Tag Archives: middle school

What’s That About Radon?

This past fall, two of my children entered our state’s Radon Poster Contest sponsored by the health department. To enter, students were to design a poster showing that radon is a harmful gas that can affect people in their own homes.

Right before Christmas, my daughter Cassie learned that she had won first place for our state! It took us a little while to coordinate everything with the health department, but this week, she received her award. And the rest of us received some good information.

Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that forms naturally under the ground. When buildings are constructed over radon, it seeps into the building and becomes trapped. Depending on how much radon is present, the results can be deadly, as it’s the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. The representative from the health department told us of a young mother of three in our town who passed away from lung cancer a few years ago; the cause, they decided, was radon in her home.

“How do we test for it?” someone asked. Testing is done with a kit that you can either purchase at a home improvement store or get from your health department. After letting it sit in your house for a few days, you mail it off to a lab for the results.

If you test your home and find high levels of radon, what then? Fortuanately, there is a way to fix it. A ventilation system (they call it a mitigation system) can be installed under your home to allow the radon to escape before it ever enters the building. Newer homes, we were told, are often built with this system in already in place.

We also talked about the segment aired a couple of weeks ago on the Today Show about radon and it’s potential danger in the public schools. In one classroom that was tested, young elementary students were exposed to as much radon as if they were smoking a half a pack of cigarettes a day!

The poster contest was a success! Cassie received a lot of  prizes, our co-op received a monetary prize, but most of all, we all learned about radon and how to protect our families.

Are you children interested in entering? Check online to see if your state offers the poster contest. And be sure to check out the 2011 winners here!

 

Advertise It!

Here’s a creative writing assignment that works well for both individuals and groups of students. I assigned this one to the students in my writing class at co-op, and it was a lot of fun – for them and for me!

The lesson in the writing curriculum we’re using focused on exaggeration in advertising and how words can persuade and influence us. We started out the class by looking through newspaper ads, picking out key phrases such as “One-of-a-Kind”, “Today Only”, and “Essential”. We discussed our favorite infomercials and other television commercials, and how the words used in those ads convince a lot of people (hopefully not us!) to buy the product.

Then it was time to get to work creating their own advertisements. Instead of promoting a product, though, the students promoted a place – a real tourist attraction in the U.S. For classwork, they advertised the Forty-Acre Rock in South Carolina.

The 40-Acre Rock is actually only 14 acres, and the visit consists of a moderately-strenuous hike to a large rock. Sadly, some of the rock has been covered with graffiti. I handed each student a sheet of paper with the basic facts of the attraction: a small beaver pond, the hike, free parking, no restrooms, wildlife in the area, and the big rock. From those facts, they were to write a short paragraph convincing travelers to stop by.

It didn’t take long for them to come up with some great ads! They then took turns reading them out loud in class. And though they all had the same facts to start with, each ad was unique!

Their homework was just as much fun. I provided the students with a list of unusual places to write about, and each student chose one, looked up information about it, and wrote an ad to entice tourists. Here’s what was on our list:

Carhenge (Nebraska)

The Seattle Gum Wall (Washington)

The Corn Palace (South Dakota)

The Barbed Wire Museum (Kansas)

The National Museum of Funeral History (Texas)

The Tree that Owns Itself (Georgia)

The kids had no problems reading their ads out to the class the following week. And in the process, we all discovered some places we’d like to visit – or not! 🙂

 

Photo by Kevin Rosseel

New Year’s Around the World

No matter if we’re home together or visiting other family members, we usually celebrate on New Year’s Eve with games, snacks, movies, fireworks, and of course, staying up until midnight. This year, as we get ready for the festivities, we thought it would be interesting to find out how the rest of the world welcomes the new year. Here’s what we discovered:

In England, New Year’s Eve customs are quite similar to our own here in America. Many people celebrate with parties either in their homes, restaurants, or pubs with friends and family. They also watch fireworks displays, and at midnight sing “Auld Lang Syne”. They count down with the clock and toast the new year. Sound familiar? It did to my kids!

But here are some other things we learned:

In Scotland, New Year’s Eve is known as Hogmanay, and it’s an evening full of traditions. One of the customs is called first footing, or being the first person to cross the threshold of a home after midnight. This “first footer” will bring all the luck of the coming year with him, but there are some criteria he must meet. Ideally, he will be tall and handsome with dark hair, but he cannot be a doctor, a minister, or a grave digger. It’s also traditional for the first footer to carry a lump of coal to signify life, comfort, and warmth, along with a cake to represent prosperity.

