Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Innovators Tribe {Homeschool Crew Review}

Innovators Tribe

One of the best parts about homeschool science is that it's usually easy to add in cool hands-on projects and experiments. Innovators Tribe has developed entire online courses that seamlessly integrate learning videos, hands-on activities, and design challenges to make a fun learning experiences for middle and high school students. Lauren (and my husband Tim) have been using the Thinking Like an Engineer program recently. It is serving a dual purpose around here --both  introducing engineering concepts and providing resources for the Science Olympiad Roller Coaster event.

Thinking Like an Engineer

Thinking Like an Engineer is an introductory course designed to expose students to the math and science skills used by engineers and to show them practical examples of what sorts of problems engineers solve.

The course syllabus outlines learning objectives for this course:

Wow! It looks like that list would make a pretty good exam for a high schooler. Since Lauren is only in sixth grade and hasn't had a lot of previous science experience, my primary goal was for her to have an enjoyable (not stressful) experience exploring engineering concepts. Since she had already signed up for our homeschool Science Olympiad team and asked to be on the Roller Coaster build team, I also hoped that she'd be able to glean some helpful construction tips.

The program turned out to be far more than we ever imagined. Tim and Lauren skipped ahead a bit and started with the third unit -- Engineering Rollercoasters. The online coursework portion included a bit of video instruction, links to video explanations, and a short comprehension/memory quiz at the end.

Lauren learned a bit about the difference between potential and kinetic energy:

She was then introduced to some simple physics equations to calculate each:

Finally, with a bit of help from Dad, she was able to determine all sorts of information, including how high the first hill needed to be in order for the roller coaster to make it around a loop.

She doesn't fully understand the equations, but she did grasp the concept that making the hill higher meant that the roller coaster car would be going faster and could therefore make it around the loop. Her Science Olympiad roller coaster probably won't have any loops, but it will need the marbles to go fast enough to jump from one section of track to another.

Our engineers then moved on to the coolest part of the roller coaster unit -- making a model roller coaster out of paper. Thinking Like an Engineer provided paper templates and complete instructions. We printed out the templates on cardstock and were ready to start building. Lauren and her teammate were easily able to construct the track and start experimenting to see how far they could get their marble to jump. (Since their Science Olympiad event gives bonus points based on horizontal gaps in the track, we are focused right now on getting the marble to make successful jumps instead of doing cool loops and twists.)

What could be cooler than designing your own roller coaster? I'm not sure, but it could be building a tower out of four sheets of paper and one foot of masking tape (unit 1), experimenting with 3D computer design software (units 2 and 5), or designing a bridge (unit 4).

I love when science concepts become real with hands-on activities and not just pages of reading assignments. Innovators Tribe makes engineering fun by teaching students how to Think Like an Engineer with this course. They also offer a Think Like an Architect program that promises to be equally exciting.

Thinking Like an Architect or Engineer {Innovators Tribe Reviews}

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©2009-2017 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

First Day Photos -- November 2017

I never wanted to have a blog that was simply a place to put my homeschool curriculum reviews. Unfortunately, the past month has been a bit crazy and blogging took a backseat to binders full of homeschool assignments, lunches packed for days spent on the road to doctors' appointments, swim lessons, and just life.

In an attempt to play catch-up, I'm starting November fresh with a new collection of First Day Photos. It was perhaps the perfect day to show what life has been like lately.

5:17 am, Scripture Writing:

5:26 am, packing lunches:

5:36 am, morning meds ready to go:

5:45 am, someone definitely was not ready to get up:

5:49 am, loading the car:

6:04 am, we're leaving almost on time:

8:03 am, lab draw:

9:46am, math homework while we wait:

11:45 am, yoga class in Seacrest Studio:

11:57 am, interview with Fox News:

12:23 pm, heading back to Colorado Springs and eating our healthy lunches:

1:12 pm, lunch part 2 (Chick Fil A waffle fries):

5:03 pm, read-aloud with Dad:

I lost track of taking pictures as the day stretched on, and I completely failed to document the rest of the evening. Maybe next month will be better.

