Monday, April 29

We Were There with Charles Darwin on H.M.S. Beagle

***Pick up your FREE Activity Pack***

At only 22 years old, Charles Darwin set sail on a five-year voyage around the world!  While not particularly fond of school, he loved being outdoors and collecting natural things (especially rocks and beetles).  On the voyage, his job was map the coast of South America and make scientific observations in the area.  He spent most of his time in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and the Gal├ípagos Islands.

While journeying through South America, he noticed interesting differences in bird beaks, and wondered how they had developed so differently.  He observed their habitats and actions, sketched the different species, and took thorough notes.  He also observed that the birds not only had different beaks, but behaved differently and even carried themselves differently.

Though he is most famous for his Theory of Natural Selection, Darwin did not actually develop and publish it for nearly thirty years after the voyage!  The theory says that organisms possess heritable traits that enable them to better adapt to their environment compared with other members of their species will be more likely to survive, reproduce, and pass more of their genes on to the next generation – in someone else’s words, “survival of the fittest.”

There is a difference between evolution and adaptation, though these two words are often confused.  Mutations in the DNA sequence that are carried on to the next generation are a form of evolution.  Adaptation, or natural selection, is a change that helps an organism to survive which is taught (or given through genes) to the next generation. 

Make / Do
Define / Identify
  • Natural selection 
  • Overpopulation 
  • Camouflage 
  • Adaptation 
  • Mutation 
  • Biodiversity 
  • Species 
  • Variation 
  • Evolution
  • Vestigial
  • Sketch out four different leaves.  Look for the similarities and differences in the leaves.  Why do you think they are different?
  • Examine the finches in Darwin's drawings below.  The beaks are different.  What do you think is the purpose for each of those differences?

Check out all of our We Were There unit studies!

Wednesday, April 24

Flashback Four : The Hamilton-Burr Duel

July 11, 1804

Long before social media created the ease of public trash-talking, it was being done in person, face-to-face, and in public...and sometimes that led to dueling.  The Hamilton-Burr duel is one of the most infamous duels!

Alexander Hamilton was Secretary of Treasury; Aaron Burr became Vice-President; and their rivalry began long before 1804!  In 1791, Burr defeated Hamilton's father-in-law for the Senate.  They were on opposite sides of the political fence, and bad feelings were sown.

In the election of 1800, Hamilton became the tie-breaking vote between Burr and Jefferson -- for President.  Hamilton didn't like either man, but due to his long-held grudge against Burr, Jefferson won the Presidency.

Fast forward four years...Burr is running for Governor of New York, and Hamilton is campaigning hard against him...and the other guy wins.  There's some trash-talking going on, angry letters are exchanged, a non-apology (when you don't really mean you're sorry, or even truly say you're sorry) was offered, and Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel.

Dueling wasn't technically legal anymore, but the men had been fighting for years now, so...  They met in the early morning hours, at the Heights of Weehawken, New Jersey, and brought their 'seconds' with them.  The next day, Hamilton died from his wounds. 

  • The Hamilton-Burr Duel
    • Billionaire Miss Z might be out of the picture, but a top-secret agency wants to send Luke, Julia, David, and Isabel on one final mission. This time, the Flashback Four are headed to Weehawken, New Jersey—in 1804—to videotape the fateful duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.  But once they arrive, the team faces a question of historic proportions: Should they capture the tragic details of the duel or try to change them?  With real photographs to help put young readers right in the action, plus back matter that separates fact from fiction, The Hamilton-Burr Duel tells the story of one of history’s fiercest rivalries from a fun and fresh new angle.
Make / Do

  • adversary
  • proponent
  • contrivance
  • solicitude
  • naysayer
  • unswerving
  • vicinity
  • genial
  • sedate
  • lanky
  • bigotry
  • banter
  • How did Hamilton and Burr differ in the way they led their lives?
  • What is the historical importance of the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr?
  • Could this issue have been solved in a better way?  How?  Why is this better?

