Benefits of Using LEGO Mindstorms in Your Homeschool

Blog, She Wrote: Benefits of Using LEGO Mindstorms in Your Homeschool

Welcome to blog sponsor Explorental!

Have you ever considered a LEGO Mindstorms kit for your kids? Maybe you’ve seen them, but are unsure whether the investment is a good one for your family. For less than the cost of a popular game console system, you can have a tool for teaching endless concepts and a source of engineering challenge for your kids.

Reasons to Use LEGO Mindstorms in Your Homeschool

Working with the Mindstorms kit requires a lot of different skills from students even when you are just starting out. Take a look at some of the subject areas accessed by work with the Mindstorms.

  • Math- Although not always a student favorite, math is applied to the robot building when it comes to programming it. Geometry, particularly circle geometry is necessary to accurately get the robot to rotate the wheels the requested distance.
  • Robotics- Who doesn’t want to build a robot and take over the world? Or at least the LEGO world!
  • Mechanics- Part of the robot building has to do with putting the robot together with the technic pieces. How those fit together and work efficiently is a big part of the task.
  • Physics- Along with efficiency, you need a stable structure. We spend a lot of time learning about which designs are the most stable.
  • Fun- There is no shortage of fun when it comes to exploring with a LEGO Mindstorms kit.

Blog, She Wrote: Benefits of Using LEGO Mindstorms in Your Homeschool

Using Technology in Your Homeschool

Our kids use a lot of technology in our home- whether it’s a Kindle eReader, tablet or computers for programming and playing. One thing we really try to keep in check is how much our children are producers vs consumers when using technology. In other words, are they watching a lot and engaging in passive participation or are they being makers and creators?

LEGO Mindstorms uses software that is drag and drop so you only need to know some basics about how to get the robot to follow your commands. It takes time to master, but it’s worth the end result. I don’t mind my kids toiling for a few hours at a computer if they are actively problem solving. 

Enjoy a look at Ethan (and our basement!), our 15yo 10th grader, explaining one task he and his fellow FIRST LEGO League team members completed for their FLL regional competition in December. Our teams spend 7 hours a week pouring into this particular piece of technology and it earned them Grand Champion at their qualifying tournament.

Teaching with Technology G+ Hangout

Last week the iHN hosted an informative G+ Hangout on Teaching with Technology. I was excited to be one of the participants. Click and view at your leisure to hear how others are using technology in their homes.

Using Explorental to Experience LEGO Mindstorms

LEGO Mindstorms is a wonderful resource for homeschools, but it may not be the right time financially to invest in your own. How do you get a chance to work with the kit without making that big financial investment?

Take advantage of Explorental’s wonderful inventory of technology gadgets and other kits. They offer a LEGO Mindstorms rental for $43.99 for two weeks.

Blog, She Wrote: Explorental

Homeschooling Middle & High School Science

Blog, She Wrote: Homeschooling Middle & High School Science

Day 3 of iHN’s Winter Hopscotch is all about science. Today I’m sharing our strategies and resources for homeschooling middle & high school science. Science is my favorite. If you’ve been a reader for awhile, then you may know that my background is science. My BS is in biological sciences and I have a MS degree in Curriculum & Instruction Secondary Education. I am certified to teach biology to 7th-12th graders. I taught science for five years prior to starting a family. My husband is a chemical engineer with a graduate degree also in chemical engineering. This means several important things relevant to today’s post:

  • We are science people. We do science everyday.
  • We talk about science at every turn.
  • People with masters degrees focused on writing science curriculum & science instruction for secondary aged kids don’t buy science curriculum. It’s a rule. They might revoke my degree.
  • When our kids ask a science question, we drop what we’re doing and help them investigate an answer. It’s how we have fun.
  • We are great at doing science all the time. We aren’t great at following a science curriculum.

I think it’s important to be real with you all on this point because it affects how we approach science in our middle and high school homeschool. I’d like to encourage you to try something similar…be inquistive! Help your students to explore the scientific world.

Blog, She Wrote: Homeschooling Middle & High School Science

Strategies for Homeschooling Middle & High School Science

One of the best ways to do science is to go and investigate. Learn with your students the process for conducting scientific investigations and then go out and explore the world! Below are some of the ways we do this in our homeschool:

