Enrichment Based Summer School Work Morphs into AP Course Prep

Enrichment Based Summer School Work Morphs into AP Course Prep

Yesterday was August fifth! I honestly do not know where this summer has gone!  In the past, during most summers, I kept my boys busy with enrichment exercises to prevent what is commonly known as the summer slide. When they were younger this meant involvement in the library reading program, tracking all the books they read over the summer and working on comprehension strategies. It also meant travel journals, extra math problems, and some work on grammar and conventions, playing Geo-Bee, and reading up on some history as we visited places like Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Gettysburg, Williamsburg, Colorado, and Niagara Falls.  In fact, only a few short years ago my boys were writing letters and/or post cards to their grandparents and cousins several times during the summer. These were written as much to stay in contact as they were to practice writing skills.

Some years, even as recently as last year, courses were taken. The courses taken over the summer months at our house have been primarily math related. There was a Math Counts Prep Course and Pre-calculus through Johns Hopkins. And, a very long time ago, Geometry through an online platform called Aleks, as well as Health via K12. This was in addition to experiences with the Rosetta Stone software, 3D printer software, CNC machine software, raspberry pi, a drone and some other miscellaneous online courses. My oldest even took a few language courses through Corsera.

One thing is for sure, we are a family that likes to learn! My husband can often be found listening to continuing education online or laughing through a tutorial on the restoration of old trucks on YouTube. And, as for myself, the fact that the end of my coursework for a second master’s degree is nearing, tells it all. I can be found reading, writing papers, developing curriculum, and occasionally complaining about it. But, deep down, I love it!

This is the first summer I can remember when someone was not off at camp or taking an online course.  Three summers were spent at engineering camps. Two through Michigan Tech University and one through the University Wisconsin at Platteville.  Neither University won over my son’s choice to attend as instead he will proceed into the engineering program in yet another state later this month. Regardless, they were both great learning experiences! Last summer my engineering camper was chosen to attend Badger Boys Camp which is a leadership camp in our state.  It also was a great experience in which he was honored to take part. He enjoyed running for an elected office, as he went for the brass ring of  being selected as governor. And, although he did not win, there was much merit in the experience. In the more distant past, there was a year of music camp attended by musicians who were selected through auditions to be part of an elite state honors band in Wisconsin. Summer learning took place through all these camp experiences as well.

And, once our district began to offer enrichment for TAG students at the middle school level during the summer a few years ago, my youngest was a reluctant participant. But, I felt it was nice to see something offered for students that was not just remediation. There is a small proportion of students who are engaged in learning all year and something should be offered that is interesting for them as well. Don’t you agree?! Learning without the pressure of grades or credits can re-motivate and re-introduce students to the joy of learning. I’ve seen this time and time again.

But, here we are nearing the end of summer already and instead of summer enrichment coursework being over for the students in my house, it is just beginning.  Several AP classes at our high school come with pre-school year prep work. While some families and even teachers might take issue with this, I do not. I really cannot differentiate from what I asked my students to do over the summer months and these packets of prep work for their upcoming AP classes at the high school this school year. The work will slowly get them back into the groove of studying before actually sitting in the class. It will re-waken their foggy summer brains that have been solely focused on soccer balls, art projects, and get together’s with friends. I see nothing wrong with it. In fact, my youngest, who is starting his AP prep work for Chemistry once told me he’d prefer year round school. Surely, that is a topic for another post, but I can relate. Learning never really stops, not for summer and not for aging. If the teachers want to ask the students do some summer prep work, it’s alright by me – after all, it is exactly what I’ve asked of them myself since they were small.

Monarch Update Yields Hope

Monarch Update Yields Hope

Today, is the Monarch Monitoring Blitz hosted by Monarch Joint Venture. I came across a posting on social media that reminded me of this citizen science event.  Having raised monarchs for 14 years, I definitely feel the need to participate in the reporting activities of this weekend.