Tuesday, April 23

Subscription Boxes for Teens - Mail Order Mystery

We’re always looking for fun, unplugged activities that are both entertaining and educational, so when we stumbled across a photo for Mail Order Mystery, it immediately struck a chord. We showed it to the children, who were pretty excited about the prospect of receiving something in the mail (what kid isn’t?), and allowed them to choose the theme they were most interested in. The winner? Spies, Lies, and Serious Bad Guys!

Mail Order Mystery is a fabulous company who has come up with an absolutely brilliant and FUN idea for kids! They create incredible, ‘top secret’ mysteries. For each mystery a series of letters, documents and curious objects will arrive by mail and each one is connected to an ongoing mystery. The story arrives in six installments with a final larger mailing.

Ten Reasons Why Your Family Will LOVE this Mystery
  1. It’s unplugged. There is an area where you can choose to use a website, but it’s not required and doesn’t add to the story. The only tools required are pencil, paper, and a thinking cap.
  2. Puzzles, ciphers, adventure, and a plot to catch some bad guys! (This was a big draw for the kids, and I loved the puzzles and ciphers aspect.)
  3. The kids get real mail addressed to them…and it’s not even their birthdays.
  4. It feels so real! We completed the mystery within a week because of how excited they were to keep going. The old letters, clues, maps, de-coding; it’s an elaborate, impressive game that had a lot of work put into it.
  5. Code wheels, mystery boxes, and other trinkets that they get to keep when the puzzle is solved. You can keep everything together (number the envelopes) and reuse at a later date, or with younger siblings when they are older.
  6. You have the option of receiving six separate packages (over six weeks) or one lump package and parceling out on your own timeline. (This is great for families on the go.)
  7. Appropriate for ages nine and up, but just as engaging for older kids, too. Our older son (well into his teens) enjoyed it the most! Of course, he loves all things codes…but our younger son enjoyed catching the bad guy and getting to learn how to be a spy.
  8. If you get stuck, there is a way to get help solving the puzzles. The customer service is great about helping out, but without giving you the answer right away. First, you get a nudge in the right direction. If you’re still stuck, then they’ll help more.
  9. It fosters sibling relationships. My boys worked together really well, with the common goal of stopping the bad guys. There were stretches of hours with no bickering or tackling as they solved the puzzles together.
  10. The final package contains a locked box full of goodies! But you have to crack the code to access them.

How it works
  • Choose your Mail Order Mystery and order it.
  • Let us know who the mystery is for and when you would like it to begin.
  • Receive an order confirmation and download a gift note for the recipient.
  • Parent(s) or guardian(s) get an email announcing the beginning of the mystery and explaining the process.
  • A series of letters, documents and curious objects begin to arrive in the mail, all connected to an ongoing mystery.
  • After several weeks the story comes to its exciting conclusion. All is resolved. The final mailing contains an artifact or collection of keepsakes related to the mystery.

  • The price of this Mail Order Mystery is $85, plus about $9 shipping. While it may seem steep, the quality of the materials they send is very nice, both the paper and non-paper items. Also, the experience lasts for six weeks (more, if you choose to reuse it).
    • Note : The company is based in Canada, so if you see $109 in the checkout cart - that is Canadian dollars. It is $85 USD, but the cart automatically converts.
  • If you have questions, check out the Mail Order Mystery FAQ page and the Spies, Lies, and Serious Bad Guys mystery.

Check out our other Subscription Boxes for Teens posts :  Adventurous Mailbox &  STEAMWorld Craftsman Crate

Monday, April 22

Ancient Greece & Techie Homeschool Mom {Review}

A few years ago, we discovered Techie Homeschool Mom, just as she was beginning her journey, and loved this innovative approach! So when we were asked to check out her new Ancient Greece Online Unit Study, how could we say anything but ‘yes, please?!’

