Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Using Comic Cards for Narration

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Timeline1

My boys were not enthusiastic writers. We would read piles of books together, which they thoroughly enjoyed as long as the books were interesting.  And they were happy to talk about the reading, as long as I didn’t call it “narration” (because that sounded too contrived or schoolish), but when it came to “Let’s write a paragraph about what happened during the War of 1812,” there was absolutely zero interest in this.

Being a fairly laid-back sort of homeschooling mom, I didn’t want to force them to write, but I was a bit anxious. It seemed like they ought to occasionally write something. I also felt that keeping some sort of history timeline would be helpful, because we would sometimes jump from Ancient Greece to Early American History to Medieval Europe, and they needed some way to put it all in perspective. I finally had the idea to try something that my oldest son was already doing – drawing comics.

He could spend 45 minutes with one sheet of blank paper, drawing epic space battles with laser blasts and little text bubbles for the characters to hurl insults at one another. So, I suggested that he illustrate scenes from our reading on a small 3 X 5 card, and then we would collect the cards to lay down on a timeline. He thought this was a fine idea, and my younger son was happy to do whatever his big brother was doing.

Timeline2

It worked pretty well. After reading, the boys would choose something to illustrate and I would write a short description of the event because they believed that even this would be too much writing. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before they started writing their own descriptions on the front or back of the card. We also included the date of the event on the back of the card.

Each boy had his own index card box to store the cards, and once a month or so, we would lay all the cards down on a timeline on the floor. I had purchased a roll of adding machine paper and used about 20 feet to mark out time periods. When we taped the paper to the floor, the boys used the dates on the back of their cards to lay them out in the proper order. It was tricky because some areas would have LOTS of cards (Early American time period), while some areas would have none. This did make an impression though, because we all realized, “Hey –  I have no idea what happened during these 600 years!” It was humbling.

Timeline3

Eventually, as the boys got older, they did learn to write well (perhaps a subject for another post), but drawing timeline comics on the index cards provided easy nonthreatening preparation for note-taking in those early years. For one thing, the small size of the card seemed more manageable. They weren’t faced with a full sheet of blank notebook paper to fill. Plus, using dialogue bubbles meant that they could write without worrying about complete sentences or exact punctuation. They also enjoyed seeing what the other brother created for each event. It was always a secret until they finished and traded cards.

I’ll mention another idea for cards here – if your kids like to collect and play with cards such as “Pokemon” or “Magic the Gathering,” they might enjoy making similar cards for history, science or literary characters. My only advice would be to give them plenty of artistic license. It wouldn’t be any fun if they couldn’t use their imaginations to embellish the truth a bit!

Do you have any other ideas for using index cards in your homeschool?

How Do Homeschooled Kids Learn to Take Notes?

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Note-takingMy daughter, who goes to a public high school, has been exclaiming about her heavy homework load this year – particularly in AP American History where she is expected to take copious notes from her textbook reading. I’ve been watching with interest, to see if this method helps her retain any of the information. It also got me thinking about my boys off at college. They never took notes in high school, because they didn’t go to high school. It never really occurred to me that they should learn such a thing. In my mind, note-taking was something you did during a lecture to help remember what the teacher said, and this was before the age of Powerpoint and online course notes. I did show them how to take notes for research papers, and how to keep track of works cited. But we didn’t do “lectures” in our homeschool, so they never learned to record information in this way. Did this handicap my kids when they went off to sit in lecture halls at college?

What my kids think of taking notes

When polled, my oldest son said:  “I don’t think the lack of note-taking lessons hurt me at all.  I just sorta DO it, it’s not exactly rocket science.  I feel like everyone ends up developing a unique style anyway, so there’s not a huge amount of benefit in learning a particular method.”

My younger son reported that he does have a hard time taking notes, but mainly because his handwriting is so slow. If he brings his laptop to class though, he can type amazingly fast – being ambidextrous may be a disadvantage with pen or pencil, but it’s pretty handy with a keyboard! Most of the time, he prefers not to take notes at all because it distracts him from listening to the professor. He listens with intense focus and somehow remembers everything he hears. It depends on what type of course he’s taking as well. Most of his classes now are about math, computer science, physics and music theory. For these topics, it’s more important for him to understand what is happening then to absorb a lot of random facts and figures. Later, while studying or doing homework, he pulls it all together in his notebooks to solve problems.

What about those information dense courses such as history, biology and foreign language? My daughter’s not sure yet if her history teacher’s note-taking requirement will help her remember, but she is a devoted believer in flash cards. For her, making little flash cards for vocabulary words, grammar rules and biology facts really helped her learn the material in past coursework.

What the pros think of taking notes

In an interesting paper called “Note Taking and Learning: A Summary of Research” presented by the WAC (Writing Across the Curriculum) Journal, the authors state that the function of note-taking is twofold: “Note-takers take notes to fulfill two major functions: to record information and/or to aid in reflection.” It’s not surprising that note-taking is really a very complicated skill that requires the student to decide what is important and how to describe it in a few keywords. The very act of note-taking is supposed to help students remember – especially if they transform the original information source and put it in their own words. Summarizing has been shown to be more effective than simply highlighting words in a text.

This paper also summarizes the studies done to evaluate the effectiveness of different methods of note-taking. It seems that recording information in a matrix or keyword tree type diagram is more effective than the outline structure, which in turn is more effective than the linear method used by most students. This means that using the whole page to spatially organize information into categories is more effective than just line after line of abbreviated notes. For examples of what this looks like, please do look up images of this type of note-taking online.

How does this work for homeschooling kids?

I can certainly understand how matrix style note-taking could really help the university student, which is the focus of the WAC Journal paper. And even though homeschooling students don’t typically sit through lectures, I can see how some form of note-taking would help “aid in reflection” as kids process information learned through reading, watching or learning from experience. It also occurred to me that some of our common homeschooling methods already fill that role.

Charlotte Mason style narration for example, asks kids to summarize material learned in their own words, first through oral narration and then written as they get older. There are many other narration methods for kids with different learning styles to transform raw information and put it in a form that is personally meaningful.

Lapbooks, notebooking, foldables, and other forms of paper projects all seem to serve a similar role in helping a student create something unique out of pure information. Another style that might appeal to your kids is visual note-taking or sketchnotes. A little online searching will yield some amazing examples.

As in so many other things, I think the best way for a student to “take notes” and process information will depend on his or her learning style. Show your kids examples of what other people have tried, and see if anything jumps out at them. They might want to try different techniques for that biology textbook or those world history DVDs, all with the objective of retaining and understanding what they learn. Next week I’ll post some examples of cartoon timeline cards my boys made for studying history – humor being their favorite way to spin any subject.

Resource for Great History Books

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I found the following link while searching for good historical fiction:

http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=1359

www.fromoldbooks.org

It is called A Guide to the Best Historical Novels and Tales by Jonathan Nield, courtesy of Project Gutenberg.  Wow!  It makes me want to clear my schedule and just read for the next three years.  Mr. Nield has even included a special section at the end covering recommended literature for youth.  The only problem is he stopped the list at the 19th Century and I was trying to find books about the early 20th Century.

Never mind that – it’s still a great resource!