Thursday, September 21, 2006

Morphing Educational Philosophy

(I found this in my draft folder)

I was rambling earlier:

My philosophy of education has changed since I first started teaching my own children. I started out teaching the way that I had been taught and our style here at home was very much like a public school. Playing school was very comfortable to me and I've had plenty of practice. I went to public school for 13 years of my life and was raised by two public school teachers. I would often help my mom grade tests. Not only that, but I used to line up my plush animals and teach to them, create tests for them, and then take those tests for them so that I could grade them. Yes, I even kept report cards for each of my plush students and sent them to the principal's office when they misbehaved. Guess who their principal was. You got it. I find myself constantly rediscovering our family learning style and reevaluating my philosophy of education. The definitions of the words "learn" and "teach" have dramatically changed over the years, for me, and I can see a difference between "education" and "schooling."

I decided to homeschool my child while obtaining my degree in education. I didn't have anything against public schools, I wanted to be a teacher, and my parents were teachers, but I really wanted to teach my child myself. I was really excited about the concept of home-education. I had all these wonderful fantasies playing out in my mind of me, the teacher/mom, teaching to my very interested and attentive student/child.

HA! (Shouted like the 'basket case' when she interrupts Molly Ringwald's pity party in THE BREAKFAST CLUB)

When I first started homeschooling my now 13 year old, we ordered the K5 Abeka, but he was already reading when it came in the mail, UPS was on strike that year. Needless to say, much of my purchase was a waste of money! We had been playing around with refrigerator magnets and reading many books together. I think that THAT interaction or life-style was enough to make him a reader.

He quickly learned Math in pretty much the same way. He could count, so with a Math Blaster computer game and an abacus, he learned quickly how to solve basic math problems so that he could save the world. (He had to work about 10 Math problems before he was allowed to fire at invaders..) He learned basic math skills so that he could save the world. What motivation! His kindergarten Math book was completed before Christmas, "for the fun of it."

I liked Abeka because it was what my brothers and my sister were using at their private school and I was very comfortable with it. I had helped them study for tests by quizzing them. I guess I tried really hard to play classroom here in my home but it just wasn't working out that way! I lacked the 20 other students to help encourage my son to sit still? That was hard for me!

I can remember reading out loud to my son as his body would move very much like the minute hand of a clock: his head would start out pointing to the 12:00 position, like in my fantasies, but would end up at 6:00, 9:00, and 3:00.. feet in the air. He always knew what I had just read, but his body couldn't be still! In fact, if I forced him to be still, he couldn't comprehend what I read because he was focusing so hard on trying to be still! It took some rethinking of what "learning" meant to allow me to accept my son's hyper-learning style. It wasn't a discipline problem, but how he learned. One of the reasons I decided to homeschool him was because he was very advanced but not when still. Can you imagine how that would have translated to a classroom setting?

He seemed to be learning in non-conventional ways. He learned better when he played educational games or read what he wanted to read or researched what he wanted to research. He was so far ahead that we didn't use curriculum for a few years - just let him collect and label bugs or focus on whatever other hobby he wanted to dive into. He had the audacity to continue to learn without school or without the aid of ‘schooly’ things! I experienced what Mark Twain meant when he said, "I never let schooling get in the way of my education." I don't know if I would have ever understood that quote before I saw it lived out in front of me.

For third grade, we tried to use Abeka again and we lasted a whole year! We did the tests and kept report cards! (Though that's not required in Texas.) He made all A's, of course. When you homeschool you don't move on to the next concept or lesson until the child has mastered it, so you can't make a C or fail! It's not possible. (No pass no play? No pass no turn the page!) I was so proud of his A's and it was a very fun year and I felt so productive! Maybe playing school was the ticket.

The next year I decided to start out by quizzing him with some old tests that he had previously aced. I was shocked and appalled that he couldn't remember most of the answers! The facts and details of what he had learned for the tests the year before didn't seem to make their way to the long term memory or to survive the summer! Had we wasted a whole year? That's when I realized that I probably didn't remember the answers to many of the tests that I had passed either! He could still read, thank God. I guess learning to read is like learning to ride a bicycle, without the skinned knees.