Designed for elementary and middle-school aged kids, these studies are well-organized and have clear instructions, making it easy for a student (who is capable of reading independently) to complete without parental assistance. You can do one lesson daily, one lesson weekly, or complete several lessons in a day! It’s flexible and easily-tailored to your family’s needs. 

The course focuses on history and geography, but pulls in literature and art elements, too. At the beginning, she gives you a supply list so that you can pull everything together before starting. (You won’t need much—just the art project pieces and whichever reading book you select.)

The Ancient Greece study includes:
  • Introduction to Ancient Greece
  • Ancient Greek City-States
  • Daily Life in Ancient Greece
  • City Life in Ancient Greece
  • Greek Arts & Architecture
  • Greek Innovations
  • Greek Warfare
  • Greek Mythology
  • Host a Greek Symposium
My boys are very interested in ancient history, and we had an easy week, so they completed the entire course in just a few days. However, we own the course forever, and they can come back at any time in the future and retake it, if desired.

Before starting, you walk through the presentation program – Emaze – that students will be using to build their Time Travel Journal. This was a new program for me, so I was glad to watch the tutorial ahead of time. This way I could assist the boys if they needed it. (They didn’t; after watching the tutorial, I think they had a better grasp on the technology than I did!)

As students progress through the course, a bar keeps track of their progress, making it easy to see where they are, both in the lesson itself and in the entire course. While they don’t have to complete the lessons in order, we found that there were some elements that build upon each other, and it was easier and more helpful to do it in the suggested order.

Some of the boys' favorite academic elements included learning about architectural elements of Greek design, studying the Greek myths and legends, and looking at the history of Greece.  They enjoyed completing online word searches, watching about the Parthenon's reconstruction, and reading articles about daily life in ancient Greece...
Some of the hands-on art projects include making Greek pottery and creating Grecian armor...two of my boys' favorite activities!  They outfitted the whole warrior!  Though not one of the lessons, they chose to build a Parthenon out of some paper towel rolls, too.  The art projects were some of their favorite parts of this study....we're not so much of a 'techy' family, so this may not be the case for other kids.  However, I appreciate that they are learning the technology which will be required in this world they are growing up in...

There are several options for learning online these days, as we discussed in our YouTube Schooling post, but one thing I like about this product is that the content has been vetted and is clean and ‘safe’ for elementary aged children on up. She has pulled together several outside resources, but made sure that it’s all age-appropriate.

Going through this unit also brought up some great memories of a family vacation to visit the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee! As a family, we opted to read a Magic Tree House book and watch the Percy Jackson movie (we had just read all of the Percy Jackson novels as part of our Modern Mythology class).

See what others are saying about Techie Homeschool Mom at the Schoolhouse Review Crew!
Solar, Ancients and Famous People Unit Studies {Techie Homeschool Mom Reviews}Crew Disclaimer

Friday, April 19

We Were There at the Battle of Lexington and Concord

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For nearly ten years, the British government had been imposing new taxes and laws on the colonists, without any consent or representation, and the colonists were SO OVER IT...

After considering the best course of action, British troops in Boston marched in the middle of the night, under the cover of darkness, to the town of Concord.  Their one mission was to seize the local militia's guns and powder.  (This would prevent the local townspeople from defending themselves.)

Some Patriots, however, had an inkling of what was to come, and were paying much closer attention than the British thought.  They devised a communication plan - 'one if by land, two if by sea, and I on the opposite shore will be' - to get the word out about which method the British chose -- to march by land or cross the harbor by boat.

"The British are coming!" would have been an absurd all colonists were considered to be British in 1775.  More likely, the midnight riders woke the townspeople with "The Regulars are coming!"  Also, Paul Revere wasn't the only rider that night.  Several riders, including women, took to the roads to awaken and alert the local militia of what was coming.

April 19th, at dawn, a militia unit gathered on the green in Lexington, prepared to face down the British regiment marching their way.  Men and boys of every age took up arms, and they stood face to face, staring each other down.  At some point, a shot was fired.  No one knew which side the shot came from, but everyone reacted.

