Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Michigan STEM Legislation

There has been a huge debate going on in Michigan in regard to adding a STEM certification to the diplomas of our high school graduates.  I would like to provide you a little food for thought as well as some resources to educate yourself and take action should you feel so led.  It is my belief that this legislation is poorly written, part of a bigger plan, and will ultimately destroy educational choice for all, not just those choosing to homeschool.  BUT, that is just my opinion.  Here are some resources for you:

Have you heard of Gov. Snyder's vision for P20 education?  Do you realize that the 'p' stands for prenatal?  If this is all new to you, you may want to do a little research to familiarize yourself with the vision and initiative.  Here's a place to start.

Spunky Homeschool, aka Karen Braun, has been a fearless advocate for our educational freedom as homeschoolers.  She has put together an informative collection of details on Common Core on her blog, SpunkyHomeSchool.  If you are new to the term Common Core, or if you just desire to learn more, this is an excellent resource.

Last week was the first time hearings were held on the STEM Bills.  Stop Common Core Michigan has done a good job of keeping us up to date on the happenings.  Here is a good recap of what has transpired so far.  To the best of my knowledge the bill passed the Senate Education Committee yesterday and is slated to go before the house tomorrow.  They sure do seem in a hurry to pass this through making Michigan the first state in the country to pass such legislation.  Not sure that's a precedent we should be setting, but that's my opinion.

Here is the actual wording of the bill as it stands today.  Keep an eye out here at the Michigan Legislature website for updates on the progression of this bill.  Contact your local representatives and let them know what you think.

From the Michigan Stop Common Core website these are four main reasons to oppose the STEM Credentialed Diploma:

  • It is unwise to create a “class system” in Michigan which is not supportive of all students.  Having a STEM diploma creates a “better” path, leaving the students not on this path to believe they are on the “failure track”. A high school diploma should carry the full credibility of a robust education for all graduates regardless of their preferences of study
  • All specific course information is already provided on high school transcripts.  Colleges and universities currently use high school transcripts to determine the coursework and student achievement in their determination for entering freshman. In this manner, employers determine the courses appropriate to preparation for their field.
  • Michigan Department of Education should not control diploma designations and course requirements. Control of the diploma designation becomes a politically driven process rather than an educationally sound process controlled locally by teachers, parents, community members and employers.
  • The alternate pathway designation begins in 7th grade, limiting a student’s ability to change their mind. 7thgraders are typically 13 or 14 years old, perhaps aware of their personal preferences, but not ready to make career defining decisions.

To read more on the STEM Designation on High School Diploma click here.

I wanted to provide you with a more rounded collection of resources.  Unfortunately, it seems no one else is speaking out about this.  If you know of other sources, I would love to check them out.  I believe it is important to read as much on a topic as possible from as many angles as possible.  The most important thing is to pray, seek wisdom, and take action as we feel led.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Easter Stories - A FlyBy Promotions Book Review and Giveaway

With Easter soon upon us, it comes early this year, I have really been enjoying this unusual collection of stories.  Easter Stories is a compilation of short stories that guide our hearts and minds to the true intention of the celebration of Easter.  It is not a time of bunnies and eggs, frilly hats and fancy dresses.  Easter is a somber time of reflection and reverence.  This 27 story anthology is a varied assortment of classic literature as well as folk tales from authors like Ludwig von Gerdtell, Leo Tolstoy, C. S. Lewis, and The Brothers Grimm.  Through this exceptional publication we are transported to various times and places and instantly reminded of just why it is we celebrate Easter within the Christian community.  We are also reassured of the undying love of Christ.

I have been enjoying these stories all by myself during my quiet reading time each morning.  However, I can see this collection getting dogeared over the years from much use within my family.  Though the intent is to illuminate the true meaning of Easter, this collection of tales is easily applicable to other times in life, especially within our homeschool.  I find relevance to history in the story of How Donkeys Got the Spirit of Contradiction where a pastor gathers his congregation together on a Christmas Day during World War II to share with them a story about Jesus' life in order to give them strength and courage as they worked in an underground railroad in Nazi-occupied France saving refugees and lived a life of great fear day in and day out.  My children are young now, but I will for sure be sharing this story with them the next time World War II comes around in our history rotation.

The story of The White Lily is the first in the book and one I will be sharing with my three much sooner.  There is no introduction given with this tale, but its message is strong.  A simple act of kindness has tremendous potential for the impact of good.  Here we learn about the importance of being kind and generous and how our actions are directly representative of the love of Christ.  One thing does lead to another, and the love of Christ surely shines on well after the gift of life was given. 

Easter Stories is a sturdy paperback book with strong pages that hold a nice size font for comfortable reading.  Each story is preceded by a beautiful, black and white illustration that gives a small indication to what we might find in the next group of pages.  All stories are timeless tales that either teach of the love of Christ or speak specifically to the Easter season.  These are wonderful to read aloud as a family, as a couple, on your own, or even to incorporate into a school lesson or integrate into an object lesson for home or church.  Some stories, like The Atonement, are just a few pages long allowing for a quick reading and discussion.  Others, like Saint Veronica's Kerchief, are longer requiring more than one reading session to complete, especially if reading as a family or part of a school unit.

