Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Best Math Books for Middle School Girls!

With a second daughter on her way into middle school level math, I pulled out these excellent books by Danica McKellar (Yes, if you're around my age, I bet you remember her!)

The Wonder Years!
However, this young woman did grow up and proceeded to become an expert in math education with a passion for inspiring girls to excel in math. 

"Math Doesn't Suck" (Click here for Amazon Link)  and
"Kiss My Math" (Click here for Amazon Link) are filled with humor, practical applications for math and clear explanations of all the easily muddled concepts in math and pre-algebra. 
Targeted for tween "girly girls," a lot of the content was not super appealing to my oldest daughter, but the teaching was clear and helped her a lot.  My very different youngest daughter lit up like a Christmas tree at the shiny "teen magazine" style covers and began to devour the books immediately with unbridled enthusiasm! 
On Amazon.com there are some new books by Ms. McKellar that cover algebra and geometry -- too late for my older daughter but I'm looking forward to getting these for Erin when she is finished with the first two!  

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

American History Reading List -- 5th Grade Spring!

This spring, my 5th grader is continuing her American History...
 There are so many great books out there that help bring this era alive, but I also wanted her to read about young people in adolescence that experience personal growth -- often overcoming an initially resistant attitude.  (My 11 year old is fabulous -- and she is very much a "tween" with her own stuff to overcome!) Being inspired by these characters will hopefully not only illuminate American History but will point her in some "growing up" directions in a positive way.

1)  George Washington: Our First Leader from the "Childhood of Famous Americans" series, by Augusta Stevenson.  This is a fictionalized biography of what "could have been."  Accurate?  Certainly not.  Some truths and facts sprinkled throughout?  Sure.  A way to liven up what can be a dry study of battles and generals and "whites of their eyes?"  Definitely.  Quick read, fun start to semester.  Wouldn't recommend a steady diet of this series but here and there is entertaining.

2) Dreams in the Golden Country:  The Diary of Zipporah Feldman, a Jewish Immigrant Girl from the "Dear America" series, by Kathryn Lasky.  I'm sometimes not a fan of serialized books created for kids but the "Dear Americas" are an exception.  They are a personal-feeling window into other people's lives that are a catalyst for understanding other cultural groups in America.  This one particularly grasps the hope that people felt coming here that anything was possible for future generations.

3)  The Ballad of Lucy Whipple by Newbery Award winner Karen Cushman.  Outstanding writing, strong female lead character who has difficulty accepting her family's move to California during the Gold Rush.  Her discoveries about California and herself make for an excellent read!

4) Calico Bush, Newbery Honor Book by Rachel Feld.  Orphaned in 1743, 13 year old Marguerite survives by becoming an indentured servant in an isolated part of northern Maine.  Suffering loneliness and hardship, Marguerite discovers how courageous she really is.  Fabulous, touching book!

5) The Perilous Road, Newbery Honor Book by William O. Steele.  The Publisher's Weekly review says "One of Mr. Steele's best books, an engrossing, realistic story of a Tennessee mountain boy who, during the Civil War, comes to realize that war is terrible no matter where one's sympathies lie."  I wholeheartedly agree with this assessment.  Uncomfortable at times: extremely important.

6) A Wrinkle In Time, Newbery Award Medal Winner by Madeleine L'Engle.  Can't go wrong with any of Ms. L'Engle's books!  An imaginative and deep look at the nature of good and evil in a fantasy setting.  The hero is a smart girl who doesn't feel she fits in -- like every adolescent ever!  My favorite book, my favorite author.  I hope my daughter loves it as much as I do!

This will take us to Easter and Spring Break!  So many adventures!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

High School: Concurrent Enrollment in Community College

As requested, here is a description of the process we went through to enroll our oldest daughter in College of the Sequoias classes as a homeschooled high school student.

Note:  To even begin the process, the student needs a social security number (click here for info) and a state-issued ID card, available at the DMV.  (link: getting an ID card in California)

The first two steps can basically be done at the same time.  You need to complete the online COS admissions application for your student, (CCCApply click here) and fill out and turn in the Concurrent High School Permission Form.  (click here for PDF).
The permission form asks what classes student is eligible for -- I just covered all bases possible, stating "course not offered" as a reason.