Fifteen minutes after that first shot was fired, eighteen colonists were dead or wounded.  The British soldiers continued their march toward Concord, where they destroyed the supplies that had not been hidden.  On their march back to Boston, they met with several militia groups who fought back...and the American Revolution began.

Make / Do
Define / Identify
  • Shot heard round the world
  • Continental Congress
  • Trenton
  • Yorktown
  • Bunker hill
  • Saratoga
  • Lexington
  • Concord
  • Who do you think fired the first shot?  Why?
  • Read the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.  Why do you think that this man, of the many who rode that night, was chosen to be immortalized?    
Check out all of our We Were There unit studies!

Thursday, April 18

We Were There at the Oklahoma Land Run

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In 1862, Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, allowing settlers to claim land, providing they lived on the land and improved it.  In 1889, the Indian Appropriations Act was signed by Benjamin Harrison, opening up two million acres of land for settlement.

The land opened was in Oklahoma, where Native American tribes were just resettling about being removed from their lands through relocations such as the Trail of Tears.  In only a few years, seven land rushes took place in Oklahoma, beginning with the most famous Oklahoma Land Run.

On April 22, 1889, approximately 50,000 people lined up with their horses, wagons, and belongings in the dusty morning.  At noon, the gun went off signaling the start of the rush.  By the end of the day, six modern-day Oklahoma counties had been settled!

Prior to the land rushes, cattlemen, railroad men, government officials, and farmers continued to enter the territory and settle there.  Sometimes, military troops found them and forced them to leave.  These men pressured the government to open up the land for settlement, and they were known as ‘Boomers.’

The term ‘Sooner’ comes from those who didn’t want to wait for the actual land rush.  They entered the territory sooner, and established claims.  Surprisingly, many of these men worked for the government, such as marshals and deputies.  It was easy for them to ‘sneak in sooner,’ as they had a right to be there for their job.

Many promises were made to the Native American population, but the rushes brought so many men that new towns sprang up overnight.  Indian Territory continued to be squeezed until it was a small area on the eastern half of the region.  Two new states requested admission to the Union – Oklahoma and Sequoyah (Indian Territory), but they were forced to unite and join as one new state, Oklahoma, in 1907.


Make / Do 

Define / Identify

  • unassigned land
  • acre
  • settlers
  • stampede
  • Sooners
  • Boomers
  • claim
  • Guthrie
  • Edmond
  • Sequoyah
  • homestead

  • Look at a Native American perspective of the Land Run.  Could the Homestead Act and Unassigned Lands been handled in a different way?  How would you change history?
  • About 150,000 families showed up to claim 40,000 lots.  What do you think happened to the families who didn't get a lot?

Wednesday, April 17

Using Dyed Easter Eggs after Easter

Easter is almost over, but what to do with the dyed eggs sitting around the house after?  Don't just toss them out!  Put those already-dyed eggs to good use for an art project.  This simple mosaic project will take 1/3 the time if you're using leftover dyed eggs.  

For our project, we made an Ancient Roman mosaic, but you can make any design you wish.  

How to Make an Ancient Mosaic from Eggshells

Supplies :
  • Paper cups 
  • Eggshells (save from a dozen or more eggs, wash them and let them dry out) 
  • Water 
  • Food coloring 
  • Base for mosaic (at least 12"....I used the lid from a gallon of ice cream) 
Directions :
  • After your eggshells have dried, break them into little bitty bits. 
  • Put food coloring and water into paper cups. We used red, green, and blue. 
  • Put the eggshells bits into the cups, cover them with coloring, and let them sit overnight. 
  • Dump them out the next day and let them dry on newspaper. 
  • Using the different colors, create your mosaic. 
Some tips:
  • If you use different sides of the eggshell, you will get different shades of the same color. With red, I got red and pink, depending on which side I used. 
  • If you're doing a circle shape, start with the outside and work your way in. 
  • Save some of your eggshells so that you have the color white as an option.

