Geography Quest: Great Backyard Bird Count Edition

Blog, She Wrote: Great Backyard Bird Count Edition

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It’s that time of year again! When families everywhere will be counting the birds that come to their yards in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) sponsored by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada. This year’s count takes place on February 11- 17, 2014.

Observe & Submit Your Bird Checklist

Have you participated in the GBBC before? If not, you can read all about how to get started. It’s a pretty easy gig:

  • Register or log in for the count.
  • Count birds for at least 15 minutes a day on one or more days of the GBBC.
  • You can count for longer than 15 minutes and you can count birds on as many days and in as many places as you’d like during the GBBC.
  • Read the directionsfor submitting the checklists using the checklist page or the new app.
  • Do you regularly use eBird? eBird is another website where you can submit bird sightings year round. If you are already an eBird user, please use your eBird account and your observations during these dates will count toward the GBBC. That is great information because I did not know that.

Use GBBC Data to Map The Results

Did you know you can access historical data on the GBBC? This would be a fun map making adventure.

  • There a few map options available to explore on the website.
  • Toggle between top ten lists for species and the map room to find what to map.
  • Pick a favorite bird species and map its populations in North America- or name any location.
  • Observe the data and see if you can find winter patterns or to see if any migration patterns emerge.
  • Look to see if there are patterns in the activity of a species using the places page.
  • What other types of maps could you make using the data from the GBBC? Tell us about them!

Resources for the GBBC

Need some help to keep things easy? Here are a few resources made available by the folks with the GBBC.

  • Create your own tally sheet.
  • A downloadable pdf data form
  • Birding apps recommended by the GBBC- this makes it easy to keep track of the birds you see and you can use it to log your results when the count is complete.
  • iBird Pro mobile bird guide- It’s got a thorough library of bird species information, calls, pictures, etc. This is one of the few apps I’ve paid for for my phone!
  • Merlin– this is a new app by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This looks pretty good although it’s not available for Android until the spring. Bummer! It’s a bird ID guide- I saw the prototype at the lab a couple years ago and it’s fun to use.

Join us this week to count some backyard birds and submit your results to the GBBC. Our feeder needs filling before we get more snow tomorrow. We see a bunch of birds daily out there enjoying our black oil sunflower seeds. I’m looking forward to officially tallying them this weekend.


Geography Quest: Groundhog Day Edition

Blog, She Wrote: Geography Quest- Groundhog Day Edition

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It’s that time of year again when Punxutawney Phil comes out of his burrow at Gobbler’s Knob and either sees his shadow or doesn’t. Otherwise known as Groundhog Day, this tradition has been around since 1887 when a group of groundhog hunters named themselves the groundhog club. Let’s go questing and find out more about this weather predicting cultural event!

Find Out More about Punxutawney Phil & Groundhog Day

Geography is more than just places on the map. It’s also about culture and the people in a place. A look at United States culture would not be complete without a mention of Groundhog Day. Elementary students all over have colored and cut at least one Groundhog project in the past week, right? Of course.

  • Find out more about when the tradition of Groundhog Day started. Visit the official Punxutawney Groundhog website.
  • How about some Groundhog Day lessons?
  • A post about studying Groundhog Day from last year- this is a nice one if you need to let go of any guilt of not having made any groundhogs with your primary kids!
  • What celebration did Groundhog Day come from that was a tradition for the early German settlers of Pennsylvania? (see the FAQ on the Groundhog site)
  • Map the location of Punxutawney, PA and Gobbler’s Knob. Where do the 20,000+ people go to see this forecast?

Weather Predicting & Climate Groundhog Style

While it may not be wise to get all of our weather knowledge from our favorite groundhog, Groundhog Day does give us pause to think about when spring will arrive. While weather itself is more earth science oriented, climate is most definitely a discipline of geography.

