Friday, May 30, 2008

Why We Chose Teaching Textbooks for Math

The big brown truck pulled up in front of our house the other day with our first shipment of 2008-2009 school materials. Teaching Textbooks for 7th grade and Algebra I arrived! 

This is a major change for us.  We had been using A Beka since the beginning.  Grades K-3 math pages were cute and colorful and fun. That's important for enduring the tediousness of math.  Grades 4-6 lost the color on the tests and quizzes.  That was heartbreaking to dd and I.  Then Grade 7 was a shocker.  I was so confused. The entire layout changed.  It was difficult to determine where one lesson began and another ended.  Also I had to buy yet a separate book for the in depth answers to word problems.  They used to be at the back of the 1-3 level books.  Then I noticed I had no in depth answers to the tests.  We were fine with the mere answers in the separately purchased teacher's key, but if we were stuck, there was no explanation to how to get the answer.  Grade 8 was no better.  I could see the writing on the wall.  I started listening in to all the high school math banter at one of my yahoo groups.  I had learned about the wonder of Math U See but my dc were never fans of using manipulatives.  I did order a free sample of Math U See about 2 years ago and have yet to recieve it and in my search forgot all about it.  

Next year dd starts Algebra I and I was deeply concerned.  I felt this was a matter of prayer to consider all the options.  DH is good at math, but does not enjoy teaching.  I took honors math classes in high school but am no math whiz. 

I've heard of Video Text, the mother of all high school math programs.  Well, the dc do not enjoy math nor do they plan to major in it in college.  It didn't seem to be a good fit for us.  I went through each curriculum and only one seemed to offer hope:  Teaching Textbooks.

Teaching Textbooks has a reputation for the reluctant math learner, engaging them in a simplified way so that they grasp the math concept.  The huge selling point for me was that through all the CDs, I'd have a math tutor whenever he was needed.  The student pops a CD into the computer to learn the lesson.  One of the Sabouri brothers explains the lesson while a cartoon pencil is seen moving across the cartoon page. Fun! I chose a lesson I had vague memories from in Alegebra I.  (There are samples on their site.)  Wow!  By the time it was done, I felt as if I understood it better now than I did before.  The student does the work in the book, then she checks her work against the answer key.  Any she gets wrong she needs to correct.  If she can't figure it out, she can pop a solutions CD in the computer and select the problem she missed.  Then one of the Sabouri brothers explains how that is to be correctly done.  

Then we went to our homeschool bookfair, we went to the Teaching Textbooks booth and got to interact with everything as well as talk to some of the moms.  One mom said they used to use Math U See and loved it!  Then they got to Algebra I and she was going nuts trying to figure out the concepts.  That's when they discovered Teaching Textbooks.  Her oldest has whizzed through math and has not needed to use all the CDs.  He did well on the SAT and his friend, who used TT, maxed the SAT.  The younger dds of this lady have not enjoyed math until they got TT.  It's been a wonderful fit for the family. 

Although my primary concern was dd entering Algebra I, in the back of my mind I was concerned about ds entering Math 7.  He does an excellent job with math but detests it so much that he will spend hours day dreaming and has a negative attitude about it.  But if we are playing board games and he's keeping score he can beat any of us.  I have minimized his math work in A Beka but it doesn't matter how little I give him, he tediously labors over it.  So I had thoughts of getting TT for him too. 

TT has a different approach to Math 7 and below.  All the work is done on the computer. The student pops in the CD, listens to the lesson and is then given sample problems to practice.  The student then does these on a sheet of paper and enters the answer.  After 3 errors it will explain the concept.  There are also selectable characters to interact with the student.  One was a robot and another was an animal.  DS played with this while I talked to the ladies.  I watched him at one point.  He was given two numbers to subtract, both 6 digits long.  There were several numbers to carry.  I watched ds compute everything in his head and get the correct answer!  Why can't he do this on a sheet of A Beka paper????  Boys and their toys!  There was also a record keeper built in for the teacher to keep check with the student's progress. This might be what we need to get over the hump.

Monday, May 19, 2008

History Notebooks for our Projects

We have a three step technique that works well for us in organizing our history work at the dialectic level.

The first step is for weekly use.  I purchased clipboards in the dc's favorite colors at the office supply store.  At a glance,  we can tell whose is whose.  On the top for easy and frequent reference throughout the day is their weekly assignment sheet that they can check off as they go.

Behind their weekly schedules, they keep their discussion questions for the week and map of the week for handy reference and ease of use.

