Saturday, February 26, 2011

Out with the Bell-Shaped Curve (BAD), In with Life (GOOD)

Statistically many things in our natural world fall onto a bell-shaped curve, but "intelligence" (whatever that means) should not be relegated to a fate such as this; moreover, children should not have to think of themselves as 'below average, above average, or just plain average'.  Each of those labels can send ripple effects out through a person's ENTIRE lifetime.  Labels like this are cultivated with much vim and vigor in a traditional school system, the end results often being students who are either left in the dust, left to their own devices, or left to compete with those labeled 'the best and most likely to succeed'.  The whole mess effectively ignores the individuality of each child and fails miserably in helping children find their unique offerings and skills that each of us is born with.  It cuts kids off at the pass.

You might guess that I've got my nose in another book that begs to be recommended.  This one should be handed out to all new parents at hospitals and birthing centers across the nation.  Midwives and doulas should all fill up the trunks of their cars with this book so that a copy is always at the ready.  Administrators of school systems should be required to read this book annually and take a test over their comprehension of the material, lest they feel like slipping into old habits.  Teachers should place a copy front and center on their desks, making sure that the most relevant passages are earmarked, highlighted, or otherwise marked as special.  This book should be delivered to homes as regularly as telephone books are!  If all of the above 'shoulds' were to take place and people absorbed the message, children everywhere would have reason to celebrate and to embrace their unique futures.  The information is that important and I encourage you to get your hands on a copy and read it (or find other information about multiple intellegences, learning styles, etc.) Then implement much of the sage wisdom sprinkled liberally between the front and back cover and watch your child BLOSSOM into the person he or she is meant to become.

If you are currently homeschooling, this book is invaluable as a resource for you as the teacher.  Because you, in fact, are the BEST teacher your child has!  Absolutely (even on your worst days!)  This is not a teaching manual.  At the heart of the author's message, this is a parenting manual.  This is a way of being on a daily basis that will potentially foster an amazing atmosphere in which your child can learn to become his or her very best true self.  There are many books written about learning styles available.  I like this one because it considers the family system while fostering a learning environment that is tailored to its individual members.  It's a gentle and positive approach, one that may open your eyes to some key areas where you've all been struggling with one another.

This is hands-on stuff, written in a way that is easy to digest and progress through at your own family's pace.  We are sitting down to take the assessments tomorrow as a group; it's going to be very fun and revealing to determine our individual learning styles, preferences, ways of being.  I am excited about this book because it is critical information.  I wish I could send a copy to the White House and ask that President Obama read it.  In a perfect world the information would be digested and would magically trickle down through the education system and our world and children would be transformed!  Wouldn't that be the coolest?  Oh, I wish!  Unfortunately, the system is not currently willing to accommodate such radical thinking!

Here's the book, in case you feel a sense of suspense or "out with it already!"

The timing of this book could not be more appropriate for me as I reflect on the issues we struggle with as homeschoolers.  I do wish that this had been at the top of my reading list when we first began researching homeschooling.  I have a little over two years of homeschooling experience under my belt as of this writing and cannot begin to convey the deep thought and research that has been invested in this undertaking; I also would have trouble putting into words just how much my perceptions, expectations and ideals have changed since we started.  Homeschooling is an emotional, evolving, eccentric, eclectic, energetic, nearly extraterrestrial experience!  One that I am completely ecstatic about and engaged with.  Deep in my bones I wish that other traditionally-educated kids could experience the freedom that homeschooling embraces.

Max summed it up today.  He had a friend over who attends a Catholic elementary school in the fifth grade and she asked him if he was going to be homeschooled again next year; Max affirmed that he was.  She said, "you should come to my school next year."  Max replied, "you might like that, but I wouldn't.  I like being homeschooled.  I don't ever want to go back to regular school."  Listening I wished she could know what homeschooling feels like.  I also spoke to a mom the other day who was busy using flashcards to prepare her child for the standardized testing that is coming up next month.  Ugh and more ugh.

Knowing your child's learning style is critical.  Knowing your own learning style bears the same weight. And how fun to expand this concept to the entire family system!  There are many books out there about learning styles; this book exemplifies a lot of practical application.  Dig in!

Postscript:  We completed the assessments today and discovered how each of us tends to relate to the world around us.  Max's primary disposition is that of a performer; his secondary disposition leans heavily on thinking and creating.  He is also a tactile-kinesthetic learner, which I already surmised.  My husband and I share the same primary and secondary dispositions - that of thinking/creating and inventing/discovering.  We are both visual learners.  The point to stress here is that Max's preferred way to learn is very unlike my way and I need to keep that in mind as I design learning avenues for him.  Time to invest in a basketball hoop and trampoline, I think!  I'm also picking up tips on how to parent him, encourage him and help him to work on the styles of relating he may not favor. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Whether Man and a Lament by Lockhart

Just a quick recommend here about a book I wasn't aware of until yesterday, and I'm sure there are LOTS of those, but the journey of discovery is something to be celebrated, I think.  This book passes muster in the clever department and it may help a math-phobe start to open his or her eyes as to how cool math can be!  Adults will appreciate the way the author plays with words and helps us to laugh at our silly selves.  This would be an excellent book within a living math curriculum.  This would probably be an excellent book to read, period.  Go read the reviews on Amazon about it.

