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Posts Tagged ‘Homeschooling’

So nice to see homeschoolers treated as, well, not-freaks by a respected publication. In this week’s New Yorker magazine Talk of the Town section, there’s a nice little piece about some young actors in a production of “Snoopy!!!” who happen to be homeschoolers.

For Mary Albert, who recently appeared in a musical production of “Snoopy!!!” as Sally Brown, Charlie Brown’s little sister, the challenge lay in embodying her character’s notoriously ambivalent relationship to the classroom, since Mary, who is twelve, has never actually been to school. “When in rehearsal the director would say, ‘How do you think, at this moment, you’d be responding to your teacher?’ I would say, ‘I have no idea’

There are some great quotes from the kids on homeschooling and regular school. They come across as smart and thoughtful. But the laugh out loud quote for me was this: “Regular school, Ben reflected, “can be kind of a dirty pleasure. It’s like watching ‘America’s Next Top Model.’ ”

Also funny….the timing, as I just came across this thread on the DC Urban Moms and Dads list, titled “Help me overcome my prejudice against home schooling.  Maybe this will help.

P.S.  This issue also has a great essay that reviews the Kindle.  A must read for book lovers everywhere.

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Check it out.  The Post reported on Thursday that Virginia has approved another Governors School:

In the works for two years, the governor’s school received the go-ahead from the Virginia Board of Education last week and is expected to open in September 2010 to rising high school juniors in Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park. The rigorous school, which will be at George Mason University’s campus in Manassas and will eventually have about 150 students….

The governor’s school will offer a partial-day program, with students returning to their home school in the afternoon for English, government and elective classes, said Hubbard, one of the roughly 35 educators and parents who helped plan the school. The program will weave science, technology, engineering and math concepts together with the core curriculum focused on environmental issues.

And Maryland?  Nada.  We have nothing like this, on a multi-county level.  Why? I guess the assumption is that our schools are so fabulous that our gifted students are well served.  If anything, Montgomery County is going in the opposite direction, not “marketing” certain programs as targeted to the creme de la creme, and rather “spreading the wealth.”  That strategy, a la Malcolm Gladwell makes a certain amount of sense (Harvard is only going to accept X number of students from a single school).  But it doesn’t really serve exceptional students who would benefit from a concentrated grouping of peers and resources.

MCPS offers some opportunities for early college, mostly through Montgomery College, our local community college.  But they are largely targeted to at-risk kids and vocational training.  The Early College Scholars Program at Northwood High School has a relationship with University of Maryland, but states

It is NOT designed to shorten the time a student spends in college, but rather to provide a support for the student as they learn to navigate the demands of being successful in college.

All strictly lay out GPA requirements and the requirement of junior and senior status.  And in all these cases, parents pay:  $387.60 for each 3 credit hour semester class, plus books.  In contrast, look at Minnesota’s Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO).

The PSEO program covers all course tuition and fees and text books. It also covers consumable supplies that are required specifically for a class, such as art supplies, film, etc.

Notice who is eligible.  “The Minnesota Legislature established the PSEO program in 1985 to give students an opportunity to enhance the education that they receive at their local high schools, alternative area learning centers, charter schools or home schools. (emphasis added.)

The University of Maryland has provisions for dual or concurrent enrollment–even for homeschoolers–but man, is it complicated.  And there is that persistent obstacle to acceleration and early college for students who don’t homeschool, namely the four years of English requirement.  If you can’t accelerate a year somewhere along the way, you’re screwed.  It doesn’t seem to matter how advanced your English classes are, four years are four years.  Meanwhile, math acceleration in MCPS grows willy-nilly and increasingly we will have kids who “run out” of math at their high schools.  But provide a path for kids who are verbally gifted? Fuggedaboutit.

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Looks nothing like me

You’ve probably noticed that the feverish pace of blog postings has slacked off here.  Yes, it’s summertime.  On Friday I waved goodbye to the family as they drove off to Canada for a week to see my brother-in-law and his new wife. And what did I do for the rest of the weekend?

First off, I cleaned the house.  Reeeaaallly cleaned.  Something that doesn’t happen often anymore.  And then I savored the blissful, delicious notion that it will stay in this calm, pristine condition for days.  Since I don’t have our one car, I decided to play tourist and ride the bus to Bethesda, something I’d never done before (the bus, that is).  I strolled into Blue Mercury and bought makeup, taking as long as I damn well please, thank you very much.  I watched Gilda and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in one sitting.  I asked myself, “What do you want to do?” (One answer:  Not write a post about the barf-inducing Wash Post profile of Jerry Weast.)

