Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Homeschool Co-op: Apologia's Chemistry & Physics, Lesson 1, Part 1

Today was a good day. It was the first day for us to begin our new co-op. A new year, but with old friends. Two of my bestie homeschool mommas, our 13 kids and me just hanging out in the library conference room is a fabulous thing. It's in the week in and week out times that you really get to build relationships and get to know people on a level that goes deep enough to really make a friendship that lasts.

Aimee gave us a lesson on a Renaissance artist and Jessica introduced us to creative writing in a really fun way. I may talk more about all that some other time, but for tonight, I'm going to focus on my lesson: The Properties of Matter.

My part of co-op is teaching Chemistry and Physics using Apologia's Young Explorer Series. Each lesson will probably take me at least two weeks to get through, because there are a lot of really cool experiments and I want to do as many as possible. This is why I love doing science with other families. It forces me to do more than just show the kids a video or tell them what is supposed to happen. I actually gather the stuff and do the experiments. The accountability and larger group both help with this, I guess.

Lesson One is properties of matter.  Since it was Day 1, we started with a really short review about my expectations for the class and all that jazz. Then came the lecture portion. This is my fourth Apologia science co-op class and I've pretty much done them all the same way. I NEVER read to the kids from the book, unless it's a short excerpt or the directions for an experiment. In fact, I've found that it's best for me to read the material ahead of time, and just make short notes for myself to teach from. It's more fun for everyone that way. No one enjoys a class that only involves the leader reading straight from the text you can read yourself!

I'm a big believer in graphic organizers and use them with kids all the time. So, rather than have them just take notes, I gave them one. Because it's a homeschool class, we have kids ages 4-16. That's a WIDE range. The smallest don't even get a paper, because honestly, if they can't read, there is no point. The middle kids may get a page that is partially filled out and the oldest of the kids have to fill in most of the blanks themselves. Differentiated instruction at it's best, right there! My old principals would be so proud!

There were a TON of supplies for this lesson. I spent a good chunk of time on Sunday afternoon collecting them and making sure I had everything I needed. That said, the baseball and eggs didn't make it to the car and I forgot to stop at my mom's house and borrow her turkey baster. Luck for me, the kids are imaginative and I had a small medicine dropper that we could use in a pinch!

One of the things I love about the Apologia books is that they include a lot of great experiments right in the text. Yes, I supplement with other things when appropriate, but just doing the stuff in the book is enough. That's exactly what we did today; most of the suggested stuff with a little of my own thrown in.

We only got through three properties today; volume, mass and density. We did the experiments for each as we got to them. Density was by far the most fun. Because it was a word that some of the kids had never heard before, we started out the discussion by having everyone stand and huddle together, thus becoming more dense. We then took some steps back; less dense. Repeat a couple times and they got the idea along with a couple of group hugs!

Because I'd forgotten the eggs, I assigned the next experiment as homework. Basically, the idea is to see how adding salt to water changes its density, and thus, the ability of certain things to float. Drop an egg into a regular glass of water and it will sink to the bottom. Drop it in a glass of salt water the result should be different.

We did another salt water density experiment with colored water that stayed separated when we sucked it up in a straw. I have to admit, I kind of blew it on this one. I didn't have big enough cups (see the photo below) because I didn't read the lesson closely enough. I tilted them a little and it kinda worked, but mostly it was a bust - totally my bad. Live and learn, folks!

The next, and last one of the day, went a lot better. It had the most supplies and was pretty pricey, as far as experiments go. I spent over $20 on the ingredients. The point of the experiment was to see how liquids with different densities would stack on top of one another. We followed the instructions and added a cup each of honey, corn syrup, and 100% maple syrup. Those are the three big layers on the bottom. Cool, huh? The next layers were supposed to be one cup each as well, but I got nervous that my vase wasn't big enough and I didn't have the turkey baster. It took a lot of time to add everything with the little medicine dropper, so I improvised. The kids could still see the layers, so that worked. I just forgot about dropping things into the solution to see where they would end up. That was much harder to see. I wish I had taken a bit more time and made all the remaining layers at least a little bigger.