  • Did you see this year’s prediction? By now you’ve heard that Phil saw his shadow and predicts six more weeks of winter. Definitely take a few minutes to watch and hear the 2014 official proclamation.
  • Did you know that February 5th is Weather Forecasters Day? Is that a happy coincidence or are meteorologists keeping good company with critter forecasting?
  • How much more winter? This is a great opportunity to study climate trends at your latitude and to look at averages for when spring weather really arrives. Does Phil’s prediction match the expectations in your area this year?
  • Look at differences in spring’s arrival as you travel north away from the equator. Growing up in Maryland and living about 400 miles north of there in New York state has given me a whole new perspective on spring! I also experience big differences in the amount of daylight just 400 miles north. See if you can choose places on the map and compare their spring arrivals. Eye opening for sure!
  • A set of resources on the effect of latitude on climate– from cK-12 Foundation.

Enjoy a fun look at weather and climate as you explore more about Groundhog Day and look at the bright side… it’s February and for some of you that means spring is on the way soon- how soon? Study the climate and find out!

Geography Quest: GPS Edition

Blog, She Wrote: Geography Quest- GPS Edition

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It’s time for another Treasure Hunt Geography Quest only this time we’ll do a local treasure hunt with some geocaching! For this treasure hunt, you’ll need a GPS and some creativity with a desire for special surprises thrown in. Are you ready?

Geography Questing with a Geocache

Your task this week is to make your own treasure hunt for your family. Do you already geocache? If so, you might consider knocking another off your list. If not, or you want to make your own, now is the time!

What is a geocache? It’s when you use a Global Positioning System device or other navigational tools to hide and seek containers called geocaches- or caches anywhere in the world.

Need more information on geocaching? Try the wikipedia page and the official geocaching site.

There are caches stashed all over in public places for you to explore. All you need is a GPS and some time for adventure!

Making Waypoints with a GPS

To make your own geocaching adventure, make a set of waypoints that lead to a treat or surprise for you family. You could bury your own treasure (even in the snow if you have snow cover currently like we do) or you could make the surprise a destination. Don’t forget to let the trail go cold for a while before revealing the big fun.

What is a waypoint? A waypoint is a reference point in physical space used for navigation.

To make a waypoint, simply walk the path that is the route to your treasure and mark them in your GPS. The walk will connect your waypoints together.

Finding Treasure by Using Waypoints

Once you have your waypoints logged in on your GPS device, it’s time to have your kids follow the route noting the waypoints along the way. They will be send to the next one and they’ll have to use the GPS to find the next waypoint.

At the end of the route, they will need to look for the treasure you left behind. Need mid-winter ideas for treasure?

  • a trip to the yogurt or ice cream shop
  • a warm snack of cocoa and cookies
  • a family afternoon of games
  • a new movie to watch or a family movie night

You get the idea…nice and easy and fun for the family!

How to Have a Geocache without a GPS

Rent one! Explorental gets big technology into the hands of families. Why not take advantage of their Magellan GPS (just like the one we have above) for two weeks for the simple cost of $18.99. You can plan ahead for lots of geocaching field trips and enjoy trying out this great little tool. For less than the cost of a museum field trip or day out, you can have your own geocaching adventure.

Thanks for joining me for this week’s Geography Quest. Come back for more!

Blog, She Wrote: Explorental

Homeschooling Middle & High School History

Blog, She Wrote: Homeschooling Middle & High School History

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It’s day 4 of iHomeschool Network’s Winter Hopscotch and today’s focus is on homeschooling middle & high school history. I’ll be sharing strategies and curriculum.

Strategies for Homeschooling Middle & High School History

As you might imagine after yesterday’s science post, we do a lot of unit study work for history. Here a few of the ways we’ve incorporated history into our homeschool at the middle and high school level.

