Friday, October 9, 2015

More Prime Factors

When we last discussed prime factors, the boys were using Table C to find all of the factors of a number and break them down into prime factors.  I did finally make peace with why oh why we do this when I realized the information can be used to find the lowest common multiple (upcoming lesson).   Last week the boys worked on another way to find all of the factors and break them down into prime factors, this time using the pegboard.  

Why oh why do we use the pegboard for this lesson?  If we were only using the green pegs I would guess it would be so the child could visually determine which prime numbers were factors of the non-prime factors.  But, right out of the gate we are looking at a two-digit number and are using the blue pegs which doesn't give you any visual cue.  I also wonder why this lesson comes before divisibility.  It would make sense to me to do all of the prime factor work after divisibility.  Maybe it doesn't come before divisibility.  Maybe I just think it does.

At any rate, the boys have a hard time buying anything I'm selling poorly.  Since I was clearly uncommitted to this method, so were they.  "Why are we putting pegs on the board mom?"  "Can I just tell you the factors?" So, we moved right a long to doing it the way I did it when I was a kid.

They put any non-prime numbers in a black rectangle and branched the factors of each rectangle, starting with the lowest prime factor for each, below.  Prime factors are in the red circles.  The decided what the factors are using the facts in their heads.  They enjoyed this and each did about six number a day for a week.  I planned on showing them how to use this to find the lowest common multiple this week, but the stomach flu knocked out a few of our school days.

Me Too, in particular, really enjoyed choosing his own numbers and finding all of the factors.  It was his idea to find the prime factors for one million.  He did most of the calculating  in his head because the numbers are easy enough especially when the prime factors are 2 and 5 like this.  I had to help him find the factors for 31,250 because he couldn't keep track of the remainders in his head.  Again, for lower numbers doing this before divisibility is fine because the kids can imagine what the multiplication equation will be that arrives at the original number.  However, with a number like 31250 you are really determining divisibility.  So, perhaps we will revisit this again after divisibility.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Building a Roman Arch

We have been studying Ancient Rome using mostly lessons, suggested literature, and suggested extension activities from The Story of the World.  Last week we built a Roman road, this week we wanted to build a Roman arch. Although Roman Arch block sets are sold by many Montessori companies it's an extra and therefore not in many of the albums.  I had an strong idea of how I wanted to present this, but wanted some support for the technical details.  The only album that I had with a presentation was the Physical Science album from Mid-America.  However, the method for presenting was to demonstrate assembly and then let the child do it.  This was the opposite of the approach I had planned.  I didn't want to show them how to do it.  I wanted them to figure it out like an ancient Roman (without the heavy lifting) and discover the compression and tension forces on their own.   Fortunately I found some free lesson plans online, from a non-Montessori source, that were exactly what I had in mind.  You can find them here.  I  downloaded the "Rome Lesson Plans" file and presented specific sections. If you are not doing Story of the World you might want to present all parts of the lesson.  We already had covered some sections in our previous work.  I can't give you a script here for what I did without plagiarizing the  lesson plans.  But, I can point you to the exact sections we did.

We bought our the Haba Roman Arch Building Block Set.   However, if you don't want to buy one or want to save the money or just want to give your children the extra experience, the lesson plans I linked provide instructions on page 5 for making your own blocks using plaster and ice cube trays.  

The lesson plans are divided into five lessons.  We skipped Lesson 1 Who are the Romans?, Lesson 2 What Did They Invent?, and Lesson 4 the Civilization Game.  

The lesson is structured around The Engineering Method.  I provided the kids with a laminated printout of the color chart of the Engineering method from page 12.  Then, I started reading the script starting with item two on page four and continuing through item five.  It presents the problem as a story.  A Roman Emperor has conquered a new region and need to connect each city to a water source.  

Define the Problem:  How do you move water from a water source to a city?
Do Background Research (about the geography and materials available):  We discussed what we had already learned.
Specify Requirements:  I presented the boys with the basic and advanced arch requirement pages from page 13.  They decided to satisfy the basic requirements first and move on to the advanced requirements if successful.

The fourth element in this lesson is to show the children a model or photograph of the arch and allow students a few minutes to observe the arch and ask questions. We revisited the applicable pages from City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction.  

Then, I presented the boys with the building challenge.  We put the images away and I gave them all of the pieces they needed in a large basket.  I did not give them the instructions from the Haba kit. They spent about an hour piecing these together in different ways.

Finally, they had an arch that met the most basic requirements: 
  • The arch must stand by itself.
  • The opening must be rounded.
  • The arch must be constructed using at least two "stones."
  • The opening must be tall and wide enough for a cup to fit through.

As you can see, this doesn't look like the picture on the cover of the box.  It also will not meet the advanced arch requirements which means the arch must withstand a certain amout of weight placed directly on top of the arch.

The boys decided to stop at that point for the day.  I bought them some Roman citizen and army figures that they enjoyed (these and these).  They are looking forward to building the arch outside near their Roman road and adding the figures.  They have been working on constructing some other buildings to go along with, mostly from popsicle sticks, just for fun.  