Just to set the stage, this summer I did not see a monarch until after the July 4th weekend. I had found one caterpillar toward the end of June that told me Monarchs had visited, but until that holiday weekend, I hadn’t seen my orange and black friends float by on a breeze. To date, I have only been able to release one butterfly.  I can tell, without the use of any statistics, the numbers are down.

But, yesterday, after seeing a Monarch fly by three or four times, or possibly three or four monarchs fly by, I saw the post by The University of Minnesota’s Monarch Lab Monitoring Project. Essentially, it is asking “regular” citizens or lay-people, or non-scientists to go out this weekend and look for Monarch eggs or larvae (caterpillars).

So, since I consider myself to be a monarch conservationist and have participated in many citizen science activities regarding monarchs and milkweed, I headed outside after dinner to check out my milkweed patches. This really is not an unusual activity for me, I have been checking my milkweed for the last 14 summers! Usually, I have raised and released over 15 monarchs by this time in the summer. As I have already noted, it has been slow. I did not harbor much hope of finding eggs or caterpillars. Yet, I did have that adult monarch (or those adult monarchs) flying around my deck before dinner.

I thought about waiting to look. After all, I had just looked two days ago and found nothing but aging milkweed plants. And, the monitoring blitz wasn’t starting until today. But, I went ahead and read what information they were seeking from community observers (citizen scientists) such as myself and decided to look.

Within five minutes I was back in the house, proudly showing my teens a monarch egg I had found. Two minutes later, I had found four more. And ten minutes after that, another five! Ten monarch eggs! All found on common milkweed leaves in the patch facing South next to my garage – in an area of about 225 square feet, encompassing about 32 plants. I was ecstatic!


For one thing, I have never been good at finding eggs. But, these had been super easy to find!  All but one were on the underside of tender, newly sprouted milkweed leaves. I made note of this observation. One leaf had 3 eggs on it. Each of the other eggs were laid upon single leaves – kind of what is expected. One egg was found laid on the top side of the leaf – somewhat unusual. And one egg was so hard to determine if it was an egg because it was near a margin of a leaf that had already been chewed, dried, and was curled on itself. Luckily, I have a great pair of magnifying glasses, which I use to do fine work on my jewelry,  and broke those out to inspect not only this egg but all of them!

Ten eggs – the night before the monitoring blitz started! Ten eggs – a great number with which to work as it will be easy to determine morbidity and mortality statistics, without causing any mathematical difficulties. Ten eggs – all photographed. Ten eggs – checked and rechecked this morning. Ten eggs – hopefully, soon to be te caterpillars!

I feel fortunate to be able to contribute this information to the scientists working hard to ensure the survival of the monarch species.  I have hope.



Enrichment Post: Summer is the time to learn Origami!

Enrichment Post: Summer is the time to learn Origami!

I cannot exactly remember when Ben’s obsession with Origami began. It was sometime in fourth grade, or possibly the summer before. Origami is a great craft to learn. Summer is the perfect time to learn it.

It is a craft that can be as simple as a crane or as complicated as a dodecahedron or moveable pieces.  If you have a self- directed child, origami offers a great deal for those who can independently learn.  There are books and websites, videos, and tutorials all for those who are interested in becoming good at this ancient craft.

Origami is the Japanese art of paper-folding. The simplicity of making a beautiful object with just knowing how to fold and crease paper is inspiring.  Origami also offers a chance to build mathematical vocabulary and understanding of geometry. It can be done just for the challenge of making the desired shape. Or, it can be delved into for understanding how art, science, and math all blend together to make something work. The math and art are easy applications to understand. Where does the science come in?

Origami is now used for many advanced structures. It can be used for solar panels, heart stents, telescopes, robotics, air bags, and more. The possibilities are endless. Origami is the not only the art, but also the science of paper-folding! If ever there was a great example of STEAM education, Origami is it.

During his approximately three years of creating more and more complex origami structures, Ben also collected many books on the subject, created a travelling exhibit for our school,  belonged to a group called Origami Salami founded by, and consisting of,  young leaders who started their own regional chapters, had a piece chosen to be included in a national traveling exhibit, wrote a guest blog piece, and decided Robert J. Lang was a pretty cool guy!


