Friday, August 18, 2017

Assigning Grades

Now that EM is a high school student, possibly enrolling in PHAA's diploma program, I feel obligated to grade his work. Until now I only graded his spelling tests. He also received grades when doing quizzes and tests in the Thinkwell math courses he took. Now I need to assign a grade for all of his subjects that will be on a transcript. Receiving grades makes our homeschooling environment a little different than usual.

In the past when EM completed work, if there were mistakes, we would work together to figure out why he got something wrong, then he would make corrections, or have additional assignments, until he understood whatever concept was being taught. Now things feel more final when he completes an assignment. I know we can still redo work that he has trouble understanding, but it just feels different. For example, last week he completed a lesson in grammar with a worksheet/quiz that I wanted to grade. He had problems with the assignment, with quite a few errors. Because of that, I assigned an online activity, covering some core concepts that would help him understand what he did wrong with the first assignment. He completed the online work perfectly. Now as a teacher in a traditional setting, I wouldn't change anything about that initial graded assignment. As a homeschooling mom, I want to reward him for figuring it out and give him a better grade.

What is the correct way to handle this?

I can see that a traditional teacher would have far too many students to customize their learning and allow them to work towards mastery in the same way that I can with my one child. It's just not feasible. But shouldn't I take advantage of my special circumstances and allow that? Is that somehow cheating the system? Does grading school work really show us how a student is doing? Does it encourage students to work harder? Learn more?

I guess it would be a good idea for me to figure all of that out before I grade any more work from EM. I'll add that to my list of things to do when we get home from our eclipse trip. I'll tell you all about it next week!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Attaining Expert Status

I am a member of a Pennsylvania homeschooling group on Facebook. Just about every day a mom, usually new to homeschooling, posts a question, and more often than not, I realize I know the answer. Sometimes it's a question I remember asking all those years ago when I was new to the world of schooling at home. Many times it's something I struggled to find on my own before I was fully plugged into the homeschooling community. I often comment on these posts with things I have learned or links to sites that I found helpful. After helping one mom I realized I am no longer new to this, in fact, I may now be an expert.

I know it has been debunked with a study, but I still hold to Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour theory when it comes to defining an expert. If I count 8 years of homeschooling, 180 days each, for approximately 8 hours a day, I'm well over that threshold. The thing about being an expert in this particular facet of life is that no two homeschooling lives are the same. So even if I am an expert here in my own home, that makes my realm of expertise very narrow. For example, my two boys are very different personalities with very different learning styles. So even within my own home my expertise is often useless. Out there in the larger community, the place where I can help most of the time is with questions concerning regulations. Pennsylvania is considered by some to be a heavily regulated homeschooling state. I have never really felt that myself, but then again, I have never homeschooled in another state to see the difference.

When I start thinking about all the time I have invested in homeschooling, it makes me wonder if this investment is going to pay off. Why spend all of this time if it won't be worth it? While I still can't see if their years of homeschooling will allow the boys to be successful in the sense of employment or financial gain, there are some more intangible benefits I can see they have received by spending their childhoods this way.

First, they had so much more freedom at home than they would have in any traditional school setting. Their schedules were not rigid, no one dictated the most basic things in their day, such as when they can use the bathroom. They also had the freedom to learn what they found interesting. While we did attempt to cover the things most kids cover in school, I tried to make sure to spend considerable time on their interests, as well as to allow them enough free time to explore those interests independently.

They also were free from the more negative aspects of spending time with peers. Now before anyone freaks out and cries, 'But... socialization?!' My boys spent plenty of time with other kids their age, kids of other ages, and adults of all ages. They were involved in our church, basketball, scouts for a time, homeschool groups, book clubs, fencing clubs, on and on and on... So they had plenty of socialization. What they didn't have was bullying, peer pressure,and the majority of their time spent with people their own age. I believe that their self-esteem has been preserved when that outcome would have been questionable in a public school setting. Both of my boys are quirky, geeky, interested in odd things boys who don't always dress like the crowd. They would more than likely have been targets of abuse and suffered in that environment. 