On a second day,  Kal-El wanted to meet the advanced requirements.  I presented "Lesson 3" from the lesson plans.  On page 6 we did sections 1-6, which included reexamining pictures, learning the parts of the arch, and demonstrating compression forces with a circle sit before attempting to build a more stable arch.   We used the graphic of the compression forces from page 14.  I was was surprised that I couldn't find a set of three-part cards to buy for the Roman arch.  So I made my own set of cards and a control booklet.  Terminology covered includes:  keystone, voussoir, springer, impost, plinth, pier, abutment, crown, haunch, spandrel, span, and rise.

Kal-El spent a lot of time building and building the arch and testing it with various weights.  The lesson plans suggested that the weight be determined by the class.  This was a great idea and I personally couldn't think of what we might use for this.  I didn't need to worry about it.  Kal-El decided that the bead materials, specifically the cubes, were great weights.  He tested each arch model starting with the one cube and then testing each next larger cube in turn until the arch collapsed so that he could measure the success of various models.  I never would have thought of that.  There are "testing your arch" pages in the "student journal" file on the lesson plan website but I hadn't printed them and Kal-El was just fine recording this on his own.  He never was able to create and arch that would hold anything heavier than the five cube.  So, on day three he asked for the instruction manual.

Here is the arch as built per the instructions.  There are other models available out there.  I chose this one because it was the same as on the Montessori sites, but I saw some that had better pier and abutment options.

There you have it!  If anyone else has good Montessori-friendly resources for this lesson, please share them in the comments!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Building a Roman Road

We had beautiful weather last week.  The boys and I found a great spot near our shed to build a Roman road that they can enjoy until it deteriorates.  Note:  some of the real Roman roads still exist today, but I don't think our methods were as precisely implemented.  The boys each dug a trench and they filled the trench with somewhat long, thin rocks to make a curb.

Then they dug a out between the two trenches.

Truman was the site supervisor.

building a Roman road for kids

They filled the center about halfway full with sand.

Next, they added a layer of gravel (aquarium rocks).

The next layer was a layer of concrete.  We didn't have any concrete mix around and I didn't want to buy a big bag just to use a little bit (and I didn't feel like mixing concrete).  So, we used Dap pre-mixed concrete patch instead.  It is not the same thing as real concrete.

Finally, they used flat rocks and layered them on the top like puzzle pieces.

Building a Roman road was one of the suggested followups in a chapter of Story of the World.  We didn't follow their instructions though.  They wanted you to do it in a shoebox lid with thin layers of things mixed with glue.  We followed the description of the real thing given in David Macaulay's City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction.  The Roman road page is pictured above.  It is SUCH a great book I bought us a copy to keep.  It is a great resource for arch's and aqueducts and more.

Friday, September 25, 2015

School Days


Kal-El is reviewing long-multiplication with the flat bead frame.  He original learned this work in parallel with the checkerboard back in April of 2014.  However, he wound up preferring the checkerboard at the time and didn't spend as much time on this which makes it good for using for review.  We have a set of Nienhuis cards he is working through.

This time around I laminated a strip of paper that he can use over and over again with a dry erase marker rather than having to get a fresh strip every time.  Extra bonus, I don't have to keep making strips of paper just the right size again and again.

I do have to keep strips of paper stocked for logical analysis, but I don't have to fuss about the size.  Kal-El has mastered indirect objects and started adverbial extensions ("where" in particular) last week.  I might get a photo of that this week. 

Both boys did really well with finding lowest common multiples and we finished that thread in the albums.

They did equally well with factors.  During this very first presentation, finding the factors for 18, they both figured out all of the factors in their heads while I was still showing them how to lay out the pegs on the boards to check if "two" was a factor.  So, I had them do the four remaining examples in their heads and write them all down on a piece of paper.  They made it into a race which Kal-El barely won.  So, we moved on.  I taught them how to use table C to find all of the factors for a number and then how to break down each factor into prime factors only.  This week I think we do something similar on the pegboard.  I can't wait to get past this.  I understand why we find all of the prime factors for a number but I don't understand why we break down the other factors into their prime factors.  Stuff like that makes me really dislike a lesson.  The last time I felt this way was some of the squaring and cubing games.

Me Too began the checkerboard.  We have cards from Nienhuis.  After the initial presentation he did about 15 cards over the course of three days in which he just had to build a number with beads on the board.  Last week he started doing equations with one-digit multipliers (Something that is in AMS albums but is skipped in AMI.  Probably not necessary, but we have the cards and they didn't take very long).   The hardest part for him is really writing down the equation and the product.  He is still learning how to line everything up vertically.  Both the stamp game paper and the large bead frame paper really take care of that for you.  He finished all of the one-digit multipliers this week and now can start two-digit multipliers next week.

We built a Roman road this week and I took lots of pictures.  Hopefully I can get those uploaded this weekend.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Pin Maps: Finally, a Set You Can Afford that You Don't Have to Make Yourself (Mostly)

Okay, I'm going to cut straight to the summary and then go into my typical long-winded nitty-gritty analysis afterward.

