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Weekly Wrap-Up: Beyond My Field of Expertise Edition

Another week has gone by and it is truly amazing how the days can go by so fast once the weather warms up! We are focusing on finishing all our courses over the next three weeks so the boys are working a little extra hard. On top of that, we took graduation portraits for Mr. A and ordered his announcements. I got his diploma in the mail…already to go once we finish and are ready to present it in front of family and friends.


This edition of my weekly wrap-up has a theme that I found woven throughout: Independent learning. My two sons have come to the point in their education where they are beyond my body of knowledge. I have let them loose to explore their own educational paths. This has happened in just about every area of our courses: literature, science, history, and art. If you are a classical homeschooler, this is truly what the rhetoric stage is all about, at least from my point of view. The boys are going beyond assignments and spending lots of time researching and writing about topics that come up. The shape that their final projects come to me are exciting: videos, inventions, writing, and lots of discussion. See if you can find the theme in the rest of this entry.


KWO Stars Essay
Key Word Outline: Yes, it is messy and has doodles.

Mr. A is working on that final research report and he tells me he finished the key work outline this morning. He spent a few minutes trying to explain to me what white dwarves and super novas are and how he is going to pull a writing piece together featuring these two subjects of interest. Let’s just say that these topics are far beyond my field of expertise. I guess I will learn something and see a topic through my son’s eyes. 

Astronomy Self Teaching Guide
Glimpse into one of the “self-tests” that come at the end of each chapter.

Mr. B is focusing on finishing Astronomy: Self-Teaching Guide over the next few weeks. He actually likes this book and the format is great for independent learners. I noticed he takes the book and sits at the computer and looks things up on Wikipedia when he wants to learn more. I love that he takes that extra step.

Mr. B is designing, building, and programming a project of his own choice. I am pretty sure he decided on a self-serve cat food dispenser for the black cats who inhabit our home. I guess we will all have to see what he comes up with.

Mr. B is polishing his last video of the year which was a also a project of his choice. He researched a science topic and has pulled together a video with narration, still images, titles and captions, and of course live action video. The topic is Schrodinger’s Cat (thought experiment). Don’t ask me how he arrived on that as a topic. I hope he gives me permission to share the video.

Poetry (and why it is an important part of your literature and history study):
Langston Hughes has been the topic this week and Mr. A has shared quite a bit of his poetry aloud with me. I think he likes this poet because of the sounds and the subjects. It really is very different than most of our other poetry this year. Nice change. This week he supplemented his poetry study with a short mini-lesson on the Harlem Renaissance. We have been watching several YouTube videos for Langston Hughes…here is one from the Library Congress.

It is a little long but one that we liked because of the balance of story and his poetry. The reason I think this study has been successful? Not only are we reading and discussing the poetry, we now have a whole area of history that can be explored through the eyes of someone who has a very different point of view than we do…that of a black man in the early 20th century. I did not realize the extent of Langston Hughes’ writing and its variety including short stories and music. You can be sure we will explore this more with Mr. B when he gets to this poet. So many poetic devices to discuss with Hughes’ poetry.

Excerpt from the Weary Blues by Langston Hughes:

Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more–

“I got the Weary Blues
And I can’t be satisfied.
Got the Weary Blues
And can’t be satisfied–
I ain’t happy no mo’
And I wish that I had died.”

And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.

Driver’s Education:
Mr. B started his online driver’s education course this week. Sigh. I know what is coming now….the critiquing of my driving as we go around town. I have been here three times before with the older children, getting to know the rules of the road makes them more active passengers. Using an online course helps us fit the study in when Mr. B has time and it is self-directed. leading provider of online drivers education.  Ensuring you’ll get your permit the first time!

I will finish there and leave the rest for another time. Hope you enjoyed seeing some of our week and hearing my rambles of a homeschool mom who is feeling like her role is ever-changing. If I can do this, you can do this.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Some fun books we are enjoying:

How To Use Notebook Pages To Write An Essay Using the Institute for Excellence in Writing System

Writing an Essay Using IEW and Notebook Page

The last few Weekly Wrap-Up posts have included my son’s notebook pages as part of his history and literature study. I explained that he uses these notebook pages to start write more formal essays and I thought you might like to know how he does that in a more step-by-step way.

He is a great note taker, partly because he is able to digest the information but also because we worked on it as part of the Institute of Excellence in Writing(IEW)  lessons. In the IEW system, the student takes these notes and organizes them in what they call a “key word outline”. The student then takes that key word outline(KWO) and makes a first draft of their essay. At first they have a checklist of “dress-ups” that they use to make their writing more interesting and varied. The checklist reminds them to vary the opening of the sentences and to use various types of words. These steps are easily accomplished by first taking notes on notebook pages.
Notebooking Page Notes for Essay
Now that my boys are older, they have incorporated the IEW system into their weekly writing without much extra effort. Using notebook pages gives them a way to easily keep the main ideas in one place as they read and then narrate what they glean from their reading. (You can read my complete review of IEW on Curriculum Choice.)

Steps for Writing A More Formal Essay Using Notebook Pages

1. After reading, the student sits with pencil and notebook page to write the main ideas and thoughts. They can write quotes as well. (noting page number for future reference). I don’t give my boys any direction on what to write so they need to read and think about how they can summarize the section in their own words.
High School Notebook Pages (7)
Make sure to keep track of sources for the bibliography. This was an essay on alternative energy.

2. If you are writing an essay that will incorporate more than one source or more than one topic, make a notebook page for each source or topic. For instance in my son’s Ancient History course, he is going to write a formal five paragraph essay on Greek thinkers. He makes one notebook page for each person he is going to feature…probably three. Each notebook page will then be the basis for one paragraph in his essay.

