Thursday, April 28, 2016

It Figures

Well, we started our summer vacation with a family-wide virus. We are on the mend now, but my portfolio prep has been on the back burner until I can stay on my feet for more than an hour. I will  have to postpone my sharing on that topic until next time. Our appointment for our evaluations isn't until May 18th, so I have time to spare. I just hate waiting too long after we finish working because I tend to forget what I had planned.

Last weekend JT and I took a hike at the RB Winter State Park. We hiked about 4 miles in 2 hours, with a few stops to check things out. I feel like we made good time considering some of the trail conditions. The picture above was the start of the trail, easy hiking, wide path, some steep portions, but nothing serious. Then we came to a portion of the trail declared to be 'easiest hiking' in the trail guide for the park. The picture on the right shows JT above me on the trail. We had to come down that rocky path. I was wishing I had already ordered my hiking poles. I found a sturdy stick and suggested that JT come behind me so I didn't squash him if I fell.
I have been spending some time researching composition programs at various music schools. So far, the program that best fits JT's goals would be Berklee's online degree Music Composition for Film, TV, and Games. I'm looking into whether this program is worth the cost, because scholarship money isn't available. I'm also unsure if online schooling is the best choice for music education. A lot to think about. Luckily, we still have some time.

For now we just need to work on getting healthy so I can complete the portfolios and call this year a wrap!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Approaching the End, Again

lonely beach
Two weeks ago we took a quick weekend trip to Ocean City New Jersey. Even though the end is in sight for our school year, I needed a quick recharge for the final push. It was a chilly visit - temps were around 60 but the wind speeds were steady around 20mph with gusts of 50mph. At least we had the beach to ourselves to enjoy!

As of Monday, we will be seven days from the end of our 2015-2016 school year. As usual, I am surprised at how quickly the year has passed. EM is completing 7th grade, JT 10th. The last few days will be focused on a final test for JT in health, wrapping up Rosetta Stone's German 2 course, and working on a timeline of American presidents with both boys. We read our final presidential biography for the year last week. With Gerald Ford, we have come to presidents within my own lifetime, so next year we will be reading about history that I remember! I thought it would be a good idea to go back and review those we have covered up until now by making a timeline we can hang in the classroom. In the past, we made timelines for our Story of the World studies, but never for our American history.

 JT took another SAT practice test this week and improved his score in the math portions. He will be reviewing his incorrect answers and having some additional instruction on those problems with his dad. Then we will begin work on how to write a good SAT essay. He will be taking the PSAT in the fall and the SAT in May of 2017. College plans are starting to be formulated. We are not sure if his path will require SATs but we figure it can't hurt to take them just in case. As of right now, his college plans revolve around music and/or sound production. We had a long talk with his music theory instructor yesterday and she advised that he add piano lessons to his drum instruction and music theory studies. We are looking at some options for that, but know that it would be a good idea. JT writes music on the keyboard and finds that he doesn't have the technical skills to play the things he can imagine. Although he can play many things, he still struggles with sight reading and needs to work on his technique.

my feet hurt already
This summer we plan to work on our long term goal of hiking the portion of the Appalachian trail that passes through Shenandoah National Park. Our trail maps arrived this week so I'm starting to sit down with JT and look at the plan. We will be visiting a local state park on Saturday to do some trail hiking. Our goal is to plan our AT hike for the summer following JT's senior year. One thing I know is that I'm going to need to spend those two years getting myself in better shape! I'm happy that JT wants to take on this challenge. It will be a great experience for him to work towards independence. If this trip goes well, I hope he will continue to hike trails on his own and with friends in the future. When I was younger, I thought it would be cool to hike the whole Appalachian Trail. I'm not so sure I could handle that big of a challenge now, but it will be fun to do a portion of it with my son.

Next week I will post a summary of our complete school year. My summer planning will be a bit different this year. With JT planning to take some community college classes next year, I will have very little to do with him at home from now on. EM does a lot of his work independently, so my role will be changing for the 2016-2017 school year. That seems to be the nature of our homeschooling adventure. As soon as I get used to the way it is, it's time to make a change.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Science in Action

The boys are each working on different sciences this year. JT has been studying ecology. We used a variety of materials, starting the year off with a text that was more like a workbook, worked our way through the CrashCourse ecology videos on Youtube, used a teacher's guide from PBS American Experience to look at the history of Earth Day and study the life and work of Rachel Carson, finally we are using material we borrowed from our local school district to look at the topics covered in Pennsylvania's Envirothon. That material was split into five components. We decided to save the aquatic ecology portion for the end of the year when the weather would be more conducive to working outside in water. This week, the weather was perfect for measuring the velocity of a local stream. We used worn out drum sticks (Finally a use for those things!) to mark two spots along the shore then dropped floats in the stream and timed their progress. It was a fun experience and we discovered that our stream has some tricky currents that snag your floats and mess up your data. The book we are using for this portion of his study is Rivers and Streams by Patricia A. Fink Martin. I really like the way this book is put together. It has plenty of hands on activities that are easy to do, but also challenging.

