Tag Archives: book reviews

Book Review :: Musical Inventions

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I review books. It keeps my librarian skills sharp, and I love talking about  – and analyzing – books. These reviews cover science and art education books, for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

a picture of the book, Musical Inventions, by Kathy Ceceri

Make has such pretty books these days. All of Ceceri’s books have been printed with color pictures.

It always takes me a long time to review a book. I need to let it sit on my desk for awhile. I want the information to turn over in my head, which allows my brain to make connections to my prior knowledge. I hate shallow reviews. I understand that time is often, of the essence, but it’s difficult to trust a person’s word if they’ve only had the book for a week or so. I mean, how can you know if the book is any good if it hasn’t sat with you for awhile? I have let Kathy Ceceri’s latest book, Musical Inventions, sit on my desk for quite a few months. All in the name of authenticity…

Musical Inventions by Kathy Ceceri

While there is some truth to the above statement, there is also a funny set of events that contributed to its floundering on my desk beneath an important set of papers. It started with a bit of bad timing. When this lovely book arrived on my doorstep in May, we had one foot out the door, in anticipation of a wonderful three-week vacation (which included Washington, DC, Pennsylvania and Quebec). When we returned, I immediately began teaching at summer camp. Following that madness, the Fall semester began at the college where I work…and thus, I’m just now publishing this review.

It’s a long-winded excuse, yes? Sigh. In some ways, it is. I was hoping to get the book reviewed earlier, but I also wanted to try out more of the projects. It seems there’s never enough time to do all of the projects – just a few. Ha! As if I needed a fun, hands-on book to tell me that my life is full.

Plus, I have to confess a little secret: music isn’t really my thing. Oh sure, I love singing along to Hamilton as much as the rest of my family, but when it comes to sound, noise and music, my guitar-playing husband is the one who brings such beauty to our home.

So I did what any sensible, non-musical person would do: I handed the book over to my husband and asked him to try out some of the projects with the kids.

DIY Instruments to Toot, Tap, Crank, Strum, Pluck and Switch On

Ceceri, Kathy. Make: Musical Inventions: DIY Instruments to Toot, Tap, Crank, Strum, Pluck, and Switch On. Make Media: San Fransisco, 2017. Target Audience: science, music & homeschool teachers; parents of upper elementary, middle and high school students.

As with all of Ceceri’s Make books, this tome includes a lot of fun, hands-on projects coupled with real-life connections to individuals and scientific concepts. It only took a few pages before I was hooked. In the first chapter, she mentioned the discovery of a 42,000 year-old flute, found in a cave in 2012. It was made from the tusk of a woolly mammoth. That is so cool! People have been making music for thousands of years. Art and music have always been a part of our culture. Just like the cave art in Lascaux.

After a brief description of the history of music, she goes on to describe how sound works, in addition to the basics of music theory and notation. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a simple book. It’s not. Although the projects are for beginners, there is some heavy teaching going on within these pages. I could definitely see a middle or high school teacher using some of these projects to demonstrate physical science concepts.

Packing Tape Bass Drum

a picture of a hand-made drum from the book, Musical Inventions

A little bit of tape and some popcorn makes a nice drum set.

Since I handed the book off to my musically-inclined husband, all I had to do was sit back, quietly observe, and wait to snap a few pictures. During a long weekend break, my husband pulled out the book and proceeded to test out the “Packing Tape Bass Drum” project. It was the perfect time for a project: the kids were restless and we had all of the materials on hand [clear packing (or masking) tape, a can opener and two round cans (or plastic cups)].

They easily made the drums, which were happily taken home by our neighbor, a girl who lives across the street. She also has a musically-inclined father and I hope they played a duet later that evening.

a picture of two homemade drums made out of tape and clear plastic drink glasses, from the book, Musical Inventions.

My hubby improvised with some of the materials, but the result was the same: homemade drums.

My husband also messed around with the “Turntable Water Glasses” project, but I was too slow to capture it on camera. All told, this book could keep a family busy for days. It would also be a great start for a new science concept, or a way to cap off an in-depth project-based learning physics course. For me, I found the projects on circuit bending to be the most interesting…and hope to mess around with those in the future. If you are impatient, or want to try out one of her projects before grabbing the book, check out her tutorial on creating a low-tech music box.

Maker Movement and Learning

I have long been a fan of Ceceri’s work. As a former homeschool mom, she has created lots of interesting projects that connect learning with real-life applications. Science (and history and writing) are fascinating, but only if a student can make those connections. It’s only stimulating if a student is interested. I think the maker movement gives students a reason to be excited. I hope that every parent considers purchasing one of these books for their child’s teacher…and offers to provide some of the supplies, as well.

