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Monday, April 21, 2014

Why We Use Saxon Math


In honor of April being Math Awareness Month (No, I did not know this until CC told me!), I wanted to share why we use Saxon math, a round-up of my posts on how to teach math classically, and a favorite article or two on math from the CC Writers Circle.

Nearly three years ago, we started with Saxon Math.  As with making any educational choices, I recommend starting at the beginning.  Look into how different math curriculums approach learning.  Through research, I learned that math curriculums are generally one of two options: 1) spiral or 2) mastery.  A spiral curriculum will add in new concepts while "spiraling" back through old concepts to ensure constant review of all learned material.  A mastery curriculum will focus on new concepts for longer periods of time to ensure mastery before adding in additional elements. Once mastery is achieved, the student moves on to the next concept.  Saxon Math is actually a rare third option of incremental, which falls somewhere in the middle of spiral and mastery.  Concepts are introduced incrementally and reviewed until mastery.

We use Saxon Math for a few reasons: 

1) The incremental approach.  Neither spiral or mastery made sense to me exclusively, so Saxon seemed like the perfect fit.  Now that we're using it for our third year, I continue to agree with this approach.

2) The scripted teacher's guide.  I still consider myself somewhat of a "newbie" homeschooler and teaching math was very intimidating to me, at first.    I suspect this will continue to be true for me as we approach higher and higher levels of math.  Saxon provides a script for the parent, which I can rely on as heavily as I like.  Even though we're only in Saxon 3, I sometimes need help knowing how to teach a concept.  I think it's teaching me how to teach math.

3) Built-in teaching and independent review time.  We work through an A side worksheet together and then each of my guys works through a B side independently.  This really helps me to see what my guys understand and what they don't.

4) Plenty of drill work.  The drill work is essentially a push to memorize basic math facts, thereby making math computations easier to complete.  This fits right in with how we're classically educating our littles.  When I was not feeling so well and school was scraping by with the bare minimum, math facts were not being drilled regularly.  It made such a difference in my guys' abilities to complete their math assignments! They were slowed down & frustrated by the work.  Once I recognized the problem, we took a week off of lessons and simply reviewed math facts (with flashcards) every day that week.  What a difference it made! Now I'm sure to remind them to review a portion of their math facts daily.  We plan to continue this through the summer, so all that good memory work is not lost.

5) Fun, colorful math manipulatives and games.  Saxon printed materials are plain black and white, which may appear uninteresting.  But, there are also manipulatives and little games (like grocery shopping, cooking, and scavenger hunts) incorporated in the teaching time.  My boys love when these are part of the lesson plans! I usually end up with more than one student participating, even though it's not their lesson.  And y'all know I love a good one-room schoolhouse set-up! 



My boys are not always in love with their math work.  They've recently realized their friends use other curriculums (including ones done on the computer, which seems like all fun to them!) and have asked about their other options.  But, for as long as it makes sense (I hope forever), we're continuing with Saxon.  If you can, I think it makes sense to stick with one math curriculum for a few reasons: 1) No gaps in learning.  The curriculum is designed to build upon itself.  Not all curriculums follow the same pattern and by switching, you can create inadvertent gaps in your child's math education.  2) They have learned how the curriculum works and so have you! So the implementation becomes easier.  3) Less cost involved! I can reuse my teaching guides and manipulatives every year, so I reduce my costs only to replacing the consumable student materials.  

But, enough about our specific choice! I certainly don't believe there is a one best solution for everyone. Over the summer, I hope to introduce Life of Fred into our study time for a fun change. I think my guys will dig it, but we'll see.  What's working for your family? Do you find yourself teaching math classically?

If you'd like to learn more specifics on studying math classically, read:
At Home with the Classical Method: How to Teach Your Child Math
Arithmetic: The Core of Math
To Know Math Is To Love Math
Math on My Mind (which includes a living math book list)

Additional Math Resources:
Why I Use Saxon Math, by Leigh Bortins
Four Benefits of Saxon Math, by Matt Bianco
Why Read About the History of Math? by Leigh Bortins








Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Are We Doing This Again Next Year? How Not to Quit Homeschooling!


