Tags: education, gifted, gifted education, homeschooling, research
A very long time ago, I was asked to teach a workshop for the Homeschool Association of California annual conference. It had to do with computers, though I don’t remember what. What I do remember, however, was expecting that I’d be dealing with a bunch of antisocial technophobes.
I couldn’t have been more off the mark than I was. I only had a handful of kids, but they were definitely not technophobes. Admittedly this is probably a self-selecting group because, after all, no one was forcing them to go to the workshop. But what surprised me even more was that they were very sociable. Unlike other high school kids I’d worked with, they didn’t seem intimidated by me or afraid to ask questions. I remember coming out of that workshop and feeling like I’d been slapped upside the head.
The thing I realized from that is my assumption that children schooled at home were anti-social was due strictly to my lack of imagination. I had assumed that if you didn’t spend all day in a room with other kids that you wouldn’t learn to interact at all. It’s not that I’d ever met many homeschoolers. In fact, it was probably my lack of exposure to the culture that made me construct my own version of how they must behave.
Interestingly enough, I find that it’s the one thing that most non-homeschoolers key on: in order to be ‘properly’ socialized, you have to go to school. After spending time around homeschoolers, and recounting my own school experience, I have always been extremely skeptical of that argument. It didn’t help when my older son spent a year going to middle school full time only to come out of it incredibly angry because of the horrid bullying, by students and teachers alike, that he’d encountered.
It’s interesting to me that this question also brought up in response to doing anything different for gifted children in normal schools. That is, there is the argument that grouping children by ability or accelerating their academic curriculum means that kids won’t learn to appreciate diversity and get along with other people. Most people assume that putting gifted kids in different groups or classrooms is bad for everyone.
I hate assumptions, though. I have, over time, come across studies here and there saying that, in general, these assumptions were wrong. I can only think of one study that said ability grouping had negative consequences, and one study on homeschooling that showed a neutral outcome on homeschooling. The topic came up in a discussion with someone, and I thought it was high time for me to make sure I wasn’t blowing smoke.
Unfortunately, the research on both groups is relatively sparse. I suppose it’s not a compelling interest for the majority of the population, so not a lot of resources are put toward it. I am kind of a fan of summary papers, mostly because they save a lot of time by summarizing the results from several different studies while noting the drawbacks of each. In that vein, I managed to come across one for each group, although both are rather ‘old’ by my standards. The paper on gifted socialization was from 1993, while the one on homeschooling was from 2000. (Social science progresses far too slowly for my tastes.)
For the gifted group, Karen Rogers wrote a synopsis of a paper which talks about several different forms of grouping and acceleration. The paper looks at 13 different studies on gifted accelerations methods. She found that academically, almost all methods had positive effects. If you look the psychological and social effects, the were probably neutral. Some forms of acceleration resulted in positive outcomes, some in negative. Her conclusion was:
What seems evident about the spotty research on socialization and psychological effects when grouping by ability is that no pattern of improvement or decline can be established. It is likely that there are many personal, environmental, family, and other extraneous variables that affect self-esteem and socialization more directly than the practice of grouping itself.
The studies that discussed homeschooling were covered in a paper by Medlin. Surprisingly, there were a lot more studies covered in this paper than on gifted education. Medlin broke down the studies into three groups, each addressing a different question. First, do homeschool children participate in the daily activities in the communities? The results indicated that they encountered just as many people as public schooled children, often of a more diverse background, and were more active in extra-curriculars than their public school counterparts. The second question was whether homeschooled children acquired the rules of behavior and systems of beliefs and attitudes they needed. (I keep feeling like there’s a comma missing in that…) While detractors may be pretty upset at this, the conclusion was that, in most cases, homeschool children actually fared better in these studies. Admittedly, though, the studies were hardly taking large numbers of students into consideration. There was speculation on this set of results:
Smedley speculated that the family “more accurately mirrors the outside society” than does the traditional school environment, with its “unnatural” age segregation.
This particular view stands out because it’s a view I see reflected a lot in analysis of gifted education, too: age grouping is unnatural and ability grouping is more likely to occur in real life.
Finally, Medlin asks whether homeschooled students end up doing okay as adults. There are very few studies in this section, but the conclusion from those studies was that they not only do fine, but tend to take on a lot of leadership roles. (I do know there was a study commissioned by the HSLDA a few years ago that came to similar conclusions, but I find a bit of conflict of interest in that one given who paid for it.)
