Variation and Classification Topic Pack

My daughter really enjoys Biology (she is already saying she wants to do it as a GCSE subject or in our case probably IGCSE), she even gets Biology linked books out of the library to read just for fun. But when we covered variation it just did not sit right with her. I could see that she did not feel as comfortable with the topic as she does with other Biology topics and I knew we needed to revisit it or find something to reinforce the concepts. So recently when I was on the Oaka Book site looking at some Chemistry resources I happened to spot their Variation and Classification topic pack and I immediately asked them for a copy. And total confession we are suppose to just be just focusing on Chemistry at the moment and leaving the other Sciences but I just had this gut feeling that we needed to go back and revisit the Variation topic. So as soon as our pack arrived we opened it and started going through it. And boy am I glad we did because she went from having that uneasy feeling about variation, like she was missing something to actually smiling.

So why do I think going back to a topic that we had covered and not just moving on with our current Chemistry was so important? Surely I should be trying to focus on Chemistry and not allow myself to get side tracked? How am I ever going to finish our Chemistry if I interrupt it?

Well, my thoughts are this – I would rather do something slowly, thoroughly and make sure that the kids understand it and can happily chat about the topic than race through and cover everything possible. It is giving them that confidence that they know in themselves that they understand something and that confidence then means they are not nervous to try and answer questions about it. And really we did the pack over 3 days and now we are going back to our Chemistry. So 3 days and we have managed to get rid of that niggly feeling that she did not really understand a topic. That is 3 days well spent (just to clarify when I say 3 days I mean we also did other learning activities in those 3 days, we just did this pack as our Science activity over the 3 days).

So what is covered in the Variation and Classification pack

  • What is variation
  • what is a specie
  • Inherited variation and environmental variation
  • Discontinuous variation and continuous variation
  • Using bar graphs vs using Histograms and the Bell shape
  • 5 major Kingdoms
  • 5 Animal Kingdoms
  • How to classify animals as belonging to each animal kingdom
  • Vertebrates and Invertebrates
  • Different invertebrates
  • Taxonomic classification and keys.

The notes are in a summarized block format. Easy to read and really well worded. My daughter really liked the sections about the Discontinuous and Continuous variations and the graphs. I think this was what was causing the problem. And in these notes the concise, explanation was just what she needed.

The write your own notes are exactly the same as the topic booklet but with words missing which the kids need to fill in (if you have not used one of these packs before they use the exact same images in the topic booklet and right your own notes which helps to reinforce everything).

With this set we actually did the Classification section first (purely because I know my daughter knows all of this backwards and could answer it in her sleep) and then we moved onto working through the Variation pages really slowly. We would read about 2 pages together, discuss it, and then she would complete the Write your own notes.

Once we had finished we played the game (which is always a huge hit in our house).

I have been a big fan of these topic packs for a long time. We don’t use them in isolation we use them together with other sources but what I am finding over and over again is often these packs contain the explanation that is just so well-worded that we get that “light-bulb” moment.

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Vocabulary workbooks for KS3

We started using the Get It Right series at the start of my daughter’s Year 7 – we were using the Get It Right Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar workbook 1. It was so useful, easy to use and had just the right kind of activities that we progressed onto the second Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar workbook for her Year 8. So a few months ago when I noticed that Oxford University Press where putting together a Get It Right Vocabulary series I immediately contacted them and said we would love to review it.

About 2 weeks ago the first Get It Right workbook arrived on our doorstep. And it is honestly just as easy to use as the Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar series and just as much of a pleasure to work through. Plus they have kindly uploaded the answers to their website, so you don’t need to buy an answer book. (As my daughter has gotten older I have really understood the value of having model answers, it gives them more independence to do their work, check their work and just come and ask questions when they need too.)

So the format – one word over a double page.

They start off by explaining the word, then there is an activity around making sure the kids understand the meaning of the word, followed by an expanding the meaning activity (think synonyms and antonyms, positive and negative connotations, prefixes) and finally a third activity about using the word in context.

The pages are colourful and inviting to read without being overwhelming (this is always a important for us as my daughter is a visual learner but she also get overwhelmed if too much is crammed onto the page or if there are too many bright, overpowering colours – with this book they find the right balance).