This seems to be the time of year when the questions begin. Are we homeschooling again next year? Should we switch some things we're doing? Or all the things we're doing? Am I doing enough as their teacher? How much did they really learn this year?

Let me ask you a question that should quiet the rest. Why are you homeschooling? Don't know why? Start there! If the reasons you're considering quitting don't excuse you from the reasons you're homeschooling, it doesn't work!

My husband and I strongly believe God has called us to homeschool. He's using it to reveal Himself to us and to make all of us more like Him. I believe He has fully equipped us as my littles' parents to be the best teachers for them. It is knowing these very things that keep me motivated and hopeful when we have bad days, when it feels like nothing gets done or I lose my patience. Because my faith and purpose is bigger than us. So guess what? A terribly messy house might frustrate me, but it doesn't make me want to quit homeschooling. A day of whiny kids might make me want to climb back into bed, but it doesn't make me want to give up teaching them. A tough day of learning math doesn't make me feel inadequate, but reminds me I have lots to learn. Why? Because none of those things change why I've been called to homeschool. God called us to homeschool. He is using it in our lives.

Maybe you're homeschooling because you believe your son needs more attention than the schools can provide or because you want to provide a biblical worldview to his education. Perhaps your daughter's heart was turning away from the family or God, so you wanted more time to disciple her. Have those reasons changed? If not, stay the course.  

If you know why you're homeschooling, you'll know if you should keep going or not. Once you are holding the reason(s) firmly in place, create a game plan that makes sense for your family. Don't just jump in. Don't try to replicate someone else's homeschool experience or copy the schools. 

Here's how I recommend developing a plan: 

1) Understand how education works.

2) Understand how your family works.

3) Create goals.

4) Take it one step at a time.  

As I've shared before, I earned my degrees in Social Work and Bible, not education. When we decided to homeschool I needed to start at the beginning. I researched philosophies of education before exploring curriculum. If you don't understand the philosophies of education, then the different methods curriculums employ won't make sense. Or at the least, you'll be confused as to which ones to select. Understand the philosophies and see which appeals most to your family and your understanding of how you and your children learn. As I've made the case before, I think classical education is truly the way all people learn, so it makes the most sense. But, our family's methods are also influenced by Charlotte Mason and Thomas Jefferson/ leadership education. Side note - I think they're pretty closely related philosophies myself!

Begin by thinking and praying through your goals. Start generally -- What's the "target" for your arrows? (Psalm 127) What kind of men and women are you hoping to turn out to the world? After that, develop more specific goals for what you'd like them to experience and learn. These can even be tailored for each child, depending on their interests and giftedness. While it is good to write these goals down, especially for those moments when you need to be reminded, you can just think, talk, and pray them through with your spouse. This is a good thing to do each summer.

Finally, take it one step at a time. Develop a plan for each year as you approach it. You can tweak it as you go and you most certainly will as each year passes. But knowing why you are homeschooling and having your philosophies and goals firmly in place will help keep your footing steady when the days are slippery.  

How do you answer the questions that develop in your mind, your spouse's mind, or the minds of your fellow homeschooling parents? I'd love to hear what keeps your feet steady. For me, knowing why we homeschool is all it takes. Since I know that, I can figure the rest out.  





Wednesday, April 9, 2014

7 Ways A Classical Education Works With A Christian Worldview


Classical Conversations is a classical, Christian education.  Some might see those words placed together and not see the connection.  In fact, some might go as far as to say they don't connect.  It probably won't surprise you to hear me say, well, they do go together!  Actually, I'm a firm believer that classical + Christian are better suited to each other than classical + humanistic.  But, I didn't always know that.  

How do they connect? Here are several ways -- 

1. Truth and beauty.  In classical education, children are to sink into timeless pieces of literature, examine, appreciate, and replicate artistic masterpieces, enjoy nature, and relish in musical marvels.  Where there is real beauty, there is truth. 

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. Philippians 4:8

2. Exploring the best.  There are literal greats or giants of their field in every area of study.  Why settle for less? These greats from times past serve as mentors of sorts when time is spent immersed in their works. 