  • Unit Studies- Through middle school we do a lot of science through our unit studies. Either we are studying a book and doing the science that goes with it or the unit study is based around the science. For example, we enjoyed a unit on catapults after watching Punkin’ Chunkin’ one Thanksgiving.
  • Units can be built around a child’s interest- many of you know our daughter is very talented with a sewing machine. There’s a lot of physical science to be taught about sewing machines, so I wrote a unit study on just that.
  • Science as Investigation- I actually speak on this topic quite a bit. The thing to remember is not to get bogged down in the process. You don’t have to have fancy equipment to do science. So many people want to make sure all their ducks are in a row and it paralyzes them when it comes to doing experiments. Don’t be afraid to look things up with your kids and try things out. We once did a huge experiment on popcorn- which variety popped the biggest. We talked with the kids about how to do a fair test and we walked them through setting up the experiment. Then we popped a lot of corn and measured the volume by calculating the amount of space the popped volume took up in a cylinder!
  • Project Based Homeschooling- We are prime candidates for homeschooling science with student driven projects. It’s comes naturally to mentor our kids into finding their own way on something they are interested in. This year our 8th grader is studying biology through the life of snakes- she has one she caught and has been taking care of since June.

Blog, She Wrote: Homeschooling Middle & High School Science

Our Favorite Resources for Homeschooling Middle & High School Science

In lieu of recommending curriculum for science, I’m going to give you a list of our favorite resources. These are things we pull from or have the kids reference and enjoy during their studies.

  • Janice VanCleave Books- These books are an excellent source for science experiments and longer term science investigations. Easy to understand and follow and Ms. VanCleave does a great job of explaining the results.
  • Beyond Five in a Row- Excellent literature unit studies which have robust science studies in them including more than a few books about famous scientists.
  • Usborne Science Encyclopedia- Great science reference with links to follow on the internet.
  • Field Guides- A thorough guide for mammals, flowers, trees, reptiles, amphibians and other major animal and plants groups are a valuable tool for nature studies and biology.
  • The Handbook of Nature Study- A lovely text sharing a lot of science for the natural world. A popular book for homeschoolers, if you’ve never read it I encourage you to do so. Mrs. Comstock has a dry sense of humor that is not obvious from the appearance of the book.
  • Glassware- We buy ours from Home Science Tools (and locally at our backyard university’s supply rooms). I used to use our kitchenware, but I much prefer the designated scienceware.
  • cK-12 Open Source Textbook- It’s what we use for high school biology & chemistry. They have a text, workbooks, and some subjects have lab workbooks too.
  • Top 10 Tools for the Home Scientist- You might be interested in our favorite picks from this list I wrote for Uzinggo.
  • Life of Fred: Physics & Biology- R13 is going through Physics now followed by Biology both of which are pre-Algebra books.
  • Science Biographies- We study the lives of scientists which gives you a whole picture of a time, place, and event. This is a very Charlotte Mason approach and it yields big results. MoonShot and Skunkworks are among the books our 6th grader has read in his quest to learn more about flight and rocketry.

Giveaway for Polymer Science Unit from Elmer’s Glue

Since I’m all into doing investigations, I’m happy to offer you a bonus opportunity today. Elmer’s is giving away one box set pictured below. You’ll get a signed copy of Too Much Glue along with a unit on adhesives to go with the book and some glues for the activity. Leave a comment and tell me your favorite topic in science to enter!

Blog, She Wrote: Homeschooling Middle & High School Science

Join other bloggers from the iHN for their tips on teaching science. See you tomorrow for a look at history.

HopscotchiHNJanuary2013

Methods for Teaching Middle School & High School Homeschool

Blog, She Wrote: Teaching Middle & High School Language Arts

This week the iHN is hosting a Hopscotch on “How I Teach”. Here at Blog, She Wrote I’m sharing methods for teaching middle and high school students in all the major subject areas. We’ll be discussing strategy and curriculum. Today our topic is language arts.

Strategies for Teaching Middle School & High School Homeschool Language Arts

My philosophy on teaching writing and language skills from a young age is one of a coaching role. My job is to meet my writers where they are, give them the tools they need and how to use them and to help them to meet their goals. What is the goal? To be an effective written communicator. That’s what it’s all about.

  • Play with Words- enjoy exercises and fun ways to engage with words to increase vocabulary. Click the link to see five great ideas I wrote for Bright Ideas Press.
  • Collage Words- More details on reflecting on a word and exploring its meanings.
  • Resources for Coaching Writing- a list of some of my favorite resources for coaching writers.
  • Conferences- I meet with my kids regularly to go over their written work and to see what can be improved. I take a look at the first draft and usually ask the student to go back and self edit, naming the thing they are notorious for forgetting- whether that be correct capitalization or wild commas. If the piece of writing is hard to decipher because of poor organization/grammar/spelling, I have them read it to me. When they read it aloud they realize that without grammar conventions/organization, the reader will not experience the piece the way the author intended. This goes a LONG way to encouraging kids to edit their work.
  • Writer’s Workshop- I’ve been hosting a workshop that includes my kids along with about five other homeschoolers in our home since September. I’ll be posting more detail on this soon, but having kids write for an audience is one of the best investments I’ve made in time this year. If you’d like a little more information now, click the link above on Resources for Coaching Writing.

