Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A New Tool for our Homeschool

It seems that I am always trying to get things running a bit more smoothly here in our homeschool.  A Number of years ago we started using the Simply Charlotte Mason Organizer (SCMO).  I have to say this is the best organizer for a Charlotte Mason type of education - as long as your main concern is to do the next thing and not keep too carefully to a schedule, and you use each resource or book at least once a week.  I also LOVE the reports.

But - there are a couple of things that haven't worked as well for us with SCMO.  When we first used it, I printed the Daily Plan (to-do list) each day.  But I didn't like the amount of paper and ink we were using - and as we get more kids, it is a bigger problem.  If we were doing a simple plan, I could let the kids mark things off on their own - but with us doing AO, not all books and resources are used each week.  And as the kids wanted to pick their own readings from a weekly list... well that meant I had pretty much everything scheduled every day of the week - which would mean a long list.  It wouldn't be clear on its own how much needed to be done each day.  And for the kids to mark things off online on their own, they would be logged into my account - so in theory they could mess things up.

Over the last couple of years we have used a few different paper planners, generally with 2 parts - basically a weekly list of AO readings (either as a list or in a chart), and the other part a daily to-do list - generally just listing "AO reading".   This has worked ok - except the kids generally don't write down what they did.  (I've entered things off as done in the SCMO to get my great reports.)

This year, we just have seemed to get further and further behind on our AO, and sometimes other things getting missed out too.  I decided that I'd had enough - and decided to use a free homeschooling scheduling tool....  Skedtrak.

I grouped the various AO items into courses.  So, for instance, there is a "AO2 World History" course with readings from Our Island Story, the Little Duke [and Joan of Arc] and Child's History of the World.   I went through and added all the readings from these books, with the week number in []'s at the start of the description.   Note that I could have done this in SCMO, but I like my reports to list the BOOKS we read, not a line just saying AO2 World History.  I determined which days of the week each course should be done to get things done.  With the "course" system - it doesn't guarantee that a particular book will be on a specific day - it can rotate around a bit.  But that can be handy with holidays!

SkedTrak allows each child to have a login, where they can see their to-do list and mark things off.  I do wish there was an extra comment field they could fill in if needed.  (I can set it so they can edit the description, but for most things I wouldn't them to change it.)   One thing that is nice is it will show me a week at a time, using the assumption that we complete all activities each day.  It won't be completely accurate, but does give me an idea of how things will look.   Another nice thing is I can set the order in which the items are supposed to be done.

The last 3 days have been our first trial with the new system.  The kids aren't entirely happy with less choice. But these last 3 days, we have completed everything on the lists!

They are to (at the moment) do things basically in order.... if it is something for which they need me (or another resource like the Kindle), they are to go on to the next item - then go back  This has allowed me to try to set the schedule up to alternate types of activities.

Now, there will be days that have items on their list that they aren't to do yet.  I have on the white-board which week each child is currently working on.  They are to do anything that has that week number or less.  They can optionally do an item that has the next higher week number as long as they have done all the lower numbered items first.  At the moment, I have Friday set as a catch up day - so it looks very long.  They will do 1 or 2 AO readings - the ones with the lowest week numbers.  After we are caught up, Friday will be lighter.

So, for instance here is a sample day...  The student is working on Week 5 (but a few week 4 things aren't complete)  For now I'm only expecting up to 2 AO readings a day for AO Year 2.

Discover the New Testament (1-3)    - Page 10
Scripture Mastery
Math Practice Sheet                           - 38-1
AO2 World History                           - [4] CHOW Chapter 49
RS Level C                                        - Lesson 117
MH2 Church History                         - [5] YFH Chapter 2
All About Spelling L1                         - Step 19 (several days)
AO2 Literature 2                                - [6] Parables of Nature - Light of Truth
AO2 Natural Science                          - [4] Burgess Animal Book Chapter 4

So - this student would do....

Discover the New Testament
Scripture Mastery
Math Practice Sheet
Read chapter 49 from CHOW  (as the week number was 4)
RS lesson 117
work on All About Spelling step 19
Read chapter 4 from Burgess Animal Book.
and that is it!

