Sunday, September 21, 2014

Challenge A ~ Update #1 and Helps and Hints


I think the Challenge Guide is fantastic. We’re using the included schedules and checklists rather than come up with something on our own. I love that a separate weekly checklist for Latin assignments is included to make it easier to write out details each week. So far, I’ve felt that the guide contains the information needed in a well-organized format. I’ve put it all in a notebook for Levi with the schedules and checklists in the front (with the year-at-a-glance and sample weekly schedule pages laminated). Then I’ve added tabs for “Writing and Rhetoric” and “Geography,” with all the other “Info” pages in the back—just to make it easier for him to navigate through the pages he’ll use the most.

We’ve spent these first two or three weeks doing almost everything together. Levi is extremely relational and interactive. He likes to talk through things. And he’s very distracted when working alone. He is also adjusting to a much heavier work load, and, for a boy who loves free time to play and just be, this transition could have been rough. Instead, I see that he is enjoying the increased one-on-one time, and the relationship aspect off-sets the work load by quite a bit. He is less bothered by his siblings doing less because I am working with him.

I also know that it is going to take him a bit to understand what is required for each assignment, how to approach them, how the schedule and checklists work, what a day’s work should look like, and how to navigate his assignments independently. I want him to feel capable and confident. I don’t want him to feel like he’s been thrown off the deep end. I really think he’ll get there, but we’ll work up to it slowly.

[My expectations for the other boys have been very low these weeks. They’re reading independently and doing math with us. Luke’s copying some charts for Essentials and we’re doing bare minimum for IEW. They’ve been drawing and tracing some maps. Other than that, they just haven’t yet started “school.” And that’s okay.]


:: Grammar—“Latin A” using Henle First Year Latin

I am SO THANKFUL for the FREE worksheets for Henle First Year Latin exercises from Magistra Jones. I’ve printed them off, 3-hole-punched them, and put them under “Exercises” in Levi’s Latin notebook so they are ready to go. For students who struggle with the amount of writing, or keeping their papers nice and neat, I think these are invaluable. I might have him transition to blank paper in Ch B or I.

I had Staples spiral-bound both the main Henle Latin book and the Grammar book so that they will lie open while Levi is using them. I can’t imagine using them any other way.

It’s important to note that having studied some formal Latin in the past makes this a much less overwhelming subject (so far). The vocabulary, declensions, exercises, and most of the grammar from these first few weeks are fairly easy for Levi.

ETA: We may also be using these free Latin video tutorials on YouTube as we get further in to Henle and further in over our head.

[May I just interject here and mention that I loathe the sound of Classical Latin pronunciation? It is so unnatural and ugly. Ecclesiastical Latin is just beautiful. It is the pronunciation used for prayers and songs. It is intuitive and complements Spanish language studies. I’m trying to pronounce the words both ways for Levi, but the 1st declension ae ending is particularly difficult for me to remember since I learned the declension songs through CC Foundations. Sigh. It is what it is.]


:: Exposition and Composition—Literature, Discussion, & Persuasive Writing

I’m glad I’ve had a little experience with The Lost Tools of Writing over the past few months (in addition to the Two Andrews event and the LTW workshop I attended over a year ago). I led some afternoon workshops for the two CC Practicums at which I spoke, and we’ve been using the ANI chart at some of our recent Book Detectives meetings (which means that part is familiar to Levi, as well). Levi and I discussed and filled out a story chart from Teaching the Classics for the first literature selection, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, before working on the ANI chart. I’m hoping to keep that up throughout the year and make use of the Words Aptly Spoken resource.

Because Levi is a fast reader, and because he enjoys reading (just about anything), and because he has already read each of the literature selections at least once, this is going to be his easiest seminar for a while. The writing is very straight-forward and simple (and short) as the students learn more about invention (thinking about ideas) and the very basic structure of persuasive essays within the context of formal rhetoric.

:: Debate—Geography

Levi is spending quite a bit of time on the geography quizzes at Sheppard Software. These quizzes have not just countries and capitals, but also many geographical features and many different levels of difficulty.

