Link Overload

September 28, 2008

I’ve just finished updating the kids private homepage… for the 5th time this week!

I created the webpage about a year ago to give the kids access to websites we approve of while minimizing the danger of them ending up somewhere they shouldn’t be.  The links are all graphics (most of them the actual logos from the sites) to make it easy for my two non-readers to find what their looking for and to increase interest in what otherwise might be dismissed as just a boring educational site.

Over the past year I’ve added a few sites here and there as I came across them but overall it’s remained pretty much the same.  More recently though, I’ve been finding awesome links everywhere!  Everytime I add a few, I turn around and find a few more.  There were so many new ones I had to start deleting some of the older, less used links to make room.

Even the kids are laughing at me, “Mom! There’s so many new links we can’t even keep up!”   There are now a total of 70+ links on the kids homepage – all ‘educational’ in one way or another.  Once again I’m reminded just how much information is out there (available free of charge) and how many ways there are to learn it all.  Who needs text books?!

Do Homeschoolers Know More?

September 29, 2007

Just read this article.

“With the popularity of home schooling on the rise, the academic payoff may not be as large as parents think. ”

 If you read on you find out that the basis for this statement is test scores.  In Arkansas the homeschoolers have to take the same test that the public school students do.  It’s a simple matter of just seeing who’s score is higher, right? 

The problem is that there are hidden assumptions here.  The first is that this test is able to gauge knowledge.  You don’t have to be an expert to know that these standardized, multiple choice tests are used, not because they’re wonderfully accurate at identifying knowledge, but because logistically, there’s no other way to test so many children across so many subjects.  There are children who have a lot of knowledge but are poor test takers.  There are children who don’t have the knowledge but have the testing skills to be able to guess the right answer.  Which kid is smarter?  Does this test really test knowledge or test taking ability?

The second assumption here is that the test covers what a student has learned.  For public school students, that’s fine.  They’re all using the same curriculum, the same list of skills and knowledge.  Not so for homeschoolers who often, if not always, are learning a things beyond what the public school curriculum offers.  Even the things both public schools and homeschools teach are sometimes taught on different time tables.  

This was the case for us when the girls took a standardized test last year.  Our curriculum had us learning multiple digit multiplication before moving on to division facts.  That’s contrary to most school curriculum.  So on the standardized test there were questions the girls didn’t know the answers to and the test didn’t give them the opportunity to show the more advanced skills they had.  I imagine this happens a lot to homeschoolers.

This would help explain why, as the article states, the top scores changed as the grades progressed.  Public students start out on top, because they’re spending all their time working on exactly what the test will teach.  Homeschoolers end on top because by the time they reach 8th grade they’ve covered everything the pubic school kids have, even if they’ve taken a different path to get there.

Who knows more? Who knows?  My guess is homeschoolers if only because in my limited experience with my girls, they’ve learned (and retained) far more in the past year and a half of homeschooling than in the previous 2 and a half years of public school.  That’s enough proof for me.

Fitness Tests in TX

September 27, 2007

I saw this article and I’ve just got to vent.

Ok, so now we need to ‘test’ kids’ fitness levels.  Yes, subjecting children to a skin fold test presumably performed by a teacher in a public school will definitely help us determine a child’s fitness level.  I imagine it will do wonders for their self-esteem as well.

My biggest beef is that a child’s health should clearly lie solely within the bounds of the parents, no?  Would adults stand for a law that required them to exercise for a certain amount of time each week?  So why is ok to let the government meddle with our kids’ health?  I think it’s just another in a long list of things parents pass off on schools.  The schools, not the parents, are responsible for teaching character, self-esteem, math, reading… and now health and fitness.

How do they support such an absurd law?  There’s a correlation between good grades and fitness.  Hmmm…. could that be connected to the correlation between caring, involved parents and good grades?  Naw!  It must be purely coincidence that the parents who are taking responsibility for their kids’ education are also taking responsibility for their health. 

