I walk the line June 24, 2014Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, older son.
Tags: education, gifted, gifted education, high school, homeschooling, homework, older son, perfectionism
I’ve been watching the older son grappling with his courses for the past year. He was taking courses through an independent study organization to finish up some credits he needs to enter college. I didn’t feel comfortable with some of these (especially literature classes), so we decided to go this route.
In doing this, I’ve discovered that the older son has a deadly combination of issues: ADHD and perfectionism. I didn’t quite understand how the two fed into each other, but I can definitely see it now.
The older son also had the disadvantage of not working in the classes with peers. The first few he did were in print rather than online. He would struggle for days to complete a single assignment, and it didn’t make sense to me at first.
Another thing I found odd was how one of his teachers was initially very abrupt with him. It didn’t take long before she had completely changed her tune and was being incredibly nice and encouraging, which I thought was odd.
The second set of classes have been online and part of the assignments involved discussing things in a forum, so the student could see what the other students had submitted. This was an eye-opening experience for me. It also helped me make sense of his teacher’s dramatic change in behavior.
After watching him and seeing what other students have submitted, I realized three things:
1 – He can easily and quickly finish things that are simple.
2 – When things appear to be more difficult and/or time-consuming, he has difficulty concentrating and finds himself unable to stay on task.
3 – Part of the reason things are difficult and/or time-consuming is because he has seriously high expectations for himself that are way beyond what is often required.
I’m not saying he doesn’t have ADHD, because he most certainly does. We tried for years to forego medication. One day, he came to me and said he couldn’t even concentrate on projects he wanted to do for fun, so we opted at that point to look at something to help. (He does take meds, but it’s the lowest dose that’s effective.)
However, in homeschooling him, neither of us had a reference for what a ‘typical’ high schooler should be doing in his classes. He would give me an assignment, and we would spend a lot of time revising it. He worked very hard, but progress was slow. In one or two cases, he would hand things in half done because of lack of time.
What surprised me is that even the items he handed in half done or that were rough drafts often came back with exceptional grades. I remember one assignment full of rough drafts of short essays which he aced. I couldn’t figure it out.
The problem is that both of us really expect a lot out of him, and I learned, after seeing work that other students were doing, that it was likely too much. Far too much. While he was going into a detailed analysis of similarities because characters from two different novels set in two completely different cultural and temporal reference frames, it appears his fellow students who likely are trying their hardest, are writing something much more simplistic. They are being told to elaborate, and he’s being told to eschew obfuscation.
The thing that has me concerned is that college is around the corner, and I worry that he’s going to continue to hold himself to those standards, even when it is so obviously working against him. He struggles with the idea that it’s better to just hand something in, even if incomplete (by his standards), than to turn it in late, though perfect.
A lot of perfectionists deal with this. I have told him that it’s not a bad trait, but that he needs to save it for the things that are really important to him. If he wants to write the Great American Novel that people will pore over and debate and analyze, that is the time to be a perfectionist. If he’s handing in an assignment that fulfills the requirements laid out by the teacher, who likely will spend ten minutes skimming the entry, being a perfectionist is really not going to help. He needs to learn to walk that line. To some extent, we all do.
A Rite (Triangle) of Passage May 13, 2014Posted by mareserinitatis in education, family, gifted, homeschooling, math, older son, teaching, younger son.
Tags: homeschooling, learning, learning styles, math, pythagorean theorem, visual-spatial, younger son
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The younger son recently started his pre-algebra class. Somehow, this has made math a bit better. I think the fact that it has algebra in the title makes him feel very accomplished and that, in turn, has made him more enthusiastic about math.
The other day, he was doing some of his homework, and the lecture was confusing to him. I listened to the lecture and then said, “It makes more sense if you draw a picture.” He responded that, “Pictures always help me learn better. I guess the math program doesn’t realize that some of us are visual learners.” I was both amused and quite stunned. I think I’ve been discussing educational theory a bit too much at the dinner table. I can tell he’s listening to us.
