Responsible Teens?

September 19, 2013

I love how easy technology makes it to communicate. I think it’s great that teachers in my daughter’s school are taking advantage of this by using email lists and grades online to keep in touch.

But. There’s a big but.

But when I get emails from her teachers detailing what her homework assignments are and suggesting that I check her digital grades to see if she’s missing assignments… well, I can’t help but feeling that there’s a problem here.

See, my daughter is in 9th grade. That’s high school, folks. This should be where the responsible teens take care of their own business. Or am I just crazy?

When I was in high school it was accepted that teens were responsible for their education. Parents were only called in for extreme cases when a student was in danger of flunking out. Homework assignments? Getting good grades? Being prepared for tests? Passing a class? That was all on the student.

And maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I feel like that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Have modern teens somehow lost the ability to be productive, responsible and self-motivated? It wasn’t that many generations ago when it wasn’t uncommon for people still in their teens to have jobs, apartments of their own, get married or start careers or families. These days it’s common to have 20-somethings (or even 30-somethings) living off mom and dad, still not fully responsible for their own lives.

It’s no wonder it’s that way if we’ve gotten to the point where high school is no longer the place where we start handing off the reins to our kids.

It’s great that teachers can use technology to communicate. But they should be emailing their students homework assignments and telling them how to check their grades online for missing assignments – not the parents!

Speeding Toward Summer

June 9, 2012

Since Adrian moved out, the days seems to speed by at an astonishing speed.  Even with so much less to do each day, we’re keeping busy.  Here’s a bit of what we’ve done this past month:

Homeschool Co-op

We finished up our time at our homeschool co-op.  My story adventure class went really well.  I had parents tell me that it made a huge difference for the kids who normally avoid writting. They couldn’t wait to get home and write about our story!  I had many of the kids tell me they loved the class.  Several were already making plans about the story for another class next semester or planning to write stories on their own.

I’m very satisfied that my goals were met.  I fanned the flames of creativity and inspired many kids to enjoy the fun of creative writing. 🙂  By the end of the class, almost all the kids were bringing written work to class – completely voluntarily.  Several even had their own storylines going from week to week.  Kids who were shy about reading their writing aloud at the beginning were begging to be first to read by the end.

The class also brought an unexpected outcome for the 7th-8th grade group.  Even though I myself am a homeschooler, I’m still somewhat caught off guard when I see the middle school kids fall into the stereo-typical cliques and boy/girl tensions you’d expect to see in any public school.   When we started the game portion of our adventure story, these issues came right to the surface.  The kids’ characters wasted no time throwing one another in the river, withholding food or supplies or making rude/mean remarks to the other characters.

I’d planned to discuss conflict and it’s role in a story right at that point in our class.  I used it as an opportunity to let the kids stop and think on interpersonal relationships, both in the story and in real life.  I asked each child to consider how their character dealt with conflict and write about a conflict they experienced that demonstrated that.  Most decided that their characters were generally ‘good’ people and that they would deal with conflict in kind and mature ways.

Things changed a bit after that, both in the story and in the class.  There was more cooperation and friendliness, fewer ‘mean’ actions and words.  They used their character’s actions in the story and the stories they wrote to show kindness to one another.  And while no one called it out, you could see it affected how they acted toward the person behind the character as well.  It was an unexpected but pleasant side effect of our time together.


We got our annual testing over with.  We don’t have to test every year but I’ve found there are advantages for us.  First, the whole testing phenomenon is big.  Is it silly?  Yes.  Will it change?  I hope so.  But for now, it’s a big part of what our public schools are teaching – how to take a test.  It’s a skill and it can be learned.  While I don’t necessarily think it’s an essential skill for life, I also don’t think it hurts to have it.

Secondly, it makes for an easy end of the year assessment to comply with our state regulations. I’m lazy and writing up a narrative assessment for all 3 kids is work 😛

Third, it provides what a test should provide – an idea of how everyone is doing.  This is makes my husband feel better about the whole homeschool thing since he doesn’t see the work the kids do on a daily basis and doesn’t know, as I do, that they’re on target.  It also gives the kids an idea of how they’re doing.  It’s nice to have some objective proof of where they’re doing well and what they need to work harder on.

