Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sports Essay Questions for Students

I was reading a people on the street piece in the local newspaper asking citizens about the local high school football team. Apparently football is a big thing in Texas. The responses were shall I say, interesting?

I was thinking these would prompt good discussion in the current events classes that I taught at homeschool co-op back in Connecticut. This led me to think that they would also make good essay prompts.

I would think that even reluctant writers wouldn't mind doing these questions that I wrote, and they'd also get the attention of jocks.

1. By watching August practices before the first game has been played, can a person really determine who will win a championship at the end of the season?

2. If players practice hard in August does that mean they will win games or get to the championship play-offs? Is working hard at practice ENOUGH to win?

3. If a student says they know the players and "they will go as far as they want" is that really possible? Does wanting to win make a team win a game? Does wanting to win a championship make a team get to the championship and to also win it?

4. Is it possible to WANT to win but to wind up losing? How much does wanting to win contribute to actually winning?

5. It was said that "the players have good hearts" so they will win. Is winning dependent on "having a good heart"? Note: this does not refer to the condition of their literal hearts and about their cardiac fitness.

6. What do you think it takes to win a game? List the top three things and explain why you feel they are the most important.

7. What role, if any, does luck play in winning a game?

8. It was said that "the players have determination". Is determination necessary to win games? Is determination ALONE enough to win games?

9. Explain what a good work ethic is and why it is important, in life and also in two other areas: sports performance and academic performance.

10. Can every player succeed if they have a desire to succeed? What does it mean to have a "desire to succeed"? How would a player translate their desire to win into an actual success by winning the game?

11. Can a team be a success if they do not win the championship? Can a team be a success if they lose regular games? Does success always involve having the winning score?

12. Can you name some ways in which a desire to win can be put into action to help move players toward higher athletic performance?

13. To what extent does individual performance on a team contribute to the overall team's performance? Must everyone perform at the same level? Do you think everyone needs to perform their best in order for the team to win?

14. What is good sportsmanship and how does it relate to desire to win, determination, practicing and actual game performance? Can a player have a desire to win and determination but have poor sportsmanship? Can poor sports win games? Is it possible to be a bad sport while also being one of the top players on the team?

15. Thinking of leaders and role models on the team, is it possible to be a great player yet not a great leader? Is it possible to be a great leader while having poor sportsmanship?

16. Do you think one of these is better than the other: that a player is a good leader or role model on the team or if they perform well and highly in game play?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

As I Predicted

Both of my kids are still asking to not do any outside classes or co-ops for homeschool academics. I knew they would tire of just being with each other and having me administer everything and that they'd want to be in classed with other kids. I knew this based on the fact that they enjoyed that last year and in prior years.

I base my opinions on living experiences, trying things, and seeing how it pans out. My kids, especially my teenager (who now has that complete teen attitude thing going on) challenge my opinions even though mine are more solid and logical. Why they think their ideas are more true and valid, they cannot explain.

Well the other night my fourteen year old blurted out in anger that he was lonely and bored and that he doesn't see enough kids his age. Well, we just moved here a couple of weeks ago and in the last less than two weeks our main focus has been staying home to unpack, organize, and wait on repairs and deliveries. I am bored too, and I'm lonely too.

I was right about them not going to want to do 100% of their studies at home with me as the teacher. The one math class with one 90 minute session a week online for my ninth grader is not going to suffice for social time.

My teen signed up for the high school rowing team. It is a community team for high schoolers which takes kids from public schools, private schools, or homeschools. It is a competitive team that travels far and wide to weekend regattas. It is a co-ed group. Practice is four times a week. My son was already talking with kids there and starting to make friends at the first practice.

Boy Scout Troop shopping has begun. It will actually be a challenge to run from rowing practice directly to Boy Scouts but we'll have to find a way to make it work. There may be clashes for my older son with camping and the regattas, so for the first time, sports will be a higher priority than Scouts, mostly because there are many more Scout activities to attend at other times.

We are still church shopping. Maybe they will also find friends at whatever church we wind up choosing to attend.

Last week I spent time looking for homeschool in-person group academic classes to do with local homeschoolers. I am having a hard time finding courses that jive with our academic plan. As was the challenge in Connecticut, so many things available are extra-curricular or fun rather than being core academics that counts much toward high school credit. What is rigorous enough is not the right content for my son. Other things that are extras take time away from being able to do the more important core work.

For example a great sounding history course is offered only as an elective credit and focuses on Asia when my son would still have to study a different history at home for a history credit. I plan to cover the 1850-2011 time period and do history chronologically not focusing on just one geographic location. Do we really want to do both the core history and home and Asian history and geography at a paid class which also has homework to complete? My son has asked not to use electives on history anyway, so that is my deciding factor, no matter how cool the course sounds.

As an example of a great online class that my son is interested in that I can't teach, he has not fulfilled the prerequisite math requirements so he can't take them. He is interested in doing some computer programming or a class on how to use CAD.  I saw some other classes online that he could quality to take (how to use PowerPoint, how to do Word and Excel) but am not sure he needs a class for those.

It seems easier sometimes to just teach something at home, for mom to teach it or for the student to teach themselves. However what is done at home takes discipline to stick with it and to do the necessary work, sometimes it is easier to push oneself to complete homework that an outside teacher assigns, and to get it done by their deadline seems easier than to work toward mom-imposed or self-imposed deadlines.

When doing home studies it takes some effort to make sure you are doing enough to qualify it for a high school credit. It is easier to just pay a teacher and let them plan the class and make sure that the content is deep enough and was studied with enough hours to qualify it for high school credit. With group classes there is also the social environment which hopefully is a good thing!

Well back to the situation of doing group classes for academic purposes in order to also get some social time in with other kids, I need to get this figured out as some classes already started this week and have one class already gone by.

