Tuesday, March 31, 2015

STEM Challenge Monday - Only on Tuesday

Each week I try to do some type of STEM challenge activity with the girls. Usually Monday is the day but occasionally for one reason or another it gets pushed back to another day. This was one of those weeks. I made the girls what until after lunch for this one.

For this challenge you will need a rubber band, string, and 10 plastic cups. The object of the activity is to tie the strings onto the rubber band and work as a team to move the cups into a pyramid formation. It took the girls a few tries to figure out the logistics and the best method of moving the cups.

Once they figured out that the rubber band needed to stay on the very tip of the bottom of the cup in order to get it back off easily while stack - they were able to build a pyramid quickly.

They were able to build a pyramid twice while also learning how to work together.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Some Favorite Links as of Late

I read many blogs and absorb so much information from them on a weekly basis. Quite frankly I think I spend too much time reading blogs and not enough time reading books, but I digress. Here are a few posts from around blog land that I felt were interesting or taught me something or made me think.

How to Get Your Interest-Led Learners Back on Track

I have often dreamed of running our own library for homeschoolers out of our home which is why I am constantly purchasing used books. Not sure if that will ever happen, but this link for little libraries outside your home is another thing altogether.

5 Tips for Running a Little Free Library

Current favorite sermon series from Andy Stanley

Northpiont Online Messages

Homeschooling Through High School Series

10 Things I Did Right Homeschooling High School

These are just a few things floating around the web that I thought might be interesting to others, especially those homeschooling high school age kids.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Weekly Wrap Up - The Week of Not Much

On the Home Front
Well, not much. I was sick Sunday through Wednesday. Grace plugged along with her school work as much as she could without me and helped with the house and animals while I was laid up in bed. There was a lot of catching up on TV episodes and laying around recovering from a lingering stomach bug with many an animal in my lap as you can see in the picture above.
My tutoring students didn't get to come all week but I did send some work home with them. The pictures below depict some of the activities they worked on last week. I took them outside to work on a sketch derived from one of our review products. The next picture shows the girls working on their Orphs of the Woodlands story and activities which is another review product. Both products will have reviews coming up in the very near future.

On the Cooperative Front
This is where things get really tricky. I had to miss practice on Tuesday because of the above stated illness. Luckily my partner in crime (co-director) was able to handle all the details of the next scenes in blocking Peter Pan. The next 4-6 weeks will be insane trying to build a stage, handle sound, figure out new lighting equipment, finish all practices for Peter Pan, Recital Night, Variety Show, Spring Formal, Parent Packet to go out with new classes for the fall, and so much more. We had another practice on Thursday that I was able to attend. Then last night (Friday) all the teens of the Cooperative got together for an informal dance. Think some ballroom, some fast dance, some slow dance, the chicken dance, line dancing, and even the limbo. Kids had a great time.

Teens getting ready to start the Virginia Reel last night.
This is learning What Makes a Brave Man Brave on our make believe stage made out of tape dimensions until the stage is built next week.
Portfolio piece for Dave Raymond's American History
Grace is plugging along with her academic load. Spanish and Literature classes will be finished on April 30th. Hoping History and Biology will be done by the end of May and Math in the beginning of August. Grace handed in her application for a work study program this week to an animal hospital for the summer. She is pretty excited about this one. Looking at maybe two full days a week and if they like her and she likes the work continuing on through the school year.

Weekly Wrap-Up

Monday, March 23, 2015

What Being Sick has Taught Me

Lately I have been struggling with administering such a structured school day to Grace that it leaves very little time for anything else. Of course some of that does fall on her and making her school work a priority that doesn't stretch throughout the day. As I have mentioned before in my opinion homeschooling high school just isn't fun and some days is pure drudgery. I want her to be passionate about something. Sometimes that passion revolves around art but over the past six months not as much as it once was. I have also talked with a close friend that unschools and have tried to get a beat on what that actually looks like on a day to day basis. I have tried something similar to unschooling in the past but it just didn't work for us. Most days Grace isn't very motivated to do anything, but today things were a little different. You see, yesterday afternoon I came down with the nasty virus that is going around our community. Grace had it a couple of weeks ago. Mondays are usually hard school days trying to get as many subjects finished as possible, but today would be a little different. Grace is not only getting some of her schoolwork done but she is having to be me. That means taking care of laundry, washing dishes, taking all the dogs in and out to the bathroom, watching over the puppies, and so on. I didn't have to ask her to take care of these chores for me she just stepped up and did them. So all this rambling is really my way of saying even if she didn't get to a lot of her schoolwork today - the day was not a bust. She stepped up to the plate and did what needed to be done to keep the house running smoothly while I was up in bed trying to get better. Life Skills 101. It is okay to step back and just live life because they are learning something every day. Just because they didn't open a book doesn't mean it wasn't a good day of education and life building.