There is a new source available for pin maps as used in the Montessori elementary environment.  Now you have three options at three different price points:

1.  Nienhuis "Cabinet of World Parts."  
Cost:  $975 plus $136 shipping (to my location)
Labor hours:  None
Storage:  included
Caveat:  Pins may scratch wooden map surface or chip at pre-drilled holes.

2.  New:  Pin It! Maps "Complete Map Set:  Student Package."
Cost:  $219.98 plus $15 shipping plus cost of pins (likely around $26)
Promo Code:  Save 10%  on your entire purchase until 10/31/15 with the code "allday"
Labor hours: Eight (my estimation)
Storage:  $45-90 depending on your choices.

3.  DIY:  See my tutorial here.
Cost:  $125 plus $26-$90 for pins (price depends on how you code your pins or flags)
Labor hours:  Forty
Storage:  $25 for hardware drawers.

VERDICT:  If the Pin It! maps had been available two years ago, I would not have made my own set of pin maps.  The overall quality is better than my set, the control maps are significantly better, there are fun extras, and the price difference is so minimal that I definitely would have chosen to pay extra and save myself 32 hours of labor.  I received a set of Pin It! Maps from the company specifically to review so that I could tell my readers whether or not they are comparable to the maps that I made myself.  I will be brutally honest in expressing my opinions as always.

Are these three options comparable?

I believe all three of these options are comparable in function and scope but there are differences in the level of quality.  I designed my set to be comparable to the Nienhuis set without the high price point and scratching issues.  Sara, the owner of Pin It! maps is a homeschooling mom who apparently read my blog post about the maps I made, saw an unfulfilled need in the market, and spent 10 months designing a product to specifically meet and exceed what I was looking for in a set of pin maps.  I was a muse people! So, it is no surprise that I love these maps.  They were designed to be exactly what I wanted, but better.   Even creepier, does anyone else remember my obsession with the maps command cards that I don't have from Waseca?  Sara created several similar sets and they are available as free downloads on her website.  In fact, Sara has improved the pin map concept by weaving in a bonus Waseca bend in several ways.  More on that later.  Before I get hopelessly bogged down in nitty gritty details I want to say some more things about the Pin It! Product.  When you open the box it comes carefully packaged and is well-organized.  I didn't have to spend 10 hours sorting things like I often do when I receive an ETC Montessori product, for example.  You have about 8 hours of flag/pin assembly to accomplish. I will say that Sara has tried to make this as painless as possible.  There are very clear, photo instructions for the assembly and the package even includes the roll of tape you need to laminate your flags.

Back to quality.  One might predict that most expensive option is going to be the highest quality, but I'm not sure that is the case here.  The storage for the Nienhuis set is obviously beautiful.  The flags (hard plastic flags with blunt-ended metal posts) are very sturdy and of the highest quality.  The questionable component comes down to the pin maps themselves. They are what I would call political maps.  The land is one color, the water is another.  The Pin It! maps and my own maps are what I would call physical maps that show elevations and this is a useful feature when labeling mountains.   The Nienhuis maps are wood and metal blunt-ended pins go into pre-drilled holes and the pins often scratch the paint off of the maps or can chip around the hole.

The quality of the maps for the DIY set will of course depend on where you source your maps.  I sourced the best maps that I was able to find for my purposes. Those who read my tutorial may recall that sourcing the maps was easily the most frustrating part of the process.  Pin It! appears to have had maps manufactured specifically for this purpose which is exciting (more information available in their FAQ section).

About the Maps Themselves: 

I mostly used A Beka maps.  The A Beka maps that I used are comparable in quality to the Pin It! maps but are different.  The maps are a similar size.  The Pin It! maps are just a bit larger and are uv coated.  Mine show the political boundaries a little more clearly due to the colors.  However, I would say that  the Pin It! maps use color more intelligently.  Instead of using color to boost the political boundaries (which is something I liked about the A Beka maps) they use it to show the different biomes, something I never would have thought of.   Here are photos of one of my maps and then a Pin It! map:

The level of detail is better on the Pin It! maps.  There are five rivers that show up on the Pin It! maps that do not show up on my A Beka maps.  Also, the way the physical geography is shown makes it easier to see where the highest points of a mountain range can be found.  This is probably due to the hand-shading mentioned on their site.

If you click on any of these pictures, they should enlarge.  That will allow you to see the differences better, particularly when it comes to knowing where to place the pin.  Nienhuis uses colors around the pre-drilled holes to identify the type of pin to insert.  They use a star around the capitol city.  I did the same thing (with a marker) but didn't bother with stars.  The Pin It! maps have different colors and symbols that make things even easier.  I think the symbols for volcanoes and mountain ranges are really cute.  Also, the "R" in the center of the spot for river makes it clear that it is the river that is being labelled and not just a place to put the country name or the flag.