Blog, She Wrote: Teaching Middle & High School Language Arts

Our Favorite Middle School & High School Homeschool Language Arts Curriculum

  • Cover Story- This is a middle school writing program written by Daniel Schwabauer, the creator of One Year Adventure Novel. My 6th and 8th graders are working on building the pieces to their own magazine issue based on a theme they chose. There are video lessons which are well done along with resources for the parents. The younger siblings of OYAN students approve!
  • WriteShop- WriteShop Junior & WriteShop I and II. I love WriteShop for its ability to break down the writing process into pre-writing, drafts/editing, and final, published copy. We use this between the informal early elementary years and the time we begin creative writing and expository writing programs. I also use units from WS 1&2 to help with organizations of essays at any time during the teen years.
  • One Year Adventure Novel - Write a novel in one school year. That is the aim of OYAN and it is adored by us all. The lessons are thorough and draw the students in. My two favorite things (besides the novel) are: 1) How the curriculum provides excellent talking points about literature with our teens. 2) The community Mr. Schwabauer has created for teens to interact with each other. My 10th grader loves the OYAN forums where he can be himself and be in community with other kids who love books and stories as much as he does. There are also regular webinars with extra instruction.
  • Other Worlds- The follow up to the One Year Adventure Novel. This one is focused on writing fantasy and science fiction. My 10th grader is working on his fantasy novel. I enjoy the lessons on the history of science fiction and fantasy and how they are different from adventure.
  • Literary Lessons from The Lord of the Rings- Spend time immersed in the three books that make up The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Wonderful vocabulary studies, chapter discussions, essays, and unit studies based on this fantasy tale.
  • Excellence in Literature- Classic literature is taught in four week modules with honors options. I have all five volumes so we can skip around. They are meant to be use 8th-12th grade. This program has been a great model of student led reading and writing on the classics and has been very successful so far.

Slow and steady wins the race. We try to keep moving forward and see our kids make progress in their writing skills. We add in what’s necessary as they gain skills so they can be stretched to the next level. Our kids are immersed in reading and writing in many forms from a young age and we love to watch them gain confidence as they get older. Coming soon news from our Writer’s Workshop!

The iHomeschool Network is hosting a Hopscotch series this week on “How I Teach”. Join other iHN bloggers to see how they teach Language Arts. You’ll find information on working with special needs all the way to gifted kids and everything in between.

HopscotchiHNJanuary2013

10 (or so) Best Tinkering Gifts for Your Inventor

10 Best Tinkering Gifts for Your Inventor

This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

It’s that time of year when parents everywhere are looking for gift ideas for Christmas. Inventors can be hard to buy for especially when they are young and still have big ideas! Enjoy a look at some of the best tinkering materials we’ve found for our young scientists and inventors.

Electronic Gifts for Your Inventor

Snap Circuits- These are snap together electric circuits with many maps to build and tons of add ons. These circuits are easy to use and easy to please since the connections are rock solid. We have an oscilloscope interface for our computer along with the alternative energy kit. Don’t miss out on Snap Circuits Green.

Old Electronics- What engineer doesn’t like to take things apart to see how they work? We have a pile of old machines we remove the power cord from so that our inquisitive 8yo can enjoy how things go together and what their components look like.

Arduino- (for middle and high school) these are microcontroller kits which you can add sensors to and enjoy. J8 cannot wait to get his…shhh…

Raspberry Pi- (for middle and high school) card sized Linnux computer you can program and use.

Blog, She Wrote: 10 Best Tinkering Gifts for Your Inventor

Books for Your Inventor

Cool Stuff and How It Works- (and the 2.0 version) This book is full of fun gadgets and tells how the technology works. From LED lights to LCD screens, this book has all the good stuff.

The New Way Things Work- a huge encyclopedia of items and drawings sure to keep your tinkerer involved.

The Unofficial LEGO Mindstorms Inventor’s Guide- full of robots to build and programs to run them.

NXT Power Programming: Robotics in C- Great guide on programming in C with your Mindstorms Kit. J8 adores this book and is sad he can’t program in C during FLL.

Advanced NXT: The DaVinci Inventions Book- another great book using Mindstorms.

C++ Programming in Easy Steps- Inventors like to be fiddlers at the computer too. J8 has read this one cover to cover and writes his own code.

Beginning C++ through Game Programming- another book our inventor loves.

Building Essentials for Your Inventor

Keva Planks- love these plank blocks that allow you to build complex structures. The more the better!

Erector Sets- The best part about these sets are the tools kids get to use!

