Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Poetry, History, and A Sprained Toe

I’ve been neglecting this blog lately. I feel like I’ve lost all sense of homeschooling rhythm. However, when I read my previous entry and reflect on what she’s done in the meantime, I see that we are chugging along albeit at a slower pace these days.
                Her poem for this week is Maya Angelou’s “Awaking in New York.”  She has copied it in cursive into her notebook.  The goal is for her to read it aloud a few times throughout this week.  She also did cursive copywork from Emily Dickinson’s poem “To Make a Prairie” last week which is a very short poem. 
                Seneca’s artist for this term is Henry Ossawa Tanner.  Here’s a link to the biography that she read on him. https://www.amazon.com/Henry-Ossawa-Tanner-Boyhood-Dream/dp/1593730926/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1523973307&sr=8-5&keywords=henry+ossawa+tanner
                For history, Seneca read Who Was Daniel Boone? from the Who Is/Was series.  She types her written narrations. I’m fine with her doing it this way because typing is a much-needed skill and this gives her good practice.  She prefers typing to writing.  Her Daniel Boone narration cracked me up. Here’s an excerpt of what she wrote: He built a coffin for himself because he knew he was going to go soon. He would also polish it (which is very weird) he kept it in his sons house, at age 84 he died his last words were quote “My time has come.” end quote. He even said before he died that he had very good naps in it.
 Joke time- can you imagine you knocked on some old guys door and you kept knocking then he finally answers and he says “Sorry I was late at coming to the door you see I’m old and my now life is really awful and you see I’m going to die soon and so I built a coffin for myself and I just was taking a nap in it.” 
Please note that I am very aware of the grammar mistakes. I’m sharing her original typed response.  These written narrations help me to gauge how well she is or is not applying grammar concepts.  It also helps her to just get into the habit of writing. 
Seneca continues to work on multiplication and three-digit addition and subtraction. 
Our big event here was that she was in a ballet production of The Wizard of Oz at the Opera House!  The show was amazing.  They brought in professional dancers to dance the roles of Scarecrow, Tinman, and Cowardly Lion, but all of the other roles were done by the students of the school.  It is so new that the choreographer (Vadim Fedetov) and the composer were both able to come take a bow at the end of the show.  Speaking of bows, Seneca missed the bow because she hurt her toe in the second dance that she did.  Everyone was so proud of her for holding it in on stage and not letting on that she was hurt.  Back stage the tears started, but seemed to subside.  It was when she got into my car that the floodgates opened.  I took her to the hospital for an x-ray. Nothing is broken, but she did perhaps sprain it so no dancing for a couple of weeks. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

