Sunday, October 7, 2012

Discovery Days - Minerals

We're trying a new approach to school for the next few months as my work commitments and my internal learning philosophy are pushing us in an exploratory direction. Those of you who know our journey know that we flip between Natural Learning and formal learning with Moving Beyond the Page during the school year.

So we're trying out a new concept called Discovery Days. The idea is that we all (adults and kids) suggest a discovery topic and then we brainstorm things we'd like to share or investigate to do with that topic. We spend a week investigating, doing, researching etc and come back together a week later to present what we learned. Jamie and I will guide them to doing some language and maths activities as part of the greater plan. We have tried a topic based approach previously but we didn't generate a variety of ideas that were focused in just one week so it meandered a bit too much. Here I am trying to let the kids have the majority of the control so that they feel invested in the work.

We began by generating some topics which were:

  • Cats
  • Minerals
  • Plants
  • Ponies
  • Mars
  • Craft
  • Food Science
  • Chickens
  • Snakes.
Vince already had some ideas about what he wanted to do, so we jumped into minerals for our first topic.

From the ideas we formulated some discovery questions:
  • Why does a sparkler sparkle?
  • Why does aqua vitae dissolve gold?
  • Why does a crystal grow?
  • How do matches work?
  • Why does astatine vaporise?
  • Why does copper turn green?
And we are all working towards answering them and seeing what others questions we come up with along the way.

We'll keep you posted with what we find out.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Kansas Boy

by Ruth Lechlitner

This Kansas boy who never saw the sea
Walks through the young corn rippling at his knee
As sailors walk; and when the grain grows higher
Watches the dark waves leap with greener fire
Then ever oceans gold. He follows ships,
Tasting the bitter spray upon his lips,
For in his blood up-stirs the salty ghost
Of one who sailed a storm-bound English coast.
Across wild fields he hears the sea winds crying,
Shouts at the crows - and dreams of white gulls flying.

Poem of America

by Vincent Norwood

The great old America,
234 years old,
The great old America,
May you stay free forever.


by Vincent Norwood

I want to the end
To slay the dragon
I gathered its egg
To hatch the wagon.

I went back to Earth
And my nice house,
If only i could have
A pet field mouse.

I built a pen,
For some sheep,
For the wool,
I want a heap.

The Enderdragon


by Vincent Norwood

I wish I could ride a dragon
Like a wagon.
I wish I could make a diamond sword
And become a Lord.

I made a portal to go to hell
But then I fell.
I spawned again and again
Right by a fen.

In a house above the  ocean
I brewed myself a lovely potion.

Minecraft screenshot

Monday, February 20, 2012

Our Curriculum Plans for 2012

Curriculum choices

Like all homeschoolers, what we will cover this year is changeable. Over the past few years I have worked out a core that we try to stick to and then the rest is for interest or decoration. I have tried to wind back our homeschooling a lot in the past 12 months. It is hard not to let things creep into the plan but I try to be firm about our core and keep it to that (mostly I just have to be firm with myself).

I'm the main teacher and I work two jobs so as much as I would like to piece things together myself, out of the box and prepared curriculums have saved my sanity. I've looked at a lot of things over time and I love browsing and looking at what other people use and recommend. I keep coming back to maintaining a core and trying not to be tempted by awesome looking curricula or cool looking education ideas. 

The biggest challenge is having bright kids with learning challenges. Vince (11) has major problems with physical writing. He has fine motor issues and poor muscle tone as well as optical focusing difficulties. We have had some great OT and, in the long run, he will hopefully do all his work orally or through voice recognition/translation software. However, a major challenge for the handwriting impaired is the need to be very familiar with letter formation and common letter patterns to facilitate spelling and grammar. We have maintained handwriting some work to help with this and it is a constant challenge to keep the handwriting up while not overwhelming/exhausting him. He even has difficulty colouring and I have to remind myself that colouring does not equal learning. So I put up with a lot of black and white pages. I am finally hopeful that we may leave some of the handwriting behind soon as Sequential Spelling is providing an enjoyable spelling method based in handwriting that is working!

Rhiannon (8), on the other hand, has perfectionism issues. For the first six months of homeschooling her we would have fall down on the floor tantrums over committing an answer to paper if she was uncertain that it was correct. We took a complete homeschooling break for three months and then, with a lot of psychological support, began again, one subject at a time. She does her maths completely online and this has helped her cope with incorrect answers tremendously (something about the impartiality of the machine doesn't scare her as much as human judgement). Now I am slowly warming her up to correction and rework in the rest of her school work. It is a very slow process and things still result in tears when she is tired or the work is particularly demanding, but overall we have made some great progress. A surprising improvement has come about since Vince moved on to the next curriculum level and they are now studying different work. She is comparing herself much less to him and is beginning to see herself as a competent learner. A huge and unexpected win.

