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Meet the old math, same as the new math January 22, 2016

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, math, younger son.
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The younger son is beginning adventures in algebra, and I had a hard decision to make.  He’d been using computer-based programs to learn math, but Mike and I decided we didn’t want to go that route any longer.  I had spent a lot of time looking into curriculum with the older son, so I already had a textbook available (Jacob’s Elementary Algebra), and it’s one that has received excellent reviews.

It’s also 37 years old.  Apparently there’s a newer edition, but that’s not the one I bought.

I had one concern with using this book.  A lot of the standards surrounding math curriculum have changed and become standardized.  There are a lot of texts available that have been evaluated and measure up to those standards.  I was worried that by going with an older book, I was going to shortchange the younger son in his education.  (I think that’s something almost every homeschool parent worries about.)  The problem with a lot of the modern curricula, though, is that  I really don’t like it.  While I think the sciences generally benefit from taking a problem-solving approach, I’m not so sure that’s the best way to do it with math.  Sure, I think there are ways to teach it more effectively, especially in terms of using active learning strategies and hands-on learning.  Reasoning is important, but so is process, and kids need to come out of the classroom very fluent in process and computation.  I’m one of those old-fashioned types that thinks you’re better off giving your kids a multiplication table than a calculator.

I had issues with one curriculum that was being used locally, for instance, because it taught division as repeated subtraction without teaching long division.  It also taught matrix math and repeated sums without teaching the standard multiplication schemes.  For those who are familiar with all the controversy over curricula and math standards, I’m sure this is old hat.

I was pleasantly surprised, then, to find that this 37 year old book assumes that the student knows long division and standard multiplication.  However, in the first chapter (which is review), it introduced both matrix multiplication and repeated division as alternative methods.  Repeated division was done side by side with long division as a way to show how long division works.  However, it was not suggested as a good way to do division but to augment student understanding of long division.  Matrix multiplication was proffered as a bonus problem, but I made sure younger son understood how to do it.  I found with the older son that he was less likely to stumble on multiplication problems if he used the matrix method but would have a hard time keeping things straight with the standard method.  It’s a good tool to have in your toolbox, and I have even pulled it out when I had to do a fairly large problem by hand despite only having learned it about 10 years ago.

This left me feeling like this book was going to work just fine.  In fact, I’m rather disappointed that I didn’t get to use this book in high school.  (It was already out of print, sadly.)  Apparently, though, Amazon reviewers, internet philosophers, and other homeschooling parents really do know what they’re talking about.  Feynman may even have approved.

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Adventures in high school classes January 5, 2016

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, science, Uncategorized, younger son.
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The younger son was very adamant that he wanted to take high school biology this year.  He wasn’t in my face about it, but whenever the question was put to him about whether he was sure he wanted to do that, he was pretty firm.

My approach to dealing with this, after seeing he was sure was, “What the hell?!”  Worst case scenario is that he fails and has to retake it in four years with his age mates.

The first couple assignments were great.  However, when he hit the second unit of the class, I started having second thoughts. It wasn’t going well.  And would failing a class leave a long term scar on his academic record?

He was worried, too, but he started asking me how he could improve things.  I noted that he started saying he needed to “study harder,” but when I asked him what he meant, he wasn’t sure.  I started giving him specific suggestions and pointers and told him that doing those things is what “study harder” meant.

I learned a few things from this experience.  First, younger son didn’t know how to study when he started this class.  To anyone who has ever dealt with a bright kid, you’ll identify this as a common problem.  It’s hard for kids to learn how to study when the subject matter they’re tackling is relatively easy and doesn’t require the type of effort that a seriously challenging class does…or any other life obstacle.  I think we’re all convinced this was a good experience in that regard.  Second, I’m probably more worried about his grades than I thought, but I think I’m managing not to be a helicopter parent.  There were some assignments he submitted that he didn’t ask me to review.  Some came back with really good grades and some didn’t, but I really wanted this to be his own work.  Honestly, it’s a bit more stressful to be hands off than I thought.  I keep reminding myself that I should be celebrating a good effort instead of relatively effortless higher grade (that probably indicates he wasn’t seeing anything new).

To all of our surprise, he pulled his grade up to a B- for the first semester.  This guarantees he won’t be a straight A student in high school, but I personally think he got a lot more out of it now than if he’d taken it when he was supposed to.

Fun conversations with younger son December 16, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, science, younger son.
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Part of the fun of hanging out with my offspring for part of the day is the entertaining conversations we get to have.  When he was younger, he had some awfully adorable misconceptions that resulted in a lot of fun.  Now that he’s older, his discussions have become more sophisticated.

Younger son: “Mom, have you ever wondered how Thor’s hammer generates lightning?”

Me: “Not really.”

Younger son: “It’s Asgaardian science!”

Me: “I bet they took a giant tesla coil and shrunk it down to fit into Mjolnir.”

Younger son: “But can Tesla coils create thunder clouds?”

Me: “I don’t think so.”

Younger son: “Oh.  I suppose that’s just for dramatic effect.”

Me: “Maybe the hammer has some kind of weather control device?”

Younger son: “I bet it has something to generate static.  That’ll attract particles and cause condensation in the air.”

Me: “That might work.  It’s amazing how the Asgaard figured out how to shrink all that stuff down into a hammer, isn’t it?”

I think we need to work on doing a Mjolnir prototype for a science fair project.

World’s Worst Officemate November 23, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, family, gifted, homeschooling, research, science, younger son.
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I have been working at home, trying to finish up this PhD thing once and for all.  Earlier this year, the place I worked was shut down and so I figured that if I had any desire to stay in academia (which I do), the PhD thing is kind of a necessary evil.

