Monday, August 15, 2016

Work Plans for the Week of August 15, 2016: Sharks, Intolerable Acts, and Molecular Modeling

NOTE: My vacation posts are on indefinite hiatus, as my external hard drive that contains them (as well as all of the other digital photos that I've ever taken) is currently in a repair shop where someone is attempting to recover its data.

Can I just whine at you for a minute here? I have my health, I have two great kids and a wonderful life partner, we have enough money to support ourselves and still be able to save for amazing vacations, one of which we went on just last month, and yet... I feel like I have suffered an inordinate number of losses this year. I have lost my grandfather. My best friend. And on top of that, several chickens from our flock have been killed this summer. Arrow incubated three adorable chicks, and they each died. We deeply wanted to adopt Thundercat, the kitten that Matt found in our yard, but he had feline leukemia and so the shelter euthanized him. And now, today, I have possibly lost my personal copy of every digital photo that I have ever taken of my children, my husband, our pets, my grandfather, my best friend, our vacations. All that I possibly have left are the small-scale jpegs of what I've posted on my blog. Small potatoes, I know, because I still have my children, and my husband, many of our pets, my memories of Pappa and Mac, and our vacations, and yet it still seems like a lot. It seems like I have less emotional reserves to deal with every new loss, no matter how minor, no matter how much it's nothing compared to my constant grief over Pappa and Mac.

So here's to hoping for a crackerjack computer repair person who is right this second recovering every single precious digital file in its pristine condition, and to a final few months of the year that contain no more living things or dearly beloved treasures ceasing their existence from my life. Okay?


We're back to weekly work plans this week. From the week after the kids got back from vacation through last week, I made them daily work plans, as each week the kids had too many time-consuming activities (a sleepover at the zoo! A two-day volunteer orientation at the Children's Museum!) to make weekly work plans that progressed our various units of study practical. Instead, they kept rolling with their Math Mammoth, I got them used to journaling every day, we began a sharks unit that we'll be continuing through the next seven weeks, we began a Scratch coding unit that we'll also be continuing--

--and, of course, we read a LOT of books:
Here, Will is reading about old bestiaries, and I've been sketching the animal descriptions for her: a beaver with a waffle tail, a beaver with a tail flat like a fish, and a dove with contemplative wings.
Time at the table with the kids while they mostly worked independently gave ME time to plan out our next seven weeks. I'd like to finish several units of study before our next big vacation, including our rocks and minerals unit (with a culminating project of identifying at least 30 of our own rocks and minerals from our personal collection), our sharks unit (with a culminating project of an actual shark dissection!), an easy-breezy Spanish language unit, and, of course, our American Revolution unit!
Although Will won't take her first AP or SAT 2 exams until eighth grade, I'm deliberately including that material in our relevant studies.
This week is the first week of this seven-week session. Books of the Day are a hodge-podge this week of novels that I thought the children would enjoy, a funny book on chemistry for Will, an interesting book on battlefields, also for her, a book on the history of architecture for Syd, a Peter Benchley memoir on the ocean for Will... see? A hodge-podge! Other daily work consists of journaling, consistent work in Wordly Wise (Will is almost done with Book 6, but Syd, who loathes memorizing spelling words, is still in the middle of Book 4. Fortunately, it's not a race!), and consistent work in Coding Games in Scratch, a Scratch programming book that I got from the library and that the kids both really seem to love.

Oh, and we're also super excited that CNN Student News starts back up again this week! Tradition holds that we begin each school day with Carl Azuz, and it seriously makes the transition to schoolwork so much easier. Also, we LOVE it!

And here's the rest of our week!

MONDAY: Will is a changed kid these days. It's been months since she pulled a full-on schoolwork rebellion; nowadays, she may not begin her work first thing in the morning, but every school day, she will wander over to the table at some point without prompting, and then buckle down and muscle through everything that I've assigned her. I am SO appreciative of how big of a difference it makes.

Of course, Syd now has to be coaxed/encouraged/bullied to get HER work done these days, so maybe schoolwork balkiness is simply something that strikes children of a certain age.