Responding to the notion that college is the path of least resistance

There’s an article that was recently shared on another facebook group that I am on which stated that “college is the path of least resistance for most.”  After my uncontrollable laughter, the anger came.  I Instant Messaged my daughter who is a sophomore in college. I think her eye roll was audible.  
                As I read the rest of the article, I saw that it was nothing more than an advertisement really for this program called Discover Praxis. I have looked into this program and it sounds really, really good.  From what I’ve read and the videos I’ve seen on exactly how the program is set up, I am impressed.  There are classes in philosophy as well as business.  I find it somewhat ironic that the author of the article was upset about required classes in college that she wasn’t interested in, when it sounds like Praxis has its own core of required classes before you are placed in an apprenticeship. 
                As much as I am impressed with what I have seen from Discover Praxis, I have become very alienated by their college bashing.  There’s another advertisement of sorts for them with this young man going on and on about why college is the wrong choice only to then go on and be and advertisement for Discover Praxis.  They might want to rethink this approach since some of their prospective clients might have siblings who chose to go to college. 
                But let’s go back to this idea that “college is the path of least resistance.”  Yes, committing four years of your life to study is the path of least resistance. I guess I should be ashamed of my daughter for writing a nine page essay on the letters between Einstein and Freud.  Oh wait, maybe it’s her lazy classes like Foreign Policy or maybe it’s her Middle East Economies class that really show what a cop-out route she took in life by going away to college. 
                I want you to imagine if I had written something saying that trade school is the path of least resistance.  How would that be received?  My son, who is a senior right now, is not looking to go to college just yet.  He is exploring other options. However, I also told him about the “college is the path of least resistance for most” quote and he had this look of bewilderment on his face.  His response was, “I don’t believe that, but whatever.”
                In the article the author states that you can’t take the classes that you want to take in college. That is not true.  Colleges like Hampshire and Global College of LIU don’t have silly requirements like English 101 or Algebra.  In Hampshire, students jump right in and take classes in their freshmen year that would be considered to be only available to juniors and seniors in most traditional colleges. 
                I am troubled by a much deeper issue that articles like the ones mentioned and videos dismissing college.  First, there is the issue of all of these young people having their choice repeatedly bashed.  Again, think of how it would sound if pro-college people were putting out articles and videos bashing the choice to go to trade school. 
                Then comes the argument that college isn’t for everyone. Well of course it isn’t. But how dare you say that it is the path of least resistance. Many people aren’t up for four years of academic rigor after high school.  How exactly is dedicating four years of your life to academics including writing essays, reading some of the great works of literature, and studying for exams (if you are in a traditional college) the path of least resistance? 
                If you don’t want to go to college, then don’t go. And yes, you could just as easily become financially successful if you do not go to college as someone who did go.  But why put someone else down to make you feel better about your choice? We have terrifying amount of not only anti-intellectualism in this country, but a proud embrace of it right now.  And we should all be terrified.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

If You’re Unschooling High School, You Might Want to Peek At Charlotte Mason

Truth be told, I think the Charlotte Mason approach to high school is more unschooly by far than what I’ve seen suggested on many unschooling pages. Dual enrollment seems to be the major recommendation for high schoolers.  Dual enrollment looks beyond fantastic on a college application, and it’s a great way to earn college credit for free.  But for those people who would prefer to continue to create their own high school curriculum free from textbooks and lesson plans, I feel that the CM method offers a lot of flexibility.
                One aspect of a Charlotte Mason education that seems to be unique is the practice of spreading out subjects over the years. In CM, a student does not take one year of Shakespeare study, but Shakespeare plays are read all throughout the high school years. Typically, a student would read three Shakespeare plays per year. This approach is used in both Ursa Minor (secular) https://ursaminorlearning.com/and Ambleside Online (religious Christian).  http://amblesideonline.org/  At the end of high school, you could grant your student one credit in Shakespeare for the work done throughout the years, or you could include each year’s Shakespeare readings under the umbrella of Literature along with the other books read.
                The study of economics is also spread out over four years.  The student reads books and essays over the course of four years instead of having one credit, or half a credit, crammed into a year or a semester.   I see this approach as being so friendly to unschooling because you are not locking yourself into learning about something for only one year. Or, if you do lose interest in something for a while and then become curious about it again, this approach allows you to weave in and out of learning about a specific topic.
                 The CM method is not in and of itself unschooling.  In fact, if you do approach it with the attitude really wanting a CM education, then there will be a certain rigor just by what subjects are covered in a CM setting.  Those subjects include art history, Shakespeare, poetry, Plutarch, along with the traditional subjects of history, literature, math, science, and foreign language.  I would think that an unschooler using a literature based learning approach would probably not do a study in all of these subjects. On the other hand, curiosity may be sparked and a student may choose to learn about Plutarch’s Lives.  That is something that goes back to that idea that education is a feast.  Lay the suggestions out before the student and allow them to decide how much they may want to tweak things.
                In many ways, CM’s approach to the rigorous subjects is so gentle that it really can be wonderful way for an unschooler to approach the subject.  For example, art history is learned by reading one or two books on art history spread out over four years.  Each year, three different artists and their work are studied. By studied, we mean read a biography or even a Wikipedia entry on the artist. Twelve of their pieces are closely observed and described by the student.  You could definitely be flexible with this and not necessarily study twelve pieces by the same artist. 
               I think that the major concern with combining unschooling with the CM method is one of credits.  It is really hard to measure credit hours in a CM education because many subjects are spread out over four years and also because one student might finish a book faster than another.  For that matter, a student might read a history book with a lot ease and then have to go slower on a science book – maybe even re-reading parts to gain a complete understanding.   If an unschooler learns about six artists, maybe that could be considered half a credit in art history instead of a full credit.  Or, should that study count for a full credit?  Also, I think a student could reasonably earn a full credit for Shakespeare by reading six plays instead of twelve. I asked a secular homeschooling facebook group how many Shakespeare plays they thought should be read for one credit solely in Shakespeare, and the average (and majority) of responses indicated that six plays would equal one high school credit.
             I’m not saying that all unschoolers should become Charlotte Mason homeschoolers.  I’m saying that I think unschoolers who want to continue to create their own education might find a lot of the CM methods to be very conducive to non-traditional study.  The books that are suggested by CM sites are just that – suggestions.  There are no textbooks or lesson plans in a CM education.  And again, it’s a feast. An unschooler could use the CM approach for economics and not read a single Shakespeare play.  It’s not all or nothing.  (However, if you are participating in a study on CM educated students then I would say that one would have to show that they really followed all of the methods in a Charlotte Mason education.)