If there’s anything people should be taking out of these studies, it’s that our adherence to age-based grouping of random kids really doesn’t provide the beneficial socialization we think it does and may, in fact, have some pretty negative impacts. In fact, I recently came across and article called, “Why you truly never leave high school,” that talks about those negative effects and how they may actually be carried with us into our adult lives. (Yes, I do realize some of the conclusions make the title a stretch, but it’s food for thought.) Given the presence of issues like bullying that have gotten more air play over the past few years, I’m very surprised people haven’t realized that it could, in fact, be detrimental.
In set of overlapping quandries… June 10, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, older son.
Tags: college, homeschooling, older son, online learning, transcript
I spent some time looking at options for the older boy.
First, I’m really not thrilled with the idea of a transcript (as you may have guessed) because I don’t feel it’s legit to write one up. Yes, he spent time studying some physics in the form of reading a book on the thermodynamics of cooking and doing some experiments. I’m sure he learned a lot about heat and thermo and it’s practical applications. BUT. He didn’t have a formal high school physics course, and I don’t feel comfortable putting down just “physics” on a high school transcript. I don’t know that it’s ethical to represent what he did that way. That’s the sort of thing I’m wrestling with.
I’m very reluctant to just throw something together because if I put down ‘physics’ and someone finds this blog post, for example, they could claim I lied on the transcript. There are some potentially very real repercussions, including the possibility that he gets kicked out of school because he was accepted on the premise that he took a physics class which they believed contained certain content but which actually didn’t. That’s not fair to him, obviously. On the other hand, I think a transcript is the worst possible way to show what he’s done. A lot of unschoolers bypass this issue by putting together portfolios…but the school won’t accept that: they want a transcript. Period.
(I am not sure what you would call our schooling style, BTW. It was something along the lines of “use what works, throw out what doesn’t.” I was primarily concerned that there was a lot of competence established in math and language arts because ability in those areas will help with other areas like social studies and science. Those are a foundation…other things are icing on the cake. But that’s just my opinion.)
The other problem I have with the transcript business is grades. As an example, it’s pretty clear cut that he did a macroeconomics course. In most high schools, this would be the equivalent of AP Macroeconomics and would probably be a year-long course. So I’m totally fine with putting that as a course. However, when it comes to assigning a grade, I don’t feel good about that. He worked pretty diligently, but I wasn’t examining what he was doing on a day-to-day basis. I wanted this to be his thing that he did because he was interested. My evaluation was just likely to kill that interest. He was working through the text and the study guide as well as watching a video course. When he took the CLEP, he got a 50, which is what ACE says is the lowest passing grade and equivalent to a C in most college courses. So do I give him a C because that’s what he got on the CLEP? Or do I give him an A for passing a college-level class as a sophomore in high school?
You see…there is no objective standard for grades. Grades are almost always context dependent and don’t, in my opinion, honestly reflect mastery of material. A lot of what goes into grades (and I can say this as a teacher) is understanding and meeting requirements in a timely manner. In other words, did you do what the teacher wanted, when s/he wanted it? Some of these requirements have little to do with mastery of material. (Not all, mind you…but some.)
In looking around, however, I found a program that actually is for high schoolers to take college classes online through a reputable university. (There are several of them, BTW, but this one has a couple of majors that the older boy is interested in.) As a homeschooler, they have several requirements for exams, such as SAT and subject tests. But they also will accept a GED…and if he has the GED, he can bypass submitting things like SATs.
The thing that I’m questioning is that it’s all online. I was hoping he’d get the experience of having to go to classes and set up a schedule and figure out when to study. He has said things go better for him when he works out of the house. Now, I imagine that if we do a similar situation like we did with his CLEP, only he totes a laptop with him, it may go alright. He’s still getting out and following some sort of schedule, right? And he’s definitely learning some independent study skills as well as knocking out some college classes. (I really also think he’ll enjoy the college level stuff more, and I’m hoping he’ll try some classes just for fun.)
On the other hand, he can actually complete a degree entirely online through this program, and so is there really a need to physically go to classes? (Although, once he’s old enough, he could hypothetically attend this college in person.) I’m not sure. I don’t know what the best approach is for learning those “life skills” he’ll need when I’m not there to drive him to the library in the morning. I also have this gut feeling that the more college he has under his belt before he leaves home, the better. I have this hope that it’ll improve his chances of finishing because he’ll be into the ‘fun stuff’ in his major and not feel like he’s wasting his time doing all the general ed-type stuff. (I’m also hoping he’s got a more solidified direction after trying some general eds and seeing what he likes.)