Next came whole milk, dish soap, water, vegetable oil and rubbing alcohol. We added some food coloring to a few of the liquids to make it easier to see the differences. Everyone thought this was a really neat experiment. One of the littler guys kept hypothesizing that the liquids would mix but whenever they did, they quickly separated back out. After getting all the layers in, we added various objects to see where they ended up. You can see the ping pong ball that ended up on top, as well as the die and rock that sunk all the way to the bottom. What you can't see in the picture is the cherry tomato in the dish soap, the bead right under the milk layer, and the popcorn kernel that we couldn't find that's somewhere in the middle!

Next week, we'll discuss seven more properties and make our own lava lamps! I'm really looking forward to seeing how those turn out. Stay tuned, as my plan is to try to document our way through chemistry and physics here! 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Homeschool Update: All the Other Stuff We're Trying This Year

It's another new year and once again, I'm changing some things up. But we're keeping some things the same, too. Earlier, I wrote about how outsourcing math by using Teaching Textbooks has changed our homeschool for the better. If you missed that, you can read all about it here. Not teaching and grading everything for all four kids has been a lifesaver so far, even though we're only a month in. I actually have time to do the laundry, keep the house reasonably clean and if I'm lucky, catch up on an episode or two of my favorites on Netflix.

Another thing I've passed off this year is writing for my two oldest. I've been struggling to be effective in teaching writing for several years now. This summer my husband and I were discussing how and what we could do to change that. About that time, a friend, who just happens to make a living as a professional writer, posted on Facebook that she was wanting to teach a writing class for middle and/or high school kids. This was honestly an answer to prayer. For a minimal fee (at least, compared to what I spent on TT!) she would teach them about thesis statements and paragraphs and punctuation and all that jazz. We signed up immediately. There are just four kids in the class, so it still has a very "homeschool" feel. They enjoy lots of discussion, a little silliness and tons of individual feedback from a professional writer. It's a total win for us. My son still hasn't fallen in love with writing but at least he's trying now. Truth is, he has great voice and his stuff is fun to read. Hopefully, after this class, he'll know that and realize that he can be good at this, even if it's not as natural to him as throwing a baseball.

One thing we DIDN'T change was our history. Last year we started Notgrass Publishing's America the Beautiful. It's American history, geography and literature. It can be done in a single year, but we decided to stretch it out over two. All four kids gather around the table, listen to me read the lesson and then do age appropriate assignments. Sometimes that means map exercises, creative writing paragraphs, looking up definitions of new vocabulary or completing a crossword puzzle. The older two kids have five daily comprehension questions. All of this is done without complaint. The kids like the lessons and so do I. I am really liking the chronological approach they use. It's brought to light a few things that hadn't clicked for me with my random bits and pieces of history taught in random years. The continual struggle over slavery from the earliest moments of American history, in particular, has stood out to me. They also give a short biography of each president and the kids and I are enjoying learning about them. Did you know that Johnson once beat a man with his cane after a failed assassination attempt, where both men's guns failed to fire? Neither did I. But now we all do!

The littles are continuing their phonics workbooks. Tigger uses a book I had left over from my public school teaching days and AJ uses one I pulled out of a bin at the recycling center. It's probably my very best find out there to date. You never know where you're going to find the good stuff, momma. I'm so NOT above dumpster diving when it comes to otherwise expensive curriculum stuff!

With my bigs, I'm finding we have a few holes. When they were the littles, all of this homeschooling stuff was so new and scary and overwhelming for me. There are some things that we did really well and a few things, not so much. Some things worked really well for one kid and not at all for another. But one area that all of my kids have struggled with is spelling. So, this year we're trying out All About Spelling. The littles are on Step 1, so we have a really long way to go and I can't give much of an opinion on it yet. I do really like that they are learning ALL of the sounds each phoneme makes, not just the long and short vowel sounds. It makes more sense to start off saying that "C" can have a hard sound like in "cat" but also a soft sound like in "circus," as opposed to just saying "the c says /k/." I can already see the difference that is making with AJ reading.

