Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Gifted Curriculum and Why I Don't Use It

I am often asked why I don't use 'Gifted' curriculum with the kids. Why piece together Language Arts instead of using a Language Arts program created for Gifted kids? Why piece together their Science & History instead of finding something for Gifted kids? Why didn't I start both kids on a 'Gifted' Math curriculum?

The answer is almost always the same - I don't like them. I have looked at many curricula written for, aimed at, or marketed to Gifted kids. I have looked over samples and read the articles on the sites (especially if they provide info on the creator/writer's experience with & philosophy on Gifted education). It generally comes down to one simple fact, I don't like them. They are often dull. They are often too easy. They often talk down to the child or dumb down the information. They are usually overpriced.

Sometimes, it's the methodology I don't like. Sometimes, it's the philosophy. Sometimes, the content is just too simplistic. Whatever the reason, I find other (and better) ways to educate my kids.

For instance, I have often looked at the Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts Curriculum. I have gone back & forth considering it. I have looked at samples, read the site, read reviews, and asked about it on forums. This last time I looked at it, though, I think I finally made up my mind. I will not be using it. It's not that I don't think it will work. It's just that I don't think it will work for my kids. First, I don't appreciate programs that tell me what my kids should read. I don't have lists of required books before high school level courses. I have already chosen the books my eldest will read for the remainder of her high school English courses. I also have a running list of ideas for my youngest's high school required reading. It will likely change over the years, as he reads half of what is on the list well before hitting high school (that's what my eldest did). Second, I don't feel the need for formal poetry study each year. Third, I don't like the samples for the vocabulary. Plus, we have our own way of doing vocabulary, and the kids study Latin, which helps with vocabulary (and takes away any need for a Latin based vocab program like in the MCT materials). Fourth, the 3rd grade Grammar book looks like it was written for toddlers. My kids would be irritated with me if I bought something like that for them at that age. Besides, I didn't wait until 3rd grade to start Grammar with either kid, and the 3rd grade MCT Grammar book sure looks like an introduction to it. Fifth, the Writing simply wouldn't work for us. It's not that it's a bad program. It would not work for us, though.

Art of Problem Solving is a Math program aimed at Gifted kids grades 6-12. There's no way I could have used it for my eldest. She hates Math & always has. She would not have used this program. She would have become frustrated with it's method. I am thinking of using it for my youngest however. I have a very different reason for saying no to Beast Academy (elementary level Math from Art of Problem Solving). It just came out and only has grade 3 available so far. My youngest is well beyond grade 3 Math, even Gifted grade 3 Math. So, it would make no sense to use it.

Some universities have curriculum and/or classes available for Gifted kids. However, they never seem to offer topics I want at the grades I would need them. Therefore, I would need to tweak or add to them to make them work. Why pay the prices they're asking, when I will still have to tweak/add, spending extra time, energy, and money? It makes far more sense for me to get something less expensive, so I have more money to spend on the additions. Mensa even has some lesson plans, but again, simply not the topics I want. I won't use a program/curriculum/class just because it's 'for Gifted kids' or just to be able to tell people my kids are using a 'Gifted' curriculum. I prefer to use materials that actually fill our needs & fit our budget.

Of course, there are some 'Gifted' curricula that I simply feel are low quality and/or way below level. I won't use something that talks down to my kids or that dumbs down information. I don't like materials that recommend misinforming my kids of something, even if it plans to correct it in a later level. I don't like abridged versions of books or the 'for kids' versions (like Shakespeare for kids). I prefer my kids to read the normal version of it. If that means they aren't reading Shakespeare in 1st grade, then that's what it means. They will read it when they are capable of understanding it the way it was originally written, are mature enough to have an appreciation for it, and mature enough for the content (my eldest started reading Shakespeare in 7th grade and is planning to read every single thing he wrote).