By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.
Hebrews 11:7 (really vs. 4-11)

3. Connection between subjects.  Math, science, history - these are not subjects unto themselves, but parts of a whole.  When studied as such, not only do we see the greater value of each of the parts but get a more complete picture of the whole.  Dividing them limits our vision. 

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. Romans 1:20

4. Virtue, not knowledge. Morals, not job skills.  Classical education has always had a higher aim than creating and employing a workforce to support a nation.  It was seeking good citizens…or another way to look at it, good neighbors.  

Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor. 1 Corinthians 10:24

5. Outlined for growth and maturity.  Classical education expects growth and models its teaching methods after natural developmental stages.  Why? It works best, because it's how humans have been created to learn. 

Now the boy Samuel was growing in stature and in favor both with the Lord and with men.  1 Samuel 2:26

And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. Luke 2:52

6. Emphasis on rhetoric.  Classical education has placed a strong emphasis on a student's ability to share ideas.  Because learning something only for yourself seriously limits the possibilities. 

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.  2 Timothy 2:2

7. Timeless.  Because classical education is interested in the best from humanity, students are not limited to contemporary thinkers.  Minds are exposed to a greater context than our personal, generational, or national history.  

Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments.  Deuteronomy 7:9

Classical education is both what is studied and how it is studied.  
It leads you to discover and explore the best humanity and this world has to offer, but on its own, takes you no further.  I first began to unpack the limitations of a classical education for myself while reading Climbing Parnassus.  My appreciation grew for classical education, but I also recognized that it alone is not enough.  Without adding Christian to the classical, you're simply left with a humanistic education that can see the beauty of the created world, but has little idea what to do with the ugly.  Surely, close examination and study of the world around us will reveal both.  But with a Christian education based firmly on the truth of the Bible solely in one's grasp, you are able to add wisdom to knowledge and understanding.  You are able to look beyond simply what's around, beyond simply what we can see, touch, taste, hear, and smell.  While some may rightly make the argument that classical education has always led one to explore beyond the merely physical by the asking of good questions, I'd suggest that while it promotes the questions, it does not provide the answers.  And therein lies the greatest advantage to pursuing an education that is both classical and Christian.  For through discovery, you will find not only the beauty of creation, but the Creator.  And not only the Creator, but the Savior who offers so much more than this world can display.  The Savior who is the reason for the beauty and the solution to the ugly.  The God, Creator and Savior, who seeks you and wishes to reveal Himself through His creation.

"A classical, Christian education, then, teaches students to love God by learning about the world as God's universe, designed by His creative mind, governed by His laws, and sustained by His providential guidance.  Parents begin the process by training very young children to look for evidence of God's design in all subjects, even math and language.  Children can discover the logic of His universal natural laws as they study science and His unfolding plan as they encounter history.  They encounter His creativity in music, art, and literature." (Classical Christian Education Made Approachable, p.47) 

I exhort you to choose a classical education that begins and ends and focuses on God as the central figure and reason for all that you study.  Perhaps you can see through my thoughts on classical, Christian education as to why we've chosen Classical Conversations to be the tool we use to teach our children.  Actually, I think I've misspoken.  God, in His great love for our family, selected Classical Conversations for us long before my husband or I had a full understanding of why it was the best choice.  Maybe we still don't fully? We are but students ourselves.  But, in His infinite wisdom, God has planned the steps of our homeschooling journey without any knowledge or experience of our own.  And we are so grateful.  So excited to see where He leads us.

Do you have questions about classical, Christian education? Do you have more you'd like to add to the conversation? Please do! And I invite you to stay tuned as I intend to share more about classical education over the next several weeks.  

Visit here to see how Classical Conversations approaches combining the classical method of learning with a biblical worldview.  

Want to understand more about classical education? Check out my post, A Beginning Glossary of Terms for Classical Education and my series of how-to classically educate posts entitled At Home with the Classical Method

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Day in the Life - DiStefano Family

I really get excited each time I get to introduce one of my homeschooling buddies to you guys.  These girls mean so much to me.  I'm often in awe of the amazing community God has surrounded our family with to support us in this journey we never expected to go on.  Isn't He amazing? 

