Wednesday, April 27, 2011

TOS Review: The Curiosity Files - Red Tides

Let me introduce you to Professor Ana Lyze. She is a researcher in the obscure, abnormal and the bizarre. She also happens to be a character in The Old Schoolhouse unit study series that I had the opportunity to review this month: The Curiosity Files. This amazing professor has a unique way of piquing your interests in subjects you might not otherwise think about studying. So far the series has covered all of these fascinating topics:
We had the privilege of sampling the unit on Red Tides. I was immediately captured by how visually appealing the unit was. It was colorful, had interesting photos, and the font was really easy to read. The writing style was captivating and it did not take long before Gess and myself were both eager to learn more about these pesky red tides. I was truly amazed at how easily we were able to touch on every subject of study by simply accompanying Professor Ana Lyze on her adventure.

In each of The Curiosity Files unit studies you cover all areas of education. They advertise the following categories on their website and I can assure you that each of these topics are present and accounted for.
  • Bible study and memory verses
  • Math, history, and geography investigations
  • Literature and suggested book list
  • Writing, spelling, and vocabulary activities
  • Beautiful copy-work pages (manuscript and cursive)
  • Science observations, projects, and experiments
  • Discussion questions
  • Art, crafts, drawing, and coloring pages
  • The Curiosity Fact Files collectors card and booklet
  • Internet resources and video links
  • Complete answer key
What's so incredible about this study is that it not only covers these topics, but it makes them such a part of the mystery that you hardly feel as if you are studying at all. They have something for every age group and level of learning. Math offers anything from learning the basics of the metric system to calculating percentages in order to determine the impact of an algal bloom (red tide). You can complete a scientific research paper or simply do some copy work. The lab offers a variety of options including one specifically designed for children with special needs.

Of course since I do focus my blog on special needs I was excited to see how easily it was to adapt this unit for Gess. I simply divided the vocabulary words into two groups and did one list each week instead of addressing them all at once. I also went through the review questions and deleted ones I felt were too difficult for Gess. However, I was pleased that there were several multiple choice and relevant questions that we were able to use.

We started by reading the study together on the computer. (I am too cheap to print the E-books we use!)

We then began to learn the vocabulary words. We would read a section from the book each day and then just study one or two definitions at at time. By the end of the week she had a good grasp on the basics of algal blooms (red tides).

For spelling words I simply pulled out words that were more on Gess' level. Instead of having her spell phytoplankton, we spelled words like toxin. However, there was one worksheet that had three spellings of the tough vocabulary words and you had to circle the correct one. I used that to help Gess at least be able to identify them correctly, even if she could not spell them on her own.

Her copy work consisted of writing bible verses about how God created the seas and all that live in them. This carried us over into our bible study which focused on creation, emphasizing what day God made the water and the creatures that live in it.

We then delved into math and learned a lot about the metric system. I was extremely happy to see that our study already presented it in a way that was very hands on and visual. The only thing I had to do to adapt the study for Gess was to give her an introduction to the metric system since we had never studied it before. In my post The Curiosity Files and The Metric System I go into great detail about those adaptations as well as show their illustrations in practice. Here is Gess using The Curiosity Files demonstration of the difference between a Kilogram, Gram and Milligram.

We of course did not write the essays, but we had a lot of fun playing the adjective game! This game has actually been more beneficial in helping Gess to understand these "descriptive" terms than anything else I have tried so far! You can read more about the game and other tools I used for learning adjectives by reading my last post Adjectives and The Curiosity Files.

We did a whole lot more in this study and had a fun time doing it! For those of you curious enough to want to find out more, I would certainly recommend you getting a copy for yourself. I think you will enjoy learning about these obscure topics as much as we did! You can find them at The Old Schoolhouse Store online. You can purchase them individually or in a bundle pack. The Red Tides book is currently on sale for only $1! That's 86% off the cover price! I am not sure how long that sale is going on so you might want to check it out soon.

Needless to say, by the end of the unit Gess was able to answer all of the questions from the "Let's See What You Learned" section correctly. She really did learn a lot in this study and the best part is she had fun doing it!

As for the lab work, it has been awfully rainy around here lately so we have yet to get to the lake to get a sample of "pond" water for the "Red Tides Special Needs Lesson." However we are hoping to be able to do that this weekend. I know Gess is really looking forward to seeing some algae in action!

I think next we are going to study their latest addition to The Curiosity Files: Platypus! I can't wait to see what they have hidden for us in there!

