Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Review: Touch Typing, Critical Thinking and Programming Resources

Touch Typing

For many months, the kids have been working their way through the lessons and games at Free Typing Game. I just leave them to it but I should really watch them from time to time to make sure they are not developing bad habits that will be difficult to break later. I recently noticed that Josiah hits the "c" key with his forefinger. I have tried to convince him that this will cause him problems later but he is sceptical.

Critical Thinking

We are working through Anita Harnadek's Critical Thinking Book 1. It's sometimes interesting but often just slog. It is more removed from real life than I expected. Before we started, I thought we would be looking at real pieces of writing and analysing them "critically". But a lot of the samples of writing used for analysis are just nonsense: "Either you don't have five legs or you have five legs." Few of the examples are interesting. I am wondering whether we would get more out of the book if I purchase the Instruction/Answers Guide or whether that would be throwing good money after bad.

There are enough interesting new concepts to make it worth continuing with and we are only on chapter two: it looks like the later chapters might be more practical.


Three or four weeks ago, we began using an outstanding resource: Learn to Program by Chris Pine. Josiah and I began reading through it together and doing the activities but Josiah liked it so much that he continued in his spare time and is now chapters ahead of me. Tessa chose to read and do the work independently from the start and is also well ahead of me.

The writing style is a joy to read. The explanations are satisfyingly thorough and are straightforward to follow. The activities are fun and build on each other. The book is available for purchase in pdf format, which saves the cost of postage for people like us buying from overseas. I can't recommend this book highly enough.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Review: Latin and French Resources


We have one lesson to go in Latina Christiana! Studying Latin, even just for a year, has been a really good thing to do. It has been fun and has given us a fascinating introduction to some of the roots of the English language.

I recommend Latina Christiana which is yet another resource I learned about from The Well-Trained Mind. The lessons are straight-forward and the information interesting. We enjoyed the activities on English derivations most. Some of the Latin quotes for memorisation are boring (in my opinion) so we chose different quotes from the Internet. Josiah and Tessa rebelled against using recitation and writing to practice vocab so I wrote all our vocab on cards and we played Fish every week instead.

I plan to continue weekly Latin Fish games next term so we don't forget the vocab learned.


Rather than continue with Latin, we are going to replace it next term with French. We have chosen French because the 2009 World Youth Climbing Championship will take place in France, and Josiah hopes to try out for the NZ national team. There are no guarantees he will make it onto the team of course but just the possibility seems enough reason to learn some French It has often frustrated me that I don't know how to pronounce the odd French phrase in books so I am looking forward to getting started. I learned a little French when I was an exchange student in Germany many years ago but I can't remember a word of it

I have ordered Hugo French in Three Months with CD. It is aimed at adults and from my previous experience of Hugo Spanish in Three Months I know it will not be ideal for the kids: I will have to modify the lessons. But the popular language courses for children, Rosetta Stone and Power-Glide, cost about three times the price of Hugo and from studying their websites, I am not at all convinced they are superior.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Review: History Resources

Our main history resource is another book recommended in The Well-Trained Mind: The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia. As we read it, we each choose details to note on our timeline. I love it; I am learning so much. The kids also borrow Horrible Histories books and magazines from the library on whatever period we are reading about in the Kingfisher Encyclopedia. When they are especially interested in a period, we take a break from the Kingfisher Encyclopedia to spend time reading books and doing activities related to that period.

The literature I choose for reading aloud is often chosen to connect with the period of history we are studying. This idea is straight out of The Well-Trained Mind and many of the books I choose come from lists in The Well-Trained Mind. We are currently studying the 1600s so have been reading Don Quixote and The Three Musketeers.

I think it could take us all of next year to finish the Kingfisher Encyclopedia because as we get to modern times I imagine there will be a lot the kids want to investigate more deeply.

I can't remember what resources The Well-Trained Mind suggests for high school history but I know what I'd like to do: I'd like to read aloud some of the excellent history books for adults I've come across:

Perhaps not a rigorous high school history course, just to read books like those and discuss them, but so interesting!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Review: Science Resources

We are currently reading How the Body Works and doing some of the many experiments suggested. I really like the How it Works and The Way it Works books by Readers Digest and DK, which are recommended in The Well-Trained Mind. I wish I'd discovered them earlier as some of what is covered in these books, my children have already learned from other sources. Tessa lost interest in How Nature Works because of that so we left off part way through the book.

How the Body Works has enough detail new to us to keep us interested. When we've finished it, I think I will preview the other How it Works books we own (How Nature Works and The Way Science Works - which is mostly Physics) and a similar book on volcanoes, mark the pages that cover topics Tessa and Josiah are unfamiliar with, then work through just those pages with the children.

After that (next year, I suppose), Real Science 4 Kids: Chemistry II, which I have already purchased.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Review: Maths Resources

Last day of term today; a good time for a general review. Our schedule has not been working well for the last few weeks but I'm going to start with a review of the resources we are currently using ...



Working through the Montessori Research and Development manuals. I modify the sequence a lot to suit Josiah: there's a lot of repetition that he would hate, and some concepts are only partially explained. Josiah gets annoyed when I present him with a maths rule without offering him a proof, or at least a good explanation of why it works. But I am not at all tempted to switch to a different maths curriculum: Montessori Research and Development's partial explanations of why things work are more than I've seen in any other maths curriculum or text book. I have been using the Internet successfully to fill the gaps in presentations.

We have just finished Elementary Maths Volume III, which concludes with calculating square roots. Not sure whether to go to Elementary Maths Volume IV next or finish Elementary Geometry Volume III, which we did some work from earlier this year but didn't complete (if I remember rightly). Might show Josiah the contents pages of each and let him choose.


Tessa asked to be introduced to algebra, so that is what she has been working on for the last couple of months. We started with some activities invented by a Montessori teacher, which I read about on the Internet years ago and now can't find again. The activities use two identical, small trays with the "=" sign on a card in between them. For the first activity, on the right-hand tray there is a number of counters, and on the left-hand tray, an empty container representing "x" the unknown quantity, and a number of counters. The teacher explains that the two trays contain equal quantities and must remain equal. Therefore if we take away a number of counters from one tray, we must take away the same quantity from the other. This means that we can find out what quantity the empty container represents by taking away the counters from that tray and taking the same number of counters away from the other tray.

There are similar activities to demonstrate how to solve algebra problems with subtraction, negative numbers, multiplication and division. Tessa had fun with those and is now comfortable solving problems abstractly on paper.

Next I made up my own activity to demonstrate that the unknown quantities in algebraic equations can represent real things.

Since then, we have been working through the algebra chapters in Alpha Mathematics. This text book is aimed at kids two years older than Tessa, who have more familiarity with numbers and operations than Tess. But she is doing really well, working everything out.

We could continue, but it is probably a better idea to move to something different at the start of next term. I'd like to give Tessa a refresher course on the checkerboard. Then work through my "division by a two digit divisor" activities. That would take us to the end of the year.

Every week, I write up a sheet of maths practice problems for each child so that they get enough practice at new concepts to cement them in memory. I try to vary things to keep it fun and challenging.

Both kids have begun recording new maths concepts, with explanations, examples and notes on how to perform operations, in a notebook. The geometry notebooks the kids produced while working through Montessori Research and Development's Elementary Geometry Volume II were such lovely reference books that I thought it would be worth doing for maths too.

I'll post on other subjects over the next few days.