  • Unit Studies– On a specific time period in history. Currently, my middle schoolers have started a unit on the Middle Ages. My 8th grader is just finishing a unit on Jules Verne and Steampunk.
  • Project Based Homeschooling– My students have engaged in many projects over the years which have been thought up and finished by them as the student with me as a mentor in the process. My 6th grader is an expert on all things flight and rocketry.
  • Biographies– Whenever we are studying an era in history, my kids will be reading biographies. This is a non-negotiable. It’s gold.
  • Audios– From Little House books to Jim Weisse audios, there is a lot out there in the way of stories and history to listen to as part of a history study.
  • Projects– These work best when my kids choose what they will work on and the drive the project. When my 10th grader was in 8th grade, he made a wonderful game about the Early Church which is one of his favorite time periods. It’s called Conversion and took a blue at the NY State Fair!
  • Custom Coursework– I will often put together my own curriculum for my kids not just a unit study but an entire course. For 9th grade, my oldest had a course I named Foundations of American Democracy for his US Government class. This year he is taking Ancient Studies (with our own scope and sequence based on resources we own) and his project is a blog which is the whole package- content relating to his studies along with appearance and site design. He’s just getting it going, but today he posted an interview he conducted with a graduate student in archeology.

Within their unit studies and projects, I love for my students to study people. Biographies are such a great way to learn about a time and place. It touches all disciplines.

 “Let him, on the contrary, linger pleasantly over the history of a single man, a short period, until he thinks the thoughts of that man, is at home in the ways of that period. Though he is reading and thinking of the lifetime of a single man, he is really getting intimately acquainted with the history of a whole nation for a whole age.” – Charlotte Mason

Blog, She Wrote: Homeschooling Middle & High School History

Our Favorite Middle & High School Homeschool History Curriculum

We have a wonderful collection of resources and curriculum we have used for history. I also put together our own studies because I rarely like all of any curriculum.

Blog, She Wrote: Homeschooling Middle & High School History

  • Beyond Five in a Row– Literature based unit studies with choices from various periods in history. Betsy Ross, Marie Curie, and Thomas Edison are among our favorite studies.
  • Above & Beyond Five in a Row– Just one unit in this series and it’s written to the student to study Hitty The First Hundred Years
  • WinterPromise– We have only done The Quest for the Middle Ages, but this a great transition between all unit studies and more traditional teaching patterns.
  • Mystery of History– I love the Biblical history intertwined with the secular history. Puts all our Bible stories into a context with the other pieces of history we’ve learned. MOH is a great resource for history studies even for older students.
  • Story of the World– I really love the activity books as a starting place for projects for older kids.
  • Time Travelers Series– from Homeschool in the Woods. If you like to do projects with your kids these are a fun tool to have on hand. Our sixth grader especially loves them.
  • Amanda Bennett Unit Studies– Something for everyone here, but we have enjoyed her four week studies in middle and high school.
  • Unit Studies Made Easy– I love this book to talk about what elements are necessary for a unit study and how to keep them simple. Ms. Bendt encourages you in how to go about making a study for all ages and abilities.

Blog, She Wrote: Homeschooling Middle & High School History

Join other bloggers from the iHN as they write about how they teach history in their homeschools.


Methods for Teaching Middle School & High School Homeschool

Blog, She Wrote: Teaching Middle & High School Language Arts

This week the iHN is hosting a Hopscotch on “How I Teach”. Here at Blog, She Wrote I’m sharing methods for teaching middle and high school students in all the major subject areas. We’ll be discussing strategy and curriculum. Today our topic is language arts.

Strategies for Teaching Middle School & High School Homeschool Language Arts

My philosophy on teaching writing and language skills from a young age is one of a coaching role. My job is to meet my writers where they are, give them the tools they need and how to use them and to help them to meet their goals. What is the goal? To be an effective written communicator. That’s what it’s all about.

  • Play with Words– enjoy exercises and fun ways to engage with words to increase vocabulary. Click the link to see five great ideas I wrote for Bright Ideas Press.
  • Collage Words– More details on reflecting on a word and exploring its meanings.
  • Resources for Coaching Writing– a list of some of my favorite resources for coaching writers.
  • Conferences– I meet with my kids regularly to go over their written work and to see what can be improved. I take a look at the first draft and usually ask the student to go back and self edit, naming the thing they are notorious for forgetting- whether that be correct capitalization or wild commas. If the piece of writing is hard to decipher because of poor organization/grammar/spelling, I have them read it to me. When they read it aloud they realize that without grammar conventions/organization, the reader will not experience the piece the way the author intended. This goes a LONG way to encouraging kids to edit their work.
  • Writer’s Workshop– I’ve been hosting a workshop that includes my kids along with about five other homeschoolers in our home since September. I’ll be posting more detail on this soon, but having kids write for an audience is one of the best investments I’ve made in time this year. If you’d like a little more information now, click the link above on Resources for Coaching Writing.

