Thursday, November 30, 2006

School for Snowbunnies

There is an article in today's New York Times about specialized private winter sports schools and how they're giving their students a leg up on college entrance.

"Once, winter sports schools were mainly the domain of those eyeing Olympic gold. But now they are becoming the choice for students and parents who do not expect to see a dime from future athletic careers. They are willing to sacrifice a traditional high school experience and pay up to $35,000 for a few more hours of play each day — and an edge on scholarships or entry into a prestigious college."

A traditional high school experience is well-worth sacrificing, if you ask me, particularly if you're able to pursue your passion in a homeschooling-type atmosphere.

"Just down the road, the North American Hockey Academy is housed in a chalet. Its classroom setting is informal. In the basement, students and teachers sit in pairs. Thin cubicle walls separate Algebra 2 from History of World Societies. Science class is just an arm’s length away from the Spanish lesson happening near the TV.

Several parents and students said the tiny class sizes often put them ahead of their fellow high school students when they return in the spring."

So why return? If anything, it's more difficult. "Splitting the year between home high schools and specialized academies can result in logistical headaches. Since the sixth grade, Erin Fucigna, a ski racer, has had assignments from her high school in Hopkinton, Mass., e-mailed and faxed to her at the Waterville Valley Academy, in New Hampshire. “It’s confusing at first and overwhelming,” said Ms. Fucigna, now a junior. “Science is the hardest, because I don’t have the same materials that are available at home.”

Sasha Dingle, the subject of a forthcoming documentary called “Balance,” attended both her local high school in Jericho, Vt., and the Mount Mansfield Winter Academy, in Stowe. “I always wanted to be in the high school play, but I would miss the first part of tryouts,” said Ms. Dingle, who was accepted at St. Lawrence University, in Canton, N.Y. “I felt almost like I was living a double life. Every achievement I made through the winter, I would come back to my high school in the spring and nobody would know.”

This is true for most, if not all teen professionals. At my school, we had two professional performers. One was a ballerina, the other had a nightclub act. Neither fit in well or was very happy at high school. Kind of begs the question, "Why try to force yourself into the traditional high school model?" Personally, I think I'd forego the $35K tuition, move to the slopes and homeshool.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Dr. Phil Again

I got this message from ZanyMom this morning about the results from yesterday's "Great School Debate" on Dr. Phil.

"I was poking around his website regarding today's show (which actually wasn't half bad, despite the trailer).

There is a poll -- vote for your preferred method of schooling.

What got me wasn't the replies, so much as the math is skewed:

The public school numbers are rounded UP, while the other choices are rounded DOWN. And gee, when I tried to post to that effect on their website (all posts are premoderated) they didn't post it. Go figure. ;)

;) Guess we unschoolers weren't supposed to notice the math bias. LOL

[From Dr. Phil's site:]Which style of schooling do you think is best? Take our poll!

(Actually, for PS it's 13.9%, not 16% LOL--Zany)

16%/456 Public school

10%/358 Private school

55%/1814 Homeschooling

19%/642 Unschooling

Total Votes: 3270"

Clearly the viewers prefer homeschool and even unschooling to public or private school, even with the skewed numbers. From what I understand, Dr. Phil believes middle and high school kids need socialization, although homeschooling in elementary is fine with him.

Klaus would beg to differ--if he were able to take three high school courses as a homeschooler instead of only two, he would definitely come home again at the semester. He doesn't want to give up his AP classes or Japanese in mid-year, which I think is a very mature decision. But, for him, the social high school thing has been a big bust. He actually did more extracurricular activities last year as a homeschooler than he has done this year.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Ooohhh, Noooooo, Dr. Phil!

(Disclaimer: I don't watch Dr. Phil and don't intend to watch the Great School Debate.)

FYI: The Dr. Phil show is airing an episode called The Great School Debate on November 24. From their website:

"Parents want the best for their children, but what’s the best way to educate them? Dr. Phil’s guests face off in a debate about whether to school, homeschool or unschool. Dana and her husband, Joe, call themselves radical unschoolers. They say education happens as a side effect of life, and they don’t believe in tests, curriculums or grades. Are their three kids learning what they need to know? Then, RaeAnn says public schools are death traps and wants to homeschool her children. Her husband, Steve, says their kids are safer at school than they are at home. Can this couple reach a compromise? Plus, Nicole feels like an outcast at 26. She says she hated being homeschooled, and couldn’t relate to other kids."