I tell you this because Will has already finished her math and history today--in Math Mammoth, she's spiraled back around to fractions for a short time, and in history, we listened to chapters 7-11 of From Colonies to Country, pausing often to discuss them (Will, for instance, always insists on learning England's point of view). Our entire week this week is focused on the build-up to the rebellion, primarily the Intolerable Acts, and I was pleased that Will naturally wanted to discuss the differences between the British and colonists' point of view, because today's enrichment activity is the online game Mission US: Colony or Crown. Will has played all of the Mission: US games before in her free time, but told me that she wouldn't mind a replay, and in fact, after she finished Colony or Crown, she asked if she could play the other Mission: US games, and I told her that she could, of COURSE.

I mean, gee, Mom, do you mind if I keep learning? What other answer could I possibly give?!?

Syd had a late start today, so she's only finished listening to the History of US chapters with us (although she did get a lot of work done on her Tolkien coloring book selection, and she has had a Percy Jackson audiobook glued to her ears for every second that we haven't been listening to History of US). She's finishing up decimals in her own Math Mammoth this week, and then will be ready to begin the 5th grade material next week.

Song School Spanish is pretty baby-ish for my 10-and 12-year-olds, but that means that we can zip through it. All I want them to do is get the vocabulary down, because if they don't continue Mandarin this fall, we'll start Latin, and they'll appreciate the cognate boost from knowing words from another Romance language. I'm a little unusual in that my pedagogical focus isn't necessarily on the children developing authentic accents and good conversation skills--if they continue Mandarin, then sure, and I'll hire tutors as needed to teach them that, but I think that another great foundation for language study is simply studying it, memorizing the vocabulary and understanding the grammar, conversing, yes, but also composing. If they have to work hard to correct their accent later, then so be it, but the possibility of that is certainly no excuse to not learn the language at all right now.

*Steps down off of soapbox.*

Math enrichment this week is something simple, just a sweet little origami heart tutorial, an easy way to review some visual fraction concepts and symmetry terminology. I'll continue weekly math enrichment throughout this seven-week unit, but most of our other subjects are going to be so rigorous that I can't promise that any of the math enrichment activities will be less sweet and simple than this one.

Our sharks unit is truly kid-led, and truly follows their passions. I originally signed up for the four-week sharks MOOC from Cornell just because the kids like animals, and it seemed fitting to study the ocean right before they left for California. By the end of the first day's lesson, however, Will had told me that now she wants to be a marine biologist instead of a lawyer, and by the end of the first week Syd told me that she wants to work with animals, maybe in a zoo, instead of being a hairdresser and ballerina.

It took us far longer than four weeks to complete the class the first time, with everyone working at her own pace, but now that we're done, we're going to be reviewing it again over the next four weeks, this time with plenty of hands-on enrichment activities to cement the concepts. After that, we'll spend 2-3 weeks on the big promised pay-off for this unit: the dissection of an actual shark specimen! Syd isn't so sure about this one, but Will is THRILLED.

On this day, we're reviewing the class videos that explain the ocean zones, and the regions that sharks inhabit. Using some online diagrams as a reference, the kids will paint and label a large chart for our wall that combines all of this information, and that can be populated in the future by cut-out pictures of the specific shark species that we study. We'll also, of course, be covering that information in our daily memory work in the car until it's nice and cemented into all of our minds.

TUESDAY: We'll review this week's chapters of From Colonies to Country, then the kids will complete this quick and easy lapbook activity on England's reasons for taxing the colonies, and put that into their American Revolution notebooks. I'm making the kids make their notebooks MUCH more organized than last year's World War 2 notebooks were, and my plan is to make them take the notebooks with us on our trip, and add information from the various sites that we visit to the relevant pages. We'll see how that goes...

Regardless, England's reasons for taxing the colonies will be added to our daily Memory Work.

We're still working on molecular modeling, because that concept is so important to the understanding of mineral formation, in particular, but this is our last week studying our chapter on minerals, so next week we'll be moving on to different geologic processes as we study igneous and sedimentary rocks. I want to make sure that the kids really understand molecular modeling, so we're basically doing the same model twice this week, once on this day with gumdrops and toothpicks, and again on the next day in an online simulator. My goal for the kids is that whenever they're presented with a newly identified specimen, they wonder what it's made of and how its molecules form. And then maybe they'll look it up!