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Adding Geography to Our Line-Up

               We took a fairly long break for the holidays.  Seneca’s cousins were off of school, so she spent a lot of time with them.  Her big sister was also home from college, and they spent some extra time together with big sis even taking her out to lunch one day.  
                After the holidays, Seneca continued our American history theme by reading a biography of Sacagawea.  From this book, I chose out some passages for copywork and dictation.  We don’t do dictation on a regular basis, but I’m trying to include it more.   
                I write out multiplication for problems for Seneca to work on. The goal is to do a page each day, but that never does seem to happen. However, we have been on a pretty good roll lately. 
                Seneca also worked on a new poem, “My Heart Is in the Highlands” by Robert Burns.  After doing a reading each day, she copied a verse from the poem in cursive into her notebook.  The poem is four verses, so this was spread out over four days.  I also found an audio on YouTube of Prince Charles reading this poem, so that was a nice touch for her to enjoy.  She also listened to the poem set to music.
                Seneca’s older brother participated in a volunteer day at one of our local nature preserves. While he was working, we took the opportunity to go walking through the trails.  It was more of a physical education experience than nature study, but even just spending time in nature can be so beneficial – and we had a great time.
               I was looking over the subjects and reading lists at Ambleside Online which we use for some suggestions.   I realized that we hadn’t done much with geography lately. I looked at Ambleside’s book suggestion for this year and I didn’t find it very appealing. The book is online as it is in the public domain, but it just didn’t seem to have the information that I would have liked to see. So, I did a YouTube search and found a great intro to geography concepts video. Seneca has already learned the seven continents, directions, use of a compass, and done some map work.  The list of things to work on this year as suggested by Ambleside are landforms, bodies of water, island, peninsula, etc.  I like the idea of working on these concepts; I just didn’t like the book.  Anyhow, I found a great video and Seneca has been watching and even re-watching it.  For writing practice, I’m having Seneca write the names of the continents in cursive in alphabetical order.  This is the geography video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BsqKTJtK_vw

Friday, December 29, 2017

History: Western Civilization Part 1

History: Western Civilization Part 1
“The Battle Of Marathon” in The Histories by Herodotus
“The Battle of Thermopylae” in The Histories by Herodotus
 “Pericles’ Funeral Oration” in The Peloponnesian War by Eurcydides
“The Plague and Plague Speech by Pericles” in The Peloponnesian War by Eurcydides
“Melian Dialogue” in The Peloponnesian War by Eurcydides

Julius Caesar and Roman Britain by Walter Du La Garde
“Cincinnatus” in Famous Men of Rome
“Emperor Nero” in Famous Men of Rome
Plutarch’s “Life of Themistocles”
Plutarch’s “Life of Alexander The Great”
Plutarch’s “Life of Julius Caesar”

 “Ancient Athens and The Golden Age of Greece” Documentary
“The True Story of Hannibal” Documentary

