Friday, June 12, 2015

Early Plans for 2015-2016 School Year

I am making good progress on the classroom cleaning and planning for next year. I currently have all of the books for next year back on the shelves; I also cleaned one of my smaller bookcases that had many good, but no longer needed, books on it. It is hard for me to part with some of them, especially my Janice VanCleave books, but I know I really don't need them anymore and they will find good homes with other families. As you can see in the picture,I have our entire work table covered with books to sell. I'm hoping to make enough cash to pay for the materials we will need for next year. Speaking of next year, let me tell you what we have planned so far.

JT will be using Lightning Lit American Literature from Hewitt Homeschooling Resources. This will be our first year using any of their materials, but I really like what I've seen so far. I especially like the fact that most of their products have a syllabus available. I used to do all course planning myself and frankly, I'm tired of having to do that! For math, he will be studying geometry using Harold Jacob's Geometry published in 1974. A friend recommended this for JT and it looks like a perfect fit. The reviews on Amazon make it sound like the Holy Grail of math textbooks. For science he is going to study ecology/environmental science. I bought a 100 page work/text book, but want to find either a good text or some other supplemental materials. We are also looking into getting him on an Envirothon team. For social studies, he will be continuing our time line study of American history, but this year, he will be writing his required long English essay about something we have studied for his credit requirement. He will also do a 1/2 year health course using a text I bought from Hewitt as well. He will continue with Rosetta Stone for German 2, continue fencing for a 1/2 credit in health, and start taking some art classes. The final piece for next year will be a computer programming class. A few weeks ago he was walking around thinking about a computer game he'd like to create. He suddenly realized that he is going to have to learn how to program in order to make the games he dreams up. So, my husband recommend that he start learning JavaScript, and he agreed!

EM will be using Anatomy Academy workbooks for his science studies. For social studies, he will continue with American history, beginning with WWII. Health will be a continued study of the text we have been using for the last two years. He will finish the next unit in his civics text book, and use the Maps, Charts, and Graphs level G workbook for geography. Math is going to be new this year because he has completed the Singapore math books. I gave him a pretest to determine if he's ready for algebra. He really only needs a few more concepts to begin algebra 1, so I think we are going to do a compacted pre-algebra for part of the year and then maybe start algebra when we see that he is ready. He will also be using a few of the writing workbooks I picked up, a grammar workbook, continue his diagramming work, and start expanding his reading by adding more non-fiction works to his reading list.

The boys both have some activities planned for the summer. JT will start a Coursera writing class on June 19th that will continue for five weeks. Both will attend Susquehanna University's Kids' College this month. In July, EM will attend a local history camp for three days. Both will go to Fire Safety Camp in August. JT will continue fencing on Monday nights. Last week, I saw a post by a local golf course that they were offering free lessons for kids every Wednesday morning for the next 8 weeks. EM went this week and really enjoyed it, so he will be continuing with that program through July.

I'm sure I will still be working out the details for our studies for another few weeks, but I feel like I have a good foundation ready for next year. This is probably the first summer that I have so much planned and ready to go before the end of June. Hopefully I can keep up the level of motivation to get everything in place before we start in mid-July. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Wrap up for 2014-2015

I didn't really mean to take a month off. It just happened. My end of the year insanity seemed especially pressing this time. Last week we had the boys' evaluations. After I breathed a sigh of relief, I immediately dove into major classroom cleanup mode. I decided to surface tonight and share the wrap up for our year.

JT's first year of high school went well. PHAA's graduation requirements are:

Four credits of English
Three credits of math
Three credits of science
Three credits of social studies
Two credits of arts and humanities

He earned seven of his fifteen this year. One credit each for English, algebra, biology, American government, German 1, music (drums), and creative game design. This was the first year I had to grade all of his work. Usually I only graded spelling tests and the occasional worksheet. He ended up with all As. I was surprised to find he cared as much as he did about his grades. When he looked through the portfolio of his work and saw that he had some lower grades on a few activities in the Rosetta Stone he seemed to want to go back and do it again to improve his score. After so many years of not worrying about grades, he seems happy to see some measure of his work. 
I think the most interesting thing we did this year was his creative game design credit. I put together a very basic rubric that he had to meet to consider the class finished.
1. Learn about aspects of game design via books, blogs, and other online sources.

2. Design and develop a playable prototype of a card game, create a rough draft rule book, and alpha version of cards.

3. Playtest the game with a variety of players multiple times. Do extensive self testing. Request feedback from players and incorporate suggestions into the game.

4. Complete a 2500 word essay about aspects of game design and how you applied what you learned through your research to your own game.

It was good to be able to use the PHAA framework to customize his education to fit his interests and career aspirations. Next year I hope to do more of the same with art classes and a programming class.