Equally important, what didn’t I do:  worry about three other people’s schedule in addition to mine and make Trader Joe runs because there is “absolutely nothing” to eat in the house.  For an entire week I will endeavor to eat the food that is already in our cupboards.  Imagine.

All of which is why I read the New York Times Motherlode blog posting, Why Summer Matters with heightened appreciation.  Brooklyn-based children’s book editor Ruth Katcher shared her thoughts about why summer was so essential to her rising 5th grade son, “Snoopy.”  It’s heartbreaking.  Snoopy is clearly a gifted child, full of imagination and happy to amuse himself for hours.  Meanwhile,

In 7 weeks he’ll go back to school, to a 5th grade class we can only hope will be more suited to his nature than the previous grade…. Last year’s teacher assigned hours of mindless homework. At some point, she decided our son was bright (her term) and thus eligible for enrichment — but she was in no way capable of providing it, in a class of 29 children with extremely mixed abilities. Our son isn’t the only child in the class who survived 4th grade with a perfect report card and his self-concept deeply shaken.

The comments, both on the post and on listservs are interesting.  Some slam the mom–test prep in 4th grade?!–with little sympathy or understanding of the cutthroat calculus of New York City middle school admissions.  Others take her son’s story as a compelling argument against year round school calendars.  As for me, and a few others, I was practically screaming at the screen “get your mind out of the box!”  What is wrong with this picture, with you parents?  The case against year round schooling shouldn’t be built on the notion that school is a horrendous, mind-numbing, soul-crushing experience from which children need the summer to “recover.”  How has our culture come to accept this as normal, even something to celebrate?

In this particular case, the answer is right there, even if Katcher doesn’t want to see it.  She herself says:  “Sometimes this past year, I started to feel that our child is homeschooling himself, that his real education was taking place mostly on weekends.”  Why not be done with it and make it official?  (My guess, fego.  Her slice of Brooklyn is probably a lot like Montgomery County, with fewer trees.)  As for those who can’t homeschool, what is the answer?  Radical school reform, emphasis on the radical.  That could mean a year round calendar (which would still include ample vacation, and would address lower income “summer slide”) — but not with just more of the same.

I happen to agree that the standard American summer vacation is too long, and that at least a month of it could be parceled throughout the school year without appreciable loss of the summer “experience.”  Few families have the luxury of a “summering” somewhere, or 6 weeks of sleep away camp, or of a full-time at home mom/dad who can act as memory-making cruise director.  For most families, it’s a huge juggle to make sure that 9 weeks are “covered.”  It’s one of the reasons why even at my kids’ ages my husband and I are tag-teaming our vacations.  I say, let’s spread summer goodness year-round.  And at the same time tell our education leaders that the rest of the year shouldn’t be akin to a prison sentence.

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In the days of appointment TV

Today is the start of what should be an interesting three weeks.  Well, interesting for me at least.  This afternoon C. starts an official MCPS online course that satisfies a Maryland state graduation requirement.  I’ll be curious to see how the class is structured and what the interface is like.  The entire experience of it.  The course goes for three weeks, three hours a day (they say; hopefully less), bookended by two mandatory four-hour, in-person classes.  A semester’s worth of work.  Done.  Out of her schedule so she has room for more interesting things down the line.  Less cool is that we’re paying ($310) for the privilege, despite it being a mandated course.  Sigh.

Nonetheless, I am increasingly thinking this is the way to go–or at least one option that needs serious attention.  I am getting so tired of bogus online discussions about how to meet the needs of gifted kids–or more accurately why we can’t.  I’m tired of hearing how my kids (and kids like them) have to diffuse the pool of underachieveing students so as to improve the overall discipline of a school (this was actually argued on a gifted listserv over the weekend.).  I am tired of hearing how it isn’t cost effective (let alone “fair”) to meet their legitimate learning needs via grouping because “it’s just a few kids” yet people continue to  insist that there is something magic about arbitrarily grouping kids from the same birth year and zip code.

How about this?  Set them free! Teach a child what he or she is ready to learn.   Once they’ve learned it, let them progress to the next thing.  If they finish “early” so be it.  Let them go into the world to learn, to volunteer, to apprentice, to further studies at the college level, regardless of their age.

And psssst.  (Sotto voce) Welcome to the 21st Century.  There is this thing called the interwebs.  It is the opposite of appointment learning.  It uses things like VOIP and IM and blogs and webcams and “webinar” technology.  It allows people to connect whether they’re across town from each other or across the globe, to collaborate in real time–or not.  Problem is, if MCPS were to consider this, they’d spend a few years considering it, then a few more years piloting it to just a few schools, then issue a study, and then (maybe) consider it to be a viable means of meeting the needs of accelerated learners–but by then you and everyone who has kids in the school system would be long gone.