Yes, there were also things they missed out on by being at home, but overall, the benefits have outweighed the negatives. I am thankful that I have the ability to spend the time I have homeschooling. Becoming an expert in this has been well worth the effort. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Few Changes

As of tomorrow, the boys will have two weeks of schooling under their belts for their 9th and 12th grade year. EM has completed some work in every subject  with the exception of music. Both his gym and music will be only a half credit course, so he is starting the year working on completing 60 days in gym and will switch to music when he has finished. JT is a little more complicated.

While JT needs to complete the 180 days of instruction required by the Pennsylvania homeschool regulations, his summer schooling days are not as involved as the ones he will experience during the fall and spring semesters of the community college. I posted last week about how he will be doing most of his instruction through outside sources. One thing has changed since that post; he will now be completing his required English credit from home. PHAA's diploma program requires four credits in English to graduate. There are two ways to complete that requirement; the student can do the work at home by reading 25 books, three classics, writing one 2500 word paper and three smaller ones, giving a five minute speech, and completing 45 lessons in grammar; or the student can take two college level English courses. Last year JT chose the college option. This year he was planning to do the same. Then we really started to look at the pros and cons of that decision. The classes he took last year filled both the PHAA requirement and fulfilled some of the gen eds he needed for his degree. The courses this year would only meet the PHAA needs, but have no use for his degree. And of course, going to class at the college would cost money. So, we decided to have him drop the courses and meet the requirements through work at home.

Until those classes start, he is working on a few things at home. He continues to do his private music theory instruction and his piano lessons. He's also doing volunteer work, as a staff member for a week at Susquehanna University Kids' College and weekly at the library. This week he started working on his English requirements by reading Dante's Inferno. He is also doing some research for our hiking trip next summer.


I've been doing some planning this week. We are going to the Smoky Mountains to view the solar eclipse on August 21st. I picked up our eclipse glasses from our local library. I also dug through our supply of maps and brochures from previous trips and found a large collection of Smoky Mountains information. Less than a month to go! 

Friday, July 21, 2017

In the Limelight

EM has started his 9th grade year of schooling. He will be getting much more of my attention this year than he has in the past few now that JT is more independent in his studies. Our first day was Monday. Even though this seems like an early start, we are actually one week behind from last year's starting day. JT will be mostly on his own this year, taking four community college classes in the fall, three in the spring, and continuing his music and fencing lessons. The only thing he will learn from me will be American history and driver's education.


EM's plan is one of the most involved I have made for him in the last few years. Even though we haven't decided yet if he's going to register with PHAA's diploma program, we will work as if he will, and see how it goes. If you are curious what PHAA's program involves, I blogged about it back in 2015, here. EM will be working towards earning seven credits for his freshmen year; English, algebra 2, Earth science, world geography, Spanish 1, health, 1/2 credit in music, and 1/2 credit in physical education. The only subject I am not teaching him this year is the algebra 2. He will be using Thinkwell for his math credit. For music, we are using the Great Courses dvds and some other activities. His PE credit will involve using the couch to 5k program to work towards running in a 5k this fall. Everything else will be text book based instruction, with me guiding his work.

The last few years, EM has been left to do quite a bit of his work independently. This year we are going to be working more closely together since my instruction time with JT will be much less. For our first week, EM began his Thinkwell course, started taking walks and logging the time and distance, and we started our Spanish 1 instruction. We are using the text Mosaicos. EM did learn a small amount of Spanish a few years ago. He used Mango through our library's website. I was happy to see that he does remember a few things, like his numbers and greetings. We will be alternating the number of days he has Spanish work to do, four some weeks, three the next, until we reach 120 days of instruction. Next week we'll add in some science and English work slowly working up to a full schedule.

