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Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years

Chaotic Bliss Homeschooling

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Experiments in Animation -- and Free Lessons in Digital Media Tags: media lesson plans stop motion animation lessons tecnology

(We'll need to continue working on spelling this year!)

My son recently bought himself an inexpensive camera and has “suddenly” developed an interest in stop-motion animation. He’s been filming a series of short animations featuring his main character, Joe, in a number of situations, some of them unfortunate (an elephant walks over him; he gets attacked by giant spiders). Joe always turns out okay, though, demonstrated by his signature bow at the end of all the sequences.

Rudimentary in structure and decidedly non-educational in content as these first forays are, I wouldn’t want to kill my son’s enthusiasm by attempting to get him to make his creations more instructive (eg. Joe as Crispus Attucks getting mowed down by a bunch of Lego guys as British officers at the Boston Massacre). I think I’ll just see where his imagination leads and find some material that may help him to develop his interest further if he likes.

Coincidentally, I recently came across a site that provides free lessons and suggested projects for kids using different forms of digital media. At Adobe Youth Voices, there are lessons for audio and video production, digital photography, graphic and web design, print production (which includes things like book publishing and creating posters), and a section on how best to showcase your work. There’s also a section on animation, and one of the subcategories is stop-motion animation. There’s a stop-motion handout with some tips about the process, a video tutorial and some project ideas that look like they could be helpful.

Any of you using digital media for projects? 


Homeschool Unit Studies: Plan a Unit Study in 7 Steps Tags: unit study unit studies free unit studies

By Sym Martel

1. Choose a Topic and Time Frame

What will your unit study be about? How many days or weeks will you spend on the unit? A topic for a home school unit study can be about almost anything, from frogs to roller coasters to Ancient Egypt. Consider your child's age and interests when choosing a topic. For a kindergartener, a fun unit study might be on dinosaurs, our five senses, nursery rhymes, insects or princesses. An older student might enjoy a unit study on government, horses, Australia, baseball or even the Narnia books.

2. Choose Sub-topics

If possible, try to find a resource that you can use as a spine for the unit study. A spine is simply a book that provides the structure of your study. Children's encyclopedias or non-fiction books with good illustrations, charts and diagrams make good spines.

Whether or not you use a spine, you need to choose relevant sub-topics for your unit study. An example of a subtopic for a unit study on China might be the history of China, landmarks of China, Chinese food, Chinese language, Chinese fairy tales, Chinese holidays, the Chinese zodiac, etc.

3. Gather Resources

Look for resources from the library, the internet or you may already have resources on hand. Resources can be novels and non-fiction books, websites, videos, craft books, cook books or music. Look for a variety of resources. It's better to have more materials on hand but don't get overwhelmed by the amount of information out there. Choose a few books or videos for each sub-topic and then move on to the next step.

4. Choose Activities

Let your imagination go and think of all the hands-on activities your kids might enjoy related to the topic. This can involve cooking, experiments or arts and crafts. Also try to plan at least one field trip based on your unit study topic. Great field trips destinations include local businesses, parks, restaurants, neighborhoods, history, art or children's museums. With a unit study on China, for example, you could plan a trip to China town or a Chinese restaurant.

5. Create a Plan with Academic Objectives

What learning objectives and life skills will you cover in the unit? You'll want to use a planner and schedule your activities out over time. You can be as specific or as loose as you want in your planning. It may be helpful to list academic areas (Geography, History, Language Arts, Writing, Fine Arts, Math) and document what standards you will address in each sub-topic. Keep in mind that skill-based subjects such as Math, Grammar and Spelling should be scheduled as a daily activity. Other subjects may work into your schedule a few times a week, such as sports or fine arts.

6. Begin the Unit Study

Start with enthusiasm! It's a good idea to keep a journal of the activities to record your notes and observations. Remember to be flexible; don't be afraid to follow a few rabbit trails. Education is about discovery, encourage your kids to become active participants in the process of learning.

7. End with a Bang

Make the last activity stand out. You can throw a themed party, take a special trip, watch a documentary and invite the home school co-op. Your kids will remember the culminating activity and look back on the topic with positive memories.

And now I'd like to invite you to join me at for more planning ideas and resources to create your home school unit studies.

From Sym at

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5 Reasons Why You Should Take Online Classes Tags: online classes blackboard

As much as physically going to a school and sitting behind a desk in a classroom for hours is tons of fun, taking online courses can be just as exciting! Seriously though, sometimes classroom settings are necessary and even better for certain subjects. However, there are some occasions when taking classes online are a good way to go. And after taking some community college classes (3 online and 2 seated) I've compiled a list of five reasons why you should take online classes.

1. You can work independently.

The instructor basically posts a list of all the things you need to complete and a due date. Usually you have a week or (like with my ENG 111 class) two weeks to read the textbook chapters, write the papers, take the quizzes, and answer the discussion board questions for that module. But there are no scheduled classroom times! You can take Quiz 5 at three in the morning, spread out your reading over everyday of the week, or do everything the night before. With seated classes, your quizzes are scheduled and your teacher will quickly go through one chapter on Monday and be on to the next one by Tuesday. It's easier to work at your own pace online: if you need to slow down, you can slow down. If you're really good at this subject and you want to get it all over with it one day, you can do that too.

2. You learn more.

In my experience, seated class periods are spent doodling, zoning out, texting, talking, or sleeping. No one pays attention to the boring PowerPoint slides, or anything the teacher is saying (especially when she starts telling long stories about her personal life that have nothing to do with what she's supposed to be teaching.) Quite often, those 1 or 2 hours you spend in class are a complete waste of time. You have to go back and read the textbook to learn the information anyway. With an online class, chances are when you sit down to read or watch a video or take a test, you're doing it because you feel prepared and ready. You WANT to do this now. Because of that, you're more likely to actually retain the information, which is really the point of taking classes!

3. The tests are easier.

If you're not a good test taker, enroll in lots and lots of online classes. All the tests are open book. So you don't have to really study and excessively memorize useless terms for your online exam. However, you do still need to have been reading and keeping up with the class. Don't expect to have never cracked open the textbook and still pass. The instructors love to throw in questions that involve random sentences throughout the chapters, and unless you've read them, they're not going to ring a bell and you won't be able to go back and find them. The tests are timed, but usually if you have to stop 30 minutes in and want to resume it from that point later, you can do that. And for all those people who say online exams aren't fair for students in seated classes, that's not true. You don't have to be a great student to get high grades in some live community college classes either! (20 point grade curves, extra credit, etc.)

4. You don't have to GO anywhere.

You can go to class in your bedroom, in the car, or on the beach. It doesn't matter. As long as you have your computer, textbook, and internet connection, you have access to your class anytime, anywhere. Don't feel well? Take your exam in your PJs! Want to sleep in? Everything will still be waiting for you a few hours later. What's better than that?

5. You can get more help.

The online instructors are usually very fast to respond to your emails with any questions, comments, or concerns you have about the class. With the classes I've taken, I've gotten more comprehensive, timely answers from my online teachers than I have from the instructors of my seated classes. And that's very important, especially when we're talking about help with research papers and projects. Also, the instructors usually post lots of websites, videos, and other helpful learning resources.

So there you have it. Five reasons why YOU should take online classes. I hope they help you out as you get ready to enroll for the upcoming summer and fall semesters!


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