Friday, August 28, 2015

State of the Homeschool Address: Part Two

My post needed a photo.  Enjoy.

There were three homeschool-related items I had hoped to complete this summer:

You can read all about how we happened to have these things left over at the end of the year here:

State of the Homeschool Address:  Part One

Basically it took me way too long to realize that we need to do Spanish and history daily if we want to cover the amount of material I have planned for their education as a whole.

Sadly, I found it nearly impossible for the unschooler in me to teach Spanish and history every day this summer.  We tried it for a few days but discovered that violin, Spanish, history and vocabulary all together was taking up most of the morning.  Not only were there a billion other things we'd all rather be doing in the few months of nice weather we have up here in the glacial plains, but I felt like I was personally being punished.  I needed a break from teaching every day.  So, we kept up with the violin and Kal-El finished his Vocabu-Lit book yesterday.  I'm not thrilled to have all of those unfinished Spanish and history chapters staring me in the face at the beginning of this year.

I've gotten the school room thoroughly cleaned from top to bottom.  I've removed many materials we don't need anymore.  Almost all of our materials ordered have arrived and been added to the shelves.  I've photocopied and bound anything that had blackline masters so that the boys would have less to punch and put into their work binders.  I've already written all the headers into my lesson plan books.

Today I am going to work on writing out their first work plans of the year.  I have a file on the computer that I would normally just tweak but it looks like I'll be writing them out by hand. Our printer, a Lexmark S605 that we've always strongly disliked, completely died.  It "says" it needs a new $66 printhead but it really doesn't.  It's a firmware problem. I can't update the firmware.  I've tried 20 times.  It takes an hour and it always get's hung up in the same spot in the update.  Shopping for a new printer has been frustrating because nobody likes their printer.  Even the review sites that list the "top five printers for Macs" admit that every printer has a fatal flaw of some kind.  Buying a printer is a matter of deciding which fatal flaw you can live with.  Is it okay if the ink dries up if you go a week without printing a page?  Is it okay if 33%  of the printers are lemons but you can tell on start up so you can keep returning the printer until you get one that works?  Is it okay if it can't accept cardstock or photo paper?

We are going to try one of the new Epson EcoTank printers, the Epson Expression ET-2550.  These are a new thing, so new we had to wait for the release and now are waiting for it to ship.  It has big ink tanks on the side that supposedly hold the equivalent of 20 cartridges of ink.  They estimate it is about two years worth of ink.  You refill it yourself when needed and to buy a pack tanks to refill all four colors is currently $50.  The downside is that the printer is expensive.  They have to make up for all the money you are going to save on ink so they charge you a premium at the outset.  It currently costs me $88 to fill all four colors on my Lexmark with XL cartridges and I refill those twice a year.  For that reason we are hoping this printer works out.  I'll keep you posted.

So, as I'm getting the work plans ready for next week I'm reviewing where we left off on everything last spring.  Last year Me Too would have been considered "a first-grader" or would likely have been in his first year of Montessori elementary.  Kal-El would have been considered "a third-grader" or in his third year of Montessori elementary.  You can read more about all that here.


Spelling, Vocabulary, Writing, Literature, Handwriting and Word Study

I think we all know at this point that I lean very classical in these areas and have filled in with some curriculum rather than left myself responsible for tracking these things throughout their work as a whole.

Me Too completely finished The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading and All About Spelling Level 1.  This year he will work on All About Spelling Level 2  and Vocabu-Lit B.

Kal-El finished AAS Level 2 and will work through All About Spelling Level 3  this year.  He finished Vocabu-Lit, Book C yesterday and this year will work on Vocabu-Lit, Book D.

Both boys completed The Complete Writer: Level 1 .  I am keeping both boys together on this work, so they will both work on Level 2 this year.  Both boys have had all of the lessons in the Word Study section of the KotU albums but need to review this year.  I bought them the Lower Elementary word study cards from ETC Montessori  and put them in hardware drawers.  Afterward I will likely get them the upper elementary set.

Vocabulary development continues to be very important.  As is typical of strong readers their age, they can read anything they want but don't always know what the words mean.  You may remember I collected a slew of vocabulary resources and am going to attempt to integrate this into our learning more organically.

We always seem to have literature covered.  I think I spend about an hour every week planning, obtaining, and organizing library books for them.  The boys read voraciously.  We always have a book going as a read-aloud (I love the The Read-Aloud Handbook).  We often have an audio book (or two) in progress as well.  We enjoyed several amazing audio books when we traveled this summer.

Kal-El basically taught himself cursive using the New American Cursive, Volume I last fall.  He went from zero to writing in all cursive in a matter of about two weeks.  I had give him a few presentations on connecting letters but otherwise he did all the work.  This year  he will do volume two.  There is a Scripture version and a "famous Americans" version.  That was a tough decision for me.  Usually ordering the scripture version is a no brainer but it is hard to turn down famous Americans.  I went with famous Americans but keep checking the sky for lightening bolts.

