Friday, August 18, 2017

Assigning Grades

Now that EM is a high school student, possibly enrolling in PHAA's diploma program, I feel obligated to grade his work. Until now I only graded his spelling tests. He also received grades when doing quizzes and tests in the Thinkwell math courses he took. Now I need to assign a grade for all of his subjects that will be on a transcript. Receiving grades makes our homeschooling environment a little different than usual.

In the past when EM completed work, if there were mistakes, we would work together to figure out why he got something wrong, then he would make corrections, or have additional assignments, until he understood whatever concept was being taught. Now things feel more final when he completes an assignment. I know we can still redo work that he has trouble understanding, but it just feels different. For example, last week he completed a lesson in grammar with a worksheet/quiz that I wanted to grade. He had problems with the assignment, with quite a few errors. Because of that, I assigned an online activity, covering some core concepts that would help him understand what he did wrong with the first assignment. He completed the online work perfectly. Now as a teacher in a traditional setting, I wouldn't change anything about that initial graded assignment. As a homeschooling mom, I want to reward him for figuring it out and give him a better grade.

What is the correct way to handle this?

I can see that a traditional teacher would have far too many students to customize their learning and allow them to work towards mastery in the same way that I can with my one child. It's just not feasible. But shouldn't I take advantage of my special circumstances and allow that? Is that somehow cheating the system? Does grading school work really show us how a student is doing? Does it encourage students to work harder? Learn more?

I guess it would be a good idea for me to figure all of that out before I grade any more work from EM. I'll add that to my list of things to do when we get home from our eclipse trip. I'll tell you all about it next week!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Attaining Expert Status

I am a member of a Pennsylvania homeschooling group on Facebook. Just about every day a mom, usually new to homeschooling, posts a question, and more often than not, I realize I know the answer. Sometimes it's a question I remember asking all those years ago when I was new to the world of schooling at home. Many times it's something I struggled to find on my own before I was fully plugged into the homeschooling community. I often comment on these posts with things I have learned or links to sites that I found helpful. After helping one mom I realized I am no longer new to this, in fact, I may now be an expert.

I know it has been debunked with a study, but I still hold to Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour theory when it comes to defining an expert. If I count 8 years of homeschooling, 180 days each, for approximately 8 hours a day, I'm well over that threshold. The thing about being an expert in this particular facet of life is that no two homeschooling lives are the same. So even if I am an expert here in my own home, that makes my realm of expertise very narrow. For example, my two boys are very different personalities with very different learning styles. So even within my own home my expertise is often useless. Out there in the larger community, the place where I can help most of the time is with questions concerning regulations. Pennsylvania is considered by some to be a heavily regulated homeschooling state. I have never really felt that myself, but then again, I have never homeschooled in another state to see the difference.

When I start thinking about all the time I have invested in homeschooling, it makes me wonder if this investment is going to pay off. Why spend all of this time if it won't be worth it? While I still can't see if their years of homeschooling will allow the boys to be successful in the sense of employment or financial gain, there are some more intangible benefits I can see they have received by spending their childhoods this way.

First, they had so much more freedom at home than they would have in any traditional school setting. Their schedules were not rigid, no one dictated the most basic things in their day, such as when they can use the bathroom. They also had the freedom to learn what they found interesting. While we did attempt to cover the things most kids cover in school, I tried to make sure to spend considerable time on their interests, as well as to allow them enough free time to explore those interests independently.

They also were free from the more negative aspects of spending time with peers. Now before anyone freaks out and cries, 'But... socialization?!' My boys spent plenty of time with other kids their age, kids of other ages, and adults of all ages. They were involved in our church, basketball, scouts for a time, homeschool groups, book clubs, fencing clubs, on and on and on... So they had plenty of socialization. What they didn't have was bullying, peer pressure,and the majority of their time spent with people their own age. I believe that their self-esteem has been preserved when that outcome would have been questionable in a public school setting. Both of my boys are quirky, geeky, interested in odd things boys who don't always dress like the crowd. They would more than likely have been targets of abuse and suffered in that environment. 