Tonight, he hit a milestone. He called Mike over, and I followed, so he could ask us how to pronounce “pythagorean.” He was sure he’d heard us talking about it before (yeah, we discuss this stuff around the dinner table), and he wanted to be sure that was what it was.
“Oh, wow!” I said. “You’re doing the Pythagorean Theorem. That’s awesome!” Suddenly, there was an impromptu round of cheering and high-fiving. The older son even came over and gave his little brother a big hug, saying, “Woo hoo! The Pythagorean Theorem is awesome.”
As the lecture progressed, it reiterated the terminology, focusing on right triangle legs and hypotenuse. Given I’ve had ZZ Top in my head, I had to immediately sing, “She’s got legs! She has a hypotenuse!” I wasn’t able to come up with much more, though.
Yes, I have to admit that I realized how odd it was, in retrospect. We were having a celebration that younger son had made it to the Pythagorean Theorem, and we were all making a huge deal about it.
But younger son didn’t think so. He thought it was awesome and giggled continuously for the next few minutes. I guess he likes having a math cheer team.
A filtered education March 3, 2014Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, math, older son, physics, science, societal commentary, teaching, younger son.
Tags: light, older son, physics, science, science education, teaching, younger son
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The older son is a lot of fun. Despite his statements that he has no desire to go into science, he seems to get and make a lot of science jokes. I know he’s not a scientist, but I feel comfortable that he’s scientifically literate. As he was homeschooled, I’m feeling pretty proud of myself.
I’m more anxious about the younger son, though. This weekend, he brought home his science homework, which focused on optics. The kids were studying filters, and one of the questions asked about what kind of light would you see if you shined a flashlight through a blue filter and then a red one. I asked him what he saw, and he said nothing. Unfortunately, he was told that he saw nothing because the flashlights just weren’t bright enough, but that what he should have seen was purple.
I’m pretty sure that if I had ever been bombarded with gamma rays in the past, I would’ve turned into She-Hulk at that very moment and started smashing things. Fortunately (or unfortunately, if being She-Hulk happens to be a goal of yours), that didn’t happen.
I find it infuriating that, throughout my years of homeschooling older son and teaching younger son math, I have constantly been questioned about my ability to teach them. The implication has always been that I may have a degree, but they are experts on teaching. In fact, this particular teacher attempted to take me to task earlier this year about the younger son’s math curriculum…the same teacher who apparently doesn’t understand that light and pigments work completely differently.
After I managed to calm down, I explained that light filters are like sieves, except that they only let one size of particle pass through: nothing bigger can pass through the holes, but nothing smaller can, either. After this explanation, the younger son was able to correctly explain that the reason he saw no light from his flashlight is that the two filters together had blocked all the light.
I’m going to be watching very carefully to see what kinds of scores he’s getting on his answers and whether the teacher realizes she made a mistake. This was very disappointing. There was a new science curriculum introduced this year, one which I was very excited about. The focus was supposed to be on hands-on, problem-based learning, which is great for science. Despite that, it seems that younger son’s science education may be lacking. What good does it do to have a top of the line science education curriculum (or math…or anything else) when our teachers don’t understand what they’re teaching? And how is it that these same teachers can justify questioning the ability to teach material that some of us understand far better than they do?
To borrow or not to borrow… February 6, 2014Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, older son.
Tags: college, finances, student loans
Some of you may remember that, about a year ago, I took the boys on a big tour of colleges. I wanted the older boy to see what his options were and make an informed decision when it came to college. (I have to admit that this was a result of the fact that I only was able to visit one college before choosing, and I felt like I would have made a better choice if I’d been able to see others.) The older boy surprised me when, late last year, he informed me of his decision to live at home and go to college locally.
To be rather blunt, I was disappointed. I felt like he could go to a much better college if he chose. However, he said that he was nervous about starting college and moving out and basically jumping from being a high schooler to an adult all at once. I was surprised at this, but it really did make sense. Obviously, I wasn’t going to try to force him to go someplace else for school.
(I was also amused because, when I was his age, I deliberately chose to apply to colleges that were as far away from home as physically possible. This is how one goes from North Dakota to Los Angeles.)
