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Taking the CLEP exams July 2, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, older son.
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At the beginning of the last school year, I discussed how the older boy was going to be doing some work that would end up with him taking the CLEP exams.  Some of that went well, and some didn’t.  His math did not go as well as we’d hoped, and so we’re shifting gears and trying some other curriculum next year.  On the other hand, he now has a full year of US History, complete with college credits, under his belt.

We had to change a few things around, and we found that it helped to start with the Teaching Company’s video course on US History.  After that, he read both Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and A Patriot’s History of the United States.  Finally, we used the REA study guides for both tests.

We found that the videos provided a good overview of what had happened.  Before we got those, he seemed to remember various things, but not enough to pass the test.  The videos really helped to tie things together for him.  In addition to finding the lectures very entertaining, he used the manual included as a study guide, reading it 2-3 times.  We found that this was probably the best overview of history and helped him to remember things better than any of the other books.

Reading the two ‘guides’ was entertaining for him.  He definitely got vocal and felt it necessary to discuss some of the things he’d read.  My personal feeling is that a good history course ought to create some sort of emotional response, so I viewed this as a success.  It also gave us a lot of opportunities to discuss various historical events and what we thought of them or provide a view counter to what he was reading.

I will say that the prose in Zinn’s book are a lot easier to understand than the Patriot’s Guide book.  Sometimes I would read a page and not have a clue what point they were trying to make because not only was it extremely long-winded but drew in a lot of information that didn’t seem relevant to the point they were trying to make.  Aside from that, the older boy got REALLY upset when reading about Robert Oppenheimer in the Patriot’s Guide book.  He’d done a history project on Oppenheimer a couple years ago and felt they completely misunderstood and misrepresented him.  I suspect that lowered the authors’ credibility in his mind.  Either way, both books did a lot to make him think about the fallout from past events.

Finally, he read through the REA CLEP manuals and did the practice exams.  The most useful thing about these books isn’t so much the summary of history as the practice exams and answers.

He passed the first semester exam with a fairly high score, and he was one point short of a B-level on the second semester.  Even with that, he still scored above the ‘passing’ score, so almost any college that takes CLEP will probably give him credit.

Finally, we have to look at cost.  We spent $200 on the videos and about $100 for all of the books.  (Actually, you can get them for less than that if you buy used.)  The exams themselves were about $100 each.  So that means we spent a max of $500 on both classes.  For six college credits at most places, that’s probably half the cost.  I can’t honestly say he spent any less time than he would have had he actually taken the class in college, but I do imagine the decrease both in transportation time and costs was probably significant.

Aside from the financial aspect, I think this was a huge self-esteem booster.  He worked hard to get through everything, spent lots of time on it, and he managed to earn a year’s worth of college history credits.  Not too shabby for a high school freshman.  I think that even if everything else had come out a wash, the exercise of setting out to accomplish something, finishing, and succeeding were all good lessons for him and made it worthwhile .

Homeschooling and Teaching with Brain Rules May 3, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, older son, research, science, teaching.
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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.


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