Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Homeschooling: Record Keeping!

It's October, and you're a brand new homeschooling family.  By now you might be settling into some routine.  You've already discarded things that aren't working and still agonizing over others.  What's the most important piece of this homeschool puzzle?

It's record keeping.

If your child is in the K-8 range, your record keeping task is pretty simple.  Toss everything that's been done on paper into a box.  This includes workbooks, posters, homework, projects, book reports, and art work that isn't suitable for framing.  For the latter, take and print photos, even if black-and-white.  This is the record box, not the display case.  If necessary, everything in that box can be sorted later.

If your child is working a course online then get periodic printouts of grade reports. You could also take screen shots or photos of those screens that display grades.  Print, and toss in the box.

Take photos of the art work, family activities, pies baked, sports activities, field trips, and outings, and put those on a well-labeled flash drive for that year, one for each child.  The flash drive will go in a zip-lock bag (so you can find it) in the box while it's accumulating, and will either stay there at the end of the year or follow the child into the next year.  If you have multiple children then you'll want to transfer those family photos to a flash drive for each child.

Keep a list of books read and movies watched.  If the list is in electronic form it can go on the flash drive.  If it's on paper, then it goes in the box.  Don't forget the 4H record book.

If your child returns to a classroom setting somewhere, then what's in the box becomes your evidence of what was accomplished.  If there is ever a legal question about your homeschooling, then the box is your evidence of your diligence.

Consider selecting items from the box and the flash drive to use to make a memory book of that child's year.  You can make one book each year, or you can continue a book from one year to the next.

When can you toss what's in those K-8 boxes?  When the child has accomplished a year in a classroom setting, or after a year of high school, whether it was in a classroom, online, or homeschooled.  When that year is done you can rummage the K-8 boxes for the treasures you want to keep, and recycle the rest.  If you're uncertain about keeping something or throwing it away, consider taking a scan or photo of it and then tossing it out.  The photo goes on that flash drive.

If your child is doing high school level coursework, no matter what age, then you'll need a little more diligence.  Coursework for each class should be accumulated in its own file folder or envelope.  Keep these on a designated shelf or a filing cabinet.  Label them so they can be easily identified on the shelf or in the drawer.  Put daily homework in the back of the folder or envelope.  The order does not matter.  Copies of tests or projects go in front of the homework.  It should not be difficult to order these sequentially.  Grade reports go in the very front.  If the student is working through a book with specific content then add a copy of the table of contents from the book.  If not all content was accomplished, indicate on that copy where you stopped.

When a course is finished put the letter grade on the outside of the envelope or the front of the file folder.  Your goal is to handle this paperwork as little as possible.  In the same place include the dates when the course was begun and finished, and if the student was tutored through the course then include the name of that person. Writing a transcript from this data will be simple.

If the child returns to a classroom during high school then your accumulated file folders or envelopes can help a guidance counselor properly place that student.

The extra-curricular record of books read, club memberships (4H, scouting), sports, teen conferences and seminars, work and volunteer experience, etc. will be a separate file, and these are important if the child is applying for college.  If there's a calendar kept that shows the busy schedule of the student then include that calendar in this file.  What you need to do with this file will depend on what you choose to do following high school.  A college application may ask about those activities, and the file will jog your memory.

You can make a memory book, but you WILL transcript those high school classes, even if the child doesn't proceed to higher education.  A transcript is sometimes requested when applying for jobs or other educational opportunities and is required for the military.  It doesn't have to be elaborate.  Dates, course titles, instructors, credits earned, and grades are all that needs to be on that transcript.

A 'credit' is defined as 150 hours of classroom time in the study of a subject.  That homework folder can often easily justify that more than 150 hours was spent on the class.  If you're not accumulating the minutes spent on homework (who does that?) then the evidence is your homework folder.  

While some classes can be somewhat undefined about what was accomplished (art), some are pretty clearly defined from a textbook table of contents.  If you worked at developing some proficiency at an art or craft for four or five months, then count that as a half-credit.  If you ate, slept, and dreamt that animal-raising project for four or five months, then perhaps it's worth several credits.  If you proceeded at your own pace through algebra and took 18 months to do it, then that's one credit.  Actual course content matters most when the student is applying for higher education or to be admitted to military service.  Record keeping is crucial.

When can you throw away all that homework?  When the student has accomplished the next class up in a setting that will be transcripted.  For example, if the student successfully completes a math class at a college, then that's when all the math work from high school can be discarded.  Keep a copy of that transcript, however.

If you're new to homeschooling then perhaps take a day and get that filing system set up.  By now you'll have an accumulation of paperwork lying around to sort into your new system, and it won't be overwhelming.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Your kids will be fine!