EM is furthering his electronics studies this year using Make: Electronics by Charles Platt. My husband is leading the study of this subject. They ordered some kits online that were designed specifically for this book. The last few weeks they have been building things around the house. The day I took this picture, we had some lemon batteries running on the kitchen table. EM has a good grasp of technical concepts so this is a great way for him to really get into a topic he enjoys. As I did this year, next year I will have EM focus on a different scientific subject for the first half of the year, and return to his electronics again after Christmas. He's not a fan of the life sciences, but we managed to get some of that out of the way with a study of anatomy this year. Next year I think we will look at Earth Science.

JT and I have been starting to work on his application for the community college where he hopes to take a class in the fall. He will most likely register for an introduction to chemistry class. Based on the course description, I don't think the material will be too challenging for him, but instead I hope to use this experience to help him learn how to take a class. The credits at this school are relatively inexpensive and I think it will be a great investment to let him learn when the stakes are low compared to later when he's paying much more per credit at his chosen university. Baby steps towards adulthood and independence are happening every day.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Sorry, Life Got in the Way

I now have a grandson and therefore a valid excuse when I skip blogging for a month or so! Our little boy, let's call him Peanut, was born on February 6th. Since then things have been a little out of sorts around here, but hopefully they will start settling down soon. While I've been out helping my daughter with Peanut, the boys have been working fairly independently. Dad has stepped in to take on EM's science and JT's math, so I mostly organize the schedule and make a list they can complete on their own. We still do our history reading together, I help both boys with their writing work, and I work as a part-time chauffeur getting them to their various lessons. The rest of their subjects they can handle with little help from me.

JT took a practice SAT book using the latest edition of the College Board's practice book. His score in the reading portion was above average, in the math section he was close to average, for the essay, let's just say, he needs more practice. We plan to do the other three practice tests and use Khan Academy's SAT material to help him prepare to take the test next year. We also need to take the time to sit down and fill out the application for the community college where he plans to take a few classes next year as a dually enrolled high school student.

JT and I are also discussing plans to do some hiking. We both recently read the book, A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, and have become enthralled with the idea of hiking a portion of the Appalachian Trail. We are working on a plan to begin some training hikes this summer and look at doing a longer overnight hike to prepare for an eventual 10 day hike on the Shenandoah National Park portion of the trail. EM and my husband are not as interested in this endeavour so they would follow along as support staff and stay in more comfortable facilities. All of these plans will depend on what the podiatrist says when I go for an appointment in April to see why I am having foot pain.

The rest of our schooling seems to be going quite well. EM is enjoying his pottery wheel class this month, JT continues to enjoy fencing and drumming. Both are doing plenty of reading in their free time. I'm thinking once things settle down with the new baby, we might need to take a short vacation. I'm feeling the call of the road again! And why bother homeschooling with a flexible schedule if you aren't going to use it to enjoy life and get out to see the world?



Thursday, January 28, 2016

Zeroing in on a Life Path

JT has always been a creative kid. When he received his first set of Crayola markers at age four, he probably felled a small forest with the volume of paper he used. He has taken lessons for four different instruments, he writes stories, designs card games, creates animation on the computer, and writes music on both the drums and piano. I guess to most people it would be obvious that his path should follow the arts. But as Mom, I spent too long being blind to that fact, hoping he would stick with science because I was afraid he could not afford to feed himself with an art career. This week, I finally saw something that made me know this was going to be his path and I should get behind it to support him.

From time to time, JT will get totally absorbed composing a song on the piano. He will spend hours finding just the right sound, avoiding all of his 'official' school work to do so. I try to resist the urge to push him back to what he's 'supposed to be doing' because I know he enjoys the music, is good at it, and won't focus on the work even if he is doing it if a song is in his head. After he spent something like two hours at the keyboard one day, I pointed out that he is really good at composing songs and if he would take the time to learn to write them down and record them, he could probably publish them. The music he writes is always instrumental and sounds like it could be great video game or movie music. He told me that he has thought he would like to write music for movies and that it would be awesome to write music like John Williams. After a long discussion about what kinds of things he would need to do to make that happen he told me he was more than willing to get the instruction necessary to pursue that path. I pointed out that it would be hard work. He wasn't bothered by that saying it wouldn't matter because it would be fun and worth it in the end.

