Thursday, May 31, 2012

Why The Summaries Are Not Being Posted


I have once again not met a goal I set for myself.
But it's okay because I managed to get other things accomplished that I hadn't planned to do, and then added to my to-do list once they were completed so I could feel smug about my organization and diligent work ethic. Everyone does that, right?

Last week in my blog post, I mentioned that I planned to write summaries from our school year and have them posted this week. I also planned to clean out the classroom.

None of those things happened this week.

Instead I spent THREE DAYS cleaning my bedroom. I went through every drawer. I pulled ALL the clothes out of the closet and cruelly dispatched many adorable outfits that would fit someone about 1/3 of my current size. The donation pile covered the entire couch at one point. Then I went through boxes of old greeting cards and other memorabilia I had collected and threw away a small pile of things I felt were not necessary to my happiness. On the final day, I moved every piece of furniture to clean it, washed curtains and bedding and cleaned that room to death.

After the room project had ended, I decided it was about time I got around to starting the vegetable garden. I could have started it before our trip, but didn't want to add watering responsibilities to the list for my daughter while I was gone. Now it's a bit later than I wanted to get going, but still well within acceptable for our region.

Today we went and bought new sand for our sandbox. The boys spend HOURS playing in sand. We have had the same sand for about seven years. It had started to look kind of green and there wasn't much left. So earlier in the week, EM and JT helped me remove the old sand and spread it under our deck. After a trip to Lowe's we came home with 400 lbs of fresh play sand. By the time I had it in the box, they needed to come in for bed, so tomorrow will be a day of building. I expect something along the lines of the project pictured here from 2008.

I'll make no promises as to whether or not I will be posting the summaries next week. I have another subject in mind for a post, so either way I'll have something ready. It'll just have to be a surprise...

...for all of us.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Refreshed and Ready to Work

My husband and I enjoyed our little get-away. I think I managed to barely talk about homeschooling for three entire days! One of the places we visited was Longwood Gardens. If you have never been there, add it to your list. Even though I enjoy trips with the boys, it is nice to visit a place without the worries that go along with traveling with kids. No need to say things like, "Stay out of that fountain!" or "Stop touching your brother!" or "No, we are NOT there yet!"

Once we were home and all of the laundry had been tackled, I started to prepare for our annual visit with our homeschool evaluator. In PA, parents must show the portfolio of the child's work to an evaluator (someone certified to teach in PA, or someone with similar qualifications) and discuss the progress made. She takes time to look over each of the boys' portfolios and then talks with them about the kinds of things they learned throughout the school year. She doesn't quiz their knowledge; it's only a casual conversation about what they liked and why. She also asks me where I think they made the most progress. This time it was easy to answer for EM. Hands down his progress in reading was amazing this year. JT was a little trickier. While he has made steady progress in all that he does, nothing was coming to mind at first. Then it hit me...his computer programming skills! Although this is not a specific subject to be taught according to the homeschooling requirements, I have included it under his math instruction. When I told our evaluator about it, she asked JT to explain the sample program I had included in the portfolio. He was very excited to explain what the program can do.

After we completed the review of the portfolios, we had a discussion about future plans, specifically high school planning. She had several suggestions. She recommends a couple diploma programs, but is also happy to work with us to develop our own transcripts without the diploma. I am going to do some research this summer. It's still a few years down the road, but I want to have some idea where we are heading before we get there.

This week I hope to get a few outlines together for next year. I'm doing my annual classroom cleanup at the same time. I hope to have a summary of our school year ready to post next time I blog. I want to get as much accomplished as possible in the classroom by mid-June so I can completely relax for the rest of my summer break. I don't want anything hanging over my head waiting to be done. I made that mistake last summer and don't plan to repeat it.

Of course, I never plan to procrastinate. Maybe if I actually planned to put something off I'd procrastinate so much that I'd never get around to procrastinating. Hmm...sounds like something I should work on this summer.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Rest for the Weary

Today my husband and I are leaving for a little get-away. We are celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary with a few days away from home. I have been working hard this week to complete the portfolios so I wouldn't have to think about them waiting for me when I return from the trip.

I believe it is incredibly important to our family happiness that my husband and I have opportunities like these to spend time together alone. As I have blogged about it the past, our family is together nearly all the time due to homeschooling and a work-from-home environment. All of us need to go our separate ways from time to time in order to keep sane. I am so thankful to my adult daughter and her husband for offering child care whenever we need it. My boys are also thankful because days spent with their sister and brother-in-law mean computer games and board games and all sorts of fun. It's definitely a win-win situation.