It's August 1, 2020.  

The year has been hard, really hard, because everything has been turned upside down.  We all hate change, especially this kind of forced change.  

Without your consent or thought, you're now homeschooling, because your local school has opted to see your kids only on certain days, or not at all.  Some of you are going to find that on the days when you send your kids to school the social distancing requirements they will impose on kids aren't going to work at all. Your kids may beg to go to school, and then they may beg to stay home.  Some instructors are going to throw in the towel and go home.  Teaching this way is horrendous!

The rest of my remarks are for those of you considering abandoning public schools for homeschooling.  Here are some of your questions:

Will my kids fall behind?
Will they be properly socialized?
Will my teaching my kids destroy their future?
Will future opportunities be closed to them because I homeschool?

Will my kids fall behind?

I have two anecdotes to answer this question.

First, I was working on my Master's degree in Education (a completely worthless degree, by the way) back in 1990, and homeschooling was about five years old.  The ugly whisper around the education department was "Those homeschoolers!  They're testing at the 70th and 80th percentile on standardized tests!  How can that be?"

I mentioned this data to Francis Hildebrand in the math department.  Hildebrand was a free-thinking sort of person who had the ability to step back from a situation, have a look at it, and make cogent remarks about it that were true, and that irritated everyone.  Hildebrand said (I paraphrase) "Hey, take ANYONE, even people who have never been schooled, not even homeschooled, and they will place about the 50th percentile on standardized tests!"

For me, that remark led to two possible conclusions.  Either this says something about the test, or it says something about our schools.  

Standardized tests are 'normed', meaning that the broadest possible population taking the test would include people who knew everything on the test, all the way to people who could not read the test.  It is written in such a way that most people fall near the 50th percentile, the middle.

The other possible conclusion is that our schools just aren't better than the 50th percentile.  Well, they can't be, because the test is 'normed'.

I was talking to Julie Sessions about this.  Since the beginning of homeschooling in Whatcom County, Julie has taught the homeschool qualifying course at the community college.  Parents of homeschoolers in WA must either have a year of college or take a homeschool qualifying course.  Julie also used to offer the standardized testing for Whatcom County.  I told her of my conversation with Hildebrand, and of my conclusions, that this says something about the test, or something about our schools.

Julie's response was "I don't think it's either of those."  What??  I asked.  What do you mean? "I think," she said, "that it reflects people in general, and their ability to figure out what is necessary to know, and to learn it."

How much of what you do right now did you learn in school?

How much of what you learned in school do you use today?

Who were the really good teachers, both in schools and the other folks from whom you learned something?

How much of the knowledge that you use today is stuff you realized you had to know, so you figured it out?

The second anecdote is my experience at Whatcom Community College, where I taught math through pre-calculus for 17 years.  The college has a program called Adult Basic Education.  This program is for people who never got an education, not even homeschool.  How does that happen?  It happens in schools - kids who threw down education and would not conform to a classroom setting.  You knew who they were, if you attended school.  It happens also in homeschooling.  Some of those people who had a disastrous public school experience never want to see the inside of a classroom ever again.  They tend to live in remote areas, and may or may not register their kids for homeschooling with the local district, as they are required to do in WA.  The kids grow up, find they want a particular job that requires a diploma, and then show up to the community college to get one.  The college has courses that start at ABC and 1-2-3.

How long does it take to get an adult through an 8th grade education?  A year or two.  How long does it take to get them to a high school diploma after that?  Another year or two.

The conclusion is that older students are faster learners.  If you feel you are dragging a child through a curriculum, then possibly it will be much easier if you just wait a bit.  Kids learn to walk at different ages. They also learn to read and do their math facts at different ages.

There were also people in my math classes who did their best in school, and had disastrous experiences with math.  Five to fifteen years later, they walked into my algebra classes, terrified.  But I get them settled down, working on some problems, and they find it's easy.  They think I've worked magic, but the only magic is that their brain is now older and better.  What they could NOT do in high school is now easy, and rocket science is now open to them.

Will your kids fall behind?  Maybe.  It depends on what 'behind' means!  But they will catch up, when they decide they need to.  And when their brains are older and better, they'll learn it.

Will they be properly socialized?

Good heavens!  Is school where you send your kids to be properly socialized?  In my experience teaching homeschoolers in small groups we had kids from both homeschooled-only settings, and kids with a classroom background.  The disruptive kids were almost always the ones who had learned these behaviors in a classroom setting.  We heard all the time from parents about how nice our homeschooled kids were to each other.  