I knew this would happen....but I so wanted to listen to my kids and have their buy-in with this homeschool year. The fact that it is combined with a stressful move and them wanting to have some amount of control over something, since the move and those changes were completely not in their control. But what they were asking for went against my better judgement. We'll see what happens. I can scramble and cram them in to some classes now or I can do as we had agreed on prior and ride it out for this semester and start in with classes in January, I guess. Oh, but those high school classes are year long courses, oh no...I'd better stop blogging and get back to researching!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Our House is Okay

By the time Irene hit Connecticut it was downgraded to a tropical storm. I had two neighbors looking out for my house and property and no damage was sustained. I don't count leaves on the ground and twigs and small branches as damage.

I am grateful!

I was worried if damage was sustained it would mean another insurance claim and remodel work to be managed long distance which would not just be stressful (and cost us money due to the deductible) but also would interfere with the home being on the market for sale.

Phew!

Let's get on with selling that house so we can move forward with buying a home in Texas!

Homeschoolers Using Curriculum for School Market

It is not easy for homeschool parents to use curriculum pubished for the school market in their homeschooling. I will explain why.

The curriculums often have many parts. One course may have a dozen items associated with teaching that course. For a middle school grade language arts program I started using last spring, there really were a dozen different products which would be used to teach all components of the program. The same goes for a high school biology lab course that my son is going to use this year.

The only way to get aroung buying them all would be for the parent to make up and design the program built from the main text, using the main text for what we call a "spine". The amount of time and energy dedicated to that should not be underestimated. How much time do you as a homeschool parent to do that? How many courses for how many kids can you do that work for? Perhaps more importantly, do you know the right amount of practice or teaching to be done to help a child in that grade master the content? Do you know what must be mastered?

For each element that a student text or workbook is available for, there is a teacher manual that must be purchased unless the parent thinks they know enough to not need an answer key and has the time to figure out all the answers. Do you really want to make up sentences for your child to insert commas into? Is that how you want to spend your time?

Also, the old teacher editions are often available used but the current edition may not be. If your student text was revised in 2008 are you sure that the 2004 teacher manual still matches up to it or was a new revision in 2008 done on the teacher manual? You probably will have to reference the publisher's website to find that information. In one case the website was not helpful and I phoned the customer service department and was told an answer that turned out to be incorrect which I learned only after purchasing the books and reading them for myself!

Some websites ban the selling of teacher manuals, such as eBay. This can make it difficult to find used, affordable copies. When I say affordable, I am talking about spending $75-140 on a USED teacher manual. If you thought you got a bargain to find an old edition of the student text, you may struggle to find that same edition of the teacher manual.

In one case a student book I got for 50 cents had an elusive teacher edition for the student workbook portion, so I had to buy a new teacher edition (no used copies were available) and order also a new edition student manual, but I didn't realize that the program had been revised and expanded so my two products no longer could be used with each other. There is nothing as frustrating as having an answer key in hand that doesn't match the student workbook or test booklet!

In another case the new student workbook referenced the student to go read certain pages in the spine textbook but my old edition text was all different page numbers and content had been moved around so that was a pain to deal with. I gave up and bought the newer edition of the student text. So much for using this program in the first place because I'd found a student text for 50 cents and thought I found a bargain.

There is also the issue of total cost. The public school language arts program was going to cost over $300 for the year's materials. I didn't know that when I happily bought that spine book for fifty cents. There are often hidden costs that you find only after digging such as with one, the student text spine could be used for 2-3 years the teacher's manuals were issued at every grade level adding a higher cost to replace every year. I am unsure how the lessons varied from grade 5 to grade 6 but something about them must have been different! The biology course I am using (Prentice Hall Biology by Miller and Levine commonly used in grade 9 or 10) will cost at full retail over $400 for books alone, that does not include the lab equipment.

Quizzes and tests are not with the student text. They are often not with the teacher manual either, they are a separate purchase. In the high school years when grades are usually contained on a homeschool high school transcript the tests could be used.



Once all the parts of the curriculum are in hand there is additional planning to figure out lesson plans, what to do on what day, what text should be read when, which work in which of the multiple workbooks should be done when, and so forth.

The lessons for school texts are not set up to be a self-teaching program, they still rely on teacher lecture and teacher involvment to deliver content. One viewing of a teacher manual for high school science reveals that much information should be conveyed which is absent or lightly touched upon in the student's text. Often the additional content is written in wide margins alongside a copy of the student text. If the student and homeschool parent-teacher were using just the student text a portion of the content would not be delivered or learned.

Why does this matter, to teach a "full" course? If you are teaching a high school student who will be tested with SAT subject tests as required for college admissions, it only makes sense to be sure that the material the student will be tested on will actually have been taught and learned. A friend suggested I also use a SAT II test prep book as a spine to go along with textbooks to make sure that all the topics are covered. Prep books are not textbook replacements, they are study aids and contain sample tests to practice on.

Now that all this is known about school market curriculum, the ease of using curriculum designed for the homeschool market is clearly apparent. Although many homeschool parents label certain curriculums expensive the fact is they are cheap in comparison to school market materials.

A popular homeschool math program costs $25 for the student text and $40 for the reusable teacher edition (which retains a high resale value), yet many parents balk at that cost. Forget the programs that cost $120 to $165, some people are jus horrified by those costs.

However, let's be logical and compare apples to apples before making judgements about what is expensive versus what is reasonable. A math text for the school market would run well over $200 if not $300 or more. The homschool materials at a fraction of the cost are usually complete, sold in two pieces: teacher manual and student text, delivering lessons for the parent to give all paced out with no lesson planning needed. They include teacher information, student text, student workbook, student tests, and answer keys for everything often for under $100 or under $150 which we now see is a bargain price. After the non-consumable items are used the parent can resell the curriculum if they so desire to recoup some of the money spent.