Me Too has some kind of handwriting disability.  He is not dyslexic but something is up.  The diagnosis could be as simple as "Kid, your mom should have taught cursive first like Maria Montessori said," but I don't think that is it.  Despite completing the whole Montessori arsenal of handwriting activities, doing each level of Handwriting Without Tears TWICE, and doing Zaner-Bloser's Kindergarten and 1st grade books last year he still has some issues.  He has improved greatly and I think that it is resolving itself with time, patience and maturity.  He is excited to start cursive this fall.  The change of pace is something I considered doing much sooner.  Hopefully it will be just what he needs.


Both boys have been given the "function of words" lessons (key presentations and follow-ups for all of the parts of speech) several times and I will continue to do so.  They both completed all of the grammar command cards this year.  Kal-El completed all of the grammar boxes.  Me Too has  completed them through to "the verb."  These will likely be on his daily work plan at the start of the year to get them wrapped up.

Kal-El practiced a lot of easy logical analysis/sentence analysis work and completed the lower elementary sentence analysis set from ETC.  He will move directly into the more advanced sentence analysis work, i.e. more complex sentences. Cards for this are available in the ETC upper elementary grammar curriculum.  Me Too has had lessons on the same set of logical analysis work but hasn't completed much practice.  He will do some more work on the lower elementary set and move to the upper elementary set when he is ready.

As you can likely already tell, I don't have a lot of free time and I try to buy as many materials as I can rather than make them.  It is more important to me to get the materials here and in use quickly than for them to match my KotU albums precisely.  For this reason many of my language materials match MRD more closely than KotU.  I like the KotU materials better, I think they are more advanced.  But, I figure if the MRD coordinated materials are good enough for a large percentage of the Montessori world they are good enough for us.  They also always seem to build in plenty of practice which is something that I appreciate.  The good news is, all of the files you need to match the KotU albums are available through the course.  If you have time to do some printing and laminating you can have great materials that match your albums precisely.

We haven't touched any of the verb tenses work.  Again, very nice files are available through KotU.  We are going to try using the ETC verb conjugation work.



Kal-El thoroughly finished all work with the division test tubes last year.  He also really maxed out the multiplication checkerboard and the bank game.  He can do both long division and multiplication abstractly on paper with very large numbers.    He has already done the flat bead frame, but I will probably pull that out at the start of the year for some long multiplication review before we tackle category multiplication.  The stamp game will have a brief reappearance when he learns more about group division.

Me Too knows the large bead frame and the back game backwards and forwards at this point.  He'll switch over to the checkerboard.  He already made very good progress on the division test tubes last spring.  We'll focus on finishing that up right away while he is still young and loves moving beads.

They both know all of their math facts for all four operations.


I have found it easiest to keep both boys together on a lot of this.  They have both worked through that album section up through "multiples, Table C."  We will pick up this year with "least common multiples" and continue on through factors and divisibility.  Me Too was still in primary when he did the numeration work with the commutative and distributive properties and parenthesis so I feel like he should have a review of those topics this year as well.

The few pages in the AMI Montessori albums on measurement are hidden at the back of this section.  I would like to do the ETC measurement command cards, but will think about that in December.

Squares and Cubes of Numbers

Both boys have a good start in this section of the albums. They finished through to the end of the decanomial square stages with the beads and then stopped.  They will continue on  to the paper decanomial and beyond.

Fractions and Decimal Fractions

Kal-El finished all of my fraction drawers (and thus the entire MRD first fraction album) early in the school year last year and then was busy in other threads for the rest of the year.  Me Too nearly finished them in the spring.  They will be moving on to the work in MRD Volume Two, Kal-El right away and Me Too when he's finished with the drawers.   They basically have done all the nomenclature, equivalence, and simple operations work and will be moving on to multiplying or dividing a fraction by a fraction and operations with unlike denominators.

Kal-El will be starting the decimal fraction works.  These could have been introduced sooner, but frankly there is a limit on how many threads we can have going at once.  I have to refresh my memory on the presentations.  I might let Me Too come along for the ride on the presentations or I might let him wait until he's out of some of the operations work.  Again, too many threads, so little time.

Speaking of threads at a time, I haven't even brought up geometry yet and you can see this is a lot of threads.  We can't have them all going at the same time.  One of the things I'm working on right now is deciding which couple to do first.  We'll work in a thread for a while until it reaches a good stopping point and then pick up a different one for a while.

Word Problems

Me Too will be working on Daily Word Problems, Grade 2 and Kal-El will be working on Daily Word Problems, Grade 4. They do these about once a week and do a whole weeks worth at a time.


Both boys have done the work with polygons, angles and lines.  We somehow haven't tackled the circle yet so that is on deck.  I finally bit the bullet and ordered the remaining equivalency, volume, and area materials that we didn't have and I predict that geometry will be one of our main areas of study this year.