Friday, March 20, 2015

What I Needed to Hear When I Needed to Hear It

 Sometimes you come across an article or blog post that just immediately speaks to you. This is one of those blog post series that you wish all your homeschool friends and beyond could read. So that is exactly what I am doing - sharing a blog post that speaks to me on so many levels. This link is to the third part in the series and I am waiting very impatiently to read the 4th and 5th installments. You can obviously find the 1st and 2nd if you are so inclined. I wish I had started out homeschooling this way and had the guts to continue it in high school. I have read this blog for years and she always writes something thought provoking and instrumental in our homeschooling life.

A Goal Driven Curriculum - fimby

If you have the chance to check this out and also go to some of her past posts you won't be disappointed. Happy reading!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Critical Thinking Company Review
Sometimes math can get monotonous and boring. Or you may find yourself getting close to finishing your regular curriculum and wonder what to do next. Well, that is the predicament I found ourselves in this year. I knew our regular math curriculum would be finished before the end of the year and we weren't really prepared to move onto the next grade level. Luckily for us the opportunity arose to review GPALOVEMATH from GPA LEARN. This company graciously gave us the chance to use and review this product with access to all five levels.
Current support platforms for the product include: Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac computers, Apple iPad, and Samsung Galaxy Tab 4. GPALOVEMATH is a streaming online product that can be used on the following browsers: Google Chrome, Internet Explorer 11, Mozilla Firefox, and Apple Safari 6 and 7. In our household we mostly used the program on Google Chrome with no problems. GPALOVEMATH is recommended for students in grades K-5. Each grade level has a different learning coach that teaches the material to the student and guides them along the way. We concentrated on the 5th grade level and our coaches were Dino and Nina. Two of my three tutoring students worked with me on this review. We decided to do it all together as review. This meant we listened to the lesson together, then did the practice problems and quiz problems together taking turns coming up with the answers. Typically we worked on this product three days a week Monday - Wednesday.
With this online math program the parent will find four main areas to investigate, explore, and use. The first is the Dashboard which is a centralized location to see what lessons your child has accomplished, what problems they may have had, rewards handed out, and any messages, etc. from the engage area of the program. The Learn section is where we spent 90 percent of our time. Here you can navigate around to the different lessons and topics available. There are drop down menus to choose the grade level and the topic order for each. Next is the Engage section which unfortunately I didn't need to use as of yet. In this area you can post questions and engage with other users of the program. The fourth section is Motivate which utilizes a way for parents to reward and motivate their students for hard work and accomplishments. The girls were pretty happy near the end of the review period to win a reward that let them get out of a chore and make their parent do that chore. For my two students that consisted of vacuuming and cleaning a hamster cage. The parent can use what the program offers as recommended rewards or curtail the rewards to what your family most identifies.
The topics we chose to cover were decimals and geometry. I found out real quick the girls enjoyed the geometry lessons much more than the decimal lessons. I think this mostly revolved around just preference more than anything related to the actual product. Something the girls were not very fond of was the robotic voice of the coaches. They repeatedly asked me to turn down the volume and sometimes even read the lesson themselves instead of listening to Dino and Nina. We also grew a little tired of the BOLT acronym (used to teach the method to solve problems) which was reviewed in every single lesson multiple times. BOLT stands for B - Break it Down, O - Organize a Plan, L - Let's Solve, T - Test Your Answer. Saying all this I do think it is a good product and as we neared the end of the review period both girls wanted to continue on with the program. I believe our next step with this product will look like this - finishing up our current math curriculum (only 14 lessons left) and start reviewing more math concepts from GPALOVEMATH until the end of the year.
If you are looking for something different to do for math you may want to take a look at GPALOVEMATH and see if it might be a good fit for you and your family. Also talk a look at what other Crew Members had to say as well about this product.
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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

STEM Challenge Monday

Each Monday I hope to motivate the girls to think with a STEM Challenge. For those unfamiliar with what a STEM Challenge actually is - Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Sometime even Art is added in to make it STEAM.
Yesterday I handed the girls a stack of index cards and tape. I asked them to create a structure that could support weight. Most of what they created worked.