Home Repairs

AKA ‘Practical Arts’ as required by our state homeschooling regulations.

AKA beginning the long process of fixing everything Adrian broke.

The kids helped paint the bathroom, repair door knobs, clean out closets, move furniture and even make furniture for Adrian’s new place.  There’s still cardboard on the walls in most rooms.  We’ve got a long way to go…


Our family loves Disney World.  What better motivation to use to teach some basic programming?  We’re building a few simple apps for fun that will come in handy the next time we go.  The kids are helping with creating graphics, brainstorming ideas, data entry, programming…

Science Projects

Oh!  And school is still in session too!  June is our science project month.  The kids each pick a topic, research, perform experiments and do an oral presentation on everything they’ve learned.  They have the entire month just to work on this.  I think it’s a great way to wind down our year.   They practice many different skills while they’re preparing their own project and  the oral presentations mean that everyone learns about the other science topics as well.   Bonus!

As usual, we’ll be taking off the month of July from all school work.  We’re all looking forward to that.  With Adrian moved out, it will be the first ‘real’ summer vacation any of us have ever had.  Besides sleeping in, playing games and relaxing we’ll probably try to squeeze some day trips in as well….

As soon as we get through June 🙂

What Fiction *IS* Good For

February 21, 2012

As expected, the English teacher sister picked up on the back to back posts that appear to express opposing views of fiction.  I have to admit that up until a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t quite understand this apparent dichotomy either.  As much as I dislike reading fiction, I very much enjoy writing it.

Past the creative writing assignments in high school, I didn’t really do any creative writing for many years.  Then I started playing an MMORPG (Massive Multi-player Online Role Playing Game) and my character in the game sparked my imagination.  It helped that there were others in the game who also enjoyed thinking of their characters as part of a story, a work of collaborative fiction written through dialogue and actions in the game.

Just for fun, and only for my own benefit, I began actually writing down some of my character’s adventures.  Yes, I know that sounds completely nuts to most folks.   It’s ok, I’m a geek. I’m used to that kinda thing.  😛

As I shared my stories with a few trusted friends in game, I heard the same things over and over.

“That’s so cool.  I wish I could do that.  But I’m not a writer.  I can’t do that.”

Something I’d always felt, but never really articulated, became clear in my conversations with folks.  In school we’re taught that fiction has a set value.   Whether it’s based on study and critique, popularity, historical or political importance or how many hours you can spend analyzing the themes and symbolism… there’s ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fiction.  Fiction has value or a lack of value based on these external criteria that someone else (always smarter than you) has determined.

It seems to me that a lot of folks come out of school and avoid creative writing because they don’t feel they can produce something of value.   I think they’re missing the point.  The value is in creating.

I’m not a ‘writer’.  Not by a long shot.  Some of my stories are downright corny.  Most wouldn’t be of interest to anyone but a fellow gamer…. and one who liked to roleplay… and probably only one that knew me…. and was very polite.   😛

But I had so much fun writing those stories!  I still enjoy reading back over them from time to time, remembering when this or that happened to my character.  Those stories may not have any value to anyone else, but they do to me.  And that alone gives them value.

This realization made me much more bold about sharing my silly fiction with others.  I’m not at all shy about encouraging fellow gamers to take the time to write their stories out as well.

“It’s ok if it’s ‘bad’.  Mine is too!  It’s a lot of fun.  Try it!”

Some write a lot, some write just a little.  But I think everyone finds value in the process of creating.  And that’s really the thing I most want the kids in the adventure story class to take way as well.

So how can it be that I enjoy creating fiction but not enjoy reading it so much?  Well, I found an answer recently when a friend challenged me to read The Hobbit…. cause how can I call myself a geek if I haven’t read it?!