Having learned all this the hard way I have a new appreciation for homeschool curriculum that exists on the market and I will no longer complain of the prices for the new curriculum as they are often much cheaper than school market materials in used condition! The homsechool curriculum is easier to use and complete.

The only time I will use materials written for the school market is when homeschool curriculum for that subject is not available, or when I've already made the mistake of spending a fair amount of money or a lot of money in the school market materials and want to use what I already invested in.

Perhaps some of my blog readers will learn from my mistakes and my past overspending? This may seem hard to believe or exaggerated but it is not, trust me. If you want to see examples leave me a comment and I'll do a future blog post itemizing products for one course with the prices, just let me know by leaving a comment.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Conversation with my Teen About Homeschool High School

This week I have been working on plans for my son's homeschool high school freshman year.

This planning process was delayed due to me having to spend time from about Memorial Day to now preparing for a long distance move. I was also handling repair work from ice dam damage to our home and coordinating other renovations to prepare our home for sale. That prep and the actual move and everything else in addition to living as a single mom while my husband was working out of state were so all-consuming that I had no time to deal with homeschool high school.

As I was making some plans I was reminded of the importance of getting buy-in from teenagers and having homeschool kids have a say in the process of homeschooling. I also reminded myself that my son, having never been to school, has no real idea what school is like such as knowing what public school kids are doing in the high school years for a courseload.

I sat down with my son and showed him the HSLDA brochure that I blogged about here which lays out three homeschool high school plans. Those three plans are high school diploma only - not planning to attend college, college prep standard, and a more rigorous college prep program which applies to certain majors or if trying to gain admission to a more top-tier school.

I started by restating my son's goal of becoming an engineer. I said that for that degree the category which automatically applies would be the more rigorous path. I went down the list and explained each subject in simple terms such as saying that 4 credits in English means a full English course every year of high school.

My son felt the courseload seemed high. (I realized later that I'd not even mentioned the plus signs next to some of them i.e. 4+ for math and 4+ for history but I will get to that later in this post.)

My son asked to go over the general college prep track and I went through it and pointed out that it is kind of the same plan really, just a little less math and science, by one year. My son responded that workload seemed hard to him also.

He asked to talk about the course load for the other list which he pointed to. I explained that is for kids just getting a high school degree and not going on to college. I went down the list and again he was surprised that the amount of classes was not very different. What is not immediately clear upon skimming the list is the actual courses will vary. I was not going into detail about that with him just showing him those students still need 4 years of English, still need 2-3 years of math like the college prep kids, the same amount of physical education, so forth and so on.

My son remarked that he felt that basic high school diploma seemed hard. He asked what kinds of jobs could people get with just a high school diploma and I listed some off and explained some options for other studies after i.e. school for heating and air conditioning, school to become a car mechanic, and other things that are not college, or a person could just go to work at an entry level job like a cashier, a mover, construction work, or be a house painter.

Then my son asked what if a student doesn't do all that work for the diploma? I said, they don't get a diploma. My son doesn't know the technicalities of high school, something I seldom discuss with him, but that I often forget he doesn't know, so I explained if you don't attend, pass, and take enough courses, you can't graduate. He asked what if they just don't go to high school, what if they dont' do the work? I said they fail the course if they don't do the work, they have to re-take the class. If they don't take the classes, or refuse to do it, then they quit and are called a dropout. He asked what kinds of work a person might get if they are a high school dropout and I listed off basic entry level positions but also that most employers do require a high school diploma or GED.

My son then changed the subject and pointed out the + in the rigorous list and he said, "What if in this list I do more than 4 credits in science and math but not history and english?" I replied that if he is seeking an engineering degree that is perfect, that the colleges are not looking for extra work in every single topic area, just the ones that are the student's interest and strength that match for their desired college major.

My son was still in disbelief about the academic courseload that American high schoolers and college-bound homeschoolers have to do.

I ended the discussion with a short reminder that it's time to buckle down and to get serious and to get the work done as the high school years are no time to fool around.

This conversation was also right after I'd mentioned looking into having him take some online classes for CAD which he was excited about. However, he was unable to enroll as he did not finish the math prerequisite. He was also not able to take some computer programming classes for kids his age due to not having completely finished Algebra I. So we discussed the importance of staying on track, getting the work done, and how if you don't finish certain courses you are locked out of taking classes that may seem more fun or interesting.

Later when my husband came home we discussed the high school courseload lists briefly, and my husband added that high school is hard and so is college, so that's eight years of difficult study, but after that, most times people have it a lot easier. At no other time will a person have to study like that and so hard. If they are lucky they will find a job in the field they love and they will enjoy working at their career, which is much easier than all that formal education work. My husband summed it up by saying that really the only way to approach it is to put your nose to the grindstone, accept this is the way it is, and do the work that it takes to get the education one needs in order to enter the career field they desire.

(Unless of course, additional college degrees are sought, then add on more years of study....)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Connecticut House Update

This week we:

* finished construction work on our house to fix ice dam damage from a bad storm this winter

* finished dealing with the insurance company and the mortgage company about the ice dam claim


* finished redecorating work done in order to make the house prettier and ready to sell

* made finishing touches with the real estate agent to list the house for sale

* began doing showings to potential buyers

* planned a big broker's open house to happen right after this weekend

...and now...

...our house is in direct line to get whammed by Hurricane Irene. That house which was our home that I love so much is all alone up there in the woods and could sustain damage. I am consoled by the fact that we've taken care of our trees and woods and at present only have two dead trees on the whole property, none near the house.

