Thursday, April 28, 2011

Project Based Learning

In last week's post, I mentioned that I wanted to say a little more about the keynote speaker at the PAGE conference. Kevin Honeycutt is a wonderfully creative educator. He certainly inspired me to take a closer look at how I am connecting my kids to the future through their education today.

His website is absolutely loaded with links and ideas, mostly free to download. I could spend hours checking it all out. One thing that really caught my eye is Google SketchUp. If you aren't familiar with it, Google SketchUp is a free tool for building 3D models on your computer. Tutorial videos are available here. I can see definite possibilities for fun projects with this tool.

Another plan I have in the works is to use to help JT publish some of his writing projects. In his presentation, Kevin pointed out that when a student is given a writing assignment, they are working for an audience of one...not really all that inspiring. He then shared a story about a troubled student he was trying to reach. He knew that she wrote poetry, so he asked if she would be interested in 'becoming an author'. He helped her publish her poetry (using a pseudonym) that very afternoon. When the book arrived, she was thrilled, but she also noticed all of her spelling errors. Up to that point, she had no reason at all to CARE if she was misspelling words in her writing assignments. Now it mattered to her and education could happen.

I plan to spend time this summer looking into many of the other links on Kevin's site. In the process, I think I will be seeing a shift in my education style. I have been wanting to work towards a more project based approach. I feel like his site is the link I have needed to pull it all together.

Along those same lines, this week has been a bit less structured. Ever since the beginning of this year, we had been talking about doing some birdwatching. This week we borrowed the National Geographic Field Guide to Birds: Pennsylvania, from the library. We made some treats for the birds in our yard using pine cones, peanut butter and sunflower seeds. Today we recorded several different species in our journal, including a Brown Thrasher and two Eastern Bluebirds. It was a great opportunity to learn more about these birds AND be outside in beautiful weather.

JT told me today that he absolutely MUST build a model of a suspension bridge. He had a pretty good plan in mind for how to pull it off. He thought he should use Popsicle sticks and cardboard. We spent a little time researching online. I posted a request for recommendations for good sites and material on the Gifted Homeschooler's Forum and received some really great ideas. Our favorite is a bridge made with the supplies he had in mind, found at the site Model Bridge Design. I want to encourage both of the boys to work on this an independently as possible. I know I tend to jump in too quickly. Since I know little about bridge design, they will need to lead the way.

EM has been wanting to do more work with the LEGO Mindstorm. I also plan to pull out some of our electronics kits to let him explore on his own. He really enjoys finding out how things work. I want to continue to encourage his curiosity. He has also been working his way through some of the Jedi Apprentice books. Certainly not high quality literature...but I'm thrilled that he is spending larger amounts of time reading. On a related note, he finally started his vision therapy for his Strabismus. He needs to use a computer home therapy program 3 days a week for 20 minutes at a time. He will also have monthly therapy appointments at the eye center. His doctor told us that she saw some improvement since his last appointment, even without the therapy. The program will help prepare his eyes for the smaller print and longer reading times needed as he moves along in his education.

Laid back schooling has provided us with many opportunities to leave our usual routine this week. With so much freedom in our schedule, I think we will have an exciting end of the school year.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Spring Break Isn't for Planning

Tonight I threw away the "List of Things to Work on Over Spring Break".

Not a thing had been checked off that list. Knowing how many activities we have planned with family and friends for the weekend, I figured it was a lost cause anyway. You know what? I don't really feel bothered by this. Usually I'm all about the list...looks like I'm learning something myself on this homeschooling adventure.

I had hoped to plan most of the rest of our school year out this week. We have 22 days of school remaining to meet our minimum 180 days. It seemed feasible that I could plan lessons for that in a week's time. But other things got in the way. JT had his yearly physical on Monday. Fortunately our primary care provider is fairly supportive of homeschooling. She always asks the probing questions revolving around socialization but seems happy with our answers. Tuesday evening we had a wonderful opportunity to hear Brian Greene speak at a local university. It was exciting to be in a room full of people who would choose to go listen to a theoretical physicist talk about string theory. I was also happy to see that my 10 yr old wasn't the only child in the audience. Wednesday the weather was gorgeous, so we spent the day outside.

By late last night, I actually made my way back into the classroom. I did throw together a short list on the white board. Here's what I have so far:

Story of the World review...giant timeline for the wall
more art
website learning; Khan Academy, NOVA videos, icivics, brainpop, happy scientist
math, EM finish Singapore 2B, JT work on Challenge Math and KCP Geometry
memorization, poem for EM, historical speech of choice, JT
music unit
JT, review of Latin and Greek roots
EM, review of spelling words, possible spelling bee format
Geography games
more computer programming, typing practice, Mindstorm
LOTS of reading
LOTS of outdoor activities...nature journals, bird watching
field trips, Hershey Gardens, hike with local homeschool group, day at the state park, museum
Get the fun box out!!!

I think that looks like a great outline to end the year. I don't want to get into too many new things this late in the game. There are far too many opportunities outside of the classroom when the weather is cooperating.

