Monday, February 27, 2017

Still here, still learning

It's been a long time since I posted on this blog, so I thought I should at least do a quick, and very brief, update about this school year so far.
Off the top of my head, it seems he's been learning a lot about history. We use a variety of resources for history, and have been studying it chronologically. I've used a series of books called, "Passage of Time," that have been good for introducing the history of the world.  It isn't in-depth, and allows for just enough information to peak his interest. If he wants to he can do more research on a certain event or figure. We started using these in 5th grade, and I've switched back and forth between those and other sources of history. Now that we've reached the time of Columbus and beyond, I've begun using A Young People's History of the United States by the Zinn Education Project. I also have the adult version by Howard Zinn, called A People's History of the United States. We will dive into that one next year. He has enjoyed A Young People's History. It seems to be something he chooses first most days.
Math has been a mix of the Montessori Adolescent Algebra album, with some Khan Academy (which I'm not as fond of, but he likes it) and some hands-on real life problems. He calculated how long it would take a bullet to reach a bullseye on a target by using the distance and the size of the bullet. He found how to calculate this online, and worked it on his own.
He discusses politics, social issues, and current events on a daily basis. He can discuss these in great depth, and shows critical thinking, and analysis skills.
We took a trip in December to see family in Tennessee, and had a great time. We got home just before Christmas, and had a wonderful Christmas celebration at home.
So far this year he has read the book, "13 Hours," and has started on two more. One is called, "X, a Novel," by Malcolm X's daughter. The other is "Echo," by Pam Munoz Ryan. My goal is for him to read those, and maybe one more before summer.
For Science, we've covered quite a lot in the Basic Foundations for Scientific Understanding books. We got these late, and I started with the elementary book, even thought he was already in Middle School. We recently covered the chapter on Elements and Compounds thoroughly, and discussed at length radioactive material, nuclear plants, and the disposal of that material. Then I jumped to the Middle School volume to cover the chapter on Atoms. We've studied molecular motion with heat and pressure, and just finished up on refrigeration.
Of course there is much more, because he's constantly watching videos related to science, physics, and technology.
He doesn't have formal art class anymore, and that is one thing I want to be sure to add as soon as possible.
Although he quit piano at the end of last school year, he continues to play.
PE class is still something he enjoys, and it provides some social time.
Some of the Field Trips/Hands-on learning we've done this year:
In January he spent some time with a local retired welder, and learned just a very basic amount of tack welding. Welding is much more complicated than we ever knew.
In February we attended a presentation on Black Lives Matter, but it really centered on LGBTQ information.
We also went to the Pacific Science Center for an engineering weekend exhibit, but it was chaotic and crowded, so not much learning happened with regard to that. We still enjoyed the other exhibits.
For Black History Month, in addition to what he's read in the Young People's book, we've read about slavery and the fight for freedom from a booklet called, "A Place at the Table," that I got from Teaching for Change.
We watched half of the documentary "13th" on Netflix.
He completed an activity sheet with a word search and word scramble, and a timeline of events for black history. And we aren't done yet. Although it's almost March, I plan to take him to the Buffalo Soldier Museum, and we are going to hear someone speak about the civil rights movement in March.
Part of school for us includes learning to do real life things, and he has been doing his laundry and cooking for a few years now. He is responsible for helping with chores. I had him read the voter's pamphlet in October, so he could see that in order to cast an informed vote you must be informed about each candidate, and each issue on the ballot. He learned about car batteries, and how to jump a dead one when my car died one day, and Chuck had to come with jumper cables to help us.
He got braces this month, and has been working to keep them clean.
He is a peacekeeper. If his friends are having a disagreement, he works as a mediator and helps each to see the other's point of view.
He hangs out with a friend on weekends twice a month, usually. He goes to birthday parties, and stays in touch with friends from his old school, and kids he has met through homeschool. He also has friends that he hasn't met in real life yet who play Xbox Live.
I don't worry nearly as much as I used to about whether we are doing enough for school. I've relaxed, and can see that he learns whether I'm worrying or not. His handwriting was not ever very good, and I used to think maybe I should push him to write, or practice writing, so he could get better. In the past I've tried to have him practice cursive, but he hated it. So, I've just focused on having him summarize what he reads, and write his thoughts and impressions on what he is learning in each of his composition books. He has one for each subject. Most of the time there were at least a couple of words that I couldn't read. But, just this week he began to write very legibly, and neatly in his composition books. He made a comment about it, and said he had been writing more, and maybe that was why his writing looked neater.
So, although I will continue to plan for field trips, and learning opportunities, and I'll keep bringing in books and other learning materials, I can see that maybe we all come to these things on our own when given the freedom to do so. Especially this child. LOL. It has always been so, since he was a baby.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Relaxing the expectations