Language Arts, Science and Social Studies
We have always raised the kids on great books so when I found Moving Beyond the Page (MBtP) it seemed like a natural choice. It turned out even better than I expected. All the books chosen for study are marvelous, even the non-fiction and the supporting texts. In Moving Beyond the Page we cover Language Arts, Science and Social Studies in two matched streams.

Rhiannon has one more year of parent-child MBtP and I am looking forward to the year as we will read many of my favorite books including The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and The BFG.

Rhiannon's Books for 8 - 10. Some are missing as they can easily be obtained form the library.
Rhiannon's Kits for 8 - 10. She is busting to open and start any one of them.

Vince is just beginning his first unit of self-directed MBtP and, despite the topic matter (poetry) is responding very well. It's been a very long time since I read A Wrinkle in Time so I'm looking forward to revisiting it. Also, if you haven't seen it, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is an absolutely amazing story told in pictures and words. The movie, Hugo, is a lovely interpretation of it. You should check both out.

Vince's Books for 9 - 11. Note the audio book and novel versions of a few books. More are already downloaded. He usually reads and listens to the story to help with comprehension and fatigue.
Vince's Kits for 9 - 11. They look a bit light on but one is missing and then another science unit is space.

I have thought about putting the kids completely on to an online curriculum like Time 4 Learning but I am concerned about accountability and how to report to the HEU if using an online curriculum so I haven't taken it further. However, I have just discovered that Time 4 Learning has worksheets that fit in with the units so I will be trying to use these for Maths documentation throughout the year.

Time4Learning 3rd Grade Maths

Rhiannon and Vince both enjoy online learning but have very different tastes. Vince likes thing to be direct and instructional, Rhiannon loves animations, silly narration and character stories. Last year I started them on Maths curriculums online and things are working out very well. Rhiannon uses Time 4 Learning and Vince uses Cambridge HotMaths. Both suit them perfectly.

Cambridge HotMaths Upper Primary

Spelling and Handwriting
Lastly is spelling and handwriting. Over the past year Vince did Handwriting Without Tears First Grade and Rhiannon has just started it. I have Grade Two and we will probably start it with Vince a little further along in the year once he has settled into his new Moving Beyond the Page format. Spelling has been something we have tried to learn by context and wrote but both kids are lacking in spelling confidence. We have just begun using Sequential Spelling and they are both enjoying it. They have greatly improved in spelling confidence in just a week.


Arts, sports and hobbies are extras and when working with kids with special needs I consider these the nice to haves. I also feel that they need space for personal interests that aren't weighed down by formalising them in a school context, so what happens here is their own choice.

They both love to swim and have swimming lessons each week. Vince is/was water phobic so in the past year we have had great one on one lessons for him through the Sam Reilly Swim School. They have a great special needs programme with excellent teachers and a reduced rate for private instruction. They have been marvellous and Vince now loves to swim! We go to the community pool for a weekend swim about once a fortnight. Anni also loves to swim (she's a water-phile!) and loves going to her lessons and mucking about at the community pool.

Vince goes to art class on a Friday afternoon with a brilliant fine arts teacher. She is so wonderful and encourages and guides him just the right amount. He loves to sculpt in clay and has produced some truly wonderful pieces over the past 12 months. Anni tried these classes but they weren't a good match for her. Instead she indulges in lots of painting and drawing of her own choosing at home.

Digital Photography
Vince is becoming quite interested in digital photography and he is playing around with photos all the time. I am tempted to get him into some formal classes but for the moment he is pleased with his photos and seems to be enjoying the process as it is. I am wary of taking the fun out of it by pushing him into something formalised.

Both kids love snap kit modelling and entered a show last year where they placed. They have plans to enter in the April rounds of the same show this year. Rhiannon's latest piece was a lot of fun and a step up for her in challenge. Vince has also stepped up in detail and complexity over the past year. Jamie hopes to get his art teacher's cooperation to get him painting and detailing his models in the year ahead.

I craft extensively in many different mediums and I have a lot of stuff just lying around waiting for the kids to get into it. Rhiannon expresses an interest now and then but she is a free form artist and working to the constraints of a kit or pattern bore her after a while so she dabbles but doesn't get into any one thing. Vince has a great desire to learn crochet and weaving but his fine motor skills are slow in developing so they are quite challenging for him. Again, I just take it slowly and try not to get too caught up when projects don't get finished.