Take your kids to church to get them properly socialized.  They will learn that 'red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight', and the golden rule, and that it's an omniscient and loving God and not Santa who will find out who's naughty and nice.  

And then there's the social classroom of the bus, which starts and ends each day.  I don't think I need to elaborate.

And then there's social media.  I don't think I need to elaborate.

Will my teaching my kids destroy their future?

Only if you hate your kids.  You love your kids!  You know how to give your children good things.  You already invest in things that you know nothing about so your kids can have experiences you can't provide.  Riding lessons.  That box of art supplies.  Dance and piano lessons.

A better question is:  Who are the people I want to get in front of my kids?  The ones who will set their brains on fire for learning?  Be thinking about that, and not your own inadequacies.

Will future opportunities be closed to them because I homeschool?

Again, I saw literally hundreds of people who were products of public schools in my college classrooms, repeating, or taking for the first time, classes they should have had in high school.  I saw people who could not do algebra in the 9th grade have rocket science opened to them.  Some of them went on to do rocket science!  When they get a fire under them to learn something, they will go around or leap over all the barriers, or even plow through them, and learn it.  It might not happen while they are under your roof.  Sometimes it takes some life experience to motivate them.  Sometimes it takes a class from the school of hard knocks to motivate them.  That will make you sad, but you can't prevent it all.

Your job is to do your best.  Observe, observe, observe.  Your elementary age kids often don't have the vocabulary or life experience to decide what's happening to them.  They love you, and will often tell you what they know you want to hear, and not truly how they are feeling.  Keep talking, and keep watching.  If something is 'off', then ask YOUR parents, or your spouse's parents.  You'll often hear something like "You were just like that at that age."  You got through it!  So will your kids!

Limit screen time.  Consider eliminating screen time.

Before there were devices, there was a summer I looked at my kids and said, "We're turning off the TV.  If you spend the summer in front of the TV you won't remember there was a summer."  Like your television, your device is mostly a piece of equipment to deliver advertising and tell you what you need to buy.  The library still has books.  There is a time and a place for learning via the web.  Consider limiting the use of your device to looking up something, and not for entertainment.

No conclusions, just questions

How much of the knowledge that you use today is stuff you realized you had to know, so you figured it out?  

Where do you go today to figure out what you need to know?

Who are the really good instructors you want to have your kids in front of?

When is the last time you pushed yourself to learn something, and did it in front of your kids?

Monday, October 23, 2017

Christian homeschool landscape from here

A year ago, October 21, 2016, I was watching the American Presidential election with a great deal of apprehension.  I didn't realize how much anxiety I had until we woke up on Wednesday to Donald Trump's win, and palpable relief.

The day of the election I was pretty sure that Mrs. Clinton would be the outcome, and that homeschooling as we knew it would go away under increased government control of education, or requirements to include certain topics in education that would clash with religious conviction.

I was prepared to tell the Christian homeschool group that I administrate to get ready to dissolve, that government would take over the testing, the judging of performance of homeschool students, who could qualify to teach homeschool students, the freedom of religion in homeschool, on and on until homeschooling itself became illegal or it became impossible to comply with requirements.

The Tuesday of the election was one of the two days per week that my homeschool group meets.  (Yes, we only need two days per week to do a full year's curriculum.)  No one among us thought Trump would be the outcome.  I was wondering that day how fast all those changes would happen, and if I would even be able to see the end of the school year with my students before Clinton regulations dismantled us.

The Thursday of that week I was pretty jubilant.  Yes, there were votes left to count, and uncertainties such as plagued the 2000 election (look up 'hanging chads').  But I was pretty sure that Trump and Congress would preserve the freedoms we need to be homeschoolers.  We would be ok for awhile.

One year later I am wondering if a Clinton win wouldn't have been better for Christians.

We would most certainly have seen our freedom to homeschool taken away.  We would have seen our children forced back into government schools with a secular humanist agenda.  We would have seen religion in education become illegal, and people jailed for bending the tender minds of their children towards a loving God.

In preparation for that persecution we would have been on our knees, praying about all of the above.  We would be sharing the gospel until we were jailed for it, then we would be rejoicing to be counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name.  Our best customers would be the other sinners with whom we were jailed, and no matter what, the Word of God would spread.

But what has happened?

Now I see Christians attempting to strengthen the physical bulwarks against the outside world, and forgetting that the battle is spiritual.  Instead of using this space of time to reach out to the world I'm seeing Christians once again becoming complacent, pulling in to their Christian safe spaces.  Christians are demanding that only Christian materials, people, thoughts, and ideas be put in front of their children.  I thought that only snowflakes on college campuses acted that way.