And now, forgive me for running off so soon...I have some relaxing to do!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Showing My Work

Today I spent quite a few hours sitting on the floor sifting through papers and feeling frustrated. As a homeschooling parent in PA, I am required to submit a portfolio to the district at the conclusion of our year of schooling, described this way by state regulations:

"The portfolio shall consist of a log, made contemporaneously with the instruction, which designates by title the reading materials used,samples of any writings, worksheets, workbooks or creative materials used or developed by the student and in grades three, five and eight results of nationally normed standardized achievement tests in reading/language arts and mathematics or the results of Statewide tests administered in these grade levels."

All through the year, I place completed work into a binder. Three times a year I further winnow the papers down by subject. At the end of the least the theory is...I should have everything mostly ready to put into my portfolios. Last year the plan worked fairly well. After printing out a few pictures to show some of the less paper-oriented work the boys had done and copying fliers from programs we had attended throughout the year, I only needed to compose short descriptions for certain subjects like art, music and physical education.

This year it seems there is not enough to really show the extent of what we have done. Our move towards more hands-on activities may be contributing to the shortage. Employing more online math and computer programming for JT has also slimmed down the pile for that subject. Ultimately this isn't a huge problem. Our evaluator will talk with each of the boys as she goes through their portfolios. She will know that they have made progress based on their ability to share the things we have been doing. The school district will look at our work, see if we have something for each check box they must mark, read the evaluator's approval, and be happy that my boys are learning.

But I want there to be more. I want to look at the pile of paper in my classroom and feel a sense of accomplishment. Maybe I have to accept that there is no easy way to measure learning. That has always been true, whether in public, private, cyber or homeschool environments. There are so many lessons we learn that are not tangible, not provable, not measurable.

I guess I'm my own worst critic.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Little Bit of This, a Little Bit of That

Monday evening we attended a play called, Penn's Pals put on by the Bloomsburg Theater Ensemble. It was a free production given at our local library. The boys and I learned a great deal about the life of William Penn, our state's founder. At the end of the performance, I spoke with one of the actors about opportunities for children to participate in their plays. He let me know that there would be auditions this coming Saturday for a summer production, Revenge of the Space Pandas. JT was very interested in trying out, until we found out that the performances would be starting the same week he will be attending Kids' College. Because this will be his last year participating in Kids' College, we decided to skip the auditions, but might try again next year. We did discover that there are theater camps offered throughout the summer. We might have him, or EM, or both, sign up for a week.

Next week, JT and I are going to attend a program called The Hidden World of Moths at the Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art. The speaker will be Seabrooke Leckie, co-author of the Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America. I have never been to the nature center and am looking forward to hearing Ms. Leckie speak. Even though our school year is ending this Friday, we'll continue looking for educational opportunities!

This year, we made it through the first 25 chapters of Story of the World, Volume 2. After the success of last year's time-line project, we went ahead and made another one for this year. It covers 70AD, when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome (chapter 20) to 1347AD, the plague in Europe (chapter 25). Although we enjoy the SOTW series, I must say the way she scrambles the events out of their sequential order to make the story of the book flow makes it VERY difficult to decide the order for the time-line. The back of the book does list the major events in consecutive order, but the chapters don't follow it. Notice our first event happens in 70AD, but isn't covered until chapter 20. We covered twenty events on our time-line. The boys each had to come up with ten notable events to draw. I especially like the picture of the Aborigines in Australia squeezing frogs to get water to drink. It isn't necessarily an 'event', but it does make an entertaining drawing!

Last week, JT and I both started our first online class offered by Stanford University. The class is Computer Science 101 and is hosted by Coursera. I had always planned on moving towards a virtual class experience for some of the boys' classes. This is the first one we have tried. JT is really enjoying it. I signed up so I could see what the classes were like. I didn't expect there to be quite as much programming involved as there seems to be so far. It's not difficult work, just something I am not especially interested in learning right now. I asked JT if he likes the format of the class. He told me that he would like to take more classes like this one and that he assumes he will be doing more and more of his classes this way as he moves into high school level work. I am glad that he sees this as a good method of learning. He seems to be self-motivated to do the work for the class. I haven't had to push him at all to get the assignments done. Maybe he is starting to take some responsibility for his own education.

As I said, Friday is our last official day of schooling. Next week I will be putting the portfolios together for our visit with the evaluator. Hopefully by the time I sit down to blog at the end of the week, things will be wrapped up and ready to go. I must admit, I am looking forward to a little more free time soon. Our house desperately needs a thorough cleaning; the kind of cleaning where I make large piles of things to give away, throw away, and sell. My office has kept its cleaned-up status through a whole school year! If you saw it now, you'd never believe it looked like THIS just last summer. I figure if I can conquer one room per week, things will be in excellent shape by the time we are ready to roll in mid-July.

But my plans don't always go as we shall see.