One place the Pin It! maps blow mine out of the water is the included maps of the Caribbean and Oceania.  It was important to me that my kids learn where these small countries and other islands are, but that it is very difficult to include that level of detail on any of the six larger continent maps.  The relative size of the islands compared to the larger continents makes them very very small.  My solution was to include a separate, special map for each of these areas.  I then discovered that sourcing a map that showed those areas the way I wanted them to look was nearly impossible.  I finally found something adequate but they needed to be colored and they were not the same size or quality of the other maps I was using.  Sara had maps manufactured specifically for these areas that match in size and quality, are oriented the way they need to be (that is, shown fully with enough of the surrounding larger geography to give a reference point), and were visually what I wanted (that is, indicating the island groups in Oceania in a way that is is understandable).   Below are pictures of my maps versus her maps and you can see that mine are downright embarrassing in comparison:

MY Oceania map and physical map of Australia.  They are only 8" x 10"

Pin It! Maps version 18" x 24"

Close-up.  You can see you don' t need a separate physical map like I used.

About the Controls:

I did not make map-style controls for all of my maps.  You can see the controls I used in my tutorial post.  In short, they are a combination of puzzle map controls, an actual atlas, and charts for capitals and flags like this one:

It would have raised my costs considerably if I had made map-style controls for each type of pin.

The Pin It! maps and Nienhuis maps both use map-style controls.  Here is a picture of some of the Pin-It! controls for Asia:

You can see that the flag control is easier to check than mine.  Also, I think the way colored highlighting was used on the land and water control is very well done.  Again, you can click on these to enlarge.  I appreciate that the titles identifying each control map are color coded with Montessori colors.

Do they have a comparable level of difficulty?

One important question some people will have right away is whether all three options include the same number of flags and cover islands, rivers, and mountains at comparable levels of detail.  I literally used the Nienhuis labels for the pins so I know that my level is identical.  However, I also added quite a bit to my North America land and water map.  I also added the entire Caribbean and Oceania.  The Pin It! maps also added the Caribbean and Oceania.  I sat down and pulled out all of my land and water pins for Europe and laid them side by side with the Pin It! pins and they were nearly identical.  I was missing two pins they had and they were missing two pins I had.  It was fine.

Why do I still have to assemble my own pins with Pin It! maps?

The pin flags are already made, instructions and materials are included in the box for assembling them (right down to the tape for laminating the flags).  However, apparently the government doesn't allow 1200 small sharp pointy objects to be sold along with a product marketed to children so you have to get your own pins.  Also, this means that it is also going to cost you some hours to assemble the pins.  Sara estimates that Europe takes 2 hours and Central America/Caribbean takes 45 minutes.  So, based on my experience with these I would guess around eight hours for the whole set.

The pin design is different than the pin design I used.  There are two reasons for this, one is the different choices made for backing the maps.  The other is that the Pin It! maps were designed so you would not need glue.  Using glue is a pain and adds an extra time consuming step.  Plus I glued myself to myself repeatedly when making my own maps.

I used foam board from the dollar store to make my maps and it is only about a third of the thickness that Pin It! uses.  It's nice to use the thin foam because I was able to back every map individually without taking up too much space so each map is grab and go.  It also means I was able to use short pins without stoppers.  I find it is holding up well and is still holding the pins well.  We do have to use the maps on a hard surface to stop the pins from going in to the map too far as it would on the carpet.

Pin It! maps use .5" foam.  It has a better feel and isn't prone to warping like my thin foam could be.  It does mean that the pin design had to be different so that you don't completely sink the pin down to the flag.  Sara provides stoppers for each pin.  The combination of a stopper and clear pvc "flag poles" require a slightly longer pin than I used.  The "flag pole" prevents the pin from bending (I've not had that problem) and keeps the flag from sliding down the pole when the child pushes the pin into the map.  This is the part of the design that avoids having to superglue each flag to each pin.

Here is a picture from the website in which you can see the pins clearly:

These pins are inserted into the World Map.  The World map was another unexpected bonus that is not part of the Nienhuis set or the set I made.  Flags come with the set to label the Tropic of Cancer, Capricorn, etc.,  This means you don't have to make a working chart when you get to that portion of the geography album.  It also provides a way to practice world biomes.

I had no interest in assembling all of the Pin It! maps pins after having already spent so many hours assembling my own, so I have been using my pins on the Pin It! maps when trying them out.

The set came with two pieces of the .5" foam and two sets of special plastic corners.  This set-up is designed to keep the storage space required low.  The maps themselves take up very little room.  You choose the map you want to use, put it on the foam, and then add the corner pieces to hold the map to the foam and protect the corners.

I wondered if using the same foam for so many maps would wear out the foam in places where pins fall close together but not in the exact same spot.  Sara uses these with her own children and hasn't noticed a problem.  She points out that the foam can be turned and/or flipped as needed so it creates more spread.

Also, I will point out that replacement parts are really easy to get for these maps.  It's nice to find a Montessori material in which you can replace parts without buying a new set.  There are replacement maps, foam, flags, flag parts, everything.

