Finishing Strong: Integrating Geography & History Activities

Welcome to Finishing Strong ~ a weekly link-up dedicated to families homeschooling middle & high school kids. Each Wednesday, moms just like you share their best tips, encouragement, advice, and more for teaching older kids at home.Finishing-Strong-500x500

Finishing Strong is hosted by me here at EvaVarga along with my friends – Heather from Blog She Wrote, Megan and Susan from Education Possible, and Heidi from Starts at Eight. Each week, we collectively highlight the post that received the most clicks. We also choose a few posts that most appealed to us as individuals.

Be sure to join us next week as we reach a huge milestone. We’ll be celebrating our 100th edition of Finishing Strong with a fabulous $100 cash giveaway!


In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ben Stein famously plays a high school teacher who drones on about the 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act while his students slump at their desks in a collective stupor. For many kids, that’s history: an endless catalog of disconnected dates and names, passed down like scripture from the state textbook, seldom questioned and quickly forgotten.

Taught well, geography and history are fascinating topics and two that I love to teach. My favorite way to teach social studies is through travel. Nothing quite compares to seeing historic sites and walking in the footsteps of those who made history. These past couple of weeks, my family has been inundated with the history of our country as we’ve walked the Freedom Trail in Boston and talked with interpreters in Gettysburg and Philadelphia. I can’t wait to share it all with you.

Meet Historical Figures at a Living History Event @EvaVarga.net

I know it is not always feasible to travel, especially for large families. There are a variety of creative ways to enrich geography and history studies. One of my favorite approaches is through primary source documents – letters, interviews, etc. Providing students opportunities to research historical figures and develop an engaging presentation they deliver in first person, brings history to life.


The most clicked-on post was An Inside Look at Our 2016-17 Homeschool Plans by Sara at Classically Homeschooling. It’s always fun to take a peak into the decisions and choices other families have made. Often we find inspiration in new curriculum materials and approaches to educating our children at home.

finishingstrong-geohistory

My favorite posts this past week focus on activities to inspire you to integrate geography and history into your curriculum.

A Cemetery Scavenger Hunt Makes a Great History Lesson shared by Cindy at Our Journey Westward. What better way to dig in to the history of your community than to learn more about the actual lives of the people who have made your town their home?

Amber Oliver’s How to Teach High School Geography at Bright Ideas Press. I love her statement, “While it is indeed impossible to learn all there is to know about this planet, its territories, and its people in just one course, it is quite manageable to give your child a good look at this world we live in from the comfort of your own home.”

One of the things I love best about traveling is sampling the wonderful regional dishes and local favorites. It is a fabulous way to learn about history and geography. I’ve selected Teaching Kids to Cook: Epcot Food & Wine by Megan at Education Possible because it provides a great example of how families can integrate these cultural experiences at home.

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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.

What are you going to share with us this week?

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Develop Your Student’s Science Inquiry Skills with BirdSleuth

When we lived in California we had a tropical bird-of-paradise in our yard. While it was not a native flower, we could agree that it was extravagant. When we traveled to Peru, we enjoyed a nature walk at the Inkaterra Hotel in Machu Picchu where we observed over 100 different native orchid species in their natural habitat.

Tropical species provide an interesting point of discussion in the classroom, sparking questions such as: “Why are our local flowers different?” or “What characteristics do the wildflowers we find here in North America share with tropical species?” These questions offer a perfect springboard into science inquiry.

inquiry-skills-birdsleuthWhat is Science Inquiry?

When most people think of science class, they picture classrooms of students all engaged in the same canned activity, following a scripted set of procedures that lead to a predictable outcome. Inquiry based science education is much more. Inquiry science engages kids in inquiry-based science lessons provides them with a way to explore on their own. It removes the teacher as somebody who is providing them with information that they need to memorize. Instead, the kids are experiencing, discovering, and developing their inquiry skills as they go. That is what real scientists do.

Although inquiry based instruction has been written about for decades, it is not widely used in science classrooms. Open inquiry, in particular, is often thought to be difficult to use in the classroom. Perhaps one explanation for this is the perceived difficulty in moving students toward the development of experimental questions.

Scientific inquiry also refers to the activities through which students develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas, as well as an understanding of how scientists study the natural world.

Many home educators have experience in leading their children through guided nature studies and observations. Keeping a nature journal is a popular pastime amongst many.  When we take a group of kids outside, however, you will quickly observe that the majority of their questions are reference questions. Questions they can answer relatively easily with experience identifying and using reliable sources.

