Learning Resource: Differentiated Lessons for Every Learner

I adore projects and activities that can reflect, enhance, and extend learning.

Projects we’ve tackled over the years include:

  • Mind maps of social studies, science, and literature topics
  • Power point presentations
  • Timelines
  • Models and Kits
  • Lapbooks
  • Videos
  • Activities such as raising butterflies or creating closed terrariums to model the water cycle

It’s difficult though, coming up with projects and activities for the older student, especially in non-science areas.

Until now…

I am very excited to share with you a new resource for middle school:

 Differentiated Lessons for Every Learner


Differentiated Lessons for Every Learner: Standards- Based activities and Extensions for Middle School

I can plan YEARS worth of projects with this book!

The book was sent to me free as a part of Library Thing’s early reviewer program. I became impressed and flooded with ideas within a few moments of thumbing through it. It will be useful for my middle school aged daughter next year,  as well  as an good springboard for ideas with her younger and older siblings.

It offers lesson descriptions that are aligned to “depth of knowledge” levels, as well as Common Core Standards and  National Curriculum standards.  As a home-school teacher, I am not required to follow either, but they can be helpful in planning to meet certain goals as well as end of year paperwork for the state.

Depth of Knowledge

Depth of Knowledge is a leveled way to evaluate learning which “categorizes tasks according to the complexity of thinking required to successfully complete them.” (1)

webbs depth of knowledge

The book provides lessons in English, Math, Science, Social Studies and “special subjects” like Art and foreign language.  The idea is to plan activities and extensions based on the student’s current level of knowledge and ability.

Sample Lesson

For example, in lesson 3:19 “Discovery and Colonization” a level one activity is to “create a series of diary entries of a famous explorer.”  A level two activity is to “Design a mural depicting several aspects of life in a specific colony.”  Level three is to investigate the positives and negatives of exploring and colonization. Level four asks the question, “Do we own what we discover?”

Is it really for every learner?

The writers assume a writing ability my son with a classic autism diagnosis just does not have. I cannot think of a means, even with extra support that could assist him in completing most of these assignments.   Using the lesson mentioned above as an example, asking him to write a diary entry would be too much. I think that students with impairments in language processing, writing, and reading would have similar issues.  However if the student is working at a middle school writing level, the tasks are workable. I do think it would be possible to design more visual, less writing reliant activities using this book as a guide.

These ideas are excellent. As I integrate these ideas into our school day, I’ll get back to you on how they are in actual practice.



Review: How to Raise a Wild Child by Scott Sampson


I love parts of this book.

As a child development grad, nature educator, and mom to six, I agree wholeheartedly that free play is where connection happens. Experiences and environment shape us. I also agree that technology can be a valuable tool to connecting with nature, in moderation. Sampson rightly asserts that we don’t have to know it all but we do need to MODEL a love for nature and inquisitiveness. He describes how important it is not to lead or quiz but ask open questions that further inquiry and communication.

There are excellent suggestions/ideas in this book that include
• Telling nature stories (parent and child telling) both personal, the written word, and of the Universe)
• Watching sunsets, having nature experiences with this child
• Journaling or recording nature with more modern means
• Importance of green and nature play spaces
• Following children’s leads in interests

Sampson mentions Anna Comstock my woman naturalist/educator hero.

How could a nature nut NOT geek out over all of that?

But then…
For a guy who obviously understands the nature of the universe he also falls into assumptions which fail to look at the world complexly, or acknowledge varying degrees of resources and flexibility.

For example, the author suggests that for connection to be made that DAILY free play time in nature is necessary.

What is that you say? You don’t have time with adult responsibilities to be out there with your kids every day? No worries! Mr. Sampson’s idea of free play is both unstructured AND unsupervised! Even for very young children!

In the introduction he blames technology, fear of stranger abduction, urbanization, and litigation for children’s lack of unstructured unsupervised time outdoors.
There ARE safety concerns outside abduction AND parents get reported to cps for ignoring them. Regardless of whether concerns are valid,
unsupervised roaming is no longer accepted by society.

On the flip side, many children in urban environments need MORE time with encouraging adults, not less.

It is entirely possible to have unstructured time that also includes supervision for safety’s sake.