It was interesting to watch how each individual created their structure. No two were alike.

If you are interested in starting a STEM Challenge day in your home I have created a Pinterest Board dedicated to STEM Challenges. I am also considering this as a Cooperative class next semester for the elementary group.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

TOS Review - The Critical Thinking Co. - Editor in Chief Level 1

Critical Thinking Company Review
Have you ever had a catalog come in the mail to you numerous times and always plan on ordering something, but never quite get to it? Well, that is exactly what happens to me each and every time The Critical Thinking Co. catalog comes to my home. So, when the opportunity arose to review Editor in Chief Level 1, I jumped at the chance.
Critical Thinking Company Review
The Critical Thinking Co. has been around since 1958 with their award winning products. Each product is designed to help students dig deep and think critically as opposed to just memorizing materials for retention. Of course the "think critically" part is intimidating to me because as a child and a youth I don't believe I was ever really taught to think that way. Maybe that is the one thing in the past that held me back from placing an order. Thinking I couldn't understand the material.
Our household was chosen to review Editor in Chief Level 1 which is for grades 4 and 5 and came to us as a physical book. This was a perfect fit to try out with my three 5th grade students that I tutor. Editor in Chief Level 1 has 12 sections of lessons that include:
  • Content
  • Capitalization
  • Punctuation
  • Spelling Rules
  • Nouns and Pronouns
  • Adjectives, Adverbs, Articles
  • Verbs
  • Agreement
  • Conjunctions, Prepositions, and Interjections
  • Confused Word Pairs/Negative Words
  • Homophones and Homographs
  • Run-On Sentences and Sentence Fragments
Also included in the workbook are review pages, answer keys, and instructional material for each new topic.
Here's How It Works
After reviewing the lesson's material with the student there will be four worksheets to apply the learned knowledge. Each worksheet will have multiple errors which the student then searches for and corrects. This mimics the process of editing. Now the student rewrites the passage without the previous errors.
Here's How We Used It
Each week we tackled a new lesson of information and completed the corresponding worksheets. The girls are here three days a week which equaled three worksheets beings accomplished. This put us finishing the first four lessons in the workbook including a mini-review section. I also created what I call a "cheat sheet folder" for each girl. This includes copies of the lesson material that they can refer back to anytime in the future for help. The only thing we didn't do was rewrite the passages as I have a couple of students that are not fond of writing. The workbook does state that rewriting the passages is optional.
In the future I plan on lining up the remaining topics to our current grammar curriculum and use the Editor in Chief worksheets for review. We very much enjoyed this product. One of my students loves all things grammar and she thought the product was fun. Sometimes they worked on their own and other times together to search out all the errors. The best part about Editor in Chief and quite frankly all of The Critical Thinking Co. products is the allowance of making copies for multiple students. This makes your purchase an economical one. I plan on utilizing this product many times in the future and would definitely purchase other products as well.
Please go and check out all the wonderful products provided by The Critical Thinking Co.. Many Crew members reviewed products as well from the same company that you may find helpful and you can check those reviews out at TOS Review Crew.

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Friday, March 13, 2015

Weekly Wrap Up - Busy, Busy, Busy

First off these guys keep us very, very busy. Like having two toddlers running around the house all the time. Cute as buttons but can make a mess in a matter of seconds. They have added so much joy to the household - but also so much work. Our days revolve around potty training and picking up after them.

My tutoring students are plugging right along. It is hard to believe the school year is starting to wind down and they will be gone in May for the summer. I have so much I want to do with them but only so much time to do it. Just like any other homeschooling family has to deal with. We have been hitting the books very hard with science, history, writing, grammar, reading, math and some extras. This new week should be in the low 70s each day so I am planning some fun nature study work and a STEM challenge. We were able to finish up three different review products that you will be seeing posts on in the next couple of days. Actually one is already up and we are continuing to use it for Science.

Saturday was a pretty day and we took advantage of it. Down the road from our home is a touristy type area that people from all over Georgia travel to see. We decided to travel 10 minutes down the road to it and join the tourists. The first round of miniature golf was played, ice cream was devoured, and we found some of the smoothest coffee I have every tasted. It will now be my go to coffee each day. YUM!