High School Notebook Pages (5)
Quotes are easily recorded on notebook pages for inclusion in their final essay.

3. Once they have their notebook pages written, then the student can make a key word outline. In the beginning I would give by sons a template to fill in from the IEW plans. Basically, they are taking the items they wish to talk about and boiling them down to a few words (6 or 7).

4. Take the KWO and write the essay body. Using the keyword outline forces them to write the information and ideas in their own words….love that aspect of IEW.

5. After writing the body, the student can go back and write the introduction, conclusion, and title.

6. When I assign a longer essay (usually two times a year), my boys then make more notebook pages as they keep track of their information. IEW teaches what they call the “super essay” which is basically three five-paragraph essays linked together. For a super essay, it is not unlikely that there will be 10-12 notebook pages made in preparation of the key word outline.  The system is slick and easy to master once you have the basic tools.

Ready for some examples?

Gather notes on different aspects of a topic and then write a research report.

High School Notebook Pages (10)High School Notebook Pages (13)
High School Notebook Pages (14)High School Notebook Pages (16)
These pages became part of a super essay on the Antarctic.

High School Notebook Pages (17)High School Notebook Pages (8)
Buddhism Notebook Pagehistory 4
These became an essay on world religions.

If you would like to read more about how we use notebook pages in our high school courses, you can click over to my page on Squidoo: Notebooking For High Schoolers. 

I also have a tab at the top of the blog where I list all the sources for notebooking pages that I use in our homeschool. Many of these we have had on hand throughout middle school.

Free Notebooking Pages Sampler
I also highly recommend the Treasury Membership available at
(I am an affiliate for and receive a small commission if you click my links….just so you know.)

Weekly Wrap-Up: Determined to Get It Written Edition

I had every intention of posting a wrap-up post the last two Fridays but it just has not happened with all the things going on around here. Nothing too exciting or earth shattering to keep me from writing but it has been the everyday stuff that happens when you have a busy and full household. Bear in mind then, this post contains snips from the last three weeks of school.

Chemistry Lab 11 2 10
Chemistry is in dire need of some new life. It has lost its zing and although we are enjoying the materials we are working on, I think I need to come up with something new to breathe some new life into it. Suggestions are always welcome. I am thinking about adding in this book:

Grapes of Wrath Essay
Literature is in the wrapping up mode. Mr. A is finishing both the Grapes of Wrath and The Lord of the Flies next week. What an emotional ride both books have been! There has been so much food for thought and honestly I have taken away more from the books than he has. There are some very adult themes and ideas in both books that really only have context when you have lived life a little. Mr. A is writing an essay with the theme of man’s inhumanity to man with examples from the Grapes of Wrath and he turned in the rough draft today…still need to look at it. He is still working on Robert Browning poetry and reading Poe’s short stories. Look for a poetry for high schoolers update soon.

Poe notebook page

Mr. B is working on a scholarly study of the Iliad using The Teaching Company DVD series by Elizabeth Vandiver. I am appreciating TOG and their sequence for Year 1 and I am glad we stuck out the more difficult poetry from Egypt, Assyria, and Akkadia. We have something to compare to this epic Greek poem. I am also glad that we are not totally new to Greek mythology and the Iliad story coming into reading it in high school.

History is moving right along for Mr. A and he is amazing me at the amount of detail he has absorbed through his reading each week. We have added in a few notebooking pages as part of his written narration and I think that mixes things up a bit. His economics study and his history are so relevant to the world we live in and I hear him relating current events to things he is learning.

If you have ever wanted a concise explanation of our economy/justice atmosphere in America, don’t miss this book, Whatever Happened to Justice? I have long wanted to understand better the world of economics and this book is one of the best things that we have read this year as far as being relevant and eye-opening. The discussions we have after reading this book keep popping up long after school hours. It makes for great dinner time conversation. This series of books is a perfect fit for a study of the 20th Century or Tapestry of Grace Year 4.

Art and music appreciation are happening every week which warms my heart. Mr. A asked if he could take a break from his formal artist study to finish an art-related project that he started over the summer. He is painting a scene on his closet doors which means the doors are in the garage instead of in his bedroom. I decided to give him the time so he could finish up and get the doors back up on his closet. I have no idea what motivated the subject matter but he likes it and I guess that is all that matters. I will post photos when he is done.

Painting Project
Every term I like to give Mr. B a random art project and see what happens. This time around he worked on an art lesson loosely based on this project on tints and shades. I tend to forget how much this child does not like to paint. He commented several times about the inefficiency of painting and how markers would have made the project easier. I like to stretch his skills and comfort zone a bit every now and then just to keep him progressing. I got the message loud and clear though… paints. I guess this means I better rethink the mini-unit on acrylics I have been cooking up. 🙂

Peanut Butter Cookies
Mr. B’s baking course has really taken root. His brothers convinced him to try an apple pie and now we have had two in the past few weeks. He tackles the recipe like a scientist and that makes me smile. His official projects have been peanut butter cookies and then fudge brownies. A+ on both recipes.

I almost forgot that last week Mr. B finished his robotics project. Check out his robotic claw!

You may need to click over to the blog to see it…not sure.

We have taken several long walks this past week….so perfect is the weather for walking in the afternoons right now that it seems wrong not to make an effort to get outside. The woodpeckers and squirrels are busy in the trees of our neighborhood and the trees are starting to turn color…orange, red, yellow, gold, and even purple.

Okay, finishing here for this time. I will try to be more regular in my posting and perhaps it won’t have to be so long next time.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

I am listing the books referred to in this post because I always receive email asking me what particular books we use to accomplish our week. You may need to click over to the blog to see the links on

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