I received this book in exchange for my honest review. If you’d like to see my other (non-compensated) reviews of Make titles, check out Making Makers, Making Simple Robots, and Tinkering.

 

Book Review – Edible Inventions

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I review books. It keeps my librarian skills sharp, and I love talking about  – and analyzing – books. These reviews cover science and art education books, for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

A picture of the book, Edible Inventions.

Edible Inventions is written by Kathy Ceceri (a former homeschool mom)! Pictured next to the book are C’s homemade “Juicy Gelatin Dots.”

Ages: Teachers, Parents, Teens, Kids (with help)
Ceceri, Kathy. Make: Edible Inventions : Cooking Hacks and Yummy Recipes You Can Build, Mix, Bake, and Grow. Maker Media, 2016.

Edible Inventions = Kitchen Science

Ceceri’s latest contribution to the maker movement is a strange cross between cookbook and science textbook.  It’s a useful resource for teachers, parents and curious kids.

That being said, the title put me off – just a little. I wouldn’t have willingly picked up a book on edible inventions. It sounded too much like a cookbook. At our house, we have some food intolerance issues, and an aversion to sugar overload, so we do a lot of cooking. The last thing I want is more time in the kitchen (or a book that doesn’t respect those choices). In fact, some of the projects she showcases are ones we’ve done in the past. For example, we’ve made our own edible inventions (homemade marshmallows ) and have been composting (and gardening) for years.

Unlike her other books, I was familiar with most of the information presented because I’ve been cooking from scratch for decades (as opposed to creating with robotic legos). Just ask my family about my early failures – they are legend!  Obviously, I wasn’t expecting “a cookbook” to knock my socks off. However, like most of her books, Ceceri caught my eye in the very first chapter. I skimmed the table of contents until I saw this project: “Make a Hydraulic LEGO 3D Food Printer.”  It was at that moment I realized book covers (and titles) can be deceiving. This is a science textbook disguised as a cookbook.

Lego 3D Food Printer

In fact, once my oldest son playfully wrestled the book away from me, the first page he found described the pancake bot. This real-life invention is the inspiration for the food printer project. I love the idea that we can replicate one without using (or damaging) our EV3 brick. As a teacher, I want a real-life connection between the “craft project” and the information I’m presenting. Thankfully, Ceceri understands this concept completely. Learning can be fun, but there needs to be a bridge between the real world and the scaled down project.

In our “learning at home” life, the kids pick and choose their science interests. For many years, my oldest son has been enamored with computers, so he has stuck with Lego robotics, Scratch programming and First Lego League. I have not formally taught them chemistry (nor do I intend to do so), but a fellow homeschool parent did teach a basic chemistry class through our homeschool co-op. Some of the projects in this book (i.e. baked foam meringue cookies and juicy gelatin dots) would have been great compliments to that class – especially when talking about liquids, gases and chemical reactions.

Science Cookbook

Although the Lego project caught my eye, it was my youngest son who requested that we make something together. Both boys enjoy cooking, but my youngest seems to enjoy it more. He picked out the gelatin dots project, and after a slight delay (we had to chill the oil overnight), we were off.

picture of Great Lakes gelatin container, Grapeseed oil and POM juice, required ingredients for a project from the book, Edible Inventions.

Everything was easy to find at the store or in our pantry.

This project was surprisingly easy to make. My youngest son recently turned eight, but he made (most of) the gelatin dots on his own. Once his older brother saw what was happening, he swept in and asked for a chance to create. There was enough gelatin to share, so everyone had a chance to make (and eat) some jello-like dots.

A picture of a boy using a medicine dropper to create gelatin fruit dots from the book, Edible Inventions.

C is concentrating on creating perfect-size dots. Ceceri recommends a picnic-style ketchup or mustard dispenser, but we had an old, unused medicine dropper that worked just fine.

If you are so inclined, Ceceri provides an additional chemistry project to accompany these gelatin dots. With grape juice dots and lemonade, you could take this project further and introduce acids and bases. I think it would have been neat to include some additional “academic” connections here, perhaps some PH paper? Since this was for my eight-year-old, we ignored all formal learning and went with hands-on experimenting.

Conclusion

All of Ceceri’s books are well-researched and provide project details, background information and real-life connections. They are fabulous additions to any resource library and they offer a great way to get more hands-on, educational projects into your home or classroom.

I received this book in exchange for my honest review. If you’d like to see my other (non-compensated) reviews of Make titles, check out Making Makers, Making Simple Robots, and Tinkering.