Cooperative business has kept us very busy too. This week was the first week of classes in two full weeks due to snow, ice, and frigid temperatures. That meant playing a lot of catching up. We are knee deep in practices for Peter Pan, building a new stage, and purchasing new lighting. Which brings me to what we did last night. Spirit Night at Chick-fil-a to help raise funds for the lighting. If anything it was a great night of fellowship and fun with some of the greatest people I know (my cooperative families).
Grace is also working hard had finishing up her Literature and Spanish classes for the year. Those will end on April 30th which will start giving her a lot more time to devote to her other studies. Although she is making great progress in her history and biology materials. Math as always seems to be a slow process and will need to be finished throughout the summer. We found out this week that a friend will be able to get her involved in a work study program at a local animal hospital over the summer for a couple of days a week, which she is very excited about.

Weekly Wrap-Up
Weekly Wrap-Up

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Too Many Books to Read???

Hello my name is Diane and I have a book problem. The following pictures are what I lovingly refer to as our library. At one time I had dreams of developing my own small library for other homeschooling families to come and check out materials. This would be books as well as curriculum. One day I still may make this happen, which is why I still have lots of books and continue to add to them.

This summer I plan on starting in the As and working my way through reading all the books. You see, I'm a reader, but Grace is not. I have high hopes that one day when she is not required to read she will decide that it is a worthwhile activity and do it on her own. I have many classics on the shelf that I didn't even read when I was in school. I think I am challenging myself to get it done. Currently there are four books on my nightstand that need to be accomplished first then I will start on challenge and keep you posted of course.

You will find loads of curriculum as well on my shelves. This comes from many years of used book sales and working on the TOS Review Crew. With only one child to homeschool over the past 8 years I had way more materials that could ever possibly be used. Now that has changed a bit with my tutoring students and I find myself going back to the shelves to see what I can use.

This summer may find me on Ebay selling off some of the materials that I will never use. Normally those sort of items go to the big used book sale that GHEA puts on each year, but they don't seem to be hosting it this year. Think the size of a gym and fill it with tables and tables of books. Truly a homeschool mom's dream.
The smell and touch of books seem to send me in a buying frenzy. Kindles are great but I find myself always going back to the tried and true book that I can hold in my hands and flip trough the pages. I will keep you posted on my reading challenge once it begins and update you on the new treasures I discover.

Monday, March 9, 2015

TOS Review - Visual Learning Systems - Digital Science Online

Visual Learning Systems Review
Every homeschool mom has a subject that either they don't feel comfortable teaching or just simply don't like it. Science is that subject for me. It doesn't interest me and I don't have a strong background in the subject materials. Anytime I can find a good product to help me in this area, I latch on to it. We were given this very opportunity to use and review Digital Science Online: Elementary Edition (Grades k-5) and Grades (6-12) from Visual Learning Systems.
I tutor three fifth grade girls three days a week and felt it was time to switch things up a bit in the science department when the opportunity to review Visual Learning Systems came about. I decided to stick with the appropriate age level (K-5) . We also picked one subject to delve in to and that was Earth. Choosing this subject area has so far led us to learn about: Earth's nearest neighbors, Earth's rotation and revolution, Exploring the Earth, Sun, and Moon, and Exploring Fossils.
Digital Science Online is a completely online product. We were given free range in all age areas (primary, elementary, and middle/high school) for one full year for this review. With having three fifth graders I concentrated in the elementary area. This is a supplemental science product to enhance your science curriculum that you are currently using. I used it as my spine of information then just added more activities, books, etc. as I needed them. As you can see all grades K-12 can use and benefit from this online program.
What is included:
In the elementary section there are three subject choices: physical, earth, and life. Each subject has 17-25 different topics available. Primary has four subject areas, including; physical, earth, life and health. The high school section has even more with, physical, earth, life, integrated, health, and biology. Once a subject and topic are chosen you will be brought to four main resources.
Videos - Each individual topic has a video ranging in time of up to 20 minutes long. The younger the child the shorter the video. The video is also broken down into sections. This means it can be watched one time all together or can be sectioned off and introduced to your child in smaller bites. We thought the videos were professionally orchestrated, provided loads of vital information, and were enjoyable to watch. This section along with the worksheets were the most used in our family. The one and only thing that I didn't like was that the videos started automatically without you pushing play which meant if you were only there to go to another resource you would have to take the time to pause the video each time. I have learned that just today the Vendor has corrected this issue (can you say great customer service) and it is no longer an issue.
Visual Learning Systems Review
Images - This section provides still images. Many are images seen in the video but others are available for each topic as well. Beautiful images of the subject matter studied.

