Monday, July 9, 2018

MEL Science - Chemistry Experiments Delivered to Your Door

I won't lie, when I opened the box I was a bit intimidated.  All those unfamiliar chemicals looked quite "official" and a little scary.  But I am an adventurer and LionHeart looked too excited for me to let him down.  Besides, sometimes text books can suck the fun out of learning.  These kits definitely  looked like they were about to kick the fun factor up several notches.

Experiment #1 Burning Magnesium

The first experiment we tried was Burning Magnesium.  Thank goodness for the video links to all of the experiments.  LionHeart is a visual learner.  While I poured over the written instructions, he watched the video.  Here's what happened:

Experiment #2 - Fire in A Bottle

After opening the contents and setting everything up, imagine how disappointed we were to discover that the ethanol alcohol was not included - either that or I had misplaced it! We substituted isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol.  A quick Google search taught me that the two are not the same chemically.  I was ready to give up when LionHeart, my little scientist, urged me to try anyway.  Each time LionHeart inserted the lit skewer, it kept going out before he could get it to touch the alcohol.  For the short time that it was lit, we saw a slight fire in the bottle. LionHeart was intrigued by the bubbly cauldron effect created and spent another 30 minutes toying around and discovered that if you insert the skewer sideways the fire stays lit.  That's what I really love about science - it stokes the fire of  a curious mind.

Molecular Balls as viewed in the app

How It Works

MEL Science is a subscription service.  Each month you'll receive a chemistry set with 2-6 experiments.  The kit will include just about everything you need.  There are a total of 38 interactive hands-on chemistry sets.  Each set comes with all of the supplies and a description card that gives a quick overview of the experiment, safety precautions and a link to the video that demonstrates the experiment.  The MEL Sciene app serves as a virtual 3D microscope that enables your child to better visualize what happens in each experiment at the molecular level.  The website also provides more information about the topic if your learner is interested.

When you purchase a subscription, your first shipment includes two chemistry sets and the Starter Kit, The starter kit includes includes a Borosilicate glass beaker and flask (for use with excessive heat), virtual reality glasses (to observe molecules and crystal lattices from the inside - wow!), a macro lens that turns your smartphone into a microphone (so cool!), a tablet stand, large syringes, safety glass (of course), tray and Lion Heart's favorite, the solid fuel stove burner for use with experiments that require an open flame.

The Experiments

Click here to see a list of the experiments available through the MEL Science subscription service.  MEL science takes the intimidation factor out of chemistry and inserts the WOW factor.  This is how  children get really interested in science.  The mind-bending chemistry formulas can come later.  For now, let them fall in love with chemistry.

Virtual Reality Lessons

MEL Science also offers virtual reality lessons that cover all main topics of chemistry.  Difficult chemistry concepts are easily explained in bite-sized 3-7 minute virtual reality videos.  Students can use the VR glasses that come with the starter kit to enjoy these mini-lessons.  What fun!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Why I Love myON ~ Independent Summer Reading

I found a wonderful way to keep LionHeart engaged with reading and to ensure that Fortnite doesn't take over his life this summer.  myON is a digital book library, containing thousands of enhanced and age-appropriate titles for PreK-12.  I like that it suggests books based on his interest.  He chooses what he wants to read and the placement test determines the appropriate Lexile level.  He even has the option of having it read to him and the words are highlighted.  My favorite aspect of myON is the comprehension quiz.  He already knows that he must score 3 out of 5 or higher in order to "earn" his game time.  I still believe in reading to my child, so in addition to his independent reading, I chose books that he would probably cruise smooth past in the library.  Together we'll read about Wangari Maathi, Ida B. Wells, Bob Marley -- important historical figures he should know.  But when he chooses what to read, he can enjoy his Fantasy Basketball and Greatest MMA fighters.  I think having choice in reading material is very important.

