Monday, August 26, 2013

Millions to Measure by David M Schwartz

Take a trip with Marvelosissimo the Mathematical Magician in his hot air balloon!  In this book, we travel back into time to discover the origins of measurements, first in feet and pounds, following that into standardization of the foot, expansion into large units and finally introducing the metric system.  The book ends with a comparison of the two systems, and comments that the US will likely eventually switch over to metric to join the rest of the world.  :)  This is one of those great resources that is very educational, packed with information and still fun enough that my 1st grader understood the material and commented, "That was a great story!"  Perfect for some living math into your kid's day.  A little bit of an appendix in the back expands on the information presented in a more detailed and factual manner for parent or educator if you want to expand the lesson.  The book does not cover Celsius versus Fahrenheit at all, but the appendix covers it some if you want to present it also as an expansion of the topic. 

Illustrations are cartoony with comments bubbles, a style most kids like.  And who could dislike "Hercules the Huggable Hippo"?  Excellent book for fun or teaching.

Note, this is a series.  We will be looking up the others in the series, as they too look great for living books in our elementary math.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Book review: Sorting by Lynn Peppas


This book is a "Correlated Reading" suggestion in Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding by Bernard Nebel (often referred to as BFSU), lesson A1.  That is how we came to be reading it.  ;) 

Packed with an incredible introduction to mathematical concepts in a short 24 pages, but it felt rushed and the pictures were very blah and uninspired.  Are there no better things to sort than socks?  Maybe some colorful birds or something a little more interesting? 

There is nothing inaccurate on the definitions or descriptions, but there is nothing outstanding about this book either.  I choose and read science and math picture books to my kids to give that something "extra" to inspire an interest in what can be a dry topic (thinking math here for kids).  This book just didn't fit my requirements, too dull and unimaginative really.  

Friday, August 23, 2013

Book review: Chee-Lin: A Giraffe's Journey by James Rumford

This is the tale of Tweega (Swahili for "giraffe") and his journey from his home in Africa, captured and taken across the continents, ending finally in Peking more than 20 years later.  Along the way, Tweega meets different people and experiences new things.

What is unique and wonderful about this book is not the plot as it is, but the beautiful lyrical language and gorgeous illustrations.  This book really was a treat to read aloud and look at with my kids.  It is quite long for a picture book, and is best probably broken up over several days or more.  Each 2-page spread really serves as a chapter or section, and can be broken up that way.

The first pages tell of what a chee-lin is (mythological horned beast) and an omen of good fortune to the Chinese.

If you read this, notice at the back the nice map of the world highlighting Tweega's travels.  I wish I had noted this first so we could have referenced it during the story.

This book is definitely a 5-star read, not to be missed.

Side note:  We read this as a recommendation/extra reading living book in our science curriculum for my 1st and 3rd grade kids.  We are using Sassafras Science Adventures:  Zoology with them right now, which is also a "living book" rather than a textbook as we follow twin children in discovery of animals around the world.  Chee-Lin was recommended in the giraffe section, and I'm so glad we didn't miss this one.  :)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review: Painters of the Caves by Patricia Lauber

This year, the kids and I are doing ancients again in history.  This is the 2nd time through for Zach (11, 6th grade), but the first for everyone else.  Last time through, Zach was very young and we used simple books with Sonlight.  This time, for him, we are going much more in depth, while Noah (8, 3rd grade) and Lily (5, 1st grade) are tagging along with a more surface level exploration for their first time through the time period.  I'm not a fan of not learning something new myself, so of course I'm exploring new resources and some new topics for us to consider.  We did much more info on the ice age and cave painters this time, and we loved this book. 

This is an outstanding book for kids on cave painters/ice age peoples. The photographs are some of the best I have seen in kids books to show the actual paintings in the caves, but in addition there are large color photos of a computer simulated face of an early modern human, tools, etc.

Chapters are as follows:
1. "Great Discovery" - intro and how Chauvet was discovered
2. "People of the Ice Age" - Brief depiction of early groups, Neanderthals, Cro-Magnons, what was an "ice age."
3. "A New Way of Life" - Tools invented and how that changed life.
4. "Stone Age Artists" - Early statues, beads, cave paintings including techniques
5. "What the Art May Tell" - Theories on the meaning and purpose of the art to the people
6. "The Importance of Chauvet" - Older yet as sophisticated as later, different animals, better preservation

An appendix goes into some detail on carbon-14 dating.

