Finishing Strong #118: Math, Science & Project Based Learning

Finishing Strong is the place for families who are homeschooling middle & high school kids to meet up in order to share tips, encouragement, advice, and more. We know it can be stressful homeschooling teens, which is why we’ve built this community.

Finishing Strong is hosted each Wednesday here at EvaVarga along with my friends – Heather from Blog She Wrote, Megan and Susan from Education Possible, and Heidi from Starts at Eight.

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Featured this week is German chemist Robert Wilhelm Eberhard von Bunsen who was born on March 31st. He is best know for engineering a burner with a hot, sootless, non-luminous flame by mixing the gas with air in a controlled fashion before combustion. Bunsen burners are now used in laboratories all around the world.

bunsen burner

Find more STEAM biographies with accompanying hands-on activities in my series, Science Milestones.

We hope you’ll take some time to check out the amazing posts that have been shared with us. We are so thankful to all of our readers and contributors who help make Finishing Strong a key resource for everyone homeschooling through the middle & high school years.


High School MathThe most clicked on post shared last week was Heidi’s How I Teach Homeschool Math at Starts at Eight.

“altEarning Credits with a Project Based High School, shared by Heather from Blog She Wrote was one of my favorite this past week. “Often as our children get older, we think their time is better spent doing more traditional academic work. Fight the urge to regard project time as less important!

You might also like Independent Study Projects: Learning Science While Exploring Interests

Robotics in Your HomeschoolMy son has dabbled a little with robotics through his experience with FIRST Lego League earlier this year. It is a fascinating subject area that can be integrated into many content areas. I’ve thereby selected Marci’s post, Robotics in Your Homeschool as another favorite shared this past week.

Writing & RhetoricI would also like to highlight Writing & Rhetoric Curriculum Review posted at Freely Learned. I was previously unfamiliar with this curriculum and am intrigued to learn more.


As always, thank you for helping us to make Finishing Strong a key resource for families who are homeschooling through the middle & high school years.

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Independent Study Projects: Learning Science While Exploring Interests

Science is about learning and solving problems. Ask a question, research, collect data, analyze the data, and communicate the results. As students engage in independent study projects, they are doing exactly that.

There is no limit to what types of projects students can explore. Students can choose to write original music, design a hybrid car, create lessons to teach others computer programing or coding, knit a sweater, research how other cultures define beauty, and more.

independentstudyEven my daughter, who in the past has chosen fly tying as her independent project. Along the way, she found instructional books or videos, followed instructions, made mistakes, diagnosed the problem, and tried again. These strategies are the cornerstone of science.

By giving students time to learn what they want to learn, you give them a chance to experience what adults are expected to do every day at the workplace or at home. They discover that learning for the sake of learning is a wonderful experience that should be enjoyed as they head out into the real world.

These real-life learning experiences give students (and teachers) the time they need to be innovative, and it makes learning as enjoyable as it should be.

Where Do We Start?

Ask students what they would like to learn about. Some students may be overwhelmed with possibilities and take a few weeks to decide. Others will change their minds after a little research. But with guidance and encouragement, students can identify a topic that interests them.

Once they’ve chosen their topic, students then set a goal, make a plan, and choose a method of documenting their plan, research, and progress. Some will blog or keep a notebook, while others prefer to track their progress with a Pages or Word document.

How Do We Stay Focused?

To assure students stay focused, a few simple rules can help:

  • Your project must involve new learning
  • Your project must be safe
  • You should be able work on your project at least once each week
  • You should document learning while working on your project
  • You should plan to spend the whole year working on your project
  • You will give two presentations on your project – one at the end of each semester

passionprojectIn our homeschool, we set aside time each Friday for independent study projects. However, they often work on their projects throughout the week. At times, it is even difficult to pull my son away from his projects to get other tasks completed. I can’t blame him. Who wants to take out the trash when you are focused on weaving a 12-plaited paracord bullwhip ?! {click the link to watch a video}

We also provide the kids with an opportunity to share with us the progress they are making during our monthly Family Five Share. They are expected to share examples in at least five areas: reading, writing, handcraft, music, and memory work.

