Monthly Archives: September 2010

Back at work…

…though not on schedule. (See this post.)

Blessing the schedule, though. It’s not our master, it’s more of a suggestion of what I want us to accomplish (the girls are owning it, though, and it’s becoming what they want to accomplish as well). When we’ve been without a schedule, sometimes my record book looked ominously blank for too many days. With a schedule, I have a feeling of reassurance that we really are getting something worthwhile done.

What’s that old saying? If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.

I know the benefit of a regular schedule, especially a regular bedtime and getting up time. It really hits home on a day like today, where I finally got to bed before midnight last night, and yet overslept by two hours (probably catching up on some of the missed sleep of the past days) and woke up groggy.

We are behind schedule for today, but we’re getting closer. It meant skipping the free time after lunch, in order to get everything in that I wanted to do today.

Yesterday was kind of off. First, our schedule was disrupted by a morning orthodontic appointment. My cardinal rule for appointments is to schedule them in the afternoon where at all possible, but our orthodontist is hard to get to during afternoon rush hour — much easier in the morning, when the bulk of the freeway traffic is headed in the other direction. So we always try to go to the orthodontist in the morning. Thus, our school day really didn’t start until noon.

Second, Youngest was suffering the final day of a stomach-and-sore-throat bug. She spent much of the day sleeping, and so much of our group study was on hold. The two elder daughters still managed a history lesson together. Usually Youngest listens in on their lecture just for the information, but since she has her own history program (Mystery of History, love it!) I don’t feel the need to have her make up the session.

What with today starting two hours later than usual, I’m feeling a little discombobulated (is that how you spell it), which I figured out only last week is the English equivalent of what I’d usually call this feeling (auseinander, a perfect description, albeit in German, of how the first half of this day has felt). Some idioms that I learned while thinking in German, as an exchange student, don’t always translate that well, which is why it was only last week that I figured this out.

Or maybe it has to do with lack of sleep.

On the other hand, I’ve found that my fiction writing goes much better when I’m supertired. Such a conundrum! Do I burn the candle at both ends so that the writing (a hobby) goes well, or do I get on a regular schedule so that wife-and-motherhood-including-homeschooling go better?

Just kidding. You don’t really imagine there’s a real choice between the two, do you?

Neither do I.

TOS Crew: New Monic SAT Vocabulary Cartoons

It’s true that a picture is worth quite a few words. (Gotcha, didn’t I? You thought I was going to quote that old cliche, as I’m probably over-fond of cliches, using them more times than you could shake a stick at. But why would anyone want to shake a stick, I ask you?)

Anyhow, I remember from a memory-training course (good thing, wouldn’t you say?) that you can boost retention by using images, and the wackier the image, the more you’re likely to remember.

Say you have a shopping list to commit to memory. (I happen to write mine down, but say you want to keep yours in your head.) Tuna, emery boards, shampoo, salad dressing, ice cream. Envision yourself coming home and you’re greeted by a giant Charlie the Tuna, standing on his tail, filing his… well, Charlie might act like a person but he doesn’t have any nails to file, so I guess he’s filing the end of his fin? Or perhaps his teeth. Okay, that takes care of tuna and emery boards from the list. Moving on, perhaps his head is all foamy with shampoo. “Just a sec,” he says to you, and puts down the emery board to pour some salad dressing over a bowl of ice cream. “Yummmm,” he says, “Would you like some?”

Trust me, when you get to the store, your list will scroll through your brain and you probably will remember every item.

New Monic Vocabulary Cartoons: SAT Word Power work along the same principle. They use ridiculous pictures coupled with words that sound like the word you’re trying to memorize, causing you to form a word association between the word and its definition. One example that you can see on the website’s free samples page is for the word “fathom,” where you see a picture of a boy holding up his swollen thumb. It’s bigger than his head, and a puzzled doctor is scratching his own head and pondering the x-ray. The caption tells you that “Doctors could never fathom the reason for Larry’s fat thumb.” The page also provides a pronunciation guide and definition.

The idea is, when you see the word “fathom” on a test, you’ll think of Larry and his thumb and you’ll remember the definition of the word.

The beauty of the concept is, it works.

A complete list of the words included in this book is here.