Because of the job situation, however, I also ended up with a new officemate: my younger son.  It was actually a combination of factors: private school is expensive, middle school is a cesspool of derision and contempt (and therefore not the best place to develop social skills), and, finally, the younger son really wanted to take high school biology and no one would let him.  Except me, being the overindulgent parent I am.

I have to admit that he’s been a bit easier to deal with than his older sibling.  It’s amazing how much easier this education thing is when you’re not dealing with ADHD.  The younger son is amazingly self-sufficient and does a good job of keeping a schedule.

I have, however, discovered one major flaw in this plan.  I had no idea how much middle schoolers talked.  Mostly, he gets excited about the things he’s learning in his class, which really tickles me.  However, he wants to share everything with me.  Every. Thing.  I have learned more about genes and cell processes and reproduction in the past two months than I probably did during my own high school biology class.  I have learned about social and mental and physical health.  I am beginning to speak Spanish with a level of proficiency that has not been present since my teens.  And mostly, I see him being happy and excited about learning again.

Unfortunately, he’s not quite so receptive when I begin to talk about coding and arrays and debugging and compiler issues and, especially, writing.  I have begun, as of late, to tell him that while I’m glad he’s learning, I really need him to let me focus on my work, too.  Someday, if he has to share an office with someone, this will be good real life practice for not making them insane.  At least he’s not asking to go out every ten minutes, like the dogs.

Friday Fun: Things you can microwave July 17, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in Friday Fun, homeschooling, science, younger son.
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Most people are familiar with the concept of microwaving a grape to make an arc.  If not, the procedure is very simple: cut a grape in half but leave just a small bit of skin to connect to the two halves.  Put the grape on a plate in the microwave, turn it on, and watch the sparks fly.  (As a side note, I’ve been able to replicate this on a smaller scale when microwaving green beans.)  This video explains it fairly clearly:

This week, we discovered another fun microwaving activity: soap.  I can’t be just any soap: it specifically has to be Ivory soap.  Apparently it gets hot and the gas bubbles expand causing it to create a hot foam which grows fairly quickly.  You can’t do it with other soaps, however, because they’re too hard and will explode.

We used a whole bar of soap with our experiment, but the younger son told us later that the demo he saw only used a smaller chunk.  Be careful after you pull it out of the microwave: it’s hot!  Also, once it’s cooled, you can use the soap, although it may be more useful to stick it into a soap sleeve than try to use it directly.

It looked like this when we were finished:

Ivory soap that has just been microwaved.

Ivory soap that has just been microwaved.

 

To see the whole process, the video is here.

 

Mom, could you homeschool me? December 15, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, younger son.
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I knew we had to do something when, early in the school year, the younger son asked me to homeschool him.  When I asked him why, there was the range of answers that included he’s not looking forward to losing recess when he gets to middle school, he’d like to spend more time with me (obviously we’re nowhere being a teenager right now), and even wanting to finish college at 14 or 15.

All I could think was, “Aren’t you supposed to be the easy one?!”

He is.  Honestly, homeschooling him would be emotionally easy, but I’m not so ready to quit everything and become a full-time mom again.  Or maybe ever.  Not sure, and hope to never find out.  The fact of matter is that he’s involved in so many activities that homeschooling him would involve me becoming a full-time chauffeur, and I know it would make me crazy.

On the other hand, he’s said he’s not sure he wants to leave school because he likes it and would miss his friends.  After several discussions, he told me:

I think I need to write a pro and con list.

In the meantime, I’ve done a list in my head.  First and foremost, he likes school.  To me, that is the prime reason to keep him there.  If he’s got a good thing going, don’t mess with it.

Beyond this, however, we’re discussing some academic acceleration for a couple subjects at school.  I honestly do think that he’s better off staying where he is, but it’s also clear that the standard curriculum is not going to cut it.  At a couple points, I contemplated whole grade acceleration, but I’m now opposed to this idea.  I spent a lot of time reading through the Iowa Acceleration Scale material, and he has a couple things going against him: he’s already one of the youngest in his class, he’s small, and he’s athletic.  Participation in sports is a major no-no if you’re going to bump kids up entire grades because this can have very real implications for the physical development and ability later on.  I’m now certain that this would be a bad idea for him, and so subject acceleration in a couple areas seems to be the best solution.  Fortunately, the school is, so far, open to discussion.

The other thing I’ve come to realize is that there’s really no hurry in getting through school.  Is it really any better to go to college early and find a job early and lose that much time from your childhood?  I realize that, for some kids, this is the only way to deal with the gap between mental ability and typical school pacing.  Or maybe they are really that driven.  I am fortunate in the fact that my kid doesn’t seem to require that level of acceleration, and I’d like to give him as much time as possible to explore his options.

I think, most of all, I want him to understand that there’s no reason to hurry up and get there, despite the fact that a lot of people think that’s somehow a sign of competence. I guess I’m starting to realize that no one really will care if he finishes high school in two years or four…just that he get there and finished.  If he finishes in four, though, there’s the opportunity to explore more interests and do other things without the stress and expectations of adulthood weighing him down.  Given the opportunity, there are a lot of other things I wish I could’ve done in my teens that aren’t an option now.  I therefore hope he understands the value of taking his time: maybe he can learn to enjoy the journey.

I walk the line June 24, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, older son.
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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, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, family, gifted, homeschooling, math, older son, teaching, younger son.
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pythagorean_catThe 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, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, math, older son, physics, science, societal commentary, 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, 2014

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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.

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