With me in Texas and 1800 miles away I feel like I have abandoned a baby. I am going to be dying during the storm not knowing what is going on. My neighbors are keeping a watch on the house, but I can't pester them every hour (or more) to ask if any trees have fallen. Without power, they won't even be able to recharge their iphones and Blackberries in order to keep in touch with us anyway.

I guess this will be a good test for the brand new roof, which is under warrantee!

I'm praying that the storm changes its path and spares Fairfield County, Connecticut and everywhere else! Prep up and get ready everyone!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Homeschool High School Plans

For anyone wondering what different homeschool high school plans looks like, the best free online resource open for public viewing that I have found is a brochure published by HSLDA:

Developing a Plan for High School

There are three basic plans that HSLDA has laid out.

Students seeking college admissions should check the websites of the colleges they are interested in applying to. Some colleges have different and/or more strict academic course loads or additional standardized test scores required for homeschoolers compared to applicants who attended schools (than what this HSLDA brochure outlines).

Looking at what individual colleges want is an imperfect planning tool though, as the college admissions requirements can change year to year, such as going from requiring 2 SAT II tests to requiring 3 or 4, which would mean the applicant would scramble to take a crazy amount of tests in their junior and senior year.

It seemed to me, at first, that the homeschooler's best idea is to do more and to go above and beyond just to cover one's bases. However, overly preparing by taking rigorous high school level courses or AP (college level) courses and doubling up on standardized tests can over-burden a homeschooler to the point where it would be impossible for the homeschool student to have any time left to do something alternative or interesting that would utilize the freedom and different schedule that homeschoolers have.

Thus, my attempt to straddle the fence, to do what school kids do for courses and tests, plus do extra regular school-type work done just to prove that homeschoolers really do spend time learning the right stuff, and to still do cool alternative education things that homeschoolers can do seems impossible. There just aren't enough hours in the day to do it all. Or, if there can be enough time for the academics it leaves little time for extra-curricular's such as one serious sport and Boy Scouts. It also leaves little time for doing things to feed one's passion. (For more ideas about passion, see the book by Cal Newport How to be a High School Superstar. Then you will have even more to ponder.)

Even just doing the academic work and standardized tests required for admissions to top tier colleges can be so time-consuming that the homeschool team risks looking like a cookie-cutter regular high school student. If that was the goal should we not just send our kids to public high school and be done?

I don't have all the answers, but I've linked to that helpful grid that HSLDA has mapped out so you can ponder about this when considering what type of homeschool high school plan you want to create for your teen. (Maybe now you are as confused as I am.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"A Difference in Kind"

In 2008, on BookTV I heard a lecture by Charles Murray (promoting his book Real Education) in which he said that notion is what the American public education system is built upon, that if all kids are delivered a certain kind of education they can all and will excel in all areas. Between the teaching, the curriculum, and student effort, if all those align then the student will be an A+ grade honors student, some think.



Murray says on page 21 in his book Real Education:


"This point needs emphasizing. Educational measures such as test scores and grades tend to make differences among schoolchildren look as through they are ones of degree when in reality some of them are differences in kind. For example, a timed math test limited to problems of addition and subtraction, administered to a random cross-section of fourth-graders, yield scores that place children along a continuum distrubuted in a shape resembling a bell curve. Those scores appropriately reflect differences in degree: Some fourth-graders can add and subtract faster and more accurately than others, but they are all doing the same thing and almost all children can be taught to add and subtract to some degree. The same is not true of calculus. If all children were put on a mathematics track that took them through calculus, and then were given a test of calculus problems, the resulting scores would not look like a bell curve. For a large proportion of children, the scores would not be merely low. They would be zero. Grasping calculus requires a certain level of logical-mathematical ability. Children below that level will never learn calculus, no matter how hard they study. It is a difference in kind. Not only that: The child without the logical-mathematical ability to learn calculus cannot do a wide variety of other things in mathematics that are open to teh child with the requisite level of logical-mathematical ability.
The same distinction applies to linguistic ability.

..."

Ouch. That mindset goes against all the pop psychology and all the self-help books that tell you that you can be anything you want so long as you try. If you want a college degree you can have it if you apply and attend and do the work.

Having worked with kids, my own closely through homeschooling and with some other kids, it has been just in the last three years that I have repeatedly seen examples of kids who just don't get it and may never. It pains me to say that as I formerly held the above belief about "you can be anything you want and you can do anything if you just try". The advice to "do your best" is often assumed to be linked to the result "you will then fulfill all your goals and achieve all your dreams".

I have seen kids who seem to have "the lights on but no one is home" and others who try very hard and can do work then the next day they cannot do that same thing.

Some discuss these issues in light of learning disabilities where uneven performance is seen: what was mastered last month is absent from the memory this month, the multiplication fact that was memorized two years ago and used cannot be recalled today. If you read about these issues you may see references to things such as "executive function" and "working memory" and "recall". Things get complicated when LDs are discussed because at some point some people just cannot be cured or fixed, so their performance impedes their progress at achieving a goal such as learning vast quantities of academic material or even if learning is achieved, the student may be a "poor test taker" who cannot spew out correct answers at a fast enough speed. Thus their low test scores impede both class grades and standardized test scores which snowball into the fact that low scores may prevent a student's access to higher level courses in school that are college pre-requistes or the low grades or SAT scores may prevent them from being admitted to some colleges or to seek certain majors.

Perhaps not getting in to the college of one's dreams is okay though as just college admission is not good enough, the college student must be able to do the work of that college. To state it another way, the issue is not just how to get in to college the issue is that the admissions process is set up so as to try to allow in only those students who are capable of handling the academic workload of that college. The true issue is when a student wants to have a degree from a certain college but can't do the work to get it. That is not unlike people who say they want to be the author of a published book but are unwilling to actually do the work that writing a book requires!