Book Review :: Making Makers

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published on Fridays. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

picture of cover of making makers

Published by Make and written by AnnMarie Thomas, Making Makers is a good read.

Making Makers

Audience: Parents and Teacher
Thomas, AnnMarie. Making Makers: Kids, Tools, and the Future of Innovation. Foreward by Dale Dougherty. Maker Media: Sebastopol, CA, 2014

AnnMarie Thomas is an engineering professor (and parent) whose research focuses on technological literacy in K-12 environments. She is a leader in promoting play and learning, especially with regards to hands-on science materials for young children. Her five-minute TED talk on squishy circuits is fabulous, and I’m including it here:

Making Makers – the book

‘Make’ publishes some great books, and Thomas’ Making Makers is no exception. Many are written in narrative form and provide tons of examples and anecdotal stories. It would be nice if the grainy black and white pictures were better, but I think that keeps the price down.  I would much rather read about the inspirational projects featured in each book.

A picture of a grainy black and white picture from the book, Making Makers

While interviewing a number of professional “makers,” Thomas discovered a few traits that many makers seem to have. They don’t have every trait, but they might have a few, or they might have many. It seems to depend on what type of medium they are working with (robots, electronics, fabrics). Obviously, since she is an engineer, there is a heavy emphasis on electronic and engineering projects, but she is quick to note that sewing is definitely part of the maker movement. Who knew that all of those years ago when I taught myself how to sew, I really wanted to be a maker?

This book is sprinkled with interviews and stories about “makers” around the country. Most of them are well-respected in their fields and it’s fascinating to find out how they “fell” into their professions. Some had a love for it as children, while others were just creative, make-do kind of people and could switch mediums as they discovered a new interest.

picture of the table of contents from book, making makers

Becoming an Engineer

As a parent, I was interested in finding out how I could assist the “making” process that is already going on in my home. In her book, I found a lot of similarities between the skills I learned during my Montessori training, and those that I picked up from reading current educational research. Some of the best practices seem centered on encouraging your children’s “tinkering” interests, facilitating their learning (or finding someone who can) and making a point to continue learning yourself – all while trying to maintain a growth mindset.

Traditionally, many of our strong engineering students came from farming backgrounds. They would arrive at the university with hands-on experience maintaining and building equipment….while the mechanical savvy that many “farm kids” possess is often discussed, I see that as just one attribute shared among this group. Farm families depend on all members to do their part in getting the work done, and thus most farm kids grow up with a strong sense of responsibility.                       AnnMarie Thomas, Raising Makers.

My oldest son has been saying, since before the age of six, that he wants to be a robot engineer. Will he become one as adult? Who knows? My husband and I don’t care either way, but I do want to prepare him for the eventuality. As the grandson of two mechanically-inclined grandfathers, if there is an engineering gene – he has it. One grandfather was a “farm kid” who has a degree in engineering and the other can build anything out of wood. But, our sons aren’t being raised on a farm, and while we do have some  backyard chickens, I don’t think they count toward “farm life.”

So how is a Montessori tech librarian supposed to change her behavior to accommodate all of these future engineers?  Thankfully, it seems that all of the sewing and reading that we do also contributes to an engineering mindset.

Significance of Being a Reader

There was one point Thomas made that has stayed with me. She mentioned that most of these makers were avid readers as children. They weren’t all “good” students in school. Some struggled, some didn’t do the work, and some did well, but still had to work for their knowledge. However, they all knew how to find out more information – through books.

Although the web has made it “easier” to find certain things, the fact remains that books are still a great resource to begin your research. Certainly, I’m not discounting the wonderful information online, but I have found that we still need a good combination of both tools. Books and web research, combined with a good mentor, seems to be the path to successful learning. Of course, the interest has to be there first.

picture of green LED

You can’t see the 2 AA batteries that are powering the green LED, but the multimeter is measuring their voltage.

 

Book Review – Mindstorms

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published on Fridays. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

A picture of the book, Mindstorms, by Seymour Papert

As relevant today as it was 35 years ago…

Target Audience: Adults (especially teachers, parents)
Papert, Seymour. Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas. 2nd ed. Perseus Books: Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1993.

Mindstorms

It’s taken me awhile to write this review, partly because I have so much to say and yet, I’m not sure how to organize everything I’ve read. Quite frankly, I really need to read the book again, but I had to return it since I borrowed it via interlibrary loan. It was as if I found myself at an amusement park, but only had an hour left before it closed. What would I do and what was the most important thing that I wanted to see? Sometimes, you just need to sit and think about it. That being said, I am going to attempt to provide an overview, but wanted to throw it out there that I could have used a little more time to digest the information.

