Category Archives: Homeschooling

What I’ve Learned: Tending to the Garden

I’ve been quite neglectful of my blog garden, and you readers are always so understanding.

Thanks for that.

Over at Da Tech Guy, where I am still faithfully blogging once a week, I recently lamented the fact that I live in a seemingly impenetrably blue district.

In my really real world, I have hit yet another wall in that endeavor known as Teaching Older Son Math.  I have fled my free-wheeling ways and started teaching straight from a textbook again.  Standardized testing in May will give me an idea of how much progress has been made.

I haven’t posted about my garden since July 2013, and a follow-up post is in order.  I had a really successful crop of yams.  Between the periodic harvest of “just enough for tonight’s dinner” and the two major harvests (first when I pulled up all I found, then when husband turned the plot over and found a bunch more), we easily grew ten pounds worth.

Nevermind the fact that yams are less than a dollar a pound, meaning that this crop was worth less than ten dollars.  It’s all about the learning curve, and the satisfaction derived from growing your own food.

Especially when the crop is not devoured by cut worms.

The asparagus that I planted has predictably not provided anything more than salad garnish.  But.  I planted it against the side of the house, and it has unintentionally prevented soil erosion from the gutter run off.  So I’ve got that going for me.

This year, I have kept the peppers and tomatoes in pots on the porch, in an effort to keep the bugs away.  Also, I’ve chosen the types that mature quicker, so no beefsteak tomatoes or bell peppers for me.  It’s all about the banana pepper and the cherry tomato.

A second generation of yams, sprouting from the bounty of last year, is well on its way to thriving.  I added summer squash and okra plants, and they are growing.  We’ll see how much actual produce they, well, produce.

The mint cannot be eradicated.  It now grows all throughout the garden plot, and I just keep pulling it up when it gets too competitive with the rest of the garden.

Cilantro seems to love the Tampa climate.  I should have started with that herb, instead of the Italian parsley that has refused to die and yet refused to thrive for a whole year.

Have a great week, everyone.  Here’s a pic of some of my harvest, including our garnish-sized asparagus, oranges from our Charlie Brown orange tree, and limes from our neighbor’s tree:

Tampa Harvest

What I’ve Learned . . .

If I can get disciplined enough to maintain a new posting series, it will be What I’ve Learned. Today the subject is What I’ve Learned While Teaching My Son Math.

At the beginning of the school year I decided to forge my own path through 6th grade math, using no pre-made curriculum at all.  After two years and two different curricula, it just seemed like nothing would be a good fit until Older Son got a handle on the basics and started feeling confident about his ability to do math.

Besides, I told myself hopefully, how hard can it be?

Well . . .

It’s kind of hard.  I am not disciplined enough to put in the preparation that I should.  That translates into me trying to think up and write down the ten to twelve daily math problems, while Younger Son is hopping around the house because he finished his math in three minutes flat, and Older Son is getting distracted from his Reading or Writing or Whatever assignment by anything from the dog sleeping in the corner to the eraser shavings at his elbow, while I’m simultaneously thinking about the next subject we are going to cover and wondering how many we’ll get done before we have to leave for _______.  /Fill in the blank with any one of myriad group activities./

So far it is worth it, though, because it’s working.  I mean, I think it’s working.

I can’t be sure it’s working, because I haven’t been testing him and I only just resumed grading his assignments, and he doesn’t have classmates to compare with, and I don’t have a textbook with an end to aspire reaching.

But he seems to be making progress.  He is keeping some concepts memorized on a more permanent basis lately.  More importantly, he seems to master his anxieties and frustrations easier than he used to.

I’ve come to realize it was not the numbers giving Older Son so much trouble.  It was the negative emotions firmly attached to the act of solving math problems.  I’m not sure when the anxiety attached itself to math in his mind, but it had a very firm hold by the end of 3rd grade.

I wish I could say that pulling him out of brick-and-mortar solved the problem.  But the truth is, I didn’t make any progress whatsoever in lessening his math anxiety in 4th or 5th grade.  All I did was slog through teaching a perpetually upset pupil.  My biggest mistake was to focus on completing the math curriculum, instead of focusing on my child’s unhealthy relationship with math.

If there is one thing Older Son has taught me, it is this:  no matter how smart a child is, and no matter how many times you teach him a concept, if he works himself into enough of a lather, all those smarts and all that knowledge goes Straight. Out. The window.

Sigh.