We have seen the college competency issue in two types of examples. Sadly I have heard that some poorly educated poverty level minorities with hopes for achieving the American Dream that includes a college degree be taken advantage of with having taken out large student loans to pay for tuition, then unable to hack the academic coursework, drop out leaving them with the loan to repay. Regarding the recent high school graduates, we see kids who need five or six years to complete a four year degree since they need so many high school level remedial courses at college before their 'real' college coursework can begin. For some, the only real issue is the one or two years of extra tuition that the student or parents wind up paying.

This whole discussion would be considered controversial by some, the idea that kids are different and another of Murray's beliefs discussed in this same book, that "ability varies".

When I think about these issues I usually am left feeling sad that every person can't and won't be a scholar and frustrated by the so-common advice of "you can be anything you want" when in fact it just is not true.

Murray wants education reform. Public school reform in America has been attempted in the last 110 years when it really began about 160 years ago, thus the system made it only about 50 years before there was serious criticism of it. It doesn't seem to me that real reform has been accomplished at all.

I guess really all that matters to me, if I boil it down, regarding that philosophical discussion of "ability varies" and "a difference in kind" is how those issues affect my own life and the lives of my children. I, as an individual, am powerless to "save the world" or "help all children" or to try to reform American public schools but I can have a major influence over the education of my own kids. That is why we are homeschooling. The trick though, is to deliver a high quality home education while also meeting the legal requirements of the government (which varies depending on what state one lives in). Also, since my kids have aims to enter college, I need to get our ducks in a row to have my kid's education be the right type of college preparatory program that they need to do what it is they think they want to do for their career.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Funny Homeschool Question

The other day a young grocery store cashier asked my eleven year old if he was ready to go back to school. He replied yes but said he was actually homeschooled.  She asked if he liked it and he said yes. The funniest question came next: "Do you ever get bored?"

My son said no. I then replied that our problem is we are too busy running around and doing too many things to ever get bored. She looked at me with surprise. She didn't seem to believe me.

Well, that was true for our established lives in Connecticut. Here in Texas I am still looking for opportunites for this fall. So far in Texas we are kind of shut-in's but it has nothing to do with homeschooling. We have been unpacking and stuck here waiting for deliveries and repair people. This week we have more free time but I am trying to wrap up basic unpacking and have already begun planning out our homeschool year.

Both kids are begging to not do group classes. They both say they want to meet friends but they are wary of other homeschoolers here. They swear they want to do their learning at home with me. If I let that happen it will be like back in the very early elementary grades. I am very much in favor of group learning as I think there are good things about learning with a non-parent teacher and about learning to work in a group and to deal with the kind of adversity that comes with classroom group learning.

I want to honor my kid's requests and listen to their desires but on the other hand they are already saying they are lonely and they are getting stir crazy. They want new friends. I also don't think that I want to teach them every single class as both boys, especially my fourteen year old, need to answer to some authority that is not their mom sometimes. As of right now I have agreed to do it their way but we may regret it later on in this semester.

I am still trying to line up sports and Boy Scouts for both kids so they can have those fun activities and make friends there.

Monday, August 22, 2011

I Found It

Yesterday when my husband and kids arrived home from the movies I reported I'd still not found that darned textbook. I kept looking even as they left to go on a bike ride. Before leaving my husband remarked of the tens of thousands of dollars we'd spent this month on this move and said to stop looking as what's another $50 to spend? He gave his blessings to go buy the book new. I decided to try to find a new or used copy at the local homeschool supply stores. Yes, for the first time in my life I have two local retail stores that sell curriculum to homeschoolers!

But, I didn't stop. I kept looking while I was alone. Then I decided I needed a break and was thinking that I'd recently bought some Saxon math curriculum and remembered finding it out and unpacked which surprised me. It somehow was left out with a few other homeschool materials in my kitchen near where I kept my currently-being-used homeschool stuff. I wondered if since I packed that late, I also packed the AoPS text in with it?

After everyone got back I asked to take a drive around looking at the neighborhoods that I hope we can buy a home in after our Connecticut home sells. The ride was refreshing (and very cold thanks to blasting car air conditioning), as the interior temperature of our house was 83 degrees at that point in the evening. I was no longer mad about the lost book but really wanted to find it. Most of my anger dissapated when I realized that perhaps in error the box that it was in got mistakenly placed into the storage unit that was packed up solid and nine feet high. Maybe I was looking for a needle in a haystack for nothing?

As soon as we got home I said I wanted to look for a few minutes, even though it was after nine o'clock. I started going through boxes a little more deeply if I'd skimmed the tops of them before, and I opened some that were not opened prior. I found an unopened one that had more cookbooks from my kitchen hutch and a few homeschool books and realized that I could be close but that was not it.

My appetite for success whetted, I opened the box below it which had books that were out on my coffee table in the library room, they were various subject books such as books very recently purchased on Amazon with a plan to use for homeschooling curriculum in fall 2011. As I dug down through the history books, I found the Saxon math! Then right underneath it was the AoPS algebra book.

Success!

I screamed out my success from the garage so that my family could hear.

Yippee!

It is hard work, this being tenacious thing, and it takes persistence to keep up the pace when being relentless, but when it's for a good cause, it is worth it, and it can mean the difference between success and failure, between getting something done and making no progress.

During the looking for the book process I got a lot of unpacking and organizing done, no time was wasted in the pursuit of one book. Perhaps the only time when being hyper-focused on achieving one task is a bad thing is when it becomes all-consuming and does not allow other things to get done, or when it is a low priority project that a person puts at the top of the priority list and neglects more important things.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Desperately Seeking Algebra Text

At this very moment I am on a break from a quest to find where the algebra textbook is. It is packed, somewhere.