I decided that "tests" and "grades" would not be our educational goal, but rather skills that he could use for the rest of his life. For example: What if we focus on finding the answers and asking the questions instead of memorizing the answers? What if we made research a major part of how we learn here in our home? This skill can come in handy when he is in college and expected to write a research paper or thesis. My favorite quote is by Roger Lewin, "Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve." While looking into Classical Education I ran into another quote that I really love. It is by Dorothy Sayers: "Is not the great defect of our education today...that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils subjects, we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning." If I remember correctly, she was referring to the Nazi educational system. They had taught much about what to think, but no one seemed to be able to think for themselves or to think. She warned that when people are not able to think for themselves they will easily be controlled by a tyrant.

Instead of doing a traditional study or course called "English" what if we learned all we could about our language by learning where each word originated and what the history behind how the word came to mean what it means today? What if we focused on our language and its rules in action and in context by reading often, aloud to each other and silently to ourselves? We could learn the rules of our language from a deductive approach instead of an inductive approach. (I asked ZOLAonAOL to define 'inductive' for me and she said, "The act of eating waterfowl" so I am not sure if I am using 'inductive' and 'deductive' right.) Becca I. had mentioned that Jack London taught himself to write by copying the writings of his favorite writer, Mark Twain. We would learn Greek and Latin roots as a family and read together often!

Focusing on a Greek or Latin root a week gave us a small history lesson, as the root usually had a story behind it. Focusing on roots also introduced us to a list of new words (spelling) and helped with our vocabulary! I made it my goal to find other ways to combine several subjects into one - to free up time for more important things like playing or traveling or visiting friends.

Each time we read a book together something mentioned in the book sparked an interest or curiosity about some other topic. When we read "Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator" we became interested in researching and learning more about orbits, satellites, and eventually the solar system. I guess we allowed literature to provide us with ideas on what we could research and learn more about. The children's curiosities provide the energy, but following those curiosities is a bit like trying to steer a sailboat without a rudder: we are moving, forward maybe, but I don't know what our destination is or when we will 'arrive.' There is always more to learn about any topic or subject!

I pray for God to be our curriculum guide and to bring educational opportunities into our lives and to help me be able to recognize and take hold of 'teachable moments' in our every day lives. When I start out our day with that prayer and mindset the random dots that pop up throughout the day seem to become connected and to form a more tangible picture of where we are going.

(WOW, I need to take my own advice!)


"Let the questions be the curriculum" Socrates

Monday, September 18, 2006

Play is synonymous with learning

Here is the e mail I wrote when Kelsey “discovered” the concept of multiplication in her room while playing with her many beanie babies:

I believe and have observed that there is a direct link between children's play and the development of common sense. A common sense intuition about how the world works. It is through play that children learn and internalize scientific or mathematical concepts that they won't be formally taught or required to put a name to until jr high, high school, or maybe even college. Without this experience - this internalization, the book knowledge is empty. (No one ever said that books were better than experience, I know.)

Children are naturals at the scientific process and experimentation; they are wired to learn about the world they live in - by playing. Watch them on a slide; they are gaining experience and living "object in motion stays in motion" until they hit the ground. They learn about friction when they realize that if they take off their socks they can slide much faster or that the baby doesn't go down the slide very fast if he is naked. Rub your socks on the carpet and shock your friends and family members, literally. Then try it in the dark and see the spark! How many times did it take the cat to run when he saw you rub your feet on the carpet? Hmmmm association and conditioning?

You know, the more children are seated on a merry-go-round, the harder it is to stop? The children seated on the inside of the merry-go-round aren't actually spinning as fast as the children on the outside? A child in a bathtub causes displacement, experiences some buoyancy, and learns about what type of toys float and what types sink. Some of the toys that usually float will sink when filled with water. What about those bubbles? Children might notice that when they get out of the bathtub, the water level seems to drop. (When mom gets out it REALLY DROPS!) After playing in the mud, there might be a ring around the tub! A washcloth appears darker when it is wet. The wet cloth can actually stick to the side of the tub, but a dry one can't. The wet cloth, after a few days falls off of the tile and hardens - molds if left in the hamper... (great time to talk about seeds, spores, and buds)