Perhaps Sampson understands this as he goes on to make many suggestions where adult supervision IS present.
Yet even so,
time outside for free play in natural spaces is not something that is attainable daily for most parents, or teachers for many reasons, most of which are out of their control.
A teacher cannot say, “Screw teaching to the test! I’m taking these kids outside!” and expect to keep getting a paycheck.
A working parent (especially lower income without M-F 9-5 hours) often doesn’t have the resources in terms of time, or energy.

Another issue, is that like kids in nature book authors before him, there is a casual linking of children’s mental disorders to too much time indoors. Of course ADHD gets mentioned without any real understanding of the nature of the disorder. I would suggest, as a scientist, he have a good look at those “studies” and consider their small sample sizes and lack of follow up. I also wish he would go out to his nature spot have a good think about the danger of this irresponsible linking in terms of stigmatizing kids (and their caregivers) who live with childhood disorders.

(amazon star system – 3 stars)

Happy Earth Day !

Hello lovelies,

I hope your Earth Day was awesome.

Did you know that sea stars internal systems are rather complex for such little creatures?

I didn’t.



Today we planted seeds in one raised bed, and our flowers from the Green Fest in the other.

DSCN9985 DSCN9986 DSCN9987 DSCN9990\

Soon we’ll start our other containers.

What I’ve been up to:

  • Dealing with daily phone calls and run around from several city offices concerning a housing code problem. I haven’t shared much on here about that. Its eaten up my entire April and taken most of my “spoons,” and isn’t over as yet.
  • Preparing the final paperwork, reports for each child for the school year, due next week! When complete I share a few with you.
  • Reading “How to Raise A Wild Child the Art and Science of Falling In Love with Nature” (review coming next week, after those reports are in the mail)
  • Working on Sherlockian things  and studying more about media representation of mental disability
  • All the normal stuff we do

This stuff, especially the BS with the city of Baltimore, has affected my blogging and other aspects of online life.

Hopefully, we’ll be back into our usual pattern, or establish a new one very soon.



Book review: “Zeus is Dead: A Monstrously Inconvenient Adventure” by Michael Munz


I don’t think it too much of a spoiler to tell you that Zeus was dead to begin with. It goes without saying then he was REAL as well and had put himself and the rest of the also very real pantheon on what was intended to be a permanent hiatus. When he dies, all Olympus breaks loose upon the present day complete with squabbling siblings, grotesque monsters, cupid arrows, spinning fates, and sundaes.

It’s what I expected.

Apollo is buried in email.

Muse Thalia is fed up with script writers and producers mangling literature.

There are deadly bat winged, poison spitting kittens flying about.

Monster hunting reality shows are a thing.

Did I like it?



I really enjoyed this book. I haven’t read a fictional/fantasy comedy I’ve enjoyed this much since Douglas Adams. Usually I get a few chapters in and just fizzle. This one I read in my free time till it was done. I liked it that much.

Munz continuously breaks the fourth wall down to a pile of rubble. There are many references to ancient greek and modern geek culture, but they are not necessary to know it to enjoy the book.

Not only is it all you would expect from ancient gods in modern life, it’s a rather intricate story line with a fun mystery. I couldn’t in my wildest dreams imagined the ending.

How does it rate from a Disability Perspective?

My readers know I always look at media from a disability perspective. I have panned books that had merit because they failed miserably in this.

Like much of present day culture the book contains ableist language from “wheelchair bound” to “idiot.” (People are not “bound” to wheelchairs, they are tools of independence, this is better conveyed by using the term “wheelchair user”)

It also, unless I am remembering incorrectly, does not contain any disabled characters.

That said, I did not find anything about it glaringly offensive. If I had it’d be in the recycle bin.

Is it a book for kids?


Just as the original uncensored myths are not for children, (I lost count of the number of disemboweling in the Iliad) so too are the modern goings on best left to the thirteen and up crowd.

Before I finished the book, my teenager (a fan of myth, comedy, and a budding writer of both) began reading it.

I told the boy, “Its got profanity in it. I’m sure you’ve heard those words before but just to review, You must never say these words in polite company, and don’t let me ever hear you call someone an idiot.”