I wrote this the first of June, 2016. We were almost finished with 7th grade. The information here is still relevant now, and it was helpful when I planned for this year--8th grade. I'm not sure why I didn't post it, but here it is.

I read so much that some days my head feels like it's spinning. I don't know what to believe anymore.

So, I decided to read with a little more skepticism. I am naturally skeptical, but when it comes to education, I tend to swallow what I'm fed without asking a lot of questions. Especially when it sounds good.

But all of that stuff is worthless when you start to apply it in real life. Especially when you have a child that is a natural skeptic, who doesn't swallow anything, and frankly, he doesn't fit into anyone's definition of teenager, or middle schooler, or anything else.

He's his own person. He learns the way he learns. He is engaged by what he finds engaging, not by some trickery, or whatever the latest research shows.

For this reason, I've become much more relaxed in my homeschooling. I used to use Montessori materials, and I followed an outline of subjects and topics to introduce. That worked for the first year we homeschooled. The following year, it wasn't working as well, but we still did OK. This year, it hasn't worked at all.

And so I let it go. And guess what? He's still learning.

I didn't formally let it go. I didn't announce that I was letting it go. I just sort of stopped doing what wasn't working, and I let him do things on his own. And if I was out for part of the day for an appointment, I would leave him a list of topics to choose from, and some things to do for real, and that worked pretty well.

But he was burning out. And I've realized that I wasn't structured enough with the calendar. I was so caught up in following the child that I forgot to provide him with dates to look forward to, events to anticipate, etc.

We've stopped our formal schooling for the year. He's still finishing up on a few things, like PE class at the YMCA, and art class through our local arts alliance.

This summer we will be doing a lot of life skills, like how to paint the porch, and some things he's been doing for years, like chop wood, garden, etc. I'll try to entice him into going to the beach, and taking a road trip or two.

And in a few months, we will finalize our plan for 8th grade, and make it count.


Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Alchemist finds a friend

I've spent hundreds of dollars on books for my son. He has a bookshelf in his room, and has been surrounded by books all his life. I started reading to him when he was born.

And he used to love books. We would visit the library, and he would borrow more books than he could carry, so I would also have an armload.

Then he went to public school, Montessori, but still public. And when he was required to read in fourth grade, he lost his love for reading. Gone were his desires to borrow books from the library, or to read anything at all.

Once I brought him home for schooling in fifth grade, he regained some of his desire for non-fiction, but it has never recovered fully. His interest in fiction extended only as far as "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," and a few of the old "Goosebumps" books.

And so, I've brought home so many books, trying to get him interested in reading again. He's 13, and had never read a novel until last month, when he finally finished "The Alchemist."
I bought that book at Costco as a Christmas gift for him, on a whim. I read a couple of pages, and it seemed interesting to me. As I checked out, a guy who was loading my items into the cart commented on how great the book was. I didn't have a lot of hope, but I gave it to Sean early, in November, anyway. I expected him to read the first chapter and put it down, never to read another page. That has been the fate of so many of his books.

But I encouraged him to finish it. Each evening I would tell him to read, and the next day I would ask him, with a mix of subdued excitement and quiet hope, "What's happening in the book, now?" Whatever he said, I expressed genuine interest. Whether he had read one page, or ten, I let him know that I was interested in what was going to happen next.

And finally, once I was certain he was enjoying the book, I decided we needed to come up with a deadline. I've avoided forcing him to read, because I felt that was what killed his love for reading in the first place. But now that he's getting older, and we're in the middle of Middle School, I told him he has to get used to having assignments and deadlines for completing them.