I know I have made promises in the past that I will regularly post, so you might not believe me when I say I plan to keep up with this much better this year. We'll have to see if I keep my promises. In my next post, I'm going to tell you about our exciting plans for the solar eclipse coming on August 21st.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Making Sure

JT has had a problem finding the perfect fit in a college program for what he wants to do with his life. Actually, the perfect program does exist, at Berklee, which is well beyond the range of what we, and he, can afford for a college education. The Bachelor of Music in Contemporary Writing and Production with a minor in Video Game Scoring would be fantastic, but... money.

Since he doesn't want to be in debt for the rest of his life, we have come up with an alternative plan. He will get an associates degree from Luzerne Community College. While Music Recording technology is not quite what he's looking for, we think it will allow him to start on the path to where he wants to be. Yesterday at JT's music theory lesson his teacher suggested he look into the music program at Bloomsburg University. They do offer a B.A. in music with an audio/video recording track. But as we looked over the program requirements, we saw that like most music programs he has looked at, this one is more focused on performance than the composition component. The audio/video track does offer a few courses in music production, but honestly, the community college has a much more robust program for that. Even though he won't have any music composition classes there, we can continue with private lessons to develop those skills further. Once again, we are assembling our own education plan.

I feel like I've spent so much of my energy on JT's future, that sometimes it feels like poor EM has been left in the dust. But I know he will eventually be in the limelight as we work on his plan. Next year he'll be a 9th grader; it will be time to begin researching his options. For now, I just want to get JT's plan fully developed. If only I could have the confidence to know he is making the best choice.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Snowed In

You might have heard about winter storm Stella. She came to visit this week and dumped a ton of snow on us. I definitely got my exercise this week!

Last week was spring break for JT's community college. We decided to take the week off for our work at home as well. Unfortunately for JT, all of his instructors gave him projects to complete during his week off, so in the end, he did more work on his week off than he had the rest of the semester. Monday he returned to class, but that was the only day of school he had this week. The snow started Monday night, and by the time it was over, we had 20 inches of snow, plus drifts up to 5 feet. The college has been closed since Tuesday.

We didn't get out of our house until Thursday because of the drifting. This picture shows our township snow plow trying to clear the windiest corner on our road. I never mind being trapped at home so it wasn't a problem for me.

We completed JT's registration for the fall semester. In the end, we added one more class than we had planned. He decided to get the survey of math class out of the way in the fall semester so he'd be able to take a money management class in the spring. He will have 4 classes, for a total of 11 credits in the fall. This will be the most classes he has ever taken at once - very nearly a full time course load. He's been doing a good job keeping up with the work (with some nagging from mom) so I think he'll be fine.

The countdown is on for the end of the year. As of today, we have 31 days of school left for 2016-2017. JT will continue a few weeks beyond that with his college courses and finals, but our 180 will be finished on May 1. Then I have a couple weeks to wrap up portfolios and pack for our vacation to the beach. When I made it out of the driveway yesterday I did a little shopping while JT was volunteering at the library. I bought two new beach chairs. Just a little summer dreaming during the snowy mess!

Friday, March 3, 2017

What next?

Registration for the fall 2017 semester has just opened for JT's community college. We spent some time this week looking over what will be available and making a plan for his senior year of high school. The end is so near!

We have a few things to consider when choosing classes for JT. First, he needs to meet the requirements for his high school diploma program through PHAA. In order to meet those for his senior year, he needs to take two semester of English courses, choosing from composition, speech, or literature courses. We are running into a problem for next year because the satellite location he attends for the community college only offers three English courses. He has taken two this year, so he only has one left. We think we can solve this problem by adding a distance learning course the college offers in the spring of 2018. He will also need an art course to meet the last of his high school diploma requirements.

The other thing he needs to consider will be the program he plans to enter when he officially begins his college years. He's trying to take as many of the courses in that program as he can while still in high school. The remaining courses offered at the satellite that fit those requirements would include a math, sociology, and health course.