They know not to do the Parables of Nature reading as it isn't the current week - if the student wanted to do extra they could do the Parables of Nature reading as it is 1 week past the current week - but they would have to do the Church History reading first!

They know not to do the Church History reading because I only require 2 AO readings from this level right now.....  but they could choose to after the other items are done if they wish.

It really is simpler than it may look... lol!

Now - the problems with SkedTrak

  • well, first off I don't like the reports!  I much prefer the SCMO reports!  (so I am taking a minute to mark things off in SCMO - I do it when I "approve" the items in SkedTrak as properly completed.   
  • It also has a few things based on time - you need to enter the number of "required" days, and the number of "required" hours per day.  It then figures out the total number of "required" hours total.  It gives warnings if it figures you don't have enough time to finish the hours - or conversely cuts off the calendars etc if it figures you would finish the hours earlier than your year-end date.  I'd prefer it to calculate our projected year end based on the activities I've entered for the course - and show the calendar for the school year I defined.  It isn't a big deal - you can just adjust the number of hours required per day, or the number of required days etc. - but it is annoying if you could care less about the hours!
  • You have to remember to hit the save button before changing the screen, or you lose your changes!
Over-all though, I am happy with how it is going.  Hopefully it will make things smoother!

UPDATE: - You will want to have ad-blocker software on your browser!  Otherwise Ads will pop up on the side, and occasionally they are not something you want your kids to see.  (The creator has no control over the ad content.)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Delta's Report

For Delta's "Canadian Healthy Living Award" in Cubs, he needed to do research and create a report on a Canadian outdoor or sports person that made a significant contribution to Canada or the World.

After considering some options, he chose Jacques Plante.  After reminding him about the 5W's, he wrote this report.


Jacques Plante was the first person to use a hockey mask in a game.

He did it because he was hurt by a slap shot to the face.

He wore it on November 1, 1959

The hockey game was at Madison Square Garden

This is a significant contribution because the game of hockey is a LOT safer.


After, he decided to recreate the scene in Lego...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

RightStart and our family!

Right Start Manipulatives

We are starting our 3rd year of using the RightStart Math program, and I thought I'd take a moment to share about our experiences with it so far.

I guess I should start by saying we are using Edition 1.  This is because - well - that was all that was available when we started!  I have liked the looks of the sample pages of Edition 2, and I do sort-of wish I could switch - but it doesn't make sense.  First Edition 2 isn't ready for the levels Delta and Echo are using - and at this point there is no way to switch editions past the start of Level B.  I would think at some point RightStart will need to create Edition 2 Transition lessons for people moving from a totally different program - but that is in the future.   And as we own the lessons for Edition 1, it wouldn't make sense to pay for Edition 2 lessons for the younger students.  Besides, edition 1 has been working well for us.

All that said - let's move on.  I think it makes sense to do this by level.

Level A
I have completed this level last year with Foxtrot.  (Delta and Echo moved from the MEP math program, and never did Level A.)

In Edition 1, Level A is designed so that each lesson is to be broken up between 2 days.  There is generally a couple of different topics.  However Foxtrot seemed to generally want to do the entire lesson. We didn't do it every day - and even so we completed this level before the end of the year, and started Level B.  Even though Foxtrot knows the regular way to deal with numbers > 10, she didn't object to the 5-ten way of describing numbers.  She seems to have a good grasp of numbers and basic addition.   We were able to skip about 15 of the lessons in Level B (the ones marked with an '*' in the Table of Contents), and even so, level B seemed to start out like a review.  [The change from Level A to Level B in the 2nd Edition seems to be handled so much better - in the sample it looks like the teacher/parent evaluates the student's skills from Level A to determine where to start in Level B.]

Foxtrot making 100 with tiles.  Golf playing with tiles.

Level B
I completed Level B with Delta and Echo 2 years ago, and am up to Lesson 40 with Foxtrot.   Delta and Echo have been taught together, as when we changed math programs, they were evaluated to start at the same level.