The PAGE conference went fairly well. We had a small group of parents attend the panel discussion on homeschooling/cyberschooling. It seemed that most of the attendees were leaning towards the cyber option. I certainly can't blame them. I went that way as well. There were three other moms on the panel, two homeschoolers, one cyber. I was able to take a coffee break with a homeschooling mom after our session. She's been homeschooling her children most of their educational careers and is about to graduate a son. It was a great opportunity to pick the brain of someone who has been there, done that. She really made me feel more confident about my options. She also shared the transcript she has put together for her son. Once again, a wonderful thing to boost that confidence!

Our second day of the conference, we had a parent networking session. All of the attendees were parents of current cyberschool students, except one. He was the assistant CEO of that particular cyberschool. We had two parents on the panel for the session and we were both homeschoolers. There was some tension in the session over issues the cyberschool parents had encountered in trying to join their local homeschooling support groups. But what it really turned into was an opportunity for the parents to try to work out difficulties specific to the school with their CEO. I felt a bit more like an observer. It was funny because as I listened to their concerns and frustrations, I could hear how I sounded last year. I so wanted to tell them, "It doesn't have to be that way!" But I knew they had to find their own paths for what would work best for their families. So I just sat there and smiled, knowing that stress was gone from my life. I can sit back and enjoy the ride.

I will have more to say about the conference next week. The keynote speaker, Kevin Honeycutt, may have been the most inspirational speaker on education I have ever heard. I am bursting with new ideas I picked up listening to him. This summer I will be working some of them into our plans for next year. Spend some time on his website, if you can. I guarantee, you won't be disappointed!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Opportunity Knocks

Tomorrow I will be participating as one of four members in a panel discussion entitled, "Home Schooling and Cyber Schooling: Exploring Alternatives to Traditional Schooling" at the annual PAGE conference. This is my first opportunity to get out there and proclaim the joys of the homeschooling lifestyle from the rooftops.

I really haven't been sure what to expect from this whole experience. I know the audience will be a mix of teachers and parents. I also know that many parents only attend the Saturday sessions, so it could be mostly teachers. What will teachers want to know about home schooling gifted kids? Because I wasn't sure, I started asking around...

I posted a message to the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum asking what they would want to know if they were new to homeschooling. I had many responses that helped me know what direction to start looking in preparation. I realized that when I began homeschooling, I really only answered my immediate questions, What things do I need to do to get started? What subjects must I teach? What medical forms need to be filled out? How do I find an evaluator? I didn't even spend much time looking at the regulations for things like extra-curricular activities, diploma options, college admission of homeschoolers... I realized many people would want to know these things. So, I set about finding answers.

I spent considerable time reading over the mass of material on the Ask Pauline website. I researched the diploma options in PA, and found out there are many ways to go about accomplishing the task. I looked at three local universities to find out their policies on admitting homeschoolers. The private schools were willing to forgo the need for an official transcript. The state run school insisted that a transcript would be absolutely necessary and told me how to go about getting one. I think I may know what direction we will be leaning when it comes to the college years. I also took a deep breath and called the principal of our local elementary school to discuss the regulations and how they interpreted the extra-curricular and curricular options for homeschoolers.

The bottom line of all of this research is that even if no one were to show up for the discussion, I have benefited immensely from the preparation. I just hope it shows tomorrow.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Losing Steam

Before I get into the meat of tonight's post, I want to share the story behind this picture. For the last three years, I have been building spelling lists for JT from the English from the Roots Up flashcards. I like the way the cards work, several words all made up from the same Latin or Greek root. But sometimes, I wonder how often he will need to know how to spell some of these uncommon words, such as phillumenist. Today, I found out. The drawing he made on the white board incorporated one of this week's spelling words, thermoplastic. Not a word I've ever refers to something that can be molded or formed when heated. The picture is a man, tied to a spit, being cooked by cannibals. Turns out the man is thermoplastic, so their plans have been foiled. Now THAT'S a good use of education!

According to the calendar we are rapidly approaching the end of our school year. For me it feels like time has suddenly started to drag its feet. I have a hard time getting excited about planning right now. I know it's because the end is in sight. I realized today that the best way to cope with this lack of motivation is to lighten up a bit. My plan for this week came together late in the game. I left the schedule a bit more sparse than usual. So far, that has been working in my favor allowing the days to be less tedious. We had more time to spend on projects. We spent a little more time outdoors. We stayed at the library longer than we sometimes do. We put a New England seaport diorama together today that normally I would have skipped out of shortness of time. All of these things have turned resistant kids into happy kids. By this time of the year, I feel like we have already met so many of our goals that we deserve a little down time. Learning is still happening, maybe even more than usual.

I had already planned to spend the last month of our school year summing up in many of our subjects. I thought a review format for spelling would be better than picking up any new words at this point. More games and projects are also on the agenda. The boys both made nature journals at the library homeschool day last week. Our weather has been too rainy to really put them to good use yet, but we plan to work those into our daily activities soon.

I know these last few weeks will be full of interesting days, but I also know summer will soon be here. I will be able to recharge my batteries, coming at the next year full of energy and new plans. For now, I'm just going along for the ride...learning as we go.