Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Homeschooling for Eighth Grade--Some Planning

In my last post I spoke a little about deciding to homeschool my eighth grader. Imagine my surprise to see homeschooling as the featured article in Connecticut Magazine. Homeschooling is an increasingly popular, and easy, alternative to traditional education in Connecticut. The article itself is proof that homeschooling is not a fringe activity.
With the school year starting in only a few weeks, I've been knee deep in planning my own homeschool adventure with my eighth grader. I am more comfortable with a formal curriculum. Though I am home, I need large blocks of time for my business. Whatever we do needs to allow her to work independently.
The explosion in homeschooling families, like in every industry, means more available resources. When it comes to find courses, we could choose to learn from library books, websites, textbooks, books written specifically for homeschooling which include scripts for the parent to ease teaching, videos, online classes, tutors, or private teachers. There are also many parenting groups to help parent navigate the various options.
I prefer a more formal approach to homeschooling. My daughter has had experience with online classes and I like the interaction with the instructors. Online courses are a more costly option, though it's the option I thought might suit us best. 
We are trying out a few online classes over the summer. Selecting curriculum has been challenging and there are still a few subjects I have to figure out.
Homeschooling is an exciting endeavor. It's also scary. It's a big deal to take on all of my daughter's education.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

How to Pin on Android - Using Pinterest on an Android Tablet

What is the point of having a nice big tablet screen if that can't Pin some of those great pictures you find? Pinterest doesn`t have an Android app yet and none of browsers will let you install a pin it bookmarklet.

If, l like me, you don't mind a bit of hacking to get the functionality you like, just follow these directions:

1.  Select all of all of the following text and then copy it:

javascript:void((function(){var%20e=document.createElement('script'); e.setAttribute('type','text/javascript'); e.setAttribute('charset','UTF-8'); e.setAttribute('src','http://assets.pinterest.com/js/pinmarklet.js?r='+Math.random()*99999999);document.body.appendChild(e)})());

2.  Go browse, wander, and click through links to your heart`s content until you find some pin worthy content.

3.  Reveal the browser`s address bar. Select all of the characters in the address bar and just paste the code you selected above.

4.  Press 'go.'*

It's a bit of a pain in the ass and you can`t use the copy & paste clipboard while your`re browsing, but it does allow me to pin while using my Android tablet and it will suffice until something better comes along.

Happy pinning!

*This works for me using an Asus TF300T with Android ice cream sandwich installed from the factory with the Google chrome browser. Does it work with your system?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Starting Homeschooling

How does a perfectly normal mom become a homeschooler of a middle schooler? It seems to be an amazing step. I had no intention of becoming a homeschooling mother when my first daughter was born, yet I find myself on that journey now. I could not have considered taking this step except that I work-from-home.
According to some statistics, there were over 1.5 million students studying in a homeschool environment in the United States in 2007, a 36% increase in 6 years since the numbers previously collected in 2003. Homeschooling used to be a fringe activity. Today in Connecticut I have at least five homeschool groups I may join with hundreds of other families.
Admittedly, I have tread these waters before. When my daughter was in elementary school, we homeschooled for a few years for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade. How does one even consider homeschooling? I have met a number of homeschoolers and it seems that there is a different reason, or constellation of reasons, for every one of them.
I have talked before about the difficulty my daughter had getting an appropriate education for her particular needs in the public school. Prior to deciding to homeschool, and part of the reason homeschooling became an option, I was already supplementing her education with on-line classes in math and writing, much like parents who take their kids to a tutor.
It was important to me that I was not my daughter's primary teacher. The on-line classes helped me realize that homeschooling was possible. There are as many ways to homeschool at there are homeschoolers. I wanted a formal learning experience for my daughter. I spent time researching additional online learning opportunities and found almost everything she needed.
Online classes are a pricier homeschooling option. In our case the cost is much less than local private school options and still allows for a curriculum flexibility that even the best private schools can't offer.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Extracurricular Learning: School Outside of School

Good education, in my opinion, is a major key to success and happiness in life. Because I value it so highly, I seek out academically oriented extracurricular activities. Whether the children are in public school, homeschooled, or in private school, I am constantly on the look out for other classes, workshops, or activities.