©2009-2017 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Kid Niche Christian Books {Homeschool Crew Review}

Kid Niche Christian Books

In past years, I've approached Bible study with Lauren by reading Bible stories and then answering discussion questions. It worked somewhat, but Lauren never seemed very interested in discussing what we read. As I looked around at Lauren's other schoolwork, I noticed that she does well with workbook-style curriculum choices. She likes to see that there is a clear ending point to each assignment. I also think that she sees my thoughts during a discussion as just extra fluff. If, however, I find a published curriculum that has the same thoughts as I'd like to teach, she's very willing to learn from those materials.

I have struggled to find a Bible curriculum that met my high standards for Biblical instruction and also fit well with Lauren's independent learning style. Kid Niche Christian Books has a Bible and Prayer curriculum that fits both of us perfectly. Weave Your Word in Me -- Part 1 has thirty-six lessons that "help young people discover the great God-truths Jesus has woven within the Lord's Prayer." Lauren can work through the materials independently, and I can see that she's building strong Bible study habits.


The Weave Your Word in Me curriculum came as a packet of 72 workbook pages that were ready for me to slip into a three-ring binder, read a few introductory pages, and then hand over to Lauren. The lessons are a combination of Bible study materials and prayer guides. It walks students through a rhythmical prayer that was modeled after the Lord's Prayer found in Matthew. At the same time, it also teaches Biblical truths such as "God loves and cares for all people" and "Obeying is about doing, not just about hearing or knowing."

Each lesson is between one and four pages in length, and Lauren generally spent around ten minutes completing the activities. There is always one Bible verse for the student to look up and usually several verses per lesson. The materials are designed to work with any of the most popular Bible translations, including KJV, ESV, NKJV, NIV, NASB, and NABRE. If we are at home, I encourage Lauren to practice looking up the scripture references in her actual Bible, but she uses a Bible app when we're doing school on the road.

Along with questions about the Scriptures, there are questions that lead children to discover what God's Word means to them and to their lives. For instance, one of the first lessons asked Lauren to describe what a potter does and then to tell how God is like a potter.

After finishing the day's Scripture readings and questions, the student moves into a prayer time. The last section of each lesson has a section with a skeleton prayer written with a few fill-in-the-blank spaces. Sometimes the blanks are supposed to be filled in according to the prayer pattern the child is learning and other times there are opportunities for adding in original thoughts. The curriculum suggests that the student complete the sentences first and then say the whole thing as a prayer to God. 

Lauren says one thing she learned recently is that Isaiah was able to peak up into heaven and saw seraphim saying, "Holy, Holy, Holy." This story tells us about the greatness of God. That's why the Lord's Prayer begins, "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name." (Matthew 6:9) She generally enjoys doing these Bible study materials, but she objects to their suggestion to write the prayer first and then say it aloud to God as a prayer. (I told her it was okay to just write out her prayer to God without going back to say it out loud.)

I'm impressed with the Weave Your Word in Me curriculum. It provides a sturdy framework for Lauren to read Scripture, think about how it applies to her life, and then pray. The rhythmic prayer helps to build strong prayer habits that involve more than just asking God for blessings. It's a perfect stepping stone for a tween that is transitioning from hearing Bible stories from a parent to doing Bible study on their own.

Weave Your Word in Me {Kid Niche Christian Books Reviews}

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Pencil Grip, Inc. {Homeschool Crew Review}

The Pencil Grip, Inc.
Over the past fourteen years of homeschooling, I think I have bought a few dozen different types of pencil grips in the hopes of teaching my kids proper handwriting form. Recently, Lauren has been trying The 3 Step Pencil Grip Training Set from The Pencil Grip, Inc. It is a unique step-by-step approach to establishing a correct way to hold a pencil. We also received The Ultra Safe Safety Scissors to try out.

I cringe every time I see Addison write because she wraps her index finger all the way up the pencil. Fortunately, she still manages to write efficiently with an awkward grip and doesn't have trouble with hand fatigue. Her handwriting is actually quite pretty. Brennan and Lauren have similarly awkward pencil grips. I figure that it's too late to teach Brennan new ways (I've tried for years), but I still try to encourage Lauren to use a pencil grip that will put less stress on her fingers and joints.