I got half way through the book.  It only took that long to realize why I don’t enjoy reading fiction.  It’s not that I wasn’t enjoying the story.  It’s that I feel like I’m wasting time when I’m reading.  I’d just rather be creating than spending gobs of time reading someone else’s creation.

Yes, yes.  I realize that not reading fiction very likely dooms me to being a pretty crappy writer forever more.

But you know what?  Macaroni art is still art… and it’s fun to make! 🙂

Literature has never been my thing.  Ever.

I clearly remember the fight I had with my 5th grade teacher over my lack of desire to take a book out on library day.  I explained I had no interest in fiction.  She was bent on proving me wrong.  If only I found the ‘right’ book(s), I would adore fiction.  Doesn’t everyone?

Well, no.

I’m sure I would have been more inclined to check out a book or two if we had been encouraged, or even allowed, to consider the non-fiction section.  But it seems that part was reserved for serious research… you know, that thing you’d do only when your teacher assigned you one of those serious reports.   No, both the librarian and teachers knew that kids like fiction and so they herded us into those rows with enthusiasm.

That particular misconception carried on straight through high school.   My English teacher had a cabinet full of books.  You picked one of his books and read a certain number pages each week.  You had to pick from his cabinet because those were the books he’d read… and how else could he quiz you on the book so he’d know if you’d actually read it?!

“Don’t you have any non-fiction books?”

He’d look at me with that little smirk.  I’ve no doubt he thought I was simply trying to get out of reading all together.  He suggested book after book from his collection.   If only I could find the ‘right’ book….

So I’ve been quite happy that my children will not suffer my fate.  The are ‘normal’.   They enjoy fiction, they read because they want to.   They choose their own books, they’ve read and enjoyed several classics among their many choices.  Yay!  I don’t have to torture my kids with literature!

But wait.  Here comes the principal (aka my dear husband) and his school-indoctrined ideas.

I’ve been assigning famous works of literature from the time periods we’re looking at in US History.  I usually ask the girls to read several chapters.  If they hate the book, they don’t have to finish.  Again, I don’t see the point of torturing them with literature.  Some they like, some they do not.  Let’s face it, there’s enough literature out there that you can find options in any time period that you find enjoyable (ok, except for someone like me, but then we’ve already been over that).

For our current time period, I put Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle on the listMy husband handles our virtual library, loaning ebooks from the library and putting them on the girls’ electronic readers.  Upon seeing this book listed, he commented that he hadn’t read that till he was older (by only a year or two at most) and, the kicker for me, that they could not read that book without an adult reviewing it with them, pointing out all the  appropriate themes and symbolism and political ramifications.  It’s a book that must be properly analyzed in order to be read at all.

Now understand, my distaste for this whole analysis of literature goes back a long, long way. And I feel that it’s not solely based on my underlying dislike of fiction pieces in general.  I just think that it’s the right of the reader to decide what, if any, messages, themes, symbolism or politics they wish to draw out of the text the author has presented.   What use is a piece of literature that *requires* a third-party to analyze and explain what they think is the author’s point or purpose?

I get that there are people who love literature.  There’s even a subset who love to study, analyze and discuss these works in-depth.  Heck, my own kids may very well turn out to be among them.   More power to them.

But the idea that a piece of literature is only as good as the guide that explains it to you?  I don’t think so.  Literature is just another art form which can and should be experienced for its own sake, with no obligation on the part of the one who experiences it to make more of it than they wish to.

Go ahead, tell me I’m wrong.  I’m sure my literature loving family and friends will. 😛

This will be the biggie for us this year.  We’ll be inching our way through US history unit-study style.  Covering the birth of our nation through 1960 by looking historical events, period literature, scientific inventions and breakthroughs, the growth of our nation and the role geography played in that, music, art, popular culture, economic and social policies, Presidents, politics, wars and our place in world history.

I’ve been pouring over timelines for weeks now.  Timelines about everything from historical events and literature to scientific inventions and popular culture.   Trying to choose what to cover and what to skip has been the absolute hardest part.  It was, for me, another boom-de-ya-da moment.

