Saturday, August 29, 2015

Reconnecting with my Local Homeschool Community

A few years ago I had been actively involved in a Meetup group for local homeschoolers but when the leadership in the group changed and they started charging dues, I decided to drop out. I really hadn't been very involved in the community; I would look at the upcoming events parents were posting and sometimes we would attend. Not all of the events were sponsored by members of the group, sometimes it worked more as a central location to learn about things happening in the community where homeschoolers could participate. When the leadership changed there seemed to be more focus on the local homeschool co-op that I had no interest in joining. The structure of co-ops really doesn't fit our style.

My boys attend a few regular activities with other homeschoolers, our monthly book club and bi-weekly game nights at the library. At the last game night a mom was talking about an ecology day that had been planned and posted in the Meetup. I realized we were missing out on events because I had quit the group. So I reluctantly paid my dues and started checking out the site.

I spent some time reading the schedule for their weekly co-op and I started to think, "Wouldn't it be great to take advantage of these classes?!" But then I thought about the time commitment we'd have to make; even though it's only one day a week, we'd be unable to travel during the months co-op was in session. I'd have to agree to teach or help in some way. We'd have to be there early in the morning and spend a whole day doing classes. This was starting to sound more and more like 'regular' school, except in this case, we'd have to pay a fee! One way it wouldn't be like regular school was that these classes are only held one day a week. I couldn't really see how a once a week class could really do much to improve the boys' math, science, or history learning. So even though some outsourcing may be appealing, I decided it was not worth it.

But then I found something we would be interested in trying. One father was putting together a three on three basketball program. Last year was our final year with Upward because EM has reached the maximum age. This would be a great opportunity for us. The group will meet one day a week for some instruction and then games. It looks like the rules will be very similar to Upward which will make it easy for them to adapt. The cost will only be a $20 participation fee. Overall, it looks like a great fit for us. The only problem is that the first week will be when we are traveling, but the coordinator said it wouldn't be a problem for us to miss one week. So I signed them up and we'll be playing basketball later this fall.

I found myself checking and re-checking the conversation about this event. Hopefully Meetup doesn't turn into another time waster like Facebook for me. Believe me, I don't need any more distractions from what I am supposed to be doing around here! It's hard enough to stay focused and get these kids a little education when there are so many other things that can suck up my time.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Admitting my Weaknesses

For years I have been struggling with the problem of math instruction; I even took an algebra class on Coursera to try and help myself get back up to speed. I quickly found that this wasn't going to turn me into a good math teacher. All it did was remind me how little I really remember. EM seems to naturally pick up math with little or no instruction, so he hasn't needed much from me. But JT has the same struggles I do with math and that hasn't been a good thing. 

For the last two years, JT had been using Thinkwell for his math learning. I only needed to jump in to correct the worksheets and <Hooray!> the answer keys were provided. This year he did not want to continue with Thinkwell so I had to find a Geometry text book that he could use. We found a good fit with an old Harold Jacobs book published in 1974. But guess what? Only selected answers in the back of the book! After a week or so I realized I was out of my league. It was time to pass the torch to someone who knows what they are doing. Hooray for former math major husbands!

I'm not sure if it will continue to be true throughout the year, but for now, I think JT is doing better in math than usual. Part of the reason is that he is finally receiving appropriate math instruction. For years I've fallen victim to the fallacy that all gifted kids are naturally good at math. Even though I knew he was struggling, it just felt like he should be able to do this by reading the book and working harder. I still believe working harder would help him, but now I know he needs more direct instruction. My husband is a good teacher. He isn't a teacher in the professional sense, but he does teach classes at our church, both to adults and children, and he's very good at helping people understand the material he is presenting. When I asked him to take over math instruction this year, he agreed to do it with the caveat that he might not be able to do it at the time JT was used to, but it would get done by the end of the day. So far, things are working very well and I am far less stressed out because kids are not coming to me with math questions that I can not answer. Instead, I got to do some art with EM today.

When I'm feeling overwhelmed by schooling, the fun things tend to get pushed aside. This week we made time for a little watercolor work. We printed out templates from the Woo!Jr site, cut them out, traced them on to our watercolor paper in pencil, then went over the pencil with a Sharpie marker. We added the veins and then started painting. EM chose an oak leaf and I did an elm.