Whether it be a lesson of the infinite sacrifice of Christ on the cross told in Robin Readbreast, or the example of taking on the punishment of those we love in The Atonement, Easter Stories is a valuable collection of great literary work and is worthy of the space it will hold on my bookshelf.  I look forward to sharing these stories with my children and grandchildren for years to come.  Stories are a simple way to share the love and sacrifice of Christ as well as provide launching points for valuable discussions in our life as Christians as well as moral issues we will face throughout life.  Reading is by far my most favorite way to worship, share, learn, educate and grow.  I am thrilled to have such a worthy collection in my possession.  Maybe you'd like to own a copy as well.

I did mention a giveaway, right?

Please leave a comment below sharing your most honored Easter tradition or your most treasured Easter memory for a chance to win your own copy of Easter Stories.  

The deadline for entry is March 30th.

Find out more here.

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"Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller / FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

GPA LEARN - A Review

Critical Thinking Company Review
Why do we always seem to stress over math as homeschoolers?  Since we began our current homeschooling journey we have tried several different approaches to math.  One thing that I have been eager to see happen is our nine-year-old to gain some independence in her academics and not require so much one on one attention with me throughout the day.  Initially, it was a non-issue, but now that the younger ones are getting a little older I would like to be more available for one-on-one time with them as well.  It can be a difficult thing to juggle.   I knew that once our nine-year-old strengthened her math and reading skills this would become more and more of a reality.  Using GPALOVEMATH by GPA LEARN has greatly fostered this attribute in our homeschool, and it has been an amazing experience for all of us in many ways.

All three of our children - ages 4, 5, and 9 - just love GPALOVEMATH.  Our nine-year-old has become super independent in her math studies, and it is such a confidence booster.  Not only is she gaining the ability to problem solve and learn on her own, but I am gaining some freedom in my routine.  All three of the children just love the teaching style implemented in this online program, and we have found a way for all three of them to be independent in their math studies in one way or another.  The nine-year-old works 100% independently, with an occasional question for me, and is learning the importance of taking the time to be taught and learn before diving right in.  It can be tempting for her to skip the instruction and practice phases and dive right into the test.  However, she is finding that sometimes we need to take the time to allow ourselves to be taught in order to learn.  When she has worked on lessons within the program I receive an email update informing me of her progress.  This alerts me of her successes as well as provides me with information as to when she may be struggling.

My five-year-old surprised me by showing readiness for first grade math.  This is something I would not has as quickly discovered had we not explored using GPALOVEMATH with the youngest two.  He works equally well on the laptop and the tablet requiring occasional clarification or assistance from me.  He is not only learning math skills, but he is also gaining computer skills and learning how to better follow directions.  I hear, "Can I do math?", on a very regular basis from both the five-year-old and the four-year-old.  The nine-year-old will even request extra math time now and again.  That really says a lot in my book.

The four-year-old using GPALOVEMATH on our nook.

We've gotten a little more creative with our four-year-old using the program.  Life is easier when she can do things on a touchscreen tablet.  We have a nook, nabi, and Kindle Fire.  Currently supported formats are Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac Computers, Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab 4, Goodle Chrome, Internet Explorer 11, Mozilla Firefox, and Apple Safari 6 and 7.  Although none of our devices are currently supported by GPALEARN we have managed to make the nook work for us.  We access the website via the web browser on the nook and use the website that way.  The sound doesn't always work with it not being a supported format.  The little kids rely on the program reading the lessons to them more than the nine-year-old.  When it won't work right I just read them the lesson, and they do the actual work on their own with occasional guidance from me.  All of my children would absolutely love it if there were an app created that worked on all of our devices, but we manage just fine with the format as it currently functions.

Another fun aspect of GPALOVEMATH is the different instructors.  Since each of my children is working at a different grade level they each have a different instructor.  Everything is animated.  The third grade level instructor is a very friendly robot, first grade is taught by a fun penguin, and kindergarten is led by a cool detective.  Each lesson is divided into three parts; instruction, practice, and quiz.  The student is free to choose where to begin and can go back anytime if necessary.  They earn points for each lesson that can be banked and redeemed for online gift certificates to cool places like Target and Toys R Us.  In addition to the gift certificates the parents can customize rewards to be given randomly for gifts of personal choice.  We have things like extra tablet time, puzzle time with mom, an extra bedtime story, and so on.  This is a lot of fun for everyone.

GPA LEARN has managed to free up some of my personal time, fostered a sense of independence in my children in regard to their zest for learning, and it has plunged my children into the deep end of mathematics all the while making the learning process fun and engaging.  You can learn more about GPA LEARN and GPALOVEMATH via Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest as well as reading reviews by other homeschool families by clicking the button below.

GPA Learn Review

Crew Disclaimer

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Critical Thinking Co. - A Review

Critical Thinking Company Review
My four-year-old loves to sing the ABC song.  She actually taught it to herself.  I still remember the first time I heard her singing it and wondered how in the world she had learned the song.  Then I discovered that one of her little toys that sings song was the "teacher".  I've seen this with her when it comes to a lot of so called learning things.  She learns them on her own.  Naturally, I really thought The Alphabet Song Game by The Critical Thinking Co. would be a natural fit.  Sometimes our preconceived notions have a way of getting in our way, and that happened for us this time around.