A picture of the Table of Contents from the book, Mindstorms, by Seymour Papert

I do think I understood the overall point of his book, namely that students should be learning with more real-life experiences, thus constructing their own knowledge, and computers can be used to help them reflect their learning. However, he seems to differ in his educational thinking from the Montessori method because he acknowledges that interest plays a big role in how well a student learns. For example, in a primary Montessori classroom, students are encouraged to explore their own interests, but there is a limited prepared environment from which they can explore. Papert seems to advocate for an open-ended, real-life curriculum where a student can explore their own interests in daily life, but still be guided by a facilitator.  I thought it sounded a lot like project-based learning with a little bit of homeschooling thrown in.

But ‘teaching without curriculum’ does not mean spontaneous, free-form classrooms or simply ‘leaving the child alone.’ It means supporting children as they build their own intellectual structures with materials drawn from the surrounding culture.
– p. 32

Throughout the book, he uses his own interests – gears and mathematics – to make the case for creative computer use in schools and learning. In chapter one, he discusses the culture of computers and the hopes (and fears) teachers and educators have for their use in school. He mentions that there is indeed a potential for students to only consume computer programs, to use them to idly fill up their time, but that others will use them to make further explorations. It might allow children to tackle complex subjects at an earlier age because physical barriers, such as handwriting and spelling, will be eliminated by the use of computers.

Though the book was originally published in 1980, this second edition was published in 1993. So, how can a book on ‘computers in schools’ still be relevant more than 20 years later?

A picture of the opening screen of a Scratch project.

A mini-project on the country of Greece. Programmed completely by R, age 9.5.

Sadly, it’s incredibly relevant because computers are still primarily being used to transmit information. It’s top-down learning where a teacher dictates what a student will learn rather than using the computer to help a child to express the concepts that they learned and make their own changes. Papert advocates for using computers to help students see what they are learning, for them to construct their own knowledge based on the programs they are running. While the topic they tested included geometry concepts, he acknowledges that computers could and should be used in other ways.

A picture from the book, Mindstorms. It shows simple line drawings that could be made withthe robot turtle.

A sampling of projects that students could make, and while doing so would learn key math concepts.

He and his colleagues created the LOGO computer language and used it to teach geometry. Since Papert’s background, training and interests are in mathematics, he uses math as a backdrop to explain his theories and his desire to see our thinking made visible. This is especially relevant to me as I am always on the look out for more reality-based ways of using math with my own children. I will admit that he sometimes lost me during his mathspeak (it has been 25 years since I took geometry), but it really isn’t about learning geometry, it’s about learning how to make learning visible so that the students can recognize their mistakes, fix their “bugs” and learn how to learn. He was definitely an advocate of a growth mindset before it became a ubiquitous term.

Our children grow up in a culture permeated with the idea that there are ‘smart people’ and ‘dumb people’…as a result, children perceive failure as relegating them either to the group of ‘dumb people’ or, more often, to a group of people ‘dumb at x.
– p.43

Teaching fifth graders how to program with the simplified text-based language of LOGO was not meant to teach them to be programmers, but rather to help them express their ideas of geometry. Papert wasn’t talking about specific programs (or apps), rather he was discussing learning in general, thinking about thinking, and using computers to express that learning. In fact, he meant for the LOGO turtle to show them where they made mistakes so that they could learn to fix them – in context. No teacher required, thus making the learning more valuable and sticky.

A sample project of how a student fixed their own "bug," by noticing that the line drawing was not going out (to form a triangular roof), but was going in instead.

A sample project of how a student fixed their own “bug,” by noticing that the line drawing was not going out (to form a triangular roof), but was going in instead.

This book has made it very clear that the creators of the icon-based programming language, Scratch, were following in his work and wanted to honor his vision of constructionist learning.  Having read some of their papers on Scratch and taken the course on Tinkering from the Exploratorium Museum, I was able to understand much more about how and why these tools were developed.

A picture of 3 AAA batteries, alligator clips and a tiny lightbulb.

I made these circuit blocks while taking the Tinkering with STEM course. A great way to help students learn about direct current.

As might be expected from a book on education from a computer scientist, his theories and main ideas are sometimes muddled and he seems to jump from one abstract topic to the next. His work with LOGO was partially based on his work with Jean Piaget in the 1960s and partially from his own work at MIT where he worked on artificial intelligence. His theories are sometimes unclear, I think, because he doesn’t want to have a prescribed curriculum. Also, there’s the question of cognitive, age-based abilities. Was he advocating for preschoolers to use a computer to reflect their learning? I don’t know.