I'm waiting to save up a bit so I can buy All About Reading because I have this feeling that it's going to prove to be more effective than Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons for my boys and their learning styles. Since I only have one left who is learning to read, I'm finding it harder to bite the bullet and spend the money, but well....I'll let you know. For now, we're taking it one phonics page at a time.

Next week we start a new co-op with some of our old co-op friends. I'll be teaching Apologia's Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics while the other moms teach art/music appreciation, creative writing, and PE. I've spent the day collecting materials and making lesson plans and I think it's fairly safe to say that I'm pumped about how fun this is going to be! Not to mention, I will get to see a couple of my favorite homeschool moms on a regular basis again! Their kids are pretty great, too, it's going to be a blast to teach. (Chemistry pun intended. My kids keep asking me if we're going to blow things up. I keep answering with, "I hope not!")

This isn't all that fills our days, but it's the majority. We throw in some Typing Instructor, DuoLingo, Tynker, Code.org, Stack the States or other app on most days. The kids read - a lot. To me, to each  other and to themselves. Next month they'll read to the residents at our local assisted living facility once a month. They'll also hear the librarians read at the bi-monthly homeschool story times our local library will be hosting. No one ever meant homeschooling to be staying home all day anyway, right? After all, the world is our school and we can (and do!) learn everywhere!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Homeschool Update: How Teaching Textbooks Changed Us

So....we're like a month into the new school year here. Kinda. I mean, I can't say that we've been hard-core schooling all that time. This year we've done what I'd call a soft-launch. Also known as the "Mom can't handle everything all at once so she's starting off slow" launch. Whatever works, man.

Anyhoo, we're off and running now. And honestly, this may be the best year yet. "What makes this such a great year?" you ask. To sum it up in a word: outsourcing. That's right, my friends, this homeschool momma has started out Year 8 by NOT teaching every single thing myself. It's blissful.

The very best thing I have ever done was switch our math curriculum from Saxon to Teaching Textbooks. Don't get me wrong. Saxon is a FABULOUS, hard-core, tried-and-true way to teach math. Kids who go all the way through it are math phenoms. But you guys, it is SOOOOOOO time intensive. I'm talking hours and hours and hours of math every. single. day. Teaching, working and grading three levels of it pretty much killed me last year. In fact, I would say that it sucked the joy out of many a day in our little home. The kids would groan and moan when I said it was time to do math. There was much, much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Thanks to the power of the internets, I found a Facebook group of homeschool parents. A few kept talking about this new fangled math system they called "TT." For over a year, I watched, listened, and researched to see if this was something that would work for us. Last spring, when we got our tax return I talked Vance into biting the bullet, spent almost $600 and bought three brand new levels of Teaching Textbooks for my kids. Honestly, we should have started that very day. But alas, I waited for the new year to start this fall. Rookie mistake.

For those of you unfamiliar with the power of TT, let me give you the basics. TT is a CD based program that works with our iMac. (It can also work on a Windows based machine just as well.) After the initial download, the kids put in their CD, click the icon and put on their headphones. The program gives a lecture, practice problems, and regular problems. The kids have two chances to get it right and get immediate feedback on each problem. TT has a grade book built in, so the kids and I can go anytime and see how they've done on each assignment and test. The problems are fun and even with only one kid able to work at a time, they take WAY less time than how we were doing math before. Did I mention that I don't have to grade anything? Nada. That is by far my favorite part.

Remember how I said that last year there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth? Well, we still have that. Every time I mention cleaning a toilet or giving me a kiss in public, that's the case. But math time? Not so much. In fact, not at all. One kid is often done with math before I even get breakfast. The others smile and go to the computer with absolutely no fussing when I mention that they need to do their math. More than once, a kid has even ASKED to do MORE THAN ONE ASSIGNMENT a day. This. is. unheard. of. Can I get a "Hallelujah" here? Because this change really deserves one. I can honestly say that TT has changed our homeschool for the better. We have more time and even more importantly, we have more peace in our home. *Insert contented sigh here.*