I’m now even more convinced that this is a good decision. The older boy started a part-time job. We sat down and ran the numbers and determined that his income from the job would pay about half of his tuition and give him some spending money. Because of the hours, he can also work another job over the summer and probably make up the difference in tuition costs.
Finally, he will likely start as a sophomore because of all of the college credit he has earned or will earn through CLEP exams.
Based on this, he can likely get through school in three years and come out potentially debt-free because he will be able to pay his tuition himself. When I look at how much he would have had to go into debt to earn his degree at the other schools we looked at, I have to admit that this is a pretty intelligent way to go.
The one reservation I had about this is that I felt like he needed to get out of the house. I don’t want to stifle him by living at home all through college. As I was pondering this toward the end of the semester, I had a speaker come to my class and discuss the study abroad program at the school. I was surprised at how affordable the program is. I brought a brochure home for older son, and we discussed it. Rather than transferring to another school later, like he initially thought, he’s going to try to go abroad once or twice. That way he can get the experience of not only visiting another school but another country. Even with this, he can still probably get through school without any debt.
I’m surprised how much the financial aspect of this has changed my perspective. Maybe because I and other people I know are still paying off student loans. I’m curious what my readers would say to their kids if they were facing the same choice.
It’s official: younger son is smarter than I am. October 3, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in gifted, homeschooling, math, younger son.
Tags: EPGY, math, younger son
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Younger son isn’t one you’d pinpoint as being very gifted…at least I wouldn’t. I have had random people tell me that he’s quite bright, but that’s never what has come across to me. He’s very outgoing and socially conscious…VERY big on morals and ethics. Fun. Goofy. Just wants to get his homework done so he can play.
In other words, to me he seems like a perfectly normal little boy.
In math, he’s one of these kids who struggles with computation. Not as badly as some kids (*ahem* older brother *ahem*), but it is his computation that slows him down. He’s enrolled in Stanford’s EPGY program for math, which we do at home (even though the school still grumbles occasionally). I thought he’d get into the program, but I was honestly stunned at his ability to answer logic questions. I remember when he took the test, I was watching, trying to puzzle through some of the questions and he was already onto the next question. It made me realize that there’s obviously some ability there…but because of the computation issues, he struggles to express it.
When helping the younger son do some homework on percentages earlier this week, he made a very interesting comment:
When you divide an even number by an odd number, except five, you get a repeating decimal. When you divide an odd number by an even number, though, you just get a remainder.
Is that right? It sounded like it was plausible, but I’d never come across such a rule. I had to look it up.
According to Wolfram’s MathWorld, if the divisor is a multiple of two or five you get finite decimal expansion. If, however, the denominator contains a prime other than 2 or 5, you’ll get a periodic decimal expansion (i.e. repeating decimal).
So he was very close and might have been able to prove it by induction for very small n…if he knew how to do proof by induction.
It kind of stunned me, though, that he was trying to figure this out and neither Mike nor I had ever given it any thought.
Things I never thought I’d say to my kids September 10, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in gifted, homeschooling, older son, teaching.
Tags: classes, english, languages, older son, teaching
There are a million things I never thought I’d say to my kids. Truth be told, I’ve avoided a lot of them. Today, however, I found myself telling the older son something I imagine would have made my 17-year-old self would cringe. Or even hurl.
The older son is taking some classes through correspondence this year, mostly English, to finish up the classes he needs for college admissions. We’ve managed to do most other things at home, but English was one thing I never bothered with because he’s an avid reader. And by avid, I mean he devours books like candy. He’s also done exceptionally well on any sort of standardized testing in this realm. I didn’t want to waste his time by pushing stuff on him when he was doing pretty well in his own right.
He got his first homework assignment back from one of the classes and was reading it over while we had some lunch. He gave me this look…the same one you get when someone tells you a joke that you can see the humor in but don’t particularly think it’s all that funny because it’s just weird. You know what look I mean.
The comments on a couple of the problems were simply horrible. As in, the teacher had rewritten his answers so that they were entirely dumbed down. It’s not that these answers were vague or wrong or anything; he chose words that made the point and his answers were succinct. The rewritten answers were long and meandering but weren’t any more clear. I called Mike and read the rewritten answers.