I really had no idea that trying to figure out what to do with my kid in high school was going to be more of a mess than when I tried to figure out what to do for college.
Terrified of homeschooling (again) March 27, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, math, older son, younger son.
Tags: acceleration, gifted, gifted education, homeschooling, homework, older son, younger son
Last night, the younger son was working on his math homework while I sat next to him and played sudoku. I’ve found that this is the best way to oversee his homework because I don’t really pay attention to what he’s doing unless he asks for help, but I’m close by in case he starts getting frustrated. And really, I can’t concentrate on anything important when I’m interrupted every ten minutes for an explanation.
The younger son has started running into problems with a concept now and again. After he gets so many wrong, the program will switch gears and have him work on something else for a while. Then it goes back and tries the subject again. This happened for the first time a few days ago. He complained, saying it was repeating questions. I told him the program thought he needed more practice. Last night, it happened again.
“Mom, the program thinks I need more practice. But I don’t. I know this stuff.”
“Well, you’ll have to prove it to the computer.” And he answered every question correctly. The fact that he got peeved about repeating questions is a huge improvement from the kid who would avoid doing pretty much anything for fear of getting it wrong…and if he did try and get it wrong, there would be a major emotional blowout to follow. That kid is a distant memory…but was around as recently as six months ago. This, in my mind, is why you need to present challenges to perfectionists.
I’m now anxious for another reason. I really thought the younger boy would slow down in his math progress. Yes, I did up the amount of time he spends from 20 to 40 minutes per day, my reasons for which are elaborated in another post. And he no longer gets everything right. In fact, on his daily practice, he’s usually hitting somewhere between 80 and 90 percent correct answers. But he’s still not really slowing down.
At the end of the year, he’s going to be three years ahead in math. We didn’t expect this, and this puts us past the ‘drop dead’ point where the school can do anything. His school only goes up to 5th grade at his campus. The other campus starts at 6th and goes through the end of high school. Realistically, he’s not ready for that with his reading and writing. So now we’re obligated to keep going with his current math program for the next three years. Because of the structure of the courses, he will have to slow down signficantly. However, we’re still looking at a realistic possibility of him being through algebra 2 before he starts middle school. At that point, we are going to have to see if the school is willing to let him join a bunch of high school students for geometry or precalc…when he’s 12.
I’m nervous about this because of what is going on in his classroom. He’s not participating in the regular math class, but he does work on addition and subtraction drills. His teacher is putting on his report card that he’s ‘beginner level’ in math based on these drills. I really am not worried how he’s doing on this because of the fact that I know he can add two and three digit numbers in his head, even though he still writes some numbers backwards when writing the answers. I am guessing the pressure of timed quizzes, the act of writing, or perhaps lack of interest are causing his poor performance. (Incidentally, while he may not do every problem, all the problems he does are correct.)
I am concerned that teachers in the future are going to look at this and believe he doesn’t know math rather than looking at what he’s accomplished through the online math program. And I’m worried this will have a negative impact on our ability to accelerate him when the time is appropriate. But, mostly, I’m frustrated that so much of the assessment of his abilities rests on judgements of things like basic arithmetic or handwriting when it’s become so obvious to me that he’s got some serious abstract thinking abilities. No teacher is ever going to see that unless they give him some challenging material. (I have to admit that I had no idea until we started down this path with the math program.) Likely, they won’t because they’re so stuck on what I consider to be somewhat superficial things.
Based on my experience with the older son, I guess this is starting to leave me terrified that the younger boy will eventually need to be pulled out of school. I have that thought every time I get a note about some problem at school. Admittedly, most of them are small things that I don’t have to worry about. The thought is sitting just under the surface, though, and pokes an eye out every time something seems amiss.
For now, we’ve decided to just keep him moving through regular school while supplementing math during the school year and language arts during the summer. I imagine that in about 3 years, however, we’re going to hit a pretty serious fork in the road. I’m a person who doesn’t take well to waiting, however, so even now it’s still on my mind a lot.
Leave it to the experts: the homeschooling parents September 9, 2011Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, older son, teaching, younger son.
