Friday, July 30, 2010

Projects aren't part of learning?

I came across a website (sorry, I can't remember which one) that had an entire page dedicated to explaining why children shouldn't be wasting their time with projects, when they could instead be learning. This site talked of the amount of projects kids are doing in school, making it sound as though all they do in class is projects (the kids in our disctrict don't seem to do that many projects, most of the work is textbooks & workbooks). It then complained about the schools teaching skills & concepts instead of focusing on rote memorization of facts. It complained about using alternative methods of assessment, such as portfolios. It whined about Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences, calling it 'a fad.' This page went to great lengths to tell parents that projects should be all but banned from the schools. They wanted to really drive home the fact that projects are a waste of time, and they could be using that time to really learn (which they seem to think can only happen by rote memorization, textbooks, workbooks, teacher lectures, and endless drills).

Are projects just busy-work, wasting good learning time? Should all assessment be done with tests? Is memorization of facts better or more important than learning skills & concepts? 
Let's look at these one at a time:

Are projects just busy-work that waste time?
Projects are a fantastic learning tool. They can be great as a culminating project to showcase their newfound knowledge of the topic of study. They are great for hands-on learners, who need to be involved in their education, not just passive listeners. They require research and the possession of information to complete properly. They can connect concepts to the student's life & world, allowing them to see how it relates to real life. They can allow them to use their skills & knowledge in everyday situations. They can allow the student to show comprehension, while at the same time allowing for expression of self, creativity, and out-of-the-box thinking.
Now, I'm not saying that schooling should be all or even mostly projects. Obviously, a well-rounded education would involve more than just projects. It would also involve reading books, science experiements, utilizing various forms of media & technology (audio books, CDs, educational shows, documentaries, computers, etc.). However, well-placed, well thought out projects can be fantastic & important learning tools.

Should all assessment be done with tests?
Truse/False and Multiple Choice tests can be completed (and aced) without really learning the information first. A few good test-taking strategies is all that's required to get a good grade on those. Fill-in-the-blank are more difficult than T/F & multiple choice, but are easy enough if you read the material prior to taking the test. Also, if the Fill-in-the-blank includes a word bank, it becomes ridiculously easy. That leaves Short Answer and Essay tests. These are the only types of test questions that actually require you to think to answer them. 
Alternative forms of evaluation can do so much more. A portfolio can show, not only understanding of concepts taught, but also the progress that child has made over the course of the year. That is something tests can not do. Doing a skit, writing an alternate ending to a book, doing a news story on an event in a book, etc., instead of  taking a test on the book, allows the child to show deeper comprehension, higher thought, creativity, practice public speaking, etc.  Alternative forms of assessment can show progress over time, allow for use of additional skills & knowledge, and give a view of what that specific child has learned. Tests can show you how well you test.

Is memorization of facts better or more important than learning skills & concepts?
Would you rather have your child understand how & why basic Math concepts work or spend hours memorizing their addition facts? Is it more important to know why we fought for independence or memorize the exact date the Declaration of Independence was signed? It's kind of like the saying "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime." If you teach a child the hows & whys, he'll be able to use that knowledge & comprehension and continue to gain knowledge and comprehension throughout his life. If you just teach him the whats, he might be able to pass the test. Memorization is the lowest form of learning, as it does not require or encourage an understanding of the material. Memorization should be used sparingly in education, if at all. It should not be the main method of learning.

Well, as you can see, I disagree with the ideas I found on that site. How about you?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Why don't you use.....