Build Life Long Skills

Independent study projects also provide students with opportunities to connect with others – to learn from their peers and from adult mentors. Through my daughter’s interest in fly tying, she developed relationships with other fly tiers who took her under their wing (pun intended).

In some circles, independent study projects are referred to as The Passion Project or Genius Hour. Google allows it’s engineers to spend 20% of their time to work on any pet project that they want and thus they use the term 20-Time Projects. Whatever you choose to call them .. get started today. You will love the autonomy that students develop through discovering their passions.

 Our goal as educators should be to create lifelong learners.  Independent study projects are a huge step towards that goal.

Myths & Legends: A Middle School Unit Study

I recently sat down with my daughter to discover what subjects she wanted to study. Greek and Norse Mythology were at the top of her list. I was not surprised. For the past few months, my middle school aged daughter has been fascinated with thePercy Jackson series. I thereby was not surprised that she used the Barnes & Noble gift card she received for Christmas to purchase the boxed set.

mythslegendsTeaching mythology in middle school and high school is a great way to get students interested in reading, writing, and researching ancient history. With the recent popularity of Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan as well as Harry Potter and The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, it has never been easier to capture their attention.

Getting Started with Myths & Legends

Using the book Myths & Legends from DK Publishing as a spine for this unit, I began to gather materials and projects to engage her in a self-guided unit study.  {Many thanks to DK Publishing for providing the book to us for review. Please see my full Disclosure Policy for more details.}

This book retells the stories central to every culture that have been passed down from generation to generation. Well known tales from the Ancient Greeks, as well as lesser-known, but richly colorful, myths of the Americas and the East are included.

What was most appealing about this book was how universal themes such as creation, heroic trials, tricksters’ tales, and death and the afterlife are compared across different cultures. The cultures featured are:

  • Classical Europe (Roman & Greek)
  • Northern, Western, and Eastern Europe
  • Asia
  • Africa
  • The Americas and Oceania

Myths & Legends Philatelic Exhibit

The past few months, my daughter has been utilizing her knowledge of myths & legends to put together a philatelic exhibit entitled, Mythology of the World. She has gathered a variety of philatelic material (postage stamps, first day covers, cancellation marks, as well as postcards and maximum cards) to create a visual story of of how myths & legends continue to captivate us today.

She has entered her project in both local and regional exhibitions and placed well considering how quickly she put it together. She is excited to use the Myths & Legends book from DK Publishing to expand her projects. Her vision is to improve on this one as well as create additional exhibits – one each for British, Greek, and Norse mythology. {A single frame exhibit, as shown below, typically has 16 pages (8 1/2 x 11″).}
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A philatelic exhibition is an exhibition of stamps and postal history where stamp collectors (philatelists) compete for medals. The displays are shown in glass frames, and the exhibition is normally accompanied by stamp dealer bourses and post office stands where stamps and other philatelic items may be purchased.

National Mythology Exam

During our research, we also learned of the National Mythology Exam (NME), the most prominent undertaking of Excellence Through Classics, a committee of the American Classical League dedicated to promoting and supporting the study of classics. This seemed like the perfect challenge for her and she was equally intrigued. She plans to take the exam in 2016.

For students in grades 6-9, the examination process consists of a basic 30-item exam, 10 questions on the theme (Theseus), and at least one 10-item literary sub-test of the student’s choice of the following:

  • Iliad
  • Odyssey
  • Aeneid
  • Native American tales
  • African tales
  • Norse Mythology

Homeschooled students are welcome to take the NME. Parents are expected to serve as proctors of the exam, following the same procedures lined out for regular classroom teachers.

The National Mythology Exam website also provides suggestions for texts and resources.

Myths & Legends Unit Resources

In preparation for the NME, I will continue to gather materials and resources for her. We’ve begun to discuss additional projects and activities to help her in her quest.

Some teachers use mythology as a stand-alone unit; other teachers have entire, year-long courses dedicated to the study of myths and legends from around the world. No matter how you choose to teach myths and legends, you’re bound to find some helpful resources here.

