Friday, June 29, 2007

Homeschool Co-op Online

Get free and discounted curriculum from the Homeschool Buyers Co-op. Membership is free. Current group buys include CyberEd Plato Science interactive software, which I'm considering for Klaus and Wolfie to use with Chemistry this year. These programs are usually unavailable to individual homeschoolers. The Co-op has offered to sponsor the program for their members. They have links to other deals for homeschoolers and free curriculum as well. Check it out!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Elitism and the Struggling Student

The heterogeneous classroom has been all the rage for the last 10+ years. Mixing children of all abilities into a single class allows social and intellectual benefits, proponents say. Struggling students see those of greater ability as role models and mentors. Gifted children learn to deal with and value those whose abilities don't match theirs. Utopia in the classroom!

Bah! I say. And anyone who has been in a heterogeneous classroom would say the same. Think about it. Remember that one smart kid who always had his hand up before the teacher even finished asking the question? Was he a role model? No, he was Teacher's Pet. Was he a mentor, someone you would turn to if you needed help with homework? Maybe, if it was a group project and he was likely to do the whole thing himself. Otherwise, he was a geek/nerd/egghead, read "outcast."

What about intellectually? We got one kid waving his arm like Arnold Horshack and the teacher repeatedly calls on other kids, sometimes even telling him to "put his arm down and give the other kids a chance." Well, if the teacher says to stop paying attention to the lesson, what's a kid going to do? That's one student out of play. Most teachers in heterogeneous classrooms pitch their lessons slightly below the middle level of ability in her classroom. That means it's too difficult or fast-paced for the kids who are really struggling and too easy for at least half her students. In a classroom of 28, that's nearly 20 students tuned out. This can't be good.

So common sense (and the research) shows that heterogeneous classrooms do not accomplish these grand utopian goals we have for them. Smaller classes, critics say. Yes, smaller classes will lessen the overall numbers of kids who are disengaged. But smaller classes means more teachers and more space needed, therefore more money. Differentiation, critics say. Yes, combined with smaller classes, differentiated curriculum can help keep more students learning. But it requires more teacher-training to effectively implement differentiation, not to mention more money for more teachers and classrooms because no teacher can effectivly differentiate the curriculum for 28 individual students.

There is a less expensive option that can be implemented across the country as soon as next August: ability grouping. Ability grouping is decried as "elitest" when parents and gifted advocates talk about it, but in fact, it works for kids of all abilities. Says 8th-grade math teacher Sam Jow in the Houston Chronicle, "Struggling students are often overshadowed by their more accomplished classmates during the regular school year, he said, but in the summer they are grouped with those of similar ability.

"It's a time they can shine," he said."

Shouldn't all students have that opportunity to shine, all year round?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Mallard Fillmore on Homeschooling

Check out these comic strips, courtesy of the Jewish World Review.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Stanford's Online High School, the First Year

There is a nice, long article in the LA Times about the OHS, Stanford's new ultra-rigorous online high school based on the high school classes they offer through EPGY. You can see the complete course schedule here.

We talked about enrolling Klaus in OHS last year but decided it would be better to invest the $12K tuition for college. Klaus' interest have skewed toward the soft sciences lately (anthropology, psychology) so that was probably the right idea for him. But from the article it sounds like OHS is an excellent program for the primarily math/science inclined.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Drive Defensively!

It's official--Klaus has his driver's license. He's had his temps for more than a year but with the huge mess with school last fall, didn't really start practicing driving until this spring. Although he tells me that 60% of teens fail their first driving test, he passed first time with only two mistakes.

In the last 48 hours, I think he's driven down to the movie store (a whole mile away) 4-5 times on various pretexts. Wolfie and Xavier love it, though, because if they want a snack or a trip to Dairy Queen, Klaus is more than happy to take them, where Mom and Dad would not.

So congratulations to Klaus!! We're very proud of you!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Punished by Curriculum That's Too Broad?

I just read this 1987 Boston Globe article by Alfie Kohn. Professor Kohn is the author of Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise and Other Bribes in which he argues that all the praising and rewarding we do as parents and teachers in hopes of positive behavior modification is actually making kids' behavior worse, instead of better.

This Boston Globe article is twenty years old, but parts of it are ringing recognition bells for me. For example, Kohn writes:

"A related series of studies shows that intrinsic interest in a task — the sense that something is worth doing for its own sake — typically declines when someone is rewarded for doing it."

This directly relates to the problem we've had with "turning everything into school." Our virtual school is very forgiving and just about everything we do can be written up and submitted for credit. Great, right? Nope. The more I suggest applying for credit for things the boys are already doing, the more I get sour looks and dragging feet.

