Saturday, October 31, 2015

Kitchen Cabinet Organization

After organizing my bathrooms, I moved on to the kitchen. I really didn’t do much, here, just added some wire shelving to my pots and pans cabinets and under the sink. It made a big difference in the neatness and organization, though!

This is “before.”  Believe it or not, everything had a place, but the need to stack it all up to make it fit made it look so messy! First, I added the rack for cookie sheets and larger pans…



I found some double shelves to put at the back of the cabinet under the existing half-shelf. This was perfect for neatly storing casserole dishes and lids.






Here is the “after” picture:


I put a couple more shelves (long expanding single shelves) in my pot cupboard to keep the pots, pans and lids neat. This practically doubled my storage space.


My options were limited for under the sink. I would have loved to use one of the nicer under-sink organizers that I put in my bathrooms, but the garbage disposal and the configuration of the plumbing wouldn’t allow it. I found this Cabinet Basket Organizer at Amazon that was perfect for corralling extra sponges, scrubbing pads and brushes, and small bottles, and I was able to put larger bottles on top.


Next challenge—the pantry!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Standard Deviants Accelerate (Schoolhouse Review)

Over the past month, Emily has had fun reviewing the Homeschool Courses at Standard Deviants Accelerate. Standard Deviants provides fun and lively video instruction for a variety of  topics. For most courses, the Standard Deviants options would be best used as a supplement rather than a full course. Courses include:
  • Earth Science (Grades 6+)
  • Nutrition (Grades 6+)
  • Biology (Grades 7+)
  • Chemistry (Grades 9+)
  • Arithmetic (Grades 3+)
  • Fundamental Math (Grades 4+)
  • Algebra (Grades 7+)
  • English Composition (Grades 9+)
  • US History (Grades 9+)
  • AP Biology, Chemistry, American Government, U.S. History, English Composition (Grades 11+)
For the purposes of this review, Emily has primarily been using the Nutrition course, which we plan to count as part of her high school level Health credit. Topic covered include cells and macronutrients, imagemicronutrients, vitamins and minerals, digestion, food groups, nutritional disorders, the food industry, organic food, and food safety. Each of the eight primary topics is divided into 3-6 lessons plus a chapter review, for a total of about 35 separate lessons.
Each lesson has the same format: first, a 3-5 minute video teaches the information. The videos are fast-moving, jumping from one teacher to another for short bursts of infimageormation interspersed with illustrations. A script for each lesson is also provided. This is very helpful for review, or for a parent who wants to skim the topic without actually watching the whole lesson.
imageThen, a vocabulary page reviews the key terms for the lesson. The vocabulary page is followed by a “diagram,” an interactive review that requires the student to drag key words into place.
A five question quiz and written answer complete the lesson. The quiz is automatically graded and any questions missed are linked to a short video segment that explains the material. I really liked this feature, which allows the student to re-learn the missed material. (The student soon learns that this is important because the upcoming chapter test will include any questions that were previously missed!) Each quiz has only 5 questions, so missing just one will result in a grade of 80. I would have preferred to see 10-question quizzes.
We didn’t care for the written answer portion of the lessons. Each lesson has the exact same question, which the student is expected to answer as it relates to that lesson. Emily found this rather difficult to do, at least in the early lessons, since the question didn’t pertain to any specific lesson. Instead, I let her write a 2-3 sentence summary of the lesson, which I then counted for bonus credit for her test. I also gave bonus credit if Emily made the effort to take notes during the video. This helped to bring up the 80’s that she was making on many of the quizzes and to encourage note taking, which she avoids doing in any subject. (I’m trying to have her improve her note taking skills this year, since that is a skill she hasn’t had much practice with.) Note: the bonus credit was just in my own record keeping; the teacher can’t adjust the grades in the SDA software.
The Chapter Review for each topic allows the student to review, present, and be assessed on the material in unique ways.
Act it Out” captures the spirit of the Standard Deviant style of learning by asking the student to teach a lesson. The topic might not be exciting (“the difference between complete and incomplete proteins”, or “why carbohydrates are the most efficient form of energy for the body”), but the material must be presented in a fun way—making a comic strip, creating a game, or creating a series of Twitter posts about the topic. Teaching someone else is the best way to really learn something, so the Act it Out section helps the student really make the content his own.
The Post-test covers all the lessons in the chapter and is in multiple-choice format. Two Critical Thinking questions require the student to both retain information and use the information to draw conclusions.
The U.S. History course is not a typical sequential approach to history. Instead, it consists of 6 topics: American Presidents, Women’s Movement, Civil Reform, America at War, and Economic Changes. Each topic has several lessons that take the concept through time in U.S history.  We’ve only watched a couple of these lessons so far, but I know they will be a fun supplement for history this year.
    Meet the teachers! This photo gives you an idea about how zany the lessons can be! This goal of SDA and this group of young actors is to make learning fun!
Standard Deviants Accelerate Review
Emily found Standard Deviants Accelerate easy to navigate and use. The content is designed to be entertaining and engaging, and she agreed that it was. SDA keeps track of quiz scores and written answer grades (graded by the parent).image 
I found the parent/teacher portion of the site a bit more awkward to use. It is set up for classroom use, not for home use, so if I had 30 or 100 students, maybe it would have worked better for me. In order to see one of Emily’s written answers, for example, I would have to click on the class, then on the lesson, then on the particular assignment for that lesson, then on Emily’s name. Repeat the entire process to see a written answer from another lesson. After all that, as Emily could tell you, I would be rather irritated to find that she hadn’t completed the written answer yet!  It would be SO much easier to just click on her name, then see all the completed assignments from any subject under it. Other than the set-up of the teacher portal, I was very happy with the classes and content.
Emily gives “two thumbs up” to  the SDA courses. She says that the videos are packed with a lot of information and are entertaining to watch.  Because the lessons are short, she’s often able to complete two lessons a day, so she is already nearing the end of the Nutrition course that she started 6 weeks ago. 
The Standard Deviants Accelerate courses are currently priced at $9.99 per course per month. ($4.99 for the AP Prep courses.)
Standard Deviants Accelerate Review
I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Ultimate Homeschool Planner (Schoolhouse Review)

