Thursday, May 30, 2013

Summer Has Arrived

Ferris Wheel
We are fortunate to live within easy driving distance of what I consider to be the nicest amusement park in the United States. Knoebel's Grove charges no admission, no parking fees, and has plenty of rides to keep us happy. You can buy tickets and pay per ride or get a handstamp for one price to ride all day. I no longer ride much due to inner ear issues, so this park is great for me. Our habit for the last few years has been to visit the park on a day soon after they open for the season but before all of the local schools let out for the summer. This year we had a little more company than usual, several of the local schools were having field trips to the park that day, but the crowds were not bad and the lines for the rides were short. In fact, most of the rides were half empty.

nearly empty
My kids were on this ride, but I am still not an expert at moving targets with the camera. Plus, I like to keep my boys' photos off the web, so this one serves that purpose well. This ride is called the Downdraft. JT has been riding it solo in recent years, but EM decided it was time to be brave and try it out. They rode it twice and he loved it. Sometimes I look at the boys and just can not believe how little they look like my babies anymore. I know my goal as a parent is to work myself out of a job, but it's hard to imagine in a few short years they'll be on their way.

another group of empty seats

Speaking of independence and parenting- I was dealing with a dilemma last week. JT was expressing desire to go to an overnight church camp this summer. I have been to this camp for a few ladies' retreats and as a chaperone on youth rallies. I like their programs, but I was concerned for several reasons.The main problem is that JT deals with allergies and asthma. At home, he sleeps with his windows closed and air conditioning all summer. Sleeping in an open cabin in the woods seems like it might be a recipe for disaster. We talked for awhile about the potential problems but the thing that made him decide not to go was that he would have to eat too much processed camp food.  It's funny the things that guide our decisions now.

ghostly riders
The day after our discussion on camp a great opportunity came to my attention. The Uptown Music Collective located in Williamsport had an ad on our local newspaper's website about the camps they are offering this summer. I had never heard of the collective before. I did a little research on the web and through friends and quickly signed JT up for their drum technique camp. It turns out I just made it in under the wire to get him a place. This will fit perfectly into his planned summer project of improving his drum skills. He's already been working hard with his dad, but I feel a little structured instruction could go a long way. Maybe after he finishes the camp, he'll be more interested in taking regular classes. The drive is going to be a bit more than I'd like, but I'm willing to put in the hours if it gives him what he needs. I also registered EM to attend a three day local history camp for the same week JT will be at drum camp. I'm hoping I can coordinate all of the dropping off and picking up that will be involved.

I gave the boys a break from our plan to do school work one day a week through the summer. They have continued to watch The Universe series we bought to further our astronomy unit, but I did not assign any math. I will bring that back on board next week. Between history camp, drum camp, Kids' College, and fire safety camp, it's looking like summer is going to be a little busier than our school year.Once again, we can't do anything like everyone else.

We can't even use summer for relaxation!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Breaking Down Portfolio Construction

contents page
Last week I wrote a quick post about preparing our end of year homeschool portfolios. I didn't go into much detail since writing about the portfolios wasn't really helping me meet my deadline to complete them. I wrapped up work at 1 am on Sunday morning and had a nice visit with our evaluator on Monday. I'm going to attempt to show the steps I follow to build our yearly portfolios per a request by a commenter, Jessica from Teachable Moments.

work basket
I'm going to start from the very beginning of the process. Every day when the boys complete their work, they place it in the basket pictured to the right. I review their work daily, then return it to the basket where, during a good week, it stays until Friday night when it gets moved to phase two.

big binders

Each of the boys has a two inch binder where I store their work. At the end of the week, I file each of those papers according to subjects required by the state. If you look at the picture on the left closely, you can see the front page in each binder has a list of the required subjects. JT has the secondary list, EM is still using the elementary. I use construction paper subject dividers to keep these more organized.

attendance chart
Pennsylvania requires homeschoolers to either put in 180 days or 900 hours for elementary/990 hours for secondary per year. We go by the 180 standard. I find it much easier to track. I include our attendance chart in the portfolio. I downloaded this from askPauline, an excellent resource for PA homeschoolers. In general, I like to include three samples for each subject in the portfolio, from the beginning, middle, and end of the year. I just keep an eye on our attendance total and when we reach 60, 120, and 180, I move to the next phase.

