Friday, April 26, 2013

Programming for Kids

Scratch Logo

A few years ago (boy time flies), I wrote that I planned for my kids to start programming lessons at about age 9.  I planned to use the LOGO language, which was designed to be easy to learn for children.

However, as Delta turned 9, it seemed to me that we just had so many things going on, the thought of adding another one just seemed like too much.

But - about a month ago, Mike was on the computer and found an article about how programming really should be taught it school.  It lead him to this site, with a great video - which lead him to a great free programming system .  (There are also some free basic lessons on this site with other programming languages.)

Well, we downloaded Scratch, (the programming system), and showed it to Delta.  And, I have been amazed so far.  I haven't played with this language/system personally - but Delta, Echo, and even Foxtrot have.   Scratch works really well for developing the logical thinking you need to program.  There isn't a lot of typing involved, you drag and drop the commands from lists of commands.

From what I've seen - Delta started off working with some of the built-in programs, making a few modifications.  He then discovered how to record sound effects with the microphone, and how to make things happen based on what keys he presses.

From that, he drew a couple of space ships, could move them on the screen with the keyboard, and press a key and one would blow up!  Ok, not the most sophisticated program, but it is still real programming.

This afternoon, he has been busy creating a 2-player game.  It is fairly simple - you control a mouse/cursor/pen (not sure if he named it - it is a coloured rectangle on the screen...) - and it leaves a pathway behind it.  Each person's mouse and pathway is a different colour.  If your mouse touches the other colour - you lose.  He has worked on it for a while, and has had to do some debugging as well (for a while blue couldn't lose).

Again - it isn't the flashiest game out there - but it is, in my opinion, a great start for a 9 year old.  And the best part?  He is doing this on his own time, because he wants to!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

RightStart Math Organization

The question comes up over and over - how do you store all the manipulatives you get with RightStart?   After discussing my method on the RightStart Yahoo Group, I decided that pictures would demonstrate my method much easier than mere words.

Note that I store the math balance and drawing tools/drawing board separately, so I haven't shown them here.  The math balance is on top of our "homeschool shelf", and the drawing board and tools are stored in their bag on a shelf.  I'm hoping to improve the storage of the drawing board and tools.  There is a "mini-math balance" for sale at a few homeschool suppliers that is a lot smaller.  It would probably fit in my box - but we already have the bigger one.

So here are the manipulatives I'm storing.  I think I have everything for the levels, except possibly a couple of things for Level D and E....

Right Start Manipulatives
And I store them in a simple File Box with a handle.  The Box goes at the bottom of our homeschool shelf.  We used to stack the books on top, but the covers were coming off - so I've recently taken a 1/2 size file box and store the books and workbooks in it, in hanging folders.   I like to have all the manipulatives together, as I have 4 children - 3 currently doing math, within 2 different levels.  I just want to be able to grab the box and have whatever I need, instead of trying to figure out beforehand what will be needed.

As you can see above - the file box I have has a pencil case area.  The Calculator goes in here, as well as extra pencils, erasers, a die, and any loose parts found on the floor (a tile here, a tally stick there)....

Inside the box, at the back, I store the Appendixes for A and B (in a folder), and the geoboards.  They don't get used often, but can be grabbed easily.

Next I store the bag of 3d-shapes.  These are hardly ever used (in edition 1), so they got assigned the bottom.

Then all the smaller pieces are in plastic pencil case boxes I got from the dollar store.  

Box 1 has the wooden 1 inch cubes and the plastic Centimeter cubes.

Box 2 is the main one that gets used the most.  It has the Tanigrams, the Tally Sticks, the Base 10 cards (we have 2 sets), and the Place Value Cards.  Each are in their own ziplock bag (mostly the snack size.)

Box 3 is the abacus tiles, so they don't get squished or wrecked.

These boxes get placed beside the shapes, in front of the geoboards.  The one is sideways because my file box isn't large enough for all 3 to go in front of the geoboards.

Now the tiles are placed on top of the shapes.  They don't fit in one of the cases, so they are in a large freezer ziplock.  These get used a LOT, so I keep them easy to grab.

Next go a ziplock with the reflector and geoboard elastics, and the clock.  They just sit on top, and get moved to one side or the other to get at the other things.  The folding meter stick fits in the front of the box

Throw the 2 abacuses on top, and it is ready to close.

Then there are the cards - I keep them separate, so we can choose to play a game easily.  (Note my kids also have smaller homemade abacuses they keep in their own homeschool boxes.  They prefer the "real" ones, but if we play a game, they can use the homemade ones.)

For this, we use a little box that we have owned for probably about 15 years - it looks like a little briefcase.  I have each deck type in a ziplock bag, and the multiplication cards in the envelopes.  It is a bit of a tight fit, but it works.   I've been tempted to buy card holders for each deck - the dollar store has some for card collections - but I figure the chances of them fitting the cards nicely, and the boxes fitting in my holder.... well, lets just say I haven't bothered to spend the $1 each....

And this is the main items stacked up - not including the books.  I use a little white board, and it stays outside the math box as we use it for other subjects.

I hope this helps!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Week so far

Hey everyone - just wanted to mention that I'm feeling a bit better since the other day.  The week is almost over, and tomorrow is our light day (just a few light subjects, and then timelines, picture study etc.)

Monday - well, I guess the April fool was on me, as I came down with a bad cough and cold that has kept me fairly miserable all week. I am hoarse, and overall sound and feel awful.   Delta was also not feeling well and didn't do school or swim lessons.    Echo worked on math practice sheets, spelling, and a reading or two.

