Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Wordless Wednesday

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Tied 2 Teaching Review

I have always read about STEM projects, but never actually used them in a classroom setting. When Tied 2 Teaching offered their STEM Activities, Full Year of Challenges with Close Reading  for review, I was happy to see what they had. At first I was a little hesitant, but when I realized how thoroughly these were put together and how simple they were to implement, I dove right in. By the way, purchasing bundles on Teachers Pay Teachers is a great way to gain access to a ton of materials for either a classroom or for your own homeschool. Most authors on Teachers Pay Teachers massively discount their bundles for incredible savings. If you are looking to save money, a bundle is definitely a great way to go! Furthermore, if you are looking to add some fun, hands-on STEM learning to your curriculum, then these challenges are right for you!

These are technically made to be used in a classroom setting, but that doesn't mean they couldn't be used individually in a homeschool setting. In fact, if you choose to use them in your homeschool, then it will be a lovely time of discussion and learning together as your student reads the reading passage, answers questions about the reading, and then completes a design challenge. Each challenge lists suggested materials, but you can offer any supplies that you have. It would also be a great idea to look through the different material lists a month or so before hand so you can collect these items throughout the month. If you are in a classroom setting, this is a great time to get parents involved with collecting some of the necessary supplies.

I work at an afterschool program, so I chose to use one of these projects in the afterschool setting with a small group of students. We used the included QR code to bring up the reading passage on the center's iPads. As each student went around reading one paragraph, I helped with unknown words and led some discussion. After the passage was read, I issued the challenge to the students. The particular project we were working on was themed around civil rights, which was perfect timing since it was black history month.

These projects say they are appropriate for grades 3-6. I had a second grader, a few third graders, and a fourth grader. The reading passage was a tad challenging for the second and third graders. Be prepared to assist as much as needed. For this particular passage, there were several new vocabulary words and unfamiliar names. I simply told the students the words and then had them continue reading. If they had a question about what a word meant, then I explained it.

The close reading activity had a variety of short answer questions. We answered the questions as a group. Some questions were more challenging for the younger students, and honestly they were so ready to get into the building challenge because I had the tote of supplies sitting right there. I decided that for the next project, I will break the project into several work sessions. One session to read and answer the questions. Another session to explore the building materials and make a plan to complete the challenge, and then a third session to complete the challenge. The final session would be a reflection over the process as students make any necessary changes to their project.

Students loved being issues a challenge and then using their problem solving skills to complete it. Sadly we ran out of the time, so they had to come back a second day to finish their designs. I found that the delay in creating the project, left them in a rush to finish the project. Looking back, it would be best to have the building session all on one day so they can complete the project and then reflect on it in the next session.

One important aspect that I wanted to be sure to discuss is that all of these projects really follow a similar format. This is great because it allows the students to become familiar with the process, and that in turn makes each project that much simpler to introduce and implement. I also think it is helpful if the students have some prior knowledge before diving into the reading passage. There are several versions of the STEM design challenge pages available. You can pick and choose which ones and how in depth you want your students to go. They follow a similar format of "ask, imagine, plan, create, improve". This is becoming more common in any STEM curriculum and so it is helpful to the students as a guide in helping them both think through what works and what doesn't work and then encourages them to make improvements on their design. That is something we don't ask students to do often enough. But I feel that it is important and gives them a nice, finished work they can be proud of.

There is a great variety of projects available. Many of them are themed around different holidays. Some are broad, general high interest topics for a larger age range. All of the included STEM activities include some sort of hands-on aspect to them. My personal favorite projects are the building block challenges. Those simply require building blocks. What an easy way to incorporate STEM and reading into your day, by pulling out the building blocks, your STEM project pages, and the reading passage!