The second step is the collection of a year's worth of work.  At the end of the week these go into their history notebooks.  I bought each of them cool notebooks with little pockets.  They can insert little pictures of their studies as they like.  Here is dd's of ancient history. She drew and colored pictures of pyramids and the ark. Can you tell?

The old schedules go in the front.

They have a section for their discussion questions.

There is a section for their maps.

There is a section for their history writing assignments.

The third step is binding everything into a portfolio at the end of the year.  The dc take everything out of their notebooks and group everything according to date/culture studied. They also take all the flat stuff from the past history presentations to add to the portfolio. Those go into a decorated 3 ring notebook.  Here is dd's Ancient History.

We covered a plain notebook in burlap. They stamped the title with gold ink onto dark brown cardstock, cut out with fancy scissors and glued on.  The gold thing was a project from their study of Ancient Egypt.  (We can't remember what it's called!  A cartouche?)  It was made of clay and engraved with their name in hieroglyphics, then painted.  Then they used raffia to decorate as they wished.  We covered the inside covers with black cardstock.  Here is ds'.

I printed out on cardstock all the wonderful comments family members sent when I e-mailed pictures and descriptions of our unit celebrations.   These are on the yellow cardstock.  At the final history presentation last year, the grandmas each gave the children notecards with a lovely note and money!  The notecards are pasted in the inside cover.  (The money has been spent!)

Then the dc took cardstock to decorate dividers for each culture/time period studied.  DD liked to research the types of food each of the ancient cultures ate.  Those menus were pasted on the fronts of her cardstock.  Then she designed borders using designs known to that culture.  She also tried to use colors known for the cultures.  Here's one for Mesopotamia.

Here's her Mayan menu.

Inside the dividers the dc put all their work from that culture, including maps, questions, papers, and art projects.  Many items seen in the unit celebration can be seen here.  This summer I hope to make copies of photos of the unit celebrations for them to add to these sections.  Here's a paragraph that dd wrote and turned into a pop-up on Egypt.

Here's her Creation book.

Here's her Phoenician dye project.

Here's her string art using Greek mathematics.

Here's her tortoise mask from her play, "The Tortoise and the Hare."

DS did original artwork for his dividers.  Here are the Inuits.

The Phoenicians...

For the Persians he designed a rug.

Here is part of his Egyptian costume that went inside the dividers.

Here are some of his overlay maps.

Here is one of his early paragraphs on how the Mesopotamians observed comets.  He designed this little book to display his little paragraph.  (Since we were beginning to learn to write well with IEW, we started with simple paragraphs.  Those were easy to display as pop-ups.  We haven't done pop-ups in a long time, because now their papers are much longer.)

When you open it, you see a pop up of a comet, which moves (he designed this himself)....


Watch the comet move...

That comet zooms across the sky!

That's our 3 step process of storing a years worth of history studies!  I am sure it will look different by the time the dc start rhetoric! 

Thursday, May 15, 2008

How We Use Institute for Excellence in Writing

For years my kids struggled with their writing skills. My daughter couldn’t write cohesively, whereas my son was overly verbose. As a result, their writing did not make sense.

Then I discovered Institute for Excellence in Writing. 

IEW has an excellent reputation for both slow learners, as well as gifted students, and everyone in between. I decided to give it a try.


The beauty of the program is that it teaches structure. Elements that have proven successful to writers for years have been encapsulated into structural models. The entire spectrum of variety of every imaginable type of paragraph in the world (essay of argumentation, mystery writing, essay of experience, essay of definition, story based on memory, problem/solution essay, etc) has been streamlined into the basic parts. Also, all the paragraph structures are put into one of two groups: creative or expository. Suddenly, the overwhelming conglomeration of all the possible paragraph structures made sense to even me. (And I thought I already understood it all.)


While teaching structure, style is added in manageable bits and pieces, which makes it fun. I have heard many critics say that all IEW student writing sounds the same, or that IEW students sound like Andrew Pudewa, who heads the program. I disagree. I have many of Andrew’s papers and not one of my kids' papers sound like his. Furthermore, when my kids have identical writing assignments on the same topic, their products look completely different. By the time they are done assimilating the facts they deem most important and add their unique style, I have 2 completely different papers on my desk. If they forget to put their names on the typed papers, I can easily tell who wrote which one!  Their individual styles are unique and obvious!  

Classical Model

IEW effectively summarizes the best of what good writers do and organizes it so children know what to do and when to do it. That’s the structure part. Then they add their own personal style, which they can manipulate over the homeschool years, until they find their voice by the time they graduate. This is the Classical Model of Education. This is the process of moving from grammar through dialectic to rhetorical skills needed in our world. This is the means by which powerful speakers like Patrick Henry and influential writers like Thomas Jefferson impacted not only a nation, but the world.

