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.



Fossil Hunting at Calvert Cliffs

the shorline

the shoreline

We’ve been focusing on Earth Science the last few months, and most recently, learning about fossils.

Friday we drove down to Chesapeake beach to fossil hunt near the cliffs. Fossilized shark teeth are a common find.

some random dude and a view of the cliffs -miocene formation in southern Maryland

some random dude and a view of the cliffs -miocene formation in southern Maryland

The cliffs are off limits for digging as officials are worried about landslides and injury, but people comb the beach at the low tide looking to see what fossils may have been washed free.



Pete sifts the sand looking for fossilized shark teeth

Pete sifts the sand looking for fossilized shark teeth




We sifted and dug and searched for two hours and found one small fragment of fossilized shell.

Lily gives it a go

Lily gives it a go

While it was disappointing the kids enjoyed the search. We want to go back on another warm day in April or May.



Tessa exploring

Tessa explores

Spring Planning

Two months to go

We have two months left of the school year. We’ll break for May and start back up in June with a modified summer schedule.  I believe we’ll nix most indoor studies and spend as much time outdoors as time allows.

Before summer though, comes spring,  and like last year, I’m in planning mode.

Goal one: Plan and plant this year’s pollinator garden


We had a good amount of bees and butterflies attracted to our pollinator garden last year.  I want to add some swamp milkweed to the bed. We also have plans to grow herbs and mint in containers.

Goal two: plan and create a shade loving garden for the front yard

Being a northern exposure with light blocked by the homes across the street, the front yard is always in the shade and somewhat cooler than other sides of the house. I want to plant a front bed with native shade loving flowers.

Goal three: to observe and photograph Moth Emergence


I already have a robin moth (Hyalophora cecropia) cocoon in the basement. I haven’t decided if I will photograph and release or keep it for its full life span and then try framing it.  I’d love to get a Luna moth cocoon as well.

Goal Four: start nature quest 2016


It’s almost time to grab another quest booklet and tackle Nature Quest 2016. This will be our third year participating in the hiking program run by Baltimore County Parks and Recreation.

personal goals

For myself I want to work on my writing more AND get out to photograph butterflies more. Specifically, this blog needs more attention.

I also have my homeschool paperwork to complete and turn in. I’m doing slightly better at it then previous years when I spent all of April in a panic. I will probably STILL spend April in a panic but hopefully not AS panicky as usual. 😀

How about you? What are your spring plans?



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Following the Fossil Evidence (Early Elementary Science)

Happy Friday all!

It’s slowly getting to be Spring.

I cannot wait!

We need to get outside.

Just like last year on this date, I have some spring learning plans percolating in my brain.

Till then, we continue to cover Earth and Physical Science topics.

Continental Drift

Late January into February  we studied the layers of the earth, the crust, and platectonics.


This continental drift puzzle from LabAids shows how fossil and sedimentary rock are evidence that the continents used to be one.

This study flowed rather easily to the study of fossils as evidence of the past, as well as dinosaurs and past eras of life.

Concepts and Themes

  • Definition of a fossil,
  • Types and examples of fossils
  • Fossils as evidence of the past
  • Eras of the Earth
  • Decay
  • Petrification, imprints, molds and casts
  • Dinosaur extinction
  • Types of dinosaurs and other extinct prehistoric animals (traits, comparison)
  • Evidence over opinion and myth

Fossil Activities

We made our own dinosaur tracks


We also looked up photos of real dinosaur tracks.

With these activities from the American Geosciences Institute,

we made a petrified sponge “bone,”

DSCN0043 DSCN9990


and plaster cast/mold “fossils”




We also looked at a piece of petrified wood.

For videos we watched the Bill Nye the science guy episodes  “Fossils” and “Dinosaurs”
and the Magic School Bus episode “Busasaurus”

Books we read were:

DK Eyewonder “Dinosaurs”
How Big Were Dinosaurs?

The littles have also been binge watching Dinosaur Train on Netflix.

Next week we’ll take advantage of the warmer weather to go Fossil Hunting at Calvert Cliffs.


To Be “Normal”

To be or not to be, Normal?