Today I'd like you to meet my friend, Meredith.  Meredith and I met through Classical Conversations.   She's witty and interesting and has three boys.  She's a wonderful mixture of easy-going and tough.  I liked her immediately!  I just know you will too!  Enjoy a peek into her family's homeschooling days here…



Hello, we are the DiStefano family!  My husband Mark and I have been married for 9 years, but have been together since high school.  He is a Safety Manager and the greatest guy I know.  As a family we enjoy all things outdoors, including hunting, fishing, hiking, gardening, living off the land, etc. I am very fortunate to be married to my best friend who is extremely supportive (or very na├»ve!) of my homeschooling our children. 

Speaking of our children, we have three of those little balls of fire - all boys with another on the way very shortly.  Our oldest, Aiden, is 7, Liam 5 and Nolan 2.   We decided to officially homeschool our boys before we moved to Pennsylvania, while still living in Florida.  Really, I just could not get enough of the messy house, impromptu wrestling matches, whining, constant eating, exhaustion, and constant discipline trying to raise them to be Godly men.  I didn’t want to stick them on the bus and wave goodbye for the day and have my house be clean and maintain my sanity. I mean really, what is the fun in that??  Ok, just kidding.  We chose to homeschool our children because we wanted more for them than what this world currently offers them.  We wanted our boys to know the Lord and for Him to be at the forefront of their education.   




Now, how do we homeschool? Well, I would say I homeschool with constant questions in my head. (Do they call that eclectic?)  The biggest question being, “oh Lord, am I screwing them up big time?”  I am that mom that listens to all the other homeschool moms talk about all the amazing things they did that week, how smart their kids are, and then start thinking, "oh poop. I better get on the ball."  The greatest thing I have learned though is that homeschooling isn’t really for them.  That’s right you heard me - homeschooling is not for them.  I have discovered God put homeschooling into our lives to grow me more. It’s hard to be exposed to all your children’s flaws on a daily basis and still feel good about yourself, but man does it leave you with a total dependence on Jesus!  He shows me so much grace and constantly reminds me not to be shaken by what I feel, but that He is always beside me giving me the ability to do my job and to do it well!

So what does a typical day of homeschooling look like in our home? Well…

6:45ish ~ I roll out of bed wishing it wasn’t so and that I had just a few more hours.  We all have some breakfast and plop down for some Wild Kratts.  Yes, you heard me, we watch PBS in the morning.  Just one show, relax, the kids love it and you know what? I need a couple minutes to get the house together, because I am an anal retentive neat freak. 

8:00ish ~ We head to the table where I have the boys writing/grammar/spelling all set out for them to do. They finish this around 9:00.

9:00ish ~ I do math with the oldest, which can take anywhere from 1 hour to well …. all stinking day depending on how many times I bang my head on the table.  While this is occurring, my middle child is either nicely playing with the 2 year old or there are giant plastic trucks going round and round on the floor, add in maybe some yelling and crying and well...you get the point.  After finishing with my oldest, Liam and I do math, while Aiden entertains Nolan.

11:30ish ~ We finish up morning work at which point, I release the beasts to the outdoors to play until lunch. 

1:00ish ~ The two year old goes down for a nap (praise Jesus!). I do reading with Liam and Aiden reads on his own.  We review CC memory work after reading.  Depending on the day, we do either history or science.

The rest of the afternoon is for chores, straightening, dinner making, free time!  Now before you think I forgot something, we do Bible time as a family at bed time.  It is very important to me that my husband be present and included in all spiritual matters involving the kiddos.