My biggest concern with Lauren is that she grips the pencil too tightly and hyper-extends some of the joints in her fingers. She also wraps her thumb completely around the pencil, putting even more pressure on the tip of her index finger.

The three pencil grips that we received move a child in a step-by-step fashion from what appears to be the most supportive device to the one with least support. I suggested that Lauren start with The Crossover Grip which is intended for training. It provides a "super hero cape" (the company's words) to reinforce proper finger positioning. As you can see, it does ensure that Lauren doesn't wrap her thumb around the pencil.

Before long, however, she asked to try some of the other, smaller pencil grips. I gave her the other two and let her choose her favorite. She now prefers The Pinch Grip, which is labeled for transition. She likes the way that this grip is less bulky than the first one she tried. At the same time, though, her fingers fit securely in place.

We keep The Pencil Grip Original in her backpack along with The Pinch Grip so that she has another option to pick between. It's a bit more streamlined, but I think she finds it difficult to figure out which way to correctly position her fingers on it.

I'm thrilled that The 3-Step Pencil Grip Training Kit included all three of the pencil grips so that Lauren could try each one out and settle on the one most comfortable for her to use.

Our other fun product from The Pencil Grip was a set of The Ultra Safe Safety Scissors. The blades for these scissors are enclosed in a permanent plastic safety shield so that the sharp blades are completely enclosed. I like the spring action of the scissor handles, but I found it difficult to correctly position the paper to slip it into the area between the guard and the opposite blade. Even with the blade, I think these scissor should still be used with supervision. It would be almost impossible for a child to cut their fingers while using these, but it wouldn't be difficult to slip hair into the scissors for an impromptu hair cut. Since I tend to worry about unintended haircuts and important papers that I don't want destroyed, these aren't a pair of scissors I'd leave in a toddler's reach when I couldn't supervise.

The 3 Step Pencil Grip Training Set and The Ultra Safe Safety Scissors are both available from Amazon. The Pencil Grip, Inc. also makes Thin Stix and Kwik Stix, quick-drying tempera paint markers which have been a big hit in our house.

Ultra Safe Safety Scissors & Pencil Grip Training Kit {The Pencil Grip, Inc. Reviews}

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©2009-2017 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Brinkman Adventures {Homeschool Crew Review}

Brinkman Adventures

I feel like all I talk about on my blog lately is how we're doing more schoolwork in the car than at home lately. I've found plenty of printable activities for the car -- some from our regular curriculum and some from new sources. Those work great for appointments later in the day, but we often find ourselves on the road very early in the morning. When it's too dark for reading or worksheets, I turn to educational materials that Lauren can listen to.

Our most recent addition to our early morning commutes is Brinkman Adventures. Over the past several years, we've listened to several seasons of this audio drama series, and I was excited to add a digital copy of Brinkman Adventures Season 4 to my iPhone playlist.

Brinkman Adventures

Each season of The Brinkman Adventures includes twelve episodes, each about half an hour long. (Lauren would insist that I say that they just a few seconds short of 26 minutes long.) Lauren enjoys the fact that these are audio dramas with different voice actors for each character, sound effects, and music. She much prefers these dramatizations over an audio book where a story is simply read by a single narrator.

One thing I enjoy about listening to The Brinkman Adventures is that they are all cohesive in terms of telling an ongoing story, but they aren't all exactly the same.

Some episodes focus completely on a true missionary story. For instance, Episode 38 talks with Carl Ralston in Cambodia and tells the story of Nhu, a young girl who was sold into slavery. Lauren was excited to hear in the afterward that Nhu herself did the voices in the drama. I was also able to show her a picture of Carl, his wife Laura, and Nhu on the Brinkman Adventures website.

Other episodes focus more on the fictional Brinkman family. The first episode in Season 4 includes crazy adventures at a missionary family camp, a tornado warning during a late-night hide and seek style game, the birth of a baby, and a scripture verse written on a found balloon. A later episode tells the crazy antics of Ian Brinkman developing a computer-controlled vehicle carrying a paintball gun to help their neighbor Mr. Pennington wage war against the raccoons that ate his favorite Koi fish.