As a writer for Quora I answered questions primarily for autism and mental health topics.
One question, I don’t remember it exactly but, it went something like:
“Should people with mental disorders wait until they are normal again to have relationships?”
I wasn’t in the mood for a nuanced argument that day, and began my answer with:
“I’m not “normal” and I never will be.”
He didn’t like my answer, to put it mildly.  He was simply astounded I wouldn’t  want to be normal nor have any shame that I wasn’t.

“Normal” is a 19th century idea brought to you by this dude:


  An out of work astronomer by the name of Quetelet
He decided to take data collected in censuses and surveys (also 19th century inventions) and apply the mathematics of astronomy to the data in order to determine averages.
Astronomers believed that every individual measurement of a celestial object (such as one scientist’s measurement of the speed of Saturn) always contained some amount of error, yet the amount of aggregate error across a group of individual measurements (such as many different scientists’ measurements of the speed of Saturn, or many different measurements by a single scientist) could be minimized by using the average measurement. In fact, a celebrated proof by the mathematician Carl Gauss appeared to demonstrate that an average measurement was as close to a measurement’s true value (such as the true speed of Saturn) as one could ever hope to get. Quetelet applied the same thinking to his interpretation of human averages: He declared that the individual person was synonymous with error, while the average person represented the true human being.
Before that, people were not compared to each other but to the ideal (perfection of god, those we felt represented god) where all but a few were found lacking. They lived their lives pursuing a goal of heaven or enlightenment.
History shows this is not necessarily a better attitude, yet the shift made way for rather darker ideas of the worth of those who for whatever reason were deemed  abnormal or less.

Genetic Fitness

In the same century as this development Francis Galton,  Darwin’s cousin, whom Darwin disagreed with I might add, decided to apply Darwin’s studies of plants and animals to people.   His work was the root of the modern Eugencis movement and is still alive and well today.  At its core Eugenics puts forward the philosophy that certain traits are more ideal and make a person more genetically “fit.” Some have gone as far as trying to engineer the perfect society by encouraging child bearing among the “fit” and discouraging it through various means from propaganda to sterilization and murder.


from wikipedia: The Black Stork is a 1917 motion picture written by and starring Harry J. Haiselden, the chief surgeon at the German-American Hospital in Chicago. The Black Stork is Haiselden’s fictionalized account of his eugenic infanticide of the child John Bollinger. The film was re-released in 1927 under the title Are You Fit to Marry?


The ideas of both Quetelet and Galton influence cultural thinking today

Even if we don’t necessarily agree with Galton, or know or believe that there really is a “norm” of humankind, we let these idea influence our thinking.

We compare ourselves and others against the perceived new view of perfection, the ideal traits, the cultural expectations we deem “normal.”

It still influences how we view people with disabilities and mental disorders and any others perceived to be “abnormal.”

You might be thinking at this point,

“but Amanda, Surely, there are typical people?”

Oh yes sure, but even “typical” people are nuanced individuals who don’t fit the mold of “normal” with perfection.

Also,  I don’t believe you can rate people’s worth as better or less based on measurement of any kind,

not in accomplishments or lack,

not in test scores,

not in contribution to economy

and certainly,

NOT in culturally preferred traits.

People are people.

No better or less than others.

The pursuit of happiness however one defines it shouldn’t be put on hold because we don’t meet an imaginary ideal.



almost like us

sharing from “loveexplosions”

love explosions

This morning I was reading the Valentine’s messages given to Evelyn by her classmates.  Because of the similarities in the messages (and that they are on pre-printed paper), I’m assuming that the students were instructed to write a thoughtful message.  I imagine that they were asked to think of something special about each classmate.  Most of the messages were wonderful and I found myself smiling.

image Image is a piece of pink paper with preprinted lines. There is text written in pencil written by a child which reads: “To Evie you are really good with your ipad And you are almost just like us.” The text is followed by a heart and smiley face.

And then?  I read this.

“To Evie you are really good with your ipad And you are almost just like us.”

Remember “evelyn: you in a box”?

Remember the big stink I made about compliance training

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Routine changes (Autism, flexibility and routines)

Morning dear readers,

I hope you all are staying warm.

New routines and changes have been an obstacle to writing of late, but I am hoping to work it back in.

