Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Science4Us.com Online Subscription {Crew Review}

 

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Science4Us.com Online Subscription is an online science program developed by the folks from Vocabulary Spelling City.  Designed as a monthly subscription service ($7.95/ student per month), the founders hope to encourage a love of science and STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math) in early elementary aged students.

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The program is divided into 4 “books” of spheres of science study:

Inquiry:


  • Science Tools
  • Think Like a Scientist

Earth/ Space:

  • History of Earth
  • Materials

Physical:

  • Materials and Mixtures
  • Observing Matter
  • States of Matter
  • Changes in Matter
  • Features
  • Weather
  • Exploring the Universe
  • Earth In Space
  • Energy Sources
  • Light Energy
  • Heat Energy
  • Sound Energy
  • Electrical Energy
  • Energy Transformations
  • Location and Perspective
  • Motion
  • Force
  • Magnets
  • Simple Machines

Life:

  • Living/ nonliving
  • Plants
  • Animals
  • Food webs
  • Habitats
  • Eco Awareness

(click on each of the four headers to learn more about the content of each topic)

You can view demos of the module lessons, and find scope and sequence for kindergarten science lessons, first grade science lessons, and second grade science lessons.  If you would like to use it with an older student, Science4Us.com Online Subscription has suggestions for grades 3rd – 5th review.

How the program works:

Registration: Because this was a review product, I wasn’t able to register myself or my son for use of the product, so I cannot really comment how easy it is to navigate the set-up of the program.  Levi and I were given log-in IDs and passwords – I’m hopeful that individual subscribers are able to select their own information.  One thing that is missing, however, from the account management is the ability to change log-in names and passwords – especially if you’ve forgotten one or both of them!

Getting Started: Once logged in, there is an abundance of information on how to use the features of the program.  You will definitely need to set aside some time to familiarize yourself with the site and learn how to set up assignments, what resources are available in lesson modules, and so forth. 

Here is a partial screen shot of the teacher’s login page.  I’ve highlighted two HUGE helps – a quick “featured resources” on the right hand side, which provides reminders about tools to help organize your teaching – and the Teaching Tools tab at the top of the screen.  This is primarily where I go to create assignments and see progress.

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Once I’ve picked a topic for Levi to study, I can learn a lot about the module by previewing each daily online session.  The top section (1) provides a summary of what the student will do in the lesson.  I can preview it by clicking on the session’s avatar (the orange circle) or learn about the Engage segment in general by watching a video.  Part (2) gives me some grade-specific information about the material in the form of a PDF that can be printed.  The final part (3) usually involves printable activity that I could print off for Levi if I wanted. 

At the very bottom, you can see 8 pages to scroll through – each one is a daily lesson.  Thus, each module (there are a total of 29 module topics) can be completed in 8 days, or less than two weeks.

Lessons: Science4Us.com Online Subscription uses the 5E inquiry-based instructional model (video about this science curriculum model here).  The modules contain three main science-teaching sessions called Engage, Explore, and Explain.  There is online content in the form of a short video + an interactive component. A lot of the interactive components are collected into a student notebook – an online journal of sorts that saves screenshots of the child’s work. 

The remaining sessions – Elaborate -incorporate math and/ or reading and vocabulary skills.  One of the sessions that I love is the “SillyBulls” session.  New vocabulary words are presented (but not defined) in syllables and students must reassemble them.  Other Elaborate tasks include:

taking notes
definitions/ descriptions
alphabetizing
sorting

Finally, the 8th session is Evaluate – an online multiple choice quiz about the science content and vocabulary from the module.  You do have the option to print off a hard copy instead.

All a students work and progress through the module can be seen in a variety of report options – scores and completion, total minutes per module session, first attempt date, and completion date. 

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How the program worked for us:

Levi and I have been using the program for almost six weeks now.  My original intention was to use it systematically, session-by-session and complete several modules of Levi’s choice.  I created assignments that only allowed him to do one or two sessions at a time.  I loved that I could, then, pace everything out and prevent him from working ahead of me, because I knew once I turned him loose on the computer he would run past me.