I also don't automatically get what most see as the most 'advanced' options for subjects. Most people will tell you that Singapore Math is the most advanced Math program available. I don't like it. I don't like the scope & sequence. I don't think it's as advanced as most people do. Sure, it may introduce multiplication & division in 1st grade, but it's not like they have them actually doing multiplication & division in 1st. From what I could tell from the scope & sequence, it's just an introduction to the concepts. It's not until 2nd that it lists multiplying & dividing by 2s & 3s. Understanding the properties of 0 & 1 in multiplication & division isn't listed until 3rd grade. Remainders aren't mentioned in the scope & sequence until 3rd. Multiplying & dividing with 2-digit numbers aren't listed until 4th & 5th grade. Sure, fractions are there from 1st grade on, but (according to the scope & sequence) you don't cover adding, subtracting, or multiplying them until 4th, and you have to wait until 5th to divide them. Decimals only seem to be mentioned in 4th & 5th grade. Area & perimeter (two very easy concepts) don't seem to be really covered until the 2nd half of 3rd grade. Percentages aren't until the 2nd half of 5th grade! Place value, which is NOT a difficult concept, is covered in 1st - 5th grades. To me, that just doesn't scream advanced Math program. More than half of what's listed for 1st grade my kids did in pre-k.

Real Science 4 Kids is listed as a fantastic Science program that will introduce your young children to college level subjects. According to the publisher site, they currently have Chemistry, Biology, Physics, & Astronomy for elementary school & middle school, with Geology to come. For the high school grades, the only currently available option is Chemistry. Then, there's the fact that each course only covers 1 semester or 12 - 16 weeks! So, they split the typical 13 years of school into 3 groups of 4-5 years, and provide less than 3 full years of instruction for each grade grouping? What the hell are you supposed the rest of the time? If you get the 'Study Bundle' for Elementary Chemistry it's over $120, and I didn't see any mention of the materials you'll need to complete the labs. That's just for half a school year. That is ridiculous! There's also no mention of other topics generally covered - Meteorology, Botany, Marine Biology, Anatomy & Physiology, etc.

Of course, these are just some of the 'Gifted' or 'advanced' materials we've looked at. However, I've found that very few of the materials lauded as 'perfect for the Gifted child' actually meet my standards and our needs. I've found that choosing 'average' materials, going through them faster (at the kids' pace), using multiple levels each year, adding in tons of supplements (for depth & variety), using higher level texts (when we use texts), and using a large variety of books works best for us. By doing things the way we do them, choosing the materials we choose, and focusing on doing/using things that fit our list of criteria, instead of just grabbing whatever we see that is 'for Gifted kids,' my kids are getting a much better education than they would be if all I looked for in their materials was a 'Gifted' or 'Advanced' label.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Week in Review 6/16/12

This was a loooooooong week. We didn't get to all the work we hoped to do. The kids went to a graduation party for a couple of my husband's cousins last weekend. It was a pool party. My husband's parents took the kids to the party, and then kept them for the night. His parents also have a pool, so the kids swam there, too. This week included an appointment with Dea's therapist, an appointment with her psychiatrist, and two visits to the doctor for infections she has in her eyes & ears from one of those pools being improperly cleaned. Plus, the kitten needed another round of shots, hubby & Dea had their weekly shift at the animal sanctuary, and we had our regular errands.

Math:
PP - p. 71-75
TTM1 - p. 21-23
Meas2 - p. 10-12
LOFD - chap. 6-10

Lang. Arts:
AAS3 - step 9
CTD - finished chap 2, started chap 3
EG3 - p.31, 36, Preposition Test Now that he has finished the Preposition section in EG3, he wants to do the Preposition section in EG4. He decided that instead of going all the way through EG3, then doing EG4, he wants to alternate the two. I think it's because he prefers the mastery approach. So, he sees it as better to cover all the work on one topic at once, even if it's from different level books.
Vocab - arrogant, android, quintuplet

Latin:
LFCA chap 23 This is a review chapter & we intend to spend 2 weeks on it. So, we'll also be doing this chapter next week.

ASL: ST vol 10 My Day

Logic: LS less 12, WW, FWL

Art: CLD4 Act. 2

Science: read The Cloud Book and visited websites to learn about clouds

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Wasting money

Over the years, I've seen lots of conversations about money wasted on homeschool materials. There are entire threads devoted to this on homeschool forums. Each year, a thread will be started asking about what didn't work for people that year, in other words "what did you waste money on this year?" I've always been rather proud of the fact that I have wasted very little money on homeschool materials.