For all my classical readers out there…we do read our children books, but it is throughout the day and it’s not a scheduled thing.  I really enjoy homeschooling, because I have the ability to cater my children’s learning to their moods and energy needs!  I personally love to have my boys outside exploring as much as possible. Our boys are also expected to help out big time around the house.  They do chores every day and are responsible as members of the family to assist in household upkeep.  Like I said I am also a neat freak.  I know sometimes I have to let go, but being clean and organized is my happy place.  Now before I end this enlightening post that leaves most people asking “Should this women be homeschooling?” let me say this… this is a BIG BIG job for everyone.  There are days (lots of them) when I want to quit.  My children do not sit down every day with smiles on their faces ready to work (*gasp*), but each year I learn how to do a better job. I delight in them, watching how much they truly love each other. I love seeing their faces when they finally grasp a hard topic. I love to hear them tell me always they love me even when I think I am failing!  It brings me joy to know that they are learning to work hard and stick to it!  I will never be the crafty mom with all the fun activities or the super scheduled mom who reads every morning. It honestly isn’t me. I am, however, the mom mucking through the mud, playing baseball in the yard, and having midday campfires just to make hotdogs for lunch!   I love my kids to the ends of the earth.  I know that God has called me to homeschool our children. I know that they are learning so much.  I know that they are growing spiritually in their relationship with God and with others around them.  I am not perfect, but I was perfectly created to teach and educate my children.  And darn it all, though I will stumble frequently, and on most days I will have a twitch in my eye ball and a vein bulging out of my neck, it will all be ok.  God loves my kids more than I ever could and He wants the very best for them.  If that means shaping and molding their mom to give that to them, well I know He will be faithful to do it.  

P.S. with a baby coming soon this whole thing will most definitely go out the window. To be continued…..

Now, don't you just love her? I love that I can laugh with her and learn from her.  It's a refreshing thing to find a girl who doesn't take herself too seriously, but does take the Lord and His will very seriously. I hope you've left from reading her take also feeling refreshed!

Want more Day in the Life posts? Just follow this tag.




Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Remembering What It's Like to Learn Something New

Y'all, please welcome back my friend, Becki Hogan.  Becki and her husband blog at Running with Team Hogan.  Through learning about a new subject, Becki was able to learn more about classical education.  I can relate! When you understand classical education, you see learning -on any subject- through a new lens.  Read to see how she moves through the three stages of learning with classical education.



Over a year ago, I got a phone call from my husband.  He was diagnosed with Celiac Disease.  The only thing I knew about Celiac Disease was that people had to eat gluten-free.  Of course, even that was a bit vague since I didn’t really understand the term “gluten-free” except that he shouldn’t have wheat. 

I had to dive into research mode – learning new terminology, consulting with friends who had learned before me, and reading everything I could on the internet.  I found out that I had to worry about wheat, barley, rye, and oats, and that those can be hidden in other strangely named ingredients.  I first started with some basics we could eat, but clearly I wasn’t done in my learning.        

Slowly, I was able to process enough new information to have food to feed my husband – even if it wasn’t the most exciting.  My brain began to process all the information.  Converting old recipes into new gluten-free recipes wasn’t such a daunting task anymore.  My understanding of what my husband needed meant that I could even evaluate sometimes contradictory information.  Reading on gluten-free blogs became less challenging since I actually had heard of some of the concepts before.  The addition of new and more varied foods could happen because I had a moment to evaluate new recipes and foods for our family.  I slowly even ventured into gluten-free flours.  Who knew there were so many or that potato flour and potato starch are not the same thing?       

Then after much research, thought, experimenting, and cooking for a family of six, I understood enough about Celiac Disease and having a gluten-free home that others were asking me for recipes and advice.  People looked to me to explain terminology and help them get started.  I could actually talk intelligently about being gluten-free and had lessons, recipes, and tips I could share.  Ah, I had arrived. 



Isn’t this really the process we go through learning any new material?  Isn’t this the Classical model of grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric?  If I want to learn about a particular science topic or a time period in history, don’t I need to learn the terminology, consult others who have studied it before me, and do research looking for reliable sources?  This time of basic knowledge gathering is the “grammar” stage in classical education. 

I then took my knowledge and processed it.  I was trying to make sense out of all the new learning.  I knew how to ask the right questions to see what standards of “gluten-free” were needed for my husband.  Figuring out what groceries to buy, what meals to prepare, and what would work in our family was all part of this processing.  This stage even meant sometimes trying a food we thought was safe only to find out that “containing no gluten ingredients” and “gluten-free” weren’t the same.  Or that just because a package said “gluten-free” that didn’t mean that the fine print wouldn’t say processed in a factory or on equipment that processed wheat.  We had to question what foods made my husband ill and figure out how to keep him healthy.  All of this processing and questioning was our “dialetic” stage. 