I am angry about not being able to find this text? Why?

First, my son is enrolled in an online math class that begins in exactly five days. I knew this deadline was looming so I'd been looking for it but I was not going as crazy about it as I am today.

Second, I am angry with myself as I had a hand in this problem, and thirdly, it not being packed in the most logical place is my son's fault in the first place. So I'm mad.

One of the first things we packed up back in June was the current homeschooling materials. I am very organized with those books and papers so they were easy to pack up. Each kid has a bin with their current work in it. All their work fit neatly into one small box. So, I had one box for each kid and one box for my teacher manuals and documentation from last year. I marked those boxes carefully and purposefully so they'd be easy to find once we were unpacking in August. I both needed to organize and put away last year's work and also to plan the current year.

My older son had begun working on the algebra text at home last year, but he'd not finished the course. I decided that perhaps enrolling him into the online class would be best as it would keep him to a schedule and he'd not be able to slack off. I am much better about overseeing deadlines imposed by others who I pay to teach my kids than I always am about me teaching lessons on a very consistent basis.

So, after the homeschool papers were all packed away, my son was working on packing up his bedroom. He wanted to do it independently. He was angry about moving and he wanted to control his stuff for the move, that was fine with me. I saw slow prorgress but we still had time, until the deadline was looming. He kept declaring he was finished but one look at his room showed that many items still were not yet packed. I kept offering to help him but he declined until finally one day he said yes. The first thing I found in his room was his algebra text, the calculator, a pencil and his notebook. They probably sat right there since he last worked on them. Oh, great. He is a disorganized kid and apparently weeks prior, he'd not put the darned book away where it belonged so it was not nicely packed up with the homeschool papers.

I looked at that book and thought, "If I let him pack this with all this other junk who knows if we'll ever be able to find it." So I took the book out of his room and said to myself, "We will need this soon after arriving in Texas especially if I do enroll him in that online class that starts in August. I had better put this in a box that I know will get opened soon after arriving. I can't put it with homeschool papers as those are packed and sealed up already, but I'll put it somewhere that will be one of the important boxes that I'll open first." Where exactly that was I do not recall.

So here I am unable to find that text....

I have opened literally hundreds of seemingly important boxes and the book has not shown up. I am kicking myself trying to recall which box I could have put it in. It's not with the various books that were on my nightstand. It is not with my important papers that were on the top of my desk at moving time. It was not with the kitchen stuff, the living room stuff, the master bedroom stuff, or even, the bathroom stuff. It was not with the boxes of books that I felt I may need soon: some photography how to books, the select few knitting books, or the favorite cookbooks I chose to bring to this short-term rental house.

I am wracking my brain trying to make it recall where it could be...and I have no idea.

It kills me to re-buy a text that costs $50, as to me that is a waste of money, but worse, it is not an easy book to find so I can't quickly put my hands on a copy.

If I had homeschool friends here I could ask who might have one that we could borrow, but I don't have connections yet. It's not a popular text either, so I am doubtful that a bunch of people have copies lying around. I do have two homeschool supply stores here but this text is usually just bought direct from the publisher so I am doubtful that it will be available. Those two stores also sell used curriculum, maybe I'd get lucky and they'd have a used copy on hand (but I'd need to check to see the publication date and make sure it is the right edition).

I have the teacher manual here but not the student manual. I wonder if my son can get away with knowing the problem sets from the teacher manual?

One thing I hate about myself is when I am dealing with a problem like this I tend to overly focus on it and get mad about it. This anger crowds out the ability to feel good about whatever many good things are happening in my life at that time. I want to resolve the problem and get on with regular living so what happens is I work hard to solve it which means doing things like making the finding of the book top priority and spend many hours of my day(s) on it until it is found.

Further maddening to me, is that often others such as my husband and kids do not share my drive to fix this so I'm alone doing the work. My husband doesn't want to re-buy the book either, he wants it found. As I write this my husband and kids are at the nice cold movie theatre and I'm home alone in the hot house. It is over 100 degrees outside and humid and the best this air conditioning can do in this rental home is keep it at 78 stuffy degrees. What's worse is now that I've gone through all the boxes in the house I am forced to start going through more boxes in the 100 degree plus garage to try to find it.

Oh and the text I need is Art of Problem Solving Introduction to Algebra so if you have an extra copy you don't want drop me a comment with the price you want to sell it to me for and maybe we can work a deal and get it to my son before Friday night...

Update 8/22/11: see this blog post if you want to know how this turned out.

Friday, August 19, 2011

When Homeschool Support Is No Longer Support

Yesterday I was in need of some homeschool chatter so headed over to the forums at The Well Trained Mind.

A post touched me. I won't repost my reply, instead I'll just say this.

Homeschool support groups and online discussion forums are meant to be supportive. If people in real life or people in cyberspace say things to make a person feel badly, that is not support. If a family changes their homeschool method, it is no longer useful or supportive to frequent groups or sites that talk about the formerly used method if being around those people makes them feel inadequate, regretful or makes them feel inferior for their choice.

I feel that the best and smartest way to homeschool is to take advantage of the flexibility it offers and to customize the student's education to fit their goals, desires and needs.

If after thoughtful consideration, logical thinking and prayer (for religious people) certain decisions are made, the parent(s) should stick with their new plans and see how it goes. If after seeking information and listening to one's heart and gut feelings, a change is made, give it a try before deciding it was a mistake. Do not let your feelings of no longer being part of a group or stepping away from the mainstream be a reason to doubt your decision.

