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

Choices

hope
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.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Answering Questions with Style

Yes, I am a slob.
Last week, I attended the annual PDE conference in Hershey. Every year I come home with a bit of knowledge that I always plan to employ with the boys. Most of the time, I quickly forget what great new thing I learned or I try it out and they are less than inspired with my new methods. This year I have finally found something that seems to excite both me and my students.



I went to a session titled, Short Writing Often, Not Just Long Writing Seldom by Dr. Anita Archer. I was hoping to get some ideas to use with EM since he is a resistant writer. What I came away with was a whole collection of resources to use with both of the boys. I realized I have been spending too much time trying to push them to write lengthy compositions when what they really need to do is step back and learn the basics so they can build a better foundation. Just last week, JT was asking me about the writing component of the SAT. He knows his best chance at a decent score on that test will require him to ace the vocab and writing portions so he can make up for any issues he has in the math section. We started looking at examples on the College Board website and he decided he was going to need to do some work if he wanted a good score on his writing. I was thrilled that he was being realistic and wanted to work to improve. Now I just needed to find the best way to help him with that goal. Enter Anita Archer...

Today we tried an exercise I learned in the session. I wrote a question on the white board related to our American history reading from yesterday.

What action during Coolidge's term as governor brought him national attention?

Then I gave this answer.

He stopped a strike.

While we all agreed this was a correct answer, we knew it wasn't a good answer. The next step involved using a tool from the session. This sentence expansion worksheet originally came from a book by Judith Hochman, Teaching Basic Writing Skills, which sadly, appears to be out of print.

question words
The student will look at the question asked and then use question words like, who, what, where, when, how, and why to expand the details they will use to answer. Once they write out the answers to the question words, they write their expanded sentence. We worked together to come up with answers for our question words on the board. Once we had the information needed to write a better answer, I had each of the boys write their own improved sentence. JT wrote:

While Calvin Coolidge was governor of Massachusetts, he came to national attention when he resolved a policemen strike in Boston by calling in the national guard and ordering the commissioner to replace the strikers.

Much more detailed than, he stopped the strike, yes? I plan to use this new exercise every week to reinforce our American history study. After our reading aloud, I will give the boys a question to answer. We will gradually move away from working together on the white board until they can complete the question word outline alone to come up with their own answer. There were many more great writing frames Dr. Archer shared in her presentation that I plan to put into action in the next few months. As of right now, you can still access the handouts from the session here on the PaTTAN site. Please note that there is a drop down on the page to get both of the PDFs.

The greatest part of the whole experience was when JT told me today, "You know, I think I'm starting to like writing. I really enjoyed writing that answer." It turns out he was having a hard time choosing what bits of information to use. Too many things are in his head and instead of picking the appropriate details, he tends to answer with as little as possible to avoid the decisions. Now that he has a good way to identify the important details, he feels more in control and able to give the best answer.

I could get mad at myself for not thinking of this sooner, but I've learned that the right tool seems to come along at the right time in our schooling. Maybe if I had picked this up a few years ago, JT and EM wouldn't have been ready to use it. Maybe I wouldn't have been ready to implement it in a way that would have made sense. I'm just happy that this knowledge has come to me at a time when JT is thinking about his need to improve his writing and that he is interested in putting new tools to work. We will be employing the short writing often method as often as we can!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Community

As a homeschooling family, we sometimes find our boys have unique opportunities that other kids their age may not experience. Sometimes it's fun things, like vacationing during the school year or playing outside during school hours. Other times these opportunities are a little different, but very valuable to their growth as part of the community.

In recent months our church congregation has lost a few members. Because our schedule is flexible we are often able to attend funerals when other children would need to be in school. This has allowed our boys to experience memorial services for people other than immediate family members. I find this to be good to help them see grief in a less threatening way. The services we attended were for older men and women that had lived rich, full lives. We heard many family members tell stories of the hardships their loved ones had endured, the challenges they had met, and the love they had shared with the people they knew. We were also able to hear of the hope they have to see them again when they come to the end of their own lives. Sharing in these moments will help our children start to feel the bonds of our community. I hope it will also help them deal with grief in the future when it hits closer to home.

Sometimes homeschooling presents opportunities that I would never have thought of as educational before we started this journey. But I'm finding there is much to learn when we open our eyes to life as a teacher.