I have been asked (repeatedly) why I don't use materials for Gifted kids, read tons of articles & books on Giftedness, or join a forum or group for parents of Gifted kids. Well, here's my answer:

In my experience (as a gifted child, a gifted adult, and the parent & educator of 2 gifted kids), most materials marketed as being 'for the gifted student,' 'to help you understand your gifted child,' 'perfect for the gifted person,' etc., are basically useless. I don't need books, articles, or a support group to help me understand what my gifted kids are dealing with. I've been there. I was 'the dorky smart girl' even when I was in the Gifted Program (a whole program dedicated to the dorky smart kids). I don't need books, websites, or so-called experts to tell me how to teach or raise my Gifted kids. I can understand how a person who isn't Gifted or who never learned about Giftedness would need those resources, and I'm sure they're helpful to them. However, a person who was a Gifted child & is now a Gifted adult (generally) has more knowledge on the topic than many of the so-called experts. Things aimed at 2E (twice exceptional- Gifted & have LD, ADHD, Dyslexia, etc.) seem even less useful.

As for materials/curricula that claim to be great for 'the Gifted child,' I've purchased some & looked at many. Many of these have left me wondering if the creator/writer has ever even met a Gifted child. Don't try to tell me how perfect your Math program is, for Gifted kids, when around 50% of the work in your program is review & repetition (especially when the work in each grade is at least 2-3 years behind my kid). Don't tell me that your school-in-a-box program is great for Gifted kids when it wouldn't allow for the asynchronous development so common in Gifted individuals. I won't believe that your program is perfect for Gifted kids when the required reading list for 6th grade was read by my child before the end of 1st. Telling me about how your program covers 10 topics instead of 7 will only convince me that you have never educated a Gifted child. If you had, you would know that it would make much more sense to go more in-depth on those 7 (or even less) topics than to do a quick overview of those 7 & an additional 3 topics. Gifted individuals are famous for throwing themselves into the study of something, going much more in-depth than schools (and even many homeschools) do.

Now, I'll admit that I have not looked at every single program or supplemental material aimed at Gifted kids. However, I've been less than impressed with the ones I've seem so far. So, I generally stay away from materials/curricula that claim to be a good fit for the Gifted child. I rarely read articles or books about Giftedness or parenting the Gifted child, unless it is about some new research that has been done. I stay away from forums & groups for parents of Gifted kids because (in my experience) they tend to have a lot of members who don't really have Gifted kids (they just think they do). Also, conversations about 'Gifted' kids tend to turn into pissing contests, with most of those involved coming up with more & more ridiculous claims trying to make their kid look smarter than everyone else. I can't count the number of times I've had to mark a thread to not send me updates anymore because it has turned into a competition & I don't want to be involved. Not all parents of 'Gifted' kids are deluding themselves, some really do have Gifted kids. Not all parents of Gifted kids feel the need to compete, with other parents, about who has the biggest genius. However, I would rather not deal with the self-deluded or competetive parents. So, I stay away from places that tend to attract them in droves.

What it comes down to is this:
IQ doesn't matter. The level of Giftedness doesn't matter. A person's IQ will depend on which test they took, anyway. That's one reason you'll never hear (or read) me quote an IQ for my kids or myself. The exact number is unimportant, because each different test has a different ceiling & level of difficulty. What matters is that you provide the child with materials/curriculum that work for them & are at an appropriate level, not buying materials just because they claim to be for 'the Gifted child.' That could mean building their curriculum out of supplemental materials & library books. It could mean getting a program that doesn't have 'grade levels' and allows the child to work through at their own pace. It could mean buying materials aimed at higher grade levels than your child's grade. It could mean many things.

I haven't mentioned the names of any forums, groups, curricula, websites, books, etc. for a reason. I understand that not everyone is helped by, or interested in, the same things. I wouldn't want to skew someone's view of something just because I find it useless. If you are helped by resources for the Gifted individual, use them. I'm not trying to convince anyone to not use them. I just don't personally find them helpful.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Making papyrus

