Some months a handcrafted education looks like a carefully detailed pattern has been followed as if I bought something from Butterwick, cut it out carefully, pinned everything meticulously, and sewed all the pieces exactly to Butterwick’s specifications. Other times a handcrafted education looks like a crazy quilt. It has a little of this and a little of that. It looks like I ran out of the fabric that I was planning on using and began to wildly improvise. This month looked and felt like a crazy quilt. It was productive, satisfying, and dizzying. We crammed in everything that we could, with some left over spilling out into the future. (There’s always the summer months, LOL!) But hey, that’s homeschooling! I worked hard with scheduling this month so that between academics and rowing Sean could still have time with his friends. Rowing is a big time commitment, in part because we live an hour away from where he rows. In fact, in April we are moving 55 minutes closer to rowing. We love the house we live in now. It is nicer than the one were moving to, but to cut 1 hour and 50 minutes of driving time out of our day 5 to 6 days a week is big. I can’t wait!
Part of the crazy schedule was because my husband, Jim, went to the Women’s Conference at the United Nations in New York City in March. Jim usually does most of the driving, taking Sean where he needs to go. Jim was at the Woman’s Conference because he believes that gender equality and women’s rights are critical issues that need to be addressed to solve many of the problems in the world today. He wanted to learn more about what women from different countries felt were the key issues faced by women. He thought this would be a good place to get a feel for that. Jim has been working on his Masters for a few years now. He is getting close to the end. His Masters is in International Relations. It may seem hokey but in our house we spend time talking about things like how to make your life matter and making the world a better place for our kids and grandkids (and yours too). My husband hopes to use his Masters as a way of doing that. I don’t know what we will do when Sean goes away to college. One of the things we’ve talked about is joining the Peace Corps.
Sean finished the second quarter of computer programming with C/C++. The first two weeks of March were the last two weeks of the class. The amount of work assigned for those two weeks was intense. There really was no way to get ahead in this class, because each week there were 2 to 4 programs to write and an open book quiz that was really hard. So each week you were writing programs for that week’s assignment. Sean put in 12 to 14 hour days 6 days a week for the last two weeks. I insisted that he take 1 day off each week. At one point we debated about having him take the next quarter of the series, and then decided we were being ridiculous about it. He needed to have time for his other subjects, and he was getting burnt out about computer programming.
I asked Sean to think of a project that he would like to work on in computer science to finish out the academic school year; something that he thought would be fun. He told me he wanted to design a website for a history project that we are going to do for the next school year. It is an idea that I came up with and when I originally suggested he design a website for it, it was as an academic exercise for him so that he could apply what he has been learning. (A Wordpress blog would suffice for the project, but I would have set that up not Sean.) I think the application of knowledge is an important step in the learning process and one that is often overlooked as we cram subjects with information that is supposed to be memorized without applying it. Sean told me he needed one solid day to work on the website every week. I am glad he picked this project, because the last half of March saw him becoming enthused about computer science once again. Yay, his passion became a passion again! As far as all the hard work and cramming, wow, does he know a lot more about computer programming! As he has been applying what he learned over the last year, I have been seriously impressed. Even though I have no idea what he’s doing most of the time.
When Sean and I realized the amount of time computer science was going to take we took a break from the rest of his core academic subjects. Sean continued taking Law and History in Context. The other two “non-play” related things he continued to do were rowing and working every other weekend teaching kids computer programming.
Both Sean and I had a big surprise when he picked his math text back up. For the first time in Sean’s life math poured out of him like water out of a pitcher. My grandmother once told me that in our family math either poured out of you like water from a pitcher it was so easy, or you had to work at it. Math has always poured out of me, and my grandmother and mother, like water out of a picture. Interestingly enough that is not the case for my sister, but it is the case for my nephew, her son. For Sean, he had to work at it just like my sister did. Not anymore, though. Now he can sit down and do what used to be two days’ worth of math in half the time it took him to do one day. Math is now Sean’s easiest subject!