The Byzantine Empire by Jennifer Fretland VanVoorst (booklet 48 pages)
The Life of Charlemagne by Eginhard
William Malmesbury’s Account of The Battle of Hastings 1066
“The House of Normandy” in British Kings and Queens – covers William the Conqueror, Civil War  between Stephen and Matilda, and the rise of Henry II
Henry II and Thomas Beckett by Walter Du La Garde
The Magna Charta http://www.bl.uk/magna-carta/articles/magna-carta-english-translation
“Magna Charta In Context” by Claire Breay and Julian Harrison
 “The 95 Theses” by Martin Luther http://www.luther.de/en/95thesen.html
“The Transatlantic Slave Trade” article from UNESCO
“The Slave Route” UNESCO
Maps of the Slave Route UNESCO

“The Transatlantic Slave Trade” http://www.inmotionaame.org/print.cfm;jsessionid=f8302320431476677508560?migration=1&bhcp=1

Monday, December 18, 2017

Another Day In The Life: Fifth Grade

Science: Model making of a cell from play doh.   Learning about sharks and whales
Poem: Copywork first four lines of “From a Railway Carriage”
Recitation: “Still I Rise”
Art: drawing practice, Van Gogh’s Room At Arles
Music: The Nutcracker
Math: Multiplication practice

Now that Seneca has completed her book My Side of The Mountain for her literature block, she is now working on her science block.  For formal study, she is reading from the book The Way We Work by David Macaulay.  She made a model of a cell from play-doh and discussed the functions of the parts of the cell.   She had to check the book repeatedly, and I’m still not sure that sure remembers what part of a cell does what.  However, the repetition is good for her, and we will revisit the model cell again tomorrow.   
This isn’t a Charlotte Mason approach to science, but straying a little and using a variety of sources can be beneficial.  The book itself is a good and informative book. I also think that doing even a small hands-on project, such as making a replica of a cell, is helpful in learning about a cell.  I consider each time she was asked to explain the model to have been an exercise in oral narration, so that is a CM component to the lesson.
   On her own, Seneca has found science websites from which she enjoys learning.  She has always loved learning about sharks.  She told me about a shark with skin that is toxic to humans and she showed me the video. 
She also loves whales.  She showed me a site where she had been learning about whales. She told me that whales travel in pods (which I did know), but that there are aggressive and non-aggressive pods (which I did not know.)
      For writing practice today, I asked Seneca to copy four lines from the Robert Louis Stevenson poem, “From A Railway Carriage” in cursive.   Since she didn’t love this poem, I had let her choose out another one for reading aloud this past week.  So, her main poem this week was actually “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou.  However, for writing practice, she is using “From A Railway Carriage,” and that is because it is a shorter poem. 

    Seneca has been watching a lot of drawing videos lately and has been working on developing drawing skills.  I am quite impressed with the dedication and hard work that she has shown.  I think I may order an online drawing course for her in the near future. I certainly cannot help her at all in this endeavor.  This isn’t something that I assigned or even suggested to her.  

Friday, December 15, 2017

Grades in the Homeschool: What is Fair?