Why bother having my child spend hours on regular school work and then come home to do more? I have a few reasons:
  • Learning can happen in all aspects of your life. Kids should not think of it as something that should only, or can only, happen in school.
  • What are the chances your child will find their passion or career in the classes taught in school? Even though math is needed for great technology careers, they figure out their favorite thing to do is program a computer or phone in math class.
  • People teach differently and from different perspectives. Sometimes a kid needs to see material presented in more than one way in order to understand it.
  • We prioritize what we value. If we actively make time for work, eating properly, hobbies, and learning it's because we actively want to accomplish those things.
A very popular program that requires a full day's time commitment is the Spark program at MIT on March 10th. MIT students prepare classes for students in 7th through 12th grade. The classes can be music appreciation, to math, to living on Mars, to figuring out how a toilet works. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Going to the Principal’s Office Sucks!

I scheduled a  visit with my 12 year old daughter’s middle school to talk about her lack of challenge with the school curriculum. The principal recommended a meeting with her teachers. It was intimidating. Every one of her teachers was there, including an extra student teacher, the principal, and the school psychologist and then just me and my husband.
It was hard. I had concerns but I couldn’t get them heard. The teachers had their own ideas about what they wanted and we just kept talking past each other. I was talking about Hanover only having a few minutes of homework each night and still acing her tests without studying and the teachers would say that she doesn't "show what she knows", doesn't "talk more in class", doesn't jump immediately to do extra credit work.
The math teacher only focused on the one test where Hanover got a 75% (the rest were 90 and above). The English teacher had some nice words. The science teacher never once talked about Hanover's excellent test scores, just some assignments that were missing. The history teacher complained that Hanover didn't hand in an extra credit assignment and also ignored the rest of her performance in class.
When I tried to rephrase what the teachers were saying so I could understand it better, "so you're saying that Hanover's performance in school isn't impressive enough to consider changing her assignments?", the principal stated, firmly--I felt I had been admonished like a school child--that I was being insulting to the teachers. What? It was humiliating. The teachers claimed to care but, ultimately, nothing changed.
I left the meeting thinking my daughter's performance was sub-par only to look at her school records and see that she was earning high honors in 7th grade while doing almost nothing.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A 12 Year-Old's View of Middle School

My DD12, Hanover, who has been back in the public school system for two years after homeschooling for three, made the announcement, a bit out of the blue, that she was going to homeschool next year. After talking with her a little bit, here are her main concerns:

  1. School is boring and they spend waaaay too much time learning the same thing (she's pretty bright, so catches on quickly).
  2. She wants to be finished her work early and have more time to spend on her own projects (like writing short stories).
  3. She is sick of the moody and pervy (her word--but not in a gross way, more like mischevious) boys
  4. She doesn't feel like she can really talk with her favorite friends at school because they can be boring, are too much of followers, don't often get her sense of humor, and can be slow to catch on.
  5. The school rules are very much about obedience and don't make sense to her. Examples: even though her math teach has the current textbook page projected on the smart board for everyone to see, she still insists that each student turn to the same page in the book on their desk. The aids are very gruff and commanding in their rule enforcement and she doesn't understand the need for some of the rules or why they enforce rules arbitrarily. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

If You are Near Boston and Love Math: Math is Fun Event by Dads Do Good

From the Math is Fun event listing:

Math Is Fun
at its launch event!
(MIT, Microsoft NERD Center, 1 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA 02142)

It would be a crazy person to choose Mathematics as their first theme but we are convinced Maths can be fun and maybe a little crazy too. We want to share tips and tricks with you on how to make it fun.

Here's what you can expect at the event
Listen to a panel with experts sharing ideas on how they keep Math fun.
See how technology has changed how we deal with Math
Gaming makes Math fun too and you get to try apps and Wii games right there.
Enjoy food as you mingle with fellow parents and experts alike.
Children are welcome and will be engaged throughout
Targeted for elementary and middle school kids
We are excited to partner with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a global learning company. A wonderful opportunity to be a part of something important.

At this wonderful hands-on event you can learn from math teachers and educators. Dads and kids can experience playful learning through math apps and wii games in a workshop format.
Dads and children (and moms) are welcome! Please register to attend. The event is free.

You can register at this link

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Embracing the Changes

The snow on Saturday was pretty easy for me, a work-at-home mom who didn't have to go out until the late afternoon. Our new plow guy rules. Not only did he plow and sand, his son shoveled the snow from behind our cars and even moved our trash cans out of the giant snow pile. Very impressive!

My four year old can put on his own gloves (mostly) and even put on his own snow pants (mostly).

Accomplishments he notices but that I celebrate silently. He is getting bigger and bigger.

When my first child was little, I adored every new skill she demonstrated and mourned at the same time. I felt like I was always going to miss the gurgling smiles or baby talk words. Every advance was tinged with the loss of the adorable baby-ness that I so loved. Then it was the loss of the adorable toddler-ness, and on and on.