I had purchased the recommended Compact Atlas of the World to get him started, but after reading some “been there done that” recommendations I also purchased the National Geographic Student World Atlas. It shows continents on a single page, which makes tracing or drawing on 8.5x11 paper much easier. (Actually, I purchased the third edition, but this new fourth edition looks great.) He has used the National Geographic Atlas almost exclusively so far.

Levi wants to copy fairly carefully (and color, oh the hours that can be spent…), and we’re going to have to figure out how to transition to more simple “blob” type maps that he can re-draw from memory.

The CC Facebook groups are proving invaluable for recommendations and hints. There is an “official” CC group as well as a group specifically for Challenge families. I think it was on one of those groups where this Draw the USA Video Tutorial was posted. It breaks the US into four sections and gives step-by-step instructions. Super helpful!! My Foundations students will be using it this year for U.S. geography, as well.

I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t mention that I have no idea how we’re going to learn all the (suggested) material for geography. As in: all 50 states (with capitals) drawn from memory as well as 41 rivers and 17 features. In two weeks. Seriously?! Yowsa.


::  Research—Natural Science

I discovered that an extensive home library is helpful when doing science research. We had about 7 books to choose from when picking sources for protozoa, and I didn’t have to hit the library or internet. Awesome.

Three books in particular will be very helpful this year, and I am having Levi read them entirely in addition to his research.

  • Introduction to Biology by John Holzmann (available used on Amazon or new at Sonlight). This is a fantastic narrative-style introduction to biology written for (upper) elementary students that focuses mainly on the plant and animal kingdoms (though it does contain some history of biology). It is written from a Christian perspective and uses Biblical references to address creation, but it is not dogmatic about young or old earth creation (hallelujah).
  • Real Science 4 Kids: Focus On Middle School Biology (also available through Rainbow Resource where you can watch a short video of the author, Rebecca W. Keller PhD). The author is an active research scientist and homeschool mom. This book is written in textbook format with great color illustrations. It is written from an Intelligent Design perspective.
  • Exploring the World of Biology: From Mushrooms to Complex Life Forms by John Hudson Tiner. I love this whole series of books (also used by Memoria Press). This narrative-style text covers much of the historical context of biology and includes many biographical sketches (Jacques Yves Cousteau, Louis Pasteur, George Washington Carver, Aristotle, Carl Linnaeus, and many more). Even literature references are sprinkled throughout (The Tyger by William Blake and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, for example). It is written from a Christian perspective, but not specifically young earth.

Levi could search and read for hours and not make a decision about his specific topic. And then read several more hours and not make a key word outline. And then browse another hour or two and not draw his sketch. I’m reminded of the quote, “Completion is the death of possibility.” That certainly applies to Levi generally and applies to his science research specifically.


::  Rhetoric—Clear Reasoning

The 3 weekly catechism questions to memorize are no problem so far. (My awesome best friend put them all to music, and I can’t wait to get those recordings from her.) The Fallacy Detective: Thirty-Eight Lessons on How to Recognize Bad Reasoning is easy and enjoyable (plus Levi was already familiar with it). Levi read through all of It Couldn't Just Happen: Knowing the Truth About God's Awesome Creation months ago because reading is no problem for him, but the summarizing is definitely going to take a bit longer. His tutor is having the students write all their chapter summaries in a spiral notebook. It’s a great skill for him to learn, though!

Check out this fantastically fun illustrated book of fallacies, online for free, that complements The Fallacy Detective.


::  Logic—Mathematics

We are using Saxon 8/7 with the Teaching Tapes (recommended by Leigh Bortins). I love Saxon’s emphasis on math vocabulary, laws and properties, the “why’s” of math, and skill mastery. I love that Saxon 8/7 reviews all the basic math skills and concepts while adding in algebraic concepts. I love CC’s emphasis on Socratic dialogue using math terms. Math is traditionally Levi’s weakest subject, however, and we could spend hours each day on math if we do everything (drill worksheet, mental math warm-up, video lesson, practice questions, 30 problems for each lesson, corrections on missed problems, and additional tests and investigations). I don’t want to skimp because he needs the practice, but we’ll have to find a balance somewhere.