And the best for next.  I encourage you to read an essay by a mathematician, Paul Lockhart.  It's titled "Lockhart's Lament" and is linked below as a PDF.  Go ahead - I'll wait while you read it!

All teachers and homeschoolers should read this essay.  It stabs at the heart of the matter as to what's wrong with the way math is taught and what can be done about it.  Math has become dry as toast thanks to the way it is taught; it is supposed to be a language of art and discovery, one steeped in history and deep thought about problems that popped up now and then.  This essay served as an eye-opener for me and it will, in the long run, likely help Max because it helped me to see the light.  Please read it.

I have a child who despises math and sees (as of yet) no need for it.  He places the subject on par with torture and unnecesary gobbledy-gook.  Last year for fourth grade we used a Living Math approach and read a lot ABOUT math.  We didn't DO much math.  We read about Archimedes, Penrose the Cat helped us play with many cool concepts, and we played games.

This year I tried the more traditional (and agonizing) method of teaching math by using a curriculum.  Epic fail.  Epic.  We managed to finish up the fourth grade equivalent in Teaching Textbooks, a program many families love, but boy was it a struggle.  I felt funny about forcing him to do something that he clearly did not want to do and after reading Mr. Lockhart's essay, I gave this predicament some more thought.

Next year, which will be our sixth grade year (technically), I've chosen to use parts of the Math Mammoth curriculum, some Life of Fred, and some more Living Math.  Math Mammoth is a mastery-based program that we can take in bits.  One thing Max despised was having to do addition and subtraction problems over and over and over until he wanted to scream, which he often did.  The spiral program is definitely not a good fit around these parts!  Books like The Phantom Tollbooth and others will help us to hopefully have more fun with math next time around!

A nice mom on the secular homeschool forum recommended these two links to help a math-reluctant child;
the term 'math-reluctant 'makes me want to chuckle.  I need to come up with an anti-math term that more befittingly describes my child - got any ideas?  Something more dark and sinister, perhaps.

Powered by the Discovery Channel; 'Leon's Math Dojo' is supposed to entice kids to learn their math facts

K-5 computer-based math games

I have a few other posts about books and games that can be used to make math more palatable, too.  You can visit them here:

Gee, maybe I'll go back and read some of these posts to refresh my memory and get some new resources!  I for one am looking forward to a break from traditional math, or rather, the angst it seems to cause around here.  A happy learning child - I think that's possible, don't you? 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

There Comes a Time in Every Boy's Life.......

Oh boy.  Here we go!  I'm not one to be shy about this stuff and have in the past, sat down and drawn pictures complete with parts whenever Max had questions.  I've saved one or two of those sketches just because they are so darn cute (stick figure'ish) and they'll remind me of a time when we were steam rolling headlong into PUBERTY.  It's natural for him to have questions and concerns and I'd like to maintain an open line of communication well into the future so he can get the correct information.  One day he came home from a friend's house and told me a 'fact' about girls, one he had obviously just been told by his friend, completely sure that his new-found fact was true.  It was so FAR from the truth it was hard not to call up that kiddo and set him straight!  Made me chuckle, it did.  Where do kids come up with this stuff?
So, to Amazon I have turned recently to do a little research on a couple of books we can have on the shelf for those moments of insatiable curiosity.  Two books arrived yesterday and Max stayed up late reading them in his room, well after the grown ups toddled off to bed.  This morning he mentioned that he is kind of embarrassed by all of it and I encouraged him not to be - that's just how humans are made and how we reproduce!  So glad to have these books on hand.

Here are some resources if you might be in this developmental neck of the woods, too.  Note that I focused on boys in this post for the most part, just because I currently have one running about the house hither and yon, screaming like a banshee.  For most of these you'll find comparable editions for girls:

This arrived yesterday.  It's chock full of quizzes, checklists and games.  Straight talk, respectful and informative for sure!

This would have been a good choice, too.  Slated for grades 4-6.

Comparable edition for girls here:
Will look for this one at the library, I think, to decide if it should be a permanent resident on the shelf, or maybe the other two books we have will suffice for now.

The title says it all, doesn't it?

Now has a proud place on the shelf.  This would be a good text for a newly minted teen, or perhaps for a mid-teen.  It covers EVERYTHING from anatomy to how to stick up for yourself to some of the complicated issues teens sometimes face.  It's a little much for Max just now, I think, because he has been paging through it and making faces.  I need to take a closer perusal of this one to determine its age-appropriateness.

