Weekly Wrap-Up: The Spring Break Edition

Posted:
Apr
18
2014

Happy Friday…I guess. The Friday at the end of spring break is never quite as happy as the Friday before. It has been an insanely busy week headed into what I fully expect will be two more insanely busy weeks. Still, it’s nice to have break weeks to take care of things like eye exams (check) and hair cuts (check). It has, however, been the sort of week that makes me wonder how we ever have clean laundry.

Other than eye exams and hair appointments, the most visibly productive thing I’ve done this week is order a new phone. My Droid, which I have loved, has not been wanting to play nicely lately. It hasn’t held a battery charge worth a flip and you should see some of the texts it has sent. It just randomly adds words and letters and sends the text before I can fix them. No joke. I can only imagine the utter confusion and helpless laughter of the recipients.

I was leaning toward an iPhone since high quality photos were a prime consideration for me. Hey, I’m a blogger. I just couldn’t bring myself to pay iPhone prices, though, and I do love the Android operating system, so I finally opted for a Samsung Galaxy 4S. It’s supposed to be here today, so that should give me the weekend to play.

I’ve also spent some time this week considering high school curriculum. I’ve got lots of ideas jotted down and I’ll be sharing them with you soon, in case you’re curious. Probably not until after these back-to-back travel weekends, though. I’m starting to break out in hives just thinking about that. (Not really.)

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(Our school table midway through the day on an average day)

On a totally random note, I’ve been watching past seasons of Bones on DVD. You may recall that I discovered the show while I was at the hospital waiting for my niece to be born. The way I watch is a convoluted mess. I started at the beginning with Season 1 for my treadmill-walking viewing pleasure. Then, after we finished Castle, Brian wanted to start watching it with me. We started with Season 5 in our room since the earlier seasons are in my workout room.

That means that this week I have finished both Season 3 and Season 6. I watched the last episode of Season 3 just before Brian got home on Tuesday. I knew basically what was going to happen because I accidentally came across a spoiler online (grrrr!), but it still made me cry. Yes, really.

When Brian came home, I mentioned to him that Bones had made me cry. A few hours later, at supper, he looked at me kind of funny and asked why my nose had been red earlier. “Because Bones made me cry,” I said.

His reply, sounding rather surprised, was “You were serious about that?”

Um, yeah. I don’t know why, but I found the whole exchange terribly amusing. Not quite as amusing as this, though:

cat drinking out of bird bath

I don’t know what to think about a cat who insists on drinking out of a nasty bird bath even though she has a clean bowl of fresh water. Freak.

I guess those are the highlights from my not-so-interesting-but-very-busy week. Will I see any of you at Great Homeschool Conventions in Cincinnati next week? Stop by the Geography Matters booth and say hi if you’re there!

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REAL Science Odyssey Biology Level 2 Review

Posted:
Apr
17
2014

I received this product free for the purpose of reviewing it.  I received no other compensation for this review.  The opinions expressed in this review are my personal, honest opinions.  Your experience may vary. Please read my full disclosure policy for more details.

We used – and loved – REAL Science Odyssey from Pandia Press when my younger two kids were in elementary school. (You can read my reviews of Life and Earth and Space.) We loved the engaging lessons and hands-on labs. So, it makes sense that we would come back to the series for middle school.

REAL Science Odyssey Biology 2 Review

I get asked to do a lot of reviews on my blog, but this is one of those cases when I emailed the company and asked if they’d let me review their products again – and we were not disappointed. The REAL Science Odyssey Level 2, Biology, is just as engaging, just as well-written, and just as hands-on as its elementary-level predecessors.

How are REAL Science Biology lessons set up?

I really love the fact that the biology lessons are set up in predictable patterns. Y’all probably know by now that I am a creature of habit. Each lesson contains:

  • Read – This is the written text of the lesson, which introduces new concepts and expounds on those previously taught. This is designed so that most middle school students can read it independently. New vocabulary is printed in bold text and typically includes an explanation with the formal definition included in the glossary.
  • Explore – The explore section includes both general and microscope labs. The microscope labs are optional, but highly recommended. We love them! (Because everyone always asks, this is the microscope we use.)
  • Absorb – This section includes the Famous Science series and offers a chance for students to do some research on their own about topics related to that unit’s study. The topic will either be a famous scientist, pathogen, molecule, or discovery. The answers are not included in the student’s text, but are intended to be discovered through research. We have used the Internet for this.
  • Learn – Finally, each chapter ends with a Show What You Know section, which is a comprehension quiz over the topics studied in the chapter. I really, really like this because it offers a good opportunity to review, gives my kids some test-taking practice (which they haven’t had much before), and shows me what we may need to go over again.