If the others are interested in reading it, they’ll have to wait till older.

My six year found the deadly kitten creatures on the cover “adorable.” She was disappointed when I told her there were no plushie toys available.



Frozen assets, visual clutter, strange charm of twitter, and wasted pulp

Morning Minions!

I hope your week went well.

Remember when I complained about the rain?

Well its cold here now, so I shall complain about that.

At -11F, its cold enough to freeze your Winnebago.  Prior to the subzero temps this week, we had our first snow of the year and winter thus far.


As you can see we played in the snow a bit,


nommy snow.

but spent most of the week organizing bedrooms.

I also began organizing and planning in the work room for our next school session.

  A robust lower elementary environment is taking shape, however I find I need to reduce the visual clutter going on for my sensory sensitive students.

Everything is always a work in progress.

 I also continue to try to understand twitter.

My followers are growing but I find it odd how most of them do not and have not ever interacted with me personally. When I see yet another new follower who doesn’t seem to be the least bit interested in what I tweet about,  I think to myself,  “But WHY?” or sometimes “WHO ARE YOU, and WHAT DO YOU WANT?”

I’m pretty sure that’s not a productive attitude to have towards followers, but there you go.

Desiring a “followback” or to sell or promote something only explains for a small percentage of them. I suspect they may think I’m far more useful or important than I am.

Most perplexing follow this week: a diner restaurant in Michigan, which is some distance away.

I did participate in a great twitter chat concerning disability in film. If you twit and like film, you may be interested in joining next week – Saturday 9pm Eastern standard time, under the hashtag #filmdis.

Writing wise I’ve been working on my presentation for a Sherlockian thing in June, and doing research for a different writing project. I have also written and submitted my review for the absolutely horrid children’s motivational book “Same is Lame.” The book is such a waste of paper I don’t want to devote a blog post on it. Reading long complaints about the weather is actually a better use of your time.

In other news:

My neuroscience course has been postponed by Duke U., and one of the lighter/striker thingies on a burner of my gas stove isn’t lighting,

It’s a wild wild life.

Happy Happy Cat Cuddles, Paperwork and MOOC.

Good Morning and Happy New Year’s Eve!

Break Time and Relaxed Goals

Like everyone else, we are on a winter break from school. We’ve been doing a little bit of nothing.

DSCN0089 (2)

Patrick chillin with “mouse.”

Unlike everyone else, due to our year round schedule, we will be on that break until nearly February.  We will still be working and playing and learning, but the typical schedule will be gone for a month for more freer exploration.  We’ll work on health related goals and  creative projects. The kids received some awesome brain building presents this year, especially in terms of visual processing, but also problem solving and STEM.

So we shall play.


the children will play.

I have to work on reporting paperwork for the state.


I AM excited about SOME work though.

Visual Mapping and the MOOC

In a week my first neuroscience  course with Duke starts up.

I’ve never tried a mooc before.

It is part of a verified coursera specialization, “Perception, Action, and the Brain.”

perception action

At first I thought I’d start a new blog to log my learning, but I believe I can cover it with just a new section (top tab) on this site. It will be a good example of using visual mapping methods.  I use them for both myself and with the children as it appeals to us more than standard note taking or outlining.

I’m also excited about writing.

I have three book reviews to write this month.  One is scathing, one is positive, and another is mixed.  I’m also thinking of doing some recommendations for older books that are just really damn good.

My personal writing goal for this month “off” is 2000 words a day in made of bi-weekly blog posts, a presentation I’m writing for a Sherlockian conference I’m slated to talk at in June, book reviews mentioned, and another writing project having to do with autism and the media.

It seems like a great deal to do. It probably is. However, I thrive best very busy and with a plan.

So heres to January, and 2015.







“Experiences in Self Determined Learning” Book Review Part 1


Morning internet!

How is your Saturday going?

I need to fix a leaky faucet today.

I know I know, its a wild and crazy life I lead.


It’s something I’ve never done. I’ve been reading and watching tutorials though, and with the help of a friend, intend to give it a go.

It’ll be a learning experience, which I hope wont end in a scene like this:


How do you like to learn?

I have described myself in the past as an autodidact.   An autodidact is one who teaches oneself.