He took the book with him when he went to visit a friend, and although he didn't read it that weekend, he shared it with the friend and his mom. He has also talked about it to a friend he has on Xbox Live, who lives in Canada. And GLORY Halleluiah! that kid is a reader, and has recommended a book called, "The Hatchet." He talked about how he has 79 books on his book shelf, and it seems to have reignited Sean's interest in books.

I was so pleased with the way he understood the nuances of the book, and made connections with the metaphors for life. I knew nothing about the book when I bought it, and I realize now that it's probably not something a typical 13 year old would be expected to read. But I'm glad I didn't know, because Sean totally got it. And I didn't use any pre-fab lesson plan, nor did I require him to make notes and answer a bunch of questions about it. That's the quickest way to ruin a book for me. I think he liked the book so much because I asked him to retell it to me every day, and he understood it so well because he had to explain so much to me because I've never read it.

Here's what I did do in order to engage him a little more: I suggested that he pretend he is a book publisher, and Paulo Coelho, the author, has submitted the book to him, asking for it to be published. He liked the book, so I said, "Now, you need to write a summary of the book that you believe will entice people to want to buy it, because if they buy it, it means money for you, and for Paulo."

In addition to this, I asked him to pretend he is a movie producer, and has decided to make the book into a movie.
He carefully wrote down each character, a description of them, and then the actor or actress he would choose to play each role. He found photos of them online, printed them and cut them to size, and created this movie poster.



Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Black History Month and a Professor

My husband sent me a text today letting me know that a professor would be speaking at a forum in our community tonight. The description I received said the talk would be about police and minority relations in the wake of Ferguson, Missouri unrest.

So, today I asked Sean to do some research on what happened in Ferguson, Missouri. He read about Michael Brown, and the protests, and the decision not to indict the police officer, online, and he took some notes. Grudgingly. And then I asked him to look for information about Tamir Rice. The information he gathered on Tamir Rice included surveillance video of that shooting. It was so heartbreaking that it took my breath away to watch it. No sound, just footage.

After watching that video, we discussed the tragedy. A boy, alone at a park, goofing off with a pellet gun, or an Airsoft gun, or something that was not a real gun. (Sean and I both wonder if the term 'pellet' is correct. There is a difference.) And this is something that boys do. Almost every one of Sean's friends has a similar gun. Though they aren't what I would call toys, they are also not real guns. Sean surmised that Tamir Rice could have been holding a Coke can, and the results would be the same. A dead 12 year old. One year younger than Sean is right now.

(I remember when it happened, and how sickened, worried, and sorrowful I was. I cannot imagine that mother's grief and pain.)

He clicked on an editorial by a former police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, which revealed a deep problem of racial discrimination, and violation of civil rights by police officers there. That former police officer called for not only reforms in police training, but accountability. He said the problem is that police officers know they won't be held accountable. At worst, they get put on paid leave, something he said they call a free vacation. So, until we start to demand that they be held to a higher standard of conduct, with clear consequences, nothing will change.
Here's a link to that article:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/12/06/i-was-a-st-louis-cop-my-peers-were-racist-and-violent-and-theres-only-one-fix/

Tonight we listened as Dr. Dexter Gordon, professor and Director of African American Studies Program at the University of Puget Sound, talked about these and other issues surrounding race, education, and poverty.
Though there were no clear quick fixes to the problems, the answer seems to be to continue the fight to change people's perceptions. Provide equal access to education and opportunities, and find ways to combat poverty.

And for me, the answer is to keep on doing what I'm doing. Keep exposing Sean to new experiences, provide him with as many examples of people of color in positions of authority and success as possible. Sacrifice, and do whatever it takes to give him opportunities, like piano lessons, and summer camps. And all of this will help him gain access to his goals.

But somehow, some way, I have to steel myself for the inevitable reality. My son will most likely have negative police interactions, and it won't matter if he has NOT broken the law. Unless you are black, or the parent of a black or brown child, you can't understand this.

I know some of my friends don't believe this. It is real. It is the reality of black and brown people. You can try to explain it away all you want, but if this started happening to white people, if we were pulled over for making eye contact with an officer, or assumed to be breaking into our own homes, and arrested or pepper sprayed for it, this crap would stop. White people would take to the streets, they'd be mad, demand that the Mayor, or the Police Chief, or SOMEBODY, do something to change it.
And yet when black people get angry and take to the streets demanding change, we call them names. White people start throwing out labels like "thug," and say things like, "the best way to not get killed by cops is to obey the law." But the laws, last time I checked, were put in place to ensure that we are all presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. I am no expert on the law, but I've never heard about cops having the right to gun down unarmed people on suspicion of guilt. Their job is to make arrests, and only if there is cause, and then WE, the PEOPLE, get to decide if they are guilty.