we're making papyrus. It's one of our projects for Jay's study of Ancient Egypt. It is going to take forever. You have to let the papyrus reed soak in water for 3hrs or more, then role it out with a rolling pin. You keep repeating these steps until the reed is so thin you can almost see through it. Then, you place the indiviual reeds next to each other, overlapping a bit & roll together to form one sheet of papyrus paper. The problem is, we have lives & they don't revolve around making papyrus. So, we aren't able to roll it out every 3 hours.  This means that it is taking even longer than it should to make this.
Dea is driving me nuts about the papyrus project. She keeps asking to help, but then throws a fit if helping doesn't mean she does half the work. Her issue is that she's angry that she didn't get to do this when she studied Ancient Egypt in 1st grade. Every time Jay gets to do a project, activity, or experiment that she didn't do when she was younger, she gets jealous. 
Next week, we'll make pyramids. I was going to make sand clay for the pyramids, but I can't find a recipe for it that doesn't need to be cooked. I'm not cooking sand in one of my good pots. So, I've decided on using regular homemade playdoh. It'll be just as much fun & runs no risk of ruining my cookwear.
We're coming to the end of our Anceint Egypt study. We'll be finished with it in just a few weeks. I think we're a little behind on the projects we planned to do, so we'll likely do more of those over the next few weeks. Jay is really enjoying learning about Ancient Egypt. Hopefully, he'll enjoy Ancient Rome & Greece as well. Dea has been asking to help with the projects, reading books with Jay, basicallyy doing anything she can to be involved in his History studies. She really enjoys Anceint Civilizations & is looking forward to next year when she's doing a comparative study of the ancient civs.
Dea just finished studying WWI and will start WWII in a week or so. Jay is almost done with Subtraction. In about a week, he'll have finished with the main part of his Math book (the part that focuses on Subtraction) and will start the extra topics (measurement, time, graphing, etc.). I figure, even if he finishes the whole book before our Christmas break, we'll comtinue focusing on Subtraction & the extra topics until the break. We'll start the next Math book (Multiplication) when we start up after break. Jay finished ETC book 6 last week. Monday, he'll start book 7. 
It's pretty cool. We've only done 8 or 9 weeks of school this year and we've already accomplished so much. The kids are working at a fantastic pace. I hope they keep it up. This could be our best year yet.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


We had an intruder last night. He was unwanted and almost unnoticed. I couldn't see him, but I could sense him, watching my every move, laughing. His laugh was full of malice. I knew he was there. I searched and searched, but could not find him. Finally, around 3am, I found him. I kicked his butt off my poperty & told him never to come back. That intruder was a trojan horse on my computer.
Last night I found out that an email had been sent from my account, but I didn't send it. So, I emailed everyone & told them to ignore it; that I had not sent it. Then, I did scan after scan until I found it. It took hours, but I was not giving up. I found & removed it. Hopefully, everyone that got the email first read the one I sent telling them to ignore & delete the other.
I'm just glad that I was able to find it & remove it without too much hassle. I lost a few hours of sleep, but that's nothing compared to what happened last time one of our computers got a virus.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Another new schedule

A few weeks ago, we decided to try a new schedule for Dea. Instead of trying to fit all 9 subjects in every day, we decided to do just 2-3 subjects each day. That way, she could devote more time to each subject. She's been doing a week's worth of each subject, but doing it all at once. This is what her schedule looked like:
Mon: morning - Math, after lunch - English
Tues: Logic, Art, Music (the only 3 subject day, usually doing Art in afternoon)
Wed: morning - Latin, after lunch - Science
Thurs: morning - History, after lunch - Geography
Fri - free day or finish any work not done

We were just starting to really get into the swing of things with that schedule, but we now have to try a new one. This week, hubby starts a new shift at work. This new shift means some changes for all of us. Hubby will be home some weekdays now (something we're really not used to). So, the new plan is to do school until lunch on days hubby is home. He'll be working on his schooling while I work with the kids on theirs. Hubby will work with Dea on Math one day each week. On the days that hubby is at work, we'll work longer on school. Those will be the days that we do projects & experiements. On the days he's home, the kids will be able to play & follow their own interests after lunch (as long as they also get their chores done). This new schedule will also allow us some extra family time. We're going to go for walks in the morning on hubby's days off, play in the yard more, and plan more field trips. It's going to be a big adjustment for all of us, but we'll make it work.