TWSS: Teaching Writing Structure and Style

The core of the program, which I purchased, is the TWSS: Teaching Writing Structure and Style. This is a notebook that comes with DVDs of Andrew Pudewa taking a group of teachers step by step through the writing program. 

Builds Confidence

Instead of dumping an entire writing program on a child, IEW builds skills and confidence step by step through a highly logical and successful process. Children who used to protest over writing assignments have been known to proceed without a quiver with IEW. Many even come to love it!  


While I watch the training DVDs, my kids have been known to stop everything to watch, listen, and laugh in great delight in response to Andrew's humor

There are 9 units. In our first year using IEW, I taught one unit for each month of the school year. At the beginning of the program my kids focused on writing a good solid paragraph. By the end of the year, they were able to write a 5 paragraph essay. 

Younger students might not get to the 5 paragraph essay until upper grammar or middle school years. 

The TWSS notebook gives guidelines on how to use each unit with each grade level. It is a wonderful investment for all ages for the entire family!

Another thing I like about IEW is that we can use it to write about the things we are already learning. Time is precious. 

Before IEW, we laboriously struggled to accomplish writing assignments for Awanas. Now that my kids have IEW basics under their belts, they sneakily write their Awana assignments, not showing them to me until after they come home. These sneakily written papers are wonderfully coherent!


1-Which writing model best fits the assignment?
2-Review the steps of that model
4-Rough Draft-handwritten in pen
5-Type paper into computer
6-Email a copy to me
7-I print out
8-We edit together
9-Student edits corrections in computer

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Voice Exercises so I can Read Aloud

I love read aloud time.  I love to sing.  I love to teach.  All three can terribly weaken and injure my voice.  My Sunday School teacher has had two severe  bouts of laryngitis lasting for months to years at a time for straining his voice.  After much medical intervention, voice lessons were the only thing that helped him regain his voice so that he could talk again. However, he can no longer sing.  I feel as though I could be in the same boat if I'm not careful. Always, at the beginning of each school year, I have about a week of near laryngitis.  Reading aloud to my kids leaves my voice weak.  I am hopeless trying to hit my notes when we sing at the Senoir Citizen's Home.  In order to protect my voice, I do vocal warm ups on nearly a daily basis.   Vocal Coach Warm Up is a wonderful product to strengthen and protect the voice of anyone who does a lot of speaking or singing.  Every afternoon, I send my children out for recess while I do the warm ups for about 15 minutes. Then they come in for read aloud time.  Before singing at the nursing home, I try to do the warm up.  Chris and Carole Beatty, who have produced Vocal Coach products, have also coached many professionals like Steve Green!  Disclaimer:  I don't sing as well as him or any other professional.  But my family does enjoy singing and I am having trouble keeping up!   I also have a book by the Beatty's with other tips to help out, including what to drink, posture, etc.  My voice has been strengthened by these products. 

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Recycling Costumes for Awanas

Who'd have thought, all the costumes I've been sewing for history presentations would come in handy for another purpose?!  At the end of each Awana year, they have a leadership banquet.  The teens get a partner to decorate and serve the tables.  DD did this last year with a friend.  This year there was a theme:  Around the World.  They wanted elaborate costumes and table decorations.  I started to panic.  I have no time to make more costumes...I'm already busy with our colonial costumes.  Then I had an idea.  Would my children be willing to partner with each other and wear one of their previous unit celebration costumes?   Yes!  Whew! 

Here they are getting the table ready...

Meanwhile Italian music was playing in the background...

Mexican food was being catered and was already in the kitchen...

My dc's table theme was France...

DD had stamped fleur d'leis on cardstock for placemats...

DD had wanted an Eifel Tower but we couldn't find one.  I let the dc "shop" for things from my stuff at home...

DS wore his Three Musketeer D'Artagnon costume.  DD wore her dress from our Medieval Feast and portrayed Constance from The Three Musketeers.

They had a lot of fun! News filtered back that if prizes had been awarded that night, they'd have won first place for best table and costume!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Why Latin?

     My friend, Pam, has requested some information on our Latin studies. Four years ago I never dreamed that something like this would happen. I never expected to learn Latin much less tell anyone else about it. I knew homeschoolers who actually studied Latin, but I never understood why. Then I started learning about the benefits of classical education and I was sold! My 15yod began her Latin studies 2 years ago. I’ve been studying to keep up with her and I am convinced that Latin, indeed, has many benefits, including preparing a student for the SAT exam and even impacting our world. Here are some of the reasons why.  