“You’re kidding me.”
So I found myself saying something that I know I would have never, ever believed in my own youth: “You just need to get through the class and pass it so you can go to college. College will be better.”
It makes me really sad that my son, who loves language and literature, is going to have to endure a class where he was hoping to be able to think about and discuss literary works on a really grown-up level. Sadly, it looks like he’s going to have to keep it light for his teacher. I could only reiterate that this is why I feel that high school is a waste of his time.
If you send your kid to public school, you’re a dunce September 1, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, societal commentary.
Tags: education, homeschooling, public schools, school, stupid
That’s a strong statement, calling someone a dunce because they allow their children to go to a school that’s provided for free and, in most cases, even required by law. Why would anyone say that? I’m not sure, but it was about as useful as the title of an article on Slate: “If you send your kid to private school, you are a bad person.” Generalizations are, in general, pointless things, and they aren’t much better as titles.
The article itself, however, was downright appalling. The author, Allison Benedikt, starts out by saying:
I am not an education policy wonk: I’m just judgmental.
That’s probably the only point in the whole article I can agree with. The whole thing was a judgemental screed against people who don’t send their kids to public schools. None of it was backed up with evidence or even anything remotely resembling solid reasoning. She discusses the fact that she attended public schools, and after reading her complete inability to form a cohesive argument, I dare say she made me even more convinced that our public schools have gone down the tubes.
She did have some reasons for her premise that those of us who send our kids to private schools are bad people. She starts by saying that if everyone would send their kids to public school, they would improve…it would just take ‘a generation or two’. You see, those of us who have the means to send our kids to private school are just supposed to sacrifice our kids’ and grandkids’ educational needs to meet some utopian goal that has a small likelihood of occurring. It apparently never occurred to her that she has made exactly the wrong argument to these people: people who send their kids to private schools may have several reasons for doing so, but I would guess that the main three are going to be that they strongly value education, they strongly value the ethical systems taught at some of these schools, and they are worried about what I would generally call ‘status issues’ (things like who their kids hang out with and perception of their families). Does she really think that parents who are that concerned about one or more of these three things is really willing to ‘sacrifice’ their kids? That’s the whole reason they’ve elected to go with private schools to begin with: the sacrifice of large sums of money is less important than the sacrifice of their kids’ education (and the things that go along with it). However, Benedikt wipes these issues away and says they’re not compelling. She started her whole argument by finding the most compelling way to isolate her audience.
In fact, she starts belittling education and claiming that you really don’t need those things. She is a perfect example, apparently, because her parents sent her to school and really didn’t care about those things. That is quite obvious given her line of reasoning…and, as I said above, compels me to want to send my kid to private school even more.
Benedikt says school is really about is interaction with other people. I won’t disagree that a large part of school is socialization, but I, of course, don’t buy this argument as I’ve written before about how public school is actually generally worse than options like homeschool when it comes to socialization. Throwing together a lot of immature people to learn socialization from each other results in, surprise surprise, lots of immature people. More adult interaction with those adults role-modeling mature behavior is a far better socialization system than the one present in most public schools. Again, this is actually an argument against the public schools, in my opinion.
Finally, Benedikt says that if only we redirected our private school endeavors to public schools, that would make everything better. Here, I can only assume she is incredibly naive on so many levels.
I will start by saying that I don’t hate the public schools. The notion of free education available for everyone is most definitely a public good and vital to maintaining democracy. However, I think that our public schools have some major problems. As the political right wing says, they don’t work to educate children. The structure is set up for teachers, not for students. As the left wing says, they are underfunded and undervalued. I think both sides have very valid arguments. Schools have, for generations, taught children using the least effective methods, mostly by people who aren’t well-educated themselves (particularly in the grade school years). They have a better handle on crowd control than educational psychology. On the other hand, they have to because of they way the public school system ties the hands of teachers.