Yes, there were also things they missed out on by being at home, but overall, the benefits have outweighed the negatives. I am thankful that I have the ability to spend the time I have homeschooling. Becoming an expert in this has been well worth the effort. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Few Changes

As of tomorrow, the boys will have two weeks of schooling under their belts for their 9th and 12th grade year. EM has completed some work in every subject  with the exception of music. Both his gym and music will be only a half credit course, so he is starting the year working on completing 60 days in gym and will switch to music when he has finished. JT is a little more complicated.

While JT needs to complete the 180 days of instruction required by the Pennsylvania homeschool regulations, his summer schooling days are not as involved as the ones he will experience during the fall and spring semesters of the community college. I posted last week about how he will be doing most of his instruction through outside sources. One thing has changed since that post; he will now be completing his required English credit from home. PHAA's diploma program requires four credits in English to graduate. There are two ways to complete that requirement; the student can do the work at home by reading 25 books, three classics, writing one 2500 word paper and three smaller ones, giving a five minute speech, and completing 45 lessons in grammar; or the student can take two college level English courses. Last year JT chose the college option. This year he was planning to do the same. Then we really started to look at the pros and cons of that decision. The classes he took last year filled both the PHAA requirement and fulfilled some of the gen eds he needed for his degree. The courses this year would only meet the PHAA needs, but have no use for his degree. And of course, going to class at the college would cost money. So, we decided to have him drop the courses and meet the requirements through work at home.

Until those classes start, he is working on a few things at home. He continues to do his private music theory instruction and his piano lessons. He's also doing volunteer work, as a staff member for a week at Susquehanna University Kids' College and weekly at the library. This week he started working on his English requirements by reading Dante's Inferno. He is also doing some research for our hiking trip next summer.

I've been doing some planning this week. We are going to the Smoky Mountains to view the solar eclipse on August 21st. I picked up our eclipse glasses from our local library. I also dug through our supply of maps and brochures from previous trips and found a large collection of Smoky Mountains information. Less than a month to go! 

Friday, July 21, 2017

In the Limelight

EM has started his 9th grade year of schooling. He will be getting much more of my attention this year than he has in the past few now that JT is more independent in his studies. Our first day was Monday. Even though this seems like an early start, we are actually one week behind from last year's starting day. JT will be mostly on his own this year, taking four community college classes in the fall, three in the spring, and continuing his music and fencing lessons. The only thing he will learn from me will be American history and driver's education.

EM's plan is one of the most involved I have made for him in the last few years. Even though we haven't decided yet if he's going to register with PHAA's diploma program, we will work as if he will, and see how it goes. If you are curious what PHAA's program involves, I blogged about it back in 2015, here. EM will be working towards earning seven credits for his freshmen year; English, algebra 2, Earth science, world geography, Spanish 1, health, 1/2 credit in music, and 1/2 credit in physical education. The only subject I am not teaching him this year is the algebra 2. He will be using Thinkwell for his math credit. For music, we are using the Great Courses dvds and some other activities. His PE credit will involve using the couch to 5k program to work towards running in a 5k this fall. Everything else will be text book based instruction, with me guiding his work.

The last few years, EM has been left to do quite a bit of his work independently. This year we are going to be working more closely together since my instruction time with JT will be much less. For our first week, EM began his Thinkwell course, started taking walks and logging the time and distance, and we started our Spanish 1 instruction. We are using the text Mosaicos. EM did learn a small amount of Spanish a few years ago. He used Mango through our library's website. I was happy to see that he does remember a few things, like his numbers and greetings. We will be alternating the number of days he has Spanish work to do, four some weeks, three the next, until we reach 120 days of instruction. Next week we'll add in some science and English work slowly working up to a full schedule.

I know I have made promises in the past that I will regularly post, so you might not believe me when I say I plan to keep up with this much better this year. We'll have to see if I keep my promises. In my next post, I'm going to tell you about our exciting plans for the solar eclipse coming on August 21st.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Making Sure

JT has had a problem finding the perfect fit in a college program for what he wants to do with his life. Actually, the perfect program does exist, at Berklee, which is well beyond the range of what we, and he, can afford for a college education. The Bachelor of Music in Contemporary Writing and Production with a minor in Video Game Scoring would be fantastic, but... money.