I haven’t found the “secret recipe” or anything.  Another year of maturity may have as much to do with his improved attitude as anything else.  Also, there is still more progress to be made.

For what it’s worth, though, here is what I believed has helped so far:

A) Creating our own 6th Grade Math Outline by putting concept definitions, instructions, and examples in my son’s own words I have to help sometimes, but most of the phrasing is his, typed by his hands.  (Heck, I have to seek help online sometimes.  Try writing an explanation of “square root” on the spot, and see if you don’t end up with something awkward like “the square root is the number that when multiplied by itself produces the number that is in that little checked-roof thingy.”)

B) Taking away key stressors for a while, even though those things are normally useful, even necessary.  That meant no testing and no grading for the first semester.  I checked his work and made sure he understood and corrected his errors, but I did not mark his work with the dreaded red pen, or any pen for that matter.

Also, he did no word problems and no geometry during that time.  I know he needs to learn these things . . . but first things first.

In addition, I imposed no time limits or minimum number of problems.  What’s that you said, child?  In the last thirty minutes you’ve done exactly two problems?  And oh look, they are both incorrect.  Nevermind.  You can work on it tomorrow.

Sometimes it took a whole week to correctly complete ten math problems.  I had a hard time curtailing my own frustration when this happened, because he is smarter than that.  He can do better.  I know it!  He is never getting anywhere at this pace!

I wish I could say I was totally zen about it when he got bogged down, but instead I’d snap and add to the already existing stress.  There’s a balance between relieving stress and encouraging persistence, no doubt, but it’s mighty hard to find.

C) Hand-writing or hand-typing assignments.  This helps for a many reasons.  First, I can tailor to his exact level.  The worksheet found online is too easy?  Add a couple of zeros.  Too hard?  Do the reverse.

Second, and this surprised me:  it’s not as big a deal to him when he gets something wrong.  It’s just a dumb piece of paper with his mother’s scribble on it, I guess.  It’s not his Official Math Workbook, irretrievably scarred with Proof of How Stupid He Is.  (His opinion, not mine!)

Creating my own assignment also allows a personal touch.  I don’t always make up problems from scratch; a pre-made worksheet can be a template.  It just needs tweaking.

Now that I’m adding word problems to the mix, it’s a handy trick.  I mean, really, who cares what total number of mangoes Raul has, if his ratio of mangoes to bananas is 3:1?  Older Son doesn’t get his hackles up as quickly if the ratio problem asks how many tanks his side has, compared to the enemy.  After all, World of Tanks is his favorite video game.

Finally, the biggest advantage to writing or typing your own assignments:  you can finally make sure your child has enough room for his work.  Running out of room was a major source of stress, believe it or not.  Pre-made worksheets rarely provide enough space.  Just do the work on a separate sheet of notebook paper, I would repeat.  Over and over.  For some reason, that frustrated him more.  Ample room directly under the problem = a less-stressed child.  Fine.  Whatever.  I’ll put one problem per sheet if that’s what it takes.

D) Changing my strategy because of its flaws.  Letting Older Son focus on filling his 6th Grade Math Outline with rules and definitions, while simultaneously letting him do very few practice problems, was definitely not a long-term solution.  Sixth grade math often requires several steps, especially long division using decimals.  I neglected the wisdom of “practice makes perfect,” and I certainly noticed that “little practice makes lots and lots of careless errors.”

Soon into the second semester, things had to change.  Now, he must complete at least ten problems per day.  (Except for Thursdays, we are literally gone from 8:30am until 8:30pm.  It’s STEM/Latin/ParkWithBHSF/TKD day.)

To be fair, it helps that the first semester resulted in a beefy outline.  When he can’t remember a particular rule, he is actually beginning to refresh his own memory by looking at his 6th Grade Math Outline, instead of requiring me to hold his hand and walk him through it for the umpteenth time.

And the new emphasis on practice is working!  I can tell because I’ve resumed grading.  He even helps me figure out his percentage.  He even took it in stride this week, when he earned a “D.”  Aw, I stink at math, he said.  But he said it in a voice that was only half-serious, praise God.

You do not stink at math, I responded.  You are perfectly average in mathAnd can an average student earn “A’s”?  I asked.

Yes, he answered begrudgingly.

Begrudging may sound like a bad thing to you.  To me–a parent used to lamentations and gnashing of teeth–it sounds like victory.

