Tuesday, February 2, 2016


I'll give you one guess as to what we're making.  

Our The Story of the World work brought us to the time of the destruction of Pompeii.  It will be no surprise that this has renewed a dormant interest in volcanoes.  The First Great Lesson is actually the only Great Lesson I have not given this year (I only gave them in order the first year).  Since that time certain topics keep cropping up in SotW that relate to one Great Lesson or another really well and I give them at that time.  This year the boys were fortunate enough to have Ken Ham give them what certainly counted as the second and third great lessons for us.  

Up until this point I have always used a baking soda and vinegar volcano for the First Great Lesson (Not how it should be done, but how we did it for a while so that the First Great Lesson happened at all.)  Now that Kal-El is more of an "upper elementary" Montessori kid I though I would amp up his interest in the First Great Lesson with an amped up exploding volcano (using ammonium dichromate).

This all lead to some questions regarding self-preservation such as "Where is the nearest volcano from our house." (World.  USA)  They also recounted our time in Yellowstone this summer and asked to see the map again that shows the spread of the ash if it were to erupt.  Me Too was quite pleased to see that the southernmost tip of Florida would be spared because as he said, "That exactly where I had in mind to take you to live with me when you retire."  I didn't have the heart to tell him that if we retired to the Everglades National Park if the ash from Yellowstone didn't get us the alligators would.  I find it humorous that if Yellowstone did erupt that God would choose the Everglades to be one of the two places spared.  Brownsville is looking better and better every day.

We watched two videos about Pompeii.  I definitely recommend that you preview these before showing them to your children.  This first one is a shorter, less-violent option (aside from some screaming) that accurately shows the timeline of geological events only and their devastation without showing actual deaths.  I don't know why that video has so many dislikes.  I didn't have a problem with it.

The second was put on by BBC.  It's longer and not appropriate for some families.  It is alluded that the body of a female slave was found in a cheap motel with the man who owned her.  The way it was presented my boys wouldn't have had any idea what was meant by that, so I allowed it.  Also, I have very sensitive kids but felt they were mentally prepared for this through the books we had read through the week, and it was fine.  At one point early on, after the first pyroclastic surge, Me Too aptly stated, "Mom, are about to watch everyone die in 100 different ways."  Yup.  The reason we watched this video was because it DID include the human elements such as who chose to remain in Pompeii and why, how we know what we know, Pliny's role that day, and the devastation of poisonous gas and high temperatures (the other video might leave one with the impression that you might make it out if you were physically protected.).  I thought that the filmmakers did a brilliant job of weaving shots of recovered Pompeii today and the plaster casts of the voids left by human remains in the ash with the dramatized story.

We have a couple more days of volcano-making to be followed by the First Great Lesson and further study of volcanoes.  It seems like this will be a good time to cover the "Formation of Mountains" section of the Geography album that we have never done as well.

Friday, January 29, 2016

School Days

We've had a great couple of weeks of school.  This week felt like it was all over the place.   This week Monday Me Two finished his work plan around noon and started vomiting around 12:20.  It was very considerate of him to wait until his school work was complete.  I've never seen anyone get sick that many times in a day.  He spent about twelve  hours with a bucket.  

One of my husband's best friends is a retired science teacher and he pulls out all kinds of neat things for our kids.  He put on an hour science program for the boys' cub scout pack last week...we're talking big impact stuff like lifting three scouts at time on a hovercraft he threw together onsite with some cardboard, milk crates and a couple vacuum cleaners (!!?!).  He always plans more demonstrations than he could possibly get to and when the show was over my boys were treated to a private demonstration of everything he didn't use during the show that day.

We have a "going out" once a week.  This week we attended a school day concert that the symphony put on.  Last week we went swimming (indoors!).  The week before the boys planned our museum trip.  Me Too had just completed memorizing all of the African countries so he wanted to look through the African exhibits.  Our museum  has four giant dioramas of different important ecosystems in Africa.  They also have individual dioramas of artifacts organized by African country.  They cover maybe half of the countries and Me Too really enjoyed being the expert here.  Kal-El had just finished memorizing all of the European countries.  He wanted to visit an extensive exhibit in which a building or shop from each of 33 different European cultures  has been built to scale showing daily life, skills, and traditions from those cultures as they would have been about 100-150 years ago.  He is really starting to act like an older child (and he's grown 4 inches since September).  All on his own he decided to bring a notebook for the first time to record anything particularly interesting.  Me Too does something similar, but using his camera.

