my girls that despite what is happening now, there are good people, loving people, caring and kind people who are using their lives to make the world a better place.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

First Full Week: Weekly Wrap Up #2 2014-2015

One of my favorite things we have incorporated into our day is our daily quote.  Not only does it teach us a bit about contemporary history (so far my girls have learned who Audrey Heburn, Erma Bombeck, and Maya Angelo were and that William Penn came from England and that Wayne Gretsky played in the NHL for 20 years) but they are also learning how to dig deeper into a statement and reflect on it and respond to it. 

Over the years I have been hesitant to share too much about what our curriculum is because until you are about a week or so into it, you never know what you will keep and what you will throw out and replace. This year I did purchase one set of materials that I do not like at all and will be selling in order to recoup some of the purchase price.  My other purchases, like Teaching Textbooks for Lilah were hits.  Grace has picked up her study of algebra through TT and even came down one morning at 6:15 to get it done. 

One thing we have thrown out is my brilliant plan for a study of contemporary fiction set in NYC with the walking tour of each book.  I still love this idea and hope that we can come back to it but Grace really has no interest in contemporary young adult fiction.  I can force it and squelch the desire to read altogether, or I can shift focus and lead us in a new direction.  Our new direction is to explore some of the classics we have never read.  First up: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.  We are almost done with the book and will begin a combination lapbook/notebook as our “final project”.  We are already beginning some of the artwork for this project. 

Wednesday was a hot day with temperatures in the mid 80s.  We ended our day at the beach with friends.  Last year many of these families attended Beacon in New Haven with Grace so we were able to see them weekly.  This year they are all taking part in a new program that is a blend of traditional classes and online studies being offered by a homeschooling family.  This is not a good fit for us and we are not taking part.  Sadly, this means we won’t be seeing as much of this group of friends.  So while I was not 100% up for a night at the beach and would rather have spent a quiet night at home, we trekked to the beach and God gave me a beautiful display of colors to admire. 

In order to keep in touch with friends with whom we do not share classes, it is vital that parents organize activities and set aside time.  This is equally as important as academic studies.  Teens need time away from parents and time with peers and since they are not in school, and not able to drive, they need our help and our commitment to make this happen.  I organized a trail ride with two of our friends.  The beauty of how we learn is this will count towards the girls’ PE credit.  This year I have redesigned my binder system and will be posting more about that soon!

Thursday also was the start of ASL II, an immersion class with a Deaf teacher.  I am beyond excited for the learning opportunities that this class has in store.  It is two hours long and their girls' brains literally hurt when they walked out into the warm salty air.  It was one of the first times their brains actually hurt from active learning.  

Friday rounded out our week with a return to writing group.  I was not sure this would happen.  I contemplated throwing in the towel and declaring it done.  After all, all our members moved away and it was hard to find enthusiasm in starting over again.  The draw of meeting four new girls in the same age range as mine was enough to pull me back in.  Around my table sat 4 teens (or soon to be teens) and two others were there thanks to the wonder of technology.  Our friend Keilee joined us via Facetime and our friend Katya joined via Skype.  The 90 minutes we spent talking, writing, sharing and eating was more than I anticipated.  There was no first meeting awkwardness, no shyness, and no hesitation to writing or sharing.  There were smiles, laughter, suggestions, and words of encouragement.  One of our new members is also a student in the girls’ ASL class AND their upcoming pottery class!  

Weekly Wrap-Up

Monday, September 1, 2014

Not Back To School 2014: Mystic Seaport

Every year I plan something special for our not-back-to-school day.  One year we went to the Museum of Natural History in New York.  Last year we went to the Science Center in Hartford.  This year since we were had to travel to the northern part of Connecticut, near the Rhode Island boarder to pick out our puppy, I decided to plan a visit to Mystic Seaport to have our official start to the year begin with some hands on history.  

Mystic Seaport is full of original restored buildings and artifacts from the 1800s that depict life in coastal Connecticut.  Mystic was known for its participation in the whaling industry and several boat makers called it home.  This was the girls first visit and we were wondering why we have never taken the time to visit before.  It’s beautiful and we want to return again at Christmas to take part in the period celebrations of the holiday.

My favorite part of the day was admiring the mast heads.


*Another overlap of learning happened when we least expected it.  We listened to Jim Weiss' Women in Blue or Gray: True Stories from Both Sides of the American Civil War.  I grabbed this cd on our way out the door because we did not have an audiobook to listen to.  The stories on the cd pertained to women who dedicated their lives to making a difference in the war and many were involved in the suffrage movement.  Who do you think the first mast head was of?  A woman involved in the suffrage movement.  You just can't plan for this.....

I think Grace’s favorite part of the afternoon was the horse and carriage tour.

Lilah liked the village and touring the houses, chapel, schoolhouse and stores.

We ended our day at Lennie and Joe’s in Madison.  

We are looking forward to the 2014-2015 year.  7th and 9th grade will be an adventure for us all!

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