Tuesday, April 16

CrossWired Science {Review}

CrossWired Science is revolutionizing the way science is taught! Designed to be used in any setting - home or classroom - this curriculum focuses on a singular topic and then pulls in connections to strengthen the information retention. We recently had a chance to look inside their Sound, and Fluid Dynamics, and it's a wealth of information!

Designed for students aged 4-18, this program covers a wide range of interests and levels.  Each 'project' contains two topics, such as the Sound, and Fluid Dynamics project.  The company plans to release fifteen different projects, for a total of thirty topics spanning physics and earth and life sciences.  These topics are broken into two different levels: First Timers and Second Timers.  When you purchase CrossWired Science, you get access to all of the projects for a full year.  Each of the class sessions is 45-60 minutes long.

For younger students or those who are going through the material for the first time, it is suggested that you begin with the First Timers strand.  For those with a background in science (older children) or those who have already completed the first strand, begin with the Second Timers strand.  Two of the biggest differences between the strands are:
  1. The questions for the core videos are more difficult in the second strand.
  2. The written part of the Gold Digs and Digging Deeper sections are more complex in the second strand.

Each of the core projects in CrossWired Science is broken up into mini-lessons.  There are twelve different types of lessons presented, in the following methods:
  1. Core videos - There are eight core videos for each topic.  Material within the videos runs the gamut from introductory to expert level, but is meant to be understood by all ages.
  2. Experiments - A few different experiments are presented.  Some will only need supplies from your home, while others require purchase of supplies.  It is not necessary to complete the experiments; they are optional.
  3. General Links - These are related to the core videos, and are typically embedded YouTube videos.  There is enough information here to take about a week, if you decide to view everything.
  4. Unit Links - Divided into three different levels (so you can target the right age range), these are little bunny trails that lead off of the main topic but still have some sort of connection.
  5. U-Choose - This is a project or activity that gets hands-on.
  6. Field Trips - Suggested field trips to help reinforce or learn more about the topic.
  7. Reinforcement - Again, different ideas for reinforcing the concepts.  There are suggestions for a wide age range here.
  8. Research - The company states, "The main purpose of this project is also not firstly to learn anything.  It’s more to build comfort in tackling one’s own research.  It’s to build discernment in what is interesting and important and correct and what is not.  It’s to build the ability to discern the trustworthiness of various sources.  With an unprecedented amount of information being added to the 'the world’s data base' every year, the ability to glean the precious from the worthless is a greatly needed skill."
  9. Reading - There are ten different suggested reading plans to select from, each focusing on a different style or age range, to reinforce the topic being studied.  If you are a Charlotte Mason family, this will be your first stop.
  10. Gold Digs - A handful of 'gold digs,' each containing twenty-five or more smaller pieces, dives off into many different directions.  The goal here is to forge connections between the main topic and other interesting ideas.  There are questions to assess understanding here, too.
  11. Digging Deeper - Similar to the gold digs, these are directly related to the topic at hand.  There is a distinct difference in these two sections between the First & Second Timers' curricula.  The text and questions are much more difficult for the Second Timers.  Both the Gold Digs and Digging Deeper have printable worksheets.
  12. Devotions - These are short essays that relate to the topic.  There are also questions to help the student forge stronger connections to the material.

Teacher Portal
Each student has their own login and password, which allows them to pick up right where they left off.  It tracks their progress and reports it to the teacher.  Quizzes are automatically graded, giving instant feedback.  Teachers are able to access quiz results, see how much progress the student has made, and access all of the links and materials.  All quizzes in the student portal (regardless of topic or level) are combined together for one comprehensive grade.  Essays must be hand-graded, as they are only assigned a 'complete' status.