The available texts for Biology 2 include the teacher’s manual, a student text, and extra student pages, which contains only the printable pages if you have more than one child using the text. Each is available in print and digital form. I appreciated the fact that the digital form includes rights to download it to each of your children’s computers, so all your kids can use the books without violating copyright.

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I haven’t used the teacher’s manual much, but the times I’ve used it, I’ve been very glad to have it. It contains answer keys and lab notes (for those times when you’re not sure the lab turned out quite like it was supposed to). It also has a suggested weekly schedule for covering science 2, 3, or 5 days of the week.

Can REAL Science Biology 2 be used for high school?

One of the reasons I was really interested in checking out the Level 2 Biology text was that I had heard that it could be beefed up enough to use for high school science. In my opinion as a homeschool mom, not a science instructor, I think it could. It includes both general and microscope labs for each chapter. It even includes a couple of dissection labs.

Science Experiment 04.01.14

If I were using it for high school credit (and I’m leaning toward doing so), I’d want to add some more dissections, I think. I’m not sure what else I would adjust since we’re only into the second unit, but it might also work well alongside something like DVD lessons.

What were our thoughts about REAL Science Odyssey Biology Level 2?

As I said earlier, we are really, really enjoying this curriculum. It’s brought excitement back to our science lessons. The lessons are easy to understand without being “dumbed down.” The reading portion of the lessons is much longer than the Level 1 books, which is to be expected. It’s very appropriate for middle school students in length, subject matter, and reading level.

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The labs are engaging and age-appropriate. The directions are given in numbered, step-by-step instructions so that students can do them with minimal supervision. The labs don’t shy away from math, but give kids real-life applications for all that math they’ve had to learn. (We haven’t gotten into anything too complicated, but that may be another reason this math-phobic mom is glad to have the teacher’s manual.)

The lab reports are laid out in such a way as to prepare students for high school and college level lab write-ups, with sections for:

  • hypothesis
  • procedure
  • observation
  • results and calculations
  • conclusion

I also like that the microscope view sheets have a graph-paper-like space for students to draw what they saw. The graph lines encourage students to attempt to draw to scale what they saw through the microscope lens. I think it encourages more detailed drawings than my kids might normally attempt.

We love the hands-on labs, such as building a cell model, though we opted for a  cake version, rather than the Plaster of Paris version in the text. What can I say? We each have a sweet tooth.

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It’s worth noting that REAL Science Odyssey is a secular curriculum, so there is a unit on evolution. I know that will excite some of you and disappoint others. We are a Christian family, but I plan on covering the evolution unit because I think it’s important that my kids understand the Theory of Evolution and how it compares to our Ceationist beliefs, so the unit doesn’t bother me.

Finally, I want to be sure to point you to one of things I really love about all Pandia Press courses – their Try Before You Buy option. They allow you to download several week’s worth of the full curriculum at no charge – not just sample pages, but full lessons. If you like it, you just come back and pay to download the remainder. If not, you move on. That’s it. I love that!

We are so happy with our science choice for this year. I’ll be bringing you a review of Pandia Press’s history curriculum soon, so be on the lookout for that.

Have you used any curriculum from Pandia Press? What did you think?

 

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Answered! Your Burning Questions About Year Round Homeschooling

Posted:
Apr
15
2014

I recently asked my Facebook readers what burning questions they have about homeschooling. Overwhelmingly, there was much curiosity about year round homeschooling. So, here are your burning questions answered!

Insight on how a year round homeschooling schedule works

photo credit josé fco rodriguez on flickr (text added)

How do you accomplish year round homeschooling?

There are many different ways to accomplish year round school. It’s even been suggested to me that what my family does isn’t really year round schooling because we take off six weeks in the summer and in December.

Whatever. It sure feels year round when you’re starting school in July.

What we do is six weeks of school, followed by one week off. We typically start the second week in July, which gives us time for three 6-week sessions before Thanksgiving. We then take off the week of Thanksgiving until the first Monday after New Year’s Day. This usually gives us time to finish the last three 6-week sessions before Memorial Day. Then, we start the cycle again in July.

For those who would like to school year round, but don’t like the idea of six weeks on/one week off, I have previously shared other potential ways to schedule your homeschool year.

What are the pros and cons of year round homeschooling?

I have seen only the benefits of year round schooling. I really can’t identify any cons. I asked my kids. The only thing the girls could think of was not getting a longer summer break. They both agreed that this schedule is pretty awesome.

Josh said the only thing he doesn’t like is that sometimes our breaks don’t coincide with those of his public school friends. (I don’t hear much complaint about that except when they’re off and we’re not.)

How do you convince your kids to school during the summer?