I've observed my children's discovery of mathematical concepts through play! And not just with the abacus and Math Blaster at the computer. When my daughter ran out of fingers and toes to count on, she found that beanie babies were great for counting. She learned that she could divide her 25 favorite beanie babies into equal groups of five's, but she couldn't divide them up into equal groups of 3's or 4's, however, if she tossed ONE beanie baby and only played with 24 beanie babies she would divide them up into equal groups of 3's or 4's!!! This discovery thrilled her and she explained it all to me. When I realized that she had discovered the concept of division and multiplication on her own, I knew that she would be able to understand these concepts if I explained them to her. It was her hint to me that she was ready. I just participated in her play and showed her many other ways to divide up beanie babies. "By the way, you know how to divide and multiply, Kelsey." My daughter also discovered, on her own that, "If ten plus ten is twenty, then ten plus eleven is twenty-one!" She announced this to me before she ever heard of place value or had any type of lesson on adding two digit numbers.

These simple concepts that children discover or experience while playing have scientific explanations that they won't have to learn until later, but they have internalized examples of these concepts. What if instead of letting my daughter play with her 25, then 24 beanie babies, I had made her sit down to do seat-work for math? I could have filled up her busy play days by teaching these concepts in a very organized and structured way. Maybe she would have learned these concepts earlier. Maybe I could have bragged to my homeschool friends or family members. Would the lessons have been as important to her? Would these same concepts that she learned on her own, been as important to her if I had sat her down and taught them to her?

My daughter learned many similar mathematical concepts by playing with her many beanie babies! Not only did she learn these concepts on her own while playing, but she OWNS these concepts. They weren't mom's ideas or some concepts dictated by a scope and sequence, they were HER discoveries. She is learning to learn from life! Unfettered play is soooo important to learning and common sense.

Go play.

"Watching" a basic math "course?"

I never thought I would find myself using a basic math course to teach basic math to a 10 year old. I have a degree in elementary education and elementary math is pretty easy and fun! I didn’t even intend to use this course for instruction here at home. But, it’s the best thing that ever happened to us.

So, if I could do it all over again, here is what I would do for math:

1. Nothing!
2. Nothing for a few more years!
3. Play fun games that teach basic math skills like “Math-It,” “Multi-flyer,” and “Knock-out” when the child is about 9 or 10. This would give competency in the subtraction, addition, multiplication, and division fact tables. By this age the child has already discovered and has a working knowledge of these basic concepts. (I remember that Kelsey “discovered” the concept of multiplication while playing with her many beanie babies by organizing them, sorting them, and grouping them - I wrote about it and maybe I will share that in another post.)
3. “Basic Math” over the course of 1-4 years or as long as it takes to ease and relax through math. No hurry!
4. I guess then, when they are ready, programs like Teaching Textbooks, Classmates Math, or Video Text could be used for high school math courses….

This system seems to be working for us today, September, 18, 2006, but, as anything does when you follow your child’s lead, it could change tomorrow! But, it will “change” to something that works better, so it’s ok! Well, there might be a bumpy transition…..

Cool things about MATH

I thought I would share some of the cool things I’m learning while watching my 10 year old’s “basic math” course with her. (“Watching” a basic math “course?” You might wonder. I’ll defend my silliness in another post.)

Did you know that the sign for multiplication (the little line with a dot on top and underneath) actually symbolizes a fraction? I had never heard of such a thing, but it makes so much sense. AND in a multiplication problem the remainder is always the numerator when you express the problem in fraction form. I guess when my teachers taught me math (they had their work cut out for them) they never used mathematical language. Math is so deep and rich if you go beyond the memorization of steps to get an outcome. I was just told HOW to solve mathematical problems; how to get a correct answer with little regard for the layers and layers of conceptual information that could be pointed out and used to further expand my knowledge and understanding of math!

When I compare Kelsey’s experience with formal math to my experience I feel joy. I feel a sense of freedom for her that I didn’t feel: the freedom to do in life what you want to do without being limited by your mathematical ability. The freedom to declare a major without concern for the math requirements… Ok, she’s just 10. But, she did factor trinomials with her brother when she was 9…. (that's really just basic math)

I hated math...

…until I had to teach it to my children!


