Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Fibber! {Almost Wordless Wednesday}

When a big prize at the morning's feeding therapy session becomes the waiting room entertainment for the afternoon appointment:

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Daily Bible Jigsaw {Homeschool Crew Review}

Daily Bible Jigsaw by Planet 316

The vast majority of the product reviews I write for my blog are homeschool curriculum or other products/services I can use with my children. Recently, I've been trying out something just for me -- Daily Bible Jigsaw from Planet 316.

Daily Bible Jigsaw is an online jigsaw puzzle app that works either on Facebook or on mobile devices. Both Apple (iTunes) and Android (Google Play) options are available. I preferred to play on Facebook because of the larger screen, but I also tried out a few puzzles on both my iPhone and iPad.

Each day there is a new thirty piece puzzle to be completed. The best part is that each completed puzzle has a corresponding scripture written over the image.

Generally speaking, it takes me no more than four or five minutes to complete a puzzle. It's a fun reward when I'm finished working for the night (or a fun way to waste time when I'm just piddling around online).

The daily puzzles are free to play. Older puzzles and some of the optional tools cost a few coins each to play. (Prices for extra coins start at $1.99 for 20 coins.)

I found that using the Rotate tool cuts a lot of time off of my score. It turns all of the pieces in the correct direction so that I just have to slide them together. Actually, though, sometimes this tool makes the puzzle almost too easy. Other tools include edges (moves all the center pieces out of the way), sweep (moves all the single pieces out of the way), guide (shows a picture of the completed puzzle), and magnet (connects two single pieces together). I rarely use the other tools because I tend to work the puzzles in what many would call a disorganized fashion. I start by putting together some of the edge pieces but then I also fill in the center pieces that look like they fit. I prefer to see individual pieces and move them to the edges myself instead of having the computer move them out of the way for me.

In addition to the free puzzle that I can play each day, Daily Bible Jigsaw has ten free bonus puzzles with 56 pieces each.

Daily Bible Jigsaw has been a fun diversion to add to my days during this busy spring season. Even better, these short periods of fun time online add Biblical encouragement to my days!

Daily Bible Jigsaw {Planet 316 Reviews}

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Readers in Residence {Homeschool Crew Review}

Apologia Educational Ministries

I've worked with many reading and literature programs over the past thirteen years of homeschooling, but it seems like I've really only seen one approach to building reading comprehension skills. The student is given a passage to read and then a list of questions to answer. Gradually the questions become more difficult and require the student to use higher-level critical thinking skills. The assumption is that the student will automatically acquire comprehension skills by repeated practice.

Lauren doesn't often pick up skills by repeated exposure; the most successful programs for her are ones that teach new skills in a direct, sequential manner. Apologia Educational Ministries has a new program that fills our need for direct instruction in reading comprehension and literary analysis skills. Readers in Residence Volume 1 (Sleuth) teaches an amazing reading comprehension, literature, and vocabulary program that uses a step-by-step approach to teach students to become "expert readers."

Apologia Educational Ministries Readers in Residence

The backbone of the program is the 560+ page All-In-One Student Text and Workbook. I love the spiral binding because it makes it easier for Lauren (or me) to write answers in the book, but the large book is a bit unwieldy, especially when we try to take it along to do school in the car or a doctor's office. I plan to have it rebound into smaller volumes so that it will be easier for Lauren to handle.

The book is written directly to the student, but I read most of the lesson material to Lauren so that I could make sure that she was fully grasping the concepts. The program is divided into Units, Modules, and then shorter lessons or activities (no more than three pages in each). A Suggested Daily Schedule gives me an idea of how many lessons to cover per day, but I'm free to choose to stop earlier if we've used up Lauren's attention span before the end of the suggested number of lessons.

Readers in Residence Volume 1 starts by explaining some of the most basic concepts when it comes to discussing literature.For instance, it's easy to assume that every child has automatically figured out the difference between fiction. This text spells out the characteristics of each and then has the child go on a treasure hunt to find examples of each. It also explains the characteristics of different literary genres so that students are prepared to read a book of a particular genre. Again, some students can see a handful of books that are labeled historical fiction and figure out what that particular genre entails. Others need to be clearly told what features make Nancy Drew stories mysteries or Harry Potter books fantasies.

After covering some literary basics, we picked up the first book to study -- Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. Once again, Readers in Residence started with the basics and moved forward in small steps. Lauren learned how to closely examine the cover of a book to find clues to the story. She also made predictions about what difficulties the characters in the story would face based on the synopsis on the back cover.

Lauren then started reading the book. Her assignment wasn't simply to read the first chapter, though. She read the first chapter with a purpose in mind -- she was looking for clues that showed details about the characters she met in the story. (Note: I sometimes took dictation for her when we were working through the materials so that she would spend more time thinking about the content and less time whining about having to write down long answers.)