Since he doesn't want to be in debt for the rest of his life, we have come up with an alternative plan. He will get an associates degree from Luzerne Community College. While Music Recording technology is not quite what he's looking for, we think it will allow him to start on the path to where he wants to be. Yesterday at JT's music theory lesson his teacher suggested he look into the music program at Bloomsburg University. They do offer a B.A. in music with an audio/video recording track. But as we looked over the program requirements, we saw that like most music programs he has looked at, this one is more focused on performance than the composition component. The audio/video track does offer a few courses in music production, but honestly, the community college has a much more robust program for that. Even though he won't have any music composition classes there, we can continue with private lessons to develop those skills further. Once again, we are assembling our own education plan.

I feel like I've spent so much of my energy on JT's future, that sometimes it feels like poor EM has been left in the dust. But I know he will eventually be in the limelight as we work on his plan. Next year he'll be a 9th grader; it will be time to begin researching his options. For now, I just want to get JT's plan fully developed. If only I could have the confidence to know he is making the best choice.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Snowed In

You might have heard about winter storm Stella. She came to visit this week and dumped a ton of snow on us. I definitely got my exercise this week!

Last week was spring break for JT's community college. We decided to take the week off for our work at home as well. Unfortunately for JT, all of his instructors gave him projects to complete during his week off, so in the end, he did more work on his week off than he had the rest of the semester. Monday he returned to class, but that was the only day of school he had this week. The snow started Monday night, and by the time it was over, we had 20 inches of snow, plus drifts up to 5 feet. The college has been closed since Tuesday.

We didn't get out of our house until Thursday because of the drifting. This picture shows our township snow plow trying to clear the windiest corner on our road. I never mind being trapped at home so it wasn't a problem for me.

We completed JT's registration for the fall semester. In the end, we added one more class than we had planned. He decided to get the survey of math class out of the way in the fall semester so he'd be able to take a money management class in the spring. He will have 4 classes, for a total of 11 credits in the fall. This will be the most classes he has ever taken at once - very nearly a full time course load. He's been doing a good job keeping up with the work (with some nagging from mom) so I think he'll be fine.

The countdown is on for the end of the year. As of today, we have 31 days of school left for 2016-2017. JT will continue a few weeks beyond that with his college courses and finals, but our 180 will be finished on May 1. Then I have a couple weeks to wrap up portfolios and pack for our vacation to the beach. When I made it out of the driveway yesterday I did a little shopping while JT was volunteering at the library. I bought two new beach chairs. Just a little summer dreaming during the snowy mess!

Friday, March 3, 2017

What next?

Registration for the fall 2017 semester has just opened for JT's community college. We spent some time this week looking over what will be available and making a plan for his senior year of high school. The end is so near!

We have a few things to consider when choosing classes for JT. First, he needs to meet the requirements for his high school diploma program through PHAA. In order to meet those for his senior year, he needs to take two semester of English courses, choosing from composition, speech, or literature courses. We are running into a problem for next year because the satellite location he attends for the community college only offers three English courses. He has taken two this year, so he only has one left. We think we can solve this problem by adding a distance learning course the college offers in the spring of 2018. He will also need an art course to meet the last of his high school diploma requirements.

The other thing he needs to consider will be the program he plans to enter when he officially begins his college years. He's trying to take as many of the courses in that program as he can while still in high school. The remaining courses offered at the satellite that fit those requirements would include a math, sociology, and health course.

Our plan for fall will be that he take art appreciation, advanced composition-contemporary issues, and nutrition and wellness. In the spring semester he will take survey of mathematics, cultural anthropology, and the distance course, western lit. At the end of his senior year, he should have no remaining general ed classes for his associate's program remaining. If we lived closer to the main campus, he would be able to get some of the other courses out of the way, but it's just not going to work that way until he is going to the main campus full time. As is stands he will graduate from high school with 32 college credits under his belt. He still hasn't decided if he will go straight to college after he graduates or if he's going to take a year between to work and save some money. Those are decisions for the future. Right now I'm just happy that his first year taking college classes has gone so well for him. 4.0 grade point average in the fall semester and classes this semester seem to be going just as well so far. The future is looking bright!