Most recently DH has insisted the boys clean their rooms thoroughly before summer starts, including sorting through old books left on bookshelves. Coincidentally, I found a story in the local newspaper about a couple in town who is collecting kids' books to send to English language learners in Congo. "Great!" I thought. "We can clean our bookshelves and do serving learning at the same time." Thinking this would make the onerous cleaning task worthwhile, I broke the good news to the boys. Xavier slumped like I had dropped the weight of the world on his shoulders. And he has stopped room-cleaning altogether.

Ditto Wolfie writing book reports on the books he's been reading this year. He's reading Don Quixote for fun, dangit. Thinking about it in terms of school would ruin it. And heaven forbid we refer to anything as a "project." "Project" = school = all the fun has been sucked right out of it. As Kohn says, "If a reward — money, awards, praise, or winning a contest — comes to be seen as the reason one is engaging in an activity, that activity will be viewed as less enjoyable in its own right." No wonder Xavier refused to participate in the Handwriting Contest as part of his art class!

I fear they may have gotten their contrariness from me. Kohn notes: "The key, then, lies in how a reward is experienced. If we come to view ourselves as working to get something, we will no longer find that activity worth doing in its own right." This plays right into whether or not I'm sticking to my diet. If I'm trying to "be good" because it's just time, I have no problems. If it's for any other reason--I'm trying to keep up with DH or impress the Class of '84 or change myself to fit my clothes--the cravings are unbearable and my general mood is crabby and deprived.

When my sister was 8, she told a school psychologist that she was "so stubborn even I can't make myself do things." I guess it runs in the family, huh? At least, now that I know what the issue is. No more turning things into school for me.

Gifted Education Articles at BellaOnline

A woman I know from the Bright Kids list (sign up through the link at the right) has become the new gifted education editor at BellaOnline, an online community for women (it looks similar to iVillage). Check our her articles here, in particular the one on finding a mentor for your gifted child. They also have a number of homeschooling links.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Free Gifted Education Quarterly

I just received the following email from Maurice Fisher at Gifted Education Press:

"We are offering a complimentary copy of Gifted Education Press Quarterly Online. They would need to email me directly to receive our Twentieth Anniversary SUMMER 2007 Online issue. My email address is:"

GEPQ skews toward the scholarly with research results and the like, but I've found it very interesting from a parents' point-of-view. It's delivered to your email box every quarter in pdf format, so it's easy to scroll through and just print out the article of particular interest to you. Take advantage of this great offer!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Party Like It's A.D. 79!

Once again, Pompeii brings ancient Roman life to life. I found this 2005 article on Pompeii on LiveScience: "Researchers have tried to bring back to life the city's food chain by replanting, in the restaurant's garden and in other open spaces throughout the city's ruins, the fruits and vegetables that were part of the Roman diet -- figs and olives, plums and grapes, as well as broom, bramble, poppy and mallow."

The really groovy part? They have recipes for a peach and cumin appetizer/dessert, roasted celery dessert (?!), and a sort of Roman Pork Wellington with ricotta side dish. Yum yum! Perfect for unit studies on the Romans or anyone else who is gastronomically adventurous. Buon Appetito!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Then It Rained on Our Parade

Promoting 4-H is part of each individual clubmember's obligation to the club, and each club's obligation to the national organization. As part of fulfulling this obligation, our club decided we would build a float for the Memorial Day parade here in town--throw some candy, pass out some flyers, advertise Kid's Day at the county fair. We decided on the theme: "4-H: It's Not Just for Farmers Anymore," decorated the float with some of the different projects members can do, and each of the kid's dressed up to represent one of their projects. Xavier wore his Dracula costume from the Drama Fest. Wolfie's been participating in the Dog project, so he brought the dog. We had woodworkers, bug hunters, photographers, a chef and one boy dressed up as a beekeeper.

The Memorial day parade was a smashing success so we decided we'd do a second parade today in a nearby small town. Despite the town's size, this parade was a big deal. I've never seen so many beauty queens in my life--at least, not in person. The Shriners were there, of course, and the local high school band, plus local businesses, Brownies, the fire department, all the things that make a small town parade perfect.

You may have guessed from the title what happened next. The parade started at 1:30, so did the rain. The dark clouds on the horizon moved away from us, but the lighter the sky got, the more it rained. We sheltered under a tent until it was our turn to go (we were towards the end) but were still soaked before we even got onto the parade route. Most of the beauty queens sat in their convertibles and waved through the rain, just like they were supposed to, although I'm pretty sure the Cranberry Queen just left. Lots of the spectators were leaving, too.

And 4-H? The show must go on! We rode through the storm while the paper letters on the float crumpled and tore, threw candy in the rain-swollen gutters, waved (goodbye) to the spectators and came up with a bunch of new slogans:
"Join 4-H: I've never been so wet!"
"I think my toes are pruning: Join 4-H!"
"You should see how much fun we have when we're dry!"
"Thank you for sticking around!"

And the kicker? You already know: by the time we had walked the mile and a half back to our car, the rain had stopped. Next time we build a float with a roof!