After each chapter, the workbook asks a series of comprehension questions. Although some of them were simple fact-based questions, most of them required Lauren to draw conclusions or make inferences based on what she had just read.

For a child that reads easily and automatically analyzes the story as they read, these questions may seem simple or unnecessary. For Lauren, these questions were crucial in teaching her to think critically about what she had read. She also realized that the story was much richer and more enjoyable when she used her thinking skills as she read instead of just breezing through the book.

The Readers in Residence set also includes a 230+ page answer key. We found it helpful to read through the answer key together after completing each activity because we often found ideas that neither Lauren and I had thought of in our discussions.

I'm a huge fan of Readers in Residence because it has given me the tools to teach Lauren to think critically about what she reads and doesn't just assume that she will automatically develop strong comprehension skills. The step-by-step instruction is exactly what she needs.

Lauren says she likes Readers in Residence because it's fun. While she couldn't explain exactly what makes it fun, I suspect she likes the way that the book includes activities such as the genre treasure hunt where she searched through our bookshelves to find examples of each genre. I also suspect that she's discovering that reading is a lot more fun when she gets caught up in the story by really thinking about the characters, what they say, and what they do.

Readers in Residence Volume 1 costs $89 for the two-volume set which includes the All-In-One Student Text and Workbook and the Answer Key. It is recommended for students in fourth grade or higher.

Readers in Residence Volume 1 (Sleuth) {Apologia Educational Ministries Review}

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First Place! {Almost Wordless Wednesday}

First place in Robot Arm and a team third place trophy!

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

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Color My Conversation {Homeschool Review Crew}

Northern Speech Services

Recently we were introduces to Color My Conversation, an amazing speech and communication product designed by Northern Speech Services. Many of the products from NSS are designed for professional speech-language pathologists, but Color My Conversation can be used by parents or teachers without any specific speech therapy training.

The Color My Conversation program includes an Instruction Manual (on CD), online training videos, and all the supplies needed to put the program into practice.

Northern Speech Services Color My Conversation
Lauren was thrilled to open our large box of supplies and see everything that we'd be working with. Everything I could think of was included -- game tokens, dry erase markers to write on the conversation stones, an inflatable yellow bouncy ball, and much more.
After digging into the Instructional Manual and watching the first training videos, I started pulling out the supplies for the first lesson. Lauren was a bit disappointed because I had initially described the product as "a game" that would help practice having good conversations with friends and aquaintances. In actuality, the game board isn't used until lesson 10 (out of 12 total lessons). She quickly realized that the lessons would be fun even if we didn't get to use the board game yet.
Color My Conversation starts at the very beginning when it comes to communication and conversation skills. The program uses conversation stones to help students visualize the path that a conversation will take. We started by talking about the two yellow conversation stones -- the hello and goodbye parts of a conversation. Lauren helped me brainstorm phrases to use when first greeting someone. (I think someone remembers reading Charlotte's Web.)
The yellow "hello" stone and the yellow "goodbye" stone can be used as parts of a longer conversation or just combined with each other to make a yellow conversation. Although very short in duration, we talked about how a yellow conversation is useful in everyday situations such as spotting someone you know in a busy room, etc. We also discussed the importance of nonverbal communication and how a yellow conversation may be entirely nonverbal (as in the case of waving or nodding to someone you know when you're walking into church after services have begun).
Later, we talked about a short conversation which is slightly longer than a yellow conversation. I think of a short conversation as the type of conversation or chit chat that I'd have with an acquaintance or even a stranger when we just had a few minutes to talk. In Lauren's world, it's the type of conversation she has with the medical assistants or nurses that do the initial check-in for appointments.
We set out our conversation stones and walked through a few short conversations.
You can see the yellow conversation stones at the beginning and end, the green conversation starter stone, and the red conversation stopper stone. I like the way that the stones show socially acceptable ways to form a conversation -- start with a hello, ask a conversation opener question such as "How are you doing?", wrap up with conversation with a conversation stopper phrase "Nice talking to you!", and then say goodbye.
When we get to the lessons about having a long conversation, Lauren and I will add blue conversation stones to the path. These stones each represent a topic of interest that can be discussed. I look forward to delving into this part of a conversation in greater depth. For instance, we will discuss how different people have different topics on their blue stones. I will also point out that listeners don't always know as much about a topic as the speaker and sometimes the speaker needs to explain more about a topic to some people.
I like the way the Color My Conversation program outlines a particular path that most conversations take, but doesn't prescribe an exact conversation recipe. For each of the stones, Lauren and I brainstormed words and phrases that she would choose in each of the circumstances. It becomes a natural conversation, not forced. The stepping stones are heavy rubber with a slick laminated surface. It was easy to write examples on each stone, and it would have been safe for Lauren to walk directly on the stones. (We generally walked beside the stones, mostly because I thought my sock feet would have erased the writing on them.)
Lauren's favorite part of the program is the yellow ball, even though I don't think she realizes it's actually serving an important purpose. The ball marks the way a conversation passes between two people. For instance, I hold the ball, say hello to Lauren, and toss the ball to her. Since I have to look at Lauren in order to accurately toss the ball, I'm automatically developing good eye contact with the other person. Furthermore, only the person holding the ball can talk. We both practice taking turns because obviously only one of us is holding the ball at a time. (I should point out that the large yellow inflatable ball can be a bit distracting because it bounces well and screams to be kicked like a soccer ball in my house. I am considering replacing it with a less-fun foam ball in future lessons.)
I am also very impressed with the thought that has gone into making a program that meets the needs of students with different learning styles and strengths. Obviously, walking along the path works well for students who learn best by moving. Visual learners will benefit from using the suggested sign language signs to correspond to the parts of a conversation, auditory learners will appreciate the songs included to reinforce the concepts, etc.
Many children naturally pick up good conversation skills, but other students need direct instruction to help them develop the skills they need to be a good communicator. Color My Conversation from Northern Speech Services is perfect for situations where conversation skills need to be taught. The complete set costs $149 and is appropriate for students starting as young as preschoolers. Each lesson takes about 45 minutes and would be appropriate for a weekly session either at school, in therapy, or at home.
Color My Conversation {Northern Speech Services Reviews}