Apologia Ultimate Homeschool Planner
The Ultimate Homeschool Planner

There are many options for homeschool planning, from traditional plan books to elaborate computer software to even a plain spiral notebook! The Ultimate Homeschool Planner , by Debra Bell, and published by Apologia Educational Ministries is a very nice option that includes not only weekly planning grids, but tools for weekly, monthly and yearly planning for education, family events, and spiritual growth.
Like many planners, the The Ultimate Homeschool Planner includes weekly lesson planning pages, pages for recording books read, field trips, grades, and resource lists.

So what makes this planner unique?P1050423
1. Twelve pages of “how to use this planner” give tips on how to set up and use a yearly planning retreat, monthly planning sessions, weekly planning breaks, and weekly student meetings ensure that your child is on track.

2. Of course, pages are provided each week  for homeschool lesson planning, but there are two additional pages for recording Scripture verses, prayer lists, hospitality/outreach goals, and for recording memorable moments, achievements, evidences of God’s grace, and answers to prayer.

3. Articles at the end of the planner offer great information on raising an independent learner, motivating a reluctant learner, learning styles and thinking skills (a mini how-to-homeschool course).
4. An 8th through 12th grade grid for high school planning is also included. P1050426Including 8th grade on the grid is helpful, because many 8th graders take a high school level class or two.
5. A key component to The Ultimate Homeschool Planner system is the yearly and monthly pre-planning that includes setting character and academic goals for each student, reviewing the previous month both with and without the student, and documenting the student’s growth in both academic and non-academic areas.
6. Pockets! Inside the covers are sturdy pockets for holding those extra papers that always accumulate. I love this!
7. This planner is really pretty. That motivates me to use it. Every week includes a inspiring quote at the top of the page.
How did I use this planner?
I’ve been using an online lesson planner that works well for our family, so I tried out some different uses for The Ultimate Homeschool Planner. The first thing I did was to add some stick-on tabs to divide the sections.
I used the first two weekly planner pages as designed. On Sunday, I wrote down our Bible plan for the week (goals for scripture memory and/or my scripture reading plan for the week, a “fighter plan” verse to meditate on each day, prayer list, and hospitality/outreach goals. I read through and prayed over these items each morning during my quiet time. I found that actually recording a plan for these areas kept me more focused as well as helping me to consider areas (like outreach to others) that tend to be neglected. I tried to record memorable moments and evidences of grace on the following page, but wasn’t as successful keeping up with that. I still think it’s a great goal to write down these things and I am trying to be more aware of those little things that I should be thankful for.
I tried out the lesson plan pages by putting days of the week across the top and subjects down the side. This is very similar to what I used to use (although prettier) for lesson planning. For families with several children, each child could be assigned one of the squares along the left margin, with each day’s assignments all printed in one block. Or each row could be designated for a subject, with each student having one column. With this layout, assignments for one subject for the week could be put in a square. There are lots of possibilities!
I also experimented with using the planning grid to assign chores and for blog planning, and to keep track of points Emily earns with a system we’re experimenting with to help her with time management, attitude, and responsibility.
Part of the yearly planning process is to mark out commitments for the year on a 2-page yearly calendar. This enables you to see these events at a glance, making long-term lesson planning easier. I used this calendar in a different way. I listed Emily’s school subjects down the left side of the page. Then I did some very general long-term planning for each subject for the year. I started doing this type of planning several years ago and have found it very helpful for subjects for which I have multiple resources or units and for working in short-term review resources. For example, in English, I marked off 3-4 weeks for each book study we’ll be doing. Emily is doing one math book for some review right now before she starts her primary text for the year. Other studies are short term, but are part of a larger course, and this planning grid helps me to see how it all fits together. This is done in pencil, because changes will be made as the year progresses!