EM is using Thinkwell this year for his prealgebra course. This is his first year away from Singapore math so it's a little different for him. When he used Singapore, I'd do a little instruction if he needed it, but that was rare. If he ends up having any questions this year, I'll just send him off to talk to his Dad and I can get on with the things I am good at like art projects, history, science experiments, and literature.

Friday, August 7, 2015

School and Fun

Foil Hat!
Things are moving along pretty well for our start of the year. We are finding our groove and things are going smoothly. This week we took a break from the new routine to go to a concert given by the king of the non-conformists. My husband and I have been fans of Weird Al since we first heard him on Dr. Demento so of course we have raised our children on a steady diet of musical parody. When we saw that the Mandatory Fun tour was coming within easy driving distance, tickets had to be purchased for the whole family, including my adult daughter and her husband. This was EM's first concert experience and he had a great time.

As far as schooling goes, I made a decision to buy a few more books for our literature study this year. I had already purchased Lightning Literature's Mid to Late 19th Century American Lit book for JT from a friend a few years ago. When I started looking through it, I decided to go ahead and buy the Early to Mid 19th Century Student Guide and the teacher's guides for both books. Then I started looking at their 7th Grade Literature program for EM and decided it would be a great fit for him. I bought the student guide directly from Hewitt Homeschooling but found a copy of the student workbook on Amazon for a little less. I'm still hoping to buy the teacher's guide without paying full price, but don't know for sure if I need it until I see the student books after they arrive. Sometimes I find the teacher's guides don't offer much more and I can figure out answers on my own. When I buy math and science books, I like to have the teacher guides so I don't have to figure out all the answers on my own. I don't always want to have to read all of the textbook to check their work. One nice thing about the Lightning Lit teacher's guides is that they give you a nice schedule for your student. I found that the 7th grade schedule is available as a free PDF download so as long as I can figure out answers on my own, I shouldn't need to buy that one.

Next week the boys are going to the annual Fire Safety Camp for three days so we will once again have a shortened classroom schedule. The following week we should be up to full speed and be able to continue with that until we take our two week vacation in October. There will be a few days of schooling during the trip, but mostly it will be a true vacation for all of us.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Hey Kids! Ready for School?

Last Monday I decided I'd better do some calendar calculations to figure out when we should begin our school year. I looked at last year's chart and saw that we had logged 101 days when we started our Christmas break. Counting backwards from this year's break,  and taking out nearly a month for our planned epic travel adventure (more on that in a future post) I discovered schooling would have to start that day if we wanted to finish in May.

Good thing I bought my books early this year and already had the classroom ready to go!

The boys were not exactly thrilled, but were good sports about the sudden schooling. EM was scheduled to go to a local history camp three days that week, so he only did grammar, a few analogy worksheets, reading, and some math. I knew he was going to do pre-algebra this year, but wasn't 100% sure which textbook I wanted to use. I sat down with him that Monday to look through what we had. Nothing felt like a perfect fit. Then I got an email from the Homeschool Buyer's Co-op that Thinkwell courses were half price. I showed EM a sample from the pre-algebra class and he told me he'd like to use it. JT used Thinkwell for two years and wasn't really a fan. EM loves the fact that he can work through it at his own pace. We had to wait a few days to get things set up so he did a little of Edward Zaccaro's Challenge Math book to warm up for the year, then when it was ready, worked his way through most of the first chapter of his Thinkwell course.

JT started Rosetta Stone's German Level 2, is reading the third book in C.S. Lewis' space trilogy, started his Jacob's Geometry text, and began his study of ecology. We are piecing together his ecology course from many sources including an ecology workbook, the book Bottle Biology, ecology videos on the Crash Course Youtube channel, and a few other books I have lying around. Because it's so pieced together, we will log 120 days of work instead of completion of a textbook as our record for his science credit through PHAA.

We also started reading Volume 4 of Story of the World and a biography of president Harry S. Truman.

For the next few weeks I will add in more subjects gradually until we get up to full speed for our schooling. I'm starting things a little more slowly this year. JT is doing a few subjects that are only a semester long so I am going to spread their start times out a bit to keep it from feeling too overwhelming at the beginning of the year.

One good thing about starting so suddenly is that I had no real time to dread the start of school. One day it was summer vacation, the next day, school!

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.