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And that is exactly what has happened. He took off and ran with it!  Levi is able to complete the online portions of each module in about an hours time.  He has logged over 22 hours of learning with the program.  However,  This is not meant to be an online-only science program. When I do make Levi slooooooow down and use the program appropriately {meaning we sit together and discuss some of the content}, it forces him to use vocabulary and express himself and gain deeper understanding than just plopping him in front of a screen and consuming information.

Now, I’m not  a big fan of busy work, so some of the worksheets are things that Levi and I have scrolled through and answered together.  For some reason, I’ve got three boys who are good readers, but who are really bad at syllabication, so I torture Levi by making him build science vocabulary with SillyBulls (no, it is not tortuous and takes us less than 10 minutes to finish the session, but you’d think I was pulling his teeth without anesthesia!  I actually think SillyBulls is very creative and a great idea).

In a perfect world where I had a lot of time on my hands, I would use Science4Us.com in combination with some of the science books I have on hand – and I know the library would be a big help, too.  I’d also like to pull out some real science experiments and get hands-on. This would make Science4us.com Online Subscription a more substantial science program – closer to the type of program that I typically use with my kids.  I just don’t think science can be fully enjoyed by an online program alone.

From a teacher/ homeschool management standpoint – I did feel like there were some aspects that were annoying to manage.  For example, to check my son’s progress, I had to open each of the modules individually in the “Reports” section to see if he had completed the assignments I’d given to him.  That meant I needed to be a better off-line record keeper of which modules I’d assigned him and when.  Maybe that is just me having a terrible memory!

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My recommendations & thoughts:

I think there is a lot of potential with this product to be used to help supplement a science program for lower elementary students.  Although we are not quite using it as I’d like right now, we’ve gotten pretty close to using the program as it was designed (except that stinker of a son keeps working too far ahead of me).  Levi really LOVES Science4Us.com as a second grade science curriculum.   

To connect with Science4Us.com Online Subscription, check out:

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew

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All prices are accurate as of blog posting. 


Monday, February 24, 2014

A One Hour Chat Question

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I saw this image on facebook a week or two ago....and burst into tears.  Thankfully, I have the world's best sons.  They know their mama well:  she often cries for no apparent reason and the best medicine for her is a hug, a nuzzle, a cuddle.  Their medicine was perfect, then I explained why I cried.

When I was 24, my grandmother, mom and I were in a very serious, tragic car accident. Although I sustained some very serious physical injuries, I survived, but my grandmother didn't.  Just shy of 71 years old, she was whisked from all of us who loved her...who counted on her holding us together and expected many more years of her smile, support, and love. 

In a tragedy such as this, when someone is taken so suddenly, everyone is shocked.  There were no last goodbyes when Grandma died.  I fell asleep in the predawn hours of our road trip, planning on catching up on some sleep I had missed while visiting friends and family between semesters.  To be honest, I wasn't "feeling the love" for Grandma right then.  I was a little put-off that grandma was tagging along.  I had wanted this to be just a trip with my mom; Grandma was tagging along to visit her sister, who lived just an hour south of my destination. Grandma promised she wouldn't get in the way, saying that she would just sit in the back, nap, and stay out of our way as mom helped me get settled for my final semester of graduate school.

Instead, just an hour or so into our trip, I woke up in extreme pain screaming like a 4-year-old for her mommy and grandma.  

So, that is the back story for my answer to this easily-asked, "Who from the past or present would you sit on this bench with and talk?" 

I don't need to speak with Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, or any other person from history.  There are no  bigger-than-life stars or media personalities currently alive that I would give that hour to when I could have another hour with my Grandma. And yes, I would choose an hour with my grandmother over Jesus. I know God would forgive me for this choice.