There are so many educational reforms that would make the schools *work* but people are not interested in trying them out or are scared that it may affect their job security. Or they are just apathetic about education. I’m not talking about things like vouchers or charter schools. I mean things like making grade levels fluid, getting rid of grades, making the classroom a place where students are leading their learning and teachers are facilitators. The notion of allowing children to excel in areas of interest and take more time in areas of difficulty is almost heresy. In other words, what schools ought to be are places where kids really learn, where interaction provides useful feedback about knowledge and behavior, and where you’re not locked into doing something simply because of how old you are. Education needs to be tailored to the individual student because teaching to the average is useless for everyone.
These are the kinds of reforms that would bring parents back from the private schools. Simply saying that the schools would be better if all parents sent their kids to public school is naive, at best. It is as blind a solution to the problem as just shoving more money to the schools, privatizing schools, or forcing kids to pray in school. Almost every reform out there is completely blind to the fact that we are using teaching methods that actually fail to education children. If you don’t change our fundamental assumptions about how to educate students, you’re not going to get any different results.
I will say that I agree that it’s sad not more people take an interest in seeing public education thrive. However, part of the reason is that the way public education is conducted is virtually set in stone. It takes a divine act for most places to change even the smallest things. Too often, school teachers don’t have the time or knowledge to deal with individual students’ issues and the parent of such children is viewed as an enemy combatant. My choice as a parent then becomes whether I want to devote my time to change the outcome for my individual child through whatever means I have (for instance, by homeschooling or sending to private school) or continuously shoving an immovable object. If I had left either of my kids in public school, I wouldn’t have fought harder…I would have quit because of the futility in trying to work with most teachers and administrators who have no interest in seeing the system change.
Making your mom proud (if she’s a physicist) August 19, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in gifted, homeschooling, older son, physics, science.
Tags: homeschooling, older son, physics, science
One of the classes that the older boy is doing this year is physics. Rather than give him something very math intensive, I instead chose to have him study from Paul Hewitt’s Conceptual Physics text. It’s a book I came across after I’d already had a couple years of physics, and I regret not having had that book first. It does a wonderful job of explaining how physics works and what the concepts mean without drowning the reader in math.
When I picked up the older son after his study session the other day, he began talking about how imbalances in forces are what cause objects to accelerate. For instance, a car will move forward when the force created by the engine to move the car forward exceeds the forces of friction, gravity (if it’s on a hill), etc. After listening, I asked the question, “What happens then if the forces become balanced?”
I fully expected him to say that the object would stop moving. I really did. This is what the vast majority of students in my physics labs assumed when asked that question. Their assumption is that the forces must always be out of balance if the object is moving.
It would really depend on if the object were moving or still to begin with. If it was moving, it would continue to do so, and if it wasn’t moving, it would continue to stay still.
My response was to yell, “Yes!!!!!” at the top of my lungs and pump my fist. I’ve been proud of my son many times over the past few years, but few things make me beam as much as displaying a clear understanding of Newtonian mechanics.
fortnights per furlong April 24, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, food/cooking, homeschooling, math.
Tags: atomic sausage, conversions, metric, units
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I was recently talking to a non-technical person who was interested in some of my work. As we were discussing some of the specifics, he asked about a distance between two pieces of equipment.
“Oh, it’s about a meter,” I responded. I was met with a blank stare. I thought for a moment then added, “So close to a yard.” There was a wrinkling of the brow laid over the top of the blank stare. “Or about three feet.”
There went the lightbulb.
It’s times like this that I really wish the US would switch over to metric. The problem is that the average person not only has problems with metric but also with all but a handful of English measurements, too. I’ve gotten fairly proficient with English units and conversions in part because I like to cook but also because I’ve homeschooled both boys in math: measurement units and conversions are a regular topic of conversation.
At the beginning of my homeschooling career, however, I bought a spice mix for “sikh kebabs” with the notion that I’d use twice the meat, making it almost palatable for those of us with pathetic spice digesting abilities. The instructions on the back laid everything out in metric units, and when I tried to go from kilograms to pounds, I ended up halving the meat. We started calling the kebabs “atomic sausage,” and I still regularly am reminded to check Google and make sure I’m doing any metric to English conversions correctly.
The kebabs were still really good, though…when loaded with sour cream.