What’s a boom-de-ya-da moment, you ask?  Well, you may recall Discovery Channel’s Boom-De-Ya-Da commercials from a while back.  I so totally love those 🙂   It captured perfectly something I’d felt since I first began homeschooling.  The world is an awesome place and there is sooooo much to learn about it.  So much to learn that no one can learn it all.  (Phew!  What a relief!)  We all have our own passions, things we love to learn about.  And that’s the way it should be. 

Anytime I get overwhelmed with all the things I *could* be teaching I try to remember…. Boom-da-ya-da, Carol.  Boom-da-ya-da.  There’s always going to be way more to know than I can possibly teach.  I only need to expose them to enough that they can find those things they’re passionate about.   They can take it from there. 😉

I’ve come to a decision on what the girls will be doing for their math this year.  As we live in NY state, we have Regents.  These state-wide tests usually begin in 9th grade and cover most subjects and grade levels throughout high school. 

Back when my husband and I were in school the first math course with a regents was called Course I.   It was followed by Course II and Course III.  Go figure (no math pun intended :P).

Advanced math students were sometimes offered Course I in 8th grade.  My husband went this route and was therefore able to round out his high school math years with pre-calc and a college credit calculus course.

I didn’t move to NY till 9th grade so I missed that opportunity.  I eventually caught up, but that’s a story for another day.

When I received my paperwork from the school district this year, it included a letter stating that they would allow my kids to take tests with the schools – including the Regents Exams.

So it suddenly dawned on me that I could just teach them Course I (which now goes by the title ‘Integrated Algebra’) and let them take the regents at the end of the year. We can give them a past exam here at home or let them join the school kids in June.  Either way, they’ll get the Regents experience and it solves my problem of what to teach for Math.

Luckily, not only do they still have the Barron’s Regents Exams and Answer books I remember from back in my day, but now they also have review books that summarize all the topics that will be on the exam, give examples and practice exercises!  And they come in this handy ‘power pack’ which includes both for less than $12 for the set.

Having that choice out of the way, I can now put my time and efforts into sifting through timelines for our main focus this year… can you guess what it is?


In drawing up the plan for the girls I thought back on my own school career and just what I was learning when I was in 8th grade. 

My favorite subject was, of course, math.  8th grade was awesome because I got to do algebra… officially.   I remember smiling to myself as I first looked over that algebra book.  See, algebra and I were old friends already.  I’d picked up my mother’s college algebra book years ago and learned much of what we were about to cover.  I already knew how much fun it was and the teacher, Mr. Berry, made it even more so.  I not only had a lot of fun in math that year but I learned I was pretty darn good at it too. 

Science was a close second favorite.  The crazy old man who taught life science was actually quite funny once you got past the serious teacher persona he usually put on in class.  I had a chance to get to know him a bit better as my science notebook, worth a major portion of our grade, came up missing part way through the year.  Since I sat front and center and was always clearly interested in his lectures, he knew I’d kept good notes.  But since I didn’t have a notebook to grade, he opted to allow me to do a report for that part of my grade instead.

It was then I learned we had a love of oceanography in common.  I did a report on whales.  Favorite. report. ever.  He apparently enjoyed it too because I earned a grade of 100%.  I’ll always regret not being able to go on his Oceanography Club outings though.    My parents were anti-field trip so I missed the trips to the NJ shore to investigate tidal pools and other such fun.  But it was a great year in science nevertheless.

Still, the thing I remember most about 8th grade in general is that it was a year of discovering passions.  Algebra, oceanography, drama class, computer programming (on our Commodore 64 at home and on the Apple computers at school) and seeing Star Wars for the first time! I so taken by it that I wrote out the whole script – by hand – from a homemade audio tape (well, duh, cause my mother wouldn’t let me sit in front of the video tape for the many hours it took to write the whole thing out 😛 )

So many of the things I learned I loved that year have stuck with me right into adulthood. 

That’s really what I most for my girls this year too.  I want them to discover their passions and pursue them with everything they’ve got.  That’s what 8th grade should be about.