I would sit for an hour with my grandmother.  I would hold her hand, and ask her to tell me about heaven.  AH! to hear her voice, "Hi, honey!" I would ask her all about her life again.  I want to hear her stories about growing up.  I would ask her for her advice about living through the hard times of life -- she certainly had her share of them -- and how she coped and came out stronger. How do I mama these boys to manhood, Grandma?  For the love of all that is good, I would ask her for our family recipes.  How can I be so Italian and have no family sugo recipe?! {To be fair, it was my grandfather who was a professional chef, and Grandma was quite sick as a child, so maybe she never got cooking lessons, but she must've overheard one good Italian recipe to pass on!}  Oooh, what I wouldn't do to hear a little Italian-English again. (I know it would be too much to ask to hear the banter between her and her sisters -- my great aunts -- in English and Italian.) I would apologize for taking for granted that she was always there during my youth (we lived just about 10 minutes or so from her house).  I would apologize for being angry she was coming with us.  I'm pretty sure I would need two or three {dozen} boxes of tissue.


I have a stack of notes and cards she sent to me over the years -- mostly during my college and grad school years.  Since I cannot really have an hour with her this side of heaven, I sometimes take them out, look at her quirky handwriting, and read her messages of unconditional love to me.These notes still provide me with the encouragement I need somedays.  You can always benefit from the unconditional love and support of a grandmother.

To my sons, you have no greater fan than a grandmother!  They will love you when you do stupid things and smart things.  They will cheer you on like you are a Hollywood star when you are in a play or on stage reciting a poem. Love these women you are honored to call Grandma or Nana.

Footnote: There was a horrible, weather related car accident this past week in my community in which a little 6 year old girl was killed on the way to her ballet class.  While I did not now the little girl, I know many people who did, and have grieved with them.  Maddi's accident brought up many of the emotions that I carry with me about my car accident. {Yes, I've had counseling.} I needed to write -- and actually press 'publish' for once -- to help me process the tragedy this week.

I do want to say this:  God does use tragedies for good.  At least, that is my experience.  My horrible accident threw me in a totally different direction in life -- which eventually lead to meeting my husband, getting married, and finding my way back into God's arms, with three little monsters in tow.  Never would I have chosen that a deadly car accident be the beginning of a string of life experiences leading to meeting the love of my life.  How extreme good can come from loss is part of the mystery of life, though, that we do not get to see this side of heaven.  I would never try to minimize the pain or tragedy of anyone's loss, but I do think that there is some eternal good that God can accomplish in all tragedy and sorrow that we experience in life -- if we trust Him and let Him.







Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Great Christmas Surprise, part 6– the Dolphins

 

Because I cannot help myself, I end up ruining most vacations and finding some educational component in our adventures and relaxation.  Not wanting to disappoint my family (haha!), we booked a Dolphin Encounter at Blue Lagoon Island on our port day in Nassau, Bahamas.

Nassau, Bahamas day

For the record, this was Luke and Levi’s first time out of the country (the Bahamas are a British Crown colony) and Ben’s second foreign travel – he was able to go to Canada before all the rules changed about passports and such.

After debarking from our beautiful ship, we took a 45 minute boat ride to Blue Lagoon Island.  Wow, are the Bahamian seas BLUE!

Nassau, Bahamas Day - Dolphin Encounter

I was a little concerned that our encounter might not be worth the money.  It seemed like a lot of money for what was advertised:

“Then, accompanied by your trainer, immerse yourself in a specially designed platform, placed waist deep (approximately 3 feet) in an all-natural ocean pool, where you will have 30 minutes to interact with your dolphins.”

After a 10-15 minute introduction to the dolphins with about 40-50 other guests, we were divided into groups of about 15 or so.  We were escorted to floating docks where we waiting for our ‘show’ to start.

Then, we were escorted into the brisk water, were introduced to our dolphin, Shawn, and had our picture taken with the dolphin.  Levi was the willing and brave receiver of a kiss:

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We went back to sitting on the dock while everyone else had their kissy picture with Shawn.

And really, that’s all I thought we’d get to do. But, having low expectations leads to surprises and wonder.  Even my mom and dad were happy to see all that we were able to do with Shawn.

We were led back into the water after all the group pictures were finished and spent time learning, feeding, touching and interacting with Shawn.  Here’s some pictures:

Petting Shawn’s back:

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Ben is kissing Shawn:

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Levi is hugging Shawn, who is really pretty heavy!