Topics about which I consider myself advanced, yet still learning:

  • Autism
  • Cognitive Development (my degree)

I am moderately versed in:

  • information theory,
  • systems theory,
  • chaos theory,
  • set theory

(which I see as all being very related, like the different sides of a pyramid, system theory being the foundation)

  • biology
  • representation of disability in the media
  • learning/teaching (learning is the process of the learner, whether or not they are being expressly “taught”)

I am rather green at but still learning:

  • photography (I’ve been learning more about lighting lately)
  • entomology (bugs!)
  • disability rights


I have taught myself art, to play the tin whistle,  as well as other hobbies.

This is not bragging, though it may seem so. I am aware that I am not an expert at much of anything and quite ignorant concerning much more.

When I want to learn something new, I go about accessing information via the web in text like blogs and articles, in video, in researching the type of print material I may attempt to find, as well as the occasional online tutorial or class. I also try to find a way to create something of my own in order to aid processing, connection building and so long term memory.  Then, I like to share it.

As I discussed  in my technology vlog last week, this is the way many go about learning now, especially the latest generation who are growing up with a never before seen amount of information via technology.


It’s been pointed out by the pedantic, that this method  is not  autodidactic because I am accessing other people’s work, sometimes taking courses, and networking as a means of learning. None of that learning is “self.”  They have a point.  Yet, I’ve never managed to find  a better word for my method of learning until now.

Thanks to Lauren at “Teacher Learns to Code” I was introduced to the book “Experiences in Self Determined Learning.”


This book, describes the method of learning I have  relied on since I became literate  and which really bloomed with the internet.  This learning is heutagogy.

The book contains numerous sources and avenues for further learning, provides examples of how self determined learning occurs, and how it can be encouraged in a variety of environments. It also discusses moving learners more used to traditional methods into the self determined approach.

This is extremely useful to me.

As a homeschooler, this is not the method my children use to learn.

Our homeschool is guided by choice within structure,  relies on Montessori principles, and is customized to the needs of each of the kids. I consider myself a facilitator and not a traditional teacher.

Yet, I would like the children, especially my almost high school aged son, to be even more involved in their learning to the point of self determination.

Keep in mind, this is not unschooling as we have set subjects and time set aside for learning.

I have  record keeping requirements I must fulfill in order to homeschool.

This often clashes with a desire to build self efficacy through achieving goals.  It doesn’t seem to fit with wanting them to be as independent as possible.  I yearn for a way to do so and yet still check off all the requirements AND work in things I do find important.

This book is  helping me think on just how possible it could be to do both.

I am 3/4  a way through, and intend to give it a nice thorough traditional  book review once finished. (this will be the part where I create to better process)

Until then I will say,

IF you wish you could work on giving yourself or your students more independence and increased motivation in the learning process, this book would be a good addition to your library.

To get an overview I recommend reading a blog post by  the  chapter author Jackie Gerstein, concerning her contribution to the book.

Now, to battle with water valves…pray for me.  😉








Book to screenplay – “Slight Trick of the Mind” and “The Enigma”

Hello again.  I did not get to the vlog yesterday, I was simply too exhausted after a very poor night sleep and attending a three hour Baker Street irregular scion society event. It was fun but ughhh. That vlog is coming soon. I decided I’d write some reviews this morning.

Do you read the books prior to seeing the movie???

I’m one of those people that reads the book prior to the movie these days. This is perhaps not always a good idea.

I finished Lord of the Rings prior to the second Peter Jackson movie release. I MAY have enjoyed seeing elves at Helms Deep if I didn’t know THERE WERE NO ELVES AT HELMS DEEP.

It just wasn’t meant to happen to poor Haldir. *sniff*

I am interested in seeing  “Mr. Holmes”staring Ian McKellen,  an adaptation of the book “Slight Trick of the Mind,” by Mitch Cullin.  On the list of must see is “The Imitation Game” staring Benedict Cumberbatch, a movie based on the book “The Engima” by Andrew Hodges.

And so, bad elven memories aside, I read them.



“A Slight Trick of the Mind” is set in post WW2 Britain (and Japan) finding Holmes retired and bee keeping on Sussex Downs. While there is a main timeline to the story, the chapters jump around from one reminiscence to another and then back to Holmes’ present. Sherlock is losing his memory, and the confusion he experiences may well be experienced somewhat by the reader due to the layout of chapters.