We will be doing both of these subjects every day, for different reasons.  We are using SOTW for history and there is just a lot to get through.  It is hard to make progress on a foreign language if you aren't doing it every day.  It doesn't take very long so we will switch that to daily as well.


Kal-El and Me Too have long since finished the presentations in the Montessori music album.   Both boys take violin lessons once a week and practice for 30 minutes each nearly every day.  Both have been learning a little bit of piano from me whenever they ask for a lesson.  Kal-El plays some trumpet/cornet but mostly on his own.  I am going to try putting a piano lesson with Mom officially "on the books" each week and will see how that goes.  I can continue their music theory at that time.  We will continue using Classic Tunes and Tales for music literature.


I wrote about how we use the Waseca Biomes curriculum as one possible linear path through the Geography, Zoology, History, and Botany albums as a united whole back in this post and in this post.   We will continue to do so this year.  As is the nature of Montessori, you cover things or go through album sections multiple times.  However if you are curious about what we've covered at least once, here it goes...

Geography:  Creation of the Earth, Nature of the Elements, The Sun and Earth, The Work of Air.  Notably missing is The Work of Water so we will be be sure to get to that soon.  The boys want to revisit The Composition of the Earth and The Formation of Mountains after having visited Yellowstone.

 Zoology and Botany:  We have covered all plant and animal topics at a superficial level and need to revisit and go deeper.  For example, we've done the story materials, key experiences,  and all of the nomenclature charts, books and cards.  I have, however, avoided many of the botany experiments and we've only done basic classification.  We haven't touched any human anatomy work.

Another important supplement we use in our homeschool is Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding.  I assessed our progress in the first volume at the end of last school year and discovered that we had done nearly all of the lessons, either specifically to supplement the boys' interests or coincidentally as we worked through the albums.  I did notice that the only things we hadn't really chosen were in the "Life Sciences" chapter and match up with the things we haven't done in the biology album, for example:  adaptations, food chains and survival;  the skeleton and muscle system; the nervous system, etc.,  Volume One of this series is divided into several threads that continue in Volume Two.  We have done quite a bit of work in Volume Two already. The way I use our resources we can get onto a thread and continue straight through several volumes without touching a particular thread in even the first volume.


We will continue using How Great Thou Art for our drawing and painting lessons.  I wrote briefly about that resource in this post.  I think we finished 25 lessons in that book last year.  We hadn't touched our Child Size Masterpieces in a long time.  So, in the spring I acquired and prepared the rest of the materials through to the end.  They are ready and waiting in folders in the school room.  I plan to put them on the weekly or cyclical portion of the boys work plans.


I will end this post with a warning.  If you are homeschooling and/or homeschooling in a Montessori-inspired way I probably mentioned a lot of things here that you don't already use or own.  Please don't feel like you "need" these things.  I wrote about the dark side of adding things to Montessori in the State of the Homeschool Address:  Part One.  I also read a short post today over at The Common Room that I really enjoyed titled "Schedule-Stuffing."  My favorite couple of sentences were these:

There is a certain point at which adding more stuff to your curriculum does not result in more power, more ideas, better curriculum, more  learning – it results in less: less time to think, less time to process, less time to imagine adventures, invent episodes, less making of connections because by adding too much, you have created a confused, overwhelming tangle of ideas.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Ultimate Homeschool Fieldtrip 2015: Part Four

We left the Badlands after our nature drive and headed for Mount Rushmore.  We made a lot of stops along the way.  One, of course, was Wall Drug.  Four free waters and three homemade doughnuts later we were back on the road.

The boys were very impressed with Mount Rushmore.

Check out this dog!

We arrived at the parking lot for Mount Rushmore 30 seconds before the entire Latin American Motorcycle Association and/or the Harlistas.

The boys were excited that after the extra Spanish this year they were catching a word or two.  The most often overheard phrases were "toma una foto" and "vamos al caballo loco."

We did NOT "vamos al caballo loco" on this trip, but spent a few hours enjoying the view at Mount Rushmore.

We even had a sandwich under the watchful gaze of Washington and Lincoln.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Ultimate Homeschool Fieldtrip 2015: Part Three

We stayed one night in the Badlands at the KOA.  After our Notch Trail adventure, we ate what the KOA called "Indian Tacos" (fried bread, like naan but fried and puffy, with taco toppings) at the general store and had to high-tail it back to the tent when when what looked an awful lot like tornado weather rolled in.  We didn't make it back to the tent before what I can only call a dust cloud hit us.  I tried to find a similar picture online, but I couldn't find one quite like what we experienced, probably because you can't take a photo during that without ruining your camera.  The picture above is a picture of the same phenomenon but from a distance.  We were at the leading edge of a storm that was moving at 70 mph.

