Wednesday, March 22, 2017

How to Recognize Bad Reasoning - The Fallacy Detective

I jumped at the chance to review the Fallacy Detective because I live with the Great Debators, otherwise known as my two sons.  All of a sudden, I have gone from knowing everything to not very much.  Well, we may as well put that faulty reasoning to the test.

The easy-to read Fallacy Detective is 38 lessons on how to recognize bad reasoning.  It was written by homeschooled brothers Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn.  The book doesn't look boring and there is plenty of white space and comic illustrations throughout.  The chapters and review questions are short, yet engaging and thought-provoking.  It's the kind of book that doesn't get the eye roll when you pick it up and announce that it's time for some lessons on logic.

What I love even more is that some of the expressions my children say "old people use," are included as lesson topics, for example,"Loaded Question, Straw Man, Slippery Slope" and my favorite "Bandwagon."  I can't tell you the number of times I have urged my children to not jump on the proverbial Bandwagon.

There is an answer key included, as well as game instructions in the back of the book for you to create your own Fallacy Detective games.  I used it on LionHeart just the other day.  We were visiting a new recreation center and he asked if he could walk to the nearby 7-Eleven with this "friends."  I gave him the you know this is going to be a long conversation look and began with a simple question.  Are you saying that because you played basketball with a boy for two hours he is now your friend?  LionHeart smiled sheepishly knowing the answer to the question: assuming someone you just met is a friend is most certainly employing faulty reasoning.

There are so many great topics in this book that will help young people become critical thinkers, such as "Red Herring, Analogy, Snob Appeal, Propoganda," and KingMan's favorite: "Generalization."  He loves to tell me, "mom you are making a generalization!"  The book is written for ages 12 an up, but we enjoyed reading it together as a family.  The Fallacy Detective is a must have to develop critical thinking skills in a fun way.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

My First Bank Account

LionHeart's first savings account.

I'm pretty sure I was well past the age of 18 when I opened my first bank account.  But planting the seeds of saving, delaying gratification and setting achievable goals starts early.  It's even more important when you have a skill that earns you money.  Lionheart is a part of the Farafina Kan West African Drum Ensemble.  He's been drumming since the age of 3 and is blessed to be offered paid gigs that showcase his talents.  So Saturday morning we set off on foot for this monumental occasion.

The cover of the book written about the history of the bank.

I chose the Industrial Bank of Washington as the place where Lionheart would save his money.  It's  walking distance from our home, and more importantly, this bank is a part of our history, as written about in the book Images of America: Industrial Bank. It was founded on August 20, 1934, and is the oldest and largest African-American owned commercial bank in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. region. The Industrial Bank of Washington was founded in 1913 by laborer and entrepreneur John Whitelaw Lewis as the Industrial Savings Bank during the black business movement that began in the 1880s in downtown Washington and spread to the U Street area by the 1900s.  The history of the bank is so important that it is a part of the African American Heritage Trail, a 200-site trail in DC where explorers can learn, on foot,  about the African American people and places that shaped the city.   

While the history was intriguing to Lionheart, he had lots of questions about what was going to happen to his money in the bank.  Mr. Eric, the Branch Manager, happily answered.  What does the bank do with my money? Why do I have to wait until I am 18 to withdraw it? How will they know how to find my account when I come to put money in the bank? Why are you (mom) the only person who can withdraw my money? What happens if the bank burns down? Lol! That was a good one.  Now his interest in money and savings is at an all time high.  This is the perfect time to capitalize on his desire to know.

We will read the children's book, the History of Money and Starting a Business: Have Fun and Make Money so he understands not only how to save money, but how to have multiple streams of income

His first goal is a hover board.  He has probably shown me a million pictures and visited just as many website.  Lionheart's first deposit came from his drumming earnings.  He's already got another gig lined up for April and will be teaching a sports class at the Sankofa Homeschool Collective. This 10-year-old has big dreams and all I can do is support them. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Easy Grammar Ultimate Series: 180 Daily Teaching Lessons

Oddly enough, my oldest son loved grammar.  In fact, it was one of his favorite subjects.  We used Rod and Staff to lay the foundation.  It was a thorough program, but not always easy to finish in a year.  The Easy Grammar Ultimate Series: 180 Daily Teaching Lessons seemed like a good substitute.  We examined the grade 11 text.  After a couple of lessons, Kingman complained that, "Nothing is clear.  You have to make assumptions."  I think coming from a curriculum that explains each concept in depth to one with succinct explanations may have been a big jump.  Upon closer examination, I discovered that concepts are explained well enough.  They are straight to the point with 1-4 practice questions.  This program was created to get you through what you need to know about grammar quickly.

If you are familiar with Daily Grams, you will probably have an idea of how this works.  In fact, the writers of the curriculum suggest using the text as a review book.  I would agree.  If you are finished with grammar study in your homeschool, but want to keep those grammar skills fresh as your juniors and seniors prepare for Accuplacer or CLEP exams, The Easy Grammar Ultimate Series: 180 Daily Teaching Lessons is a great review guide.