Remember, you are homeschooling to take advantage of freedom in education and to provide a good education for your child. The method you choose should be right for your child not just based on what your adult peer group friends or cyberfriends are doing! Homeschooling is not supposed to be about cliques between the adults and it is not about who is in or who is out of the group based on what the adults choose to do (i.e. method of instruction). Homeschooling should be about educating the child. Homeschooling is not about the mom and her adult friends and acquaintences!

Homeschooling is not about the one right way to educate, simply because with education and with homeschooling there is a wide variety of options available, there is no one right way for all children as children are unique people who have different life goals!

After a decision is made to make a change, and after investments and committments are made (i.e. enrolled in online classes or bought expensive curriculum), let it happen and give it a try instead of second guessing or fretting before the new thing even starts. Perhaps the real issue is a fear of change? If you have already made the decision to change and invested money into the decision, then let it happen and start in before doubting yourself.

It is not support if you seek counsel or hang around listening in to others praising other methods that you are no longer using. If hearing all that is hurting you in any way, ask yourself why you are doing that to yourself? Why invite self-doubt by being around people praising your discarded homeschool method as the right and best way to homeschool?

Parents of children with a learning disability often struggle in this area also. When working hard to teach a child who struggles it can be hard to just hear typical complaints that parents have about kids because their child with an LD on their best day may not do as well as that other child on their worst day. It can also be hard to be around other parents who are ignorant about the LD or who just simply do not get what the family is going through. That is why parents of LD kids sometimes both seek out special support networks as well as intentionally avoid being around certain other specific people or entire groups of people.

Support is supposed to lift you up, to encourage and to inform. If negative things are happening as a result of being around so-called support groups, that is not support, and you should consider either cutting off or greatly reducing exposure to those people. Find new circles of support that will provide positive support and encouragement.

Changing habits such as no longer checking that Yahoo Group daily or no longer chatting with some nice people whose lives are now on a different path may hurt for a little while, there is a grieving process whenever friends or cyber-friends leave our lives. However if you let them, new friends will enter your life and will fill those voids. Find new sources of support and spend time learning about the new-to-you homeschool method so your questions can be answered and so you can find encouragement from others who believe your new method is worthwhile.

Remember what the definition of support is, and if people or groups, online or in real life are no longer truly being supportive, avoid those and seek out new groups that are actually supportive to you.

In a nutshell I think the recipe for finding support and encouragment has two prongs: choosing who to be around and choosing who to actively avoid.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Starting to Get Back to Normal

As the problems with the move are fixed one by one, and as progress is made on renovating the Connecticut house after ice dam damage, things are becoming less stressful.

I have one day this week that I'm not required to sit at home and wait for repair people or service providers to arrive and today is it. My body responded by letting me sleep an extra two hours! I woke up feeling like my former self, the me that existed before we knew we were moving and before I started the giant rushing to declutter and move project (and the house renovations and the preparing to get the house for sale project).

There is only one room of stuff left to unpack, the one that contains all our office supplies, computer printers, bills and records, and all the homeschool books and curriculum. I feel a sense of relief at now having a landline phone that I can hear to talk on, working internet with the laptop, a functioning and fully organized kitchen and a comfortable living room with working cable TV and DVR.

I can't wait to get a few more organizational items to help me organize stuff in this small space. This living in a small place with zero storage is all new to me. There are odd wasted space places that need to be put to better use so I am looking for options for shelving and decent looking bins. The fact that the house is contemporary with four areas of floor to ceiling windows (which I really like by the way) also hinders furniture placement and bookcase use. The open floor plan is also a challenge as there are less walls to put stuff on. The angles and cut-outs also impede furniture placement. But this is a temporary rental property so I just have to find a way to make it work for basic living not for optimal living. Although I've always been a colonial house loving person I have to say I'm enjoying all the tree views that these unique contemporary design house windows offer and I have never lived with so much light from the high windows, the open floor plan and the cut-outs.

In a few days public and private school starts in my area of Texas. The homeschool events all start next week also; we are not signed up to attend any but I could add in some fun not-back-to-school parties. My son's online math class begins next week too.

Yesterday I started feeling enthusiastic about planning out my kid's homeschool year (that dread feeling of not being able to get it done was lifted). I hadn't felt that I could put the mental energy to it until the house is a bit more done being unpacked and organized. But, today to my surprise I woke up excited about planning it out (versus panicked and anxious). I am in the mood to design my freshman son's literature course so that will begin momentarily.

I just wanted to share that we are making great progress with unpacking and getting set up down here and that the regular me is starting to come back. I can't tell you how great it feels. Bit by bit we are getting back to living ordinary lives, which makes me happy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Juggling Problems with the Move & Internet Back Up (Kind of)

It's not right or best but I have partial internet here at my new home, after a delay in services of no less than 14 days thanks to poor service by our ISP, AT&T. As I write this I have found a back door onto the Internet, while I wait for AT&T to return my call to get the Internet working in the correct manner.

After 12 years of fantastic service for DSL then later, U-Verse back in Connecticut we are surprised to have had nothing but problems with both our landline home phone and DSL internet here in Texas with AT&T.

I mentioned in my last post that we are having problems with every service and it remains true still today. As I write this I am waiting with a five hour service window for a repair to the dishwasher which has no water, yesterday I sat here for no less than nine hours waiting for AT&T to fix the DSL (try #3), and tomorrow I will sit for a different AT&T crew to fix the landline (visit #4).

I waver between accusing myself of being a brat for feeling resentful that nothing is going right and then reminding myself that all I expect is basic customer service that is nothing more than the basic services that these service providers market and sell.

I am finding a common thread in the break down in providing good service with the various companies. The problem is the office staff. The workers who arrive on scene, the blue collar workers who deliver or the technicians who do whatever they do with machinery or wires or switches know what they are doing. They have knowledge and they use it. However they are like puppets on a string, hampered and limited by company rules and they are only allowed to do what they are told.