Blog, She Wrote: Teaching Middle & High School Language Arts

Our Favorite Middle School & High School Homeschool Language Arts Curriculum

  • Cover Story– This is a middle school writing program written by Daniel Schwabauer, the creator of One Year Adventure Novel. My 6th and 8th graders are working on building the pieces to their own magazine issue based on a theme they chose. There are video lessons which are well done along with resources for the parents. The younger siblings of OYAN students approve!
  • WriteShop– WriteShop Junior & WriteShop I and II. I love WriteShop for its ability to break down the writing process into pre-writing, drafts/editing, and final, published copy. We use this between the informal early elementary years and the time we begin creative writing and expository writing programs. I also use units from WS 1&2 to help with organizations of essays at any time during the teen years.
  • One Year Adventure Novel – Write a novel in one school year. That is the aim of OYAN and it is adored by us all. The lessons are thorough and draw the students in. My two favorite things (besides the novel) are: 1) How the curriculum provides excellent talking points about literature with our teens. 2) The community Mr. Schwabauer has created for teens to interact with each other. My 10th grader loves the OYAN forums where he can be himself and be in community with other kids who love books and stories as much as he does. There are also regular webinars with extra instruction.
  • Other Worlds– The follow up to the One Year Adventure Novel. This one is focused on writing fantasy and science fiction. My 10th grader is working on his fantasy novel. I enjoy the lessons on the history of science fiction and fantasy and how they are different from adventure.
  • Literary Lessons from The Lord of the Rings– Spend time immersed in the three books that make up The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Wonderful vocabulary studies, chapter discussions, essays, and unit studies based on this fantasy tale.
  • Excellence in LiteratureClassic literature is taught in four week modules with honors options. I have all five volumes so we can skip around. They are meant to be use 8th-12th grade. This program has been a great model of student led reading and writing on the classics and has been very successful so far.

Slow and steady wins the race. We try to keep moving forward and see our kids make progress in their writing skills. We add in what’s necessary as they gain skills so they can be stretched to the next level. Our kids are immersed in reading and writing in many forms from a young age and we love to watch them gain confidence as they get older. Coming soon news from our Writer’s Workshop!

The iHomeschool Network is hosting a Hopscotch series this week on “How I Teach”. Join other iHN bloggers to see how they teach Language Arts. You’ll find information on working with special needs all the way to gifted kids and everything in between.


Geography Quest: The Epiphany Edition

Blog, She Wrote: Geography Quest- The Epiphany Edition

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What better way to connect the Bible and the liturgical year with your studies than with a Geography Quest to match? Tomorrow is the Epiphany and the Three Kings have “arrived” to worship The King. How about some geography?

The Geography of Jesus’ Birth

Blog, She Wrote: Geography Quest- The Epiphany Edition

While we’re at it, let’s back up a bit and record the journey of Mary and Joseph. Where did they set out from? Where was Jesus born?

  • Map their travels from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
  • There were two towns named Bethlehem. Find them on an ancient map.
  • Mark Bethlehem on the map.

The Three Kings

Blog, She Wrote: Geography Quest- The Epiphany Edition

This part of Jesus’ story is filled with intrigue as these wise kings saw a star in the east and knew they needed to bring gifts to a new king. We read and discussed the kings and their star in our Archaeological Bible.

According to the text, these men were astrologers from a religious caste in Persia or southern Arabia called Magi. They studied astrology, divination, and dream interpretation. The star was probably not an ordinary star, planet, or comet. Some interpreters believe it was a large astronomical event.

  • Where did they begin?
  • Where did they stop along the way and who did they see?
  • How did they find The King?

The Journey Home

Joseph was warned in a dream not to return the way they had come. They had to find a new way.

  • Map the new route they took home.
  • Discuss why they needed to avoid the same route they had traveled before.
  • Where did the family seek refuge?