JT vocab test
 I sit down with the big binders and pull out one or two of the best samples for each subject and move them to the keeper binder. The rest of the pages get boxed up in case I change my mind about my decisions. That allows the big binders to be cleared out for the next 60 days. This process also lets me see which subjects need more tangible proof of accomplishments. Sometimes we spend so much time reading aloud, especially in subjects like American history, that I neglect to get something down on paper that proves what we are doing.

All of those unused samples get moved to file folders that I label as beginning, middle, end, with each boy having his own set. I also place completed workbooks into that pile. I have a large shoe box that holds all of my folders. When the year is completed, I also place their spelling lists, weekly plans I made, and copies of fliers from activities. I will keep this box until I receive our approved portfolios back from the school district. At that point, I sit down and go through the box one more time, pulling out all of my favorite examples of their work, and usually all writing assignments, to keep. Everything else goes in the recycle bin. I learned early on in this process that keeping everything is a sure way to get overwhelmed by clutter.

Now it's time to look at the components of the portfolio itself. Again, askPauline is a wonderful place to get information on how to construct a portfolio. Here's an excerpt from 24 PS 13-1327.1 that outlines what needs to be in there according to PA 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. An annual written evaluation of the student's educational progress as determined by a licensed clinical or school psychologist or a teacher certified by the Commonwealth or by a nonpublic school teacher or administrator. ... The evaluation shall also be based on an interview of the child and a review of the portfolio required in clause (1) and shall certify whether or not an appropriate education is occurring. 

evaluator's approval
The first page in our binder after the cover page shown in the first picture is the letter of approval from our evaluator. She interviews each of the boys while reviewing the portfolio and from that determines whether an appropriate education is occurring. She is always has good questions for both the boys and me.

I already shared the attendance chart above. I would place that next in the binder. 

book log
Next we have our log. I typically keep a spreadsheet running for each of the boys throughout the year to track their reading. I divide the log into two sections. At the beginning, I list all the textbooks that are being used. I include title, author or publisher, subject, and date completed, if applicable. Then I list all the books they read throughout the year, both individually and aloud. I break those down by subject, as well, and also have a category called Free Reading. Typically their book logs are between four and five pages long.

subject dividers
After that, we move on to samples of their work. I print out divider pages with the subject and sub-categories, plus the school year dates on each. I like to keep the binder organized to be sure the district representative has an easy time following what we have done. There are ten different subjects represented in the binder. Some are straight-forward, like mathematics. Others are split into sub-categories like the English shown on the left. Those specific subdivisions are listed for secondary level requirements.

art summary
For the less tangible subjects including art, physical education, and music, I include short summaries of what we did for the year. This is the summary I wrote for JT's portfolio. Usually I can change a few things in the summaries to fit each of the boys without having to write completely separate accounts. Because I try to make the material we cover accessible to both of them, this method works well, especially for the subjects where summaries are necessary.

page of art work
One of my more time consuming activities when I'm creating the portfolios is converting physical art work and other projects into digital format. Last week in my post, I shared a picture showing how I photograph the boys' art work. Once I have a full set of those images, I print them in tiles, nine to a page, and include them in the art section of the portfolio. I do the same with posters, timelines, and objects like dioramas.

field trips
The final section I include in both portfolios is one that is not required by the regulations. I label it 'supplemental'. That is where I include a list of our field trips, fliers from activities, pictures of the boys enjoying places we have visited, and for JT this year, the certificates of completion from his Coursera classes. Some homeschoolers argue that extra things shouldn't be given to the district because it raises the bar for all the other parents. I personally like to include this section because it allows the school to see that my boys don't spend all of their days doing worksheets and sitting at home reading books.

big binders and finished portfolios
So there you have it! The black binders in the picture on the left are the completed portfolios for our school year 2012-2013. Each has approximately 90 pages. I will take them to the district office to drop them off as soon as I get next year's affidavits and objectives put together. I don't like to make the trip more than once if I can help it.

