Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Maker Faire Orlando 2015

Our family attended both days of the Maker Faire Orlando this year. The first time we went to a Maker Faire it was many years ago and held in a rented space in a strip mall in Durham, NC. That was where we were first introduced to a 3-D printer and we were amazed by the little 2-inch creations. 3D printing technology and Maker Faire have come a long way since then - both bigger and better.
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3D printed sculpture and vase
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tabletop 3D printer with product and man-sized floor model in the background
There were several opportunities for hands-on "making" during this years Maker Faire at the Orlando Science Center. The kid's each had an opportunity to screen-print a shirt. (Watch video of Elisabeth making her shirt.) My husband was happy that we all were introduced to soldering while making our own little blinky-eyed maker pins. While, there were many tech-makers represented, there were almost as many crafty makers and vendors there as well. Elisabeth was able to sample the pottery making with Super Awesome Cool Pottery and did a simple looming craft that really piqued her interest.
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Soldering workshop at Maker Faire Orlando 2015
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Jonah screen-printing a shirt
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Shirts screen-printed at Maker Faire Orlando 2015
There were lots of interesting things to see as well. My son has been obsessed with dinosaurs since this summer's release of Jurassic World. So we absolutely had to go check out the visiting baby ankylosaurus. (Video link here) It's amazing how well the actor made him seem like a puppy; it reminded us of the Ankylosaur in the Disney's Dinosaur movie.
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Jonah "feeding" the ankylosaur
R2D2 Robot by R2-D2 Builders Club
One highlight of the Maker Faire was getting to see one of large combat robots from the most recent season of BattleBots - Witch Doctor.  Saturday's Maker Faire attractions included a contests between smaller combat bots. We only stayed for one match but it was exciting.  Watch it here!
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Witch Doctor from Battlebots @ Maker Faire Orlando 2015
We also attended the Tesla Coil show. I didn't really know what to expect and it turned out to be the highlight of our second day at the Maker Faire. There were Tesla coils of various sizes demonstrated for the audience. Watch our video of the small coil making electricity to Star Wars music and then watch the Big Tesla Coil create larger lightning bolts in the auditorium.

Another well attended attraction was the Human Powered Snow Cone maker. There were more kids than adults in the line but anyone can make a snow cone on the giant hamster wheel. (Watch Elisabeth and Jonah make theirs.)
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The kids enjoying the snow cones they made at Maker Faire Orlando 2015

Thursday, September 24, 2015

How to Get Started Homeschooling a Kindergartener

English: Source: http://historyproject.ucdavis...
English: Source: Public Domain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Occasionally, I get questions about how to get started homeschooling. I recently took the time to write out a response to someone asking specifically about curriculum for Kindergarteners and thought I would share my thoughts here. My experience in homeschooling is limited to elementary grades at this point. But, since I do have a 2nd and 3rd grader who have only been homeschooled, I can speak from a certain amount of experience and, as such, I can at least offer some suggestions.

One big thing to keep in mind is that there is an extremely broad range of homeschool approaches from A) a total dedication to unschooling or child-lead learning to B) bringing an entire classroom home complete with lesson plans and chalkboards. There is a very large gap in between and I fall somewhere toward the middle. I consider my teaching style eclectic. Some people have more of a Charlotte Mason style while others do Unit Studies (I love Unit Studies but they can be a lot of work for mom). 

Being eclectic means that I pull from a lot of different methods doing things very free form. I will switch things up as opportunities present themselves or topics of interest come up. But I also have things that I can pull off the shelf and continue on from where we left off last time (like our Math curriculum or First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind). Other homeschooling parents are much more scheduled and make plans for the whole year. I have a general idea of where I want to go and I don’t always follow the straightest path in getting there. But I like it that way. The freedom and flexibility of schedule and topics in my opinion is the best thing about homeschooling. A lack of confidence by the parent is one of the biggest hindrances to homeschooling. So if this bit of advice helps break through that barrier, then I have accomplished my goal in sharing! When I started out, I was very unsure of myself. Now, I can’t imagine not homeschooling my kids. Often, I am learning along with them and, for the most part, we have fun in the process.

So, if you have one or more little ones at home and you are considering homeschooling, here are some curriculum suggestions that have worked for us.

When it comes to Kindergarten and 1st grade, I recommend focusing on reading and writing and simple number recognition and counting.