If your goal is for students to generate questions that inspire investigations, then you need to be able to guide learners into reframing their questions. The Integrating Inquiry for Educators: Developing Student Science Practices online course is a wonderful guide designed to help you – the educator – do just that.

integrating-science-inquiryScience Inquiry Skills for Educators

If you wish to go further with inquiry and citizen science, I strongly recommend Cornell University’s BirdSleuth online course Integrating Inquiry for Educators. They have designed this self-paced course to help educators explore the process of science inquiry and investigation, especially as inspired by outdoor observations and citizen-science participation.

I was provided free access to this course in exchange for an honest review. Having completed the course, I would gladly have paid three times the course fee of just $49. I was very happy with the design of the course as well as how the material was delivered. The course text (eBook option is FREE), videos, assigned NSTA reading materials, case studies, interactive quizzes, and the application assignments were all nicely balanced.

The online course both challenged and piqued my interest in science inquiry. I am now – more than before – looking forward to engaging my kids in a inquiry based science explorations in the years to come.

You can also elect to earn two optional Continuing Education Units (CEUs) if you successfully complete the course. All online materials will be available to you for six months following your enrollment.

Whether you choose to enroll or not, you can support student inquiry by taking the opportunity to download their free Investigating Evidence lessons which will guide you towards supporting scientific questions through citizen science. To accompany these lessons, they have also compiled an extensive list of resources including power points and videos.

Enroll Today

Publish Student Work

In addition to the course materials and other online resources, their annual publication BirdSleuth Investigator provides students with an opportunity to share their research. You will find rich pieces of work done by students in grades K-12 throughout the country. Written by and for students, is also beautifully illustrated by youth.

The goal with BirdSleuth Investigator is to encourage students to pursue their scientific interests through inquiry and investigation by showing them that their hard work can get published. They accept bird-related submissions from all students. Submissions can take the form of artwork, poetry, or scientific reports; anything that a student has truly put effort into has the potential to get published.

To share your students’ projects with us, submit them here. Students certainly feel rewarded for their hard work when they find their work in a published journal! Read the submission guidelines for more details.

Global Youth Service Day: What Will You Do?

Volunteering is an opportunity to change lives, including your own.  It is generally considered an altruistic activity and is intended to promote goodness or improve human quality of life. In return, volunteering can produce a feeling of self-worth and respect. There are many volunteer opportunities for kids of all ages – playing with kittens at the local humane society, serving meals at the local rescue mission, or picking up trash in a neighborhood park.youthserviceday

Research has shown that students who participated in service-learning were found to have scored higher than non-participating students in several studies, particularly in social studies and language arts. They were found to be more cognitively engaged and more motivated to learn. Service-learning has also been shown to increase achievement among alternative school students and other students considered at risk of school failure.

Service learning has always been a major part of our homeschool journey. Today, I share a variety of ways in which you can encourage your teens and pre-teens to get involved.

Global Youth Service Day

The 2016 Global Youth Service Day is April 15-17. Many youth organizations hold events in conjunction with Global Youth Service Day, so the month of April is full of service and awareness opportunities that you can celebrate as part of Global Youth Service Day. Choose a cause and an idea from the list of ideas below or come up with your own. Your project can count towards as many of these events as you want.
Earth Day

Service to the Environment

2016 marks the 12th annual National Environmental Education Week (EE Week) which will be celebrated April 17-23, 2016. EE Week events and projects will be taking place across the country in classrooms, after-school clubs, parks, aquariums, museums, and more. Families and educators of all kinds, teaching any age, are encouraged to take part in the nationwide celebration.

It’s Our Turn to Lead: Earth Day ~ Earth Day celebrations bring to light the fact that this planet’s resources are finite and will not last forever. Earth Day is April 22 this year, learn more today.

Plant a school vegetable or pollinator garden. Designating a small patch of the yard for some native flowering plants is a great way to attract pollinating insects to your home or school.

Celebrate Arbor Day All Year with These 12 Activities ~ The Arbor Day Foundation inspires people to plant, nurture, and celebrate trees.

Create a Bottle Cap Mural ~ A long term project that promotes recycling and provides an opportunity to give back to the community.

Don't ReleaseDon’t Let it Loose ~ Educate your community about the dangers of invasive species, for example, Saving the Native Pond Turtle.