End note:  If you would like to see the 6th Grade Math Outline, detailing exactly what Older Son has covered thus far, I’m happy to share it in a separate post.  Just let me know!  I would have included it here, but this post has already grown far too long.

Hello

I should be working on my Tech Guy post right now, but the urge to say something on my own turf is too strong to ignore.

I haven’t been writing much here anymore, and the reasons are so myriad that it’s hard to put into words.  First of all, there’s the apathy that comes from realizing we are doomed unless a major correction of some sort.  This apathy has plagued me since the 2012 election.

Then there’s the fact that I write for someone else once a week.  It turns out, my standards are much higher when someone else’s reputation is at stake.  Which means I spend too much time on too few words.  But I’m happy with the arrangement and will continue it.  Frankly, I may have quit blogging altogether without the impetus of a commitment made.

Next is the school situation.  Now, I pulled the boys out of brick-and-mortar way back in aught-diggety-eleven (2011).  Being a chicken, I signed up for Kansas’ virtual school program.  Which was worth the public school baggage, given the fact that it was run by a man whose wife homeschooled their children.

He knew that the social component was important.  Fun Fridays were not to be missed.  Folks from other districts would sign up to his district and drive the distance, because their district simply didn’t have an equivalent program.

But the point is, I wasn’t in charge of the curriculum.  Someone else was.  All I had to do was sign up and follow the schedule.

Our first year in Tampa I signed up for so many private homeschool opportunities, there wasn’t much time to think.  Math was neglected as a result.  It’s pretty easy to neglect the thing that causes the most pain.

This year is really the first in which I have taken full responsibility for the education of my eight and eleven year old boys.

It has been glorious.  With help from the Khan Academy, math results have been positive.  I could write a whole series of posts on the adventures of teaching math, but maybe another time.

The Sonlight curriculum is great for marrying literary material with the history material.  Mostly, though, I have ignored the rest.

That means that it’s up to me.  STEM and TAG classes for both.  Multiplication drills for Younger Son, math problems daily for Older Son, grammar lessons for both, typing and cursive, impromptu vocabulary lessons, whatever reading material they choose, a random geography project, and whatever else crops up.  It’s amazing how much there is to teach and to learn.

Children have a saturation point, unfortunately, and I run up against that point on a regular basis.  Cross that point, fine.  But don’t expect them to absorb a thing.

There’s another important aspect.  Homeschooling is as much an educational endeavor as it is a mission.  Get active, and before you know it, you are coordinating field trips, offering carpooling, and generally looking after the welfare of your community.

Fills up your time quite nicely.

But I just wanted to say hello anyhow.

Hello.

The Sneaking Common Core In Our Schools Act of 2013

My next post is up at Da Tech Guy’s place!

Please do click over to read it.

I will be getting back to additional posts here, soon.  And also visiting my fellow bloggers.

Part of the problem has been the fact my email notifications stopped coming.  Without the email prompt, my OCD-like need to sort didn’t get triggered.  Instead, my procrastinating tendencies set in, and my Instant Gratification Monkey kept leading me elsewhere.  Like to the WaitButWhy blog.

I got on my reader and found that notifications were for some reason blocked.  I unchecked that box and hope to get my email box filled again soon.

Cheers folks.

Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013

My homeschool peeps alerted me to a New Bill in the Senate.  It is purported to be a Big Bad Bill that creates a new (and bad, but I repeat myself) National School Board.

It appears that federal meddling into the local issue of education came to fruition with an “Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.”  I have no idea what that law entailed.

The next big thing to hit the federal landscape was Dubya’s No Child Left Behind.  Which.  Can I just say?  That is every bit as Orwellian doublespeak of a title as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

So then Obama topped Dubya’s concern for the children with his own “Race to the Top” law embedded in the Stimulus Package of 2009.  This law incentivized the adoption of Common Core.

Now, we have step four (or maybe step four thousand nine hundred eighty-four, if considering the Gramscian March approach to politics) in the transformation of education from a local issue to a federally overseen “right.”

All I’ve done in this post is digest and regurgitate the table of contents of this proposed law.  Pretty thick stuff, even so.  Further translation of this bill will follow in later posts.

Without further ado, I introduce to you the table of contents for this education bill, as annotated by yours truly:

A BILL

To amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, and for other purposes.

Sections:

  1. Short title
  2. Table of contents
  3. References
  4. Transition
  5. Effective dates
  6. Table of contents of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.
  7. Authorization of appropriations

Section 1.  Short Title.