If you just want to review a specific aspect of grammar, the table of contents breaks it all down.  For example, under the lesson on colons there are exercises on use with a bibliography, divided, words, lists, ratios and more.  So you can zero in and be specific.

Another great way to use this guide would be through oral activities.  We used to do it all the time with Rod & Staff because there were just so many exercises.  To get  through them, we would do half orally.  The Easy Grammar Ultimate Series makes it easy as each lesson should only last 10 minutes.  Everyone has 10 minutes to review grammar orally.

Because the text is laid out in such an organized fashion, it makes it easy to jump around.  But the author suggests moving in sequence. It all depends upon how you plan to use the guide.  If you are a fan of Daily Grams, then I think you'll like this.  But I would suggest combining it with another grammar curriculum to round out a complete language arts program.  The Easy Grammar Ultimate Series is a part of complete homeschool curriculum for 11th graders.  For more information, click here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Pairing Audio Books with the Hard Copy Book To Get Children Reading

Kwame Alexander, the award-winning author of Lionheart's favorite book

In a rush to get Lionheart ready for his Creative Writing class last fall, I checked out the required book from the library.  Because Lionheart started late and had to cover a lot of chapters in a short amount of time, I checked out the audio book too.  He loves stories, but doesn't always like to sit down with a good book.  I had no idea what would happen next.  He read the entire book in one night.  Actually, I fell asleep and he woke me up at 1 a.m. to excitedly tell me he had finished the entire book.  It was Crossover by Kwame Alexander.  I was on to something.

It filled me with such joy to see him sitting and actually enjoying the book, as opposed to laboring through the assignment because he had to do it.  For some right brain learners, reading uses what Diane Craft calls "a lot of battery energy," and can suck the joy out of reading in the process. No child will learn to love something that leaves them depleted by the time they are done.  When I pair the audio book with the hard copy book, Lionheart listens to the story and he follows along in the book.  In the process, he is developing the skill of creating a movie in his head, which aids in comprehension, according to Diane Craft.  When it was time to finish the last two chapters of The Broken Bike Boy and the Queen of 33rd Street, Lionheart said to me, "I wish this book were a movie!" Then he asked if I could find a sequel. This is just what I wanted.  More importantly, as he follows along in the book, he is exposed to challenging vocabulary and proper pronunciation. What I love most about pairing the audiobook with the hard copy book is that we get to experience the book together.  When it's time for a comprehension discussion, we can have meaningful dialogue because I've essentially read the book too.

When I plunked down the next reading, As Brave As You, by Jason Reynolds, instead of moaning, he was excited about the sheer size of the book.  When I broke out the audio book, he smiled and rubbed his hands together and said, "Let's go!"  That is precisely the reaction I want to elicit about books, not drudgery.  What's extra special about this book is that we'll also get to meet the author, Jason Reynolds, who happens to be the friend of a fellow homeschool dad.

Another important benefit to pairing audio books with hard copy books is that I can help him understand heavy topics.  When we read the story of Claudette Colvin, I'm sure we'll be pausing the CD a lot and I'll be answering lots of questions.  Through this process, I see his vocabulary and reading comprehension expand with each book he completes.  My vocabulary expanded in much the same way.  I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness. I had to attend Bible study, Theocratic Ministry and Sunday was the Kingdom Hall (think church service).   To keep from being bored, I followed along in whatever printed material was being used by the speaker and along the way learned all kinds of words.  I recall being the only person in my 2nd grade class that knew how to spell reign, rain and rein - all from reading along.  My goal is to develop a love of reading.  I am confident that eventually he'll gravitate toward the hard copy book without the audio book.  In the meantime, I'll keep digging for great books that have an audio book companion.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Beginning Word Roots: A Review

Everything has a beginning.  This is how we began our study of root words.  Trees have roots and so do words, I explained to Lionheart, who wondered aloud, "why do I have to do this!?"  I wanted him to understand that the key to unlocking the meaning of new and unfamiliar words is understanding their roots.  Sharing this tidbit made teaching this abstract concept a bit more relevant to his young life.

Word Roots, published the by Critical Thinking Company, was our first adventure into vocabulary study.  More efficient than studying random lists of vocabulary words, Word Roots, instead focuses on prefixes, suffixes and roots.  Understanding the meaning of a specific prefix or suffix helps unlock far more words and their meanings.  For example, in Lesson 15, the root word "port," which means to carry, is the focus.  Pair "port" with the prefixes "ex, im, sup, trans," and 4 more words are decoded.  I encouraged Lionheart to treat it like detective work to make it fun!

The first 3 lessons of the text focus on prefixes, suffixes and roots, separately.  Each concept is defined, followed by simple exercises for practice.  The layout is nice and there is plenty of white space and a few illustrations so as not to overwhelm.  Other exercises include drawing a line from the word to its picture representation, defining the words, and filling in the blank with the correct word.

Lessons 4-7 focus on prefixes and roots, while lessons 8-11 focus on roots and suffixes. Breaking up the concepts in this way decreased confusion for Lionheart and allowed for plenty of practice to attain mastery.