LEGO Contraptions Books- Technic pieces you can use with regular bricks to build machines from the book.

Physics for Your Inventor

Solar Kit- large pieces which are similar to LEGO technic pieces which you can build lots of solar vehicles. This holds great interest at our house because we have a large array of solar panels on our roof and we do a lot with real time monitoring of our energy usage.

Deluxe Physics Kit- this is an advanced physics kit teaching all sort of concepts in physics using technic type pieces.

Blog, She Wrote: 10 Best Tinkering Gifts for Your Inventor

Robotics for Your Inventor

LEGO Mindstorms NXT & EV3- NXT has just been upgraded to EV3 with the release having been late summer this year. While we plan to get an EV3 kit at some point, we are heavily invested in NXT and we’ll continue to use it. Our family is a long time FIRST LEGO League family with Dan coaching and running a JR FLL event annually. Our kids participate on teams and they play at home. This has been a great investment for our family.

Remote Control Machines- this is a great kit for building machines and powering them with the remote control. A nice one for elementary aged kids and up because the pieces are larger than LEGO Technic pieces and there is no programming involved.

Blog, She Wrote: 10 Best Tinkering Gifts for Your Inventor

Other Necessities for An Inventor

Don’t forget some of the most important items for any inventor that cannot be bought.

Workspace- a place for your inventor to have ongoing projects and his work all around him.

Time- Inventors at any age need the time to tinker. Leave some margin in your routine for those explorable moments.

christmas-gift-listsVisit other iHN Bloggers to enjoy other Christmas Gift Lists.

Top Ten Science & Nature Books

Top Ten Tuesday this week features bloggers’ top ten favorites in a book category and, of course, I chose Science & Nature.

Top Ten Science & Nature Book Picks at Blog, She Wrote:

Blog She Wrote: Top Ten Science & Nature Books

Let’s- Read -and- Find- Out Science seriesThese books come in a variety of topics and levels for elementary aged students. I love how well concepts are explained and the illustrations are lovely.

Blog She Wrote: Top Ten Science & Nature Books

Usborne Big Books of Experiments & Science along with the Usborne Science Activities books- Usborne is a great company with so many titles. The Big Books contain a lot of detailed procedures and ideas for crafting science activities. The Science Activities (three volumes) are superb for having kids read their own science and try the ideas by themselves.

Blog She Wrote: Top Ten Science & Nature Books

Finder Books- Dichotomous keys for many species like trees, ferns, flowers, winter trees, and winter weeds. These require a different set of skills to use besides picture matching. You identify items by the process of elimination based on characteristics of the species.

Blog She Wrote: Top Ten Science & Nature Books

Cool Stuff and How it Works- just like the title says, this book contains facts on how cool things work. For example, LCD screens, mp 3 players, x rays, infrared photography, etc is explained in this wonderfully illustrated book.

Blog She Wrote: Top Ten Science & Nature Books

Ben Franklin Books- There are quite a few books about Mr. Franklin and his inventions. Here are a few fun ones we’ve enjoyed:

Blog She Wrote: Top Ten Science & Nature Books

Usborne Discovery Internet Linked Books- not sure these are still around, but they have excellent photographs and Usborne has a landing page for the internet links. That means they keep them up to date…no broken links. In theory.

Blog She Wrote: Top Ten Science & Nature Books

The DK Encyclopedia of Animals- a fun reference book for the animal kingdom. It’s not exhaustive, but it is enjoyable and the pictures are fantastic. E14 loved to read about animals so he poured through this one when he was younger.

Blog She Wrote: Top Ten Science & Nature Books

One Small Square Series- Oh how Iove these books! The illustrations are amazing and you get a look at a habitat from under the ground to above the trees. Embedded within all the facts are activities for you to enjoy.

Blog She Wrote: Top Ten Science & Nature Books

Kaleidoscope Kids Books- There are a variety of topics in this series from history to science. These are great activity books full of hands on things for kids to investigate along with facts and history.

Blog She Wrote: Top Ten Science & Nature Books

Janice VanCleave Books- how could a list like this be complete without a nod to Mrs. VanCleave? She has several series of books devoted to all areas of science and beyond to math and geography. I love her Mind Boggling Experiments You Can Turn into Science Fair Projects books. The best part about these books is you can always find an easy experiment that works. If you are hunting for an idea on how to develop a concept or you are discouraged by what experiments your curriculum has, this is your source for the tried and true.

As you can see, we have no shortage of favorites. What are your most used science and nature resources?

Other bloggers of iHN are participating in the 10 Weeks of Top 10 Lists 2013. We’ll be linking up every Tuesday and I encourage you to hop over and see some other blogger lists.