Above is one of the games we use to practice our Spanish vocabulary.  You could use this game to practice many different types of things.  I built a tic tac toe board by taping 9 envelopes to one of our white boards.  I fill the envelopes with pictures representing various vocabulary words.  The kids take turns closing their eyes and pulling a picture out of an envelope.  If they can tell me the word or phrase that goes with the picture successfully they can put their X or O on the front of the envelope (written on post-its).

Unless someone makes an error all of our games end in a tie.

We completed the divisibility section of the KotU album this week.  Last week we learned the rule for elevens.  Above is a photo from when we were working through the proof.  This week we learned the rules (plural) for sevens.  That deserves it's own post so stay tuned.  The KotU album covers the rules for 2, 5, 25, 4, 8, 3, 9, 7 and 11 plus divisibility by a prime factors and products of a number's factors.  Sixes aren't covered but there is an Eric Johnson  video about divisibility by sixes so I might throw that in before we move on.  The reason sixes are not included in the KotU album here is likely because the rule for sixes is actually just the prime factors rule.  However,  the prime factors presentation (in multiple albums, not just KotU) didn't really drive the correct point home.  It seemed to me that the point was that a number is always divisible by its prime factors and products of its factors.   The whole time I was teaching it I kept thinking "this is silly, of course a number is divisible by its factors and combinations of them."  My attitude must have rubbed off of the kids or something because their attitude was very "Yeah Mom.  We know."  What the point should have been perhaps is that if you want to know if a number is divisible by a number that is tricky (basically any number that is not one of the numbers listed as covered) you can break that number down into its prime factors and if the dividend is divisible by each of those prime factors than it is divisible by the original divisor which is, of course, a product of those prime factors.  Anyway, sorry if I'm preaching to the choir here.  I felt rather daft when I realized I gave the divisibility by prime factors presentation with the wrong focus.  I will use the sixes as an excuse to revisit that topic with a much more impressive trick.

This is what the boys do for fun these days.  Me Too is having a good time.  He is just trying to look serious.

I spent a lot of time returning materials this week.  ETC Montessori must be trying out someone new and I received the wrong materials and had missing materials in a recent order.  The replacement also had wrong materials in it.  The third time was the charm.  They have not made any errors in my past 30 orders or so and their customer service was great.  I called first on Monday.  I had the first replacement by Wednesday.  I called Thursday late afternoon about the second mistake and a had the replacement in my hands 24 hours later.  I hope I have as good of an experience with Kid Advance.  I posted the photo above on my Instagram.  The boys have been enjoying using the box of 250 volume cubes with the Nienhuis "Cube Up" cards.  Virginia, from School en Casa, asked if my cubes were 2 cm as they should be or if they were the wrong size like hers.  It hadn't occurred to me that they would be wrong but sure enough they are 2.45 cm.  That size won't work with the yellow prisms for volume so I really need to call them next.

Each Cube Up card is a puzzle.  The card shows you front, rear, top and left and right side views of a structure built with cubes.  Interior lines indicate when cubes are not in the same plane.  The answer is giving on the back using a top view again but this time indicating how many cubes are in each stack.

Kal-El used nearly every cube to create his own cube up puzzle.

He also made an answer key.  He discovered when he tried to make the "view" pictures that his structure technically wouldn't be buildable because  some of his interior columns are shorter than some exterior columns and the elevation would be visually blocked.  It was a good effort regardless.

I had to start cutting our sentence strip paper longer and taller, longer to accomodate Kal-El's longer sentences and taller so we could start symbolizing the parts of speech above the sentence before they cut it up.  I realized that the ETC materials the boys have been using have technically been calling for this but I hadn't noticed.  

I have been busy prepping materials for the first time in a while.  Kal-El is ready to move on to what some albums refer to as "Advanced Grammar."  KotU doesn't refer to it that way, things are on a continuum not grouped by age or blocked into easy and advanced sections.  However, we used MRD for a lot of our grammar because it matched some hand-me-down materials I was using.  I prefer to buy materials rather than make them when I can and now all of our grammar materials are from ETC.  They don't match the KotU albums but I'd rather figure out to make the pre-made materials work for us than make materials myself that match the albums.  I have a friend who feels absolutely the opposite way, so to each her own.  I will say that Jessica is on to my "bad attitude" when it comes to making materials. So now, if you try to avoid materials making like I do, you can buy many of the materials pre-made from her website (Edited to Add:  I found the links.  Here is a link to all the elementary print-yourself downloads.  Here is the link to the grammar materials pre-printed and laminated.)  