Unless you are a person of color, I guess.

Here are a few examples of what I mean:
Harvard Professor Jailed; Officer Is Accused of Bias
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/21/us/21gates.html?_r=0

N.C. Police pepper spray black teen in his own home
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/nc-police-pepper-spray-black-teen-thinking-foster-son-is-burglar/

Ohio Cop Pulls Over Black Man Who 'Made Direct Eye Contact' With Him
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/cop-pulls-over-black-man-making-eye-contact_us_55e0ad60e4b0b7a96338e614

But we have to keep moving forward, and one by one, step by step, work to make the world a better place for all of us.
And in the coming days, we will look closer at the message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and see how much we think has changed since his I Have A Dream speech.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Black History Month and Poetry

Each year during Black History Month we highlight someone in history. Of course Martin Luther King, Jr. is a go-to, because he was such an amazing leader. We've also studied Rosa Parks, and a few others.

This year I brought home one book on Martin Luther King, Jr. from the library during his birthday week, and I also found a book of poetry by Langston Hughes, "Poetry for Young People."

Sean read most of the poems today, aloud, while I drove him to PE at the Y. I could tell he was enjoying them. He has always appreciated poetry. One of the poems, "My People" includes an editor's note explaining how Hughes clashed with his father, who had a negative attitude about Negroes. Sean and I discussed why his father might have felt that way. We didn't have a good answer.

When we were finally home, he sort of wandered around the house. I let him, and didn't ask him to do school work, or anything at all. I recognize his pacing. It means he is thinking, and trying to decide what to work on. I believe this is an important process, and should not be interrupted. I also know how important that time can be, because I used to do it every day as a newspaper reporter. To the outsider it looks like you are procrastinating, wasting time, goofing off. For the creative person, it's invaluable time. I was formulating a lead paragraph, recalling all of the standout quotes, and thinking, thinking, thinking. When I was ready, I could sit down at the computer and put together my story. Of course, at a newspaper this whole process has to happen within a very small window of time.

Luckily, we don't have to do it so quickly. After about 30 minutes, he asked for the book of poems. And within about 30 more minutes, he came out of his room. He had chosen a favorite poem from the book, and written about it, and Langston Hughes, in his history composition book.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A mid-year review

This is really just for my benefit, but feel free to read if you are interested.

This school year has, so far, been an exercise in experimenting with unschooling.
We packed up all of our school supplies and Montessori materials in June, prior to taking a road trip through the Southwest. We thought we would have our house on the market in June, and hoped it would be sold by the time we should be starting school in the fall.

But we didn't get the house listed until August, and the house still hasn't sold, and it's January.

We had to do all of our learning without our Montessori materials. We just recently got them out of storage, and set up in a spare room.

What he has done:
Lots of practical life. Planning, making lists, budgets. He comes up with schedules for himself. He has set goals for specific amounts of money to earn, then set about working to earn that money. It hasn't been perfect, but he's practicing, and that is what I like to see. He did make his goal of $100 by Christmas to help pay for his Xbox One. And he has a plan to open a new savings account that will feed into an investment account that he has.

Any new information has come from him seeking it, and he does that mostly through online research. His focus is on science, and specifically biology, and medical science.
Here's one of my observations from work he did in September -The fact that he naturally started making detailed notes of the subject matter, in an organized fashion, and carefully spelled each word, makes me wonder if we all come to these ways of understanding information on our own. Instead of being taught how to take notes, how to organize information, we are naturally able to do it. Or maybe it is easier for this generation because of the access to Internet, and informational videos which provide it in an organized way.
Because he loves science, and I want to give him as many opportunities to pursue his passion as possible, I took him to the Pacific Science Center for the Visiting Scientist day in November. He was able to hold a human brain, and the scientist spent a long time with him, explaining the regions of the brain and their functions. We explored some other cool stuff there, including 3-D printed prosthetics, a robot, and he used a pipet to fill a test tray, like they use in a lab.
He knows how to find information. He makes connections with new information and old, and routinely pulls out his Elements book.