The wind blew so hard into the walls of the tent that it kept knocking the kids over.  That and the fact that having them outdoors in that kind of wind is dangerous meant that they had to retreat to the car.  The rain hit a minute later.  Unfortunately the wind was so strong that it was lifting the tent up by the stakes and lifting one end of the rainfly several feet into the air letting all that driving rain into the mesh-topped tent.  There was no way to stake the center of that edge of the rainfly.  The tent really needed to be oriented a different way but we couldn't move it at that stage.  The tent was full of all of our sleeping bags and mats for the trip and it was all in danger of getting soaked on the first night.  My poor husband, who had staked the tent according to the "best practice" suggested in the manual after spending 30 minutes studying their staking diagrams stood outside in the storm for a full hour holding down the center of the rainfly.  I sat inside the tent so that it wouldn't blow away with him trailing along behind like a windsock hanging from the rainfly.

The next morning we packed up camp and took an early morning wildlife drive before leaving the park.

We saw several prairie dog towns.  We also saw bighorn sheep for the only time on our trip (despite looking for them at Yellowstone).  

We saw a coyote.  We can see those at home too, but it was neat to see one out in this environment.  The boys say that the best part is that it pooped in front of us and used his back paws to throw dirt over it just like our dog Truman.

The roadsigns sure were different on this trip.

That sign should have said "Beware of Bison Poop."  We didn't see any bison but it was hard to avoid stepping in the buffalo chips left behind.

Me Too loves being out on an adventure with binoculars.  He surpassed me and become the family's official "best wildlife spotter" on this trip.

And, this is what happens when Mom and Kal-El turn back on the hike early and Dad is in charge.  Me too is NOT afraid of heights.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Ultimate Homeschool Fieldtrip 2015: Part Two

My husband picked all of the beautiful hikes for us on this trip.  His first attempt to kill us all was the Notch Trail in the Badlands National Park.

Didn't see any.

Me Too almost to the top of the canyon face via this fifty-rung "ladder."  I was less terrified when he climbed the ladder than I was when he was the first one to the top and I realized he was now alone on the edge of a canyon.

Here the boys are either reflecting on the beautiful view or one of the many drop-offs that kicked off my vacation-long "the boys are going to fall" panic attack.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Gearing Up

I am gearing up for the new school year!  We will start back to work on September 1st.  I've been filling in the headers on my lesson plan books, cleaning up, and ordering materials.

Last night, late, I sat down and did my main order for the year.  This *might* have been my last Montessori "materials" order ever.  I *might* have everything now.  My husband claims I say that every year (I don't think I do).  There will always be Montessori "curriculum" materials I will want to order (cards from ETC or Maitri) but I might have all of the traditional "materials."

This was for sure my last BIG order.  I finally bit the bullet and ordered the remainder of the geometry materials:  iron equivalence plates, Pythagoras plates, hollow volume shapes and the wooden cubes to fill them, yellow prisms for volume, and an extra geometric cabinet to hold it all.

I also made sure I had all the cursive workbooks, AAS books, SOTW materials, etc., that I need for the year.  We had to call the credit card company this morning to get it restarted again.  About halfway through my ordering session last night they turned off my husband's credit card because they thought it was jacked and I had to use mine to finish up. Unfortunately they shut it off after I had ordered only about three inexpensive books from three different places and my grammar package from ETC. They shut it off BEFORE I had ordered the expensive stuff for geometry.  I thought their computer program for that would have been more sophisticated.  They never turned it off when we charging things all over South Dakota and Wyoming on vacation.  However, when order a couple of things from companies I've ordered from twice a year for five years and they shut it off.  Who can figure?

I will probably post some pictures of our most massive homeschool fieldtrip of all time (or "vacation") to the Badlands, Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore, and Yellowstone National Park.  I will also post soon about where each of the kids left off in the albums in June.  I also received some exciting materials to review and tell you all about that should save some of you a ton of work.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

State of the Homeschool Address, Part One

Seven weeks ago I realized that we had seven weeks left in the "school year" and Kal-El had 16 weeks worth of work left to do.  He was nine weeks behind.  Four weeks of this was due to me being sick the entire month of December.  The rest was due to the way he works.  Kal-El comes up with at least "one big idea" every day.  Usually two.  For example, a few weeks ago Kal-El's story problems introduced him to the idea of "lines of symmetry."  The story problem asked him to fill in a piece of graph paper with a pattern that exhibited four lines of symmetry.  Hmmm.  The series would have done well to introduce one line of symmetry, then two, THEN four.  I had him fill it in with one line of symmetry.  So, yesterday during school Kal-El challenged himself and spent an hour filling in a piece of graph paper to exhibit two lines of symmetry.  If he had a square piece of graph paper instead of a rectangle he probably would have achieved four.

Kal-El spent the next two hours writing his own encyclopedia.  Now, for the past six years I would have chalked all that up to great work and let him call it a day.  Kal-El's big ideas are very time consuming.  However, this time I said, "I'm glad you enjoyed that.  Now, you still have a work plan to complete this week and if you are going to stay on track you'll need to choose some other works today."  Mean Mommy!

