Friday, October 26, 2012

Trying to Make it Stick

Math was causing a lot of stress in our home this week.  Last year I struggled to find a good fit for JT when it came to math instruction.  Around February, I made the decision to move him into something less structured for a bit.  That seemed to allow him time to renew an interest in math again.  Before I made the plan for his math for this school year, I asked for his input on curriculum.  He liked the look of the Key Curriculum Press Algebra series.  In the past, he used some of their other books and liked the way new ideas were presented.  We started the year skimming through book one, Operations on Integers, as that was mostly review work for him.  We completed that book by mid-September and moved on to book two, Variables, Terms, and Expressions.  This book started out being easy, but somewhere along the way, JT missed something essential and started to struggle.  I am not sure if I failed to explain a concept fully or if he just wasn't listening when I did.  Lack of attention is becoming a more common problem in our daily routine.  I know this is true, not just because I am experiencing it, but also because my husband has been frustrated by JT's lack of attention on several occasions lately when they are working together on computer programming instruction. It is maddening to spend an hour explaining something in great detail only to ask JT to generate some simple bit of work from the lesson and hear him say, "I don't know how to do that."

But that's a frustration we can deal with at a later time.

So, last week book two introduced the concept of like and unlike terms.

3xy and 2yx are like
3x and 2xy are unlike

He answered every one of those problems correctly.

Next lesson- Combine like terms.

8a + a = 9a

No problem!  He got all of those right.

This week- Simplify the expressions, just add like terms.

3x + 6y +2y + 8x = 11x + 8y

But that's not what JT did.  He answered it like this.


So, I asked him how he came up with that answer.  He had NO memory of learning about like and unlike terms.  We reviewed.  I did lovely sample problems on the white board showing how his answer and the correct answer would not result in the same number if we gave values to the variables.  He stared at me blankly and said, "I don't get it."  I explained again.  I had him write out the problems on the board as I talked him through it.  I thought he was starting to understand.

I gave him more problems to do.  ALL WRONG.  I banged my head on the desk a bit and questioned my ability to ever get through to this kid.

Then I turned to the best tool any homeschooling mom has...homeschooling mom friends.  The first friend suggested substituting tangible things, like silverware, for the variables.  So we did.

2forks + 3forks +knife/fork + 3knives +knife/fork
2a + 3a + ab + 3b + ab

5forks + 3knives + 2knife/forks
5a + 3b + 2ab

This visualization seemed to help him a bit.  So I sent him back to work on another set of problems.  A little better, but still a great deal of confusion, especially when negative numbers were in the problems.  So I asked another mom friend for suggestions.  She recommended highlighters to make it easier to see the different components in the expression.

Free highlighter from a conference pays off!

This idea, combined with the cutlery computation, finally made the difference.  He only had one mistake on this set of problems.  

I know this is not the last difficult week I will have on our homeschooling journey.  But I also know I am not in this alone.  There is such a wealth of been-there-done-that knowledge in the homeschooling community.  I need to remember to draw on it when I am struggling.  

And maybe someday I'll have opportunity to give back to those who have so graciously shared their ideas with me.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Is Something Important Happening in November?

We do not have cable television.  We do not have a dish on our house to pull hundreds of choices in viewing into our home.  We don't even have an old antenna out there to pick up fuzzy broadcasts.  Because of this, we are relatively immune to the constant onslaught of political ads currently blasting out of most American televisions.  This has not kept us from knowledge of the election process.  In fact, I believe it gives our family a chance to get a broader picture than the carefully crafted commercials can give.  We can listen to our local talk radio station or NPR and we can find more than our share of political news online.

When I planned my school year this summer, I decided civics should be taught at the height of the presidential campaign.  We will cover the unit in six weeks, ending the week following the election.  I also made the decision to spend the majority of our unit really digging into the electoral process and our responsibility as a United States citizen in this process.

My outline is heavy on BrainPOP videos including these titles; Presidential Election, US Constitution, Branches of Government, Political Beliefs, Political Party Origins, Voting, and, Citizenship.  We are also doing quite a few of the corresponding activity sheets and printable quizzes.  I can't express how much I love the BrainPOP site!  Of all of the homeschooling tools I have purchased, BrainPOP has more than paid for itself.

We are also using the iCivics site again this year, as well as the Sheppard Software government games.  We have spent some time reading about past presidents using a little book I picked up in Target's bins at the entrance to the store.  My boys call those the 'cheap junk' bins.  I love that cheap junk!

The final piece in our study has been watching the presidential and vice-presidential debates at 2012 Election Central.  The boys watched the first debate and when I asked JT what he thought about it he said, "They keep saying the same things over and over again."

Out of the mouths of babes.

Later the same evening they watched the debate, I came upstairs and found they had set up their own debate using their LEGOs.  The LEGOs were choosing a new tyrant to rule them.  It was interesting listening to the talking points the boys had come up for each of the parties.  Many promises were being made.

Candidates on stage

How does one win the cave troll vote?

It always makes me happy to see the boys taking what they are learning and turning it into a play situation.  I know that children learn best through play.  I am glad that we have the flexibility in our schedule to allow these moments to happen.  Serious things can often be understood better when a little play and humor are thrown in to the mix.

Maybe the candidates could learn a thing or two from my boys.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Vacation Photo Journal

We have been home from the cabin at Lake Pymatuning for one week today. It was a wonderful break from our day to day routine. I want to share a little of what we experienced. I think you will be able to get a better picture of our trip using pictures instead of words.

Lake Pymatuning

Hiking Trail along Shenango River

Fun for boys!

Record low water levels

Who was here?

Fish hatchery


Thick with fish

End of day one

Great Lakes Science Center
on the shore of Lake Erie, Cleveland

Fun physics!

Frog exhibit



They look like our plastic toys at home

Met this guy one morning at camp

Packed up and ready to head home

Goodbye cabin 17!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Homeschool Travel

Shenango River
We returned home from our annual autumn camping trip this evening.  The laundry is stacked nearly to the ceiling, my body is beat, but I am a happy momma.  JT told me that he has carefully thought it through and this was our best trip yet.

I'm only going to have a little to say tonight.  I want to spend more time sorting through my pictures before I share our experience.  For now I can tell you that if you are ever in western Pennsylvania, be sure to check out Lake Pymatuning.  The cabin was the nicest out of the four parks we have visited.  This was also our longest stay ever, four nights.  The mattress in the room my husband and I shared was awful, but that's the price you pay for dirt-cheap accommodations.  That was our little bit of 'roughing it'.

box o'goodies
We spent two days in the park, one day in Cleveland where we went to a science museum and had dinner with friends, and one day at the home of our long-distance fellow home-educated friends.  My friend is an avid collector of curriculum and whenever I see her in person, she loves to share.  I came home with a box full of great textbooks and workbooks thanks to her!

In my opinion, traveling off-season is definitely one of the highlights in our homeschooling lifestyle.  However, I'm starting to think we'll need to take the boys on a 'real' vacation during the traditional time of year.  Several of the places we visited were not running all of their attractions this late in the season.  The boys complained a couple times that 'nothing is EVER open' when we visit.  We reminded them that that was the trade off we had made to not have to deal with crowds.  They weren't 100% sold on that line of reasoning.  But when they were playing on the flight simulators at the science museum and didn't have to wait for it to be their turn, we tried to remind them what it would be like to wait for other kids to be finished and then to only be able to take a quick turn before someone else came along. They doubt it's as bad a we say, so we might just have to let them experience it to really make them understand. 

But that's a lesson for another day.