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Science Olympiad Scholars

This is the second year that our family has joined the Homeschool Science Colorado group to compete in Science Olympiad.

The easiest way to explain Science Olympiad competition is to compare it to a track meet. Each team consists of up to 15 students, with each one preparing for and competing in different events in groups of 2-3 students per event. The events range from hands-on building projects (Robot Arm, Hovercraft) to pure-knowledge events (Materials Science, Rocks and Minerals). At the end of the day, individual event awards are presented and the rankings from each event are added together to get a team score.

Our Regional Science Olympiad competition was held in early March. Lauren competed at the B level (Jr. High) on her second-string team. She primarily focused on Rocks and Minerals this year. She was expected to be able to identify and answer questions about 75 different minerals and rocks for the test.

Here's a picture of her showing Tim how she could name all the samples we had been studying:

Our JV team didn't have enough team members to study all the events, and sometimes we paired students up with a partner that was mostly there for moral support. Lauren had a friend who hadn't studied rocks help her with that event, and then she helped him during the Microbes event he had studied for. The Microbes event is technically a lab event so they had to wear safety goggles during the test.

Brennan is competing in four events this year and won three medals at Regional Competition. His hardest event is Materials Science -- a field which combines physics, chemistry, and a bunch of other complicated stuff that I had never heard of. Like Lauren, he's been studying mineral and rock samples for that event. They are allowed to bring in a binder of reference material for that test, but he said there wasn't enough time to look much up. He and his partner had only a few seconds to identify each sample in order to complete each station before their time was up.

For hands-on events, Brennan competed in Robot Arm and Hovercraft.

At Regionals, Brennan placed in Hovercraft (third), Robot Arm (second), and Rocks/Minerals (third). Our team placed first out of thirty-three team in southern Colorado.

This weekend our team will compete in the state competition. It's been a busy few weeks tweaking the build projects and cramming in a bit more studying for the study events. Wish us well!

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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Through the Fog

Years ago I named this blog "Through the Calm and Through the Storm." Since then, I've blogged through the calm -- beautiful sunny days spent vacationing or just regular homeschool days spent learning. I've also blogged through the storms -- months spent in the hospital while Lauren waited for a heart transplant, last year's rejection scares, and other big and not-so-big challenges.

For the past few months, though, we've been in a fog. So much of a fog that I just haven't felt like blogging.

It started one Wednesday night at the beginning of February when Lauren just looked a bit puny. She was very disappointed about missing a special activity at church, but honestly didn't have the strength to put up much of a fight. I tried to distract her with a game, but she was too tired to even sit up and play.

I thought it was just another tummy bug, but I was afraid that she had already fallen too far behind in terms of hydration. I took her to the ER and she was admitted for a few days.

She perked up, came home, and was even feeling well enough to make it to the Daddy-Daughter Ball at church.

Unfortunately the puny days returned and stretched on into March. Lauren spent her days lying on the couch watching videos, and I spent my days trying not to freak out about how far behind we were getting in our homeschool plans.

In mid-March, after her third hospital stay, Lauren came home looking fairly healthy and has continued to look good.

We still haven't quite figured out all of what's going on, but it seems like we've stumbled across a new plan that's working.

And now that I'm no longer worried about an imminent trip to the hospital and now that I'm juggling a few less medical issues, I've opened up the blog and started writing again.

Despite having so many foggy days in February and March, there were a few days of sunshine that I'm going to share about soon.

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