That being said, I really enjoyed being challenged by this book. It made me rethink some of my own teachings and I am now ready to tackle the Making Thinking Visible book that has been sitting on my shelf since last fall.

A picture of the book, Making Thinking Visible.

From the Harvard-based project that tried to help students see (and change) their own learning.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review :: E-Textiles

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published on Fridays. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

A picture of the cover of the book e-textiles

Love the cover!

E-textiles

Ages: Teens and Adults
Toth-Chernin, Jan. E-Textiles. Cherry Lake Publishing. Ann Arbor, MI, 2014.

This book is part of the 21st Century Skills Innovation Library series. I have reviewed a couple of their other books (HTML and Game Design) and find them to be inconsistent with regards to content. Sometimes they are spot on, and sometimes the topic is too complex to be adequately covered in 30 pages.

Please don’t misunderstand me – I am thrilled that someone is publishing kid-friendly books on these new technological advances, but I don’t think all of these books are as useful as they market themselves to be. This one, in particular, was very scattered and not quite appropriate for their intended audience – middle school age and younger. It’s a thin book and was found in the Juvenile section of my public library – not the teen section and not the adult section.

A picture of the T.O.C. for the book e-textiles

The book includes five chapters covering the basics of e-textiles, sewing with conductive thread, beginning projects, microcontrollers and electroluminescent wire. While there are a few projects given,  none of these projects include pictures – either of the finished product or any step-by-step pictures of the process.

A picture of pages from the book e-textiles

Sewing stitches are really difficult to understand without pictures…especially for kids.

That being said, I was pretty disappointed with this book. I’ve made some e-textiles and I found the descriptions to be too advanced and choppy at best. The author assumes a working background knowledge of e-textiles that is inappropriate for a beginning book. It was as if the author had to cover a variety of topics, but was not given effective page space to do so.

For a 32-page book, it tries to cover too much information and ends up not covering anything in-depth enough to make any sense to the reader. This topic can be quite complicated – especially when they are talking about the use of Arduino microcontrollers, such as the Flora and Lilypad. Both of those microcontrollers were mentioned in the book and require a working knowledge of the Arduino programming language. If the purpose of the book was to introduce the idea of e-textiles – then yes, they are right on the mark. If that’s the case, why would the book include DIY e-textile projects?

A picture of a page from the book e-textiles

My suggestion would be to save your money and check out the project pages provided by the Exploratorium on sewn circuits. Or, for really advanced users, subscribe to AdaFruit’s web vlog on e-textiles.

A picture of a handmade bracelet made from felt with light up LEDs, embroidered to look like an alien spaceship. e-textiles

My homemade, hand embroidered, hard-wired e-textile.

This is My Home, This is My School.

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published on Fridays. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

Picture of cover of the book, This is My Home, This is My School

Written by Jonathan Bean, a grown-up homeschooled student!

Ages 3 and up
Bean, Jonathan. This is My Home, This is My School. Farrar, Straus & Giroux: New York, 2015.

We love Bean’s other book, Building Our House, so when I noticed he had another book coming out, I immediately placed it on hold at our local library. Then, I heard that it was about a homeschooling family. Can you guess how excited I was? Most homeschooling books are written by adults for homeschooling parents, the notable exception being the Teen Liberation Handbook, which is intended for teenagers (and has some extreme viewpoints). Honestly, I can’t think of any mainstream children’s book that features a homeschooler. That alone would merit a more favorable review, but Bean needs no extra help. His book can stand on its own. It’s that good.

This is My School

We love this author-illustrator and my kids love that he is a former homeschooler. Even if you aren’t a homeschooler, you will love this sweet story about a family living and learning at home…and in the stream…and out in the world. This is My Home, This is My School offers simple sentences and funny pictures, so it’s perfect for a short attention span. The watercolor illustrations add much to the story and we spent extra time looking over each scene. Homeschooling parents will appreciate the messy house and the overwhelmed teacher-mom jokes, while kids will see the gigantic backyard and wish they had one too.

Picture of treehouse from the book, This is My Home, This is My School

A picture of their “playground” – a fabulous treehouse where the author, presumably, grew up.

The story begins with Jonathan who is describing his home (which we saw built in This is Our House), and then telling the readers that this is also his school. With short descriptions and lots of bright and vivid illustrations, the readers see how Jonathan and his sisters learn at home. Sometimes they sit at the table and do paperwork – just like in traditional school. But, sometimes, they are off in the pond, collecting specimens and learning about science. Sometimes they are reading in bed and that counts for literature class. Occasionally, their teacher is frustrated, angry and worn down – just like in traditional school! But, always, there is learning and love and a strong conviction that this is the right path for Jonathan and his family.