Tags: education, homeschooling, research
A friend on Facebook posted the following article: What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parents
I agree with some of the sentiment of the article: helicopter parents are damaging to their children. On the other hand, I have enough experience not to buy this line:
For starters, we are educators, not nannies. We are educated professionals who work with kids every day and often see your child in a different light than you do. If we give you advice, don’t fight it. Take it, and digest it in the same way you would consider advice from a doctor or lawyer.
Most elementary school teachers are trained to deal with a room full of children. They are not heavily entrenched in child psychology, learning disabilities, giftedness, or many other things that can affect individual children and their functioning in the classroom. Their training is in dealing with large numbers of average children…a more sophisticated form of crowd control.
I am not trying to be mean to elementary school teachers; I am stating a fact about their education. (I considered becoming a teacher at one point, so I do know what types of classes are required.) The reality is that their education is limited, and they are reluctant to admit that. Now, there are exceptional elementary school teachers out there. I ran into a couple during my youth, and I’ve run into a couple as my children have gone through school. Unfortunately, my experience is that they are also the minority, if not completely rare.
Too often, teachers have told me that “they are professionals,” but they fail to realize that I am the expert in MY child. They will come to me with a complaint about the child’s behavior, and when I give them suggestions on ways to deal with it because, well, they asked, I am told that what I am suggesting is not possible. If these people are professionals, then why are they asking my opinion and, better yet, why are they then telling me they can’t take my advice?!
To add further insult to injury, I more than once ran into teachers who told me that my son’s difficulties in school were because of homeschooling. I remember clearly when the older boy’s third grade teacher said he obviously didn’t remember his math facts very well because he always performed poorly at Around the World…only to be told a couple weeks later by the principal that he’d done exceptionally well during their annual testing and that, “he obviously knows his math facts!” All I could ascertain from this was that the teacher was biased against homeschooling as well as having a poor handle on my son’s actual abilities.
I felt rather vindicated, therefore, reading the results of a scientific study on homeschooling done at a university – that is, it isn’t being done by opponents or proponents of homeschooling and therefore has no reason to be biased one way or the other. It was also funded by the Canadian government.
The study showed that homeschoolers who use curriculum are more likely to be accelerated in their studies relative to their publicly-schooled and unschooled peers when measured by standardized tests. They don’t look at the Big S (socialization), although they mention that schooling is an important form of socialization. (And it’s one that is a very poor form, if you ask me. I am still appalled by some of the things my son heard at school from his classmates.)
They weren’t certain of the factors that led to acceleration, but they mentioned more focused study on math and reading. When I homeschooled, I felt like the topics were more diverse than what my kids have encountered in a regular school. Also, we spent less time doing schoolwork than what my kids spend in a regular day at school…and that doesn’t include homework.
I’m certain that more studies will bear out the same result (in fact, most have), and help parents to be more confident that homeschooling is an acceptable and even superior alternative to a public classroom (and a cheaper alternative to private school). At the very least, I’d be happy if a few teachers paid attention and realized that parents can be as or more effective in working with their own children than the supposed experts.
Homeschooling and Teaching with Brain Rules May 3, 2011Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, older son, research, science, teaching.
Tags: brain rules, homeschooling, teaching, US History
As many of you know, the older boy is on a partial homeschooling arrangement. One of the plans this year was to cover US History and then have him take the relevant CLEP exams. (What can I say – I’m a cheapskate, and doing this this way is a lot cheaper than having him take classes at the university.)
We started out the year with three books – a CLEP review book, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, and a Patriot’s History of the United States. My thought was that 1) he would see a point/counterpoint in the interpretation of US history by reading the various books, and 2) there would be a decent amount of repetition.
I have definitely been vindicated on the first point. The older boy has really enjoyed reading the People’s and Patriot’s History books because of the fact that they’re rather politically charged. But when it came time to do a practice exam, no dice. He barely passed the exam.
I was nervous about shelling out the money for an exam only to have him fail it (although I imagine that will happen at some point or another), so I tried to think of some way to help. I decided to order the History of the United States video from the Teaching Company. (Before you pass out at the price tag, keep in mind that these go on sale at least once a year and I didn’t pay that much.) The older boy took to them instantly, and it was probably one of the few times this year I didn’t have to nag him about getting his homework done. After getting through the first part, he took another practice exam and earned an A equivalent.
I have read many times that the textbook for a course is where most students get their information. I also have argued with people about this point because, while I use them as references, I’ve only been minimally successful and garnering much information from them. When I have been successful, it’s because I’ve done things like compiled vocabulary lists or extensively used the practice problems…not because I’ve simply read them. On the other hand, I’m very surprised by the older boy’s jump in test score.