Annual Ladybug Hunt ~ A citizen science project asking people of all ages to collect data on ladybugs in their local area.

Contact a local recycling center to see if someone can give a guest presentation about how different materials are recycled and the processes that take place at the facility.

Take part in the World Water Monitoring Challenge ~ In this citizen science project, students learn more about the watersheds in which they live, how watersheds work, and how protecting their waters can have beneficial impacts.

You can also find a variety of teaching materials and educator toolkits on the National Environmental Education Foundation website.

Service to Our Communities

He Had a Dream: The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King ~ Each year, people across the country come together to honor Dr. Martin Luther King’s life and legacy by serving their communities.

Is there a cause dear to your heart? Think of a project or fundraising campaign to help teach others. In our home, we join the Nystagmus Network on Wobbly Wednesday to raise awareness and research funds for Nystagmus.

Habitat For Humanity Act! Speak! Build! Week ~ Building alone cannot provide shelter for the 1.6 billion people who currently live in poverty housing. Act! Speak! Build! Week serves to educate others by expanding the scope of Habitat’s mission from raising a hammer and raising funds to include raising your voice.

servicelearningService Learning Through Roots & Shoots ~ Roots & Shoots is the youth-led community action and learning program of the Jane Goodall Institute. Each year, youth collaborate to make a difference for animals, the environment, and their local communities.

Looking for a way to help kids in your community? Host your very own Bake Sale for No Kid Hungry.

Roots & Shoots Turns Learners into Leaders ~ Roots & Shoots places the power and responsibility for creating community-based solutions to big challenges in the hands of the young people.

Volunteer Opportunities for Kids

Volunteer Opportunities for Kids @EvaVarga.netVolunteering is an opportunity to change lives, including your own.  It is generally considered an altruistic activity and is intended to promote goodness or improve human quality of life. In return, this activity can produce a feeling of self-worth and respect.

As a family, we have made volunteering and service learning a major component of our homeschool. Over the years, we have had opportunities to volunteer in a variety of ways. I’d like to share some of those experiences with you in hopes of inspiring you to seek out volunteer opportunities for kids in your local community.

Roots & Shoots

My children and I have been active in Roots & Shoots since they were toddlers. Roots & Shoots is a youth-led community action and learning program of the Jane Goodall Institute. The program builds on the legacy and vision of Dr. Jane Goodall to place the power and responsibility for creating community-based solutions to big challenges in the hands of the young people. They are encouraged to work towards three goals: Care & Concern for the Environment, Care & Concern for Animals, and Care & Concern for the Community.

One of the things I love about Roots & Shoots is the flexibility. Through the program, young people map their community to identify specific challenges their neighborhoods face.  From there, they prioritize the problems, develop a plan for a solution, and take action.

Volunteer Opportunities for Kids @EvaVarga.netWe were recently interviewed for a local magazine about our volunteer efforts with Roots & Shoots. My kids loved talking with the reporter about their projects – each sharing what was in their heart and how they have been inspired to do locally.

My son shared his passion for music and talked about how he volunteers regularly at a local retirement home to perform for the residents. He stated, “I really look forward to going. I like giving them something to listen to and I like hearing them share about how music has touched their lives.”

My daughter talked about her long-term study looking at the impact of invasive turtles have on the ecosystem, specifically how they affect the population of native pond turtles. She shared with the reporter the posters she and her friends made to inform the public of the threat releasing pets.

Read my post, Service Learning Through Roots & Shoots to learn more about this dynamic program. You might also consider joining me for a free online course this summer, Turning Learners Into Leaders: Empowering Youth Through Service in Education.

Humane Society / Animal Shelter

Volunteering at a local animal shelter is one of the easiest ways to make a difference. Children can decorate kennels, help with events, foster an animal, or even walk the dogs. Children may be interested in raising monies to purchase food, bedding, or goods as a donation.

When my kids were younger, we volunteered at a shelter regularly to simply play with the cats. They wanted to walk the dogs as well but weren’t quite old enough. Age restrictions will vary so check with your local shelter to learn more.

Rescue Mission / Homeless Shelter

Another great way to give back is to volunteer to serve meals at a homeless shelter. A few years ago, I volunteered in the education department of our local mission and my children were allowed to accompany me. They worked on their own assignments as I walked around the room and helped the women with their coursework and job training skills.

