Sunday, November 29, 2009

what we do & how we do it

In the interest of full disclosure (I get uncomfortable with others thinking I have things figured out, when my life is very much a work in progress in every area) and on the off chance that someone might find it helpful, I'm going to share some of what is working for us, and especially, me as I try to plan what we do and what we hope to accomplish each week.

I have come to be a BIG, no, a HUGE fan of "open & go" curriculum. I do love the idea of planning creative things to teach every subject, every day, like games and songs and all that. But it wouldn't happen. Or if it did, it would last about a week and then I'd be drained of creativity for at least four months. Thus, the love of "open & go" type stuff. Here are the things we use that fall into that category:

Math U See (MUS)
I really really like Math U See. I didn't know what to choose for a math curriculum, and a friend was using this with her kids. I looked at her stuff, requested their free instructional DVD, and then decided to get it. I haven't regretted it. Noodle seems to pick up on the concepts we've done thus far without too much difficulty, and she doesn't always use the blocks much. But I really like the idea that the kids will have a concrete & tangible relationship with numbers and math. What makes Math U See open & go is that the DVDs teach the lesson for you, really, so we watch that together on Mondays, then I'll do more instruction if needed from the teacher's manual, and then we'll do some problems together on a white board so I can see if she is having trouble with the concepts. Because I know we will go over the DVD lesson first, I often don't even look through the teacher's manual until right before we are going to start. Nice. We do one chapter a week. Each lesson has 3 pages of practice (A,B,C) and three pages of cumulative review (D,E,F). We introduce the lesson on Monday (watch DVD and do page A on the white board), Noodle does pages B & D on Tuesday, C & E on Wednesday, no pages on Thursday unless she needs a bit more practice (in the future she will probably do some online drills on the MUS website) but we do flash cards, and test on Friday.

Just as an FYI, the materials for MUS are rather pricey (though I don't know how it compares to other programs, but it's pricey for me!), so this year we started doing the workbook pages with overhead transparency sheets and wet-erase markers. I clip them on to the top of the page with two small binder clips. I scan the tests in from the test booklet and print them off for our binders and to keep a record of the work done.

Writing With Ease (WWE)
We are doing the first book with Noodle right now, since we didn't really do any writing skills last year, and she came a bit late to the reading game. You could do the Writing With Ease approach on your own just using the textbook, but you would have to get your own paper and choose your own sentences for copywork. The Workbook has the questions and the paper and sentences all prepared. I almost opted to save the money and do my own passages and copywork, but I can definitely say it has been worth the money to use the workbook! Quick & painless. Plus, I had my workbook cut in two, spiral bound the instructor pages and scanned the student pages into the computer so I could print them out as needed and not have to buy them again for future kids. (They allow copying for use within the family.)

WWE has four lessons per week. We do them M-Th, taking Friday off. Each lesson takes less than 15 minutes to complete. I know some people double up and do a narration and a copywork each day, but for now I like the pace and the short lessons.

First Language Lessons (FLL)
This book is grammar for years one and two. We are still in the second half of year one because I didn't do as much as I should have last year. These are scripted so you don't have a lot of preparation to do. Occasionally there is something like a map to get or to make sure you have a pencil and paper for both student and teacher, but it is pretty quick. I look over the lesson(s) the night before and see if they are short enough that we'll do more than one and get anything I need ready. Takes less than 5 minutes to prepare. We do these lessons 4-5 times/week. Lessons are really brief, about 5-10 minutes each.

Story of the World
Lessons are written in story form. We do one chapter a week, typically on Tuesday and Thursday. Most chapters are split into two parts, so you could read one part on T and the next on Th, we usually just read everything on Tuesday because the kids like to listen to the stories. A workbook/activity book is also available, and I highly recommend it. The workbook has questions to ask, book suggestions for further reading, activity ideas,recipes, plus lots of maps and coloring pages. I did the same thing with this book as I did the WWE workbook -- split it in half, had the teacher part spiral bound and scanned in all the student pages. This is not quite open & go, but pretty good.

What I have been doing is planning out the entire 6 week term of history (& science) lessons before the term starts, and then going to the library and getting all the books I needed. (You can check things out for 3 weeks and renew once, so it worked okay). I've decided that is too many books to try and get on one trip (it was usually 40-60 books) so from now on I'm going to try and do three weeks (a half term) at a time. Though with Christmas break, we only have two weeks of full school before we break, so I'm just doing two weeks this time.

We have been doing one of the suggestions in The Well-Trained Mind. They recommend getting the Usborne First Encyclopedia of Our World and the Usborne First Encyclopedia of Space and using those as the backbone of a topical study. So I've been supplementing these two page spreads about topics with other books from the library, and, when available, Bill Nye and Magic School Bus episodes. I have found some books that went along with different units that had fun experiment ideas. I think this has been a decent exposure to the different topics, and the kids seem to enjoy it. I'd like to be able to do "fancier" stuff (I think I covet those experiment kits you can subscribe to), but I remind myself that we don't have to do everything all the time, and most elementary school science stuff is just fact-based. We do science on Monday and Wednesdays, finishing up on Fridays if necessary (it usually isn't). We do one topic per week, though I have lumped topics together from the book if I felt they went well together or were similar enough that I wouldn't want to spend a week on each individually. We do a "Science Notebook Page" about the topic, which means for Noodle that she usually draws the environment we learned about (Deserts, Grasslands, Rivers, Oceans, etc) and I write in some key facts.

Since we use the workbox system, I have found it helpful to try and plan out the "extras" that will be in the workbox during the week. Extras are non-typical things like books, videos, games, crafts, etc that I add to the usual mix of school stuff.

Here is what is in Noodle's workbox every day (click to enlarge):

Here is where I write down what additional things I want to do during the week:

Here is the planning sheet I use for both Science & History (two weeks fit on each page, or you could do Science on top/History on bottom). I use this page to write down the books and the call numbers from the library website before I go to the library so I can expedite my book finding once at the library. I have been doing these pages before the term, but now will do them both before the term and at mid-term:

I am working on incorporating more geography study and fine arts study into our curriculum. That is a work in progress. I'll update when I find an approach that works for us.

If you want doc files of either of the planning sheets, just let me know. They are not fancy, but nice to have. We went through a couple of iterations before I found something that had enough detail but left enough general space for stuff.

Oh, with Spud right now we are reading picture books, doing crafts or other activities, and he joins us for History and Science, as well as any geography and fine arts stuff. We use his workbox to put the picture book we'll read as well as any materials for the activity or craft, but he isn't in full-fledged workbox mode yet because he is "in preschool". (Which I've decided, for us, means "too young to have to do school unless they want to!")

So, that was probably much more detail than you could be interested in, but on the off chance that it would be helpful, it seemed worth sharing.

1 comment:

Whitney said...

Very, very helpful!
Thanks for posting this.