There seems to be a problem with the people in the middle, those customer service people on the phones. What they sell us and what we pay for which they coordinate with the people who actually do the work gets screwed up somewhere between the order and the actual work being done.

To further complicate matters, rules of the organization do not apparently favor a goal of attaining customer satisfaction. They want the sale and our business but they don't seem to care about true customer satisfaction or just doing the job right the first time. When a company screws up it seems to me the customer service rep should bump up our next service call as a priority but instead we are put to the back of the line behind whoever else was in front of us, even though our problem was caused by their company.  You'd think they'd seek to fix the problem they created ASAP by putting us at the head of the line, but no.

When we paid an additional fee for Home Depot to hook up the gas line to the new dryer, it took me by surprise to be asked at delivery time who would set it up and when I replied, "you", was informed that we'd not paid for said service (when we really did).

When I'm told the landline phone is hooked up and ready but there is no dial tone, something is amiss.

When the expensive new mattresses we bought advertised that they come with a free pillow, and no pillow arrives with the delivery, I start to question my memory.

These types of problems seem small when they happen one at a time, but when facing a major life stressor like making a long distance move, dealing with these types of problems from every single company one deals with, juggling over a half dozen of these things daily can be maddening.

It is a challenge when making a major move, to just try to do things like find the shampoo, and when I'm busy trying to find the lost boxes the movers misplaced so I can boil water to cook pasta for a home cooked meal. Then to need things like milk for cereal and a loaf of bread but to not be able to leave the house due to being required to sit all day waiting for service people or deliveries is crazy making.

My energy is sapped and my patience level is low. Now throw into the mix that I'm with two kids 24/7 who have no new friends here. We're in a heat wave in Texas and the kids on the block are in hiding indoors or in camps or away on vacation, I guess, as no one is around to play with. I didn't want my kids feeling isolated when they arrived in Texas but that is what is happening. Regarding having fun in general and exploring the area, I am so busy sitting waiting for service providers in our new home that I can't take my kids out to have fun anywhere. It's Tuesday morning and this week the plans are that I am spending three days sitting here waiting for services. The first weekend here as a family of four was about unpacking so we could have clean clothes to wear, it was not about kicking back and having fun.

I want to get back to living an ordinary life.

I need to finish this unpacking and home organization so that I can begin working on homeschool planning for this next academic year. In Connecticut most homeschoolers resume school after Labor Day but here in Texas schools begin on August 22. So, there was pressure to make fast decisions about what classes to enroll my kids in locally but they insist they do not want to do any co-op's or outside classes with local homeschoolers and I'm giving in to their request so that is off my "to do" list. I may regret going with their decision though because I know my kids, and they are extroverts who will probably wind up lonely without such activities. I don't have the fight in me to convince them to take this class or do that co-op. Well anyway, due to not having Internet for the first two weeks we moved has prevented me from even learning about what opportunities are out there.

I've begun to investigate sports for my older son. I hit a wall with the Boy Scout troop search and have no time or energy to deal with that this week anyway. I'll push that off for now. So the work on extra-curricular activities has not made much progress either.

A friend asked me if I have prayed about all this and I have, but it doesn't feel like it is working or even lifting any stress. I am kind of at my wit's end and don't really want to hear about things happening in God's time. I need some things to happen right now. I feel like I bear a huge burden with the responsibility of the logistics of this move and setting up this new home. Add mothering my kids and homeschooling on top of it all and I'm overwhelmed. Period.

Over and out.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Why No Move Details Here

I have not been blogging details of the actual move process because every single part of it has had problems. We are slogging through this one challenge at a time. I am sparing you by withholding the annoying stories. I have been tweeting them though!

The move into our rental home began yesterday. The AT&T DSL internet that we have paid for for weeks is not working so blogging will be further delayed.

ChristineMM

Monday, August 08, 2011

Needed Some Tori

Tori Amos is one of my favorite musicians, not only for her singing and piano playing but for her songwriting and her powerful lyrics.

Here I am in the middle of the move, well, perhaps at the 75% mark, waiting in Texas for all my worldly possessions to arrive, which will set off a whirlwind of activity and undoubtedly the next cycle of stress. I'm on a lull of sorts in the grand scheme of things. I needed to hear some Tori, but my old school Tori CDs are on a semi somewhere elsewhere in the country at this moment in time. I then remembered Pandora radio and bam, there she was.

Winter played first, and China next. Here is China for your listening pleasure.

I am grateful that at this point in time these lyrics do not represent the relationship I am in now. They sound a lot like some of what I went through with the man I loved before I met my husband. So with that said, these powerful lyrics are fantastic. I can stil appreciate them even thought they are (thankfully) not my present reality.

"I can feel the distance in your eyes."

"In your eyes I saw a future together, but you just look away in the distance."

lyrics by Tori Amos

Do you know of Tori Amos and do you like her music, or is she too serious for you?

Friday, August 05, 2011

Can't Blog During the Move

Our move is at the half way point, almost. I can't blog during this time because:

1. I had the internet shut off in our house on August 1.

2. August 1 and 2 we had movers in the house helping us move out. One of those days was a nonstop 21+ hour hard working day! No time to even blog by email with my iPhone!

3. August 3 was spent clearing up loose ends at the house and prepping the yard for the house to be sold.

4. On August 4 my iPhone4 stopped delivering my emails so now I can't blog via the new mobile thing with Blogger.

5. I have had two major problems and multiple minor problems to contend with every day including a few things that are unresolved at this moment. Dealing with those is a higher priority than blogging.

6. I'm on the hotel internet now which is the slowest and worst Internet connection I have had in years. What's up with that, Marriott? Very disappointing.

I'll blog when it is technically and physically possible, sorry readers!