Just from this summary, you can tell Dr. Phil is against homeschooling. The deck has been stacked. Otherwise they'd have comments about how well the unschooling kids are doing and a former homeschooled student who thought it was the best way to learn, not that she hated being homeschooled.

You can read more about how the actual taping went from a homeschooling advocate who was a guest on the show. She writes:

"After the lady who chewed homeschoolers out as the future of her government had spoken, Dr. Phil then did something that clearly indicated why the homeschoolers had been brought to be part of an audience of an episode in which hundreds of high school students had been bussed in: Dr. Phil then asked the audience, "How many of you support Homeschooling and how many of you support sending children to school?"

Well, of course the 10% to 15% of the sparsely spread audience that were passionate homeschoolers proudly raised their hands in support of homeschooling. And when Dr. Phil said, "How many people do not support homeschooling," all those young high school students that had been unwittingly bussed in specifically for that question in this episode, raised their hands -- A forest of "No's," against homeschooling.

Although, that was just one brief question in Dr. Phil's episode, he took no chances. He deliberately rigged that audience to be a few sparsely spread homeschoolers, and an imposing majority of those who were currently in traditional schools."

Frankly, I think this was a huge chance for the show's producers to take. All the high school students I know think homeschooling, especially unschooling, is an awesome idea. However, it seemed to work out all right for Dr. Phil.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Kid's Eye View of Capitalism

The Playstation III was released at 12:01 am yesterday morning. According to our local paper, people started waiting in line at Wal-Mart on Sunday night. I know by Tuesday there was a long line of very cold people in tents outside of Best Buy. We've been in this situation before, when Klaus spent 12 hours in line waiting for the Xbox 360 to be released last year, so I can't be too critical of the many college students waiting days for the PS3. Particularly since most of the people I saw interviewed in line said they were waiting for one to resell. Last year, the $400 and $600 Xboxes were re-selling for thousands of dollars.

Wolfie and Xavier thought waiting days was excessive, particularly for a game console they don't think is going to live up to the hype. Then we checked how much these boxes were selling for on eBay. Many sold in the $2,000-2,500 range, but some were ending between the $4-5,000. One auction ended with a "buy it now" price of $9,000!

It makes an excellent lesson in supply and demand. Our boys were astonished someone would pay that much extra just to have it now without waiting in line personally. But after DH figured that the seller who made $5300 on his console earned about $100/hour (assuming he waited 48 hours), the boys were suitably impressed. An excellent real-life example of the concepts of "value-added" and entrepreneurship.

Another lesson comes at Sony's expense--literally. These premiums paid to entrepreneurs aren't going back to the gaming giant. Also, Sony is apparently taking a loss of several hundred dollars on every console it sells. Traditionally, consoles are sold at a loss by all game makers, not just Sony, according to CNet. Companies make up the loss by selling games at a premium. Now we know why the new games are $60 a pop!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Paperless Classroom in Miami

Another blow for the "handwriting is important" crowd: Check out this Miami Herald article about a paperless 5th grade classroom, where each child has a computer screen built into his or her desk.

..."When [the teacher] assigns students a report on Civil War heroes, the students take off on their own using websites like Google and Dogpile to do research, cutting and pasting photographs into documents and saving their work on disks.

''Instead of writing with a paper and pencil and your hand getting tired, we can do it on a computer,'' said Robert Toledo, 10, as he read a site about Abraham Lincoln. ``It's faster and better.''

Here in Miami-Dade's only paperless classroom, websites are used in lieu of textbooks, PowerPoint presentations substitute for written essays and students get homework help from their teacher by e-mail.

''I can use the skills I learn here in sixth grade and in college,'' said Marissa Seijo, 10."...