Animations - Each topic has multiple animations that run for as short as a few seconds to a couple of minutes. For example in the Fossil materials there are animations depicting how fossils form, how a mold is created, and the process of petrification.
Teachers Guide - Here you will find all the resources that make life easier for teachers and parents. The parent is given the option of downloading and printing the entire teachers guide that includes answer key, worksheets, activities, video script, and more. The first week I did this, then discovered I was not really using every single item in the packet. Now I print one item at a time when I need it.
What Type of  Worksheets
Pre and Post Tests
Video Review
Writing Activity
Hands on Activities
My favorite worksheets to use were vocabulary, writing activity, and hands on activities. I liked the way the same information for each topic was covered on every single worksheet and activity just through different ways to help solidify the material in the child's mind.
How We Used the Product
I think the best way to explain how this product works is to take you through a typical week of how we used it in our home. On Mondays we would watch the new video topic of choice all together. These videos are usually in the neighborhood of 15-20 minutes long, The same day I would follow up the video with the corresponding video worksheet for review. On Tuesday we would do one of the activity worksheets or writing activity. Wednesday would find us reviewing the information provided through either a book I chose to share on the topic, another hands on activity or one of the worksheets provided. I also added a couple of extra projects and activities along the way. We were able to cover about one topic per week.
The video that discussed the moon waxing and waning inspired us to take Oreos to show the different phases of the moon. Of course Grace had to join in this day - because who doesn't love Oreos.

Hands on activity directly from the program creating a fossil.

Another fossil created from one of the hands on activities.

The videos on the Solar System got the girls thinking creatively and each of them created a representation of the Solar System in their own creative way.

The girls definitely liked this program. Since the review period is coming to a close I gave them the option of continuing through the Earth Topics or going back to our previous materials. They unanimously agreed to continue with Digital Online Science. I do also plan on incorporating some of the biology videos with Grace's high school biology study as well.
Visual Learning Systems has created special prices for homeschool families. This pricing will allow up to 8 students to use the product. Please contact Visual Learning Systems to see if this would work for your home and students. Follow the Demo Link to see tutorials and demos of the product. Also visit TOS Review Crew to find out what other homeschool families thought of this product.
 Social Media
Facebook -http://facebook.com/visuallearningsystems
Twitter - https://twitter.com/visualearning

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Friday, March 6, 2015

Weekly Wrap Up - The First in Good Long While

Weekly Wrap Ups have kind of fallen off the radar for me. Today I want to correct that. Life has been very busy around here. Between Cooperative classes and administration duties, tutoring three other children, educating my own, and daily life - just plain busy. 

First off a puppy update. I believe after three treatments of Revolution the puppies are finally completely free of scabies. Boy wasn't that a stressful six weeks. Who could of imagined that such small little pups could be packing such a wollop of problems.

Saturday we dismantled our old stage for the Cooperative and moved it all into storage to get prepared to build a new stage next month in a new location. Speaking of Cooperative, two weeks were canceled due to snow and ice. This has put us behind schedule with Peter Pan rehearsals. 

On the home front my three "littles" that I tutor have been working very hard. One of our review products is science related and it inspired me and them to create solar systems. I gave them free rein to create it in any fashion they wished. One of the girls created her planets with fabric and sewing.

Grace continues to produce artwork and dream of one day finding a way to make a living at it. She continues on with all her classes: Spanish, Biology, Literature, American History, and Consumer Math. We added Biology 101 DVDs to the mix and she is reading To Kill a Mockingbird in her Literature class. I picked up the movie today at the library for her to watch and compare.

One day we did a moon phase activity with oreos. YUM!!

Today Grace and myself headed out with friends to the big library and got lots of good stuff to keep us occupied.

Upcoming Reviews

Visual Learning Systems
GPA Learn - Great Parents Academy
Critical Thinking Company
ARTistic Pursuits

Lots of fun things coming down the pike!

Weekly Wrap-Up