Omisoko, New Year’s Eve in Japan, is one of the country’s most important holidays, coming second only New Year’s Day. Buckwheat noodles, called toshikoshi soba, are eaten to ensure longevity and prosperity. Families gather to watch the Red and White Song Festival, a television program that features singers whose songs were popular during the year. As the clock approaches midnight, many people visit the shrines and temples. Getting up to watch the sunrise on New Year’s Day is another important tradition, as viewing the first sunrise is considered a good and proper start to the new year. Popular foods for New Year’s Day include fish, fish eggs attached to seaweed, black beans, and kelp. New Year’s postcards sent to friends and family are delivered on New Year’s Day, and children receive monetary gifts in special envelopes.

In Mexico, Año Nuevo (New Year’s Eve) is celebrated by decorating homes in red ( improved lifestyle and love), yellow (blessings and good employment), white (improved health), and green (improved financial situations). Families often celebrate with a late-night dinner of turkey and mole. If Mexican sweet bread is served, it was usually baked with a coin or charm inside the dough. It’s tradition that whoever receives the piece with the coin  will have good luck in the coming year. When the clock strikes midnight, 12 grapes are eaten — one at a time with each chime of the bell – and a wish is made with each one.

People ring in the New Year in so many different ways! What interesting New Year’s traditions do you have in your family?

 

Photo by Matthew Hull

Teaching Poetry

This month, my junior high/senior high writing class is participating in the Young Writer’s NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. Because they’re busy at home typing out their novels, I decided to use our class time to talk about another form of creative writing: poetry.

Now, my poetry consists primarily of rhyming poems that children would enjoy. But, since poetry is much more than that, I decided to look online for some extra help in teaching the subject. And I found some really great lessons.

One of the best sites I came across is PBS.org. Here, you’ll find a great page to introduce students to poetry. With Rules, Tools, and Form,  you’ll cover what differentiates a poem from other literary works, as well as a summary of why tools and rules are important in writing poetry.

From there, you’ll be directed to two more helpful links: Poetic Forms and Examples and Poetry Devices and Examples. Print out the page of Poetic Forms and Examples for your students, and they’ll have examples in hand of various types of poems, including acrostics, haikus, tankas, couplets, cinquains, limericks, diamonte poems, proverbs, shape poems, rap, and free verse. The page also contains the “rules” so students can create their own.

On the Poetry Devices and Examples page, you’ll find information about and examples of similes, metaphors, personification, alliteration, hyperbole, symbolism, onomatopoeia, idioms, puns, lyrics, feet, meter, rhythm, and mood. This page, like the Poetry Forms page, is clearly laid out and easy for both teacher and student to use.

These three pages proved to be a perfect introduction to our poetry unit. For a class without any true poets (myself included), these pages take the mystery out of writing poetry and turn it into something fun that everyone can do.

 

Photo by earl53

It’s a Novel Idea!

It’s that time of year again!  Time for NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. During the month of November, authors and would-be authors from all over the world pursue a common goal: to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. The official website, http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/, provides tips, tools, and support for those who want to participate.

What does that have to do with a homeschooling mom who’s already overcommitted with teaching her kids, driving them to activities, managing schedules, maintaining the home, volunteering, and the myriad of other things she has to do? While I do know of a few homeschooling parents who have actually completed, or “won”, NaNoWriMo (go, Moms!), what’s even more exciting to me is that the NaNoWriMo challenge is available for students – from elementary all the way through high school.

The NaNoWriMo Young Writer’s Program begins on November 1 and ends on November 30. During that time, students of all ages are challenged to write a novel, with you, as the teacher, establishing the word count goal.

Sound like a great idea, but you don’t know where to begin? Don’t worry – the website provides all the resources you’ll need to get your child started – free! There you’ll find workbooks designed for elementary, middle, and high school students. These books take the young writers step-by-step in developing ideas for their stories, so that when November 1 comes around, they’ll be ready to write.