Delta and Echo finished Level B in a year with no great difficulties that I remember.  We didn't do the practice sheets - and it didn't seem to be a problem then.... but I think that ended up being a problem later in Level C.  Foxtrot is doing the practice sheets.   With doing Level B together, besides having 2 abacuses, I found it important to have 2 sets of base-10 cards (which we were lucky to have - we were even more lucky as we had been given one set that was older, so one set was printed with blue - and the other set was printed with black.)  I think you would also want 2 sets of place value cards.  We only had 1 set, and so I printed a paper-set for the other child (We alternated who had the real set and who had paper.)  The RightStart set was a LOT easier to work with!

I really like how things worked with RightStart.  Addition was taught with various strategies to help the child think about what everything means.  I think my kids have a pretty good concept of place-value up to the thousands.  I find that although the topics do switch every so often - that the topics do support each other.  For instance, (and I don't remember if this was level A or level B), that numbers up to 10 are worked with, focusing on grouping with 5's... and then the topic switches to money - learning pennies, nickels, and dimes - and all the work there reinforces working with numbers in groups of 5's and 10's.   In level B there is addition up to 4 digit of numbers - and then things move into calendars.  But one exercise I remember has the child adding up all the number of days in each month to determine the number of days in a year.  So this not only reinforced the information they learned about calendars, but also gave a problem that involved large numbers and a reason to add.   I also found the topic often switches right when my kids seem to need a break on the current topic.  I find it great how it works out.

In the 1st edition there is a "wall" around lesson 68 where students often find things suddenly a lot more difficult.  It is common to take time here to review and play games.  I do think Delta and Echo had a bit of "fun" at that point, but I don't remember a significant problem.  There is a post on the Yahoo group with some suggestions on how to break down the skills taught at about lesson 68 to reduce the wall.  I will see if they are needed when Foxtrot (and eventually Golf) get there.

Level C
I worked on Level C with Delta and Echo last year... up to about lesson 100ish.  We are continuing with the level this year.

It had seemed as last year progressed that we might be able to finish Level C in a year.  From being on the RightStart Yahoo group, I knew that it was very common for Level C to take from 1.5 years to 2 years to complete.  Well, it varies.   Some people take longer in Level B.  Some take longer in Level D.  But it seems quite common for Levels B, C, & D to take 4 years total... with the extra time being spent in some level or another.  (Note that Edition 2 now has an extra level - levels A-F instead of levels A-E as preparation for the Geometry program dubbed Level G).  As time went on - it became obvious that we would NOT complete level C in a year after all.  We hit another 'wall' at about lesson 90 with the subtraction.  Actually, Delta and Echo seemed to struggle right when the 4 digit subtraction was introduced, and things didn't improve.  We took a break to practice, and struggled through a few more lessons when I figured it was time to just take a break for a while and focus on games and practice sheets......

Because yes - we didn't do practice sheets all throughout.  And honestly we didn't play enough games.  And when we hit the "wall" - it suddenly seemed like everything they ever learned about math was leaking out of their head.  Suddenly they couldn't seem to get simple addition questions right!  And I think that not doing the daily practice sheet was a part of the problem.

So during the summer, we went back to basics.  I used the "Acitvities for the AlAbacus" book (which we already owned) to review addition strategies - and I used Level B, then Level C practice sheets to review and practice.  We also played math games many days - starting at the start of the Addition section (and start of the Number Sense section for Foxtrot) and working our way forward.  The idea was to do Addition during July and Subtraction during August - but we didn't do much in August due to my health.

So, this year we just started up where we left off in Level C - right where multiplication is really starting to take off.  I already knew that Level D reviews subtraction, so I figured that we would just keep working on, and not worrying too much about the subtraction.  I did quickly review the 4 digit subtraction with and without an abacus as each lesson has 1 problem with that for practice.  It seemed to come easier.  We just did lesson 110 today, which has a simple-subtraction fact practice...  Delta got all 50 right!  Echo got 47 right... 1 question she added, and 1 question she multiplied, and 1 she just got wrong.  So the issues with subtraction seem to have disappeared!