Picture from Jonathan Bean's This is My Home, This is My School.

Picture from Jonathan Bean’s This is My Home, This is My School.

Just like in This is Our House, at the end of the book there are old family photographs of Jonathan and his sisters. Although I love his picture books (and so do my boys), I think I love these family tidbits the most. The homeschooling parent in me appreciates the obvious love and joy he had growing up as a homesteading homeschooler. It’s just a little affirmation in support of a not-so-uncommon life path. Homeschooling does work and it can be successful and joyful.

 

 

Book Review :: How Does Cloud Computing Work?

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published on Fridays. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

Picture of the book, How Does Cloud Computing Work

A kids’ book on cloud computing, written by Leon Gray.

Ages 10 and up
Gray, Leon. How Does Cloud Computing Work? Gareth Stevens Publishing: New York, 2014.

For a book that tries to explain a very abstract concept, Gray does a great job of breaking down the various parts that make up ‘cloud computing.’ Although the book is short, he provides enough background information for students to understand how computers, the Internet and mobile storage are all connected. With chapters on the cloud and its various parts, students (and adults) will finish this book will a clearer understanding of where our data resides and why we can access it through our connected devices.

Picture of TOC for How Does Cloud Computing Work

Juvenile non-fiction book by Leon Gray explaining cloud computing.

How Does Cloud Computing Work?

Gray briefly discusses the sharing of information and how it has evolved from floppy disks to cables to wireless transmissions. This helps students to place the cloud computing concept into a historical context. I think it might be similar to my initial understanding of the evolution of television – from black and white to color. As in, wow, really? Television was really only in black and white? How could you tell what anyone was wearing or what color their hair was? Was there even a point to watching TV back then? At least, I imagine that’s how my children think about it when I tell them that the Internet (as they know it) wasn’t even around until I was in high school. But, alas, I digress…

Gray also introduces and defines the terms LAN, MAN and WAN. If you have a Minecraft player among you, they should be able to tell you what LAN (Local Area Network) stands for, but may stumble when asked about MAN or WAN. Since I don’t live knee-deep in computer science, I had a hard time coming up with the correct terms.  For the record, the Internet is a good example of a WAN (Wide Area Network).

This book is colorful and will appeal to today’s visually-oriented youth. Although some of the pictures are seemingly irrelevant, there are a few that are note-worthy, especially the picture of Tim Berners-Lee, the “father” of the modern-day Internet.

This is a great book to get your students excited about the different aspects of computer science. Cloud computing can be overwhelming, but this book does a good job of succinctly explaining a very abstract concept. Since the author uses the proper terminology, students can further their learning and seek out more information on a particular topic.

Pciture from How Does Cloud Computing Work by Leon Gray

 

Book Review :: Story of the World

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published on Fridays. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

We are on our fifth year of using the Story of the World Curriculum. That means we're cycling back to ancient times.

We are in our fifth year of using the Story of the World Curriculum. That means we’re cycling back to ancient times.

Audience: Ages 6 and up
Reading Level: 4th grade and up due to lots of historical names

Bauer, Susan Wise. The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child: Volume I: Ancient Times: From the earliest nomads to the last Roman emperor. Revised Edition. Peace Hill Press: Charles City, VA, 2006.

Bauer, Susan Wise. The Story of the World Activity Book I: Ancient Times. Peace Hill Press: Charles City, VA , 2006.

Story of the World

This is our fifth year using the Story of the World (SOTW) curriculum. That’s saying a lot for a homeschooling family. We have a lot of choices to choose from and need not stick with a curriculum unless we really like it.

As for my own teaching style, I use music CDs, workbooks, regular books, library videos, dinnertime discussions, general observations and board games to teach my kids about the world (and math, writing, reading, history, etc). I use Montessori materials for reading and math (up to age 7 or so). It’s rare that I use any sort of comprehensive curriculum – except for SOTW and as they get older, Beast Academy and Singapore for math. Although there are a number of activities you could require your children to do with SOTW (including tests), I follow the lead of my children and adapt the curriculum as needed.

Picture of all four books in the Story of the World series.

A glimpse at all four books in the Story of the World curriculum series.

I really like SOTW because it’s a chronologically-based history ‘program.’ The stories are told in order, beginning with the nomads and moving up through modern times. When my oldest was young, we started with the nomads and I didn’t worry about encompassing the big bang theory or placement of the dinosaurs (something we corrected when cycling back to ancient times).