  • Greek Mythology – This website contains copies of the Greek stories as well as a wide variety of notes, worksheets, and activities
  • Ticia shares a fun scavenger hunt activity in her post, Greek Mythology Lesson
  • The Scholastic book Greek Mythology Activities includes a mock interview with a god or goddess, a reproducible board game, mapping activities, a read-aloud play, and lots more
  • Classical Mythology – This website provides an extensive list of activities and lessons for the study of mythology with middle school students

Real Life Learning Experiences: Geography & Science

Learning by doing is generally considered the most effective way to learn. The Internet and a variety of emerging communication, visualization, and simulation technologies now make it possible to offer students authentic learning experiences ranging from experimentation to real-world problem solving.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology mathematician Seymour Papert once said,

“We teach numbers, then algebra, then calculus, then physics. Wrong! Start with engineering, and from that abstract out physics, and from that abstract out ideas of calculus, and eventually separate off pure mathematics. So much better to have the first-grade kid or kindergarten kid doing engineering and leave it to the older ones to do pure mathematics than to do it the other way around.”

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This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy.

Everybody is motivated by challenge and solving problems. Project-based learning gives everybody a chance to sort of mimic what scientists do, and that’s exciting. Better still, it’s fun if it’s done well.

Geography

While classroom experience is necessary to learn the foundational skills, nothing beats real life experience gained through travel and simply being open to opportunities. In real life, we don’t spend several hours at a time listening to authorities who know more than we do and who tell us exactly what to do and how to do it. We ask questions of a person we’re learning from. We link what the person is telling us with what we already know. We bring what we already know and the experiences we’ve had that are relevant to the topic to the front of our minds.

Students can be engaged in identifying, researching and graphically representing different types of “resources” in their own neighborhoods to create a Community Resource Map. 

  • Where is the library? Where are the parks? Where are various types of businesses?
  • What services are offered at these sites?
  • How can families access them?
  • Where should the neighborhood prioritize building new resources?

Students can also create a directory or a documentary style video. Through these real life learning experiences, students learn research and communications skills, graphics, and computer skills as they create an actual map of their neighborhood.

Additionally, students can develop skills in surveying, geographical information systems (GIS), aerial photography and satellite digital image manipulation; digital mapping, and geographic positioning system (GPS) topographic data.

The process of creating a community map can also help students to identify areas of need. Roots & Shoots utilizes this model for their service learning programs.

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One of our favorite hands-on activities is to Create a Geography Picture Dictionary.  As a special travel keepsake, target the illustrations to the region you visit.

Another great hands-on activity is to build your own 3-dimensional topographical map.

When we travel, we engage the kids in using maps to aide in identifying natural landmarks. Read of our experience in discovering the Geology & Geography of the Galapagos.

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Sciences

Like geography, the sciences are a natural first for real life, project based learning. Students can utilize scientific principles and methods to conduct research and develop solutions to medical, forensic, and environmental issues that impact our community.

In a CSI/Criminal Forensics Lab, high school students can explore issues in medical science and human anatomy/physiology through their involvement in scientific research projects, and would investigate how a healthy body functions and how it reacts to disease.

Students could investigate the inner workings of the human mind on the chemical level. Why people behave in certain ways? What factors influence behavior? How is behavior controlled, changed and modified?

Students can use investigative science techniques to solve intriguing problems involving the law. Students would use scientific evidence to paint a picture of what happened in the past. DNA, fingerprinting, physical evidence analysis, scene reconstruction, and biotechnology are some of the techniques that would be introduced.

Students could conduct field research to develop an awareness of the impact of human activities on the environment. The data collected could be used to design and produce environmentally friendly products, solve problems and investigate policies that ensure sustainability and stewardship of the Earth’s resources.

lifelearingscienceMiddle school students may enjoy a Theme Park Project whereby students are required to:

  • Decide on a theme for a new amusement park
  • Design a physical layout
  • Design four rides/attractions and create models of them
  • Determine an initial business plan
  • Create marketing materials to attract the chosen demographic

Real Life Learning is Interdisciplinary

Real life learning allows students to practice thinking across disciplines in organic, natural ways similar to what will be expected of them once they leave their formal education. Because projects reflect real-world challenges and unknowns, students work within a complex environment. They must be able to solve problems and refine their strategies.