I teach math.  I'm afraid I'm going to have to throw out all of geometry because it was put into approximately its modern form by Euclid, a Greek who preceded Christ by 300 years.

For that matter I had better revert to Roman numerals because they were used at the time of Christ.  Oh, and about those symbols we call Arabic numerals?  They were the result of translating a Hindu work on math into Arabic, so it could be read by the Muslim world.  Part of the title of that text is transliterated "al-gebra".

What are you going to do with the wise men at the birth of Jesus?  They used astrology to know both the time and the approximate place of the birth of a king of the Jews.  A star led them to the exact place to find that king.

When did Christians become the Pharisees, refusing to eat and drink with sinners and tax collectors?

When did we become snowflakes, refusing to listen to any ideas not first presented in the Bible?

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Mindless automatons, well-prepared for thoughtless obedience

Patrick Deneen, Associate Professor of Constitutional Studies at Notre Dame writes this article.  Comments at the bottom of it are pretty illuminating as well.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Common Core Kills Innovation, Tortures Students

Because it's a government thing.  And government is the WORST at deciding what's best for people.

When people innovate, they find better ways of serving people.  That's just as true in education as it is in business.

Today I spoke with a parent who was searching for 'a good old math text' she could use, because everything she could find was labeled 'Meets Common Core standards'.  The content of these was making her understandably crazy, because she couldn't follow the explanations required by Common Core.  Trying to find one not labeled for Common Core is almost impossible.

Under Common Core, teachers open a book that tells them what the student should be doing today.  There's no innovation.  There's just a recipe.  Add drill, shake, and bake.  It doesn't matter if the product turns out poorly, the recipe book says to move onto the next task.  How do you take yeast that hasn't proofed well and use it to make bread?  It doesn't matter.  The bread is due for the oven at a specified time, and in it shall go, with or without yeast.

Stacie Starr, an Ohio teacher, describes her dissatisfaction in this article.

It's not just that it's one-size-fits-all, which usually doesn't fit anyone very well.  Common Core is like one of those medical quick-loss diets where the only thing consumed is a nutritional liquid concocted in a lab.  It will barely sustain you.  It's boring, dreary, and tasteless.  It's also developmentally inappropriate, asking children to do things that are beyond their cognitive development.

The prescription of Common Core has killed educational innovation.  Students are people, and no two are alike.  But the ugliest part about Common Core is that innovation isn't allowed.  It shall be Common Core or nothing at all.  Parents who are looking for supplemental materials to try and repair the damage are finding it impossible.  A book titled Math, the Old-Fashioned Way might be a best-seller.

There are people not directly associated with a classroom who have a wealth of educational ideas to offer.  Some have years of classroom experience, are fabulous with kids and people, and clearly know what they're doing.  But Common Core has pinched them off, curtailed their livelihoods, and excluded them from the educational setting.  "Sorry, if it doesn't meet Common Core standards, we can't use it.  We don't have time.  We're too busy practicing for Common Core tests."

It isn't just schools who recite this.  I hear this from parents who are unwilling to step off the Common Core conveyor belt for fear their child will be left hopelessly behind.  If, as a tutor, I can offer repair of the math phobia but not the Common Core model of doing things, then my services may be rejected.

Understanding the subject matter isn't the goal anymore.  Allowing oneself to be conformed to a strange and unforgiving standard is a psychological technique used to convince people they aren't smart enough to stand up for themselves.  The teacher, who should be the one who rejoices in opening reluctant brains becomes the deliverer of torture, tightening thumbscrews while saying, "Hold still, honey, this is going to hurt, but it will be good for you."  It only teaches people to put up with pain while those in charge stick it to them again.  It kills innovation in the student, too.

Yup, this has all the earmarks of a great government program.  More teachers should stop putting up with it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Why I'm now totally disassociated from public education.

I taught mathematics at the local community college from September, 1997 to August, 2014, usually two 5-credit classes per term.  I never wished to become full-time at the CC, as my work with homeschoolers at ZLO was actually much more interesting.  The job at the CC funded my joy at ZLO.  Sometimes ZLO was lucrative.  Mostly it has been an education in itself.

I've enjoyed being part of the community college environment.  The CCs, probably throughout the country, are the institutions of second chances.  Folks who have never done well in school often come back to education later in life when their cognitive maturity is better, and they have a purpose and a plan.  Many find they can now excel.  For some, rocket science opens to the student who failed high school algebra more than once.