The Ultimate Homeschool Planner is a very solid planner that includes almost anything that a homeschool family needs to record. It focus on so much more than just lesson plans and that should make anyone’s home run more smoothly.

Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal Review
I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Organizing my bathrooms!

I’ve been on a bit of an organizing kick lately. My cabinets, throughout the house, are a mess. A big part of that has been that I just have too much stuff! However, I went on a search to find some tools to help me organize and corral all that “stuff.”  (I did throw away or move some of it during the process.)

I’m rather embarrassed to show this “before” picture. What a mess. This is Emily’s bathroom and she is supposed to keep it clean, but you can see that doesn’t happen! We had too much in here and weren’t utilizing some of the vertical space.


I found this great under sink organizer at The Container Store ($29).  Now, everything has a place!


I loved it so much that I bought one for our downstairs powder room too.


My master bathroom has two tall narrow cabinets on each side of the sinks. Again, I have a lot stored in here. It’s a nice storage area that partially makes up for the fact that I have 2 pedestal sinks and no counter space. However, there was vertical space that I wasn’t using.P1050412















Since the cabinets are less than 11 inches wide, it was hard to find any shelves that would fit. Again at The Container Store, I was able to find a 10” square shelf that was perfect. I also found some nice stacking organizer trays that were ideal for corralling toothpaste, make-up, soap, and band-aids. (I do a lot of couponing and sale shopping, so I often have large supplies of some items).

I love how neat everything looks now and how much extra space I have with the addition of a few shelves and stacking bins!


I was surprised to find that The Container Store had the best prices on most of the cabinet organizing shelves and bins that I bought, compared to Target and Amazon, as well as a bigger selection. Some of their products are very pricey, but there were bargains there, too.

Coming soon…kitchen cabinets!

Friday, October 23, 2015

IEW Resource Set (Schoolhouse Review)

IEW Phonetic Zoo
Institute for Excellence in Writing is best known for their comprehensive writing program (reviewed by the Schoolhouse Crew earlier this year.) They also publish many other innovative products for homeschoolers. We got to try out three of IEW’s resources this month:
Timeline of Classics
Teaching with Games Set
A Word Write Now  
Timeline of Classics: Historical Context for the Good and Great Books ($29.00), by Gail Ledbetter, is an index of books, plays, recordings and movies that correlate with each period of world history from the ancients to the present. These resources are arranged in chart form, giving the year and topic (such as 1500’s, British-Spanish conflict, Armada), Title, Author, and interest level (elementary, middle, and/or high school). This type of resource can be very helpful for putting together one’s own history program, supplementing a traditional textbook curriculum with additional books, such as biographies and historical fiction, or just exploring interests in a particular topic or time period. As much as we love books, I was very happy to see other resources as well, such as Jim Hodges’ recording of G.A. Henty books and documentaries and movies for each time period. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year searching for movies to supplement our history; it will be great to have a resource with suggestions now! I’ve started looking for resources and labeling ones that our library carries in the margins.
One nice touch that the Timeline of Classics has is a quote on each page from a book from that time period.
God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? –Benjamin Franklin
I didn’t always agree with the suggested reading level of the books. I saw many that I would have deemed appropriate for early elementary ages that were classified as Elementary/Middle and elementary/ middle books that were classified as Middle/High. We all have different standards for reading material, though, and I’ve found that even picture books can pack a lot of great information into an easy-to-read format. As always, it’s best to look at a book yourself to decide if it’s a good fit for your family.
Interested in adding some fun to your school day, but don’t know where to start? The Teaching with Games Set is packed with great ideas and even ready-to-use games. The 116 page book ($19) begins by briefly explaining the advantages of using games in the classroom (or homeschool). Did you know that studies show that students retain 5% of material from a lecture, 10% from reading, and as much as 90% from immediate use and application? Those facts certainly make a good argument for hands-on learning!
The bulk of the book explains and teaches different types of learning games in these categories:

