50 Book Challenge/Two Must Have Resources

We spent the last hours of 2016 making goals. BlerdHero decided he wanted to read fifty books, all over 150 pages in 2017. That's about a book a week; I feel like it's an attainable but challenging goal. So far keeping him on task has been a challenge. There haven't been mainly goals that I have been able to help him achieve. Goal setting is a skill, learning to achieve your goals is a practice. I have been working on how to help him understand that doing a little bit every day is an effective way to reach a target and I think this will be a year-long exercise in that. Today is the 15th, and he has read one and a half books.

I have increased my search for books to accommodate his need because #yougonreachthisgoal.  I am deeply invested because I know his success is going to depend in part to me helping him find books that he WANTS to read. I also need to help him push past the hump for books he's not as interested in reading.

I want him to gain the confidence of succeeding. I could tell him how great he is from sunrise to sunset but unless I help him get some wins under his belt we will have issues with his confidence, that is the kind of kid I have. On the other hand, I take pleasure in helping him find books he enjoys. I am sure I am not the only one so, I thought I'd share some of my favorite literacy websites and bookstores .


1. Unabridged Books (Chicago)

The North-sides best bookstore. This place has everything. I often go there and browse the shelves to see what I discover. During a recent trip, I found, X: A novel by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon. I had no idea that this existed and I am very excited to read it with my son. There are some great discussion questions in the back as well. Kekla Magoon also wrote, The Rock and The River, which BlerdHero read last year. The book was incredibly powerful and left a lasting impression on him. Aside from having a broad range of books, the staff atUnabridged are extremely helpful. The bookstore is also in the midst of a beautiful neighborhood with lots to enjoy. There is an excellent pastry shop named Vanille next door with spectacular macaroons. It is always my next stop after getting some books. There are also some great restaurants, mainly sushi, in walking distance.

2. 57th Street Books (Chicago)

The southside's best bookstore. I love this place for all the same reasons I love unabridged. I have found more great kids reads here than any other place in the city. This bookstore has the added benefit of being near the University of Chicago, The Dusable Museum, and Museum of Science and Industry. The University of Chicago has a few museums that are ideal for exploration. During the summer, we wonder to one of the nearby parks, which has more grassy areas than the northside and relax.


Lexile.com: Ths website helps you look up the Lexile level of just about any book and search for books by Lexile level. Lexile.com is my go to for determining how challenging a book will be for BlerdHero. I find myself on it about once every two weeks.

Usborne: Usborne books were my first love as a homeschooler. Their website is ideal for exploring books for a broad range of age levels and interest areas. I like this publishing company because they are not afraid to tackle complex science topics for young readers. The website includes links to online resources by subject area. You can even take quizzes and watch videos, all of this gave me a little insight into what education is like in England, where the company is located.


Code.org Review and Coding Resources

A few seasons ago I attended a coding event hosted at the local Apple store. There wasn't a whole lot to the event, Apple employees helped participants work thru a Hour of Code module while in the store. It was well attended and organized, every participant received headphones and a certificate of completion. Overall, I thought the event was very successful and provided my first introduction to Code.org.

I all started with my absurdly early arrival to the Apple Store for a kids Coding Event. We had a full HOUR to spare while we waited for our time slot. I wondered around aimlessly for half the time of course because the store is magical but eventually of found myself on the Code.org website. Jackpot: I found a list of free workshops for educators that welcomed home educators. The SIX HOUR workshop I would attend later that week isdesigned to help educators understandhow to teach coding and how the website can help.

I wasshocked the event was even open to home educators. Usually they are not. And it was free. A FREE SIX HOUR TRAINING. Can't beat that. I walked in already impressed I will admit but the training itself was absolutely spectacular.

 I can not say enough about how knowledgeable and professional our trainer was. I learned a lot about the resources the site makes available for teachers. There are complete lesson plansand what's called "mat/floor activities". These activities are designed to teach basic coding principles AWAY from the screen. We practiced teaching a concept to the group, then discussed the challenges we faced.