Blog, She Wrote: Geography Quest- The Epiphany Edition

As this Christmas season draws to a close, the beginning of Jesus’ story is complete. Epiphany is a call to worship and a celebration of the Three Kings. Enjoy a discussion on who these men were with your students and why they were compelled to see The King.

Geography Quest: Gingerbread Edition

Blog, She Wrote: Geography Quest- Gingerbread Edition

This post contains affiliate links. Thanks always for your support!

Time for another Geography Quest! We’ve had a lot of illness over the past month which has slowed down my blogging a bit especially in the realm of Geography Quests. I hope to make up for a quiet December with several here at the end of the month. First up, Gingerbread! National Gingerbread Day seems to be somewhat of a controversy. My research turned up June 5th and November 21st. Either way, Gingerbread is decidedly a winter & Christmas confection so today is a great day to celebrate!

Origins of Gingerbread

Where did gingerbread originate?

  • The ginger root was known in Ancient China & India 7,000 years ago.
  • The name zingiber means “horn-shaped” in Sanskrit and is based on the shape of the rhizomes (root stalks of the plant).
  • Ginger was important in the spice trade
  • Used by Greeks & Romans primarily as medicine not for baking
  • Brought to Europe by the Crusaders returning home and became popular quickly
  • Came to the New World with settlers
  • Best ginger is now grown in Haiti and Jamaica

Blog, She Wrote: Geography Quest- Gingerbread Edition

Map the History of Gingerbread

  • Map the route that traders brought ginger
  • Read about the history of gingerbread and make a map showing the different kinds of gingerbread along with its uses. Do you see a pattern of location vs use?
  • Consider the route of traders from China to Europe. What sorts of obstacles did they overcome to bring this spice home?
  • Mark both a physical and political map to notice the terrain of the travel.
  • Research more to see if my list is complete. Was ginger known in other areas? I found one source that said Ancient Egyptians made a type of gingerbread.

Blog, She Wrote: Geography Quest- Gingerbread Edition

Activities with Gingerbread

It’s too close to Christmas to make much of the Geography Quest now, but there are 12 days of Christmas and before they are over many of us will be back to our routines. Besides, Gingerbread makes us happy all winter long! Here are some other fun ideas for enjoying Gingerbread with your Geography.

  • Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett- a very enjoyable adapted tale of the Gingerbread Man (also available for the Kindle) Bonus: Jan Brett’s birthday is December 1st.
  • Gingerbread Kits– likely on sale after the holiday, you can buy cookies or house kits. This cuts down on the prep time in making your own fun at home.
  • Cookie Kit– from Betty Crocker. Yes, we all love to cook from scratch, but you know…sometimes a simple mix makes it more likely that you’ll actually do the activity! Let go and have some fun. Nothing says good time like cut out cookies!
  • Cinnamon Dough Ornaments– like the ones pictured above. Again, Christmas may be over, but the fun lasts. Plus, all the holiday programming is finished and this will make a sweet start to the second half of the school year. The link includes a brief video by the folks at McCormick.

So, get ready to kick off the second half of the school year with a very tasty sort of Geography Quest. I’ll be doing some thinking and preparing for school during this Christmas break. Maybe you are too. Consider incorporating your baking with geography- or eat left over cookies and do this Quest in the presence of all the Gingerbread houses you made this season!

Geography Quest: Thanksgiving Edition

Blog, She Wrote: Geography Quest- Thanksgiving Edition

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Happy Thanksgiving! Last week’s Geography Quest was a treasure hunt which landed us in the country of England after a worldwide continent hop. This week, we are off to trace the voyage of the Pilgrim’s from their origin in England to the colony of Plymouth in the New World.

Mapping the Route of the Pilgrims to the New World

  • Name the starting point for the Pilgrims who chose to leave their home for a new land.
  • Trace their journey to the first stop they made. Where did the Pilgrims first set up a community outside of England?
  • Map the next stop. They went back to England before going to the New World.
  • Identify the journey to North America. Where did they make landfall?
  • Place the Pilgrims’ landing spot on the map.