Our plan for fall will be that he take art appreciation, advanced composition-contemporary issues, and nutrition and wellness. In the spring semester he will take survey of mathematics, cultural anthropology, and the distance course, western lit. At the end of his senior year, he should have no remaining general ed classes for his associate's program remaining. If we lived closer to the main campus, he would be able to get some of the other courses out of the way, but it's just not going to work that way until he is going to the main campus full time. As is stands he will graduate from high school with 32 college credits under his belt. He still hasn't decided if he will go straight to college after he graduates or if he's going to take a year between to work and save some money. Those are decisions for the future. Right now I'm just happy that his first year taking college classes has gone so well for him. 4.0 grade point average in the fall semester and classes this semester seem to be going just as well so far. The future is looking bright!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Proposed Legislation

Some homeschoolers consider Pennsylvania to have too many regulations about the way they can teach their children at home. I can see that compared to some states, we do have a few more hoops to jump through, but overall I feel the state allows us to homeschool in a way that works for us. Up until now, I had never given much thought to what the federal government had to say about my homeschooling. But now new legislation has been proposed that brings it to my attention.

HB 610 was introduced on January 23 by three congressmen. This bill called The Choices in Education Act, presents a plan to offer vouchers to families who choose to send their children to private schools or to offset the cost of homeschooling. The bill also slips in the repeal of some of the school nutrition standards that were established during President Obama's time in office. While the idea of someone handing me money to pay the costs of homeschooling seems like a lovely gift, I am not so sure this will work out to be beneficial to the homeschooling community.

From what I understand reading the bill, if I wanted to accept a voucher, the amount of the voucher would not be allowed to be for more than the amount it cost me to homeschool. I'm assuming this means I would have to record and prove how much it cost me to teach my children. And who would decide what was an appropriate thing to buy? In the past, I counted one of our vacations to the ocean to be part of our marine biology unit. Will I get reimbursed for that? Call me paranoid, but I don't want the government nitpicking my homeschooling plans to tell me if what I'm doing counts as education. More oversight is not a good thing when things are already working just fine the way they are.

There are other things to be concerned about in this bill. The bill wipes out past legislation with no replacement for essential things. I see nothing covering identification of learning disabilities or giftedness, yet this bill proposes to repeal the legislation that established that practice. I don't like big government, but I also don't believe in trashing the system with no way to take care of issues that exist.

I don't usually use this blog as a place to rant about my political beliefs but I thought this was important to share with those who homeschool or are considering it as an option. You can read the text of the bill here. I am not a member of HSDLA, but an article their leadership shared was where I first became aware of this proposed legislation. You can read that article here. If you feel the way I do, contact the authors of the bill and your own member of congress to express your concerns.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Cruising Along

Last week our ISP was down for five days. Although I love living where we do, I get really tired of the service issues we have with our Internet access. I'm glad that so much of our schooling is outsourced now so the boys were not too affected by the outage.

JT has been dealing with cancellations of his classes due to winter weather. His speech class has been called off at least three times since it started in mid-January. Because of that, he still hasn't given his first speech. Hopefully Tuesday he will finally have the opportunity. He is enjoying his WWII and Music Appreciation classes. WWII is his favorite. He's read most of the text book already. If only he could make real money with a history degree; that would be the perfect fit for his interests.

With our snowy weather this week I've been dreaming of our spring vacation to the beach. We have already booked a beach house for the week after JT's finals wrap up. In addition, we are looking at leaving two days early and making a stop in the Shenandoah National Park so JT and I can work on our plan to hike 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail after his graduation next May. We are looking at the portion of the trail that runs parallel to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah NP. On the trip this May, we can hike a short portion of the trail and get some idea of how things will work next year when it's just the two of us.

EM is starting to do some computer programming as well as getting back to working on his electronics projects.He also started a pottery wheel class this week. He doesn't like doing much art work, but he does love the pottery. I'm sure I'll be adding to my collection of cool bowls when class ends this year.