I felt very supported as an educator in the training and fully capable of teaching coding when I left the room, a far cry for the worried momma I was when I signed up. I am not unfamiliar with coding and I have tried teaching my son to code with a few coding websites and one great book but nothing has worked as well as Code.org because of the additional support the website makes available. The videos that are incorporated into modules are also great conversations starters because they showcase what real people do with their knowledge of coding, even if they end up becomingsomething else like a professional basketball player.

So far we have done exactly four floor activity andall have beensplendid. They felt like a little game the two of us were playing. We laughed and talked, it was slightly enchanted.

Some other benefits of the training: goodies and some Code.org pride. I am very much Team Code.org after the training.  Participants spoke very highly of the organization and the founder. There was even a teacher there sporting Code.org gear he ordered. Yes, I was very impressed that he liked the organization enough to go and buy gear.  

At this point in our coding journey Code.org is the right program for us because it is the most engaging for my son and supports me as an instructor because truth be told I had no idea how to teach this subject to him.  I have tried other great programs that just haven't worked for us as well. Here is a list of a few programs (and two books) that we have tried. I put the books first because I like them both. The first book, I one I recently found at Barnes and Noble, is a workbook and I am currently obsessed it,  I wish it was much bigger. Writing out code is invaluable especially for kids that are easily distracted once computers come on.  The second it one that I liked and may return to in the future but it's not suitable for us right now.  

DK Workbooks: Computer Coding (HIGHLY RECOMMEND)

Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming

RoboMind Academy


If you are not interested in a semi-formal/formal coding course there are about a zillion apps and webpages that have activities.  Apartment Therapy has a great list. I am excited to see Sphero made this list. I have been wanting to test this out as a learning tool since the first time I saw it. That desire only intensified after checking out the webpage. Process with caution, this will jump on your must have list and if your anything like me that list is already long.

Say Whaaa?: A lesson on Questions

Given our political climate I decided to make a strong commitment to focus on critical thinking and research skills this year in order to raise a strong independent thinker.  We are doing a year long themester on narratives. 

Vocabulary Words

Open-ended Questions - questions that will solicit additional information.

Closed-ended Questions - questions that result in "yes" or "no" responses.

Assumption/Assuming - an assuming that something is true

Imply - to express (something) in an indirect way : to suggest (something) without saying or showing it plainly

Bias - an inclination of temperament or outlook; especially :  a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment :  prejudice c :  an instance of such prejudice d (1) :  deviation of the expected value of a statistical estimate from the quantity it estimates (2) :  systematic error introduced into sampling or testing by selecting or encouraging one outcome or answer over others

I recently taught a few lessons on questions as part of our unit on research. I decided to start here so he has the tools for critical analysis and the vocabulary for discussion and writing. First, we listened to the Big Universe, Big Questions episode of Brains On!. I choose this episode because many of our science lessons last year focused on space and because interviews are a form of research.

I used the Socratic method of teaching for things like this because I have found it to be the most effective method for fostering critical thinking. Each lesson has vocabulary words. He is required to write the vocabulary words and be able to use them in written and verbal responses.

Conversation Questions:

  • We have learned about two types of questions, Open-ended & Closed; Which type of question was used most often during the podcast?
  • If you met a friend at the park what type of questions would you ask? Why that type of question? Can you give me two examples of questions you might ask?
  • Why is it important to do research before conducting an interview?
  • Do you think assumptions are always bad?
  • How can assumptions influence the questions you create?
  • Do you think bias is always bad?
  • How can bias influence the questions you create?
  • Bias is a systematic error introduced into sampling or testing by selecting or encouraging one outcome or answer over others. What do you think that means? 


Listen to the podcast again. This time stop to talk about new observations using the new vocabulary.

Write each vocabulary word and a definition in your own words.

Write 5 interview questions, examine your questions for assumptions and bias. Are they closed or open? Do they imply anything, if so examine what they imply and how it may effect the interview.

Our minds are great at filling in the spaces others leave behind, but do we have the critical thinking skills to really examine what we are being told and the purpose the narrative serves?