Thursday, January 25, 2018

Making Candy for Science

Once we were through with making bread for science, the kids began making candy.


Like making bread, making candy is also a science. Just melting chocolate involves measuring temperature and a precise heating and cooling cycle. If proper tempering isn't done, chocolate can burn or end up with unsightly white streaks. I liken it to the science of metallurgy where metals are combined, heated and cooled to precise temperatures in order to achieve desired characteristics.


Although there are several science candy making kits on the market, we chose to put together our own. Unfortunately many reviews of such kits stated there really wasn't much inside the boxes. Therefore, we purchased the Candy Making book by Autumn Carpenter and found our own supplies. While there are several websites available for purchasing supplies, we discovered a local candy supply store. We paid the store a visit and left with a big box full of supplies.

Beginning with simply dipping treats into chocolate and making clusters, we learned about candy coatings, flavorings, peppermint crunch and more. The kids made a few friends giving away candy and were thrilled to have so many treats around the house.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Making Bread for Science

My kids have been baking bread to learn about science and satisfy their tummies.


We began our science lessons this year by learning about the microscope. Using the Ultimate Guide to Your Microscope, the kids studied an entire world of small things. Next we moved into hands-on chemistry.

In the past, I have had difficulty making good bread, while my dinners have always turned out fine. I'm a person who doesn't like to follow a recipe exactly as written, but rather use it as a guideline. While this works out fine for culinary dishes, it is a disaster with baking. Why? Baking is a science. It requires careful measuring and proportions. Ingredients must be precisely measured so the chemical reactions can take place. Improper proportions result in dough that falls, or doesn't rise properly, or doesn't cook properly. These are a few of the reasons we chose to learn to make bread for about 10 weeks this year as a small part of our chemistry program.


We followed the book Baking Artisan Bread by Ciril Hitz as a guide. The first section of the book lightly explains the science of baking and goes in-depth into the differences in ingredients. The author recommends weight ingredients instead of measuring with cups and spoons as it is a much more accurate method for proper proportions.

After the introduction section, the book contains ten main recipes for various types of bread such as brioche, baguette, bagels, and whole wheat. Each main recipe can be altered to make many more breads. Some breads can be made in one day, while croissants take three days to prepare.

By making the breads, the kids learned how adding yeast in different amounts at different times during the preparation process can affect the final bread. Making bread was a tasty experience the kids really enjoyed.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

American History for Middle School

This year I found a new history book to add to our collection.


I love history books that tell the story and explain reasons behind decisions. In the past I have discussed several history spine books. Books that give an overview of a time period which can spark deeper interest into historical topics and help kids to put more in-depth history studies into context. The majority of the books I have found provide overviews of world history, such as the well-known series Story of the World. Since we were studying American History this year, I was looking for something different.

That's when I discovered The Landmark History of the American People. There are two volumes separating American history around the time of the Civil War. The first is from Plymouth to the West and the second is from Appomattox to the Moon. Since we already studied Early American History, we only read volume 2.

The chapters did a good job at explaining causes and effects and discussed subjects that are often overlooked by other books. For example, the book had a sizable section covering mail order catalogs such as Sears and Roebuck, their reasons for coming into existence and how their being affected people. Since reading the book, my son has been asking a lot of questions on topics such as World War II. Yes! Finally he is curious about history.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Essentials in Writing - Our Writing Curriculum for 2017 and 2018

With a 5th grader and 8th grader learning at home, this is the first year we have followed a structured writing curriculum.


As I've stated in the past, I believe reading, writing and math are fundamental skills required for any education. Although we haven't followed a structured writing curriculum, we have worked on writing. The Brave Writer philosophy has had lots of influence on our past writing, and we have always placed value on working on writing 3 to 4 times per week.

So why now? This year my 11th grader is thriving in an AP Composition class at our local high school. Obviously, the lack of a writing curriculum hasn't had too much of an impact. Well, the main reason is that I finally found a curriculum I wanted to follow.

The Essentials in Writing program is very much in-line with our family's approach to writing. It covers grammar, but doesn't over emphasize it. Instead, it places a large focus on making writing interesting. There are many lessons on incorporating action verbs, descriptive adjectives, adverbs, simile, metaphor, personification, and onomatopoeia. The lessons begin by identifying literary elements and then teach incorporation through the use of writing short paragraphs.

In addition, I was drawn to the program because it was simple to implement. The book comes with video professor lessons which are between 2 to 10 minutes in length per lesson. We usually watch the lessons, and then work on the assignments in the book. Our family chooses to work on writing four days per week, one hour per day for a total of four hours per week. Most days we cover one lesson, but often cover one-and-a-half, to two lessons. I believe we are on-track to complete the book over the school year.

As with most curriculum, this one is far from perfect. I have found mistakes and a few questions that could have been worded better. Overall, I feel Essentials in Writing has been a good addition to our school day this year. It has kept our writing sessions short and focused, and made them a lot easier for me to implement. I'm still undecided as to whether or not we will follow the curriculum next year and at what level, but this year it has taught the kids a lot and we will continue to finish the book.

As a side note, this is not the writing program IEW, or Institute for Excellence in Writing, which is very popular but a different writing program.
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