So I went to work helping him to find ways to learn. I found a few links about careers in music for movies and video games and had him read the stories of successful musicians in those fields. Then I contacted my friend who teaches music classes at a local university. JT will start private classes with her next week. She told me she will go through the material in the first year college theory courses, but with a focus on approaches to composition. 

I believe on a whole we think of art and music careers as hobbies instead of serious work. But when I look at how much of American culture is focused on entertainment, how can we not see that as a good choice for a career path? Maybe he wouldn't have the typical 9-5 work day and a guaranteed weekly pay check, but he also might have the opportunity to do something he loves every day and get paid to do it. Ultimately, I think he would thrive on a non-traditional work schedule, in exactly the same way he has thrived on a non-traditional school setting.

Friday, January 8, 2016

What's in Store for 2016?

The boys will start back to full-time school work on Monday. Today I finally sat down to dig in and get things organized. I knew I'd need the extra week of vacation because I am really bad at using time wisely. I had a great holiday, but that didn't get much done in the classroom.

We have 76 days remaining of our required 180. I did the math today to figure out how many days each week JT needs to spend on each of his subjects. Literature, composition, German, and math will continue to be five days. He's starting chapter 9 of Harold Jacob's Geometry on Monday. For his credit for math this year, he needs to complete 2/3 of that textbook. As long as he finishes chapter 11, we'll be good. At that point, I'm not sure if he will continue through the rest of the text or start using Khan Academy's SAT prep course for the remaining school days. Science and computer programming each need to be three days a week. I am outlining the rest of his ecology course tomorrow and Saturday using the Envirothon materials provided by our local school district. I want to have that out of the way so I can just work from a list and not have to do so much planning each weekend. He will begin his 1/2 credit health course on Monday. That will be a five day a week subject using a Hewitt Homeschooling text and syllabus. I am also adding home practice for fencing twice a week because he got an épée sword for his birthday. Before now, he could only practice at his weekly lessons where the equipment was available to use for free. Now he can do the exercises at home and work on his technique.

EM will continue with all of his regular courses with only one change. For the first half of the year, his science was taken from the Anatomy Academy books. Now he will move back to his study of electronics with his dad using a new book, Make: Electronics: Learning Through Discovery. I know he's looking forward to getting back to the science he enjoys the most. For his current reading assignment in Lightning Literature, he will be continuing Helen Keller's auto-biography and doing the activities that go along with the text. He's also going to be taking two pottery classes, a wheel class in February and a hand-building class in April.

Another change coming to our lives this year is that my daughter and her husband are having their first child. So now I will be a grandmother and the boys get to be uncles. JT claims he doesn't want to be around any babies because 'they drool'. EM seems to be more excited about the idea. I am looking at this as a great learning experience for them. Their sister was 11 when JT was born so she was able to change diapers and help with child care. I told them this would be a great chance for them to learn to take care of a baby so they would have great skills when looking for a wife in the future. I don't think I've quite sold them on that idea yet.

 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Time for a Break

For our third day in Gatlinburg, we decided to take one of the auto touring trails through the park. These trails have guide books that describe the stops on the route. You can take as much time as you like making your way along the trail, stopping and checking out things like this grist mill along the road. The boys spent a lot of time exploring areas near streams that criss-crossed the road all along the Roaring Fork Trail that we followed.

The weather was perfect that day, so we took our time and got out of the car at most of the parking areas. Later, we made our way back to the park office, did a little souvenir shopping, and followed the easy nature trail hike that started at the visitor's center. We bought one of the National Park Passport books so we could start recording our trips. Each time you visit a national park, you take the book to the visitor center and get the special stamp for that park with the date you visited. We were able to pick up two stamps on this vacation.

Our school days are wrapping up for 2015. Today was our last official day until January 12, 2016. There will be some school work during our Christmas break though. JT needs to keep making progress on his Rosetta Stone German 2 since we didn't take it with us on our vacation. He also needs to log some days for his introduction to computer programming class he is doing. We want to count it as a half credit for this year so he will need to log 60 days by the beginning of May. He only has about 20 days at this point, so extra days during the holiday break will be good. EM is in the middle of a chapter in his Thinkwell pre-algebra, so I thought he should probably finish it instead of stopping for three weeks and coming back mid-chapter. Other than those few things, our days should be pretty relaxed. That is a good thing since the wind up to Christmas has really worn me down. I need a few weeks with no planning necessary. Have a Merry Christmas and I'll be back in 2016!