Thursday, July 26, 2012

Creative Ways to Learn

Last week both boys took part in the Kids' College program offered at Susquehanna University. This has been a much anticipated part of our summer for the last five years. JT was attending for the last time this year. EM went for the first time last year, for a half-day program. This time he was there for the full day. Yes, that meant I had FIVE WHOLE DAYS without children to supervise. As usual, I squandered my freedom and did not practice the discipline necessary to get any serious work done in the classroom.

But...I did go to a book sale!

The three morning sessions this year were Globs, Goop and Guts!, The World in a Whirl, and Spy Gals and Guys. The picture above shows some of the props they brought home from their spy session. They experienced many cultures in the World in a Whirl class. But their favorite sessions this year were from the Globs, Goop and Guts! class. Apparently the idea for this class came from the book Grossology. The boys made shrunken heads, snot, blood and vomit. One morning, EM told me he didn't want to clean out his ears because they would be studying ear wax and he wanted to make sure he had plenty to work with in class. Yuck! They had a blast. I'm just glad someone else taught this one and not me. JT's artificial vomit was judged to be the most realistic. Double yuck!

Shrunken Panda Head
The great thing about Kids' College is that the program isn't about memorizing and regurgitating (pun intended!) facts. It's about problem solving and creativity. You can hear the excitement in the voices of the children when they are being picked up at the end of the day. Everyone is talking at once. Everyone is showing off their disgusting projects. Even in the morning, when I drop the boys off, the kids are all happy to be there. No one drags their feet as they enter the building. It's learning, it's fun, it's what I dream school could be if the funding were available to allow more creativity in the classrooms. Unfortunately, the ability to create fake blood and vomit aren't things standardized tests can assess.

For now, I'll rejoice that there are programs out there like Kids' College that allow a glimpse into the fun side of education. More importantly, I'm thankful that there are teachers willing to spend their summers making this possible for my children.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Summer Odds and Ends

Summer in Pennsylvania has been H-O-T. We are finally getting a break from the heat tomorrow, but we desperately need some substantial rainfall. Even though I am happy that my mowing duties have been on hold for about a month, everything is so brown and crispy I'd be willing to get back on the mower if we could go green again.

My boys are participating in their favorite summer event this week...Kids' College. I had the idea that I might accomplish a great deal while they were occupied, but as usual, that was only a dream of mine. Today I did manage to get to my favorite library book sale. The selection was not as good as it has been in the past, but I did come home with a nice collection. I really like the looks of these math books. They were published in 1962. They are simply written, but do a great job explaining some complex subjects.

Our summer break from schooling ended on July 5th. My husband's brother came for a visit from another state and while he was here, we went on a few outings that I counted as our first few days of this school year. Our first little adventure was a trip to RB Winter State Park. Although I have taken the boys there many times for educational programs, we had never really hiked the trails. My brother-in-law wanted pictures of the mountains of PA because he lives in a very flat region. We took the trail that led to a scenic overlook. It was quite a hike, but worth it for the view. (Only later I discovered you could drive up there.) :-)

The first picture is the view from the overlook (about 1800ft). The second is the hike back down the trail. I am happy to say my new workout routine made it possible for me to hike that trail. It climbs about 300 ft in approximately a quarter of a mile. Certainly not something I could have done a mere year ago. Especially since that day the temperature was already around 90 degrees Fahrenheit at 10am.

The next day we went to Longwood Gardens. My husband and I had just made that trip in May, but my brother-in-law, mother-in-law, and the boys wanted to go. So we went. It was 100 degrees that day. One nice benefit of going to see the gardens on such a hot one else was crazy enough to be out there, so we had the place practically to ourselves! The water lilies are beautiful at this time of the year. They were not in bloom when we visited in May. The heat made me wish the fountains were for more than just decoration. I could have used a quick swim.

During the month of July, I am trying to log about one day a week for our portfolio. Those two trips counted as one day for us. The following week, I had a few classroom activities ready for the boys. I had each take an assessment quiz from their new grammar workbook. I also started JT in the first Key Curriculum Press Algebra workbook, Operations on Integers. EM completed a worksheet to help me see if he would need any math review. I also had each spend time reading a Horrible Histories book of their choosing and watch a science related documentary.

As I already mentioned, this week the boys are in Kids' College. I will count all five days as school days. Even though I haven't accomplished as much as I hoped while they are away, I did manage to make a good start on classroom organization and very preliminary planning for our first science unit. We will continue last year's pattern of four science units. The first one will cover the topics of magnetism and electricity. I found a book on my shelf, The Watt's Laboratory Library Experiments in Magnetism and Electricity, written in 1962, that looks perfect for an outline for this course. I knew this was the right book for us when I read this in the introduction:

"Every experienced teacher knows that there is no substitute for the laboratory approach to science. Films, television, beautifully colored photographs, lectures, and classroom demonstrations are not enough. The student must touch, move, adjust, fumble, fail or succeed by himself in the laboratory or home workshop. This is his right and no one should deprive him of it."

That sounds just about perfect to me.

We will probably start our 'official' school year on August 20th. Until then, we will count our upcoming day-camps and other occasional days of classroom work toward our required 180 days of schooling.

But you know what? I bet we'll learn even on the days we aren't counting.