Today was our first day on this new schedule. Jay did a lesson in Math, half a lesson in ETC 6 (4 pgs), & started chap 8 in Latin. We read a book about Anceint Egypt together, and then he did his quiet reading time. He extended his reading time from 30 minutes to about an hour, because he wanted to finish the book he was reading  (a Mostly Ghostly book by R.L. Stine). Dea did Math, Logic, Art, and read some more of Taming of the Shrew (the play she's reading for English). Hubby spent the morning working on his schooling. After lunch, hubby decided to continue working on his schooling. Jay is on the computer, playing fun educational games, and Dea is in her room playing by herself. I'm on the computer trying to avoind doing the housework that I really need to go do. If things continue like this, our new schedule just might work. The kids are still spending at least 3 hours on school. Hubby will be home more to help with housework. Plus, I still get to give the kids free time without feeling guilty that they're getting too much free time & not enough school time.
This is our 3rd (at least) schedule this year, and we're only a month and a half into the year. I hope this schedule works.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Fun educational day

I'm not feeling that great today. So, we've decided to dedicate the day to fun, educational activities. Currently, the kids are making spiders, bats, and Jack-o-Lanterns with construction paper (Halloween decorations). I'll let them do paper crafts until lunch. After lunch, we'll see about doing some other stuff - maybe foam or painting. We can't do the cool decorations, yet. We still need to get the wood, fabric, and dolls for those.
If the kids get tired of doing arts & crafts stuff, I'll let them play with the Tangrams and Geoboards or let them play with some more board games (they were playing Travel Mania earlier). I would let them play outside, but it's apparently too hot for them. They were outside playing this morning & came back in after less than 30 minutes because it was too hot. Maybe I can get them back out there if they take the water guns. I'll let them go on the computer for a while later, too - some fun educational sites or maybe messing around with Scratch for a while. Of course, we'll still have quiet reading time today. Basically, whatever fun, educational stuff the kids want to do today, they can do.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Wish lists

People think that I force education on my kids. The kids regularly get stuff that wasn't on their Christmas lists, because people don't believe that my kids actually want books & educational toys. I've had family members tell me that I should let the kids write their own lists, because they're convinced that I must write the kids' lists for them. Apparently, according to these people anyway, no kid would ask for books, LeapFrog products, puzzles, etc. Well, my kids do. My kids enjoy stuff like that. For days, the kids have been entertaining themselves with Geoboards & Tangrams. The other week, we were at the dollar store & I told the kids they could each choose something, Dea chose a book of Sudoku puzzles & Jay chose a book of word searches. They enjoy watching documentaries and reading books.
Sure they also enjoy playing with their dart tag game, their magnetic darts, water guns, stuffed animals, dinosaurs, etc. They do play with normal kid stuff. However, they really do enjoy the fun educational stuff, too. Why do some people have such a hard time understanding that? Is it really that hard to believe? I mean come on people, my favorite Christmas was the time I got 2 chemistry sets. I always asked for books for Christmas & b-days. Why is it so hard to believe that my kids might take after me to some extent?
My kids climb trees (and doorways), play in creeks, play volleyball, badminton, etc. That doesn't mean that they can't also enjoy a good book, doing puzzles, a game of Chess, Scrabble, Yathzee, a Solar Power Science kit, or some time with a LeapPad.
I've been thinking about this because it's about time for the kids to start writing their wish lists. I split their lists up before giving them to the different parts of the family. That way, there's less chance of getting multiples of anything. I really don't look forward to this process. Oh well, I guess it's time to get the kids writing those lists.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A freak among freaks

Today seems to be a 'side show freak with 2 heads' kind of day. By that I mean that it's one of those days where I'm really feeling how much I don't fit in. I'm not really sure why, either.