Digital Texts

myON has unlimited access to digital texts available on and offline for reading.  The placement test ensures that book titles match reading and Lexile level. The more a child reads in his current level, the more confident he becomes and the more his reading improves.

Literacy Tools

I really love the literacy tools! There is an embedded dictionary and a zoom feature.  Also, because each digital book is a personal copy, your child will be able to use all sorts of literacy tools to really interact with the text.

Drawing Tool (Brush)

Students can identify important concepts in photos and illustrations throughout the book.

Sticky Notes

Students can annotate and add symbols while reading to mark passages, document theories, ask questions, remember connections or respond to the text. Sticky notes can be attached to highlighted text.


Students can create on-page shapes and reposition, resize, change the color or remove them.

Journal / Notebook 

Students can create long text notes within the book reader that can be accessed within their account journal, and used to complete parent assigned writing projects.

Citation Creator

Students can learn the importance of citing sources and proper formatting, helping avoid plagiarism.

 Students can use a highlighter, brush tool, shapes and sticky notes to identify, markup and connect story concepts.

To Purchase

I purchased myON through the Home Buyers Co-op for $39.95 for the year! So glad this resource is now available to homeschoolers and families.  Initially, it was only available through school districts.  To purchase, click here for myON.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

I Don't Want A Woman Teacher

Pan African History teacher, Obi Egbuna, Jr., and LionHeart at the first Sankofa Homeschool Graduation.

"I don't want a woman for my teacher," LionHeart said to me.  It stopped me in my tracks.  I'm a homeschool parent, his first teacher, but you don't want a woman for a teacher! When I turned around he could see the emotions in my eyes.  So he started trying to explain himself a little more.  "Well, mom, I don't mean it like that," he corrected.  "I just want Baba Balvin to stay.  Mom, he let us use a blow torch!"  It seemed the blow torch was symbolic of all the things that a man understands about what boys need to do and experience.  So, instead of getting all in my feelings, I started to think about what he was really saying.  I knew he loved me to the moon.  But on Fridays, that was his day to be taught by what he would one day become, a man, a husband, a father, and perhaps, a business owner.  On Fridays, the Sankofa Homeschool Collective, meets for 20 weeks out of the school year.  We find people in our community who are passionate about what they do and we seek them out to instruct our children.  Along the way, something very unique happened.  More than half of our instructors are men! This is very unusual in an educational setting, even in homeschool cooperatives.  Then I thought a little further and realized that on Fridays every single one of  LionHeart's teachers is a man.  Wow!

Metals Works & Jewelry Making Class

Baba Balvin introducing the blow torch.

Baba Balvin, founder and owner of Balando Designs, taught the art of metal works and jewelry making using techniques such as beading, wire work and copper etching.  On the very first day of class each child created a beautiful necklace.  His class was so popular, we had to offer it twice.  He quickly became a favorite teacher of the students.

Pan African History Class

Baba Obi making a point about the Bombing of the Move Organization.
Baba Obi has been teaching Lionheart since he was 5 years old.  From performing in plays with Mass Emphasis History and Theatre Company, to memorizing all 55 African countries, Pan African History has been weaved into his being.  This is not just a history class to check off the homeschool requirement box.  LionHeart is learning that he has an obligation to carry on the work of the great men and women leaders who came before him.

Junior Mastermind Class

This class was all about expanding the mind through brain games and critical thinking.  Baba MenaqAmurr is a professor of Psychology, founder of Mind on the Matter, and will be soon publishing his 5th book, Practical Psychology 101: A psychological manual for Black Loved Matters and all other movements.

Baba Menaq brain training with critical thinking tools.

Frederick Douglas Writing Club

Baba Got Bars, Baba Bomai,

This class was taught by Baba Bomani, founder of Baba Got Bars. He is an accomplished writer, poet, teacher and Hip Hop artist who understands boys.  He is the father of three, including twin boys and he gets them.  The boys learn to write through the study of the Autobiography of Frederick Douglas, boy-friendly literature, mind-mapping and other multi-sensory approaches.