As a homeschooler, with the permission form you will also need to turn in a copy of your homeschool affidavit and a high school transcript for your student showing a GPA of 3.0 or higher.  In all honesty, I don't use grades in my homeschool and, if I did, nothing would be less than an A because I would make my children re-do things until it was A work -- but I found some good templates on line to create a transcript.  This is my favorite (click here).

Once the admission process is complete, your student must use his/her COS ID number to take the math and English placement tests on campus (info here).  Assuming nothing has changed in two years, the English is a computerized test that takes students as far as their knowledge goes and then tells you what class they belong in.  The fact that my daughter tested out of the early college English classes has been very convenient because many other classes have English I as a prerequisite.  For math, you can choose to take a pre-algebra test or an algebra I test.  If your student passes, they may take the next math classes in the sequence.  My daughter took the pre-algebra test and has now completed Algebra I and II at COS. (math was/is the primary reason to kick her out of the house!)

When these things are completed, your student will be able to register -- AFTER everyone else and their brother's cousin's dog has registered.  This is the big disadvantage of being a concurrent high school student.  However, the trade-off is that the fees are waived by the state for the first 6 credits.  Every semester, I am tempted to haul my daughter off to take the CHSPE or the GED so she could register along with everyone else... but then those credit dollars... you can see the conflict...

Something that we didn't realize the first semester, however, is that "crashing" classes is acceptable and expected.  My daughter has gotten into every class she was wait-listed for simply by showing up the first day and getting an add code from the teacher.  Some classes have not even been open for waiting list by the time she could register, but it has worked out well when they are.

I'm often asked by other parents if I have worried about my 15-now 16-year old in the environment with older students.  This has really not been a concern for me.  I feel that education at home has prepared her better for life in the "real world" where there are many age/culture/values differences than anything else could have.  She approaches life with a bit of healthy cynicism and isn't easily swayed.  Perhaps if our home environment were less open and more cautious I would have been concerned, but halfway through the second year of this I am still feeling confident. 

Link to the COS Concurrent HS Student Page

Good luck!  Ask any questions you have in the comments below and I will try to answer!

Reading List: Books that are Friends, 8th Grade

My 8th grade son has decided that he'd like the "public school experience" for high school.  

I feel like Seinfeld saying, "not that there's anything wrong with that..." because I admit that it makes me slightly uncomfortable!  We made the decision to keep him at home because he always met expectations -- and if the expectations were ridiculously high, so was his achievement.  This has not changed, but many expectations come from within at this point, so his drive is his own. 
I am certain he'll be successful academically, and if the social draw ends up not being what he expects at least he will see that for himself.  So next fall, we are in for a new adventure!

But the questions in my own self have started... Have I given him all the things I think he'll need to be a successful human being with a joy for life and an ability to think and feel deeply?  We have studied philosophy, tons of history, music and art, as well as the science and math that he is naturally drawn to.  As I write, I'm listening to him speak Mandarin into the Rosetta Stone microphone, which he'll continue along with piano and musical theater when he starts high school next year.

So in a purely self-indulgent move, I have assigned him a spring reading list that reflects both books I loved at his age and ones that I enjoy now.  I hope that he will get hooked, feel friendship with the characters, want to read others by some of my favorite authors, and give us a place to connect as he moves into his next phase of life and grows more and more independent.  (As he should!)


5 books by Madeleine L'Engle:
   The Arm of the Starfish
    A Ring of Endless Light
   A Wrinkle in Time

   A Wind in the Door
   A Ring of Endless Light

L'Engle's works for young adults are timeless.  They capture perfectly the tension between dependent childhood and independent adulthood, and her characters make LOTS of mistakes.  Just like every real life teenager.  They also are able to positively affect the world in profound ways.  Good examples for any young adult.  He read "Wrinkle" several years ago, but it is my very favorite book, sooo... :)

Little House on the Prairie 
This one is more for my husband than for me, as they were his childhood favorites.  Our young man read one in the series several years ago, but never this one.  A quick read, seeing as he read "Shogun" last semester... but not everything has to be hard, right?
The Phantom Tollbooth... also from my husband's faves... a very funny book that honors smart kids! 

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson.
Urban fantasy is not something I think my son has ventured into, and this is a great introduction, with characters up against enormous forces that are able to rely upon wits, ingenuity, and friendship to overcome impossible odds.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Modern Epic Fantasy, and one of the best I've read.  This first in the series is a lot a coming-of-age as well -- good for young men.