This year, my high school–level creative writing class will be participating together. They’re a little nervous, but they’re also very excited. As we work through the workbook together this month, they’ll be forming their characters, establishing a setting, and creating a plot. They’ll learn about brainstorming, using description, and writing dialogue. And in December, they’ll be learning about revision.

Do you have a child interested in writing? The NaNoWriMo Young Writer’s Program may be just the thing to get him started. Who knows, maybe you’ll write your novel, too!

Art Contests for Kids

 

There are a lot of art contests for kids online, and homeschoolers are encouraged to enter them as well.  Our school days at home are fairly relaxed, so contests provide some healthy structure to our work. By participating in a contest, children have a definite goal a deadline to meet. They also recognize the need to present their very best work, even if it means re-doing something that’s already completed. If they win, they experience the thrill of victory, and if they don’t, they learn how to take defeat in stride to try again another day. They learn, as Henry Ford stated, that “failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”  (Love those “failure/success” quotes!)

If you’d like to encourage your child to enter an art contest, here are a few to check out:

  • Constitution Day Poster Contest – This contest for ages 3 -12 celebrates the U.S. Consitution. Children are to create an 8 ½” x 11” poster showing how they have benefited from the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. A fun and creative contest, but you have to hurry – the deadline for submitting entries is October 1.
  • Teachers Against Prejudice is sponsoring an art contest for students in grades 1-4. The theme for the artwork this year is “Sharing Cultures.” Entries must be submitted by October 15.
  • This is My Math Art Contest sponsored by McGraw-Hill is for students in grades K-5. Young artists are to illustrate “What math means to me” and enter their work by October 29.
  • NRA Youth Wildlife Art Contest – Have a wildlife artist in your family? If she’s 18 or under, she can enter this contest with her best drawing or painting of an animal. The deadline is November 1.
  • Smilemakers Pearcasso Art Contest – If your child likes to play with his food at mealtime, this may be the perfect contest for him! Artists ages 5-18 are to create their artwork with pears! Entries must be sent by November 15.
  • Decide to Drive Poster Contest – For students in grades 5-8, this contest focuses on the importance of driving without distractions. Entries must be sent by November 15.
  • Frogs are Green Art Contest – Kids ages 3 – 12 are invited to enter this contest focusing on green living. The deadline for submissions is November 30.

All About Egypt

This year, my younger children are  going to be diving back into world history. Because we did a little bit over the summer, I decided to start off the new school year by reviewing ancient Egypt. While we’re using the Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer as our primary text, we’re also supplementing with some great books from the library. And, as always, I’m learning a lot right along with them!

If your family is studying ancient Egypt, here are some resources you might like to look into:

Books:

Ancient Civilizations – Egypt by Christy Steele.  A nice book to read aloud together or assign as silent reading for older elementary students. Includes a glossary in the back.

The Great Pyramid by Elizabeth Mann – The story of the Pharaoh Khufu and the construction of the Great Pyramid. Contains both actual photos and traditional illustrations. While older students could read this book  on their own, it’s one I would choose to read to them, as we could go over all the information as it’s presented.

Tutankhamun by Robert Green – A book full of information about King Tut and the discovery of his tomb. Contains  interesting photos, including one of Tut’s mummy and one of the dig site at the Valley of the Kings.

Great Ancient Egypt Projects You Can Build Yourself – To add in some hands-on learning, check out this book with projects such as making boats, papyrus, bread, jewelry, and hieroglyphs.

 

Other Resources:

Ancient Egypt Unit Study and Lapbook by Jodi Small – Contains a library list and over 30 “minit” books.

Ancient Egypt Lapbook by JoAnn S. – Includes a reading list, activities, crafts, and cooking ideas.

Ancient Egypt Lesson Plans and Classroom Activities
by Mr. Donn – lots of lesson plans featuring the geography, history, religion, art, and daily life of ancient Egypt.

Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery for Kids
– Ancient Egypt – online activities featuring ancient civilizations, including Egypt.

 

Photo by embalu

Unexpected Lessons

This past weekend was a busy one. I had the opportunity to attend the Write2Ignite! writing conference, and I took two of my children along with me.  Three of their cousins attended as well. The youth class for middle school and high school students was taught by author and teacher Carol Baldwin, so  I signed them up, confident they would discover some things about how to write a story of their own.

And they did. My daughter Cassie, now 12, really enjoyed it and said she had learned a lot. My son John agreed.