The cartoons are clever and memorable, often humorous. It was difficult for me to get a look at the book when it first arrived, as Middlest (our wordcrafter) spirited it off the moment she set her eyes on it. Middlest knew most of the words in the book already, but she found it good for review. Youngest and Eldest are the ones who benefited most from the word study, and they had fun doing it.

You can get SAT Word Power Volumes 1 and 2 and books and resources for elementary vocabulary building at the Vocabulary Cartoons website. SAT Word Power (Volume 1) is $12.95.

Read more TOS Crew opinions here.

Disclaimer: As members of the TOS Homeschool Crew, we received a free copy of Vocabulary Cartoons: SAT Word Power for review purposes. Opinions offered are our own. No monetary compensation was involved.

School planning

I just realized I haven’t said anything about our school planning for this year.

Some of the planning just took care of itself, more or less, in the sense that someone else did most of it. That’s part of being a part of a Gileskirk co-op (history, literature, worldview — actually, Moral Philosophy is the term, I think). The syllabus is laid out, and the lead mom in the co-op has worked out what she wants in the way of quizzes (er, Opportunities), discussions, projects and papers. Bless her! It’s making the transition to the greater complexity of high school so much less intimidating.

So I just take the Gileskirk assignments and plug them into our weekly plan. Am trying for a mix of working together and independent work, and it seems to be going fairly well. I need to keep checking, though, I think. What’s that old saying, “You get what you expect when you inspect.”

Anyhow, I worked out a schedule, included here.

Yellow are blocks of group time, blue are blocks of individual time. The chores listed at the bottom are just the after breakfast chores. Whoever is chief cook for the day also bears the title “bottle washer” and washes all dishes, and that’s a rotating job so it shows up on the menu plan rather than this generic chart that fits every day except Thursday, our outside lessons and errand day.

Some individual activities have to be coordinated. Math, for example, involves a book used by all (at the moment) but since everyone is at a different lesson, only one person at a time can do math. Same thing for French on the computer, and music practice.

CheckUp is accountability time. I want to see the fruit of their labors. It might involve inspecting chores, or it might just be a glance at their progress page to see what they’ve been working on. I might ask for a short oral narration, or read a 200 word summary, or look over a worksheet or page of math problems.

The blank progress page looks something like this (it’s a work in progress).

The lines at the top are “off” because I haven’t fixed them yet. I deleted a child’s name, for one thing, and a term and a year that had been typed into my blank form, and it messed up the lines. It’s an easy fix, just haven’t taken the time.

At the moment the girls are doing several lessons of Life of Fred a day. That’s because they all started the Fractions book last week and are going through at their own pace, from two to five lessons a day, depending on the ability of the student. Eventually I expect them to find their places in the program, to where they might not be whizzing through the math books. (After all, LoF goes on to higher math, stuff even I don’t remember how to do.)

The “Assignments” column gives an idea of how to document their work in a particular subject. This form was adapted from an earlier version where I filled in chapters or page numbers that needed to be done by the end of the week. I assigned a week’s worth of work at a time. At the moment, though, I’ve given them responsibility for figuring out how much work they’re going to get through. So far it’s working. I think. I had a bad headache yesterday and didn’t do any CheckUps, and today’s Thursday, the weird day with the crazy schedule, so tomorrow is when I’ll find out how far they got this week. It would be nice to be pleasantly surprised.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Tired. Really tired.

Life certainly has its ups and downs.

Yesterday I was full of energy. We got in a full day of school (yay for the schedule! it’s working!) and then I spend all evening running errands. (Eldest came along for the ride, bless her.)

It was a fairly productive evening. I say “fairly” because it could have been better if I’d timed things better by leaving earlier. As it was, our timing was driven by the various times that our destinations closed.

We explored the gluten-free offerings at Bob’s Red Mill (spendy, but less expensive than the local whole foods store, 6:00 closing), plundered a nearby organic fruit stand (yum, homegrown peaches and plums and corn, 7:00 closing), stopped at Bi-Mart (8:00 closing), and then, seeing the library was about to close (also 8:00 closing), rushed to the library (past Trader Joe’s, supposed to be our next stop, 9:00 closing) to return some Inter-Library Loans at the desk. Can’t risk putting them in the return slot — if the ILL label comes off and the book gets lost it’s a $50 fine. Then it was back to Trader Joe’s, which was to be our last stop, except they didn’t have gluten-free fish sticks. Off to New Seasons (10:00 closing, but we were done there well before 10) on the way home, and they did have gluten-free fish sticks. And hot dogs, which I’d forgotten I need for tomorrow night’s potluck. Serendipity.