When I reached the moment that others asked me for help, I had hit that third stage of classical education – the “rhetoric” stage.  People came to me just as lost as I had been not that long ago, and surprisingly to me, I actually could talk intelligently about Celiac and gluten-free eating.   


As I study and learn more about this classical education I am trying to give my children, it was helpful for me to see the classical model played out right in my own life.  I’m thankful that I went through all that learning, not just so that my husband’s health is so much better, but also because I remember what it is like to learn something new.   

Isn't it such a gift to remember what it is to learn something new? Our little scholars are excited and challenged to learn something new every day.  To learn alongside them, even something different from them, strengthens our relationship through understanding of the experience.  

Monday, March 31, 2014

How We Do Nature Study Indoors


Everyone in my home loves nature study.  When it's warm and beautiful or even warm and rainy, we head outside to make observations, take photographs, and draw.  But, with the combination of my pregnancy sickness and our seemingly never-ending Northeast winter, we've been inside a lot for nature studies lately.  Here's how we've made that work -- 

1. We're reading living science books.  Burgess Bird Book was a scheduled part of our Ambleside reading for this year.  Living books are essentially not textbooks, but great books by a passionate author that also include teaching on a subject.  Burgess Bird Book is a quintessential example of a living book.  It is a series of stories told from the perspective of Peter Rabbit as he encounters different birds and some other small animals in the Old Orchard.  Through the stories, we've learned, among other things, nest building techniques of different birds, a variety of birdsong sounds, and relations of bird families.  

2. I ask questions.  When I incorporate conversation naturally either during the reading or after it serves a few purposes: a) engages my littles in the story, b) encourages observations by them, and c) ensures their comprehension.  I want my littles to not only enjoy the story, but also learn how to be engaged, critical readers.  This seems to come more naturally for one of my littles, but I've seen growth in all of them this year.

3. Look up more information as desired.  If we're curious to see the way a bird flies after hearing it described, we look up a video online.   If we want to see the differences between a male and female bird of the same species, we'll search our books or online for images.  We listen to birdsongs in our BirdSongs book.

4. While I read, my littles draw the bird we're learning about in their creation journal.  They start with light pencil sketching and add color.  Through this exercise, not only have their drawing skills improved, but also their attention to detail.  They've learned to look at everything from the varying coloring on birds to the length of their tail feathers to the shape of their beaks. 

While spending time outdoors for nature study is ideal, this is working for us in this stage.  Plus I'm still able to teach them one of the foundational skills of early scientific study by fostering their curiosity through careful observation. 

For more on how we approach scientific study classically, check out At Home with the Classical Method - Teaching Science and How We Study Nature.



Sunday, March 30, 2014

Cycle Two: Week Twenty-Four


History: Color picture of Nelson Mandela while reciting history sentence.  (Plenty of activity sheets available, too.)

English: I plan to dramatically recite sentences with interjections to see if my littles can pick out the interjections.  For example, "Duck! There's a low branch!" Once they get the hang of it, they'll probably like to try their own sentences.  

Latin: I'll give each little a chance to recite all the endings we've learned this year.

Science: Electricity is an area for daddy.  My husband's dad was an electrician and he has some knowledge he can pass on.  We'll also play around with our snap circuits!

Math:  We'll write the identity law on paper & I'll show my guys how no matter what number we sub in for A, the answer is always A.  Mathematic laws are starting to click for them, so I think they'll find this interesting.

Geography: More of our typical - map marking and blobbing.  For week 24, I'm thinking we should definitely use chocolate chips to mark our maps.

Ahh, week twenty-four! How did we get here so soon? Well, our campus is actually not at week twenty-four yet, but I think many of you are. Congrats for making it to the end of cycle two! Now it's time to rest, refresh, and get ready for cycle three.  I know some of you are already prepping! I'm guessing I'll be joining your ranks soon enough, but first I'm going to take a little break.  I'm more of a finish one thing before starting the next thing kind of girl. How about you? Digging in to planning for next year or wrapping up this year and taking a break first? 

If you've already started to plan and are super excited about a resource you've discovered, please feel free to share in the comments!