At the moment, we’re making math a family activity. The other two boys are strong in math, so they join us. I have individual white boards for everyone (including Lola for drawing, and a large one for me). We do the warm-up mental math together, and the boys write answers on their white boards. We watch the lesson and do practice questions together. Leif fades somewhere in there (he’s great at math, but has no stamina, ha!). Sometimes Levi (and occasionally Luke) and I do part or whole lessons together using the white board. Levi is super interactive/conversational/relational, and math is much less painful this way. It also goes much faster than if he tries to do it independently (and stares off into space the whole time). Corrections are also immediate and less time-consuming. I’m guessing we’ll end up doing about half of the lessons together and half independently. We aren’t doing so well on the drill worksheets and investigations. I might save them for review over breaks and summer.


That’s our experience so far!


Anonymous said...

You are such a huge blessing! Thank you so very much for sharing your resources with all of us. I have a child in Challenge A, so the Henle Latin worksheets are a wonderful time saving aid.

Thank you,

Heidi said...

RMann~ I'm happy to share. Most of what we use is from the generosity of others sharing their talents and resources! I added a link to some great video tutorials for Latin, as well.

Stacy said...

Thank you so much for your insight. My son started Challenge A last year, but we pulled him out. He was getting extremely frustrated with the work load. I think the tutor overwhelmed him, too. Great tutor, but he couldn't keep up with her on class days. Your description "interactive/conversational/relational" fits him. He does work better if I can sit with him and talk him through his lessons, but having the time to do that is a struggle. We are now getting ready to possibly send my daughter to challange A next year. I appreciate your insights into your school days.

Heidi said...

Stacy~ It's tough when we are "check all the boxes" parents or students, or we get a bunch of pressure from the tutor, but we have to remember that *we* as parents have the final say over what we expect from our children. The priority is definitely that Challenge should work for *us* not us for Challenge. :) At least one of the students in Levi's class is not doing Latin (just listening during the seminar) and at least one other is only focusing on the vocab (with flashcards) and declensions. That's it. In geography this week, 41 rivers are listed for the U.S. I'm having Levi only do the 9 that the Foundations students are memorizing. I'd rather he memorize those (and draw them from memory) than spend a bunch of time finding and drawing 41 rivers that he won't be able to remember and draw (in two weeks along with all the other info). I know other parents who have done some of the books on audio for their students who struggle with reading. It's all about adjusting to the right amount of "challenge" for our individual students! I agree that it is a difficult time to be able to spend as much one-on-one time as these relational/verbal children would like. There's a balance to be found...but I'm not sure what it is! :)

Kim said...

As always, great resources! Love the book lists. So helpful. You might like, The Encyclopedia of Earth by Allaby, if you don't already have it!

Danielle said...

I'm pouring over this as we are welcoming a 16 year old permanent foster teen next week and I very much want to put her in Challenge A. But also very much unsure if it's even fair to place the workload on her. . .

Danielle said...

Hi again, I'm also wondering how you've found the transition from Teaching Textbooks to Saxon?

Heidi said...

Danielle~ I really like Saxon so far, but it's a lot more work per lesson than Teaching Textbooks if you do everything in the book. There is a drill worksheet for every lesson, mental math warm up plus a "problem solving" problem, the lesson (we usually watch the lesson on a DVD series, but you can just read the book), several practice questions for the new concept, and then 30 problems (old and new concepts). For a super-duper distractible son who does not like math, this plus the corrections (of which there are many) could take hours (and hours) daily. But it will really depend on the student. The recommended pace in Challenge is fairly fast, as well, in order to get the book done in 30 weeks. So the tests every 5 lessons and the "investigation" lessons are added to a full week of regular lessons (partly because they miss a day on community day when they are just discussing the math concepts). Does that make sense? Right now we are picking and choosing. Unfortunately, Levi's not doing the drill sheets or the investigations, and he's often only doing odds or evens (or the first 15 problems) for each lesson. All this may matter less if a student is not at the exact Saxon level that is recommended for Ch A (8/7), and they can go at their own pace over a longer period of time.