Our first year or two, I mostly bought workbooks, like the Spectrum workbooks, some stuff from local teacher stores, and materials for whatever projects/activities/experiments I had decided we'd do. Then, I found Rainbow Resource, homeschool forums, and tons of reviews of homeschool curricula.

The Spectrum workbooks and other similar workbooks were not a good fit for us.They were not challenging, and had too much review. The first Latin program we tried for Dea was a flop. We didn't like it. Luckily, it wasn't an expensive program. In 4th, I bought her all of the Key to Series. Once we looked at the Algebra & Geometry, we realized they were not enough for high school level courses. They were really nothing more than Pre-Algebra & Pre-Geometry, so we didn't use them. Again, they weren't really expensive. I bought Teaching Textbooks Algebra before Dea had finished TT Pre-Algebra. The thought here, of course, was that she would finish Pre-Algebra & move to the Algebra. She had liked the TT Pre-Algebra when she started it. By the time she finished it, though, she hated it. So TT Algebra was wasted money. So far, that is the most expensive mistake in materials we've made - one level of TT. I don't consider TT Pre-Algebra to be wasted money, even though she hated it by the end, because she did finish it. I only consider it wasted money if it was not finished.

I figure that we have wasted less than $500 total, in our 8 years of homeschooling. That's pretty damn good, especially considering so many have mentioned wasting more than that in a single year. Even if you add up the cost of everything we didn't like, even if we did finish using it, it still comes to less than $1000 total.

I'm very picky about what materials I choose. I do tons of research, look for other options, read reviews, read descriptions, look at samples (when available), etc. I'm very critical about homeschool materials. Over the years, I've pretty much perfected my way of choosing materials. Occasionally, though, I do second guess myself and revisit materials I had previously written off. Sometimes, I'll even ask at forums about the curriculum in question, trying to see if there is something I'm missing, something that would make it worth trying. I don't think there has yet been a time when I have changed my mind and purchased something I had previously vetoed. I'm pretty confident in my choices, and actually looking over how little money has been wasted over the years makes me even more confident.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Week in Review 6/9/12

There really isn't anything to report this week. We took the week off. I don't know if it's because he didn't take a break between 2nd & 3rd grade, the summer weather, or something else, but he has been in a mood lately. He's grumpy, and it's a battle to get him to do anything. So, I thought we'd take a little break & see if that helps. We will definitely be back to work next week. I have spent the week working on final prep of Dea's 9th grade courses. I had hoped to have it finished some time ago, but got busy with other things. So, I've worked some more on it over this past week. I'm not quite done, though. I have some time, as her 9th grade year may not technically start until Jan. She has fallen quite a bit behind this year, due to struggling to find a schedule that works. She has been putting in more effort lately, and will hopefully get it figured out soon.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Monday, June 4, 2012

Reading levels

I don't check the level on every book Jay reads. Frankly, I have better things to do with my time, and have enough trouble just maintaining a list of his reading (in fact I've stopped trying to maintain a list in his school notebook, because he reads so much). I keep track of most of the books he reads on WorldCat, but even that isn't a complete list.

Anyway, I don't check the reading level on everything he reads. I check sometimes when looking for books for him. Apparently, I should start checking more often when I'm searching for books for him. For each topic we're covering in History this year, I made a list of historical fiction books I think he might enjoy. I checked to make sure our library carries them, and wrote the titles & call numbers in his school notebook. Our library doesn't list the levels of the books, so all I have to go on is which section of the library the book is in. That isn't incredibly helpful, as books written for adults could be written at levels low enough for elementary school students.

I do prefer that he doesn't read too many books below his level, because low level books won't challenge him to improve his reading. He is still really into the Goosebumps & American Chillers, so I let him read those despite them being well below what he's capable of reading. Most of his other book choices are 5th-8th grade level. He can read higher than that, but the grade 5-8 range is where he is most comfortable right now.