As it happens, online learning is in the news this morning.  A group of all-girls school, including local Holton-Arms, is piloting the Online School for Girls

For now, the online collaboration will allow the four participating schools — Holton-Arms, Harpeth Hall in Nashville, Westover School in Middlebury, Conn., and Laurel School in Shaker Heights, Ohio — to offer classes that would not have generated enough student interest or teacher support in any one school. When the classes open to the public a year later, the educators hope that students around the world — including homeschoolers and girls at coed schools — will be able to take part in a version of the girls’ school experience. And they want to prove that single-sex online education works. They can’t find anyone who has done anything similar.

I don’t really have an opinion about the all-girls aspect, but the fact that this is being done by “hoity-toity” private schools is encouraging.  Maybe if MC”we’re the best”PS sees it being done they’ll consider it too.  Because if it’s a choice between an online class and my kid sitting in a real class being bored out of her mind (or disrupted by classmates who have no interest in learning), I’ll choose online learning any day.

P.S.  Check out what online courses MCPS currently offers.  The array of AP’s is quite impressive actually.  But why can’t kids take them during the school day?  Is it because then they couldn’t charge $700? Would they allow a profoundly gifted kid to give an AP class a go in middle school?  And of course there is the array of courses offered by CTY, EPGY and others that have been around for ever.  Has anyone ever heard of MCPS allowing a child to take one in lieu of MCPS classes?  Readers, what are the online options in your state or district, and how do they mesh with brick and mortar school?

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Homeschool review, already?!  That’s what I thought when I got the letter dated April 15th.  We only officially started homechooling on March 4th.  But no matter.  I called the MCPS field office.  They said I could come in as early as the first week of May.  I scheduled for May 15th.

In the intervening month part of me thought “I don’t need to sweat this…heck, it’s only 2 months of homeschooling and she’s actually done a lot.”  But then the Type A part of me was all, “I’m not seeing enough ‘product!!’ Where’s the ‘product?!’ I’ve got to demonstrate regular thorough instruction!”  I’ve been feeling particularly anxious about math.  M. is doing pre-algebra on Aleks and simply hasn’t been putting in the hours–that I would like, my husband keeps reminding me–to get her on track to start in with Algebra in September,  unless she wants to do math all summer.  I kept harping, “You need to do at least 5 hours a week.” But somehow her photography was particularly compelling, or she was reading The Secret Histories, or there was a particularly good documentary, or…. I have to keep reminding myself that this is why we’re homeschooling, right?  To be able to adapt and go at the student’s pace.  Breathe.

This past week I was really burning the candle on both ends, what with work and then blogging into the wee hours.  There were several nights where I only got 4 or so hours of sleep.  By Thursday night I felt like crap, but I still needed to pull together my stuff for the review at 9 a.m. the next day.   I stayed up until 1 a.m creating Word document resource pages from e-mails, drafting an overview–and then got up at 5 to drive Husband Dear to the Metro, C. to the bus, shower, dress and then frantically print out the final samples and supporting documents.

I rolled into the field office at 8:58 and behind me was a mom clutching large binders, dad juggling some large cardboard creation, and a child.  I was carrying a slim folder.  Deep breath.

A homeschool review, I’ve decided, is essentially a sales jobs and I can’t help thinking of  Mr. Roark:  “Smiles everyone!  Smiles!”  (Okay, so maybe that’s not the best metaphor.)  Go in dressed professionally.  Project enthusiasm and confidence.  Show that you completely know what you are doing.  And keep up a non-stop monologue as you casually slide over a few choice samples.

This was my first time with this reviewer.  She was pleasant, low-key and as she pulled out the file she said, “I can see you’re an old hand at this.” She said this at least three times during the half hour.  Was she saying it to reassure me or herself?  I confess it did sort of lower the bar and help me relax. (I was surprised that they would have files by family rather than by kid.)  I extracted three writing samples from my sheaf of papers to show her–more or less the sum total of M.’s written output over the past 10 weeks (think quality, not quantity!)–and then I ran down my overview.

Math
•    Pre Algebra – Courseware:  Aleks.com. Student navigated learning paths based on level of readiness, with assessment at regular intervals. (I showed her the printout where it’s mapped against Maryland content standards.  She liked that.  Didn’t get into how much progress she’s actually made since starting.)