I shouldn’t have been. I recently listened to the book Brain Rules. I heard about the book after looking into a class on educational neuropsychology that was using the book for some of its readings. After reading it, I can tell you that I strongly suggest that anyone who functions in any sort of teaching capacity read or listen to it. It has a lot of very good information that educators should, but often don’t, know.
When listening to the chapter of stimulating the senses, I found the explanation for the big jump in scores. It turns out, according to the book, that one of the best ways to get people to remember things is to stimulate multiple senses. Reading by itself is problematic because there is a significant amount of decoding that goes into translating the written word. However, watching a presentation where someone is talking and that speaking is accompanied by visuals, especially if they are animated visuals, will drastically increase memory of the subject matter.
This is undoubtedly the case with my son’s score discrepancies: watching the videos, which include pictures as well as someone speaking, did a lot to boost his memory of the topic matter. (Granted, this was history and not science or math, where I expect a somewhat significant amount of additional practice would be required.)
As a homeschooling parent, this means that I am definitely going to be on the lookout for more high quality videos. Fortunately, I can also find things through places like MIT OpenCourseWare and iTunes U. And this means I will also keep this mind if/when I ever get back into a classroom.
Can young students learn from online classes? April 9, 2011Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, math, older son, teaching, younger son.
Tags: automated curriculum, curriculum, EPGY, homeschooling, Johns Hopkins, online learning, trent schools
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The New York Times is covering online classes in the ‘Room for Debate’ column. It’s interesting reading the commentary from the debators because at least half of them are talking about online learning in the abstract. That is, they’ve got some ideas about what it should be like but haven’t had much experience with it.
Over the course of my kids’ schooling, we’ve experimented with a lot of different curriculum, some of which has been online. My personal opinion is that online learning is that you really can’t say much about this topic without first defining what you’re talking about. “Online learning” is very vague. Does it mean you’re talking with people online about your homework? Are you working with completely automated curriculum? Do you have feedback from a teacher? You need to know how to answer these questions before giving an informed opinion.
My first experience with ‘online learning’ was not good at all. About 7 or 8 years ago, I enrolled the older boy in an online program called “Trent Schools”. They sent ‘lessons’ on a regular basis which I later found out were simply repackaged sections from the “What Every 2nd Grader Needs to Know”. It was incumbent on me to think of how to explain these things to my son as well as work out ways to practice. Given I could’ve gotten the book and done exactly the same thing, it really wasn’t helpful at all. It sort of embodied the worst aspects of ‘online learning’ – no interaction with other students, no feedback for the student, nothing to practice, no guidance for the parent.
I was burned on the concept, but when the older boy started attending a gifted program in Minneapolis, I was introduced to it again. The program had kids work on several of their subjects using online educational programs. Specifically, they used Rosetta Stone for foreign language and Aleks for math. The first thing I learned (and I suspected this already) is that Rosetta Stone is not great for a beginner. However, once you have a bit of a language under your belt, it may help you improve. I’d use it as a study aid, but not as a curriculum entirely in and of itself. So much of foreign language, to be really good, depends on having a teacher with a good ear who can provide you with feedback. Without that, you’re probably spinning your wheels.
The older son made little to no progress using Rosetta Stone. However, many of his classmates did, so maybe there is some aspect of this that I’m missing.
On the other hand, I’ve been hooked on Aleks. I find that funny because the same complaints I had about Rosetta Stone, another parent had about Aleks. However, for my kid, it seems to really work. The older boy did pre-algebra and algebra 1 through his old school using the program. With just that background, he received a 500-something on his SAT quantitative score last fall. When we came back to Fargo and began homeschooling again, we opted to use the same program. The older boy doesn’t always like the explanations, but he is able to do the vast majority of his math with no oversight from me. The program regularly assesses his knowledge and reviews concepts he seems to have forgotten.
And did I mention we threw him into college-level algebra and trigonometry?
The program has a large review section, so he was able to catch up on any review he needed by skipping geometry and algebra II. He has the option of taking ACE credits for the course, as well, so some colleges will say he’s met his math requirements (unless he needs to take calc – but frankly, I’m not going to deal with that one).