I remember speaking with a friend whose child was already a teenager. I was telling her how much I will miss all of the cuteness. "I just love how wonderful this age is," I said.

She replied, "All of it is wonderful. Every age brings something amazing."

And it is right. Now that my oldest daughter is 12, I can say that seeing her come into her own skin as a young lady is just as gratifying as cuddling her when she was just learning to speak. And as my son learns to be self-sufficient, I celebrate his independence and look forward to fully enjoying, with no sadness, each of his phases of development.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

While preparing the grocery list:

Me: Kids, what kind of fruit do you want for snacks?
Hanover: Apples!
Flurpee: Oranges!
Moose (4 years old): Chicken Nuggets!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bouyancy and Forces Science Demonstration: Floating Corn Kernels with Kitchen Basics (Optional Experiment Included in the End)

You know I am a sucker for introducing kids to science. I have added different levels of discussion for this demonstration based on age. Using easily found items (I may be the only one who still makes popcorn in the microwave with a brown paper lunch bag, so maybe not all of them are right in your cupboard), show a number of different science concepts.

Materials (when you look at the videos, you can see that I had no idea how much I was using of anything):
  • A clear, tall container—I used a 1 quart Mason jar
  • 3 cups of water
  • ¼ to 1/3 cup of baking soda
  • 1/8 to ¼ cup of unpopped popcorn kernels
  • ½ to 1 cup of white vinegar
  1. Mix baking soda and vinegar in the clear container
  2. Add corn kernels
  3. Pour in vinegar (Over or near a sink! It may foam over the top.)—it may need a little stir
If you do not have a 1 quart container, try halving the amount of water, baking soda, and vinegar.

Middle schoolers through toddlers can learn something from this demonstration. My guy was thrilled to see something change. I showed him the bubbles on the kernels and, that when the kernels reached the surface, those bubbles disappeared and the kernel sank.

Older children, elementary-aged, might look at how many bubbles it takes to make the kernels rise. Bubbles float and, when there are enough bubbles on a kernel, that force is more than the force of gravity pulling the kernel to the bottom. They will see quickly that the amount of bubbles on the surface will determine whether the kernel will rise or fall. Try to figure out how many bubble are needed before it rises.

With middle schoolers, start with the same concepts above. They may already know that the bubbles are pushed up by an upward force called bouyancy. The bubbles are bouyant because they are not as dense as water. Each bubble adds its upward bouyant force to the other bubbles on the kernel (a cool property called force superposition).  The kernels rise when the bouyant force is larger than gravity.

More in-depth: Ask your child where the bubbles are coming from. Turn this activity into a science experiment by putting kernels in plain water, water with baking soda, and water with vinegar. Are lots of bubbles forming on the kernels in any of those? What about seltzer water? A chemical reaction occurs when baking soda and vinegar are put together. They create carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide gas dissolves in water. Seltzer water also has carbon dioxide dissolved in it.

For those who just can't get enough, ask why the bubbles appear on the kernel (and wall of the container) at all. (Bubbles like to form on tiny, sharper places, nucleation sites.) They can try to estimate how many bubbles it takes to get the kernel to move up.  
Kim McNeill is the editor and publisher of Macaroni Kid for Southbury, Oxford, Woodbury, and Middlbury CT, blogger at Hearst CT Media Group, Kim's Play Place, the Waterbury CT Family Entertainment Examiner and freelance writer for CBS Local in Connecticut.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Things I Never Thought I'd Say Before Becoming a Parent

Things I Never Thought I'd Say Before Becoming a Parent: You are the master of your body. You control the poop. Be the boss of your poop. You tell that poop it has to go into the potty.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Relaxing Weekend without Kids? Yeah.

You would think there would be no down side to having my father voluntarily take all three of my kids for a long weekend.

I don't know what he was thinking. Although I am with my 12 year old, 10 year old and four year old all of the time, I am sure it must be intense for someone not used to it.

Yet he did take them and they had a great weekend. They spent a good deal of time playing outside because of the unseasonal warmth. The four year old, who is notoriously difficult to get to sleep, went to bed well all weekend--as long as he was sleeping with both of his sisters.

Now all of the kids are back home and we are resuming our usual routines with a little extra oomph because of my New Year's resolution to keep the house cleaner.

And that resolution has already hit a huge snag. I was prepared for my 12 year old to be truculent and derail our efforts.