And finally...
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
A re-visit on a few, but like so many things, there is more depth each time these are read.  And I think he may be ready to tackle "The Last Battle" which has more solid and controversial theology than most people  realize!  I am excited to see where these take him and to talk about them.

Well-loved and often-read books are beautiful!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Carrying on... or... School in 2014

We have had a rough year.

My mom passed away in February, which, though difficult for my family and kids especially all in itself, created a cascade of change in our lives.  By May we had uprooted ourselves and done a very quick move into a larger house that my father could join us in.

In March the child of another staff member at our church was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder.  My kids had grown up with her -- she was a permanent fixture in our lives -- and suddenly she was living at Children's Hospital. 

As she deteriorated, many others on staff at our church lost family members -- our pastor's mother-in-law, our organist's dad, musicians losing in-laws and parents and siblings.  Death seemed all around us, all the time.

A trusted protege of my husband's was then arrested for abuse of children.  Our grieving kids had to answer uncomfortable questions and wrap their brains around the fact that someone they had known since he was fifteen ten years ago was not the person we all thought he was. 

Another shoe dropped in June -- the infant son of another friend and church staff member had kidney problems that would require surgery.  An easy one, but through physician error serious complications ensued and he was almost lost.

Our kids' close friend passed away in September, the lack of white cells in her blood leaving her vulnerable to fungal infections that ravaged her body.

I can't process this, how can my children?  They are broken.  They have a new and terrifying awareness of their own vulnerability. 

Tonight, after participating in a beautiful and life-celebrating pageant at church, my 10 year old and two close friends clung to each other in the front pew and wept.  Memories of the friend they lost and her upbeat zest for everything fun had overwhelmed them as they went through the Christmas tradition without her for the first time. 

Grief is a strange thing.  My youngest daughter and I are trying to ride it like waves, but in the midst of a happy moment we can be unexpectedly toppled over, pushed underneath and scraping our still raw emotions on the sands below. 

At the same time, 2014 has had incredible moments -- my daughters were in a production of Les Mis with a Broadway touring cast and became part of a larger theater world, leading us to NYC this summer and into many incredible experiences.

My son spent a summer week at the AMNH in a program with 30 of the best young scientific minds in the world studying evolution and genetics.  We didn't even know how amazing it was that he got in until we showed up in New York.

My dad is getting to really know his grandchildren, and vice versa, something never possible with the thousand+ mile distance.

2014 has not just been difficult for us but for unrelated circles of friends -- deaths, dark diagnoses, especially in children, accidents, suicides.  Marriages in turmoil and families in crisis.  

How have we managed school in this kind of year?

With ups and downs, like everything else. 

My son is dealing with his grief by considering medicine as a field.  Most of his self directed education this year has centered around medicine and it's history, but he has also developed and interest in philosophy and pondering the deeper and unanswerable questions.

My oldest daughter is doing concurrent work at the community college.  She has thrown herself into studying psychology, and, unsurprisingly, she often has new insights on grief and upheaval.

My youngest has begun to seriously take on ASL in memory of her friend that grew up with it.  Will this change the course of her life?  Perhaps.  At the moment she wants to be an interpreter because it was her friend's plan and she is determined to fulfill it for her. 

We are learning not to waste time on things that are not vital, and we are closer as a family than ever before.  We are focusing on things that are precious.  We are looking at the world in new ways and we are accepting the waves of emotion that overtake all of us at odd times. 

Our wishes of "Happy New Year" are going to be more heartfelt than ever before. 

Peace out, 2014.  This homeschool family is very ready for a new year.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

NaNoWriMo -- Day One -- and THE PLAYLIST

 The first day of NaNoWriMo is complete!  
 We have an interesting mix of creativity in our house right now! A murder mystery set in NYC in the 1950s (Cameron), a multi-generational fantasy story (Megan), an "our-world" fantasy centering around a new mermaid culture (Erin), my mystery set in an opera house (write what you know, right?) and my 85 year old father who moved in with us this spring has even joined in and is writing a memoir.  His life is stranger than most fiction, anyway!  Very cool! 

Everyone made day one's word count, but Erin, the youngest, blew away the goal of 1700 and landed just over 3,000!!!  She is putting the rest of us to shame!  Megan passed the 2000 mark and Cameron and I landed just over the goal. 