I am learning so much from Kelsey’s basic math course.  (I’ll tell you some cool things in another post)  It amazes me how little I know about math as an adult, after attending public school for 13 years, and then college for what ended up in a bachelor’s degree.  (That’s nothing to be impressed with, let me tell you, if I can get a degree anyone can.)  I was never good at math and I took Algebra twice in high school and twice in college.  I was ahead in math up until I hit Algebra. 


I don’t think that my inability to grasp Algebra was because of a lack of intelligence but rather because of a lack of maturity and interest.  I was one of those goofballs that had to take a Basic Math course in college.  The first time I took Algebra in college I got a D and then I tried again a few years later and I got an A or a B, can’t remember, but it was easy for me in my 20s.  I later took Trigonometry in college one semester because it fit my schedule and I got a B.  Math wasn’t as difficult anymore, but I had chosen a major which did not require much math so I was free.


Teaching my children is teaching me to enjoy and not to fear Math.  I’ve learned that sometimes people aren’t ready for a topic or a concept and if they aren’t ready it’s a waste of their time and life to force or demand proficiency in that subject.  This is easy to see with reading and children but I can now see it with children and teenagers when it comes to math.  


Just a thought on how I was terrible at math and always hated it until I was older.





Thursday, September 14, 2006

Math workbooks have PROBLEMS!

I don’t know if any of you knew that Kelsey was very “behind” in Math. You might ask, “Behind what?” To which I would answer, “You know, like if a comet fell on me and she had to go to public school NOW, she would be considered behind – grade-wise.” (Grades are for eggs?) Anyway, we had been so relaxed here and I just didn’t make her do the tedious work found in her math workbooks. She was always drawing, playing with the cat, or pretending that she was a cat. She was happy and free. But, she was 10 and still hadn’t finished, and maybe I should admit, hadn’t really started her 3rd grade math workbook! More confessions: We never bought the kindergarten, first, or second grade math books! This was starting to make me very stressed out.

I got nervous and decided to just get out the game “Math-It” and NUKE the basics within her. I wanted to make sure that she at least knew her basic math facts. I created a plan that would guarantee proficiency in all her facts in just three weeks. I learned that “Math-It” could be just as boring as workbooks! I guess anything can become boring when forced on a child. We also played around with “Multi-flyer” on-line so that she could get extra practice with her multiplication facts.

I decided to buy a “Basic Math” course from the Teaching Company. The course was geared towards high school students who needed remediation in Math. It was taught by a college professor but for some reason I thought it could help. Looking at the workbook that came with the program I feared it would be worthless to us. We had just learned our basics and here was a book with big problems. All math books have problems. Well, for example, the division section started out with long division! That’s the only concept that gave Matthan a problem in Math – which meant dividing monomials and polynomials would be our next stumbling block….

Kelsey loved watching the lectures. She had no problem doing the big problems in the work book. I only made her do five a day. This was not tedious! She now loves Math! And guess what? Long division came easier for her than it did for Matthan!

I’m not saying it’s this particular program that helped. I think it was the waiting until she was more mature to begin formal math coupled with avoiding the tedious work.

Now WHEN Kelsey does math I only require that she work just five problems; five challenging problems. She works each out on a dry erase board so that I can watch her every mathematical move.

Now if a comet falls on me she will be right on track like a good little train.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Biology test boo boo:

Today, Matthan took his second Biology test over Module #1. (Don't ask.) Anyway, he was doing so well and I thought he would score 100% until he got to this question:

To which Kingdom does mankind belong?

a. Monera
b. Animalia
c. Fungi
d. Protista

Well, Matthan answered "a. Monera" to which I wrote in big red letters:

Is mankind a bacteria or a pathogen?

How come we don't know the obvious things, but can grasp the hard stuff?????

Christian's first day of art:

Before we left for art, he was counting on his fingers. It all went fine until he counted down from five. When he got to "two" he held his fingers like we all do, but when he got to "one" he put down his pointer finger instead of the OTHER finger!

You know how if you make a big deal out of some act, gesture, or word it is sure to create repeated incidences? I was trying to get him to not count like that without telling him why or he would be sure to do it ad nausum in front of the other homeschooled children..

It caused some nervousness around here.

I didn't want to be the mom with the 5 year old who knows how to sign - with a very limited vocabulary.