See, I thought The Alphabet Song Game would be something that I could just let her run with.  So, I kept trying to get her to play the game on her own.  That worked once or twice.  Then she wasn't interested.  The game was awesome, and I couldn't figure out why she didn't want to play it.  What it boiled down to for her was that she wanted me to sit with her while she played the game.  She didn't want to do it on her own.  Once I adjusted my idea of how the game was "supposed to" fit into our routine all was well.

Critical Thinking Company Review

Her favorite way to play The Alphabet Song Game is with the laptop hooked up to our television.  When we do this even the five-year-old joins in.  Each level begins with an animated teacher singing the ABC song for you to sing along.  On the first level each letter is given in order, and you are asked to click on the correct letter with what is being said.  There is an option to have the letter repeated.  As the levels progress choosing the proper letter becomes more and more challenging.  The little kids get competitive with each other, and have a lot of fun trying to be the first one to identify the correct letter.  The five-year-old even likes to pull out our ABC puzzle to match the letters from the puzzle to the letters in the game.  They like having the option to repeat the game they just played or move on to the next game.  Each level increases in difficulty of challenge, and you can play using all uppercase letters or all lowercase letters.  We began with only uppercase and have "graduated" to learning the letters in their lowercase form.  However, a high enough level of accuracy must be achieved before the next level becomes available.  The kids really do have a lot of fun, and the nine-year-old even gets caught up in it sometimes.

We were given the computer license download for Windows as part of this review, but The Alphabet Song Game is also available as a download for iPads, Android Tablets, and Win 8 and Win 8.1 Tablets.  My kids LOVE playing on Tablets.  It's a new experience for them that we just recently added to our homeschool.  So, I am certain that The Alphabet Song Game will get even more use via our nook which I just downloaded the app to today.

The Critical Thinking Co. stands behind their products with a full satisfaction guarantee.  Their quality products have been around since 1958, and their mission is to empower the minds of our young people.  They offer wonderful customer support, and provide wonderful articles and advice via their website.  You can learn more about The Critical Thinking Co. and The Alphabet Song Game by following them on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Pinterest.  Their website is set up to search by grade, subject, or product type making it simple for you to find just the right product to meet the individual needs of your family.

Critical Thinking Company Review
Crew Disclaimer

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Winter Beach Play

Pat and I and the kids had a fun day of exploring this past weekend.  We live near Lake Huron, and we just love the water.  Bella had asked a few times over the winter to go to the beach.  I thought it sounded fun to explore the beach in the winter.  She's been itching for over a month or so to go to the park as well.  All of the beaches we frequent have a park.  Win, win!  Here are some pictures from our adventure.  Maybe you'll be inspired to visit a park in the winter, too.  If you happen to have a beach, bonus!  I can tell you that we had the park to ourselves, and even though it was cold the kids weren't ready to leave when we were.  I was surprised about that, but they really were having a lot of fun!  Now, for our adventure:

We love the playscape at Ft. Gratiot Township Park.
Avery enjoys everything to do with music!

Annabella loves to swing, and Harmony always loves these big swings.
A few of the parks near us have them.

Avery exploring the awesome playscape.

Annabella coming down the spiral slide.
One thing to note is that slides aren't as slippery when it's cold.

They didn't know where I was.
I kept whistling, and then they found me!

Harmony standing on one of the huge snow piles!

Is Lake Huron gorgeous, or what?

Interesting bits about Lake Huron.
(Avery insisted on the green frame.)

Burtchville Township Park has been a special spot for our family for years.

Lake Huron at Burtchville Township Park.

Picnic Table waiting for picnickers at Burtchville Township Park.

Harmony, Annabella, and Avery on the small playscape
on the beach at Burtchville Township Park.

Avery and Annabella having loads of fun!

Lexington Harbor takes on different form in the winter.

Docks at Lexington Harbor.

Dedicated ice fisherman at Lexington Harbor.

The boardwalk at Tierney Park in Lexington.

No amount of snow can stop Annabella from swinging!

This kid!

Harmony trying to maintain her footing
while pushing Avery on the swing.

Daddy's always good for a few good pushes!

Harmony looking introspective on the
playscape at Tierney Park in Lexington.

Even if you don't have amazing bodies of water near your home, parks can be a lot of fun in the winter.  We spent SO MUCH time cooped up last winter and this winter with sub-zero temperatures that it was a very refreshing change of pace to get outside, explore, and play once the temperatures reached into the 30's.  It was plenty warm, and the wind was mild, so the kids never complained of being cold.  Traveling from beach to beach allowed them time to warm up and relax between destinations, and they really enjoyed watching the water line as we traveled.  We would have driven even further up the coast, but the kids were getting hungry.  Since it was a spur of the moment activity, we hadn't planned ahead.  In the future I would most certainly pack a picnic lunch and make a full day of it.  It was a very enjoyable way to spend time together on the weekend.


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