Saturday, December 18, 2010

Excel Math ~ "O" Antiphons

What's Cookin'?

Beef Stew:  I made beef stew the other night but didn't really have a recipe to follow when I made it.  I cooked a pound of stew meat in some oil (either palm oil or sunflower oil) until cooked through.  Then I put in coarsely chopped potatoes, carrots and about 4 cups of water.  I don't know much about herbs/spices but I had some sage growing before the freezes hit.  I ran out to get some.  By then it was pitch dark so I just pinched off a handful and ran back in from the cold :).  The sage turned out to be the winning ticket.  I put 3 fresh leaves in along with some parsley, basil, salt, onion powder, and a shake of ginger.  Once the potatoes/carrots were cooked and the meat was tender (about 45 minutes of simmering) I added flour until the gravy was a thick consistency.  [That takes the place of dredging in flour before cooking the meat] While it was simmering I whipped up some biscuits (though I had to use all white flour because this wasn't a planned-ahead meal and I couldn't soak the wheat).  I asked dh if this was a redo meal and he said (emphatically) that it should be a staple meal.  Dc liked it also (no leftovers). Yeah.  Easy. Healthy.  Tasty.  This should work really well in the crock pot - just do the flour right before serving.

What's Schoolin'?

Excel MathI *finally* ordered my math curriculum for youngest dd yesterday [We use a combo of Excel Math and Montessori materials/manuals].  Today I got a call from Becky at Excel Math and I talked with her m-u-c-h longer than she probably expected when placing her call, lol.  Why?  Because I LOVE Excel Math and can rave about it for hours!  I've used it in public school and in our home school for about 15 years.  This will sound like a commercial, but really, I have no monetary interest in their product :).  What I like about Excel Math:

-  One of the main strengths is that they are constantly practicing previously taught concepts in the practice pages.  They don't forget and it also gives them time to master it.  If they don't get a concept the first lesson, don't worry, you'll have lots of chances for reteaching/practice.

- It spirals with more and more depth each time a concept is addressed.

- It's not overwhelming.  The layout is nice and spacious and there aren't 10 million drill problems. 

- The first section is the teacher guided lesson that includes guided practice.  Often there are some math fact drills in that section as well (which is awesome - just enough).  Sometimes when you look at the page you see blank boxes in that section.  That's because sometimes the teacher will tell the students the problem as they go through the lesson (and the ss won't just be working ahead while the T is talking!).  At the very top of the guided practice lesson they have the objective for that lesson as well.  Very helpful.

-  The next section is the homework section (the second 1/2 of the front page).  We skip that at home but in PS they take that home after doing the guided/independent practice (the back side) during class.  Again, not overwhelming - just enough.  Not so long that it takes them all evening to do or all of your next class period to correct, but enough to get some extra independent practice.  BTW, the homework doesn't have the brand new concepts in it.  I think it starts from 2 weeks back (I can't remember exactly but it's pretty well thought out). 

- The entire back side is the guided/independent practice which makes up the bulk of your math time.  I say guided/independent because at that point it may be one or the other or both for some/all of the students.  At home it is usually independent but some concepts (like long division) are guided for a longer period of time (guided meaning they still need a bit of help and guidance to do the problems).  The variety of practice is absolutely awesome and the way the word problems are slipped in and develop complexity is brilliant.  By the end of second grade they are doing 2 step word problems that are quite complex for that age. 

- They have worked on incorporating more manipulative use within the Teacher's Guide rather than within the lessons on the student pages.  I love that take on it.  The lessons are not dependent on the manipulatives but the ideas and presentations are there in the manual if you want/need to use them.  There are paper options for manipulatives in the back in case you need them.  I have always supplemented Excel with heavy manipulatives use and didn't feel like it could stand alone.  However, with their current inclusion of more hands-on activities it probably would more so now.  I'll take a closer look at that when I get it and update this post.

- I have to add that when I was in PS and the dreaded state test came around I never felt the panic that I saw in some others regarding math.  We did some practice tests for the format, but I felt relatively comfortable with the math concepts we had covered since they had been continually practicing throughout the year.  I could focus on other aspects such as things not covered yet (depending on time of year of the test).  Since they had Spanish materials as well I could have students working in both at the same time and give the same lessons to the whole group.

-  They actually tell you up to what lesson is a review from the previous year and when new concepts start for the year.  They also tell which lesson starts new concepts for the next year at the end.  This overlap is why I'm not freaking out that dd hasn't started her new book for this year yet.  [Plus she's been using Montessori materials as well and is moving along]  I can look in the manual, find where the new concepts start and go from there.  Even if we just make it to where the concepts for this year end in May we'll still be on target.  Also, since she worked until the very end of the book (I think she has 2 pages to go) I know she has already been working on some of this year's concepts.  Hope that makes sense!

- Honestly, at home I don't use the Teacher's Guide much, but a close friend does and it has some wonderful extensions, lesson presentations, and activities.  I would highly recommend actually using it!

- Unfortunately it stops after 6th grade.  When we took a placement test for the new curriculum both olders skipped 7th and went straight to pre-algebra.  Like I told Becky, they actually could have fast-forwarded a bit of that too because a lot was review at the beginning for them.
Have I convinced you to give Excel Math a try?  Get a free sample packet.  Call and ask questions.  Talk about customer service!  A call after my order is placed just to check on me and see if I have questions on how to use it?? Unheard of!!  I have always gotten excellent customer service - for about 15 years!

"O" Antiphons:

I'd like to incorporate this into our family Advent prayers this season.  Since I am completely ignorant on the matter I'm handing you over to a link that explains it and even gives you a printable guide.  Today is O Wisdom (Dec 17th) (at least when I am typing this it is!).

Today's food ideas to coordinate with O Wisdom:  dark chocolate and eggs and other brain foods.  Wow, just this morning over breakfast I was telling the dc how good eggs were for the brain and that they are high in choline which turns to acetylcholine which helps you think; plus, eggs are on 2 separate lists for chemicals they contain (tyrosine and phenylalanine) that are precursors to dopamine (another brain must-have chemical).  Yes, I actually told them that while their eyes glossed over, lol, because I'm reading a brain health/chemistry book that I plan on blogging about later.

Here's another:

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