Looking Ahead
There are still a few kinks to work out, such as parental controls for resetting quizzes.  These are coding issues that the company is currently working to address.  They are also in the process of adding another twenty-eight topics.  The fifteen "projects" (two topics each) are designed to be studied over a period of ten years, encompassing elementary through high school.  In the end, the thirty selected topics will cover major ground in the fields of earth science, life sciences, and physics.

We spent a lot of time poking around through both the First and Second Timers strands, looking to see the ins and outs of the program.  I like how it uses the unit study theory of doing multiple things, and teaching to different modalities, around a singular subject.  Using that subject to make connections only helps to ensure better retention.  Another aspect that I like is the classical approach, where the student wraps back around and covers the same material every few years, thus encouraging deeper exploration and understanding of the material.  It's a flexible curriculum, and very child-directed, but it's a little bit too flexible for our family's use.  Although they provide a suggested calendar for working through the curriculum, we prefer something with a little more structure.  If your family prefers flexibility, this might be a great option!

See what others are saying about CrossWired Science at the Schoolhouse Review Crew!
Crew DisclaimerSound, and Fluid Dynamics {CrossWired Science Reviews}

Monday, April 15

Subscription Boxes for Teens - STEAM World

Summer is a great time for homeschooling with more flexibility and fun! We incorporate many games and activities into the school year, but still try to remain true to our curriculum at the same time. When summer rolls around, we look for ways to continue learning from a different vantage point.

When I stumbled across STEAMworld, and realized that it combined most of the core subjects, plus art, I knew that this was something we wanted to try! (Quick brush-up: STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, ART, and Math.) The box comes with everything you need – and I do mean everything – to complete a series of projects about the featured country. Not having to hunt up supplies? Fantastic!

We decided to try out Morocco, based on the art projects featured. The box came with all of the supplies needed for math, science, art, and engineering, plus an activity book and country scrapbook. If you’ve wanted to try unit studies, this subscription is a great way to put your feet in the water – and they’ve done all the hard work of pulling everything together for you.

Depending on your personal style, the box could take anywhere from a couple of days to a week or two to complete. We like to dive into our unit studies, and so completed the box in two school days.

Our school is very history & geography centered, so we began by reading through the scrapbook and watching a few YouTube videos on Morocco. We also Google-Earthed our way through Morocco. If you’ve never done this, it’s a fascinating way to vicariously visit a country!

From there, we started on the activity book. I like that each subject has a hands-on project for applying the concepts once they have been taught. We supplemented this with spur-of-the-moment YouTube videos that the boys found to explore the concepts – particularly energy – further. They also looked up some real-world examples of the Moroccan tiles and patterns.

Science and technology are areas that the boys are very interested in, but mom is simply proficient at, so the STEAMworld boxes are wonderful for giving me a jumping off point. They provide ideas for hands-on projects in the areas that the boys want to study, but in ways that tie in with the things I am better at teaching. Because they are engaging, too, they promote further study on the topics. (And this could go the other way, too, if you are more science-focused, but want to incorporate geography into your units.)

Overall, the box was a hit with the boys. It’s a little disappointing to find that there are currently only two more countries available, but the company says that they are creating more as we speak, so I foresee greater options in the future. I like that they offer both one-month and three-month subscription choices. Finally, I LOVE that they provide the Duo Kit option.

What’s the Duo Kit? It’s a kit of extra consumable supplies for all of the projects in the activity book. Each box comes with literature and supplies for one student. If you have more than one student, however, and want each child to have his own supplies, you simply need a Duo Kit for the child – rather than a whole other box. And it’s affordable.

Just the Facts

  • Site : STEAMworld
  • Ages : 4th – 8th grade (flexible enough to tailor to other aged children)
  • Cost : $39.95 / month – shipped to you
    • $99 / 3-month subscription
    • $9.95 for Duo Kit

Check out our other Subscription Boxes for Teens posts :  Adventurous Mailbox & Mail Order Mystery Craftsman Crate