About buying pins:

How much this costs is highly dependent on how much you spend on pins.  When I made my own pin maps I used a different color pin for each continent rather than writing or printing the name of the continent on the back of every flag.  Labeling the back of each flag would have doubled my flag-making hours.  Getting the colored pins at a low cost can be tricky. I managed $0.01 when I did the project but lately haven't seen better than $0.02 and if you don't find a sale they can be $0.04.  Also, when you buy in the different colors you wind up over-buying for certain colors and therefore overspending.  Yellow is the common color for these pins.  You can get them more easily and at less expense.  For example they are $0.017 today on Amazon.  If you got them locally and on sale (50% off notions) you might do better.  If you are making your own pin map set you could get all one color and just code them on the back.  If you are really hard core like my friend Abbie and want color-coded pin heads you can paint yours different colors with nail polish.  If you are buying pins in all one color for either the Pin It! set or making your own you need around 1150 pins.  If you are buying colored pins I have a breakdown on my original tutorial post.


I store my own pins in a set of hardware drawers.  If I were to use the longer pins required for the Pin It! maps and put on the stoppers and flag poles I don't think that I could fit an entire set of country names or capitals for a continent in a single drawer anymore.  Sara recommends using 4x6 Iris storage boxes (like for photos).  It is going to be more economical to source the boxes yourself than to buy them through her site.  She does sell a nifty set of labels for the boxes ready to go and color-coded.  There are 45 labels in that set.  I'm guessing there must be a dollar store version available if you look.  Otherwise you'll need to look for a sale at a craft store of some kind.

Fun Extras:

Speaking of storage, Pin It! sells a nice set of pin-cushions for holding the set of pins you are working with while you are using them.  They are color-coded to match the Montessori colors for each continent.  Here is a photo of some of MY pins in one of the Pin It! pincushions.

Remember, those are MY pins.  The Pin It! flags are not ragged on the edges, are nicely printed, and are coded on the back with the continent name.  I am using the Europe side of the pincushion.  I would flip it for Africa.  Or, I can use any color I want.

Another fun extra is a special map set Sara created for practicing the landforms.
It is 9"x 24" and comes with two controls, one for land forms and one for water forms.  It also includes all of the pin/flag making materials that you would need.  Labels for the storage containers you would use for this map is included in the labels set.  This is a separate map set.  It is not part of the student set.

If you have a coop or classroom setting and would want more foam and a second set of pins there is a classroom package available.

Another thing to consider is that Sara suggests that these maps could be used in a multi-level homeschool setting that includes primary children by using Toob figures rather than pins along with any of these maps.  Deb, over at Living Montessori Now, focused on this aspect of the package in here review which you can find here.  She also took a good close-up of an assembled pin if you want to see one.

Finally, be sure to check out the Free Teaching Materials section of the Pin It! website.  There you will find the command cards I mentioned earlier as well as card sets to help you link this map set to any Waseca biome work you might be doing.

Don't forget, you can save 10% on your entire purchase until 10/31/15 with the promo code "all day."

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

School Days

Today was the first day of our second week of school.  Everything has been going very well.  Today was the first day I felt like taking some pictures.  Above the boys are doing some copywork.  You can see Me Too's work plan with paper clips resting on the table.    Speaking of the table, there is a little surprise underneath the table.

Truman is now responsible enough to join us during school.  He loves it.

Today Me Too had various "thinking faces" he made between equations in the fraction drawers.  He likes to do them like flashcards and shout out the answers.  These particular equations are practicing different formats and happen to be subtraction.  Each equation is missing one numerator in random positions in the equation and sometimes the difference is listed first.  This requires more careful thinking.  I think that's why he makes the faces.  If he's not careful he tries to fill in the blank as if he is subtracting the minuend from the subtrahend when the difference is listed first.  

Me Too only has a few fraction drawers left.  When he finishes them he will be ready to move on to operations with unlike denominators and multiplying or dividing a fraction by a fraction.  I've already moved the new work in so the old cabinet is on the floor behind him.  These are one of his daily works until he's done so I can quickly get that cabinet out of here. 

Easy peasy.  The boys are whipping through our Child-sized Masterpiece folders from the beginning as a refresher for the new folders I put together.  After matching pairs, Me Too likes to read the titles of the paintings given on the back of the cards and then examine the painting to see if he can figure out why the artist chose the title.  He was mystified by the one under his hand in the picture.  It is titled something like A Woman, a Bird, and a Star.  

Me Too is finishing up the racks and tubes.  His equation today was something like 93,456 divided by 3,047.  If you look closely you can see that he doesn't like to put in all of the skittles.  He just puts one skittle on each board.  If there are seven units in the divisor he just puts one skittle in the hole for seven.  He is recording his work on graph paper, but isn't recording the beads used or remainders for each step yet, just the equation itself and the final quotient and any final remainder.

Both boys received presentations on Lowest Common Multiples with the pegboard last week.  Today I told both of them they could choose any three numbers and find the LCM.  This is Me Too's work from this morning.  Today he learned WHY we disregarded the number one when we did the tables of multiples last spring.  He won't be choosing the number one again any time soon.  To putzy.  

I didn't like the way the cardstock dividers I made lay on the board so I grabbed the box of wooden ledger lines I made to go with our music notation materials.  These are Woodsies that I had spray painted gloss black. They worked perfectly and are a lot easier to pick up than the cardstock. Just a tip.