I love how the article ends… this testing will help teachers design their curriculum.  LOL.  They need to be told the kids’ exact test results – each and every one of the hundreds they teach, in order to figure out what to do next.  I’m sure that will help.  Have you seen some gym teachers?  They could start by being good examples themselves!

If we’re going to have an absurd law to help these kids with fitness problems, I suggest we have all the parents come in and get fitness tested instead of the kids.  Those parents who don’t pass the test can then be required to all the ridiculous things this law expects of the kids.  I’m betting that would do far more for the health and fitness of the children.  It would also send the right message to the parents – this is their responsibility, not the school’s!

We had a visit today from a college student selling educational materials door to door.  She was sweet.  She knew her products and had her lines down pat.  She was homeschooled herself and figured having some inside knowledge of how homeschooling works gave her an edge in selling her wares.  It probably does, with most homeschoolers.

She came to the door asking questions about what ciriculum we used. I explained that math is the only subject we use a prepared ciriculum for.  Even then, we don’t follow it exclusively. 

“Then you’ll love these books!  They can help you study what ever you choose!”  Man, she really memorized those lines!  She had a cute little pie chart of how most homeschoolers have 20% of the student’s grade come from reports that need to be researched.  “Is that how you figure their grades?”  Hmm…. I just kinda make up a grade… for the benefit of the school district that requires me to assign one.  There’s really no need for any strict percentages, exact numbers or red pencils as far as I can see. 

I don’t even recall what the other 80% of the graph represented.  Since she was pedalling mostly research materials, I assume the other 80% didn’t involve research since she didn’t bother to mention it.  If we were to graph the percentage of our learning that relates to research, I’d say it probably makes up a good 90% of what we learn, if not more.  It’s what we do in homeschool.  I really can’t even imagine what that 80% could have been….

Then she showed us her encyclopida-type books.  “Is there a topic you’ve studied recently?” I told her Bee was studying spiders right now.  She showed us all her books had to offer about spiders- two whole pages.  I tried not to laugh as I thought about the 15 library books about spiders sitting just feet away from us at that very moment.  Heck, Bee herself could have taught the poor girl a bunch of facts the book missed.

She tried to get the girls involved in her presentation.  She asked each about their favorite subjects.  Then she asked them if they liked doing school work, but it wasn’t really a question.  It was obvious from her tone and facial expression that what she meant was “Don’t you hate school work!”   I think she was even a bit surprised when the girls said they liked it. (Makes one wonder about her own homeschooling experience, huh.) She went on with her presentation showing them a project suggested in one of her books.  “Doesn’t that look like fun?”  Uh, yeah.  But we do things just like that year in, year out without some silly book telling us what to do or how to do it.

At this point, I just told her that her books couldn’t possibly offer us the depth of infomation that we get from our free library books.  So she swiftly moved on to software.  Like a good salesperson, she started by trying to ease the blow of the prices.  “You spend so much on toys that break and things that don’t get played with….”  Uh, yeah, I guess that happens occasionally.  “You’ll feel so much better about spending money on software they’ll use and learn from!” 

Then she started calculating the price of software.  According to her, parents spend $15 to $50 for a single educational title.  This software bundle has 4 titles for only $80!  Uh, except one of them is a Sponge Bob typing program.  We already own two separate typing programs.  I paid $5 or less for both.  Call me crazy, but I hate Sponge Bob.  It’s one of the shows that permanetly banned in my house.  Not a selling point for me.

The other programs looked ok, but I find my software online or the clearance rack for $10 or less.  I don’t pay $15 for it.  I most certainly don’t pay $50 for it – ever.  I’d write my own programs (and have in the past) before I’d do that.

Needless to say, she left empty handed.  I’m fortunate that I discovered early on in our homeschooling that you don’t need expensive materials to get the job done.  A library card covers 90% of the supplies you need to homeschool. 

I read this article a while ago and read posts on various blogs expressing opinions on regulating homeschoolers.  All the opinions I read were against regulations.  That makes sense to me, I thought the hoopla was over and I forgot about the whole thing. 