We added PE to our weekly away-from-home school routine. He has enjoyed PE at the YMCA twice a week. He continues to take piano lessons weekly as well.

Vocabulary words seem to excite him, the idea of learning new words, and what they mean. So he has done some of that work, especially in September and October.

This year he got really focused on small, detailed work, specifically with painting small figures. He doesn't use kits, and instead comes up with his own ideas. He painted some Lego figures.

One project has been completed, one that he has done before, but he expanded upon it this year: Deadly Spiders. Instead of a list of deadliest spiders as he has done in the past, after making a draft of what he knows about spiders, he decided to focus on one spider-the Australian Funnel Web Spider.

He has continued to work on multiplication and division, and tried a new system of his own making to try to get the answers quicker.

We've maintained our friendships with our homeschool group, and tried to continue seeing them on Thursdays for a little while, but mostly have seen them at PE.

He has learned some history, the crusaders are interesting to him, and he read quite a bit about them early in the fall. Another history lesson came when I took him to see the movie, "Suffragette," at the Grand Theater in Tacoma in November. He wasn't very interested in going, but I told him I wanted to see it, and I wanted him to go. When we arrived, he asked if he could just wait in the car for me. I explained that I have accompanied him countless times on outings and activities that I would not do on my own, but I did with him because I knew it was something he enjoyed. And that is what we do when we care about someone. We share in their joys and interests. So I made him go.

From an early age I encouraged him to take care of his own business, with my guidance, and in an age-appropriate way. He orders his own food, and in some cases orders for both of us if we go out to an Asian restaurant. He also makes his own phone calls to request information about items he has ordered on the Internet, or if he needs to get his money back for an item that was never shipped. (It probably helps that he has always had a deep voice and doesn't sound like a kid.) Recently I was frustrated with the YMCA website, and couldn't get him signed up for the next session of PE. He took over, and even called the YMCA to let them know the website was difficult to navigate, and that he needed help to sign up for the class.

He continues to draw and create on his own, and I'm so thankful that I have been able to provide him with continued art instruction through our local arts alliance. He has taken several classes again this fall, though he is aging out, it seems.

Reading continues to be a struggle, as far as novels and fiction. He prefers factual information. I did get him started on a book called "The Alchemist." He's reading it, slowly, but reading it. Most of his reading is done online, through his own research, and the history he reads on his own.

His interest in social issues continues to increase. He believes all people should have equal rights, and everyone should be allowed to love who they want to love, and pursue their own interests, education, and have access to equal pay, and the jobs they want.

This sums up most of what we've been doing for the first half of 7th grade. Now that we have our materials, the second half will be more guided.


Signed Numbers

I finally did it. I plunged into the Montessori Algebra for the Adolescent album today.

I woke up today feeling awful, and napped for some of the mid morning. But this afternoon I decided it was time to at least start on the chapter for signed numbers.

My fear when I purchase, especially, or when I make materials, is that he will use it once and won't touch it again, or won't use it at all. I spent a good amount of time making the positive and negative counters, so I was determined that they would be used. (I made them out of foam sheets. One gray, one green. One with adhesive backing. Suggested by Jessica Welsh. Great idea. The positive and negative square counters are 1 cm by 1 cm. I cut the out the skittles by hand, and they aren't so great, but they'll do.)

I demonstrated the problems with the counters, and had him write the problems down in his math notebook.

It went so well! He already understood the concept of negative numbers, which helped. We worked quite a few problems. I started with units, like the example in the album, and he was feeling confident and asked to do multiplication. But instead, I decided he needed to continue with the addition and subtraction, so we worked up to using tens.

Math is the one subject I do not feel confident to teach, but I am determined. I have gone back and forth in my mind about putting him in school part time just for math, or hiring a tutor again, but I really believe in this method, and I want to at least give it my best shot before giving up on it.

I like this album, so far. It is thorough, and has a list of materials at the back, which I find very helpful. The only thing I wish is that albums came with an option to buy materials that match the album. It's time consuming to piece this all together.

This album goes through 12th grade, and includes a lot of math I've never used. I do like a challenge, so... here we go!