The boys know what to do if they run out of space on the board and how to do this with two-digit numbers.  They both chose easy numbers today.  Tomorrow I'll give them parameters, such as two numbers in the teens.  I would really like a box of cards for this, but I guess I'll try this one Jessica's way.

Above is a picture of what Kal-El did during our most of our three-hour work period this morning.  I dragged him out of his books for Spanish and copywork, but otherwise he read the whole time.

When he came into the school room this morning he noticed right away that I had restocked the bookcase after a library trip.  When it is full of fresh books like this, and it is once or twice a week, he just can't resist reading them all.  However, he didn't finish anything on his work plan.  That meant he had a lot to do when we came home from our afternoon violin lessons.  There was a tantrum.  I videotaped the tantrum but will spare you all the video.  At any rate, he finished up all of the daily work on his plan in about 30 minutes if you don't count the time it took to have the tantrum.  He did an equation on the flat bead frame, chose some exercises in his vocabulary book, a drawer of word study cards, worked on LCM with the pegboard, and did some reading analysis with the wooden arrows.

Me Too, on the other hand, has a better idea of how to balance it all. He would probably like to spend the whole time reading with me, but he loves his work plans.  He always gets everything finished, finished neatly, and finished on time.  He was quite the little conversationalist in Spanish today. I secretly assessed his vocabulary retention from last year and he remembered nearly all of it.  He  has forgotten a few body parts like las orejas and las piernas.  I'm not sure he ever knew the difference between dedos, manos and pies.  We'll play some games and refresh his memory or fill in the blanks as the case may be.  

Friday, August 28, 2015

State of the Homeschool Address: Part Two

There were three homeschool-related items I had hoped to complete this summer:

You can read all about how we happened to have these things left over at the end of the year here:

State of the Homeschool Address:  Part One

Basically it took me way too long to realize that we need to do Spanish and history daily if we want to cover the amount of material I have planned for their education as a whole.

Sadly, I found it nearly impossible for the unschooler in me to teach Spanish and history every day this summer.  We tried it for a few days but discovered that violin, Spanish, history and vocabulary all together was taking up most of the morning.  Not only were there a billion other things we'd all rather be doing in the few months of nice weather we have up here in the glacial plains, but I felt like I was personally being punished.  I needed a break from teaching every day.  So, we kept up with the violin and Kal-El finished his Vocabu-Lit book yesterday.  I'm not thrilled to have all of those unfinished Spanish and history chapters staring me in the face at the beginning of this year.

I've gotten the school room thoroughly cleaned from top to bottom.  I've removed many materials we don't need anymore.  Almost all of our materials ordered have arrived and been added to the shelves.  I've photocopied and bound anything that had blackline masters so that the boys would have less to punch and put into their work binders.  I've already written all the headers into my lesson plan books.

Today I am going to work on writing out their first work plans of the year.  I have a file on the computer that I would normally just tweak but it looks like I'll be writing them out by hand. Our printer, a Lexmark S605 that we've always strongly disliked, completely died.  It "says" it needs a new $66 printhead but it really doesn't.  It's a firmware problem. I can't update the firmware.  I've tried 20 times.  It takes an hour and it always get's hung up in the same spot in the update.  Shopping for a new printer has been frustrating because nobody likes their printer.  Even the review sites that list the "top five printers for Macs" admit that every printer has a fatal flaw of some kind.  Buying a printer is a matter of deciding which fatal flaw you can live with.  Is it okay if the ink dries up if you go a week without printing a page?  Is it okay if 33%  of the printers are lemons but you can tell on start up so you can keep returning the printer until you get one that works?  Is it okay if it can't accept cardstock or photo paper?

We are going to try one of the new Epson EcoTank printers, the Epson Expression ET-2550.  These are a new thing, so new we had to wait for the release and now are waiting for it to ship.  It has big ink tanks on the side that supposedly hold the equivalent of 20 cartridges of ink.  They estimate it is about two years worth of ink.  You refill it yourself when needed and to buy a pack tanks to refill all four colors is currently $50.  The downside is that the printer is expensive.  They have to make up for all the money you are going to save on ink so they charge you a premium at the outset.  It currently costs me $88 to fill all four colors on my Lexmark with XL cartridges and I refill those twice a year.  For that reason we are hoping this printer works out.  I'll keep you posted.

So, as I'm getting the work plans ready for next week I'm reviewing where we left off on everything last spring.  Last year Me Too would have been considered "a first-grader" or would likely have been in his first year of Montessori elementary.  Kal-El would have been considered "a third-grader" or in his third year of Montessori elementary.  You can read more about all that here.


Spelling, Vocabulary, Writing, Literature, Handwriting and Word Study

I think we all know at this point that I lean very classical in these areas and have filled in with some curriculum rather than left myself responsible for tracking these things throughout their work as a whole.

Me Too completely finished The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading and All About Spelling Level 1.  This year he will work on All About Spelling Level 2  and Vocabu-Lit B.

Kal-El finished AAS Level 2 and will work through All About Spelling Level 3  this year.  He finished Vocabu-Lit, Book C yesterday and this year will work on Vocabu-Lit, Book D.