Volunteer Opportunities for Kids @EvaVarga.netLiving History

Some of our fondest memories of volunteering come from our experiences at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon, where we volunteered as living history interpreters, Homeschooling in 1880: Living History Volunteers. In this role, we spent one day a week dressed up in period clothing and told the story of the early pioneers in the high desert. Our story was based loosely on our own ancestors. It was an awesome way to connect with the past as well as develop public speaking skills.

Public Library

My daughter is anxiously awaiting her 13th birthday so that she can serve on our local library’s teen advisory board. In this role she would get to interact with other avid readers, make recommendations to library staff on books, programs, and services, and inform patrons of her favorite books via shelf flags.

What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make. ~ Jane Goodall

Adopt-A-Park

Many municipalities utilize partnerships with local organizations to preserve, beautify and maintain neighborhood parks. Some of the tasks could include pruning, raking, weeding, light painting, graffiti removal, litter removal, tree and flower planting. As a part of the turtle project, my daughter is considering this option for the future.

Community Cleanups & Weed Pulls

Lastly, another way to tap into volunteer work is through organizations like church youth groups, scouts, and local agencies. The California Coastal Commission organizes an annual beach cleanup event in the fall each year.

Invasive species have always been a passion for me and we’ve thereby participated in many community weed pulls – both locally and while on vacation. You can read about our weed pull experience in Hawai’i in my post, Hoaloha ‘aina Weed Pull. Can you find a weed pull or cleanup in your community?

~ ♥︎ ~

I have shared additional resources and ideas for volunteer opportunities in my post, It’s Our Turn to Lead: Earth Day 2015,  at Multicultural Kid Blogs. I encourage you to take time to talk over the interests you share as a family and seek out options in your area. In what ways can YOU make a difference?

Ever Been to a Moth Night?

 

One of the summer activities we most look forward to is National Moth Week. Our First Moth Night was in 2013 and it has since become a tradition. Last year, we collaborated with the rangers at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area allowing us access to the park after hours. Such a delight to have the entire beach all to ourselves!

Several friends joined us – including a small herd of deer who roamed the area nearby for quite some time – and a park ranger and his friend. We hung a sheet between the trees in the forest area adjacent to the picnic tables on the beach and set up a few lanterns. Before night fell, we did a little nature journaling and enjoyed watching the sun set over the lake as we awaited the arrival of the moths.

moth night @EvaVarga.netWhen it was dark, we began to take note of the insects that slowly arrived.  The kids would proudly exclaim, “Here’s another one!” each time a new insect landed on the sheet. While only a few moths came to visit, we did observe many other insects – many of which were beetles.

We did our best to take photographs of each before they flew away – a task that turned out to be a little more difficult than anticipated – and tallied the numbers for each species.

We stayed until the kids began to get a little sleepy. Ranger Bill closed out the evening with a few delightful stories as his friend quietly played her Native American-style flute.

The next National Moth Week will be held July 18-26, 2015 so start planning your events now!

What is Moth Week?

National Moth Week offers everyone, everywhere a unique opportunity to become a Citizen Scientist and contribute scientific data about moths. Through partnerships with Project Noah, Bug Guide, Xerces Society, Lepidoptera Society, and others, National Moth Week participants can help map moth distribution and provide needed information on other life history aspects around the globe.

Ever Been to a Moth Night? @EvaVarga.netMothing can be done anywhere- at parks, nature centers, backyards and even in towns and cities. Events are taking place around the world – join up or host an event of your own. Learn more at National Moth Week.

This year, National Moth Week will spotlight the Sphingidae family of moths found throughout the world commonly called hawk moths, sphinx moths and hornworms.

Join Us For a Memorable Summer Evening

So invite a few friends and contribute to this awesome project by hosting a moth night of your own.  What happens at a moth night? Basically, you put up a sheet and a light with a bunch of your friends, and sit around and wait for moths.  How simple is that?  And it is so much fun!

Our NestWatch Introduction: Getting Started with Citizen Science

As has become tradition, I love taking my students outside in the spring for a variety of science activities. Our STEM Club ecology focus one year was on soil ecology and I thereby planned a couple of outings to a small lake in a residential neighborhood not far from my home. Despite the proximity to homes, I am always surprised at the diversity of wildlife we are able to observe here.