Interdisciplinary Humanities (English & Social Studies)
•    Unit Study – Rise of Totalitarianism – Secret Histories, Animal Farm, Maus I and II. Ongoing and extensive multimedia exploration and study of the Russian Revolution, World War I, Rise of Communism (Stalinism), World War II.  Ongoing. (Mentioned our research paper plans for the fall and showed her my first assignment on narrowing the topic.  She liked that.)
•    Unit Study:  Ancient Greece – Extensive multimedia exploration of Ancient Greece.  Reading from K12 textbook, web resources such as the BBC, PBS, the History Channel and National Geographic, videos, interactive games.  Read D’Aulaires Mythology, excerpts from Young Philosopher’s Guide.  Field trip to the Washington Monument and Supreme Court to study influence of Greek Architecture. (I showed her a first person wax museum monologue on Artemis that M. wrote.)
•    Current Events—Daily reading and discussion of current events in the New York Times and satirical political shows, The Daily Show and the Colbert Report.
•    Eiffel Tower – Conduct research and write report. (I showed her this two page paper.)
•    Slumdog Millionaire – Comparison of the movie and the book upon which it was based.

Interdisciplinary Science (Science, Health, English)
•    Forensic Science – Units on Hair, Insects, Art Fraud, Autopsy and Dissection, Odontology, Fibers.  Field Trip to the Walter Reed Museum of Health and Medicine for their forensic workshop.  Read “Chasing Vermeer.”
•    Paper Bag Mystery – Write mystery based on several random items in a paper bag.  (Had the reviewer skim this. She loved it, commenting that she could tell M. had really gotten into the assignment.  By this point she was murmuring repeatedly about how much we were doing, that it all was really wonderful.  Just sliding to the close….)

Foreign Language
•    Middle School French 1 – Powerspeak.  Completed lessons 1-22.

Art
•    Photography – Produced photo essay with captions.
•    Drawing – Sketching Greek goddesses. (Showed her a sample.)
•    Field Trips – MOMA in New York; National Gallery of Art and Museum of the American Indian in DC; Wheelright Museum and Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe.

Music
•    BBC Composer of the Week podcast series
•    Attended performances of Sweeney Todd and The Baker’s Wife.
•    Composition using Garage Band software.
•    Music documentaries such as “The Story of Led Zeppelin.”

Media/Art/Language Arts
•    Blog – Independently designing and authoring a blog featuring to include photos and brief personal essays and reflections.  (Just really getting started with this.  I’ll turn her into a blogger yet!)

Health
•    Incorporated into Forensic Science class.  Student also regularly reads the Health Section of the Washington Post and New York Times online. (I told the reviewer my  “Don’t smoke.  Don’t drink.  Don’t do drugs.  Don’t have sex until you’re older. There…Health is done.” line.  She chuckled.)

Physical Education
•    Fencing – Weekly private epee fencing lessons and twice weekly group classes.

Toward the end she asked just one question: what our typical day was like.  I told her that I expected M. to do math and French every day, but that we were still working on that.  Otherwise, “school” took place during the normal school hours, adjusted for pre-teen sleep rhythms.  When it was over she barely had written anything on the sheet.  Really.  Bottom line though, we passed.

I rushed to work, forgot my laptop power cord so had to come home after an hour or so.  Once home I decided to be “sick” for the rest of the day rather than work, went straight to bed and slept for four hours.

Finally breathing.

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For the second year in a row, girls have dominated the Intel Science International Science and Engineering Fair. You can read more about the competition here.

Tara Adiseshan, 14, of Charlottesville, Va. [Note: a DC area homeschooler before her family relocated]; Li Boynton, 17, of Houston; and Olivia Schwob, 16, of Boston were selected from 1,563 young scientists from 56 countries, regions and territories for their commitment to innovation and science. Each received a $50,000 scholarship from the Intel Foundation….

“The real end point of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair is to elevate the recognition of achievement of the younger generation in academic and learning exercises,” said Intel Chairman Craig Barrett. “I hope that more young people will look at these students and realize they can be recognized for using their brains. You don’t have to be a quarterback, a basketball player or a baseball player to be recognized by your peers and the public.”

I’ll say.  Check out Intel’s wonderful, must-see celebration of brains:   “Rock Star” video (although too bad it’s actually an actor).

Meanwhile, winners of the 2009 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards receive, at most, $10,000 and the chance for publication or exhibition, with the ranks of sponsoring institutions looking a little thin (New York Times and…who?).

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The Holocaust Museum

It’s been a while since I did a little update on how the homeschooling is going and since I just had my homeschool review (coming post) now would be a great time to do it.

When M. started to homeschool, Husband Dear shifted to a compressed work schedule.  That means longer days on the days he works…and every Monday off.   Originally I thought that would be the day for M. to really concentrate on math, his forte.  But no go.  M. struggles with math, doesn’t like math, or maybe just doesn’t like doing math with her dad.  Whatever the case, not a lot of math was happening and a whole lot of “head butting” mutual frustration was.  Not productive.