Bright Ideas Press Black Friday Sale

Just a reminder that Bright Ideas Press is having a sale this weekend. Take advantage of 20% off of WonderMaps. It’s the only map software you’ll ever need!

WonderMaps Sale 20% off

Geography Quest: November Treasure Hunt Edition

Blog, She Wrote: November Treasure Hunt Edition

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Time for another treasure hunt version of the Geography Quest– this week’s quest will take us on a continental journey. Here we go!

Continental Treasure Hunt Clues

  1. Begin on the continent with the world’s longest river. Can you name the river & the name of the country?
  2. Next stop is the continent with the world’s largest single rock. Hint: this continent also has the world’s largest coral reef. What is the name of the rock? (It’s had two.)
  3. This continent has the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere. Name the mountain and where it is located.
  4. Next name the continent with the world’s deepest fresh water lake. Can you name the lake? How deep is it?
  5. The next clue is the continent with fierce wind patterns called katabatic winds– with wind speeds up to 200mph.
  6. Find the continent which includes the world’s largest island. Hint: This continent is also home to the world’s largest fresh water lake. What is the name of the island and the lake?
  7. Our final destination- the continent with the city set on seven hills. Can you name the city?

This continent is also home to an island nation which will be the starting place for next week’s Geography Quest. Name our starting point.

Black Friday Sale at Bright Ideas Press

What would the day after Thanksgiving be without good sales on products you’ve been waiting to buy?  If you’ve been waiting for WonderMaps to go on sale, now is the time! The sale begins at 12:01 EST on Black Friday and ends at 11:59pm EST on Cyber Monday. The sale is on everything but bundles at BIP. Pretty exciting, right?

We’ve been embarking on Geography Quests at least once a week since August 1, 2013. I would love for you all to have a chance at WonderMaps on sale!

Enjoy the treasure hunt edition and stay tuned for a Thanksgiving themed Quest for next week!

WonderMaps Sale 20% off

Geography Quest: Corn Edition

Blog, She Wrote: Geography Quest- Corn Edition

As the growing season ends and the harvest is complete, we start to look toward Thanksgiving. What a better way to prepare than taking a look at a common crop, corn. Yesterday R13 and I learned a lot about this crop and I thought it would be a great Thanksgiving themed Geography Quest.

Identify & Map Where Corn is Grown around the World

  • Corn is grown all around the world, can you find out which country is the largest corn producer? (hint: Corn Facts)
  • Color a map to show where the most corn is grown in the United States.
  • Label the corn belt on your map.

Blog, She Wrote: Geography Quest- Corn Edition

Types of Corn

Each type of corn is grown and bred for its purpose. Each type has varieties to choose from which give the corn its distinctive taste and texture. If you can get some varieties of dried corn, take a look at a cross section of each kernel to see the differences. Sweet corn, for example, is bred to be very sugary and has little nutrition to offer compared to corn used for flour or feed.

  • Identify the four main types of corn grown in the US.
  • Map the distribution of these types of corn– you can hit the majors here. Most of the time when you pass a field of corn, it’s one particular type of corn used for feeding livestock.

Blog, She Wrote: Geography Quest- Corn Edition

How Do We Use Corn?

  • Feed livestock– 99% of the corn we grow is for feeding cows, pigs, chickens.
  • starch sweeteners
  • corn oil
  • industrial alcohol
  • fuel ethanol
  • silage– find out what this is and how it’s made
  • food source for humans

How Was Corn Used in the Past?

Native Americans perfected the use of corn in their culture and taught the Pilgrims how to use it. I’ve been reading Traditional Iroquois Corn: Its History, Cultivation, and Use which is a really thorough look at the history of corn in the Iroquois culture and its influence on NY State agriculture.

  • corn cob pipes
  • beads
  • husks were used to make dolls and flowers (you must soak the husk first)
  • food source- popcorn and veggie
  • Do you know about The Three Sisters? Try and research to find out the importance of corn in Native American agriculture.

Resources for Learning More about Corn

Thanks for joining me for this week’s Geography Quest. Stay tuned for another Thanksgiving themed Geography Quest next week.