I think the chronological order mimics Dr. Montessori’s Cosmic Education without requiring too much learning (or buying of resources) on my part. The Cosmic ‘Curriculum’ is presented in the 6-12 classroom, and since I did my training for ages 3-6, I love that SOTW has stories that are easy for me to read and that the guide has pre-printed maps and suggested activities. It’s less prep work for me. I also love that I can adapt it to my needs and feel less pressured to use the “correct” Montessori materials (i.e. prepared timeline).

First Year – Story of the World – Ancient Times – Ages 5 – 7
The first year we started with SOTW, my oldest was five and a half, but he LOVED listening to stories. He didn’t care for reading instruction, written math or having to retell a story. He wanted to listen to the stories and that was it. So, that’s what we did. With a globe nearby, I read the stories and supported them with the occasional picture or non-fiction book (many of which were recommended in the guide). We discovered the “craft” section of the guide and R chose a recommended activity each week. We also skipped some chapters and focused on a few select topics. At the end of the year, he knew a lot about ancient Egypt, ancient China and the Roman Empire. He was also very familiar with the non-fiction section of the library.

Although my oldest doesn't remember re-enacting the Silk Road, my husband and I do - and it is one of our fondest memories!

Although my oldest doesn’t remember re-enacting the Silk Road, my husband and I do and it is one of our fondest memories! These were drinks of water so they wouldn’t be parched in the Gobi Desert.

His younger brother offered to be his camel on the silk road en-enactment - complete with stuffing in his back.

His younger brother offered to be his camel on the silk road en-enactment – complete with stuffing in his back.

Second Year – Story of the World – Medieval Times – Ages 6 – 8
There are typically 42 chapters in each book, so we really didn’t get to the end of the first book until the end of the summer, which meant that we started the second book around October. These stories seemed much more interesting – knights and castles and barbarians (which he didn’t really like because they were scary). Since he was technically a first grader, we didn’t do any summaries or written work. I read the stories and he chose an activity from the guide. Since his younger brother was much more active that year, we didn’t even do a lot of literature reinforcements, just a chapter and an activity.

Picture of a homemade marshmallow and cereal castle

This castle is made from puffed cereal and melted marshmallows. Four years later, my children STILL remember it fondly.

In addition to choosing an activity or craft from each week, we made sure to visit the local Medieval Faire that year. Also, for R’s 7th birthday, he and his dad attended the show at Medieval Times in Orlando. While it’s not quite authentic, it’s close enough for a 7-year-old. All of these events helped to make the connections in his brain grow stronger and hopefully solidified some knowledge of medieval times.

Third Year – Story of the World – Early Modern Times – Ages 7 – 9
This was the year R attended a charter school, at least until Christmas break when we pulled him out to continue homeschooling. It was a change we all needed and has served us well in the ensuing years. Regardless, he said he wanted to keep reading the stories when he went to school, so once a week we read about history from the 1500s to the 1850s. His second grade teacher required a written summary each week, so he often chose to summarize the chapter that we read (upon my suggestion).

This was one of the hardest things my struggling writer had to do, but he made his way through it. Often, he would dictate his summary to me and then copy it in his own hand. His thoughts were much more advanced than his limited spelling and writing skills, and this was a good way to bridge that gap. It also gave him good practice with learning how to summarize (sort of). His assignments came with no “summarizing” instructions, but we talked about what was most important in the story and he took it from there.

After he returned to homeschooling, I taught him how to do summary maps using this book as a general guide. It provided the concepts of main and supporting ideas and gave my visual-spatial learner a way to organize his thoughts and write a summary – without having to write an entire paragraph.

Fourth Year – Story of the World – Modern Times – Ages 8 – 10
For the fourth year of history, I continued to require that he make story maps for one of the stories in each chapter, though we did try to begin outlining, as Bauer recommends. He just wasn’t ready, especially since he didn’t particularly care for the summary maps either. I did read many of these aloud to him, but as his 4.5-year-old brother was becoming interested in the stories (and these are pretty violent retellings), I had him read many of the chapters to himself. He was an accomplished reader at that point and had already been reading lots of kids’ books on WWII, civil rights and current events.

Conclusion
Looking back on these past four years, I realized that I used this curriculum to create a love of history (and hopefully pattern recognition), to establish the concept of geography and a sense of being part of a bigger whole, and to gently introduce writing and note-taking skills (with transferable results).  I have been very happy with the ability to adapt the SOTW curriculum. I have been able to add or remove activities and stay on certain topics longer, if I choose to do so, and if my children show an interest.

It’s important to note that the author does place a Christian-slant on history by including chapters on Abraham and God, and the birth of Jesus, but she also introduces many other major religions and includes their origin stories, specifically Islam and Hinduism. If you are not Christian, you could skip such chapters as there is not a Christian theme throughout the rest of the chapters.