Tuesday - I'm still sick - but Delta seems to be better.  We started with Reading Bears Fast-Track - which I've heard has done well with many kids to improve reading.  The rest of the day went about like normal.  Delta moved into the next step of All About Spelling 1.  I think Tuesday is also when Foxtrot finished Level A of RightStart Math  (or now that I think of it, that might have been last week....)

Wednesday - Yup, I'm still sick.  But as I've been asked to be a Cub leader again, I needed to go to the police station to order a Criminal Record Check to give to Scouts Canada.... so I declare a field trip.  We take the bus downtown, go to the police station, and take the bus back.  That counts, doesn't it?

Thursday - today. - Ok, I'm tired of being sick.  We did fairly full day, although we didn't do foreign language at all (or at all this week), and I didn't do copywork either.   I'm almost at a loss about what to do about copywork right now.  Delta avoids it if at all possible.  He does like it more if it is from his school work (quotes from Burgess Animal Book or Robin Hood) - but it does get tiring looking for quotes for him.   And Echo is making most of her letters wrong again, and I just haven't had the heart to get ready to start from scratch - which it looks like we will need to do....    I almost wish I could buy some copywork books for them  (maybe the Getty Dubay series....).

Monday, April 1, 2013

Sometimes Wonder

I don't know if it is just my personality, or perhaps it is just a hazard of homeschooling - but it seems like I question myself a LOT about what we are doing.   And sometimes I feel sorry for Delta, otherwise known as "Guinea Pig"....  because he of course is the main person to try out everything....

I love Charlotte Mason homeschooling.  I admit that I like the ideal, and our homeschool doesn't often look like the idea.   But I'm starting to wonder a little on a couple of things.....

Delta is struggling with a few things.  I strongly suspect he has dyslexia, but am finding roadblocks everywhere to getting him tested, and even bigger roadblocks for finding things to help.  So, of course, I am doing what research I can on my own.  And of course, there is conflicting information out there, which doesn't help.

So I question my methods - because that is what I do....   I taught him to read with phonics - moving then into readers - the Dick and Jane readers, the Treadwell readers - then into just doing various readings....  last with us buddy reading Harry Potter together.... and this last year I have just done some letting-alone while he did his work with audiobooks.   And really, it seemed like he got to so-far, and then just stalled.  He isn't reading well enough to do his school work if there isn't an audiobook.  So here is what I wonder.  Would he be reading better if we had done true CM style reading lessons (very basic phonics, word families, and then learning whole words that MEAN something...?)  Or would that have made things worse.  Or maybe that is close to what happened anyway.  (He certainly has forgotten the phonics he learned....)    OR, maybe I should have done a more complete phonics program... which is what tends to be recommended for dyslexics....

Which brings me to the other things.  CM doesn't have spelling until about Year 4 - when the child is about 9 or 10.  Well, I guess you are supposed to be kind of doing spelling through the word-building - and also through the child doing copywork by learning to write the copywork 1 word at a time instead of 1 letter at a time.  I tried to get Delta doing copywork 1 word at a time - but that seemed beyond me.  Was that because we did the reading a non-CM way?  or do the CM methods just not work for a child with dyslexic tendancies?   I had to adjust - we have added in All About Spelling Level 1 to our work, and I think it is helping Delta.  Echo is also doing AAS.  But I wonder - should we have been doing this all along?  I also wonder if it will help his spelling when he is actually trying to write.... some programs seem to get good results while the child is doing the program, but then they constantly misspell words they should be able to spell while writing.

About a year ago - Delta asked me to teach him to write.  I showed him that copywork is supposed to be helping with that, and that he would learn to write his narrations down when he was older - but I don't think that was what he wanted, exactly.  I have dispared at knowing how to help....  and on the CM forums the information I am told is to keep working at Oral narrations, and then eventually move to doing 1 narration a week.  But I have felt that, for Delta at least, he would need something more.... something to teach him HOW.   I have recently found "Writing with Ease" which I hope to be the key for us....  It will teach him how to move from Oral narrations to Written in a more step-by-step process.  Yes, the narrations used in Writing with Ease are more like oral answers to questions (and I won't call them narrations) - but I think it will help.  But kids doing the "Well Trained Mind" classical style of education start this around grade 1 or 2....

And - CM doesn't do grammar until about Year 4 or so either.... again when the child is about 9 or 10.  My kids know nothing about grammar because I haven't taught them any.  And I worry - is this going to end up being a problem too?  It has seemed like everything that CM says to wait until they are older, has ended up being a major problem with us having to start from scratch instead of it being more natural.   Is this because of Delta's blend of strengths and weaknesses, or is it a flaw in the method?

I know that often looking back like this isn't helpful.... except I have 3 more children that I have to concern myself with....  If this is a flaw in the method - then I don't want to repeat it and have the same problems.   It leaves me to wonder if I am doing the right things or not....

Yet, I have to say that I still love the CM method.  Delta can discuss things like Richard the Lion Heart, the Crusades, and various English kings.  He knows a lot about a lot of things.  He is enjoying books he can't read on his own - like Pilgrim's Progress, Tales from Shakespeare, and Robin Hood.  He enjoys learning about great Art and Music.

And I am faced with trying to figure out how to help him out (with apparently no help for me), with our limited budget.   I am looking at "Dancing Bears" for reading..... It is a phonics program that is simple for a parent, takes 10 minutes a day, and uses a "cursor" to help promote proper eye tracking and to stop guessing.  And, more important, I have heard good things about it from someone on one of my forums that has been using it.  They also have a "fast track" version for the older child.   I just wish I knew if it would help.