     Latin study increases vocabulary skills. Because much of our language is derived from Latin, it makes sense to study our roots. After all, the ancient Romans did conquer the known world, including the European continent and the British Isles. They left more than architectural monuments that can be visited today; they also left behind their language which seeped into the cultures they left behind. From simply knowing one Latin root, such as nauta, nautae meaning sailor…a host of other words can easily be understood like nautical, aeronautics, nautical mile, and nautilus. Obviously this is a big help with SAT study preparations!

     Since Latin has pervaded many languages from ancient times, the study of Latin enhances other foreign language studies. Recently we read a literature book about the French voyageurs in Canada. Despite the numerous French words in the book, dd and I were able to understand some of the words merely from our Latin studies. We are surrounded by much Spanish influence here in San Antonio. Without any previous Spanish studies, dd correctly translates some of the Spanish vocabulary because of her Latin knowledge. Even my previous Spanish studies have been clarified by Latin.

     Logic skills are also enhanced while studying Latin. Because there can be more than one correct answer when doing translations, one must analyze the sentence to see if the chosen translation is clear or if there is ambiguity. Latin is like a verbal puzzle, moving the pieces around until there is clarity. Through much practice in Latin, my dd now understands the importance in applying this to her papers. She is learning how to scrutinize the word order in her sentences to find the best meaning which she is trying to articulate.

     English verb tenses that we have chanted for years in our English grammar books have given us pause in Latin. We have had to carefully analyze their precise function before doing translations. Little studied concepts like indirect objects and passive verb tense are magnified in Latin usage. It wasn’t until our recent study of passive verb tenses that I finally understood how to strengthen verbs in writing assignments. My dd now has clear understanding of passive verbs versus strong verbs and is learning to apply this. In her weekly papers I am challenging her to replace unnecessary passive verbs with strong verbs and she has been delighted with the results. Language comes alive when lifted from a workbook page and applied to writing skills. Latin has been the bridge to make this connection easier for us.

     Of course one could simply learn English grammar by listening and speaking the language itself. After all, that is how toddlers first learn their language. Like looking through a window and viewing the wonders of the outdoors, English grammar is practically learned through experience. Discovering and interacting with a living language gleans as much wonder and joy as in sitting on a window seat and observing clouds drifting through a summer sky, lightening flashing from a storm cloud and leaves rustling in a tree.  

     The next level of learning grammar is with an actual curriculum, learning parts of speech and their proper use and order in a sentence. Training our use of words to have strength and power, one can engage more effectively in communicating with the world. This could be likened to lenses that allow us to see things from afar. Powerful lenses such as field glasses allow one to see the precise coloring of a bird in the distance and amazing rock formations in glacial valleys viewed from across a gorge. Further studies in formal grammar continue to solidify the power of language to more effectively communicate difficult ideas in the same way telescopes allow us to see distant planets and stars in the night sky. One of our Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, had little formal schooling. Apprenticed as a printer, he became skilled with his hands by using a trade. Yet, a deep desire for learning drove him to study on his own. "I fell far short in elegance of expression…I…thence grew more attentive to the manner in writing, and determined to endeavor at improvement." (From The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin) We remember him today with a smile as we recall his experience with lightening, wise and witty sayings, and his contributions to society and our country. He encouraged the signers of the Declaration of Independence when they committed treason in signing the document by declaring, "We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."

     Studying Latin fine tunes the study of English grammar. Like using a microscope that proves the existence of microbes, germs, and the amazing complexity of the human cell, so Latin scrutinizes concepts easily taken for granted in a familiar language. Understanding subtle nuances of word choice, part of speech and verb tense allows us to strike a chord in the human breast when conveying matters of importance. Many of our Founding Fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, used their Latin and other classical studies to influence the world and shape a nation historically unique from any other. They are remembered today for their understanding, power, clarity, and eloquence. In fact, Thomas Jefferson himself, as a 17 year old law student was spell-bound, along with other members of the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1765, when Patrick Henry condemned King George for his treatment of the colonies. Ablaze with passion, Patrick Henry challenged the House, "If this be treason, make the most of it."

Jefferson later described Henry’s speech as "torrents of sublime eloquence" which he had "never heard from any other man."

    As microscopes have proven new worlds in drops of pond water and onion roottips, so has Latin proven the rhetorical skills of famed speakers of the past who helped to form a new nation. 

     Read more about the benefit of Latin.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Awana's Scholarship!