I have a few elementary grammar albums:  KotU, Cultivating Dharma, MRD (vol. 5), Not Your Grandma's Grammar, and Mid-America.  NONE of them match the ETC materials.  The album that would would be the ETC grammar manual but they only sell those as part of their certification courses, so no luck for me.  The topics are all the same among the albums but order of presentation is different in all of them.  Also, ETC, MRD and NYGG all use the "railroad tracks" approach to verb tense rather than the KotU sliding cards. The ETC cards are divided into three different "years" and into seven different "threads."  One could leave out the "years" division and just go by thread and the which thread you do when can be customized as well.  However, to keep things a little easier I've decided to use the ETC order and pull the lessons out of the various albums to match.  The MRD is the easiest to line up.  The NYGG charts match the MRD.  I tend to prefer AMI presentations to AMS presentations though.  So I guess I'll be using ETC's cards in order, figuring out what concept they are teaching via MRD,  using NYGG charts, and KotU and CD presentations to actually present much of the time.  Oddly I find this easier than making materials.  

The boys have moved on to memorizing the flags for Africa and Europe.  This is going very quickly.

Here is some very incorrect work done by Kal-El.  It is an ETC word study drawer for classification.   Clearly he has not memorized the capitals yet.  The ETC classification drawer require either advanced knowledge or some research skills.

Here is the same work after he fixed it.  There is something fishy about this.  All of the cities ARE capitals.  The only thing he was able to leave under cities was Hong Kong. Not only is it unusual to have only one card in a category, but Hong Kong as a choice certainly evoked a long discussion. Try explaining what Hong Kong is to a 10 year old.  And then, after doing so does it make sense to put it in any of these categories?  Maybe that was the point.  Sneaky Montessorians.    

Finally, I'll share a couple of photos I just HAD to take recently.  The first one, above, is a rare rare peaceful moment between two brothers who constantly argue.  I took this from the warmth of my kitchen through the patio doors.  They were peacefully sitting on a snow bank, swords in hand, having a long talk.

I discovered all of Me Too's animals propped on his bed like this.  He often assembles them in this way to be his audience when he practices violin.  When I saw this it occurred to me that any day now when he does this it may be the last time he ever does this (sniff) so I wanted to snap a picture to capture the moment.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Montessori Elementary Homeschooling: Work Plans and Journals, January 2016

We have been using the same style of work plans for a very long time now, but they change many times throughout the course of a school year.  I have been receiving some requests to show you all what they happen to look like at this time.  It's no wonder, I posted about these extensively more than a year ago and haven't photographed any of the (many) versions since.  Our work plans definitely look a different than they did then.

Kal-El's work plan is in orange on the left.  Me Too's is in green on the right.  It's a shame I had to edit their names off of them.  Kal-El wrote the name on the top of his in Egyptian hieroglyphs.  Each child's "list" used to look very different from each others, but now they have reached a stage where their "lists" are nearly identical.

About that word, "lists":  I highly suggest you read Jessica's many posts on work plans.  This post has links to all of the posts.  Yes, our work plans look like a list.  No, our work plans are not just a list.  These work plans are a result of many, many meetings with my children.  I've made them aware (through countless short conversations) of what society expects them to learn, what the government expects them to learn, and what I expect them to learn.  First and foremost we've added to that anything that my children want to know that wasn't already included.  Through these countless conversations I've given them a basic grasp of what subset of that we might want to cover this year. From there it has taken a lot of trial and error on the part of my children, with me observing and guiding, to figure out what they need to get done in a week to accomplish that.  THAT is our work plan.  What you see above is as Jessica stated, "simply a written form of the plans in your child's mind."   

I have to make changes to these and reprint new ones every few weeks.  Even then, as each week passes we make changes and just write the changes on top.  Because this is the 68th version or so of these work plans, we make fewer changes than we used to, and most of those changes will be to the top "Daily" section.  I just realized yesterday that a change needs to be made to Kal-El's work plan in the time since I took photographs.

Why do I bother with a work plan at all and not just let them freely choose work from the shelves or of their own making every work session?  For the reason that my children are old enough now to have a vague idea of who they want to be in a year but not old enough to balance "what I want to do right now" with "who I want to be."  "What I want to do right now" is important and it's engaging and you learn a lot.  But, you also want to do things that help you get to "who I want to be."  Last year was a year of transition with this.  Last year we had "kids's choice" prominently displayed on the work plan.  This year we don't.  Last year the boys needed the reassurance that there was room for "what I want to do right now" during their work time.  "Kid's choice" is still on the real work plan (in my kids' heads) but isn't written on this visual representation anymore.  The boys are confident that it's there.  

