Saturday, February 25, 2017


Here Me Too is working on "attributes" work (set theory, patterning, deductive reasoning).  You can see behind him Kal-El is working on the flags of Asia with our Pin It! Maps.  We have these sorting circles.  You could use yarn, ribbon or string.  We also have these Attribute Blocks.  I can't think of a way around needing those if you are supplementing your homeschool with this work.  The circles have a 20" diameter and are collapsible.  There are 60 blocks in the block set.  They consist of five shapes in three colors, two sizes, and two thicknesses.  Our larger pieces are about 3" x 3".  You can get a "jumbo" version of this set with bigger blocks but I don't know how full your circles would get when you use a lot of pieces at once.  

We use our sets with task cards from ETC Montessori.  The boys completed the lower elementary set in the fall and I think they started the upper elementary after Christmas.

Lower elementary attributes cards
Upper elementary attributes cards

The lower elementary set has the advantage of coming with a small teacher's album of sorts including presentations.  It is not a perfect material.  It worked well enough.  However, some things were very poorly thought out.  For example, it comes with "H mats" and grids (2x2, 4x4) to place your block on but the squares for placing your blocks are smaller than the blocks.  Also, there is a game at the end that is unplayable.  It seems like nobody actually tried to USE the material.

The upper elementary set doesn't come with a manual.  I called about this and they said "the instructions are on the cards."  Sort of.  Some cards make more sense than others.  Also, it seems from the cards that these should have come with a set of labels for choosing labels for your rings but didn't include any.  We write them on paper or on little dry erase boards which they prefer.

The task card Me Too was working from looked like this:

Check out the cute paper clip!  A company named Avirgo sells these on Amazon.  We use them to keep the boys places in card sets as they work through them.  The have dozens of different kinds.   We have Star Wars, Minions, and Harry Potter.

The card tells him to place certain blocks in the circles as drawn.  The thickness of the outline tells you if it is thin or thick.  If you are teaching a kid to do these, it is important that the next step be labelling the circles.  Sometimes Me Too tries to add the remaining blocks as instructed because it doesn't tell you to make the labels.  This can go very wrong very fast.  If they place the selected blocks, label, THEN add blocks it goes perfectly.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Diagonals of Polygons

We reviewed polygon nomenclature today. We built with the geometric sticks on a white board for ease of labeling and drawing diagonals.  I showed them the diagonals of a pentagon.  Me Too asked to draw the diagonals of the heptagon and was eager to try it out on more shapes. Kal-El said he wasn't interested in doing any more shapes and suggested Me Too continue alone while he did something else.  Me Too continued on and did the octagon, nonagon and decagon.

Meanwhile, Kal-El reappeared with some graph paper.  Our work in Life of Fred recently covered placing points on a graph.  Unprompted, Kal-El drew a graph and plotted the points we already knew (number of sides, number of diagonals):  (5, 5) and (6, 8).  Then he connected the points (with a geometric stick at first, but it got bulky so he eventually used it as a straight edge) and used his graph to try to predict what Me Too would discover on the white board.

He was disappointed that it didn't work.  Me Too was getting different results.   I explained that this kind of graph works well when a progression is linear but that the relationship between number of sides and diagonals isn't linear.  I told him I think that the word for the relationship would be exponential but I'm not sure.  He suggested that there might be a formula.  So, I looked it up.

Here she is:  n(n-3)/2  

We worked the formula together for the heptagon we had already completed to make sure it worked.  Then Kal-El used it to predict Me Too's results for his remaining polygons.

I suggested he try to think of a polygon relationship that would be linear and he decided on the number of sides and the number of diagonals leaving each vertex.  We drew this graph together.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Narration and Dictation

I found two resources lately that have been a big help with our narration and dictation work. As many of you know copywork, narration and dictation are a part of the Montessori experience. One would find engaging things the children are reading in the natural course of their studies and choose excerpts to practice.  I have a tendency to forget to do this (I've never once remembered to do this).  I also wanted a little more guidance as to how long the excerpts should be at the start and how they should change as the child progresses.  For those reasons we have supplemented our Montessori work with Writing with Ease by Susan Wise Bauer for the past few years.  This year we reached level three and the dictation got a little tough.  I would read the excerpt for dictation many times, many times more than implied in the book, and the boys still would not remember the whole thing in order to write it down.

I asked for help on the Well-Trained Mind forums and someone kindly pointed me to Susan's videos on YouTube.  I didn't even know that she had a series of videos on YouTube.  I have since watched them all and really enjoyed them.  I know many of you also use WWE and may not know about these videos.  In particular, I wondered if many of you were also getting stuck on dictation at level three.  You will see in the video that this takes a long time and many repetitions.  So long, that it takes two videos to show her son's work.

I now work with my sons in my own style, but structured the way Susan works with her son in the video and they now are able to do the dictations.  However, as you can see, this is no longer a five-minute endeavor (16 for her) and it has made it harder to do WWE every day.  I worried that this would be a problem because I already felt guilty that my fifth grader was only in WWE level three.  But then, I discovered a document that contained Susan's updated recommendations for the timeline of WWE and the following series, Writing with Skill.  It turns out I need not have worried.  There is a lot in this document, but these were the important points for me:

  • Fifth grade is probably too young for Writing With Skill
  • Many students are ready to move on to WWS/original writing after only three levels of WWE (not all four)

Also of note:
  • she points out that the dictations will take more than the three repetitions prescribed in the book and gives tips.
  • she points out that children finished with WWE 3 still need work on narration and dictation but, as in Montessori, these should be pulled from their other learning (science, history, literature, etc.,)

She gives four  possible progressions through WWE and WWS including some that put another series in-between.  One of these doesn't have them beginning WWS until eighth grade. I looked at her recommended bridge work and didn't particularly like the choices.  If I choose to put in a bridge I will use the Developing Writing Through Grammar series.  It looks fun and creative and certainly like the type of things my boys like.  I have decided that when we finish WWE level three I will not use level four as Kal-El's main writing curriculum.  He will either move on to WWS or DWTG (probably the latter).  Me Too is two school grades behind him so will probably do WWE level four and I can have Kal-El do only my favorite dictations as I discover them for additional practice. Because the boys want to read every book that is excerpted in WWE it helps us choose some of our literature for the year.  I like Susan's choices.