You can search on Amazon for books on Origami, or there are kits available there as well. The kits usually come with paper to get you started. Barnes and Noble also offers kits, as does other craft stores. It can be an affordable or an expensive hobby. I know Ben spent a lot of his own money on books written by the experts in the field, as well as some of the more fun, tutorial type books like Modular Origami Polyhedra (2008) by Rona Gurkewitz and Bennett Arnstein.

We also ended up buying a great deal of paper from which the structures were made. You can imagine this torus ring took a great deal of paper (as well as, time!)


Summer is the perfect time to explore something new like the ancient art of paper-folding, Origami! Have fun with it! You will never know where it can lead!

Summer Math Enrichment Suggestions

Summer Math Enrichment Suggestions

Wow! I do not know what happened to the last ten days! On May 15th, I posted some suggestions on how to help your child/teen/student ramp up their vocabulary during the summer months. At that time, a weekly post on specific enrichment activities you can do with your child was promised. It appears I missed posting one last week! I will try to be more regular! Stick with me, I am fairly new to the activity of blogging!

Math. Math is a subject I have come to really enjoy. This both surprises and pleases me.  I think if I had a different trigonometry teacher in high school, I might have gone on to take more math. It appeals to me because I have a very logical mind and I also like to problem solve. As an adult, I can see so many daily applications for math that I started to write math questions based on my garden club topics!  Soon, more of these will be available on the Teachers Pay Teachers website.

All three of my three boys were all accelerated in math, starting in elementary and middle school. This will be the subject of a future post because there are both positive and negative considerations when parents need to decide about acceleration in a specific subject area. I  have a great deal of experience in the actual and potential outcomes of acceleration that should be shared with others.

But, I digress. Summer. Over the last 15 years, I have always kept my boys engaged in math activities over the summer. For the most part, even though they moaned and groaned, they enjoyed it. I also think it solidified some of the learning they did during the prior school year and kept them fresh for the start of school in the fall.  I will admit, the extra work/challenge, of having your children do math over the summer is easier when they are younger. So start early! If it becomes part of a summer routine, you’ll have less of a fight later on, when they are older.

The activities or resources suggested are only those I actually used with my boys. There are many resources out there, be sure to look them over before you ask that your child do any of them. In my opinion, it is pointless to have them do an activity or lesson if there is not an answer page or demonstration of how the answer is obtained. Unless, of course, you are adept at math yourself, and want to perform the problems with them to check on their answers. Remember that process is as, or more, important than a right answer. Showing how answers are arrived at is almost universally demanded now in schools and the extra practice will solidify this expectation.  If you have a child that is keen as well as skilled at solving problems in their head, the extra time spent writing out solutions will be valuable once school resumes.

The internet offers many math enrichment sites. This post would be incomplete without mentioning some of them.  A few popular ones we have used are the following:

  1. Khan Academy – Some people in the math world love this site, others just tolerate it. All three of my boys (now aged 15, 17, and 22) have turned to Sal Khan’s site for practice, clarification, or enrichment. What is nice is that you can pick the topic and there are literally hundreds of videos and practice problems through which to work.  The site will also track progress for you, if you are interested. FREE.
  2.  IXL – This is a site that has subject matter categorized by grade level and then, topic.  It is easy to navigate and has shows the answers.  Great for extra practice, review or enrichment.  You can only do 10 problems without paying a subscription fee, however.  Depending on what you want to get out of it, the subscription fee is not too bad. I think it was $9.95 a month for one child. There are options for more than one child and also to add language arts practice. We did subscribe to this site for a while. It also tracks practice time and sends email updates to parents.  It also was very easy to stop the subscription whenever you want. FREE/PAID.
  3. Kuta Software – This site offers worksheets with answer sheets. No examples of how the work is completed. Offers algebra through calculus.  We used this site often for extra practice problems when not enough of one type of problem was offered in the text-book for pre-calculus.  Also used for Algebra II review work. FREE.  There is a disadvantage of the work not being shown, as far as how to get the answer.
  4. AAA Math – used in elementary school for extra practice. FREE

Of course there are many others, but these sites are the ones we tended to use the most.