The first point of good news is that my other child, the perfect one, I mean Me Too, is right on schedule for everything except two of our extra curriculum choices:  The Story of the World and Spanish.  In fact, I went through the KotU scope and sequences for every Montessori subject and he is right on schedule for year one in everything.  Phew!  

A side note here is "I thought there was 'no behind' in Montessori." True.  I have avoided looking at the scope and sequences much for the past few years because when I started Montessori elementary  my overwhelming impression of the scope and sequences was that everything says year one on it.  Truthfully it's not everything but most of it.  There are some things slated for other years.  However, I don't think anything says year six and very little says year four or five.  So what are the kids doing in those years?  I don't know.  Either those things are very very difficult and time consuming, the kids will be busy doing "big projects," or those are the years you get to everything you didn't finish according to the rest of the scope and sequence.  It is probably a little bit of all of those, but I'm counting on more of the last one.  Just because something has "year one" in the "start column" it doesn't mean you will can or should do it then. In order to read the scope and sequence properly you kind of have to understand what is in the albums.  In the scope and sequence behind each presentation or group of presentations there is a range of years.  A "start year" is given and an "end year" is given.  If something has a "start year" of "one" and an end year of "three" that can mean a couple of things.  It might be something that doesn't take very long and it is recommended that you give that presentation anytime during those three years.  Contrastingly it could be a big work like racks and tubes and you may start it in year one and finish it in year three.  To complicate matters there are some works, like racks and tubes, that become less attractive as the child ages.  It is for that last reason that I am trying to stay somewhat on schedule.

A second bit of good news is that almost everything that Kal-El was running behind schedule on are extra things that I have added to our Montessori-inspired experience.

The problem with "adding things" to Montessori is that it can be very difficult to get it all done in a Montessori way.  For this reason I try to "add things" only if they have to be "added" by definition (such as Spanish or violin),  to specifically flesh out something in the albums already (such as History), or to specifically replace something in the albums that I feel is "sneaky" and I am not incorporating well (such as vocabulary or spelling).  Because it is so important to me to add these things in a manner that is as Montessori-inspired as possible, these things have a tendency to linger.  That is how Kal-El winds up only halfway through All About Spelling Level 2 near the end of third grade.

As always, these things are teacher error.  If I had communicated his work plan in the right way he would have better met my expectations for pacing.  I obviously get better at this as I go. That is why Me Too is not behind schedule.  Still, the warning stands.  I can absolutely envision someone unwittingly getting themselves in a situation where they really have two hours of "curriculum" work scheduled for each day without even getting to the standard Montessori work.  Even without the "extras" I find that I want to give 5-7 presentations a day and can only manage 1-3.

Another factor is that I have a hard time getting the added things to fit.  The reason is that some of them don't technically belong there.  But that aside, I always try to start using a resource a full year before I truly want it implemented because that's truly how long it takes me to figure out how to make it work.  It took me a full year to realize that we need to do Spanish every day. In the case of SOTW it took me two years to figure out that we were only going to finish each cycle in a year if we do it every day.  If we are doing Spanish and SOTW every day, that's two presentations right there before I've even done a "land and sea breezes" demonstration, given an art presentation, a Bible lesson, or shown Me Too the next stage of the decanomial square.

Putting aside anything "extra," I think I have learned that it is tempting to have a lot of threads open at once but some while some threads are conducive to a year of ongoing work (long division for example) other threads are better if you open it and keep going until it is done.  There have been times where a single child has had two threads of numeration (or as Me Too calls it "numerication"), long multiplication (at least two formats), long division, squares and cubes, fractions, story problems, and the primary memorization sequence all open at once.  We wind up rotating so many things that months go by and you aren't finishing anything.  I am finding it better to have maybe two things going pretty much daily (right now long multiplication and long division), one thing open to get to weekly (right now story problems) and then one other thread to do as often as possible or almost daily until you've finished what you need to get to for the year (right now multiples) and then move on to something else (such as factors or squaring and cubing).

A third point of good news is that usually only spend three hours a day four days a week specifically having a "work session."  Violin practice is, of course, outside of that time.  On Friday's we almost always have a fieldtrip.  A lot of other work happens spontaneously inside and outside the school room.  Me Too is famous for going in there by himself on a Sunday.  We are pretty on track for such a low pressure situation.  This gave us a lot of room to catch up by the end of the year.  We had to add  another hour of work after lunch.  Kal-El  had many things on his work plan changed from "whenever" to "daily."  He is having to learn how to balance the desire to do "big projects" every day with expectation that he also do a few "little things" like a long division equation, a grammar box, and a spelling lesson.  I think that long term I may have to stick with the extra hour if I am going to teach history and Spanish the way I want to teach them.  I hope not, but we'll see how things pan out when we start the new school year in September.