Both boys completed The Complete Writer: Level 1 .  I am keeping both boys together on this work, so they will both work on Level 2 this year.  Both boys have had all of the lessons in the Word Study section of the KotU albums but need to review this year.  I bought them the Lower Elementary word study cards from ETC Montessori  and put them in hardware drawers.  Afterward I will likely get them the upper elementary set.

Vocabulary development continues to be very important.  As is typical of strong readers their age, they can read anything they want but don't always know what the words mean.  You may remember I collected a slew of vocabulary resources and am going to attempt to integrate this into our learning more organically.

We always seem to have literature covered.  I think I spend about an hour every week planning, obtaining, and organizing library books for them.  The boys read voraciously.  We always have a book going as a read-aloud (I love the The Read-Aloud Handbook).  We often have an audio book (or two) in progress as well.  We enjoyed several amazing audio books when we traveled this summer.

Kal-El basically taught himself cursive using the New American Cursive, Volume I last fall.  He went from zero to writing in all cursive in a matter of about two weeks.  I had give him a few presentations on connecting letters but otherwise he did all the work.  This year  he will do volume two.  There is a Scripture version and a "famous Americans" version.  That was a tough decision for me.  Usually ordering the scripture version is a no brainer but it is hard to turn down famous Americans.  I went with famous Americans but keep checking the sky for lightening bolts.

Me Too has some kind of handwriting disability.  He is not dyslexic but something is up.  The diagnosis could be as simple as "Kid, your mom should have taught cursive first like Maria Montessori said," but I don't think that is it.  Despite completing the whole Montessori arsenal of handwriting activities, doing each level of Handwriting Without Tears TWICE, and doing Zaner-Bloser's Kindergarten and 1st grade books last year he still has some issues.  He has improved greatly and I think that it is resolving itself with time, patience and maturity.  He is excited to start cursive this fall.  The change of pace is something I considered doing much sooner.  Hopefully it will be just what he needs.


Both boys have been given the "function of words" lessons (key presentations and follow-ups for all of the parts of speech) several times and I will continue to do so.  They both completed all of the grammar command cards this year.  Kal-El completed all of the grammar boxes.  Me Too has  completed them through to "the verb."  These will likely be on his daily work plan at the start of the year to get them wrapped up.

Kal-El practiced a lot of easy logical analysis/sentence analysis work and completed the lower elementary sentence analysis set from ETC.  He will move directly into the more advanced sentence analysis work, i.e. more complex sentences. Cards for this are available in the ETC upper elementary grammar curriculum.  Me Too has had lessons on the same set of logical analysis work but hasn't completed much practice.  He will do some more work on the lower elementary set and move to the upper elementary set when he is ready.

As you can likely already tell, I don't have a lot of free time and I try to buy as many materials as I can rather than make them.  It is more important to me to get the materials here and in use quickly than for them to match my KotU albums precisely.  For this reason many of my language materials match MRD more closely than KotU.  I like the KotU materials better, I think they are more advanced.  But, I figure if the MRD coordinated materials are good enough for a large percentage of the Montessori world they are good enough for us.  They also always seem to build in plenty of practice which is something that I appreciate.  The good news is, all of the files you need to match the KotU albums are available through the course.  If you have time to do some printing and laminating you can have great materials that match your albums precisely.

We haven't touched any of the verb tenses work.  Again, very nice files are available through KotU.  We are going to try using the ETC verb conjugation work.



Kal-El thoroughly finished all work with the division test tubes last year.  He also really maxed out the multiplication checkerboard and the bank game.  He can do both long division and multiplication abstractly on paper with very large numbers.    He has already done the flat bead frame, but I will probably pull that out at the start of the year for some long multiplication review before we tackle category multiplication.  The stamp game will have a brief reappearance when he learns more about group division.

Me Too knows the large bead frame and the back game backwards and forwards at this point.  He'll switch over to the checkerboard.  He already made very good progress on the division test tubes last spring.  We'll focus on finishing that up right away while he is still young and loves moving beads.

They both know all of their math facts for all four operations.


I have found it easiest to keep both boys together on a lot of this.  They have both worked through that album section up through "multiples, Table C."  We will pick up this year with "least common multiples" and continue on through factors and divisibility.  Me Too was still in primary when he did the numeration work with the commutative and distributive properties and parenthesis so I feel like he should have a review of those topics this year as well.

The few pages in the AMI Montessori albums on measurement are hidden at the back of this section.  I would like to do the ETC measurement command cards, but will think about that in December.

Squares and Cubes of Numbers

Both boys have a good start in this section of the albums. They finished through to the end of the decanomial square stages with the beads and then stopped.  They will continue on  to the paper decanomial and beyond.

Fractions and Decimal Fractions

Kal-El finished all of my fraction drawers (and thus the entire MRD first fraction album) early in the school year last year and then was busy in other threads for the rest of the year.  Me Too nearly finished them in the spring.  They will be moving on to the work in MRD Volume Two, Kal-El right away and Me Too when he's finished with the drawers.   They basically have done all the nomenclature, equivalence, and simple operations work and will be moving on to multiplying or dividing a fraction by a fraction and operations with unlike denominators.