Adjectives and The Curiosity Files

As I stated in my last post, I had the opportunity to use and review a unit study called The Curiosity Files - Red Tides. Another aspect that I really enjoyed in this study was how they made learning about adjectives hands on and fun. Not only do they have a study about adjectives with a worksheet to answer questions, but they made a board game out of it!

The rules were pretty simple. You rolled the dice and when you landed on a picture you had to say what adjective you think it represents. Then you had to come up with at least 5 more adjectives for that picture (I only made Gess say one). The next time you play the game you are supposed to make up as many sentences as you can using adjectives to describe the picture (Again Gess only had to use one sentence).

Gess really struggles with descriptive words. People ask her how she feels and she answers with what she is doing. She just thinks very concretely. Even doing the lesson she had trouble picking out the adjective in the sentence. She wanted to say the verb was what "described" the noun. In the sentence, "He drives a green car" she wanted to say drives described the car. However, after we played this game several times I think she finally got the concept because she became much better at finding the adjective in the sentence. I then went to Super Teacher Worksheets to get extra worksheets for Gess to practice with.

Of course no study is complete without a little help from School House Rock.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Curiosity Files and The Metric System

I had the opportunity to use and review a unit study called The Curiosity Files - Red Tides. This was my first time using a Unit Study and I really loved how it worked all areas of a subject in. For math, the focus was on the metric system.

In our study we learned that red tides were actually areas where there was a buildup (or bloom) of microscopic algae, and that when too many of a certain type of algae formed in an area they produced a toxin that affected the fish and wildlife around them. In order to figure out just how toxic an algal bloom is you need to measure the micrograms of toxin per kilogram of victim. This requires the metric system.

The study has a great way to teach the comparison between a gram, kilogram and milligram. However, since Gess had no experience with the metric system we paused at the study when it said:

The metric system uses three families of measurement: 1
The Meter Family measures how long something is.
The Gram Family measures how heavy something is.
The Liter Family measures how much space something takes up.
Since this was Gess' first experience with the metric system I needed to make sure she understood this before we moved on. Having a child with special needs who is a visual learner I ran on over to Openclipart and grabbed some images of a ruler, a scale and a liter bottle. From there I made cards for each unit and put magnets on the back. I then explained again what each unit does.

After Gess got to see this concept, I went and had her label each form of measurement with the proper unit.

When she was able to do this successfully (which did not take very long) we then used each unit to measure something. We measured 200ml of water as if we needed it for a recipe. We also found that a serving of cheerios was 41 grams and her picture was 18cm long which will help us when looking for a frame.

Then I asked what unit would we use to measure a toxin? We discovered it would be the gram family.

Next we talked about the common forms of measurement within the gram family. At this point we were back in The Curiosity Files following the guide. I loved how hands on the explanation was about the difference between a kilogram, gram and milligram.

To demonstrate the difference between the gram and his "big brother" the kilogram they had you compare a dime which weighs approximately 1 gram with 2 pounds of butter which weighs close to 1 kilogram (This is what 1,000 dimes would weigh!). You then had to feel the difference by holding a dime in one hand and the butter in the other. (We had margarine so went with that.)

She could definitely tell that the kilogram was much heavier than the gram. To demonstrate how much smaller one of "gram's little brothers" the milligram was they had you use salt. What you did was pour salt on a dark colored sheet of construction paper and then get rid of all grains of salt except for 10 of them. That was not easy to do! Here is what it looks like.

That is about 1,000 times smaller than a dime! What a great visual and hands on way to grasp the concept of what size these measurements are. Here is how they all stood up together.

Then they go on to use examples of how nutrients are measured in grams. To do that we look at the nutrition label on a pack of crackers. We found how many grams of fat, protein and carbs were in a serving.

From there you find the amount of calcium that is in a serving of milk and then figure out how much calcium your body needs by measuring your weight in kilograms. At this point I felt it was beyond Gess' comprehension so we stopped. I did however feel really pleased about how much Gess did learn about the metric system by doing this one unit study on Red Tides. We really liked the way they tied the math into the study and enjoyed the hands on elements of the explanations.

To tie all of this together I found a conversion practice worksheet set called Metric Mania and used this to help Gess remember which units were smaller and larger. With that we determined whether or not we would move the decimal point to the left or right. Instead of having Gess actually move the decimal point, we just wrote L if it would move the left and be larger, or R if it would move to the right and be smaller.