Even with the extra time spent I think we are going to have to have a little bit of formal school this summer.  I really dislike the idea of school in the summer but I am determined to begin The Story of the World: The Middle Ages in the fall as well as the second volume of our Spanish curriculum.  I don't see us finishing in the two days.  The boys LOVE both of those subjects so I don't foresee a problem there.  Kal-El can't handle spelling and vocabulary work on the same day so we finished the spelling during the school year (today actually!) because we have to work together and he can finish the vocabulary this summer because he can do it himself when he's the only one awake from 5:30-7 a.m.

The extra school hours soaked up my usual blogging time.  I couldn't make it up elsewhere because we are remodeling.  Again.  Part Two of this post will fill you in on what the boys finished this month and where we stand going into next year.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Squaring and Cubing: Decanomial

Me Too is on track to finishing everything I had planned for him this year right on schedule.  He has been working so productively during our work sessions he had time to receive some math presentations before Kal-El has.  Kal-El will get to this soon, but in the meantime Me Too is the first to tackle the decanomial sequence in the "Introduction to Squares and Cubes" (Cultivating Dharma) or "Squares and Cubes of Numbers" (KotU) section of the albums.   MRD has this in its own chapter called "The Decanomial."

There are many "steps" or "levels" or layers to this work and each of the three albums I referenced do these things in a slightly different way and slightly different order.  I read them all, which was handy because everybody had different pictures, and did what made the most theoretical sense to me.  For another perspective, my friend Abbie has posted some of her son's work with the decanomial and in this post she links to a video series that shows a sequence of work for the decanomial.  The sequence they use is a little different than all of the albums I referenced as well.

One major difference between MRD and most of the others is that MRD has the child set up the decanomial from scratch several times, each time a different way.  In reality, in a classroom that is probably how it has to work.  Even if several other kids didn't also need the decanomial that day, it is unlikely that it would survive set up on the floor for five days like ours did (we did this on a Wednesday, Thursday and Monday).  If your child doesn't know their times tables and needs the extra practice, that might be the way to go.  My kids know theirs and would have gone bonkers setting this thing up five times.  We followed the sequence in the KotU album which has you set up the square once and then transform it several times.

First Me Too built the decanomial vertically one factor at a time.  1 taken 1 time, 1 taken 2 times, 1 taken 3 times, etc.,  Then, 2 taken 1 time, two taken two times, two taken three times.  This is the same as MRD step one.  Oddly, MRD has the child set up the decanomial the next time in the same way, except horizontally (1 taken 1 time, 1 taken 2 times...). The red strip winds up along the top instead of down the left side.  As this is a square that seems silly.  If I wanted to have my child build the decanomial horizontally I think I would have them build it so it looks the same in the end, but is constructed using a different sequence of facts.  I would have them build the first horizontal row 1 taken 1 time, 2 taken 1 time, 3 taken 1 time,  taken 1 time, etc.,

After the square was built.

Next Me Too found all of the existing squares (1x1, 2x2, 3x3, etc.,) and replaced them with an actual bead square from the bead cabinet.  We did all of this the first day.

Next we transformed the square using the commutative property.  1 taken 2 times is two and 2 taken one time is also two.  So, we replace the two "ones" with a single 2-bar and then continued such replacements throughout the decanomial.  That ended our second day.

On our third day he combined groups of bars to find additional squares.  For example, he combined 9x1 and 9x8, 9x2 and 9x7, 9x3 and 9x6, 9x4 and 9x5 to make additional nine squares.  I noticed in the EdVid video the guide combines any bars she wanted breaking up groupings in the process.  For example, grabbing two 9-bars from the 5x9 and combining them with the 7x9 group to make a square.  I think that is pedagogically bad.  Combine existing rectangles with another existing rectangle to make a square.

This, by the way, is one of the few times in the elementary sequence when I have not had enough bead bars.  I was short eleven 9-bars even after borrowing every one from the negative snake game.  I threw our bead square on the photo copier and we cut out the rectangles we needed.  I was also short bead bars when we did some of the multiples work, particularly when showing multiples of two-digit numbers.  We borrowed squares to make that work.  I don't think I'll buy another decanomial box, but I'm putting it out there.

After we made all of the squares Me Too stacked them on the diagonal.

"false" squares

Next Me Too exchanged all of the "false" squares for the real ones from the bead cabinet.

And of course he stacked them.  That ended our third day.  We could continue on to the paper decanomial(s).  However, those are on the KotU scope and sequence for year two and Me Too has numeration work that is more pressing.  He has finished multiples, but I would like him to ideally cover factors before beginning the geometric decanomial.  Now Kal-El is taking a turn with the decanomial beads.  He does need to do the paper decanomial(s) this year.  I'll see what Me Too is up to when Kal-El is finished.  If you are doing the MRD sequence you can now do everything we just did but BACKWARDS.  Start with the cube, exchange each cube for squares, lay out the squares as they were before, exchange each square for the corresponding bars, etc.,  Again, I'll see what Me Too is up to.