What I didn’t expect, though, were the opportunities to work on other skills as well — life skills. When we arrived at the conference early Saturday morning, Cassie began looking around for her friend who was also coming to the conference.  The friend hadn’t arrived yet, though, but there was a girl about Cassie’s age sitting with her dad.

“Go over and introduce yourself,” I said, recalling the class in communication Cassie took last summer. “Remember what you learned? Just go up, tell her your name, and ask her what her name is.”

Cassie looked at me with her eyes wide, like a deer in headlights, as they say.  “Well…” she began, and I knew she was thinking up a reason not to go. Moments later, the girl’s friend arrived, and they were sitting together.

“You know,” I said to Cassie, “You can learn a lot more than writing at this conference. You have a chance to reach out to other people. Your friend is coming, but she doesn’t know your cousins — introduce her and pull her into the group. Then, you can go meet those two girls over there, and pull them in as well. What an great opportunity!”

“Maybe,” Cassie reluctantly admitted, and she went to find a seat until her friend arrived. That’s when I began scanning the room for someone I knew to talk to. Some people were getting coffee, some were reading, some were just sitting alone at a table. Then I caught myself —  it looked like I had that same opportunity.

Photo by taliesin

Write2Ignite!

This is my third year of being part of the Write2Ignite! Conference, and I’m so excited! This year, the conference will again be held at North Greenville University in Greenville County, South Carolina, February 19-20. And one of the best features: the Teen Track for middle and high school students!

This year’s Teen Track Speaker is author and teacher Carol Baldwin. Her goal: to inspire students to write the story only they can write. By the end of three sessions, students will have created original characters and placed them in believable settings, brainstormed conflict and plot ideas, and learned how to mine from their own life experiences.

And that’s not all! Carol will also show them the benefits of the red pen, as they learn how to edit their own work. She’ll also describe for them the path to publication and how they can become published, too.

If you’re also interested in writing, you could make the conference an educational experience for both you and your child! Although this conference is primarily geared towards Christians who write for children, there’s a lot of great information for those who write for adults as well. Workshop topics include researching,  creating characters, writing devotionals for adults and kids, crafting queries and proposals, understanding contracts, building a web presence, and more.

Featured speakers of this conference include Marybeth Whalen of Proverbs 31 Ministries, agents Jenni Burke and Les Stobbe, editors Cindy Sproles and Terri Kelly, and authors  Michelle Buckman and Jill Roman Lord,  just to name a few.

So if you have a budding author in your family, consider having him or her attend a conference like Write2Ignite! I’ve attended the past two conferences with my children, and we all came from it inspired, encouraged, and ready to write!

Creating Story Characters

This year at our co-op, I’m teaching a creative writing course using WriteShop as our curriculum. Ten students in grades 6th – 9th are taking the class, and even though there is a difference in ages and abilities, for the most part, the classes run quite smoothly. The way the lessons are designed, we sometimes end up with extra class time for supplemental writing activities. One of our favorites so far has been “Creating Story Characters.”

What you’ll need:

  • Two large garbage bags
  • Various hats (i.e. chef’s hat, football helmet, pirate’s hat, etc.)
  • Other props (we used a Dr. Seuss book, a cape, a Hannah Montana wig, a pink feathery shawl, a fake beard)
  • 3 x 5 cards
  • envelope
  • pen
  • paper for each student
  • pencil for each student

To prepare, place all of the hats in one of the large garbage bags and all of the props in another.

On each 3 x 5 card, write an emotion. You might include happy, depressed, angry, excited, thrilled, lonely, etc. Place these cards in the envelope.

To play:

Ask for a volunteer to come to the front of the class. Have him choose one item from the “hat” bag and one item from the “prop” bag  by simply reaching in the bags without looking. Whatever props he pulls out, he must put on. Then, have him draw an emotion card from the envelope. He must then act out that emotion.

The other students are to quickly create a character based on what they see. They can include as much detail as they want about the character, such as the character’s name, where he’s from, what his hobbies are, why he’s feeling a certain way, etc.

Students have one minute to write about this character. When time is up, go around the room and have the students share their ideas.

I found that as the game progressed so did the creativity the students displayed! They came up with some great ideas for the wacky characters they saw — ideas I never would have thought of. And I have to admit: we had a lot of fun in the process!

Photo by cohdra