Lessons 12-24 combine all three concepts: prefixes, roots and suffixes.  There are 10 reviews  that increase in difficulty as the child progresses.  One review includes matching the word with the correct meaning and creating words by combining the correct prefix and root word. Another review involves circling the correctly spelled word, for example:  fertile, fertill and furtile. By the last review, the child is asked to write a complete sentence using a word from the choice box.  I expect Lionheart to be pretty challenged by this exercise, especially given the choice of words, which includes "revivify."  I had to look that one up myself!

By the end of the book, with a little hard work, Lionheart should have expanded his vocabulary and  be able to use his knowledge of prefixes and suffixes to decode new words like vivacious, when broken down means viv (live, live) and acious (having the quality of).

Word Roots is a part of the Timberdoodle 4th-6th grade homeschool curriculum package.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Advocating for Your Child v. Letting Him Have His Way

Advocating for your child doesn't mean you are always rallying for him to have his way.  I am the type of parent who will usually need to hear complaints from my children several times before I begin to investigate.  Recently, LionHeart came home complaining about tennis and being moved to what he considered a "lower group."  I learned there were other children in the "lower group," who were pretty much at the same skill level.  So what was the real issue I wondered?  I asked if his "best friend" was in the group where he wanted to be and the answer was yes.  For some reason many adults believe that wanting to learn alongside a friend is not a good reason to be moved.  But why not if that's what makes him happy?  I believe it is perfectly fine, in fact, I encourage it, as long as it enhances learning and doesn't cause distractions.  I am intentional about finding friends for LionHeart to have new experiences alongside.  Well meaning adults think that a child who wants to learn with a friend will somehow be crippled and not be able to grow and become "independent."  So untrue.  Quite the opposite.  Babies who are securely attached to their parents are the ones that tend to be more confident and willing to explore.  In this video about a homeschooling family of 7, one of the siblings says, "when I am with my whole family I feel stronger." The same could be true for LionHeart when he is with his friends.

I decided to accompany my sons to tennis (usually big brother takes him).  I had a conversation with the coach beforehand and expressed that LionHeart would like to be moved to the group with his friend.  During our conversation, I realized how problematic this concept is for some adults.  We went back and forth and what I learned is that both of the groups were essentially the same, but (and this is the  important part) one coach's teaching style is in line with how LionHeart learns.  Bingo! That was the issue.  LionHeart didn't know how to articulate it so he merely complained about it being an "easier class."  He didn't know how to say, "Mom I am holistic learner and I prefer a big-picture, more hands on approach when I am learning fundamental concepts."  But I did!  When I expressed to the coach that if the groups were the same, just let him be with his friend, that's when he said it.  "Well, he can't always get his way."  There it was.  The fear that if we allow him to have his way, be happy, somehow this would ruin him for life.  Reality - he can't always have his way.  But when he can, let's make it happen.  That's my philosophy.  If I suggest vanilla ice cream as a more practical flavor, but he wants peanut butter and grape, it sounds nasty to me, but it's a battle that is not worth having.  On the other hand, if he wants to wear shorts and it's 20 degrees outside, that is a choice he will not get to make.  It's all about Ma'at - balance.

LionHeart was able to move back to the group with is bestie. As I observed the teaching style of both instructors during class, it became even more clear that moving him was the right choice.  Parents are the first teachers, and we study our children.  I can look into LionHeart's eyes and know when he is about to be sick.  So as I watched these instructors I understood that though moving to be with his friend was a part of it, the pace of the class was an even bigger factor.  While both are great instructors, one focused on the fundamental concepts individually, while the other incorporated the fundamental concepts within a fast-paced game of tennis.  For example, to learn proper form for the backhand, one instructor had the group working exclusively on backhands.  He also discussed form a lot more.  While the other instructor demonstrated and then put them in a game.  When LionHeart's form was not correct, he was immediately able to see the consequence - the ball went out.  Doing it the wrong way, taught him how, but more importantly why he needed to do it the right way.  This teaching method is exactly how he learns best:  demonstrate (instructor), do it (student), correct, commit to memory.  When you have a child who learns differently, it can feel like a constant battle.  Some educators either take it personally and feel you are criticizing their teaching methods or "letting the child have his way."

The Right-Brain processing style doesn't just apply to academics.  I noticed this during his piano lessons that were going horribly wrong because the sole focus was on reading the notes, step 1.  I Googled an article on teaching piano to Right-Brain learners and sent it to his piano teacher who immediately incorporated the concepts into the lesson.  Right Brain dominant processors learn piano best by hearing a song, then learning a song first and learning the notes of the song as a part of the process.  That's the top down, whole (whole song) to part (notes ) learning style.  His piano teacher told me after the change in approach LionHeart's piano lessons were a 100% turnaround.  So instead of thinking of it as him "having his way," I think of it as advocating for my child so that he can be successful. Afterall, isn't that what we all want? If not, then we have to ask ourselves some serious questions.