Pretty cool, huh? I think written (as in word-processed) essays should supplement PowerPoint presentations to encourage actual development of ideas. In my experience, PowerPoints tend to favor regurgitation of images and sounds pulled off the internet, rather than promoting critical thought and development of ideas. Then again, we are talking about fifth grade. ;-)

Siege Weapons 'R Us

Wolfie just finished his Medieval Studies course. The final project was to build a siege weapon--he chose a trebuchet. (We found an excellent kit at American Science and Surplus.) It took him about a week to build. Since he finished it on Monday night, the boys have been having lots of fun hurling Milk Bones through the kitchen for the dog to find. Most of the time he can't find them unless someone stands over them and points, but then he's not the brightest dog that ever burned.

Anyway, this latest craze has caused me to utter another Sentence You Never Thought You'd Have To Say: "Do not put ham in the trebuchet under any circumstances!"

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Buddy, Can You Spare Ninety Thou?

Ack! Klaus and I went to visit an early college program called Simon's Rock College of Bard over the weekend. The good news is, it seems like a perfect match for him. An astonishingly good match for him, actually. While we were waiting around for his interview after lunch, a current student suddenly appeared and said, "Hi, my name is P_____ and I'm going to be your new best friend. I've been assigned to you for the next year and a half. I'm going to write my cell phone number on your nametag here, even though we have no reception because we're in the middle of f-ing nowhere." He did write a phone number on Klaus' nametag then disappeared. Klaus' reaction? "I am so going to do that next year!"

The bad news is that tuition, room and board costs $45,000 a year. **faint**

They do offer merit scholarships, thank goodness, because we're likely not going to qualify for need-based aid. Most students only stay for two years, then transfer to another university (In the top 5 schools accepting transfers from Simon's Rock, Stanford is #2). Of course, schools like Stanford cost just as much. Oy vey. We're still reeling from sticker-shock.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Holiday Gift List

Something I've found during the annual catalogue inundation that I thought might appeal to gifted kids (and adults):

Edmund Scientifics, where you can always find a winner, is offering a K'Nex Value Tub. 275 pieces for $19.99. This is a temporary overstock sale, so get them before they're gone.

For little bug-lovers: Exobonz is an award-winning building set made up of bug parts, rather than the usual blocks or sticks (like K'Nex). I just found this in the National Geographic gift catalog.

They also offer a pair of remote-control Tarantulas whose eight hairy legs move independently, just like the real thing. ICK! (Btw, I've seen single RC tarantulas in other kids' catalogs, too, for less than half what the $48 Nat. Geo wants. Check Google.)

Future engineers might be interested in the Chaos Tower, a giant Rube Goldberg-like device you design yourself. Think the Mousetrap game, but motorized. The best price I've seen for this is from American Science and Surplus, where they call it the Rube Goldberg Kit. Or Google "Chaos Tower."

Another fun one from AS&S, where we're getting most of our gifts this year, is the model trebuchet. Clearly anything that flings things through the air is worth having. Since Wolfie and Xavier have both come across siege weapons in their social studies course, they're very excited about this.

Finally, the must-have gift for ever-so-hard-to-buy-for 12 year old boys this winter is the pocketed security sock, again from National Geographic. Go figure, but my boys were all oohs and aahs about socks with zippered pockets in them. And at 3 pair for $30, they're a perfect...stocking stuffer?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Time Flies When You're Focused on the End of the Week

Hey, it's the second week of November already! This homeschooling thing is really messing up my "me time," which is when I can sit and write a coherent blog entry, unfortunately. Pardon me while I play catch-up:

Iron Science Teacher is the name of a webcast from the Exploratorium in San Francisco, pitting science teachers head-to-head to create science experiments out of everyday objects. Click the link to read more about the show, then check out the show at

Freshwater Fred's Free Lending Library has materials for math, science, history, etc in a searchable database. From their website:

"Freshwater Fred's Lending Library includes approximately 1,100 educational videos, software programs and curriculum - and the collection is always growing. Explore topics such as biology, zoology, anatomy, physics, math, history, geography, the arts and environmental science. Some materials come with study guides.

There is no charge for Lending Library materials. Freshwater Fred's Lending Library is brought to you by Hoosier Energy and its Environmental Education Center, located at the Turtle Creek Reservoir in Sullivan County, Ind. The service functions on the Honor System.

Materials are available to educators in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin for 30-day intervals. Renewals are subject to demand. Educators are limited to 10 items at any one time."

Yale has joined the group of universities which offer course lecture online for free through Open CourseWare. Click here for more info.