EM did a great job this year. We spent a lot of time working on sentence diagramming to help him with his understanding of grammar and writing. He read a lot of books, completed a 6th grade spelling workbook, and studied analogies. He flew through Singapore math 6A and B. He studied a few units of a 6th grade science textbook, but spent the bulk of his year learning about electronics using the Great Courses Understanding Modern Electronics DVDs and doing projects with his dad. We continued our time line study of American history by reading presidential biographies starting with Grover Cleveland and finishing with Franklin Delano Roosevelt this year. His geography unit focused on the countries of Asia and he wrote a report on Mongolia and a poster presentation on India. He learned about the writing of the Constitution in his civics unit and made great progress in his first year of piano lessons.

for sale pile
I think we have all worked hard and deserve to enjoy a fantastic summer. But before I can start my time to relax I will finish my cleaning and planning for next year. I have an outline of all of their subjects nearly finished and I have already placed orders with two book companies with one more sitting on my desk. I have a HUGE stack of things to sell on the Gifted Homeschoolers' email list.

too many choices
The hardest part for my planning next year will probably be coming up with a good framework to help EM improve his writing skills. After watching JT spend far too much time trying to write his long essay (2500 words) for the PHAA English requirement, I want to make sure EM is ready when he reaches 9th grade. I have a ton of writing workbooks and activity books. I just need to see which ones I want to use and which ones I can put aside or sell.

I will put together one more post before I take my planned break for the summer. Once I have the final outline this week for next year, I will share my plans and then it's off to the pool!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Whatever... It's Almost Over

Windsock... really.
This was the week where I threw in the towel and let my students run amok.

On Monday JT hopped out of bed and told me he needed paper towel rolls and duct tape. He made a small windsock to gauge his flying potential, then they spent the better part of the day testing new models of paper airplanes in the backyard. I occasionally said things like,

 "You still have some school work to do."

"You can't use your computers until you finish your math." 

Since they were perfectly happy to stay outside and didn't really want to use a computer anyway, I figured I had lost the battle, but won the war.

We did manage to do some work. We finished reading Volume 3: Early Modern times from the Story of the World series this year. It has taken us about 2 years to get through each of the volumes. We generally read one lesson per week. For the first two volumes we would do some of the activity book as well, but as the boys got older, I found that the activities were not really appropriate for them anymore. As a final project this year, we made a time line for the book. JT and EM each chose eight chapters from the book to illustrate.

Next year when I purchase Volume 4, I don't think I will bother with the activity book. I will still probably get a copy of the test booklet though. I enjoy the style of these books, however, we do not like the way the chapters are not presented in chronological order. It was annoying to have to double-check dates on many of the events to be able to order them for our time line.

Finally, here's the poster EM made on Wal-mart's website. It arrived in the mail this week. He's written two Haikus that we will also frame and hang with his representation of spring.

The boys are not the only ones not doing their work this week. I had meant to start work on portfolios, but alas, I will have to do that next week instead.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The End is Nigh

Schooling this year seemed to fly by...
analog keyboard

until this last month arrived.

I am so glad that we are nearly finished. My planning for each week has been handled in a very haphazard way for most of March and April. Fortunately both boys have been working on things that have a schedule already established so I really only need to say, "Just do the next lesson." I know when the new year starts, my energy level will be back where it needs to be. For now, I'm just ready to call it quits and do some gardening.

Last Thursday we broke up the routine a little and went on a road trip to Williamsport to visit the Thomas Taber Museum. Out of all the exhibits there, the thing that held their interest the most, was a manual typewriter. Both of the boys had to test their skills. EM spent more than 15 minutes typing a message. There was a handwritten letter there that was to be transcribed by anyone who wanted to try it out. JT made an attempt but had difficulty reading the old-fashioned script in the letter. Other exhibits at the museum included a history of the logging industry in Pennsylvania and an extensive model train collection.

There was one little project we did this week that turned out to be more interesting than I expected. EM loves to take pictures. Last year he got a nice digital camera for his birthday and he seems to have a good eye for photography. Last week I told him he needed to do one more art project for the year. I asked him to go outside and take pictures that he felt represented spring. Then we would have them printed and make a collage poster. When we went to the Wal-mart photo center website, we learned that he could make a collage poster online. I decided that was a great option that would require less work and absolutely no glue!  I showed him how to upload the pictures and we put together a poster that will arrive at our doorstep next week. As a follow-up to this project, he also wrote a haiku about spring that he will use as part of his final presentation.

Our official last day of the 180 day requirement will be Monday. EM will be finished with all of his work, but JT will need to continue a few subjects for about 10 more days. He is nearly finished with Rosetta Stone's German 1 course. He also needs to do his last chapter test for Thinkwell Algebra. And depending on the weather, he might need a few more days to wrap up his biology unit due to some outside experiment requirements. Overall, I think we have had a good year. Next week I'll put together a more extensive summary of what we did this year. I will also be starting to put our portfolios together so I will able to share that process, as well.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Slacking Off

When I first started blogging about homeschooling, I made a commitment to myself to write a post every Friday. For the most part, I have kept to that goal, until this year. I'm not sure if it's because I have gotten lazy, have gotten busier, or if I just have less to say.

It has been busy around here lately, so that has contributed to my slacking off on the blog. I am starting to put our end of year portfolios together. This year I have the added task of compiling JT's grades for the evaluator so she can begin creating his high school transcript. I have a lot of questions about JT's future and how best to help him find his path. That has also contributed to my lack of posts. Many of my recent entries have focused on the fact that I have no idea what I am doing anymore. When he was looking at studying biology in college, the path seemed well-defined. Now that he wants to design board games or write music for video games or just about any other creative job that doesn't have an obvious step-by-step path that leads from high school graduation to career... I'm spending hours looking at college programs and art schools and biographies of people who didn't follow the beaten path and still managed to feed themselves.