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Luke is dancing with Shawn:

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I am feeding Shawn (Still have all my fingers).  During another time we were touching Shawn, we actually got to touch his teeth.

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Nana and Levi are rubbing his belly.  It is much softer than I thought.

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The great thing was that we all had the opportunity to do each of these encounters with Shawn.  I was proud of my boys for being willing to try each of the encounters and having fun in the process.  Maybe next time we will try out their sea lion encounter.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

{Not so} Worldless Wednesday: Food Fight

 

We’ve been having discussions (mostly with Ben and his hollow leg) lately about being considerate with food that is in the house.  Ben and his Dad seem to think that once food is brought into the house, it is fair game.  And they wonder why I hide items in various places. Now, the things I hide are usually for a specific recipe or treat that I want to wait to share with them.  You know, like kisses for Christmas cookies, chips for Sunday’s lunch after church. Marshmallows and graham crackers for summer s’mores.

I just learned, much to my dismay, that my boys know my hiding spots.  So much for me being clever!

The resolution of this growing problem hasn’t been agreed upon.  They want me to label food that they can’t eat.  I want them to ask first.  I think I am right; they think everything is fair game.  I’ve got two voracious eaters in the wings, so I know I need a game plan soon.

I decided to test out the labeling idea. 

I brought home yummy leftovers from our First Date of 2014 last night (enchiladas!). To humor my always-on-the-prowl-for-good-food 14 year old, I texted him this picture: image8

And my witty son replied back with this series of pictures:

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basement cupboard/ pantry claimed by Ben
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refrigerator and freezer claimed by Ben
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Upper cabinet claimed by Ben
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Snack drawer claimed by Ben

Ben 1, Mom 0.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Great Christmas Surprise, part 5- Characters!

 

Levi was the perfect age to indulge in character meet and greats.  Luke (11) is playful enough that he had fun.  Ben (14), well, he tolerated us a few times:

Minnie waving good-bye to us as we walk across the gangway to board the ship:

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Our first character meet and greet:

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Can you believe I didn’t even see Goofy as I passed him? 

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This is my absolutely favorite picture forever of my boys:

 

Levi and I went to every show.  This was the Pirates In The Caribbean Party.

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One of my new favorite things to do at Epcot.  Family-friendly improv comedy:

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Boy, did we luck out at both parades on our Magic Kingdom day.  We were at the beginnings of both of them, with great seats:

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When my mom made dinner reservations, she noticed we had never eaten at the Crystal Palace before, so she booked our Magic Kingdom dinner here – not sure she knew it was where Pooh and friends were going to be, but I was so glad everyone was happy to see them all:

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…and then a little dancing ‘round the restaurant:

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I’m thinking Ben was in such an agreeable mood with Pooh and friends because he had just eaten to his heart’s content at the fabulous buffet dinner here.  Hmmm, feed him food, then take him to see characters!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Homeschool Mother’s Journal: Feb. 2-9

 

In my life this week…

I’ve hit my skiing breaking point.  About half way through our six weeks of lessons is when I start to feel the effects of missing a day of school at home.  Pushing Luke’s writing and grammar program into only three days instead of four is getting old;  the fact that we are just crawling through Levi’s spelling program is getting old.  Dave shakes his head at me.  The boys are learning while we are on the slopes, but it isn’t academic.  I’m way more comfortable with the academic stuff and Dave is way more comfortable with the extra-curricular stuff.  I know we will all live and be fine, but my little home body self is ready to be home.

I do need to be more grateful for this wonderful family experience we have – skiing with our boys.  It was a dream of mine when Ben was a baby – to go skiing with him and his siblings.  I sorta romanticized it so much, however, because the boys are way better skiers than I am, and we rarely see each other after arrival.

In our homeschool this week…

Luke finished his first research report for essentials.  It was a multi-week project in which he researched Michelangelo.  With prompting from me, he wrote a 5-paragraph essay.  Luke did a great job and had the opportunity to see how IEW’s writing dress ups and decorations can really add color and interest to a writing project.