I'm a little stunned that we've got a pre-teen.  How did that happen?  Where did that time go?  Wasn't he just knee high to the sky a little while back?  I also think books with titles like What's Happening to Me??! would be appropriate and welcomed for someone of, say, the mid-forty age bracket like myself.  Jeepers.  Kinda' freaky, these changes :).  Let's not just focus on puberty as a time of monumental change, no?

Good luck guiding your pre-teen and teen through these interesting waters.  It's kind of nice to have a written guide that one can source now and then as needed!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Khan Academy

Here's a 'blow-your-mind' resource that is worth a peek.  Sal might just become a household name for you and your family!  It seems he has amassed quite a following of fans, students all over the world looking for help with more than math. 

Salman Khan is an MIT/Harvard grad who tossed his career managing hedge funds for a non-paying job as a teacher recording videos on YouTube.  He has recorded 1,000 plus lectures/tutorials on everything from the multiplication table to secondary active transport in the nephron to the French Revolution to venture capital tips.  He has a well-educated brain to say the least!  I have been taking in a few of his videos this evening and my wheels are spinning about how to incorporate some of his basic arithmetic videos into our curriculum.

When you watch a video, all you see is a black screen and various fluorescent numbers and text as Sal talks you through whatever material he is teaching.  His voice is pleasant, he is humorous at times, and he encourages you to keep learning, keep practicing - that your brain can do this!  I believe him!

The lectures are FREE.  They are valuable.  You could probably cover most of your educational goals just by hanging with Sal over the course of his offerings.  Your brain would certainly expand in directions you never thought possible!

He offers exercises that can be done after many of the math lectures, too.  I am impressed with what he is doing, all for the sake of teaching and helping others. 

Go watch some of Sal's videos and then watch the CNN, ABC News, NPR, etc. recordings about Sal and his quest (they are offered on his Academy page, too).  Then send in a few dollars to help him support his wife and child!  He's hoping to make a living at what he does, and I bet as of now he's been able to reach that goal via donations and some minor advertising.   

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Books Read Recently

Reading aloud has been a cornerstone to our learning days.  My voice has become much stronger since we started, that's for sure!  I still yawn a lot, though, while I'm reading.  Do you do that?  And it's always at a good part, too.  Have to pause, suck in some fresh air, and forge onward.  I just yawned while typing this......weird suggestive concept, those yawns.  Did you just yawn?  How about now?  Can I say 'gotchya' yet?

Here's what's on our reading list right now.  Some have been completed, others are still biding their time on the shelf, communing with the other books sitting there.  Nothing like a good book to pass the hours with!  Yesterday I was marveling at a homeschooling mom who has her daughter do incredible poster-sized book reports using a curriculum called Moving Beyond the Page (MBTP).  I showed the picture of the poster to Max because I was duly impressed by that 10 year old's grasp of the character development in the book she had read; Max wrinkled his nose.  Which tells me he's not interested in doing amazing book reports using MBTP.  Rats.  There's still hope for next year?  He just plain likes to be read to and we discuss as we go.  Sometimes there is plenty to discuss.

So, here's the list as of late:

Max is a boy.  Max loves this series.  I loved this series while growing up, too.  Got to get our hands on the DVD's and watch a few episodes so he can see what those are like, too.

Max gave it a 3 out of 10.  I gave it a 10 out of 10.  I loved the lilting language, the vivid imagery, Mr. Grahame's crafty way with words.  We got 3/4's through and Max pulled the plug.  I'm secretly finishing it.  That Toad is one dastardly fellow sometimes!

E.B. White is, of course, a master at bringing animals and their plights to life.  We both adored this book.  The theme statement we decided on is this:  "True friends always stand by you".

As part of our early American history quest.........haven't started yet.  

Let's just say this will give us another perspective!

Read this one today.  One of history's mysteries!  What happened to those people??  Granted, this was a little tricky to follow in parts and I know I lost Max in a few places.  I had to go back and reread a few paragraphs just to try to piece all of the characters together.  Jane Yolen has also written a book on the subject - it's a bit more simplified, which would have been a better choice, for at least us.

Written by Jane Yolen.  To be read next.

Fond memories of this one, too!  

Have long been a fan of the Great Illustrated Classics series, although it will be awhile before we'll be able to read Frankenstein.........he doesn't like those kinds of books.

Three cheers and then some for these authors and David Antram as the illustrator.  WONDERFUL series and wish we could have them ALL.  You'll learn a figurative ton about a very big statue that has a very big and positive impact.

Ooo.  Al Capone was a very bad man.  

A look at the Oregon Trail through the eyes of a bunch of cats.  Clever.

These books are itching to be read!  Usually we go with whatever mood we happen to be in, but I have a waiting shelf packed with books from which to choose.  Hope any number of them find their way to your shelves, too!  Happy reading!
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