One forgets that math is like another language. Getting used to the language of mathematics through relaxed, enjoyable activities can be a way to enrich mathematic skills with out the drill and kill approach, which now has fallen out of vogue. We need critical thinkers. Many activities offer a chance to problem solve and critically think,  augmenting future mathematic skills. Using real life skill building can be a way to practice math skills without kids even realizing it.

  • cooking and baking – using fractions and conversions, measuring spoons and cups, accurately. Cutting recipes in half or doubling recipes can be good practice.
  • Make juice or lemonade and measure volume
  • sewing – using fractions and conversions for yardage, seam allowances, and amounts
  • gardening – measuring a site for size, perimeter and area, distance between plantings. Square foot gardening has great applications for math.

Thinking skills can be enriched by learning a new game such as:

  • Chess
  • Monopoly or Life, to practice using money
  • Othello – online or the board game
  • Blockus

Patterns, sequencing, and geometry can be practiced with:

  • Origami – There will be a future post on the benefits of learning to fold paper. This is a highly recommended activity to help students visualize angles, shapes, and have fun while doing it. Start at the site linked here for some recommended patterns.
  • Matching Memory Games – We had stacks of these games. Dinosaurs, Careers, & others, that were played constantly when our boys were preschool and early elementary age.
  • Pattern or object recognition – Search and find books, We owned a ton of these. Great for travel.  A few examples are Where’s Waldo?, I Spy Books, and others.
  • Logic Puzzles
  • Tile Puzzles like the famous 15 puzzle like this one we have
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Magna Tiles – We had a set of these that got some but not a lot of use. They are fun for creating structures and also serve the same purpose as tangrams. A set can be pricey.
  • Tangrams – These are shapes that fit together to build bigger shapes, allowing the child to “see” how something like a hexagon might be made of triangles.
  • Geogebra – This is a relatively new site that has some awesome interactive lessons for the older math student. For the right person, it is great fun just to play with the tools on the site. For me, it is not intuitive as I need it to be to actually know what I am doing, but it could be a help to a more visual learner.  Here is a link to one of the  tools exploring normal distributionBy clicking the boxes at the right, it shows the results of that operation on the graph. FREE.

There are many ways to provide math enrichment over the summer.  Whether you have a kid that loves math and wants to do it or a kid that dislikes math and avoids it, the extra practice over the summer will not be a waste. Try it and see!

International Museum Day

International Museum Day

This morning, reading my morning social media feed provided a moment of serendipity. One of the posts reminded me that it was International Museum Day. Just recently, after assigning my writer’s circle students to write on a the events of a specific day in history, one completed the work for the date of May 18th, informitng me of International Museum Day. It was the first I’d heard of this designation and now, it had popped up again, only a couple of weeks later!

I’ve been fornuate to have been able to visit some wonderful museums. My travels include several international museums as well some closer to home.  I think my fascination with museums stems from an 8th grade field trip to the Toronto Science Center.  The other attractant that draws me to museums is that I love information!

Some of the museums recommended to visit in the United States are the following:

  • Franklin Institute – Philadelphia PA
  • The Air and Space Museum in San Diego, California
  • The Smithsonian Institution Museums in Washington, D.C.
    • The Air and Space Museum is a favorite and one I have been to several times in my life, sharing it with my parents, my husband, and my boys – all on separate occasions. If you like space flight and airplanes, it is the place to go!
    • The Natural History Museum is also a favorite of mine, having much to offer my curiosity about science and our natural world.
  • Also in Washington, D.C., is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. We took our teen boys to this museum in the summer of 2015. It is a sad and serious place that loudly reviberates the atrocities that humans can commit against each other. I would d like to say it should not be missed, but it is not for everyone. It might be too emotionally draining and definitely not something I would do with young children.
  • Being from Rochester, New York, a trip to the George Eastman Museum (and House) is necessary to for any visiting photographer or local resident fascinated with the lore of the Eastman Kodak Company.
  • Also in Rochester is the The Strong – National Museum of Play. This is what I would deem a pre-eminent children’s museum. It has something for everyone and probably bears repeat visits or membership if you are a local family in that region. I’ve been to other children’s museums around the country, including Madison, WI and even volunteered in our local children’s museum in La Crosse, WI, but nothing has ever surpassed The Strong! Of course their numerous and generous endowments allow this museum to continue to be top notch. One cannot reasonable expect other children’s museum to compete without simlar funding.
  • Philadelphia is filled with museums, and the Franklin Institute, mentioned above is filled with interesting exhibits.  One must visit Independence Mall, which has numerous museum like venues but is run by the National Park Service. Gettysburg is another place I would highly suggest visiting that has several museums or museum like exhibits.