I will switch to the MRD album to complete the decanomial sequence at this point.  Much of the potential work with the paper decanomial(s) is in an extensions list in the KotU albums. There is nothing wrong with that, but the MRD happens to have a sequence for the extensions and full presentations with pictures so I might try that.  The MRD album has pictures of EVERY step for most of what we did above.  I mean pages of laying out the decanomial each time with one picture per row.  This was handy when transforming the square using the commutative property.  KotU could have used a few more pictures of that transformation.  MRD somehow manage to NOT have a picture of the critical transformation where you combine the bead rectangles to make squares.  That was the one time I really wanted a picture.  KotU had one.  Yea!  In COLOR.  The MRD pictures are also in black and white which is not ideal for this work.  It took several re-readings to determine that their first and second layouts were technically the same except for stripe direction.  Sigh.

I have to make our paper decanomials now (equations on graph paper, algebraic equations on graph paper, products on white and yellow paper).  I am going to store these, or some of these, in our old sensorial decanomial box (Square of Pythagoras box) instead of in envelopes.   One question I have is whether I should make these on graph paper. OR, because we no longer need our sensorial decanomial, I could use my label maker and use black ink on clear labels and put the equations on the actual pieces of our sensorial decanomial.  I could do the numeric on one side and the algebraic on the other.  The benefit of the graph paper is that you can see the number.  However, Montessori kids are so attuned to the color coding that they can "see" the number on those too.  Anyone have an opinion?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

History Question Charts in Action

storing Montessori charts

Our history question charts are getting so much steady use that they needed a new home.  Behind the red couch wasn't cutting it anymore.  This is one of those vinyl gutter shelves you see all over Pinterest.  No tutorial needed.  Once it occurs to you to buy a vinyl gutter it's pretty self-explanatory.  Except maybe the part where it is very hard to cut vinyl gutter with a hand saw at the hardware store.  If you are lucky the hardware store guy will feel sorry for you and come help hold the gutter so it doesn't move around so much while you cut.  If you are VERY lucky he will cheerlead for you, assuring you that cutting a vinyl gutter with a handsaw is very tricky and that it is not just you.  I was very glad he said that because I was blaming my arms.  The guy at the hardware store won't offer to cut it with his power saw for you because, as it turns out, vinyl gutters splinter all over when you cut them with a power saw. T hat's what happened to mine when I got home and tried to cut them with the power saw.  I was so happy that I had thought to get out the safety goggles and leave them perched on top of my head during this experience.  If you want a tutorial, this would be my tutorial:  Remember to slide your safety goggles down over your eyes before you start cutting.  I posted the details on how I made our History Questions charts themselves here.  The only change I would make would be to mount the charts on wood instead of foam board.  I didn't realize how heavily they would be used.  I will remount mine sometime this summer if I get the energy.

I found a spot for this over the bead cabinet.  You can stuff a lot of charts in this gutter if you need to.  I have some more charts lurking about somewhere that might find their way in here.  The pretty hardware drawers to the right are housing our ETC word study kit.  To the left of the hardware drawers I nestled a couple of recipe boxes that house index cards to use on the charts.   

The recipe boxes were very girly and had pictures of roosters and wicker chairs on them so I had to give them a makeover.  The boys told me what to search for and we printed out some images to tape over the tops.  Me Too wants you all to know that his chariot image was a far superior choice to Kal-el's Roman soldiers.

Montessori history question charts

Here are the charts filled out as part of some of the boys' history work from last week.  They filled out the charts as they apply to the Mycenaeans on Crete.  Following are some more pictures so you can see the questions and answers if you wish.  As always, my pictures should enlarge if you click on them.

The boys fill these out in after listening to a portion of the The Story of the World Audiobook.  As you can see, we don't worry about filling everything in.  If a question is answered in the course of the story we answer it.  If not, we don't.  Sometimes the empty boxes spur further research.  Kal-El will occasionally get the urge to fill them all in and hit the encyclopedias.  The encyclopedias didn't have much on the Mycenaeans.  

It started out as "once in a while." Once in a while eventually became every week.  And now, every day my boys spend a period of time drawing while listening to Story of the World (SOTW).  The reason I purchased SOTW in the first place was because it has an audiobook format and Maria Montessori recommended that the children listen to their history lessons while drawing.  I didn't want to be tied to reading aloud.  I already do a lot of that.  

Many people miss what Maria Montessori has to say about teaching history because  in The Advanced Montessori Method her writings on teaching history are split among the sections on teaching reading, a section on teaching history, and the section on drawing.  The link will take you the full text. If you use the search function to search the document for the word "history" you will find the sections you need. If you are at all familiar with the Jim Trelease book 
and/or The Well-Trained Mind  you will not be very surprised by what she has to say.