But today I saw this post  which expressed support for regulations.  Then I read this post  which goes past regulation and right to restriction of homeschoolers. There are so many more homeschoolers, so much more awareness of homeschooling, so many recognizing the achievements of homeschoolers and so many more colleges and universities accepting homeschoolers these days that I was a bit surprised to see these posts.

It seems to me that they come from a place of fear.  What I find amusing is that the fear they express is so similar to the fear they accuse homeschoolers of having.  They say homeschoolers keep their kids home to shelter them from ‘other’ influences and ideas, out of fear.  But why are the opponents so concerned about folks having different influences and ideas from their own? It’s the same fear. 

Math Memoirs

May 21, 2007

This post from Home Schooled about teaching math really got me to thinking about my own experiences with math as I grew up.

I’ve always loved math.  I remember finding one of my mother’s college books on algebra when I was in third grade.  I sat in my room reading it and learning to do the problems for hours on end.  It was just so much fun!

A couple of years later I found one for pre-calculus.  I enjoyed that one too, but I remember I had questions about some of it and there really wasn’t anyone around I could ask to explain it to me.

I easily made A’s in math through middle school.  The math teacher was great.  You could tell he really loved math and was excited to share it with us.  I remember learning eagerly in his class.  I’d watch him teach and think to myself, “Wow.  That is so cool!”  I couldn’t help myself from going ahead in the book, anxious to see what was next.  The teacher was good about it and would assign a certain amount of ‘bonus’ work for those interested.  Still, he had a class full of students so I was generally stuck going along at a slower pace than I would have liked.

We took aptitude tests in middle school. Afterwards we met with a guidance counselor who told us our scores and suggested our course selections for high school.  I know I’d left a whole bunch of the math questions blank on the test – I love math, I’m pretty good at it, but I’m really slow at calculations.  So the counselor told me my math scores were really bad and that I should stay away from math courses as much as possible.  Ha!  I could have given him a whole lecture on how the test scores clearly didn’t reflect my interests or abilities but it was easier to nod, leave and go do what I knew was right.

High school was the most frustrating of all.  In 9th grade we finally got to algebra, yup, the same algebra I’d done in 3rd grade on my own.  I was bored out of my mind.  I tried to explain to the teacher, but it didn’t matter, I had to pass the course to move on.  I almost didn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to do the homework and she counted that as a significant portion of the grade.  So I almost failed the class despite the fact that I had 100’s on almost every test.  I even ended up tutoring two other students (20% of the class) at the teacher’s request.

The next year was geometry.  It came easily and I often found myself spacing out in class.  I sat next to the teacher’s book shelf where I found a textbook for the next math course, trigonometry.  So I began spending my class time reading and learning both math courses at the same time.  The teacher was only mildly annoyed by the fact I wasn’t paying attention to her lectures.  What could she say?  I aced every test.  I finally asked if I could borrow the book to take home as well and she reluctantly agreed. 

By the time I finished that year I’d learned most of the trigonometry material.  I told the math teacher I’d done it on my own and asked if there was anyway to skip ahead to pre-calculus the following year.  She told me no, I’d have to sit through the next course. 

I entered the trig course and tried to convince that teacher I needed more math challenge.  I asked if I could take the pre-calculus class simultaneously. No luck, it was offered at the same time as the trig course.  I asked if I could attend the pre-calc class instead and just turn in homework and take tests in trig.  No, they wouldn’t do that.  So I finally just asked if I could get a pre-calc book to study on my own.  Nope, she wasn’t even going to do that for me. I was defeated.

Then, one day about half way through the school year, the pre-calc teacher approached me and asked if it was true that I had learned the trig on my own and wanted to switch to pre-calc.  I told him I that I had and I did.  I was shocked to learn there was a way to ‘challenge’ a class.  Why hadn’t any of the other teachers told me about this? He offered to set up a meeting with the principal to get his permission to ‘challege’ the trig course.  I took his offer. 