The first year was the trickiest, when we were starting school in early-July, rather than mid-August. However, everyone liked the idea of a week off at the end of every six weeks, so all the kids were game to give it a try. We all love that week off so much, that it’s never been hard to convince everyone to get started in July after that.

There is always a little grumbling – even from me – because our summer break goes by so quickly, but we all know it’s worth it, so we press on. Add to that the fact that it is too miserably hot in the summer to do anything else, and it’s not a hard sell.

How do you balance year round schooling with summer activities, camps, and playing with public school friends?

That really hasn’t been a problem for us. Church camp is in early June, so we’re on our six week break at that time. Megan attended a gymnastics camp last summer. It is a one-week camp, offered 3 different weeks, two of which don’t conflict with our schedule, so she chose one of those two weeks.

My kids public school friends are cousins or friends from church. We just arrange play dates with them as we would at any other time of year.

We do Kids Bowl Free in the summer. To me, activities like bowling, gymnastics or swimming are a good fit for PE during the summer months, as long as they only take up a few hours of the day and don’t completely derail the whole school day.

Ever since we started year round schooling, we have arranged our schedule with a built-in catch-up day on Friday. This is a lighter school schedule day that can be used for afternoon play dates (which became “social outings” once the kids hit middle school – “play date” is so elementary-sounding, apparently) or to make-up schoolwork from earlier in the week that may not have gotten completed. This ensures that there is still room for fun during the summer.

How do you do year round schooling without burning out yourself and the kids?

I can honestly say, without a moment’s hesitation that schooling year round has been, for me, a much more effective way to combat burnout than the more traditional school schedule we were following before. We know that we get a break at the end of every six weeks. This allows time for routine appointments such as hair cuts, eye exams, and dental and doctor appointments, without disrupting the whole school day, along with some much-needed downtime.

After two (or has it been three?) years of year round schooling, I cannot even imagine going back to a schedule that has us doing weeks at a time with no end in sight.

Not only does year round schooling provide sanity-saving benefits, but it allows for flexibility, too. If something happens that causes you to need a week off, you can just adjust your schedule and either make that week up during what would have been your week off or during the long summer or Christmas break.

How do you handle sick days with a year round schedule?

We have been very fortunate not to have too much sickness, so this hasn’t really been an issue for us. Depending on the severity of the sickness, we carry on with school as much as we can. I’ve yet to have anyone so sick that we couldn’t curl up in bed and enjoy reading aloud and Bible study.

This is another place where having a built-in catch-up day comes in handy. One sick day can be absorbed in that built-in day. Several sick days can either be absorbed in several weeks worth of make-up days (no light school Fridays for a few weeks) or by adjusting your weeks off or long break schedules.

What do you do with the make-up day if nothing needs to be made up?

We learned the concept of a built-in make-up day with Trail Guide to Learning, which offers a light school day to allow room for things like co-op and outside classes. Trail Guide offers enrichment activities for those days if you don’t need a light day for other activities.

That is a concept you can carry over to your homeschool. A light school day (or catch-up day) can be used to catch up assignments that didn’t get done or to do things that otherwise might fall through the cracks. Some ideas include:

  • Art
  • Artist or composer study
  • Music classes
  • Independent reading
  • Self-directed learning
  • Delving in deeper to a topic that has captured your kids’ interest
  • Hands-on learning activities
  • Documentaries or DVDs related to your current topics of study or just topics of interest
  • Speeches and presentations
  • Research
  • Biographical studies (of people related to, but not directly covered in your topic of study or just those you’d like to learn more about)
  • Social outings with your homeschool group
  • Field trips
  • Service and/or volunteer opportunities
  • Home Ec – cooking/baking, sewing, household management
  • Wood shop – designing and building

Basically, the concept of the built-in make-up day is that learning is still taking place, but it’s not something that can’t be skipped without derailing your entire schedule.

What does your weekly schedule look like on a year round school schedule?

We have some subjects that we do daily (or four days per week, leaving the fifth day for enrichment) and some that we rotate. Our daily subjects include:

  • Reading – both independent and read-aloud
  • Math
  • Spelling
  • Grammar
  • Bible study

The subjects we rotate include:

  • History (two days per week)
  • Science (two days per week)
  • Writing (2-3 days per week)

Rotating some subjects allows us to spend longer blocks of time on those subjects, which allows us to get more done without feeling rushed.

I had heard about year round schooling for many years before we tried it. I never could quite wrap my mind around it or how it would work with summer birthdays and, well, just summer. Having done it for several years now, though, I would list it somewhere in the top 5 of things I wish we’d done from the beginning.

Do you have more questions? Leave them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them. Do you school year round? What questions have you been asked?

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