I admit that he needs help from a real human being sometimes, but I appreciate that he can progress at his own pace. And I can definitely tell he’s learning a lot. Even when he asks for help, it’s pretty obvious he understands what concepts are necessary for understanding the topic and is able to explain things. And given how much he really dislikes math, I think it’s amazing the progress he’s made.
The younger boy started math through Stanford’s EPGY program this year. There are two options – one where you are assigned a tutor and they provide updates to your school while the other is simply progressing through the program and assumes that the parents are overseeing the learning. The second option, open enrollment, is probably ideal if you’re homeschooling. It’s also a lot cheaper, too.
He loves the program. Given he was claiming to dislike math, I was expecting a struggle. We decided to give it a try, however, based on positive feedback from others. It’s not been a struggle: he is very willing to sit down and do a 20 minute session nightly. He treats it like a game, and it gives positive reinforcement when he gets things correct as well as giving him the opportunity to correct his mistakes when he gets things wrong. Although he’s not very far into it, I’m impressed that they’ve managed to introduce variables and complex topics like balancing equations into lower elementary math. They start out at a very basic level and step things up gradually, so the only help he’s needed from me is when we have java glitches. His favorite part is that he can progress as fast as he likes, and he likes to be able to skip problems.
In both math programs, learning is adaptive. Assessments are done more regularly in Aleks than EPGY’s program. But my overall feeling is that math is probably one of the best candidates for ‘online learning’.
In the fall, the older boy will try taking some writing classes through Johns Hopkins. As far as I’m aware, there’s not much of this that will be automated. The classes will involve either interacting with the teacher and classmates on a web-based message board, meaning students will progress as a group, or emailing with the teacher, which can result in more personalized instruction. For writing, I’m guessing this is the best format for language as it provides the feedback he needs. I’m really not sure you can use online learning in an automated format for something like this, so there’s no way you can dispense with the teacher. One huge advantage to this method, however, is the medium: the older boy struggles a lot with handwriting, but can type easily. This is far less frustrating than having to compose things by hand, as he would do in a normal classroom.
Based on these experiences, I think online learning can really benefit some kids. Even in the best case, it’s good to have an adult to help out when necessary or to set and enforce some guidelines as far as how much time is spent on the programs. If it’s done right, online learning should include regular feedback and assessment and, because it works at the kids’ pace, should be minimally frustrating.
The biggest advantages, from my perspective, are that students aren’t stuck working at the pace of those around them, slower or faster, and they can take time to master the concepts they don’t understand while skipping over those that they do. It will work better for some topics than others, but there are ways to do many different topics well in an online environment. When using this type of teaching in school, it will be important to have teachers that can deal well with an unstructured environment. If all the kids are working at their own pace, the teacher needs to be a facilitator and can’t count on prepping the night before so that they understand the material. I can see that dealing with kids working at different levels might be more difficult for classroom teachers as they may need to learn to work on several topics at once.
WSJ’s “Burden of Raising a Gifted Kid” April 4, 2011Posted by mareserinitatis in education, Fargo, gifted, homeschooling, older son, younger son.
Tags: education, expensive, gifted, homeschooling, public schools
I came across the article The Burden of Raising a Gifted Kid last week, and two thoughts crossed my mind. One was, “Absolutely!” The second, a bit more complicated, was how I, like some of the commenters, get frustrated that so many of these stories always focus on prodigies.
But first things first.
Right now, I’m personally frustrated with the whole time/financial burden that seems to come with my kids’ being ahead of the curve. To show why this is frustrating, I’ll look at each kid individually. First, the older one is in a school where they simply don’t believe in acceleration. He’s not allowed to take AP classes until he’s a junior, period. While he’s taking some classes at the local public school, these are more related to the arts. There’s no way he’ll stay interested in the classes he would take at the school, and if he’s not interested, he won’t learn. (And he certainly won’t remember to turn in homework!) Our solution is a combination of classes through homeschooling and other resources. The materials that seem to work the best for him usually run on the order of $100-$200/class. Granted, this is cheaper than a college class, but it’s not exactly cheap. Some of his classes are done on the computer, which run about twice this. And he’s planning to take some classes at Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth – running between $800 and $1300 each. And he probably will start college either junior or senior year of high school…so that’ll be even worse.
The younger one isn’t much better. He’s in private school ($$$!) and he’s taking classes through Stanford’s EPGY program - running around $500 every 3 mos. per class.
None of this includes the ‘normal’ kid expenses – various clubs and activities and lessons that they are also involved in, like scouts or swimming lessons.