Kal-El will be starting the decimal fraction works.  These could have been introduced sooner, but frankly there is a limit on how many threads we can have going at once.  I have to refresh my memory on the presentations.  I might let Me Too come along for the ride on the presentations or I might let him wait until he's out of some of the operations work.  Again, too many threads, so little time.

Speaking of threads at a time, I haven't even brought up geometry yet and you can see this is a lot of threads.  We can't have them all going at the same time.  One of the things I'm working on right now is deciding which couple to do first.  We'll work in a thread for a while until it reaches a good stopping point and then pick up a different one for a while.

Word Problems

Me Too will be working on Daily Word Problems, Grade 2 and Kal-El will be working on Daily Word Problems, Grade 4. They do these about once a week and do a whole weeks worth at a time.


Both boys have done the work with polygons, angles and lines.  We somehow haven't tackled the circle yet so that is on deck.  I finally bit the bullet and ordered the remaining equivalency, volume, and area materials that we didn't have and I predict that geometry will be one of our main areas of study this year.


We will be doing both of these subjects every day, for different reasons.  We are using SOTW for history and there is just a lot to get through.  It is hard to make progress on a foreign language if you aren't doing it every day.  It doesn't take very long so we will switch that to daily as well.


Kal-El and Me Too have long since finished the presentations in the Montessori music album.   Both boys take violin lessons once a week and practice for 30 minutes each nearly every day.  Both have been learning a little bit of piano from me whenever they ask for a lesson.  Kal-El plays some trumpet/cornet but mostly on his own.  I am going to try putting a piano lesson with Mom officially "on the books" each week and will see how that goes.  I can continue their music theory at that time.  We will continue using Classic Tunes and Tales for music literature.


I wrote about how we use the Waseca Biomes curriculum as one possible linear path through the Geography, Zoology, History, and Botany albums as a united whole back in this post and in this post.   We will continue to do so this year.  As is the nature of Montessori, you cover things or go through album sections multiple times.  However if you are curious about what we've covered at least once, here it goes...

Geography:  Creation of the Earth, Nature of the Elements, The Sun and Earth, The Work of Air.  Notably missing is The Work of Water so we will be be sure to get to that soon.  The boys want to revisit The Composition of the Earth and The Formation of Mountains after having visited Yellowstone.

 Zoology and Botany:  We have covered all plant and animal topics at a superficial level and need to revisit and go deeper.  For example, we've done the story materials, key experiences,  and all of the nomenclature charts, books and cards.  I have, however, avoided many of the botany experiments and we've only done basic classification.  We haven't touched any human anatomy work.

Another important supplement we use in our homeschool is Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding.  I assessed our progress in the first volume at the end of last school year and discovered that we had done nearly all of the lessons, either specifically to supplement the boys' interests or coincidentally as we worked through the albums.  I did notice that the only things we hadn't really chosen were in the "Life Sciences" chapter and match up with the things we haven't done in the biology album, for example:  adaptations, food chains and survival;  the skeleton and muscle system; the nervous system, etc.,  Volume One of this series is divided into several threads that continue in Volume Two.  We have done quite a bit of work in Volume Two already. The way I use our resources we can get onto a thread and continue straight through several volumes without touching a particular thread in even the first volume.


We will continue using How Great Thou Art for our drawing and painting lessons.  I wrote briefly about that resource in this post.  I think we finished 25 lessons in that book last year.  We hadn't touched our Child Size Masterpieces in a long time.  So, in the spring I acquired and prepared the rest of the materials through to the end.  They are ready and waiting in folders in the school room.  I plan to put them on the weekly or cyclical portion of the boys work plans.


I will end this post with a warning.  If you are homeschooling and/or homeschooling in a Montessori-inspired way I probably mentioned a lot of things here that you don't already use or own.  Please don't feel like you "need" these things.  I wrote about the dark side of adding things to Montessori in the State of the Homeschool Address:  Part One.  I also read a short post today over at The Common Room that I really enjoyed titled "Schedule-Stuffing."  My favorite couple of sentences were these:

There is a certain point at which adding more stuff to your curriculum does not result in more power, more ideas, better curriculum, more  learning – it results in less: less time to think, less time to process, less time to imagine adventures, invent episodes, less making of connections because by adding too much, you have created a confused, overwhelming tangle of ideas.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Ultimate Homeschool Fieldtrip 2015: Part Four

We left the Badlands after our nature drive and headed for Mount Rushmore.  We made a lot of stops along the way.  One, of course, was Wall Drug.  Four free waters and three homemade doughnuts later we were back on the road.

The boys were very impressed with Mount Rushmore.

Check out this dog!

We arrived at the parking lot for Mount Rushmore 30 seconds before the entire Latin American Motorcycle Association and/or the Harlistas.

The boys were excited that after the extra Spanish this year they were catching a word or two.  The most often overheard phrases were "toma una foto" and "vamos al caballo loco."

We did NOT "vamos al caballo loco" on this trip, but spent a few hours enjoying the view at Mount Rushmore.

We even had a sandwich under the watchful gaze of Washington and Lincoln.