Today I am going to pick up a copy of the PA driver's manual for JT to start studying for his driving permit test. He turned 16 last month, but wasn't in much of a hurry to start driving. We figure if he gets it by summer he can get in a lot of practice during the drives to his classes in the fall semester. I'm not sure I'm ready for this next step in his life. I don't mind teaching science, history, literature, but driving? That's something out of my league. Dad will be taking on that job.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Back to Class

We started full-time schooling at home again on January 9th and JT's college classes started on the 17th. Less than 70 days remain until we have met our required 180 of schooling for this year. Time has really been flying, probably because more and more of JT's school is outsourced and EM is mostly independent in his work.


I mentioned in a previous post that I was going to try out Amazon's textbook rental this semester. We purchased the music appreciation book used, because I figured JT would want to keep it for future use, but rented the other two. First day of speech class his instructor tells the students, "The school doesn't want me to tell you not to buy the book, but, don't buy the book." Thanks. At least I didn't buy it. After he goes to his first WWII class, and we find out if he needs that book, I'll be deciding if I'm shipping one or both back for a full refund. Thankfully, Amazon has that option if we do it within 30 days of receiving them.

At home we have been continuing our study of American history, now reading a book about the Persian Gulf War together. When we have finished it, we will move on to Bill Clinton's presidency. I think if we keep our pace at what it has been, we will reach current day in America by the time JT graduates. Hopefully the boys will keep up their study of current events when their years of learning with me have finished. I know that I have learned so many things I did not know over the span of our studies. Today I told JT, "You do realize that you probably know more history than most adults in America, right?" He was surprised by that.

This week I also registered him to take the SAT in June. Now we just need to figure out how to link his results from the PSAT with Khan Academy so he can get customized practice problems.

In the next few weeks, JT will wrap up his study of geography for the year and move on to spending more time learning to use software to transcribe his music compositions. In order to get an A in music composition this year, I expect three of his original songs to be in written format, playable by someone other than himself, by the end of the school year. Once he learns how to use the software, he should be able to meet that goal and share his music with others. Finally I feel like we are working on a skill that will be useful for his plans for his future!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Babies Growing Up

JT turned 16 over the holiday break. We usually only have family parties for birthdays, but this year, he had a party with his friends too. The party was basically one big Nerf gun battle. We used our church fellowship hall to set up the war zone. The picture is the bin of darts used by his nine party-goers. I was happy to one was permanently injured and all had fun.

Now that he has turned 16, we need to start thinking about driving. He isn't in a big hurry to get a license, mostly because he will be paying his own insurance and that will require him to get a job. In PA, drivers can have a permit without carrying their own insurance, so he will go for the permit test later this spring and then spend the summer logging the hours necessary to apply for a license. We found a few online helps to study for the permit, but I'm going old school and driving out to the license center to get a study book. I know having him drive will make my life easier in some ways, mostly I won't need to sit around and wait while he's in classes anymore, but the cost involved in having insurance for a 16 year old male driver is a little more than I can take. We'll see how things go once he has his permit and then make a decision on the license.

On Tuesday, the book list for his spring classes became available to access online. I can't believe that people are willing to pay full price for these new text books. If I had bought his three books from the school store, it would have cost me over $300. Instead, I bought a used copy of the music appreciation text from Amazon for $10. I couldn't find the other two books for less than $70 each used, so I decided to give Amazon's textbook rental program a try. For about $15 a book, he can have the books until the end of the semester. As long as we have them postmarked by May 29th, we will have no additional costs, and they pay return shipping. Seems like a great deal to me! JT is pretty careful with books, so I think this will go well.

Today I am waiting for EM while he is at his homeschool gym class. The new session started today and will continue for 12 weeks. He really enjoys the time spent with the other kids. I really enjoy hanging out in the coffee shop drinking my latte. Next week we start back to schooling full time. This weekend will be spent getting things organized in the classroom again. It became the gift wrapping, holiday prep center over Christmas break, and I need to get things back to normal before Monday. I'm looking forward to the second half of our school year. I know it will be over in a blink of the eye.