Boys Construction Class

While this class technically took place on a Tuesday and was not a part of the Sankofa line-up, it was still an instance where he was being taught by a man with more than 30 years experienced as a tradesman.

African Drumming Master Teacher

Circa 2013 at the DC Watermelon Festival.  LionHeart is pictured with his teacher and mentor Baba M and his best friend.

Drum class has become a part of his soul.  It is the highlight of his Friday, the highlight of his week and the weekend when there is rehearsal for the performing companies.  I had to beg and plead with LionHeart to attend summer camp two years ago.  He didn't want to miss rehearsal.  Mountain biking, swimming, zip lining, it didn't matter. He didn't want to miss rehearsal. I couldn't believe it.  He has a special connection with his favorite teacher who gets him.  Baba Mahiri (or Baba M) knows how to pull the genius out of children.  As he recently said, after teaching them and getting to know them for years, he understands how their minds work.  Drum class is not just a class, but it is a place where young boys grow into men.

Prepping a drum

Here he sits, long after rehearsal has ended, hanging out with the older brothers and prepping a drum.

Birthright 2017 ~ One of the Lead Djembe players for Farafina Denu
For a young boy who lost his father at age 7, Fridays (and Tuesday) must represent something truly amazing to his spirit and I had no idea until that day.  Now, instead of being upset, I wanted to cry because I could really feel where he was coming from. He is truly blessed to have so many men as consistent teachers in his life. I know this is crucial for males.  I am even more grateful for the Sankofa and Farafina Kan community and the men who are a part of it.

A mural in Cambridge, Md., my hometown.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Normal Isn't Real

"The best part of school for me was being done with it."  That quote from the film Normal Isn't Real really stuck with me.  Imagine if you are a child and five days a week for seven hours a day you have to go to a place that makes you feel like crap and no one gets you.  Imagine what that does to a child's self-esteem and mental health.  According to Normal Isn't Real, 1-5 children have a learning difference and don't receive the support they need in school.  Instead, they are made to feel dumb, ostracized and full of shame.  Every educator, parent or anyone who touches the lives of children, should see this film.

LeDerick Horne, myself and a fellow homeschool mom at the DC premiere.

LeDerick Horne

Imagine intentionally putting yourself in situations that could result in the loss of your life.  That was what LeDerick Horne did to escape his feelings of torment about being different in school.  Today, Horne, who is featured in this film, is a successful author, poet, public speaker and disability advocate.  He earned a BA in mathematics with a Fine Arts minor from New Jersey City University and also studied mathematics at Middlesex County College.  He has also written a book Empowering Students with Hidden Disabilities:  A Path to Pride and Success.  Horne said that something that would have made a huge difference in his life -- having a successful mentor who also had a learning difference.  One of his biggest issues was struggling with low self-esteem.  But, his life changed when he had a shift in perspective and began to embrace his differences.  He learned the importance of self-advocacy and positioning himself in places that played to his strengths.

The Director

Krys Kornmeier, the Director of Normal Isn't Real, discovered her own son had learning differences and ADHD 20 years ago.  What she discovered along the way to finding the resources that her son needed is that many children with the same issues as her son are often highly creative and some of our most successful leaders in every field. "But these same issues can result in early school failures that spiral into a loss of self -esteem and derail a bright future. A disproportional number of youths in correctional facilities have been diagnosed with LD and ADHD issues."

Vision for the Film

The vision for the film was not about scientific brain research, but to allow a window into the everyday life experiences of four people who struggled with learning differences and ADHD, yet grew up to be successful. The four unique individuals in the film talk about their lives, their talents, their frustrations and the strategies they used to become successful. Through their unique stories the film aims to promote understanding and most importantly acceptance through real life examples of successful people with learning differences and ADHD.