Well, the list that I made for the Middle Ages has more than a few books that are years below his comfort range. I wish I had realized that before. I'm going to have to look again and see if I can find some more, more challenging, books to add to the list. It's not just about having his reading challenge him. It's also about enjoyment & time. He can easily get through a 3rd grade level book in less than a day, and many books below his comfort level don't hold his attention.

He's actually complaining because the last 3 or 4 books from the list were too easy. Well, I'm off to the library website to look for more books to add to the list. I think I'll also check all the books on the lists for his other History topics. That way, I can make sure the lists are mostly full of books at his comfort level, before he starts the topics.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Well, There's Your Problem!

We figured out the problem with Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory. We have the software, and had hoped to have the kids use it. We've had it for a few years. It worked fine on our old desktop, but will not work on our new one. After trying everything I could think of, except contacting the publishers, I passed the issue to my hubby. After he tried everything he could think of, he emailed the publisher. They emailed us back to inform us that the reason it won't open is that it doesn't work with Windows 7. Great! Just freaking fantastic!

We have an old laptop that we're planning to give to Jay. We just need to clean it out first (and find the other half of the power cord). It has Windows XP, which is what our old desktop had. So, once we get that taken care of, we should be able to install the Music Theory software on that. We'll be letting Jay use it for school, and Dea will use it for Music (assuming the program works on that laptop). Even with Dea having her own netbook, she still needs the main computer (the desktop) for several things. This leads to time issues when both kids need the computer. So, we figure giving Jay a laptop to use for school should help prevent issues over who needs to use the main computer.

They'll both still use the main computer for Spanish & Computer Programming (when they do them). Jay will use the laptop for his Writing assignments, visiting the sites he needs to visit for school, Music Theory, and playing online Math games. Dea will continue to use her netbook for most work, the desktop for whatever she needs that for, and will use the laptop for Music Theory. Jay won't be happy to have to share the laptop with her, but as it is only for one subject, it shouldn't be too much trouble.

Hopefully, we can get this whole thing dealt with soon. They do have a newer version of the program, either coming out or already out, but I don't want to have to buy it again. They also are going to have the program available online, but that will require an annual subscription. I'd really rather just be able to use the software I already paid $50 for a few years ago. Dea did use it for a short time  before, but I stopped making her do it when she quit guitar. If she wasn't learning to play an instrument, there was no reason to force her to learn to read music. However, both kids are learning instruments now, and they should both learn to read music. I can't help them with it. I have never been able to read music. I have always had issues with Music Theory, even though I've been singing since 1st grade. I would do better at deciphering Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs than reading sheet music. I know I can't teach it. So, I need this damn program to work.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Week in Review 6/1/12

I didn't do my Week in Review post for last week. So, this post will cover what we did last week. We really haven't done anything this week. With Monday off since hubby was home and everyone's sleep patterns off this week, Jay & I decided to take a break. We'll be back to work next week, probably.

Math:
PP p.26-30, 68-69
TTM4 p.37-38, 40-42
LOFD chap 1-5, bridge
Meas2 p1-6

Language Arts:
AAS3 step 8
CTD chap2
EG3 p. 23-29
Vocab - morass, vestige, indisputable

Latin: LFCA chap 22

ASL: ST vol 10 My Day

Logic: LS less. 9, WW, FWL, other logic puzzles

Art: CLD4 Act. 1

Geography:
MC Longitude, Latitude & Longitude
chose next state for state study

Science & History: read books

Exploring Genres: Our May Reads: Historical Fiction

Jay:
The Seeing Stone
The King's Shadow
The Story of King Arthur and his Knights
The Castle in the Attic
The Door in the Wall
The Middle Ages: An Interactive History Adventure

By the way, all of these are books that take place during the Middle Ages, which is his current History topic. Many of them are ones I had listed as suggestions for him while studying this topic.


Me:
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

I started reading a few others, but was unable to finish them. This has been a busy month, and I have been rather exhausted. So, I haven't been reading quite as much as I'd like.


Dea:
Antony & Cleopatra