It is a straight forward format, but it just make sense. The kids can spend 10 minutes or so doing a double page and really getting to grips with a word. So when they come across it in a reading activity they truly get the meaning and hopefully they will then also be more confident in using that word in their own writing. So a simple activity but one that I think is very powerful and one that I think is incredibly useful in making sure the kids have a good foundation for all their subjects (because a good vocabulary is really needed in ALL subjects not just English).

In terms of what is covered in Workbook1. I will admit that the words might have been a little bit on the easy side for my daughter and I have had a look at the words in workbook 2 and think they actually are the right level for her. But having said that my daughter and I discussed it and she wants to work through workbook 1 (she is going through it quite quickly) because she just wants that confidence of knowing that she understands how to use these words and she thinks working through the first workbook and then going onto the second one will improve her writing.

The words in the book are split into four categories and there are 9 words for each category (which means you get 36 words in a book).

  • Conflict and control – fury, sacrifice, peril, malice, adversary, ruthless, persistent, conceal and deceit.
  • Mood and tone – solemn, hostile, melancholy, bleak, apprehensive, sinister, incredulous, elated and foreboding.
  • Individual and society – moral, virtuous, sentiment, civilised, prejudice, benevolent, betray, industrious and inferior.
  • Analysis and explanation – observe, contrast, characterise, portray, evaluate, context, conventional, imply and ambiguous.

I really do think it is a useful workbook and one that is going to help the kids understanding and answering of questions in all their subjects. We are planning on working through all 3 of the workbooks and I can already say with certainty that my son will also be going through these in about a year or so.

You can get the workbook directly from the OUP website – set of 15 workbooks or you can buy them individually from Amazon – Get It Right: Boost Your Vocabulary Workbook 1

Admin – like I mentioned above I requested a review copy and I was kindly sent one. All opinions expressed are that of my tester (ie daughter) and myself. I do sometimes include Affiliate links. If you follow an affiliate link and go on to purchase that product, I will be paid a very small commission, however your cost will remain the same. I only include affiliate links for products that we use and love.

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Scarlet Ibis

The first time we ever came across the author Gill Lewis was last year when someone kindly recommended her book Sky Hawk. The kids and I read it together and loved everything about the book. We actually used it as one of our English Literature books (you can download a free pack to go with the book). Everything about the story just really resonated with both of my kids. They loved the way she wove an animal story into a story about human relationships, they really felt the sad moments (someone died) and rejoiced in the happy moments. I knew we wanted to get more of her books, but with all the lockdowns happening, reserving books from our library and getting the ones that are really popular has been a bit challenging. But in the end patience won and last week we managed to get two more of her books – Scarlet Ibis and White Dolphin. We are going to use White Dolphin as our next English Literature book (we started it today) and we are reading the Scarlet Ibis for fun.

Wow. What a story. Not quite what I was expecting, I thought there would be more about the birds like in Sky Hawk, but even thought there isn’t, this story is brilliant. It one of the stories that every kid should read. It is a story about human relationships, about thinking you are alone and then finding people who care, it’s about not expecting the worst of people just because they are different or are from a different background and its about a sister’s love for her brother.

Scarlet (who is 12) and her brother Red live with their mother who is struggling with a mental illness. Scarlet is basically running the house, looking after her mother and her brother. She is the only person who her brother really trusts and she clearly has an incredibly strong relationship with him (her brother Red is autistic). Her brother loves birds and collects bird feathers. After a special day at the zoo (where her brother started talking and clearly had an amazing day) he ends up getting sick and needs to stay home from school. While he is home their mother falls asleep smoking and sets fire to the flat. Scarlet comes home from school to find her home destroyed and she is separated from her mom and more heartbreaking she is kept from her brother.

The story continues to follow Scarlet as she tries to put her new life together, in foster care with a new family. The family are kind and wonderful to Scarlet but she misses her brother and is very worried about him, so she sets out to find him. I don’t want to ruin the rest of the story but there is a happy ending in that Scarlet and her brother end up together, but I must mention they end up living with the new foster family and do not go back to their mother.

I do not know much about the care system in the UK but I really admired the way the author wrote about everything that Scarlet was going through. There was an honesty but at the same time a sensitivity about it. I also thought the way she wrote about Red’s autism was authentic, it showed the challenging side as well as the incredible kindness and attachment that autistic kids do have (I really appreciated this).