    1. No-Prep games
    2. Matching Card Games
    3. Question Games
    4. Math Facts Games
    5. Make as You Teach Games
The author explains the rules and preparation needed for each game, provides blank templates for cards, Bingo, and board games, and includes many ready-to-use games. The pre-made games cover topics like math facts, world geography, planets, ancient Egypt, and geometry. But more importantly, the reader will be empowered to create her own game on any topic.
I particularly like the idea of no-prep games. These include games like hangman, and Wheel of Fortune and Pictionary adaptations. The make-as-you-teach games are even better. As the students create their own game boards for bingo or lotto games, they are learning the material. Then, they can practice the concepts again as they play the games.
Some of the games do require preparation, but still are not difficult to make and just require making flashcards or drawing out a game board.
The corresponding Teaching With Games DVD set ($29) features a conference that the author presented teaching the material in the book and demonstrating the games. It included the same material as the book, but I found it helpful to see the games in action. One disc also includes an e-book form of the Teaching With Games book and some bonus games for alliteration and similes. Some of the games do require larger groups—teams or at least 3-4 people to play. Since our homeschool has only one student, these won’t work for us, so we’re choosing from the ones that will and looking for opportunities to play games in larger groups.
This is a super simple game to practice adding and subtracting integers. Just make a number line from –10 to 10, find a marker and a die, and you are ready to play. The marker is placed on 0 and players take turns moving the number on the die (one player adds, and the other subtracts). The first player to reach “her” the end of her side of the number line wins. I wish I had thought of this game a few years ago when Emily was learning this concept. Every day, I would draw a number line at the top of her math notebook for a visual reference, because she wasn’t “seeing it” in her head. This would have helped!
2015-09-23 12.58.542015-09-23 12.59.30
We played this Jeopardy-type game with our chemistry lab group. I made question cards in four different categories with content from their chemistry book. Questions were assigned point value depending on their difficulty and students competed for the most points. This was a really fun way to review those tough concepts!

A Word Write Now: A Thesaurus for Stylized Writing ($35), by Loranna Schwacofer,  is a unique reference book. At first glance, it is an easy-to-use thesaurus. Section A includes a double page spread for each of 23 character traits: anger, cheerfulness, envy, gossip, honor, etc. Each page defines the target word and gives a quote or two about the character quality (Hostility—“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.” Albert Schweitzer). Then a long list of is given (in nice big print) giving synonyms and related words for the character quality in these categories: nouns, nouns (characters), adjectives, adverbs, and verbs. And my favorite feature—excerpts from classical literature on every page. These excerpts demonstrate the featured character traits. For example, the Dishonesty page has quotes from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”
Although A Word Write Now stands well just as a reference book, we also used it to inspire creative writing assignments. I gave Emily one topic, like “courage,” and had her write a descriptive paragraph using at least 6 words from the list. It was fun to see what she came up with and I could tell that the list sparked her imagination in addition to encouraging her to use more descriptive and more specific words. We’ve done this creative writing assignment for several of the key words and it’s been a fun way to do creative writing.
Section B of the book is similar in format, but includes words in the categories of appearance, color, size, time, temperature, texture, and shape.
The appendix includes ideas for word games, an introduction to literary genres, and definitions and examples of literary devices. This is such a useful book that would be an great supplement to any curriculum.
All three of these resources will be helpful in our homeschool!

IEW Review
I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.