Let’s talk about grades.  All through school, if I studied for a history or English test, I was pretty much guaranteed to get an A.  If I put the same amount of effort into studying for a math test, I was guaranteed to get a C.  If I did not study for a history or English test, I would most likely get a C or B-.  If I did not study for a math test, I would still get a C.  
Grades are supposed to reflect effort and time put in to something. And sometimes, those grades are a true reflection of time and effort, but what about when they’re not.   No matter how much effort I put into math, I can’t get better than a C.  Please don’t misunderstand me:   I don’t think I should be given an A unless my test scores are that of an A grade. 
                But here’s a good thing about grades: they let me know not only what I was good at, but what I was bad at –math.  You really do not want me to be building bridges.  (Aside: I’ve heard people say things like, “Oh you need math to go into business or be an engineer.”  My mental response was, “Fine. I won’t study business or become an engineer.”  So, please be very careful when you say things like that.  You may be doing more harm than good.)  I also now understand that I have math learning disability called dyscalculia. 
                One of the great things about homeschooling is that you can tailor the teaching method to match your child’s style of learning.   But does this give homeschoolers some unfair advantage?  Let’s say a homeschool student learns physics concepts by doing project-based learning.  That student is able to show what she has learned both through the physical project and notes explaining the project and how physics applies.  She gets an A in her physics homeschool class.  Now, let’s assume we have a public school student who just can’t seem to grasp these physics concepts within the confines of the textbook.  (Textbooks can be fantastic resources.)   Anyhow, our public school student ends up with a B-, but not for lack of trying.  Had said public school student been allowed to engage in project-based learning, she might have earned an A as well.  So, while I do love the idea of tailoring learning to meet how an individual student learns, I am deeply troubled by the ethical implications of this.    To be clear, I am talking about high school transcripts which will be used my college admissions counselors.  Those counselors assume an A is earned through textbook study and exams.   Also, how many projects should a homeschool student do to earn a credit that is worth 120 hours of work. Granted, as homeschoolers we don’t have to hit exactly 120 hours, but again out of fairness, shouldn’t what we do be at least comparable on some level to public/private school students?
                I agree with teaching to mastery rather than just moving on to the next topic, but how should grades reflect that?  Public school kids get one shot at it (maybe more if it’s a series of quizzes), but the final grade is the final grade.   If a public school kid gets a C on a chapter test, it’s still onto the next chapter with fellow students - some of whom will have earned As.   If a homeschool student has the opportunity to relearn the lesson and retake the test, is the higher score used for the final grade (for that unit/chapter) or is the recorded score an average of both grades?
           I know that a lot of homeschooling families will say to not worry about grades or comparisons with public school kids.  I agree in theory, but my qualms arise when it comes time to do high school transcripts for colleges.  If a public school student has to do XYZ to earn an A, then shouldn’t my kid have to something that is at least comparable to public/private school work in order for him to earn an A?  I do think that there is a question of ethics.  Is it fair to say my kid got an A if my kid was able to re-do something over and over again. Is it fair to say my kid got an A if he did less work than a public school student?
           After having a mini existential crisis on the assigning of grades, I did what I do best - I asked Google.  Well, I asked on some different homeschooling pages and researched some more on Charlotte Mason's methods of grading.  It would appear that I am overthinking this whole thing.
      As to the question of how to grade if you are applying the mastery system, the conventional wisdom is give your student the A.  I asked on a Classical education site and that is what they suggested. Their logic being if a grade reflects what the student knows and has accomplished, then an A is correct.  In fact, students in schools are being shortchanged because even if they do understand the concept of the lesson by the end of the unit, the final grade is often an average of all the grades earned during that unit.
        I also found great advice from homeschooling educator Lee Binz.  Binz writes about the advantage of we have as homeschoolers of truly knowing what our children know.  For example, my son can talk about detailed facts of the Civil War years after learning about them.  I can walk up to him and at any moment I can ask him to give me a run-down of the War of The Roses and he'll do it and do a good job.  I know he has achieved a mastery of history that he has studied.  Binz also brings up a good point by saying that you can explain in your course descriptions if you used a mastery approach.
       But what about the lady herself, Miss Charlotte Mason?  There were no grades assigned in her PNEU schools.  A narrative assessment was done for the parents that was unique to each child.  If a child struggled, but was really putting forth his/her best effort, then that should be recognized.
    The problem with Mason's method for modern day homeschoolers is that most colleges want to see a letter grade assigned to each course. (My oldest daughter's college is the exception to this and in fact prefers that homeschoolers provide narrative evaluations instead of letter grades. I love my daughter's college.)  So, combining the advice of Mason and Binz, one could give grades that are a fair and accurate reflection of a student's achievements.   If a student hasn't earned an A, don't give it to him.   Even if my child put in her absolute best effort, but still did not master a subject, I would not give an A.  I do believe that we all need to know what we aren't as good at as well as what we are good at.

Education As A Feast

 Charlotte Mason is often described as referring to education as a feast.  You (the teacher) prepare a feast for your child and the child fi...