It looks like Combinations of items, and Area calculations are coming up - to the kids it looks like a change in topic... to me I see that it is going into different reasons to use multiplication.

Level D (and E)
I do already own the Level D teacher's manual (we don't have the worksheets yet) and it looks interesting.  It looks like there will be a lot of review - but I think it is to really cement the concepts learned in Level C.  I am not sure if there are daily practice sheets or not - if not, we will continue to use the ones from Level C for quite some time.  I am looking forward to the kids moving forward.  I expect we will start Level D about 1/2 the way through this year, and have it continue to next year.

Golf and math
I haven't started Golf in RightStart yet.  She is still only 3.  She does enjoy singing "Yellow is the Sun".

Multiple Kids in RightStart
Because RightStart math does require the parent to TEACH each lesson - it can be a bit teacher intensive when you have multiple kids.  I am lucky in one way that Delta and Echo are at the same point in math.  If at some point that isn't working for either one, I will separate them - but at this time it is working.  Because Level C does have 2 versions of each review lesson, I select a different one for each of them.  (When they were struggling and we did some practice and then did the review again - I just had them do whichever they had not yet done.  I dated them so we knew which was the 2nd attempt.)

One piece of advice that I've used (but not always) to limit the time I, as a teacher,  spend on math is to use a timer and a set amount of time for math.  For level C I use 30 minutes.  For level B - I use either 20 or 30 minutes (depending on the ability of my student to focus for that time.)  For level A I would use from 10-20 minutes based on student ability.

So - I set the timer as we start the lesson.  If the timer goes off and there is more than a minute or so left in the lesson - we pack it up for the day and continue where we left off the next day.  OR... if we finish the lesson and there is more than a minute or so left on the timer - we play a game or two to fill the time.     This, of course, is easier if you aren't in the mindset of having to finish a level each year....

Oh - and the practice sheets aren't done during "warm-up" time as suggested in the manual.... I have the kids do them on their own at a different time.

I think it is VERY important to use a timer in Level C on the review lessons....  and then do the suggested games if there is time left over.  And if there isn't any time left over, well - probably the next lesson should be a game day so they get more practice in to help speed them up!

I am trying to do a games day each Friday...  (Friday tends to be a bit different in each subject.)  But - it seems like something has happened most Friday's so far this year...

And my opinion after 2 whole years?  WE LOVE RIGHTSTART!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Month in Review

Golf, Foxtrot, Echo - and I believe Delta is behind Foxtrot in such a way you can't see him...

Ok - I have to say - September has been a hard month.  Because I was sick in August and the beginning of September, we started later than I planned.  We did a few days - and I sank into a depression so we stopped for another week.  (I'm out of the depression...)

The kids are doing pretty well at doing their schoolwork - but we aren't doing a day's work in a day.  Of course, with AO being so rich, it isn't necessarily a big problem, and we are plugging along - but I'm getting discouraged.  We aren't doing the AO Bible readings - but we haven't started the "Discovering the Scriptures" either.  Only Foxtrot is doing any copywork (she is learning letters.)  We haven't started poetry - nor have we started the science course by Dr. Wile.    Violin practice?  stopped again when I got sick, and hasn't restarted.

On the other hand, we are getting great things done.  The AO readings are going well - and are being enjoyed. Spelling is coming along.  Math and reading practice is going well.

I just hate feeling like we are doing so much - and missing out on extra time for projects etc.  Each of the kids still need a lot of my help (even with audio books).

I have been considering changing - to Easy Peasy Homeschool.  It is setup to be pretty independent once the child is reading fairly well.  It seems to take a bit less time - and people are reporting good results.  Mike said go ahead and try it.....

BUT - it is a total change in style.  It does use some really good books - but it also is a lot more "edutainment" - learning with games, cute videos, etc.  Also - I still want to do history chronologically, and need to replace US history with the Canadian.   Plus - I still like RightStart Math, All About Spelling, and Dr. Wile's science books.   And if the kids are liking most of their school books anyway - well I haven't tried changing.

I just need to figure out how to make this work this year.