During most of the episodes, it was just Lauren and me listening to the drama. A few times, however, we had most of the family in the car. Brennan and Tim both listened to a few episodes while we were traveling a few weeks ago. Most of the episodes stand alone so it was easy for them to join us in the middle of the season. There are only a few that carry over from one episode to the next, and I don't remember any that span more than two episodes.

One thing I love about these dramas is how they spark family discussions. For instance, an episode told the story of a man who was healed after he turned away from the witch doctors in his area and called upon the name of Jesus. My husband pointed out that God can work in miraculous ways like this, but that the absence of God's healing does not mean that God is not still in control or that God does not love the person who prayed for healing.

Brinkman Adventures audio dramas have certainly been a bright addition to our early morning commutes to doctor's appointments. In past years, we've also listened to Season 2 and Season 3.  Apparently we've never listened to Season 1 and there are now six episodes in Season 5. I sense a lot more missionary learning opportunities during our commutes this winter.

Brinkman Adventures Season 4

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©2009-2017 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Super Teacher Worksheets {Homeschool Crew Review}

 Super Teacher Worksheets

A few years ago I enjoyed using Super Teacher Worksheets to print out supplemental school materials for Lauren to use on the days we were doing school in the car instead of at home. Once again, we were given the opportunity to use an Individual Membership so that I would have unlimited access to their vast amount of printables.

I know that when I find a new website full of teacher materials, I'm a bit overwhelmed with all that is available. Perhaps the best way to showcase what they offer is to simply show what Lauren has done over the past few weeks.

The worksheets I used most often were the Reading Comprehension pages. They are organized by grade levels from 1st grade through 5th grade and then in a group for Middle School students. In the fifth grade section, there are more than 30 non-fiction articles. Lauren was recently finishing up a study of zoology for science, and I was able to print a handful of worksheets about various animals. I started with Brown Bears and Koala Bears because she's been a bit obsessed with her stuffed bear lately. ("Lauren, maybe you should read about bears so you can tell Berry more about real bears.")

This worksheet package was seven pages long. The initial information was two pages long and then there were three pages for the student to complete. The last two pages were an answer key.

The reading comprehension questions contained a mixture of fact-based and inference-based questions:

In this particular set of worksheets, new vocabulary words were practiced using a matching type-exercise. Lauren did other topics that used multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank questions to reinforce the meanings of new words in the passage.

 In addition to the wide variety of animal based reading comprehension worksheet packets, I also found an entire page of worksheets about the human body, most of them written for a 3rd through 6th grade audience. They are perfect since Lauren's moved from zoology to anatomy in her regular science curriculum.

As you can tell, I'm primarily using Super Teacher Worksheets to fill my need for both reading comprehension activities and science materials that supplement her regular curriculum. I also used Super Teacher Worksheets to encourage Lauren to learn a bit more about things outside of assigned school topics.

For instance, when hurricanes landed in both Texas and Florida recently, I printed out a packet about hurricanes and added it to her assignments. It was ten pages long and included basic hurricane information, the five categories of hurricanes, how hurricanes are named, safety tips, and more. Lauren's favorite questions was this one which required her to apply facts she learned earlier in the packet. (If you're curious, hurricanes did not have boy names until 1979.)

In the next few weeks, Lauren will begin studying Rocks and Minerals for this year's Science Olympiad competition. I'm excited that I found several new resources for her to use.

The first one is a reading comprehension activity similar to the ones she's done about animals or hurricanes or human body parts. The second one looks to be a lot more fun -- a Rocks and Minerals scavenger hunt. She won't actually be finding rock samples on the hunt, but she will use the clue cards she finds hidden around our house to answer questions on the corresponding worksheet.

Even after finding so many great additions to Lauren's on-the-go school assignments, I feel like I'm still discovering cool new things on Super Teacher Worksheets each time I look -- holiday activities, math crossword puzzles, research project outlines, and even a worksheet generator to create my own worksheets. Their Individual Membership plan ($19.95 per year) allows one person unlimited access to all the printables I've mentioned and hundreds more that I've yet to discover.

Super Teacher Worksheets

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©2009-2017 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.


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