Real life projects integrate various content areas and instructional methods and require students to plan their tasks in advance, sequence their work, check their progress. Most projects involve collaborative and group learning scenarios which reflect the demands of the modern workplace. In the end, students celebrate and demonstrate their learning with an exhibition or performance.

My kids are engaged in a long-term project to study the impact of invasive turtles in our local area. Utilizing Google maps, they have begun to create an interactive map to illustrate the locations where native turtles and non-native, invasive turtles have been found. They are also working alongside resource specialists and connecting with community leaders.

These real life learning opportunities enable students to learn how planning, literacy and math skills are foundational in all curricular areas as they put together and present community development proposals.

Real Life Learning Resources

reallifeFor more resources and Ideas for Real Life Learning, visit the iHomeschool Network.

 

Spark Interest in Geography with The Passport Club

This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy.

We have been really enjoying our new textbook, North Star Geography. As we have begun formal geography lessons the kids inquired if we couldn’t also resume the geography co-cop as we had done when they were younger.

passportclubThe Passport Club

As I began to gather materials, I discovered The Passport Club, a geography program designed to encourage students to learn some or all of the names of the world’s countries. It was first developed as an enrichment program for schools to encourage parent involvement.

The Passport Club program is operated by Chris and Bob Manning, with the goal of giving teachers and parent volunteers the tools and guidance to develop geographic literacy and a curiosity about the world within their students.

“What a wonderful way for us to learn about the world. This could easily be integrated into our geography co-op,” I thought to myself.

I am delighted to now share how we have begun to use the The Passport Club program in conjunction with the North Star Geography curriculum.

How Does The Passport Club Work?

Each student is issued a Passport Book that lists the countries or locations to be learned each month of the school year. The passports are the same for all grades and students. There are five levels for each month and the student can decide how many levels she wishes to study. Note that the levels are inclusive: if a student wants to study at level three, she needs to study levels one and two also.

Each month the student receives a copy of a world outline map as well as a regional outline map marked with the locations assigned for the month. Over the course of the month, the students study the locations assigned for the month in whichever way they feel comfortable.

Every hardback purchase of North Star Geography from Bright Ideas Press includes a free Companion Guide that includes reproducible outline and reference maps that are perfect for The Passport Club as well as many note-taking pages and graphic organizers.

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As a Brand Ambassador for Bright Ideas Press we have received a complimentary copy of North Star Geography in exchange for our honest insights about how this program is working in real life with our family.

The optional WonderMaps, also available from Bright Ideas Press, is a customizable collection of over 350 different maps.

The International Luncheon

The Passport Club is designed as an after school enrichment program but it can be easily adapted for home educators. In a homeschool setting, an International Luncheon – with food and presentations from each participating family – can be planned as a culminating celebration each month.

Families are encouraged to engage in Independent Study projects each month – a lapbook, a dance, a costume, a regional recipe, a 3-dimensional map, a poster of an animal in its native habitat, or a short presentation about the country. These projects could then be displayed at the International Luncheon and students can be given an opportunity to present what they have learned.

Families are also encouraged to bring a dish to share from one of the countries. Alternatively, one country could be assigned each month for a more focused study.

Checking Passports

Upon arrival at the International Luncheon each participating student comes to the Passport Check Table for 5-10 minutes, bringing their passports with them.

Starting at level one, the checker (a parent or teen volunteer) asks the students individually if they studied the level, and if so, to point out each location on an unlabeled map. The students must pass a level in order to go on to the next one.

Tips :: In kindergarten and first grade, the students are coached through level one, so that they all pass level one.  

If the student passes any levels, they then take their passport to the Stamp Desk. There they can pick a “stamp” for each level they passed, and it is pasted onto the Visa side of their passport page.