Okay, so now it's been five paragraphs since I've shown the picture of the work plans.  I had better show them again so I can talk about them and give you half a chance of being able to look at them at the same time.

The work plans have three sections.  The top section are works that my children will choose daily.  The middle section are works that they will choose weekly.  The final section are works that Mom chooses daily.  The boys start the week with all of the paperclips on the left.  They move the paperclip to the right when they complete a work.  At the start of each day they move all of the "daily" and "mom" paperclips back to the left but the "weekly" clips stay to the right as the week continues.  

About the "Mom" section:  We usually do all five of the items here all together.  We find that we have to do history and Spanish daily in order to make acceptable progress.  WWE (Writing With Ease) is something we used to do weekly and do a weeks work all in one day.  As the program has progressed, we have transitioned to doing this daily but it takes about five minutes.  The final two things in the "Mom" category are "????".  I have my OWN work plan that keeps me rotating through things I have to give presentations one:  BFSU (Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding), Biomes (Waseca and covering the Montessori Biology, Geography, and History albums), math, music literature, etc.,  One of the "????" is always math.  We are finishing up the divisibility section of the math album right now.  

You can see from this that I am giving a minimum of five presentations each day.  It is often more.  I've set up our classroom so that the boys can choose and complete work in most of the daily and weekly sections completely on their own (piano lesson, from Mom, would be an obvious exception).  They are trained how to know when they cannot continue in a certain category without a presentation from Mom.  So, yesterday I gave eight presentations.  I gave the five in the "mom" section.  Me Too reached a new level of difficulty on the racks and tubes (He is recording quotient, beads used, and partial remainders and for the first time at that level he encountered an equation that required carrying when recording the beads used.).  Me Too also needed a presentation on direct objects for sentence analysis.  Kal-El was doing work in the "word study" category and it was practicing categorization.  He needed to sort cards according to whether they were a game, artist, astronaut or inventor and he didn't know the names six of the astronauts and three of the inventors.  So, he received a review presentation on research with the encyclopedias.  

Those of you who have read my previous posts on our work plans already know this, but I will say it again:  most of the items on this work plan are categories of work, not actual works themselves.  Most have more than two different ways of fulfilling the requirement for work and sometimes the boys invent their own work that fulfills the requirement.  Some things are listed in pairs.  For example, spelling and vocabulary.  The boys get to pick from either of those works and each of those works have multiple ways to be completed.  I only get specific when I am requiring a particular work, such as racks and tubes.  And sometimes the work plan is specific because the boys asked for it.  For example, Me Too is going through our stack of cards for the multiplication checkerboard and doing them all abstractly on paper.  I had printed the work plan and it just said "command cards" but he liked the "checker cards" as he calls them so much he asked me to reprint it and list that specifically.  But then he saw Kal-El doing some "cube up" cards with the volume cards.  He liked those so much that he changed it back by writing "command cards" back on that line.  It's hard to see because he's going through this stage where he is trying to make his whole work plan green...green paper, green clips, green text.  

These are our work journals.  I originally posted about these here.  The boys journal in a very basic way through moving their paperclips.  I keep the work journals for them.  I'm not suggesting that this is how it should be done, it's just what we do.  I write down the work that the did after they have done it.  I am posting some close-ups here (the will enlarge if you click on them) so those who are interested can see how one week of our work plans looks.  Each child has their own journal and one week spans two pages.

Me Too's left-hand journal page.

Me Too's right-hand journal page.

Kal-El's left-hand journal page.

Kal-El's right-hand journal page.

These are not perfect. I often miss recording a thing or two (I notice I never recorded Kal-El's fraction work or word problems that week) but it really doesn't matter.  What is useful here is that this format allows me to see what we are avoiding.  I can see the big blank columns staring in the face asking me "is there a reason you aren't doing this?"  Sometimes the answer is "yes."  We aren't working on squaring and cubing right now because we are working on divisibility and I don't have room for that many threads.  It's the same with geometry, but that is one that I really wish I could just add to the "mom" section of the work plan and do daily but if I did our school day gets too long.  At the end of the week I did notice that we hadn't touched BFSU and that prompted me to prepare a neat study of simple machines, beginning with levers, that we started yesterday.

If anyone who is interested at that level of detail has questions about anything on the work plan or anything in the work journal please leave a comment.  I'm have a lot of abbreviations in the work journal and am happy to answer questions.