I am so lucky that Sean did high school level biology in eighth grade. Because try as we might I cannot see how we are going to finish the entire astronomy and earth science course this year. Part of that is because Sean has become entranced with astronomy. The course opens as an astronomy and cosmology course and then moves on to become an earth science course. Whereas it is easy to move through math more quickly, it doesn’t make sense to do that with science when someone becomes interested in an area and wants to investigate further. Sean has gotten to the point where he is asking questions about parallel universes that I don’t know the answers to. He has taken all the knowledge I have about the subject, learned more, and is accessing what scientists know or think they know about parallel universes at a level beyond where I am on the subject. It is everything that a teacher could hope for. When Sean was little he used to tell me that I was so smart he was never going to be that smart. I used to tell him that I hoped that he would learn everything I knew and be smarter.
Writing this year is pushing my panic buttons. I need to go hang out with my dear unschooling friends more. Sean is a very good writer. His main problem with his writing is that he likes to take every writing project and turn it into a big project. Big writing projects take time, lots and lots of time. Something we have not had a lot of this year. Even when he stays within the confines of a five paragraph essay, he tries to cram in as much information as possible, spending hours and days researching the topic. Then me he works for hours trying to get as much of this information into his paper as possible. The problem with that is, the writing isn’t tight. It makes his papers feel like they are not cohesive. The way he puts words together is excellent. As a reader though, you start to lose focus because there is just so much there. It doesn’t sound like much of a problem does it. To become a better writer the formula is very simple level though; you need to write. That is the entire formula. It makes me nervous when we are spending all our time on computer programming and not taking time for writing. I bought the IEW writing program, and it was really simple for Sean. At the end of the day, I do not think it is the best program for someone who already is a good writer and just needs to work on some of the stylistic issues. Some of the stylistic issues Sean needs to work on are big though. Sean does not write a good concluding paragraph. His transitions going from one body paragraph to the next are nonexistent. And he is not careful about making sure that his introductory paragraph has a lead in to each of his body paragraphs. Just as I was starting to worry, along came something very serendipitous. This type of serendipity is actually been the hallmark of this year.
One of the only perks I have ever gotten from all my writing came along this month 😉 I had the opportunity to preview a section of the High School American History Course that my publisher Pandia Press is working on right now. It was not until we had been working with this course for a week that I realized in addition to teaching history the author of the course is attempting something ambitious. She is completely successful in her attempt too. In addition to teaching American history, the author weaves study techniques and the skill of writing nonfiction essays throughout the course. If you take the time to use the techniques she is presenting to students in the student guide and the teaching techniques she gives you in the teacher’s guide, the course can be used as a history course and the bulk of a writing course. The benefits to integrating writing with another academic discipline are similar to what I was talking about when I said it was important for Sean to apply the computer programming skills he learned. I think that to take interesting topics or even just those that are assigned and apply writing skills in a meaningful way is the best way to learn writing. It also makes the academics more integrated, which both Sean and I prefer. I also have Sean write lab reports, and take some notes in science. Sean really likes to write fiction, so I give him time each year to work on his fiction writing too.
2014 was the first year in a long time that we did not travel anywhere. We had planned on traveling in the fall of 2014, but rowing got in the way. One of the things we did this month was to figure out where we are going to go this summer. Rowing is a nine month a year commitment. And Sean wants to stay committed to it next year. So we have to do our travel during the summer when there is a break from rowing.
On May 27, we leave for Spain for three weeks. I will be blogging every day as we travel. There will be a couple of posts before we leave. We are also going to take the month of August and take a driving trip through the northern part of the United States. We will be stopping at some of the national parks along the way such as Yellowstone. We will be at the Oglala Lakota reservation called Pine Ridge in South Dakota in the middle of August where we will volunteer for a week helping to build houses for the residents there, http://www.re-member.org/. I will also be blogging every day of that trip.
Check out our post on teaching high school and middle school physics here.