I realize that this is a whining rant, but it frustrates me that there is a simple, inexpensive option that the public schools won’t provide: acceleration. I guess it’s even more frustrating to realize that if I were willing to move back to the Minneapolis area, we would have several options not only for acceleration but for specialized programs for the kids…at no cost to us. The two years that I lived down there were admittedly stressful, but I think that’s the only time that I’ve not had to worry about my kids’ education because I knew it was being taken care of. It involved a ‘normal’ commitment of time and finances. (Which is good when you’re on a grad student salary!)
I guess, in reality, this is a trade-off based on where I live. I like living here, but the schools are only great if you have normal kids.
This brings up the problem I had with the article: gifted kids are really prodigies.
But inside the private lives of families of truly gifted kids – the less-than-1% whose extraordinary talents are so obvious that parents themselves are surprised — the juggle can get pretty crazy, as I report in today’s “Work & Family” column.
I realize that was not the intent, but it’s frustrating as the parent of gifted kids who are not prodigies to deal with this stereotyped notion of giftedness. Realistically, a lot of people have come to believe that ‘gifted’ either means a child is some sort of super-driven, highly successful and accomplished adolescents…or you’re just some parent who is really pushing an average-to-bright kid to do more than they are able. (Of course, even if you point out that they are already achieving at a very high level, this just means you’re uppity.)
While I have no desire to try to keep up with a profoundly gifted kid (the ones who are prodigies usually fall into that range), keeping up with my two is already a struggle because of the lack of educational support. Really, I’m having to do it myself or shell out lots of money to someone else, prodigy or not. If my kids were prodigies, I feel like at least it’d be easier for someone to recognize that you can’t just put them in a normal classroom and expect them to suffer through the boredom. Even being in the top 1% doesn’t mean that their gifts and needs are obvious, especially to classroom teachers.
Overall, however, I think the article was good at making the point that it is not the parents pushing this: the parents are doing what they can to provide for the kids needs. But some of us are incredibly frustrated in the meantime.
How I hate thee, biologee March 26, 2011Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, math, older son, science.
Tags: biology, curriculum, homeschooling, math, older son
1 comment so far
We’re coming to the close of older boy’s first year of high school, and this has caused me to look over what we’d been planning to do for his schooling in light of my completely unrealistic view of what he could accomplish in a year.
I discovered that this notion that he could do about 3-4 college level classes at a time may be realistic – if one is not also taking 2-3 classes in high school. Oops.
Conclusion: 2 college classes max.
I also discovered that computer classes, while being really great, are too difficult to tackle because of all the shiny, pretty things on the internet. Fortunately, we have no more classes like that as he will be completing his last math class this year. I promised him that if he finished college algebra and trigonometry (aka precalc), that he would not be required to take any further math (much to my chagrin). This means he gets to spend the next two years doing things he really loves: language and writing, history, and social science. First advantage: I hopefully won’t have to keep harping on him to get his math done.
For the next two years, the boy will be doing video courses and classes through Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. The second advantage to this is that I don’t have to oversee any of the JHU classes.
You may notice that science is absent from that list. That’s because it’s a real quandry for me. You see, the older boy is squeamish beyond belief. He’s taking a health class this semester, and it’s been horrible for him. One of the things I felt he should take was biology, but I know there is absolutely no way he can handle the labs. We’ve therefore come up with another compromise: he’s going to try to do early entry at the college for his senior year. I came up with an idea: the kid hates biology…but he loves geology. Our compromise is that he’s going to take physical geology as well as history of Earth through time. The latter class actually deals a lot with biology and the evolution of life on earth. I figure this is the closest he’s going to get to a biology class without passing out or leaving the room wretching.
You can tell he’s definitely my kid.
Teaching math without memorization March 2, 2011Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, math, older son, teaching.
Tags: abacus, arithmetic, bead frame, gifted education, homeschooling, math, multiplication, tables
If there is one thing I learned in my junior level electromagnetics class that will always stick with me, it’s this:
The permittivity of free space (ε0) is 8.854 * 10 -12 F/m.
And realizing that will always stick with me gave me a lot of insight into what is wrong with the typical approach to teaching math, especially in elementary school.
I know it’s a stretch, but bear with me.