I found this interesting to all my school-aged children (grades 6, 3 and 1), though my 1st grader liked the pictures and my interpretation for her most. It was detailed enough to interest my 6th grader, and again the pictures helped with interest for my 3rd grader. It was the best book I have found to bridge the simpler books and the more detailed high school/adult level books on the caves, definitely a 5-star read for us.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

What Are We Doing This Year? Co-op

So, a question you may or may not be wondering is what are we doing this year for school.  The answer is lots and lots of exciting stuff.  Of course.  :)

Something totally new to us though is an academic co-op two days a week, 4 hours a block.  We have been enjoying a circle of homeschooling friends as a park day group for several years now.  Gosh, Eden was in a baby carrier when we first started with this group.  We have been incredibly blessed with a core group of families that have stuck with us pretty much the entire time now, meeting weekly for play at the park, adding in things here and there, a PE day with with EMH Sports, play dates, moms' night out, etc.  These families have been our support network. 

This year we branched into new, exciting and scary territory by attempting to take our play friends and learn with them.  Ah, I should have mentioned that most of these families have at least one child we term "quirky," meaning typically that kid is outside the normal range in behavior for that age group.  An example of course is that Zach is bipolar and ADHD.  We have in our group anxiety, ADHD, shyness, dyslexia, other unnamed quirks or whatever.  These kids often have a hard time in the social setting, a big reason we homeschool in the first place.  These same quirks often make it hard for many of the kids (NOT all though) to fit into a traditional group learning environment.  We decided to attempt our own group learning to help our kids get more used to learning in a group, teach things we love teaching while having others teach things we don't and generally continue to all guide our kids in acquiring necessary social skills for life.  Our co-op was born. 

We are now a little more than a month into this, and what we have doesn't look exactly like what we first thought.  This isn't a surprise, right?  None of us had previous co-op experience AT ALL.  We have learned a lot, and continue to tweak it.  But here is our framework: 
  • Two days a week 11-3ish.  [Note:  That first week we tried 6 hours!  Yep, that bombed right away.  Those of you with co-op experience are probably laughing here.]
  • Four moms teach, each one subject.  We cover geography, science, history and art.  
  • Each subject is taught once a week, so each co-op day 4-hour block is broken into two subjects.
  • We added a "circle time" or checkin time and an explicit teaching of a social skills topic each co-op.  This is probably pretty unique for our group due to our kids!  It was needed for sure.  It has ranged from how to raise to hand to speak, not interrupting in class, body language listening to others, what impulse control means, etc.  
  • Our kids are ages 3 to 11 basically.  After the first week (that first week was a shocker), we got our groups into 2 basic groups of the youngers who hang out and learn to play together (two 3yo and one 5yo) and the olders.  We have in addition one 5yo who is a girl (Lily) and more neurotypical in general than some of the older boys, meaning she has no real diagnoses and is pretty quiet in general, loving school.  Hence, she floats between the olders when the topic is of interest to her and the youngers when she feels tired or the discussion is beyond her.  She is really in the middle right now of the groups. 
The moms had another meeting today where we adjusted things more, refining.  Our biggest challenge has always been and continues to be the behavior of a group of boys with varying skill levels in social and academic settings.  The actual "school" part of it is the easy part!  

Book Review: Ideas that Changed the World

As an adult reading this book, I might not give this 5 stars. My 5-star rating is for this book used as part of a history curriculum for a middle schooler. We have lots and lots of the DK books on history topics, but this one is unique on our shelves as an overview of ideas rather than physical objects that helped change the world. An example of this is where as the DK ancient history things may show paintings or pottery shards, this Ideas book opens with the evidence of cannibalism in very early humans and what that might indicate for those people above and beyond a simple need for food. Aside from the Donner Party of course in American history texts, many books would shy away from that topic. And my middle school child, of course, was fascinated by the idea and evidence of it. Book is a hit 2 pages into it, right?! As it continues talking about the "Mind of the Hunter" (earliest people), it continues to talk about symbols and the usual things but also about evidence of how early people may have thought about magic, a "universal force" or other more cerebral ideas.

I love that this book focuses on overreaching concepts rather than details for each era (predestination, chivalry, civil disobedience, etc) but in a brief enough scope that the student can understand it for the era but not be overwhelmed and stuck on that topic alone. If the interest is great enough, of course, the student can then find other books to go further in depth.

I assign this book throughout our history studies as an adjunct to our traditional books, finding it covers a niche the others do not.  I assign generally just a few pages a week as we progress through our history cycle.