Our town is basically made of rain recently, so it's likely that our homeschool group's playgroup will be cancelled, or will meet somewhere more mellow, like the library. I, personally, wouldn't mind the free time, I suppose--Will and I start fencing two evenings a week this week, and although I enjoy fencing, I'm a little bit dreading the time commitment.

WEDNESDAY: The kids by now know the types of taxes that England put on the colonists, and they understand England's reasoning, so to make sure they also understand the reasoning of the colonists, we're going to do one of my favorite history activities: role play! I will be England, the children will be colonists, and there will be Skittles involved (I wanted M&Ms, but the colonists overruled me at the grocery store, sigh...). I'm telling you right now that if the children are not crying in frustration by the end of the game, then Great Britain has not done its job.

We'll explore shark anatomy a LOT more deeply in the coming weeks, but external anatomy, particularly fins, is crucial to positive identification, so it's one of the first things that one should memorize. We'll be covering this in memory work, as well, but I want the kids to feel like they can apply their knowledge; fortunately, I used my staff discount at the Children's Museum to splurge on some Safari, Ltc. shark toys last week, so I'll be tasking the kids with identifying the external anatomy of each shark toy, AND with cross-referencing it with a species guide to evaluate the accuracy of each toy's depiction.

THURSDAY: Explore Rocks and Minerals is a really cool book with lots of fun activities, but it doesn't really go in the direction that I want to go for our unit. It does have one especially good reading selection on minerals, though, so on this day I'm asking the kids to read that selection, then they can choose an activity from the book that tickles their fancy. We might have to do this activity over the weekend, depending on what materials are required, and I won't push them if nothing seems to excite them, but hopefully they'll enjoy the chance to choose and complete something.

By this time, we'll have gone over the same old ground of England taxing the colonies that the kids are likely to be sick of it, but it's such an important concept that I can't help but cover it thoroughly. We'll have one last overview, then, this time in a super-fun Brainpop format.

We likely won't be doing a ton on the order of classification in our sharks unit, but we have studied it before, so since the class covers it this week, I'm taking the opportunity to have the kids review how the order of classification works, and to remind them that Wikipedia, of all places, is an excellent resource for studying it. When we do focus on a specific species, I'll expect the kids to be able to instantly find that species' order of classification for me, and to be able to explain it.

FRIDAY: Finally, we're moving on! Chapter 12 in From Colonies to Country introduces us to a few of the major players in the rebellion. The kids will use these lapbook pages to record the basic info for a couple of key ones, then they'll put them in their notebooks, to be added to later.

Since we're going through simple Spanish vocabulary so quickly, I'm already expecting the kids to be able to read some very simple Spanish books by this day. We'll search out a board book or an early reader with a lot of contextual clues, but the goal is to get the kids USING their knowledge.

This woodworking project might continue into the weekend, but that's okay. One of the stops on our road trip will hopefully be a beach in Maryland that is renowned for its shark tooth fossils, and I'm told that the best way to collect these fossils is to build the sifter that we're going to start building on this day. It's more of a practical life project than a shark biology project, then, but I think that the kids are going to start getting really excited about hunting for fossil shark teeth when we start to make it.

Syd actually won't have math on this day, since she should have finished her Math Mammoth year the day before. She'll start the next year's work right away on Monday next week, but on this day she gets a free day and a small celebration of her choosing: doughnuts. We'll likely buy them on our way to Will's destination of choosing: a local creek. Both kids need to work with their cameras to finish up Girl Scout badges--Digital Photographer for Syd, and Digital Filmmaker for Will. Will is pickier, so I left the choice up to her about what activity she'd like to film and make a movie out of for her badge and she chose creek stomping, so creek stomping is where we'll be, doughnuts in hand, for most of the day on this day!

SATURDAY/SUNDAY: Our only activity that's set in stone this weekend is Pony Club for Will, and yet it's actually going to be a weekend that's fairly packed with activity. Will is likely going to be leading Family Meeting for the first time, so god knows how that will go. Matt holds an art class for the children every weekend, and this weekend he'll also be giving them a lecture on pre-Revolution America. The entire family cleans the entire house on Sundays, so that I don't lose the rest of my sanity in the coming week. We also may break ground on the backyard tree house, if it ever stops raining. And if it stops raining for a good long while, we have tickets to Holiday World that the kids earned from cookie sales this winter!

I REALLY hope we get to Holiday World this weekend.

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