Thursday, May 27, 2010

Gamer Birthday Parties at Cybercriter Internet Lounge

If you're female and over the age of 23, you may never have set foot in an establishment called an "interent lounge." I'm about to tell you why you might want to swing that door open wide and walk right in. Now, you may have a certain vision in your mind connected with such a place, involving adolescent males with patchy beards growing to the floor, eyes glazed over, cheese powder flecks crusted to the sides of their mouths, hands clicking rhythmically on their gummy controllers. Maybe the place smells kind of like an old sock, with wires running everywhere, and blinking lights in seizure-inducing rows. Maybe there's Red Bull dripping from the walls. Maybe there are giant alien swords stuck into the cement floor.

Maybe there are places that fit that description, but Cybercriter Internet Lounge (yes, really only one T) in Norfolk, behind the Ted Constant Convocation Center, is not one of them. Let me take you on a tour, and enlighten you. When you walk in, you're in a long but small room with beautiful HD televisions along all the walls. Attached to every console is a game system -- Wii, Playstation, etc. There are windows, and light bulbs, and there is carpeting. There's a counter with snacks and a register. It's all very clean. There are no drooling adolescents. At all.

Now here's the majestic beauty that I want to show you. Imagine you're hosting a birthday party. All along the walls there are clusters of children, eagerly playing games. Some are watching, others playing, they're laughing, yelling "YES!" and "OH MAN!" together, having a ball. There's every child-friendly game on every game system you can imagine. WiiPlay, WiiSports, Guitar Hero, Mario Party, Little Big Planet, and the list goes on. But the magic is the sincere energy and joy and excitement of all the little friends together, trying different games, cheering each other on, locked in battle, and thoroughly, utterly engaged.

We went to CyberCriter for Louis' gamer birthday party, and I was absolutely amazed at how well the kids played together, how much fun they had, and how quiet it was in the room. All the moms had a lovely chat, Deva had set up one counter with snacks and drinks, and it was amazing. I arrived skeptical, and left completely convinced.

Here's the info: $10 per child includes two hours of play time on the consoles. If you want CyberCriter to handle pizza and soda or juice, it's an additional $4 per child. There are spaces and tables for crafts, chips, birthday cakes, etc. You can bring your own games/consoles/whatever to supplement what they have, or just use theirs. They can accommodate between 5 and 20 kids. If you have a gamer in your family who's having a birthday or another special event to organize, this just could be your dream solution!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Differentiated Curriculum: What does it mean?

Beyond multiplication tables or the life cycles of frogs, beyond the dates of the Punic wars or the names of the Presidents, the most important thing that we can teach our children as home educators is how to think. Thinking is more than memorizing or reacting -- it's making and recognizing connections in the world. Applying this idea to that situation, translating this concept into that context: that's thinking.

Prufrock Press is a fantastic publisher of curricula and learning materials for gifted children. The most impressive thing about their programs, for me, is the emphasis on teaching the children how to think, encouraging them to make connections, and stretching ideas across the whole spectrum of learning to show them how everything is related, how one idea can apply to many situations.

A perfect example of this kind of teaching is the concept of "differentiated curriculum." What does this phrase mean? Each differentiated program takes one broad concept and applies it to many different situations and contexts across the curriculum. Science, art, literature, history, geography -- all are linked by a common conceptual element.

The unit we bought is called Structures, and it comes in three parts. Here's the description from the Prufrock Press web site:

The Earth is a solid structure on which we live, but it is not unchanging. Forces inside Earth constantly change both the inside and outside of the planet we call home. When students consider the concept of structures, they will discover that the word has many meanings. The Structures Differentiated Curriculum Kit provides exciting activities to help students discover the structures that exist all around them.

The books in Prufrock’s new Differentiated Curriculum Kits employ a differentiated, integrated curriculum based on broad themes. This all-in-one curriculum helps teachers save planning time, ensure compliance with national standards, and most importantly, pique their students’ natural excitement and interest in discovery. By participating in the wide variety of activities in the Differentiated Curriculum Kit for Grade 5, students will discover the structures around them and gain a lifelong desire to learn.

Structures Book 1: Geology, Expansion, and the Arts, students will learn that structures can be physical, natural, symbolic, and metaphoric. Students will explore natural bridges, earthquakes, erosion, Westward expansion, the Industrial Revolution, and more. In Structures Book 2: Cultures, Geometry, and Energy, students will explore the origins of popular nursery rhymes, racial barriers, and geometry and architecture. In Structures Book 3: Government, Cycles, and Physics, students will study cycles in time, business, monetary value, electricity, and magenetisim. Each book contains detailed lesson plans, reproducible activity sheets, and assessment tools.

Other books in the series include Systems, Cycles, Frontiers, and more. Here's a link to the page with all the differentiated curriculum. If you're like me, the very idea sets your brain to popping -- what poem, scientific concept, historical event, geographical phenomenon, piece of art, and political system could be linked with the idea of "cycles"? The whole concept of this curriculum is just magical to me, and it seems like an ideal, perfect, absolutely exciting way to engage a child over the summer, or as part of a really cool, integrated year of homeschooling.

Note: There are a lot of assessment materials and reproducible pages -- which makes it seem like it is more intended for classroom use. This would make the material perfect for use in a co-op or a group of friends all learning together. Ancillary materials are used a lot -- books from the library, or stuff you may have in your homeschooling library, to introduce the scientific and historical stuff.