Something else I have been doing is reading for pleasure more than I have in the last few years. I joined a Facebook group doing this 2015 Reading Challenge. Because of it, I've been picking up books I probably never would have read before. And since the list has 52 entries, I'm reading at least one book per week to try and finish by the end of the year. This has been taking up a lot of my free time. It's a good thing, and I'm enjoying it immensely, but I don't get much done outside of absolute necessities of life. JT is also doing the challenge, so I can count it as school related, right?

So these are my excuses. I tell myself I will do better from now on. We shall see...

Friday, March 20, 2015


I am getting anxious for spring weather. It has been a ridiculously cold, snowy, disease-laden winter here. A few days this week were nice enough for walks, but tomorrow we are expected to get another round of snow. Will it ever end?!

When spring is on the horizon, I start feeling worn thin by our schooling routine. The boys are less likely to be cooperative and I am less likely to pleasantly motivate them to work. I started recognizing the onset of this spring fever last week and I know I will need to work hard to get us back on track. Once this round of snowy weather comes and goes I plan to take the boys on a few outings to improve morale. I'm thinking a hiking trip at one of the state parks in our area and maybe we'll sign up for a program or two in the next month. Or maybe just the chance to get out in the yard more often will be enough to end the cabin fever.

Another project I have going is choosing our curriculum for next year. As usual, my original plan had to be amended so I need to do a lot of research before purchasing can begin. EM finished Singapore math 6 this year so we need to decide where he's going next. I'm sure he's ready for some algebra; I'm just not sure if we should do a full year of pre-algebra or just go straight into algebra. I'm going to be pulling a few placement tests off the web to help make that decision. Then there is JT. He is a math enigma that I need to crack before we move on for next year. Algebra has been a struggle with Thinkwell this year, so we will not continue using that platform for his next math course. Whether we go online or with a text, geometry is the traditional choice, but I just can't see that as a good fit. I know he needs some in order to take the SATs, but I'm leaning more towards Art of Problem Solving's Introduction to Number Theory for his next step. It seems like a better fit for someone interested in game design. We can always do geometry for his junior year, or just do some SAT prep math in addition to the number theory.

I also need to look at science for next year. JT will have biology under his belt at the end of this year. In a usual setting, chemistry would be next. I'm thinking it would be better to look for a community college opportunity for chemistry later in his high school career. So, again, what's the next logical choice? Maybe environmental science, ecology, human anatomy? EM will likely continue his study of electronics or move on to study machines and physics. Or we could just pull a seventh grade science textbook and go with that.

If they were in public school we'd have such limited choices for their course work. It would be a drawback in some ways, but in others, I can see how it would be a blessing. With so many options in front of us, it's so hard to choose the best path.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Are All Opportunities Equal?

Last week at the end of his lesson, JT's drum teacher asked if he could give me a call to talk about something. I must have looked worried because he immediately said, "It's nothing bad." It turns out he wanted to tell me that he thinks JT is making excellent progress and that he feels more frequent lessons would be a good idea. I told him we'd discuss it and let him know.

JT started taking lessons from this instructor September of 2013. He had his first exposure to drums playing Rock Band. We realized immediately that he had a bit of natural talent. My husband had bought a drum set for himself not long before that and we moved Jacob to the real drums to see what he could do. In no time he was playing with his dad and even composing his own songs.

We decided to send him for lessons to make sure he learned the rudiments and didn't develop any bad habits learning independently. The instructor is a well-known drummer and his prices are on the more expensive end. We wanted to give it a try so we set him up for an hour lesson every other week. After the phone call, we were looking at doubling our expenses for the drum lessons.

So, would it be worth it?

My husband and I both agreed that even though JT has great natural talent and ability, he doesn't have the passion for drumming that we would want to see if we were going to spend that kind of money. Sure he 'likes' to play but does he 'love' it? I don't see him running to the drums to play on his own. He practices what he has been assigned, usually for the minimum number of hours expected each week. He goes to the lesson and plays well. But the passion just isn't there. In all honesty, we had started to wonder if the every other week lessons were going to continue much longer.

When the teacher called, my husband told him we'd keep things the way they are for now. He explained that even though JT is a good drummer we can't see his drumming ever being more than a hobby. If he were considering a career in drumming it might be worth the cost but as a hobby it's not.

Maybe that sounds harsh... or cheap... But as parents I think we are encouraged far too often to push our kids to have the absolute best opportunities even when they aren't a good fit. I see parents spending loads of money on elite sports teams, fancy summer camps, high-end music lessons, and every experience you can think of under the sun. What happens when they seem to be naturally good at everything they try? Do we have an obligation to keep pushing that pursuit if they are only mildly interested? If it's your child's passion and you have the means to do it, then go for it! But when it's just something we do just because we can, I think there's absolutely nothing wrong with saying no.