Change and stress, but no meltdowns

I like routine to our day for its predictability. It leaves me without the stress of the unknown, my greatest anxiety producing obstacle. 

The National Autism Society (UK) states that:

“Many people with autism have a strong preference for routines and sameness. Routines often serve an important function – they introduce order, structure and predictability and help to manage anxiety. Because of this, it can be very distressing if a person’s routine is disrupted.”

I find myself best capable of dealing with changes if I have time to react and adapt. I think through possible ways plans can go awry.

Unexpected variables can throw my entire day.

value of xJenni-in-a-Calmer-Moment

My children each deal with changes in routine differently. My child most upset by routine changes doesn’t have a diagnosis. She can feel distressed when she isn’t on schedule.

My child deemed most impaired  is generally not upset about changes. He has for example, a routine of getting a bath after lunch. He will remind and then insist on one, all the way to stripping to make a point. However, when we have something else to do I tell him and he copes.

Though there is stress, meltdowns  rarely occur I think mostly because:

  • our routine is set naturally to patterns that emerge rather than to trying to fit life into something preset
  • known changes are discussed ahead of time
  • unexpected things are explained
  • contingency plans are made and discussed
  • beyond a basic framework, our schedule is not rigid

What is our Daily Routine now?

Monday through Thursday we’ve settled into  a fairly predictable pattern.

I usually wake up without an alarm between 5 and 6am.

Then I spend time sitting and reading online articles.

I also drink vast quantities of tea in the morning.

While it seems wasteful, if it were raining this woman could open her mouth and let the tea run in.










Between 7 and 8:

  • shower
  • dress
  • walk the doggie
  • make sure the kids have breakfast

Between 8 and 9

  • make the littles dress/brush teeth
  • help Pete
  • make breakfast for Kevin and I
  • read more internet

Between 9 and 12

Aidan and Little Bee are for the most part independent, working from their own work schedules. For them I:

  • facilitate via discussion/questions/assisting with problems
  • provide resources, activities, labs
  • assign and check  reading/work

Chess is an approved school time activity. The stuffed doggie won btw.








For the littles and Pete I shift back and forth between

  • lessons with the littles
  • one on one with Pete
  • lessons with all three at once

Patrick works on math








We are generally done by noon.

Noon to about 1:30 – 2

  • make lunch
  • eat lunch
  • walk the doggie
  • help with afternoon baths

From then on to about 6

If there isn’t some place to be I then work on writing, paid work, paperwork, etc.

From 6 – 9

  • make dinner
  • walk the doggie
  • clean something
  • chill with Kevin and kids

Lately Kevin and I have been watching an hour of Classic Doctor Who with Aidan and Bee.


Instead of turned off, they’ve been rather fascinated by how low tech it is.

I get the littles to bed by nine, Pete and the rest by ten and I am not far behind.

Is routine helpful or harmful?

In the end I believe routine is a good stress reducing tool, but that it is necessary to learn other coping techniques for inevitable change and unexpected events.

Feel free to comment below about your need (or lack) of routine.  Do you find it helps or hinders?


An apology to my autistic students…

reblogging from “Someone’s Mum”

Someone's Mum

I am sorry. I am a good human being – a good teacher, I think. I listen, I learn, I strive to be better. I know it is a great responsibility to shape young minds, young opinions. I thought I knew what it means to teach a pupil with autism. But experience has given me something knowledge never could and I am sorry; now I begin to understand.

Before I was the mother to my son – my son who I now know is autistic – I thought you might struggle to imagine as vividly as others. I see now that isn’t so; your minds can be quick and bright and colourful – like exotic birds, beautiful but unusual. Sometimes you just struggle to imagine things that are governed by the expectations, the minds, of others.

Before, I knew that some of you might find relationships difficult. I thought your emotions ran differently…

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Wonderfully informative video from Autism Ontario with Michael McCreary

from the video description:

This video, which features the incredible Michael McCreary, is a wonderful introduction to autism spectrum disorder. The video was created to support customer service professionals when they provide services or support to people with ASD; however the positive response from the general public has been overwhelming. This video is so accessible and entertaining, it offers something for everyone.

So please watch and share. We want everyone to understand autism and to see the potential!