Both are interested in learning a musical instrument but don't have enough self-drive for regular practice. Anni also really resents anything that requires structure. She is so free form and will probably pick up an instrument and self-teach later on, so I leave her alone. Vince does like learning formally, but enjoys other activities more, so we haven't added formal classes to his routine with the aim of keeping things quieter and more focused on other areas. 

Both kids and I are deeply invested in Scouting with both kids in Cubs (Vince about to go up to Scouts) and I'm a Cub Scout Leader. Scouting offers a huge range of activities and we have planned for a surival style camp in March and other things throughout the year. I feel we need to start bushwalking more (I used to do it a lot when I was working at O'Reilly's as a guide) as Vince needs to build up his hiking stamina and experience going up into Scouts. I'm not wild about it but we need to get on with it this year.

Social Skills 
Both kids are down for Social Skills programmes. Anni's is going on right now and Vince will be doing his in Term 2. They will continue regular therapy in the rest of the year and I will continue to provide support at Cubs for Rhiannon. I'm trying to give Vince a more independent space to operate in at Scouts, we're yet to see how that will work out. We've also established a habit of seeing various friends regularly and these small opportunities have been great for working on skills.

Our Worldwide Classroom

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Meet Our Students

Hi Everyone! Our year has been going for a while because we homeschool all year round. But it is fun to get involved with the blog hop, so come and meet our students.

I meant to get this up almost as soon as the hop opened, but I've been planning to get a photo all week and just haven't gotten around to it. So instead here's a picture from around September last year, when we had a technology lesson - we put together our new Guinea Pig House.

Vince - 11 years old, Grade 5/6

Favourite things to do - board games, online games, building things (Lego, boxes, Knex, Minecraft etc), Cubs, going to the park, cuddling the pets, swimming, audio books, modeling
Favourite authors - Terry Pratchett, JK Rowling, Kathryn Lasky, Dave Luckett, Garth Nix
Favourite games - Killer Bunnies, Life, Quiddler, Lokulus
Favourite computer games - Minecraft, Terraria, Soulcalibur, Skylanders, Lego series of games
Favourite subjects - Economics, science, art
Favourite shows - Stargate, Castle, Dirty Jobs

Vince loves to homeschool. Well, not really loves it but he's grateful not to be in mainstream school. He enjoys the responsibility of managing his day, setting priorities and making choices.

He's a very thoughtful person and really feels the highs and lows of people he is close to. He can be very sensitive and caring and loves to please and be praised. He struggles with making and keeping friends and has trouble interpreting the actions of others. Because of this, he finds 1-1 or 1-2 situations easier to manage. It's one of the reasons homeschooling works so well for him, the interactions are generally smaller and less frequent.

Vince enjoys most subjects, although he resents having to settle down to get work done. However, when we tried Natural Learning a while back he became anxious without some structure and plan in place to feel his way. I'm not sure what his future holds but he loves to make things functional things and has recently expressed an interest in architecture and building, so I think he may go into design or a trade.

Rhiannon - 8 years old, Grade 3

Favourite things to do - board games, computer games, fantasy play, Cubs, swimming, snuggling pets, reading, drawing and coloring, modeling
Favourite authors - Enid Blyton, Meg Cabot, Garth Nix
Favourite computer games - Dragonvale, Minecraft, Terraria, Skylanders, Soulcaliber, My Kingdom
Favourite topics - Big cats
Favourite subjects - Science, spelling
Favourite shows - nature documentaries, Mythbusters, Top Chef

Anni is a butterfly, a free thinker with an expansive world of her own that she incorporates with ours. She is always thinking of stories, narrating her own experiences and creating a beautiful reality for herself. When we first began homeschooling she had trouble shifting from her fantasy world but now she finds it more easy to be a part of what we are doing. She has begun to love and appreciate knowledge and enjoy the learning experience.

She loves to read and reads a variety of books. Her favorite thing of the moment is big cats, although she really loves all animals. We watch lots of wildlife documentaries and she reads as much non-fiction as fiction. Anni has also become a proficient internet researcher and finds information easily when she needs it.

She likes to learn and although she procrastinates about starting school each day she does a good job when she applies herself. She loves to work on science subjects, particularly anything practical and she is getting quite passionate about our new approach to spelling. For now, she wants to be a wildlife photographer and go to Africa. Whatever she decides she will achieve it. She's very determined.

I'm looking forward to this year. I can see them standing on the edge of some big leaps and I look forward to finding out where they will take them. Homeschooling is slowly freeing them and allowing them to imagine and achieve new horizons that would never have been possible if they were still trying to integrate in the school system.

Our Worldwide Classroom