Last Friday night, my children had their Awanas award ceremony.  They are on target, having finished each book for each year.  DS has completed four handbooks, so he got the Timothy Award.  He'll advance into the junior high group in the autumn.

DD has completed 6 handbooks, so she got the Meritorious Award.

Of course, the most wonderful award of all, is hiding God's Word in one's heart.  This they have done.  Numerous times I have looked for a verse and they know it by heart or they know the reference.  There are numerous verses in each book. Awanas usually brags about how quickly most children are able to memorize.  That may be true for most, but not my children.  For them it has been a struggle.   It has taken my children hours of study to learn each one.  Of course, there has been much fruit from the labor.  "The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold."  Psalm 119:72

Next year dd starts the high school program where she will not only learn verses, but will also read the Bible all the way through and write summaries for each book of the Bible.  She will also start the LIT (Leader in Training) program.  She'll help with one of the younger clubs and then attend her own club for high school on a different night.  This will require more sacrifice on our part to drive far to church two nights a week.  However, the fruit will be wonderful.  I am extremely excited about her being an LIT!

The time commitment does not go unnoticed by colleges and universities.   Many recognize and reward such diligence with scholarships.  I was aware of this, but was not aware that dd has already met the requirements for the base Awana scholarship!  That was a huge surprise to me the other night!  The university that she is interested in would award her an $8000 scholarship for earning the Meritorious Award, which she got the other night.  If she perseveres for four more years and earns the Citation Award, that scholarship becomes $12,000!  (I've since learned that varies by college.)

For dd, who has had her share of developmental delays, this has been a significant boost in her thinking that God can use even her!  Praise the Lord!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Colonial Basketweaving

When I was in college, if there was a simple class to take, we used to joke around that it was Basketweaving 101.  I have since been  educated as to the error of that thinking and have changed my mind!

It all began a few years ago when we went to Colonial Williamsburg.  One of the crafts we saw was basketweaving.  My son must have been 8 at the time and was fascinated by the process.  He asked tons of questions.  At the gift shop, I purchased a kit thinking we could all enjoy the project together.  However we never got around to it.  Then last Christmas, a family member gave dd a colonial basket kit from the same company that we got our first kit.  I decided to save these for our colonial studies. 

When we started our studies on the Colonial Era, the first craft we pulled out was the basket kits.  We laid everything out.

We laid out ds's kit and figured out what all the various pieces were.  Good.  I figured ds could get started on his and then tell us how to do ours (because I would help dd).  DS always figures things out and always tells us what we are doing wrong.  ;)  He always knows.  He is very good at this type of thing.  =)  I was very happy to defer to his skills, because I had a lot on my "to do" list.  However, I just knew my ds would save the day!  The next step was to soak  the reeds.  They must remain wet in order to be flexible enough for all of the bending.

While those were soaking, dd and I got her kit set up but we were confused.  Some of the pieces were  different and they weren't as easy to identify as ds' were.  We called ds over to help....and he was  equally confused.  Hmmmm.  Well we soaked hers in the other sink.  Meanwhile ds got started on his...and got stuck.  He was clueless.  He needed my help.  What????  I was depending on him!  Well, I took a look at the two sheets, looked up the web site, which didn't seem to be much help to me or him.

 I was ready to make a momentous decision.  I was ready to throw everything away!  We needed a life!  Who needs basketweaving anyway?  Basketweaving is for the more intelligent genre of people, not for us lowly types who can't read directions.  Of all the crafts I have tackled in my entire life, of all the self taught things I have ever done, I was ready to admit defeat!  I was not ashamed to concede that basketweaving is a highly intelligent skill.  I was prepared to repent of my sins of Basketweaving 101 put-downs in college.  But the look in my children's eyes reduced me to give it the good old college try.  I always tell them to do their best, to not give up...what did we have to lose?  We could just go for it and make something to share at our unit celebration, no matter how pathetically it turned out.  

So we did the next thing; we took one step at a time, not worrying about too many steps ahead.  This is the foundation part of ds' basket.  We used a ruler to measure and set the pace for an even grid.  Who knew math would be involved?????

Getting the foundational grid even on dd's basket...

Does it look like a basket yet?  Hmmm....

DS' basket, turning up the ends...

Meticulously working our way through the weaving.  Believe me, this is not as easy at it looks.  I had to pull out dd's weaving quite often and help her a lot, because it would get confusing.  I even had to pull out my own work more than once.

DD's basket in the home stretch...

DS's basket at this point...

He got a little further than this when we had to put things away to sing at the nursing home.  The next afternoon after church I crashed onto the bed and slept all afternoon.  DH finished the basket with ds.

Ta da....