I thought this story dealt with some sensitive topics in a very real but kind manner. I think it is an excellent book for kids aged between 10 – 13. One that both of my kids will be reading and one that I highly recommend.

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Physics Matching Pairs Game

I love the idea of the Oaka Books Science matching pairs game. It is a simple and straight forward concept but one which I think helps to reinforce what the kids have learnt. We have already been using the Biology matching pairs set and the Chemistry matching pairs set so naturally we had to give the Physics set a go as well.

And it was actually a great activity. The past few months we have been focusing on Biology and Chemistry and I must admit we have not done Physics so it was a great reminder for my daughter and a great way for me to see how much she still remembers (I was actually really impressed because she is always telling me that Physics is her worst Science).

The set arrives in the same format as the typical topic packs – A4 pack. It comes with an answer booklet (you can also download it from the site) and the matching cards are in A4 sheets so you just need to pop them out.

The cards are split into 5 different groups (each group is a different colour) – they cover Forces, Energy, Electricity, the Solar System and Light. In each group there are 15 definition cards and 15 cards with images on them. The idea is that the kids need to match the definitions to the correct images. So in total you get 75 definition cards and 75 image cards (which is actually quite a lot for only £4.99).

You can mix all the cards together or you could just use the cards from 1 or 2 groups (which is what I tend to do with my youngest).

And the fact that Physics is my daughter’s “least favourite Science” is actually why I think the Physics matching pairs set is the one that is the most useful. Yes, she loves doing the Biology matching pairs set just because she enjoys Biology but with Physics she actually needs to build up a bit of confidence and doing activities like this, where she can “test” herself and then prove that she actually knows more Physics than she initially thought is perfect. It is a great confidence building tool for kids who may not naturally enjoy a particular Science.

I really do think it is a useful Science resource to have in your home.

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Warrior Boy – book review

I have been reserving a number of books from our local library and reading them in a quest to try and find a good selection of books for ages 10+ (it is a bit of a work in progress) but this one – Warrior Boy written by Virginia Clay – has been a complete joy. I loved it and I have already recommended it for both of my kids to read.

Ben is a twelve year old mixed race boy living in London. His mother is a a documentary maker and his father was a Maasai Warrior who died before Ben was even born. The story starts off with Ben in London and it is clear he is struggling to feel like he belongs and the fact that he just fainted in class due to his blood phobia makes him feel even less like he wants to be in London. He has never been to Kenya and does not know his Maasai family.

His mother gets an assignment to go back to Kenya to film some elephants in an attempt to highlight the poaching that is occurring, she would be based in a camp next to the tribal land of Ben’s Maasai family so reluctantly she agrees that Ben can accompany her and finally meet his “other family”. Right from the beginning of Ben meeting his Maasai family I was impressed with the way they were depicted, the writer never belittles their customs or makes them seem inferior to the Western ways (something I really appreciated). Ben finds out that his blood phobia runs in the Maasai family and he goes on a quest of sorts (7 challenges) with his grandfather and cousin.

I do not want to go into too much detail, there is an interesting climax to the story when some poachers threaten Ben’s family (it all works out well, no-one dies). But the author really impressed me with the way she writes about his Maasai family, his cousin Kip is engaging and fill of life while his grandfather, although an old tribal man, is actually the one who gets Ben to discover his strength and confidence. I liked that the Maasai family were such a significant force is helping Ben mature and that it was actually their old ways and old customs that helped Ben become braver.

It is a beautifully written story with engaging, full characters (I loved watching the relationship between Ben and his cousin develop and also see how Ben grew over time to understand his grandfather and his uncle). The descriptions of Kenya and the tribal customs are positive and show that the old ways can still have a place in the modern world.

I think this is an excellent story for kids in the 10-13 years bracket. For me, a good story takes you out of your home and places you in a different world, where you learn about a different way of life, different people and events and this is what this story did. It really transports you to Kenya and by the end of the story you feel like you understand the Maasai way of life a bit better than you did before.

We got our copy of Warrior Boy from our local library but you can also get a copy direct from Amazon Warrior Boy

Admin Bits: I do include Affiliate links. If you follow an affiliate link and go on to purchase that product, I will be paid a very small commission, however your cost will remain the same. I only include affiliate links for products that we use and love.

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