Portfolio construction can be tedious for me. I sometimes wish I lived in a state that didn't require this kind of work. But I wonder if I would feel as good about where the boys are in their education if I didn't have those pages to reassure me that they are making progress.

For now I am happy to say that they have made progress in this school year. Let the summer begin!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Portfolio Scramble

photo shoot
It seems that the more years I homeschool the boys, the worse I am at getting things together in a timely manner. Our meeting with the evaluator is Monday morning. Due to a weekend full of already scheduled events, I basically have tomorrow to complete this project.

It's going to be a long day.

In Pennsylvania, there is no standard way of creating a portfolio. There are several mandatory components; a letter from the evaluator certifying that the student has received an 'appropriate' education, something indicating that the student has met the required 180 days or 900 hours of instruction, a log designating the titles of reading materials used, samples of work, and standardized test results for students in grades 3, 5, and 8. This simple set of guidelines really allows me to show their work in a wide variety of ways. My usual method is a combination of actual samples of their work, photographs of activities they have participated in during the school year, flyers from performances we have attended, written summaries of their work in hard to show subjects, like physical education, and a sample of their art work. For the art work sample, I typically take photos of each piece of work on a white background, load them into a photo printer and print a page or two of tiles showing the variety of work they have done.

Today I managed to complete the art work photos and printing. I spent a little time updating their reading logs to include their most recent books. Starting work on the summaries of subjects like physical education, art, and health, I ran into a road block. I realized I never wrote out the outline for our health unit this year. That particular unit had come together in a very fluid way. Even though we were learning new things about our eating habits through documentaries and websites, we never really had a definite direction to each day's work. After going back through the weekly lists I give each boy on Mondays, I had made a quick outline of what we had done. Then I remembered! I had written a blog post all about our healthy eating unit that would work perfectly for the portfolio!  It looks like blogging has paid off for me this time.

Tomorrow I will need to make final decisions on what work samples to include. I will also need to scour my hard drive for good pictures of our adventures this year. Putting the portfolios together can sometimes feel like busy work for me. However, I realize going back and following our path through the year from beginning to end is a great way to appreciate where we have been and where we are headed for the future.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Didn't We Just Get Started?

the smell of summer
Nothing says summer to me quite like the smell of lilacs and fresh cut grass. I can't believe we have left winter behind and are well on our way to summer. It feels like our school year just kicked off and now I'm looking at wrapping up the year tomorrow.

The boys have been doing just a little whining about the idea of keeping a bit of a schooling routine going through the summer, but I feel that this year it might be essential. As JT is moving closer to the high school years, I want him to be making a little more progress in his math. Pre-algebra threw him for a loop this year and he's just now starting to be more consistent in his work. I'm afraid that two months off may be too much right now. So I worked out a one day a week deal with both of the boys. We will only do math. They will also be working on their summer projects, coming along for the ride on the latest Coursera class I signed up to take, Child Nutrition and Cooking, and taking another class on Coursera together, Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative. Those things count as 'fun' so they don't seem to mind. They will also both participate in Kids' College, Fire Safety Day Camp, and EM might take part in a history camp. No one will be able to say they are bored!

book haul
As usual, I plan to plan during my break. Here are some of the books I picked up at the local library book sale two weeks ago. Some of them look very promising. I especially like the looks of Government by the People and hope to use it for Civics next year. I started a list of materials I'd like to buy over the summer and so far it's a very short list. I think I may finally have enough stuff here to take care of these boys. Today I was discussing estimating with EM and we did a rough estimate of the number of books in our library and classroom. We came up with 1,500. We didn't even count any books in bedrooms or a bookcase we keep in the hall between the bedrooms. I have only one weakness when it comes to shopping. I bet you can't guess what it is...

Our annual meeting with our homeschool evaluator is scheduled for May 20th. I will spend some of the days in the next two weeks putting the boys' portfolios together. But before I do that, my husband and I will head out for a little get-away without the kids. I won't be posting next week, but I will be back the following week to share a summary of what the boys have accomplished this year, at least, the measurable things. So much of what they learn can only be seen by watching them in action...

and you just can't put those things in a portfolio.