What surprised me about SOTW was how well it works with the history question charts.  The stories that are told answer most of these questions as if they were written to do so.  What also snuck up on me was how much the history question charts mimic what we do with Writing with Ease.  Therefore, it has occurred to me that the work with the history question charts are a major part of how we teach writing in the Montessori environment.

In this photo the cards cover up the questions.

In case you are confused, you can buy Writing with Ease as either a book or as a series of workbooks.  Everything that is in the workbooks is already in the book.  There are two differences.  The book has  several chapters prior to the actual daily work that are akin to the "theory" pages in a good Montessori album.  The workbook has all of the copywork prepared on handwriting paper and the book does not.  If you are using a specific style of handwriting paper in your homeschool, you won't use those pages anyway and may be happiest with just the book.  

I think that most parents, whether they homeschool or not, do not have a good handle on what individual skills are that form the web that is "writing" nor the normal developmental stages for each of those skills.  The theory pages should almost be required reading for any parent or teacher.  I highly recommend that everyone check it out from the library and read those chapters.

Here I have moved the cards off of the questions so you can see.

If you read those "theory" chapters you will quickly understand why several successful learning philosophies such as Montessori, Classical, and Charlotte Mason and likely others have certain key elements in common such as copywork, dictation, and narration.  You will also understand how your expectations of how the child will complete these things at different levels.  

How we fill in answers on the index varies.  Being able to listen to a reading and answer questions afterward is a skill.  Being able to answer in a complete sentence is a higher level of that skill.  Being able to write down the answer that you thought of is an even higher level.  In Writing with Ease the writing process is broken into different elements.  The child spends some time copying sentences that someone else wrote.  They spend some time listening to literature and answering questions about it and the answers on not written down.  Some times the child answers a question and the adult records their answer for them.  The different activities have different purposes.

Every child will be different, but in our homeschool having the boys write down all the answers every time would be highly unsuccessful.  History has replaced science as Kal-El's favorite subject.  He is obsessed.  However, the first day he and Me Too took turns recording the answers for the history questions charts after listening to SOTW Kal-El said, "Well, that really ruins history." That was funny because we have been answering questions after we listen from the very beginning.  The only thing that was different that time was that the kids wrote down their answers.   I have no interest in dampening his interest in any subject.  So, we will continue to work on writing separately until he is comfortable enough with it that it no longer "ruins" anything.   In the meantime, we listen, I ask the questions, they answer the questions, I record the answers.  Every once in a while, as we did last week, I have them write down the answers in order to take the temperature of how things are going.  It made what normally takes five minutes take thirty and the boys were not thrilled.

It is likely obvious to anyone who reads this blog regularly that I have added some "curriculum" to our Montessori experience over the years.  I always do this carefully and for a specific reason.  I thought I would wrap up today with some more concise information on the resources I mentioned today.  A lot of the posts I have sitting in draft have to do with this "additions" and perhaps it would be helpful for some of you to know what I've added, why, if I plan to continue, and if it is "necessary."

What:  The Story of the World
Why I added it:  I read in The Advanced Montessori Method  that the child should be listening to a specific type of history resource.  The SOTW fit this description.
Will I continue:  Yes.  Not only is it part of the method, but it is bringing in the history question charts and is becoming an important part of teaching writing in our environment.  Also, the resource book that I purchased to go with it has long lists of fiction and non-fiction books to go along with every topic.  I check out every single one from the library and the boys are reading 15-20 history books a week as a result.
Is it necessary:  SOME kind of history resource is necessary.  In my opinion, it might as well be this one.

What:  Writing with Ease
Why I added it:  narration, copywork, dictation, and high quality literature are supposed to be part of Montessori education and I couldn't seem to make it happen organically in our homeschool.  The resource provided a way for me to make it happen.
Will I continue:  Yes, for now.  Every week we read excerpts from great literature and I have approved of every selection so far.  It has served as our personal "Reading Rainbow" because the boys want to hear the rest of every book.  I will be tempted to keep using it for that reason alone.  But, also,  Kal-El doesn't mind writing in conjunction with literature but seems to mind it elsewhere.  This is a safe way to keep him working on it.
Is it necessary:  No.  The "writing curriculum" is organically hidden all throughout the Montessori method.  If your child is journaling, making booklets, if you are having them narrate their reading throughout the week, if you are practicing dictation, if they are reading quality literature you have it covered.  I notice that because these things don't have "materials" that you can buy and their own presentation pages that they are precisely the type of thing that can easily fall by the wayside.  I think it everyone should know the theory from the first chapters of the book.  If you can apply the WWE steps to the history question charts you will be far along your way.  However, be honest with yourself and assess whether you are really doing these things.  If your not, WWE might help you.  I notice that as I get more experienced I need these extras less and less and am more inclined to stick with the elements already in the method.