Erin putting final touches on her character sketches
Which brings me to one of my favorite parts of NaNo preparation --

The Writing Playlist!!!
This is a mix that will be my companion for the next thirty days, and choosing it is a vital part of my writing process!  It will set the tone for my novel.  It cannot be so complex musically that the bit of my brain that has to analyze music has too much to work at and can't "do it's thing" in the background, but has to be interesting enough and have complex enough lyrics to be a muse! 
It has to have many different sounds but they cannot be so different that they are jarring on "shuffle," and I keep it on shuffle because I can't have that analytical part of my brain trying to remember what comes next in the album, either!  

This year's list of artists, with all their albums for newer ones and favorites and some new for ones that have been around a long time, shuffled and played on Rhapsody!
Of Monsters and Men 
Mumford and Sons
Sting (including the Last Ship concept album!)
Depeche Mode
The Smiths
Imagine Dragons
The Police

Obviously I have a bias toward alternative/punk music!  I find it energizing!    

Music and.........

COFFEE!  My best friends for the next 29 days.  
Go!  Write!  WIN! 

Friday, October 17, 2014

NaNoWriMo -- or, Proof That My Family is Fabulously Crazy



If you have read any of my posts, you may have figured out that my family enjoys learning and school and all the things that go along with it -- not saying we all aren't challenged by certain subjects, but overall the learning process is something that kicks along without many interruptions.  Couple this with the fact that we don't know what to do with ourselves when we're not "doing school" and you have a family that feels pretty ahead of the game by mid-October.
So, this year we are going to turn our attention sideways for a month and dedicate most of our school time and energy toward a gigantic writing project:  NaNoWriMo.

From their page (www.nanowrimo.org)
"National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.
Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel."

I have participated myself three times, and found it an incredibly rewarding experience.

(SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT!)  One product was a young adult novel actually eventually worthy of a Kindle version, which can be found here:  The Birdland Experiment on Amazon


Why participate in NaNoWriMo with young people? 
1)  It is a good lesson in the reality that productive creativity (in any field) comes at the cost of hard work.

2)  It is a project with a beginning, middle, end, and definite goal.
3) Whether the novel produced at the end of the month is a Hemingway or a Horrible Mess, writing will improve during the course of lots of practice.
4) It will teach not only perseverance but teamwork as we encourage each other through the creatively dry times and celebrate the successes!  

I have found with any creative project that even though artistic and creative license can take over sometime during the course, detailed and intentional planning before the project is begun is the best assurance of success.  

The planning process that will take place over the last weeks in October is as follows:

1) Brainstorm.  Write down every topic that has ever crossed your mind as a good story and every character that you have ever thought would be interesting.

2) See which of these characters and stories will match well together.  (For example, a swashbuckling 1700's pirate with OCD and claustrophobia may not be available for a sci-fi story taking place in the caves of a faraway planet... but who knows?)

3) Read the preparatory advice on the NaNoWriMo site and SIGN UP!  (As they say, no one has ever "won" without starting...)

4) Write a (very brief) summary of what is going to happen in your novel.  Just the beginning, middle, and end.  Where we start, where we end up, how we get there.  Very general.

5) The most important step!!  Write a detailed outline.  Plan how many chapters and basically what plot steps from there to here need to happen in each one.  Figure out how many words need to happen in each chapter.  
My favorite NaNoWriMo year was the one in which I planned the number of sections to coincide with the number of days in the month and knew what I was going to write about each day.  (Then my characters took over and had stuff happen to them that I never expected! But at least I had a framework to get them back on track!)

6) Remember that you are about to write a ROUGH DRAFT.  This is not a time to edit and it is not necessarily a time to flesh out past the number of words you have set for each section.  The goal is a completed novel with a beginning, middle, and end.  The rough draft may be the very short version!  Go fill in the rest of Les Miserables or The Eye of the World or War and Peace in December, and fix your errors, find the perfect word, take out parts that just don't fit or insert those perfectly crafted dialogue zingers then also.   Not in November!
(For your post NaNoWriMo crafting, I highly recommend "Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook" by Donald Maass.  In it are lots of ways to bring an already completed novel to a higher level!)

So here we go!  I am very excited to hear what stories are generated by my kids and if you or yours come along on this adventure please keep us posted in the comments!  

More details on "How it all works" here:   

Go!  Write!  Win!