Mastering Yourself

One of the keys to success as pointed out in this film is the mastery of self.  You have to know yourself and your strengths.  When children are younger, they need parents, educators and the community to advocate for them.  This gets easier as you get older.  Embracing your weaknesses is just as important as knowing your strengths.  Horne said it took him 5 years to finish community college.  But he did it! Confronting challenges, managing them, seeking help and utilizing disability resources is key.  Finding support from others who learn differently is important as well.  A recurring theme in the film was that finding something that you are really good at positively impacts everything else you do.

Support the film and host a screening.  For more information, click here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

No You Can't Have a Tattoo!

His father's name in Adinkra symbols that personify his essence.

He knew I was opposed to tattoos and so was his father.  Where was this coming from? I know, those darn rappers, basketball players and football players.  Peer pressure too, that's it.  Why in the world do you need a tattoo, I asked over and over again? I want something to represent my father, he replied repeatedly.  I'm thinking that a picture should be enough.  Besides his father and I had many conversations about our disdain for tattoos and pierced ears on men.  But he wanted it for his 17th birthday.  I had no intention of giving him permission, but I went along for the ride.

The Research

In 2015, KingMan completed a rigorous 6-month rites of passage that included the study of African proverbs and Adinkra symbols.  Adinkra symbols originated in Gyaman, a former kingdom in today’s Cote D’Ivoire.  In the 19th century the Asante people began painting symbols of Gyamans (former king) on a cloth.  Adinkra means goodbye or farewell in the Twi language of the Akan people.  These cloths are worn during special occasions.  These Adinkra symbols express themes that relate to history, beliefs and philosophy of the Akan people.  Adinkra symbols have a rich proverbial meaning.  In doing his research he pulled out his Rites book and began researching the symbols and selecting specific symbols that personified the essence of his father.  Okay, so now KingMan was not  playing fair.  He was appealing to my intellectual, love of history, African cultural and meaning weakness.

The Artist

Unbeknownst to me, he had already asked his childhood friend, who was like a sister to him, to start creating the art for his tattoo.  These two grew up together.  The only time he played with his art supplies that I kept stocked in our home was when Yetunde came to visit.  Today, Yetunde is an amazing artist who was accepted into one of the nation's top art schools.  Now there was layered meaning to his request.  I felt my knees wobbling.

The artist all grown up.

Yes, this is one of Yetunde's creations.  She is amazing, creative, smart, athletic and humble.  All of this is important when choosing an artist who will create something so meaningful.  You can find her work on Instagram at Yesap. I digress.

The Finished Art

KingMan had really been working on me and I was teetering, but still not there.  Tattoos are so permanent.  He wanted it on his forearm and I'm thinking about the company picnic.  What will your boss think? He replied, "Mom I'm going to be an engineer and have my own firm."  Ouch.  He really knows what to say.  He could be a politician too because he's such the negotiator!  I'm not going to lie, when he revealed the art work, I paused in mid-sentence and could not keep my mouth from dropping open. How could I say no? It was absolutely divine.  It was unique.  It was meaningful.  Yetunde had spelled out his father's name in Adinkra symbols that personified the essence of his father.  I was done. I was a complete knock out.  He had won me over.  Until we reached the tattoo shop.

The Big Reveal

Of course there was one more debate to be had.  This time it was over the size of the tattoo.  KingMan wanted 10 inches and I wanted 4 inches (smaller of course).  This debate raged on for about an hour in the tattoo shop while he waited his turn.  So we decided to allow Baba Mahiri to decide what size.  Baba M (as he is affectionately known) a master West African percussionist, is his drum professor and mentor.  He's known him since he was 7 years old.  We trusted his wisdom.  Baba M replied to our text with 6 inches - a compromise, right in the middle.  Then I played myself.  I sent Baba M a text of the art work.  He thought it was breathtaking and asked what it meant.  When I told him, he replied, well make it 12 inches!! The battle was officially lost.  I lovingly gave in because in truth, I could not really be upset about something that meant so much to KingMan.  More importantly, it would be a daily reminder of his father whom he lost at the tender age of 13.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Olokun of the Galaxy - A Book Review

Olokun of the Galaxy is a poetry and visual arts book written by award-winning author Esther Iverem.  The book centers around an African spirit of the ocean who protects the ocean and honors the Maafa (middle passage) and all those millions who died during the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade.