What other challenges are included in this bundle? There is quite an extensive list, but I'll mention a few of my favorites here:

  • Index card skyscraper: Using only index cards, students construct the tallest tower that they can. So many possibilities here where you can change the challenge by giving the kids a time limit or a specific amount of index cards that they have to build with.
  • Design a wooden airplane: I've always been fascinated with flying. I think kids are too. This would be a fun challenge--just be sure to collect lots of wooden things like popsicle sticks, clothespins, and small dowels to insure success.
  • Construct the Eiffel Tower: Going back to Paris is definitely on my bucket list. This project would be a great addition to a study about France. Bonus that it only requires building blocks to accomplish!
  • Design a paper table: Students design a table using only paper! Again this is a great project to see a lot of variety in student's thinking.
Some projects can be more involved that others or require more specialty supplies that you'd need to gather ahead of time. But MANY of these projects really use basic supplies that you likely already have around your home or your classroom: paper, index cards, pencils, building blocks, paper towel tubes, etc. There are projects based on holidays and special events, but there are also plenty of high interest projects not related to holidays.

Since hearing about Tied 2 Teaching, I have since followed them on Teachers Pay Teachers and Facebook. I have also purchased a few products from them. I really love the collaborative coloring posters that they have. Did you know that when a new product is first released it is on sale for 50% off in the first 24 hours that it are listed? That is honestly the BEST time to purchase because...Hello! Save money! I'm excited to see what this company dreams up for teachers to use in their classrooms in the next few months! I am currently drooling over the Country Research Project Bundle.

I'm also excited to read about any projects that other reviewers completed. What do you think? Which project would you choose to complete first if you had this bundle?

Curious what other reviewers had to say about this product? Head on over to the Homeschool Review Crew blog to read all the reviews.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Wordless Wednesday

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IXL Learning Review

To say that I have enjoyed reviewing IXL Learning would be a huge understatement. I have LOVED adding this simple tool into our homeschool day. I really appreciate that I can go into the dashboard after the kids have completed their work for the day and check up on what they are practicing. I think that's my favorite part. IXL Learning offers practice in reading, math, social studies for grades 2-8, and science for grades 2-8. There is even a Spanish option. For this review I received the full annual membership, in all IXL subjects (math, language arts, grades 2-8 science, grades 2-8 social studies, and intro Spanish).

This has been the most simple product to incorporate into our homeschool day. I simply asked my kids to log in and work on IXL subjects for about 20 minutes per day. The first week, I had them do diagnostic questions. After that they could choose to work in the recommendations section or click on a topic at their appropriate learning level and practice concepts they need help with. For reference my children are in grades 8, 10, and 11. I'm so glad that IXL includes high school level language arts and math. I am also glad for the adaptive learning aspect. As students work through topics and master skills, the accuracy of their skill placement narrows.

Every week, I get emails that show how much the kids have practiced and what skills they have mastered. The kids earn certificates after they have mastered so many questions. I was surprised one day, when we weren't that far into using IXL, to receive an email that one of my children had answered 250 questions. That was pretty impressive to me!

Do you want reports? You can find all sorts of reports if data tracking is your thing. I really never used to be super concerned about data tracking, but this is really actually fascinating to me to watch the data change and grow. It's almost instantaneous as they master skills. The reports show how long they have practiced in IXL and include all of the necessary skills they have practiced, even including the types of questions that the student worked on. I could probably assign skills, but for now my kids enjoy the personalized learning aspect and so I let them work on what skills they think they need help with. My son actually just came up to me while I was writing this review and made sure I knew how much he really enjoys working in IXL. It's fun and challenging but not overwhelming.

Here's what it looks like if your student practices a skill long enough to master it. The questions start out easy. If the student gets the answer correct, they earn points and move on to the next question. If they get an answer incorrect, they lose points and an explanation is given for how to work the problem. They continue answering questions until they reach 100 points. At the 90 point mark, the student enters the challenge zone with questions that really make them think and apply the skills they are mastering. I am super impressed with IXL and highly recommend it as an easy addition to your school day without adding a lot of stress. It's practice that feels like playing a game. It's not a game, but that would be an accurate description because of the point tracking.

I have had all three of my children working in IXL. The requirement that I gave each one was that they need to work in IXL for 20 minutes per day. I am including screen shots for each one so you can see what the reports look like for each one. They show what skills they have been working on and how long they have spent practicing questions as well as how many questions they have answered and how many skills they are progressing in. I really like this simple tool. It shows their progress and gives them confidence. At first the grade levels always showed, but I switched it to hide the grade levels. I leave the practice open for them to choose, but you can always go in and assign skills or tell them to work in a specific area.

Curious what other reviewers had to say about this product? Head on over to the Homeschool Review Crew blog to read all the reviews.

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