One of the things I’ve encountered with both my kids is that their teachers are very set on them memorizing math facts. My older boy spent 3rd and 6th grade enrolled full-time in regular public school programs, and his third grade teacher was constantly railing on about how he was ‘bad in math’. In fact, she blamed it on the fact that he’d been homeschooling. (We got this every time we talked to her.) She would go on and on about how he didn’t have his tables memorized. Why, he had to stop and think every time she asked him a basic addition problem!
OMG…thinking in school?! Can’t have that.
I therefore found it very amusing when, prior to the the next school year, his principle pulled out the results of his spring MAPS testing and commented on how good his math scores were because, in her words, “He must know his tables really well.”
By these two comments alone, you can tell what is important to elementary school teachers: memorization of arithmetic tables.
Aside from having a BS in physics, I minored in math in college. Despite the fact that I had enough credits for a major, the credits were in overwhelmingly applied math classes, and there was no applied math major at my school. Suffice it to say that I do have at least a basic knowledge of math.
I also have homeschooled my older child for most of his educational career, and as a freshman in high school, he’s finishing a course in college algebra and trigonometry.
During the older child’s homeschooling years, I never once made an attempt to have him memorize tables of any kind. I did not practice a lot of repetition of basic facts, either. This was because of my experience in my electromagnetics class: I didn’t memorize the value of the permittivity of free space due to repetition and drill; I memorized it because I used it in nearly every problem I did for four months in that class. Yeah, I had to look it up the first dozen times I used it, but after that, it was lodged in my brain. And look…it’s still there a decade later!
I came to the conclusion that if you really need to know something, you’ll learn it through frequent use. But how do you use something that you don’t know?
Addition and subtraction are fairly simple: you give a kid a bead frame, abacus, or even a ruler (the original slide rule!) and show them how to perform addition and subtraction operations using beads or moving up and down a number line. Then you can move them quite quickly through addition and subtraction of
infinitely (okay…not infinite) finitely large numbers. You can let them go through increasingly complex topics without ever making them memorize a table. In fact, after a short time, you’ll find that they are pointing at beads or rulers in the air, counting out the solution to their problem. And after that, the invisible ruler or beads will be sitting in their head, being manipulated by mental fingers. Finally, they won’t even have to think about it…they’ll just know.
The image on the left is an abacus, while the image on the right is a bead frame. Bead frames are easier to find and manipulate, in my experience.
Multiplication should be taught as addition of groups of objects, and division as ‘counting’ of the number of groups in the whole. Once kids have mastered the process of multiplication and division, you can then simply print out a multiplication table. I had my older son paste it on the inside cover of a notebook or the front of a folder so that he could always find it. You may find that some kids prefer to go back to the bead frames. (And if you are really lucky, you have an abacus and know how to use it for multiplication…which I don’t.) Any method is fine as long as it works for your child. But the point is that you can then let them progress through more and more complicated arithmetic involving those operations (such as multiplying large numbers or long division) using the table or other device to look up values. Again, as you progress through these concepts, they will slowly begin to memorize them.
As a homeschooler, the curriculum that I chose for math was fairly important as well. I liked Singapore math for it’s focus on simplicity and conceptual explanations. Everyone raves about the ‘mental math’ tricks that are taught in the series. And they’re right: mental math is awesome. However, the only reason the series does it so effectively is because it teaches the concepts in a way that you can then make logical simplifications in process that result in ‘mental math’ and good estimation skills.
(My only complaint is that they don’t teach the lattice method of multiplication. I think the ‘traditional’ method of multiplying large numbers is much better suited for estimation methods, whereas the lattice method is definitely superior for calculating with precision.)
To me, the important part of all of this is to make sure that they understand what the process of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Kids can memorize facts for quick recall, but if that is the emphasis and they can’t recall a fact, they’re going to be stuck. If the emphasis is instead on teaching arithmetic as a process, they can always figure it out should they forget.
And really, arithmetic is a process. I came across an article on Hoagies’ Gifted site called Why Memorize? I have to take big exception to the article because it says that math is a lot of dry facts. If you teach it as memorization of facts instead of a process of manipulating numbers (or objects or motion in space), it sure is! But I can tell you that it’s not, and as you advance to higher level classes in mathematics, reliance on the notion that math is memorization will cause you problems and impede your progression.
Finally, I have to wonder if this is why so many elementary school educators fear math: it’s boring memorization of facts. They are never taught how it’s actually a really cool process. If it were taught properly, preferably with a lot of enthusiasm instead of dread, I wonder if a lot of teachers would lose their ‘math-phobia’. And that would, of course, mean their students might start to like math, too.