We parked on the street adjacent to the lake and immediately became aware of a Killdeer nest just a few feet from the road. The two adults loudly began to distract the kids and lure them away from their nest. Despite my efforts and those of the birds, the ever-so-inquisitive boys in my group managed to locate the nest and excitedly proclaim there were eggs! It was difficult to keep the kids away and get focused on soil. Even as class was underway, one wandered quietly back over to sit closely and watch the birds for several minutes.

Killdeer nest on open ground – often in gravel – using a slight depression to hold the eggs. They don’t line it at all and since there is no structure to stand out from its surroundings, a killdeer nest camouflages marvelously into the background. Even their speckled eggs themselves look like stones.

For more information on Killdeer and their unusual behaviors, I encourage you to read The Precocious Killdeer on Birdwatching.com

NestWatch: How to Get Started with Citizen Science @EvaVarga.netNestWatch

Upon sharing this discovery with a friend of mine, she introduced us to NestWatch. NestWatch is a nationwide monitoring program designed to track status and trends in the reproductive biology of birds, including when nesting occurs, number of eggs laid, how many eggs hatch, and how many hatchlings survive.

By finding and monitoring bird nests, NestWatch participants help scientists track the breeding success of birds across North America. Participants witness fascinating behaviors of birds at the nest and collect information on the location, habitat, bird species, number of eggs, and number of young.

Participating in NestWatch is easy and just about anyone can do it, although children should always be accompanied by an adult when observing bird nests. Cornell Lab provides a wealth of tutorials and resources to guide you along the way. It is rewarding to know that your observations will be added to those of thousands of other NestWatchers in a continually growing database used by researchers to understand and study birds.

I quickly signed up and recorded our observations. We returned two days later to check on the status of the nest, but were unable to find any sign of the birds. There were no shell fragments or signs of young precocial birds. Despite the uncertainty of our Killdeer nest, we are now excited to find more nests and to share our observations with the scientists at Cornell Lab.

watercolor image of kildeer eggs in nest

Citizen Science with Cornell Lab

More than 200,000 people contribute to the Cornell Lab’s citizen-science projects each year, gathering data on a vast scale once unimaginable. Scientists use these data to determine how birds are affected by habitat loss, pollution, and disease. They trace bird migration and document long-term changes in bird numbers continentwide. The results have been used to create management guidelines for birds, investigate the effects of acid rain and climate change, and advocate for the protection of declining species.

Using the same login name and password that you create for NestWatch, you can also participate in any of the following citizen-science projects:

Get Started Today

Involvement in citizen science projects enables students to make connections with relevant, meaningful, and real experiences with science.  In turn, their experiences help facilitate their own investigations as they gain confidence.

There are many citizen science projects today and more become available each year. I encourage you to take time to explore some of the opportunities. I am confidant you will find projects that match your interests.

simple graphic image of tree with text The Nature Book Club

Welcome to the The Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. Devoted to connecting children to nature, the monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month.

We welcome your nature book and activity related links. Read on for more details and for a giveaway!

See all the great posts from The Nature Book Club’s co-hosts in April:

The Nature Book Club is brought to you by these nature loving bloggers which are your co-hosts. Are you following them? If you don’t want to miss anything, be sure to follow each one.

Bird Nest/Eggs nature study pages from Barb at Handbook of Nature Study

Eggs: Nature’s Perfect Package from Erin Dean at the Usual Mayhem

Getting Started with Citizen Science – Nest Watch from Eva Varga

From Egg to Sea Turtle Unit Study & Lapbook from Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool Plus

Eggs Nature Study Free Printable Word Search from Faith and Good Works

Egg Scavenger Hunt with Egg Carton from Katrina at Rule This Roost

Felt Bag Handicraft from Melanie at Wind in a Letterbox

Clay Eggs Project from Emily at Table Life Blog

Online Book Club from Dachelle at Hide the Chocolate

Egg Identification Nature Bingo {Free Printable} from Cassidy at Freshly Planted

image of a stack of books in the grass with text overlay listing monthly themeParty Rules

  • Choose an engaging nature book, do a craft or activity, and add your post to our monthly link up.
  • The link up party goes live at 9:00 a.m. EST on the 20th of each month and stays open until 11:59 p.m. EST on the last day of the month. Hurry to add your links!
  • You can link up to 3 posts. Please do not link up advertising posts, advertise other link up parties, your store, or non-related blog posts. They will be removed.
  • By linking up with us, you agree for us to share your images and give you credit of course if we feature your posts.That’s it!
  • Let’s party.