This act may be cited as the “Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013.”  (Because the title “Finishing Off That Pesky American Exceptionalism” would be too obvious.)

Section 2.  Table of Contents.

Title I–College and Career Readiness For All Students (you do want your children to be ready for college and career . . . don’t you?)

  • Part A of Title I–Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged (Sect 1111-1126–you do want the disadvantaged to achieve academics . . . don’t you?)
  • Part B of Title I–Pathways to College
  • Part C of Title I–Education of Migratory Children
  • Part D of Title I–Prevention and Intervention Programs for Children . . . Neglected, Delinquent, or At-Risk
  • Part E–Educational Stability of Children in Foster Care
  • Part F–General Provisions

Title II–Supporting Teacher and Principal Excellence (you do support excellent teachers and principals . . . .don’t you?)

Title III–Language and Academic Content Instruction for English Learners and Immigrant Students

Title IV–Supporting Successful, Well-Rounded Students (you do want well-rounded students, don’t you?)   Sect 4101 thru 4111–(increasing access is good, and you are feeling very sleepy)

Title V–Promoting Innovation (you do promote innovation, don’t you?)

  • Part A–Race to the Top
  • Part B–Investing in Innovation
  • Part C–Magnet School Assistance
  • Part D–Public Charter Schools
  • Part E–Voluntary Public School Choice

Title VI–Promoting Flexibility; Rural Education

Title VII–Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native Education

  • Part A–Indian Education
  1. subpart 1–formula grants to local educational agencies
  2. subpart 2–special programs and projects
  3. subpart 3–national activities
  4. subpart 4–federal administration
  5. subpart 5–definitions & authorization of appropriations
  • Part B–Native Hawaiian Education; Alaska Native education
  1. subparts 1 & 2–mindnumbingly boring details

Title VIII–Impact Aid

Title IX–General Provisions

Sec 9101. Definitions

Sec 9102. Unsafe school choice option.

Sec 9103.  Evaluation Authority.

Sec. 9104.  Conforming amendments.

Title X–Commission on Effective Regulation and Assessment Systems for Public Schools

Sec. 10011.  Short title

     A bunch more tedious sections . . .

Title XI–Amendments to Other Laws; Miscellaneous Provisions

  • Part A–Amendments to other Laws
  • Part B–Misc. Provisions

Section 3. References.

Unless otherwise stated, references of repeal are assumed to apply to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (20 USC 6301).

Section 4. Transition.

a) Multi-Year Awards.  If you are a recipient of a multi-year award under the old 1965 law, you shall continue to receive those funds until Sept. 30, 2014, then it’s tough luck, unless you get a “flexibility waiver,” but only if it was granted before enactment of this here new school-strengthening bill, and only for as long as the original waiver period.

b) Planning and Transition.  If you get funds under the 1965 law prior to this new bill’s enactment, you can use it towards implementation of this here new school-strengthening bill if you like.  We are magnanimous that way.

c) Orderly Transition.  The Secretary of Education will make sure things are orderly.

Section 5. Effective Dates.

 a) In General.  This bill is effective law upon date of enactment, unless otherwise stated.

b) Noncompetitive Programs.  For these programs, this new bill will take effect July 1, 2013. Because retro-active is all the rage.

c) Competitive Programs.  For these programs, this new bill will take effect fiscal-year 2014.

d) Impact Aid.  For stuff done under Title VIII, this new bill will take effect fiscal-year 2014.

Section 6. Table of Contents of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

Section 2 of the 1965 Act is amended by sticking Title I thru Title IX of this new bill into it.

Section 7. Authorization of Appropriations.

The old 1965 Act is amended by inserting the following after sec. 2:  “sec 3. Authorizations of Appropriations:  The money needed to carry out Title I, part A (except for sec. 1116(g), 1125A, 1132, & subpart 4 of part A) for fiscal year (fy) 2014 and the next 4 fy can be appropriated.

Also, the Secretary of Education can reserve 2% of appropriations for national activities described in sec. 1116(f)(6).

Also, funds can be appropriated for the administration of State assessments under the National Assessment of Educational Progress, for fy 2014 and the next 4 fy.

Also, funds can be appropriated for part B, C, and D of Title I, for fy 2014 and the next 4 fy.

Also, there are about 7 more pages about how appropriations are authorized, and I cannot continue to slog thru them.

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