The “stamp” images utilized in the The Passport Club program are photographs, flags, or other graphics from the countries assigned that month. Alternatively, an assortment of cancelled postage stamps can be utilized and provide additional avenues for study (though these would need to be obtained independently by each family).

thepassportclubWhere Can I Find the Passport Books?

Passport Books and “stamp” image pages are available for purchase from the The Passport Club website. You can also find book marks, inspirational posters, T-shirts, and more!

Where Can I Find Cancelled Postage Stamps?

You may be able to obtain free stamps from local philatelists or from the American Philatelic Society.  At local and regional philatelic shows, there are tables of cancelled postage stamps free for children.

I’ve written extensively about using postage stamps in education and have contributed a chapter to the Big Book of Homeschool Ideas titled How to Use Postage Stamps for Learning.  You may also be interested in my earlier post, Stamp Collecting and Exhibiting.

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Bottle Cap Mural Project – Part 1

In November each year, I coordinate an annual Art Show for our local homeschool community.  This past year, I wanted to undertake a long term project that would enable the homeschool students in our area to collaborate with one another and to make an impact on the greater community.  When I learned of bottle cap murals – I knew this was the perfect project.

See my previous posts here and here to learn how to easy it is to plan an art show for your homeschool community.

I am so excited to share this project with you, I couldn’t wait until we are finished. This mural project is an amazing example of how capable children are given the opportunity to express themselves in new and innovative ways. There were so many valuable steps involved; today I detail how the project got underway.muralproject

We began collecting bottle caps in the spring of last year and by the time school began in the fall, we had begun begging our friends and families to do the same. Each time we visited Grandma and Papa in Oregon, they’d have a plastic tub full of caps they had saved for us. We were even saving our caps while in South America and had everyone in our tour group doing the same.

Other families in our community did the same.  I am so proud of the families and students who collected thousands of bottle caps, caps that otherwise would have gone into the trash, to create this incredible mural.

I wanted to create a mural that reflected our local area but that was also relatively simple in design. I sketched a few ideas on paper, conferred with my kids, made a few modifications and eventually settled upon a design featuring Mt. Shasta, the Sacramento River, and the Sun Dial Bridge – three prominent landmarks in Northern California.

A week prior to the art show, my kiddos and I went to Home Depot and purchased the materials we would need to complete the project.  I had considered seeking donations from our local ACE Hardware but just never followed through.

  • 4′ x 4′ wood panels (which I asked to be cut in half only so it would fit inside my Honda Accord). Any size will work – depending upon the design.
  • Caulking (I purchased two kinds and haven’t yet determined which is best)
  • Paint (we used what we had on hand – acryllic)
  • Brushes

The next step was to transfer our template onto the wood panel and paint the background. Using a grid system, I quickly drew in the image with pencil and then recruited my own children to help me paint the background. Ideally, I would have liked all students to be involved in painting the mural but I elected to have the kids be involved only in adhering the bottle caps.

bottlecapproject

At that point, the mural is ready for caps. I thereby transported the mural to the library where the art show was taking place. I laid it upon an old picnic table cloth and set out the boxes of bottle caps (sorted by color) around the perimeter.

My children supervised the others in adhering the caps using the caulking gun.  At some point in the process, however, a few adults took over supervision and my own kids walked away to allow others an opportunity to get involved.

Some kids wanted us to leave it just as a painting because it looked so pretty.  To be honest, I was a little scared myself it wouldn’t look as good once we added the bottle caps.  Fortunately, that wasn’t the case.

 

I wasn’t able to supervise myself as I was involved with other details of the art show. In retrospect, I wish I had better explained the vision to the other adults because some cap colors were adhered to the board that didn’t match the background. I thereby spent some time scraping off these caps when I got home.

Sadly, we didn’t have enough bottle caps in the colors we needed (particularly purple and light blue). The board thereby is awaiting completion in the hallway of my home. When the board is finished, we will screw in the caps with screws to more securely mount them to the board.

Stay tuned for the conclusion of the bottle cap mural project when we donate the completed mural for display locally.