Maybe it's just my general irritation lately. I really hate Summer. Most days, it's too hot & humid to really have fun and play outside. The kids keep asking to go out & play. It's 85 with 75% humidity by 8am. That's a bit too hot to let them play outside. I have light sensitivity, and the bright sunlight hurts my eyes & gives me migraines (just one of my vampiric traits). However, the biggest irritation with Summer is that the public schools are out. During the Summer, the library is packed. Every obnoxious kid in the city is at some branch of the library. This means that the libraries are loud, over crowded, and have no selection (not to mention the wonderful stench from the many unwashed that hang out there). This week, there was almost a fight in the library. The librarian that was checking out Jay's books tried to call security (who never answered, probably busy in another part of the building), then had to go over and deal with it himself, before he could finish checking out Jay's books. Then, the group of miscreants stood directly outside the door to the library, continuing their arguement.

Maybe it's got something to do with the fact that people seem to have no sense of basic courtesy, manners, or boundries. When you call someone & they don't answer, leave a message. You don't just keep calling until they answer, unless it's really important. This goes double when you're calling during mealtime, especially when you know they eat at the same time every day. Even better, don't call during mealtime unless it's very important. Don't call or text someone at 11pm when you know they go to bed early so they can get up early for work. Don't call during the time you know someone is studying for school, unless it's important & can't wait. Don't keep ringing the doorbell every 5 minutes when the child's parents have already said the child isn't coming out until later. Don't hit people's windows with sticks. Why are these such hard concepts to grasp?

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that people tend to look at me like I have 2 heads when they find out that I'm a........ Secular homeschooler (gasp!). Apparently, it is beyond some people's ability to understand that some homeschoolers don't homeschool for religious reasons. Considering their response when they find out we don't homeschool for religious reasons, don't have Bible as a class, and don't use religious materials, I imagine that they would have a heart attack if they found out that I'm not a Christian. Then again, most of my family wouldn't likely respond well to that info, either. That's right, most people who know me have no idea that I'm not a Christian, much less that if I had to classify myself as something I would have to go with Eclectic Pagan. Well, maybe some of them read my blog & will find out now. For some, there will be no reaction; it simply won't matter to them. Some will be livid with me. Some will likely preach to me all about how I'm going to Hell because I turned my back on the religion I grew up with. I imagine that a few will even stop speaking to me. Oh well. If they find out, they find out. I haven't said anything because I really don't want to deal with the reactions, and because I try not to talk Religion or Politics unless I have to.

Maybe it's because whenever I'm on a homeschooling board, I'm reminded how different I am from most (if not all) other homeschoolers. There was one board where I was apparently the only one who didn't use the School-at-Home method. If I asked for any opinions or advice, I was told we needed more structure & should use boxed curriculum (religious, of course). There was one where I appeared to be the only one who wasn't an Unschooler. So, of course all suggestions were that we needed less structure, I shouldn't use any textbooks or workbooks because they were stifling my daughter & would prevent her from getting a good education. At both of those forums, any suggestions or opinions I gave were either argued or completely ignored. There have been a few others that at least had more variety in methods, so my comments were more welcome. However, those were all overwhelmingly Christian. Every time someone asked advice on a problem, there were several responses saying to pray for guidance. If you asked for curriculum suggestions, most responses were for religious ones, even if you specified that you wanted secular. Eventually, I get tired of being surrounded by religious comments, religious curriculum, and conversations that I can't respond to without insulting someone simply because my opinion differs & I don't believe that women should be subservient to their husbands. I have recently found a Secular homeschool forum. So far, I'm enjoying it; maybe this one will last.

Whatever the reason, today I am feeling my 25 (at least) years of freakdom. Ah, to be a freak among freaks, how interesting it makes life. = )

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy 4th!

Happy Independence Day! I hope you all have fun plans for the day. We do. We're getting together with family at a park for a picnic, then going to watch the fireworks. The weather report is calling for rain today. Hopefully, the day won't be rained out or too humid. A light rain shower won't be too bad, if there's a nice breeze, but high humidity or a massive thunderstorm are another story. I'm sure we'll have a great day, no matter what. Hopefully, so do all of you.