I personally found the idea of teaching my child to read a little intimidating because I think English is very illogical. A friend recommended “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 easy lessons” to me and I ended up teaching both my son and my daughter to read using this curriculum. It is great because everything is written out verbatim - what you say and what the student is to do.

One thing all parent-teachers should keep in mind regardless of the subject is that every child is different and has different aptitudes and preferences. My now 9 year old son has to be encouraged to read 2 chapters in a chapter book where as my 7 year old daughter reads two chapter books a day and has read Heidi and the Secret Garden. My son can and does read but he prefers perusing nonfiction books.

Upon overhearing a conversation about Uncovering the Logic of English: A Common-Sense Approach to Reading, Spelling, and Literacy, I bought the book. I have been interested in getting the corresponding curriculum for some time, but I have put off diving into it because of the expense of the teaching materials. They do have a kindergarten (ages 4-7) curriculum called Foundations.
From the website: In Foundations students gain phonemic awareness, learn to read and write the 74 basic phonograms, and increase reading fluency through structured but playful activities. The innovative Rhythm of Handwriting™ method aids students in developing fluid handwriting. Step by step, students grow as readers, moving from phrases to sentences to paragraphs to books.
My kids can write and read already so I will opt for the Essentials curriculum if I choose to get this.

If you end up going with a curriculum like Foundations it has most of what you need as far as curriculum for a kindergarten/1st grader as handwriting is included. A math workbook from any local store to begin working through would make a good supplement.

It was apparent early on that my son was a lefty and the thought of teaching him to write caused me some consternation. When I shared this at a small homeschool conference that I attended a few years ago several folks recommended Handwriting Without Tears. After some research, I was sold and bought a workbook and teacher’s guide. It really did wonders and the funny thing is my lefty (may take his time but he) writes beautifully.

There are a lot of great math curriculums out there. But one shouldn’t feel the need to jump into a formal curriculum in Kindergarten. At first, I just picked up some Kindergarten workbooks here and there and we worked on learning to count and shapes. If your child is ready in 1st or second grade then a more formal math curriculum can be helpful. We use Singapore Math. I was intimidated by it at first but once we did a couple of lessons I found it very simple to follow and I saw how the teaching methodologies were much superior to the the ones I learned in grade school.

Some other popular curriculums include MathUSee, Math Mammoth, and Saxon Math.

This is key - especially at first. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself or your kids. Kindergarten should be fun. Get outside. Observe. Go to the library. Read to them - a lot. Play with them. Color with them. Talk with them. They are going to be learning for a long time and you potentially teaching them for equally as long, so start out slow and keep it light. And don’t feel like you have to make a classroom at home. Keep it super simple at first and go from there. And don't forget that your relationship is more important than anything else.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Homeschool Science: Plant Absorption

We picked up this book at the Science Center: Cool Biology Activities for Girls by Kristi Lew. Here are the components and result from her first experiment on plant absorption.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Maker Faire Inspired Weaving and Crocheting

cardboard loom
We attended Maker Faire Orlando at the Orlando Science Center last weekend. The kids saw a lot of cool crafts and tech during those two days. Events like this always inspire us to get creative. 

One of the activities that really got Elisabeth's attention was this very simple weaving project on a cardboard loom. 

So this week I took one of those lovely 50% off coupons from Michael's and bought her a ALEX Toys Craft Fashion Weaving Loom. She immediately set to work on her first creation. 

We'll see what she ends up making next. She has aspirations for a scarf and blanket. 

Her enthusiasm has rekindled my own interest in crocheting. I think I'm going to have to watch some videos or join a knitting club to get beyond the basic stitches though.
Showing off her completed project
Starting a new weave on her loom with my crocheting instruction book lying nearby

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Daddy is Teaching Computer Science

My husband recently told me he found a free computer science curriculum called CS Unplugged: Computer Science without a Computer. My response was, "Great! When are you going to teach us?" He is the computer programmer after all.

After dinner tonight, we started in with the first lesson. I enjoyed playing student; one of the biggest perks of homeschooling is how much I learn along with the kids. However, it us not often that daddy plays teacher.

I was very impressed with the first lesson and, as a result, I now get binary numbers. So far, the curriculum seems very straightforward. I could probably handle it, but don't tell my husband I said that. Nevertheless, it's good to know the instructor doesn't need to be a computer programmer or have a degree in computer science.