Internationally, the following museums are interesting –

There is more about my visits to these Dutch museums in an earlier post on the Dutch artist, Vermeer.

As you can tell, I think museums are great places to visit. If you are able, start going to a few local museums with your children.  If they are exposed early to museums, they will develop an ability to appreciate the exhibits and time spent learning about our world!

Happy International Museum Day!


Summer Learning: Ramp Up your Vocabulary!

Summer Learning: Ramp Up your Vocabulary!

An earlier post of mine regarding ideas for summer learning drew some attention from online readers. It is still receiving regular views, despite not being published recently. This tells me that people, most likely parents, are looking for ways to enrich their children over the summer. Over the next few months, I will try to offer a more specific, weekly ideas on things you can do over the summer to enrich your child.

One area that can always use opportunity for enrichment is language arts. When my boys were younger, let’s say between kindergarten and 6th grade, I encouraged them to learn new words over the summer by making a “word wall” on their closet door.  The words I chose to post, usually on Sundays, came from words encountered in a book they were reading or from a resource book of lists containing common vocabulary based on grade level.  Since it was an activity for enrichment, the words chosen were high interest and slightly above grade level.

One way to do this is to use an online word generator for word walls. Scholastic has one  here: I just found this and it is user-friendly. You can made lists of words based on subjects, alphabetical order, or even the Dolce Sight Word list! You can generate your own word list too. Just now, I made a list of words for a presentation I did for elementary children on forests. These words were what I thought would be challenging for most students. This list might be somewhat generic, depending on the student with whom you will use it.  But, the nice part of being a parent and generating a word wall list is that  you know your child better than any teacher. You are reading books together, or still helping them choose books from the library for the summer. You know their interests, you know their skill level. You can hand-pick the words that will benefit their vocabulary and their interest areas.

Another resource for finding age appropriate word lists based on topic is at vocabulary.com. This site offers several different avenues to learn words. You can play a word definition game and earn points. The game adjusts to your knowledge of words and will eventually challenge your vocabulary. There are also word lists that are generated per topic or even event (like taking the SAT). I’ll have to share this with my high school junior who will take that college entrance exam next month. This is a fun, easy, and transportable way to learn new words if you access to a computer and the internet.  You can also put in a topic to search and the site will let you know if they already have a word list generated. In the search bar I typed in The Great Gatsby and Forests (as separate searches) and both queries returned extensive word lists.

The Lexile PowerV website generates lists of vocabulary words for over 125,00 books. It can be found here: Lexile PowerV Vocabulary Tool.  The lists are ten words long that are challenging and important for the students to know while reading the story.  If you know your child’s lexile reading level, this site would be an excellent resource to match books they are interested in with increasing vocabulary.

There are other sites, too. Keep in mind that I did not use any of these internet sites when I made my word wall lists for my boys. I just tried to challenge them with words I thought they should know, like “photosynthesis” for example. Or, I paged through one of the novels they chose for summer reading and extracted words I thought would be a challenge, but again, important to the story they are reading. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You can always just search in the dictionary, as well. You, or your student,  can write words on a sheet of paper and post it where they spend a lot of time. Talk about the words on their list throughout the week. By the end of the week, if they have spent some time talking to you about the words, or even using one or two to include in a letter to grandma, your children will increase their vocabulary!  It should be painless.

And, who knows? It might also be fun!