The lovely, relaxing weekend I enjoyed while the kids were at my father's house has left me with a potty training regression.

Instead of just reminding the kids to pick up after themselves and establishing new chore charts, I'm cleaning furniture and giving baths four times a day. It is difficult to embark on new routines when I have to clean up emergencies frequently.

So I am back to setting timers every two hours to remind my guy to head to the potty. I just hope it is only a short adjustment!

Friday, December 30, 2011

How I Torture My Daughter: The Extracurricular Tally

Here is what we are doing and have done with my 12 year old daughter on top of her normal school work:

Splash, two days, multiple workshops

Splash one day, multiple workshops

Online Class Honors Pre-Algebra, ongoing

Online Class Writing, ongoing

Girls Science Initiative, four days a year

Minds in Motion one day seminar

Writing classes at a local library, poetry and creative, ongoing

I am torn between feeling sorry for her and feeling pretty good that we were able to find all of those opportunities for her.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Why I Don't Care that an Adult Failed a Standardized Test

Update: Here is an example standardized math test the adult failed. I am more math fluent than most, having taken engineering-level math classes all through college. I cannot imagine that a successful businessman has no need to use basic graph-reading, estimation, or even understand basic equations. Here is the answer key if you want to see how well you do.

Is this test harder than you thought? Easier? It is much easier than I thought it would be based on the man's exclamations and I find it hard to believe he could only get 10 questions right--and those being guesses.

There has been a lot of buzz around the Washington Post's blog on an adult who took a standardized test and failed it. For everyone who hates the idea of "teaching to the test", who homeschools by radical unschooling, or hates having teachers and budgets held to the results of standardized tests, the post is flaunted as proof that testing is unhelpful.

The adult who took the test is a member of the school board in the district. He is well-educated with grown children and an apparently healthy bottom-line. If he cannot do well on the test, then why are we expecting our students to know 70% of a test he did not?

His argument: I don't know this stuff now and I am successful, so why should high schoolers need to know it. Very simple answer: Not every kid is going to do what he is doing.

I see the same bias in homeschoolers who do not understand why kids need a strong foundation in math in their younger years. Even a certified secondary school math teacher in a seminar I attended implored stay-at-home mothers to envision how they use math and to use that knowledge as a basis for how they teach math to their children.

As long as you are OK that your child could never become an engineer, scientist, actuary, and a host of other math-dominated careers, even if they desperately wanted to be one, then, by all means, teach the kids only the math you now need as an adult.

Secondarily, just because you do not use something in your career or everyday life does not mean that there are not very good reasons to know it.

When I was in engineering school, I often heard the rumblings of other students (since I am at least young enough to have gone to school realizing that computers were going to be doing some seriously heavy lifting by the time I entered the work force), "Why should we bother to learn this? When we graduate, all we will need to do is press a button."

And how will you know what data to enter? How will you select the appropriate parameters for the program you are working on? If your program's finite element analysis grid size is wrong, then you may miss the failure point and you will have no way of knowing how much or little confidence to place in the results. You won't even know enough to calculate a confidence interval.

And if, for some reason, the computer spits a spurious result out at the end of its work, the engineer who was never taught the principles by which the code operates has no way of knowing that his design may not be as robust as he believes. Also true even for calculators.

Another misconception is that because an adult does not appear to need such information now, they have never needed that information.   There are some very strident opinions that I hold today specifically because, at one point, I went through the hard work of applying some information that I knew way-back-when and confirmed. I cannot remember details at this point because I have had no reason to revisit them.

Does that mean that I will defend everything I learned at school? Hell, no. No one today will ever learn to draft blueprints by hand and will never be at a loss for having avoided it. Just like it would have been ridiculous to for me to learn the slide rule.

What is the difference? I know the purpose of those objects and I understand that purpose conceptually. The tools can change and the presentation can change.

I would argue forcibly that mathematics sees too much theoretical math pushed down into elementary grades (my daughter has worked on set theory, prime numbers, and exponents in 3rd and 4th grade without even learning about division) because teachers and curriculum developers think they are teaching harder things by introducing high-level concepts.

Mathematicians are part of this nonsense because they want to see children exposed to their favorite math-theory puzzles or fascinations because that is what turns them on about math. They think that if kids see these ideas earlier that they will be excited about math.

More frequently, the children miss out on developing a real number and operation sense because they were too busy trying to figure out how to divide numbers without actually ever having being taught division and they end up frustrated and puzzled.

As you can see, I am no 'test no matter what' advocate. I am also against using any one person's experience as a barometer for what children should be taught.