Shurley English Teaches Itself

There are are some areas of the homeschooling curriculum about which I get excited. Literature, for example, really gets my blood flowing and my teeth chattering. I love to learn it, teach it, toss it up in the air and catch it, feed it cookies, babysit its toddlers, etc. History increasingly delights me too, although that surprises me -- I can remember saying "History is so over" to enrage my history major friends. I love working with the kids on music, art, writing. But one thing I do *not* enjoy, one thing I found galling and irritating as a child and feel pointless and tiresome now is GRAMMAR.

My nod to grammar with Benny has been to purchase some kind of floppy, grade-level workbook a few weeks before our yearly test. We mash through it with our noses pinched, and then he knows whatever capitalization or comma rules are appropriate for him to know, and we leave it for another year.

The one place where we have spent some time learning grammar, and the one context in which it seems interesting and relevant, is Latin. As you know, we use Latin for Children from Classical Academic Press, and in teaching the first level this year, I kept hearing about how Latin for Children is designed to fit perfectly with Shurley English, and how a lot of the methods employed are similar, based on the same research. Well, we LOVE Latin for Children -- maybe, just maybe, I could love a grammar program too. As I contemplated starting Sadie in first grade in the fall, I realized that Shurley English might be perfect for her -- so I bought the Level 1 stuff from their homeschooling-specific line, and had a look.

I have to tell you, this stuff teaches itself! One lesson I learned immediately is that unlike many programs, the teacher's manual in Shurley English is essential. It tells you exactly what to do, what to say, how to say it, what pieces of the workbooks and activity books to use, and more. There are chants, songs, and jingles, along with a very methodical approach to teaching elementary grammar. For someone who is uninterested in charting any new courses or blazing any new trails in teaching this particular material, Shurley English is perfect.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Aeneid Class: Week 13: Aeneas' Shield

This post relates to my literature class for children at Homeschool Out of the Box co-op in Norfolk, VA. This semester we are reading The Aeneid, using Penelope Lively's book In Search of a Homeland, and other supplemental materials. For other lessons, please click the Aeneid tag at the bottom of this post.

Welcome: We are coming to the end of our class! That is sad for me. I have really enjoyed working with your children this semester. We still have a lot to get through in these last few weeks however, including today -- two painting projects to get through!

Aeneas' Shield: At the end of the reading assignment for today, Aeneas' mother, Venus, gives him a present. This special shield foretells the future of Rome, including our favorite characters, Julius and Augustus Caesar, of course! Virgil wouldn't want to let a chapter go by without reminding us that the whole point of this epic is to validate the authority of the emperor! Today we are making shields with watercolor. To do this project you will need watercolor paper marked with concentric circles, and watercolor paints. Those children who were in my Jungle Book class last semester were reminded that mandalas come in many forms -- and that concentric circles marked with symmetrical designs are everywhere! Some of the students took up the challenge to make pictures of the founding of the Roman empire, and some did more abstract designs. Here are some examples of their work:

I was particularly impressed with how some of the children in the enrichment class were able to graphically articulate the growth of Rome from one city to a big and powerful empire through assimilation and attack. We've been talking about how the bigger you get, the easier it is to get bigger, either by intimidation or war. It was great seeing that some out on some of the shields!

The shields will be used as programs for next week's Rostra event.

Rostra Banners:

Next week we will be putting on our final big event: Oratory at the Rostra. We created banners to decorate our platforms today. I was absolutely floored by the fact that I had ten children all working collaboratively around a single banner, and in three classes I had no arguing, no "he got paint on my part!" at all. Kudos to these kids, really! Super great job. You'll have to wait to see the banners, because I didn't take pictures yet, but they are... expressive.

Rostra Info:

The children almost all volunteered to take part in the oratory at the Rostra next week. You are invited to attend! It will be held in the classroom. Warning: If you are made nervous or queasy by children standing on tables, please bring the appropriate sedatives for yourself. :) Below are the memory lines they chose to recite. You will find the words they're working on in their scrapbooks, or I'm printing them below. They do NOT need to memorize all of the poem in order to participate. Even one line is fine! I told them even one syllable is fine, actually. Encourage the children to recite only what they're really comfortable reciting -- we want this to be a very positive experience, and that means fewer lines is better, if more lines bring anxiety. Look for your child's name in the list below. If you and your child are not sure what you should be working on, please let me know. If your child's name is not on the list, it means they did not want to participate. All participants will receive a special issue "Rostra" citizenship coin.

Mark Antony's speech at Julius Caesar's funeral: Stephen, Louis, Carrie, Hannah, Nathan, Richard, Benny, Cecelia, Basi, Catherine, David, Sadie.

Aeneid in Latin: Shira, Ben, Sarah M., Martina, Julia, Elsa, Katie, Max, Morgan, Miranda

Horatio at the Bridge (either the first two verses, or the last two verses, or both): Emily, Jillian, Sarah R

Brayton will be the MC at the 9:30 class, and Celia will be the MC at the 10:30. I will MC the Juniors.

Reading Assignment:

Reading for next week is Nisus and Euryalus and The Return of Aeneas. After we finish with our Rostra presentation we will be having regular class with singing, Horatio practice, and a quiz over the Rostra fast facts.