So I came up with the idea of Field Trip Mondays.  Rather than battling dad over math at home, I recommended that they get out of the house and use the day to go to museums.  I mean, my goodness, we live a stone’s throw from  Washington, DC!  There are just so many amazing places to explore–and the majority of them are free.  Use that time to build their relationship in a positive way so that maybe  when they do do some math together it won’t lead to gnashing of teeth.  In my gut, I think that this hands-on, exploratory approach is what will work for M. now, and more importantly, what she needs.

So that’s the new plan. Two weeks ago, to kick things off, they visited the Holocaust Museum.  It fits right into what I’m calling The Rise of Totalitarianism interdisciplinary unit.  A couple of weeks ago I made a reference to the book, 1984. Which led me to pull up the 1984 Apple commercial, and the Hilary version on YouTube.   M. was intrigued–she’s my girl for dark stuff and had already read and liked The Secret Histories: Hidden Truths That Challenged the Past and Changed the World.  I told M., “You have to read 1984.  You’d love it.  But it would probably be a good idea to read Animal Farm first.  (Something they read at the beginning of 6th grade in the humanities magnet, by the way.)   However to understand Animal Farm you really have to understand the roots of communism, tsarist Russia, Trotsky and Lenin, Stalin…  And before you get into World War II and Hitler and Mussolini and the Holocaust, McCarthyism and the Cold War, you have to understand World War I (so here are links upon links to great websites and cool videos for all of this!).  And by the way, our homeschooling mom friend just told me about a one-week Films of World War II co-op class that starts next month and I’ve signed you up for it.  Oh, and to follow up on the visit to the Holocaust Museum I picked up a copy of Maus….”

Well, if you homeschool, you know how it is.

Vacuuming up all this information on a large swath of the early 20th century is a great foundation for the coming year, where the plan is to do an independent research project–basically write a 10 page research paper tied to the theme of National History Day–just like they do in the magnet.  M. is really eager to do one. My thinking is much like that video I posted, “Teaching Content is Teaching Reading.”  You have to have a rich base of content before you can dive into writing a really good paper and that’s one of the things I remember commenting on back when C. had to do her big 7th grade research paper:  “How can they be expected to come up with 10 topics, select one and come up with a compelling thesis statement when they haven’t even studied this period?”  M. will have.  As for the writing process, I still have the magnet materials plus Michael Clay Thompson’s “Advanced Academic Writing” and we probably will use an online writing tutor for added oversight.  (As a side note, on the MCT stuff, I’ve been a bit of a failure.  To use the materials fully really needs a lot of time and parental guidance–at least in our case–and I haven’t been able to give it that concentrated effort.)

This past week they spent the day in New York City (a trip that was actually a comedy of errors but turned out well in the end with a visit to MOMA )  and will go again this coming week for a visit to the U.N. where they’ll spend several hours with a relative who is part of an official delegation there (which is what they were supposed to do…except he was still in Paris.)  M. even gets a bonus field trip this week.  Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but my homeschooling friend is taking the forensics co-op to a not very well publicized forensics exhibit currently at the Natural History Museum.

This is learning.  Experiences like this make me wish that we’d homeschooled all along and that I had the luxury of not working and devoting myself solely to homeschooling.  But then again, if I didn’t have my job I’d probably be bitter and a bit bonkers….

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Yesterday’s “Extra Credit” column by Jay Mathews ran a letter from someone concerned that homeschoolers are failing “to embrace the diversity of human learning” by “seceding from public schools.”

Jay had a pithy comeback:

You are living in a country founded by people whose European ancestors had come to this continent to separate themselves from the political and religious systems of their homelands. The American value that probably distinguishes us most from other national cultures is our commitment to individualism. Your opinion is as valuable as mine, but I think the home-schoolers are closer to American ideals than you are.

Oh snap.

Jay also had a snappy comeback for a parent worried about kindergarten burnout.

I am willing to let parents like you and me, middle-class folk in Montgomery County, have our kids take it easy. They are already living in a world of words in our homes. The research says they will do fine no matter what kind of elementary school they attend.

But please make sure that our wishes in this matter don’t get in the way of the kids two or three years below grade level who don’t live in our world and who need the early start that we, almost unconsciously, give our kids.

The problem is, “middle class folk” live all jumbled up in large swaths of MoCo.  It’s not like you can just ignore the drumbeat of the Seven Keys.  Reports are that elementary schools are already plastered with posters touting the Keys and brochures are going home in a roll-out described on one listserv as “shock and awe.”

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