And of course we started learning that "King Henry Doesn't Usually Drink Chocolate Milk" but we did not really put that into practice all that much!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Math Facts: Doubles

We are currently using Math-U-See and Gess seems to do pretty well with it, though we are moving through it rather slowly. While studying addition they want you to memorize your math facts. We did alright with that for the zeros and ones, but Gess got stuck trying to memorize beyond that, so we went ahead and moved on. When we got to the doubles I decided to pull out a tool from the book Teaching Math to People with Down Syndrome.

For teaching doubles they have some visual cues that you can copy and make cards out of. Now they don't have pictures for 7 and 8 so I made my own. They suggested using crayons for 8 so I got me a picture to do that with and I could not think of anything for 7 so we just made a domino with 7 on it. It seemed to work. We pasted the pictures on index cards. One side shows the answer and the other side does not.

Now, some of these images assumes that the person already knows that number is a double. Gess however, did not know a bug had 6 legs (3 on each side) and a spider had 8, etc. So each day we learned one double fact, starting with 2. We were not only learning the double, but the image concept to help her memorize it. The eggs were the funnest, because when we got to that one we went to the fridge and counted a dozen eggs with six in each row (the concept of a dozen was new to her too). She really liked that.

Now that we knew what the pictures represented and why we started drilling with the cards. First she would just use the sides with the answers to learn them and then I started drilling with the side without the answers.

Then we added the use of the cards along side her math workbook.

And then finally she had them memorized and was able to answer the questions without the use of the cards.

You should note that we have to drill memorized math facts regularly or she will lose them. I usually drill her before each workbook page, especially if it has review on it. She gets the facts right almost every time when we use flash cards, but if the problem is in the middle of a bunch of different type of problems she seems to forget that she knows it and doesn't recall it well. Doing flash cards right before the workbook or test helps her to remember that she actually "knows" the answer.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Field Trip: Brown Vs Board of Education Museum

While we were in Topeka we also visited the Brown Vs. Board of Education Museum. I did not even know this existed but was very excited to get to see it. The museum is located on the site of Monroe Elementary School which was a segregated African-American only school. Some of the Brown children attended this school during the famous case that led to desegregation. I was excited about the visit as this is a time in our history I know we must never forget or else we are apt to repeat it. Here is Gess sitting on the front steps of the building.

The moment I walked in the door I was bombarded with two signs, one that said "White" and one that said "Colored." My heart just dropped down into my stomach and I felt ill. I had read about this sort of thing, I know that it happened, but seeing it visually right in my face really made it come to life, and this is not something I ever want to see live again!

There was quite a bit to do and I was pleased to see that much of it was a hands on type of learning. The auditorium played a movie that told about the history of racism and the battles all the way up to the days of segregation. The room was set up very nice. Then there were a couple of rooms that had information, one about the history and the fight itself, and the other about the impact that Brown Vs. Board had and actually still has today. There is also another room for reflection where you can share the impact the museum had on you. You can leave a recording, memo, note, drawing or message on a board. There is also African-American art on display.

The "Education and Justice" center had the most powerful impact though. You come in and first study about the case. Here is Gess watching a clip about it, behind her you can see some of the hatred captured from that day.

And here she is doing an interactive type of activity in which she has to think about what it would be like if she were one of the children not allowed to do the same things as everyone else.

Then, in order to get to the other side of this room you have to walk through the "Hall of Courage." This had to be the most intense, powerful thing I have ever experienced. In this hall are videos of actual footage of African-American individuals who dared to walk into a "white" school. The things the people were shouting at them were horrible and the images were frightening as some of them were actually accosted and beaten. The walls are lined up with this footage and you must walk through it to get to the other side. Still, this is only a sense of what they felt. These people were young, and yet so brave! At the end of the hall is a picture of one of those brave individuals, Elizabeth Eckford, aged 15, is pictured as she was trying to attend Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, on the first day of classes, September 4, 1957. Here is Gess walking through the Hall of Courage. You can see the photo of Elizabeth in the background.

In the hall about the legacy of Brown Vs. Board you find information about other fights of injustice. There is one that hit home with us. Here is Gess in front of the poster with a quote by Justin Dart Jr., the father of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The quote reads:

“Envision education for all! Envision health care, jobs and communities for all! We are not going to be second-class citizens any more. We will live free and equal in our communities. We envision respect, dignity and life for all! We will fight to the end of time for equal access to the American dream!”
Justin Dart, Jr., father of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act

To learn more about this great historical site you can visit the Brown Foundation Website. There you can learn more about the case, take a virtual tour of the site, and much more. This site, or others like it across the country is something that every American should see.


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