Many previous reviews point out that this isn’t a typical Sherlock Holmes mystery and that those wanting one should look elsewhere. This is true. I was hoping, really hoping, for a good, interesting mystery, that isn’t there. However, I found myself not really minding.


The book was rich in details and Holmes was spot on character wise. I could picture the characters in their settings and didn’t find anything objectionable about the portrayal of Sherlock. While not at all what I was expecting, I read the book cover to cover in a day, getting very emotional at times as the book’s themes were familiar to me.

Holmes’ loss of memory is not the only focus. Through the aged Sherlock, the author explores fear, abandonment, suicide, and death. Loss is a mystery we all experience, that not even Holmes can solve. If that isn’t something you want to spend time thinking about, skip it.

As far as the movie, I will see it. I am still hoping they write a little bit more of a mystery in it.



(mine is an older copy with a different cover)

I got through “The Enigma” only recently.

When I say I “got through” I mean it. Being 540 pages of very small print, it was conquered over weeks. Most certainly, it was not a quiet Sunday afternoon’s read like “Slight Trick of the Mind.”

It was worth it.

Alan Turing was a fascinating person with a very rich story which Hodge’s provides in the form of anecdotes from family and colleagues, letters written by Turing, and very fine detail of the time and society in which Alan lived.

Alan’s childhood, in particular tugged at my heart strings, being familiar enough to my own experiences, and traits I see in my eldest son, I felt it easy to put myself in his shoes.

(Alan Turing was not, that we will ever know, autistic. It is important to NOT jump to that conclusion. Yet he was, most certainly, different.)

I found it parts amusing, and parts heart wrenching. I found myself angry that we didn’t learn about this man in school.

My only criticism of the book is that often times the book departs away from Alan’s story into long tangents about the development of math theories, and highly technical descriptions concerning cryptology (cryptography and cryptoanalysis as well). As a person born the 1970’s, I appreciated the historical explanation of the significance of the cryptology and the attention to the intricacy of Mr. Turing’s projects. YET, I often felt lost, uninterested or confused while reading the long discussions of different theories. I think much of the book was written for people with backgrounds in maths and cryptology, not the average reader.

I hear that the movie has been criticized for not enough explanation or being simplistic but frankly, I understand the desire to not bore or hopelessly confuse the audience. The important part is Mr. Turing as a person, which I hope they get right. If early reviews mean anything, it seems they have.

I would recommend this book to someone wanting to know more about Alan Turing, while also recommending skipping the technical parts if need be.

Do you like reading books that movies are adapted from?  Any favorites? Are there any movies based on books that disappoint you? Do you know a movie that is BETTER than the book?

Have Canoe, Will Drift- Nature Quest Fest

Nature Quest 2014 is done!

This past Saturday was the “Nature Quest Fest” for families who completed at least five trails in Baltimore County’s “Nature Quest” which included drawings for prizes and a grand prize for participants that completed nine or more.

We didn’t reach our goal of nine, mostly because of weather/transportation issues. I didn’t take two of the boys to the fest because I felt that they wouldn’t enjoy themselves, or be able to manage that long of a day.  I respect their sensory issues enough not to try to force them into something they wouldn’t enjoy just for the sake of “family togetherness.”

Quest Fest included the usual food and face painting as well as activities put on by the different parks.

We looked at reptiles,


and painted with dye made from black walnut hulls.


I plan on giving this a try at home, if I get to it, it will be blogged.


We also looked at   Native American instruments/tools, and tried our hand at archery with  a basic bow design.


Bee found it much more challenging than her usual bow, but she hit the target!

They also offered free canoeing on the dam lake.


See everyone happy?  Happiness turned to frustration about twenty minutes later because huge gusts of  wind were blowing us all over the lake. When I had us righted again, we’d paddle awhile, and then again the wind would blow us off course.  Bee was front paddler and began to get very tired fighting the drifting of the canoe. I was as well.  We ended up needing towed back to dock.They found getting towed kind of exciting.