And then home. Whew. I probably squeezed two weeks’ worth of errands into one evening. No wonder I overslept this morning. We missed the first hour of our schedule but have pretty much been sticking to the schedule since. It means the floors aren’t swept, for one thing, and are gritty underfoot, but I think ten minutes taken out of the lunch break will remedy that.

In case you were wondering, we’re trying gluten-free eating to see if it helps with Eldest’s headaches and digestive problems. Will let you know how it goes. Got any favorite recipes or tips to share?

TOS Crew: Math Tutor videos

We’ve reviewed Math Tutor DVDs on several levels now, from an  early education introduction to numbers and counting, to a tutorial for using a fancy graphing calculator (see below), suited to students of trigonometry and higher functions. In between there were word problems (an introduction to how to approach solving them, for elementary ages) and Algebra 2, just in case you were wondering.

As you may be noticing, Math Tutor DVDs encompass a wide range of mathematical levels and topics. You can see a list of topics and even view free sample videos at their website.

Our family received two videos this year, Pre-Algebra (Volume 1), and a video tutorial for Texas Intruments TI-84 Calculator, a very complicated-looking graphing calculator. I have to mention that even though we don’t have one of these calculators, Middlest was fascinated and watched the video with me. I got the impression that she’d enjoy exploring the calculator, but that’s going to have to come after we’ve gone a bit further in our math studies.

Pre-Algebra Volume 1 is the first of two sets of videos. Volume 1 contains two DVDs, about five hours in all. Topics include:

Real Numbers
The Number Line
Greater Than, Less Than, Equal To
Absolute Value and Adding Integers
Subtracting Integers
Multiplying Integers
Dividing Integers
Powers and Exponents
Order of Operations

These are not the usual razzmatazz flashy animated videos so commonly seen in the ranks of educational DVDs. Actually, they’re pretty simple and low-tech: a man, a plan, and a white board. (I almost said, “A man, a plan, a canal, Panama” which is a palindrome — it reads the same forwards and backwards.)

The lecturer is pleasant, encouraging, and matter of fact in his presentation. It’s kind of like having your Uncle Doug explain math to you. He starts by defining terms and basic concepts, and then works through examples. Of course it’s not an interactive tutorial — there’s no give and take — but it has an interactive feeling to it.

The Texas Instruments TI-84 Calculator Tutor shows a graphic of the calculator’s keypad and screen while a man lectures in the background. A cursor moves about and points to various buttons as the lecture proceeds, showing what buttons to push.

There were a few times when I had to stop and run through a sequence again because I had looked away from the screen for a second and missed what key had been pressed.

Numbers, functions, and graphs appear on the calculator screen as the video works through various features.  I have to admit that most of the video here is way over our heads at present. Eight hours of instruction are included on three DVDs, from a basic introduction of the keys, to solving equations and graphing functions. The list of topics is too long to include here, but click on the link above and you’ll see not only the list but also Lesson 1 on the video, so you can get an idea of the teaching style.

Each of these video sets is $26.99 at the Math Tutor DVD website.

The Math Tutor DVDs we’ve seen are all good, basic instruction. They may be a little boring if your kids are used to a lot of bells, whistles, and fancy animations, but they work just fine for our media-deprived kids. (That was only partially a joke — our girls play too many computer games, true, but they watch very little television and so their brains have not been trained to need lots of stimulus in order to sustain attention.)

To read more TOS Homeschool Crew opinions of Math Tutor DVDs, click here.

Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Crew received two free sets of Math Tutor DVDs for evaluation and review. Opinions offered here are our own family’s. No monetary compensation was involved.

Blood of the Moon, by George Grant

I’m now exactly halfway through reading Blood of the Moon by George Grant, about the conflict in the Middle-east, from its origins to the 1990s. However, it could as easily apply to the present day. Listening to the news this morning about the peace talks, parts of what I’d read just last night came back to mind with painful clarity.

