Thursday, February 27, 2014


book sale find
From the beginning of our homeschooling adventure, grammar instruction has followed a crooked path. We started out using the Calvert workbook that came from our days with PA Cyber. Later we moved on to using materials we borrowed from our local school district. We have been having some success using Steck Vaughn's Language Usage and Practice series for the last two or three years. This year we also read parts of the book Painless Grammar aloud for a bit of fun. I happened upon a nice workbook for diagramming sentences over the summer. I decided it's time to incorporate that into our plan.

I know I did sentence diagramming at some point in school. I asked a friend that went to school with me to verify the fact. She said we did it in 7th or 8th grade English class. I'm guessing either I didn't pay much attention, or it was just easy and I didn't have to think about it too much, so I don't remember doing it. Last week I started JT with this book. He wanted to know why it's important to learn to do this. I told him that even though he won't be called on to diagram a sentence in his day to day life, knowing how all the pieces fit together can help him in his writing. I reminded him how sometimes I tell him to take a look at a sentence he has written and figure out why it just feels awkward. Because he is a voracious reader, I think he just has a natural feeling for the flow of writing. But there are times that 'feeling' isn't enough to come up with the best sentence. I'm hoping this diagramming workbook can give him that little extra something he needs to fill in those gaps.

Of course, it made me laugh when I saw this article about the wrong ways to teach grammar shared on Facebook today. The author starts the piece with this:
"A century of research shows that traditional grammar lessons—those hours spent diagramming sentences and memorizing parts of speech—don’t help and may even hinder students’ efforts to become better writers. Yes, they need to learn grammar, but the old-fashioned way does not work."
Oops. I might have to rethink my new plan. Again.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Thinking Ahead

re-purposing art for cat comfort
I was going through some paperwork last week and decided to check how many days we have logged for school so far this year. It was quite a shock to me to realize that I hadn't even been thinking about how many days we had left in the school year before now. I guess the days of starting the 180 day countdown on day one of the school year are gone. As our routine has become more relaxed, that need to know when vacation begins has gotten lost. I needed to look ahead and schedule our year-end evaluations for the boys, so an end date was needed. It turns out, as of today, we only need 49 more school days to meet our state requirements. If we don't take any days off from here out, we can complete our school year by the end of April. Wow! That's going to be an all-time record for us on early completion.

With that early end date in site, we are thinking about taking a spring vacation this year. We usually take our big family trips in the fall, but maybe this time we'll try something new. I've always wanted to go to Maine. Now that traveling with the boys isn't the insane undertaking it used to be, maybe we can pull that off in May. I'll be spending some time exploring those options this week.

Something else looming on the horizon is JT's high school planning. If we continue on our current path, JT will be starting 9th grade in the fall. Knowing that most colleges want a student to have completed two years of a foreign language in high school, we are looking into options to fulfill that requirement. We thought about web-based options, private tutoring, or textbook work. But this week I started looking into another possibility. I made a call to a the private Christian school my daughter attended. They are going to discuss whether JT can take just one class with them without enrolling in the school full-time. I really hope this option works out because it would allow him to learn a language in a classroom environment from a teacher who knows the material. Yes, I did take 7 years of Spanish. No, I don't think I can recall enough to teach it adequately.

The other idea I discussed with the administrator was whether or not JT could play on their basketball team in the fall. He seemed very open to that possibility as well, and will be speaking to the coaches this weekend to find out if JT would be allowed to participate. I'm especially happy about this because JT has really missed playing Upward basketball now that he's too old for their teams. I considered looking into the public school teams but it's actually a longer drive to the high school in our district than it would be to the private school.

I have also recently been working out arrangements for JT to have writing classes with a former high school teacher of mine. She is now retired and lives only a mile from our home. Known for always making her students work hard for their grades, she was the first teacher that really challenged me in school. Before she will take JT on as a student, she wants to show me what she plans to do with him. Apparently 'showing me' means I have to do the work that she will be giving to him. He will be reading Of Mice and Men, discussing the book, and completing writing assignments.

Now I have homework.

For the first time in many years, I am being required to read and analyze literature; waking up skills I have mostly forgotten. It's frightening to be on the other end of that teacher lens again. But doing this work has allowed me to see where JT needs to grow. And based on how hard this has been for me, and how much I'm already learning, he's going to come out of this experience ready to tackle college successfully.

Some days it feels like ages will pass before college choices must be made. Some days I can feel it right there on the other side of the door. I'm trying to be proactive early so we don't have to rush the process when time is short.

And I know it will be here in the blink of an eye.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Chemistry, Conferences, and Cooking

I was planning to write a post last week, but time just kept flying by, and now it's Thursday again. I have a valid excuse. I went to the PDE Special Education conference on Thursday and Friday. Yes, I could have posted from the hotel room Thursday night, but I just couldn't get motivated enough to do that. Instead, I'll try to sum up two weeks in one post.

The beginning of last week was spent working on more of our chemistry unit. We learned the difference between exothermic and endothermic reactions. Then we mixed a little potassium permanganate with glycerin to experience an exothermic reaction. We did this outside to avoid fumes in the house. It was not quite as exciting as some of the videos we saw online, but it was still fun to see something burst into flame.

We also discussed catalysts and their effect on some chemical reactions. The chemistry book we are using gave an example using liver, specifically the enzyme catalase found in liver, to speed the process of hydrogen peroxide decomposing into water and oxygen.In the picture you can see me placing a lit match in the beaker with the liver and peroxide to show how the oxygen-rich air caused the match to flare more brightly. Having chicken for supper that night was more exciting when we realized we could use the liver for an experiment after we ate. Yes, we are a strange family.

Thursday morning I drove to Hershey to spend two days at my conference. There were two speakers I especially wanted to hear this year, Dan Meyer who blogs HERE and William VanCleave's website HERE. Mr. VanCleave's free downloads from his writing workshops are fantastic. I'm already using some of them with the boys. I also had time to catch up with some fellow parents that I don't get to see very often. My annual conference trip is usually a mix of learning and recharging. This year was no exception.

Have a seat.
Today we had a little more snow. Just what we needed. I tried to keep some kind of schedule going, but after all that shoveling, none of us felt like doing a full day of schooling. Instead, we bumped a few subjects to tomorrow and covered just what we needed to do to feel justified in counting it as a school day. JT had a practice test for his Thinkwell math course, both boys worked on their current composition assignments, and we read our American history book aloud. Plus, all that shoveling should count for gym class, right?

hot wings?
The final part of our school day was a little cooking instruction for JT. He's always wanting me to teach him how to cook. This week he's been helping me in the kitchen to put supper together. A couple days ago, a friend shared a recipe for chicken 'wings' that are really cauliflower made to taste like wings. The cauliflower is coated with a mixture of buttermilk and flour, baked in the oven, then doused with hot sauce or BBQ sauce. One recipe used Balsamic vinegar instead. We found that although the cauliflower did make a nice vehicle for the wing sauce, they weren't much like the real thing. At least they were fairly healthy. We also made bean soup to go with it.

JT is starting to understand how much work goes into making balanced meals every night. He was setting the table while we waited for the wings to come out of the oven and he asked what silverware we'd need. I recommended forks and spoons. He said, "Why bother giving EM a spoon? You know he probably won't eat the soup." I told him we should still give him one anyway since he would have to try at least a little bit. 

JT said, "Now I understand why you get so annoyed when he doesn't want to eat the things you make. It takes a lot of work to cook every night!"

Even if he doesn't turn out to be a great chef, that knowledge alone will serve him well in the future.