Afterwards, we went in search of food.  Myself and the two I didn’t bring have diagnosed gluten allergy, and as  predicted, there was nothing there gluten free save for potato chips. It is  not typical for organizers to have the time or resources to  consider all possible allergies.

We did win something, a gift basket from Oregon Ridge Nature Center including a bird feeder, t shirts, ball cap, and some of their honey and maple syrup!


Aidan and Bee are already talking about “next year.” I’ll be happy getting back to hiking at our more local parks, but am definitely up for doing it  again.



Book Review – Their Name is Today

Their Name is Today: Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World by Johann Christoph Arnold (Plough Publishing House)


I was sent this book for free from the publisher as a part of library thing’s early reviewer program.  The author’s beliefs concerning God, and  also what makes a family differ a great deal from my own. While the author is perfectly entitled to his own opinions, supporting he or the publisher with my purchase would not happen.  The chance that profit from my purchase could be used for  spreading beliefs and ideals against my own is too high.

Yet, I felt a responsibility as a reviewer to read and review the book based on its own merit, regardless of how I differ in world view  from the author.  My criticisms are based on my experience and qualification as a parent, scholar, and one-time  bullied child.


The good bits of his book are themes repeated throughout  concerning:

*the importance of unstructured play

* the importance of hands on experience/trial and error, learning from mistakes

*the need for good adult role models

*childhood as a time  that should be without the stress of overscheduling, achievement/safety obsessed parenting (say no to the tiger mom), or  the stresses of an adult world

*that medicating children should be used as last resort, as changes can be made to environment

*testing/standards focused education making little room for addressing individual needs or time for free exploration.

I agree wholeheartedly.


BUT this good stuff was outweighed by:


*Solutions the author suggests are in no way unique to those suggested in numerous magazines and books on the same subject.

*Much like “Last child in the Woods” (link to my review) this author reminisces about  and romanticizes a childhood that simply isn’t the reality of the average 21st century child or family.

*Every chapter was filled to the brim with anecdote that the author then used to make generalizations.

*He seemed to really be addressing a very specific audience, one that shared his world view and socioeconomic class.

*Citations were often links to other people’s opinion pieces, similarly themed books,  or news articles about studies in some cases, non-definitive (correlation is not causation) or only slightly related to the topic.

That leads us to:


People make my brain hurt.


In an anecdote a mother talks about how her teen told her that “he is comfortable talking to people on the computer because he does not get bullied.” She goes on to call what her son says was bullying as “awkward childhood moments” being “opportunity for growth.” That maybe, just maybe, if he hadn’t been online, he’d have better social skills.

Interesting anecdote. To my knowledge  there is no study saying online communication causes problems with face to face social skills. The author certainly doesn’t cite one.

I was bullied from elementary through high school. It  didn’t  teach me social skills. Those “awkward childhood moments” of being spat on, pelted with rocks, and sexually harassed did teach me something. I learned fear, shame, and self-hate. Oh how it would have been nice to have the internet back then and to have been able to connect with people who understood.


Arnold tries to say internet research where children have access to the libraries of the world is poor, and somehow not spending time in a limited resourced library creates lazy students.

While teaching how to find good resources is necessary, saying that internet research is limiting is preposterous.

For a fellow interested in solid research, he really drops the ball with this:

“Many children find themselves unable to communicate with a real person who requires a thoughtful verbal response. More and more children arrive at preschool with speech difficulties; some do not speak at all. Since this is a diagnosable trait in autism spectrum, how many children may be categorized as autistic when they have simply not had the opportunity to learn human interaction?”


So lets get this straight…

Technology=less social skills=autism?????

Even if he were right regarding technology and social skills (and he isn’t) poor social skills does not equal autism. Autism is a neuro-developmental condition that research shows is present at birth and leads to significant differences in brain development especially in the first year. There is far more to it than merely communication or social skills issues and autism would not be diagnosed merely on speech delay.

Further autistics, because of difficulty (in varying degrees) with spoken face to face communication, benefit from having technology as alternate means of communication both online and in day to day life.

The author hasn’t done his research.  We face stigma and ignorance and  here he encourages a common dangerous misconception.

This book gets one star…its already in the recycle bin and filed in my mind under  “ableist crap.”