This year, we have returned to ‘Ancient Times’ and my six-year-old has joined us in our ‘Story of the World’ activities. I will be detailing our return to this time period in a follow-up post. Since it is my ten-year-old’s second time through this curriculum, we have increased the activities and added elements that deepen our learning and understanding.

This is a pretend stop on the Silk Road - complete with chocolate chip "snacks" that you could buy at a local store.

This is a pretend stop on the Silk Road – complete with chocolate chip “snacks” that you could buy at a local store. I can’t wait to re-enact the journey of the Silk Road.

 

 

 

Book Review :: Sewing School

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published on Fridays. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

A fabulous resource for teaching sewing to kids, aged 5 - 12.

A fabulous resource for teaching sewing to kids, ages 5 – 13.

Ages: Adult readers, but projects are directed at kids, ages 5- 13.
Plumley, Amie Petronis & Andria Lisle. Sewing School: 21 Projects Kids Will Love to Make.
Photography by Justin Fox Burks. Storey Publishing: North Adams, MA, 2010.

Sewing School

First, let me say how much I love the books that come from Storey Publishing. They are true to their mission of “serving their customers by publishing practical information that encourages personal independence in harmony with the environment.” No, I don’t work for them (and have not been paid by them), but I can always tell that they were the publishers of a book due to how much I like it. And, I really like this book.

I like that the authors specifically mention Montessori and Waldorf influences. I like that the purpose of the book doesn’t focus solely on transferring sewing skills, but rather encourages independence and free choice. It’s about using sewing techniques to increase creative expression and self-sufficiency. There is also a strong focus on having a prepared environment. The authors recommend having stations for fabrics, notions, pattern cutting and adult (or teen) monitors to run these stations so that a child can get help or move on to another project when ready. These are all Montessori principles and I love that they emphasize them in their “sewing school.”

The photography is brilliant – lots of colorful photographs and numerous step-by-step examples for the layers of each project. This is especially useful when trying to help a child learn the steps of tying a knot, which in my opinion, is much harder than getting them to thread the needle. The full-color, step-by-step pictures are spot-on and great for a new sewing teacher, or an expert one, as they figure out how to help the children help themselves. The pages on the various stitches (running and whipstitch) are especially nice.

The first few projects in this book utilize felt (with a special emphasis on wool felt), which does not fray and is very forgiving for a young child. My six-year-old easily made the “needle case” all on his own – from tracing the pattern in chalk to sewing on the button. The only help I gave was to tie the knot at the end of his embroidery floss.

sewing_school_needle_case

My six-year-old traced the cardboard pattern and cut the fabric by himself.

In addition to the well-thought out projects, there’s a lot of room for older children to go further and “make it their own.” Without any prompting on my part, my oldest son decided that he wanted to embroider his first initial on the front part of his needle case (he’s been embroidering for years). Then, he decided that he didn’t want to see all of the threads and we brainstormed a way to cover them up (extra felt and hot glue).

My 10-year-old is embroidering his initial on the front of his needle case.

My 10-year-old is embroidering his initial on the front of his needle case. He drew the letter “R” with chalk first.

The book continues with more projects to help a young child develop their sewing skills. Many of these have a creative element and allow for lots of choice. This practical guide has been very useful as it begins with easy projects and moves to more advanced ones, such as sewing cotton fabric right sides together to make a a skirt. While most of the projects are focused on hand-sewing, a few suggest sewing machine use.

In preparation for a kids’ summer class on sewing, I have been poring over numerous sewing books aimed at children. This one is, by far, the best that I have found. These two authors obviously have a lot of experience running a sewing school and I’m grateful they committed their techniques to paper.

Between myself and my two boys, I have lots of example needle cases for my sewing class this summer.

Between myself and my two boys, I have a lot of sample needle cases for my sewing class this summer.

Montessori Sewing for Preschool

This book has projects for children who are at least 5-years-old, but you do not need to wait that long to introduce them to sewing concepts. The practical life area of a 3-6-year-old Montessori classroom should have “sewing” materials on the shelves. These materials can be for the young 3-and-4-year-old, such as large bead stringing and lacing cards. Or, for older children, there may be activities such as simple button sewing, advanced button sewing,and practicing the running stitch.

To see some of my recommended reality-based children’s books on sewing, check out my post on fiber arts in a Montessori classroom.

 

Book Review :: Sylvia’s Super Awesome Project Book Vol. 2

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published on Fridays. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

Sylvia's Super Awesome Arduino book

Sylvia’s Super Awesome Arduino book