Pressures to change and conform to moving-target standards
Until recently the focus of the CCs has been to turn students into 4-year university material, or to provide two years of college at a lower cost.  We look down the road, and try to match student behaviors to expectations they will have at those 4-year universities.  But there has been increasing pressure on the CCs by the K-12 public school system to align standards so that there is a less abrupt transition to college by high school graduates.  One such program is called the Transition Mathematics Project (TMP).  K-12 standards are a moving target!  The CCs have placement testing so that we can put a student where s/he will be able to perform within our system, which looks forward to the math required of these students as their college career progresses.  About 2/3rds of the students enrolled in math at the CC are in classes under the college level.  But it's what we do!  We get students ready for college.  I find the 'standards' tug-of-war a distraction.  It's not about finding ways to do what we do, but better.

Change for the sake of change (but really for money)
Some years back the Curriculum Committee at our CC came to the math department to point out that barely 25% of students who begin math at Math 94 (1-2-3 math) or Math 97 (first half of high school algebra) ever make it to a college level (over Math 100) math course.  There was much discussion within the department about why that was happening.  The consensus was that students in those low-level math classes lacked good-student skills.  We had some discussion about incorporating study skills into those courses, but the end result was a proposal to up-end the order of curriculum delivery, the path through mathematics, as though that would somehow create the change we needed in students to cause them to succeed.

The department chooses a book the whole department will use for the courses with multiple sections offered.  This helps to smooth out differences between instructors and saves students text costs when they repeat a course with a different instructor or take the subsequent course from the next section of the same text.  But there was no book to match our new path.  There was some discussion about writing our own book, but that idea was quickly abandoned when there was no money in it.  In the end, a new book was chosen and some supplements written, rather on the fly.  But the point of all this is that a change was made without any research at all about whether the change would achieve our intended result of getting more students farther down the road.  No pilot program.  No data collection, except for noting how many more students got through or beyond.  I believe the college got money for simply showing we were trying to make a change!

As an instructor, I had to shelve materials I had spent nearly two decades developing, and begin as though I were a new instructor.  I threw out presentations, supplemental materials, chapter reviews, and tests, because nothing matched up.  I found I disliked the new texts chosen.  Some parts clearly had been re-worked from the first edition and somewhat refined.  Some parts were not.  We had previously used other texts that were of much better quality, so I knew those existed.  I found I simply didn't have the time to prepare the courses I loved to teach, to a standard I thought worthy of the people who were shelling out hard-earned money to try to make an improvement in their lives.

Institutions of higher learning or institutions of higher nonsense?
I had a student in a math class the last term I was at the CC who was concurrently enrolled in a humanities class.  She mentioned one day that the instructor assigned students to go to the older buildings in town and lay hands on them to hear their story and feel their age.  When they got back to class the instructor asked if anyone had thought to taste the buildings.  While this is certainly not universal, this is the kind of nonsense towards which higher education is leaning.

There are more and more requirements towards CC graduation that include 'diversity' and 'sustainability'.  I got a request in email that wanted to know how I was incorporating these ideas in my math classes.  I refused to take the survey, even though they acknowledged that math classes typically don't lean towards these ideas.  But there was some insistence on the part of the college that everyone take that survey.  I felt as though the results could easily be used against me for not conforming to these expectations.  I'm pretty sure the math placement tests don't have either of these concepts on them.

Diversity and inclusion are not the same thing.
Another curious email I received during my final quarters at the CC invited faculty and staff of color to join a group to discuss issues that affect people of color.  You can see my photo on this page.  I flatly had no idea how to respond to that email.  I decided I did not want to know if I could join.  But privately I decided that the 'diversity' issue and 'inclusion' were in separate categories at my CC.

Should I send my child to the CC while in high school?
One of the things that the CCs do is handle Running Start students.  In Washington State, the Running Start program is a way for well-prepared high schoolers to take courses at the CC that can apply both to high school graduation credit and college credit, saving the student a considerable amount of college expenses.  I have several horror stories about the demands placed on 16 year olds, to examine some very adult ideas, including pornography.  Again, among CC instructors, the disrespect for the age of these younger students is not universal.  But parents need to understand that the CC is a very adult environment.  Pick and choose the instructors who will be in front of your kids.  Compare notes with other parents.  Collect notes for yourself on instructors who will be appropriate with your child.  And remember, college is for ADULTS!  There are tough ideas that get rolled around there.  Your child's life experience may simply not be up to participating on that level.  Yet.

So, unhappy with the direction of the CC, unhappy with the forces moving curriculum within my department, and especially unhappy with not being able to deliver a class to my own high standards, I  decided to end my tenure with the CC.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Migrating from public to homeschooling

Click here to read how an Oklahoma mom went from "Of course my kids will be public-school educated" to "We're homeschooling now."