Levi was oh-so-happy to give a report on a missionary in CC this week.  We had just finished a Sonlight read-aloud called Catching Their Talk in a Box about Joy Ridderhof, who started Gospel Recording Network in the 1940s.  She saw a need for all the tribes of the earth to have The Word in their language and used modern technology to record gospel messages on records and send them out to the world.  Her work enabled her to travel around the world recording messages and stories in native languages.  She has a powerful testimony of 100% faith in God’s provision.  Levi and I plotted a map of her travels (as recorded in the book)  and download some pictures of recording equipment she used. 

I’m writing all this out because it is absolutely amazing how much Levi loves giving his presentations.  If you knew my Levi first hand, he is the shy one who still attaches himself to my leg when adults talk to him, answering in one or two words (whatever the ‎bare minimum is).  I so love Classical Conversations for this part of their program, and I know he is growing in wisdom and confidence because of it.

Helpful homeschooling tips or advice to share…

As we returned to our studies after Christmas, I realized that the assignment books I had purchased for Luke and Levi were really more a hassle than a help.  Much of our CC work just doesn’t fit nicely into it.  I even gave up the use of the beautiful Well Planned Day that I purchased this summer --- we just don’t fit the mold well.

I SO wish I could remember where I saw the assignment sheet that inspired me to create a check off sheet for Luke and Levi.  I cannot believe I didn’t pin it to my Pinterest boards!  What I loved about it is that I could customize it to exactly what I needed for each boy – thanks to Microsoft Excel.  Here’s a picture of Levi’s customized schedule:

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I tried to use the two columns as ways to organize some “First Things First” subjects – Bible and Math.  Math is something that Levi can do fairly independently, which gives me time to check in with the other two.  Levi loves to work on his presentations and CC memory work, so those, too are at the top of the schedule.

Luke’s is similar, but different.  Since he uses Phonetic Zoo for spelling, I don’t need to keep track of learning activities each day. He just moves from test to test, so I just have boxes for him to check off.  He has a lot more to do, however, for writing and grammar, so that section is bigger.

This has been such a simple and helpful tool for us.  I keep them each week as a record of our work.  Since each of my kids has their own color, it is easy to keep track of the pages and they migrate from room to room in the house. 

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I love how Levi is surrounded by his cat and dog as he was drawing during school this week.  Sweet.

So You Call Yourself A Homeschooler?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Great Christmas Surprise, part 4- Our Stateroom

 

It sounds so fancy, doesn’t it?  Stateroom.  Makes me think we are important!

Nana surprised us with some Bon Voyage decorations which surprised us upon entering our stateroom for the first time:

 

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We took the placard to guest services and they asked Mickey and his buddies to sign it for Levi.  Very happy boy.

 

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A fun sign.

 

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The magnetic Bon Voyage sign is on our refrigerator to remind me of warm weather (it is about 2* right now, so I need all the warm thoughts I can get) and wonderful memories.

 

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Chocolate pops for the boys before bed (hey, it’s vacation).

 

This picture is actually my mom and dad’s stateroom, but we had adjoining rooms and it looked exactly like this except we had blue upholstery.

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The queen sized bed was very comfortable.  Thee blue striped curtain on the right side divides the room in half, which had a pull down bunk and pull out single bed (not guess Ben’s couch hadn’t been pulled out into a bed yet):

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morning cuddles



Every evening we enjoyed returning to our room to see what animal had been formed from the bed cover or towel:

 

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turtle



 

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elephant



 

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lobster



 

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hanging monkey

Our room had a beautiful veranda as well, and I really loved how the door had full-sized windows on each side, so that it let in so much light and sunshine in the morning.  It really added spaciousness to the room, which is really only about 300 square feet big.

Did I already mention that I love the split bathrooms in these staterooms?  One half had a sink + bathtub, and the other had the commode + sink.  I hope whoever thought of this idea is a gazillionaire because of it.  For  traveling families – this set up was pure brilliance.