When I initially picked up the book and started reading, I had no idea what was going on and neither did my son.  However, after reading the background, it all made sense.  Context is everything.  The opportunity to review this book is quite divine.  As a part of our homeschool we are studying world religion and African spiritual systems.  So it was no accident that I received this book.

Olokun is no ordinary children's book.  It's history, astronomy, oceanography, science fiction, art and religion all rolled into one.  One reading will hardly scratch the surface.  So vast are the layers, that Olokun must be read once for visualization, again for vocabulary, then history and so on.  It's so rich that a unit study around the book could last a week or a semester.  Olokun will have  readers thinking deeply about the earth and our responsibility to it.

Olokun, African Spirit of the Deepest Ocean

I'm not sure I would read this with a younger child because of the graphic descriptions around the Maafa.  I'd say middle school and up.  Esther Iverem, who is also an artist and curator, developed Olokun to feature a series of art figures she creates from reclaimed pants (pictured above).  These award-winning "pant dolls" have been exhibited across the US since 2012.  It is difficult to find African American literature for young children that weaves African history, nature and fantasy, says Iverem. "I am excited to see Olokun of the Galaxy be a story that gives children a narrative that combines historical fact and fantasy, educates about protecting Earth and explores mysteries of the universe."

This review is a part of the 5th Annual Multicultural Book Day.  See more information below:

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/18) is in its 5th year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.  
Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2018 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. 
2018 MCBD Medallion Sponsors

2018 Author Sponsors
Author Janet Balletta, Author Susan BernardoAuthor Carmen Bernier-Grand, Author Tasheba Berry-McLaren and Space2Launch, Bollywood Groove Books, Author Anne BroylesAuthor Kathleen Burkinshaw, Author Eugenia Chu, Author Lesa Cline-Ransome, Author Medeia Cohan and Shade 7 Publishing, Desi Babies, Author Dani Dixon and Tumble Creek Press, Author Judy Dodge Cummings, Author D.G. Driver, Author Nicole Fenner and Sister Girl Publishing, Debbi Michiko Florence, Author Josh Funk, Author Maria Gianferrari, Author Daphnie Glenn, Globe Smart Kids, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, Author Quentin Holmes, Author Esther Iverem, Jennifer Joseph: Alphabet Oddities, Author Kizzie Jones, Author Faith L Justice , Author P.J. LaRue and, Author Karen Leggett Abouraya, Author Sylvia Liu, Author Sherri Maret, Author Melissa Martin Ph.D., Author Lesli Mitchell, Pinky Mukhi and We Are One, Author Miranda Paul, Author Carlotta Penn, Real Dads Read, Greg Ransom, Author Sandra L. Richards, RealMVPKids Author Andrea Scott, Alva Sachs and Three Wishes Publishing, Shelly Bean the Sports QueenAuthor Sarah Stevenson, Author Gayle H. Swift Author Elsa Takaoka, Author Christine Taylor-Butler, Nicholette Thomas and  MFL Publishing  Author Andrea Y. Wang, Author Jane Whittingham  Author Natasha Yim
We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.
TWITTER PARTY Sponsored by Scholastic Book Clubs: MCBD’s super-popular (and crazy-fun) annual Twitter Party will be held 1/27/18 at 9:00pm.
Join the conversation and win one of 12-5 book bundles and one Grand Prize Book Bundle (12 books) that will be given away at the party!
Free Multicultural Books for Teachers:
Free Empathy Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators:

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.