The principal was less than enthusiastic.  He felt I could not have learned the material adequately on my own. I left his office feeling defeated again.  But apparently the pre-calc teacher was at work for me behind the scenes and eventually I was told I could take the final for trig at the end of the second quarter.  If I could get 80% or higher I could switch to the pre-calc class immediately. 

I took the final and then had to sit in class and take the mid-term while the teacher graded my final right in front of me.  She insited I take the mid-term regardless of my final score.  It was unreal.

I passed the final with 90% correct, happily transferred to the pre-calc class and was caught up on half a year of lessons in two weeks.  But I was still left wondering why. Why it should all be so difficult?  Why did 3 of the 4 math teachers in my school not support me in my quest to learn more?

I’m no genius.  I don’t have astounding math abilities (remember that aptitude test in middle school).  I was just a kid who liked math.  There were so few in my world who could help me explore it to my own satisfaction.

As a homeschool mom, I hope to offer my kids the chance to go as far as they wish in what ever interests them. 

Today we were learning about perpendicular and parallel lines.  The subject came up in the math book but are these concepts purely mathematical?

We did one of the Math-U-See worksheets just to familiarize them with the concept on paper.  Then I whipped out the Wikki Stix so we could play with making lines perpendicular or parallel.  This turned into an art project as they tried to incorporate the two types of lines into designs. 

Then we used library books about optical illusions to see what illusions we could create with perpendicular and parallel lines.  We discuss how we trick the eye, that’s science.  We look at different shapes and measure to verify our eyes are being tricked – more math.  Spinning index cards on pins to see what effects can be made with lines naturally leads to more intricate designs involving color and shapes – now we’re back to art.

So what was this?  A math lesson?  An art lesson?  A science lesson?  It seems silly that we try to put learning into clearly defined categories of subjects when so many things in life are interconnected.

My state’s education department would have me counting hours I spendschooling, divided according to subject.  I know of no homeschooler who actually does this – it would be ridiculous to even try. 

Reason #17: I love homeschooling because we’re free to explore the interconnectedness of different subjects.

Do you find that subjects mingle as you teach or do you stick with subject you’re doing?

I’m just about finished with the plan for next year.  Forth grade, here we come!

I have a list of things I’d like to teach the girls.  I look through the what-your-kid-should-know books and check out the suggested curriculum for various grades.  But my three main sources for my list are Gee, Bee and me. 

I’m a planner by nature.  I’m not compulsive about following it to the letter, I just like to plan.  So I take notes all the time about things the girls are interested in learning more about.  I take notes from ideas and topics I see that I think are important, interesting or fun.  Then I throw all the ideas we have into a list and that becomes our official ‘curriculum’. 

Reason #16 I love homeschooling because we make our own curriculum.

Where do you get ideas about what to learn?  Do you follow a set curriculum or make your own?

A funny thought occurred to me today while reading this post on Life Without School

The professional teacher asks about how parents can teach their kids everything.  After all, in schools there are separate teachers who specialize in different subjects!  How on earth could a single parent be qualified to teach all those different subjects?  They’d have to know how to read and write, do math, understand social studies, etc.

Wait… isn’t that exactly what we expect education to do?  Isn’t the point that folks come out on the other side being able to do all those things?  The students don’t specialize in one subject… they’re expected to know all of them. 

If one takes a math course and masters the material, doesn’t that qualify them to show someone else how to do it? If one obtains a high school diploma, don’t they then possess all the knowledge their children need to acquire?

Professional educators can’t have it both ways.  They want to say that a high school diploma is meaningful, it shows adequate aquisition of knowledge, it proves professional educators did their job. But if the high school diploma indicates adequate mastery of all the subjects taught, then they can’t say parents with high school diplomas are not qualified to teach their children all that they’ve learned. 

Once again Mom Is Teaching has brought to my attention a great post. (Thanks!)  This one, from Big World Homeschool, goes right along with my list of reasons I love homeschooling so I’m gonna steal one to bring me up to fourteen.

Reason #14: I love homeschooling because your kids get a good education no matter what school district you live in.