Fascinating book. While I knew about the Biblical origins (Ishmael and Isaac) of the conflict, I had no idea how Islam was (and continues to be, according to the evidence Dr. Grant presents)  influenced by the ancient Persians, Babylonians, and Assyrians.

I find it a tough book to read, if only because it requires concentration and a minimum of interruptions and background noise.

The dreaded stomach bug…

…appears to have hit home. It’s been going around in the families at our church, and came along on the church’s group campout.

We’ll have to see if anyone else falls ill. So far, the evidence is not completely conclusive. Eldest is the one who was up all night, but then she also suffers from food sensitivities, so it’s possible that the bad reaction was from something she ate. Anyhow, she’s miserable, poor thing. We’re doing a modified school day today, as a result. (She listened to today’s Gileskirk lecture, but will probably have to listen again when she’s feeling better, to be able to take notes and write her summary.)

We were going to start on writing today, but I’m putting that off until she’s better. So today’s academics will consist of Bible reading (done), Gileskirk lecture (done), read aloud, and math (except for Eldest).

We also need to do our menu planning for September. It’s the 2nd already! Without planned meals we’re likely to fall back on pasta or eggs every day, or even succumb to the siren call of pizza or takeout, which does not fit the budget.

May have to plan with Middlest and Youngest and leave Eldest’s days on the September calendar un-filled-in until she can think of food without disc0mfort.

More on literature

Dr. R. C. Sproul, on his Renewing Your Mind radio show, talked about literature and the Christian today.

I’m not sure how long the audio link will be made available, but it’s worth a listen.

I was struck by what he said about reading. First of all, as Anne of Green Gables might say, it appears that we are kindred spirits when it comes to reading. I, too, have been known to read the back of  a cereal box when nothing better was available. Our girls, too, are avid readers and it’s hard to keep at least one of them in good books. (Youngest is content to read the same favorites multiple times, Eldest is pretty fixed in her taste, while Middlest devours books at a gulp and looks for more.)

His comments about the contents of current popular literature reflect my own thoughts. There’s a lot of dreck out there. (Dreck. A satisfying word that I learned as a teen living in Germany. If you pretend there’s a really bad taste in your mouth, sticking to your tongue, and you’re trying to spit it out while you say the word, well, it sounds just like what it means.)

I was appalled at the literary taste (if you could call it that) of my students in the creative writing class at the Christian co-op, reflected in the type of stories many of them chose to write, and the relish most of them displayed while listening to their fellow students read aloud from their work. And yet… with the literature they’re reading, the stories they’re watching on television, or in the movies, should I be surprised?

When I taught a speech class at the co-op, I challenged my students to commit a scripture passage to memory every week. Not everyone took up the challenge, but at least the class heard the passages recited every week by the ones who did. The first assigned passage was Philippians 4:8, and for me, it was a sort of motto for the class. I ought to have done the same for the writing class.

One of the students felt stultified when he was told he couldn’t write about zombies in the class. (Even though he could write about zombies all he wanted outside of class writing, he really wanted to read his zombie material in class. Perhaps part of the pleasure in the topic is the shock value, seeing its effect on others. What am I saying? Of course, that’s part of the pleasure in any writers’ circle: seeing the effect of your writing on others.)

With so much scope for the imagination, many of the students were stuck in this dark place, with monsters and violence, depression and expressions of teenage angst. A sad side-effect was that there were some wonderful stories that were not shared with the group, because the authors were too shy to share. That probably would have happened no matter what the group dynamic was, but I wonder how much the predominantly dark tone — even with the restrictions we co-teachers put on the class — affected them.

Not sure where I’m going with this — I started writing this after hearing today’s Renewing Your Mind. I could say more about that writing class, and reading choices, and forming the young mind through deliberate choices in what you (and they) choose for information and entertainment. But we’re already behind our time for starting the day, so I’ll just leave it with this final thought. I like the Amplified and NASB versions the best, as they emphasize not just passing thought, but fixing the thoughts, dwelling consciously on something, deliberate choice, even effort made.

Philippians 4:8

KJV: 8Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

NIV: 8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

NASB: 8Finally, brethren, (A)whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

AMPLIFIED: 8For the rest, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence and is honorable and seemly, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and lovable, whatever is kind and winsome and gracious, if there is any virtue and excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on and weigh and take account of these things [fix your minds on them].